From whisky to Cognac, the concept of the angel’s share, how much liquid a cask loses to evaporation, is one that is unique to every distillery. Millie Milliken takes a…
From whisky to Cognac, the concept of the angel’s share, how much liquid a cask loses to evaporation, is one that is unique to every distillery. Millie Milliken takes a closer look at this costly but vital part of the ageing process.
It’s true: there are some alcoholic liquids that have nearly swung me in the direction of believing in divinity. And while none have quite got me willingly through the doors of a church on a Sunday (or any other day for that matter), there is one supernatural story that never fails to enchant me – that of the ‘angel’s share’.
A quick question on my sophisticated data collection software (Instagram stories) solicited many a fellow drinks lover telling me where they were the first time they learned about the term: “a trip to Lagavulin on Islay”; “Speyside at Chivas Regal getting the grand tour from the master, Ian Logan”; “Officially? At the Aber Falls distillery”.
Yet a quick poll of my non booze-dwelling friends found that nearly all of them had no idea what I was talking about. So, what is the angel’s share and why does it happen?
It’s not just angels that love spirits
Give it wings
The angel’s share is the amount of liquid lost from a cask during the ageing process due to evaporation. As a spirit ages, water and alcohol evaporate through the wood’s pores, rising off the cask and are lost into the atmosphere. Or, should I say, to some rather lucky angels.
But it’s not just angels who appreciate ageing spirits. Anyone who has been inside an old distillery may have seen a black substance slick on the walls when they looked heavenwards. This is baudoinia compniacensis, a fungus that thrives on airborne alcohol and as such it is particularly happy in warehouses and distilleries housing spirits. And “in the Caribbean, spirits called ‘duppies’ swoop between the islands taking rum as they go,” said Jack Orr-Ewing, CEO of Caribbean rum brand, The Duppy Share.
Whoever it is enjoying the alcohol, Scotch whiskies on average lose 2% of a cask’s liquid per year. The duppies are even greedier, taking about 7% per year from Caribbean rums. Over time, this can amount to a shockingly high proportion of the distiller’s liquid. On average a VSOP Cognac will have lost over 10% over its life in cask, an XO will have lost 30% and after 50 years ageing, your now extremely expensive Cognac will have lost a staggering 70% of its original liquid (image in header is courtesy of Delamain Cognac).
The higher up the stack you go, the hotter it gets, and the greater the angel’s share
Location, location, location
There are a multitude of factors that can affect how much the angels get. As well as the strength of the liquid when it enters the cask, climate and temperature are two important ones and depend on the distillery’s location. Casks stored in humid conditions will lose less water and more alcohol than those stored in non-humid ones.
When it comes to temperature, a barrel kept in cold conditions will age slower than one in the hot climes of somewhere like Kentucky. Indeed, some Kentucky whiskies can lose up to 10% of their liquid in the first year while in the Caribbean, rums can lose up to 7%.
And then there’s the design of the warehouse which can affect ageing and the quality of the resulting liquid. “In Cognac you have a wide range of options,” says Clive Carpenter, general manager of Gérant Domaine Sazerac de Segonzac and creator for Seignette VS Cognac. “New-build warehouses are rather hot and dry because they are made of breezeblocks and are taller which means you’ll get a lot of water evaporation. That produces Cognacs which age faster but are harsher on the taste buds. Old-fashioned warehouses are made of stone, by the river on beaten earth, [so they’ve] got a very humid atmosphere. There you can lose a great deal of alcohol and not much water and if you overdo ageing in a damp warehouse, you get Cognacs that are over flabby.”
Then there’s how the barrels are stored in the warehouse. Airflow is important and in larger warehouses, casks can be stored on racks meaning more air can circulate around then and there is more evaporation. At The Glenlivet in Speyside, according to the website: “we have a traditional (dunnage) warehouse, with a gravel floor and only a small number of casks. This helps us to hold on to liquid as best we can.” In contrast, if the casks are stacked in a Kentucky warehouse, the temperature of the top of the warehouse will be far hotter than at the bottom.
Inside a traditional dunnage warehouse at Glenlivet
Cask size and wood type can also affect angel’s share. Brand new oak will absorb more liquid quicker than second-fill casks while smaller casks with more liquid-to-wood contact will encourage more evaporation too. At The Glenlivet, “casks that hold fewer than 50 litres can show really remarkable losses, which also leads to a faster maturation.”
And when we’re talking casks, we’re also talking ‘devil’s cut’. This is the liquid lost to the cask (and not evaporation) depending on how porous the wood is. Jim Beam has even created a Devil’s Cut expression using its 90 proof bourbon and blending it with the absorbed spirit extracted from the barrel.
Angel, duppy or devil, losing a percentage of your liquid is a price every distiller of aged spirits has to pay. If they do exist, sounds like the bar will be well stocked in both heaven and hell.
From Sean Connery advertising Suntory in the ’90s, to David Beckham with Haig Club, Ian Buxton looks into the history of celebrity-endorsed drinks. Nowadays you’re nowhere in celeb world unless…
From Sean Connery advertising Suntory in the ’90s, to David Beckham with Haig Club, Ian Buxton looks into the history of celebrity-endorsed drinks. Nowadays you’re nowhere in celeb world unless you’ve got your very own Tequila, whisky, gin or Prosecco.
I couldn’t help but notice that Sir Ranulph Fiennes is floggingrum these days. Celebrity-endorsed drinks adverts have been a long-standing fixture since, well, since there were celebrities and advertisements in which to feature them but looking into Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Great British Rum, it seems that those relationships are now more than skin deep.
Sir Ranulph Fiennes with Dr John Waters from English Spirit
Celebrity-endorsed drinks through the ages
Sometimes, the celebrity juxtapositions seem bizarre– hard to believe that even in 1949 actress Doris Day was the best salesperson forHarvester road rollers, for example. In alcohol, today’s audiences might look askance at Woody Allen promoting vodka (assuming any brand would think it a great idea) but, in 1966, he was apparently the ideal choice forSmirnoff to appeal to trendy young drinkers.
Fortunately for Smirnoff, its association with Mr Allen was long forgotten (except for this blog’s keen eye for gossip) before recent adverse publicity reflected badly on the brand. But in fact, the possibility of the celebrity turning toxic and damaging the partner is a real danger of celebrity endorsements.
That’s something probably well remembered byBacardi’s marketing team who, in late 2003, had to withdraw TV commercials featuring ex-footballer turned thespian Vinnie Jones hastily following his involvement in an unfortunate air-rage incident. Unfortunate for both parties as he lost what was clearly a lucrative gig, and Bacardi had to dump at least one expensive advert that had yet to air.
Once upon a time, it was simpler to use dead celebrities, as at least they could be relied on not to misbehave. Mark Twain (died 1910) and Rudyard Kipling (1936), were both disinterred to promote Old Crow bourbon in American press adverts in the early 1950s based on Twain’s reputed fondness for the brand. He could hardly argue the point or ask for a fee.
Just Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain enjoying a glass of bourbon
Take the money and run
Some years later, a fashion developed for publicity-shy but impecunious celebrities to endorse Japanese brands, confident that the association would not be picked up in the West, a trend wonderfully satirised by Bill Murray in the 2003 movie Lost in Translation. Murray stars as Bob Harris, a fading American movie star who is having a midlife crisis when he travels to Tokyo to promote Suntory whisky.
Who could he have been thinking of? Surely [surely shurely? Ed.] not Sean Connery’s 1991 promotion ofSuntory Crest? Surely one of the world’s greatest Scotsmen would want to promote a fine single malt? Well, no single malt could afford his rumoured fee of $1 million butDewar’s stepped up in 2004 with some digital magic in which Connery meets his younger self and advises ‘Some age, others mature’.
Doubtless Connery’s agent was happy with that deal and by the turn of the millennium any coyness about an association with alcohol had long been abandoned as more celebrities began to cash in. In fact, coy hardly describesSharon Stone’s promotion of the William Lawson’s blended Scotch whisky, a sister brand to Dewar’s that’s popular in European markets.
Leveraging the brand
But soon an even more astute generation of celebrities with a keen sense of their commercial value began looking for more than a lucrative payday, linking their personality uniquely closely with the brand by seeking first a royalty payment based on sales and, even more recently, taking an ownership position with equity in the brand itself.
This is a new development and demonstrates our continuing fascination with celebrity. Never mind seeking out some obscure, artisan product – as consumers we’re proving little more than biddable sheep, anxious to secure the reflected glory of a well-known face and name.
The trend setters have been US hip-hop* artists such as Sean Combs (aka P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, Puffy, Puff, etc) with his 2007 partnership with Diageo’s Ciroc Vodka. Fellow rappers had worked previously with various Cognac brands, such as Jay-Z with Chateau de Cognac’s D’USSE and Nas has been working as a brand ambassador for Hennessy since 2012.
But P. Diddy changed the rules, treating the French vodka like a trainer brand and insisting on a 50/50 profit split and creative control of US marketing. Did it work? Ask Diageo, which when it acquired DeLeón Tequila was quick to cut a similar deal with Combs.
The two amigos, George Clooney and Rande Gerber
In fact, this appears to be a particularly effective strategy for star-struck Diageo which has form in celebrity tie-ins with their brands – think David Beckham with Haig Club and George Clooney’s Casamigos Tequila, both following in Combs’ Ciroc footsteps.
The amounts of money are staggering. Casamigos changed hands for a reputed $1 billion if all the longer term targets are met, and August 2020 Diageo was back in business, having ponied up a cool $335m to buy Aviation American gin, with another $275m to follow if sales live up to expectations.
The fortunate celebrity here is Ryan Reynolds who we may safely assume will be able to stand his round for many years to come.
* For the avoidance of doubt the editor has suggested I confirm that I am unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Messrs. P. Diddy, Jay-Z and Nas though, full disclosure, I did once watch a James Bond film.
In the second part of our Cinco de Mayo special, we’re celebrating the rich life of one of Tequila’s greats, Tomas Estes from Ocho Tequila, with a cocktail recipe provided…
In the second part of our Cinco de Mayo special, we’re celebrating the rich life of one of Tequila’s greats, Tomas Estes from Ocho Tequila, with a cocktail recipe provided by his son Jesse. It’s the Matador!
The Matador is one of the answers to the often asked question of what do you drink when you want a Margarita but want something a bit longer and less strong. If you’re cooking up a Mexican feast, this would be the perfect drink to celebrate Cinco de Mayo.
The recipe comes from Jesse Estes’s book Tequila Beyond Sunrise. He’s a bartender with stints at notable venues as Callooh Callay, a world-renowned Tequila expert and judge, and the son of Tomas Estes, who sadly died last week. You can read our tribute to him here.
The Estes philosophy is summed up in the family’s Tequila brand, Ocho, a collaboration with Carlos Camarena, a third-generation Tequilero. All the agave used comes from land belonging to the Camerena family in the so-called ‘golden triangle’ of Jalisco. No chemical fertilisers or pest controls are used. They only harvest very mature agave with high sugar and acidity levels.
After harvesting, the piñas (plants minus the leaves) are cooked for three days, milled and water is added to create what is known as agave miel (honey.) It’s then distilled first in a copper and steel pot still, and then again in an all-copper one to around 55% ABV. The Tequila is either diluted with spring water or aged in used casks to reposado or añejo level. There are no additions before bottling.
Ocho is inspired by Tomas Estes’ love of Burgundy so all bottlings are from single fields and single vintages. We’ve been fortunate enough to taste along with Estes Junior on a few occasions and the difference between sites and years can be startling. There is a family resemblance, however, a green olive note and a refreshing minerality, which you can taste even in the aged examples because they have very subtle cask influence.
Tomas and Jesse Estes
The history of the Matador
Today, that refreshing quality is coming to the fore in Estes’s take on the Matador.
The first mention for this cocktail is in the Café Royal Cocktail Book from 1937 written by William J. Tarling which consists of Tequila, Orange Curaçao and dry vermouth. It was probably one of the first ever Tequila cocktails. It would certainly have been something of a novelty in 1930s London.
Fast forward 35 years to the 1972 edition of Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide and there’s something called a Tequila Matador. It consists of one part Tequila, two parts pineapple juice shaken with the juice of half a lime and strained into a coupe. Ever since then pineapple juice has been a component of the Matador making it a sort of tiki Margarita.
My edition of Mittie Hellmich’s incredibly thorough Ultimate Bar Book has something similar but it’s served on the rocks in an Old Fashioned glass. She also has a frozen version made in a blender with pineapple chunks and crushed ice which sounds splendid on a hot day. Difford’s Guide adds triple sec taking his version even further into Margarita territory.
Jesse Estes’ Matador on the right (photo from Tequila Beyond Sunrise credit: Alex Luck)
How to make a Matador, Jesse Estes style
Estes’ version takes the classic Matador recipes and riffs on the green note in Ocho Tequila with the addition of Green Chartreuse. We’re using the unaged La Laja Tequila from 2019 which has that classic green olive and mint Ocho profile. It gets its name from ‘laja’, a type of flat stone which you’ll find many of in this particular field. The herbaceousness of the Tequila chimes beautifully with the Chartreuse.
This recipe calls for a dehydrated pineapple slice or lime wheel which you can make in the oven. But fresh fruit is fine too. We do recommend the pink pepper at the end which does all kinds of wonderful things.
It’s a fitting way to celebrate Mexico’s national holiday, Cinco de Mayo, and pay tribute to Tomas Estes. ¡Salud Tomas!
Shake all ingredients vigorously with ice, strain into a large rocks glass (you could also serve it on the rocks). Garnish with a dehydrated pineapple slice or dehydrated lime wheel, and freshly cracked pink peppercorns.
Today, Cinco de Mayo, is Mexico’s national day of celebration so, if you want to get involved, we’ve picked some bottles to help you get in the mood. And not…
Today, Cinco de Mayo, is Mexico’s national day of celebration so, if you want to get involved, we’ve picked some bottles to help you get in the mood. And not just Tequila and mezcal, there’s also rum, whisky and more!
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll know that we are pretty keen on Mexican’s finest produce. Why only last week we ran a profile of Don Julio Tequila. But did you know there’s more to Mexico and booze than Tequila and mezcal? So as the world gears up to celebrate Mexico’s national holiday, Cinco de Mayo, we round-up some of our favourite bottles from one of our favourite countries. Naturally, we’ve also included some agave-based action in there. We’re not complete mavericks.
If you’re a fan of rhum agricole, grassy pungent spirits from the French-speaking Caribbean, then you’ll love El Destilado. Like agricole, this is made from raw sugar cane rather than molasses and fermented with wild yeasts.
What does it taste like?
Slightly tangy with green apple and white grape, with cut grass and peppercorn spice in support.
Whisky from Mexico, whatever next? It’s made from 85% native Oaxacan yellow corn fermented with 15% malted barley. Sounds like a recipe for a bourbon-like whisky, but the distillate is then aged in French oak for a taste that’s completely unique.
What does it taste like?
Buttered popcorn, vanilla cream and cloves, with smoky barrel char and a nutty floral finish.
Don’t worry, this isn’t actually illegal (the spelling is slightly different). We wouldn’t sell anything that wasn’t legal. This unaged mezcal is in Oaxaca using traditional methods, like roasting the agave in an earthen pit for a rich full flavour.
What does it taste like?
Sweet caramel, peppermint and smoky agave with hints of raisins, dried herbs and black pepper.
You can probably tell by the name, if not the shape of the bottle, what the star of this liqueur is – corn. This liqueur from Nixta is made from maize grown surrounding the Nevado de Toluca volcano, so it’s packed full of buttery corn sweetness at 30% ABV.
What does it taste like?
Buttered popcorn and fresh sweetcorn, swiftly followed by silky caramel. This would be great in an Old Fashioned.
El Rayo Tequila pays homage to the legend that lightning struck an agave plant, cooking it and creating the first ever Tequila. This particular expression is made from Blue Weber agave distilled twice in 105 year old copper pot stills.
What does it taste like?
Exceptionally smooth and gentle, with an oily mouthfeel, notes of citrus, lots of earthy agave and a hint of flinty minerals, with a warming peppery finish.
This is the latest edition of Mezcal Amores’ Espadín-based mezcal. The producers work with small agave growers to plant ten agaves for each one they use, and make sure they’re paying the mezcaleros they’re working with a fair price.
What does it taste like?
Fresh vanilla and citrus blossom, balanced by spicy herbs, wood smoke and leafy coriander.
If you can’t make your mind up what to buy, then why not get this collection? In that stylish box there are 12 different 30ml wax-sealed drams of absolutely delicious Tequila and mezcal from some of Mexico’s best producers.
What does it taste like?
What doesn’t it taste like? There are 12 delicious agave-based wonders to explore in here.
Sadly, the man behind Ocho Tequila, Tomas Estes died last week. But his son Jesse is keeping the flag flying for single rancho (field), single vintage Tequila. This unaged bottling was made with agave harvested from La Laja, named after a type of flat stone which you’ll find many of in this particular field.
What does it taste like?
Waves of fresh mint and cooked agave sweetness, leading into dried herbs, green olive, warming, peppery spice and subtle smoke.
Montelobos Joven Mezcal is made with espadin agave and distilled by mezcal guru Iván Saldaña. You can read an interview with the man himself here. It also offers a really stylish bottle with a rather ferocious-looking wolf on the label.
What does it taste like?
Wood smoke and green pepper freshness on the nose, with a tropical fruit and powerful smoke character on the nose.
Scotland, Spain and Mexico meet in one bottle thanks to this añejo Tequila from Storywood. This Double Oak expression has spent 14 months in both Scotch whisky barrels and Oloroso sherry casks. It was bottled at cask strength, 53% ABV.
What does it taste like?
Honeyed roasted agave sweetness, with jammy forest fruits, oak spice and dried fig.
This week we’re shining our New Arrival lamp on a Scratch Faithful Rum which was distilled not in Jamaica, Cuba or Barbados, but in Stevenage. And that’s not all because…
This week we’re shining our New Arrival lamp on a Scratch Faithful Rum which was distilled not in Jamaica, Cuba or Barbados, but in Stevenage. And that’s not all because Faithful is the basis for a whole range of rums made by Doug Miller, entirely from scratch. Hence the name.
In an age of media-trained master distillers and slick brand ambassadors, it’s refreshing to talk to someone who just says what he thinks, even if it might get him into trouble. Someone like Doug Miller, the man behind Scratch rum, who has strong views about a lack of transparency in the fast-growing ‘English rum’ category. But more on that later.
It’s also refreshing in an age of City-funded start-ups to find somebody distilling in an old stables near Stevenage using one 500 litre copper pot still rather than a shiny state of the art distillery. He’s doing what he always wanted to do. “I got into rum at university and I started just doing ferments and beers. Then post-uni I started just distilling,” Miller said.
He quickly realised what he was doing wasn’t exactly legal, so in 2016 he obtained a distilling licence and got to work. He spent a couple of years experimenting, “trying different yeasts, different sugars, different fermentation times,” he said. From the beginning the focus has been on rum alone. “I didn’t want to set up a distillery and do gin, whisky, and vodka,” he said. “Rum as a category is so broad, there’s enough of it to fill a lifetime of exploration and distillation.”
Doug Miller by his 500 litre Hoga still
Making Faithful from scratch
“I am one of those slightly weird people who actually likes fermenting and making things from scratch and doing things the hard way”, he said, “well you get more control so you get a nicer product in my view… but I would say that of course!”
The basis of the current Scratch range is what he calls Faithful. It begins with molasses and a very long fermentation, between two and three weeks. It took a lot of experimentation to find a yeast that worked in England’s cold climate. He uses the Jamaican technique of adding dunder – left over from the first distillation – to the ferment. “What you get is consistency of flavour across a number of ferments but also the nutrients and the compounds found in that leftover stuff feed that yeast and over time make the flavour profile more pronounced. It’s almost like reducing a stock.”
This fermentation stage is not something to be hurried through. “You can never make a great rum from a shit ferment,” he said. The final step before distillation is to filter the ferment which, according to Miller, makes the end product “cleaner” and prevents “bitter flavours” during distillation
He uses a 500 litre copper pot still from Hoga in Spain but his technique is unusual. After the first distillation rather than putting it back through again, he ages the low wines in new Scotch whisky casks with “a small portion of the heads and tails from previous runs. So you’re getting a full blend of the spectrum of distillation.” After ageing, the liquid goes back through the still. It’s then blended with water and bottled at 42% ABV to create Faithful rum.
But that’s not all, Faithful is the basis of everything at the distillery at the moment.
Can you spot the botanicals?
Miller makes a sloe rum and a secret recipe botanical rum using only British ingredients. “I’m not a fan of spiced rum. I find spiced rum cloying, and essentially a way to mask a bad spirit. So what I tried to do with Botanical is create a product using British foraged local botanicals,” Miller said.
He’s cagey about the process and recipe, “because I’ve seen big producers come in and copy stuff.” But will say it involves British botanicals that mimic classic spiced rum flavour. Using his one still, “we put in a smaller 50 litre copper pot, with the botanicals in the vapour trail and then we take cuts from between 85% ABV down to about 78% ABV.”
Despite the lack of tropical botanicals, it really does taste of citrus, vanilla and coconut. Very clever and makes a refreshing alternative to a G&T as well as a killer Daiquiri.
Miller produces two ages rums, Golden, matured in new oak casks, and a longer-aged rum called Patience which won a bronze medal at the IWSC this year. “Patience is a blend of three and two year old spirits. The bourbon cask is the three years, it makes up 90% of the blend and then the final 10% is that two year old new oak cask.”
There’s clearly a massive amount of potential at Scratch particularly with cask releases. Miller compares British rum to Japanese whisky, taking traditional techniques but innovating. “It can remain grounded to rum as a whole, but it can move the category forward.”
He’s a fan of Foursquare in Barbados particularly the single cask releases but thinks that he’s trying to do something different. “Most of the Caribbean producers tend to use ex-bourbon casks because of the proximity to the US. In the UK we’ve got proximity to a wine industry, we’ve got beer guys, you’ve got whisky guys, you’ve got a whole range of Cognac producers in France,” he said.
Aged products will always be small batch releases either blends or single casks. He said, “We’ve only got about 300 bottles of Patience left and when that’s done I’m going to make another cask release.” He’s got all kinds of different barrels on the go including Cognac, Tequila, bourbon and Scotch whisky, sweet wine and others.
He’s also playing around with different ferments including one based on a yeast strain that he isolated himself and by adding things to the ferment including hops and fruit.
Can’t wait till these beauties are ready!
What is British rum?
Miller is aware that rum’s greatest asset, its lack of rules, can be a liability compared with more strictly-governed spirits like Scotch whisky. He thinks there’s a “lack of transparency” in the industry. He is particularly outspoken about how confusing rum can be for customers with many seemingly British producers using imported base spirits: “I don’t think you should be able to import a rum that’s aged in the Caribbean, flavour it or water it down here and then stick it in a British branded bottle or a label that says ‘made in Britain’ or ‘crafted in Britain’ or ‘British rum’, I think that’s disingenuous to say the least.”
Miller also thinks there needs to be more “transparency around the production methods as well as what you can and can’t do post-distillation.” He described some flavoured products as like “alcoholic squash”. He thinks: “the more shit rum that’s on the market, that’s full of all kinds of flavouring, sugars, and caramel, that puts off people from actually trying other rums.”
“The industry as a whole needs to actually own some of the stuff that it’s peddling and some of the stuff that it’s selling to consumers,” he said. It’s similar to what Richard Seale from Foursquare and others have been saying about the need for an agreed classification so that people know exactly what’s in the bottle and where it came from. But with so many producers including the industry’s giants invested in the current opaque system, it seems unlikely there will be any progress in the near future. Miller acknowledges that “he’s probably in a minority.”
Plans to expand
Scratch, however, has built a reputation in a short space of time based on the quality of its products rather than being part of some sort of ‘British rum’ movement. Since signing up with a distributor Oak and Still, “we’re starting to get bigger order volumes now and we’re at maximum production given that we don’t make a huge amount anyway,” he said. At the moment it’s only Miller, his sister-in-law Ellie and their one still. So the next step is to expand which requires money. He’s planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign in September. As Scratch grows, let’s hope that expansion doesn’t involve Miller being sent on a media training course. That would be a shame.
Staycations are the 2021 holiday. And although we might be missing out on some exotic booze from foreign climes, there’s plenty to get excited about in ol’ Blighty – particularly…
Staycations are the 2021 holiday. And although we might be missing out on some exotic booze from foreign climes, there’s plenty to get excited about in ol’ Blighty – particularly when it comes to visiting English wineries.
From dinner among the vines to fizz flights and afternoon tea picnics, English wineries are bringing their A game for visitors. And you don’t even need to get on a plane! Hurray!
For readers in the South East, there are now so many vineyards that you could easily do a week of day trips or even boujie your way around boutique hotels – many of them even owned by wine producers.
Anyway, here are five of our favourites to get the fizz flowing:
A few miles in-land from the Sussex coast, Rathfinny is a giant among English wine producers. For an adventure (and to work up an appetite), get off the train at Seaford and walk for about 1.5hrs across the Downs to the winery.
There’s plenty on offer and guests can plan the ultimate food and wine getaway with packages including bed and breakfast in the Flint Barns. There’s a plate to suit all tastes – with wine tasting and dinner in either the gastro pub-style Dining Room or the Michelin Plate Tasting Room restaurant.
Summer al fresco dining options include picnic boxes, an antipasti bar and wine and nibbles on the Tasting Room balcony.
New for 2021
All menus are brand new, created by estate head chef, Chris Bailey who has come up with “contemporary dishes inspired by freshest, seasonal British produce”.
Two new Sussex Sparkling vintages: the second release of the house-style vintage 2017 Classic Cuvée and the new limited-production release of the 2017 Blanc de Blancs.
Balfour, located on the Hush Heath Estate, is a destination for lovers of a nature walk. You can take a stroll through the 400-acre estate, which features vineyards, apple orchards and ancient oak woodlands, or join an expert-led tour and tasting experience. The Balfour Brut Rosé is a good bet for enjoying on the terrace – and the shop even offers a magnum for the 2016, perfect if you’re having six people round to the garden, say.
This is a great place to take friends who aren’t necessarily big wine fans. The estate also features Jake’s Drinks – a collection of beers and ciders made using local ingredients. For example, the ciders are made with 100% juice from the Kentish dessert apples Russet, Cox and Bramley.
Balfour also owns a few pubs across Kent and Sussex, many with hotel rooms. Why not make a weekend tour of it?
This is England’s first commercial vineyard of the modern era, planted in 1952 – and the treat for visitors here is the underground cellars, cut straight into the chalk. MoM recommends a sparkling afternoon tea tour for two, which includes a tour and tasting as well as a picnic and a glass of Classic Cuvée Rosé. Or if seafood tickles your tentacles, the vineyard will feature an oyster and fizz bar later in the summer.
Champagne fans should try the Première Cuvée – this Non Vintage is a blend of 73% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir and 3% Pinot Meunier.
New for 2021
Dine in the vines! Hambledon will be hosting a series of al fresco dining experiences over the summer, centred around English fizz and Hampshire produce, including
smoked chalk stream trout, cheeses and charcuterie.
And as luck would have it, the vine rows are 2.2m wide, so with tables in alternate rows, you are naturally socially distanced. (As someone who prefers to be naturally socially distanced, this is music to my ears.)
Situated in the Kent countryside, near Tenterden, Chapel Down will be opening for vineyard tours again from 19 May 2021. There will be a variety of experiences on offer from guided tours, wine tastings, masterclasses and food and drink experiences combining a meal in The Swan restaurant.
New for 2021
“We’re in the process of releasing five new 2020 vintages of some of our best-selling wines, all of which will be available in store to sample along with others from our award winning range,” says Chapel Down’s Guy Tresnan, retail and export director. Wowsers, FIVE!
This Devon estate is one for cheese fans. We recommend the Guided Tasting, which includes four wines and two cheeses – as well as a tour through the different wine making processes at Sharpham. Cheese comes from the Sharpham Dairy, which is famous for Sharpham Brie, made with fresh milk from the creamery’s Jersey herd.
New for 2021
Sharpham Summer Sparkling Wine has just landed for summer. It is a blend of estate grown Dornfelder and Pinot Noir red grapes from the 2011 and 2012 vintages. Sharpham calls it “a lost batch” that was rediscovered while moving to the new winery at Sandridge Barton in 2020.
That must’ve been a happy discovery.
The wine is described as “soft and spritzy with fruit salad, peach yogurt and strawberry characteristics”. Summer in a bottle.
See you for a scone in the vineyard
The great thing about English wineries is that they have grown up realising the importance of visitor experiences. This makes them well equipped to offer wonderful days out with world-class wines. And if ever there was a year to support them, as well as find fun things to do in the UK, this is it.
It’s a Bank Holiday weekend and to kick things off in the right direction we’ve got a whole week’s worth of smoking hot booze news. It’s all in the Nightcap:…
It’s a Bank Holiday weekend and to kick things off in the right direction we’ve got a whole week’s worth of smoking hot booze news. It’s all in the Nightcap: 30 April edition!
We’ve got a long weekend ahead of us as the May Bank Holiday has arrived, in the UK at least, everyone else is thinking, what the hell is a ‘bank holiday’? Anyway, we’re all hoping for a sliver of sunshine so that we’re not shivering in pub gardens or in those makeshift tent type things outside restaurants. Maybe bring a blanket, just in case. Of course, you don’t have to venture out if you don’t want to. You can always kick back and relax with a good dram and enjoy The Line of Duty season finale. Or some light reading. Like a round-up of all the interesting things that happened in the world of booze this week. Good thing there’s a new edition of The Nightcap here!
This week on the MoM blog we paid tribute to the remarkable Tomas Estes, who has sadly passed away. Be sure to raise a glass to the Tequila pioneer tonight.
Elsewhere, we launched two new competitions, one a #BagThisBundle which gives you a chance to stock up on some Duppy Share Rum and the other promising an amazing adventure to the Lakes District courtesy of the Lakes Distillery. We also helped you explore the world of rum with some of our favourite bottlings, made a classic cocktail that features in Charlie Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret, enjoyed the latest vintage of a great Champagne, uncovered the story behind Don Julio Tequila and found out what the heck a swan neck is.
Now, let’s enjoy what the drinks industry had to offer in the last seven days. It’s The Nightcap: 30 April!
It’s likely this whiskey was distilled sometime between 1763 to 1803!
‘World’s oldest whiskey’ to be sold at auction
If you want a chance at owning a whiskey billed as “the oldest currently known bottle” then put 22-30 June in your diary. Because that’s when you’ll be able to bid on a legendary bottle of Old Ingledew bourbon. Skinner Auctioneers are selling the remarkable spirit, which was originally thought to be from 1850. However, when Skinner rare spirits expert Joseph Hyman used a needle to extract a small sample of the liquid to be sent off for carbon dating, the results were even more incredible. It was revealed that the most likely date this bourbon was distilled (with 81.1% probability) was between 1763 to 1803. It’s impossible to place a specific age statement. But historical records confirm that it’s among the oldest distilled whiskey remaining on the planet today. We know a little bit about the history of the bottle thanks to a press release from Skinner Auctioneers. It was purchased by John Pierpoint Morgan (Yep, that J.P. Morgan) in Georgia in the late 19th century. It was originally stored in demijohn so Morgan paid a visit to a speciality grocer in LaGrange to have several decanters worth of the whiskey bottled. His son Jack eventually ended up with some bottles, giving a few away including to US Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Another recipient was James F. Byrnes, who subsequently gave the bottle to close friend and whiskey lover Francis Drake, who knew the value of what he had and for three successive generations, his family kept a cork in it. This is why we have this incredible, roughly 250-year-old, bottle now. Although we wouldn’t hold out too much hope that you’ll get your hands on this one. We imagine demand will be pretty high…
Rémy and Usher team up to celebrate their roots
It wouldn’t be a Nightcap without a celeb/booze mash-up and we’ve got a particularly good one this week. Cognac house Rémy Martin has produced a video called “Team Up For Excellence” starring ‘00s music ledge Usher. The video, put together by composer Raphael Saadiq, director and choreographer Jake Nava, and Oscar-winning costume designer Marci Rodgers, tells the story of the links between Cognac and American music. “I was really inspired by creating the historical music scenes in a way that felt true to the spirit of that moment, but also relevant and eye‐catching to a young contemporary audience,” Nava explains. “This dual priority informed my direction of all the music, dance and Usher’s performance.” The video opens with Usher as a GI in World War I liberating France, moves to a jazz club and through the ages, taking in different musical genres. “Music doesn’t need Cognac to exist, and Cognac doesn’t need music to exist,” Usher said, “but what is beautiful is that they were meant to meet and when they did, they created cultural harmony.” The video is a cut above most spirits adverts and well worth five minutes of your time.
If anyone does manage to get a taste of his let us know if it’s as good as it looks
Loch Lomond unveils 45-year-old whisky
It just wouldn’t be The Nightcap without a remarkable and rare Scotch whisky to stare at longingly. And this next beauty will surely appear in auctions itself in the not too distant future. It’s a 45-year-old single malt from Loch Lomond Distillery, distilled in 1973 and matured in American oak casks, before finishing for one year in a first-fill Oloroso sherry cask. It’s bottled at 42.2% ABV without chill-filtration and there are only 200 individually-numbered bottles to be released out in the whisky wild, which goes some way to explaining the £3,450 price tag. It’s one the first of three releases in The Remarkable Stills Series of single malts, a collection that will shine a spotlight on the Alexandria-based distillery’s unusual straight neck pot stills. The stills are unique to Loch Lomond and give the distiller more control of the type of spirit produced, allowing for greater separation of flavours, helping to create the distinct fruity characters that Loch Lomond has become famous for. The launch of the significant Scotch follows a branding refresh and extension of the Loch Lomond Whiskies portfolio, which includes the introduction of a 21 and 30 Year Old to the range. A new webpage was also made to detail exactly how the liquid was created. So you can at least live vicariously through that info, because the sad reality is that most of us won’t be tasting this whisky.
The distillery is one of the most picturesque in the country
Glasgow Whisky buys Tromie Mills Distillery
Those of you familiar with Glasgow Whisky will know that, since being founded in 2007, the company has plied its trade in selling award-winning independently-bottled Scotch whisky like Speymhor and Cailleach. But now the company is venturing into the world of distillation after purchasing its first distillery site. Glasgow Whisky, not to be confused with The Glasgow Distillery Co., has bought Tromie Mills Distillery Limited, owner of the site in Drumguish, Kingussie, which is currently occupied by Speyside Distillers. The latter will continue to operate from the Drumguish site until its lease expires in Spring 2025 (and already has another distillery on the way) and then Glasgow Whisky will refurbish the building, working with local suppliers. While we’ll have to wait a while to see them take advantage of the new venture, we imagine owners Graham Taylor and Stuart Hendry will be excited to run one of the most picturesque distillery sites in Scotland in the magnificent Cairngorms National Park. The duo is said to be committing significant investment to build a sustainable, energy-efficient and contemporary distillery that will acknowledge the heritage of the site. “Our plans for the distillery will give us the opportunity to celebrate an established and known site, whilst bringing it into the 21st century in terms of distilling innovation, sustainability and production methods. We are extremely excited to have this opportunity to evolve our business,” says Hendry.
The swanky new distillery will be home to the creation of rum, gin, vodka, sambuca and more
English Spirit to open cutting-edge distillery
And in more distillery-based news, the folks over at English Spirit are set to open their new state-of-the-art distillery this summer. Over the past three years, the team has been converting a disused agricultural building in the ground of the historic Treguddick Manor in the rolling Cornish countryside. At the heart of the distillery will sit a custom 2,500-litre copper still, engineered by Dr John Walters, master distiller and owner of English Spirit, based on the original 200-litre alembic stills he designed for Great Yeldham Hall. And the team expects to produce 50,000 bottles of tasty booze by the end of 2021, so that still is going to be kept busy. When the distillery officially opens later this summer, tours and tasting experiences will invite the public to see how English Spirit produces its wide varieties of spirits from scratch. Walters says the brand wanted to open another site to “further our place in England’s high-quality food and drink industry and to show off what we do best, via educational tours, tastings and even cooking with spirits”. If you’d like to learn more about this unique brand, you can read all about our visit last year here!
We’re sad to see the lager go
Diageo calls last orders on Guinness spin-off Hop House 13
Fans of the Guinness-made Hop House lager might want to stock up on any bottles they can find because Diageo is calling time on the brand in the UK. As reported by Daniel Woolfson in The Grocer, the Guinness spin-off has been delisted and will soon disappear from supermarkets, pubs and bars. Diageo launched Hop House 13 in 2015 to ensure it wasn’t being left out of the craft beer boom and was an initial success. But sales have slumped during the pandemic. According to data from Nielsen, Hop House lost 8.7% of its value over the 52 weeks to 5 September 2020, falling £2.5m to £26.7m, with volume down by 12.5%. The drinks giant says it had undertaken a review of its beer portfolio and “taken the strategic decision to prioritise the main Guinness trademark in Great Britain”, adding that it was “a difficult decision to make, but one that we believe is right for Guinness in the long term”. The good news is that Guinness itself is still going strong. The good folks over at Nielsen revealed much more joyous stats about the classic Irish stout, showing that it added £27m to its value, rising to £104.5m over the same period – a 35% gain. If you’d like to get your hands on either, you can find them both here.
What a beautiful sight
The Craigellachie Hotel to re-open its doors
As pubs and bars all over the UK continue the glorious process of opening their doors once again we were delighted to learn that The Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside will be doing the very same. The 26-room hotel stands at the heart of the largest whisky region in the world and home to the Quaich bar, one of the world’s leading whisky bars, will open its famous Copper Dog Pub and new outdoor terrace area. A brand new menu created by newly-appointed executive chef and general manager William Halsall (of Le Caprice, 34 Grosvenor Square, and The Ivy fame) will be available, as will a take-away menu. Halsall says that the team has gone through “vigorous training in preparation for reopening without compromising our friendly, home from home experience”. The upgraded outdoor dining experience will offer seating for an additional thirty guests and there will be hand sanitising stations at every entrance and social distancing in place, as safety remains an obvious concern. Reservations are mandatory and can be made through sevenrooms.com or by calling 01340 881204, while the Copper Dog pub is open seven days a week between 10am-10pm. Accommodation will then open from 17 May and guests will be able to book online here. Just in time for the return of distillery tours too. It’s all coming together!
If you’re lucky you might find Stewart Buchanan behind the bar at Benriach
Benriach opens to the public for the first time
And talking of visiting Speysdie, there’s now a new distillery to visit, Benriach. Well, it’s not new as such, the distillery dates back to 1898, but from 21 May is the first time it’s ever been open to the general public. Brown-Forman has put a lot of thought and money into the refurbishment: there’s a bar, shop, and tasting lounge, and two ‘tasting experiences.’ You can book here. Beginners can enjoy the ‘Sense of Flavour’ while more experienced whiskiests can explore the flavours of cask maturation with ‘Barrels, Butts, and Barriques’, which includes a dram of Benriach 21 Year Old. Visitor centre manager Jennifer Proctor explained: “From cask tastings to cocktails, we’ll initially be offering two flight-style tasting experiences that allow customers to explore Benriach’s flavour spectrum. When restrictions allow, we will reveal our full distillery tour offering and announce the next phase of the distillery visitor centre development. Whether a local to Speyside or visitor from further afield, we look forward to welcoming guests from near and afar to discover Benriach’s world of flavour.” If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit.
Nice view from the terrace bar at Clynelish
Johnnie Walker brand home opens at Clynelish
Another day, another renovated distillery opens up. Must be something in the air. As part of Diageo’s £185 million investment in ‘Four Corners’ whisky tourism, Clynelish Distillery will be opening to the public as ‘Highland home of Johnnie Walker’. Glenkinchie opened up last year with Cardhu in Speyside, and the Princes Street location in Edinburgh both due to open later this year. Opening date for the revamped Caol Ila is TBC. The renovation at Clynelish includes an ‘interactive story room’ (whatever that is), a ‘modern retail space’ (shop), and a ‘terrace bar’ (we know what that is) overlooking the Highland scenery. The team has worked closely with disabled charity Euan’s Guide to make sure the place is as accessible as possible. Barbara Smith, managing director of Diageo’s Scottish brand homes, commented on what we could expect from the visitor experience: “We can guarantee that Clynelish won’t disappoint. We know that visitors and locals will be blown away by the distillery – by a visitor experience that is unlike any other.” Crikey! What could she possibly mean? Naturally, there’s a limited edition commemorative bottling, a 50.6% ABV 16 Year Old. Only 3,000 bottles at £195 each have been filled and you’ll have to visit the distillery in order to buy one.
The Britannia, in Boston Lincs Photo courtesy of Batemans Brewery
And finally…. Get paid to go to the pub
In a bit of news that sounds too good to be true, Lincolnshire County Council is offering a £28,000 salary to someone to research the county’s historic pubs as part of its ‘Inns on the Edge’ project. The year long job will involve visiting various pubs along a 50 mile stretch of coastline from Grimsby to Boston. But it’s not all beer and skittles, the perfect candidate should be “someone who can interview people and get stories from them, but also collect photographs, historic photographs of the pubs and the activities that used to go on in and around and associated with the pub,” as Ian George from the council explained. The purpose of the project is to record a living history that is rapidly disappearing as pubs around the county (and the country) close. A process exacerbated by the pandemic. So not quite such a funny story to end on as it initially appeared. The moral is, don’t neglect your local, even if you have to stand outside shivering a bit.
Don Julio González-Frausto Estrada was just 17 when he founded his Tequila distillery. It’s been quite a journey from these humble beginnings to being part of one of the largest…
Don Julio González-Frausto Estrada was just 17 when he founded his Tequila distillery. It’s been quite a journey from these humble beginnings to being part of one of the largest drinks companies in the world, and enjoyed by celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio. This is the story of Don Julio Tequila.
1925 was a momentous year. America got its first female governor in Wyoming, Nellie Tayloe Ross; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was published; as was Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway; and Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush hit the silver screen.
It’s Don Julio himself!
Do Julio, the man behind the brand
It was also the year that Julio González-Frausto Estrada was born. The man behind one of Tequila’s most recognisable brands, Don Julio, was raised in the highlands of Atotonilco el Alto in Mexico’s Jalisco region. “He was born and raised in the heart of a family devoted to the agaves,’ says Karina Sánchez, Don Julio’s global brand ambassador. ‘Since he was a child he developed a devotion to the land.”
He learnt his trade as a young man making mezcal in underground ovens and at the tender age of 15, Julio was distributing Tequila on horseback to provide for his family after his father’s death. In 1942, at just 17 years of age, he bought his first distillery – La Primavera (meaning ‘spring’) – using money lent to him by a wealthy local gentleman.
However, it was another 43 years until the brand Don Julio was officially born. During a party thrown for Estrada by his sons in 1985, he requested that his special reserve reposada be served in the now signature short and square bottles so that guests could see each other across the table. When he was asked by guests where they could buy the Tequila originally only made for the family, it set off a spark for turning his liquid into a business. In 1987, finally the world was introduced to Don Julio Tequila.
Don Julio HQ
Today, the brand has six core expressions: Blanco, Añejo, Resposado, 70 Añejo Claro, 1942 and Real, as well as some special limited bottlings, including one even aged in Lagavulin casks – master distiller Enrique de Colsa is, needless to say, a busy man.
Making the Tequilas is a showcase in quality craft. The agaves (Don Julio only ever uses 100% blue agave) are grown in the microclimate and the mineral-rich red clay soils of Jalisco and harvested after seven to 10 years. Then, the pencas (leaves) are cut from the piñas which are then cut into thirds or quarters and steam-cooked in traditional masonry ovens over three days before going into white oak casks for the aged expressions. Eight pounds of agave goes into one bottle of Don Julio Tequila.
These meticulous methods are testament to Estrada’s love of his craft. His unconventional methods included planting the agave’s further apart and even whispering to his agaves. “I really admire his dedication and love for the agaves – he considered them as his own children,” says Sánchez. “He was also so careful about trimming the grass around them, and he taught the jimadors how to cut the leaves in his own way.”
When Don Julio sadly passed away on Tuesday 20 March 2012, there was an outpouring of love for the Tequila pioneer. In a statement, president of global Tequila for Diageo, Maggie Lapcewich, wrote: “Throughout his life Don Julio worked arduously, neither allowing himself to fail nor succumbing to adversities. He always fought and prevailed in his perseverance to achieve his goals… Many describe the journey of Don Julio’s life as one that was honest, just and fair. He remained loyal to his beliefs and was committed to his work and family… we know that his legacy will live on.”
Indeed it has, with Diageo completing a full acquisition of the Tequila brand and the assets of La Primavera in 2015, pumping $400m into the brand. Since then it’s been sipped by Leonardo DiCaprio, P Diddy and Hailey Baldwin at Coachella’s 2018 afterparty; had a cameo in 2018’s The Predator; and featured in its own TV promo entitled The Man, the Legend.
Don Julio continues to sell by the ‘caja’ (‘crate’) load – even if the second half of last year saw sales drop somewhat, no doubt a result of Covid. With more consumers leaning towards premium tequilas, we’re expecting the agave spirit to continue to fly off shelves and backbars. I’m sure if Don Julio could still distribute his wares on horseback, he would.
From white rums, aged rums and gold rums, to spiced rums, flavoured rums and beyond, there’s a whole world of rum to explore. So, here are our top bottlings to…
From white rums, aged rums and gold rums, to spiced rums, flavoured rums and beyond, there’s a whole world of rum to explore. So, here are our top bottlings to help you get under the skin of this wondrously diverse category.
We love a bit of rum here at MoM Towers. And why not? Whether it’s got a molasses or sugar cane juice base, a fun mixer or a serious sipper, or something completely quirky all together, there’s so much deliciousness to be found in the wide world of rum. And we’re pretty proud of our enormous offering!
That said, it can be a fairly tricky category to navigate. The flavour experience between each style can be vastly different – which can make choosing the perfect bottling for you (or as a gift) a little tricky. So this is why we’ve picked out ten of our favourite bottlings (ok, there’s a tasting set in there, too) to serve as a useful place to start.
Browse on, and bring on the rums Oh, and made a new discovery recently? Let us know in the comments or on social. We’re @masterofmalt everywhere!!
So you know you like spiced rums. But even within this rapidly growing and ever-expanding style there are a whole load of discoveries to be made. Which is why we put together this fabulous tasting set! You’ll get 30ml tasters of five different expressions from an array of different producers. Sip, mix, and be [responsibly] merry!
Aged rum more your thing? You’ll be in super safe hands with this seven year old expression, which hails all the way from Cuba. It’s big, round and mouth-filling, with notes like tobacco and coffee adding depth to the fruity sweetness. A great one for springtime sipping, or why not try it in a Rum Old Fashioned?
Did you know that Duppies are the mischievous spirits said to travel from island to island across the Caribbean, pinching their share of the ageing rum reserves? That’s what this brand pays homage to with its blend of five year old bourbon-barrel-matured rum from Barbados, and Jamaican three year old liquid!
Reckon flavoured rums are only ever sweet? Think again! Tidal Rum brings together a blend of rums from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and the Dominican Republic, with oak-smoked dulse seaweed from Jersey! It’s a green, herbal, slightly vegetal rum with a wisp of smoke running through it – just divine!
But if sweeter flavoured rums are your thing, you won’t be disappointed with Project #173 Black Chocolate! It’s tangy, vibrant, and bursting with authentic chocolate notes. Possibly most delicious with cola, this expression also works over ice as a sipper. We also reckon a splash over ice cream would make the most decadent dessert…
Like your rums on the grassier side? This is a bottling you’ll want in your collection. Hailing from Mexico, El Destilado is made using raw sugar cane juice that’s been wild fermented for all kinds of lush, green notes. The label tells you everything you could ever want to know about the spirit you’re drinking – we love the transparency. And the rum!
And if you’re after the vegetal vibes of sugar cane juice rums and a cask influence, we recommend you check out Madeira’s O Reizinho’s 3 Year Old! This is full of fabulous funk (green olive and banana) plus the vanilla and treacle notes associated with cask ageing. Both irresistibly delicious and fabulously fun.
Like your rum to be tasty and do good? Step forward Discarded Banana Peel Rum! Its creators have taken an aged Caribbean rum and then infused it for a fortnight with banana peel. Here’s the good bit: the peel comes from a flavour house that would otherwise have chucked it away! Hurrah for sustainable sourcing.
Did you know that lots of producers will sometimes age their spirits and then filter out the colour? This is how El Dorado 3 Year Old was made! The result? An award-winning sipper that combines the citrus, icing sugar and fruity notes of molasses rum with subtle coconut, vanilla notes of oak ageing. Win-win!
We love rum. We also love puns. East London Liquor Company has brought the two together with its Rarer Rum. How so? ‘Rare’ as in ‘Demerara’, its base! This Guyana-made beauty was distilled in the world’s last remaining wooden Coffey still, and was then matured in ex-bourbon barrels. Delicious indeed.
Today we’re going to the movies with a classic cocktail that features in Charlie Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret. The drink in question is the Horse’s Neck, a delightfully simple mixture…
Today we’re going to the movies with a classic cocktail that features in Charlie Chaplin’s Caught in a Cabaret. The drink in question is the Horse’s Neck, a delightfully simple mixture of brandy, ginger ale, and bitters, garnished with an all-important spiral of lemon.
We’ve just been sent a new book which has been keeping us amused for hours. It’s the new edition of Cocktail at the Movies by Will Francis and illustrated by Stacey Marsh. Highlights include from Cocktail, inevitably, probably the most ‘80s drinks ever made, the Turquoise Blue, from Casablanca, a French 75, and you can probably guess the cocktail that features in ‘80s Mel Gibson snorefest Tequila Sunrise.
Charlie Chaplin with adorable dachshund
But we’re going way back with our Cocktail of the Week, way back to 1914 and the release of a Charlie Chaplin picture called Caught in a Cabaret which features a classic concoction called the Horse’s Neck. Before we get into the cocktail, we’ll tell you about the film.
It features Charlie Chaplin, with adorable dachshund, trying to court a society girl called Mabel (that’s her in the header by Stacey Marsh) played by silent screen star Mabel Normand, who also wrote and directed the film. The problem is Mabel already has a boyfriend and Chaplin is just a lowly waiter pretending to be the prime minister of Greenland. As you do.
Mabel orders a refreshing drink
The drinks scene in question is described in the book:
“It’s such a scorching hot day that Charlie’s dachshund – who is, as he says, ‘built too near to the hot sidewalk’ – needs cooling off. An inevitable caper ensues as Charlie tries to hydrate the hound in a fresh spring by the road. He falls into a shrubbery, loses the dog and causes uproar when he pushes over the boy returning his furry friend. All the while society girl Mabel is preparing for her ‘coming-out party’ and in the hot midday sun she sensibly asks for a Horse’s Neck to be mixed for her before embarking on her afternoon stroll. As she enters the woods with her beau, it’s a stick-up! But an unlikely hero appears in the form of bumbling Charlie, who bravely saves Mabel and earns himself a ‘tête-à-tête’ at the young debutante’s chic chateau.”
You can see it from 5.49 thanks to the miracle of Youtube:
History of the Horse’s Neck
The Horse’s Neck has a long pedigree. It’s part of the Highball family of drinks: booze, ice, something fizzy and in a tall glass. Originally though, it was made without alcohol except a dash of bitters and dates back to the 1890s. It gets its name from the long strand of lemon peel curling out of the glass that apparently looks a bit like a horse’s neck.
Eventually, someone had the brilliant idea of adding a spirit to it thus making it 100 times better. The Horse’s Neck might have originated in America but was taken to heart by the Royal Navy in the 20th century where it displaced the Pink Gin as the drink of choice for officers. At naval functions known as Cockers P’s (cocktail parties), guests would be offered a choice of an HN or a G&T. Ian Fleming describes it in the 1966 James Bond novel Octopussy as a drunkard’s drink. But don’t let that put you off.
Over the years, the Horse’s Neck has proved a popular cocktail in cinema cropping up in Fred Astraire film Top Hat, with Humphrey Bogart in A Lonely Place and rather less glamorously alongside George Formby in No Limit (1935).
A nice refreshing Horse’s Neck (Photo credit: Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons, published by Ten Speed Press)
The perfect Cognac to use
It’s usually made with Cognac or bourbon, though there are gin versions out there. For this version I’m using Seignette VS from Sazerac, the company behind Peychaud’s Bitters, Buffalo Trace and, of course, Sazerac itself. It’s a great cocktail Cognac having lots of fruity flavour at a good price. Then all you need is some ginger ale, Fever Tree is nice, some bitters and maybe spend some time practising spiralising your spiralising.