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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: whisky

Cask customisation: have your whisky made bespoke

Bourbon hogshead or red wine barrique? Limousin or American oak? For devoted whisky lovers keen to call a barrel their own, there’s never been quite so many cask options available….

Bourbon hogshead or red wine barrique? Limousin or American oak? For devoted whisky lovers keen to call a barrel their own, there’s never been quite so many cask options available. As Edinburgh’s Holyrood Distillery launches its custom cask programme for 2020, inviting buyers to tailor every aspect of the process – from yeast varieties to distilling cut points – we take stock of the evolution of cask ownership…

Laying claim to your very own cask of whisky is a dream shared by many. But what if you could choose the precise type of malted barley you’d like, and pick out the yeast used for fermentation? What if you could tinker with the distillation process – cut points and flow rates – choose the cask type, oak species, size and previous fill? What if you could tailor the whisky from start to finish, becoming involved in every stage of the production process to create your ultimate personalised dram? 

At Edinburgh-based Holyrood, you can do just that. “We thought, rather than just making hundreds of the same cask, why don’t we ask people what they would like to make?,” says distillery co-founder David Robertson. The process starts with an in-depth consultation and sample tasting, in order to identify exactly which flavours you’re looking for. From there, the team will come up with several recipe suggestions based on your preferences. “You might say, ‘I’d rather have an extra yeast in it,’ or ‘I’d rather pick that wood rather than this wood’, and eventually we’ll land on a recipe,” he says.

Holyrood boy: David Robertson talks a client through the options

Got your heart set on rare Japanese oak, barley from a bygone era, or a cask that previously contained beer? Whatever the request, the team will help you make your dream into reality – but they’ll also guide you to make sure it tastes good. “If someone said, ‘I want you to have a cut point from 75% down to 42%, I want you to put it into a Tokay cask, and I want you to mature it for 247 years, we’d be going, ‘Yeah… That’s probably not the best idea’,” Robertson says. “We want to be there to guide, make recommendations and make sure there’s no mistakes.”

Besides offering more choice for whisky fans, there are other benefits to offering such tailored cask choices. Giving whisky fans control over the whisky-making process provides a unique jumping off point for learning and experimentation. “It’s a real two-way collaboration,” Robertson says. “We might have ideas and suggestions, but we won’t be smart enough to come up with all the best ideas and suggestions. The people we meet through this programme give us stimulus, inspire us and push us in different ways that we maybe hadn’t thought of ourselves.”

It also presents an opportunity for distilleries to engage with fans and expand their community. “I love getting a request from a potential customer to source a unique cask,” says Elliot Wynn-Higgins, cask custodian at Lindores Distillery, which has one of the largest and most diverse private cask offerings in Scotland, and allows buyers to choose from metrics such as cask size and flavour profile. The ownership scheme is seen as “an experience, rather than just a sale,” he says. “Each year we host exclusive cask owner’s events at the distillery, and they also get exclusive early bird offers on our whisky releases in the years to come.”

Casks in the warehouse at Lindores Distillery

It could be argued that an element of personalisation acts as a deterrent to those viewing cask ownership solely as a money-making endeavour – the type of buyer David Thompson, co-founder and director of Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery, is keen to avoid. There, the team offers buyers a choice of first fill ex-bourbon and various ex-red wine casks. “The secondary market worries me to an extent,” he says. “If someone said to me, ‘how much money am I going to make?’, I probably wouldn’t go any further with [the sale], because they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. I’d much rather someone bought a cask because they wanted to get involved in our business, our philosophy, the people.”

While distilleries selling private casks is nothing new – “this was quite a big deal in the nineties,” John Fordyce, director and co-founder of the Three Stills Company, informs me – today’s interested buyers have more say than those in previous decades when it comes to the final liquid. At Borders Distillery, Fordyce and his fellow directors have released 1,837 private whisky casks for sale by invitation only, allowing buyers to choose their preferred filling date and cask type across rum, bourbon, rye and Douro wine. “Not every distiller wants to do this, and those that do tend to engage in an quite intimate way,” he says. “One of the great things about the drinks industry is that you’re always in a position of moving with the times. And these waves sweep across us all, and some react and some choose to stay out. And that’s what provides all the variety and choice for the consumer.”

Having only been distilling for a year, the Holyrood team can afford to be more experimental than most. “We’re lucky in that we’re new and we’re small, which means that we can be as flexible as we want to be,” says Robertson. “If you’re a large, established distillery, you probably have a style of spirit that people expect you to produce. We don’t have that kind of heritage or history. We don’t have a core range that we’re known for yet. Now, that might be different in three, four, five years’ time, because we’ll have to start putting out whisky that defines Holyrood Distillery’s style. But at the moment, we are playing at the edges.”

Holyrood Distillery manager Jack Mayo peers into a still

As distilleries become more established, and their spirit comes of age, the custom cask market will inevitably change again. “In 10 to 15 years’ time, many current distilleries offering cask ownership will no longer be doing so, or at least be offering a reduced variety,” says Wynn-Higgins. “The reason being because their whisky will have hit the market, and the majority of their spirit will be required to satisfy customer requirements in bottles on shelves rather than entire casks. This makes now an even better time to buy a cask, as opportunities to do so will become ever rarer.”

It’s a delicate trade-off, acknowledges Annabel Thomas, founder and CEO of Nc’nean Distillery. Each year, the team offers up 60 casks for sale, allowing buyers to choose which type of cask you want and which of their two new make recipes they’d like to fill it with. “The cask sales are important, obviously, for cash flow,” she says. “And also, we end up with an amazing community of cask owners around us, which is a really important part of that whole process for us. On the other hand, we can’t spend the whole year producing private casks, because we have to actually have whisky to put into bottles at the end of it!”

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Our favourite specialist bars for specific spirits

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

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

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

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

specialist bars

Hacha

What? Agave spirits
Where? London

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

specialist bars

Smugglers Cove

What? Rum
Where? San Francisco

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

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

specialist bars

Bobby Gin 

What? Gin
Where? Barcelona

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

specialist bars

Black Rock 

What? Whisky
Where? London

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

specialist bars

Le Syndicat Paris 

What? Cognac
Where? Paris

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

specialist bars

Spirits Bar Sunface Tokyo

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

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

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Five minutes with… Julieann Fernandez, master blender at Deanston

Located atop the River Teith, around eight miles from Stirling, lies Deanston – beloved for its delicate, fresh, waxy whisky. On the blog today, master blender Julieann Fernandez brings us up…

Located atop the River Teith, around eight miles from Stirling, lies Deanston – beloved for its delicate, fresh, waxy whisky. On the blog today, master blender Julieann Fernandez brings us up to speed with the latest goings-on at the Highlands distillery…

Deanston distillery started life as a cotton mill back in 1785, designed by Richard Arkwright, the great inventor and entrepreneur of the early Industrial Revolution. It was converted into the single malt distillery we know and love today in 1966, and began bottling its liquid in 1971, starting with a single malt named Old Bannockburn. Its eponymous Deanston single malt followed in 1974. 

Now operated by the Scotch whisky arm of multinational distiller Distell Group – which also owns Bunnahabhain Distillery on Islay and Tobermory distillery on Mull – Deanston has lost none of its original charm, and this is reflected in its approach to distilling. A team of 10 local craftsmen make Deanston’s single malt by hand using barley sourced exclusively from local farmers and soft water from the River Teith, which starts high up in Trossachs National Park.

Deanston is housed in a former cotton mill

The site has long led the charge when it comes to sustainability in Scotch whisky. Thanks to its location on the banks of the fast-running Teith, Deanston is the only distillery in Scotland to produce all of its own electricity, with power generated by an on-site hydro-energy facility. In 2000, it became one of the first Scottish sites to start producing organic whisky, as certified by the Organic Food Federation.

We caught up with Julieann (sic) Fernandez, who last year became Deanston’s master blender, to chat about her role, delve into the DNA of the distillery’s new make, and learn more about this unique Highland site…

MoM: Tell us about your career – what was your journey into your current role?

Julieann Fernandez: My journey was a little bit different, I never really planned to work in the whisky industry at all. I studied Forensic Science at university and between my third and fourth year, they were really big on us doing placements. I got a placement in Chivas Brothers’ laboratory doing a lot of analytical testing for the spirit samples they were getting in. I did that for about a year, and during that time I started doing a little bit of work with them on new product development – they were working on making a whisky for younger people and females to try and break the mould of whisky typically being an older gentleman’s drink. So I was involved in that project, which was absolutely fantastic. I really started to get a passion for whisky through that. I went back to university, finished my fourth year and graduated, and started working in the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, which does a lot of the analytical support for the whisky industry. Again I was working in a lab, and as much as I enjoyed it, it just wasn’t really what I wanted to do. A job came up at Chivas Brothers’ grain distillery right in the centre of Glasgow, so I went back to work for them. I learned about the grain whisky process and from there, I worked in some of their malt distilleries to build my knowledge on how the whisky is actually made. I spent a lot of time with them, did a lot of organoleptic stuff and really, really enjoyed it. And then the job came up with Distell, so I moved over to them just over three years ago now, starting as a blender – working on our malt portfolio and our blends, getting involved in our limited editions. I was promoted to master blender at the tail end of last year, and now I’m in control of all our malts, our blends, all of our inventory. So it’s been a crazy journey, but it’s been excellent. 

Deanston single malt whiskies

MoM: Could you bring us up to speed with what’s been going on at Deanston over the last few years – any new equipment, ongoing projects, experiments, etcetera?

JF: There’s been a few things going on! We replaced our mash tun last summer, that was a big project. The old mash tun had been running since about 1966, so it really needed replacing. It was a huge open-top mash tun, I think the biggest open-top mash tun left in any distillery – typically distilleries have a copper dome covering the mash tun, whereas ours is open, so it’s great when you come and visit, because you can see right inside. We decided to keep it very traditional, so it looks like an old mash tun, even though it’s new, which is lovely. It’s given us a clearer wort, which is what we are looking for, for the character. We’ve also recently moved from oil to gas, to boost sustainability at the distillery, because it burns a lot cleaner – that was a massive project. We’ve also got new limited editions coming up. We’ve just launched Deanston Kentucky and Deanston Dragon’s Milk, which are different to what we typically do with our portfolio. Deanston Kentucky is filled into bourbon and new oak barrels from Kentucky and soft-filtered. All of the malts in our portfolio are non-chill-filtered whereas with this one, the ABV’s a little bit lower, and we soft filter it instead – just making it a little bit more accessible and easy to drink. So there’s a lot of different projects on the go.

MoM: How would you describe the distillery – and the character of its new make – to someone who didn’t know much about it?

JF: The distillery is absolutely beautiful. It dates all the way back to 1785, when it used to be a cotton mill, and it was transformed into a distillery in 1966. It overlooks the River Teith, which is where our water supply comes from. Being an old cotton mill, it doesn’t look like a distillery when you first see it, and so many bits of it are very different. Our warehouse, for example, was an old weaving shed; they used to weave the cotton there, so it’s got big vaulted ceilings on it. The distillery has been a backdrop for Hollywood productions, because it’s such a lovely setting. They filmed Outlander there – the cast actually signed a couple of the casks that sit in our warehouse. The tour guys tend to point out where bits were filmed, and once you’ve been to the distillery and go back and watch Outlander, you can match it up and see which bits are Deanston. The stills are really tall, and have a gently-inclining lye pipe, so that encourages a lot of reflux which gives us a really light, fresh spirit. It carries a sort of strong cereal note and has beautiful hints of crisp apple. We also have a waxy character in the new make that’s quite unique – not just on the nose, but it’s almost a mouthfeel as well, which is really nice.

Master blender Julieann Fernandez

MoM: Deanston is the only distillery in Scotland to produce all of its own electricity using hydro power and is also certified by the Organic Food Association. How do these environmental credentials shape the whisky?

JF: The River Teith is the second fastest flowing river in Scotland, so it’s absolutely perfect for producing electricity for the distillery. We use what we need and sell the rest back to the National Grid, so we are giving back as well as powering our own distillery. We’re certified by the Organic Food Association as well, which is a really difficult certification to get, because so much work goes into it. You need to make sure your cleaning process is up to scratch. After a shut down – where we’ve maybe shut the distillery down for maintenance work – we’ll clean the entire distillery, and when we bring it back up, that’s when we [distil] organic. We also need to take great care on where that malt comes from, making sure that we’ve got the malt passport for it and can follow it back to the farm, which is also organic-certified. [The new make] then goes into new oak barrels that haven’t held anything. There’s a lot going on at Deanston that makes it special. 

MoM: In terms of production process and equipment, what else sets Deanston apart from other Scottish distilleries? 

JF: The River Teith flows over granite, so it makes the water really soft, which is just absolutely perfect for making whisky. At Deanston all of our malt’s Scottish – in Scotland we can’t grow enough to support the Scotch whisky industry, so naturally, people have to buy from England or Europe or wherever it may be. But at Deanston we only use Scottish malt. We only use traditional techniques, there are no computers, so it takes a lot of skill and craftsmanship to make our whisky.

MoM: Deanston has always fostered a sense of community – what is it about the distillery that makes it so special and well-loved among whisky fans?

JF: When you visit the distillery, you can see the passion the guys have for it. For a lot of the men who work in the distillery, it goes back generations. A lot of them live locally and the fathers or their grandfathers worked in the distillery, it’s lovely. During lockdown our kitchen stayed open and provided soup for the local community, which was really nice, because it was a difficult time for so many people. We’ve got a big meadow at the back of the distillery, which we’re planning to donate to the local school. Obviously that would’ve happened by now but it’s been pushed back a little bit with lockdown. They’re going to make it into a wildflower garden, so that it’s right at the heart of the community. 

The Deanston single malt range is available from Master of Malt.

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The land of fire and ice: Icelandic spirits part two

For the second and final instalment of our series on Icelandic spirits, we explore the island’s native flavours and traditions, from sheep dung-smoked spirits to fermented shark chasers, reveal the…

For the second and final instalment of our series on Icelandic spirits, we explore the island’s native flavours and traditions, from sheep dung-smoked spirits to fermented shark chasers, reveal the regulatory issues faced by distillers, and glimpse the country’s spirited future…

Around three-quarters of Iceland’s total 39,000 square miles is barren of vegetation due to soil erosion. In fact, in around 7,000 of those square miles it’s severe enough to render the land totally useless. Plant life consists mainly of grassland, which is grazed by cattle and sheep (sheep outnumber humans almost three to one). “Icelanders are incredibly proud of their heritage and the harsh weather conditions that have defined their resourceful people,” says Fabiano Latham, brand ambassador for Reyka Vodka. “It’s all about using what’s available, preservation, and survival. Yes, conditions today are much more manageable, but you still see nods towards their adventurous ancestors in all aspects of cuisine, including alcohol.” 

Of the distillers in Iceland who actually make their product locally – more on this later – most utilise the herbs and berries found around the country, such as crowberries, bilberries and moss, explains Birgir Mar Sigurdsson, co-founder of Thoran Distillery. Many of the botanicals grow wild in the highlands, and there’s plenty more to be found in the Icelandic countryside and closer to the coast. “There’s a lot of different seaweed [varieties] that many distillers have been experimenting with, us included,” he says. “We don’t grow any of the classic fruits like oranges, lemons, etc., but there are many greenhouses around the country that do grow things like strawberries and tomatoes.”

Birgir Mar Sigurdsson looking pensive

The most common native tree is birch, which once covered much of Iceland. It’s a key botanical at Foss Distillery, which makes liqueur, schnapps, bitters, and vodka using the historic species. “Icelandic birch is easily recognisable by its delicate dentate leaves and silver-hued papery bark,” says co-founder Ólafur Örn Ólafsson. “About a third of Iceland is thought to have been covered in birch woods when the first settlers arrived nearly 1,150 years ago, which shows that the tree had fully adapted to the windy and changeable conditions in the country. Our policy is to interfere as little as possible with nature, and so we take the sap from the trees at the best time for the trees, and collect the decorative sprigs when cuttings are made by specialists to thin the woods and facilitate natural growth.”

Of the various berries, herbs and spices that grow wild in Iceland – among them caraway, angelica, rhubarb, juniper – one of the most compelling is arctic thyme. “That is our pièce de résistance,” says Óskar Ericsson, CEO and master distiller at Brunnur Distillery. “That is the most beautiful thing that we have. It’s basically this little purple-pink flower, and when it blooms, it smells like lavender.” Ericsson, an artist by trade, had the idea for Himbrimi Gin back in 2013 on a family fishing trip to the West Fjords, where his father-in-law owns land. “Standing in the river, you’re looking at this clean water,” he says. “There’s juniper nearby, angelica on the other side of the bank, there’s arctic thyme. I decided to mix that and use it.”

What started as a warming tipple for family fishing expeditions has transformed into a bona fide microdistillery that has listings in bars across the world. And yet, to this day Ericsson still hand-picks his botanicals and numbers each bottle by hand. It’s a similar story at 64°Reykjavik Distillery, which uses foraged berries and botanics to make its small-batch liqueurs and spirits. Sustainable foraging is embedded in Iceland’s culture, says founder Snorri Jónsson. “These resources are commercialised on an extremely small scale,” he says. “Only a few thousand bottles are made of each spirit.”

Nice bit of copper at Reyka distillery

Distilling local flavours has also put modern producers back in touch with Iceland’s national spirit, brennivin, which is traditionally consumed with fermented shark. A handful of Icelandic bottlings – including Foss Distillery’s Helvíti, 64° Reykjavik Distillery’s Brennivín 50, and Brunnur Distillery’s Thúfa – have seen the caraway-heavy spirit reinvented with blueberries, seaweed, sweetgrass, and other botanicals. “Our goal is to reclaim the reputation of Icelandic brennivin and to take it outside of Iceland and introduce it to the world as this delicious spirit, which it is, instead of something that you use to wash your windows or clean your car or something,” says Ericsson.

Botanical infusion isn’t the only way for Icelanders to utilise their natural resources. “In terms of native flavours and traditional techniques, the drying and smoking of meat and fish using birch and sheep dung is something we’ve been doing for centuries,” says Sigurdsson. “This technique lends itself perfectly to the drying of barley used in whisky. So instead of using peat as the Scots do, we’d be using birch and sheep dung.” Iceland currently has little in the way of whisky, but the future is promising. The country’s first (and currently only) single malt, Flóki, was made by Eimverk Distillery, located in the town of Garðabær a few minutes from downtown Reykjavík, and the distillery also produces a ‘young malt’ made with sheep dung-smoked barley.

“When we started the company in 2013, the idea was to make whisky,” says Sigurdsson. “That’s still very much on the table and is still where our passion lies.” The immediate success of Thoran Distillery’s initial release, Marberg London Dry Gin, saw the team “put the whisky on ice, pun intended” to give Marberg a chance to thrive, “but recently we’ve been putting things in motion and can hopefully start whisky production this year,” Sigurdsson says. “We do have a few hundred litres maturing in various casks, but those are for research and development purposes. We did a lot of experiments with various barley strains – both local and imported – developed innovative malting and drying techniques, tried different types of oak to see which would complement our spirit…. The groundwork is there, and we’re ready and excited to take it to the next stage.”

Cocktails with Marberg gin

It’s certainly an exciting time for distilling in Iceland, but the industry is not without challenges. One of the struggles brewers and distillers have had to deal with are the regulations regarding the sale of beer and spirits, says Sigurdsson. “Right now, the state has a monopoly on all alcohol sales, which makes it illegal for me to sell a bottle of Marberg to anyone visiting our distillery,” he says. “The fees and taxes added to alcohol are also among the highest in Europe.” 

Authenticity issues are another thorn in the side of the country’s distillers. For a long time, most of the ‘Icelandic’ spirits were made abroad, imported to Iceland and mixed with Icelandic water, according to Sigurdsson. “There are a handful of awful producers – here, as well as internationally – bottling bulk spirit as something authentic,” says Jónsson. “They use financial resources to build their image as quality producers, but are merely bottling plants or business makers.” This can be tricky for drinkers to detect, he continues, since it’s applicable to producers both big and small. “The result for us is: hard competition for the attention,” Jónsson continues. “A competition that the small authentic producers will lose, because our interest and resources are in the products, not the marketing.” In response, distillers are in talks about how to best protect the reputation of their spirits. Right now we are drafting an application which specifies what should be considered an Icelandic spirit,” says Sigurdsson.

Given its subarctic climate, Iceland might not be the first country you associate with distilling, but thanks to its environmentally-conscious inhabitants, the country’s natural resources – the geothermal steam from its volcanoes, the abundance of pure, mineral-free water, the unique botanicals that thrive on the country’s wild terrain – practically lend themselves to spirits-making. “In terms of negatives, there really aren’t a whole lot of challenges that come with distilling in a colder climate,” Sigurdsson says. “Maturation in casks is a bit slower because of the cold, and the Icelandic legal system gives me a headache once in a while. But we roll with it. We knuckle down and do the best we can with what we got. And more often than not, that actually turns into something great.”

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New Arrival of the Week: Yoichi Apple Brandy Cask

Just landed at MoM, a Japanese single malt whisky from Yoichi distillery part-aged in an apple brandy cask. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the marriage of Nikka’s founder Masataka…

Just landed at MoM, a Japanese single malt whisky from Yoichi distillery part-aged in an apple brandy cask. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the marriage of Nikka’s founder Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan, and pays tribute to the early days of the company. To find out more, read on…

At Yoichi, the distillery workers  still use a technique that has long since disappeared in Scotland: coal-fired stills. They are very hard to manage, it’s a skilled job feeding the flames and a moment’s negligence can burn the still. Gas is much more controllable which is why it’s taken over in Scotch whisky. But the team at Yoichi think it’s worth it, producing rich roasty flavours in the new make.

The happy couple: Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan

The distillery was built in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru. It’s on the island of Hokkaido. Damp and cold, apparently it reminded him of Campbeltown where he had worked at Hazelburn and lived with his Scottish wife Rita. Though the winters are very cold, summers are hot so casks mature very differently to the more steady climate of Scotland. Hokkaido is also rich in fresh water and peat (though the onsite maltings are no longer used and Yoichi buys in most of  its malt from Scotland). At first the distillery had only one still which was used for both wash and spirit but it expanded in 1966 and now has six. A much more modern distillery at Miyagikyo, in the north eastern part of Japan’s main island Honshu, was set up in 1969. A wide variety of whiskies are made here in pot and continuous stills including a Coffey malt whisky, something that would not be allowed in Scotland. 

It’s not just the coal-fired stills, Yoichi is traditional in other ways. Ferments, usually with a brewers yeast, are long, up to five days and the distillery uses worm tub condensers. These combined with steeply-sloping lyne arms on the stills, resulting in less copper contact, create a heavy oily spirit. The classic Yoichi taste combines the heavy and smoky with a fruity lift. In common with most Japanese distilleries, a wide variety of spirits are made in the one distillery by playing with the wort (it’s usually clear but they do make occasional batches with cloudy), yeasts, peat, cut points etc. And that’s before you get onto the wide variety of oak at the blender’s command.

Our new arrival celebrates the 100th anniversary, on 8 January 1920, of the marriage between Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan which did more than join two people together but linked Japan and Scotland together in shared love of whisky. Originally he worked for Suntory on his return for Japan. When he set up on his own in 1934, his main business wasn’t just whisky. Hokkaido is famous for its apples and so he also made fruit juice. In fact the original name of  the company was Dai Nippon Kaju: the Great Japanese Juice Company, which was later abbreviated in the 1950s to Nikka.

So this new release also pays homage to the early days of Nikka by being part-aged in a cask that formerly held apple brandy. The primary ageing took place largely in new American oak plus some ex-sherry casks. Like all Yoichi releases, it’s a blend of different styles produced at this one distillery. It’s bottled at 47% and released with no age statement. It’s a fitting tribute to the marriage that founded Japanese whisky.

But that’s not all, in addition to this special Yoichi (click here to buy), Nikka has also released a special apple brandy cask single malt from Miyagikyo and, naturally, it’s also available (here) from Master of Malt. 

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Baked apples initially and then the peat comes in strongly with wood fires, Havana cigars and salty seaside notes. It’s rich and full-flavoured.

Palate: Deliciously fruity, apple pie and pears, with smoky lingering in the background, grassy and aromatic notes come in. The texture is oily and full.

Finish: Citrus fruits combine with dates and other dried fruits with spicy liquorice, vanilla, roasted nuts and toasted brioche. Long and harmonious.

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Johnnie Walker announces four 200th anniversary releases

It’s the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the world’s best-selling whisky brand. And Johnnie Walker is celebrating the best way possible, with the announcement of four new releases. Today,…

It’s the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the world’s best-selling whisky brand. And Johnnie Walker is celebrating the best way possible, with the announcement of four new releases.

Today, Diageo announced four new releases for Johnnie Walker. Three are all new blends and one is a redesigned limited edition release of Blue Label. It’s a double celebration as these bottles commemorate John Walker’s birthday, he was born on 25 July 1905, and 200 years since he first opened a grocer in Kilmarnock and began selling his own blend of Scotch whisky. The rest is history…

Here are the four releases:

Johnnie Walker Blue Label 200th Anniversary Limited Edition

A special edition of the classic premium blended Scotch whisky that pays homage to the brand’s global appeal with pictures of great cities and countries that are part of the Johnnie Walker story. 

RRP: around £135 for 70cl

Johnnie Walker Blue Label Legendary Eight

Whiskies for this special bottling come only from eight great distilleries that were all around when John Walker’s story began. These include rare spirits from long-closed ghost distilleries. 

RRP: £233 for 70cl

John Walker & Sons Celebratory Blend

This release takes as its inspiration Old Highland Whisky, the blend that put John Walker & Sons on the world map in the 1860s. Only distilleries that were around at that time go into the Celebratory Blend and the packaging features the only existing image of that original Kilmarnock grocery store. 

RRP: £50 70cl.

John Walker & Sons Bicentenary Blend

John Walker’s shop was a general grocer’s shop, it didn’t just sell whisky, so would have picked with goods from all over the world. This blend is inspired by the rich and exotic flavours that Walker himself would have been surrounded with as he worked. It’s made with some seriously rare whiskies including some from ghost distilleries including Pittyvaich, Cambus and Port Ellen. 

RRP: £740 for 70cl.

Johnnie Walker master blender Jim Beveridge commented: “Each of these exclusive releases bring a fresh perspective to our 200th anniversary story and are the perfect way to celebrate this huge moment for Johnnie Walker. It feels very apt to be announcing them this week to coincide with John Walker’s birthday.” 

John Williams, Diageo global Scotch director, added: “Our 200th anniversary releases are inspired by the moment our founder, John Walker, first opened the door to his grocer’s store in Kilmarnock taking the first step on an incredible journey for Johnnie Walker. John’s spark, vision and entrepreneurial fire were the impetus to growing the John Walker name, our business and ultimately a new future for Scotch whisky. This year we’re celebrating the steps he first took steps that have inspired generations of our whisky makers and are at the heart of everything we do today and will do tomorrow.”

For more information go to the Johnie Walker websiteWhiskies should be arriving at Master of Malt in October. Watch this space for more information. 

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The Nightcap: 24 July

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

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

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

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

Ardbeg and DJ BBQ team up for online grill sessions

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

Lovely wine cask whiskies are just a phone call away

Glen Moray releases three wine cask whiskies

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

Totally fabulous, darling

Harrods opens luxurious basement Baccarat Bar 

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

Al fresco drinking will be all the rage this summer

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

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

Safe and snazzy: Boë Gin’s masks

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

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

Aberlour is one of four Chivas Brothers distilleries welcoming visitors back

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

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

Avallen Calvados

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

Calvados brand Avallen kicks off Seedrs crowdfunding drive

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

Certainly presses our buttons

And finally… press a button for Jose Cuervo Tequila

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

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Seven of the best pre-mixed cocktails

From seasoned spirits producers to bartender-created brands, the quality of pre-mixed cocktails has never been better. Today, our new contributor Lucy Britner catches up with a few of the people…

From seasoned spirits producers to bartender-created brands, the quality of pre-mixed cocktails has never been better. Today, our new contributor Lucy Britner catches up with a few of the people behind the products to see what makes them so tasty 

Once the preserve of the train journey, pre-mixed cocktails have come a long way. And with a summer of weird indoor, outdoor, don’t-get-too-close-to-me drinking on the cards, bottled and canned cocktails provide the ideal solution. While the canned G&T is a (pretty great) staple, the world of pre-mixes grows ever more sophisticated every day. So, to get an idea of what’s set to tickle the summer tastebuds, MoM caught up with seven producers to chat flavours, serves and the ideal snacks to go alongside. 

Mac & Wild Wild Fizz 

This pre-bottled cocktail from Scottish restaurant group Mac & Wild packs a summer punch with Blackwoods Vodka, lemon verbena, wild nettles, peach liqueur, celery and fino sherry. “Wild Fizz was conceived during a summer walk a few years back along Edinburgh canal,” says head of cocktails, Luke Leiper, who created the range at the company’s Edinburgh base. “There are lots of wild botanicals that grow there including verbena and nettles. Initially I picked them both for teas but started experimenting with vodka infusions. Peach worked really nicely… but I wanted it to be even fresher and settled on celery to achieve that.”

Leiper enjoys Wild Fizz topped with prosecco or tonic in a chilled flute glass with fresh lemon peel zested on top. Snack-wise, he plumps for a selection of charcuterie from Edinburgh company East Coast Cured. 

Sacred Negroni

Highgate’s very own micro distillery, Sacred, has taken each ingredient from the classic Negroni cocktail and developed all-natural English equivalents. Sacred co-founder Hilary Whitney says the mix sees equal parts of classic Sacred Gin, Rosehip Cup and English Spiced Vermouth “combined in the bottle to allow the ingredients to marry and mellow”. 

“We call the Rosehip Cup the English alternative to Campari the beautiful colour comes from grape skins and rhubarb juice,” Whitney says. English Spiced Vermouth, meanwhile, is made with English wine from The Choirs in Gloucestershire. Whitney suggests serving with olives, cheese or cured meats at picnics and parties “virtual or otherwise”. 

Handmade Cocktail Company Vesper 

Can’t decide between a gin Martini or a vodka Martini? Don’t bother making a choice; drink a Vesper instead. The drink du jour for Britain’s best-loved secret agent, the Handmade Cocktail Company’s Vesper is made with premium English gin, vodka, vermouth and bitter aromatic wines. It’s described as “dry, juniper-led nose with tangy light citrus and hints of geraniums, cream soda, cereal, sage and a little grating of nutmeg”. The palate meanwhile is tangy and tart, with zingy lemon top notes. 

To invoke your inner Bond, add a healthy measure to a large, ice-filled glass or shaker. Stir for a minute or so (or have it ‘shaken, not stirred’ if you’d prefer). Strain into a chilled Martini glass, garnish with a strip of lemon peel and serve with one raised eyebrow a la Roger Moore.

Cockspur Cockspur Rum Punch

“Our Cockspur Rum Punch very much replicates the crowd-pleasing rum punch that comes hand in hand with any social occasion in Barbados,” says Steve Wilson, CEO of Woodland Radicle Ventures, the company that owns Cockspur. The drink is a blend of tropical juices including pineapple, orange and coconut with a hint of Caribbean spice and a generous glug of Cockspur rum. 

Ideal for outdoor summer drinking, the Bajan characteristics lend themselves to spicy food pairings. “Hot and spicy chicken wings go very well with it, I also love rum drenched prawns with coconut, lime and chilli,” adds Wilson.

Black Lines Pear & White Tea Fizz 

“We wanted to design our own drink and after a summer’s afternoon eating pear ice lollies and drinking iced tea we thought the flavours complemented each other really well,” says Morgan Ward, head of sales and business development at Black Lines. “That set the wheels in motion and we started experimenting and testing the flavours with a variety of spirits.” Black Lines eventually settled on Chase Potato Vodka combined with Junmai Sake from Kanpai, the UK’s first sake brewery. Ward says the sake brings a dry finish to the drink. 

Good drinks deserve good snacks and when it comes to what to eat with Pear & White Tea Fizz, Ward’s suggestions are a far-cry from a bag of vending machine salt & vinegar on the platform at Clapham Junction. “We recently collaborated with Brindisa, the Spanish deli based in London, and we included a tin of their famous Perello Gordal pitted olives with every order,” he says. “I’d recommend snacking on these whilst you enjoy the Pear & White Tea Fizz the balance of saltiness from the olives and sweetness from the drink is a real winner.”

East London Liquor Company Vodka & Rhubarb 

ELLC Vodka & Rhubarb sees pressed rhubarb juice meet a little apple juice before being blended with East London Vodka and filtered water. The drink is then carbonated to the “perfect level” of fizziness. “Using British wheat for our vodka gives a creaminess that blends perfectly with our rhubarb soda,” says James Law, who developed the recipe and is a big fan of rhubarb’s famous tart tang. 

Law recommends enjoying the drink with roasted and salted almonds “straight from the bag”. Good man. 

Starward Nova

Starward (New) Old Fashioned

Australian whisky producer Starward describes the (New) Old Fashioned as “a BBQ-ready distillery batched cocktail”. The classic was created by the Starward team of bartenders and it strikes the balance between sweetness and aromatic spice. The cocktail also highlights the use of ex-red wine barrels, used to age the whisky, and adds an Australian twist with Starward’s own blend of wattle seed bitters (wattle seeds come from Acacia and they have a nutty, coffee, chocolate aroma.)

For a foodie fix, the gang suggests a barbie: “Try it with duck, steak, sardines or barbecue chicken.”

Lucy Britner has been a drinks journalist for 15 years. Her work has appeared across numerous publications and she was one of the founding editors of World’s 50 Best Bars. She holds a WSET diploma in Wine & Spirits and in 2019 she received the honour of becoming a Keeper of the Quaich.  

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Cooking with booze: tips from industry experts

If the closest you’ve ever been to using alcohol as an ingredient is a splash of red in your bolognese or a haphazard festive flambé, you’ve been missing a trick….

If the closest you’ve ever been to using alcohol as an ingredient is a splash of red in your bolognese or a haphazard festive flambé, you’ve been missing a trick. Incorporating booze into your recipe can take the flavour potential of your dish to dizzying new heights. We asked the experts for tips on cooking with rum, whisky, mezcal, gin, vodka and more…

From savoury dishes – in marinades, brines, sauces, glazes – to desserts, like ice cream or sorbet, cooking with alcohol can add body and depth to your food, says Carlo Scotto, chef and owner of Xier | XR in London. “It can really bring out the best of the ingredients you are cooking with,” he says. “Just like how you know to pair a quality piece of steak with a full-bodied red wine, there’s an abundance of food-alcohol pairings that will take your cooking to the next level.”

Let’s take a peek at the science behind it. Our perception of flavour is linked to the aromas in the nose – more so than the mouth – and how quickly molecules dissolve, says Neuza Leal, head chef at Bar Douro in London. “Because alcohol molecules evaporate really quickly, you can straight away feel the aromas carried by the beverage, and this heightens the flavour,” she says.

Prawns at Bar Douro

“Alcohol also bonds with fat and water molecules,” explains Chris Riley, recipe developer, culinary expert and founder of The Daring Kitchen. “This helps to close the gap between smell receptors, which respond only to molecules that can be dissolved in fat and food that consists primarily of water.” This means the alcohol will enhance the flavours found in the other ingredients, too. 

Generally speaking, “fruit or coffee liqueurs, brandy and Cognac suit desserts better as they are quite sweet and thick,” says Leal. “Because their sugar content is higher, they caramelise better, which gives a stronger flavour. Where savoury dishes are concerned, spirits like vodka, Tequila, gin and whisky can add a kick, acidity, spice or smoky notes.”

You also need to consider the ABV. “Depending on the strength of the alcohol you are using, it will affect the structure of the food you are preparing,” says Jorge Colazo, head chef at Aquavit London. For example, vodka’s high alcohol content, he says, will affect the structure of ice cream, which freezes at a much lower temperature.

“If you’re unsure about which alcohol to use when cooking, think about what alcohol you’d like to drink while eating that dish – that’s usually a good place to start,” Colazo continues. “Also, remember that the alcohol will change the flavour during the cooking or marinating process, so it is a case of some trial and error.”

Aquavit in London

1) Start small

“The best way to get started is really just to experiment, add a little bit of alcohol to dishes you’re making here and there and just taste it, make adjustments accordingly, and see what you like,” says Scotto. 

2) Think simple

“Always think as simply as possible when cooking with alcohol,” says Ioannis Grammenos, executive chef of Heliot Steak House in London. “Only use as much as your recipe requires – more alcohol doesn’t always mean more flavour. Make sure the alcohol evaporates fully.”

3) Measure it out

“Avoid adding the alcohol straight from the bottle,” says Riley. “This way is inaccurate and can lead to the alcohol igniting. Use a measuring cup so you add just the right amount and avoid accidents. When you are adding the alcohol, pull the pan off the flame to prevent flare-ups.”

4) Colour match

As a rule of thumb, “darker spirits work with darker meats, sauces and dishes that are heavy on proteins,” says Peter Joseph, chef at Kahani in London. “On the other hand, lighter-coloured spirits belong with lighter and white meats, sauces and low-protein food.”

5) Don’t use top or bottom-shelf boozes

“While the alcohol will burn off during cooking, some flavour will remain,” says Helen Graves, editor of Pit Magazine. “That said, don’t expect many nuances, so aim to use something which has a stronger base flavour that you enjoy and want to include in a marinade, for example, rather than the really good stuff.”

Don’t cook with this stuff!

Ready to give cooking with booze a crack? Whet your appetite with the expert suggestions below, split across whisky, rum, mezcal, vodka, gin, vermouth and wine, and beer:

Whisky

“There are three main ways to infuse your food with whisky: infusing a sauce as an accompanying side, basting your dish throughout cooking or simply having the whisky on the side, using it neat almost as a dressing,” says Stewart Buchanan, global brand ambassador for Glenglassaugh, BenRiach and The GlenDronach distilleries.

“Each way will offer a different level of intensity of the whisky flavours coming through,” he explains. From here, you can choose your preferred style of whisky to either complement or contrast with the other ingredients. “Rich sauces are normally complimentary, whereas dressings and jus are more commonly contrasting,” Buchanan adds.

And don’t be shy about thinking outside the box. Whiskey is great for marinating chicken wings with, says Quinzil de Plessis, master of wood and liquid innovation at Kinahan’s Irish Whiskey, or even for glazing salmon. Be bold!

Mezcal

Mezcal’s characteristically smoky notes can bring a really unique dynamic to your favourite dishes. The spirit “pairs beautifully with grilled foods and it is versatile enough to enhance a marinade for steak, chicken or seafood,” says David Shepherd, founder of Corte Vetusto Mezcal.

“We love to use mezcal in sauces, salsas, marinades and as a quick cure for salmon, as the smokiness in the mezcal works well with the salmon, without the need to smoke it,” he continues. And it would be remiss to mention mezcal’s cooking potential without referencing ceviche. “It works so well with citrus and the saltiness of fresh seafood,” Shepherd says. “Alternatively, mezcal can give the tomato base of a prawn cocktail a nice boost.” 

Kavka vodka

Vodka

Given vodka’s relatively neutral profile, you might not think it could bring much to a dish – but it makes for an excellent carrier of flavour.

“We use vodka as a marinade for things like Gravadlax – usually caraway or dill infused,” says Jan Woroniecki, owner of Ognisko and Baltic restaurants in London, and founder of Kavka vodka. “It’s a simple dish but gives great results. A small amount of flavoured vodka added to the dry cure helps the marinating process while giving an extra flavour profile.”

Vodka is also ideal for use in desserts, too. “We use our home-made fruit flavoured vodkas and the infused fruit in desserts – the sour cherries after marinating are especially good,” says Woroniecki. “The fruit flavour is still very strong but you get a nice alcohol hit as well.”

Rum

Often bold, sometimes spiced, and usually featuring caramel notes – either from the cask or added in – make rum the perfect candidate for cooking, be it in marinades, stews, baked dishes or desserts.

“I like to add Bacardi Spiced to a reduced glaze, which you can use to brush on meat or fish as it cooks, and helps to add a burst of flavour all the while enhancing existing taste and aromas of the food,” says Metinee Kongsrivilai, brand ambassador for Bacardi UK.

Gin

Gin might not be the first spirit that springs to mind in cooking, but the wide range of botanical ingredients make the spirit super versatile. “Look out for savoury gins featuring flavours such as rosemary, basil, thyme or sage – it can really work wonders in cooking, but you only need a minimal amount,” says Scotto. 

Gin works especially well with seafood, particularly grilled fish, suggests Joe McCanta, global head of education and mixology at Bacardi. “The botanical flavours add another level of spice,” he says.

You can make some nice marinades with gin, adds Jamie Baggott, master distiller at The British Honey Co. “A favourite is gin, ginger, lime and chilli on prawns or squid,” he says, “you can get a bit of flambé from the left over marinade!”

Tio Pepe sherry is a great friend in the kitchen

Vermouths, wines etc

An easy way to start cooking with booze is by using wine to deglaze a pan after cooking meat or fish while you sear it in a pan, or added to a sauce to enhance its flavours, says Colazo. “I’d say always use your leftover wine to make a reduction for future sauces or marinades – it’s a very simple way to add alcohol to your cooking.”

Don’t shy away from the fortified stuff. “I probably use sherry and Marsala more than anything in my cooking,” adds Paul Human, founder and head chef of We Serve Humans and boozy burger bar The Collab in Walthamstow. “It’s so versatile and just adds that elusive depth, it also cooks out a lot more easily than hard liquor.”

And you’re eyeing up the vermouth cabinet, “look for a spirit that is aromatic and can add extra flavour to your food,” says Grammenos – for example, you could use Martini to marinate your vegetables before you grill them. “The key is to complement rather than overpower,” he says. Finally be aware of how much sugar is in your vermouth or fortified wine. If it’s at the sweeter end, like a Marsala Dolce, then you only want to use a little in savoury dishes. Even a dry vermouth like Noilly Prat contains about 20g of sugar per litre. 

Beer

Beer is very versatile, and can be used to marinate or cook meat. “It can also be used in preparing batters and gives a lovely flavour,” says Joseph. “A lot of the time you’ll see a recipe call for water or stock – this is a good opportunity to replace the liquid with a nice craft beer.”

With that said, try to avoid overly hoppy beer. “A lot of craft beer these days is so hoppy it can actually end up being quite bitter in a sauce or marinade,” says Human. “I tend to use lager like Moretti when I’m making jerk sauce, for example.”

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Five minutes with… Mikkey Dee from Motörhead

The fastest, heaviest and loudest rock’n’roll band in history, Motörhead’s far-reaching influence on music can’t be overstated – and now, the band is making waves in the spirits world with its…

The fastest, heaviest and loudest rock’n’roll band in history, Motörhead’s far-reaching influence on music can’t be overstated – and now, the band is making waves in the spirits world with its own whisky, vodka, rum, and more. Here, we chat with legendary drummer Mikkey Dee on touring, his favourite drinks and Lemmy’s surprising love of Kinder eggs.

From their prolific back catalogue to their dedicated touring schedule, the trio behind Motörhead – late bassist and singer Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister, drummer Mikkey Dee and guitarist Phil Campbell – never did anything by half measures. So when these pioneering rock icons started bottling their own booze, we had a feeling the liquid would be nothing short of incredible.

It took three years and an untold number of cask samples to finalise the recipe for Motörhead’s flagship single malt whisky, made in collaboration with Sweden’s Mackmyra Distillery, and this exacting attitude extends across the entire range: from Motörhead Vödka, made in the Swedish market town of Malmköping using locally-grown wheat, to a rum aged in ex-bourbon casks from the Dominican Republic.

Mikkey relaxing before a show with some on-brand booze

Behind the scenes the creative process has been an uncompromising and hands-on affair, with no detail left unchecked, as drummer Mikkey Dee attests. As Motörhead Premium Dark Rum bags yet another tasting award, its fourth in a little over a year, we caught up with Dee to talk Motörhead Spirits, memorable shows, and the contents of their rider:

Master of Malt: First things first, how did the Motörhead spirits range first come about, who came up with the idea?

Mikkey Dee: Lem always had a dream to make his own drinks brand. We were all on board. Drinking together was a big part of our life, so why not have drinks to call our own! Lemmy also wanted a legacy beyond the music, something else that could keep the spirit of Motörhead alive for years. That’s when the vodka was created, Lem had moved to drinking vodka and orange juice more than other spirits once he was diagnosed with diabetes.  

MoM: Tell us about the process of creating each one – how involved were you, Lemmy and Phil?

MD: It’s got our name on it, so we’re involved in everything. It always started with a product idea – what Lem or we enjoyed drinking, then also thinking of the fans and what they would like and want to see from us. We’re involved in it all, from choosing the liquid, to naming the products and bottle and label design. Lemmy really liked the creative part, he knew how he wanted the bottles to look. I remember we were in the studio recording mixes for Bad Magic when we were brought samples of the Single Malt Whisky – Lem chose it right there. It took three years of tasting to find the right one!

MoM: Motörhead Premium Dark Rum has just won its fourth spirit award. How does it feel for the liquid you created to be recognised in its own right?

MD: We work really hard on our drinks for the quality and we are ready to take on anyone – that’s always been the Motörhead way. The quality was always really important to Lem and will continue to be for anything else we do in the future.

Motörhead’s award-winning rum. Count those medals!

MoM: Could you share a story about a time the band shared a memorable drink together? Where were you, and what made it memorable?

MD: We were doing a show in Stockholm in 2015 at the Hovet Arena. We got together before the show and had some of our drinks there – our lager and the Single Malt Whisky, which was Lem’s favourite. The whisky is made in Sweden by Mackmyra so he called it his ‘Swhisky’ for Swedish Whisky. It was one of the last shows we did together before Lem passed, so I’ll always remember it.

MoM: This isn’t your only spirits project, you also opened Alabama in Paris last year. What made you want to open your own bar, and did you have a specific vision in mind?

MD: Yes I actually got asked by a friend of mine – Sofia – if I wanted to be a part of the bar opening. I had just shut down my other bar in Tenerife which was called Mikkey Dee Rock Lounge. I thought it was a great opportunity and decided to do it with Sofia. The bar is right at Plaza Republic, super central. We have all the Motörhead drinks there and also some merchandise. We really brought in the feeling of Motörhead; a little bit of memorabilia! That was the vision. I try to get there as often as I can but it hasn’t been too much recently.

MoM: What’s your go-to drink of choice when you’re playing a show? And how about when you’re relaxing at home?

MD: I’m not complicated, I like a simple lager. We have our Bastards Lager available around the world – hopefully soon in the UK too!  

Skål!

MoM: You were in Motörhead for 23 years. How did the band’s approach to touring change over time – were the later tours as rock’n’roll as the earlier ones?

MD: Absolutely. With Motörhead the problem we had was Lem couldn’t stay at home! That old bastard never wanted to stop. We had just got back from four or five months’ touring in Europe and the US, I flew home to Sweden and two weeks later Lem called and said, ‘Hey what’s going on, should we go out again?’. I’d say to him, ‘We need to have time off!’ and he’d say, “Fuck it, we should get going now!” The approach was never-ending, being on the road all the time, even in the later years.

MoM: What might we find on a typical Motörhead rider?

MD: We weren’t really that particular to tell you the truth. We were easy going. Lemmy liked bourbon, whisky, and vodka and orange. On my rider – beer, a bottle of whisky, water. Snacks: fruit. The only weird shit was Lemmy was obsessed with Cadbury Kinder Eggs. He didn’t eat the chocolate but loved the gift on the inside. Sometimes he opened the egg and there was a finished piece instead of one you put together and he’d say, ‘This is a shit batch!’ He liked to make the toy himself. My boys would sometimes be backstage with us and would go into Lemmy’s dressing room before the show to hang out – then they’d come into my room and said to me, ‘Hey dad, Lemmy doesn’t eat the chocolate!’ with shocked faces.

MoM: Motörhead will be remembered as one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Could you share one of your career highlights from your time in the band?

MD: Oh my god, so many. Basically every time you walk off stage – you felt that was it, no one can follow this. You felt you gave it all. I remember we didn’t care much for awards shows and all three of us had the same attitude – how do you compete in music, why should this song or album win an award over this or that. We always got awarded by our fans and that was enough for us. That’s where the real deal is. But, when we did win a Grammy, Lem was very proud. I could see and feel that. And of course me and Phil as well. Not so much because we won – more that someone finally gave us a little bit more space and attention in this world. I thought that was fair. I’m glad Lemmy got to experience that, he deserved it. The band deserved it too after so many years of total rock and travelling the world. I don’t think we had one bad record. It was nice to be awarded for that from the industry.

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