fbpx
Created by potrace 1.12, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2015

We're just loading our login box for you, hang on!

Master of Malt Blog

How the iStill is revolutionising distillation

To make good spirits you need a room full of gleaming copper. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! says Dr Edwin van Eijk, inventor of the revolutionary iStill. We talk to the…

To make good spirits you need a room full of gleaming copper. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! says Dr Edwin van Eijk, inventor of the revolutionary iStill. We talk to the good doctor about automation, cask ageing and why most distillers are stuck in the past. 

We met Dr Edwin van Eijk, or Odin to his friends, at an event called Speakeasy organised by Spanish spirits distributor Vantguard. Presenting after the charismatic Carlos Magdalena aka the Plant Messiah (one of the Evening Standard’s 1000 most influential Londoners, dontcha know) can’t have been easy but the doc more than kept the audience of bartenders and industry types transfixed. While he spoke, a silent lab coat-clad assistant (who I was later specifically told that I was not allowed to ask questions of) beavered away in the background with an iStill. It was like the Pet Shop Boys of distillation.

Odin in action with a mini iStill.

The genesis for the iStill comes from visits to Hungary, Van Eijk’s wife is Hungarian, a country where amateur distillation is commonplace. Most of the fruit brandies he tried were pretty rough, according to van Eijk, “but one guy came up with a nice smooth drink, no hangover. How?” Van Eijk’s curiosity was aroused but he quickly became frustrated by the unscientific approach to distillation: “I soon discovered that most information was anecdotal,” he said. “My grand grandfather did this.” For van Eijk this was good enough, he just kept asking ‘why?’ 

So, he built his own still, and added thermometers and automation so it could run while he was doing his day job. He quickly realised he was on to something so he quit his job, sold his house and set up his own business in 2012 with the aim of, according to the website, “making modern, game changing distillation technology.” 

All iStills are made in a factory in the Netherlands. It’s now a big operation. Van Eijk claims to be the largest supplier of distillation equipment worldwide in terms of numbers sold. Such well-known operations as Dornoch in Scotland, Wrecking Coast in Cornwall, Blackwater in Ireland all use iStills. You can see from these maps how ubiquitous they have become in Ireland and Scotland.  Some distilleries have both a traditional and an iStill. There’s something for all budgets: an eight litre mini still that can be carried in a suitcase (see above) starts at €3000; whereas a 5000 litre one begins at €90,000. The company recommends customers take a four day training workshop. Odin is also very responsive in distillation forums for those who have further questions. “We are successful because we keep asking why. Innovation is only key to success. Try something different”, he said.

A map showing all the iStills in the world

Take automation, for example. When you visit distilleries, even new ones or especially new ones, you are often proudly told that everything is manual. There are no computers here. For van Eijk described this as “bad business covered up as romance.” He went on to say:  “We all love horses and carriages but I came here by aeroplane and taxi. It’s in the glass you beat your competition.” He compared distillers love of old equipment unfavourably with brewers: “Craft brewers are ahead of the curve,” he said. “Brewing is understood and researched. Not magic.” iStills are fully automated with a robot that takes the hearts, heads and tails, and an app that tells you where to cut depending on what you’re looking for in a spirit: “The most profound flavours come from back end tails,” he said, “Toothy rooty, nutty and earthy flavours.”

An iStill doesn’t look much like conventional still. It’s square for starters and made out of stainless steel. “Why are stills made from copper?” he asked me. “It removes sulphur caused during fermentation. Why not start with great beer or great wine without sulphur?” (Though, of course, you might want some sulphur in your spirit). iStill does, however, offer a copper ‘waffle’ to remove sulphur compounds caused by “substandard fermentations” as the website puts it. iStills are direct-fired either with electricity or gas and claim to be much more economical than a standard set up. The biggest surprise though, is that it’s possible to mash, ferment and distill all in the same vessel: “Why mash, ferment and distill in separate containers?” he said. “They all take place in a boiler and are about heating up and cooling down. My machines can do everything in one boiler.” He thinks part of the reason people go for the traditional set-up is so that suppliers can sell more equipment.  

We’re not in Rothes anymore

You won’t be surprised to hear that Van Eijk has strong views about the finished product too: “Why should whisky taste like peat or sherry?” he said. “I want it to taste like grain. People in the whisky business used to say that 50% of the flavour comes from cask, now they say it is 80%. New make spirit has deteriorated in terms of the grain and procedures used in order to create as much alcohol as possible. This is worldwide. The real reason people use sherry and Port casks is to cover up spirit that has a fruity flavour deficiency.” That’s fighting talk! He’s also critical of gin: “Most gins do not have a lot of back end,” he told me. With the app, you can, according to van Eijk “see where there is a gap in flavour profile and find something that fills it out.” 

“We love to bash the status quo,” he told me. This has angered some people. To answer some of his critics he took part in a challenge with a distiller in Chicago. “He had beautiful copper still costing $200k and my little still cost $10k”, he told me. To the horror of the distillery owner and (some of) the critics, Van Eijk’s little still not only distilled faster but his spirit tasted better in a blind test. That day he sold seven stills. 

While van Eijk was talking, the iStill was running watched over by his silent assistant. Then at the end we got to try the result, a rum distilled with mint and lime, like a gin. Made in around half an hour. And the results, well, there wasn’t a traditionally-distilled version for comparison but it tasted pretty damn good to me. I’m going to start saving up for a iStillof my own. I think I could squeeze one into my shed.

You can find out more about how the iStill works on its YouTube page. 

 

1 Comment on How the iStill is revolutionising distillation

Cocktail of the Week: Leche de Panthera

Adding some tropical vibrancy to banish those January blues, our Cocktail of the Week is a twist on the Piña Colada from a certain recently opened Brazilian-fusion restaurant and bar… …

Adding some tropical vibrancy to banish those January blues, our Cocktail of the Week is a twist on the Piña Colada from a certain recently opened Brazilian-fusion restaurant and bar… 

Everybody’s had a bad Piña Colada. A fluffy, fruity frozen serve with festive paper parasols always sounds appealing in the summer months, in that garden bar or by the pool on holiday. Until you get a drink that’s borderline radioactive with chemicals and artificial sweeteners coupled with an oppressive amount of ice that means you end up feeling like you’re imbibing a colourful watery syrup.

But for Edoardo Casarotto, head of bars at Amazónico, a Piña Colada-style drink on the menu was a must. “We are a South American restaurant and I wanted to make a twist on South American classic drinks. The Piña Colada is one of the most iconic,” he says. “I love the flavour of coconut and the pineapple, but I wanted to make it a little bit more elegant so less creamy and less heavy”.  Some of you may know of a classic drink made with milk in Spain called ‘Leche de Pantera’, (milk of the panther, which is such a kickass name), a popular cocktail in Spain since the seventies predominantly made with milk, white spirit (gin or rum commonly) and cinnamon. It also served as an inspiration to Casarotto, who explained that the key to making his drink was “To create a combination of two classic drinks and make it a little bit more elegant while still retaining the intense flavour”. This is not a faithful recreation, folks. We’re experimenting today.

Leche de Panthera

At the beautiful Amazónico in London, where they really do love all things pineapple

As we learned in our review of Amazónico, Casarotto’s style is to make sensational drinks with the simplest ingredients possible. At the base of his cocktail is a mix of vodka, sherry, Agricole rum, lime juice and white chocolate liqueur. The star turn is the homemade spiced pineapple syrup, which he created in order to achieve that lighter and approachable style. “We use fresh pineapple which we cook with spices like star anise, cloves, cinnamon as well as coconut water,” Casarotto explains. A dash of turmeric powder is added for aesthetic, as is the dyed green coconut powder that serves as a garnish. The result is a finished cocktail that looks like a real pineapple.

Especially in that glass. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more striking glass than the one Leche de Panthera is served in.  The bespoke glassware was made to order Hundred Percent Barman and even requires a special gun in order to clean it properly. Casarotto says it’s having the desired effect: people see the glass and they want the drink. “It’s doing very well, to be honest, it’s one of the best sellers. When they see the drink on the table or on the bar, they want to know what it is, they want me to describe the drink. It’s very ‘Instagramable’,” he explains, laughing. “A lot of people love to take pictures of this drink, but it’s good to know that they are also getting a great drink inside the great glass”. 

Leche de Panthera

The Leche de Panthera

The Leche de Panthera is absolutely delicious. The balance of sour and sweet flavours is spot on and it avoids all the pitfalls of a poorly-made Piña Colada. It’s refined, it’s fruity and it’s going to wow company even without the signature glass.

Right, without further ado, here is Leche de Panthera!

35ml Belvedere Vodka
15ml Trois Rivières Agricole Rum
5ml Manzanilla sherry
10ml White chocolate liqueur
15ml of spiced pineapple syrup (If you’re not comfortable cooking your own, then try this an alternative)
10ml lime juice

Stir all the ingredients in a shaker with lots of ice for a minute or so. Strain into a chilled bespoke, made-to-order glass and add a dash of turmeric powder. Then garnish with a dehydrated pineapple slice and a maraschino cherry, then sprinkle some coconut powder (dyed green, of course) on the glass leaves of your pineapple. Or, you could just use a Poco Grande glass, a regular pineapple wedge and rim the glass with your coconut powder. Whatever works for you. 

No Comments on Cocktail of the Week: Leche de Panthera

The winner of our Starward competition is…

It’s about time we announced the winner of our competition to visit the spectacular Starward Distillery in Melbourne, Australia! Drum roll at the ready… Sitting here in 2020, it may…

It’s about time we announced the winner of our competition to visit the spectacular Starward Distillery in Melbourne, Australia! Drum roll at the ready…

Sitting here in 2020, it may feel like a lifetime ago, but think back to November 2019. Before that New Year’s thing occurred, and before that Christmas stuff took place, a different incredibly exciting situation happened – we announced that someone would win a trip of a lifetime to visit the Starward Distillery in Melbourne, Australia! The prize included a seven night stay in Melbourne, a private tour and drinks at the distillery, a distillery bottling of their phenomenal Australian whisky, and £500 spending money. “A cool prize” would be an understatement. Crack out the thesaurus (or just Google “other words for rad” like we all do since no one owns a physical thesaurus anymore) and whack in a few other fun adjectives and you’ll be more on the right lines.

The Starward Distillery – where our winner will be headed!

To be in with a chance to win, all you had to do was snap up a bottle from Starward’s lip-smacking range and your name would be in the hat. Many names went into the aforementioned headgear, but only one name has been pulled out, and they are our winner. That name is…

Andy Woods!

Much applause and many congratulations to our winner, Andy! We very much hope you enjoy your trip! We’d also like to give a big thank you to everyone who took part as well!

No Comments on The winner of our Starward competition is…

Five minutes with… Fabiano Latham from Reyka Vodka

We grabbed five minutes with Fabiano Latham, UK Brand Ambassador for Reyka Vodka, and learnt about the wild side of the ambassador lifestyle! The first time I met Fabiano Latham…

We grabbed five minutes with Fabiano Latham, UK Brand Ambassador for Reyka Vodka, and learnt about the wild side of the ambassador lifestyle!

The first time I met Fabiano Latham was at William Grant & Sons Brand Ambassador UK tour, ‘Unwrapped, The Other Side of Bartending’. What was set to be a (somewhat) regular day of fun-filled bartending talks turned into, thanks to Latham (and the wonderful Reyka team), an escapade across London, whizzing around in a speedboat on the Thames, all in the name of adventure. That seems like a pretty fitting introduction, but don’t take my word for it. We managed to grab a chat with the man himself to talk us through all things Reyka, glacier bars and puffins!

Fabiano Latham Reyka

Fabiano Latham enjoying a Reyka vodka on a glacier… as you do.

Master of Malt: Chat us through what makes Reyka Vodka so special?

Fabiano Latham: Well, first of all its super tasty which is always a plus. But it’s our Icelandic roots which make us stand out. Our production allows us to say that we’re truly made of Iceland and not just in Iceland. Geothermal energy powers our distillery, glacial water from a local spring brings Reyka Vodka down to 40% after being distilled in a unique Carter Head still, which has locally-found lava rocks sitting in botanical baskets which filter our spirit during distillation. It’s also said that the tiny village of Borgarnes where we’re made is full of mischievous mythological hidden folk…

MoM: Have you always been a vodka lover?

FL: Hailing from Amazonian roots, my spirit interests were always focused on things like pisco and cachaça but I interacted with Reyka throughout my bartending career and always had a soft spot for the brand. Also I puffin love Iceland having visited a friend there many moons ago.

MoM: And have you always been an outdoors lover?

FL: Yes! My mum always dragged me on holidays to the middle of nowhere in the British countryside – (and still does!) – from wandering in Suffolk, to hiking up mountains in Wales, to cycling to Paris and spending weeks in the Outer Hebrides. From a young age I’ve been frequently immersed in nature and developed a keen interest in wildlife, but I only started really appreciating it once thrust into the rigours of hospitality. I discovered its unique rejuvenating powers against the nocturnal lifestyle of bartending and now I can’t get enough.

Fabiano Latham Reyka

Running low on ice? You know what to do.

MoM: How did you come to be the brand ambassador for Reyka?

FL: I harnessed my innermost Icelandic fan girl dweeb and went hell for leather once the job became available! Having won the 24 hour Reyka cocktail competition a few years back and being lucky enough to visit Iceland twice, I felt like I had some good credentials to go at it like a heathen Viking beast. I didn’t always want to be an ambassador at all, it was always something that other people did and I never thought I’d get the job but I really identified with the whole Icelandic adventure thing!

MoM: You created a word, which is pretty awesome. Explain the idea of Adventurivity for us!

FL: Adventurivity = adventure + creativity. It’s a mashup. Just like a moody puffin might be a muffin or a cheeky elf might be a … chelf. Essentially it’s the word I’ve given to a mindset which is all about immersing oneself in nature and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in really fun ways like climbing mountains or cycling long distances or even just spending some time with yourself in the morning on a stroll through a park. The reason behind this is to help balance and rejuvenate the stresses of hospitality, but also to build confidence in order to help frame and smash personal ambitions and goals. We all know that spending time outdoors is beneficial but this concept goes into the scientific detail of our evolution in nature and how it can benefit us today. I believe that by giving it a little structure, we can increase the gains because we simply understand more.

Remember, enjoy your tipple after your adventuring.

MoM: How do you link drinking and adventuring? Some people might say they’re not a natural pairing!

FL: Aha such a valid question! The idea of Adventurivity is geared towards bartenders and it’s designed to be used as a tool for the trade to help balance out their hectic lifestyles. We never drink whilst on the adventures, it’s only ever after that we might share a Reyka cocktail and share our experiences of the day. We always state: never drink and adventure! Adventure within nature is also about building confidence and positivity – attributes which can help boost creativity which can be used to develop concepts and recipes and that’s the key link.

MoM: We’re sure there are a few, but what’s the most memorable spot you’ve ever enjoyed a drink?

FL: Tough one that! I guess the most memorable spot has to be the Glacier Bar in October 2019. The sun was high and the views across the glacier were incredible. The silence was unreal. Our guests were an hour away, barrelling over the other-worldly terrain in a super jeep and it was just the ideal time to rustle up a Reyka Martini. We found a small hole on the glacier that had filled up with water and frozen overnight so we cracked the top layer and used a small chunk of the ice to stir down a bone-dry Martini. Yum!

Fabiano Latham Reyka

Behold, the Glacier Bar!

MoM: How did the idea for the Glacier Bar come about?

FL: Far, far away (in an office) one day someone said…. What if we made a bar…. And put it… on a glacier. Luckily all of us who work on Reyka share the same feverish excitement when it comes to epic activations and so it was just a case of blasting through the bible of logistics that comes with such an undertaking. Our epic brand manager Caitlin spearheaded the expedition and pulled off a magnificent feat of organisation. Our audience shares a keen interest in adventure and the outdoors, yet don’t often manifest these wishes into actual adventurous experiences as it’s tough to break the daily grind, so the idea is that we wanted to give them an amazing once in a lifetime opportunity!

MoM: What’s your favourite Reyka serve?

FL: A Puffin Collins was one I used for my interview three years ago – Reyka, pink grapefruit, elderflower, fresh cherry tomato and soda. It takes inspiration from the geothermally grown tomatoes in Iceland but also my love for puffins… It’s a bit ridiculous really… from a multitude of puffin paraphernalia to a taxidermy puffin called SugarPuff McStuffin and even a puffin tattoo… (pattoo).

MoM: Can we expect anything new from Reyka in the (near) future?  

FL: Yes! We’ll be starting up a Reyka running club in London at the end of January. Something epic will happen again next year just like the glacier bar…. but not the glacier bar. I’ll be hosting numerous adventures around the UK, the biggest being the Reyka Expedition cocktail competition in June. Keep a-puffin-breast of what’s going on by following me @fabsting (shameless self-promo…. Not even sorry).

Thanks a-puffin, Fabs! 

No Comments on Five minutes with… Fabiano Latham from Reyka Vodka

How the bushfires are affecting Australia’s wine

Fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought, Australia’s deadly bushfires have destroyed 15.6 million acres of land, killing at least 27 people, leaving thousands homeless and devastating local…

Fuelled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought, Australia’s deadly bushfires have destroyed 15.6 million acres of land, killing at least 27 people, leaving thousands homeless and devastating local businesses – including some of the country’s cherished vineyards. In the face of adversity, the wine industry has rallied together to support those who have lost their livelihoods. Here’s how you can help, too… 

Ever since Australia’s fire season started uncategorically early – back in September 2019 – brave volunteer firefighters have grappled with the worsening blazes, the deadliest found along its eastern and southern coastal areas. On 9 January, around 130 fires were burning across New South Wales (NSW), with more than 50 uncontained, according to the BBC

Across South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, vineyards and wineries have suffered serious damage that will take years to recover from, according to Andreas Clark, CEO of Wine Australia – the government authority that promotes and regulates the industry – who warns it will be several weeks before the extent of the damage is revealed.

Fires at Pike & Joyce vineyards in Adelaide Hills

“In some areas where people have been evacuated it will be some time before it is safe to access vineyards,” Clark explains. “There is also the fact that assessment of the impact on vines is complex. It is easy to see when vines are burned but often it takes much longer to establish the damage caused by heat.”

Huge numbers of grape growers and wine producers up and down the country face an unpredictable 2020 vintage, as the full impact of the extreme heat and toxic smoke plumes remain unknown; bushfire smoke permeates the skin of ripening grapes, giving the resulting wine a less-than-pleasant taste. 

For others, the outlook is rather more bleak. In Adelaide Hills, the Cudlee Creek fire is thought to have destroyed up to a third of the region’s vines, affecting more than 60 growers and producers – an estimated loss of AUD$20 million worth of wine – and burning through equipment, barrels and buildings. Vines that have tended by families across generations are left scorched and reduced to ash.

James Tilbrook

James Tilbrook in happier times

“On Friday 20th December, the Cudlee Creek bushfire swept through our property destroying 21 years of hard work – the winery, all the wine stock, 90% of the vineyard, all of the farm, all of the sheds,” the owners of Adelaide Hills-based Tilbrook Estate wrote on their website. “Our insurance will cover the physical items, but it’s going to take months, if not years, to get there. We have lost our livelihood. We have no wine or grapes, so we have no income.” He has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to repair the damage. 

Devastating as such stories may be, they are, thankfully, in the minority. Just a fraction of Australia’s national vineyard land has fallen within the fire zones, says Clark, with most fires “in heavily forested areas or National Parks”. 

“While the toll on individuals cannot be underestimated and should not be downplayed, a review of fire maps suggests a maximum of around 1,500 hectares of vineyards fall within the fire affected regions to date,” he explains. “Even if all those vineyards were fire damaged – and they are not – it would only be about 1% of Australia’s total vineyard area.”

Where growers and producers have been severely impacted, the wine sector is coordinating short-term relief and longer-term planning with government bodies and local agencies, says Australian Grape and Wine chief executive Tony Battaglene. “Responses must include relief for those directly impacted – including those growers who might not be able to sell smoke-affected grapes,” he explains. “In the medium term we must look to strengthen regional tourism and bring people back to the regions.”

Bushfires in Queensland

In the longer term, grape shortages in fire-affected areas are expected to send prices skyrocketing. For now, however, growers and producers are focused on preserving and protecting the surviving vines and limit the impact of the ongoing fires wherever possible.

“Our message is that Australia is hurting from the fires, but we are open for business,” Battaglene adds. “We need donations to the relief funds, support for our emergency services, and consumers to buy our wine and visit our regions. It is important to note that the fire season is not over and our temporary relief may not last.”

Want to help Australia tackle its bushfire crisis? To donate directly, visit the Australian Red Cross, seek out regional fundraises, or simply buy a bottle of Aussie vino. Bars, restaurants and businesses across the globe are holding fundraising events, from wine flights to dedicated menus, so you can further support the cause with your palate, too. 

No Comments on How the bushfires are affecting Australia’s wine

New Arrival of the Week: Wild Beer Co. Murmur

Beer brewed with lobsters, wild yeasts and barrel ageing, all in a day’s work for the team at the Wild Beer Company in Somerset. We tried the latest release, Murmur,…

Beer brewed with lobsters, wild yeasts and barrel ageing, all in a day’s work for the team at the Wild Beer Company in Somerset. We tried the latest release, Murmur, a beer with a distinctly vinous taste.

Located next to an award-winning cheese producer, near Shepton Mallet, in the heart of cider country, you’d be hard-pressed to think of a more classic West Country site than the home of the Wild Beer Company. But there’s nothing cosy or comforting about the beers produced here. Whereas most British breweries are content to work within quite a narrow framework of beer styles such as IPAs, porters, best bitters, and for the really adventurous, lagers, the Wild Beer Company are a little bit, well, wild.

Wild Boys: Andrew Cooper and Brett Ellis

The firm was set up in 2012 by an Englishman Andrew Cooper, who looks after the business side, and a Californian Brett Ellis, the brewer. They began brewing in the kitchen of neighbouring Westcombe Dairy producing 2400 litres of beer a week. Everything was bottled by hand. Since then they have expanded and along the way winning Best Drink Producer at the BBC Food and Farming Awards in 2017 among other honours. The company’s beers are now distributed internationally and it runs a bar: Wild Beer at Wapping Wharf in Bristol. 

And yet success doesn’t mean playing safe. The company produces a dizzying array of products including a beer that tastes of salted caramel and one made with a mixture of local and Norwegian berries. Perhaps the strangest beer they’ve made was called Of The Sea and it was flavoured with seaweed, cockles and lobsters. Yes, real lobsters. The shellfish were cooked with the malt during the mashing stage, then removed and eaten by the lucky brewery team while the beer was fermented. The results were odd but delicious. Like a beery seafood bisque. 

As well as unusual ingredients, the Wild Beer team are crazy about barrels and yeasts. The inside of the brewery looks like a winery or distillery, crammed with oak barrels and foudres (large oak containers). The cask ageing gives many of the Wild Beer products a wine-like tang. Then there’s yeast. Most breweries use one yeast for all their beers. In fact, modern brewing is based on isolating a particular yeast that consistently produces the flavours that the brewer is looking for. Wild Beer, on the other hand, uses a plethora of yeasts including wild ones found in the air. These offer more flavour, potentially, but also more risk. Especially when combined with old wood, a rogue yeast might turn the beer to vinegar. But it’s worth it when you try the quality of the products.

Which brings us on to this week’s New Arrival. It’s called Murmur, named perhaps after REM’s 1983 debut album (or so we like to think). It’s made using malted barley and wheat, fermented with a saison beer yeast and a yeast normally used to make white Burgundy to create a beer of 5% ABV. The flavours from fermentation are complimented with fruity vivid hop varieties, Ekuanot, Nelson Sauvin and Hallertau. The result is something distinctly tangy and fresh with sour citrus, fresh hay and savoury herbs. Ideally it should be drunk out of a wine glass rather than a pint mug alongside food. Best bitter, it ain’t.

 

No Comments on New Arrival of the Week: Wild Beer Co. Murmur

New Year, New Boozes!

A new year, a new decade, in fact, means there’s more new delicious booze for us to enjoy and so we’ve rounded up a few of the finest to make…

A new year, a new decade, in fact, means there’s more new delicious booze for us to enjoy and so we’ve rounded up a few of the finest to make life easier for you.

There are few things more joyful then the rewarding feeling you get when you take a chance on something you haven’t tried before and find a new favourite. It could be a film you’ll spend the rest of your life watching, a meal you’ll forever be tempted to order or a drink you’ll always have room for on your shelf. 

The beginning of a new year is the ideal time to try something different, particularly as there’s plenty of great events on the horizon that are perfect for a little boozy indulgence, from Burns Night to Chinese New Year. The following drinks are ideal for those who want to kick-off the new year by broadening their horizons and enjoying some of the finest new arrivals at MoM Towers.

That Boutique-y Whisky Company Chinese New Year Tasting Set

As we touched on in the intro, Chinese New Year is on the horizon (25th Jan, meaning it’s sharing some celebration space with Burns Night). That Boutique-y Whisky Company has decided to mark the occasion the best way it knows how: with delicious whisky! You’ll find five different 30ml wax-sealed sample drams from the indie whisky bottler’s stunning range in this set, the packaging of which was modelled on the red envelopes gifted during Chinese New Year festivities. There’s also an expanded 12 Dram Gift Set for those who want to really see in the Chinese New Year in style.

Chinese New Year Red Envelope Whisky Tasting Set Contents:

Macduff 10 Year Old; Glengoyne 9 Year Old; Cameronbridge 27 Year Old; Teaninich 11 year Old and Linkwood 10 Year Old.

Heaven’s Door Double Barrel Bourbon

Heaven’s Door Double Barrel Bourbon is a blend of three whiskeys which were finished in hand-toasted, new American oak barrels from the Louisville-based Kelvin Cooperage. Wait, I haven’t mentioned yet that Heaven’s Door was co-founded by Bob Dylan. That’s right. It’s a Bob Dylan whiskey, folks. 

What does it taste like?:

Honey on rye toast, apricot, liquorice, apple, peach, lemon, pepper, grilled pineapple, burnt brown sugar and a hint of strawberry. 

The Wrecking Coast Kea Plum Rum Liqueur

Rum is said to be the go-to spirit of 2020, which is good news for tasty rum liqueurs like this beauty from The Wrecking Coast. It’s a modern twist on the Rum Shrub, a traditional Cornish drink that dates back to the 17th century made from mixing fruit with rum. In this example, Kea plums, which are only found in a single valley in Cornwall, were foraged and then rested in white rum for around two months with orange and ginger too.

What does it taste like?:

Sharp plum notes, with warming ginger, sweeter orange peel, and a tart, jammy finish.

Peerless 3 Year Old Single Barrel – Modjeska

Given that this booze was bottled for the British Bourbon Society, you’d be forgiven for thinking Peerless 3 Year Old Single Barrel – Modjeska is a tasty bourbon. But you’d be wrong. Instead, this is a particularly delightful and young rye whiskey that got its name after a type of confectionery first created in Louisville, Kentucky that’s made by dipping marshmallow in caramel. Which sounds awesome. Much like this whiskey. 

What does it taste like?:

White grape skin, clove spice, fresh cream, prickly pepper heat, crème brûlée, toasted marshmallow, white chocolate, buttery vanilla pod and butterscotch.

Teeling 18 Year Old Renaissance Series

The Renaissance Series celebrates the ongoing Renaissance of Irish whiskey, Dublin whiskey and Teeling themselves, which we’re happy to raise a glass to! The 18 Year Old single malt is the first expression from the series and was matured first in ex-bourbon barrels before enjoying a finishing period in ex-Madeira casks.

What does it taste like?:

Ripe red fruits, figs, cinnamon, clove spice, toffee apple, dried fruits, maraschino cherry and rosewater.

Colombo Navy Strength Gin

A Navy Strength gin from Sri Lanka concludes our round-up, one from the fine folks at Colombo! Made from a similar botanical recipe as the original Colombo London Dry, which includes juniper, angelica, coriander seed, liquorice root, Sri Lankan cinnamon bark, ginger root and curry leaves. In the Navy Strength, which was bottled at 57% ABV, there’s an extra helping of curry leaves to add an aromatic, spicy kick.

What does it taste like?:

A kick of candied ginger, with refreshing menthol, aromatic curry leaf and peppery coriander.

 

No Comments on New Year, New Boozes!

The next generation of no and low-alcohol drinks are here

With alcohol-free cocktails inching their way onto mainstay menus, and an ever-expanding selection of low- and no-alcohol spirits, beers and wines to choose from, it’s little wonder that 2020 is…

With alcohol-free cocktails inching their way onto mainstay menus, and an ever-expanding selection of low- and no-alcohol spirits, beers and wines to choose from, it’s little wonder that 2020 is forecast to be Dry January’s biggest year yet. From mood-altering plant tonics to low-alcohol gin-alikes, we take a look at the latest teetotal tipples on the market…

With 8.6 million Brits actively moderating their alcohol intake, according to Drinkaware, and a sizeable 20.9% of the UK adult population completely teetotal in the latest ONS survey, the low- and no-alcohol movement can no longer be seen as a passing fad. Driven by demand for a lower ABV lifestyle, the market for alternative adult drinks has transformed from a one-brand-band – led by pioneers Seedlip – into a full-blown drinks category. And it is brimming with innovative creations.

“People who are reducing their drinking still want to have a fun night out and enjoy the time they spend with friends and family, so they are looking for drinks that give them the experience – just without the booze,” says Richard Clark, founder and MD of alcohol-free craft beer and cider producer Drynks Unlimited. The challenge, he says, lies in developing liquids that taste, look and smell like their alcoholic counterparts.

Jukes

It’s only Matthew Jukes!

Non-alcoholic beer has integrated into social occasions with relative ease, and alcohol-free wine is well on its way, with the likes of Jukes Cordialities premiumising the arena. Created by the Daily Mail‘s wine writer Matthew Jukes, the non-alcoholic cordial range is designed to mirror the ‘length and build quality of a fine wine’, the website states, with ‘complex, aromatic characters as well as uncommon texture, flavour and richness on the palate’.

Booze-free spirits, meanwhile, have faced a greater challenge winning over drinkers, largely because it’s far more difficult to replicate the real stuff. “Texture is a big thing,” agrees Geyan Surendran, development scientist and botanical alchemist at Three Spirit. “Some of the earlier non-alcoholic spirits, once mixed out, can be a little bit insipid, they don’t have that mouth-coating ability. The cooling and heating elements alcohol has are pretty key to the experience; complex textures that don’t just feel like flavoured water.” From punchy Siberian ginseng to calming valerian root, the non-alcohol spirit brand harnesses the power of plants to stimulate the mind and body as well as the palate.

It’s an approach shared by adaptogenic plant spirits brand Senser, founded by plants alchemist Vanessa Jacoby. The three-strong range sees ‘functional botanicals’ combined and treated in a way that means each 50ml serve ‘delivers an effective botanical dosage’. The Love bottling, for example, contains rhodiola, caraway and passionflower – all known for their calming, anxiety-soothing effects. “It’s about addressing why people drink beyond the aesthetic part of it, that’s what we’re interested in,” Three Spirit’s Surendran adds.

Atopia, made by the master distiller behind Hendrick’s Gin

Physical elements aside, alcohol-free producers are also keen to tap into the social ritual associated with drinking and make their offerings as accessible and acceptable as other full-strength products. And not just to appease teetotallers, either. Increasingly, drinkers are mixing traditional spirits with low- and no- options during the same drinking occasion. Take William Grant & Sons’ ‘ultra low alcohol spirit’ Atopia, created by Lesley Gracie, the master distiller behind Hendrick’s Gin. If you’re looking for moderation, Atopia enables you to go out and stay out, according to the website an Atopia & Tonic contains 75 times less alcohol than a Gin & Tonic. 

“We see that people within an evening are having the ‘wedge drink’ – moderating by alternating between an alcoholic and then a non alcoholic drink through the night,” says Mark Livings, CEO of Lyre’s Spirits. “The challenge here is that it’s obvious to others what you are doing and it’s a compromise that ‘breaks’ the taste of what you’re drinking.” Lyre’s, which offers a wide array of non-alcoholic spirits including Absinthe, American Malt and Dark Cane Spirit, intends to closely match the flavours and appearance of classic spirits to give sober curious drinkers more freedom. 

It’s not the only producer to move into this space. Scotland’s first distilled alcohol-free spirit, Feragaia, is an amber-coloured liquid that wouldn’t look out of place in a Glencairn glass. Distilled in the Lowlands, the team combines 14 responsibly-sourced botanicals, including seaweed, bay leaf and chamomile, capturing the flavours through ‘multiple runs’. The delicate notes of flowers and leaves combine with the earthier elements of root botanicals and spices to create a taste of clean complexity, the website explains. Non-alcoholic spirit Amplify, meanwhile, has adopted a classic botanical recipe – juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root, lemon peel, lemongrass and ginseng root – to emulate the flavours drinkers are used to.

Feragaia

Feragaia, no alcohol, no sugar, lots of flavour

“We developed a menu hack that assimilates the non-alcoholic offering into the existing cocktail menu which has been a huge hit and helped to drive our brand forwards,” says Alex Carlton, founder and CEO of alcohol-free spirits range Stryyk. “By simply offering a non-alcoholic version of a bars’ existing cocktail menu by swapping out rum, gin or vodka for our Not Rum, Not Gin or Not Vodka – denoted by our Strykk asterisk on menu – consumers who are looking for quality non-alcoholic drinks can do so without breaking ritual and also enjoying the same experience as their friends who are drinking.”

Of course, not every alcohol-free offering sets out to imitate the alcoholic aspect of the drink. Rather than recreate a classic booze category, sparkling botanical drinks producer Humble Warrior cold brews, distils and extracts various roots, leaves and spices to make healthful adult soft drinks. Regardless of whether you’re emulating the spirit or levelling up the mixer, when you want to bring no and low to the masses, familiarity is key. 

“Products that are already aligned to make-at-home drinks are extremely appealing as they can enjoy their very same rituals without having to learn new unique and overly complicated serves from non-category aligned brands,” Carlton adds. “They can easily pick up a bottle of Not Gin, Not Rum or Not Vodka on the shelf in the supermarket or online safe in the knowledge that it’s already going to do what they expect it to do.”

No Comments on The next generation of no and low-alcohol drinks are here

The Nightcap: 10 January

The Nightcap has returned for 2020, and with it a fresh batch of boozy news, including an alcohol-free bar, a £1m crowd-funding campaign, and the UK’s ‘highest’ whisky distillery. After…

The Nightcap has returned for 2020, and with it a fresh batch of boozy news, including an alcohol-free bar, a £1m crowd-funding campaign, and the UK’s ‘highest’ whisky distillery.

After a few weeks in a regenerative cocoon made out of Stilton and Yule log, The Nightcap has emerged with wings and those weird bug antlers that are actually eyes, ready to chow down on all the news from the booze world. That was a long-winded way to say that The Nightcap is back after a bit of a Christmas break, but the enthusiasm remains the same. We’re excited to see what drinks news this new year (and new decade) will behold – and it all kicks off… Now!

The blog was still full of fabulous features even throughout the festive period. We announced the winner of our Where’s #WhiskySanta 2019 competition the same week our supernatural, omniscient, festive, heavily-bearded sadly went on his holibobs. We then looked back at 2019: the delightful drinks we enjoyed (bartenders also had their say), the most read posts on our blog and an honest review of our trend predictions, before cracking out the crystal ball and to do it all again for 2020. Not always that seriously.

Our Dry January coverage kicked off at the Small Beer Brew Co., before Fiona Beckett and Claire Warner dropped by for a chat. Annie then explored the world of no-ABV cocktails, embraced #veganuary and the use of plant milk in cocktails and even looked to the future of AI in booze. Elsewhere, Adam enjoyed some warming rums, cast a spotlight on Micil and then Luxardo Distillery, while Jess brushed up on her Armagnac knowledge, and Henry reported on the developments at Port Ellen Distillery. Even among all that content, there was still time for a couple of new arrivals, including Bob Dylan’s own whiskey and a single malt from Yorkshire, as well as a fruity little number for Cocktail of the Week. Oh, and Dram Club returned for 2020.

Phew, talk about blog-mageddon! Now, for the first time in 2020, let’s enjoy the Nightcap!

The Nightcap

The Cat and Fiddle Inn opened in 1813 and is 1,689 ft (515m) above sea level

Funding secured for UK’s ‘highest’ whisky distillery

There’s another new distillery on the way, folks! This one’s got a pretty cool story, too. Take one historic pub, The Cat & Fiddle, situated 1,689ft above sea level in the Peak District. It’s beautiful but didn’t do so well as a pub (the whole driving a long way to it thing wasn’t really working…). It opened in 1813, but ‘reluctantly’ closed its doors in 2015. Business was far from booming. But step in the Forest Distillery team! Eager to expand production, and to find a space for casks to mature, it teamed up with the pub’s Robinson family to kick off a crowdfunder to refurbish and transform the pub into a whisky distillery. An initial crowdfunding exercise raised £55,000, and now the team says it’s well on the way to reaching its eventual £250,000 goal. The site will be renamed The Cat & Fiddle & Weasel, after the adorable motif on the Forest Gin bottle. As well as the pub and distillery, there will also be an onsite shop with takeaway options for picnics and a visitor centre. And the best bit? The Forest Distillery team reckon the new site will be ready to open come August! We’re VERY excited. Wondering the elevation of the current highest whisky distillery in the UK? That title goes to Dalwhinnie, perched at an altitude of 1,164ft. The only way is up!

The Nightcap

The AF Bar features 15 taps of pure draft zero-ABV goodness

BrewDog launches ‘world’s first’ alcohol-free beer bar

Sound the ‘Dry January’ sirens, folks, we’ve got a big one here. BrewDog has launched a bar dedicated to alcohol-free beer. A whole bar. 15 taps of pure draft zero-ABV goodness. Launched this week in Old Street, London, it’s the first time the independent Scottish craft brewer has featured a line-up solely devoted to drinks without alcohol at a bar where visitors will be able to enjoy activities such as Hip Hop Karaoke, Dabbers Bingo, Famous First Words, and more. But, perhaps most excitingly for the thrifty among us, BrewDog will also be running the ‘Drink All You Can Jan’ programme across all its bars, which will offer drinkers unlimited refills of its alcohol-free beers for the entire month. BrewDog previously dipped its toes into low-ABV waters with the release of Nanny State in August 2009, which is now the UK’s best-selling alcohol-free craft beer. It followed that up with an alcohol-free version of the flagship Punk IPA, Punk AF, and two new additions, Wake Up Call, a coffee stout, and Hazy AF, an alcohol-free take on its existing New England IPA, Hazy Jane. BrewDog referenced a UK Beer Market Report from Mintel in 2018 that said that 24% of beer drinkers are choosing more low- or no-alcohol options, and that 28% of beer drinkers are cutting back on consumption because of health concerns, so the brand clearly feels this is a timely initiative. “Drinkers opting for low- or no-alcohol are in danger of compromising on quality, taste and experience. And that’s just the beer – forget about places in which to enjoy it,” said James Watt, who is apparently the ‘captain’ of BrewDog (lame). “We are going to change that. We exist to be a point of difference, and our first BrewDog AF Bar is just that. It is a beacon for anyone in London after an alcohol-free alternative. Alcohol-free does not need to be synonymous with taste-free. ‘Drink all you can Jan’ is our anti-Dry January. Whether you have cut alcohol out or are cutting back, we want to show that alcohol-free doesn’t mean compromising on quality or taste.”

The Nightcap

The new-look Powers range

Powers Irish Whiskey unveils new look

Powers Irish Whiskey has revealed a new bottle design for its range of premium Irish whiskeys, which will debut on core expression Powers Gold Label in the USA from March 2020. The makeover was undertaken to reach a new generation of drinkers to the classic Irish whiskey brand, which is made by Irish Distillers at Midleton Distillery, and follows the launch of Powers Old Fashioned, the brand’s first-ever pre-mixed cocktail and the Powers Quarter initiative, a collaboration between six Dublin bars to tell the story of Powers and its history. The updated design for the bottle shape is inspired by the distinctive pot still silhouette from the brand’s historical home at John’s Lane Distillery and the label is styled on the Powers ‘diamond P’, which was one of the first-ever trademarks registered in Ireland. Each whiskey will also have a different colour label, with Powers Gold Label in red as an homage to the original red Powers diamond marque, Powers Three Swallow in blue as a nod to the bird’s feathers and Powers John’s Lane Release in metallic ink, to reflect the industrial nature of the original distillery established in 1791 on John’s Lane, Dublin. “Powers sense of identity has always focused on the diamond P; that became very clear to me as I worked my way through the historical archive. The diamond P was everywhere; on the casks, stationery, on bills and receipts, emblazoned on everything that left the distillery, and notably on the wonderful Powers mirrors that still hang in Ireland’s pubs today,” says Carol Quinn, archivist at Irish Distillers. “Workers at the old John’s Lane distillery even took to wearing a diamond P pin on their lapel, such was their pride to be part of the Powers family.  For me it’s wonderful to see the diamond P front and centre on this new label, symbolising all the history of this great whiskey since 1791.” Conor McQuaid, chairman and CEO of Irish Distillers, added: “We are excited to introduce this new look to the world and inspire a new generation with the unique history and personality of Powers.”

The Nightcap

The future is bright in the Cotswolds

Cotswolds Distillery raises £1m in crowdfunding campaign

The award-winning Cotswolds Distillery has been feeling the love this week at it delightedly reported that its recent fundraising had already raised £1 million. In early December 2019, the producer of delicious English spirits (we’re big fans of its whisky) launched the campaign through its Angel’s Share 2 fundraising platform in order to “maximise whisky production and continue its brand-building programme”. It’s little surprise that the initiative attracted such interest from investors, as back in 2018 the distillery successfully raised £3m of equity which was subsequently invested in building the brand and senior management team. “We pride ourselves on creating award-winning English whiskies that are enjoyed across the world, and, are always looking for new investors to join us on this journey,” says Dan Szor, founder and CEO of the Cotswolds Distillery. “It is a very exciting time for them to be involved with the company and we’re hoping that this new investment will carry us through the next chapter in the distillery’s evolution and help support us in creating even more delicious whisky!” If you fancy investing yourself, you can do so here before 13 January 2020.  

It’s Alissa!

The Balvenie kicks off Stories tour

Single malt Scotch whisky brand The Balvenie is poised to take its Stories tour of bar takeovers on the road, with stops including London’s Lyaness (Sunday 12 January) and The Artesian (13 January), as well as Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Café (15 January). And there’s an antipodean twist: six of Australia’s leading bartenders are coming along for the ride. Alicia Clarke of Jangling Jack’s in Sydney; Jessica Arnott of Foxtrot Unicorn in Perth; Nicola Dean of Maybe Mae in Adelaide; Kayla Reid of Nick and Norah’s in Melbourne; Chelsea Catherine of The Black Pearl in Melbourne; and, Alissa Gabriel of Mjolner in Sydney will all make drinks using The Sweet Toast of American Oak 12 Year Old. Serves have been based on stories shared with the group of bartenders by Kelsey McKechnie, The Balvenie’s apprentice malt master, and creator of the expression. “I’m thrilled to be welcoming such an incredible cohort of bartenders onto UK shores to share stories and these special drinks with UK consumers,” said Alwynne Gwilt, UK ambassador. “Our new whisky series, The Balvenie Stories, is all about connecting through storytelling and I’ve no doubt this latest event series at these leading bars will give us some great tales to tell as the year goes on!” It’s not just about the booze – 10% of drinks sales from the tour will be donated to charities fighting the devastating bushfires in Australia. So what are you waiting for? If you’re in London or Glasgow, head on down!

The Nightcap

The Impact Fund is a commendable cause

Symington Port launches environmental initiative 

2020 has seen Port producer Symington Family Estates off to a flying start, celebrating some rather impressive milestones with the 200th anniversary of Graham’s Port and the 350th anniversary of Warre’s Port. To celebrate, the Symington family didn’t just throw a massive party and sip on the delicious fruits of their own labour (who wouldn’t?), but created a force for good in the world! The family has created a new Impact Fund with an initial pledge of a whopping €1 million euros. The purpose of the fund? It’s threefold: community wellbeing and health, environmental protection and conservation, and cultural heritage and education, all in the Douro and Greater Porto regions as well as the Alto Alentejo. They’re currently working with Volunteer Emergency Services of the Douro region (they’ve donated 13 ambulances so far) and Bagos d’Ouro, a charity that provides education and opportunities for underprivileged children in the Douro. “We have always sought to run our family business in a way that benefits people – be they our employees or the wider community. We are also committed to protecting the beautiful natural environments where we produce our wines,” said Rupert Symington, CEO of Symington Family Estates. “We have consistently reinvested in the Douro region and have a long history of supporting social initiatives in the areas where we work. The Symington Impact Fund is a way of formalising this commitment and ensuring we support projects which are most aligned with our values and where we can have the maximum positive impact.” What a way to celebrate! 

The Nightcap

George Duboeuf, the man who turned Beaujolais into an international sensation, died this week at 86.

The King of Beaujolais dies at 86

This week the wine world lost one of its greats: George Duboeuf, known as the King of Beaujolais. Duboeuf was a marketing genius who took the annual release of the young wine, generally enjoyed only in local bars, and made it a global news story in the 1970s and ‘80s. On the day the wine was released, always the third Thursday of November, there were races to be the first to bring that year’s vintage back where it was sold with the slogan: ‘Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!’. At a time when in Britain wine was still seen as something elitist, Duboeuf made it unpretentious and fun. He was born in 1933 into a vine-growing family in Burgundy and set up his own merchant business in 1964. It came to dominate the region through its own-label wines, with the pretty flowery labels, and by producing wines for retailers. Dominique Piron, head of Inter Beaujolais, commented: “Through his vision and his work, he gave life, colour, aromas and joy to the wines of Beaujolais. He was a catalyst, taking with him other merchants and other winemakers which made Beaujolais the first vineyard in France to make the headlines in newspapers and televisions, in France and around the world.” He went on to say: “The family business is in good hands with his son, Franck Duboeuf, at the helm and the adventure will continue.” Au revoir, Monsieur Duboeuf, and thank you for all the wine.

The Nightcap

Congratulations to WASE!

English start-up chosen for final of $1m Chivas Venture Fund

A London-based company WASE, which makes wastewater treatment systems, has won the England & Wales heat of this year’s Chivas Ventures. This annual competition run by the Scotch whisky company gives away $1 million to help with worthwhile businesses around the world. So far, Chivas has given away $5 million and, according to its figures, benefited over two million lives. WASE will now compete with 25 other companies in the global final in June. Before that, all 26 competitors will go to London for an intensive three-day training programme with experts and industry professionals. Founder Thomas Fudge commented: “I’m super excited and honoured to be representing England and Wales in The Chivas Venture global finals. Can’t wait to show the rest of the world what WASE has to offer and fight for my spot in the finals. Watch this space!” According to the press release: “WASE develops decentralised wastewater treatment systems that embrace a circular economy to recover energy, nutrients and water in wastewater  providing sanitation and energy in under-served communities.” Sounds very worthwhile. Good luck to WASE for the grand final in June!

The Nightcap

The Calming Coral cocktail

The Coral Room and MEDA kick-off 2020 with CBD-infused zero-alcohol cocktails

The Coral Room is getting its zeitgeist on in 2020 by kicking off the new year with a range of cocktails made by head mixologist Stefan Pohlod that are CBD-infused and non-alcoholic. The core ingredient in each serve is a drink from lifestyle brand MEDA’s range, GLOW, CALM, RECOVER and Espresso Medatini SKUs, which were created by blending of 5-15mg of liposomal CBD (cannabidiol) with synergistic ingredients. The offerings include the Glow Spritz which combines lime juice, cardamom bitter and elderflower syrup, the Calming Coral which features lemon juice, peppermint cordial and strawberry purée, the Recover & Revive which mixes Seedlip grove with grapefruit and lime shrub and the Wake Up Call which sees caramel cream, chilli bitters and coffee tonic paired together. The cocktails are priced at £10 each and the brand claims that they are “the perfect way to detox after the prolonged festive celebrations whilst restoring the balance of both body and mind through the inimitable benefits that CBD has to offer”. Apparently. Essentially they should appeal to anybody partaking in an alcohol-free start to the new year and those who are buzzed about CBD cocktails.

 

And finally…  Tottenham Hotspur and Beavertown launch collaboration beer

Tottenham Hotspur’s ‘Official Craft Beer Supplier’ (I didn’t even know that was a thing. Is this a thing now?) Beavertown has launched a new beer in collaboration with the club just in time for the first home game of 2020. Fans of the club (ok, my dad) have described the development as “much needed”, given the team’s performance so far this season. The beer is called One Of Our Own, a name chosen by Tom Rainsford, a Spurs fan who recently joined Beavertown as marketing director, presumably inspired by the North London side’s chant for star player Harry Kane. A Tottenham fan (again, my dad) has described the timing as “typical”. Jokes aside, One Of Our Own is a significant launch as the classic British IPA was crafted with purely European hops (Callista, Mandarina Bavaria and Barbe Rouge) in the microbrewery operated by Tottenham-based Beavertown inside the Club’s new home – a world-first for any football stadium. The beer is said to have notes of stone fruit and malt-sweetness, matching the flavours thirsty supporters have favoured since the stadium opened last April. “Beavertown’s Neck Oil is already a half-time favourite, and we wanted to add to this by offering something new at the start of 2020,” says Rainsford. “Supporting a club is in your bones, and this beer feels the same. It’s familiar, yet distinct. A satisfying pint that makes you feel at home. We see Spurs as the beating heart of the Tottenham community, a central hub for football fans and residents alike. We both share values of bringing people together, creating revolutionary experiences and even world firsts like our microbrewery inside the stadium.”  One Of Our Own will be sold exclusively at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and will be available at tomorrow’s huge Premier League clash against Liverpool. Will it bring them luck?!

No Comments on The Nightcap: 10 January

Trust the algorithm: The future of AI in booze

Last month, Johnnie Walker’s parent company Diageo rolled out artificial intelligence (AI) whisky selector ‘What’s Your Whisky’, which analyses drinkers’ flavour preferences to pair them with their perfect single malt…

Last month, Johnnie Walker’s parent company Diageo rolled out artificial intelligence (AI) whisky selector ‘What’s Your Whisky’, which analyses drinkers’ flavour preferences to pair them with their perfect single malt Scotch. Here, we take a look at the ground-breaking technology, and consider the ways in which algorithms could revolutionise the drinks industry in years to come…

Think back to a bottle of alcohol you bought without ever having tried it. What compelled you to pick that one, rather than another? Perhaps it was the look of the label, or the price. Maybe a friend recommended it, or you spotted it on this very blog. Or, if you’ve just road-tested Diageo’s new AI whisky selector, it might be because an algorithm told you to.

Named ‘What’s Your Whisky’, the selector uses FlavorPrint taste profiling technology to match your individual tastes to one of 18 featured single malts, explains Benjamin Lickfett, head of technology & innovation at Diageo. It asks eleven questions to understand your preferences – e.g. ‘how often do you eat bananas? How do you feel about chillies?’ – and then analyses your responses.

“To do this, we use an algorithmic machine learning analysis of 500 different flavour points based on data from the food science and expert sensory science sectors,” he continues. “Once individual flavour preferences have been mapped, the app uses AI to continuously learn what drives consumer preferences.”

Team Circumstance: Liam Hirt, Mark Scott and Danny Walker

Elsewhere, AI isn’t just matching you with your optimum booze pairing. It’s creating it. In November, Circumstance Distillery created the world’s first AI gin, called Monker’s Garkel, in collaboration with tech companies Rewrite Digital and Tiny Giant. They designed a ‘recurrent neural network’ named Ginette, explain Liam Hirt, Circumstance co-founder. 

“She was trained to compose gin recipes using an enormous data set of botanical and recipes,” Hirt says. “We chose her best two recipes for further traditional development at Circumstance Distillery. One recipe emerged as a favourite, although it was very close. Ginette also came up with the name for the gin. A separate neural network was used to create the label and the wording on the back of the bottle.”

Circumstance isn’t the only producer to harness the power of AI to make great-tasting spirits. In May last year, Swedish distillery Mackmyra teamed up with Microsoft and Fourkind to create a whisky informed by Mackmyra’s existing recipes, sales data and customer preferences. In January 2017, Virgin’s travel arm partnered with super-computer Watson to analyse the social media posts of 15 million holidaymakers, match them to 5,000-plus flavour descriptions and reviews, and create a one-off rum recipe at Barbados’ Foursquare Distillery.

Is there a danger our industry’s tastemakers could soon be overthrown by AI distillers? Not quite. “AI technology is in its infancy, and is not ready to take over from a skilled distiller like those at our distillery,” reckons Hirt. “Where I see AI making a difference in the near future is as a creative muse used during product development. At Circumstance Distillery we do a lot of product development and contract distillation for customers. AI in its current form can be a useful tool at the brainstorming stage to contribute ideas that might be quite different and take development in an unexpected and novel direction.”

Would you take a recommendation from one of these?

In what ways, then, could AI potentially revolutionise the industry as we know it today? For now, the answer lies in behind the scenes operations. French drinks company Pernod Ricard, which owns Jameson whiskey and Beefeater gin, has been “developing a series of successful pilots and then projects at scale for quite a large array of applications” for a few years now, explains global media and content hub leader Thibaut Portal.

This could be something as simple as identifying trending venues using data from Google Maps, Google Venues traffic, Trip Advisor and social media channels, he explains; information that helps the company map and structure its approach to the on-trade. Automated algorithms help the company optimise its social media campaigns, too – by defining and predicting best days and hours of the week to interact with consumers as well as personalising messages and communications. 

“We have applied AI mainly so far and at scale for our marketing and sales department activities, as data are massive and easy to collect,” says Portal. AI technology definitely enables us to react faster and prepare for more informed decisions, leveraging and computing data available internally or sourced externally in a flash. It provides solid analysis capabilities and unlocks new business opportunities: from product launch to market share increases.”

While it’s still early days for Diageo’s customer-facing whisky selector – which launched across nine European countries in six languages – Lickfett says the team is excited about the potential of this untapped tech. “Once we’ve received the initial results, we’ll be looking to optimise how we integrate the AI experience in bars, supermarkets, online and beyond,” he says. “As with any new technology application, it is key to put the consumer at the centre of the experience, ensuring real value is added and to avoid creating technology for technology’s sake.”

The stills at Circumstance in Bristol

He makes a point. With that in mind, are there any challenges the industry might need to overcome to integrate AI technology successfully? The most obvious one, Hirt says, is knowledge. “Circumstance Distillery is very tech-focused, with successful projects such as issuing ‘whisky tokens’ in the form of our own cryptocurrency,” he says. “Most small businesses in the drink sector are not as tech-focused as we are.”

It’s a sentiment backed by Portal. “AI technology has developed so fast with so many suppliers that confusion is already there,” he explains. “It requires expertise, knowledge and capacity to select the right project.” With a little knowledge, however, the sky’s the limit. “There are so many offers on the market, available and easy to access for all,” he says. “We are entering a democratisation phase, as well as a learning curve for all to build.”

No Comments on Trust the algorithm: The future of AI in booze

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search