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Master of Malt Blog

Sherry – the bartender’s secret weapon

Sherry shouldn’t be sitting at the back of the cupboard gathering dust. From sweet PX to bone dry fino, sherry’s incredible variety makes it a great friend when mixing drinks,…

Sherry shouldn’t be sitting at the back of the cupboard gathering dust. From sweet PX to bone dry fino, sherry’s incredible variety makes it a great friend when mixing drinks, says bartender Nate Brown. And don’t turn your nose up at Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

I think it fair to say that Mummy Brown had a few of-the-moment tastes: she dressed me in red corduroys and a knitted green jumper, (which when matched with my hair made me look like a 3ft broken traffic light). She married my Dad when he had a mullet. She made a mean pasta salad: tinned sweetcorn, salad cream and all. Her favourite dessert was pavlova. And, most worryingly of all, her Sunday afternoon staple was a glass of Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

She made me pour it for her every week as she cooked the customary roast dinner. Naturally, it wasn’t long before I indulged in a sneaky taste. It was somehow both syrupy and sharp, bitter and sweet. It burned my throat despite it’s modest ABV. I hated it and could not for the life of me understand why she chose to drink it. Although, as this habit was partaken shortly after enduring a Church sermon, I assumed it was some sort of penance. The road to perdition it seemed, was drenched in Harvey’s Bristol Cream.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown, pouring vermouth, thinking about sherry

Fast forward two decades and what was my attitude then seems to be the general consumer attitude now. Mention the word ‘sherry’ to guests in a bar and you’ll likely garner little more than a smirk and a comment about diabetes.  Even the Spanish shun it.

How embarrassingly wrong we all are. Fools, the lot of us.

Is there a booze product out there with a worse, less deserved reputation? Not on your nelly. Even the worst regarded consumables have a serve that lifts them from the depths of disgrace. Tequila? Sure, mass market brands are pretty much widely regarded as nasty. But even cheap Tequila has the Margarita escape act. Absinthe? Still has the association with the Bohemians and mad artists. Sherry’s equivalent doesn’t extend further than lobbing it in a trifle. Ouch.

And yet, I’d argue there isn’t a category on the market better suited to current trends and tastes. Its low ABV backbone, crisp, unapologetic flavours, the variety of styles and expressions (Lustau alone has over 40), and the smaller, friendlier bottle sizes. Sherry is the complete package. You can keep your bitters, this is my bartender’s ketchup.

Take the rising low-ABV zeitgeist. Two years ago if you asked for a Bamboo cocktail you’d have the bartender sneaking off to google it. Today, it’s a staple on the menu of the pioneering Mint Gun Club and ordering one across town has become something of a bartender’s handshake. Simply mix one part dry vermouth with one part dry sherry. Serve stirred down, or over ice. Add orange bitters if you really must, but none in mine thanks. The base provided by the sherry gives license for the aromatics of the vermouth to sing. Prebottle the serve if you like and take it to the park. Just remember, the fresher the better.

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana

Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, makers of fine manzanilla

Remember Pedrino, those fino and tonic RTDs (ready to drinks)? Ahead of their time. Fresh fino and decent tonic is as good as any G&T I’ve ever had. But a word of advice: if the dry sherry in the bar fridge (or worse bar shelf) has been sat there for longer than a month and no longer excites the sides of your tongue, throw it away (or in a trifle?). It’s not expensive, anyway.

Not in the mood for a refreshing serve? Take a trip over to the other end of the dry sherry spectrum. Guests are moving further and further away from the dreaded sugary profiles whilst still loving the darker end of drinking. We are seeing low sugar versions of everything, none of which quite fills the void the sweetness has left behind in our cocktails. In steps oloroso with its ‘hold my beer’ attitude. The oxidative ageing has allowed sweet notes to perpetuate without any of the sugar remaining. Look at the descriptors used: walnut, caramel, cocoa nibs, rich orange, this is the equivalent of fat free chocolate cake that actually tastes delicious. How is this not a game changer?

Add a splash of oloroso to your stirred down and brown recipes. 15ml will give your Rum Old Fashioneds dryness and depth. 5ml in a Manhattan will clean up the otherwise cloying finish. Heck, even bung it in a Highball for savoury accents.  

As for PX, the raisiny plump and jolly cousin? It isn’t just for Christmas. Some of these can be over 40% residual sugar, making it pretty much a sugar syrup when used correctly (read sparingly). Stick it in a dash bottle and add a few drops to make a richer Whisky Mac, or Rob Roy. In fact put it in nearly everything richer, I don’t care, just don’t be embarrassed to love it.

Manhattan

I said sherry, not cherry! A drop of oloroso will take your Manhattan to the next level

But best of all is the Martini. Taken more as a style than a recipe, the oh-so-cool King of Cocktails can be opened up to an endless catalogue of variations. Which is appropriate given that gin is no longer a singular profile. Forget the wet or dry, olive or zest approach. Instead, try three parts dry gin to one part fino or manzanilla sherry. Keep the gin classic and green, like Plymouth. Try it before you garnish it. You’ll probably end up going without the fruit. The saline, umami sherry will cleanse your Martini adding more structure and bite than even a fresh vermouth ever could. This is how Martinis are meant to be.

And as for Harvey’s Bristol Cream? That lonely, dusty, ocean blue bottle in the back of the drinks cabinet? It is essentially a blend of all the types of sherry that a bodega produces. Think of it less of slop bucket and more of a team effort. Serve it over ice with an orange slice. Honestly, just try it. It’s bloody delicious. It’s still simultaneously bitter and sweet, syrupy and sharp. Only now it’s everything I could ask for. You’ll thank me for this.

This isn’t so much a revolution as a renaissance. Looks like, as with everything, Mummy Brown was right all along.

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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Johnnie Walker Blue Label masterclass with Colin Dunn

We filmed Diageo whisky ambassador Colin Dunn talking about how to get the most out of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Turns out, we’d been doing it wrong all these years….

We filmed Diageo whisky ambassador Colin Dunn talking about how to get the most out of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Turns out, we’d been doing it wrong all these years.

Johnnie Walker is the most famous name in Scotch whisky and Blue Label sits at the top of the range (give or take a few special editions). It’s perhaps the ultimate gift whisky: you know you’ve done a good job or your father-in-law approves when you receive a bottle. But as well as being a known currency throughout the world, it’s also a damn fine drop blended from some extremely rare and old malt and grain whiskies.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

That’s the stuff

It’s not an in-your-face whisky and as such can initially be a bit underwhelming to palates raised on the big bold flavours of heavily sherried or peated malts. So, to show us how to appreciate this fine elegant blend, we are lucky enough to have some time with Colin Dunn. Dunn originally worked in the wine trade before being snapped up by Bowmore to spread the word about single malt whisky. He also worked with other distilleries in the Suntory portfolio including  GlenGarioch, Yamazaki, and Hibiki. Then in 2008, he moved to Diageo where he represents the company’s 28 malt distilleries as well as Johnnie Walker.

Right, got your Blue Label ready? Take it away, Colin!

Here Colin Dunn introduces himself and tells us why he loves Scotch whisky so much.

And now the Johnnie Walker Blue Label masterclass. You’ll never drink whisky in the same way after watching this.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: Grand Sour

This week we talk to the master blender, Patrick Raguenaud, and show you how to get the most out of Grand Marnier’s orangey, Cognac-soaked flavour profile. Cognac runs in Patrick…

This week we talk to the master blender, Patrick Raguenaud, and show you how to get the most out of Grand Marnier’s orangey, Cognac-soaked flavour profile.

Cognac runs in Patrick Raguenaud’s veins. Well, not literally, that would be lethal, but his family has been farming in the region since the 17th century. He distils from his family’s vines in the Grand Champagne region, is president of the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC), oh, and he’s the master blender at Grand Marnier. Where does he find the time?

We met him last week for the perfect start to a day, a Grand Marnier breakfast masterclass. He presented surrounded by little orange trees and bowls of sweet oranges which looked pretty but are actually very different from the fruit used in Grand Marnier. The recipe calls for bitter oranges which are bought from the Caribbean, Tunisia and South America. The oranges are picked when just turning from green to orange. “They have a very rustic flavour”, Raguenaud told us; the pulp is inedible and goes into compost while the skin is dried in the sun. He gave us some dried fruit to try: it was mouth-puckeringly, almost painfully bitter. The next step is to remove the pith and then the zest is macerated for two weeks in neutral alcohol.

The resulting orangey boozy liquid with the zest included is watered down and redistilled in a special still, similar to how gin is made. Then to make the classic Cordon Rouge expression, the distillate is diluted (to 40% ABV) and blended with sugar syrup and Cognac, which makes up 51% of the finished product. Raguenaud is very particular about the spirits he uses. He wants a light, fruity Cognac so doesn’t distil on the lees. He gave us some to try which was grassy with notes of pear and lemon and only a little wood influence. “We don’t want too much oak or it will spoil flavours”, he said.

Patrick Raguenau

Patrick Raguenaud with the Grand Marnier range

“It’s a very complex job to maintain consistency”, according to Raguenaud. The company both ages eaux-de-vie distilled to its specifications and buys in aged Cognac. This year it released a special version, Cuvée Louis Alexandre, using a higher percentage of Cognac, and older spirits. We tried it alongside the standard model and it’s richer, sweeter and longer. He also let us try some of the completely fabulous and astronomically-priced Quintessence which is made with XO Cognac.

Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge was created in 1880 by Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle. Since 2016 the company has been part of the Campari group. The biggest market by far, according to Ragueneau, is America where it’s used in Margaritas. I love a Margarita as much as the next man but I think this week’s cocktail makes better use of Grand Marnier’s intense sweetness, mouth-coating bitterness and length that comes from the Cognac. In fact, as it contains high ABV spirit, a bittering agent, orange, and sweetness, Grand Marnier is almost a cocktail in a bottle. So all you really need to add is something sour and voila! You have an elegant drink.

This recipe comes is based on one from Difford’s Guide. It’s really very special and harmonious. Best of all is the finish where the complexity of the base Cognac really comes through, though I have a feeling that using one of the fancier versions would be even more delicious.

Grand Sour (credit Misti Traya)

Grand Sour (credit Misti Traya)

Got your bottle of Grand Marnier ready? Let’s get shaking.

60ml Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge
30ml Lemon juice
15ml Blood orange juice (both freshly-squeezed)

Shake all the ingredients hard with ice and double strain into a chilled tumbler (or similar) with ice (or you could also serve it straight up in a coupe). Garnish with an orange round.

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The new faces of alcohol-free

The alcohol-free category is evolving, shaped by growing interest in sustainability, natural, ethically-sourced ingredients, and a penchant for pre- and post-dinner cocktails. We take a look at the new wave…

The alcohol-free category is evolving, shaped by growing interest in sustainability, natural, ethically-sourced ingredients, and a penchant for pre- and post-dinner cocktails. We take a look at the new wave of booze-free botanical aperitifs…

“Sustainability is fascinating because it can mean so many things,” observes bar owner, bartender and conservation biologist Paul Mathew. “Two of our bars, The Hide and The Arbitrager, only serve things brewed, fermented or distilled in London – so the concept of sustainability there is about locally-sourced. Whether it’s reducing the amount of single-use plastics in the bar, switching to sustainable energy, using wonky fruit and veg, or upcycling citrus husks for a zero-waste approach to ingredients, it’s great that sustainability is such an integral part of the conversation we’re having in the industry now.”

Paul Mathew

The man himself, Mr Paul Matthew!

When Mathew embarked on the project that would eventually become responsibly-sourced aperitif Everleaf, he set out to create a non-alcoholic drink with body and texture, something he felt other booze-free brands were missing. “Whenever we talk about wine, beer, spirits and cocktails, we talk about mouthfeel and texture in the same way as the colour, aroma and flavour, so for me it was an important missing part,” he says. “I wanted to make something that has a beginning, middle and end – from light and aromatic through to bitter and long.”

A hot, creamy drink traditional to Turkey and the Middle East made with herbs and spices, and thickened with powdered orchid root drew Mathew’s attention. Salep was popular in London centuries ago, he says, but fell out of favour when tea and coffee became popular. “I dug up some test orchids from Dad’s garden – he’s a botanist – dehydrated and ground them, before mixing with herbs and spices until I got the texture and flavour I was looking for,” he says. “When I tried to scale it, I couldn’t find any sustainable sources for orchid tubers. With a little more research, I found the same thickening components in voodoo lily, so it seemed the perfect solution.”

He spent a year researching, sourcing, dehydrating, macerating and extracting various plants to perfect the final recipe, which contains vanilla from the north-east of Madagascar, saffron from Spain, cassia from south-east Asia, iris from Italy, vetiver from Haiti, angelica and liquorice from Europe, quassia from Central America, gum arabic from Senegal, Peruvian pepper from Peru, and voodoo lily from China, among others – 18 botanicals in total.

Everleaf, looking very classy

“There were a few ingredients I really wanted in there,” Mathew says. “My father wrote two of the definitive works on iris and crocus while I was growing up, so the smell of saffron and orris root are really emotive for me. I wanted vanilla for mid-palate sweetness and gentian for bitterness at the finish. Most of the other ingredients filled the gaps between the beginning-middle-end parts of the flavour profile, making it a journey across your palate rather than start-stop. The flavours should develop like they do in a good wine.”

To make Everleaf, Mathew heats voodoo lily and gum arabic, to make a textured base, to which he adds the botanicals. The resulting mix is rested before bottling. “Each of the botanical ingredients is made in the best way to obtain the natural characters I’m looking for from the plant,” he says. “The saffron is a maceration, for example, as is the vanilla. The orris is a tincture, the fennel seed a vacuum distillate, and vetiver an essential oil distillation – as it is made for perfumery.”

There’s no question that Mathew’s travels as a conservation biologist shaped his vision. Much of his work focused on “conservation through adding value” – making natural ecosystems work for people so that they want to look after them. “If you can find a high-value crop that makes a forest worth more in the long-term rather than as timber in the short term, people will want to look after it,” he explains. “Similar to Fairtrade principles, if you pay a higher price for vanilla grown under natural forest shade rather than under netting after the forest has been cleared, hopefully more will be protected.”

For Everleaf, sourcing is key. His vetiver, for example, hails from a Haitian project that protects communities and their livelihoods through reforestation, food security and empowering local women. “We’re trying to ensure that everything we get for Everleaf leaves a positive impact on the people and places it comes from,” Mathew explains. “We’re also working out how to offset the carbon produced in the supply chain so that we can be carbon positive – in a way that benefits biodiversity as well as emissions.”

Aecorn Bitter Spritz

Aecorn Bitter Spritz

A huge part of the sustainability focus echoing throughout the industry has been the burgeoning trend for locally-sourced ingredients – something newcomer Aecorn Aperitifs is channeling with its range of alcohol-free aperitifs made from English grapes. As the sister brand of alcohol-free spirit Seedlip, which was launched by Ben Branson back in 2015, the ethos behind Aecorn is to “work within the realms of what’s familiar”, says co-founder Clare Warner, “but create our own rules about what you can do with something non-alcoholic”.  

Inspired by the trend for low-abv drinking, aromatised wines and the rise of the aperitif, the duo set about creating a range of alcohol-free cocktail modifiers. When Bransen created Seedlip, he took inspiration from a 17th century manuscript called the Art of Distillation. “We went back into that book and found a recipe for acorn wine,” says Warner. “The recipe read exactly like an aromatised wine. It contained all the ingredients you would expect in a vermouth, plus acorns.”

Many traditional European aperitifs had a wine base, she adds. “Looking back at the 16th and 17th century we were consuming a lot of verjus in the UK, before we had citrus, and also when we had a lot of grapes”. Today, the supply is not quite so abundant – sourcing an English verjus was tricky to say the least, but eventually the duo found a producer who grows grapes specifically to make the acidic, complex juice, and foraged acorns from oak trees across the UK.

Aecorn range

The complete Aecorn range

Together, Warner and Bransen set about aromatising the verjus and acorns along with other herbs, roots and bitter botanicals to create the three-strong range: Dry, which embodies a dry vermouth; Aromatic, which resembles a sweet vermouth; and Bitter, in the style of a classic bitter aperitif.

While bartenders have been busy experimenting with Aecorn in weird and wonderful ways – the range features in both low- and no-alcohol drinks at London’s Lyaness – Warner recognises the desire to create complex, great-tasting drinks at home. “If you’re a bartender you’ve got all the tools at your disposal, if you’re a chef you’ve got the kitchen, but at home you’re limited in terms of what you can do,” she says. “We wanted to create a range of aperitif-style products that opens up the possibilities for [alcohol-free] classic cocktails but equally if you’re at home and just want to add ice and soda to create a spritz, then you can do that too.”

 

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Watch out, Islay – Team MoM is Fèis Ìle-bound!

It’s that time of year again, folks – and we’re buzzing. Fèis Ìle is just around the corner, we’re going to Islay for the frivolities, and here’s how you can…

It’s that time of year again, folks – and we’re buzzing. Fèis Ìle is just around the corner, we’re going to Islay for the frivolities, and here’s how you can join in!

Ah, Islay. It really is a whisky-lover’s paradise. We returned to the Isle after a significant hiatus last year, and we loved it so much we bounced right back. In fact, two of our number are already on the road!

The best part? Whether you’re on the island for Fèis Ìle or not, we really, really want to make you part of the action. Why? Because whisky is way more fun when it’s shared. How?! Read on, friend!

Firstly, whether or not you’ll be at Fèis Ìle is irrelevant for this. We’ve got access to the island’s most exciting distillers, ambassadors, ops managers, blenders and more. We’re going to be quizzing them every single day. But we want YOU to ask the questions. That’s right! If you’ve ever dreamed of putting one of your Islay heroes on the spot, drop us a line. We’re videoing the whole shebang, and will give you a shout-out, too. Want in? Send us your questions on social or leave a comment below!

There’s more! Regardless of whether you’re on the Isle or not, you can still experience it all through the medium of taste with our fancy MoM-exclusive All-Islay – Islay Blended Malt bottling! Apparently we’re not allowed to say much, but I will just put the emphasis on its name: ALL-Islay. And it’s ALL been made possible thanks to our pals over at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Oh, and it’s bloody lovely, too. It’s available right over here!

Feis Ile

Mouthwatering stuff

That’s all great, you may say, but what else is going on?

Boo. I’m not going

In the first instance, fret not. We’ve got your back! We’re going to be reporting every dram, tasting, tour, masterclass, adventure, dog (there were loads of excellent hounds last year) and more on our social channels, especially Instagram Stories. So follow with haste! (It’s @masterofmalt, FYI). There will, of course, be action over on Twitter and Facebook, too.

Want more? Good, because that’s just the start. You can also expect daily bulletins right here on the blog, plus video interviews, and more. MUCH more convenient than that epic journey.

Feis Ile

The whisky awaits…

I’m at Fèis Ìle!

Ace! See you there, pal! Seriously, we’re gearing up for a right fun knees up. We’ve got drams of our very own aforementioned All-Islay – Islay Blended Malt bottling, released with our friends over at That Boutique-y Whisky Company, to nab. We’ve got some pretty nifty MoM Islay 2019 t-shirts to give away, too. Want to get your mitts on the swag? We’ll be at every distillery day; come find us! We’re keen in selfies too, so why not snap yourself in your shiny new shirt and tag us in your post?

Phew! That’s it for now. We’ve got packing to do. Well, except for the bonkers duo of Dan and Jake who are literally driving all the way to Islay from MoM Towers in Kent… Godspeed, chaps.

All that’s left to say is stay tuned for all the fun of the Fèis right here on the blog and @masterofmalt on social!

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Where to drink in… Berlin

David Bowie once deemed Berlin “the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine”, and his words still carry weight decades later. Here, we champion five of the German capital city’s…

David Bowie once deemed Berlin “the greatest cultural extravaganza that one could imagine”, and his words still carry weight decades later. Here, we champion five of the German capital city’s standout bars – and find out what happens when you age rye whiskey on volcanic stone from a vineyard…

Berlin has long boasted a thriving creative scene, and its cocktail culture is no exception. Ageing spirits in former wine casks is cool, sure, but ageing spirits using the very material that cultivated the vine? Ingenuity on another level. The idea was the brainchild of Australian native Matt Boswell, bar chef at stylish and sustainable cocktail haunt Tiger Bar, which lies across the courtyard from its pioneering sister, Panama Restaurant.

“I really wanted to figure out how we could add extra minerality and a little bit more depth and complexity into the cocktails we were making,” Boswell explains. He contacted German wine producers and asked them to send whatever they could from their vineyards. Three out of 30 responded, sending cases of rocks.

Tiger Bar Berlin

Get your rocks off in Berlin

Working closely with the sommelier team at Panama, Boswell determined which wine characteristics were common across certain soils and set about pairing spirits with each stone. “It was very much a matching game,” he explains. “If we got laser focus and really clear minerality and tropical notes from blue slate, we’d pair it with gin. If we got extra tropicality and spice from red slate-grown wines, we’d try mezcal. Based on that intuition, they all paired pretty well.”

The ageing period varies according to spirit variety and ABV – lighter spirits like vodka evolve far quicker than a big, bold mezcal, for example – but there are variables between the stones, too. “Some of them are porous, some of them are really dense,” explains Boswell, “we’ve been resting white dog rye whiskey on volcanic stone and it can take more than two weeks before it starts to develop any specific flavour or character.”

The first menu combined rhum agricole with limestone, gin with blue slate, mezcal on red slate and pisco on phyllite. “We were really shocked at the development and character changes that happened,” Boswell adds. “Not only was there extra minerality and nuanced flavours; often it changed the character of the spirit entirely.” Once aged, the team create two cocktails with each spirit: a lighter highball serve and a shorter stirred drink.

Tiger Bar is a great place to start, but Boswell and his team are not the only bartenders drinking outside the box. Whether it’s through ingredient selection, menu style or spirits stock, we’ve championed the must-visit Berlin bars that aren’t afraid to do things a little differently….

TIger bar Berlin

On the rocks has a whole new meaning at Tiger bar

Tiger Bar

Potsdamer Straße 91, 10785 Berlin, Germany
Where? Tiergarten
Why? Terroir-based cocktails
What? Four base spirits aged on German terroir, with one long and one short cocktail created from each. Take the black basalt-aged rye – it can be ordered as Rye & Dry, which sees it mixed with smoked tea and Moroccan soda, or combined with small batch vermouth and vintage cherry wine in a Boulevardier.

Velvet bar Berlin

Seasonal cocktail at Velvet bar

Velvet

Ganghoferstraße 1, 12043 Berlin, Germany
Where? Neukölln
Why? Seasonality taken seriously
What? An intimate cocktail bar in hipster district Neukölln, which forages ingredients “from Berlin and the surrounding nature”. Cocktails are named according to the main seasonal ingredient within, processed on a weekly basis. On the current menu? Sorrel, Young Pine Cone, Strawberry and White Asparagus.

Lebbensstern Berlin

They have comfy sofas at Lebbensstern

Lebensstern

58 Kurfürstenstraße, 10785 Berlin, Germany
Where? Schöneberg
Why? Mind-boggling spirits selection
What? Aside from the fact it used to be an illegal casino for Berlin’s most boujie residents, it stocks more than 600 kinds of rum, 400 whiskies, 150 gin bottlings and a plethora of other boozes that brings the total spirits count over 1,500. Oh, and Quentin Tarantino filmed Inglourious Basterds there.

Stairs bar in Berlin

Stairs bar in Berlin

Stairs Bar

Uhlandstraße 133, 10717 Berlin, Germany
Where? Charlottenburg
Why? Sustainable cocktails made three ways
What? Six cocktails are on the menu, split down into three variants: classic, twist, and in-house creation. Take the Manhattan, traditionally made with whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters, the twist, Brooklyn, sees the addition of maraschino and bitter aperitif, while the in-house version Womanhattan uses Scotch, sherry and plum liqueur.

Stagger Lee

You’ll be pleased to hear that they also take euros

Stagger Lee

Nollendorfstraße 27, 10777 Berlin, Germany
Where? Schöneberg
Why? The home of American whiskey in Berlin
What? Named after the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds song, Stagger Lee is a Wild West-themed 19th century saloon bar, complete with old-school cash till and rustic-looking piano. Don’t get distracted by the decor – the menu is where the magic truly happens, with the likes of Greek yoghurt-washed rum and banana-infused Campari.

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The Balvenie Stories launches with three special whiskies

Three key figures at the classic Speyside distillery have each created a whisky to celebrate human tales of endeavour, craft and surprise. These are their stories. We love a great Scotch…

Three key figures at the classic Speyside distillery have each created a whisky to celebrate human tales of endeavour, craft and surprise. These are their stories.

We love a great Scotch whisky. We also love a good story. So it’s always a pleasure to witness when the two are combined. That’s the case with The Balvenie Stories, a range of three expressions made to bring tales from the distillery’s illustrious history to life.

The selection includes The Sweet Toast of American Oak, a whisky Kelsey McKechnie matured in Kentucky virgin oak to make a fruitier Balvenie, a story of a new apprentice malt master innovating and making her mark. The Week of Peat and A Day of Dark Barley, meanwhile, are two expressions that tell the stories behind two classic whiskies you may have enjoyed before, from former distillery manager Ian Millar’s introduction of Speyside peat or malt master David Stewart MBE using dark roasted malted barley.

The Balvenie Stories

Three tales of character written in whisky: The Balvenie Stories

As well as new liquid to enjoy, The Balvenie has also provided whisky enthusiasts with a chance to experience these tales outside the glass. Specially-recorded audio conversations and guided whisky tasting content will be available via an NFC-enabled neck tag, that people connect to using their smartphones, as well as in podcast format.

An accompanying book ‘Pursuit – The Balvenie Stories Collection’, a collection of short tales by acclaimed writers from around the world was edited by award-winning author and journalist Alex Preston, will also be published in the autumn by Canongate. The notion of storytelling informs the design of The Balvenie Stories packaging too. Each tale is represented on the whisky’s tube and label in bespoke illustrations from British artist and printmaker Andy Lovell.

David Stewart MBE summarised: “Stories are the lifeblood of The Balvenie distillery. They make up the fabric of who we are and what we do. The Balvenie Stories collection tells these tales in liquid form, giving whisky drinkers across the globe a special glimpse into the unique and very human nature of how we produce our whisky. Each expression in the collection reflects this by telling its own story via first-hand accounts and recollections of the many people involved.”

But that’s enough storytime, let’s take a look at these three expressions:

The Balvenie Stories

The Sweet Toast of American Oak

The Sweet Toast of American Oak

What’s the story?:

A whisky conceived to demonstrate what happens when ancient techniques and fresh ideas are blended. Appropriately, this was recently-appointed apprentice malt master Kelsey McKechnie’s experiment. The 12-year-old whisky was matured in twice-toasted virgin white American oak casks from Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky to produce an even fruitier, sweeter tasting Balvenie that was bottled at 43% ABV.

Producer Tasting Notes:

Nose: Lusciously malty with some sweet fudge, followed by citrussy and oak vanilla aromas with layers of spicy oak notes of ginger and cinnamon.

Palate: Candied orange and lemon peel, vanilla toffee and butterscotch, layers of blossom honey, some melted brown sugar and oak spices at the end.

Finish: Rich and malty with gentle waves of oak vanilla and subtle spices.

The Balvenie Stories

The Week of Peat

The Week of Peat

What’s the story?:

As you might have guessed already, The Week of Peat is an evolution of The Balvenie Peat Week Aged 14 Year Old, which was launched back in 2017 to add a touch of smoke to the Speysider’s selection. This expression remembers when Stewart and former distillery manager Ian Millar trialled drying barley with peat for the first time after a week’s gap in the distillery’s production schedule provided an opportunity back in 2002. The resulting dram, which was bottled at 48.3% ABV, has all the hallmarks of a classic Balvenie expression with an extra layer of delicate smokiness.

Producer Tasting Notes:

Nose: Gentle sweet peat smoke, lighter floral notes and delicate butterscotch honey

Palate: Velvety and round to taste with the peat smoke balancing citrus flavours, oaky vanilla and blossom honey

Finish: Gentle smoke with a lingering and creamy vanilla sweetness.

The Balvenie Stories

A Day of Dark Barley

A Day of Dark Barley

What’s the story?:

A 26-year-old dram, A Day of Dark Barley is the oldest expression in the range and is another familiar face. An edition of this whisky was released in 2006 as the Balvenie 14 Year Old Roasted Malt. However, casks were retained for extra maturation and the result is a sublime aged Balvenie that was bottled at 47.8% ABV. The story here references Stewart’s and The Balvenie distillery team experiment with a heavily roasted dark barley back in 1992 and celebrates two Balvenie legends, mashman Brian Webster and maltman Robbie Gormley.

Producer Tasting Notes:

Nose: Big malty notes, soft brown sugar, vanilla toffee, blossom honey and a mild oaky spiciness.

Palate: Syrupy with a toffee sweetness, some citrussy notes of tangy orange peel, followed by oak vanilla and a touch of cinnamon and ginger spices at the end.

Finish: Enduring gentle waves of vanilla and oak spices.

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New Arrival of the Week: Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition

Selfies and Scotch Whisky are the focus of our New Arrival of the Week. Oh, and a little event called Fèis Ìle… As we’re sure you’re all well aware, Fèis…

Selfies and Scotch Whisky are the focus of our New Arrival of the Week. Oh, and a little event called Fèis Ìle…

As we’re sure you’re all well aware, Fèis Ìle 2019 begins on Friday (whoop!). With it comes all kinds of merriment and festivities. But the excitement of the event isn’t contained to the isle of Islay, oh no. Whisky fans all around the world know that Islay’s finest like to mark the occasion with limited edition releases. Whether it’s Bruichladdich with Octomore’s oldest bottling, Event Horizon, or Laphroaig releasing the Càirdeas 2019 edition, there’s lots of liquid loveliness to get your teeth  into each year.

Which brings us on to our New Arrival of the Week, Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition. Making his annual appearance courtesy of independent Scotch whisky bottlers and blenders Douglas Laing. In 2018, Big Peat was released with a sheet of stickers that could be used to customise the presentation tube, but for 2019 Douglas Laing took the idea of personalisation to a whole new level. Using people’s actual faces, over 400 of them. It doesn’t get more personal than that.

Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition

Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition, in all its glory

Through an online competition, the brand was able to select a lucky few to feature on Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition, who will now be able to tell their friends excitedly that they’ve taken a selfie that actually matters. Cara Laing, director of whisky and third generation in the family-owned business, said it was to “pay homage to his friends the world over”, and Big Peat has many of those. The feisty Ileach fisherman has built quite a following over the last decad e.

Speaking of which, Big Peat isn’t just celebrating another wonderful Fèis Ìle in 2019, but also his 10th anniversary in existence. Douglas Laing has big plans for Peat’s birthday including a special 10 year old whisky release, and an online tasting hosted on Big Peat’s Facebook profile during the Feis Ile Festival: selected members of the community will be invited to join a virtual masterclass and enjoy samples of the classic Big Peat, Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition, the 10 Years Old Limited Edition and the oldest ever bottling released to date, the 26 Years Old Platinum Edition. ! According to Cara Laing, all this excitement “will ensure our big Islay pal celebrates in style all over the world”.

Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition

One familiar face and lots of delightful new ones!

Big Peat was made to be “the ultimate taste of Islay”, as Cara Laing put it, so you can expect much the same from this latest Fèis Ìle expression. Created from a blend of single malts from Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and Port Ellen, Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition was bottled without chill-filtration or any additional colouring, as always, at 48% ABV.

So, does it deliver the usual goods? In a word, yes. The most striking aspect of Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition is its coastal character, which is expressed through notes of sea-washed pebbles and an enjoyable seaweed salinity. Those who are here for a fair share of peat and meat will be pleased, while plenty of ripe citrus keeps it fresh. The overall impression is that the combination of shoreline serenity, tart fruit and muscular notes means there’s a hearty dose of pure Big Peat pleasure in every mouthful. Hurrah!

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Diageo releases new Italian gin, Villa Ascenti

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a new premium gin! Drinks giant Diageo has just announced the launch of Villa Ascenti, a new Italian gin with…

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a new premium gin! Drinks giant Diageo has just announced the launch of Villa Ascenti, a new Italian gin with an intriguing signature botanical.

The growth of the gin-dustry truly shows no signs of slowing down, with new releases popping up left, right and centre. The most recent of these is Diageo’s Villa Ascenti, produced at a new £360,000 distillery, Distilleria Santa Vittoria, based (rather unshockingly) in Santa Vittoria. It is the latest tipple to join Diageo’s luxury spirits portfolio. Trained winemaker and master distiller, Lorenzo Rosso, who has over 20 years’ experience with Diageo, is the brains behind the new spirit. Rosso works closely with local farmers and producers in Piedmont to source ingredients for the gin.

“Villa Ascenti Gin is rooted in provenance and brings local, fresh ingredients from Piemonte to life,” Tanya Clarke, general manager of Diageo Reserve Europe, commented. “Its use of locally-grown ingredients from the foothills of Piemonte, alongside some of the more classic botanicals associated with gin, has allowed us to create a high-quality liquid, which we hope existing and new gin drinkers will love.”

The local Piedmontese botanicals include fresh mint and thyme, which are distilled at their freshest within hours of harvest, and sweet Moscato grapes. The grapes are harvested in August and September and are then three times distilled, while during the third distillation they are infused with Tuscan juniper berries. Botanicals are distilled in a newly-refurbished Frilli copper pot still from the 1970s, so you can be sure there’s a splash of history in each bottle, too.

Villa Ascenti

One way to enjoy Villa Ascenti

“It has been an absolute privilege to be involved in developing Villa Ascenti Gin and to have the chance to showcase the very best of Piemonte to the world,” Rosso added. “It’s a beautiful gin with the region at its heart in its aroma and flavour, but also in how it’s best enjoyed – around the table with friends. I’m particularly proud of the use of the Moscato grape distillate, an idea that stemmed from my winemaking experience.”

So, we know you’re all wondering, what does it taste like? Well, who better to tell us than the Master Distiller himself:

Nose: Mint and thyme are vibrant and refreshing alongside the spice of the Tuscan juniper berries.

Palate: The Moscato grapes really come to life. Enhanced through copper distillation, the smooth, fruity flavour of this distillate rounds off zesty juniper notes to create a velvety, slightly sweet gin.

We reckon it would do very nicely in a Gin & Tonic with a sprig of thyme, and perhaps even some fresh mint leaves. The good news is that there isn’t long to wait, as Villa Ascenti will be available to buy this month! Keep your eyes peeled for news from your favourite online retailer.

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Mortlach video masterclass with malt whisky brand ambassador TJ

Last month we spent an evening at Diageo’s London HQ with Edinburgh bartender and malt whisky brand ambassador TJ learning about why they call Mortlach the Beast of Dufftown. And…

Last month we spent an evening at Diageo’s London HQ with Edinburgh bartender and malt whisky brand ambassador TJ learning about why they call Mortlach the Beast of Dufftown. And we’ve got the videos to prove it.

Mortlach is a Speyside legend famed for its powerful whiskies that are capable of great ageing (the distillery recently released a 47 year old). Its unique character is down to a peculiar distillation technique known as ‘The Way’ invented by Alexander Cowie who built the distillery in 1823. We won’t go into too much detail about how it works but you can read more about it here. In this technique the wash is distilled not once, not twice, not even three times a lady, but 2.81 times. So precise!

Mortlach 12 Year Old in all its glory

To talk us through the core range, we were lucky enough to have one of Diageo’s newest and shiniest brand ambassadors TJ. An Edinburgh native, TJ cut his teeth working in some of the city’s best bars before being snapped up to spread the malt whisky gospel.

Drams at the ready, let’s masterclass!

Here TJ tells us a little about himself and his journey from behind the bar to Diageo whisky brand ambassador.

 

The 12 Year Old is Mortlach’s bestselling expression offering all that trademark meatiness at an everyday price.

 

One step up in the range and a move up the complexity scale is the 16 Year Old.

 

And finally the biggest beast in the Mortlach core range, it’s the mighty 20 Year Old!

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