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Are these Britain’s smallest gin distilleries?

Some people build a garden shed and store a lawnmower in it. Others think, ‘I could make gin in that’. We like those people. Here, we celebrate five of Britain’s…

Some people build a garden shed and store a lawnmower in it. Others think, ‘I could make gin in that’. We like those people. Here, we celebrate five of Britain’s smallest gin distilleries – proof (geddit?) that great things come in small packages.

What makes a distillery ‘small’? Still capacity in litres, perhaps, or the number of batches produced each week? Or do you judge each site quite literally, by floor space? These things don’t exist independently of course the folks at Beefeater aren’t running one of the world’s best-selling gin brands from a garden shed but they spark competition among small-scale operations that choose to use their size as a selling point.

For the sake of this listicle, we’ve considered a mix of the aforementioned factors to determine the ‘smallest’ all-round sites. It’s important to remember that we’re not Guinness World Records inspectors, we’re just a bunch of people who really, really like spirits. We did not traverse the UK with a clipboard questionnaire and a juniper-sensitive Basset hound. Nor did we break and enter any distilleries with a measuring tape and jug to confirm or dispel any claims about capacity.

Without further ado, here we’ve unearthed five of the UK’s smallest gin distilleries right now… well, the ones we know about, anyway. Have you noticed a curious juniper-y smell wafting out of your neighbour’s conservatory? Or perhaps your postie has started a side hustle? Share any fledgling distillers we’ve missed in the comments below!

Shed 1 Distillery

Andy and Zoe Arnold-Bennett with their shed

Shed 1 Distillery, Lake District, Cumbria

Peer inside Andy and Zoe Arnold-Bennett’s 7ft x 7ft garden shed on the outskirts of the Lake District and you won’t find a rusty tandem bicycle – you’ll unearth something far more interesting: bucketloads of gin. Established back in October, 2016, the Shed 1 range consists of three core bottlings: Giggle in the Ginnel, Fancy Frolic, and Cuckold’s Revenge, with 36 x 500ml bottles produced in every run. The duo is partial to a seasonal tipple too – their most recent limited edition bottling, Shed Loads of Love, combines “rose petals, lavender and strawberries with a delicate hint of chilli”.

Second Son Distillery

Second Son gin from Cheshire

Second Son Distillery, Norley, Cheshire

Established in 2016, Second Son Distillery which claims to be the smallest licensed distillery in the UK is the brainchild of former pub landlord John (depicted on the label) and graphic designer-slash-gin-aficionado Anna. Together the business partners distil, label and bottle their three creations – Cheshire Gin, Winter Spiced Gin, and Summer Edition Gin – in 250-year-old pub The Tigers Head on the edge of Delamere Forest, producing just 32 bottles per batch. You can bet the place serves a cracking G&T, too.

Duck and-Crutch Kensington

The tiny still at Duck and Crutch in Kensington

Duck and Crutch Distillery, Kensington, London

Such is the London property market that a Kensington shed could be marketed as a studio flat and no one would bat an eyelid. Instead, couple Hollie and George (and to a certain extent, their dachshund Meryl) kitted out their 6ft x 4ft space with a lovely shiny copper still and launched Duck and Crutch gin, featuring vanilla pod, fresh lemon, Darjeeling tea, fresh thyme, orange peel, cardamom pod and nutmeg botanicals. If you like a punchier gin, Duck and Crutch releases 33 bottles of Kensington Overproof Dry Gin each month, which comes in at a respectable 57% ABV.

Culpeper Gin

Culpeper Gin, serving suggestion

The Nicholas Culpeper Pub & Dining, North Terminal, Gatwick Airport

If you’re looking for an excuse to book your next holiday, we’ve found one. But you won’t need to travel thousands of miles to sample The Nicholas Culpeper London Dry Gin more or less straight off the still in fact, you need not even go through security. Named in honour of the 17th century English botanist, herbalist and physician who once lived nearby, this creation is produced in the world’s first airport gin distillery. The still is named Judith after Culpeper’s ill-fated fiancée, and makes just 12 bottles per run. N’aww.

Carnoustie Distillery

Note clan tartan

Carnoustie Distillery, Carnoustie, Scotland

At this point I’m starting to feel like the only person in Britain who doesn’t own a shed, but even if I did, I can’t promise I’d use the space as wisely as the father and son distilling team behind Carnoustie Distillery. From white chocolate-flavoured vodka to toffee apple rum liqueur (and, of course, gin) Billy Duncan and his son Jory create a variety of craft spirits in a 10 ft x 8 ft distillery in their back garden the bottles of which are bedecked with the Duncan family tartan and motto. At the age of 21, Jory is thought to be one of the UK’s youngest distillers.

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The Nightcap: 22 March

Looking for bite-sized bits of booze news? That’s exactly what The Nightcap is all about! This week we’ve got stories about distillery facelifts, trees and 47 year old whisky… It’s…

Looking for bite-sized bits of booze news? That’s exactly what The Nightcap is all about! This week we’ve got stories about distillery facelifts, trees and 47 year old whisky…

It’s time once again for the MoM editorial team to remove the selection of stylish toppers from our heads and don our snazzy newsy caps with the little bit of paper saying “PRESS” or “NEWS” sticking out of them. The Nightcap is back for another round of news stories from the booze world. You can wear whatever variety of hat you want as you read it. Perhaps a pillbox hat? A Stetson? A whoopee cap?! All headwear is allowed.

So what’s been going on here on the MoM Blog? Well, it kicked off with Henry looking at Graham’s Blend No. 5 Port, which he followed up with the Cocktail of the Week (it’s a Manhattan) and an overview of the last 20 years of the London cocktail scene. Annie explored the world of terroir and how it relates to vodka. Kristy took a look around the home of American craft distilling pioneer St. George Spirits in San Francisco. Adam collected together a bunch of suitable springtime treats that would make excellent Mother’s Day pressies. We also had a nose around Aberfeldy, and made it so you can use Apple Pay at the checkout!

That’s all well and good, but what about the rest of the news? Read on…

Clynelish

Clynelish, the Highland ‘home’ of Johnnie Walker, is set for a radical revamp

Clynelish and Cardhu set for fancy facelifts

Diageo has revealed the latest recipients as part of its £150 million investment in Scotch whisky tourism – Highland distillery Clynelish, and Speyside’s Cardhu! Local residents have been invited to check out yet-to-be-submitted plans for both sites, which will become outposts for blended Scotch brand Johnnie Walker. Clynelish, situated about an hour north of Inverness, will get a visitor centre on the upper floor, along with a new bar and tasting area, boasting stunning views of the Sutherland coast. As the Highland ‘home’ of Johnnie Walker, the distillery will share design cues with the major new visitor attraction in Edinburgh. Clynelish shares its site with Brora, a long-closed distillery that’s being brought back into production in a separate project. Meanwhile, over in Speyside, Cardhu is also set for a refurb. The distillery, just north of the River Spey near Knockando, will become Johnnie Walker’s Speyside home. It’s association with the brand dates back to 1893 when it became John Walker & Sons’ first distillery. The investment will see a visitor experience dedicated to Helen and Elizabeth Cumming, the two women who set up and ran the distillery in the 19th century, plus a new orchard space for people to enjoy. “Tourism is an increasingly important part of the Speyside economy, alongside distilling,” said Laura Sharp, Cardhu Distillery brand home manager. “The investment we are making here at Cardhu will add another jewel to Speyside’s whisky tourism crown and we look forward to working with the local community and stakeholders as we progress our plans.” Jacqueline James-Bow, her Clynelish counterpart, added: “Scotch whisky tourism is one of the major attractions driving economic growth in rural communities such as Brora. With the work we are already doing at Brora Distillery, and that we plan to do at Clynelish, we are bringing major investment and creating exciting new economic opportunities for the community.” Subject to planning permission, work is expected to get underway at both sites later this year.

Tres Agaves

Feast your eyes on the new Tres Agaves Distillery!

Tres Agaves opens new Tequila distillery

We’ve heard a lot about new distilleries across Scotland and Ireland recently, but this week we bring you news of a pristine Tequila distillery! San Francisco-based Tres Agaves has opened its first production site in Amatitán, Mexico, with Iliana Partida at the helm as its founding master distiller. Tequilera TAP has been custom-built and will continue to make Tres Agaves’ Blanco, Reposado and Añejo 100% agave range, only now with full organic certification. The set-up includes a 20-ton autoclave, a four-stage roller mill, shallow stainless-steel fermentation tanks, and copper coiled alembic distillation stills. As well as the shiny new kit, there’s also a traditional brick horno, a tahona wheel and shallow pine fermentation tanks, to provide time-honoured production options, too. Capacity will reach more than 600,000 litres of spirit per year. Visitors are welcome, and can take advantage of tours and private tastings, including single-barrel releases. The Tres Agaves team seem delighted with the developments. “Tres Agaves has always been about family, the local community and producing the finest quality authentic Tequila,” said Barry Augus, founder and CEO of Tres Agaves Tequila. “I’ve known Iliana’s family for twenty years and even purchased the land for the new distillery from her father, David. The opening of our state-of-the-art distillery with Iliana, whose family I have known since my start in the Tequila industry, marks a major milestone for us.” Congrats to all!

It seems appropriate to celebrate Cotswolds Dry Gin victory with a quick tipple…

ADI names Best of Class craft spirits

Remember when we headed out to San Francisco for the American Distilling Institute’s Judging of Craft Spirits? Well, the winners have been announced! And they are a diverse bunch indeed. Those named Best in Class were deemed outstanding by the individual panels, and then re-tasted by the entire judging contingent – so you know they’re good. And leading the gin charge was England’s very own Cotswolds Distillery, which won the International Gin category with its Dry Gin! Other top tipples were NAUD’s VS Cognac, which won International Brandy; and Casa D’Aristi, which scooped International Liqueur with its Kalani Coconut offering. Kudos also goes to The Heart Distillery which won in the US gin category, Solar Spirits, which snapped up US vodka for its Eclipse Vodka, and Cutwater Spirits, which triumphed in the US Whiskey section with Devil’s Share American Whiskey. Overall, there were hundreds of medals awarded to all kinds of spirits across the category spectrum. Congratulations to all the winners!

Mortlach

Just look at this beauty. Wow

Mortlach releases 47 year old ‘Singing Still’ bottling

We love the meaty taste of Mortlach. It’s not known as the beast of Dufftown for nothing. So, we were particularly excited to learn about a new 47 year old expression from the single malt Scotch distillery. 47 years! Imagine the beastiness. This is the oldest expression ever released by the distillery. It’s the first to hit the market in a new series of single cask whiskies called The Singing Stills Series (can now picture Disney-esque stills actually singing) after Mortlach’s famously vocal distillation equipment. This one is from a refill American oak hogshead that was filled in 1971. “This bottling is exquisite for its age and is unmistakably Mortlach, with its intensely complex character and well-balanced flavour profile,” said master blender Dr. Craig Wilson. Global Scotch ambassador Ewan Gunn added: “The sound of the stills is as distinctive to the distillery as the taste of the whisky. Mortlach’s exceptionally bold and complex flavours effortlessly bridge the gap between mellow and smoky.” Mmmmmm, mellow and smoky. On 25 March one bottle will be auctioned by Bonhams of Singapore with the money going to Daughters of Tomorrow, a charity that supports underprivileged women. A further 94 will go on sale on 9 April for £10,000 apiece. Master of Malt will be given a wee taste soon; we will let you know ASAP whether it’s worth dipping into your wallet.

Barton 1792

You can enjoy bourbon and the Kentucky sunshine with Barreled And Bold

Kentucky distillers team up for free tours!

Great news if you’re Kentucky-bound – Buffalo Trace, Copper & Kings and Barton 1792 have partnered to offer complimentary (yes – free!) distillery tours! Known as Barreled And Bold, the experience takes in each of the three distilleries, based in Frankfort, Louisville and Bardstown respectively. To take part, visitors need to register at BarreledAndBold.com, and then collect their B&B pass at the first stop. The pass gives bearers access to a free tour at each site, and progressive discounts along the journey (10% at the first distillery, 15% at the second, 20% at the third). Visit all three, and get a commemorative gift! “This is not just serendipity, this is allowing for a partnership that can provide an exciting, adventurous window to the past, present and future of distilling in America, well beyond the borders of Kentucky,” said Mark Brown, Buffalo Trace Distillery and Barton 1792 Distillery president and chief executive officer. Copper & Kings founder Joe Heron added: “What a proposition! Bourbon Pompeii to Rock & Roll Brandy, Warehouse X, maybe not SpaceX, but it does feel like a rocket about to take off. Three completely unique perspectives of adventurous Kentucky spirits, Bourbon, American Brandy, Gins and Absinthe. From the barrel for the bold, bold from the barrel. It’s Kentucky hospitality distilled.” We’ve got it on the travel bucket list.

Cooper King Distillery

Cooper King Distillery, doing its bit for the environment

Cooper King marks International Day of Forests by planting hundreds of trees

Over in North Yorkshire, Cooper King Distillery has donated over £1,000 to the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) to mark International Day of Forests on 21 March. The donation will enable it to plant 115 trees! It comes as part of a wider distillery vision to plant 400 trees in its first year of operation. 335 are already in the ground, offsetting 167.5 tonnes of CO2, the equivalent of 50kg of carbon dioxide for every bottle of Cooper King gin sold. Imagine if every distillery did that! It’s one of just a handful of distilleries in the UK to run on 100% green energy, and instead of relying on fresh water to supply the cooling system, the team uses a nifty closed loop system, saving an eye-watering 13 tonnes of fresh water every year. Cooper King is also the first distillery in England to launch a scheme encouraging people to bring their empty gin bottles back to be refilled. You’ll get 15% off if you do! Think of it as a much more rewarding supermarket plastic bag scheme. If a small distillery that’s been up and running for less than a year can do this, why aren’t others stepping up? As Michael Delvin, development manager at YDMT, commented: “Big businesses can learn a lot from passionate start-ups such as Cooper King Distillery.” Hopefully it will inspire many more to follow suit.

Near & Far

Near & Far comes to Camden!

Get a taste of California in Camden at the latest Near & Far

The Near & Far family of bars is growing once again! With locations already in Peckham and Angel, another bar has just opened in Camden. The third instalment spans four floors of Californian-inspired decor, with room for 180 happy guests. Prepare yourself for palm trees, pastel hues and a copious number of cacti. There’s even a roof terrace which, being in England and all that, is sure to get its fair share of use all year round. With a cocktail menu inspired global tastes and Mexican street food from Elote, there’s literally something for everyone. A few of the cocktails are old favourites from other bar locations, as well as some new blood on the scene (not literally). We’re sure a favourite is going to be The Benedict Cucumberbatch – though isn’t that just his regular name..? There’s also a fabulous range of non-alcoholic cocktails and beers. In even more good news, it’s open seven days a week! Now, near or far, you’ve no excuse not to go…

P(our) Symposium

P(our) Symposium will come to the English capital for the first time

P(our) Symposium heads to London

Listen up, bartenders and other booze folk: thought-provoking non-profit convention P(our) is coming to London for the first time! As well as revealing the location for the proceedings (Village Underground, 24 June), the team has also unveiled this year’s topic: Understanding. Speakers unpacking the theme through a variety of talks and collaborations include Isabella Dalla Ragione, and agronomist and expert on biodiversity; Brigitte Sossou Perenyi, a documentary producer and author; and bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler. More names will be announced in due course. “We’re excited to bring to the fore this year’s theme of ‘Understanding’, looking at it from different perspectives – where it comes from, why it’s important, where more is needed and how it can be built,” said co-founder Monica Berg. Other P(our) founding members include Alex Kratena, Simone Caporale, Ryan Chetiyawardana, Jim Meehan, Joerg Meyer and Xavier Padovani, who united to bring and embrace change in drinks through discovering new ideas, sharing information, and exchanging inspiration. Tickets for P(our) are free, will be released in April through an application process. Fancy going along? keep your eyes peeled.

Highland Whisky Festival

Fancy Glen Ord? It will offer visitors a chance to operate the distillery themselves

Highland Whisky Festival reveals programme, complete with Game of Thrones tasting

The Highland Whisky Festival, Scotland’s newest whisky event, is really taking shape! Set to run from 10-17 May, the celebration takes in distilleries across one of Scotland’s most beautiful and varied, though often overlooked, regions. Programme highlights include a special Game of Thrones tasting at Clynelish on 12 May, and a peek inside the soon-to-be reborn Brora distillery. Balblair will screen Ken Loach’s film The Angel’s Share among the casks of Dunnage no. 3, while on 14 May Glenmorangie will host a special single cask dinner. Meanwhile, the brave team at Glen Ord will offer visitors a chance to operate the distillery themselves on 16 May (sounds potentially dangerous.) To round things off on 17 May, Tomatin will roll out the barrel with live coopering demonstrations and a dinner, just in case you need more feasting after a week of festivities. It all sounds brilliant!

Bacardi

Look at its little face. This is vitally important work

And Finally… Bacardi backs the bats in Puerto Rico

We are a bunch of animal lovers here at MoM Towers. From cat pictures to office dogs, we are fans of all things fluffy. And the not so fluffy too, it turns out. News reached us this week that Bacardi Limited, owner of Bacardi rum (makes sense), has been rewarded for its efforts to protect bats at its rum distillery in Cataño, Puerto Rico, and our hearts soared. Like a bat in flight. Bacardi picked up WHC Conservation Certification, becoming the first site on the island to do so. What’s all the fuss about? Well, the bat programme offers education to employees and locals alike, stressing the creature’s importance to the island’s ecosystem. The company is also working to restore the natural forest area near its campus, creating a better habitat for the local bats. “Bacardi is an environmental leader, voluntarily managing its lands to support sustainable ecosystems and the communities that surround them,” said Margaret O’Gorman, president, Wildlife Habitat Council. “Achieving certification at the Bacardi Corporation facility in Puerto Rico demonstrates the company’s commitment to the environment, employee engagement and community relations.” Hurrah for Bacardi! And actually, looking at that little dude above, we reckon bats fall into the fluffy animal category, after all…

That’s it for The Nightcap for this week, folks. Have a marvellous weekend!

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Explore 20 years of the London cocktail scene

Join us as we step inside the MoM time machine, back to the heady days of the late 1990s and the notorious Met Bar. We talk to Ben Reed about…

Join us as we step inside the MoM time machine, back to the heady days of the late 1990s and the notorious Met Bar. We talk to Ben Reed about the 20 defining moments of the London cocktail scene.

Don’t call Ben Reed a legend of the London bar world. He prefers the word ‘stalwart’. And at Gridiron (the site of the old Met Bar) on Park Lane last Wednesday night, the room was full of such stalwarts including Salvatore Calabrese, Ago Perrone, Erik Lorincz, Emily Weldon, Claire Smith-Warner, Peter Dorelli and Tristan Stephenson. They were all there sipping Pineapple Martinis and literally partying like it was 1999, only a little more sedately, and with more grey hairs.

Gridiron/ Met Bar

Gridiron, formerly the Met Bar, note brown spirits, and food. You didn’t get those in the ’90s

We were there to celebrate and discuss the ‘20 defining moments of the London cocktail scene’. It’s a look at the most important events in drinks culture over the last 20 or so years like the launch of CLASS magazine in 1997; the creation of the Match Bar group in 1998 with Dick Bradsell as head bartender; the opening of Milk & Honey in 2002, London’s first speakeasy-style bar; and the foundation of Sipsmith gin in 2009. It’s an initiative by Ben Reed, formerly head bartender at the Met who now runs a drinks consultancy firm, Cocktail Credentials. We caught up with Reed before the event where he explained the concept.

“We asked 30 of the top bartenders in London to submit three to five of their personal defining moments. And then we cross referenced that to see which ones were mentioned most often,” he explained. “There is an element of this being a work in progress, and us seeing where we go with this. This being a list that could be written again in another ten years because things are moving so fast in this industry.”

Reed began his career working in some rough pubs in Hackney before moving to the somewhat swankier PJ’s on Fulham Road. After that, there was a stint at Mezzo, Terence Conran’s gastrodome on Wardour Street, before he was, in his own words, “headhunted to head up the Met Bar”. “Whether by fortune or by destiny, it became the place where the glitterati of the London scene met,” he continued. “It was one of the seminal places where cocktails started to be taken a little bit more seriously.” The Met Bar was the epicentre of ‘90s and early ‘00s swinging London, frequented by Kate Moss, Liam Gallagher and Damon Albarn.

It was a very different world back then. “In those days you were really only a bartender if you weren’t much good at anything else, there was no gravitas in the industry,” Reed recalled. “And then, piece-by-piece, through a number of pioneers like Dick Bradsell who stuck at it rather than getting a proper job, we developed an industry.”

Reed’s signature drink was the Pineapple Martini, which was tasting good (if extremely sweet) at the event last week. “We created a style of drink called ‘the fresh fruit Martini’ which involved using fresh and sometimes exotic ingredients. So exotic fruit as ingredients rather than garnishes,” he told me.

Ben Reed the Met Bar

‘If your name’s not down you’re not coming in’. Ben Reed (centre) and the Met Bar team.

Vodka was king in those days. If you look at the invite above it’s from the front cover of an early edition of CLASS, with Reed and the Met team looking very cool in all black DKNY. Now look behind the bar; it’s pretty much all vodka with only a couple of gins, and whisky nowhere to be seen. It’s not just the spirits that have changed; the role of the bartender is much more complicated, according to Reed. “Now we’re looking towards chefs, learning from them and understanding some of the tricks of their trade whether that be using sous vide machines or otherwise.”

Being a bartender is now a proper career. “20 years ago most bartenders were still trying to find a way of getting out from behind the bar to open consultancies, or work for brands,” Reed said. “Whereas now the trend is much more to stay in the industry, to stay ‘behind the stick’ by opening their own places. That is testament to how the industry has evolved.”

That’s not the only way it has changed. 2013’s ‘defining moment’ was the opening of the environmentally-friendly White Lyan bar in Hoxton Square. 2017’s was a focus on bartender wellbeing. The industry now has to look at “the bigger picture: diversity within the industry, gender and racial equality, wellbeing and sustainability,”Reed told me.

But not all recent developments have been quite so positive, he added. Another ‘defining moment’ was the 2010 appearance of Instagram, which Reed isn’t convinced has been entirely beneficial to the experience.

“It’s now less about the interaction with the bartender, and more about how instagrammable the drink is,” he reckoned. “So there’s an element, perhaps, in a rise in the quality of cocktails, and a dip in the standard of service. By service, I don’t mean how fast your drink comes, but how you are treated by your bartender. Some of the older guys such as Pete Dorelli, Salvatore Calabrese and Nick Strangeway were great raconteurs, people who could really give you the warm and fuzzies. I would rather go to a bar, get a good drink and my interaction with the bartender be the memorable part of things, than go to the bar and get an awesome drink but not really remember who has served it to me.”

Reed himself hasn’t worked ‘behind the stick’ for a long time. He started one of the first cocktail consultancies in Europe in 2001. Five years ago he set up Cocktail Credentials. “I think the difference between my consultancy and other consultancies is that I’m the only guy in my consultancy that’s ever stepped behind a bar. My other partners have marketing expertise and agency expertise. We can see the industry from outside of the bubble.” Reed and his team have come up with innovative ways to present brands, such as a taste experience with Absolut Vodka in its brand home in Åhus, Sweden. “We tried to find a new way for consumers to understand flavour differentials in vodka by creating a 360-degree taste experience.”

Pineapple Martini

Pineapple Martini, one sip and you can hear M People

The night wasn’t just about nostalgia. Alongside the ‘90s classic cocktails, we tried updated versions by Max and Noel Venning that were more attuned to less sweet modern palates. Looking to the future, Reed is very excited about some of the new talent in the business. He mentioned Joe Scofield, formerly of The Tippling Club in Singapore, and Jack McGarry, co-owner of The Dead Rabbit in New York, as young bartenders he admires. According to Reed, thanks to the internet, the cocktail business is international. “You’ll find guys who don’t really work in one bar anymore, they just traverse the world, doing guest shifts in different bars, learning and understanding from bartenders, bars and countries around the world.”

It will be interesting to see what the next 20 years has in store for London’s bar scene. But it’s fun to look back, too. What are your defining cocktail moments from the nineties, noughties and now? Let us know on social or in the comments below.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Manhattan

Today’s we’re looking at a cocktail named after the most famous island in the world. It could only be…  the Isle of Man! Oh no, hang on, it’s the Manhattan….

Today’s we’re looking at a cocktail named after the most famous island in the world. It could only be…  the Isle of Man! Oh no, hang on, it’s the Manhattan.

Whenever I’m making a Manhattan, which is often, I find myself involuntarily singing ‘Shattered’ by the Rolling Stones. It’s the closing track on their 1978 album Some Girls. On this record, perhaps their sleaziest and an ode to the highs and lows of New York City, the Stones not only embrace disco with the song ‘Miss You’ but on ‘Shattered’ Mick sort of raps and, surprisingly, it’s totally brilliant. It’s the lines, “my brain’s been battered/ splattered all over Manhattan”, I sing to myself as I cheerfully mix my drink.

From the ultimate song about New York (don’t @ me), to the ultimate Gotham cocktail. As the Martini is to gin, so the Manhattan is to whiskey, spirit flavoured with vermouth. But as Americans were drinking whiskey before gin, you could argue that the Martini is simply a gin Manhattan.

Manhattan

Go ahead, bite the big apple

The Manhattan has it origins in the mid-19th century when vermouth became all the rage. In fact, it was drinks like the Manhattan that made the original cocktail, the Old Fashioned, seem, well a bit, old fashioned (see article on the origins of the Old Fashioned.) So you could call a Manhattan a New Fashioned, though probably don’t try this next time you’re in New York or people will think you’re a bit of a dick.

The original Manhattan would have been made with rye whiskey rather than bourbon. Once rye was hard to get hold of, especially in Britain, but in recent years it has undergone something of a renaissance and we are now spoiled for choice. I’m using Michter’s because it’s absolutely delicious, totally over delivering on spice and depth of flavour for the money. If you’re using bourbon, find one with a high rye content like Four Roses Small Batch.

Like the Martini, the Manhattan has gradually become drier since its invention. Early recipes call for equal parts vermouth to whiskey as well as a sugar syrup. You can make your Manhattan ‘perfect’ by using half French and half Italian vermouth. Or ‘dry’ by using just French. To make a smoky Manhattan try rinsing the glass with a drop or two of Islay whisky before adding the bourbon and vermouth (if you go all the way and substitute the American whiskey for Scotch, then your Manhattan becomes a Rob Roy).

Manhattan cocktail

You can put an enormous ice cube your Manhattan if you’re in the mood

The next big question is whether to shake or stir. I am firmly in the stirring camp but, unlike in a Martini, I think a little dilution isn’t such a bad thing here so you don’t need to use cold whiskey or vermouth. Oh, and a Maraschino cherry is a nice touch if you have them.

Right, got your ingredients ready? Some Girls cued up? Then take it away Mick, “go ahead, bite the big apple, don’t mind the maggots.”

50ml Michter’s US*1 Rye
25ml Cinzano Rosso 1757
Dash of Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients with lots of ice in a shaker and strain into a cold Martini glass (you can use a coupe or a Nick & Nora instead). Express a piece of orange zest over and drop into the glass. Add a cherry if you’re feeling hungry.

 

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Springtime treats for Mother’s Day

Struggling for Mother’s Day presents? In need to replace the winter warmers with refreshing, spring-tastic booze? Well then you’ve come to the right place. With Mother’s Day fast approaching (it’s…

Struggling for Mother’s Day presents? In need to replace the winter warmers with refreshing, spring-tastic booze? Well then you’ve come to the right place.

With Mother’s Day fast approaching (it’s Sunday 31st) and spring very much in full flow, it’s the perfect time to indulge in some seasonal spirits and splash out on great gift ideas.

Fortunately for you, we’re on hand to give you a, err… hand. Not only have we put together a show-stopping list of perfect presents on our Mother’s Day gifts page (where you’ll find gin gifts, whisky gifts, tasting sets, gift sets and gift vouchers), but we’ve also picked out a super selection of spring-themed tipples that we reckon you and the matriarch in your family would most certainly love to sip on a warm evening.

So, what are you waiting for? Brilliant booze is just a scroll away…

The Epicurean

One of Douglas Laing’s Remarkable Regional Malts, The Epicurean is an expression created to highlight the best of Scotland’s Lowland region and tell the story of a 1930s Glaswegian maverick, who is pictured on the bottle’s label. A small-batch bottling that’s presented without any additional colouring or chill-filtration, The Epicurean is another winner from the ever-reliable Douglas Laing that’s delicious neat or in a variety of serves.

What does it taste like?:

Apples, pears and white grapes, chocolate fudge, cloudy lemonade, honey’d barley and a thin layer of thyme honey are joined by notes of elegant lemongrass, grist and cereals, as well as a pinch of pepper.

Spring-tastic serve: The Epicurean Horse’s Neck

Douglas Laing created this cocktail to highlight all that’s great about The Epicurean’s light, sweet and grassy profile. To make, simply add ice, lemon peel and 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters to a tall glass. Then add 25ml of The Epicurean and top with a good quality ginger ale. Stir and then serve, while preparing yourself for any number of Godfather-based dad jokes.

Whitley Neill Rhubarb & Ginger Gin

Who doesn’t look at this beauty and immediately think of sprucing up their G&Ts or creating any number of delicious cocktails? You may know Whitley Neill as the English gin with an exotic, African inspired flavour profile, but the brand has looked closer to home for its inspiration with this expression. This Rhubarb & Ginger Gin pairs two rustic and distinctive flavours in delicious gin-tastic harmony, to the extent that the World Gin Awards 2018 felt it deserved a silver medal in the Flavoured Gin category!

What does it taste like?:

Subtly tart with clear rhubarb influence. A twist of orange sweetness and herbaceous coriander brings balance to the palate.

Spring-tastic serve: The Rhubarb and Ginger Spritz

This cocktail is spring and simplicity in a glass, metaphorically of course. To make, simply take a highball glass and fill with cubed ice. Pour 50ml Whitley Neill Rhubarb and Ginger Gin and 15ml of lemon juice into the glass and give it a quick stir to infuse. Top with a good quality tonic water, then garnish with fresh orange slices and serve to your guests who are no doubt picking flowers or birthing lambs or whatever people do when it’s springtime.

Glenmorangie Allta Private Edition

A rich, fruity and intriguing expression, Allta (Scots Gaelic for ‘wild’) was released as part of the pioneering Private Edition series. It’s the very first whisky to be created from a bespoke strain of wild yeast growing on local barley and the resulting spirit was matured in ex-bourbon barrels. Classic Glenmorangie style meets experimental flair. What’s not to love?

What does it taste like?:

Rounded, with biscuity, yeasty tones, floral notes of carnations, vanilla, butter candy, soft raisins, gentle mint and sweet mandarin orange.

Spring-tastic serve: The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is delicious and simple. What more could you ask from a cocktail? To create, start by putting a level teaspoon of brown sugar into an Old Fashioned glass. Then add a splash of hot water and a two dashes of Fee Brothers Orange bitters. Stir vigorously so that the sugar dissolves, then add 80ml of Glenmorangie Allta Private Edition. Stir a bit more, add ice cubes, stir a bit more and garnish with a piece of orange peel. Serve while trying to keep the yeast-based facts to a minimum. It’s not much of a crowd pleaser for those who aren’t whisky geeks like us.

Issan (That Boutique-y Rum Company)

For those who want an introduction to the superb category of cane juice spirits, this complex and characterful Rhum Agricole should do the trick. It was sourced by That Boutique-y Rum Company from Issan, a Thai distillery that places a pleasing emphasis on sustainability and community. The spirit is made with the juice from red sugar cane, which is distilled in the copper pot still that you see on the label. Intriguing, tasty and perfect for enjoying in cocktails or on its own, this is one for the adventurous types.

What does it taste like?:

Grassy and herbaceous, with green olive water, damp hay, tinned sweetcorn water, aromatic vanilla, butterscotch, dark berries and a hint of honey blossom lingers.

Spring-tastic serve: Neat

It’s really worth trying this one on its own before you indulge yourself in the wonderful world of Agricole rum cocktails. The connoisseurs of this style of spirit will be rewarded with the kind of profile they adore, while newcomers will get a chance to experience the delights of its unique character in all of its naked glory.

Glenkinchie 12 Year Old

The flagship expression from the Glenkinchie distillery and a sublime introduction to the Lowland region, Glenkinchie 12 Year Old was declared the winner of the Best Lowland Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2016 for good reason. Full of light, sweet and creamy notes, this is one to have fun and play with in a number of serves.

What does it taste like?:

Light and aromatic with hints of barley malt, almonds, hazelnuts, stewed fruits, dessert wine, apple peels and manuka honey/beeswax.

Spring-tastic serve: The Whisky Sour

It’s a classic for good reason, the Whisky Sour. To create your own barnstorming edition, you’ll need to add 45ml of Glenkinchie 12 Year Old, 25ml of fresh lemon juice and 25ml of simple syrup (if you want to make your own, it’s one part water to one part sugar) to a shaker filled with ice. Then shake the mix and strain it into a tumbler filled with fresh ice. Finally, garnish with a single Luxardo Maraschino Cherry and a lemon wedge, then serve and raise a glass to whisky, springtime, whisky, Mother’s Day and great whisky!

Monkey 47 Dry Gin

An ever-popular, wonderfully unusual and utterly delicious gin from the Black Forest in Germany, Monkey 47 contains a total of 47 botanicals (actual monkeys, or indeed any member of the band The Monkeys aren’t one them, relax) and was bottled at a healthy 47%. No prizes for guessing why it’s called Monkey 47 (also presumably because monkeys rock). Among the 47 botanicals are the likes of Acorus calamus, almond, angelica, bitter orange, blackberry, cardamom, cassia, chamomile, cinnamon, lemon verbena, cloves, coriander, cranberries, cubeb, dog rose, elderflower, ginger, Grains of Paradise, hawthorn berries, hibiscus abelmoschus, hibiscus syriacus… you get the idea.

What does it taste like?:

Fresh grassy citrus, sweet liquorice, plenty of spice, juicy berries, cardamom, pine and herbal juniper.

Spring-tastic serve: Schwarzendorff Martini

A brilliant Black Forest-inspired twist on the universally adored cocktail, the Schwarzendorff Martini couldn’t be simpler to make. All you have to do is combine 45ml of Monkey 47 Dry Gin, 45ml of Schatzel Riesling 2016, two dashes of Angostura Orange Bitters and a little ice together in a cocktail shaker. Shake this mix and then strain it into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with lemon zest and a dash of cinnamon, and have a few monkey-based puns ready for when you serve. If you don’t do it, somebody else will.

Cazcabel Honey Liqueur

One for the mothers or mother figures that are sweeter than sugar, this superb honey liqueur from Cazcabel was made using its Blanco Tequila as a base and honey sourced from local bees. An individual, distinctive liqueur, this is a bold and crowd-pleasing tipple that’s simply begging to be put to good use in a cocktail.

What does it taste like?:

Rich, sweet and full of honey and caramel with earthy and smoky notes.

Spring-tastic serve: Honey I’ve Made Margaritas!

A refreshing, warm and street treat, you can make this take on the classic Margarita by combining 55ml of Cazcabel Honey Liqueur, 20ml of fresh lemon juice and 40ml of Gran Marnier in a cocktail shaker. Stir vigorously then add a cup of ice and shake for 10 seconds. Pour straight into a Margarita glass, garnish with a lemon wheel and serve. If you want a salted rim, then before you make the cocktail you’ll need to take a lemon wedge and coat the rim of the glass. Then dip it in margarita salt, rotating until coated.

Compass Box Hedonism

Smooth, creamy and really very tasty, Hedonism represents Compass Box trying to create a decedent dram, as the name suggests. It’s a blended grain whisky featuring liquid (depending on batch variation) from Cameronbridge, Carsebridge, Cambus, Invergordon, Port Dundas or Dumbarton that was matured in 100% first-fill American oak barrels or rejuvenated American oak hogsheads. Equally delicious neat or in a multitude of classic cocktails, Hedonism is also amazing with a caramel-based dessert.

What does it taste like?:

Fraises des bois, sponge cake, red pepper, black cherry, milk chocolate, toasted oak and sweet spices with some cereal notes.

Spring-tastic serve: The Rob Roy

In this delightful Rob Roy the vanilla-rich Hedonism mirrors the bourbon-based profile of the cocktail’s inspiration, The Manhattan. To create, stir 50ml of Compass Box Hedonism with 20ml Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, a dash of Angostura Bitters and ice. Then strain and serve up in a coupe glass garnished with a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry before toasting your mother/mother figure because they’ve almost certainly earned it!

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Have a nose around Aberfeldy Distillery!

We paid a visit to Highland distillery Aberfeldy – AKA the Home of Dewar’s – for a good old explore. The results? Six videos, so you can check it out,…

We paid a visit to Highland distillery Aberfeldy – AKA the Home of Dewar’s – for a good old explore. The results? Six videos, so you can check it out, too!

Aberfeldy is a small town of about 2,000 people. It’s huddled in a valley near the source of the River Tay, and sits on a crossroads. Walking through, it feels very typically Scottish – it’s got a pretty high street, people are friendly and you don’t have to go very far to find a decent pub. Also, it’s got a distillery.

Aberfeldy Distillery is unusual though, mostly because it’s probably better known as the Home of Dewar’s, the blended Scotch brand. At least on the tourist trail anyway. From the start, the branding is all Dewar’s. And actually, it’s refreshing to find a single malt distillery celebrating the blend it is such an integral part of. There’s none of that ‘single malts are just better’ nonsense here.

Aberfeldy Distillery Dewar's

#HomeofDewars – and Aberfeldy

“Aberfeldy has a great, rich history and story centred round the Dewar’s family,” said Matthew Cordiner, Dewar’s Aberfeldy distillery brand ambassador. And that’s the real ethos of the distillery – it doesn’t just celebrate the whisky (although of course it does), but there’s a huge focus on the family and the history behind it all, too. And there are stories galore.

After stopping by the Pitilie Burn (gotta have a decent water source), we check out the milling. And, of course, there’s a classic Porteus malt mill! On-site maltings stopped in the 1960s, so pre-malted Concerto barley is now delivered by lorry.

Then it’s tun time. The vessel was only designed to handle 6.5 tonnes of grist, but the team manages to produce 7.5 tonnes each time. “We’re actually over-producing,” Cordiner detailed. In total, Aberfeldy makes 3.4 million litres of spirit a year.

Fermentation is really where you start to see the Aberfeldy, as we know it, come to life. The long 72-hour average fermentation brings out that sweet, honeyed note. The distillery has eight larch washbacks and two stainless steel ones, installed three years ago.

Time to check out the stillhouse! Aberfeldy has two wash and two spirit stills, with two shell and tube condensers. In 2014, the distillery switched over to a biomass boiler.

Aberfeldy doesn’t really mature on-site, but there are some casks you can check out…

And voilà! If that’s given you a taste for Aberfeldy, you can visit the Home of Dewar’s all year round!

Matt and our ace video team!

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New Arrival of the Week: Graham’s Blend No. 5 Port

For generations mankind has searched for something as refreshingly satisfying as a G&T. Now, thanks to a new release from Graham’s, the quest might just be over. White Port and…

For generations mankind has searched for something as refreshingly satisfying as a G&T. Now, thanks to a new release from Graham’s, the quest might just be over.

White Port and tonic is the drink of Oporto. The Portuguese take it as seriously as the Spanish take their Gin Tonicas. Nothing tastes better on a hot September evening in a bar overlooking the Douro river. It hasn’t quite caught on in Britain (though we did used to drink something similar, Port and lemonade, which functioned as sort of proto-alcopop in the 1950s and ‘60s). So I’ve been on a mission to convert people. I made some the other day for my parents with an old bottle of Royal Oporto White Port I found under the stairs. Judging by the bottle size, 700ml, my parents must have brought it back from holiday some time before Portugal joined the EU (1986). I’m not sure what it tasted like when it was young, but after 30 years in the cupboard it reminded me a little of Noilly Prat, ie. delicious with tonic, ice and a slice of orange.

White Port is made in a similar way to the better known red stuff. The grapes are allowed to ferment a little and then brandy is added which kills the yeast and preserves sugar. The resulting wine is usually kept in wood for at least a couple of years and sometimes for much longer. White Port usually has an oxidative edge (even before ageing in a warm Buckinghamshire drinks cupboard).

Graham’s no. 5 – “intensely aromatic”

Graham’s, however, has done something a little different for this new release. Rather than the cocktail of grape varieties normally used, only two go into Graham’s Blend No. 5, Malvasia Fina and Moscatel Gallega. The latter is intensely aromatic, as anyone who has drunk Moscato d’Asti will know. The grapes are cold-fermented and the resulting wine is released young so rather than the savoury woody notes you normally find in white Port, it’s all about floral, honey and citrus flavours. In fact, it is so intense that it tastes rather like a botanically-flavoured wine.

We think those bold flavours will appeal to gin drinkers. Just in case there’s any doubt who this is aimed at, take a look at the packaging. Looks rather like a craft gin, doesn’t it? No surprise then that it tastes great with a plain tonic water, though very different to a standard white Port. But with it’s natural sweetness and bold aromatics, I thought Graham’s Blend No. 5 tasted even better just with fizzy water and a slice of pink grapefruit. And at only 19% ABV it makes a great lighter alternative to gin.

Quinta do Gricha credit Misti Traya

A good place to drink a white Port & tonic (credit Misti Traya)

But instead of drinking it as an alternative to gin, why not have it with? I’m thinking of a Martini made with a heavy juniper-led gin like Tanqueray No. Ten freshened up with a bit of Graham’s No. 5 instead of vermouth. As we said back in January, fortified wines should be the secret weapon in your cocktail arsenal.

 

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You can now snap up delicious boozes using Apple Pay!

Big news, folks! As of today, you can use Apple Pay to complete your orders on Master of Malt. Which means it’s even easier to stock your drinks cabinet with…

Big news, folks! As of today, you can use Apple Pay to complete your orders on Master of Malt. Which means it’s even easier to stock your drinks cabinet with treats!

Browsing Master of Malt in Safari on an iPhone right now? A Mac? Or even an iPad? If so, you can forget all the faffing associated with typing your address and payment details at the checkout. Simply fingerprint/facial recognition it and go!

Apple Pay MoM

Simples

We’re super-excited about this development. We know more and more of you use your smartphones to check us out, research what’s new in the world of drinks, and read up on developments on the blog. As such, we wanted to make it even easier to actually get those bottles you’re eyeing up from your basket to your booze cabinet!

If you’ve got Apple Wallet set up of your device, you’re good to go. If not, if you’ve got an Apple gadget and you want in, there’s a little bit of admin involved to add your payment card to your Apple account. But don’t worry, we’ll wait.

Then, once you’re ready to check out, pop in your delivery postcode and head to the payment page. Hit the Apple Pay box above the card payment option, and voilà! Easy peasy. Ready the glassware – your drinks are on their way!

MoM Apple Pay

Not THOSE sorts of apples

How does it work? All the necessary deets are held by Apple Pay, so we get the info (encrypted and super-safe, obvs) from them, not you. So you spend less time typing and more time watching all-important cat videos. You’re welcome.

Reading this on a Google device and feeling all kinds of FOMO? Fret not. Our team of ace developers are on the case. We’ll have more news soon…

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Win two incredible bottles of money-can’t-buy Yellow Spot!

To celebrate the day devoted to the man who chased the snakes out of Ireland, we’re offering you £5 off Yellow Spot, PLUS the chance to win two very rare…

To celebrate the day devoted to the man who chased the snakes out of Ireland, we’re offering you £5 off Yellow Spot, PLUS the chance to win two very rare bottles. So rare, there are only two of them. And one lucky person will win both!

Sunday 17 March is St. Patrick’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a good drop of Irish whiskey. There are so many delicious ones to choose from nowadays. We’re particularly partial to the Spot range of single pot still whiskeys. We went to to Dublin recently to try the latest release, Red Spot 15 Year Old, which we thought was pretty bloody brilliant.

Billy doing his hand-selecting thing

But we have something for you that trumps even that. You could win two very special bottles of Yellow Spot drawn from a single cask specially selected by master blender Billy Leighton! The spirit was originally laid down in November 2003 in an American oak ex-bourbon cask. Then in April 2008, it was transferred to a first-fill Spanish oak Malaga wine cask where it has been resting until now. Bottled at a natural cask strength of 58.2% ABV, these two bottles offer an incredible opportunity to taste a unique single cask component of Yellow Spot whiskey. Malaga, an intensely sweet wine from Andalucia, gives the whiskey a rich honeyed quality, and combined with that creamy spicy pot still flavour, the results are out of this world.

Only two sample bottles have been filled with this special whisky (don’t worry! They’re still 700ml), and just to reiterate, the winner will get both. Two bottles! One to drink now and one to keep for that special occasion: daughter getting into medical school, winning a charity golf tournament, or just because you’re worth it. Simply snap up a bottle from the excellent Spot range between now and 23:59 Fri 22 March, and you’ll be automagically be entered into the Yellow Spot draw. See below for Terms and Conditions.

Yellow Spot

Lovely, lovely Yellow Spot – at £5 off!

Everyone’s a winner with £5 off Yellow Spot!

And hold onto your hats because we’re not done yet with whiskey-related excitement – regardless of whether you’re the lucky winner of those Malaga cask bottlings (we’re not jealous at all…) we’re delighting your wallet as well as your taste buds with £5 off Yellow Spot this St. Patrick’s Day!

Yep, so you can snap up a bargain to savour now, while giving yourself the chance to win something truly extraordinary. Good luck!

MoM Yellow Spot St. Patrick’s Day 2019 Competition open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 8 – 22 March 2019. Winner chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. Some shipping destinations excluded. Entry also available with no purchase. See full T&Cs for details.

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St George Spirits: The home of dynamic distilling

California’s St George Spirits knows no bounds when it comes to distilling invention. We travel to Alameda to meet the team. Across the Bay from the contrasts of San Francisco…

California’s St George Spirits knows no bounds when it comes to distilling invention. We travel to Alameda to meet the team.

Across the Bay from the contrasts of San Francisco – the confines of the street grids and the expanse of sky, the nostalgia and the novelty, the big business and the homelessness – is a startling stretch of nothing. After the colour, the noise, the sharp undulations of the city, arriving the St George Spirits Distillery in Alameda is disorienting.

Driving down West Midway and onto Monarch Street, you feel like you’ve landed on a different planet. The scale is extraordinary; cavernous buildings set back from the road, each in acres of space, barely another car to be seen. The proportions, the flatness, the emptiness are the opposite of the city across the water. I was half an hour ahead of schedule when my Lyft pulled up outside St George, one of the last buildings on the island. I’d enormously overestimated the time it would take to drive over from the city, and was feeling as worried about my early arrival as I was surprised by Alameda’s quiet. It all felt mildly post-apocalyptic.

St George Spirits

Storm incoming: the view from St George back to San Francisco on a grey day. We promise the city is there somewhere

The weather didn’t help. A winter storm was about to roll in; sensible types were already safely harboured from the forecast deluge. My driver had inadvertently, or perhaps intentionally, dropped me on the wrong side, keen to get back over the bridges into the city before the worst of the weather. The St George building was as huge as all the others, and I wondered if anyone would hear my knock. They did. A warm, friendly welcome greeted me, completely at odds to the starkness outside; one of the distilling team led me through the impressive 65,000 sq ft production and warehouse space. There were two banks of gleaming stills, vats and tanks galore, and near-floor to ceiling racking – more on all that shortly. It somehow felt far smaller on the inside that it did from the outside, stack after stack of maturing spirits filling the vast space to the brim. Out the other side, right by the really rather obvious entrance I should have arrived at, was a generous visitor area, with two bars and a shop at the far end. Windows down the exterior wall provided a glorious view back to San Francisco, with all its towers. There’s nothing between the distillery and the city except for a wash of wetland, the Bay itself, and an expanse of concrete which turned out to be a disused runway.

St George Spirits roof

St George barrels and the original WWII hangar roof

“This is World War II construction, an old aircraft hangar,” confirmed Dave Smith, St George Spirits head distiller and vice president, an animated yet softly-spoken fellow who joined the team nearly 14 years ago. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me despite my poor timekeeping, and welcomed me with literal open arms. “The last squadron stationed in the hangar prior to the base’s retirement was Atkron 304, known as the Firebirds, which were made up of Grumman A-6 Intruders.” The scale of the buildings now makes sense, and when I looked into the site afterwards it turns out it was a Naval air base that only closed in 1997.

‘Creating a movement’

St George Spirits dates back to well before the airfield closed, though in a different location. Jörg Rupf, widely considered to be the father of American artisan distilling, set up St George way back in 1982 – long before hipster beards and ubiquitous quirkiness overran the territory marked ‘craft’. He travelled to the US on an assignment from the Ministry of Culture in his native Germany, but it was San Francisco, and his family heritage as Black Forest brandy makers, that shaped his course. It started with eaux-de-vie, pear in particular, made in a tiny “20ft by 20ft” room, Smith told me. Times might have changed when it comes to production scale (the team moved to the current site in 2004) but fruit brandy remains an integral part of the St George offering today.

St George Spirits

St George Pear Brandy in front of the distillery – a starting point for the brand

The breadth of the distillery’s product portfolio is one indicator as to why a visit to St George Spirits is high on the bucket list for so many drinks lovers, myself included. And that’s where we began, hunkered down at one of the gleaming bars as the storm swept in across the Bay. As he poured St George Pear Brandy, Smith was keen to stress just how much of a catalyst Rupf was for the US spirits scene. “Jörg was really thoughtful about helping other distillers,” he said. “He really had a sense of ‘all ships will rise’; he created a movement.” Under his mentorship, other distillers set up shop, and he shared his expertise in fermentation and distilling, especially with regards to eaux-de-vies and fruit spirits – drinks totally new to the market, at the time. It’s a category that makes perfect sense for California, with its lush fruit harvests.

And that’s what you get with Pear Brandy – a hit of fresh lushness. It’s made with Bartlett pears, and a lot of them: there are 30-35lb of pears in each bottle. Why Bartlett pears? “We want small fruit, so the essential oils are very concentrated,” Smith said. The cinnamon spice, pear drop notes develop during a two-week fermentation, with the spirit eventually made in a 250-litre pot still. “Our job as distillers is to be expressive of the raw materials,” Smith stated. It’s this pear spirit that is the base for so many other St George products, including the All Purpose Vodka. That vibrant pear note is like a signature sillage you pick up throughout the portfolio.

St George Spirits

All kinds of distilling options at St George

We tasted our way through the vodka line with California Citrus and Green Chile Vodka. It’s here that the St George philosophy to showcase raw materials really hits home. The spirit is made with five different chilies (jalapeños, serranos, and habaneros, then red and yellow bell peppers) in a mix of infusions and distillations, depending on what flavours, textures and heat levels each technique extracts. “We separate these things out, and then recombine,” he explained. “I can use alcohol as a solvent, I can distil, I can infuse… But I don’t want things to be complex for the sake of being complex.” The creativity, the technicalities, the detail… it’s mind-boggling. And this is just for one bottling among 20 or so – not including limited-run expressions.

Transparent production

We moved on from the vodkas to the trio of St George gins, each distinct, each characterful, but each clearly St George. We start with Dry Rye, which, as the name implies, uses 100% pot-distilled rye spirit as a base. It’s juniper-forward, with just five other botanicals: black peppercorn, caraway, coriander, grapefruit peel and lime peel, combining for a rich, warming hit, but never overpowering the rye character. “We’re trying to find things that are expressive, and that have a statement to make,” Smith said. Next is Botanivore, Smith’s “botanical leader” made with a whopping 19 botanicals with a mix of infusions, macerations and distillations. It’s deliciously complex on the palate, still with that vital juniper but with a St George eccentricity, too.

St George Spirits gin

The trio of St George gins

Next up: Terroir Gin, which was actually the first St George gin, Smith explained. It was master distiller and president Lance Winters who came up with the concept. “He was picking up his son from summer camp, when he had the idea,” he detailed. When you taste the gin, you can picture the scene: the mountains, the forests, the sea. It’s California in a bottle, an evocative, aromatic gin made with Douglas fir, California bay laurel, coastal sage and other local botanicals. The flavour is earthy, outdoorsy, and especially effective with a building storm as a backdrop.

Time to segue into whiskey. First stop: the latest batch of Breaking & Entering, an intriguing expression that blends sourced bourbon and rye with some of St George’s own California malt whiskey. “We want to be really transparent that we’re not making it all in-house,” Smith stated. “And as none of the four grains are more than 51%, there really isn’t a category that we can label it as.” The rye, barley, corn and wheat mashbill is balanced so that none is prominent, but all is delicious. The 2018 edition was bursting with rich, pastry notes, jammy red fruits and dash of menthol, all wrapped up in a sweetcorn smoothness. A treat, indeed.

Just one of the very many barrel types

The final thing we tasted before stepping back into the distillery was St George Single Malt, a fascinating expression that Smith described as a “brandy made from grain”. Winters’ background is brewing; combine that with the eaux-de-vie obsession that underpins operations, and this starts to make sense. The barley at the base of this bottling is malted in multiple ways, including smoking some over beech and alder wood. Different barrels, from ex-Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee, to Port pipes and both French and local wine casks, contribute all kinds of flavours. Maturation spans from four to 19 years. You’d expect it to be bonkers, but it works. It’s batch-produced and changes each year, but the 2018 expression was like a sweetly-spiced hot chocolate, with zesty orange top notes. Lovely stuff. And that’s just part of the portfolio; after the distillery tour we sampled the Raspberry Brandy, Aqua Perfecta Basil Eau de Vie, California Reserve Agricole Rum, Raspberry Liqueur, Spiced Pear Liqueur, NOLA Coffee Liqueur, Bruto Americano bitters and Absinthe Verte, complete with a mischievous monkey on the label. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a range from a single producer. Tasting the whole lot in one morning was quite an experience.

Influences and inspiration

St George lays claim to a number of American-firsts in that list, including the Absinthe, which Smith described as “the worst kept secret in the Bay Area for about a decade prior to its official release”. Many defy category definitions (can you even make Rhum Agricole in California? The answer is yes, as long as you drop the ‘h’), and walking through the production space it all starts to make sense. The team here has an infatuation with flavour and a mastery of raw materials and process. There are five pot stills ranging in size from 250 litres to 1,500 litres, including hybrids with column options and an old Holstein, plus a coffee roaster dating back to 1952. If they can possibly make it in house, they will.

St George Spirits

Creation station: All kinds of stills

Grain for spirit currently maturing is floor-malted down the road at Admiral Maltings (“if you think about the real-estate in the Bay Area and what you need for maltings…” Smith says, as an aside). New cask requirements are met by Burgundy-style barrels. The California climate does hit the angel’s share – as much as 10% is lost in the first year, with 3-6% evaporating every year after that. We stopped for a taste of something really exciting – some California Shochu, followed by some unusual cask samples. It was a real treat, and there were yet more examples of surprising ideas coming out of this distillery.

Cali shochu, anyone?

In terms of newness, the stakes ramp up even higher in the St George lab. We stepped into the experiential space and the energy from all the ideas was almost tangible. On the left was a library of samples. Single distillates, infusions and more stack from floor to ceiling. There were two test stills, one 10-litre, one 30-litre, and all kinds of tanks, one even styled to look like Star Wars’ R2-D2. There’s stuff on every surface – you couldn’t call it clutter because it all felt purposeful, like the next big idea could be in any of those little bottles.

St George Spirits

Dave Smith gets the cask sample spirit flowing

“It’s what we’re influenced by, what we’re excited by,” Smith said. “We need to do more than what we did yesterday, increase our repertoire and techniques.” Not everything is successful, he added. But it doesn’t need to be. There’s clearly no fear of failure here, which goes some way to explaining why the range of St George spirits is not just delicious, but incredibly diverse.

St George Spirits lab

Experimental lab stills!

We headed out of the room and back to the bar. The storm was in full swing; rain pounding against the windows, the old WWII wooden roof hollering in the elements. You couldn’t even see across the old runway, let alone make out any shape of the city beyond. Smith looked around back towards the distillery as if taking it all in, and summed up what seems to be the St George philosophy: “We create things because we can.” And what better reason is there than that?

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