Remember Talisker’s maritime-inspired Race to Skye competition? Well, this year the single malt Scotch whisky distillery’s annual cocktail challenge has transcended the tumultuous Skye shoreline to encompass Britain’s fields, forests,…
Remember Talisker’s maritime-inspired Race to Skye competition? Well, this year the single malt Scotch whisky distillery’s annual cocktail challenge has transcended the tumultuous Skye shoreline to encompass Britain’s fields, forests, and farmer’s markets. Here, brand ambassador Jason Clark shared tips for crafting a drink inspired by the wilderness…
If there’s one thing the Isle of Skye’s only distillery excels at, it’s crafting a bold, smoky, spicy, maritime dram. And if there’s one thing the UK’s bartenders know how to do, it’s make a damn fine cocktail with the stuff. So, it’s with great anticipation that we welcome back Talisker’s bartender training programme and competition for a third year. And this time, it’s evolved.
To spread this fine news, Talisker brand ambassador and double World Class Global Finalist Jason Clark has embarked on a UK-wide tour of 16 seaside locations and other cities to chat about the brand’s history, production and characteristics, and share a few Wild Spirit cocktail techniques. Oh, and he’s doing the whole thing in a Talisker Land Rover Highland Defender – camping in each location and documenting his journey along the way.
After his tour is over, bartenders across the UK will be invited to submit a Talisker Wild Spirit serve and add it to the menu in their bar for eight weeks to be in with the chance of bagging a Talisker Wild Spirit adventure for themselves and two of their colleagues. We’re a curious bunch, so we decided to sneak into Clark’s first session, which was hosted in London-based subterranean whisky den Black Rock. Here’s what we learned about crafting cocktails with a touch of Wild Spirit…
Test your palate
Experiment with “seasonal, natural flavours that are different to the classic flavours you find in a bar”, Clark suggests. Things like different mushroom varieties, toasted nuts, pine needles, olives, beetroot, tomato, different blossoms and flowers, salt, different types of honey, different types of apples, pears, weeds, roots, cured meats, samphire, rhubarb, figs, nettles, tangerines, stone fruits, dandelion, and seaweed varieties.
“These flavours may be grown in your garden or on your windowsill,” Clark suggests – indeed, garden centres sell all-in-one kits for mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and various herbs. Otherwise, “they might be foraged from a local park or coastline, they might be purchased from a local farmers market, or even from the supermarket,” he adds.
Forage with care
Our neighbourhoods, parks, reserves, and coastline are all abundant with forageable produce, you just need to know what you’re looking at, suggests Clark. However, “you need to know that the area you’re sourcing from is natural, clean and safe,” he says. For example, don’t pick blackberries from a graveyard, a dog park, or an industrial area.
Utilise the ingredients
If you forage something, and simple use it as a garnish or muddle it in the drink, you’re missing a trick. “It’s going to be gone in a day or three,” says Clark. “But if you look at ways of preserving it, you can use it on an ongoing basis for, potentially, the remainder of the season.” Syrups, infusions, shrubs, bitters, tinctures, pickling and cooking all bring out flavour in different ways. “You could do something as simple as infusing ginger bitters with magnolia flowers,” he adds.
Give it a fancy name
When someone opens a menu and sees the name of a cocktail, it instantly creates a mental image, says Clark. Think: Winter Waves, Spring Orchard, Shackleton Toddy, Highland Fire, Campfire Tales, and so on. Take it a step further by creating a little story about that as well.
Foraging not your forte? Here are three pre-approved Talisker cocktails you can whip up from the comfort of your own home…
Talisker Sea Sour
Ingredients: 50ml Talisker (10 Year Old, Skye or Storm), 30ml lemon juice, 1 egg white, 15ml honey syrup, 3 dashes celery bitters Glass: Old fashioned or tumbler Garnish: Fennel or samphire Method: Shake and double strain then garnish.
Talisker Campfire Hot Chocolate
Campfire Hot Chocolate
Ingredients: 50ml Talisker (10 Year Old, Skye or Storm), 50ml boiling water, 45g dark chocolate (60%), 150ml milk (dairy or oat), 10ml golden syrup Garnish: Toasted marshmallow and spice dust Method: Mix chocolate with water and stir. Add other ingredients and steam on a coffee machine milk wand. Pour into mug and garnish.
Talisker Hot Toddy
Ingredients: 50ml Talisker (10 Year Old, Storm, or Port Ruighe), 10ml ginger liqueur, 15ml heather honey syrup, 25ml lemon juice, 25ml apple juice, 100ml boiling water Garnish: Cinnamon-spiced honeycomb Method: Build in a pre-heated mug and garnish.
Today we are honoured to introduce Ian Buxton who is going to be writing a series of columns for us. In this his first article he looks back at whisky’s…
Today we are honoured to introduce Ian Buxton who is going to be writing a series of columns for us. In this his first article he looks back at whisky’s turbulent past and asks when the next bust is coming.
According to Mark Twain, “too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Well, uncomfortably soon, we might find out if that’s true. Whisky – be that Scotch, American or Irish – has, with monotonous regularity, a very bad habit of shooting off its own foot. Bear with me: short and grossly simplified history lesson coming up.
Ian Buxton at Glenfiddich
At the end of the 19th century, the Irish whiskey industry, which was heavily invested both financially and emotionally in its large pot stills and regarded grain spirit as ‘sham whisky’ and blending as adulteration, turned its back on the future. While other factors then came into play, it’s taken the industry more than a century to recover. Our American friends, having just got over the self-inflicted wound of Prohibition, decided that rye was finished and bourbon belonged on the bottom shelf. That’s taken a while to sort out.
And the Scots, contrary to their national reputation for caution and parsimony, are overly fond of some boom and bust, be it the Pattison crisis of the late 1890s or the closures of the 1920s, which – lesson not learned – were neatly repeated in the mid-1980s when the industry finally confronted the consequences of over-production. Not to be outdone, shortly afterwards, the Japanese industry thought seppuku a smart move. Reacting to economic recession and dropping sales, a series of cutbacks and closures explain why Japanese whisky of any age is so very expensive today.
So, that’s one thing the world of whisky has in common. Here’s another: we may be on the brink of repeating the same mistake because, wherever you look, distilleries are being expanded and new ones built as if the current good times will never end. The thing is, top-line numbers don’t tell the whole story. While there may be literally thousands of boutique distilleries being built anywhere you can cast a quaich, they don’t actually matter all that much. Sure, they do if you’re an investor. Furthermore, they add to the gaiety of life and people like me get to write articles about them, but in terms of the volume they add to total production they’re insignificant.
Macallan’s spanking new distillery
If you doubt that, here’s a sum: it would take 125 (that’s one hundred and twenty-five, count ‘em) tiddlers of 100,000 litres annual capacity to equal the output of one Roseisle. By the way, 100,000 litres is a perfectly decent little distillery: more, for example, than the projected individual outputs of Daftmill, Abhainn Dearg, Strathearn, Eden Mill or Dornoch . And, while a lot of new boutique distilleries are being built in Scotland, the total doesn’t approach 125.
In fact, I shall. Exactly the same thing is happening in Kentucky and elsewhere in the USA. That’s without mentioning the States’ reputed 1,500 plus craft distillers which, however small any one of them may be, does eventually add up to an awful lot of liquor. Expansion in Ireland, chiefly at Tullamore and Midleton, but not forgetting Waterford and Bushmills, has also seen a headlong rush into micro-distilling – which is interesting, given how Jameson continues to dominate the category. Does the world need twenty or more tiny Irish distilleries? In Japan, following years of under-production and a sudden dramatic rise in demand (and hence those prices), they’re scrambling to catch up.
Artist impression of the new Port Ellen distillery
Now, while you can, of course, keep whisky in cask almost indefinitely, that requires barrels and warehouses, scarce and expensive resources that tax the patience of the most saintly accountant. Because a lot of this expansion has happened within a short period of time, a tsunami of newly-mature spirit can be expected on the market within the next five years.
In fact, the world has never seen so much whisky. Where will it all go? Who is going to drink it all?
I would like to conclude with the thought that the last time whisky grew this fast it all ended badly. Which is true, but I can’t because whisky has never grown this fast. The size of some of these giant distilleries is unheard of for single malt, and, for the industry as a whole, the scale of expansion is unprecedented. That’s worth thinking about, because it means an unprecedented level of risk of a very messy end to our current golden age.
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.
Have you ever come across words in other languages that don’t directly translate into English? Well, the team behind Parisian bar Little Red Door haven’t just deciphered their meaning for…
Have you ever come across words in other languages that don’t directly translate into English? Well, the team behind Parisian bar Little Red Door haven’t just deciphered their meaning for us – they’ve interpreted them as cocktails. We caught up with group bar manager Rory Shepherd to find out precisely what (or who…) ‘pochemuchka’ is…
If you’ve ever felt as though you can’t quite find the right words, it could be because they don’t exist – not in English, anyway. The team at Little Red Door has clocked onto this with a new drinks selection, taking 10 untranslatable words and using them to inspire corresponding cocktails.
Behind the Little Red Door
The premise of the menu, dubbed A Way With Words, is this: all words are rooted in emotion, which is how they are given meaning (deep, we know). So the cocktails, in their deliciousness, will delve deep into the emotion behind the phrases. The team, who hail from French, Dutch, Swedish and Venezuelan backgrounds – and usher hundreds of international guests through their doors each week – were inspired by the language barriers that are often broken down in the bar.
“As a Scotsman it was very hard not to involve some seriously rough Scottish slang,” says Shepherd of words that didn’t quite make the final cut. “We also wanted to do words that are an absolute no in a bar environment – like ‘culaccino’, which in Italian refers to the mark left on a table by a wet glass.”
Ingredients: Strawberry leaf Belvedere, strawberry wine, strawberry moo juice Language: Russian Rough translation: Why is the sky blue? Why are strawberries red? Why does that person keep asking questions?! How it’s made: The team separates milk using strawberry leaf-infused Belvedere vodka, adds strawberry vermouth, and then filters the mix to serve a clarified milk punch.
So, how did they do it? First, they gathered words that “depict a certain emotion, feeling, state or ritual that in its native language sums up an entire experience, but in English needs a full description”, and shared them out among the bartenders, who got busy researching, interpreting developing, and ultimately translating their given word into a drink – albeit in their own creative bar language.
“Pochemuchka is someone who asks questions,” explains Shepherd. “There’s a kids book called Pochemuchka about this kid who is super curious about everything to the point where it’s almost annoying. We purposely wrote Strawberry Moo Juice so you’d ask what it is. What is a ‘Moo’ and what would it’s ‘juice’ be? …. Strawberry milk!”
Ingredients: All day amaro, bubbles Language: Italian Rough translation: Strolling along by the sea, breathing in the warm sunset air, digesting a lovely meal, being with each other. How it’s made: To create this non-alcoholic twist on the classic Americano serve, the team combine house-made non-alcoholic Amaro with Seedlip Garden 108 and soda water.
The physical menu, should you be lucky enough to get your mitts on one, is decorated with artwork by surrealist photographer Natacha Einat which aims to evoke the feeling of the words behind each cocktail. Thought-provoking drinks are, after all, a Little Red Door staple.
The new cocktails follow 2018’s Menu of Universal Values, made up of drinks representing 10 different values that everyone feels at least once (strength, stimulation, achievement, hedonism, benevolence, conformity, self-direction, tradition, universalism, and balance, FYI). I ask Shepherd what he enjoys about approaching cocktails in this way.
“It’s fun, it’s bonding, it’s intriguing,” he says. “By digging into a topic you don’t really know about you discover new things so therefore when you are exploring flavour you will also do the same, it’s an amazing way to step out of our comfort zone. Ultimately our interests lie in social studies and anthropology, which in a social world such as cocktail bars it’s nice to get nitty gritty with this.”
Ingredients: Monkey Shoulder, seasonal tea, rice wine, ‘terroir’ Language: Japanese Rough translation: The sense of seasons to come, the first scent of cut grass, bees collecting nectar, leaves turning to amber. How it’s made: Well, it really depends on the season. The flavour of this whisky cocktail – which is served on the rocks in a Japanese-inspired bowl with seasonal flowers and fruits – will be dictated by the local produce available.
While the hip hangout, situated in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris, undergoes a small refurbishment, Shepherd and the team will take their new creation on an international tour, working in collaboration with bars along the way to create bespoke drinks based on words in their native languages. London will be the first to taste A Way With Words over the coming weekend (12, 13 and 14 April), hosted at buzzy Marylebone bar FAM in collaboration with Porter’s Gin.
“We collaborated on a Cognac drink which will be available at FAM after we leave for the duration of Cognac Week in London,” says Shepherd. “It was super fun coming up with this name because we had to kind of reverse our process; an English word that doesn’t really translate… Higgledy-Piggledy contains Remy Martin 1738, Londinio Aperitivo, fino sherry, lemon thyme, and Sacred Amber vermouth.”
Ingredients: Fermented agave, forbidden fruit, hops Language: Arabic Rough translation: A feeling of self-freshness. The purity and ritual of cleanliness How it’s made: Fermented agave wine made in Paris is combined with red apple verjus and mastiha soda with hops to make a light, floral drink.
A Way With Words is available at Little Red Door now, presented in both French and English.
Today, we are delighted to announce a new series of columns from writer and former bar owner Nate Brown. This week he takes a not entirely serious look at how…
Today, we are delighted to announce a new series of columns from writer and former bar owner Nate Brown. This week he takes a not entirely serious look at how to launch a new drinks brand…
There has been an explosion of new products launched over the last couple of years. Every week we are introduced to something ‘new’. From so-called craft distilleries to the big boys, any excuse to launch a new expression will be hunted down and executed. We’re bombarded with whisky from TV shows (we definitely needed those), more pink gin expressions (really?) and so many cask finishes it’s a wonder there are any trees left standing.
There is one thing all these newbies have in common, and that’s the launch night. Get it right and the entire industry will be abuzz. Get it wrong and the entire industry, well, will be abuzz also. With so many launches to ‘enjoy’, you’d think the industry would have arrived at a fairly formulaic process: invite guests, show off, have a nice time. Everyone leaves a little wiser and a little happier. But oh no. No, no, double no. Again and again, a product launch party rolls around that makes my jaw drop, and not because someone is pouring something delicious. You’d think the hospitality industry would be better at hospitality. You’d be wrong.
To illustrate this, I have collated a few steps of how not to launch a product. All of these have happened. Most of these have happened more than once. Some are repeated again and again and for the love of Christ, I have no idea why. Please don’t try this at home.
Nate Brown in his natural habitat
Choose a suitable location for the launch. Chances are you won’t have bothered with your own distillery, and instead contracted out production. Without a distillery, the world is your oyster. How freeing! Choose your favourite zeitgeist bar, preferably somewhere in whatever suburb of London you live. Just make sure that it’s a blank canvas, or at least has an identity of its own that has nothing whatsoever to do with yours. You know how confused journalists get, must be all that drinking! A cunning trick is to send the stock as late as possible, or maybe not at all, to make sure those pesky bartenders don’t drink any beforehand. Sure, you could partner with someone whose brand story overlaps with yours, and they could bring a host of folks to your party, but this is your party, why let them steal your limelight? Exposure is measured in seconds, people!
It’s important to remind everyone of how cool you are, and how hard you’ve worked. This should be a party, and when do parties happen? Why, Friday nights of course! It’s not as if people will have anything better to do.
With your raison d’être, a date and neutral location sorted, next is the guest list. There are two schools of thought: one is to invite industry players, although bar managers, bartenders, bar owners are all too flaky to come to things like this. I mean, if they can’t be trusted to sack off the bar for a Friday party celebrating how hard you’ve worked and how cool your brand is, then to hell with them. What do they know? The second, time-honoured approach is to invite the stalwarts of the trade press. It’s their job to report on what you do, which makes it a doddle. They won’t even need explanations, hosting or entertaining, and they’ll still pop a lovely little mention of how cool you are and how hard you’ve worked online. Everyone’s a winner, especially you. Now that’s value.
One thing we can agree on is do not, under any circumstances, invite those with a social media presence. Sure, they may have thousands of eager followers who hang on their every word and buy the most ridiculous skincare placebos for buckets of cash, but they don’t work in the industry, so you’d have to spend your entire evening curating some sort of explanation of the processes behind your wonderful brand. If they don’t know how exactly a Coffey Still works they’re beyond help. Nah, just ignore them. This social media fad has no power and will never catch on anyway.
They’re lovin’ it!
That’s the guest list sorted. Now the easy bit – the running of the evening. It’s a product launch; all your guests know the score and each other. Just have them turn up around 7pm and your work here is done. Better make sure they get some drinks, but this spirits game is an expensive business, so don’t go crazy. If you have a cheaper expression, offer them that instead. Bespoke cocktails are overrated. And bartenders all of a sudden seem to know their worth, so any Tom or Dick will do. Better still, just put an arbitrary cash tab behind the bar, that way your guests don’t even have to drink your brand. Remember, the slower the drinks flow, the longer the free bar lasts, the cooler this party looks. Simples.
It is wise to avoid looking like you (or anyone for that matter) are in charge. Keep people guessing, it’ll give the guests something to talk about. Otherwise, you’ll spend the entire evening answering questions and putting out fires. It’s your job to start the fires. Look hot. Maybe get your flirt on. Alternatively, have that one member of your team you dislike the most wearing a branded tee (you can get these done super cheap online). That way they can act as question fodder for the annoyingly curious attendees, leaving you free to chat up the cool kids and the hotties.
Do not even consider hiring a photographer. You want people to loosen up and let their hair down. Who wants that on record? No, in fact, don’t do anything that stands in the way of a boozy one. Think about instead confiscating people’s phones. We don’t want any embarrassing pictures online.
If you really must, make some sort of speech to introduce the brand. But personally, I wouldn’t bother. Who likes to have their evening interrupted with a speech? This isn’t a wedding. Besides, these hermit-like journalists probably haven’t seen each other since yesterday’s launch, and will have plenty of catching up to do without you sticking your nose in. Just get drunk, get your team drunk, and have well-deserved blow-out. Lead by example. Better for everyone to talk about that totally epic party you had than to walk away sober.
You want opinions? Nate Brown’s got ’em
If things go according to plan, your guests will be so drunk that they’ll struggle to remember their own coats, so I wouldn’t bother with any takeaways or gift bags, they’ll only get left in the Uber.
By which stage, you’ve achieved what you set out to do. You’ve unleashed your product to the world. Leave the journalists to do whatever it is journalists do, then wait for the orders to come rolling in. You’re a game changer. It’s time to enjoy yourself. Get your friends to come, just make sure they get there before the bar tab has run dry. Maybe even get on the old winking app and swipe right a few times. You’ll never look so glamorous to a stranger as when you’re hosting your own product launch. Guaranteed lay.
And there you have it. At least until next week’s launch.
Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.
Our new arrival this week is Mackmyra Äppelblom, a whisky from Sweden’s original single malt distillery which has been finished in a pretty rare cask. The clue is in the…
Our new arrival this week is Mackmyra Äppelblom, a whisky from Sweden’s original single malt distillery which has been finished in a pretty rare cask. The clue is in the name…
Back in 1999, Mackmyra was the first and only whisky distillery in Sweden. The story began with eight friends who all loved whisky but realised there were no Swedish producers. Naturally, they questioned why, and solved this problem by creating their own!
Today, Mackmyra is actually made up of two distilleries and continues to push boundaries. When it launched in 2002, distillation was carried out at the Mackmyra Bruk site, until 2011 when production was moved to the new Gravity Distillery at Gävle. This innovative feat of construction stands 35 metres tall and seven storeys high. As you might have guessed from the name, the distillery makes use of gravity throughout the whisky-making process. In 2017, the old distillery at Mackmyra Bruk was brought back up-and-running under the name Lab+Distillery, which explores slightly more experimental spirits.
The Gravity Distillery!
Mackmyra Äppelblom, the latest release, is a single malt aged in ex-bourbon and new American oak casks. Äppelblom, meaning apple blossom in Swedish, refers to the very special finishing process in oak casks which previously held Calvados from one of the region’s leading producers, Christian Drouin (Calvados is an apple or pear brandy from Normandy in France). The family-run company began in 1960, and the apples come from the Drouin family orchards, many of them harvested by hand. Mackmyra’s master blender Angela D’Orazio partnered with Christian Drouin and his son Guillaume to create the whisky, which is bottled at 46.1% ABV. It seems it was a match made in heaven; D’Orazio commented that “the choice of Calvados producer was easy. Christian Drouin creates absolutely fantastic Calvados, […] he has challenged French traditions in this area, and is therefore the perfect match for Mackmyra’s approach and our enjoyment of experimenting”.
Since Christian Drouin’s Calvados is aged for an exceptionally long time, a minimum of 20 years, there’s very little opportunity for the casks to be used a second time. For the first 20 years of the business, all of Drouin’s Calvados was ageing and not one bottle was sold. We’d say that was quite an investment, and clearly this isn’t a finish that we’ll see all that often! Guillaume Drouin, managing director at Calvados Christian Drouin stated that he was “happy to see the result of this innovative ageing using one of the very few casks we ship from our cellar”.
We present to you, Mackmyra Äppelblom!
The result is a lightly-spiced and fruity whisky, reminiscent of fresh green apples, just in time for spring! While wonderful served neat, you can also try Mackmyra Äppelblom alongside a warm apple dessert or even apple sorbet.
Tasting note for Mackmyra Äppelblom:
Nose: Toasted oak and orchard fruits galore, namely apple and pear with a hint of lemon, delicate floral notes with sweet vanilla and toffee.
Palate: Well-rounded fruity and spicy notes continue with the marriage of pear and citrus. Cedar wood emerges alongside aniseed, caramelised almonds, white pepper and ginger spiciness.
Finish: Spicy tones linger with gentle oak and zesty lemon and apple.
Are you a gin magpie with an eye for shiny, new juniper-based concoctions? Then listen up. Mull-based distillery Tobermory is in the process of releasing its first gin expression. Behold –…
Are you agin magpie with an eye for shiny, new juniper-based concoctions? Then listen up. Mull-based distillery Tobermory is in the process of releasing its first gin expression. Behold – Tobermory Hebridean Gin!
Tobermory Distillery has been closed for a two-year renovation period, and the first fruits of that investment were on display at an event in London last night (27 March).
Not only did the distillery reveal its new Tobermory 12 Year Old, an unpeated bourbon cask-matured, virgin oak-finished Scotch whisky expression, but it surprised guests with a sneak peek at the new gin, too.
Tobermory Hebridean Gin – Tobermory’s first gin!
Tobermory Hebridean Gin is a 46.3% ABV small-batch-distilled gin made with local botanicals including elderflower, tea and wild heather, and a dash of Tobermory new-make spirit.
The new-make is used more as another botanical rather than the full base. The result means the oily, cereal character is a flavour contributor, rather than overwhelming the whole expression.
We were particularly impressed by the bottle, which showcases the iconic, colourful houses that border the shore in Tobermory, the island’s biggest town. The clear glass and label design are in line with a sleek brand refresh for the wider spirits range.
Dr Kirstie McCallum, Distell’s master blender, told us that the gin release was the result of the investment in the distillery. It’s currently being produced in 60-litre still named Wee Betty, with a larger dedicated gin still set to be installed in the new spirits stillhouse (separate from the existing whisky-producing space) later this summer.
Once the larger still is in situ, the gin will be released more widely.
The shiny new Tobermory 12 Year Old!
McCallum also confirmed Tobermory 10 Year Old has been discontinued with the launch of the 12 Year Old expression, and that we can expect to see more changes to the distillery’s core Scotch whisky range soon. In addition to the unpeated Tobermory range, the site also produces heavily-peated Scotch whisky under the Ledaig name.
Keep an eye on the blog for our full interview with McCallum, including further details on Tobermory Hebridean Gin and Tobermory 12 Year Old, coming soon!
In days gone by, the primary function of a cocktail was to mask the harshness of the spirit within and make the drink a little more palatable. Thanks, however, to…
In days gone by, the primary function of a cocktail was to mask the harshness of the spirit within and make the drink a little more palatable. Thanks, however, to improvements in distillery technology – and good old health and safety – cocktails evolved to show off the quality of the alcohol. Now, producers are turning everything on its head and creating spirits that serve the cocktail, rather than cocktails that serve the spirit.
“Following the explosion of the global cocktail scene in the early 1990s and the more recent renaissance of classic cocktails in the last five to 10 years, there has been a dramatic increase in the production of mixology-focused spirits,” observes Geoff Robinson, UK brand ambassador for Santa Teresa rum. A former bartender at London bars Happiness Forgets, Library, Seven Tales and Satan’s Whiskers, he has experienced – and experimented with – the burgeoning ‘cocktail spirits’ market first hand.
Geoff Robinson thinking of new uses for Santa Teresa 1796 rum
“Bartenders are no longer afraid to take risks with premium spirits,” he continues. “The widespread trends for clarification, fat-washing and fermentation, amongst others, demonstrate the creativity of bartenders in the current climate and how they are leveraging the wealth of technology, and products, available to them to create truly ground-breaking innovations in cocktails.”
This nascent bartender ingenuity has prompted producers to follow a new path: distilling – and bottling – with mixed drinks in mind. And who better to inform their decisions than the very people who will be pouring the liquid? From brainstorming flavours to tapping into specific cocktail applications and testing early batches of product, bartenders have been increasingly involved at every stage. Some brands, like Auchentoshan, go a step further – making the process a competitive collaborative endeavour, such as its Bartenders’ Malt release.
So, what are bartenders looking for? The quality of the liquid is the most important element. “If you ask a bartender today what his or her impression of ‘base spirits’ for cocktails are, you’re likely to get a mixed response,” notes Giovanni Spezziga, general manager of The Coral Room in London. “Many of them will say their experiences have been disappointing. It’s as if they really wanted to like the products or brand but were let down by the actual liquid inside the bottle.”
Giovanni Spezziga and one of his team at the Coral Room both resplendent in crushed velvet
The other key consideration, according to Robinson, when engineering a spirit specifically designed for mixing is to ensure that it brings something distinct to the back bar: “That need not be some esoteric or long-forgotten ingredient – it can be as simple as a much-loved spirit at a higher ABV, or a single distillate expression of a much sought-after botanical or flavour,” he explains. “Ultimately, the key is to add something of value to the existing conversation; ideally, you want bartenders to understand that spirit as uniquely able to offer a particular profile, thus allowing them – and simultaneously inspiring them – to use it in new creations or twists on classics.”
Flavour aside, there’s also the small matter of practical use when it comes to the cocktail-specific spirit. The packaging and bottle must be ergonomic – both in the hands of bartenders and atop the backbar – and depending on the venue, or perhaps even the cocktail, durable enough to protect the contents within. Flavours change over time, says Spezziga, depending on the style and size of the bottle as well as the liquid. Aged spirits like bourbon and Scotch can lose a significant amount of their colour due to exposure to both light and heat, he adds.
Some may think crafting spirits for cocktails is an easy endeavour – after all, the liquid is going to be mixed (and potentially masked) with something else regardless – but as Robinson and Spezziga attest, creating bartender-worthy booze is no walk in the park. Here, we’ve picked five spectacular spirits that were designed with cocktails in mind…
What is it? Blended Scotch malt whisky from William Grant containing “a unique combination of small batches of three different Speyside single malts” according to team MS.
Cocktail credentials: First released in 2005, this easy-drinking malt was quite literally “made for mixing” according to its creator, master blender Brian Kinsman. Watch out for the Monkey Mixer, an 11,000-litre cocktail shaker made from a “pimped out cement mixer truck”, which tours around the globe.
How to serve it: Try a Monkey Splash – 30ml Monkey Shoulder, 45ml soda, orange wedge. Build the ingredients in a glass and garnish.
What is it? Created by Simon Ford of The 86 Company and Thames Distillers’ master distiller Charles Maxwell, Fords Gin combines juniper, coriander, lemon, bitter orange, grapefruit, cassia, angelica, jasmine and orris to produce a fresh, aromatic and floral gin.
Cocktail credentials: The brand’s strapline is ‘The Cocktail Gin’, and it’s not just fancy marketing. When deciding the recipe, Ford and Maxwell considered classic gin cocktails, broke them down by their flavour profiles, and paired those flavours with botanicals to craft the most versatile gin possible. The ergonomic bottle features a measuring scale on the side, so you can see how many serves are left…
How to serve it… In a 50/50 Martini: 45ml Fords Gin, 45ml Dolin Dry Vermouth, 1 dash Regan’s Orange Bitters, 1 lemon twist. Pour all ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice, stir for 40 counts, then strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish.
What is it? Tequila made from 100% blue agave grown in the Los Altos highlands of Mexico.
Cocktail credentials: Olmeca was designed by bartenders – specifically industry legends Dre Masso and the late Henry Besant – for bartenders, with the help of Olmeca master distiller Jesús Hernández. It’scitric and sweet, with a fruity aroma.
How to serve it… Put a twist on a classic with the Negrete, Mexico’s answer to a Negroni. Combine 1 part Altos Plata Tequila, 1 part Campari, and 1 part red vermouth in a mixing glass. Stir with cubed ice, decant into a tumbler, and garnish with a slice of orange.
What is it? AVS Cognac from the house of Pierre Ferrand, made from grapes grown in the Grande Champagne region.
Cocktail credentials: Made according to a recipe that dates back to 1840, the liquid is a collaboration between Pierre Ferrand owner Alexandre Gabriel, cellar master Christian Guerin, and cocktail historian Dave Wondrich.
How to serve it… No question – the Original Cognac Cocktail, as adapted from Jerry Thomas’ 1862 tome Bar-Tenders’ Guide. In a mixing glass, stir ½ teaspoon fine sugar with 5ml water until dissolved. Add 60ml Pierre Ferrand 1840 Original Formula, 5ml orange liqueur and 2-3 dashes aromatic bitters. Fill the glass with ice, stir well and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. To garnish, twist lemon peel over the top.
What is it? Single estate Venezuelan rum aged according to the solera method commonly used in Spanish sherry.
Cocktail credentials: Five generations of rum-making poured into one bottle. Rum blends aged up to 35 years in bourbon barrels undergo solera-ageing resulting in a dry, smooth rum that can make any classic cocktail shine.
How to serve it: The Roseta. Pour 1 ½ parts Santa Teresa 1796 into a glass, top with sparkling water and garnish with an orange twist. Delightful.
We talk extreme climate ageing, Israeli terroir and Jim Swan’s influence on world whisky with the team at Milk & Honey (or M&H to its friends). When is a single…
We talk extreme climate ageing, Israeli terroir and Jim Swan’s influence on world whisky with the team at Milk & Honey (or M&H to its friends).
When is a single malt not a whisky? When it’s the snappily-titled M&H Young Single Malt Aged Spirit, that’s when. Later this year, there will be a whisky release from Israel’s first single malt distillery, but the spirit is so delicious at about six months ageing that the team has decided to bottle some now. This is the Triple Cask release, and it’s aged in a combination of ex-bourbon, Islay and STR (shaved, toasted and re-charred) casks that previously held Israeli wine.
I tried some last year; firstly in its component parts, and then put together where it had notes of honeycomb and cherry, all with an underlying smokiness coming through strongly on the finish. The liquid is so rich, harmonious and golden in colour, that it’s hard to believe it is only six months old.
M&H Triple Cask
Dana Baran, head of marketing, explained to me why it had so much flavour already. “It’s very hot and humid in Tel Aviv, and the climate helps with fast maturation,” she says. “It’s like Kavalan in Taiwan. The negative side is the evaporation rate, which is about 8-10% yearly.” Head distiller Tomer Goren added: “Whiskies over three-to-four years old, which we already have, are well-matured. We will not reach more than five or six years of maturation.” The Triple Cask bodes well for the distillery’s first full release of whisky, due out later this year. There was a very limited release of 391 bottles in 2017, the first of which went for £2,400 at auction.
Milk & Honey (from the biblical name for ancient Israel, the land of milk and honey) has something else in common with Kavalan: the involvement of Jim Swan, distiller extraordinaire, who died in 2017. “Dr Jim Swan was our consultant,” said Baran. “He helped us to build the distillery from scratch, chose the casks, the yeast, and designed our pot stills.” According to Goren, Jim Swan found Israel’s climate fascinating from a maturation point of view. “We are such a small country, but we have three or four different climate zones. All the zones see whisky mature at different rates.”
The team have been experimenting with ageing casks in the ultra-salty environment of the Dead Sea. ”The air is very dry and salty,” said Baran. “Temperatures can run up to 50°C in the summer there, so obviously the evaporation rates will be sky-high. But we might get some interesting flavours from there as well.”
The climate isn’t the only unique thing the team has to play around with. “Our ‘terroir’ is trying to use locally-based interesting things,” Baran told me. Israel has a burgeoning wine scene. At the moment, Israeli wineries use mainly French grape varieties like Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon, but some are experimenting with indigenous grapes. M&H is ageing some spirit in casks that previously held these grapes for added local flavour. The team also uses casks that contained wine made from fermented pomegranates, “a very biblical and very Israeli fruit”, according to Baran.
It’s a barrel of laughs working at M&H
Sadly, Israeli barley is not suitable for distillation so the grain comes from Muntons, a British company. Most of the M&H distillation runs are unpeated, but every six months Goren does a two-week run of peated barley. The yeast comes from Fermentis in Belgium, and the team ferments for between 60 and 70 hours. There is a 9,000 litre wash still and a 3,500 litre spirit still producing around 170,000 litres of pure spirit per year, enough to fill 800 casks. So it’s a small operation, at least by Scottish standards. For comparison, Ardbeg produces around 1.25 million litres per year.
M&H filled its first cask in 2015. At the time there were no other whisky distilleries in the country. But, according to Goren, “the whisky industry is booming, so there is now one more that is up and running, and there’s one or two that are in the construction stages.” There are no Israeli regulations for whisky. Goren told me that distillers largely use those of the Scotch Whisky Association, so the first whisky will be aged for a minimum of three years.
As well as whisky and nearly whisky, M&H also makes gin and other liqueurs using the house malt spirit. Being based in the tourist hot spot of Tel Aviv means that the distillery gets a lot of visitors, around 10,000 a year according to Baran. “But we’re actually not aiming for the Israeli market, we’re thinking global,” she said. Welcome, Israel, to the world whisky club.
Pinch, punch, the first of the month, March is here! Happy St. David’s Day if you’re celebrating, and happy weekend, too! But before you crack on with the festivities, we’ve…
Pinch, punch, the first of the month, March is here! Happy St. David’s Day if you’re celebrating, and happy weekend, too! But before you crack on with the festivities, we’ve got all the booze news stories you need from the week that was.
Spring has sprung! Birds are singing, the daffodils are out… and this week MoM HQ has been sweltering in temperatures most usually seen in July. We’ve cracked out the Highballs, the floral gins, the light mark rums, and we’ve had a lovely time (global warming concerns aside). But it’s not all been high-jinks – there have been news and features aplenty, too!
But what else has happened in the world of booze? LOADS, that’s what. Don’t believe us? Just read on, my friend.
We can’t wait to see the transformed Bunnahabhain distillery
Bunnahabhain gets £10.5 million distillery revamp
Islay fans: we have big distillery news. Bunnahabhain, tucked away on the island’s north coast, is in the throes of a significant expansion project! The £10.5 million transformation, funded by parent company Distell International, will see the creation of a ‘brand home’ and visitor centre complete with a shop and café overlooking the stunning Sound of Islay. Also new will be a shiny filling store, while the production building and cottages will be restored, creating on-site holiday accommodation. A number of original distillery buildings will be also be revived, while others, notably old warehouses, will be removed to make room for the new buildings, and improve operational flow. Work is already underway, with an impressive 99% of materials removed already repurposed for use on-site. “The plans aim to make the navigation of the site much easier for the visitor and to, in simple terms, declutter it,” said Derek Scott, Distell’s brand director for malts. He continued: “As the most remote and northerly distillery on the island, our transformation will give those who have made the journey time to pause, forget about the rest of the world and enjoy the serene surroundings.” The visitor centre should be ready in time for the 2020 season – we can’t wait.
Hopefully things will begin to look up for the Gautier Cognac parent
La Martiniquaise owner to take over most of Marie Brizard
French drinks group Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits looks likely to be taken over by main shareholder COFEPP, hopefully concluding a troubled couple of years for the Gautier Cognac and Sobieski vodka parent. In a statement, the company said the French authorities had approved the COFEPP bid, as long as certain conditions are met. These include selling off Porto Pitters and Ticaz Tequila to meet competition concerns. It’s an interesting move for COFEPP, which already owns both La Martiniquaise and Bardinet (think: Glen Moray single malt Scotch, Label 5 blended Scotch, Saint James rum and Poliakov vodka). Could France be about to see a new super-power drinks group take shape?
One of Port Ellen’s oldest, and most exciting, releases.
Port Ellen releases a 39 year old single malt In a move that will get Scotch whisky lovers salivating, Diageo has announced that it will release a 39 year old single malt from Port Ellen in April. This is one of the oldest ever releases from the distillery that closed in 1983 (but is scheduled to start distilling again in 2021). The new release is grandly called Port Ellen: Untold Stories The Spirit Safe, and is the first in a new series of releases called the Untold Stories Series. It has been matured in both American oak ex-bourbon and European oak ex-sherry refill casks. “This release has been selected from a small number of casks, it is very different to other Port Ellen releases,” said Tom Jones, global prestige brand ambassador. It’s being released at 50.9% ABV and only 1,500 bottles have been filled. As you’d expect from perhaps the most in-demand ghost distillery in the world, it’s expensive, weighing in at £4,500 (although something of a bargain compared with some recent Macallan bottlings…).
Too much paperwork means less time to spend on wine
Spare a thought for wine inspectors set to ‘drown in paperwork’
Yep, more Brexit news, folks. The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has issued yet more warnings as part of its #NoToNoDeal campaign. The association is claiming that wine inspectors will be left ‘drowning in paperwork’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with red tape expected to result in 600,000 additional forms. The cost of all this extra admin? £70 million, according to WSTA stats. Why? Importers will need oodles more boxes to be ticked, from laboratory tests to potential tariffs. V1 forms – currently required for wines coming in from outside the EU – cost £20 per form, and must be filled in by hand. Best stock up on ink cartridges, as 55% of wine consumed in the UK comes from the EU. “The additional form filling and laboratory tests required for a no deal scenario will come as a real blow to exporters and importers alike,” said Miles Beale, WSTA chief exec. “Wine inspectors will find themselves drowning in paperwork and – unless they can double their workforce – wine consignments are going to be held up by unnecessary additional red tape. The reality is that if we leave the EU without a deal, wine businesses, big and small, will be facing a catalogue of extra costs which will ultimately be passed onto the British consumer.” But there’s no need to panic – by all accounts, importers are already stocking up. The wine should keep flowing.
Say hello to the wonderful Method and Madness Gin!
First release of Method and Madness Gin
Irish Distillers has unveiled Method and Madness Gin, the micro-distillery’s inaugural gin release! The bottling pays homage to the historic links to gin in Cork, while also pushing the modern boundaries of (g)innovation. The spirit was predominantly based around Irish Distillers’ pot still Cork Crimson Gin in 2005, which also took inspiration from traditional recipes dating back to 1798, found in a notebook kept in the distillery. It is distilled in ‘Mickey’s Belly’, Ireland’s oldest gin still, first commissioned at the site in 1958. The equipment is named after Michael Hurley, who was a distiller at Midleton for 45 years. Both he and the still came from Cork to Midleton, and so it was christened. The earthy citrus gin marries 16 botanicals, and Henry Donnelly, apprentice distiller, commented that to “combine the knowledge and tools of the past with the skills of the present to create a gin for the future has been a real honour”. The range is a fine use of Shakespeare’s iconic line, we’d say. Method and Madness gin is available in Ireland and global travel retail from March, and will be released globally from July.
Campbell Brown, who shouldn’t have any trouble finding a dram to toast this success
Double-win for Brown-Forman at the 2019 Icons of Whisky America Awards
What’s better than one award? Two awards, of course! The Brown-Forman Corporation will know all about that after Whisky Magazine has named the company Distiller of the Year and Juan Merizalde Carrillo of Old Forester Distilling Co. as Distillery Manager of the Year at the 2019 Icons of Whisky America Awards! Brown-Forman will now hope they can repeat the trick at Global Icons of Whisky presented in London this spring, where competition will come from contemporaries in Whisky Magazine’s other regions; Australia, India, Ireland, Rest of World and Scotland. “We are honoured to receive this award in recognition of our almost 150-year history as distillers and for our contributions and commitments to the spirits industry,” said Lawson Whiting, Brown-Forman CEO. “We continue to craft American whiskeys the best way we know how – with care, patience, and pride.” Campbell Brown, president of Old Forester added. “We are proud to celebrate Juan who is a great contributor to the success of Old Forester. Juan’s balance of technical expertise and passion for crafting great bourbon ensures that the Old Forester promise is as it has always been – to produce bourbon of the finest quality and utmost consistency.” Congratulations guys! I think a celebratory dram is in order…
Penderyn celebrates Welsh whisky ancestors on St David’s Day
Patriotic Penderyn has made a habit of honouring the patron saint of Wales with great whisky, and that’s not about to stop this year. The first distillery in Wales for 100 years has created a new Penderyn ‘Icons of Wales‘ single malt expression, the sixth edition in the series. Named Penderyn Royal Welsh Whisky as a nod to its distilling predecessors, the previous Welsh Whisky Company, it’s a peated whisky with a port wood finish that was bottled at 43% ABV. It was modelled on an original 19th century bottle that became the Royal Welsh Whisky after it received a royal warrant on 26 July 1895 (Queen Vic was obviously impressed on her 1891 visit). However, the company was wound up in 1903 after period of difficulty and little is now known about the original whisky. Adverts state that it was a five-year-old peated malt and, rather fancifully, was “the most wonderful whisky that ever drove the skeleton from the feast, or painted landscapes in the brain of man”. Little wonder bottles of Royal Welsh Whisky now sell for several thousand pounds! Stephen Davies, managing director of Penderyn, commented: “This is a great chance to celebrate Wales’ whisky heritage and the original Welsh Whisky company at Frongoch. Creating a global brand is a massive challenge, and we are proud to create award-winning whiskies which travel from Wales to the world, and this bottle pays homage to those early Welsh whisky pioneers.” Penderyn Royal Welsh Whisky is priced at £45 and sounds royally delicious – Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus, everyone!
Diageo just can’t get enough of this stuff!
Diageo gets taste for baijiu, wants more of Shui Jing Fang
Last year we reported that Diageo wanted in on the baijiu action, upping its stake in producer Shui Jing Fang from 39.7% to 60%. This week, the company confirmed it is after more, and has made an offer to increase its shareholding to 70%. And given baijiu’s popularity, it’s an interesting move. The Chinese white spirit is the most widely-consumed liquor in the world – and is the most valuable (yes, even beating whisky!). According to the 2018 Brand Finance Spirits 50 report, baijiu brand Moutai alone is worth a whopping US$21.2 billion. By comparison, Johnnie Walker, the world’s most valuable Scotch brand, is worth US$4.3bn. The time for baijiu has come!
Books and booze are a brilliant combination
The Bloomsbury Club Bar unveils literary cocktails for World Book Day
A good book plus a delicious dram? We’ve fallen in love all over again with that simple joy recently. So when news reached us that London’s The Bloomsbury Club Bar has created a literary-themed cocktail menu for World Book Day on 7 March, we were all ears. To honour the Bloomsbury Set of writers, philosophers and artists, the bar is encouraging guests to bring in a paperback book which they can trade for a complimentary cocktail. The books will then be donated to a local charitable bookshop! The four cocktails on the special menu include the mysteriously smoking JK Rowling, make with Chivas Regal 12 Year Old, ginger, honey, lemon, and Lapsang tea aroma; and the Roald Dahl, crafted with Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros, peach liqueur, dry vermouth, and grenadine, and comes complete with a giant chocolate ear. Other authors in the line-up include TS Eliot and Charles Dickens. The whole thing was developed by newly-appointed head bartender Scott Gavin in partnership with drinks group Pernod Ricard. Can’t bear to give up a beloved book? You can still enjoy a serve, you’ll just have to part with £12 instead.
BrewDog takes to the skies
And finally… BrewDog Airlines takes off
Not content with making beer, running pubs and launching a hotel, self-effacing Scottish brewer BrewDog has now taken to the skies. This week, the inaugural flight of BrewDog Airlines took off from London Stansted to Columbus, Ohio. On board, a group of paying customers along with a smattering of journalists were treated to a selection of brews, including an IPA especially designed to taste good at altitude. One of the lucky few was award-winning beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones who told us it was a very jolly experience: “everyone was very well behaved. I’ve seen more pissed people on a flight to Tenerife.” The only slight problem was that the lavatory tanks on the Boeing 767 weren’t designed to cope with all the, ahem, liquid produced by 200 British beer lovers. Tierney-Jones tweeted on landing: “Loos had to close two hours before landing such was the volume of micturition…” Apparently there were some serious queues for the toilets when they landed. We can picture the debrief at BrewDog HQ: “We’re going to need a bigger plane.”
Recently, we were fortunate enough to spend a few hours with one of the most entertaining men in whisky, Brendan McCarron. Now, we have produced four short films where McCarron…
Recently, we were fortunate enough to spend a few hours with one of the most entertaining men in whisky, Brendan McCarron. Now, we have produced four short films where McCarron gives a masterclass around each core expression.
If you like your whiskies wild and smoky, then you’re probably an Ardbeg drinker. This Islay distillery inspires a fierce loyalty among whisky fans.So, when Brendan McCarron joined in 2014, he knew that he was taking on a big responsibility. Before Ardbeg, he has had an interesting career in whisky. A chemical engineering graduate, his first whisky job was with Diageo. He worked as distillery manager at Oban, before moving to Islay to run Caol Ila, Lagavulin and the Port Ellen Maltings.
Brendan McCarron explaining whisky through hand gestures
Then he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse, an invitation to join the team at Ardbeg and Glenmorangie (which are both in the LVMH stable). McCarron’s official job title is head of maturing whisky stocks. He works alongside Dr Bill Lumsden (they described themselves at the recent launch for Glenmorangie Allta Private Edition as “like the two Ronnies, only not funny”) and is being groomed to succeed the good doctor when he retires.
We have produced a long interview with McCarron where he talks about the responsibility of working for a cult distillery like Ardbeg, his plans for the future and tells us which is his favourite expression, as well as a short Q&A. Below are four short films where McCarron gives us a mini masterclass on each of the four core whiskies in the Ardbeg range: 10 Year Old, An Oa, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan.
Ardbeg 10 Year Old – The classic expression is aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 46% ABV.
Ardbeg An Oa – Named after a peninsula on Islay, this is aged in a mixture of Pedro Ximénez, charred virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks, and bottled at 46.6% ABV.
Ardbeg Uigeadail – The name comes from the water source used by the distillery. It is aged in oloroso and ex-bourbon casks, roughly half and half, and bottled at 54.2% ABV.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan – Named after a fearsome whirlpool about 40 miles off the coast of the island, around 30% of this expression is aged in new French oak barriques and the rest in ex-bourbon casks, and it is bottled at 57.1% ABV.