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Master of Malt Blog

The winner of a bundle of Cointreau booze is…

Hear ye, hear ye! We have a winner to announce. Somebody is about to receive an epic bundle of Cointreau booze! Our Cointreau competition is over and that means that we…

Hear ye, hear ye! We have a winner to announce. Somebody is about to receive an epic bundle of Cointreau booze!

Our Cointreau competition is over and that means that we get the pleasure of announcing who will get their hands on the tremendous prize. Just to remind you, it includes three bottles of Cointreau, a bottle of La Escondida Mezcal, VIVIR Tequila Blanco and Bottle Green elderflower cordial, as well as Maldon smoked salt and a host of Cointreau branded goodies, including a Boston shaker, jigger, lime squeezer, cocktail strainer, a tote bag and six rocks glasses. 

The winner of a bundle of Cointreau booze is...

What a haul that is. And it’s all going to one person. Congratulations to…

Lucy Munroe from Glasgow!

Hurrah for you Lucy, the best Margaritas in town await. Thanks to all of you who took part and be sure to check our latest competition (VIP Trip to Jura Distillery, anyone?) and amazing Black Friday deals!

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A spotlight on Mexico’s first whisky distillery

Mexico’s first whisky distillery has launched its inaugural whisky, Abasolo, as well as a corn liqueur. We talk to its creator, Dr. Ivan Saldaña, about the importance of corn, why…

Mexico’s first whisky distillery has launched its inaugural whisky, Abasolo, as well as a corn liqueur. We talk to its creator, Dr. Ivan Saldaña, about the importance of corn, why he chose to use a 4,000-year-old process and more.

News of a release from a new whisky-producing country always raises a few questions: will it emulate Scotch whisky like Japan or forge a new path? Will it represent its country of origin? And, most importantly, will it taste any good? Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky, which has just arrived in Britain, isn’t Mexico’s first whisky, but it is from the country’s first dedicated whisky distillery. 

Called Destilería y Bodega Abasolo, it is based in Jilotepec de Abasolo (about an hour and a half’s drive outside of Mexico City). It might be new but it has some serious pedigree behind it in the form of  Dr. Ivan Saldaña and Casa Lumbre. They make spirits that explore the potential of Mexican raw materials, prioritising provenance and sustainability, which you’ll know if you’ve tried Montelobos and Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur. It seemed only natural at some point they would make their way to whisky. “We aim to bring Mexican biological, cultural and ancestral heritage into the world of Mexican spirits. Mexican whisky was a category we wanted to be part of and we felt we could truly add a new flavour and style as a New World Whisky,” he explains.

Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky

Dr. Ivan Saldaña (left), the master distiller of Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky

The basis of the profile is corn, as you probably guessed from the whisky’s name. Doesn’t sound particularly revolutionary but corn in Mexico is a bit different. This is the birthplace of the grain and home to at least 59 different varieties. It’s central to Mexican culture and the beginnings of its cultivation began nearly 9,000 years ago altered the way people eat there. “We wanted to find out if Mexican corn could provide something distinctively different from the standard corn used in the bourbon industry,” says Saldaña.

After a year-and-a-half of testing multiple varieties, Saldaña settled on using non-GMO cacahuazintle (Ka-ka-wha-SINT-lay), a variety with large kernels prized by generations for its taste. It’s the only raw material used, which is unusual. Corn-based whisky like bourbon typically also includes wheat, rye and/or barley in its mash bill. However, Saldaña says the cacahuazintle, which is sourced from three local farms from which the company buys directly, is unlike much of the corn used in the whisky industry. It hasn’t been hybridized or genetically modified to prioritise long shelf life and disease, herbicide and pest resistance ahead of flavour. “The better the raw material you have, the more straightforward your process is to transform it into a rich and interesting spirit,” he explained.

After being field-dried, a small percentage of the corn is malted. The majority of the corn, however, is nixtamalized. It’s a 4,000-year-old process used to make staples such as masa, tortillas, tamales, which involves soaking and cooking the corn in an alkaline solution (usually a lime bath), which is then washed and then hulled. “We truly wanted to use processes and techniques that are part of Mexican heritage. This is the first time, as far as we are aware, that anyone has used this process in spirit production,” says Saldaña. “Nixtamalization opens up the floral sweetness and warmth of the grain. It allows us to mill a finer flour so more of the starch can become sugar, and those sugars can become alcohol”.  

Abasolo Mexican Corn whisky

The unique strain of corn that’s the basis for the flavour of Abasolo whisky

Gigantic coffee roasters have been adapted to roast the nixtamalized grain to create a flour which becomes the base of the mash. Fermentation takes place in 14,000-litre stainless steel washbacks using a Champagne yeast, which Saldaña says was favoured because it can tolerate high concentrations of sugar and alcohol. The length of fermentation, five to six days, is a long time for a grain spirit in particular, but Saldaña explains that the longer you maintain fermentation, “the more you create a more complex mash and alcohol. It absorbs flavour from the raw material that has not become alcohol but is floating in the washback. We’re getting all the flavour that is possible to attain which creates more densely rich and delicious alcohol”.

The whisky is double-distilled in onion-shaped copper stills and the first distillation comes out as 40% ABV. The cuts are simple, Saldaña says he takes a couple of litres of heads out and doesn’t really cut the tails. After the second distillation, it comes out as 62% ABV and he ages the liquid in 200 litre second-fill American oak barrels, most of which are from Buffalo Trace and have a Level 4 char. It’s not aged for longer, not just to be mindful of Mexico’s climate, but, Saldaña explained: “We don’t age our spirit for too long as our purpose is not to create too much cask influence, it’s to showcase the exquisite complexities the corn can bring and complement it with the wood”.

The Destilería y Bodega Abasolo sits at 7,800 feet above sea level, making it one of the 10 highest whisky distilleries in the world, according to the team. They have made no effort to curb the climate and environment here, however, but instead have harnessed it by eschewing traditional warehousing and transforming former horse stables into open-air warehouses. “In this region the average temperature fluctuates greatly even between day and night, going between humid and dry, warm and cold anyway, so the climate and environment are having a profound effect. We are truly in a condition where the liquid is actively working,” Saldaña says. 

Abasolo Mexican Corn whisky

The first purpose-built whisky distillery in Mexico

Saldaña says he’s very proud of the distillery and that it’s the most ambitious project he’s ever been part of. He’s created a brand that is at the centre of the conversation about what Mexican whisky is and could be. Abasolo reflects the terroir and production processes from where it’s from. Other brands like Pierde Almas Ancestral and Sierra Norte have also used heirloom corn varieties as the base for its whiskies and it would be wonderful if that became a defining feature of the category. Add a process like nixtamalization into the mix too and the result is you have a whisky like Abasolo that is truly Mexican in process and profile. This is exactly what we want from new whisky-producing countries.

Having already answered the first two questions asked in the first paragraph, all that remains is to address the most important one. Does it taste good? In a word, yes. It’s rare to sample something where the production process and raw material are so evident. It’s earthy, husky, fruity and sweet in equal measure, with a character clearly founded in the corn. The unique methods used have achieved what Saldaña intended. The cask adds delicate, understated notes and provides plenty of room for the distillate to breathe. If people are expecting a bourbon alternative, they’re going to be disappointed, it’s completely singular in a way that won’t be for everyone. It’s a little rough around the edges and a more aged expression with classic cask notes would be more appealing to some. But if you’re looking for something original and interesting, it ticks all the right boxes. Check out the full tasting note below for more on what to expect. 

Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky and Nixta Mexican Corn Liqueur are now available from Master of Malt.

Abasolo Mexican Corn whisky

Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky Tasting Note:

Nose: Roasted corn, buttery popcorn and some green, vegetal notes lead in a distinctive, direct nose. Give this time to breathe to allow the aromas to settle and develop and you’re rewarded with notes of vanilla, a hint of toffee and tinned peaches, with earthy black tea, floral honey, new leather, clove and pencil shavings in support. There’s a hint of corn husk throughout as well as a soft, cookie dough element (with chocolate chips). 

Palate: An initial tannic abrasiveness subsides for plenty of more the same corn-notes as the nose, as well as milk chocolate, soft vanilla and oak char. Touches of baked apple, caramel and salted butter add depth, amongst some spice from white pepper, cinnamon and clove.

Finish: Like a big scoop of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, with a little salted popcorn and orchard fruit in the backdrop.

Recommended serve: The Jilo Old Fashioned. To make, add 50ml of Abasolo whisky, 10ml of Nixta Mexican Corn Liqueur and 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters to a mixing glass. Add ice and stir under cold and diluted. Zest lemon and/or orange over fresh ice in an Old Fashioned glass then strain the drink into this glass. Roll a lemon and/or orange twist on top of the ice as a garnish. This whisky should also work in any sour or citrus-forward cocktail too and will mix well with ginger beer or coconut water.

Abasolo Mexican Corn Whisky

Nixta Mexican Corn Liqueur

Alongside the whisky, Casa Lumbre also launched this tasty little treat. Much like Abasolo, Nixta was made to express the deepest flavours of corn. It’s crafted from new make Abasolo whisky as well as fresh corn and roasted corn and the distillate is sweetened with piloncillo and previously clarified sweet must. The result is a sweet, thick and rich concoction, as you’d expect from a liqueur, but with some husky, earthy qualities that add dimension and make this really interesting.

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Our favourite cocktail delivery services

Our beloved hospitality industry is taking quite the hit during lockdown, and obviously we’re all gutted we can’t go and support them… Except wait, we can! Here are a few…

Our beloved hospitality industry is taking quite the hit during lockdown, and obviously we’re all gutted we can’t go and support them… Except wait, we can! Here are a few ways you can get your cocktail fix without even leaving your home. 

We know that nothing will quite beat the ambiance of our favourite watering hole, glancing over at the bar and seeing your drink being shaken (or stirred) by a bonafide professional. But, at the same time, enjoying a bar-quality cocktail in the comfort of your own home brings quite a bit of solace and downright enjoyment in times like these. If you can’t go to the bar, bring the bar to you! Plus, now you won’t have to queue or anything… 

cocktail delivery
Speakeasy At Home

It’s triple trouble with Speakeasy At Home, as three of the World’s 50 Best bars have joined forces for this one! You’ll find cocktails from Swift, Nightjar and Oriole all in one place, which is pretty awesome. Will you choose Swift’s famed Irish Coffee, Nightjar’s Barrel Aged Zombie or Oriole’s Jalisco Negroni? If you simply can’t pick which bar you feel like visiting (through the wonder of taste, of course), you can get yourself a box featuring one cocktail from each. Handy! Cocktails come in 220ml pouches and 500ml bottles, starting at £15 and delivering throughout the UK. 

cocktail delivery
Milroy’s The Proofing Room

The ever-wonderful Milroy’s treated us to a new Spitalfields-based site this year, and underneath you’ll find The Proofing Room, its basement cocktail bar. Now it’s bringing the cocktails to us, and they’re all inspired by the humble Highball. The six-serve menu treats us to a whole host of different variations on the classic cocktail, from bourbon, chestnut, peach and ginger to Tequila, coconut rum, chill, caraway and orange. What’s more, there’s delivery across the UK within 48 hours! So you won’t be thirsty for long. Each bottle costs between £12 to £14 and holds three servings. ‌ 

Easy Social Cocktail Company

Easy Social Cocktail Co.

Bartender and Master of Malt contributor Nate Brown, had big plans for 2020 including a Highball Bar called Soda, a pizza and cocktail venue named Nebula and had an idea that at-home cocktails might be a thing. Well, for various reasons, not all of them Covid-related, Soda didn’t open, Nebula is open and doing takeaways, and a cocktails delivery service seems like a really good idea. So Brown has teamed up with Imie Augier, formerly of Fitz’s Bar and Shrub and Shutter, and Hebe Richardson of Drinks with Hebe fame (and also Brown’s wife), to launch the Easy Social Cocktail Co. The menu includes classic cocktails in bottles or pouches as well as Hard Seltzers. We were given a little taste of some of the deliciousness on offer including a Cracking Christmas Cosmo and a Super Strawberry Negroni which might be the best Negroni we’ve ever tried (both £25 for 500ml). 

cocktail delivery
Coupette

Coupette (above) is bringing its delicious cocktails to the masses, because it’s delivering its drinks worldwide! Get your all-important Calvados fix or give the Parmigiano- and bourbon-inspired Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy a go. Heartbreakingly, Champagne Piña Coladas don’t do well in transit. Sad faces all around. Though we’re sure we’ll cope, because there are heaps of other options from its outstanding menu to choose from. If you dim the lights, get some music on and cook yourself some gratin dauphinoise, it’ll be like you never left the East London bar! Cocktails come in three sizes, 125ml, 250ml and 500ml, starting at £10. 

cocktail delivery
Hacha

Agave lovers, we didn’t forget about you! London’s Hacha is here to get us our fix, having bottled its famed Mirror Margarita. Each 700ml bottle holds four serves, and you’ll find Tequila or mezcal versions of the cocktail along with seasonal infusions like clementine and cinnamon, or even a mulled variant! The bar has even reworked the classics, with pre-bottled agave twists on Negronis and Martinis too. A top feature of the bar was its ever-changing spirit selection, complete with bespoke weird and wacky food pairings (mezcal and Monster Munch, anyone?). With Hacha’s agave tasting flights, you can recreate this at home! The flights are designed for two people, holding two serves of three different spirits, along with full tasting notes and even pairing suggestions. If you weren’t an agave aficionado already, you will be soon! Bottles start from £35, delivering all over the UK.

cocktail delivery
Liana Cocktail Co. 

Liana Cocktail Co. is the tasty result of a bad situation (which was lockdown, in case you hadn’t guessed). It goes one step further than just sending you a delicious cocktail, because each serve has one of those fancy QR codes. Say hello to the Interactive Cocktail Experience! From an Apple Old Fashioned to Margaritas, every cocktail has a corresponding video featuring a bartender talking you through how the drink was created. If you’re looking for something festive, on 1 December there’s a special event where founder David Wood himself will be there to talk you through the making of each cocktail, the spirit producers selected and how to get those perfect finishing touches. The cocktail box will give you access to this live event*, as well as donating £1 to The Drinks Trust, helping our friends in hospitality. Each box is £19.99 and holds three cocktails, with delivery across the UK mainland.

*Just make sure you order before 25 November to get your box in time!

cocktail delivery

Bring Your Bar Home

And last but not least, a very shiny new feat of technology from a fellow bar-lover – say hello to Bring Your Bar Home! As much as we hate to admit it, it’s basically a better version of what we’ve just done with this blog, because instead of rounding up a few favourites for you (brilliant though they are), you simply whack in your postcode (only works in the UK) and shows you a long ol’ list of bars which can deliver straight to your doorstep. Genius! Just the sort of thing we wish we’d come up with ourselves… 

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New Arrival of the Week: Springbank 17 YO Madeira

Today we’re toasting the arrival of a limited edition Madeira cask whisky from a distillery that still does things the old ways, Springbank in Campbelltown. Hurry, it’s not going to…

Today we’re toasting the arrival of a limited edition Madeira cask whisky from a distillery that still does things the old ways, Springbank in Campbelltown. Hurry, it’s not going to be around for long.

You can tell that they do things a little differently at Springbank from the marketing bumf. There’s no fancy fonts, or guff about ‘lovingly hand-selected’ and ‘hand-signed’ casks. Instead you have something that would have looked a bit dated in 1981.

Production is similarly traditional. Everything, malting, distilling, maturation and bottling, takes place at the distillery. Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland still doing this. But that’s not the end of the anachronisms: the stills are direct-fired, with oil. There’s something called a rummager inside to remove burnt bits. Springbank has its own unique distillation process with three stills. It’s a bit hard to explain so I’m going to quote from The World of Whisky book: 

“The low wines, foreshots and feints are re-distilled with the next batch of low wines in an intermediate still before final distillation occurs in the spirit still.”

The unique still set-up at Springbank

So, the spirit is distilled 2.5 times. The wash and the spirit stills use shell and tube condensers while the intermediate still uses a worm tub.We scarcely need to say that there’s no chill-filtration or colouring used. The final unusual thing about Springbank is it has been in the hands of the same family since it was founded 1828. The current chairman of the distillery Hedley Wright is great grandson of founder John Mitchell. 

At one point, Campbeltown, on a peninsula next to the isle of Arran across the water from Glasgow, was home to a staggering 34 distilleries. For much of the 19th century, it was Scotland’s whisky powerhouse, famous for its heavy oily spirit which was much in demand for blends. Things began to go wrong with the advent of the railways which saw better-connected distilleries further north, Speyside basically, stealing a slice of the whisky pie. But there were other problems: the Campbelltown style was ill-suited to lighter blends that became fashionable, Prohibition struck a blow, and there are stories about unscrupulous distillers simply making bad whisky and ruining the town’s reputation. By the 1930s there was only one functioning distillery in town.

Springbank suffered too. It stopped distilling in 1926 only to reopen in 1933. It then shut down for nearly ten years in 1979 as the Scotch whisky industry fell into another trough, and when distillation resumed, it was with only a limited production. Of course, things are very different now, Sprinbank is one of the most sought-after whiskies in the world, with old bottling attracting big money on the auction market. 

Casks outside the distillery

Things were going so well that in 2004, Springbank reopened Glengyle distillery taking the number of working distilleries in Campbeltown to three, the final one being Glen Scotia. Just to confuse matters, Glen Scotia owns the Glengyle brand so new releases from Glengyle distillery have been released under the Kilkerran name. The 12 year old is well with trying if you want some of the Springbank style at a bargain price.

Springbank itself produces three different brands: Longrow, which is heavily peated and distilled twice, Hazelburn which is unpeated and triple distilled as well as the classic lightly-peated Springbank. This week’s new arrival is a limited edition of this classic style. 

Only 9200 bottles have been produced. It was aged in rum and bourbon casks for 14 years, before spending three years in Madeira casks, a total of 17 years, before being bottled in October 2020 at 47.8% ABV. That classic Springbank fullness mingles beautifully with the sweet nuttiness from the Madeira wine. It’s sure to sell out quickly but if you’re not one of the lucky ones, there are other Springbank and Campbeltown whiskies on the site.

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Big rich flavours with ginger cake, toffee, grapefruit rind and strawberry jam coming through strongly with underlying saline and smoky notes.

Palate: Spicy black pepper and briny peat leads with sweet notes of caramelised ginger, salted caramel and fennel coming through, and a thick oily feel in the mouth.

Finish: Long, peat character mingles with walnuts.

Overall: Beautifully-balanced dram combining all those classic oily briny Springbank notes with sweet jam, toffee and nuts from the Madeira cask.

Springbank 17 year old Madeira wood is now sold out. 

Springbank Madeira

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The Nightcap: 20 November

It’s the only place you’ll find rare whisky, pop stars and Kentish Pinot Noir all in the same place. The Nightcap is here! We’re now officially at that time of…

It’s the only place you’ll find rare whisky, pop stars and Kentish Pinot Noir all in the same place. The Nightcap is here!

We’re now officially at that time of year when Christmas shopping and decking the halls becomes less a joyous celebration of the festive season and more a stressful exercise in ticking boxes off a seemingly never-ending to-do list. In order to combat the chaos, we recommend a cosy chair, a good dram and some entertaining light reading. Like a round-up of everything that’s happened in the world in the booze. The Nightcap should do the trick. Read on.

The MoM Blog continues to be the place to be if you want to get your hands on tremendous drinks as we offered you the chance to win a VIP trip to the wonderful Jura Distillery. Elsewhere, Henry enjoyed the latest Exceptional Cask Selection from Foursquare, while Adam tasted his way through GlenAllachie’s Virgin Oak Series, picked out some bargain bottles of Irish whiskey and found out why Tequila is a spirit in demand. As for Annie, she had a week that made us long for the return of our favourite drinking holes, sitting down with cocktail trailblazer Julie Reiner, looking into the science behind mixing a cocktail and making a twist on an Old Fashioned that’s a long-time favourite at Sexy Fish.

The Nightcap

Raise your glasses, folks, to one of the greats

Port loses one of its greats, James Symington

The Port business lost one of its most influential and dynamic figures this week in James Symington. Born in 1934 in Oporto, his family had been in the Port business since the late 19th century. After serving with the British Army in Kenya, he joined the business in 1960 shortly after marrying his wife, Penny. It was a difficult period for the industry with sales in the doldrums. Symington was a vital force in the revival of the region. He worked as a taster and blender for the firm, and created such legendary vintage Ports as Dow’s and Warre’s 1966, and Graham’s 1970, and he was instrumental in turning the family firm into one of the most important in the Douro region. Later, he moved to the commercial side of the business, developing markets in the US, Canada and Scandinavia, regions that now have some of the keenest appreciation of Port. In 1987, Symington and his wife restored Quinta da Vila Velha, a derelict property in the Douro valley, which now makes some of the best wines in the region. He is survived by his wife, two daughters Clare and Miranda, and son Rupert who is the CEO of Symington Family Estates. Let’s raise a glass, Dow’s ‘66 preferably, to one of the greats of Oporto. 

The Nightcap

It could be you pouring this exceptional whisky…

Glengoyne to open rare 50-year-old whisky at someone’s special moment  

Glengoyne is doing something pretty amazing with the launch of its oldest ever expression. A decanter of its limited-edition 50 Year Old Highland Single Malt, priced at £22,500, will be given away via an online ballot, open to groups of five or more friends or family. All you have to do is submit an entry alongside a description of your perfect moment for savouring the Glengoyne 50 Year Old together next year. The Glengoyne team will then make that special moment a reality, delivering the highly sought-after whisky for one group to enjoy and savour. “At Glengoyne, we believe that patience is always rewarded. This year we’ve all had to sacrifice spending time with our loved ones or delay celebrations. That’s why we want to make these moments extra special in 2021 with a memorable whisky that, after waiting so long for just the right moment, is truly ready to be opened and savoured,” said Robbie Hughes, master distiller at Glengoyne. The 50 Year Old comes in a special crystal decanter, alongside a 25ml sample of the 50 Year Old whisky, as well as individually numbered books which are signed by Hughes. Available from next week, this extremely limited-edition release will join a new 30 Year Old Glengoyne and the present 25 Year Old whisky, as part of the distillery’s new ‘Fine and Rare’ range. If you’d like a chance to taste this incredible whisky, then you have until Monday 14th December to gather your group and submit your moment here.

The Nightcap

Dua Lipa and great whisky. Two things we love!

Johnnie Walker takes centre stage with Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054

Music and malt have always gone together particularly well so it’s no surprise to see a brand take advantage of a major collaboration. In this case, Johnnie Walker has launched a new partnership with Dua Lipa’s Studio 2054 Livestream event. The digital music experience will be live-streamed globally on the 27 November and will see Lipa sing and dance with a cast of guest stars, surprise performers, acrobats and artists to tracks from her eponymous debut album, the multi-platinum Future Nostalgia and her most recent Club Future Nostalgia. Johnnie Walker, as the exclusive spirits partner, is tipped to feature throughout and has created a set of unique Studio 2054 Highball serves which celebrate global club culture throughout the decades. “This partnership is an opportunity for Johnnie Walker to be involved in a truly unique cultural moment that could only be delivered by a trailblazer like Dua”, says Julie Bramham, Johnnie Walker global brand director. “Our own ‘Keep Walking’ philosophy is all about a constant desire to push the boundaries and Dua is the perfect partner to do that with.” Further information and ticket access for the Studio 2054 live stream event can be found here and more details will be shared across Johnnie Walker social channels pre, during and post the event.

The Nightcap

Russ and Gemma Wakeham, founders of the world’s first carbon-negative rum distillery

Big week for environmentally-friendly rum

It’s been quite the week if you’re into sustainable rum. First, plans have been submitted for the construction of a new £10 million carbon-neutral rum distillery and visitor centre in Cornwall, which will be powered by geothermal energy. Entrepreneur Matthew Clifford, founder of the Cornish Geothermal Distillery Company (CGDC) wants to create a 100% sustainable rum cask maturation facility, visitor centre, cooperage and geothermal energy centre. The project even includes an “ultra-high-tech” Eden Project-style biome which can recreate global temperature and humidity profiles and will house the patent-pending carbon-neutral rum cask maturation pods. It all sounds a tad Bond villain, to be honest, but exciting nonetheless. Elsewhere, Two Drifters revealed it surpassed its fundraising target of £150,000 in three hours. The Devon-based brand (what is it with the south-west and green rum brands?), which was launched in 2019 by Gemma and Russ Wakeham and claims to own the world’s first carbon-negative rum distillery, began its crowdfunding campaign on Monday 9 November on Crowdcube to raise funds to secure larger retail opportunities and improve the distillery’s operations. “We are now in a position to take Two Drifters further to more people,” said Gemma Wakeham. We can also help out in that regard by pointing out that you can check out Two Drifters range of spirits here, which includes a British white rum, dark rum and an overproof spiced pineapple rum.

The Nightcap

All the joys of Whisky Live without having to change out of your PJs. Bliss

Whisky and Gin Live are coming to your home 

To help us through the boredom of lockdowns, there have been many online tastings such as our own Instagram Live series or the Whisky Show, and now this year’s Whisky Live is taking place at home. It’s called… wait for it… Whisky Live at Home! Brilliant! The standard ticket (click here) costs £89 and includes 29 x 30ml samples, the equivalent of around one and a quarter full-sized bottles of whisky. You also get a Glencairn glass, magazines, oatcakes and water. The whole jamboree launches on 30 November but the clever thing is that you can tune in any time to Whisky Live TV and watch masterclasses, seminars, interviews and tasting sessions all hosted by top whisky personality Christopher Coates and his new evil genius beard. You can also buy more upmarket tickets giving you fancier drams and access. Plus, the team is also putting on Gin Live TV (click here) which works in a similar way only with gin (we didn’t need to explain that though, did we?) Those lockdown evenings are going to fly by. 

The Nightcap

The Titanic dry dock and pump house building could soon be home to a new distillery

Whiskey distillery to open at Titanic Dock in Belfast

The Irish whiskey scene looks like it will welcome a new player as businessman Peter Lavery and Belfast-based venture capitalist firm Norlin Ventures have announced plans to construct a new distillery at Titanic Dock and Pumphouse in Belfast. Assuming the full planning application that will be submitted next month is granted in the first quarter of 2021 (which is expected), the new site should be open by the end of next year. This will allow the brand to relaunch the Titanic Whiskey brand in April 2021 to coincide with the departure of Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 1912. “Before Prohibition, Belfast was the largest producer of Irish whiskey on the island of Ireland,” said Lavery. “Whiskey has therefore played an important part in the history of our city and we are excited to tell this story through the relaunch of our Titanic Whiskey brand and the development of a new distillery at Titanic Dry Dock and Pumphouse.” Lavery has got experience in the distillery game, having been involved in the long-delayed distillery plans at the Crumlin Road Gaol prison in Belfast, which resurrected the McConnell’s Irish whiskey brand after more than 90 years in 2020.

The Nightcap

Kentish Pinot Noir, anyone?

Le Kent Nouveau est arrivé

Do you remember when you used to see signs outside Victoria Wine saying “le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé”? Come to think of it, do you remember Victoria Wine? Showing my age here a little. Anyway, people still get quite excited when the young, so-fresh-it’s-almost-still-fermenting Beaujolais from the current year arrives on these shores on the third Thursday of November. Well, now there’s a challenger, as this Wednesday, one day earlier than Beaujolais, Balfour near Tonbridge, released an English nouveau made with Kentish Pinot Noir. Now, even in the heat of the Garden of England, Pinot Noir isn’t that easy to ripen but we’ve been blessed with a particularly warm vintage this year, perfect for creating a juicy fruity wine. Head winemaker Fergus Elias commented: “The fruit from this parcel was so early, with a lovely strawberry jam character, that we thought we would never have a better opportunity to make a Nouveau style red wine. This fruit was the forerunner of a harvest of exceptional quality”. He described the wine as “brimming with rich red autumnal fruits combined with delicate hints of spice and coffee”. All this for £20 with free delivery. Go to https://hushheath.com/ but hurry, as only 1000 bottles have been produced.

The Nightcap

I’m lost for words, to be honest (Image credit: Hendrick’s)

And finally… Hendrick’s Gin launches £1,800 exercise bike

If we told you that a gin brand had branched out into exercise equipment, you’d probably be quite surprised. But, if we showed you a picture of Hendrick’s limited-edition penny farthing-inspired exercise bike, you’d probably nod and say “yep, that is so Hendrick’s”. The gin-makers has had its fair share of Nightcap coverage thanks to its weird and wacky approach, but The Hendrick’s High Wheel is probably the most ridiculous story yet. Particularly as it will set you back £1,889 (plus shipping from the U.S). The bike is made of iron and comes equipped with a “hydration holder”, a “pedal-powered incandescent bulb”, a small bell, an adjustable seat and a built-in bookstand. This can be used to hold the High Wheel Exercise Manual, which includes photographs of a bike journey through Scottish landscapes to Girvan’s Gin Palace – no wifi or electricity here. If you’re interested in embarrassing your children and you fancy picking yourself up a Hendrick’s High Wheel, then note that to mount the olive-green machine you need to use the cucumber side-pegs or a staircase at the rear. Oh, and that it sits upon a synthetic lawn complete with fallen rose petals. Of course it does. 

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Master of Malt tastes… GlenAllachie’s Virgin Oak Series

We taste our way through GlenAllachie’s limited edition Virgin Oak Series and talk to master distiller Billy Walker about wood policy, oak species, local terroir and more, as well as…

We taste our way through GlenAllachie’s limited edition Virgin Oak Series and talk to master distiller Billy Walker about wood policy, oak species, local terroir and more, as well as how to ensure distillery character isn’t lost in experimental maturation. 

In October The GlenAllachie Distillery tweeted that “Wood policy is an essential part of our master distiller, Billy Walker’s craft. He meticulously hand-selects all the casks from around the world”. The brand then invites fans to suggest cask types they’d like to see Walker use, and in the background, you can see a cask from Koval Distillery in Chicago, a ruby Port pipe and a Pedro Ximenez cask.

It’s a demonstration of how Walker works and what he wants GlenAllachie to be. October also marked three years since Walker bought the distillery near Aberlour in 2017 with Trisha Savage and Graham Stevenson and in this time they have become familiar with the site and its inventory and defined GlenAllachie as a distillery with a full-bodied, fruity, sweet and biscuity spirit, delivered in part by long fermentation (something of a signature of Walker’s) with a wood policy that emphasizes using oak with history and unique characteristics.

Which brings us to The Virgin Oak Series, a new range consisting of whiskies finished for twelve months in casks of different oak species from  regions around the world: 12 Year Old Spanish Virgin Oak Finish12 Year Old French Virgin Oak Finish and 12 Year Old Chinquapin Virgin Oak Finish. Each whisky was first matured in white American oak ex-bourbon barrels and and every virgin oak cask was toasted and charred to the same level (medium, toast for 30–40 minutes, char for 30–40 Secs). They were also bottled without any additional colouring or chill-filtration at an ABV of 48%, which means every parameter was kept consistent so any distinctions and nuances between the expressions will be down to the virgin oak casks.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

Billy Walker with the new range

Walker, who was awarded Master Distiller/Master Blender of the Year 2020 at the Icons of Whisky Awards, commented: “We had already a lot of knowledge on the behaviour of a variety of different virgin oak casks and thought it might capture the imagination of the curious inquisitive consumer. We have endeavoured to showcase how different oak genera can determine the flavour and organoleptic profile of the maturing whisky. We selected three oak styles which from our experience we know would deliver significant differences that the consumer could recognise and appreciate.” He went on to explain how the three oak species each have their own distinct flavours caused by wood structure, pore size and chemical make-up. These characteristics are exacerbated by the different lengths of time each wood is air-dried for (see tasting notes). Walker said: “Natural air drying provides a more natural and gentle drying experience in reducing the water presence down to under 10%.” 

Experimenting with maturation in this regard is incredibly exciting, but it does come with risks. A series like this is only interesting if we can observe how the GlenAllachie distillery character is affected by the cask types. If it’s overwhelmed by the virgin oak (which can easily happen), then the series falls flat. A full-bodied distillate helps, but Walker says that to avoid this pitfall, experience and knowledge are key. “We ensure that the secondary wood management does not overwhelm the fundamental DNA of the GlenAllachie distillate and allow the secondary maturation to continue only until the “sweet spot” has been achieved. This requires a lot of sampling to follow its development. We were checking every fortnight”.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

The GlenAllachie Distillery, home to much experimentation and tasty whisky

Tasting the Virgin Oak Series (which you can watch Walker doing here), I think it’s fair to say that the experiment worked. The contrast between each expression is stark and, while the integration wasn’t always consistent, I was impressed with how much GlenAllachie personality is here. There’s a whisky for all palates in this range. The French Virgin Oak is the finest of the three in my book, but we’d love to hear which you enjoyed the most. Looking forward, Walker confirms that GlenAllachie has a lot of interesting things going on (look out for British oak and Mizunara casks) which he assures us will lead to some absolutely stunning releases. We look forward to trying them too. For now, check out our tasting notes and details on the new releases, which you can buy here, below.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old Spanish Virgin Oak Finish

The Spanish Virgin Oak was finished in hogsheads made of Spanish white oak (both it and the French oak are types of Quercus Robur) from the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain. Walker says this area has a cooler climate and greater humidity than the rest of the country and that the pores of the Spanish virgin oak are less tight. When combined with the length of air drying (18 months), he says it imparts distinctive spicy, treacly notes with heather honey, treacle, coconut, orange zest, nutmeg and cinnamon”

Master of Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: Soft toffee pennies, Bounty chocolate bar, floral honey and orange peel with dark chocolate, bruised peach, hazelnut, buttery biscuit, mini foam bananas and hints of fresh clove and cinnamon in support.

Palate: Waves of chocolate and milky coffee come through with treacle, apple blossom, floral notes, dried fruit, black pepper and stem ginger.

Finish: Long, delicately sweet and with Sugar Puffs some lingering spice and floral elements.

Overall: The cask has brought out the citrus, biscuity and spicy elements in an approachable, bright that possesses weight and complexity. The most fun of the three, but without the depth of the French oak.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old French Virgin Oak Finish

The French Virgin Oak Finish is made from French oak from the Haute-Garonne region near the Pyrenees and the wood was air dried for 15 months. Walker says the wood is very finely grained and rich, which creates a subtle, sweet and earthy taste with silky tannins, honey, fruit, orange zest, honey and ginger.

Master of Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: At first there’s drying red apple skins, some earthiness, digestive biscuits and heather honey followed by a little mocha, pink grapefruit, chocolate orange, cinnamon and honeycomb.

Palate: Lots of coffee, tannins and butterscotch upfront, with orchard fruit, dried apricot liquorice and a touch of bran muffin underneath. 

Finish: Rich, sweet and long with cinnamon, white chocolate and citrus.

Overall: An earthy, more mellow and bittersweet dram that’s got so much depth and subtlety as well as the best integration of cask and distillate. 

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old Chinquapin Virgin Oak Finish

Finally, the Chinquapin Virgin Oak Finish is made from casks from the northern Ozark region in Missouri, USA. Chinquapin is a sub-species of quercus alba (Quercus Muehlenbergeii). The casks are air dried for nearly four years which Walker explains creates flavours of liquorice and even hints of rosehips, which accompany complex, zesty flavours with notes of heather honey, barley sugar, toasted biscuit and orange zest, mocha, anis, fennel, cinnamon.

Master of Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: Vanilla tablet, fragrant citrus, honey and a little cacao leads with heather, polished oak, drying nutmeg and Thorntons Caramel Shortcake Bites in support.

Palate: Initially there’s butterscotch biscuits, stewed apple, hazelnut and honey on toast before those liquorice, aniseed boiled sweet elements appear among a little baking spice and sandalwood.

Finish: A big scoop of chocolate ice cream, buttery vanilla and plenty of cinnamon.

Overall: Hugely decadent and full of personality, but it’s a touch overwhelming for me.

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Shaken vs stirred: the science behind mixing a cocktail

Margaritas are shaken, Martinis are stirred, and that’s pretty much the way it’s been since time immemorial. The question is: why? For the definitive on when cocktails should be stirred…

Margaritas are shaken, Martinis are stirred, and that’s pretty much the way it’s been since time immemorial. The question is: why? For the definitive on when cocktails should be stirred versus shaken, we asked two bartenders to divulge the ‘rules’ behind each method, offer technique tips, and share four lip-smacking recipes to try at home…

Chances are, unless you’re a bartender – or James Bond – you’ve rarely given much thought to the technicalities of cocktail methodology. If the recipe instructs you to “shake”, you shake, and if it says “stir”, you stir, without ever really pausing to consider what the process brings to the drink, or why you’re doing one rather than the other. 

“Both shaking and stirring will ensure the individual ingredients are well-mixed, and so the overall cocktail has the right balance from start to finish,” says Patrick Pistolesi, founder of Drink Kong in Rome – one of the World’s 50 Best Bars – and head of mixology at NIO Cocktails.

Opening a bar during the COVID-19 pandemic

The team from Swift in Shoreditch

Both processes also cool the cocktail, Pistolesi continues, although shaking gets the job done slightly quicker. “Shards of ice break off and melt faster as the surface area of the ice is increased,” he explains. “Aside from cooling, the other main purpose of either shaking or stirring with ice is to dilute the cocktail to deliver the perfect drink.”

If both approaches mix the ingredients, dilute the drink, and cool the liquid – albeit at different speeds – when does one method take precedence over the other? It’s all to do with the tiny air bubbles that form during the shaking process.  “Shaking aerates the cocktail, which changes both its texture and its taste,” says Pistolesi.

Those bubbles are the reason a stirred drink will be crystal-clear, while a shaken drink will be cloudy, or at least opaque. Therefore, drinks made with ‘clear’ ingredients, like neat spirits and liqueurs, are typically stirred, while those with already ‘cloudy’ ingredients – such as citrus, syrup, fresh juice, egg whites, cream or milk – ought to be shaken. 

One of the most important (and oft-forgotten) ingredients? Ice. “Put simply, high quality ice delivers a better-tasting cocktail,” says Pistolesi. “Experience with different types of ice is important, as the quality of the ice can also affect the time required to shake or stir.” Good ice (very good blog post on the subject) starts with quality filtered water. You don’t want your ice to melt too quickly or it will have too much dilution, so use it straight from the freezer and avoid that ready-made ice with holes in.

The shake

Perhaps unsurprisingly, you’re going to need a shaker. But which one? “The Boston shaker is the classic two-piece, one part usually stainless steel and the other glass,” says Pistolesi. “This is really great for a sour drink that needs a lot of froth, as the shaker is pretty large and can contain more liquid.”

Alternatively, you could opt for the classic three-piece or ‘continental’ shaker. “This holds a smaller amount of liquid than the Boston shaker, will cool faster and deliver the right amount of air in the drink,” he continues. “I use it mostly for three-ingredient cocktails, for example a White Lady or a Daiquiri.”

In terms of technique: add ice into the shaker first, don’t overfill the vessel with liquid, and opt for a longer, harder shake when using viscous ingredients or those that don’t mix easily, Pistolesi says. Remember, you don’t need to shake as long you would stir – “anywhere between 15 and 20 seconds should be about right,” he adds.

Whatever you do, don’t risk an overshake. “It could make your cocktail watery and gritty with ice shards,” explains Mia Johansson, managing partner of London’s Bar Swift – also one of the World’s 50 Best Bars – and creator of cocktail delivery platform Speakeasy At Home.

“There is no way of perfectly timing it because it has to do with what is in your tin – and how much, more precisely,” she continues. “Make sure you fill your tin with plenty of ice and try to listen to the sound of the shake, when it goes from clunky to broken up it should be just perfect.” 

Ready to give it a crack? You’ll find two shaken classics from Johansson below:

Adnams Rye Malt Whisky Sour cocktail

A Whisky Sour made with Adnams Rye Malt and served on the rocks

Whiskey Sour 

3 parts whiskey (Black & Gold bourbon)
1 part lemon
1 part simple syrup or honey
1 egg white (or 25ml aquafaba)

Give it a good shake with plenty of ice in your tin. Serve straight up in a glass or over ice if you prefer. Garnish with a lemon wedge or cherry. For an extra touch, try adding a dash of Amaretto – 0.5 parts is enough.

French

The French 75!

French 75: 

3 parts Bathtub gin
1 part lemon
2 parts simple syrup
Sparkling wine to top

Shake in a tin with plenty ice, double strain into a coupe or flute and top with the sparkling wine. Garnish with cherry or lemon twist. For a twist, add 0.5 parts of elderflower cordial.

The stir

For this method, you can use your cocktail shaker or a stirring glass – either works fine. “Again, make sure you have plenty of ice, as you want to be able to control the dilution,” says Johansson. “The more ice you have, the more time you’ve got.” Give it “a good stir until you feel the ice has lost its edges and feels smoother,” she says, “usually around 20 to 30 seconds”. Pause and taste it to see if it is cold enough. Texture-wise, it should be “silky but still packed with flavour.”

Pistolesi, meanwhile, advocates for a longer stir. “You’d need to spend upwards of a minute and a half stirring a cocktail to achieve the same cooling and dilution as 15 to 20 seconds of shaking,” he says. In terms of method, “the simplest way is to dunk the spoon in and out of the drink – once the ice and ingredients have been added – while twirling the spoon.” Alternatively, you could use a Japanese method called the Kaykan stir. “The objective is to move the ice and the liquid as a single body and hence to avoid aerating the drink,” Pistolesi explains.

The perfect stir requires a little common sense, so keep an eye on the drink to make sure it doesn’t dilute too much. Get your stir on with the recipes below, again from Johansson:

The classic Boulevardier

Boulevardier

2 parts whiskey (Black & Gold bourbon)
1 part Campari
1 part sweet vermouth 

Stir over ice and serve on the rocks. Garnish with an orange peel. For an extra touch, add a dash of cherry brandy, no more than 0.5 parts.

Stinger made with H by Hine Cognac

Stinger

4 parts H by Hine Cognac
1 part Giffard crème de menthe 

Stir and serve straight up in a coupe. Garnish with a lemon twist. Perfect classic for a Christmas tipple. 

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10 ten: Irish whiskeys under £50

On the lookout for some Irish whiskey? You don’t need to spend a fortune because we’ve picked out some absolute bargains from delicious blends to distinctive single pot still bottles. The…

On the lookout for some Irish whiskey? You don’t need to spend a fortune because we’ve picked out some absolute bargains from delicious blends to distinctive single pot still bottles.

The recent boom in Irish whiskey means there is a huge range of expressions currently on the market. If you need a versatile, mixable blend, you’ve got options. If you desire a spicy, rich pot still, there’s variety. If you’re a fan of experimental cask finishes, take your pick. The only difficulty is choosing which one is right for you. Which is where we come in. Whether you’re on the lookout for a gift or in the mood to try something new, we’re sure you’ll find something perfect in the following round-up. And the best part is, every single bottle costs less than £50. 

Oh, and if you still can’t decide what bottle to plump for, you could always choose a selection of all things great from the Emerald Isle, like this 12 Dram Irish Whiskey Collection from the wonderful Drinks by the Dram.

bargain Irish whiskey

Teeling Small Batch with 2x Glasses

With Christmas on the horizon, we thought we’d kick things off with a splendid present for the Irish whiskey fan in your life. This bottle of Teeling’s multi-award-winning Small Batch blended whiskey, a deliciously creamy, spicy and rich Irish blend made with a high malt content and finished in rum casks, comes with two delightful branded glasses.

What does it taste like?

Cut grass, orange blossom, allspice, creamy vanilla, rose petal jelly, apple pie, dried herbs, caramel and blackberries.

bargain Irish whiskey

Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition

The Jameson Caskmates series features some incredible and intriguing bottles, the standout of which for us is the tasty IPA Edition. To create this, Jameson sent its used whiskey casks over the Franciscan Well brewery, where they were used to age some IPA beer. After that, the casks made their way back to the distillery, where they were used to finish this Irish whiskey. Lovely stuff.

What does it taste like?

Fresh grapefruit, lime, vanilla pod, sugared almonds, oily walnut, hops, caramelised dates, white pepper, caraway and green apple.

bargain Irish whiskey

Slane Irish Whiskey

On the grounds of an 18th-century castle in a converted 250-year-old stable, you’ll find Slane Distillery, the home to one of the most affordable and pleasant blends in Ireland. Slane Irish Whiskey is made using local grain which and matured in a trio of casks: virgin-oak, refill-American-whiskey and Oloroso sherry.

What does it taste like?

Sweet oak and toasted barley at first, with layers of caramel, Victoria Sponge Cake, butterscotch and ginger developing later on. 

bargain Irish whiskey

Tullamore D.E.W. XO Caribbean Rum Cask Finish

Tullamore D.E.W. makes a delightful and original blend of pot still, malt and grain Irish whiskeys that work in a number of cask finishes. In this case, the brand used first fill Caribbean rum casks which previously held Demerara rum that not only delivers a rich, sweet and complex taste, but also pays tribute to the role that Irish immigrants played in the development of rum in the Caribbean back in the 17th century. Which is pretty neat.

What does it taste like?

Cherry pie, lots of caramelised pineapple and banana alongside buttery caramel, brown sugar, oak, dried fruit, sweet malt and rum spice.

bargain Irish whiskey

The Sexton Single Malt

An approachable, affordable and very tasty dram from master blender Alex Thomas, one of the few female master blenders in the Irish whiskey industry, the distinctive-looking Sexton Single Malt was made from 100% Irish malted barley and aged in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. It’s got one of those profiles that just begs to be put to good use in cocktails

What does it taste like?

Rich aromas of nuts, dried fruit, honeycomb sweetness, lemon zest, prunes, marzipan and dark chocolate with a pinch of spice.

bargain Irish whiskey

Midleton Method and Madness Single Grain 

Midleton’s experimental Method and Madness range was launched in 2017 to push boundaries and innovate. We recommend you check out the full selection of singular expressions released in the last three years, but today we wanted to shine a light on this single grain Irish whiskey which was finished in a virgin Spanish oak cask, because it’s a great demonstration of how good Irish single grain can be.

What does it taste like?

New pencil shavings, light rose petal, fresh rain on pine, warm toasted oak, fresh peeled grapefruit, zesty wood spices, sweet cereal and fresh mint.

bargain Irish whiskey

Kinahan’s The Kasc Project 

This unusual bottling sees a blend of malt and grain whiskeys aged in handmade hybrid casks made of five different wood varieties – Portuguese, American, French, and Hungarian oak, and chestnut – each selected for the flavours they impart into the whiskey. It’s so delicious and intriguing we wrote a whole blog post about it.

What does it taste like?

Juicy autumnal fruit, namely plum, alongside pear, apple crumble, rich caramel, pineapple, barbecued mango, vanilla pod, creamy fruit and nut chocolate.

bargain Irish whiskey

Pearse Lyons 5 Year Old Original

The first five-year age statement Irish whiskey to appear from a new distillery in the whole of Ireland in more than 25 years, this bottling marries both malt and grain whiskeys, aged exclusively in bourbon barrels. Oh, and it was distilled in pot stills that sit on an altar in a converted church. Pretty cool.

What does it taste like?

Lemon blossom, porridge, oak char, floral malt, honeyed spice, mint milk chocolate, fresh oak, millionaire’s shortbread, leading into some drying spices.

bargain Irish whiskey

Bushmills Black Bush

A bartender’s go-to for good reason, Bushmills Black Bush is one of the most consistent and versatile Irish blends on the market. Use this one to make all kinds of delicious whiskey cocktails.

What does it taste like?

Over-ripe grape, light citrus, toffee, peanut, vanilla, chamomile tea, Digestive biscuit, cooked plum, orange oil, cinnamon sticks and milk bottle sweets. 

bargain Irish whiskey

Green Spot Single Pot Still 

Just a week on from announcing the return of Blue Spot, now we’re showing some love to the best known of the range and a whiskey that has done so much to fly the flag for single pot still whiskey. We’re talking, of course, about the fabulous Green Spot, a whiskey that was matured in a combination of first and second fill bourbon casks as well as sherry casks to deliver a robust, fruity and rich profile. Savour this one.

What does it taste like?

Fresh green apple, sweet barley, sugary porridge, creamy vanilla, papaya, gentle bourbon oak, green woods, menthol, potpourri and citrus.

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Why Tequila is increasingly a spirit in demand

Demand for Tequila is increasing year on year and the future for the category looks bright. But what’s behind the boom? We talk to Proximo Spirits Tequila educator Oli Pergl…

Demand for Tequila is increasing year on year and the future for the category looks bright. But what’s behind the boom? We talk to Proximo Spirits Tequila educator Oli Pergl to find out.

While gin continues to dominate headlines and rum muscles its way into the spotlight, the rise of Tequila consumption hasn’t gone unnoticed here at Master of Malt. More and more people are waking up to the versatility and deliciousness of Mexico’s national spirit and a raft of new producers have sensed the potential, building premium brands on a bedrock history, tradition and craft.

The stats make for pretty good reading, too. Waitrose reported in May this year that its Tequila sales boomed by 175% since the lockdown in March and new Nielsen data revealed that in the US,  Tequila sales were up 55.5% in September and October 2020 in the off-trade. Becle, a Mexican company whose flagship brand is Jose Cuervo Tequila, reported better-than-expected results for the July to September quarter this year, with net global volumes growing by 26% compared to the same three months last year and shipments rising by 28% to 3.38 million cases. Wall Street analysts called the figures both “outstanding” and “amazing” when they were announced last month.

But what’s driving this growth? To find out, it’s worth talking to somebody who knows the spirit inside-out, like Tequila educator Oli Pergl. He spends his time enlightening and delighting folks on the pleasures of the agave-based spirit for Jose Cuervo, a Tequila brand which is not only the world’s best-selling but the oldest, having been granted the first license by King Carlos IV of Spain to produce and distribute Tequila in 1795.

tequila

Say hello to Proximo Spirits Tequila educator, Oli Pergl!

For Pergl, the desire for ‘craft’ spirits and the heritage, provenance and character of Tequila has galvanised the industry and is responsible for the boom. “This is an era in which people want to look beyond the label. They want to know who the producer is, how the spirit is made. Tequila is perfect in that respect. It’s got such a rich and deep history and the craft of Tequila is unique and specific to Mexico,” Pergl explains. “And people are now discovering it in new ways. We’ve seen so many new brands come over the last few years and Tequila is one of the fastest-growing categories of spirits at the moment. Vodka has been on the decline for a little while. There’s an oversaturation of gin in the UK which has prompted people to look elsewhere. I believe Tequila is on its way to being the next big player in the market”. 

The pandemic did little to halt this impressive rise. “We’ve seen a lot of people enjoy Tequila over lockdown. They want to be reminded of summer holidays, having fun, and Tequila fits the bill. Virtual Mexican nights and cocktail hours have been hugely popular and driven demand” says Pergl. “With quality, premium Tequilas being much more widely available, and easy to work with when making cocktails at home, we think this trend will continue to grow for a good while yet”.

In light of the increased interest in the category, it’s little surprise to see that celebrities have jumped on the bandwagon, including George Clooney, Dwanye Johnson, Michael Jordan. Pergl acknowledges that celebrity endorsement has plenty of advantages, but can be a double-edged sword. “You don’t want millions of celebrity endorsements to saturate the market,” Pergl explains. “But, overall, it’s a good thing. It’s created more awareness and has broadened the premium market because that’s typically where celebrities get involved. Thankfully there hasn’t been too much cheesy product placement or gimmicky marketing. They’re often almost romantic about their businesses and are just as in love with the spirit as the people making it. That, in turn, tells the consumers ‘maybe I should fall in love with it as well’”.

tequila

Appreciation of the legacy, production process and culture of this unique spirit has helped drive growth

The biggest cultural shift, however, has been the movement away from identifying Tequila purely as the rough and tumble party spirit that you knock back with salt and citrus. Education in this regard is still needed, but increasingly consumers are sipping and appreciating. “We want people to understand the passion involved. We’re targeting events towards consumers to ensure that tequila isn’t just seen as a party shooter or a Margarita ingredient,” Pergl says. “We promote the versatility and mixability of Tequila. We want people to dive deeper and realise you can have Old Fashioneds, Mojitos, Piña Coladas etc. I personally believe any cocktail can be twisted with Tequila and we want to demonstrate that it has a diverse enough character to replace rum, whisky, gin or vodka”.  

The growth of premium Tequilas (which are usually made with 100% blue weber agave) casts an inauspicious light on ‘mixto Tequilas’, a term given to more economical expressions made from the mandated minimum of 51% agave, with the other 49% coming from sugarcane or another sugar source. However, Pergl says this style still has its merits and a future. “That type of Tequila still has a massive part to play because it introduces people to the fun and light-hearted side of the category,” he explains. “There’s always going to be times for celebration in our lives and the need for a mixable spirit and it’s great that consumers have options because not everyone has the budget for premium Tequila. Producers also have to be very careful about what they are going to be making their Tequila from because 100% blue agave isn’t necessarily the most sustainable option”. 

This is one of the challenges the industry faces. While things are looking good for Tequila, the increased demand for agave-based products has raised concerns about sustainability. “It’s not just Tequila, there’s a huge demand for agave syrup. It’s putting serious pressure on a lot of brands. We’re constantly assessing our role in this and creating solutions. We have a laboratory onsite to analyse different conditions and how they affect the crop to ensure that our agaves are treated as best as they can. We have about 4,000 jimadors, all of them are generational-led experts, in the field every day tending to millions of plants who prioritise the safety of the crop,” Pergl explains. “We’re also working to make sure that our agaves, after turning into Tequila, have a much longer life as well. We recycle its fibrous materials, for example, and donate them to local businesses to be turned into straws, rope, aprons or kitchenware. It’s not just a case of using the agave purely for Tequila, we want to extend the life of it”.

tequila

Pergl believes the future is bright for Tequila

Looking forward to how Tequila can maintain consistent and sustainable growth, Pergl says that companies like Jose Cuervo have a responsibility as a leading brand to ensure that the traditions and the culture of Mexico remain respected and that the quality of new expressions adheres to a certain standard. “We always feel a responsibility to the industry. We’re never trying to trample over anyone. Our position allows us to innovate, to take that next big leap and show the other companies we can be brave together. Once we do that and master certain techniques then we can share that knowledge so Tequila doesn’t have to be this one thing,” Pergl says. “We also have a responsibility to our farmers, our neighbours and to the town of Tequila, to represent Mexico with integrity. Jose Cuervo himself was the mayor and he introduced a lot of measures to ensure that people had the right facilities. Those values paved the way and the eleventh generation members still ensure that those traditions are met”. 

The question is, will the demand for Tequila continue to rise in 2021? Pergl has no doubt that it will. “Rum and Tequila are yet to have their heyday in terms of the popularity that gin and vodka have enjoyed. I think that’s about to change. We want more of the world to fall in love with our spirits and, lockdowns permitting, we’ll be getting out there educating and working to increase the appreciation and adoration of this great spirit. 2021 is going to be a big year for us”.  And if you’d like to see it in with a quality Tequila in-hand, you can pick some up right here.

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New Arrival of the Week: Foursquare Détente

This week we’re particularly excited about the latest Exceptional Cask Selection rum from the Foursquare Distillery in Barbados. It’s been aged in ex-bourbon and Port casks for ten years. And…

This week we’re particularly excited about the latest Exceptional Cask Selection rum from the Foursquare Distillery in Barbados. It’s been aged in ex-bourbon and Port casks for ten years. And that’s not all, there’s a new vintage bottling on the way too. Double trouble!

First of all, let’s get the name out of the way, ‘Détente.’ It might sound a bit peculiar but it’s just the latest in a long line of gnomically-named bottles from the Foursquare Distillery in Barbados like ‘Criterion’, Nobiliary’ and ‘Empery’ –– some to think of it, I think I lost £20 on ‘Empery’ at Cheltenham a few years ago. Détente, though, brings to mind the Cold War, the word was used to refer to moments of relative calm between the USSR and USA. Could it be a coded reference that some sort of agreement over the terms of the island’s GI has been reached by those two titans of Bajan distilling, Richard Seale from Foursquare and Alexandre Gabriel from the West Indies Distillery?

Sadly not. The word in French can simply mean ‘relaxation’ and is probably just a reference to the perfect way to enjoy it. Whatever the meaning of the name, there’s no doubt that this is an exceptional drop. It’s a single blended rum which means that both pot and column still spirit is used, specifically a double retort pot still and the continuous twin column still for all you rum nerds out there. The final blend is made up of a ten year old, aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks combined with a rum that was aged for four years in ex-bourbon casks before spending another six in ex-Port casks. It’s bottled at 51% ABV with no chill-filtering, colour or sugar additions. 

But that’s not the only exciting new bottling from Foursquare. The company has also released another rum in its Exceptional Cask Selection series this month. It’s also a blend, distilled in 2008 and spent the last 12 years in ex-bourbon casks before bottling at 60% ABV. Full details of both below.

The Seale family have been on the island of Barbados since the 1650s and involved in the rum business since at least the 1820s. The brand R.L. Seale dates back to the 1920s. Foursquare, however, is a much more recent creation. The distillery was founded in 1995 by Sir David Seale and is now run by his son Richard, a master distiller and blender. Under the Foursquare label, the firm produces some of the finest rums in the Caribbean to Richard Seale’s exacting standards. He is outspoken in his opposition to any sugar addition and off-island ageing, both techniques used (to great effect it has to be said) by Alexandre Gabriel at the West Indies Distillery, also in Barbados. So there’s a lot they disagree on which we have documented on the Master of Malt blog in the past. Anyway, that’s enough politics, let’s taste the rums!

From cask types to bottling dates, there’s no shortage of information on Foursquare labels

These are both exceptional liquids, that are best drunk neat or in very simple cocktails which let the quality hine through. With the Détente, I made perhaps the best Palmetto I’ve ever had, made half and half with Barbadillo sherry vermouth, served over ice with a dash of Angostura and some orange peel. Absolutely stunning. Here are the full tasting notes for:

Foursquare Détente Exceptional Cask Selection (available now from Master of Malt)

Nose: Extraordinary complexity: sweet notes like butterscotch and muscovado sugar mingle with spices including cinnamon and nutmeg, dark cherries and orange peel, and then powerful aromatic menthol notes and a touch, just a touch of acetone. 

Palate: Smooth with popcorn, dark chocolate, red fruit, molasses and creamy buttery notes but all the time with a vein of fiery pepper running through it. 

Finish: That menthol note comes breezing through again, like mint choc chip ice cream.

Foursquare 2008 (new stock coming in any day now at Master of Malt) 

Nose: Strong acetone notes like varnish and furniture polish followed by dark chocolate, coffee, and toffee.

Palate: Strong wood tannins, it really grips the mouth with a taste of tobacco, leather and bitter espresso coffee. Big alcohol too, providing black pepper and chilli. A dash of water softens it bringing out notes of milk chocolate, maraschino cherry, cooked apple and manuka honey. 

Finish: Long and intense, like biting into high cacao dark chocolate and those tannins linger. A finish you can chew. 

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