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Master of Malt Blog

Cocktail of the Week: The Piña Fumada

Take it from us, The Piña Fumada is the smoky summer tipple you didn’t know you needed. We chat with Thea Cumming, co-founder of London Mezcal Week, which returns for a…

Take it from us, The Piña Fumada is the smoky summer tipple you didn’t know you needed. We chat with Thea Cumming, co-founder of London Mezcal Week, which returns for a third year this week with one of the largest collections of agave spirits in Europe…

London Mezcal Week was set up by – and they won’t mind us saying this – two of the UK’s most dedicated and knowledgeable mezcal enthusiasts, Thea Cumming and Melanie Symonds. Their aim? To support and celebrate agave spirits across the board, working with traditional producers to bring authentic brands and industry experts to the capital.

Spanning an impressive line-up of supper clubs, bar takeovers, seminars, tastings and cocktail masterclasses, this year’s London Mezcal Week will culminate in a two-day Mezcal Tasting Festival this Friday and Saturday, featuring more than 60 agave spirits – including mezcal, Tequila, sotol, bacanora and raicilla – across 35-plus brands.

TT Liquor in London

TT Liquor in London

The mezcal category has transformed since Cumming and Symonds launched the event. Never-before-seen mezcal styles are being introduced the UK all the time – including Cumming’s own brand, Dangerous Don, which sees mezcal infused with coffee and redistilled – and new trends are unfolding, too. “There are certainly more interesting blended agave spirits,” says Cumming, who points to Pensador, a blend of madre-cuishe and espadin agave.

“There has also been a bit of a change in perception which has meant that more people are willing to try mezcal,” she continues. “However, this doesn’t come without its own challenges – we need to make sure that [bar operators] look into the brand ethos and background and ask the right questions rather than go for the cheapest option.”

Our drink of choice to toast London Mezcal Week is none other than The Piña Fumada, which combines mezcal, pineapple, lemon, velvet falernum and grapefruit and rosemary tonic water to form a lip-smacking summer sipper. The cocktail was created by TT Liquor in collaboration with Andrea Brulatti, UK brand ambassador for London Essence, for a masterclass led by none other than Santiago Lastra.

Through a series of paired small plates, the man behind the launch of Noma Mexico and forthcoming restaurant Kol sought to celebrate the relationship between Mexican cooking and mezcal: think Scottish scallops ceviche with pink mole, cured lamb leg tostada with kombucha and guajillo mayo.

The Piña Fumada

The Piña Fumada is all its smoky glory

“Mexican cuisine is all about powerful flavours and amazing ingredients,” Cumming explains. “Mexico is graced with immense biodiversity meaning the food is even more immense in flavour and variety.” As such, the same is true for mezcal production. “Terroir is a major influence in the taste of a mezcal,” Cumming continues. “Techniques vary from state to state and each mezcalero has his own secrets which have been passed down through generations. The relationship between mezcal and food is rooted in the earth – the very heart of what makes Mexico such a magical country.”

There are more than 50 different varieties of agave that can be used to produce mezcal. The flavour is further shaped by the region within which the plant grows, the altitude it grows at, and the conditions of the specific year it starts growing, says Cumming.

“Production techniques will vary, natural yeasts will be different from one area to another and of course the master mezcalero will each have a different hand,” she says. “This means the versatility of mezcal is limitless. Each one tastes so different, which means it needs to be treated in a totally different way

An exhilarating prospect for the capital’s bartenders, who have been busy experimenting with the spirit in all manner of serves, from classics to new creations. Which brings us rather nicely to The Pina Fumada, a twist on the Colada that comes highly recommended by those in the know. The flavours are “a match made in heaven”, says Cummings, “I would highly recommend everyone to give it a go”. Here’s what you’ll need…

Ingredients:

30ml QuiQuiRiQui Matatlan Mezcal
15ml Taylor’s Velvet Falernum
15ml lemon juice
35ml pineapple juice
London Essence Grapefruit and Rosemary tonic water to top

Shake first four ingredients hard and strain into an ice-filled highball. Top with London Essence Grapefruit and Rosemary tonic water, and garnish with a pineapple spear.

Keen to get involved in the festivities this week? You’re in luck – Cumming has very kindly created a 10% discount code for all MoM readers. All you need to do is enter ‘MOMLOVESMEZCAL’ when purchasing a ticket. Click here for a taste of the action (and a run-down of the weeks’ events)…

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Five minutes with agave guru Björn Kjellberg 

It’s London Mezcal Week, so today we have an agave double bill. First an interview with Björn Kjellberg, a Swede who fell in love with agave and now runs distillery…

It’s London Mezcal Week, so today we have an agave double bill. First an interview with Björn Kjellberg, a Swede who fell in love with agave and now runs distillery tours of Mexico. Then this afternoon, we’ll be mixing up some mezcal for our Cocktail of the Week.

You can’t miss Björn Kjellberg. He’s a tall pale Swede with a shaved head and Mexican-style tattoos all over his body. We met him back in May at the EBS conference held at a villa up in the hills above Sitges in Catalonia. This is the annual gathering of teachers from all the European Bartenders Schools around the world. It’s a bit like Highlander, only with cocktails. As you might expect, when nearly 100 bartenders mostly under 30 meet in a town famous for its nightlife, there were some late nights involved. But the EBS crew were as into learning as partying, and despite some bleary eyes, everyone listened intently as big names from the drinks industry like John Quinn from Tullamore Dew and Ludo Ducrocq, formerly with William Grant & Sons, now with Glenmorangie, gave presentations. Even among such drinks luminaries, Kjellberg’s talk on agave was a highlight of our visit. He’s so immersed in mezcal (not literally of course, that would be dangerous) and Mexican culture that his typically excellent Swedish English sometimes came out with a Spanish inflexion. So who better to explain all things agave during London Mezcal Week.  

Kjellberg in Mexico, note traditional fire pit for cooking agave in the background

Master of Malt: How did you get involved with EBS?

Björn Kjellberg: I started working as a bartender at the nightclub back in January 2002. And it just kept rolling. I started a bartending school with a friend in 2006 and ran that for about seven years. Today I spent most of time looking after the Tequila brand Altos in Sweden and soon also the mezcal brand Del Maguey. I began working with EBS in 2013. I got invited to host a full day education on Tequila, mezcal and agave as well as some cocktail inspiration for the Teacher Academy and Advanced Bartending programs they ran in Stockholm then. One thing led to another and some years later I got the opportunity to be part of the EBS Board of Education to push the school further and to take lead as, not only the largest bartender school in the world, but also the premier one.

MoM: Can you remember your first bottle of mezcal?

BK: I am pretty certain it was Recuerdo de Oaxaca or maybe, El Señorio back in 2006. The old original bottlings before Casa Armando took over the production. Not saying they ruined it or anything, but it was a whole other beast back then. I later became good friends with Vincente Reyes who founded the brands and he was the one who guided me in Oaxaca the first time and lay the foundation of the deeper understanding and appreciation of this culture.

MoM: When did you first go to Mexico?

BK: In 2010, I spent about a week in Jalisco visiting six or seven producers and then a few days in Oaxaca for another three or four visits.

Agave plants which are destined for mezcal

MoM: What is it that makes mezcal so special for you?

BK: It is still alive! Not saying all other spirits are dead or too industrialised, but mezcal really is more alive. The only other spirit that comes close, as I see it, is Haitian clairin. Say Scottish whisky, as an example, it is important for the people in the communities and it is important for the identity of Scotland and so on. But it is not about life, it is not about death. It has to some extent lost its deeper roots and connection to it origin, to its ancestors and its indigenous role. Then, of course, we have the agave. No other crop in the world of spirits is so unique and extraordinary as the agave. People have been using it for food and for textiles, drinks, fuel and even shelter for more than 9000 years. It is embedded in ancient folklore, myth, religion and culture. With agave we are preserving ancient cultures and traditions. Each bottle of family-produced mezcal actually matters to someone. There is a real person and a family behind, and for them a little means a lot. I would love to recommend everyone with the slightest interest in spirits, culture or Mexico to watch the beautiful documentary Agave is Life by Meredith Dreiss and David Brown of Archero Productions. It gives gives you a deeper understanding why agave is important.

MoM: Are you happy with the new designation system (good explanation here) for mezcal?

BK: Very! As a rare thing they put people in charge who actually listened to the smaller producers and looked at production from a craft and tradition perspective first when stipulating these new rules and regulations. Also, I think they made it really fair even for the bigger producers who have chosen a more industrial way of reaching growth. Is it made from agave? Is everything made within the borders of the designated area? Good! Then we have a mezcal. Then if you choose more ancient or crafted methods of production you may add that to the name. Brilliant! More spirits categories should look at this.

MoM: Do you think mezcal is challenging for consumers? Do you think it will ever be mainstream?

BK: Yes, of course. Just look at the journey we made the last ten years. I never think mezcal will be as rum, vodka or gin, but it for sure will become normalised. This is also why it is so important with education and showing all parts of the mezcal industry and world. To allow growth and new influences without diminishing the traditions. I am pretty sure both modern and traditional mezcals can live side by side and that both will prosper from each other.

Bjorn Kjellberg

Kjellberg in his natural habitat, drinking mezcal

MoM: Do you have a favourite mezcal bar? 

BK: In Mexico I say Mezcalogia in Oaxaca and La Clandestina in Mexico City. Outside I would go for The Barking Dog in Copenhagen. Even though it is not a pure Mezcaleria they always carry a great assortment that is always on the move and also care a lot about each bottle. Then I have to mention La Punta in Rome as well. Great bar by great people.

MoM: Do you have any tips for people wanting to go on a mezcal tour? 

BK: It is always tricky, since a lot of people these days are going to Mexico, I always get the questions for recommendation for cool palenques (small artisanal distilleries) to visit. I can, but you will never find your way there. Not that they are secret or anything, it is just that most of them are located in such remote places and that this is not an industry as Tequila is where a lot of producers have organized tours or a visitor center or such. For a lot of visits, you need someone on the inside. This is one reason why I have been organising and putting together educational trips to both Jalisco and Oaxaca. To give more people the chance to see and get to know what I care about the most in the world. Other recommendations if you happen to be in Oaxaca is to swing by the bar Mezcalogia and talk to the staff there and they can hook you up. The family who owns the bar produces some of the finest mezcal I have ever tried and know pretty much everyone.There are also tours you can take and buy tickets for on the streets, and if you drive to Santiago Matatlán there are plenty of palenques to visit.

MoM: What’s your favourite mezcal cocktail?

BK: Funny, that this is the hardest question here. Since there really are no classic mezcal cocktails, most are signature drinks from a bar or bartender or contemporary riffs on classics. But I would have to say either a mezcal Negroni (equal parts) with a Jamaican style dark rum float (brand of choice for me is Smith & Cross), or something light fresh with tropical fruits like pineapple or mango. In general, I think mezcal is at its very best in cocktails when it acts more as a modifier than as a base. It only takes a little to do a lot.

MoM: And finally, when did you get your first Mexican tattoo?

BK: The first with a pure Mexican motif is a day of the dead sugar skull I had done in 2008. Then I also have part of a drawing by the Mexican painter José Posada and an agave behind my left ear. Then again, pretty much half of what I got are Latin American Catholic motifs, so I guess I got a lot of Mexico-relatable stuff. This comes even before mezcal found me. It was meant to be!

 

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Terroir in spirits: the myths and the marketing

Nate Brown says that the word ‘terroir’ is becoming increasingly meaningless as producers and marketers deploy it to describe a whole range of inappropriate products. It’s time we stopped using…

Nate Brown says that the word ‘terroir’ is becoming increasingly meaningless as producers and marketers deploy it to describe a whole range of inappropriate products. It’s time we stopped using it.

Terroir is like quantum mechanics. Nobody can fully understand or explain it, though we are all aware of its existence. And much like the refusal of a quantum particle to be independently measured, as soon as I hear the word terroir in spirits, I know it isn’t at play. It vanishes at the sound of its name, like the opposite of Beetlejuice.

But for the purposes of this article, I’ll offer my own interpretation. Terroir is the flavour imparted by the idiosyncrasies of the location of its production. It’s a word owned by the wine world. It speaks not only of microclimates, polycultures, soils and sunlight, but also of tradition, culture, history and identity. Terroir is introspective. Terroir is retrospective. 

All very lofty. Perhaps I should explain what terroir is not. Terroir is not foraged local botanicals thrown in with sourced imports. Terroir is not a meaningless buzz-word employed by uncreative creatives. Terroir is not synonymous with small batch. Or ethos. Or foraged. Or local. Or mountainside. Or handmade.

Grace O’ Reilly from Waterford in Ireland

“The terroir, [is not] the process and the people ensure passion, innovation and tradition are poured into every bottle of Caorunn Gin”, according to a certain master distiller. There. I fixed it. 

Just for the record, claiming terroir in gin is pretty much always nonsense. Chances of you growing your own source material, fermenting it with wild yeast, then undoing all that hard work by distilling to 96%+ ABV, before sourcing juniper form Macedonia and orange peel from Seville pretty much makes a mockery of your idea of terroir. Because let’s face it, you’ve bought in your spirit, and your handful of locally-foraged botanicals aren’t going to cut it.

Similarly, rum has little claim to the word. I shan’t argue that some distilleries display characteristic styles, but where does the molasses come from? Some may be local. Most of it is shipped in bulk from Guyana. A rum company that imports spirit from a plethora of islands, making no reference to the molasses source, and part ages the product in Europe in French oak, should not be using the term terroir, grand or otherwise. 

As for whisky? Not likely. The overwhelming majority of Scotch produced uses barley from outside Scotland. There are those, like the chaps at Bruichladdich who source individual fields grown by local farmers, and as these ferment there’s a case for terroir. But if the distillation wasn’t destructive enough, the distillate is then aged in mostly American casks, or ex-sherry butts, all of which are most likely made from quercus alba, which isn’t even grown on this continent. Don’t tell me there’s terroir after all of that. 

That’s why vodka can probably use the term. There’s so little of anything else, that if the source starch is from a unique place, then its shadow grows long and reaches the bottle. Vestal does this well with some niche expressions made from individual potato varieties. Belvedere does it too. The other 99.9999% of vodka does not. As for Tequila & mezcal? Well, OK, maybe they have a claim, the blancos at least. 

Terroir can exist in spirits, barely, like fading colours of a painting left in decades of the afternoon sun, but until the likes of Waterford start delivering it in whiskey, it just doesn’t yet.

Not that any of that matters. It doesn’t take a genius (or a well-funded PR campaign) to see that a change in the source material will indeed change the resulting product. Stills aren’t that efficient (thank goodness or we’d all be drinking vanilla flavoured vodka). But, terroir exists in wine because there we have fermentation, followed perhaps by some subtle ageing, (and the low ABV of the ferment minimises cask influence) followed by bottling. Sure, there may be some filtration and other manipulations, but in a good wine there should be no greater influence than the grapes and the fermentation, without distillation to eviscerate terroir’s legacy. 

Nate Brown

Nate Brown in action behind the bar

So yes, talk about local provenance, sure. Incorporate your heritage and your surroundings by all means, but don’t use terroir. Try ‘sense of place’. Or ‘parochial’. Wouldn’t parochial spirits be a nicer term to band around? Because we really have to draw the line at a terroir-inspired (glass, blue highlighted) bottle design. Give me a break. 

I personally believe that terroir in spirits is possible, but I cannot reconcile this scale and commercialisation. I can fantasise about a poitin maker in the hills of Galway, growing his own grains and spuds for his tea, putting a bushel aside to ferment with wild yeasts, a rough, basic single distillation to ‘up the burn’ to ‘make something worth drinking, boy’, all done on a homemade still made from scrap parts and an old bucket. This is how his Daddy did it. And his Daddy before him. This is how he’ll teach his nephew to do it. This is terroir, it’ll be found in the place where the word has never been mentioned. See? It’s quantum. 

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

 

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Rare single field Ocho Tequilas are here!

We have a treat this week, as Jesse Estes from Ocho talks us through his family’s single field vintage Tequilas. Oh, and coincidentally a consignment of these rare as hens…

We have a treat this week, as Jesse Estes from Ocho talks us through his family’s single field vintage Tequilas. Oh, and coincidentally a consignment of these rare as hens teeth spirits has just arrived at MoM HQ. What timing!

Perhaps more than any other individual, Jesse Estes’ father Tomas Estes is responsible for introducing Europe to Tequila. Originally from California, in 1976 Estes senior opened the first Pacifico restaurant in Amsterdam. A London branch opened in 1982 which became a celebrity hangout with Queen (the band) and Hunter S. Thompson both photographed there. Before Pacifico, Tequila was virtually unknown outside the Americas but in the ‘80s sales in Europe took off. In addition to the restaurants, Estes wrote a book on his favourite spirit and was made official Tequila ambassador for the EU by the CNIT (Camara Nacional de la Industria Tequilera).

Jesse and Tomas Estes

Tomas and Jesse Estes, and yes Estes junior is old enough to drink

In 2008, Estes teamed up with Carlos Camarena, an award-winning third generation Tequilero, to make Ocho Tequila. It was a very different market back then, according to Estes junior: “People laughed us out of the room when we talked about terroir.” The first batches only really sold through their restaurants, “we were never commercially-driven brand”, he said. Since then, the bar industry has changed immeasurably .

You can’t move for the word terroir these days in spirits. Much of this is nonsense (article coming soon!) but with Ocho Tequila it makes sense. Small differences in soil, altitude, and microclimate really can have an enormous effect on blue agave and the taste of the resulting Tequila, and each agave harvest is unique. “Tequila does not lend itself to consistency”, Jesse Estes told me. Most companies blend this variation away but Ocho Tequilas are bottled from single fields and harvests.He grew up taking yearly trips to Burgundy with his father where neighbouring vineyards can make wine that go for vastly different prices because of differences in the terroir. The aim with Ocho was to bring some of that sensibility to Tequila. Though unlike grapes, you don’t get a harvest from each field every year as the plants take on average eight years to mature.

All Ocho Tequila come from the family’s own fields. Jesse Estes told me that they harvest late to maximise sugar. Sometimes the fields smell of vinegar because the agave has already begun to ferment in the ground. Every batch is 100% agave, slowly steamed in brick ovens for 72 hours, fermented with wild yeasts, and double-distilled. There are no additives pre or post-distillation. As well as blanco unaged Tequilas, Ocho offers reposados (aged for eight weeks in ex-bourbon casks) and añejos (aged for at least a year). 

La Magueyra 2014

2014 harvest at La Magueyera

We spent a very happy morning at Cafe Pacifico in Covent Garden with Jesses Estes sampling our way through some of the range, and we were amazed at how different some of them are. You can really taste the difference between the fields – some are fiery and spicy, others sweet and floral. What they all had in common was that though they are distinctive, they are not difficult spirits for the uninitiated to appreciate, unlike some mezcals. There is a full range available exclusively to Master of Malt. Some are only available in limited quantities so you better hurry. I’ve picked out a few highlights:

Las Presas blanco 2018

“I love this field”, Estes told us.
Nose: pure and saline with a touch of mint.
Palate: olive brine, green fresh olives, you know those bright green Puglian ones.
Finish: green peppercorns. 

La Latilla blanco 2015

Nose: green banana, like a delicate rhum agricole.
Palate: sweet and smooth, vanilla, caramel, very creamy, refreshing acidity
Finish: black pepper.

Loma Alta blanco 2015  

Nose: really powerful, dark chocolate and vegetal notes.
Palate: aromatic pepper, pink peppercorns balanced by sweet toffee notes
Finish: very long, aromatic spicy notes.

La Magueyra 2014

Piña ready for cooking at La Magueyera in 2014

La Magueyera blanco 2014

Nose: lively and peppery, touch of paprika
Palate: intensely spicy, almost a chilli pepper burn from all that spice, but again there’s a sweetness that balances it.
Finish: creamy and long.

La Magueyera reposado 2014

As above but aged in oak for eight weeks.Nose: touch of toffee, aromatic.
Palate: floral, very big and spicy, touch of smoke here and then a caramel sweetness.
Finish: honey with lingering pepper.

 

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Compass Box No Name No 2

Today we have a smoky blended malt so special that it doesn’t even have a name! It could only be a release from those crazy cats at Compass Box. Until…

Today we have a smoky blended malt so special that it doesn’t even have a name! It could only be a release from those crazy cats at Compass Box.

Until recently, the components of most blended whiskies were a closely-guarded secret. It was all about the brand, one didn’t want to confuse the customer with too much information. But this is changing: just look at Johnnie Walker’s new Black Label Origins, a series of blends based around regions and distilleries. Part of the credit for this opening up has to go to Compass Box.

This small scale blender was founded in 2000 by John Glaser, an American who had previously worked with Johnnie Walker. Since then his company has won Whisky Magazine’s Innovator of the Year prize six times by pushing the boundaries of what is possible or even legal with Scotch whisky. You know you’re doing something right when you get into trouble with both the EU and the SWA.

John Glaser Compass Box

‘You can find the perfect blend’, John Glaser

The company buys a mixture of aged stock, and new make spirit which is then aged. To spice things up, Glaser and his team also acquire casks of ready-aged blends which are genuine mysteries, not even the people selling them know what they were made up of. Whereas some blends might contain more than 40 component parts, Compass Box bottlings tend to be much simpler. 

The company tries to be as transparent as possible but in the past they have run up against EU regulations that forbid whisky producers from advertising the age of the component parts. You’re only allowed to state the age of the youngest part. And with the Spice Tree blend they incurred the displeasure of the SWA because it used new French oak staves placed within the cask. Compass Box managed to get around the regulations by fitting new oak ends to an old cask. 

But this was nothing compared with Affinity released earlier this year which indulged in some cross-category canoodling by blending whisky with Calvados. And it worked beautifully. Compass Box products look striking too, with packaging by Stranger & Stranger, and names inspired by art and literature, or sometimes no name at all! Which brings us on to our New Product of the Week. 

The first No Name was a limited edition released in 2017 and so-called because no name could do justice to the smoky character of the whisky. Or perhaps Compass Box just ran out of ideas. Now the follow-up is here, No Name No 2! It’s a blend of  Caol Ila aged in sherry casks, Talisker aged in charred hogsheads, some Clynelish and then a mysterious element, a blend of Highland malts finished in new French oak. It’s bottled at 48.9% ABV. So what does all this add up to? Pretty much everything we have ever tried from Compass Box has been delicious and this is no exception. It’s a combination of the smoky and salty with the custard, clove spices, and both dried fruit and fresh fruit like apples and cherries, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. See full tasting note below. Now all it needs is a name.

No Name No 2, nice label

Tasting notes from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Lots of smoky peat with some salty saline notes, vanilla and custard with cloves, sweet floral notes and orange peel.

Palate: Really creamy, crème brûlée, with bonfire smoke, black pepper and salt, all the time with fresh apples and dried apricots.

Finish: Lingering wood smoke with red cherries and a touch of tannin. 

 

 

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Royal Salute adds two whiskies; revamps look

Royal Salute is toasting a couple of delightful additions to its signature 21 Year Old range with its first ever blended malt and permanent peated whisky, as well as a…

Royal Salute is toasting a couple of delightful additions to its signature 21 Year Old range with its first ever blended malt and permanent peated whisky, as well as a fancy new makeover.

Back in May, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Aynhoe Park, a Grade I listed, 17th-century country house in the Cotswolds, by Royal Salute, who promised big news. But before we get to that, we need to discuss the venue. It’s like the Mad Hatter’s summer house. There are stuffed giraffes with bow ties and bowler hats. A herd of (unstuffed) white stags roam in the fields outside. There’s even an underground nightclub. Somehow, none of this was the most exciting part of our adventure, however. That was to come in the form of delicious Scotch whisky, as Royal Salute revealed the reason why we were all assembled was so it could show off its brand new look and two delicious drams: The Lost Blend and The Malts Blend.

We’ll get to the makeover later, but we know you really want to hear all about the two additions to the signature 21 Year Old range. Master blender Sandy Hyslop was visibly excited about them himself at the event. “As master blender for Royal Salute, there is no greater honour than protecting the continuity of the blend that was first created in 1953 and has remained exceptional ever since,” he explained. “But to have the opportunity to create something entirely new for this sensational portfolio – an elevated Scotch evoking the signature Royal Salute style but with its own unique characteristics – that’s truly the dream.”

Without further ado, let’s take a look at them…

Royal Salute

Aynhoe Park: it’s wild.

Royal Salute The Lost Blend

Our first newcomer is The Lost Blend, which includes scarce whiskies from distilleries no longer in production such as Caperdonich and Dumbarton (much like the Lost Distilleries Blend). Whisky from the Imperial Distillery is said to be at the heart of the blend, which is a fitting choice for Royal Salute, a brand that has obvious connections to royalty. Imperial was named in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, while the distillery itself topped with a gilded cast iron crown in tribute to the momentous event. Available exclusively at Duty Free stores around the world, the Lost Blend is the first permanent peated whisky to join the Royal Salute range alongside The Signature Blend. The expression is, of course, presented in Royal Salute’s new-look packaging and housed in a crafted porcelain flagon. “Including some of the scarcest whiskies in our inventory, The Lost Blend celebrates the legacy of some of the best whisky distilleries in Scotland which I am proud to immortalise in an exceptional new 21 Year Old blend”, Hyslop said of the whisky. In the press notes we were told to expect notes of sweet, juicy pears, orange rind, hazelnuts and aromatic peat from The Lost Blend. Here’s what we thought of it:

Royal Salute

Royal Salute 21 Year Old The Lost Blend

Royal Salute 21 Year Old The Lost Blend

Nose: Bergamot, banana milkshake and crème brûlée initially, then ripe barley, some drying ginger and sharp Granny Smith Apples. An aroma of incense and charred pineapple add depth underneath.

Palate: Through bonfire embers, cinder toffee and conference pear there’s light oak char, freshly baked gingerbread and earthy vanilla. There’s a note of lemon and orange sherbets present in the backdrop.

Finish: Caramelised tropical fruit and aromatic peat linger.

Royal Salute The Malts Blend

The second addition is The Malts Blend (my personal highlight), which was crafted with more than 21 single malts aged for a minimum of 21 years from the five whisky regions of Scotland. Royal Salute’s hot new makeover is also present in The Malts Blend’s packaging, which is housed in a crafted porcelain flagon. Because consistency is key. “Like a symphony, each of the single malts ‘performing’ in this blend complement and enhance one another’s unique flavours and together create the final composition,” commented Hyslop. “Working with the finest single malts to create The Malts Blend was extremely special, and from the moment you taste the super-sweet richness of this blend, with its hints of spice, it’s clear that this whisky is nothing short of magic. Royal Salute says that The Malts Blend is an “indulgent and profound Scotch whisky” that’s bursting with notes of orchard fruits and enriched by subtle spices. Once again, here’s what we think:

Royal Salute

Royal Salute 21 Year Old The Malts Blend

Royal Salute 21 Year Old The Malts Blend

Nose: Ripe nectarines, homemade blackberry compote and crème brûlée, then stem ginger and cardamom ponds. The nose then develops into notes of apricot yoghurt, marzipan icing and vanilla ice cream with golden syrup drizzled on top. It’s a deeply beautiful, nostalgic nose.

Palate: More baking spice, ginger powder this time and a rush of tannin oak initially, followed by sticky sultanas, toffee apples and sponge cake drenched in honey. Delicate florals and a little black pepper heat are present underneath.

Finish: Stone fruit in syrup, which lasts an age, with a hint of cooked banana.

Royal Salute

Royal Salute showed off its new look at Aynhoe Park

The new-look Royal Salute

The makeover, meanwhile, was created in collaboration with artist Kristjana S. Williams. “We wanted to create something special for our Signature 21 Year Old. This is, after all, a whisky first created for royalty. The result is a fun, vibrant take on our rich heritage that brings to life our royal legacy with a colourful depiction of the British Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London, and it’s unlike anything we’ve seen from a Scotch whisky,” commented Mathieu Deslandes, Royal Salute’s marketing director. “There has never been a more exciting time for our brand. With a bold new look across our packaging that speaks to our unique quality, craft and personality, we’re raising the bar for Scotch whisky. And we’re only just getting started.” The packaging really is something, especially the Royal Salute lion, crooked crown and all, looking over his colourful kingdom. It’s quite the scene. There are patriotic fluttering tartan butterflies, one very fashionable owl and plenty of nods to the production process of Royal Salute whisky like oak casks, a rushing river and Speyside distillery. It’s a quite a departure from the classic Royal Salute look. It also has to be said, the more you look at the design, the more Aynhoe Park makes sense as a venue. It literally had a lion with a crown in the dining room. I want to go back.

Things are certainly looking good for Royal Salute, in and out of the bottle. We’re looking forward to seeing what they do next.

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The Nightcap: 12 July

It’s Friday which means it’s time for the news. This week we’ve go a celeb booze special with Jon Bon Jovi, Breaking Bad, Charlie Sheen and cocktails named after your…

It’s Friday which means it’s time for the news. This week we’ve go a celeb booze special with Jon Bon Jovi, Breaking Bad, Charlie Sheen and cocktails named after your favourite Tory politicians. Plus two Johnnie Walker stories. Double trouble.

As the country gets steamier, the need for high quality refreshment increases. So, we hope you’ve prepared a suitably delicious drink to accompany this week’s Nightcap. Without wishing to blow our own trumpets, there’s some particularly interesting, amusing and surprising stories, so do read to the end. Maybe make yourself another drink. But first, let’s have a recap of the week on the blog:

We announced the winner of our Spirit of America competition! Elsewhere, Ian Buxton was on hand to ask some questions over a recent claim by Glenfiddich Distillery, while Annie enjoyed some British apple brandy and looked at the science behind the dreaded hangover. Meanwhile, Adam reported back from a a sobering Imbibe 2019, then talked the Sexton Single Malt whiskey with its creator Alex Thomas before kicking off our Rum Month coverage by picking a bold, spicy rum as our New Arrival of the Week! Henry then made the delightfully refreshing Slingshot his Cocktail of the Week.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

The snappily-titled Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Glenury Royal will be available soon

New Johnnie Walker Ghost & Rare release revealed

The third release in Johnnie Walker’s  Blue Label Ghost & Rare series highlighting lost distilleries is here (well, nearly, you’ll have to wait until October to get your hands on it). This latest edition celebrates Glenury Royal, a distillery that was founded in 1825, by Captain Robert Barclay (for some reason there are a lot of Captains in Scotch whisky history), but closed in 1985. It’s not the only lost distillery in the blend, there’s Cambus, a grain distillery that closed in 1993, and Pittyvaich, a Speyside malt distillery that was demolished in 2003, too and five non-ghostly distilleries, Glen Elgin, Inchgower, Glenlossie, Cameronbridge and Glenkinchie. Master blender Jim Beveridge said: “We have waited patiently for that moment when we turn our thoughts to this exceptionally rare whisky, carefully watching over our maturing casks until the time was right to explore its uniquely indulgent character”. Some single malt purists might think it a crime to blend such rare whiskies but having tried a little sample, we have to disagree; it’s absolutely sumptuous with layers of dark chocolate, dried apricot, orange peel and fudge. All this for £275 for a 70cl bottle.

Bendict Ainsworth

Benny Ainsworth at the head of the table declaiming a little Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to Santenay? 

Wine and food matching is old hat and putting drink with music so last year; the latest thing is booze and poetry. Coin Events and Shelved Wine are putting on a series of events called ‘Shakespeare and Wine’ which unsurprisingly consists of someone reading Shakespeare while you drink specially-chosen wine. Not just anyone though, at each event the lines will be declaimed by a trained actor alongside wines chosen by a top sommelier, for example Valentino Minotti from the Hakkasan Restaurant and Benny Ainsworth (who you will be pleased to know, has played the Dane.) The creator of the series of events Adam Burak said: ““We recognised with disappointment that all the wine tasting experiences are almost the same. They have their essential elements and sophisticated art, but we were eager to give more. We aimed to explore a brand new multi-sensory experience. ‘Shakespeare and Wine’ is a joyful conversation between actor, sommelier, and the guests about love, wine, passion, and poetry.” The evenings start in August and will take place twice a month in a variety of “secret locations” around London. Oooh mysterious! Perhaps after Shakespeare, the company could turn its attention to other poets such as Burns: “my love is like a red red rosé ” has a certain ring to it.

Breaking Bad

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad

Celebrity agave rush with Charlie Sheen and Breaking Bad 

Move over Chris Noth and Clooney and co, there’s a new Tequila player in town – and it is none other than celebrity bad boy Charlie Sheen. The tee-total actor surprised us all when he announced he’d taken a stake in Don Sueños and joined the team as co-owner. Founded in 2017, the brand offers a range of Tequilas, all made from Blue Weber agave. Sheen joins Kumiko Zimmerman as co-owner.“As a native of Japan, where fine spirits are quite popular, I’m well aware of what goes into making a superior product, as well as the importance of having a strong team to promote the brand and tell our story.” she said.  “We believe Charlie will be a great addition to team Don Sueños.” said Zimmerman. Sheen himself added: “When the company reached out to me with an opportunity to get involved with their organisation, I was instantly interested and excited, as, in the past, Don Sueños’ Tequila Blanco was one of my favorite sipping spirits due to its superior taste and quality. While I am proud of my sobriety for over 19 months now and am firmly committed to living a clean and sober lifestyle, I chose to become a part owner of Don Sueños because I know their tequila is of the highest quality. I’m excited to be able to work with Kumiko and the team to help Don Sueños continue to grow and to bring awareness, both to its outstanding products and to the charitable organisations it supports.” There we go. But that’s not the only celebrity agave story this week, as we have just learned the Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad have launched their own brand of mezcal called Dos Hombres. Those Hollywood types sure do love Mexican spirits.

Look how tall the Cambridge agave flower is!

Cambridge agave plant flowers for the first time in 57 years

Forget Mexico, nowadays if you want to go and see a flowering agave you only have to travel as far as Cambridge! Cambridge University Botanic Garden has been nurturing an agave plant since 1962, and it began flowering on 19 June. The flower is already three feet tall, growing 12cm in just 24 hours at one point last week, and is showing no signs of stopping. Wild agave can grow up to six feet tall when flowering. The folks tending the plant are even planning to take out the top glass panels from the greenhouse. Its growth rate is literally through the roof! The bad news is once the plant has flowered it will die, though horticulturalists over in Cambridge reckon it could be another month before it fully blooms. Of course the real question is, can we make mezcal from it? Nobody can be sure exactly what species it is until it flowers, they believe it may be the Agave heteracantha species, but alas, the garden did confirm that this particular agave can’t be used to produce any tasty spirits. Even so, that’s one impressive plant.

Macallans

Rare Macallans go under the hammer tonight!

Rare Macallans go under the hammer

Starting from 5pm today a bumper quantity of rare whiskies will be up for auction on the Just Whisky website. This includes a 72 year old Macallan in a Lalique crystal decanter that was released to celebrate the opening of the company’s new distillery last year. Other notable Macallans include the aptly-named ‘The New Range Rover’ which was bottled in the 1990s to commemorate the launch of a new Range Rover; a 50 year old 1949 in a Caithness Glass Millennium decanter; the 1948 Select Reserve and a 52 Year Old, which recently went for £58,000 on Just Whisky, a record for the company. Graham Crane, director at Just Whisky, said: “Every now and then an auction line-up comes along that has collectors and aficionados on the edge of their seats with excitement. This is one of those times. We are delighted to offer such high quality lots in July’s auction and includes some incredibly rare bottles which you won’t find at retail or in the resale market for years. The price for Macallan has gone through the roof with demand resulting in new, age statement releases being sold for tens of thousands of pounds more than the original retail price and non age statement selling for up to 800% more that the retail price within a month.” The auction runs until Sunday 21st July. Better start collecting those pennies now.

The Clean Vic

A Seedlip cocktail

An alcohol free pub, whatever next?

In a move that is sure to have booze traditionalists muttering into their real ale, a new pub has been announced that will sell no or low alcohol drinks, and nothing else. On the 24 and 25 July the Old Crown in Holborn, London will only be serving drinks containing less than 0.5% ABV. It’s a takeover by Sainsbury’s who are calling it the ‘Clean Vic’, geddit?, and will be serving drinks by Seedlip, and the world’s first alcoholic ‘whiskey’ Celtic Soul. Anne Cooper, buyer at Sainsbury’s, said: “We’re seeing a really exciting spike in the no and low alcohol category, which has been growing since 2001. From speaking to customers, we know there is still some uncertainty about what these no and low alcohol products taste like and how they are made. So, our specially curated workshops in the Clean Vic will help customers learn more about these drinks, providing key tasting notes given by the experts.” So put on your most sensible trousers and get down to Holborn this July. You know it makes sense.

Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi and son enjoying some rosé

Jon Bon Rosé launches in the UK

Top soft metaller Jon Bon Jovi’s pink wine produced in collaboration with his son Jesse Bongiovi and Gérard Bertrand launches in the UK this week. And for some unfathomable reason it’s not called Jon Bon Rosé nor is it called Bed of  Rosés (after the band’s 1993 power ballad). Instead it’s been named Hampton Water, apparently that was Jesse Bongiovi’s idea, after the Hamptons where rich New Yorkers go on holiday. So the name is a bit rubbish but the wine, as you might expect from one of France’s top winemaker’s is excellent. It’s a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre from the Languedoc and has already picked up some rave reviews in the States. MoM were given some to try and we give the contents a big thumbs up. Though someone should tell the Bongiovi family what a Hampton is in Cockney rhyming slang so Hampton Water sounds a bit like. . .  oh, never mind. You can work it out for yourself.

Johnnie Walker highball collection

Serving suggestion

Are Highballs the future? Johnnie Walker thinks so

Refreshing, easy-sipping and oh-so delicious – the Highball is certainly a versatile serve. And now Diageo’s blended Scotch behemoth Johnnie Walker is hoping to ‘elevate’ the drink through a new global campaign. “The popularity of the whisky highball is soaring right now – and it’s easy to see why,” said John Williams, Johnnie Walker global brand director. “It’s where the ease and refreshing taste of a cool beer meets the colourful, visceral world of cocktails. And for those who think they ‘won’t like whisky’ it’s a real game-changer.” So what is the brand going to be doing in its quest for Highball domination? There’s a focus on mixing the whisky with five key flavours: peach, lemon, green tea, elderflower and ginger, in the Johnnie Walker Highball Collection. It’s designed to appeal to non-Scotch drinkers, but, to be fair, they all sound pretty good to us, too. Expect to see loads of ads across, digital activity and experiential goings on, alongside in-bar and in-store activations. And if you live in a “trendsetting neighbourhood”, to quote the release, you’ll be first in line to see the campaign. “We’ve celebrated the highball at Johnnie Walker for the last few years, but with the trend for longer drinks on the rise, it feels like now is the right time to really explode the amazing possibilities which this category can offer,” Williams added. Highball, anyone?

The winning bidder Rogan Chester with his prize

Gin created at the top of Mount Snowdon becomes one of the UK’s most expensive

The award-winning Aber Falls Distillery has made history this week with the first gin to be distilled at the top of Mount Snowdon after it was sold at a charity auction for a staggering £1,085 (which, fittingly, is the same height in metres as Mount Snowdon). The sale has made it one of the UK’s most expensive gins, and given that of the three bottles made there was only bottle made available for the public, it is also one of the rarest gins in the world. The first distillery of its kind in North Wales for more than 100 years produced the bottle of Summit Gin: Mountaineers Cut using botanicals picked from the side of Mount Snowdon, which had to be specially approved by the local government given the area’s protected status. “It’s not my usual thing to spend this much money on a rare bottle of alcohol but I was fortunate to have a little win on the Grand National and was looking for an investment,” said the winning bidder, Rogan Chester, a 29-year-old man from Porthmadog. “To be the owner of the most expensive bottle of Welsh gin, and one of the most expensive in the UK is a surreal feeling, but I’m a proud Welshmen and hopefully it will be worth a bit more in the future.” Congratulation to Mr. Chester, who we are not even remotely jealous of. Nope. Not at all. Not one bit. Nada.

Dark'n Tory

This is a Dark N’ Tory, looks rather nice actually

And finally, Dark n’ Tory anyone? 

For those who like a little satire in their drink, the Blue Boar Bar at the Conrad London St. James’ is offering cocktails inspired (that’s not quite the right word, is it?) by the Conservative party. The menu will be launched on Thursday 18 July with a special evening with cartoonist David Lewis in the house to do caricatures of guests. Customers at the bar, a well-known politicos hangout, will be able to choose between a Maygarita, a Boris on the Rocks and a Dark n’ Tory. Hurry, they won’t be around for long. The cocktails that is, what did you think we meant?

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Hangover squared: the science behind relieving post-alcohol pain

Drinking enough to feel ill-effects the next day isn’t big and it certainly isn’t clever, but sometimes it happens – and now, there’s an industry of pills and potions dedicated…

Drinking enough to feel ill-effects the next day isn’t big and it certainly isn’t clever, but sometimes it happens – and now, there’s an industry of pills and potions dedicated to alleviating morning-after misery. But where is the trend going, and crucially, does it have any scientific backing? MoM peers inside the hangover supplement industry…

Hangover symptoms are far more complex than perhaps we give them credit for. Even doctors don’t fully understand the inner workings of your brain and body after one or two too many drams. And indeed there are many different factors that affect how your body processes alcohol – the type and quality of the alcohol being served to the age, sex, stature, ethnicity, heredity, diet and sleep habits of the drinker – which, in turn, have some influence on how you feel the morning after. 

Generally speaking, though, there are a few biological processes we humans all share. Drinking alcohol suppresses the creation of a hormone called vasopressin, says Samantha Welsh, marketing director for NutriDrip and The Hangover Club, prompting your kidneys to send water straight to your bladder without absorbing it, “which is why when we drink we tend to use the bathroom a lot,” she says. Your dehydrated brain shrinks, causing tension and painful headaches the next day, and you’ll have lost “important minerals and nutrients such as potassium, sodium, and other B vitamins, which results in muscle pain and fatigue”.

Survivor

You know you’re in for a long night when these packets are strewn on the table

Unfortunately dehydration is just a symptom, rather than a cause, of the hangover puzzle. The real problem isn’t, technically speaking, the alcohol (i.e. ethanol) you’re sipping – it’s a chain reaction that occurs inside your body after you’ve ingested that Piña Colada. “When you drink more alcohol than your liver can break down, toxins such as acetaldehyde build up,” explains Eddie Huai, founder of FlyBy. “This puts stress on your body, and you pay for it the next morning.” 

Acetaldehyde is around forty times more toxic than ethanol, explains Laurence Cardwell, founder of Survivor. “The reason acetaldehyde is such a bad boy is because it leads to massive inflammation,” he says. “The goal, really, is to break it down as fast as possible into acetate, which is benign. The two main ingredients that make up Survivor do exactly that.” One of these breakthrough ingredients is dihydromyricetin, which has been proposed in the highly-respected Neuroscience journal as a novel potential anti-intoxication medication. 

“In one of the studies performed they gave rats the equivalent of 20 beers,” says Cardwell. “I imagine these rats were absolutely plastered, wandering around in lederhosen singing songs. Being small rodents they have a fairly high metabolism and sobered up in 90 minutes. When injected abdominally with dihydromyricetin, they sobered up completely in five minutes.” 

Don’t worry, you don’t actually need two hands to hold a tablet. It’s not that big.

If alcohol-free spirits really aren’t your bag, popping a hangover supplement might seem like the next best option. But is there a danger that bottled ‘hangover cures’ will encourage people to drink more, or drink irresponsibly (like our rodent friends above) knowing there’s less chance of ill effects the next day? 

“Hangovers are usually a sign from your body that you’ve probably had too much to drink and should consider cutting down,” says Pedram Kordrostami, creator of AfterDrink, who adds that hangover-related supplements aren’t miracle workers. There are also “very strict rules about making claims with health supplements, especially when it comes to phrases around ‘cure’ or ‘treating symptoms’, as these are only authorised for medicines,” he says. 

Rather than a ‘hangover’ fix, Cardwell prefers the term alcohol health supplement. “Firstly it’s not a very accurate label, but also it’s not very credible,” he says. “Hangovers are effectively the extreme of alcohol consumption – you don’t tend to get a serious one unless you’ve been slugging it back. But even one or two glasses of wine or beer will affect your performance the following day.” 

The ritual of enjoying a glass of wine with dinner or a pint after work with colleagues is a huge part of cultures around the world, and it’s one that seems unlikely to disappear any time soon. Instead, the shift is towards balance. “People want to be able to combine that lifestyle, they don’t want to give it up entirely,” he continues. “They want to maximise their performance on all fronts: socialise with friends in the evening, work hard in the office and get a good night’s sleep.”

Losing a day or two to a hangover just isn’t an option for most people, adds Kordrostami.  “Drinking plenty of water and making sure you have a meal before going out helps a lot. However, it’s not usually enough. People are always on the lookout for natural and effective ways to support their recovery and supplements – like AfterDrink – provide a helping hand towards a solution.”

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Talking Irish single malt with The Sexton’s Alex Thomas

The Sexton Single Malt is an Irish single malt that has done a good job of establishing itself in a competitive market. We talk to creator Alex Thomas to find…

The Sexton Single Malt is an Irish single malt that has done a good job of establishing itself in a competitive market. We talk to creator Alex Thomas to find out how she did it, why it was important to make a distinctly Irish spirit and how she relates to the last person to see our bodies before they are laid to rest…

“Growing up my grandfather and father always kept a bottle of single malt whiskey in the house. It came out on special occasions, like 21st birthdays and weddings. But it also mainly came out when people had passed away. All the friends and family got together and they celebrated the life of that person that had passed and told their stories,” says Alex Thomas, founder of The Sexton Irish whiskey brand. “That’s what I wanted The Sexton to represent; living life well and having those memories you’ll share with your loved ones.”

Thomas is one of the few female master blenders in the Irish whiskey industry. We meet at an event thrown by The Sexton called ‘Own The Night’, which features plenty of very tasty cocktails (more on them later), a sensory experience based on the whiskey’s profile and a live photography exhibition. She is there to spread the word about her creation, The Sexton Single Malt, and its launch in London, Belfast and Dublin in December 2018 following a promising debut in America.

Thomas landed her first job in the industry at Bushmills Distillery. Her husband had come home from a shift at the distillery in 2004 to tell her about a new job opening. “Growing up with the distillery on your doorstep, it was a dream come true for many of us to be able to work there. When an opening came up, I jumped at the chance,” says Thomas. “I started working in the maturation and distillation part of the business with the great Colum Egan and fell in love with the process of turning something raw into something so delicate and rich that people can enjoy. I decided to do my exams and become qualified, and in 2012 I finished my exams and received my distilling diploma. From there I founded The Sexton, and everything that followed has just been a dream come true.”

The Sexton

Alex Thomas, founder of The Sexton

As Thomas speaks, photos are projected on the screens across each room showing images of people enjoying themselves with a dram in hand. The event space has a distinctive, macabre and gothic aesthetic influenced by The Sexton’s branding, which extends to the name. Anyone who’s big on Medieval Latin (where my people at?!) will know that ‘Sexton’ derives from the word ‘sacristanus’, meaning custodian of sacred objects, and is used to describe the person who prepared the grave, the last to witness the body before being laid to rest. “I wanted a name that would represent what I do. As a master blender and distiller, I am the caretaker of this amazing whiskey while it’s in the cask. The Sexton is about living life well before you meet the man that lays your body to rest, so that’s why I kind of came round the idea of naming it ‘The Sexton’. I wanted it to be something different, something approachable.”

That ambition obviously extended to the bottle design, which is unlike most you’ll see. It features The Sexton himself, a well-dressed skeleton (there’s even a skeleton horse and skeleton coachman). But the squat black hexagonal bottle is a striking image on its own, although it’s clearly going to be a challenging pour for a bartender with average size hands. “The distillery is up in the north coast of Antrim where there’s nothing more famous than the Giant’s Causeway stones, so that’s where the shape comes from,” says Thomas. “It’s dark, specifically because there’s a rich sherry colour to the whiskey so you’re getting that hint of what the darkness is going to be. I wanted people to get a little bit of that experience when they release it from the bottle… I’m sure the glass designer loved me!”

Thomas wanted it to stand out as she understands she’s working in an incredibly competitive market. “When I started in the industry there were only three distilleries. I knew that the branding needed to be bold and make a statement. Hopefully, those people who try it for the first time because of how it looks come back a second time for what’s in the bottle,” explains Thomas. “That’s the most important part. It’s the whiskey that is the main feature of The Sexton but the bottle attracts the attention to get you to try it first. It’s ultimately about the quality. From start to finish everything I use in that bottle is high-end quality, from the barley to the distillate, to the cask – everything.”

The Sexton

The ‘Own The Night’, featured cocktails, a sensory experience and a live photography exhibition

For all the fun and intrigue of The Sexton’s branding, the process behind creating this whiskey is where things get interesting. News has emerged recently that sources in the Irish grain industry claim that less than a quarter of the grain used to produce Irish whiskey is indeed from Ireland. This is not the case with The Sexton, which was made from 100% Irish malted barley. “The barley I use comes from the south east coast of Ireland, in Wexford and Tipperary. It’s a two-row barley, low on protein because I need to get at the sugar to be able to produce alcohol,” Thomas explains. Her use of Irish barley shows her commitment to provenance. But it’s more than this: “Ireland is my home, it’s where I’ve grown up all of my life and one thing I believe we do in Ireland well is make whiskey. Personally, I think we’re the best in the world and I wanted to represent Ireland as a whole.”

The Sexton is a brand without a distillery, a common sight in Irish whiskey. Thomas, however, hasn’t simply bought in the spirit. Instead, she was granted access to use the stills at Bushmills and runs her own distillation. “It’s wonderful, there’s no other industry that would allow that to happen, that would share their secrets. They taught me from the beginning to make Irish whiskey the best possible way I could so that I could represent the category well,” Thomas says. “My warehouse is on their premises as well. Hopefully, the future is big for The Sexton and who knows what will happen. But, for now, they allow me to do my work.”

Unsurprisingly Sexton Single Malt is triple-distilled, like Bushmills whiskey. Thomas opted to go down the same route because she enjoys the “smooth distillate it produces, a really sweet, fruity flavoured delicate spirit. Triple distillation also allows me to remove all of the things in the whiskey that I wouldn’t want,” she added.

The Sexton

Thomas sourced the barley and casks herself

The final defining characteristic of Sexton Irish Single Malt is its oloroso cask finish. Thomas established a relationship with the Antonio Paez Lobato family, who have over 70 years experience, in Jerez in Spain and the barrels are processed to her own specifications, from oak type, toast level, type of wine used and length of time of the seasoning. “I sourced the European oak in France, moved it over to Spain where it was air-dried for 16 months, toasted from the inside to a medium-high level and then seasoned for two years with oloroso sherry that I picked along with the family,” Thomas explains. “It’s then moved over to Ireland with around five to ten litres inside so the cask is really fresh”. Her approach to maturation mirrors her meticulousness with her selection of raw material and distillation process. Distillers and blenders working with cooperages to this extent are not uncommon, but there are plenty who aren’t as involved to this extent.

The Sexton is matured in first, second and third fill oloroso sherry casks, an approach Thomas settled on after a lot of trial and error. “At first I only wanted first-fills, but these are really heavily coated with the sugar coming in from the sherry and it was too sweet, which may have brought in new palates but I’m a whiskey maker so I wanted people who drink whiskey,” Thomas explains. “So I introduced a little second fill, but there was still something ever so slightly missing. I then introduced a couple of third fills and that nuttiness started to come back in from the European oak and it was like a day made in heaven! It was a eureka moment for me, the flavour profile just changes so much having that little bit of the second and third fill in there.”

The Sexton

Thomas at the ‘Own the Night’, walking guests through the sensory experience

The booze

The big question that remains is, how does The Sexton Single Malt taste? Well, it’s safe to say I was impressed. But before we get to that, Thomas was kind enough to let us sample her new make and the sherry used to season her oloroso casks as well as The Sexton itself, so here are our thoughts:

The Sexton

The Sexton Single Malt new-make sample

The Sexton Single Malt New-Make Tasting Note:

Nose: Homemade blackberry jam, crisp fresh malt and a little floral honey. Desiccated coconut, soft vanilla, marmalade and spearmint emerge underneath, as well as a hint of anise and soft marshmallow.

Palate: Hot white pepper spice initially, then a wave of fresh tropical fruit, buttery pastries and damp hay.

Finish: Banana foam sweets linger.

The Sexton

The Sexton Single Malt sherry sample

The Sexton Single Malt Sherry Tasting Note:

Nose: Savoury salty notes with some dried fruit, caramel and rich walnuts, then a touch of minerality and bittersweet herbs.

Palate: Refreshingly dry, with bright citrus, dried stone fruits, pecans and rounded sherry spice, then a touch of oak.

Finish: Good length with sherried peels and a touch of salinity.

The Sexton Single Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: The nose is rich, sherried and highly resinous, with oily walnuts, thick slabs of dark chocolate and plenty of dried and dark fruits such as stewed plums, cooked blackcurrant and raisins. A light maltiness emerges underneath with marzipan, caramel and a pinch of drying baking spice.

Palate: Robustly elegant, with prunes, Manuka honey and a little tropical fruit while the mid-palate is filled with stone fruit, oak spice, marmalade with zest, polished furniture and a hint of dried herbs. Treacle toffee, cocoa and a little menthol note add depth.

Finish: Mulberry jam, coffee icing and some woodiness lingers and dries into more maltiness.

Overall: An approachable, affordable and very tasty dram. The flavours are balanced, there’s some depth there and, to be honest, I helped myself to a second dram. I can’t help but think this whiskey also has a profile that lends itself to mixing and cocktail creation. Speaking of which…

The Sexton

The cocktail bar at the ‘Own the Night’ event

Cocktails

Thomas has something in common with many modern whiskey producers, in that she’s keen for the spirit to be disassociated from the tired image of it being an old man’s drink. “I had a real strong belief that if people got to experience single malts at a younger age, they would fall in love with whiskey,” she says. Thomas wants people to enjoy The Sexton Single Mal, whether they drink it neat, with a mixer or in a cocktail. “My father is a very traditional whiskey drinker: you either drink it neat with ice or with a little bit of water. But he embraces the fact that I’m the next generation and I want to drink it my way. We don’t eat in the same restaurants, we don’t live the same lives, so it’s about being unique and experiencing it your way.”

After trying a cocktail, or two, at the ‘Own the Night’ event (what? It was important research), it was clear that The Sexton mixes beautifully, as Thomas has found through her own personal research. “To be honest, it’s a perk of the job getting to try the different takes on what the mixologists work with and I must admit, I haven’t found one that I haven’t liked!”

The following examples, Bury the Hatchet, Love it to Death and Laid to Rest were all on show during the event and are easy enough to make at home. Enjoy!

The Sexton

Bury the Hatchet

Bury the Hatchet

Combine 50ml of The Sexton Single Malt, 25ml of lemon juice, 12.5ml of sugar syrup) in a glass, then top with soda water and add a 15ml sweet sherry float. Garnish with a wedge of lemon.

The Sexton

Love it to Death

Love it to Death

Combine 50ml of The Sexton Single Malt, 25ml of fresh lime juice, 12.5ml of Aperol, 2 dashes of absinthe, 20ml of sugar syrup in a glass, then serve garnished with thyme and orange peel.

The Sexton

Laid to Rest

Laid to Rest

Combine 25ml of The Sexton Single Malt, 5ml of Pedro Ximenez sherry, 20ml of manzanilla sherry, 12.5ml of spiced claret syrup in a glass serve over crushed ice. Garnish with mint leaves and dried spices.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Slingshot

This week’s drink is a refreshing little number that utilises a special coffee liqueur from New Zealand. It’s called the Slingshot!  Slingshot is a catchy name: it sounds like a…

This week’s drink is a refreshing little number that utilises a special coffee liqueur from New Zealand. It’s called the Slingshot! 

Slingshot is a catchy name: it sounds like a cocktail from the golden age but actually the term still seems to be up for grabs. The only reference I could find to a cocktail of that name was from Esquire where the author had coined it for a drink that was somewhere between a Sling (a mixture of spirit and water usually made with lemon and sweetened with sugar) and a shot, a small measure to be knocked back (you knew that though).

This week’s cocktail is nothing like that. It’s a long drink made with a variety of ingredients including Quick Brown Fox Coffee Liqueur. Coffee in cocktails is having a bit of a moment as baristas and bartenders swap ideas. As Nate Brown pointed out recently, the word barista just means bartender in Italian. The man behind Quick Brown Fox is a New Zealander called Arjun Haszard. He was living in a town called Dunedin on the South Island, and found himself unemployed and at a loose end. His mother stepped in, as mothers do, and told him to stop moping and suggested he make a brandy liqueur with the feijoas, a local fruit. It makes a change from, ‘help your father in the garden’.

Quick Brown Fox

Quick Brown Foxes coming off the production line

From there he moved on to coffee. “I had a realisation that coffee liqueur didn’t taste like coffee, so I wanted to create a liqueur using real coffee with nothing artificial added”, he said. “This task was harder than I’d originally thought but I had time on my hands and I’d curiously obsessed with the goal. A year and a half later I’d developed a coffee liqueur from cold extracted Fair Trade Organic coffee with a dash of cinnamon to give a velvety mouthfeel and moreish finish.” He uses a blend of beans from Colombia, Sumatra and Papua New Guinea, and gives them a darker roast than espresso, and “the highest quality neutral spirit we can get which is derived from Australian wheat”, he said. Oh, and that peculiar name? Haszard filled me: “Quick Brown Fox is named after the Pangram (a sentence that contains every letter), because that sentence, like Quick Brown, Fox is the root of conversation.” Makes sense, sort of. 

Slingshot

The Slingshot in all its coffee-ish glory

As its less sweet than some coffee liqueurs, Quick Brown Fox is good neat as well as in cocktails like the Espresso Martini and, of course, the Slingshot. Today’s cocktail was created specifically for Quick Brown Fox by another New Zealander, Mikey Ball, who worked at Dandelyan in London before returning home. “I asked him to create a sophisticated cocktail that could go beyond an Espresso Martini. In an Espresso Martini you tend to be shot to the moon with the caffeine and can only really have one (unless you’re 20 years old). I wanted a drink that would be tall and refreshing yet still complex… so you could drink more than one in a night”, Haszard said. 

Sounds good. Let’s give it a go. Here’s what you’ll need:

40ml Quick Brown Fox coffee liqueur
20ml Johnnie Walker Black Label (or any good quality blended Scotch)
20ml lemon juice
10ml Giffard crème de mure
7.5ml orgeat syrup
40ml ginger ale

Add all the ingredients except the ginger ale to an ice-filled shaker. Shake hard and double-strain into an ice-filled highball glass, top up with ginger ale, stir and garnish with a twist of lemon and a blackberry.

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