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Master of Malt Blog

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Cocktail of the Week: The Cuba Libre

From classic cars to crumbling buildings, Cuba carries the faded beauty of an old movie. Famous for revolutions, communism and its delicious drinks, country’s political history often goes hand-in-hand with…

From classic cars to crumbling buildings, Cuba carries the faded beauty of an old movie. Famous for revolutions, communism and its delicious drinks, country’s political history often goes hand-in-hand with its liquid one. Today we’re making one the island’s classics, the Cuba Libre.

While classic concoctions such as the Daiquiri, the Mojito and El Presidente might require a little more skill (or a good bartender), this week we turn our attention to a much more simple drink: the Cuba Libre. On the face of it, the Cuba Libre is just rum and Coke with a bit of lime. But dig deeper, and it becomes so much more. This is not just a spirit/mixer, this is a cry for freedom.

Cuba Libre Bacardi advert

Free Cuba

The Cuba Libre (which means Free Cuba) became a popular drink on the island following Cuba’s war of independence with Spain in the late 1800s. Before the arrival of Coca-Cola to the island, reports suggest the original Cuba Libre was a mix of honey or molasses with water and rum, or just water and brown sugar.

But by 1900, Coca-Cola was well-established in the country and no doubt a welcome sight for American soldiers still garrisoned there, following the war.

Bacardi, which at that time was still making its rum in its native Cuba, calls the Cuba Libre “part cocktail, part rallying cry”. And original recipes call for Bacardi in the mix.

The rum brand’s archivist Rachel Dorion says that in August 1900, a messenger to Roosevelt’s commander General Leonard Wood, who was later appointed the Military Governor of Cuba, witnessed a new incarnation of the Cuba Libre that used Coca-Cola.

The messenger, Fausto Rodriguez, said that shortly after the war in Cuba, with military intervention still in effect, two Americans opened The American Bar on Neptuno Street in Havana.

The invention of the Cuba Libre

“Rodriguez remembered meeting an American member of the Signal Corps named Russell who ordered Rodriguez a Coca-Cola. He himself ordered his Coca-Cola with Bacardi Gold rum and a wedge of lime,” says Dorion. “The drink became extremely popular among the American soldiers who regularly gathered at the bar.”

The story goes that Russell and his soldier friends decided the cocktail deserved a name. They went for ‘Cuba Libre’, since the phrase ‘Free Cuba!’ was a cry embraced by both Cuban revolutionaries and sympathetic American soldiers.

Rodriguez later affirmed under oath in the State of New York that the event was the first time the phrase Cuba Libre was applied to an alcoholic drink, and that the ingredients were Bacardi Gold rum and Coca-Cola.

Records from the Bacardi archives show that the Cuba Libre cocktail made with Bacardi rum has been mentioned in publications as early as 1928 and in recipe books in the late 1930s. The earliest advertisement that mentions the Cuba Libre cocktail in the Bacardi archive dates back to the 1930s and it reads: “Say ‘make mine with Bacardi’. Try our Bacardi Cuba Libre.”

Cuba Libre advert

Refreshers to lamb chops

In fact, the Cuba Libre has been advertised in several different ways over the years. In a 1946 LIFE magazine ad, the drink was hailed for being refreshing and by 1953, it was all about calorie counting. This ad claims a Cuba Libre has fewer calories than a lamb chop! Good to know, I guess. 

Besides Bacardi, Pernod Ricard’s Havana Club also champions the Cuba Libre. The rum is made in Cuba and in 2018, Havana Club relaunched its Añejo Especial, with a big push for the Cuba Libre cocktail.

“Not to be confused with a basic rum and cola, the authentic Cuba Libre needs a generous squeeze of lime to even out the drink’s sweetness,” says Havana Club.

First taste of ‘freedom’

Balance is always important in a drink. And, as it happens, when you’re standing up on a train.

My first Cuba Libre  – and not just a plain old rum and Coke – was 2009, on board an old Hershey’s Chocolate train that rattled through the sugar cane fields near Havana to Hershey station. US chocolate magnate Milton Hershey had set up business in Cuba in the early part of the 20th century, establishing a railway for the transportation of his sugar.

Anyway, nearly 100 years later, I was on the train in Cuba with Havana Club rum and about 15 bartenders.

It turns out that besides rum, cola and the necessary citrus, you need three other things to make a good Cuba Libre on the back of a rickety old train: pre-cut limes, plastic glasses and a steady hand. Of course, it also helps if you’re surrounded by bartenders.

So, without further ado, here’s how to make it:

Rum and Cola Cuba Libre

How to make a Cuba Libre

50ml Bacardi Carta Oro rum
100ml Coca-Cola
2 lime wedges

Fill a glass with ice, squeeze over the lime and drop the wedges into the glass. Add the rum and cola. Give it a gentle stir and garnish with more lime. Raise a toast to Cuba Libre and maybe one day Cubans will be free!

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Seven sublime Japanese whiskies

Love Japanese whiskies but not sure what to dram to opt for next? Intrigued by the category and want to see what all the fuss is about? Then you’re in…

Love Japanese whiskies but not sure what to dram to opt for next? Intrigued by the category and want to see what all the fuss is about? Then you’re in the right place.

I don’t know about you, but with everything picking up again I’m suddenly shocked by how quickly time is passing. How did we ever have enough hours in the day for all the things we did before? 

All this activity can mean you don’t have a moment to stop and search for what you want, whether it’s clothes, a new football team or even a delicious new dram. But that’s where we come in. If you’re in the market for something Japanese, we’ve given you back some precious time by rounding up some of the finest examples around.

And we know you’re only too aware that there have been some changes in Japanese whisky regulations recently that may have you scratching your head and unsure where to find the real thing. The following seven whiskies all meet the new criteria meaning that they are made in Japan without any imported spirits.

That doesn’t mean that expressions that don’t meet the new legislation aren’t perfectly tasty, however, so it’s still worth checking out the likes of Nikki Days, Mars Maltage Cosmo, Togouchi Premium Blended Japanese Whisky and Hatozaki Blended

Our pick of tasty Japanese whisky

Japanese whiskies

Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

While most distilleries use column (or Coffey) stills to make grain whisky, Nikka does things a little differently and also uses its two Coffey stills to make malt whisky. This gives the spirit a distinctively sweet, delicate and moreish profile. The kind that makes you say things like “just one more dram…” 

What does it taste like? 

Sweet caramel poured overripe fruits, vibrant citrus, homemade biscuits, vanilla and white chocolate.  

Japanese whiskies

The Chita

A gorgeous Japanese single grain whisky from the Chita, one of the fantastic distilleries owned by Suntory. We think you’ll like this if you’re in the mood for a summery sipper that benefits from the light and creamy texture of the grain spirit and the bundle of flavour extracted from a combination of sherry, bourbon and wine casks. It’s proving a real hit with bartenders and whisky lovers alike for good reason.

What does it taste like? 

Honeydew melon, citrus, honeyed cereal, vanilla sponge cake and a touch of orchard blossom.

Japanese whiskies

Tenjaku Whisky 

Tenjaku is the kind of tasty, versatile and affordable blended Japanese whisky that is just begging to be put to good use in a Highball. It’s made with corn and barley, and aged in American white oak bourbon barrels, which has given it a mellow but complex profile with plenty going on so you know those flavours won’t get lost when mixed.

What does it taste like? 

A faint suggestion of smoke with pear blossom, plump sultana, creamy oak spice, tinned pears, banana bread and thick custard. 

Japanese whiskies

Miyagikyo Single Malt 

If you’re in the market for Japanese single malt, then you’re probably looking for something balanced, sophisticated and rich. Which is exactly what he have here. Made with whiskies spanning various ages and primarily matured in ex-sherry casks, this expression from Nikka’s Miyagikyo Distillery is a great example of why the brand rarely disappoints.

What does it taste like? 

Full-bodied and rich with malted barley, banoffee pie, liquorice, ash, fresh tobacco leaves, coconut, stewed apples, damson and baking spice.

Japanese whiskies

Enso Japanese Whisky

A Japanese blended whisky that’s starting to gather a bit of attention, Enso hails from Kiyokawa, within the Kanagawa Prefecture. A pot still whisky matured in American oak, this has enough presence to be enjoyed neat but should also make great cocktails. Plus, it looks really cool, right?

What does it taste like? 

Lemon blossom, toasted oak, fresh apple, cereals, a suggestion of smoke and bright citrus, underpinned by woody vanilla and caramel.

Japanese whiskies

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky

This beauty is made using the two Coffey stills at the Miyagikyo distillery, which came from Scotland to Japan in 1963. This is a seriously impressive single grain whisky with a depth of flavour that’s proved a real hit with the lovely folk who shop here at Master of Malt. Just look at those user reviews!

What does it taste like? 

Bourbon-like vanilla, a herbal hint of chamomile, sweet melon, grapefruit, crunchy biscuits and vibrant corn notes.

Japanese whiskies

Mars Komagatake Single Malt (2020 Edition)

Something for those who really want to indulge themselves, this is a whisky that’s worth its price tag. The 2020 edition of Mars Shinshu’s annual single malt release is a delightfully nutty, buttery affair that’s made at Japan’s Shinshu distillery and drawn from a combination of sherry and American white oak casks before being bottled up at 50% ABV. 

What does it taste like? 

Pear crumble, baking spices, malt biscuits, ripe tropical fruit, berry jam and honeyed cereal with touches of almond butter, chocolate-coated nuts and buttery caramel. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Glen Scotia Campbeltown Festival

There’s no Campbeltown Malts Festival this year but to ease the pain, the good people at Glen Scotia are releasing a special cask strength bottling. Which is nice of them….

There’s no Campbeltown Malts Festival this year but to ease the pain, the good people at Glen Scotia are releasing a special cask strength bottling. Which is nice of them.

Whisky festivals are one the things we miss most about the before times. It really hit home just how serious the pandemic was when we learned that Feis Ile and Campbeltown Malts Festival were to be cancelled last year. Little did we think that they wouldn’t be taking place this year either. But there we go. 

Many have moved online like Campbeltown, Spirit of Speyside, Whisky Live and the Whisky Show. All great fun, a little light in the darkness, but we really miss the hustle and bustle, the human company, sharp elbows and all.

Glen Scotia Campbeltown Malts Festival 2021

Glen Scotia Campbeltown Malts Festival 2021 outside the distillery

Campbeltown goes online, again

Thankfully, things are moving back to normal and hopefully this autumn some festivals will take place in real life, though they are unlikely to be quite as packed as in previous years. While we wait, impatiently, for the world to open up again, we can console ourselves with whiskies like our New Arrival of the Week. The Campbeltown Malts Festival might be online again this year (from 7 June ) but by golly Glen Scotia are going to release a special bottling anyway.

Glen Scotia is much-loved by malt aficionados, but compared with its legendary neighbour Springbank, it’s not so well known. Founded in 1832 by Stewart Galbraith as simply Scotia, the ‘Glen’ came later, it’s a relic of a time when Campbeltown was the whisky capital of the world. Alfred Barnard called the town ‘whisky city.’ In 1887, it had over 28 licensed distilleries producing around 10 million litres of whisky per year. 

Tough times in Campbeltown

Sadly, from this peak, it was all downhill. A combination of world war one, Prohibition, changing tastes and some short-sighted producers selling bad whisky saw demand for Campbeltown malts to plummet. 17 distilleries closed in the 1920s and by 1935 only Scotia and Springbank were operational. 

Scotia only survived by the skin of its teeth. It nearly closed in 1924 when distilleries were shuttering all over Campbeltown but it was saved by Duncan MacCallum, the founder of Ben Nevis distillery. Sadly he was forced to close it in 1928 having lost all his money in a dodgy business deal. Two years later he drowned himself in Campbeltown Loch. His ghost is said to haunt the distillery to this day. Spooky.

In 1930, the distillery was bought by a company called Bloch Bros. which owned Scapa and Glengyle, and the name was changed to Glen Scotia. From there it passed through various hands including Canadian giant Hiram Walker, before becoming part of a company that supplied bulk whiskies, the not terribly glamorous sounding ADP, Amalgamated Distilled Products Ltd. 

Production became erratic: despite having a £1million refurb in 1979, it was shut completely between 1984 and 1989. It then only worked sporadically before returning to full operation in 1999. It’s now part of the Loch Lomond group which is in turn owned by a private equity firm called Exponent. Phew!

Glen Scotia distillery

Glen Scotia distillery, looks a bit like a big townhouse

Glen Scotia today

Today, Glen Scotia produces 100,000 litres annually despite having the capacity to produce 750,000 litres. It’s a handsome distillery, according to the World of Whisky book: “it could easily be mistaken for a Victorian townhouse.” Water comes from two wells below the distillery as well as Crosshill Loch. The set-up includes a traditional cast-iron mash tun, nine stainless steel washbacks and two swan-necked stills. 

It’s past as something of a workhouse distillery is reflected in the variety of whiskies it can produce. There’s a choice of three peating levels, unpeated, medium-peated and heavily-peated malt, and it produces two types of wash, a nutty one with a short fermentation time and a fruity one which is fermented for longer. 

The 2021 Campbeltown Malts Festival release, was distilled using unpeated barley, and initially aged in first-fill bourbon barrels followed by five months in first-fill Medoc wine barrels from Bordeaux. Following that, the whisky was married together in refill bourbon barrels, then bottled at cask strength, 56.1% ABV, with a ten year old age statement.

Iain McAlister, distillery manager and master distiller at Glen Scotia, commented: “The release of our Glen Scotia Festival Limited Edition has become a keenly awaited fixture on our calendar, and I’m very confident that this year’s expression won’t disappoint. The 2021 Campbeltown Malts Festival Limited Edition perfectly encapsulates Glen Scotia’s signature style, taking influence from both its rich history and coastal location, while the deliciously warming flavours from the Bordeaux casks add a unique twist to this exceptional single malt. I’m confident that this expression will sit proudly in any whisky lover’s collection.” He added:  “The Campbeltown Malts Festival is the highlight of our events calendar, and although we are disappointed that the festival can’t go ahead in its physical form as we had hoped, we are really looking forward to celebrating the whiskiest place in the world once again with our fans across the world as they join us online, whilst raising a dram to Campbeltown.”

So, here’s to next year’s whisky festivals! We can’t wait. 

Iain McAlister Glen Scotia.

Master blender Iain McAlister

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Vanilla pod, spiced berry compote, a little drizzle of salted caramel, subtle floral wafts developing later on.

Palate: Bright orange oil zestiness, paired with chocolate malt and a splash of strawberry.

Finish: Hints of cardamom, cinnamon, toasted oak, and earthy vanilla stick around.

Glen Scotia 10 Year Old Campbeltown Malts Festival 2021 is available from Master of Malt while stocks last.

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Cocktail of the Week: El Presidente

This week we’re celebrating a Cuban Prohibition classic, El Presidente; it’s an enigma in rum, vermouth and bitters. But what have the French got to do with it – or…

This week we’re celebrating a Cuban Prohibition classic, El Presidente; it’s an enigma in rum, vermouth and bitters. But what have the French got to do with it – or Christina Aguilera for that matter?

According to the BBC, the top five most popular lockdown 1.0 buys were Tequila, gym equipment, makeup, luxury bedding and elastic. I’m guilty of four of those items, but I eschewed elastic for something slightly more, as I like to tell myself, educational – MasterClass!

Yep, those Instagram ads finally paid off. No sooner had the well-worn security code of my debit card been tapped in (muscle memory is a wonderful thing), I had some of the best minds in the country teaching me their crafts. My favourite writer David Sedaris on storytelling and humour, Dr Jane Goodall on conservation, and, um, Christina Aguilera on singing.

But perhaps the most natural fit was award-winning bar duo Ryan Chetiyawardana (aka Mr Lyan) and Lynnette Marrero on mixology. And it was through watching the soothing videos of the two making their staple cocktails that I rediscovered the Cuban classic El Presidente – and its rich, nuanced and nostalgia-laden history. 


It’s Presidente Menocal, but was El Presidente named after him?

Found and lost

It all started where most good things did – during Prohibition (or so some say) and in Havana. One story goes that it was first created to mark President Mario Menocal coming to power; he was in office from 1913-1921. The drink combined amber rum, vermouth and Angostura bitters. 

Yet according to Esquire cocktail editor David Wondrich, it was really the creation of American bartender Eddie Woelke in the mid 1920s, during his tenure at Havana’s Jockey Club and in honour of President Gerardo Machado (in office from 1925-1933).

However it was invented, the combination of white rum, Chambery vermouth (more on that later), orange Curaçao, grenadine and a garnish of orange peel, became the drink of Cuba’s upper echelons. “It is the aristocrat of cocktail and is the one preferred by the better class of Cuban,” wrote Basil Woon in his 1928 book When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba (feel free to grab yourself a copy for £3,000).

It was also enjoyed by visiting booze-deprived Americans. Though apparently, US President Calvin Coolidge declined an El Presidente from el presidente Machado for fear of drinking during Prohibition and being cancelled. Post-prohibition, Pan Am served a version of it called the Clipper Cocktail made with gold rum, vermouth and grenadine. But by this stage, El Presidente itself was going out of fashion and stopped being ordered by the beautiful people.

New discoveries

It’s fall from grace may have had something to do with vermouth. As Wondrich points out, when bartenders started making the cocktail, most bars would have been stocking French dry vermouth – but the original recipe calls for a Chambery Blanc. This is, in fact, a sweeter style of vermouth – more specifically Dolin Blanc which was created in France in 1821. This seemingly small change is where the El Presidente can win or fail, and many a drinks lover and expert has been undone by it. Making one at home? Make sure it’s Dolin Blanc not Dry.

When it comes to the Curaçao, dear lord make sure it’s orange and not blue. And the choice of rum is important too. The 1915 tome Manual del Cantinero by John Escalentecalls for a light rum and while white expressions are the classic choice, bartenders aren’t shy of veering towards those with a light amber hue.

el Presidente

El Presidente, Distill & Fill style

Bitters and twists

As for bitters, here bartenders can really get creative. Rum-specialist London bar Trailer Happiness has its El Presidente on home delivery site The Drinks Drop. It combines Santiago de Cuba 11 Year Old, Lillet Blanc, strawberry liqueur, falernum, passionfruit, with Supasawa and Angostura bitters.

Meanwhile in Wales, 2021-born drinks company Distill & Fill run by Jenny Griffiths and Philip David has just unleashed The Presidential Suite on its website. This version mixes Plantation Isle of Fiji, Sacred English Spiced Vermouth, Monin Acerola Syrup, with a touch of both Ferdinand’s Vineyard Peach and Peychaud’s Bitters.

So what are you waiting for? Surely, our own pre-Roaring Twenties, post-lockdown world is the perfect time for an El Presidente revival. In the words of Christina’s What a Girl Wants: ‘It’s for keeps, yeah, it’s for sure’. Now that’s philosophy.

How to make an El Presidente

45ml Plantation 3 stars white rum (or any light rum)
22ml Dolin Blanc
22ml orange Curacao
1 dash grenadine
Orange peel twist

Chill a coupe or Martini glass. Fill a mixing glass with ice cubes. Add white rum, Dolin Blanc, Curacao and grenadine and stir with a bar spoon. Strain  into your chilled cocktail glass and garnish with an orange peel.

Recipe from Ryan Chetiyawardana and Lynette Marrero on MasterClass.

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Top ten: Independent spirits brands

Today, we’re striking a blow for independence with ten delicious bottlings from brands that aren’t part of big drinks companies. So, from a Maryland-style rye whiskey to single estate vodka,…

Today, we’re striking a blow for independence with ten delicious bottlings from brands that aren’t part of big drinks companies. So, from a Maryland-style rye whiskey to single estate vodka, here are some of the best independent spirits brands out there.

Most big booze brands are owned by huge multinational companies like Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Not that that’s a bad thing. We love Johnnie Walker Black Label and Beefeater, distilled by Desmond Payne in south London, is one of our go-to gins. But without a thriving independent scene, our drinks cabinet would be a lot less exciting. 

Happily, thanks to some pioneering distilleries such as Sipsmith, now part of Beam Suntory, there are now countless new brands turning out high quality, delicious and idiosyncratic boozes for all your drinking pleasure. From pungent mezcal to world-spanning Japanese blends, here are ten of the best independent spirits brands money can buy.


Sagamore Spirit Signature Rye

Much of the explosion in whiskey labels comes from independent bottlers who buy and blend spirits to create something a bit different. This is one case in point being a Maryland-style of rye which is sweeter than normal. It’s blended from two whiskeys sourced from Indiana, brought down to bottling strength with limestone-filtered water from Sagamore Farm.

How do I drink it?

Those sweet milky coffee and pistachio ice cream flavours are just crying out for an Old Fashioned


Portobello Road No. 171 Gin

Portobello Road Gin is distilled on the actual Portobello Road in west London. It was founded by top bartender Jake Burger and Paul Lane in 2011. Alongside the distillery, the building called, naturally, The Distillery, houses two bars, a hotel and the Ginstitute where you can learn to make your own gin. Or if that sounds like too much work you could just buy this bottle.

How do I drink it?

With its elegant traditional flavours, this is great in all manner of ginny cocktails like the summery Gin Cup.


Hatozaki Blended Whisky

If you’re a whisky fan, you probably read the recent news about the changing legislation for Japanese whisky which now excludes certain big names from the category. One company that has always been open about using imported spirits in its blends is Hatozaki. This mixes Japanese and imported whiskies and is aged in a mixture of sherry, bourbon and mizunara oak.

How do I drink it?

With those sweet flavours of honey, stone fruit and nutty cereals, this is a great one to put in a Whisky Highball with soda water and plenty of ice.


Casa Noble Blanco

The Casa Noble range of 100% agave Tequilas have proved quite a hit with Master of Malt customers. Agave spirits are a huge growth area as drinkers move away from the lime and salt image of yesteryear to bottles that major on flavour.  This is packed full of earthy, roasted agave notes on the nose and palate.

How do I drink it?

We’re very partial to a Sweet Orange Margarita which involves making the standard version but adding an extra part of fresh orange juice and serving it on the rocks with a splash of soda water.


New Riff Straight Bourbon

Those who like a spicier style of bourbon will love this. It’s distilled by New Riff distillery of Kentucky with a mash bill of 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley. Then it’s aged in toasted and charred new oak barrels before bottling at a useful 50% ABV to accentuate all those big spicy flavours.

How do I drink it?

High rye strength bourbons like this one are perfect in a Manhattan. And may we recommend the Hotel Starlino vermouth rosso which is aged in bourbon casks?


East London Liquor Co. Louder Gin

The East London Liquor Co. (ELLC) is one of our favourite small distillers. Founded in Bow in 2015, it produces a big range of spirits including gin, vodka and whisky, as well as rums imported from the Caribbean. As you might guess from the name, this gin packs a flavour punch with oily juniper bolstered by lavender, fennel, lemon peel and more.

How do I drink it?

Some gins get lost in the flavour soup that is the Negroni but Louder can make itself heard above the noise of Campari and vermouth.


QuiQuiRiQui Tobalá Mezcal

Ok, so the name is a bit of a challenge. Apparently, it’s what Mexican cockerells say instead of ‘cock-a-doodle-do.’ But it’s worth getting past the pronunciation to enjoy this delicious mezcal. It’s produced from wild Tobalá aged between 10 and 15 years of age in strictly limited quantities to ensure sustainability. 

How to drink it?

With it’s complex flavours of coconut, tangy pineapple, mint and butter, we think it’s best just sipped neat. But it’s also fabulous in place of gin in a Negroni.


Merlet Crème de Mure

Every drinks cabinet should have a bottle of this in it. It’s made by Merlet in France from fresh blackberries steeped in neutral alcohol and sweetened.  This firm produces a great range of fruit liqueurs like creme de cassis, poire William and apricot brandy all made in the traditional way from fresh fruit. 

How do I drink it?

Well, the classic cocktail for Creme Merlet Crème de Mure is the Bramble but it’s also great in place of cassis in a Kir Royale. 


Ramsbury Vodka

We were so impressed with Ramsbury when we visited a couple of years back. It’s a distillery and brewery set in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside that only uses grains from the surrounding Ramsbury Estate. Each bottle tells you the provenance and variety of the wheat used and the quality really shows when you taste this creamy spicy vodka. 

How do I drink it?

This makes the best Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, we’ve ever had. Serving it ice cold brings out that gorgeous creamy texture. 


Colonel Fox’s London Dry Gin

This is named after a war hero called Lieutenant Colonel Fox. Apparently, it’s based on his 1859 recipe that was recently rediscovered. We tend to roll our eyes a bit when we hear stories like this. There are a lot of them in the gin world. But there’s now denying the quality of this gin. That old Fox knew what he was doing.

How do I drink it?

People who like gin with plenty of flavour will lap this up. We think it’s perfect in a G&T but it’s a great all rounder, especially as it’s very reasonably priced.

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New Arrival of the Week: Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2021 release

Here’s a much anticipated new whisky: it’s the 2021 release of Kilchoman Loch Gorm, a heavily-sherried single malt from the cult Islay distillery. It’s not going to hang around. Kilchoman…

Here’s a much anticipated new whisky: it’s the 2021 release of Kilchoman Loch Gorm, a heavily-sherried single malt from the cult Islay distillery. It’s not going to hang around.

Kilchoman is such a fixture on Islay’s whisky scene that it’s easy to forget how new it is. It was the island’s first new distillery for 120 years when it opened in 2005 with its first release back in 2009. It’s since been joined by Hunter Laing’s Ardnahoe in 2019 and Sukhinder Singh (for it is he) from Speciality Drinks submitted plans for a 10th distillery last year.

The Nightcap

The new shiny Kilchoman stills

Grain-to-glass distillery

From the beginning, Kilchoman’s owners, the Wills family, wanted to do things a bit differently using barley grown on the island and malted in their own floor maltings. Just how things used to be done. None of this would matter were the bottlings not up to scratch, but right from the first releases, whisky lovers have praised Kilchoman’s elegant, light-peated style. 

Kilchoman has proved so popular, that the distillery began plans for expansion in 2018. It involved building an entirely new still house with identical equipment to the current one, doubling capacity to 480,000 litres of pure alcohol annually. This opened in 2020 along with a new visitor centre. We were meant to visit for the grand opening but as often happens on Islay, the weather intervened and flights and ferries were cancelled. Still, we have been reliably informed that it’s all working splendidly, and will once again be open to the public on 17 May.

Sherry cask release

There are now a range of expressions from the popular Machir Bay, made from bought-in barley to the 100% Islay, made using only island-grown barley malted in-house. The distillery generally uses ex-bourbon casks but one of the most-anticipated releases is the limited edition sherry casks release called Loch Gorm, named after the freshwater loch by the distillery. And now the 2021 version is here!

It’s a vatting of 24 Oloroso sherry casks filled in 2011 and 2012. These aren’t just any casks, but 500 litre European oak butts from Bodega Miguel Martin in Jerez. They were seasoned with Oloroso sherry before being filled with 50ppm peated Kilchoman new make. After a minimum nine years ageing, they were vatted together and bottled at 46% ABV.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm

Kilchoman Loch Gorm on Loch Gorm

Anthony Wills comments

Founder and master distiller Anthony Wills explained why it’s a little bit different: “Although we have always filled the bulk of our spirit into ex-bourbon barrels, the Loch Gorm releases have shown how well our peated Islay spirit can combine with sherry casks, something that’s not always an easy task.” He went on to describe the taste: “Rich bold flavours with a breadth, depth and balance of character that sets it apart, the 2021 edition is packed with juicy fruit, macerated lemon and sweet chargrilled BBQ smoke.”

Sounds pretty tasty, doesn’t it? Only 17,000 bottles and we’ve managed to get hold of a few. It’s strictly limited edition, so once they’re gone, they’re gone and we will be Loch Gormless.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2021 release is available from Master of Malt. While stocks last.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Smoky clove and a hint of cumin, balanced by sultana and prune, plus a touch of roasted almond.

Palate: Enjoyably chocolatey at first, though soon enough the dry, earthy smoke builds and comes to the fore.

Finish: Cherry, roast chestnuts, a smidge of medicinal peat.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Gin Cup

Today’s cocktail is a summer time classic, yes it’s coming soon, we hope, made with Whitley Neill Aloe & Cucumber Gin. It’s the Gin Cup! Honestly, this weather is playing…

Today’s cocktail is a summer time classic, yes it’s coming soon, we hope, made with Whitley Neill Aloe & Cucumber Gin. It’s the Gin Cup!

Honestly, this weather is playing havoc with our cocktail scheduling. Last week we were sitting out in the garden. The flowers were in bloom, the trees were budding, and the mint was growing back nicely so I thought I’d do a summery cocktail for early April. And then yesterday it was snowing. How can you plan for that drinks wise?

Introducing the Gin Cup

The simple answer is you can’t, so I’m going ahead with this summery classic as planned. It’s called the Gin Cup and it’s a great warm weather refresher. Or fireside sipper, depending on what’s going on outside. With the combination of booze, ice and mint, it’s not dissimilar to a Mint Julep or a Mojito.

It’s one of those cocktails so simple, that it doesn’t even have an origin story. There was no Captain T. Bartholomew Cup Jnr who had it made at a club in Baltimore after a hard day’s railroad baronning. More’s the pity. 

Gin cup

Gin cup, a cocktail for all seasons

Get creative

The Gin Cup is built for customisation. Treat the recipe below as a starting point, then play around to create your own version. You can add a dash of Angostura or fruit bitters, a liqueur like Cointreau or something like Chambord to take it into Bramble territory, or go mad on the fruit to make a lighter alternative to Pimm’s. But really where this cocktail comes into its own is with flavoured gins.

Now, we know that flavoured gins, ie. gins that have flavour, and often colour and sugar added post-distillation can divide gin lovers (see this article for the full debate). For some they are nectar of the gods, for others a straying from the path of junipery righteousness. As you might expect from a drinks retailer, we’re more ecumenical. If it works, we have no problem with it. Though it would sometimes be helpful if there was some indication of sweetness levels on the bottle. We’re looking at you Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla

Whitley Neill – flavoured gin pioneers

One that’s going to appeal to both camps is Whitley Neill’s Aloe and Cucumber. It is a flavoured gin but it’s still juniper-led and dry, so it does all the things a standard London Dry can but with added refreshment from the aloe and cucmber.

Whitley Neill was one of the pioneers of flavoured gins. Founder Johnny Neill told us in an interview last year that he started experimenting with flavours and it just took off from there: “We were led by how well-received the first couple of flavours were, they just went crazy. The whole thing just blossomed and ballooned. We were drawing people that hadn’t really enjoyed traditional dry gins before as well and helping to grow a category. So it was partly us and partly the consumers enjoying the flavour profiles.” They do a huge range from Quince to Blood Orange.

Johnny Neill

Johnny Neill, gin is in his blood

Gin is in the blood

Neill comes from a great gin family: “My father worked as the director for Greenall Whitley, based in Warrington, which at the time was the largest independent brewer in the UK and also owned Greenall’s Gin. His uncle, JD Whitley, was the chairman of the group and my father’s grandfather, or my great-grandfather was a chap called John James Whitley, or JJ Whitley, he was managing director of the company for about 40 years. It goes all the way back to 1762 when Thomas Greenall founded the company. So I’ve got eight generations behind me and I started tasting gin early and always loved it.”

Following a career in accountancy and finance. He took up the family legacy with the foundation of Whitley Neill in 2005. Since then, he’s gone on to create other brands like Marylebone London Dry Gin and Berkshire Botanical gin as part of the Halewood spirits family.

Any of those gin would be delicious in an infinitely adaptable cocktail like the Gin Cup. If you’re using a sweeter flavoured gin, then adjust the sugar levels accordingly. 

Right, without further ado….

Here’s how to make a Gin Cup:

90ml Whitley Neill Aloe and Cucumber Gin
30ml freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar syrup (or more to taste)
4 sprigs of fresh mint

Put three sprigs of mint and sugar syrup in a rocks glass and muddle together. Fill the glass with cracked ice, add the lemon juice and gin, and stir until a frost forms on the outside of the glass. Taste and add more sugar syrup if needed. Garnish with a final sprig of mint, a slice of lemon and cucumber.

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New Arrival of the Week: FEW Immortal Rye

Just landed at MoM Towers, a new expression from Illinois’s finest, FEW Spirits. Called FEW Immortal Rye, it combines whiskey with tea. To learn more, we talk to founder and…

Just landed at MoM Towers, a new expression from Illinois’s finest, FEW Spirits. Called FEW Immortal Rye, it combines whiskey with tea. To learn more, we talk to founder and distiller Paul Hletko.

Whiskey lovers are getting increasingly adventurous in their tastes. A few years ago, the idea of whiskey blended with tea might have raised a few eyebrows but nowadays drinkers are receptive to innovative combinations. As long, of course, that they taste good. 

We few, we happy few

We’re pretty confident that the team at FEW Spirits know what they’re doing. The distillery was founded in 2011 by Paul Hletko. His family were originally from the country now known as Czechia and owned a brewery before the second world war so the drinks business runs in his veins.

According to the website, FEW was inspired by “the golden age of pre-prohibition whiskey.” The name is a little in-joke as it’s the initials of Frances Elizabeth Willard, one of the architects of prohibition. Proudly based in Evanston not far from Chicago, the labels bear images of the city’s 1893 World Fair. 

FEW Spirits produces gin as well as different types of whiskey including rye and bourbon. It’s a grain-to-glass operation meaning that Hletko produces his own neutral grain alcohol to rectify into gin. This is something that very few gin distilleries do. The equipment consists of a German hybrid pot/ column still which is used to make high ABV spirit for gin production and lower ABV for whiskey plus a separate still for distilling the botanicals into gin. 

Completing the picture is the famous distillery dog called, confusingly, chicken.

Stills at FEW Spirits in Illinois

The still set-up at FEW Spirts in Illinois

More tea, vicar?

The base of this week’s New Arrival is FEW’s punchy rye made with 70% rye with 20% corn and 10% malted barley. Hletko takes the cask strength spirit and then reduces it to 46.5% ABV by adding tea.

We asked him where this idea came from: “The idea started with playing with coffee (rather than tea) and we tried coffee a couple different ways, and liked them,” he said “but we LOVED the results when we just cut barrel strength bourbon to bottle strength with cold brew coffee.  That is now our Cold Cut Bourbon and that ended up winning the Best Flavoured Whiskey in the World award from the World Whiskies Awards. We continued thinking and playing with other liquids in the same way, and played with several different teas, and extraction techniques.”

You’ll be pleased to hear that getting the tea flavour into whiskey doesn’t involve any tea bags. Instead they use a fancy variety of Chinese oolong tea called 8 Immortals. He explained how the process worked: “We cold-extract the 8 Immortals tea. It allows us to use a much slower steep than a hot extraction, and we get to focus the resulting flavors on the sweet and fruity flavors of the tea itself. We still do get some tannic notes as well, which is nice, but the cold extraction keeps some of those tannins balanced with the tannic effect of the wood on the whiskey.”

The end result is a spicy rye whiskey charged with flavours of dried orange peel, poached pear, cardamom, cloves, and aromatic cedar with a nutty finish. It’s delicious sipped neat over ice or in an Old Fashioned. He also recommends drinking it in a Highball with a dash of cherry juice. 

Few Immortal Rye

Few Immortal Rye is great in a Highball

10 years of delicious spirits

Last year was all about weathering the Covid storm, and it sounds like FEW has been lucky in this regard. “None of our team members have been sick, none of their family members, seriously sick. I think we’re pretty lucky,” he said, “Business wise, we are doing great and are continuing to grow. But I’m especially excited that we are all healthy.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the distillery and they have big plans. We’re excited about a couple of bottles that we expect to release over the next year or two, including a 10 year anniversary release,”he said, “as well as a rock band collaboration that is super fun.”

Sounds super fun, indeed. We can’t wait to hear more.

FEW Immortal Rye is available from Master of Malt.

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Cocktail of the Week: El Diablo

Today we’re making a devilishly refreshing long drink with Maestro Dobel Diamante Tequila, cassis and ginger beer. It could only be El Diablo! What do you drink with Mexican food?…

Today we’re making a devilishly refreshing long drink with Maestro Dobel Diamante Tequila, cassis and ginger beer. It could only be El Diablo!

What do you drink with Mexican food? I was pondering this over the weekend when my wife was preparing some of her favourite dishes. They included carnitas (slow-cooked spicy pork), blacks beans, homemade corn tortillas, hot salsa, and her secret recipe guacamole (it has mango in it!). And there were only three people eating. Reader, I made a bit of a pig of myself.

Refreshing and full of flavour

The traditional accompaniment to such feasts is either local beer or a Margarita. Both are good in their way but they also have significant drawbacks. The big name Mexican lagers like Corona or Sol aren’t exactly burdened with flavour. They are certainly refreshing, but then so is water. If it’s available, I’ll have a Negra Modelo, a rich malty German style Mexican lager but sadly it’s not that widely distributed. 

Margaritas are delicious, of course, but they are strong and on a hot day with spicy food, slip down just a little too easily. So you want something that’s as refreshing as beer but as delicious as a Margarita. 

After a bit of a fiddle I came up with what I call the Blood Orange Margarita. It involves adding one part blood orange juice to the two parts Tequila, one part triple sec and one part lime juice. Then serving the whole thing on the rocks with a generous splash of soda water. Very nice.

Introducing El Diablo

Another great long drink with Tequila is El Diablo. It blends Tequila with ginger beer and some sort of fruity syrup or liqueur. The drink was probably created by the godfather of Tiki, Victor Jules Bergeron Jr, aka Trader Vic. There’s a recipe for something very similar called the Mexican El Diablo in Trader Vic’s Bartender’s Guide (1946). 

His version calls for gold Tequila but you could fancy it up with a wood-aged Tequila like a reposado (two months ageing) or an añejo (at least a year in barrel), or you could go a bit wild by using mezcal with its distinctive smoky aroma. 

I’m using the absolutely delicious Maestro Dobel Tequila. It’s made from 100% blue weber agave and oak-aged before being filtered to remove the colour. It’s about the smoothest thing on the planet. But smooth doesn’t mean bland. In fact, it’s just delicious sipped on the rocks with a piece of orange. 

There’s quite a few Mexican brands who claim to have invented this style, made in a similar way to Bacardi and other white rums. I’m not going to wade in there only to say that this is superb. The brand is owned by the Beckmann family who also own Jose Cuervo, but Maestro Dobel is independent. 

El Diablo

El Diablo, photo taken from Tristan Stephenson’s new book The Curious Bartender: Cocktails at Home

Different recipes

In my Cocktail Dictionary (still available from all good bookshops, people) I used grenadine to make an El Diablo. And very nice it was too but Trader Vic’s recipe uses creme de cassis as does Tristan Stephenson whose forthcoming book on home cocktailing is proving quite a hit in our household. The recipe below is based on his. 

He writes: “El Diablo is a long refreshing cocktail that plays off two of Tequila’s boldest tasting notes: earthy piquancy and zingy fruit… El Diablo is one of those drinks that makes you salivate just thinking about it.” Too right.

Instead of cassis, you could use Chambord, creme de mure or even sloe gin for an Anglo-Mexican mash-up. If you like it a bit punchier, I’d highly recommend adding a spoonful of mezcal on the top. Oh and for the full diabolical effect, put two wedges of lime in the top to make the horns of the devil.

Right, without further ado…

Here’s how to make El Diablo

30ml Maestro Dobel Diamante Tequila
15ml White Heron Creme de Cassis
Juice of half a lime
Chilled ginger beer

Squeeze the lime into the bottom of an ice-filled Highball glass and drop it in. Add the Tequila and creme de cassis. Stir and top up with ginger beer. Stir again briefly and garnish with two slices of lime.

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Top ten: Blended Scotch whiskies under £30

Blends are the backbone of the Scotch whisky industry but they don’t always get the love they deserve. So we decided to put together this list of some of our…

Blends are the backbone of the Scotch whisky industry but they don’t always get the love they deserve. So we decided to put together this list of some of our favourite bargain bottles of blended Scotch whisky. There’s something here for all palates.

While some whisky fans will always argue single malts are superior, we’re firm in the belief that you should never underestimate blended Scotch whisky. It’s the category that brought Scotch to the world and today they are still the best selling of all whisky. These marriages of malt and grain whisky continue to fill back bars and liquor cabinets, being celebrated for their ability to taste great neat or in cocktails and mixed drinks.

That’s why we’ve put together this selection of some of the finest blended Scotch whiskies. This isn’t simply a list of the ten biggest names, because we want to give some love to a couple of overlooked or underloved expressions. The fact we’ve had to omit a couple of big names really speaks to what an amazing category this is. Slainte!

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old 

We start with one of the world’s most famous blends. Dating back to 1909, Black Label is one of those bottles that everyone loves: bartenders, consumers, whisky writers. We can all unite and agree that this blend of around 40 whiskies with a distinctive mellow smoky note is deserving of a place in any good drinks collection.

What does it taste like? 

Rich and full with notes of wood smoke, winter spice, sultanas, treacle, hints of white pepper and a little citrus.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Ballantine’s Finest

Another absolute classic. Ballantine’s will tell you that it’s Europe no.1 Scotch whisky and that its recipe has stayed true to the original since 1910. And we’ll tell you that it’s a good thing it did. We love playing around with this blend and its elegant, subtle and sweet profile. Soda water. Cola. Whatever you’re pairing with this beauty, it’s hard to go wrong.

What does it taste like? 

Rich and sweet with crisp barley sugars, toffee, apples, very gentle peat, heather, honey and some floral notes.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Green Isle 

If you’re an Islay whisky fan and are on the lookout for something with a little more smoke and sea, we’ve got just the thing. From the makers of The Character of Islay Whisky Company, Green Isle is a blend with a core of Islay malt alongside some complementary Speyside malt and Lowland grain whiskies. This is an approachable blend that mixes tremendously and would serve as a great introduction to those who would like to explore the smoker side of Scotch.

What does it taste like? 

Softly toasted barley, warming oak, honey glazed apples and cut grass. Then, vanilla pod earthiness, coastal peat, pear drops, dry smoke, buttery biscuits and crushed peppercorns.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Compass Box Great King Street – Artist’s Blend 

Compass Box rarely gets its wrong and the distinctive brand was certainly on the money when it put together this blend. A tribute to the golden age of blends in the 19th century, Great King Street draws on archive recipes while utilising its own cask maturation techniques to create this delightful dram. It has a high single malt content from distilleries including Linkwood and Clynelish as well as a portion of grain whisky from Cameronbridge. And it tastes smashing. Makes a great Penicillin when combined with Peat Monster too… 

What does it taste like?

Sweet, rich and creamy, with lots of cereal notes, vanilla, dried fruits, Christmas spices, lemon, Bakewell tart, rose petals, citrus and buttery apple crumble.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Dewar’s 12 Year Old – The Ancestor

Master blender Alexander Cameron was responsible for Dewar’s first blended whisky in 1903. He was something of a pioneer in the trade, allowing malt and grain spirits to rest for a few months before blending them together. This practice is continued today with The Ancestor, which is essentially a successor to Dewar’s classic ‘Double Aged 12 Year Old’. The name refers to the additional six-month marriage the whisky enjoys in oak after the initial maturation and blending. Dewar’s co-founder Tommy Dewar once said “The only thing you can get in a hurry is trouble!”… and it’s good to see the brand still heeding his advice.

What does it taste like?

Juicy fruit and thick, creamy malt leads. There’s also floral and sweet notes of toasted almond and honey as well as some aniseed spiciness.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Adelphi Blended Scotch Whisky

As an outstanding independent bottler, Adelphi is already adept at taking the best of Scotland and moulding it into something new. It’s a skill that clearly came in handy when making its own blend. It’s made with whisky from its private stock which is kept in a solera system. We don’t quite know the exact composition. But, tasting this blend we think you can detect whiskies from Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown. And they’re all delicious.

What does it taste like?

A pleasing fusion of salty peat, estery fruitiness and rich nuttiness.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Label 5 Classic Black

Label 5 is known for its tremendous value, its core of fruity Speyside malts and for being the creation of a Frenchman, Jean Cayard. He established La Martiniquaise in 1934 and in 1969 turned his hand to Scotch whisky. In 2008 the company bought Glen Moray, who supplies a major component of the blend. Today, it’s mainly sold in France, where it shifts bottles like hotcakes to make it one of the world’s best-selling whiskies. And we think it’s worth you checking out what all the fuss is about.

What does it taste like?

Rather sweet with vanilla, sticky toffee pudding, apples and brown sugar. There’s also hints of ginger and cinnamon as well as a subtle grassy note.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Blended Scotch Whisky

There once was a ship that put to sea and the name of the ship was the Cutty Sark. The famed 19th-century tea clipper was the inspiration behind this Berry Bros & Rudd. brand, whose classic blend of twenty or so single malt and grain whiskies, most of which are from Speyside, is a firm favourite for many. The Prohibition Edition, however, is a higher strength expression (upped from 40% to 50% ABV) made as a tip of the hat to another nautical legend, Prohibition-era rum-runner Captain William McCoy. Its intriguing story and full-bodied, complex profile mean it stands out from a busy crowd while still being an absolute bargain.

What does it taste like? 

There’s custard notes paired with citrus, pear and fudge cubes, dark chocolate and golden malt. As well as a touch of grassy malt and crushed nuts.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Peg Whisky Blended Scotch Whisky

A wholly overlooked beauty of a blend, more people should know about this expression. An approachable, affordable expression made with malt and grains, Peg Whisky Blended Scotch Whisky can be enjoyed neat and in cocktails and mixed drinks. And if you don’t believe us, just check out those user reviews. 5 star city.

What does it taste like?

Toffee pennies, citrus peels, apricots, peanut brittle, buttered bread, honeycomb, black pepper and a generous helping of malt.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Hankey Bannister Heritage Blend

A swanky Hankey will always win us over. The brand is so good at making expert blends that pack a pretty punch in the bottle, but not in the wallet. And while we adore the original, we also love the story behind this one. Upon uncovering a rare 1920s bottle, the brand tried to recreate a piece of whisky history. Using the original as a starting point, older and peated malts were then added to match the older flavour profile. It tastes great and is a fascinating window into what Hankey Bannister was like a century ago.

What does it taste like? 

Fresh, fruity and delicately smoky with honeydew melon, ripe grapes, campfire smoke, apple peel, honey and raisins.

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