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Master of Malt Blog

Majestic mezcals & terrific Tequilas

It’s World Margarita Day on Saturday (22 February) so there’s no better time to enjoy the delights of the various agave-based spirits we have here at MoM Towers! Loved and…

It’s World Margarita Day on Saturday (22 February) so there’s no better time to enjoy the delights of the various agave-based spirits we have here at MoM Towers!

Loved and consumed by millions, made from a couple of simple ingredients and utterly delicious. God, I love Maltesers.

Maltesers share all of these qualities with Margaritas, which are also delightful. So good, in fact, that a day was created especially to champion them. On 22 February (which is this Saturday, folks), drinks lovers all around the world will honour this tasty mix of Tequila, triple sec and lime. We even featured the classic holiday drink as our Cocktail of the Week this time last year if you’d like to learn more about it and how to make it. But why stop with just celebrating the cocktail when you can enjoy the spirit behind it, or indeed any agave spirit. From terrific Tequilas to majestic mezcals (hey, that’s the title!), we’ve got everything you need to mark World Margarita Day or just indulge in some of the best Mexico has to offer.

Magestic mezcals & terrific Tequilas

El Rayo Plata

Our first Tequila on the list is one that actually celebrates the legend behind the creation of the first Tequila. El Rayo translates to ‘the lightning’, and the name is a homage to the story that lightning struck a blue Weber agave plant and cooked it, giving us the beloved spirit we enjoy today. El Rayo Plata wasn’t made with lightning, however, but with 105-year-old copper stills which distilled the blue Weber agave twice before it was housed in those handsome bottles. It’s made for a Tequila & Tonic (catchily named a T&T), so definitely give that a try.

What does it taste like?

Exceptionally smooth and gentle, with an almost oily mouthfeel, notes of citrus, lots of earthy agave and a hint of flinty minerals, with a warming peppery finish.

Magestic mezcals & terrific Tequilas

Casamigos Añejo Tequila

As Casamigos was co-founded by George Clooney, it’s very easy to become distracted by thoughts of his big handsome Clooney face when actually you should be focusing on the delicious Tequila his creation makes. The Añejo Tequila is made slowly as the agave is fermented for twice the average and roasted for 10 times as long, before the spirit is matured for 14 months in American white oak casks. 

What does it taste like?

Toffee penny, roasted agave, dark chocolate and sweetly spiced oak.

Magestic mezcals & terrific Tequilas

El Espolòn Blanco Tequila

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, that is a skeleton riding a rooster. The unique label was inspired by Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and the importance the bird holds in Mexican culture. El Espolòn Blanco Tequila was made with 100% blue agave and bottled without ageing by the Destilladora San Nicolas in Los Altos.

What does it taste like?

Light and floral, with agave, cracked black pepper, citrus zest, lime and vanilla.

Pensador Mezcal

Pensador Mezcal is made by Don Atenogenes Garcia and his family, who employ traditional production methods that date back to the 16th Century. The unique profile comes from distilling a combination of espadín and madre-cuishe agave. 

What does it taste like?

Oak-y smoke, roasted apricot, black pepper and a mineral-rich earthiness supported by citrus and grape.

Magestic mezcals & terrific Tequilas

VIVIR Tequila Reposado

VIVIR was founded by Navindh Grewal and Paul Hayes, the latter of which made his name as the first man to bring Bircher muesli to the UK. Their Reposado expression was crafted with 100% blue Weber agave and aged in bourbon oak casks for at least 6 months. You can drink this one neat or in all manner of Tequila-based cocktails…

What does it taste like?

Chewy caramel and melted butter, with agave earthiness as its backbone.

Magestic mezcals & terrific Tequilas

Fortaleza Blanco

When Fortaleza Blanco first came to market in 2005, few probably knew of the brand’s remarkable history. Fortaleza founder Guillermo Sauza’s grandfather was Don Cenobio, a key figure in establishing Tequila as we understand it today. However, his company was sold when Guillermo was little, although they held onto the distillery and land though so Guillermo was able to get the traditional distillery back up and running. It’s a lovely story for a lovely Tequila.

What does it taste like?

Everything a good Tequila should be with herbaceous, vegetal agave, citrus, green olives and brine as well as a creaminess that carries into rich buttery character.

Magestic mezcals & terrific Tequilas

Amores Espadin Mezcal

Amores Espadin Mezcal was made with sustainably-cultivated Espadin agave from Oaxaca, so if you love tasty spirits with an ethical production process this should be right up your street.

What does it taste like?

Subtle capsicum and mint leaf character backed up with wood smoke and just a hint of cream.

Magestic mezcals & terrific Tequilas

El Destilado Sierra Negra

An intriguing agave spirit produced for the El Destilado range, a brand that explores spirits from Latin America that was founded by folks from Sager + Wilde and East London Liquor Company. This particular expression is an agave spirit produced using a particularly rare variety called Sierra Negra.

What does it taste like?

Powerfully fragrant, with notes of fresh flowers, cigar box and earthy spices all playing their part.

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Five minutes with. . . Patrice Pinet, master blender at Courvoisier

What can we expect from Cognac in 2020? We asked Patrice Pinet, master blender at Courvoisier, to fill us in. Cognac had an interesting 2019, with encouraging sales and increasing…

What can we expect from Cognac in 2020? We asked Patrice Pinet, master blender at Courvoisier, to fill us in.

Cognac had an interesting 2019, with encouraging sales and increasing interest in the category offset by poor harvests. Bad weather conditions from 2017 and 2019 resulted in harvest reduced by 25% which led to shortages for most brands, including Courvoisier. “It’s difficult to have a perfect harvest without any trouble. We had big hails in 2017 which had an impact on the crops that year. Last year we had some frost in April and this affected part of the vineyard. The year before was a good crop, but some areas of the Cognac, in general, were still affected,” Pinet explains. “It makes it difficult to have enough liquid to provide to all our markets because we don’t have a big product reserve, especially for the younger expressions like Courvoisier VS, because we use the recent crops to prepare the VS.”

Pinet concedes that the scarcity of VS may mean a little bit less availability than Courvoisier has had in the past. The increase in demand and reduction supply also dictates that there could be an increase in the price. However, he’s optimistic that major repercussions, especially for the consumer, are unlikely and Cognac as an industry should be able to deal with this setback. “We organise the region here to face such events. We implemented a new way of working in the Cognac region more than ten years ago now, to build what we call our ‘climatic reserve’, to face the weather conditions and to take advantage of good harvests,” Pinet explains. “We work with our winegrowers to increase crops when the years are good, like 2018”. 

Patrice Pinet

Courvoisier, like many Cognac brands, have been affected by poor weather conditions

Courvoisier has been working with Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC) on research into new varieties of grapes which can be harvested earlier a month earlier. “In order to have enough Cognac in the future to face climate change we are always organising new research here in the Cognac region. For instance, we’re trying to find new grape varieties more resistant to climate change and more resistant to frost,” Pinet explains. “We’re also always working on how we can perfect our approach to cultivating a whole vineyard. Some, I would say in the north of France like the Loire Valley, or Champagne, or Barsac have a level of organisation in place to deal with the frost. We haven’t always had this in this region, but step by step we are organising and working to lessen the impact of climate on the harvest”. 

It’s encouraging because the demand for Cognac is certainly there. In 2019, Courvoisier returned to growth in the on-trade and the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis predict that over the next three years Cognac sales will increase by 12% in volume and 14% in value. Premiumisation has been the key, with Courvoisier VSOP and XO excelling in recent times. In fact, 76% of consumers now say they’re willing to pay extra for a better quality Cognac. “We are very conscious and very attentive to the trend of premiumisation. What we can see is that people are enjoying Cognac differently, when they are drinking Cognac in the afternoon, in the early beginning of the night, or in the night, or the day and evenings. It’s important as a company that we can provide a large range of Cognac that people can drink neat or in long drinks or in cocktails”, says Pinet. “In 2019 the good news was that VSOP and XO are performing very well, especially in the on-trade now which is very important to capture. Consumers’ interest in the category can be explained because they are styles that can be drunk neat or in cocktails at a good price.

Patrice Pinet

As master blender of Courvoisier, Patrice Pinet knows a thing or two about Cognac

The consumption of Courvoisier and of Cognac has evolved over the past few years. The US and Chinese markets, in particular, have been significant. “The growth we had from them has a big impact on the global category. The growth in China was more significant in 2018 but in 2019 it became more stable, which will likely happen with the US as well. In the US, what we had to last year was very, very high and will not be sustainable so growth will return at a more reasonable pace,” says Pinet. “But the increase was enough to make us adapt and that’s why we have decided to plant some new vineyards in the Cognac region. We had the authorisation of the French government last year to plant about 3000 acres more and we expect to have the same authorisation this year. With this new plantation, we’ll be able to match this sustainable growth”. 

From a strategy point of view, Pinet is optimistic about the appeal of Cognac to new markets and customers. “It’s true that in some markets Cognac has been a macho market and appealed to a certain generation of people, but in other markets, it is very young people who are drinking Cognac, like in America for instance,” says Pinet. “That’s why we try to educate the consumer on what the differences between VS, VSOP and XO and then create new experiences for consumers to enjoy their Cognac differently. The marvellous cocktail bars that are in cities like London are a good way to attract young consumers.”

Patrice Pinet

Courvoisier’s VSOP and XO performed strongly in 2019

The balancing act for Courvoisier will be to ensure that it can still champion the rich history of the brand and spirit while being innovative For Pinet, one can inform the other. “We know that our history is important and that people are always interested to learn about it, but we also appreciate that we know how we can change and evolve because we have done so throughout the decades until now,” he explains. “History is important for the roots, but continuous improvement comes from understanding the trends of the market, how we adapt our packaging, our ways of welcoming people here and the importance of eCommerce. We are very creative and are confident that we will develop to succeed in the market in the future”. 

 

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Island spirit: a visit to Mermaid Gin

Last year on a beautiful clear August day, we visited the Isle of Wight to meet the team behind Mermaid Gin, film at the distillery and learn the secrets of…

Last year on a beautiful clear August day, we visited the Isle of Wight to meet the team behind Mermaid Gin, film at the distillery and learn the secrets of its deliciousness. Some, sadly, we’re not allowed to divulge. 

Xavier Baker from the Isle of Wight Distillery asked us not to reveal the location of his best foraging patch for rock samphire, an important botanical in Mermaid Gin. We’d got up early to follow him on an expedition down to the beach. The island sparkled in the August sunlight with the palm trees making this corner of southern England feel like the south of France. While Baker hopped from rock to rock with the agility of a mountain goat, I lumbered after him more like a rhinoceros occasionally grazing my hands and knees in a desperate attempt not to fall. As we foraged, Baker explained a little about what we were looking for: rock samphire grows above the waterline; it’s a completely different species to marsh samphire, which grows in water; rock is related to the carrot whereas marsh is related to asparagus. Top trivia to impress your waiter with next time you see samphire on a menu.

Samphire used to be big business on the Isle of Wight with barrels of the stuff going to London every day. Today, Baker is one of the few harvesting it commercially though that he sometimes runs into local Michelin-starred chef Robert Thompson on his forays. The Isle of Wight distillery needs 75 kilos of the stuff every year, so Baker is keen to keep his best patches a secret. It provides a unique flavour to Mermaid gin, Baker describes it as “ocean breeze in a glass.” Raw it tastes sweet and slightly nutty with a dusting of salt. Other botanicals in Mermaid Gin include locally-grown hops as well as juniper, coriander seeds, fresh lemon zest, grains of paradise, angelica, liquorice, orris and elderflower.

With its unique taste and stylish blue bottle, Mermaid Gin is now one of the most recognised and popular gin brands in the country. The company was founded in 2014 by Xavier Baker, and local wine-maker, the impressively monikered Conrad Gauntlett (which makes him sound like a 1930s media magnate). Baker is a brewer by training, “I’ve been brewing since before I could legally drink”, he told us. He’s done stints at giants like Molson Coors and tiny outfits like Dingle brewery in Ireland. After quite a bit of wangling with HMRC, the pair began distilling in 2015. The distillery is housed in a slightly-rough round the edges converted pub near Ryde. Its functional charms make a nice change from cost-no-object City money set-ups one sometimes finds at new distilleries. Cleverly, they have kept the pub side going. While we were there a constant stream of visitors arriving to have a drink, see round the distillery and almost all of them left clutching a bottle of gin. 

Is it a mermaid washed up on the shore? No, it’s Xavier Baker from the Isle of Wight Distillery

Originally though, gin was not part of the plan. “We wanted to be a whisky distillery but gin sort of  took over”, Baker said. They filled a few barrels with new make before stopping to concentrate on gin. It’s a column malt made with Isle of Wight barley. Baker said, “the wash came from Goddards brewery down the road, we did a long slow fermentation.” It’s currently sitting in custom casks, American oak white wine barrels with heavily-charred English oak heads. That initial whisky is now nearly four years old. According to Baker, “there was so much interest when it came of age”, but there’s no immediate plans to sell it yet. Baker gave me a little to try. It’s a deep colour and intensely-flavoured with a nose like rum: chocolate, creme brulee and toffee. In the mouth, there are quite noticeable oak tannins but overall it’s very smooth with a lovely walnut finish. 

They have just finished a refurbishment of the distillation equipment with a new 1,000 litre copper pot still that can be used for gin and whisky plus a column still and condenser. According to Baker it’s a very adaptable set-up. With this increased capacity, Baker told us that he intends to start distilling more whisky soon. 

On sale alongside the Mermaid Gin and its pink sister, there’s a vodka and HMS Victory Navy Rum. This came about when, following a successful navy-strength gin, the Isle of White Distillery was approached by the National Museum for the Royal Navy with making a navy rum. They looked at distilling molasses in England but ended up sourcing rum from Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica, just like the Royal Navy used to do. It is then aged in a cask that contains some wood from Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory (yes, really). It sounds a bit gimmicky but it’s a superb drop, punchy and packed full of flavour, but dangerously smooth and drinkable.

But it’s not just about making high quality spirits. For Baker having the least possible environmental impact is very important. “We’re completely plastic-free right down to the cork, we use the highest quality natural cork,” Baker said. The cap is wrapped in biodegradable cellulose. The distillery is very involved in beach clean projects. “We want to protect the environment in which Mermaids live,” said Baker. The Isle of Wight business model seems very sustainable too. The distillery is a model for how a small outfit can do something a bit different in the crowded gin market and build a national following from a strong regional base. And that’s just Mermaid Gin. The maturing whisky points at the huge potential in the Isle of Wight Distillery. If only we could persuade them to bottle some.

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New Arrival of the Week: Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish

This week we’re particularly excited about a Dominican rum with a difference, it’s been finished in casks that formerly held a peated Speyside whisky giving the spirit a subtle smoky…

This week we’re particularly excited about a Dominican rum with a difference, it’s been finished in casks that formerly held a peated Speyside whisky giving the spirit a subtle smoky quality. 

As the expectation and excitement around the rum category continue to swell, we can expect to see more and more innovative expressions. While some of this experimentation will inevitably make us cringe, there’s also plenty of room for those who create the intriguing and delicious to shine and we’re always happy to help them share some of that spotlight.

Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish

The Dominican Republic, looks nice, doesn’t it?

Take Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish, an aged Dominican rum from Relicario (owned by the Spanish-based Beveland Distillers) that was finished in American oak barrels which previously held peated whisky. It’s simultaneously an interesting drink for seasoned rum lovers and exactly the kind of bottling that will convert whisky drinkers to the joys of rum. It shares a similar production process to the brand’s core expression, Relicario Ron Dominicano, that is until the end of the maturation process. The rums are made from 100% native Dominican sugar cane juice harvested by hand. The sugar cane juice is fermented for 30 hours with yeasts (the distillery reveals this is saccharomyces cerevisiae, which should delight yeast fans), before the spirit is distilled in two different stills. I told you this rum was interesting. It is distilled initially in a continuous column still and then again in a copper pot still, which Relicario says is to create a smoother delivery. 

The rums are then matured in 225 litre American white oak barrels in the Dominican Republic, which means you can expect the humidity and temperatures typical of the Caribbean, as well as some sea breeze, to add to the character of the product. Where Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish differs is that following ageing on the island for between five and ten years, the barrels were transported to Speyside to be matured for a further 6 months in those 250 litre American oak barrels that contained peated whisky.

New Arrival of the Week: Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish

The expression was finished in peated whisky casks from Speyside, not Islay

Yes, that’s right, Speyside. Some of you might have been expecting that maturation to take place at an Islay-based distillery, but Islay holds no monopoly on peated whiskies. Speyside has a few distilleries that embrace the smokier side of things such as Cragganmore, Glenfiddich, BenRiach, Tomintoul and Glen Moray . Relicario doesn’t confirm which distillery housed the whisky and/or provided the casks, so you can have a fun game of ‘guess the distillery’ yourself when you taste it. 

Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish is definitely the kind of bottling that you would consider to be a sipping rum and I would recommend trying it neat, at least initially, so you can pick out the peaty influence. Relicario went for a more subtle style of smoke, which was the right choice in my opinion. The character of the rum isn’t overpowered by the peat, instead, it adds a really pleasant earthy and savoury quality to balance the sweetness of the molasses and vanilla. The nutty elements that come through in the palate predominately are also delightful.

New Arrival of the Week: Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish

The Almond Fashion

And then it’s time to move on to cocktails.  The brand recommends the Almond Fashion, which is essentially a rum Old Fashioned, which I’m very partial too. It’s made by combining 60ml of Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish, 25ml amaretto and a dash of grapefruit bitters. Garnish with an orange twist and a maraschino cherry. The rum still takes centre stage with all those nutty, sweet and smoky notes which the grapefruit bitters complement beautifully.

So, if this sounds like you’re kind of thing or you’re after something a bit different, then you’ll perhaps you’ll plump for a bottle of Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish. It’s now available from Master of Malt and we’ve included our own tasting note below, but be sure to let us know what you think as well!

Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish

Relicario Ron Dominicano Peated Finish Tasting Note:

Nose: Thick treacle, earthy vanilla and gentle sweet peat smoke combine with chocolate digestives and oily toasted nuts.

Palate: Brown sugar, roasted nuts and juicy dried fruit take centre stage before notes of tropical fruit and a hint of salinity emerge in the backdrop.

Finish: Gentle smoke with lingering and creamy vanilla sweetness, a hint of citrus and some cinder toffee.

 

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Cocktails in cans are not to be sniffed at

From canned G&Ts to bottled Negronis, It’s never been easier to buy a portable bar-quality drink on the hop. We explore how pre-mixed cocktails turned premium – and share a selection…

From canned G&Ts to bottled Negronis, It’s never been easier to buy a portable bar-quality drink on the hop. We explore how pre-mixed cocktails turned premium – and share a selection of our favourite ready-to-go tipples…

Whether they’re released by established distilleries, bottled by entrepreneurial bartenders, or engineered by savvy start-ups, today’s ready-to-drink (RTD) serves tend to favour high quality, often ‘natural’ ingredients, all wrapped up in slick, Instagrammable packaging. All being said, we’ve come a long way since the likes of WKD Blue and Smirnoff Ice reigned supreme.

Historically, the pre-mixed arena has been “dominated by big spirit brands, for whom it made sense to produce cheap ‘spirit and mixer’-type RTD’s to ensure their product could be consumed more easily on the go,” explains Harry Farnham, co-founder of Bloody Drinks. This meant convenience was important, but quality less so, he says, which created a race to the bottom in terms of price.

“This is now changing, and for lots of reasons,” Farnham continues. “One of the most obvious is the knock-on effect of the explosion of ultra-premium craft beer in cans. With their craft credentials, complex taste and striking designs, they’ve proved that discerning consumers will spend a lot of money on a canned drink.”

Ready to drink Negroni Sbagliato? Don’t mind if do

While today’s RTDs may be a far cry from the sickly-sweet, E number-addled alcopops of the 2000s, there’s an element of nostalgia behind our penchant for portable tipples, says Steph DiCamillo, global advocacy manager at Atom Brands“The age bracket of people who are driving the growth grew up with RTDs seen as a teenager’s drink – overly sweet and immature,” she says. “The new RTDs are quite different in terms of complexity, aesthetic and sugar content. Yet, they give just enough nostalgia to the drinkers to get them intrigued in the first place.”

Thankfully, the artificial colours and fake flavours once associated with RTD’s – particularly those of the bottled variety – have been left in the past, driven by demand for craft cocktails beyond the traditional bar setting. We may not be drinking them in a bar, but we want the same experience, says Deano Moncrieffe, co-owner of east London bar Hacha“Consumers want a cocktail that is familiar in name but uniquely hand-crafted with a point of difference, much like our bottled Mirror Margarita,” he explains. It’s crystal clear, he explains, but tastes like a classic Margarita – “with all the flavours you would normally associate with that cocktail”. 

The RTD market also presents an opportunity for distillers to present their signature serve as they envisage it. With canned serves increasingly dominating shelf space in the RTD sphere, distilleries across the country are going all-out to capture the essence of their signature serve and double down on the latest drinks trends. As such, nailing the flavour profile has wider implications. 

It’s a Margarita but colourless, how is that possible?

“We have the ability to include more natural ingredients and interesting flavours,” says Victoria Miller, on-trade and prestige sales manager at Scotland’s Eden Mill, which is currently developing and expanding its RTD range – the latest addition being non-alcoholic Eden Nil. “The correct, or ‘perfect’ serve is important, particularly in a new category such as this,” Miller adds.

Pre-mixed can also be hive for experimentation, with a shift towards more innovative flavours and profiles, says James Law, co-owner of Longflint Drinks Company. But it has its limits. “The G&T rules the roost for good reason; unlike many cocktails it’s a straight spirits and mixer offering and that makes it perfect for the format,” he continues. “It’s really hard to capture the magic of an Espresso Martini or Mojito in a can.”

So, what do we want from our pre-mixed cocktails? First of all, complexity, says DiCamillo. “It isn’t enough to have just a peach flavoured RTD – it’s white peach with a hint of basil. There is demand for a name recognised spirit, but it seems to be the flavour cues on the label people are initially intrigued by.” We’re also keen on lower sugar, drier-style drinks more akin to a beer. “People want to be able to sip all afternoon, not have just one,” she continues. “This also speaks to the ABV, with a trend towards slightly lower 4-5%, so they can be sessionable.” 

Design-wise, many labels are “bright, loud, and graphic”, inspired by the craft beer market, says DiCamillo, though she forecasts “increasingly sleek minimalist styles emerging in the next few years”. Finally, there’s the price. “The RTD has to be competitive with craft beer. Once you creep into the price of a cocktail in a bar, it is hard to justify the value,” she says. “One exception to this would be the use of high-end ingredients like truffle and extra aged spirits.”

That Boutique-y Gin Company, funky packaging

The biggest challenge for any canned drinks brand, says Farnham, is demonstrating that canned does not equal compromise – and “with a product as complex as a Bloody Mary, that’s all the more important. The dream for people is to crack open a can, pour over ice and for it to match what you would be served in a bar,” he says. “In reality, it’s only by canning our blend of premium ingredients that this becomes possible, while keeping it fresh enough to be enjoyed instantly, anytime you want it,” he says.

The convenience factor associated with the burgeoning RTD category – “meeting the demand for people wanting faster ‘speed of serve’ when it comes to drinking” says Joe Sanders, UK director at bottled cocktail company ELY – has echoed across the industry. “Kegged cocktails are becoming really popular with bars wanting to serve the likes of Espresso Martinis as fast as possible without compromising on quality,” he says. “We have developed our own Nitro system which delivers a quality consistency – foamed top of the cocktail – every time.” 

Looking ahead, Law predicts the next RTD trend will be “all about sugar – or lack of it,” he says. “The hard seltzer category has exploded in the US, but will it work this side of the pond? I think it will, but with a slightly different approach – I’m not sure you can just shoehorn in the language, design and flavour styles and expect it to work off the bat. It’s an unusual category but one that’s looking more and more important.”

And DiCamillo agrees. “I think healthy-no and low beverages will tie into the RTD cocktails,” she says. “Terms like low-sugar, low ABV, and natural flavourings will pop up – they’re already being littered across cocktail bars. I expect ‘CBD-infused’, ‘vitamin-enriched’, and similar ideas will start to be incorporated into RTDs in the near future. “

Below, we’ve picked out four pre-mixed drinks for your perusing pleasure. For more options, check out the entire selection here.

That Boutique-y Gin Company Yuzu Gin Collins
Starward Old Fashioned
Sipsmith Gin & Tonic
Tinkture Negroni Classico 

 

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The Nightcap: 14 February

It’s 14 February, so you know what that means – it’s time for The Nightcap! Yep, that’s it. Nothing else. People all across the country got out of their beds…

It’s 14 February, so you know what that means – it’s time for The Nightcap! Yep, that’s it. Nothing else.

People all across the country got out of their beds this morning, took a look at their calendars on the wall and said “Oh look, it’s 14 February! That means there’s another edition of The Nightcap today!” As you can clearly tell, this is meant to be a joke. It’s obviously a joke because no one has a physical calendar on the wall anymore. We have phones to remember the date and what’s going on for us. For example, I’m looking at the calendar on my phone for the first time today right now and it’s telling me that it’s a Nightcap day, as well as being Valent… Oh, I have to go to the shop. For no reason. I’ll go after The Nightcap.

Over on the MoM blog this week Ian Buxton championed English fruit brandies with Capreolus Distillery while Annie was particularly inspired this week by a perfume-inspired liqueur and a Bordeaux-inspired cocktail. Adam then tasted a 51-year-old Dalmore single malt (no, really), talked Tequila with VIVIR and made a case for you to explore the world of London dry gin before Henry shone a spotlight on a Cuban rum and Nordic-Aussie gin.

Now, on to the Nightcap!

 

The Nightcap

The two single cask whiskies were distilled the very same year the distillery closed!

Rosebank Distillery returns with two rare single cask expressions

Prepare yourselves, whisky lovers. In huge news, this week the much-loved Rosebank Distillery announced the release of two limited edition, vintage single cask whiskies, distilled the very same year the distillery closed, 1993. Though both cask strength bottlings spent their days in a refill bourbon hogshead, that’s where the similarities end. For Cask Number 433, at 53.3% ABV with a release of 280 bottles, you can expect cranachan and lemon, with gentle floral notes, marzipan, ripe fruit and oak. Contrastingly, Cask Number 625 boasts warm banana loaf, shortbread, chamomile tea, dried herb and citrus, tropical fruit, lime and gentle spice finish, at 50.4% ABV and an outturn of 259 bottles. The most exciting part is, you have a chance to get your hands on the liquid! With only 100 bottles of each expression available, the folks over at Rosebank want to keep things fair, so you can apply for a bottle direct from the website via a ballot process. The ballot launched today (14 February) for Rosebank subscribers, while general release will have to wait until 18 February, and will remain open for two weeks. Whichever expression you go for, a bottle will set you back £2,500. Robbie Hughes, Rosebank distillery manager said: “We are incredibly excited and proud to be releasing our first official bottlings of Rosebank since the distillery’s closure in 1993 – a pivotal milestone for us in bringing back to life this quintessential Lowland malt.” If you manage to get your hands on a bottle (as if that wasn’t lucky enough), you’ll be invited to collect it at a private event in London on 18th March, with the chance to meet Robbie Hughes himself, and even sample the single casks. What a way to get back in the game from the iconic distillery ahead of its long-awaited reopening!

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All hail the Grouse!

Famous Grouse now no. 1 whisky in Britain

Britain has a new champion whisky. The invincible-looking Jack Daniel’s has been unseated from its no. 1 spot and knocked back to no. 2 (though it would be fitting if it was the seventh best-selling brand, think about it). The new winner is a home-grown little blend you may have heard of called. . . the Famous Grouse! The Edrington Group’s flagship blend had a great Christmas in the off-trade with sales over £71m, up 2.6% on the previous year. Whereas its rival from Tennessee dropped by a shocking 9.3%, perhaps a reflection of the so-called Trump tariffs from the US/ EU trade war. Overall the mighty Grouse is bucking the trend for the blended Scotch category which was down 4.1% by value after Christmas (figures are from Nielsen ScanTrack based on off-trade sales for 12 weeks up to 4 January 2020). Mark Riley, managing director at Edrington-Beam Suntory UK commented: “The Famous Grouse for years has been the UK’s favourite whisky and driving force behind the blended Scotch category, so we are delighted to have reclaimed our number one spot in the UK’s largest spirits category. It’s fantastic to see a Scotch back in the top spot.” The Grouse is back!

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The ongoing EU/US trade war isn’t doing wonders for the American whiskey business

Tariffs cause US spirits exports to drop 27% to EU 

That’s right, we bring you more bad tariff news, folks. According to figures just released by Distilled Spirits Council of the US (Discus), the ongoing EU/US trade war is hitting the American whiskey business hard. In 2019, global exports of American whiskey fell by 16%, to $996 million. What’s more, American whiskey exports to the EU plummeted a whopping 27%, falling to $514m. This crash also comes after years of strong growth in the market. Discus president and CEO Chris Swonger noted that, “while it was another strong year for US spirits sales, the tariffs imposed by the European Union are causing a significant slump in American whiskey exports.” It’s easy to see this when we look at export declines for American whiskey in specific EU countries, with the UK falling 32.7%, France 19.9%, Germany 18.2% and Spain 43.8%. Swonger continued, “if this trade dispute is not resolved soon, we will more than likely be reporting a similar drag on the US spirits sector, jeopardising American jobs and our record of solid growth in the US market.” Politicians, sort it out!

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Better than tap? The jury’s out. At least they were. Then they said it was better.

Larkfire Wild Water triumphs in whisky taste test

This week Master of Malt was invited to the launch of a new water which is meant to be enjoyed with whisky called Larkfire at Boisdale of Belgravia in London. It’s the softest water imaginable as it is collected from Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The local rock, Lewisian gneiss, is incredibly hard and insoluble meaning that the water doesn’t pick up any minerals. It’s about as pure as water can be. The company was so confident in its purity that it put on a little test. A panel of drinks people, experts, journalists and someone from Master of Malt tried a selection of whiskies supplied by LVMH: Ardbeg 10 Year Old, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Glenmorangie 10 Year Old and Glenmorangie Lasanta with two types of water. One row was Larkfire and the other was Belgravia’s finest tap water. But which was which? There was much sipping, gurgling, swallowing and pontificating, it was totally scientific. Then it was time to hand in our papers. After a slap-up Scottish lunch of haggis and venison, the results were revealed: 14 votes for Larkfire wild water; 7 votes for Belgravia tap. So Larkfire the clear winner. Sadly, Master of Malt’s reputation was in tatters as our representative preferred the tap water.

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Congratulations guys!

Family-run pub named the best in the country for the second time

The Bell Inn in Aldworth, Berkshire, which has been run by the same family for 250 years, has been crowned the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Pub of the Year. The Bell Inn previously won the award in 1990 when it was run by current landlord Hugh Macaulay’s parents. “Since my grandfather retired nothing has changed about the pub at all, I think that might be one of the things that impressed,” says Macaulay, who added that it was “a wonderful thing to be recognised for driving quality year after year” at the Grade-II listed hostelry. Macaulay also attributed the success to the fact The Bell Inn is a free house, meaning it is not owned by a particular brewery and it is free to sell a variety of beers. “The judges were impressed with how a stranger entering the pub was treated like a regular straight away,” said Pub of the Year competition organiser Ben Wilkinson. “It’s clear that the local customers use the pub as a community centre as well as a place to drink, and the warm welcome and knowledgeable staff made us feel right at home. Nothing can beat the combination of good beer, great food and a warm, heritage pub”. Each year volunteers from more than 200 CAMRA branches select their Pub of the Year, before a winner is chosen in each region and they are whittled down to three runners-up and one winner. Runner-ups to the award, which has been running since 1988, include the Swan With Two Necks in Pendleton, Lancashire, the George and Dragon in Hudswell, North Yorkshire, and the Red Lion in Preston, Hertfordshire. Congratulations to everyone at The Bell Inn!

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Cognac and hip-hop – a combination that never fails

Courvoisier and Pusha-T partner to open US pop-up

The Maison Courvoisier activation, an immersive experience that “pays homage to the brand’s château in France”, is set to open in Chicago this weekend. Those who visit the event will be able to sample the latest offerings from Courvoisier, while experiencing live performances, interactive art galleries, fashion exhibits and a capsule collection from fashion designer, Rhuigi Villaseñor, and contemporary artist, Al-Baseer Holly. Oh, and also the first instalment of Maison Courvoisier was curated by multi-platinum rapper Pusha-T. “Beyond music, I am passionate about fashion and art, so I’m proud to collaborate with Courvoisier to highlight two of my favourite creators,” he said. “I’ve been a fan of Rhuigi and Al-Baseer for years, and I’m excited to be able to highlight their success through Maison Courvoisier.” This is the first in the series of activations taking place throughout 2020 at US cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Houston and Philadelphia. The next experience is planned for New York Fashion Week in September. “We’re excited to open the doors to Maison Courvoisier, as it brings our château in France and portfolio of award-winning liquid to our fans in a modern and interactive way,” said Stephanie Kang, senior marketing director for Courvoisier. “The event also embodies our core value that success is best shared and allows us to give these creative innovators the opportunity to honour their favourite artisans and their work.”

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Happy birthday, Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Happy 21st birthday, Kentucky Bourbon Trail!

In the words of Charli XCX, we do occasionally want to go back to 1999. It was a good year! Toy Story II, Britney Spears, the millennium bug fear… what a time to be alive. It was also the year the Kentucky Distillers’ Association kicked off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and for that we are truly grateful. And we shall celebrate its 21st birthday in fine form! The timetable of festivities was announced this week, getting underway with an 18-stop pop-up party tour in May and culminating in September with a closing do at the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center at Whiskey Row’s Frazier History Museum in Louisville. A whole bunch of distilleries are participating, including Bulleit, Evan Williams, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, and more. “We invite everyone to come out and celebrate with us.” said Adam Johnson, senior director of the KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences. “This is a momentous occasion and we wouldn’t be here without the millions of devoted fans who have made the pilgrimage to the various KBT destinations and the birthplace of bourbon.” And in 2019, the number of visits stood at almost two million – that’s a significant number of whiskey pilgrims. Happy birthday, Kentucky Bourbon Trail – we’ll be raising many glasses to you this year!

 

Tullamore D.E.W. debuts new short film in Beauty of Blend campaign 

Tullamore D.E.W.’s ‘Beauty of Blend’ campaign, which began in 2017, continues with a new short film! Ever wondered what motivates people to craft the perfect blend? Well, the world’s second largest Irish whiskey is giving us an insight into the answer, and in short, it’s to bring people together (we assume delicious liquid is also a byproduct of this). Beauty of Blend was shot by the acclaimed director Valentin Petit, enlisting the help of up and coming MCs and poets such as Genesis Elijah, a UK-based spoken word artist, asking them to express their own interpretation of the power of blend. The film shows a single bottle of Tullamore D.E.W. being passed between people throughout different places and cultures, to demonstrate the “connective thread that exists in us”. Very heartwarming indeed. “Tullamore D.E.W. is on a mission to encourage the world to blend. What is true of our whiskey, we are a blend of three types of different Irish whiskeys, we also believe is true of humanity,” global brand director, Chin Ru Foo said. “When we blend with other people and ideas, then we become richer as individuals and in turn, the world becomes a wiser, richer and more open place”. If you happen to be passing through Times Square, you’ll find it there on a giant billboard (is there any other kind in New York?), though seeing as it’s the 21st century, the internet is your first port of call if you’re elsewhere.

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Jameson sales have hit a new high

Jameson whiskey hits 8 million cases sold in 2019

The Jameson juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down. Figures just released by Irish Distillers shows that it sold 4.6 million cases of Jameson in the last six months of 2019 taking total sales for the year up to 8 million. Over the Christmas period, the company sold an astonishing 940,000 cases in one month. Sales are up 9% on the previous year. Growth in the last 25 years has been rapid: 1996 was the first year the company sold more than a million cases a year, by 2010 it was triple that. The US market dominates, as you might expect, taking 2 million cases of Jameson in 2019 but there’s growth across the board: UK up 10%, Germany up 34%, and Canda up 13%. The emerging markets are rocking too with China up 76%, India up 37% and Nigeria up a massive 185% (probably from quite a low base, it has to be said.) It’s not only Jameson though, Irish Distillers reports that Redbreast sales grew by 24% and visitor numbers are booming at Bow Street in Dublin and Midleton in Cork. It will be interesting to see what 2020 will bring.

The Nightcap

It’s a 75-minute journey through a century of cocktails. Fingers crossed the flux capacitor can handle it.

And finally. . . Are you telling me you built a time machine. . . out of a bar?

Think of the great time machines from popular culture like the DeLorean in the Back to the Future films, the time machine in HG Wells’ The Time Machine or, greatest of all, the phone box from Bill and Ted’s adventures. All great time machines, no doubt, all useful for messing with the space-time continuum but one thing was missing from all of them: booze. Everything is better with a drink in your hand, right*? Well, at the Timeless Bar in East London, this has been remedied. The team will be firing up their very own Cocktail Time Machine on the day that comes but once every four years, 29 February (that’s a Saturday.) The experience has been created by Funicular, creators of amazing immersive experiences, and consists of a 75-minute journey through a century of cocktails (see video here for a flavour of what to expect) from the Hanky Panky in the 1920s to the Appletini in the ‘00s. Food will be provided by Masterchef finalist Louisa Ellis. To travel on the Cocktail Time Machine, you need to book. All sounds enormous fun as long as you don’t get stuck in the 70s with nothing to drink but Tequila Sunrises. 

*Disclaimer: many things such as driving a car, operating heavy machinery, flying an aeroplane or delivering babies should be done sober.

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Master of Malt tastes… The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

The Dalmore has launched a 51 Year Old expression and we were lucky enough to be one of the first to taste it. No, really. Here’s what we thought. Any…

The Dalmore has launched a 51 Year Old expression and we were lucky enough to be one of the first to taste it. No, really. Here’s what we thought.

Any Scotch whisky lover will tell you The Dalmore is no stranger to extravagant expressions. Bottlings such as The Dalmore L’Anima Aged 49 Years, The Dalmore 60 Year Old and The Dalmore 45 Year Old have cemented this reputation. It’s not surprising then that the Highland distillery’s first major release of 2020 is a whisky fit to join this illustrious list: The Dalmore Aged 51 Years. 

A launch event to taste and talk all about it took place at the Hotel Café Royal in Piccadilly, London this week, where master distiller Richard Paterson was on dapper and dandy form as usual to present his latest source of pride. It was all very exciting, as I’m sure you don’t need telling. This would be my only opportunity to sample The Dalmore Aged 51 Years as only 51 bottles (neat) will go on sale and the pleasure of its company in the future would set me back £55,000. As you would expect for a whisky of this type, there’s a glossy hand-crafted presentation case (black sycamore wood, don’t you know) which houses the crystal decanter and stopper. But, in the immortal words of Shania Twain, that don’t impress me much. Even if the 12-point ‘Royal’ stag is looking particularly resplendent in sterling silver.

The whisky itself is far more compelling. Bottled at a natural cask strength of 40% ABV and presented without any additional colouring, it was initially matured in ex-bourbon casks before it was distributed between Port Colheita 1938 casks, Matusalem sherry casks and first-fill bourbon casks. The spirit was then reunited in bourbon barrels for a final flourish. The press release notes that this demonstrates “how deeply The Dalmore treasures the sanctity of the cask”. 

The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

The Dalmore’s Richard Paterson with his latest source of pride

The official quote from Paterson in the marketing bumf drove this point home further. “The Dalmore 51 Year Old is a noble single malt of rare profundity and it has been my pleasure to closely follow its maturation over five decades. I am always looking towards the future and I carefully consider how each distillation will evolve, moving our spirits to new wood to transform their conclusion. The Dalmore 51 Year Old is a fine example of this.” At the event Paterson reiterated this, explaining that long maturation and cask innovation has been part of The Dalmore DNA since the Mackenzie brothers owned the distillery.

The fact that The Dalmore’s stringent wood policy across its thousands of casks and the guiding principle that the ‘cask is king’ took centre stage was particularly interesting. The classic issue with whisky matured for this long is that the profile becomes too woody. As I made my way to the event the question of how you successfully mature a whisky for 51 years was on my mind. In this case, Paterson clearly feels the answer lay in utilising multiple casks. He made a point early on at the event to say that by “using the right cask you rejuvenate the whisky, then it goes over like silk”.

In a presentation before dinner, Paterson told stories about the distillery and its history, but it wasn’t long before casks became the focus of the conversation. Paterson describes the maturation process of The Dalmore Aged 51 Years like a journey, one that begins in ex-bourbon casks that “provide the base of the whisky and allows it to settle down”. He then explained that in order to make something special he used Port Colheita 1938 casks for four years. “This took that American white oak and gave it body and character with those plummy notes you get with this style of the Port wine”. The spirit was then added to exclusive 30-year-old Matusalem sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass for five years, which Paterson explains was to bring notes of “old English marmalade, grapes, sultanas and Christmas cake. This, mixed together with that Port wine, comes together in a perfect assemblage”. 

The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

The Dalmore distillery

We were then invited to taste The Dalmore Aged 51 Years, I didn’t need telling twice. I was conscious that your perception of a whisky can be influenced by the setting, so I took a portion of my designated glass away to taste at home in order to compare and contrast my thoughts. You’ll be pleased to know what across both sets of notes, there’s hardly a mention of woodiness. Instead, my two separate tasting notes both concluded that this was a complex dram. In fact, I thought The Dalmore Aged 51 Years was utterly sublime.

The vibrancy of the fruit is striking, as is the heaps of flavour despite the low strength. It’s chock-full of Dalmore distillery character and each cask plays its part without every truly veering into dangerously tannic territory. Paterson described it as a whisky “that deserves every splendour, it’s something very different and something unique”. I’d add that it’s very, very delicious. For more detail, the customary MoM tasting note is below.

 

The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

The Dalmore Aged 51 Years Tasting Note:

Nose: Homemade blackberry compote, lime marmalade, roasted espresso beans and a litany of dried fruit – dates, figs and sultanas – drenched in spiced molasses lead. Elements of dusty oak furniture, soft toffee pennies and vanilla cream develop among touches of golden tobacco, chocolate orange, Turkish delight and diced almonds. As the nose progresses notes of Conference pears, stewed plums and rich dark chocolate make their mark as lemon meringue, Bakewell tart (with the cherry), honey roasted peanuts and Bassett Allsorts emerge in the backdrop. 

Palate: A faint rasp of woody tannins quickly make way for bold notes of sticky Jamaican ginger cake, stewed dried fruits, Madagascan vanilla and Manuka honey spread liberally on wholemeal toast. A tart hint of Morello cherry compliments the sweeter elements of damson plums, muscovado sugar, thick-cut orange marmalade and syrup sponge. A dash of festive cinnamon emerges in the mid-palate among complex notes of roasted pineapple, balsamic vinegar, liquorice lace, cacao, earthy red chilli and a hint of cinder toffee.

Finish: Long, resinous and full of dark fruits. There’s also a hint of floral perfume and soft caramel notes.

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Black Tears: the new spirit of Cuba

Two of the biggest trends in drinks are spiced rum and premiumisation. So we were excited to try Black Tears, an elegantly-flavoured Cuban rum that was launched recently. We talk…

Two of the biggest trends in drinks are spiced rum and premiumisation. So we were excited to try Black Tears, an elegantly-flavoured Cuban rum that was launched recently. We talk to the team about cocktails, sugar and the difficulties of doing business in Cuba. 

We’re often told stories from distillers about how hard it was getting permission from HMRC, but dealing with the Cuban government is something else according to Adele Robberstad from the Island Rum Company. ““Oh my God!” she said laughing, “it’s complicated, very complicated.” She has been trying to finalise a joint venture to produce Cuban rum since 2010 but only last year did the first product, a spiced rum called Black Tears, hit the market. “We thought we were going to sign an agreement years ago!”, she said. “No one is allowed to make any decisions. That’s how Cuba works, nothing is logical.”

The joint venture, the first such in Cuba since Havana Club, is called Ron Vigia and it was put together by two Norwegians Tore Villard and Hans Christian Holst, and Enrique Arías, a Spaniard from a rum-producing family that left Cuba after the revolution. “It was very important for him to go back and invest in Cuba,” Robberstad said. “He won’t say he wants to get back what he lost because he is smart. Cuba knows everything about him, he has to be very careful,” she added. Which sounds menacing, another lesson that doing business in Cuba is far from straightforward. Robberstad’s background is in drinks, first a premium mineral water for restaurants and then liqueurs like Cherry Heering and Asanti cognac liqueur. “I increased the alcohol levels over time”, as she put it. 

Funky label

Bureaucracy isn’t the only problem in Cuba: almost everything has to be imported to the island including glass bottles. There are shortages all the time: “The shops don’t have any tomatoes or butter,” she said. This is partly down to transport problems. She told me that people flying in from Miami are often carrying car parts that are unobtainable in Cuba and there are long lines for petrol. The key is to have your own trucks and the company has had to lay on buses to get staff to work. The company’s two distilleries are in a remote area in the centre of the island. Even then it’s a struggle: “Most of the staff have two to three jobs to survive,” she said. The Island Rum company pays the government in hard currency which then pays the workers in “monopoly money” as she calls the local currency.

The dollar economy is very important. Cuba is opening up with direct flights from the US. The company has plans for tourism on the island including a visitor centre in Havana next to Ernest Hemingway’s old house. Since Obama’s time, it’s much easier for Americans to reach the island, but it’s not so easy for Cubans to get out. Robberstaad told me about the female maestro ronero who oversees the distilleries who won’t be allowed to leave the country.

It is appropriate then that the first product, a premium spiced rum, from the company is called Black Tears. The name comes from an old song Lagrimas Negras which has become the unofficial national song of the island. The base is a column still aguardiente of 74% ABV, so still plenty of character. It’s flavoured with cacao, aji dulce (a king of sweet pepper) and coffee, and bottled at 40% ABV with only nine grams per litre of sugar. With its funky packaging, the aim is to create something a bit different to Havana Club. “Havana Club is excellent,” Robberstaad said, “it has built a category. We’re aiming to do something a little bit more progressive for a new generation.”

The Enrique Varona distillery

It’s very different to most spiced rum. Delicious, layered and packed with flavour, sweet-tasting but hardly sweet at all. It’s excellent neat but particularly good mixed with tonic, a Tears and Tonic, as they call it. I think it would be an excellent Daiquiri Mulata (there’s a load of recipes on the website.) The formula for Black Tears was tweaked with a tasting panel of bartenders around the world. The emphasis is very much on the bar trade, Black Tears was launched at BCB (Bar Convent Berlin) in October. Peter Thornton ex-Pusser’s Rum is involved on the sales side, and both Ian Burrell and Simon Difford are fans. Difford has been devoting a cocktail a week for a year to it on Difford’s Guide

Jaspreet Anand from Skylark Spirits which is bringing Black Tears into the UK told me, “spiced rum is the fastest growing category in the UK and the rest of the world. It [Black Tears] is a good gateway between spiced and more serious rum. There’s nothing really similar in the industry.” Black Tears is currently available in 25 countries but hasn’t officially been launched in Cuba. They have big plans, though, as you might guess. Feedback from the name and the bottle has been highly positive. According to Robberstad, Cubans are proud to see their national song in English on a bottle. The delay is finalising the joint venture has been like a “four year seeding campaign” on the island, she said. 

The joint venture consists of two distilleries in Ciego de Ávila Province, and, most excitingly, 7,000 barrels of mature rum. The company has bottled two aged rums which are not yet available in Britain: La Progresiva 13 and the ultra swanky La Progresiva 500. Only 900 bottles of the latter were produced. Island Rum was meant to get half but has only received 200 bottles. The government has the rest. Further proof, that business in Cuba is never straightforward. 

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The whole fruit and nothing but the fruit

Fruit brandies are big on the continent but unknown in Britain. Almost unknown, that is. There is one man distilling eau-de-vies in tiny quantities using local fruit and an obsessive…

Fruit brandies are big on the continent but unknown in Britain. Almost unknown, that is. There is one man distilling eau-de-vies in tiny quantities using local fruit and an obsessive attention to detail. Ian Buxton travelled to the Cotswolds to meet him. 

Where do your literary sensibilities lie? Do you prefer Henry James or Marcel Proust to Ian Fleming and Wilbur Smith? Or for an agreeable foreign break, would you choose a cultural tour of little-known Greco-Roman remains over Club 18-30? Nothing wrong with either I should add, but you do need to know what you like. You may, for example, really enjoy very robust Islay single malts or monstrous roaring sherry-soaked whiskies. That’s fine, but if so I’d suggest that you look away now because I doubt that the English fruit brandies (or eaux-de-vie) of the Capreolus Distillery will really float your boat. 

Everything here is about subtlety, refinement, delicacy and precision. These are very cerebral spirits, not for quaffing with roguish abandon but to be savoured, thought about and analysed. These, I would submit, should be drunk with at least some appreciation and regard for the precision that has gone into making them.

Barney Wilczak in action

But who or what is the Capreolus Distillery, I hear you ask. At one level, it’s another of the many tiny craft distilleries we’ve seen spring up over recent years. This one is based in a converted Cotswolds greenhouse, with a garage serving as warehouse and dry goods store.  Two small Czech stills are the engine at its heart and self-taught distiller (and professional photographer, see photos in the article) Barney Wilczak presides over the operation. A highly-regarded gin first drew the world’s attention.

So far, so unexceptional: well-rated gin from a start-up distillery is praiseworthy (and the gin is very, very delicious) but not all that unusual. What really makes Capreolus stand out are the fruit brandies. Eaux-de-vies are not an English tradition. With the exception of cider and, less often perry, fruit has conventionally been used in England for preserves and desserts whereas in much of continental Europe small-scale, artisanal distilling is well established. Indeed, such is its importance that in France, Germany, Hungary and Italy among other nations it’s considered part of their cultural patrimony, enjoys an honoured place in the drinking repertoire and is an essential component in gastronomy. Oh, and upstart outsiders are looked at sceptically. 

Fermented raspberries

Fermented raspberries being transferred to still by hand

In working with locally-grown English apples, pears, quince, plums, damsons, greengages, blackcurrants, raspberries and other fruits, Wilczak has taken on a considerable challenge.  Not only are the products a minority taste in the UK, his meticulous approach means they are incredibly demanding and expensive to produce. His pursuit of absolute purity of taste borders on the obsessive: only the finest fruit is selected, no sugar is added and only wild yeasts employed in fermentation. Very considerable quantities of fruit are required to produce even a single litre of distillate.

Just imagine examining 34.5 kilos of raspberries by hand. Each single berry is inspected, damaged berries or leaves removed and prior to fermentation the fruit is washed by hand.  When bottled at 43% ABV, Wilczak estimates that there’s the equivalent of one kilo of raspberries in each 25cl measure or, as he puts it, “100,000 pips in every glass”. 

Even using a 37.5cl bottle as standard, this painstaking approach means that quantities are very limited: in 2018 there were a mere 93 bottles of the Raspberry Eaux-de-Vie and despite a price tag of £120 they were soon all gone. Other expressions are similarly restricted: 106 bottles of Damson, 142 of Greengage, and 194 from the Quince, every single one of which was picked by hand, then individually washed to remove any trace of a fine fluff that becomes rancid after distillation. 

Guarding the precious eaux-de-vie

The results are remarkable, with an intensity and delicacy that is hard to convey on paper.  What Wilczak is doing seems closer to perfumery than distillation as we understand or usually experience it. The natural home of these products would be a Michelin-starred restaurant where they can be served with due ceremony and appreciation as the culmination of an exceptional gastronomic experience. I should add that a little goes a long way, but that these are a quite exquisite expression of the transcendental power of distillation to preserve the essence of the base ingredient whilst magically transforming our understanding of the fruit to a profound new level.

That may be a candidate for Pseuds Corner but, if you had tried any of these products you’d understand. Here’s a tip: start with the Garden Swift Gin. Not only is it less expensive, it’s the ideal pathway to understanding what has been achieved here. Personally, I’m happy to sip it neat, very slowly, and restrict myself to a single, small glass (not a sentence I write all that often).

Click here for the Capreolus range available from Master of Malt.

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

 

 

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Expand your London dry gin horizons

London dry gin is a popular style for good reason, but even within this category, there’s a huge range of different and delightful options. We’ve rounded up a few here….

London dry gin is a popular style for good reason, but even within this category, there’s a huge range of different and delightful options. We’ve rounded up a few here.

Despite the increasing popularity of flavoured variations, the gins people plump for the most remain the classics, namely London dry. However, there are many who will solely place orders for the usual names or head to the same shelf in the store as they always do. You might have given up on New Year’s resolutions by now, but there’s no reason you can’t still challenge yourself to be a bit more creative in your choices. Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Now’s the time to explore the London dry gin world and find something new, something intriguing, something different – and we are only too pleased to help you with that.

 

Moonshot Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

If you want to explore different London dry gins, then one that’s made it to the final frontier is as good a place as any to start. Moonshot Gin was created by That Boutique-y Gin Company, who sent a botanical selection off into the stratosphere. Watch the above video if you don’t believe me. In that basket, you’ll see the likes of juniper, coriander, cubeb pepper, fresh lemon peel, chamomile flowers, cardamom, dried bitter orange peel, cinnamon, liquorice root, angelica and even moon rock from a lunar meteorite, all in actual space. At The Gin Masters 2019 (run by The Spirits Business) this beauty was awarded the title of Master in the London Dry category, so you can be sure this is no gimmick gin.

What does it taste like?:

Candied peels, starfruit, warming juniper, cassia, lemon sherbet, ginger beer, grapefruit, coriander seed and black pepper. 

Expand your London dry horizons

Ramsbury Gin

For those who’d prefer a gin that’s made with a focus on what we have a little closer to home, than Ramsbury Gin should hit the spot. The classic London dry gin was created to capture the local landscape in a bottle. The base spirit was made with Horatio wheat grown on estate grounds, while the botanicals used include juniper picked locally on Salisbury Plain and quince also exclusive to Ramsbury Estate.

What does it taste like?:

Floral tones and crisp quince fades into savoury juniper, with a refreshing finish and a touch of spice.

Expand your London dry horizons

Larios Ginebra Mediterránea

A double distilled gin that previously went by the name Larios Dry Gin, Larios Ginebra Mediterránea is the best selling gin in Spain. See what all the fuss about yourself with this beautifully mixable expression that was created using coriander, juniper and orange zest as its botanicals. 

What does it taste like?:

Aromatic and delicately sweet Mediterranean citrus, bright juniper and a flicker of spice.

Expand your London dry horizons

Portobello Road No. 171 Gin

At the award-winning Notting Hill bar, Portobello Star, you’ll find the fantastic Ginsitute, where you’ll learn all about the tasty spirit and even get to craft your own expression. As you can imagine, the lovely folk there know a thing or two about making gin themselves, so it’s hardly surprising their own gin, Portobello Road No. 171, is rather good. An old-style London Dry Gin, it contains traditional botanicals and spices, and is the perfect bottling for those who want something that harks back to the gins of yesteryear.

What does it taste like?:

Hot white pepper, plenty of juniper, well-integrated spice, soft lemongrass, red berries and fresh citrus.

Expand your London dry horizons

Greater Than Gin 

An ideal way to broaden your London dry gin horizons would be to try different expressions made around the world. Greater Than London Dry gin, for example, is a delightful citrus-forward gin that was made in Goa, India by the folks over at Nao Spirits, and features several local botanicals, including coriander seeds, fennel, chamomile, ginger and lemongrass.

What does it taste like?:

Big notes of juniper lead into a whole host of sweet and tangy citrus, a floral touch and fiery ginger rounds things up.

Expand your London dry horizons

Strane London Dry Gin – Merchant Strength

A very popular, beautifully spicy and sweet Swedish London dry gin from the Smögen Distillery, Strane London Dry Gin – Merchant Strength was created with a selection of botanicals including juniper, coriander seeds, basil, garden mint, lemon rind, sage, cinnamon bark, liquorice root and two secret botanicals. Ideal for those who love a bit of mystery. And tasty gin, of course.

What does it taste like?:

Bright juniper and coriander seeds combine among aromatic herbs and citrus warmth.

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