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Master of Malt Blog

Category: Features

How J&B Scotch charmed Hollywood’s Rat Pack

Created by London wine merchants Justerini & Brooks, J&B Rare Scotch whisky was the drink of choice for world-famous casino crooners The Rat Pack, travelling more than 5,000 miles to…

Created by London wine merchants Justerini & Brooks, J&B Rare Scotch whisky was the drink of choice for world-famous casino crooners The Rat Pack, travelling more than 5,000 miles to make it into their tumblers. Here, writer Damian Barr explains just how Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and company got their mitts on the liquid…

Before tux-clad entertainers Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop took the Las Vegas casino scene by storm in the 1950s and ‘60s, the city was little more than “a patch in the Nevada Desert,” Barr explains, speaking at London bar Oriole during J&B’s Rat Pack Redistilled event.

“The Rat Pack turned it into what it is now – for better and for worse,” he continues. “They liked to gatecrash one another’s shows, and often if you were going to a show for one of the members it would say over the marquee, ‘Dean Martin, maybe Frank, maybe Sammy’, because they just never knew who was going to turn up.”

J&B and America, a special relationship

So, how did the high rollers of Hollywood wind up quaffing what was, in fact, a wine merchant’s whisky? It all started with the ‘J’ in J&B – an Italian master distiller, blender, and creator of what were then referred to as ‘foreign cordials’, Giacomo Justerini, when he arrived in London from Italy back in 1749.

“He didn’t have much money, but he had lots of charm and a recipe which he copied on the back of a notebook and brought from his uncle in Bologna,” says Barr. “He needed a business partner so he set about finding one, and found Dr Samuel Johnson.”

Justerini set up as a wine merchant with Johnson’s nephew, George, at 76 Haymarket – the business remains nearby today – until eventually George sold his share of the business to Albert Brooks, paving the way for the J&B recognisable today.

“By the early nineteenth century, a huge interest increased in the number of private members clubs and they all opened up around St James’s,” says Barr. “Great whisky barons like [creator of Old Vatted Glenlivet] Andrew Usher and Tommy Dewar noted the increased demand and decided to improve their recipes. Every other whisky maker on the block – including Justerini and Brooks – decided to up their game.”

Brooks approached Usher – the first person to commercially blend whisky – and tasked him with creating a smoother blend. Usher, together with his business partner James Anderson, developed J&B Club, the precursor to J&B Rare. The duo was so enamoured with it, they decided to buy the business from Justerini and Brooks.

The Duke of Windsor J&B

The Duke of Windsor enjoying a glass of J&B

Not long later, during world war one, Anderson’s son met a exceedingly charismatic young man called Eddie Tatham in the trenches. He joined the company immediately after the war ended, and soon became a director. With the advent of cinema, film actors became friends with Tatham, who was “very outgoing and well-dressed… a party boy”.

“Eddie was a charmer, he was the kind of man that you’d want to be on out with on a night that might take unexpected turns,” says Barr. “His tactic was to choose top restaurants, top bars, top hotels, what became known as the tip of the trade. He received a bonus not long after joining of £200, which equates to £12,000 in today’s money, and set sail for America.”

There he met blender Charlie Julian, who is responsible for creating Chivas Regal among other whiskies. Together, they begin the blending process for what would eventually become J&B Rare: a blend of at least 42 single malt and grain Speyside whiskies, including liquid from Knockando, Auchroisk, Strathmill and Glen Spey. After Prohibition was repealed, Tatham set about “importing the good stuff from Scotland for the thirsty of America”.

With the help of distributor Abe Rosenberg, Tatham decided to target the national markets; Las Vegas, Palm Springs, Palm Beach, New Orleans, Newport. “Of these, the biggest was Las Vegas; big gamblers, big singers, big comedians, all playing the casinos,” says Barr. Performers like the Rat Pack, who he became very good friends with.

“Abe Rosenberg had this trick – he would send half a gallon of J&B to the dressing room of a star who had a show on and say, ‘I enjoyed your show very much, have one on me’,” says Barr. “Even if he was in New York or Rome or Paris! Apparently he was trying to give away up to 1,000 cases of Scotch every single year.”

The most loyal of J&B’s Rat Pack admirers was Dean Martin, the ‘amiable drunk’ persona, which he honed at the Sands Hotel in Vegas. “Introduced with the words ‘…and now, direct from the bar’, he would bound on stage, taking a Scotch from somebody’s table on the way,” says Barr. “There was often a bar on stage, and he’d ‘top-up’ his glass before launching into the final rendition of That’s Amore. He used to tell his audiences, “I don’t drink any more… I don’t drink any less, either’.”

Entertaining as it was, Martin’s intoxication was a little more than a stage act. “His son Ricky said that while it was true [his] Dad drank, the drunky routine was an act,” explains Barr. “On stage, and later on his TV show, he did have a J&B Scotch and soda but it was almost always a weak one – and sometimes it was just an apple juice.”

Dean Martin J&B

Dean Martin, that’s actually apple juice in his glass. No, really!

 

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The Top 10 minimalist cocktail bars

When it comes to back bars, bigger isn’t inherently better. Quite the opposite – it takes the most creative and discerning of bar teams to work cocktail magic with a…

When it comes to back bars, bigger isn’t inherently better. Quite the opposite – it takes the most creative and discerning of bar teams to work cocktail magic with a pared-down selection of spirits. We’ve picked 10 of the world’s best minimalist cocktail bars…

While bumper booze inventories continue to draw admiration from thirsty fans (ourselves included), other venues have taken the opposite road; slimming their selection down to little more than a shelf’s worth of hand-picked spirits.

For some bar owners, eschewing established brands for a curated rail of favourites is simply a matter of personal taste. For others, it supports their ethos of sustainability: locally-sourced at all costs. Some want to make a stand against pouring deals born from corporate interest. Or, occasionally, it’s a mix of all three.

Whatever the reason may be, stripped back bars certainly don’t make for lacklustre drinks – as the 10 bars that follow attest:

Punch Room at The London Edition, London

Minimalist credentials: Just one cocktail style here – punch

Seasonal speciality punches are the name of the game at London’s Punch Room. While you delve into the menu – which offers single-person punches as well as sharing drinks for up to eight people – you’ll sip a welcome drink punch reinvented daily by the bar team. Don’t miss their classic Milk Punch, a clarified drink that combines Hennessy fine de Cognac, Havana Club 3 Year Old, Somerset Cider Brandy, green tea, lemon juice, pineapple, spices syrup and, yes, milk.

 

Punch Room, London Edition

You can have anything you want at Punch Room, as long as it’s punch

 

Obispo, San Francisco

Minimalist credentials: Single spirit bar with a sense of place

Recently-opened San Fran hangout Obispo is a single spirit bar with a difference. Rather than clamouring to own one of every single bottle going, owner Thad Vogler has stocked his bar with a limited inventory of speciality rums, many from distilleries he has personally visited. The concept? To champion truly unique spirits that taste like the places they come from: no additives here, thanks. One highlight of Obispo’s cocktail menu has to be the Mojito, made according to a 1934 recipe from Havana-based bar El Floridita with stirred mint and raw sugar.

A Rake’s Bar, Washington, DC

Minimalist credentials: Exclusively hyper-local cocktails

While championing locally-sourced ingredients is increasingly commonplace in bars these days, few can claim to exclusively do so. A Rake’s Bar, however, is one of them. You won’t find Scotch or Tequila (or even citrus!) here – each drink celebrates local distillers and ingredients, from locally-produced Curaçao to verjus from nearby vineyards. Everything from its antique glassware to the physical cocktail menu is the product of local collaboration.

 

A Rakes Bar, Washington

A Rake’s Bar, a hyper-local bar for hyper-local people

 

Buck and Breck, Berlin

Minimalist credentials: Small in size, stripped back cocktail list

Located in Berlin’s Mitte district, Buck and Breck seats just 14 people at a time, around a communal black wooden table that doubles as the bar station – the only furniture in the entire space. But the stripped-back interior is far from the speakeasy’s only minimalist draw. Cocktails are listed by name and base ingredient (no brands, here, all spirits bottles are colour-coded) and accompanied by a considered Champagne offering.

Native, Singapore

Minimalist credentials: Asian flavour profiles only – with a focus on foraging

Founded by Vijay Mudaliar, formerly of award-winning Singapore cocktail bar Operation Dagger, Native is committed to using local and regional produce: think flavours like mango, turmeric, cinnamon, and tapioca, paired with spirits like Sri Lankan arrak and Thai rice gin. Try Antz, which combines Thai rum, aged sugarcane vinegar, coconut yoghurt, salt-baked tapioca, soursop, and, yes, real ants served in a frozen basil leaf.

 

Native Bar Singapore

Native in Singapore offers cocktails made with ants, yes real ants

 

Three Sheets, London

Minimalist credentials: Small in size, stripped-back cocktail list

Made from just a single shelf of spirits, Three Sheets’ cocktail menu reflects its name: three pages with three cocktails on each. Aperitif-style cocktails decorate the first column, and get progressively punchier as the menu unfolds. Bartending brothers Max and Noel Venning are the brains behind this welcoming neighbourhood venue, which is big on pre-batched and bottled ingredients. All the stuff you want from a cocktail bar, and none of the stuff you don’t. Head there during the day for a dynamite flat white.

 

Three Sheets Dalston

Three Sheets, Venning Bros’ bar in Dalston, East London

Bar Gen Yamamoto, Tokyo

Minimalist credentials: Small in size, just two menu options available

Tiny eight-seater Japanese bar Gen Yamamoto is a drinking den unlike any other in the world. There’s no cocktail list, just a tasting menu crafted to reflect ‘shiki’, which means Japanese seasonality. Your options are minimal: choose from either a four-drink or six-drink menu, and sit back as solo bartender Yamamoto takes your taste buds on a veritable flavour journey. FYI, the bar is carved out of a 500-year-old Mizunara tree.

Backdoor 43, Milan

Minimalist credentials: Small in size

Is Backdoor 43 the smallest bar in the world? At the grand total of four square foot in size, it’s certainly up there. There’s only space for four (plus one Guy Fawkes mask-wearing bartender) at the tiny bar, for which the menu changes on a monthly basis. If you can’t get a reservation, fret not – a small selection of classic cocktails can be ordered to-go via a small slot window to the street.

 

Backdoor 43, Milan

Backdoor 43, Milan, probably the smallest bar in the world

 

Above Board, Melbourne

Minimalist credentials: Exacting cocktail list with no off-menu orders

Owned by award-winning bartender Hayden Lambert, Above Board is the minimalist bar blueprint both in terms of drinks and design aesthetics. A sleek grey 12-seater island bar commands the softly-lit room; hand-picked spirits are decanted into crystal bottles and stored out of sight. The menu boasts 25 cocktails, split across signatures and twists on classics, with minimal garnishes. Glasses are thin and beautifully chilled, the ice is hand-stamped, and the hospitality is second to none.

Bisou, Paris

Minimalist credentials: There is no menu whatsoever

So minimalist is the vibe at seasonal Parisian hangout Bisou, they’ve done away with the menu altogether. Instead, you have a chat with the bartender about what you like – and, if you’re fussy, what you don’t – and he’ll whip up the craft cocktail of your dreams for a very reasonable €12 using 100% organic and locally-sourced ingredients. Sustainability is big here, with a focus on reducing waste; unused parts of fruits and vegetables are dehydrated and repurposed as garnishes.

 

Bisou, Paris

Bisou, Paris, so minimalist, it doesn’t even have a menu

 

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We join ADI for the Judging of Craft Spirits!

What’s it like to lead a panel at one of the world’s most renowned spirits competitions? Our editor Kristiane Sherry reports back from Tiburon, near San Francisco, after taking part…

What’s it like to lead a panel at one of the world’s most renowned spirits competitions? Our editor Kristiane Sherry reports back from Tiburon, near San Francisco, after taking part in the American Distilling Institute’s 2019 Judging of Craft Spirits.

The skies are always blue in Tiburon. At least it seems that way when the American Distilling Institute (ADI) crew is in town. The cluster of impeccable houses directly across the Bay from San Francisco is peppered with independent restaurants, bars and quirky stores, sandwiched between the water and the dramatic Northern California hills. It’s relaxed, the air is crisp and clean, and it exudes a laid-back elegance. In short, it’s the perfect place to taste spirits.

I was thrilled last June when I received an invitation to join ADI’s Judging of Craft Spirits. The annual event celebrates excellence in distilling, with entries open to those who produce less than 750,000 litres of pure alcohol a year (although in reality, most participants make waaaayyy less than that). Both American and international distillers take part, and the spirits span almost every category you can think of: whiskies, gins, rums, agave spirits, vodkas, liqueurs, brandies, plus ready-to-drink cocktails, fortified wines and more! The result? Hundreds upon hundreds of spirits to be assessed, an army of stewards, a team of organisers and administrators and judges galore. And I was more than happy to lend my palate.

San Francisco Bay

Tiburon. It’s pretty. That’s San Francisco over the Bay looking gorgeous

I arrived at The Lodge at Tiburon on the Sunday afternoon, set for a series of briefings. After the warmest of welcomes from Eric Zandona, ADI’s director of spirits information, and David T Smith, lead steward, we got to grips with a practice flight of vodkas, a palate-aligning exercise, if you like. Everything was poured in a back room, brought through by the amazing stewards and identified only by a code on a label on the stem of a glass. It was 100% blind and tip-top secret. And it immediately became apparent just how rewarding evaluating each sample with my fellow judges would be. Distillers, bar consultants, writers, bartenders and more, from across the US and beyond. The volume of collective expertise in the room was incredible. Roll on the three days of judging!

I can’t disclose exactly what we judged or what panels others were on, but I will say for the first two days I chaired panels with a vast variety of spirits. We tasted literally everything. It was challenging at times – some spirits properly split the panel; cue lively debate, much geekiness and an array of views – but each and every spirit was genuinely assessed on its own merits, before the group discussed each one, gained consensus and awarded medals (Bronze, Silver, Gold, Double Gold) accordingly. But this wasn’t just about assigning awards. Each entrant receives detailed written feedback, so every judge was required to write up their thoughts and provide comment, constructive criticism and encouragement. This wasn’t just about tasting – a significant amount of work went into this evaluation aspect. It’s easy enough to say that you do or don’t think a spirit is at a certain quality level – but you must also give the reason why. And delving into the ‘why’ with so many genuine experts made for a thoroughly rewarding experience!

There’s all sorts of spirits to be assessed

Day Three took on an entirely different flavour. First up, I joined a review panel; here, spirits which had some discrepancy in their scoring (David T Smith and crew use a handy algorithm to see if a panel of judges’ scores were especially variable) were re-tasted to ensure an absolute fair hearing, and other outliers were given a second bite of the cherry. This is where things got really interesting. The discussion got even geekier, and every aroma note, flavour, texture and feeling was unpicked, along with how it got there, and whether or not it should be. By the end my mind and palate were both exhausted – but happily so.

Then it was time for the grand panels! Every spirit awarded a Gold or Double Gold medal was re-tasted to find the best in category. And wow! This was A Treat (capitals intended). Imagine getting to taste the best of the best craft spirits in the world. Yes, it was still serious decision-making, but the smiles on my fellow judges’ faces as we worked our way through the flights said it all. These spirits were GORGEOUS (capitals really intended here). And it was a privilege to get to pick out the very finest.

So, what were the highlights? What were the key learnings? Well, the Judging of Craft Spirits results haven’t been announced yet, so consider these lips sealed. But there was a big difference between judging a competition solely focused on craft spirits compared to other panels I’ve sat on. Why? The level of experimentation was off the chart. So many producers were trying brave and exciting things – sure, the results weren’t always knock-it-out-the-park incredible, but many, many spirits were up there. And it was so exciting to spend time sussing out exactly what’s going on. Then, the overall quality level was a pleasing surprise. In other competitions there might only be one small ‘craft’ sub-category, but here there was wall-to-wall interest and intrigue right across the board. ‘Craft’ has never meant sub-standard or second best, but those myths are now being well and truly busted.

ADI judging whiskeys

Whiskeys!

Finally, the top highlight? Getting to meet and work with so many incredible people from right the way across the industry, from distillers and production consultants to bartenders, brand ambassadors, writers, journalists and more. Thanks to ADI for an ace few days, and cheers to my fellow judges, stewards and everyone involved for making it so brilliant!

Top tips for evaluating spirits

Fancy trying your hand (taste buds?) at judging? Give it a go at home with our super-quick guide!

• Start clean. It sounds super simple, but make sure your palate is clean (water is essential!), you’re not wearing fragrance and you’ve not used especially aromatic soap. ADI gave us fragrance-free soap for the week so the tasting room was as neutral as possible.

• Go slow. Take your time. If you’re assessing a spirit you’ll want to look at its appearance, nose, palate and finish. This can take a good while. Don’t rush, take your time and enjoy!

• Look back. Aromas and flavours in a spirit can be traced back to loads of production factors. Think about how your spirit was made. Raw materials? Processing techniques? Post-distillation finishing? Is what you see, nose or taste consistent with this? Consider these points to help you evaluate your spirit.

• Spit it out. Got loads of spirits to taste? Don’t be afraid to use a spittoon. And sip, don’t gulp (obviously). On a similar point, adding water to a spirit after you’ve first nosed and tasted can make a world of difference when you’re trying to pick out aromas and flavours.

• Write it down. Chances are, if you’re taking the time to fully examine what a product looks like, its aromas, flavours, texture and finish, you’ll want to keep a record of it. Have a notepad or laptop to hand so your hard work isn’t forgotten!

ADI judging

Note-taking = essential!

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What’s the buzz about CBD cocktails?

At the moment you’re more likely to find CBD oil in your morning latte than a late-night tipple, but make no mistake, cannabidiol-laced cocktails are coming to a bar menu…

At the moment you’re more likely to find CBD oil in your morning latte than a late-night tipple, but make no mistake, cannabidiol-laced cocktails are coming to a bar menu near you. Here’s everything you need to know about the emerging trend…

The marijuana plant has enjoyed something of a rebrand over the last decade, as both scientists and medical professionals begin to deconstruct and attest to its various benefits. And while debate over cannabis decriminalisation rages on, the CBD market is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing industries in the UK.

CBD is a type of cannabinoid, which are chemicals naturally found in marijuana plants. It doesn’t make you feel “high” – that’s caused by another cannabinoid known as THC – instead, early scientific research suggests the oil may offer a range of benefits, such as reducing pain and inflammation, easing anxiety and boosting heart health.

You might wonder what any of that has to do with drinks, but the burgeoning trend reflects a change in the industry’s attitude to cocktail hour over the last few years. Now more than ever, bartenders are prioritising responsible drinking, sustainability and quality over quantity, explains Joe Brayford, brand ambassador at City of London Distillery.

“CBD fits in perfectly with the idea of responsible drinking and is certainly one of many fresh tools in any bartender’s arsenal,” he says. Flavour-wise, it’s “earthy and a little vegetal, definite cannabis notes along with damp grass; think walking through a field on a damp morning. This can vary slightly depending on the oil base of the extract – water-soluble versions are also available, but they seem to have a milder flavour and thinner texture.”

Plant-based eatery Farmacy was the first venue to serve London a CBD-laced cocktail back in 2016. Called There’s Something About Mary, the drink combines vanilla vodka, CBD oil, homemade hemp and bay leaf syrup, mango puree and a dash of chilli sauce. “It’s a powerful antioxidant with many healing qualities, such as anti-inflammatory,” says founder Camilla Fayed. “It’s also said to boost brain function, and acts as a great mood-enhancer.”

CBD Marqueen Moon Far Radish

Marquee Moon CBD cocktail from The Fat Radish, NYC (recipe below)

Others soon followed in Famarcy’s footsteps. Hackney bar Behind This Wall brought together Drum & Black spiced rum, Akashi-Tai Honjozo Genshu sake, CBD-infused honey and ginger syrup, lime juice, Birds Weissbrand, Bittermens Burlesque Bitters and kenaf leaf for its Fo’ Sizzle Dizzle Swizzle – while gourmet kebab house Maison Bab introduced the Gin and Chronic (we see what you did there), which combines CBD oil, Bombay Sapphire and lemon.

Beyond its purported health benefits, the ingredient is a useful flavour and texture-enhancing tool. Brayford has mostly been experimenting with low-ABV serves – “the more alcohol in the drink, the less pronounced it seems to become,” he explains – with a particular focus on vermouth and sherry.

“Certain Amaro pair beautifully with it,” he attests, “as do fermented drinks – the funky vinegar-like qualities of kefir, tepache or kombucha work nicely with the vegetal notes. I’ve been trying to develop drinks with a strong focus on texture and mouthfeel – oil-washed spirits go great with it for a super silky drink.”

So, say you want to whip up a CBD-laced cocktail at home. What style of drink should you go for? Flavour-wise, Brayford recommends spirits “that lean toward an earthy or vegetal profile. Mezcals or Agricole rhums work great, but equally a crisp clean vodka or classic dry gin can create an interesting balance if done well,” he says.

Or you could channel your inner barista and go for a CBD-laced coffee cocktail. “Its effects in coffee-based drinks are pretty interesting,” Brayford continues; the industry is already adding it to lattes. “Blending CBD oil with coffee not only helps to mellow the adverse effects of caffeine but also provides a silky texture and mouthfeel.”

Green Monkey CBD

Green Monkey CBD-infused carbonated drink.

Coffee houses aren’t the only businesses to capitalise on the trend. UK-based brewery Green Times Brewing specialises in craft beers infused with Cannabis Sativa oil extract, while Green Monkey CBD is catering to soft drinks with the UK’s first CBD-infused carbonated drink. As far as the production element of the drinks industry is concerned, where’s the market headed?

“The sky’s the limit really,” says Serge Davies, Green Monkey’s CEO. “We already know that some big beer brewers are experimenting with CBD in their drinks, and other competitors are definitely popping up. There will definitely be a range of flavours and styles – perhaps even strengths – as the industry develops.”

And in our favourite bars? “Like any trend, people will catch on and want to put it in anything,” Brayford predicts. “I’m sure there will be a period of every menu having CBD thrown in somewhere for the novelty value. But I hope to see it go the way of other trends that lean toward more responsible drinking.”

He points to the launch of non-alcoholic botanical drink Three Spirit late last year, followed by low-ABV spirit Willow at the end of January. “People are excited about the idea of drinking quality drinks and experiencing some pleasurable effects but without crazy-high ABVs and a rough head the next day,” he adds. To that we say, cheers! Here’s one to try at home:

Marquee Moon:

60ml Seedlip Spice
20ml Red rooibos honey cordial*
1 barspoon D’Anjou pear vinegar
A few drops of CBD oil to your taste
Glass: Nick & Nora
Garnish: Honeycomb
Method: Stir all ingredients with ice. Strain into glass, garnish with honeycomb and serve with an anecdote about Tom Verlaine.
*Red rooibos honey cordial: brew 4 cups strong red rooibos tea and combine with 4 cups honey

 

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10 rules for running a successful bar

On the blog today we have UK brand ambassador for Disaronno Rod Eslamieh, a man who has had a chequered career in the drinks industry. He gives us the benefit…

On the blog today we have UK brand ambassador for Disaronno Rod Eslamieh, a man who has had a chequered career in the drinks industry. He gives us the benefit of his hard-won wisdom…

Eslamieh began working in drinks when his father bought an old fire station in Brentford, west London, which they turned into a bar and restaurant. It was an odd career move because up to this point Eslamieh didn’t drink alcohol. But he quickly fell in love with the bar culture, and the venue became very successful:

“We opened in 2003. In 2006, within three years, we won the Best Bar Team in the whole UK at the Class Bar Awards. In 2007 and 2008, I was shortlisted for Best Bar Manager at Class Awards. In 2009, I actually won the London heat of the Jack Daniel’s cocktail competition to go and represent (the bar) in Tennessee”, he said.

Rod Eslamieh

Rod Eslamieh!

Not everything went so smoothly, however. Eslamieh had to leave the Old Fire Station after problems with local residents (more on this below). Since 2014, he’s been a brand ambassador for William Grant & Sons looking after Disaronno Amaretto. With his wife Ellie, he runs Chapter 72, a coffee and cocktail bar near London Bridge. So, from a man who has tasted the highs but also felt the lows, here are some top tips for the budding bar owner:

Connect with the community

At the Old Fire Station, Eslamieh had problems when a small group of residents who didn’t like having a late bar in their neighbourhood concocted a case against him. They accused him of harassment and aggressive behaviour. Even though there was no evidence, Eslamieh ended up having to walk away from his own bar. He told me what he’d learned from what must have been a bruising experience, “I’d say the two top mistakes that people will make when opening up a bar is not understanding their community and engaging with them.” For his new bar in Bermondsey Street he made sure that this didn’t happen again by talking to local residents and businesses, and getting them on side.

Don’t try to be too perfect

Eslamieh said: “I think too many people wait for everything to be perfect, for the stars to align. Sometimes you should just get on with it rather than just think all the time. Because if you think a lot then you can easily talk your way out of something.”

Location, location, location

It was a complete accident finding the space that became Chapter 72 in Southwark. He was visiting his friend Simon Difford (from Difford’s Guide) and thought: “‘God, this is a really nice street’. So I called my wife and said, ‘there’s a lot of nice restaurants and bars here’. And then just outside I saw this shop with a To Let sign. I called the agent up and I said, ‘can I come and see it?’ and they said, ‘someone’s just pulled out, do you want to come and see it tomorrow?’.” The bar opened six weeks later (see rule above on not making it too perfect).

Rod Eslamieh Chapter 72

Rod Eslamieh at Chapter 72 in Bermondsey Street

Get the vibe right

This is perhaps a hard one to teach but we’ve all walked into bars and restaurants which you know just aren’t working. Eslamieh said, “I’m a great believer that sometimes you can go into somewhere and there’s a real positive feel and a real good connect, and sometimes there isn’t. And I think you can just see by the way the bartenders and the team move around, how the back bar looks, are the tables messy…”

Don’t micromanage

“Learning to step back and let your team have ownership of the business. Not micromanaging. But also finding out where their strengths and weaknesses are and how you can work on it,” Eslamieh told me.

Don’t let it go to your head

It’s not all glamour running a bar, according to Eslamieh. “So you’ve won Bacardi Legacy, you’ve won World Class, you’ve won Glenfiddich Experimental, you’re on the shoulders of bartenders, you’re on the magazines, you’re a superstar. Now I’m going to take this pin and I’m going to burst your bubble. Do you know who doesn’t care that you make the best Old Fashioned in the world? Your landlord. They want to get paid! Who doesn’t care that you make the best Mojito? The local council. If you’re going into opening up a bar thinking it’s all fun and glamorous then you’ve got to think again because at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. You’re the one that has to make sure everyone’s paid, everything is up to date, all licenses are compiled by, all health and safety. Make sure you have a good handyman!”

Look after your mental health

“When I first started in the industry I think there was this real kind of understanding that as a brand ambassador or a bartender you worked ten to 15 hours and then you’d go out drinking until four in the morning, you sleep all day and then you come out. I think that kind of lifestyle is starting to change. We’re seeing programmes like Healthy Hospo coming out. You’ve got more bartenders talking about how they’ve had to deal with alcohol issues and depression,” Eslamieh told me.


Making a Disaronno amaretto sour

Making a Disaronno amaretto sour

Have a USP

For Chapter 72, it’s coffee and cocktails. He said, “I always say that we’re a coffee shop that sells alcohol rather than a bar that sells coffee. So we’re trying to really demonstrate to people that as well as good coffee, we can do great cocktails here as well.  We’re the only place, I think, in London that does Espresso Martini masterclasses.”

Put out an A board

In all the noise about the importance of social media, it can be easy to forget that the old marketing methods can be the best. Eslamieh filled me in, “when we first opened, the coffee side was really busy for us, it was going really well, and the drinks side was a little bit quieter and we didn’t really understand it. So I spoke to a member of staff and said to her ‘just put on the blackboard ‘Best Espresso Martini in town right here’. . . that weekend we were full, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.”

People like fun drinks

Finally, I asked Eslamieh about his predictions for the future: “I think nostalgia will come back. I think people just want something that brings them back to where they were happy, whether it was a disco drink but a disco drink made well. In my next cocktail list, I’m going to put the Screaming Orgasm. It’s a fun drink, it brings back memories! I go to so many bars now where I look at the menu and I don’t even know what those ingredients are, they’re so complicated. There’s all these infusions, there’s all these complicated drinks. Why is LCC knocking out 88,000 Pornstar Martinis a year? Because it’s got a fun name, it’s got vanilla vodka, it’s got passionfruit, people like it.. . . 95% of people out there in the world don’t really care, they just want to have a nice time and have a nice drink.” Amen to that!

So there you have, follow these simple rules, and with a little luck and some money, you could have a successful bar on your hands.

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How Australian whisky-makers harnessed the power of nature

In much the same way that Scotch whiskies are shaped by their location, so too is liquid down under – except Australia happens to be a gargantuan 98 times bigger…

In much the same way that Scotch whiskies are shaped by their location, so too is liquid down under – except Australia happens to be a gargantuan 98 times bigger than Scotland. In part two of our series, Australian distillers reveal how the country’s natural resources influence the taste of their whisky

Australia’s booze roots lie in spirits production, as we discovered on the blog last month. As modern day distillers flock to reignite its history, could Aussie whisky become the breakout category of the decade?

It certainly has the resources to do so. Australia is one of the largest malting-grade barley producers in the world, with many varieties unique to the country, says Dave Withers, master distiller at New South Wales distillery Archie Rose.

“We work with a number of New South Wales’ farmers to get hold of unique malts which demonstrate regional terroir,” he adds. “It also allows us to develop a relationship with the land and their custodians, exploring ancient and heirloom varieties”.

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From Dream to Dram: Kingsbarns’ first whisky

Last week, we met with Isabella and William Wemyss, the brother and sister team behind Kingsbarns Distillery in Fife, for the launch of Dream to Dram, the duo’s first commercial…

Last week, we met with Isabella and William Wemyss, the brother and sister team behind Kingsbarns Distillery in Fife, for the launch of Dream to Dram, the duo’s first commercial single malt Scotch whisky release.

There can be few new distilleries as beautiful as Kingsbarns. It’s set in rolling Fife farmland and housed in a converted 18th century farmstead, complete with a dovecote that looks like a wee castle. The Wemyss (pronounced Weems) family is old Scottish nobility with its seat at a proper castle nearby called, naturally, Wemyss Castle. This part of Scotland attracts visitors from all over the world to the home of golf, St Andrews Links. As William Wemyss put it, “We’re bringing together golf and Scotland’s other great export.” He means whisky, not shortbread.

William and his sister Isabella are clearly geared up for tourism: there’s a very impressive visitor centre, a café (try the sausages rolls), and their very own gin distillery which produces Darnley’s Gin, named after Mary Queen of Scots’ notorious husband. The idea for a Fife whisky began in 2010 with an email from Doug Clement, a former pro golf caddy, to William Wemyss saying that they should open a distillery. At the time, William joked, “we couldn’t spell the word washback.” So they brought in some experts. Jim Swan consulted on creating “an early-maturing spirit” and the distillery was designed by Ian Palmer from Inchdairnie, with stills from Forsyths of Rothes.

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Education central: Why training is crucial for bars

We meet Gavin Wrigley, head of education at the European Bartender School, to chat through drinks trends, distillery visits, and explore why training is crucial if we all want delicious…

We meet Gavin Wrigley, head of education at the European Bartender School, to chat through drinks trends, distillery visits, and explore why training is crucial if we all want delicious cocktails.

While it would be rude to outright disagree with classic lyrics, Pink Floyd were actually pretty incorrect when it comes to education in bars. We do indeed need some education – quite a lot, in fact! – if our drinks scene is to continue to evolve and thrive.

But what does that training actually look like? Why is it important? Can’t you just learn on the job? So many questions. But here to answer them is Gavin Wrigley, head of education at the European Bartender School (EBS). Enjoy!

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Join us as we check out Glenglassaugh Distillery!

Part of the trio of Scotch whisky distilleries sold to Brown-Forman in 2016, Glenglassaugh is a treasure trove of sweet-yet-seaweedy drams matured by the sea. We stopped by to have…

Part of the trio of Scotch whisky distilleries sold to Brown-Forman in 2016, Glenglassaugh is a treasure trove of sweet-yet-seaweedy drams matured by the sea. We stopped by to have a nose about.

Located on the edge of Speyside, almost equidistant between Inverness and Aberdeen, Glenglassaugh is a distillery with a chequered history but a bright future. It was built way back in 1874 and has changed hands many times, even enduring periods of closure – unfairly overlooked in favour of its rivals in the Speyside epicentre further west. After 22 long years (its longest silence) its potential was spotted by Dutch investor Scaent Group in 2008 who snapped up the site and reopened it shortly after. Billy Walker’s The BenRiach Company took the reins in 2013, before American whiskey giant Brown-Forman, thirsty for Scotch whisky, acquired Glenglassaugh, along with BenRiach and GlenDronach, in 2016.

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Protein drinks with a difference from London Cocktail Club

Keen on continuing your New Year’s health kick? Sounds like you’re in need of some delicious non-alcoholic and low alcohol cocktails. Bartender and entrepreneur JJ Goodman – the man behind…

Keen on continuing your New Year’s health kick? Sounds like you’re in need of some delicious non-alcoholic and low alcohol cocktails. Bartender and entrepreneur JJ Goodman – the man behind London Cocktail Club – has you covered with these nutrient-rich (and protein-packed) serves…

Dry January is almost over, and there isn’t a soul across the nation who isn’t grateful for the sweet release of February. If you haven’t been been actively participating in a month-long abstinence, you’ve been at the mercy of friends and family that are, along with their elaborate ‘non-drinking’ plans. No, I don’t want to learn pottery, or try taxidermy, or have a crack at flower-arranging. Just take me to the pub please.

I’m joking, of course. Not only are there myriad health benefits associated with taking a step away from the sauce from time to time, but there are also plenty of fantastic non-alcoholic alternatives to decorate your glass with on designated dry (or dryer) days. Bartenders we are not, so we turned to London Cocktail Club founder (and author of brand new book, Kitchen Cocktails) JJ Goodman for inspiration.

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