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Master of Malt Blog

Category: Features

Saluti to holiday drinks

From pastis to limoncello and herbal bitters, the world of ‘holiday’ drinks doesn’t have to suffer because we can’t travel as much. Lucy Britner rounds up a handful of favourites…

From pastis to limoncello and herbal bitters, the world of ‘holiday’ drinks doesn’t have to suffer because we can’t travel as much. Lucy Britner rounds up a handful of favourites and offers some tips on how to enjoy them.

One of the best things about foreign travel is the wonderful – and often slightly weird – drinks. You know the ones, they appear unordered at the end of meals, or you see a cluster of locals sipping on them with a petanque or chess game on the go.

These are the drinks that give us a sense of place, and though many of us only enjoy them on holiday, there’s plenty of scope for drinking them back home.

Limoncello

This is an Amalfi dream. In the rights hands, limoncello can be delicious

Limoncello

“This is a drink usually given – and not asked for – and it’s often homemade,” drinks maestro Salvatore Calabrese tells me from his holiday on the Amalfi coast. “It’s very popular here, in the country of the lemon – the Amalfi has the most beautiful lemon zest in the world and limoncello has always been a part of the culture.”

Calabrese says the drink became popular in the ‘70s when someone discovered that it was much more palatable when served from the freezer.

But if you don’t fancy it neat, Calabrese has a cocktail for that; one he invented at a party.

Amalfi Dream

50ml vodka
25ml limoncello
25ml fresh lemon
Mint leaves

Shake all ingredients with ice and pour into a glass. “There wasn’t even a shaker at the party, so I just used a jar,” he says. “You don’t need lots of equipment to make good drinks, make use of what you have in your house.”

And, of course, the maestro has created his own version of a limoncello: Salvatore’s Liquore di Limone, which uses Cognac as its base, instead of neutral grain spirit. He also says the lemons for his drink are picked earlier for freshness. You can make the Amalfi Dream with this instead of limoncello, too.

Pernod

Nothing says south of France like a Pernod ice bucket

Pastis

From Italy to the south of France and the pastis brand Ricard (yes, of Pernod Ricard) was founded in Marseilles by Mr Paul Ricard himself, in 1932. Ricard is a heady mix of star anise and liquorice, fennel and plants from Provence.

Or, if you’re team Pernod, Pastis 51, created in 1951, has a similar botanical line up. These drinks are often served in a glass with a chilled jug of water on the side. The liquid turns cloudy when you add the water because the essential oils from the botanicals aren’t soluble in water. This is called louching.

Anise-based drinks make appearances on many holidays – from ouzo in Greece to raki in Turkey.

And if you want to enjoy a bit of anise action at home, this Ricard recipe is a good place to start. 

Lemon Yellow

20ml Ricard
20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
10ml orgeat syrup
16ml water

Mix everything except the water in an ice-filled glass. Top with water and garnish with lemon and mint.

Or, if you want a pastis from the UK, check out Cornwall’s Tarquin’s Cornish Pastis (see what they did there). Founder Tarquin Leadbetter suggests enjoying the pastis with water alongside some cold cut meats, olives and light cheeses before dinner.

“We also enjoy it with cloudy apple juice which complements the aniseed incredibly well,” he says. “For anyone looking to experiment with a more complex cocktail, why not try a Pastis Mauresque with Cornish Pastis, orgeat, lemon juice and an orange twist?”

Ok, then. Here’s how to do that:

Pastis Mauresque

50ml Cornish Pastis
15ml orgeat syrup
5ml lemon juice
Orange twist
Cubed ice

Place all your wet ingredients into an iced cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 10 seconds. Double strain into chilled rocks glass. Garnish with a twist of orange zest.

Becherovka and concrete

Becherovka and tonic – solid

Bitters

If you’re a fan of Jäger or Fernet, you have to try Becherovka. Or as we nicknamed it on a trip to its homeland of Czech Republic, ‘Buggeroffka’ ( we over-indulged). This herbal bitters is made using a secret recipe, though the keen beaks at MoM towers can decipher cinnamon, aniseed and thick honey.

We enjoyed it as a sort of Boilermaker, alongside a fresh pint of Czech beer, but there are other ways to get your herbal hit.

Alex Kratena, co-founder of top London bar Tayēr + Elementary – and a native of the Czech Republic – tells MoM that Becherovka is drunk back home as a highball called BeTon (Becherovka and Tonic), often with a slice of lemon. “It’s really delish and it’s also a bit of a pun as ‘beton’ means ‘concrete’ in Czech,” he says.

Hard stuff indeed.

Fernet Branca

Very popular in Argentina… and San Francisco

Always room for a Fernet-Branca

Ok, ok, Fernet has travelled further than many amaro. And though it was born in Milan, it is hot in Argentina.

Poppy Croft from Fernet’s UK distribution company Hi-Spirits, says: “Whilst Fernet-Branca originated in Milan, Italy in 1845, created by Bernardino Branca, it is reported that Argentina consumes 75% of the global Fernet-Branca consumption.” A thirsty nation.

Croft says that to enjoy your Fernet like you’re in Argentina, simply mix it with Coca-Cola in an ice-filled glass. “This also contributes to making Argentina one of the planet’s highest Coca-Cola consumers,” she adds.

If you’re wondering how much Fernet is enough – Croft suggests 50ml – and give it a stir.

Happy holidays!

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The peculiar allure of smoked drinks

Whisky, salmon, salt, mezcal, paprika – you name it, we’ll put smoke in it. But why do we love the flavours and aromas of smoke in our drinks so much?…

Whisky, salmon, salt, mezcal, paprika – you name it, we’ll put smoke in it. But why do we love the flavours and aromas of smoke in our drinks so much? Millie Milliken asks those in the know, and tries to explain the peculiar allure of smoked drinks.

Most summers of my late teens were spent sitting around a firepit into the early hours, a bowl of Strongbow cider in one hand (we’d run out of cups) and a powerless, useless Nokia in the other. For the weeks that followed everything smelt of smoke. Everything, no matter how much vinegar or baking soda it was bathed in.

Corte Vetusto

Mezcal cooking the traditional way (image courtesy of Corte Vestusto)

While the smell of smoke certainly isn’t for everyone, for myself – and countless Scotch and mezcal drinkers – the addition of smoke aromas and flavours are (if well balanced) a welcome characteristic in a drink. When I ask Deano Moncrieffe, owner of agave bar Hacha in London, whether he thinks smoke is becoming a more popular flavour for customers, his answer is less than vague: “100% yes! We now have many customers coming to a bar and asking for smoky cocktails,” he tells me.

He’s also seen more and more bars using the word ‘smoke’ on their menus to describe a cocktail in the knowledge that “consumers won’t be afraid of the word when they see it”. Smoked Negronis, Smoked Daiquiris and Smoked Old Fashioneds – even Smoky Martinis – have all passed my lips.

Getting lit

Smoke in drinks isn’t anything new. There’s the use of peat in Scotch (particularly from Islay) whisky production which, when burned, produces a range of smoky flavours (or compounds called phenols). Or while the traditional method of cooking agave in pits to make mezcal imparts a smoky flavour ranging from the subtle to the volcanic. But why do we like the smell and taste of smoke so much? And why in our drinks?

In a 2014 article for the Washington Post, ‘Smoke: Why we love it for cooking and eating’, barbecue and grill expert (yes) Jim Shahin traces it all back to our ancestry: “Of the three elements of flavour [taste, physical stimulation and smell], it’s smell that rocks our dawn-of-man world,” he writes. “That’s because the sense is lodged in an ancient part of the brain called the limbic system, which houses emotion and long-term memory. Smells trigger personal memories as well as atavistic, or ancestral, ones. ‘In evolutionary terms, we all started cooking with fire,” Marcia Pelchat, a sensory scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, says. “That smoky smell is a really strong stimulus’.”

When relating this directly to whisky, Charles MacLean in his 2004 book MacLean’s Miscellany of Whisky agrees. “Perhaps the big Islays, the smokiest of all malt whiskies, recollect the whiskies of the past. And perhaps one of the reasons for their current popularity is their ‘authenticity’, their ‘heritage’. An atavistic folk memory, like candles and open fires, Christmas trees and stormy nights.”

Burnt Ends

Burnt Ends – it’s pretty smoky

Let it burn

For Sam Simmons, head of whisky at Atom Brands (Master of Malt’s sister company), seeking out smoke can be something to boast about: “Seeking out smoky whisky is almost like a badge of honour in the [same] way [as] higher ABV, or IBU (International Bitterness Units) in beer or SHU (Scoville Heat Units) in chilli sauces.” One product to come out of Atom Labs in the last year is Burnt Ends, a blended whisky from Scotland and the USA, combining a 4-year-old Tennessee rye whiskey with a heavy sherried 10-year-old Islay whisky. As the name suggests, the liquid conjures plenty of smoke.

Simmons also mentions the other methods Atom uses to get smoke into their whiskies, such as using casks that held peaty whisky to hold unpeated malt to get some of that character. He also notes that in the USA, he knows distillers who infuse raw materials (corn, wheat, rye or malt) with hickory, cherry, apple or other woods to obtain a certain flavour that get carried through mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation. While others infuse the final spirit with smoke from particular woods, aerating or allowing the smoke to flow through the spirit itself. And when it comes to Iceland and Australia, “I know distillers who use dried livestock dung to dry their barley”. Tasty.

When mezcal brand The Lost Explorer came onto the scene in 2020, the agave category was going from strength to strength and bringing more smoke into peoples’ palates. “The Lost Explorer is what I would describe as agave led or agave forward in its flavour and as you progress through the varietals, the smoke aroma changes and develops in different ways,” explains Moncrieffe who acts as the brands ambassador in the UK.

What determines the smoke profile in the three expressions is the cooking time, the amount of volcanic rock and the reclaimed wood used. He describes the Espadin as having “sweet smoke”; the Tobala a “more cigar kind of smoke” and the Salmiana as “more spiced smoke”.

1881 shots

The still at 1881 distillery in Scotland

Smoke on water

It isn’t just whisky and mezcal that can bring the smoke. The Chase Distillery (previously of Tyrells crisps fame) launched an oak-smoked vodka in 2010, designed to use in Bloody Marys while more recently, Scotland’s 1881 Distillery (which opened in 2018) launched its own smoked gin, Rafters. The distillery, which is housed within the Peebles Hydro Hotel takes inspiration from a fire that ripped through the original hotel in 1905.

“We use fresh oak smoked water to achieve a light, savoury smokiness,” says head distiller Dean McDonald of how they created the smoky expression of their original 1881 Gin. “We didn’t want heavy peat smoke-style phenolic flavours that may have overwhelmed the carefully considered balance of our botanicals.”

Achieving that sweet spot of smoke intensity is judged by taste and smell alone, as the smoke intensity in the water can vary. For McDonald the smokiness of the gin brings out the spicier notes while also adding a velvety creaminess, and is an expression that would suit smoke lovers as well as drinkers of dark spirits like rum or whisky.

That whisper of smoke – as opposed to a shout – is something that Simmons finds appealing too: “In blending, a little smoky whisky goes a long way and, in tiny amounts, doesn’t always even register as smoke but as some sort of umami, some memory of Maillard effect – it just adds that yummy yummy.”

Header image courtesy of Kilchoman.

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The story behind the Scotch: J&B Rare

J&B Rare is a back bar favourite the world over, it’s sold millions of cases over the years and become part of our cultural history.  But how did a wine…

J&B Rare is a back bar favourite the world over, it’s sold millions of cases over the years and become part of our cultural history.  But how did a wine merchant end up creating such a remarkable whisky brand? Master blender Louise Martin joins us today to tell us the story behind the Scotch.

On St James’s  Street in London, you’ll find wine and spirits merchant, Justerini & Brooks. Established in 1749, for over 270 years it has been supplying tasty booze to its customers and has the proud distinction of being granted a Royal Warrant by every British monarch since King George III in 1761, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

J&Beginnings

It wasn’t until the 1930s, however, that Justerini & Brooks signature Scotch, J&B Rare, came into the picture. The man we have to thank for that is Eddie Tatham. He joined Justerini & Brooks as managing director after the First World War and “thrived in the era of the ‘bright young things’,” says master blender Louise Martin. “No party was complete without him. Eddie mingled comfortably with both café society and stars of stage and screen including Fred Astaire, David Niven, and Marlene Dietrich. He had good connections in America including the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts”. 

The relationships Tatham established took him to the States frequently. While there, he noticed there was tremendous potential as Prohibition was drawing to a close. The watered-down swill that was frequently traded throughout this period created a demand for quality blended Scotch. In 1932, J&B Rare was launched for the first time just before Prohibition was repealed, making it perfectly placed to meet that demand.

J&B Rare

J&B Rare has been a fixture of back bars and drinks cabinets since 1932

From wine to whisky

J&B Rare was instantly a hit, particularly in the US. By 1961 Justerini & Brooks had shipped one million cases of whisky for export and that increased to two million cases just eight years later in 1969. Alongside other notable favourites at the time like Cutty Sark, J&B Rare was instrumental in establishing the trend for blends and changing the perception of Scotch in the US after Prohibition. But how was it that a company better known for its extensive fine wine portfolio was able to create such an impressive Scotch whisky? 

Martin says that Tatham recruited right. He brought on board Charlie Julian, who was actually the man responsible for making Cutty Sark for Berry Bros & Rudd in 1923. It was a natural fit. Julian had some previous creating great Scotch for wine experts. “He worked with a wider palate than most master blenders,” Martin says. “Together Tatham and Julian mixed and matched over 32 whiskies to create the first J&B Rare blend. They then perfected the recipe which contained 42 whiskies, 40% of which are malts”. The exact recipe is confidential, but we know that at the heart of the blend is spirit from Knockando, Auchroisk,  Strathmill, and Glen Spey, and that J&B Rare holds the remarkable distinction of retaining that same signature blend of 42 single malt and grain whiskies today.

The profile was inspired by the tastes of the new American drinker. That meant light-looking, light-tasting whisky with a higher proportion of malt whiskies to add character. “Julian ensured that the malts that were used were sufficiently aged to deliver a round, fruity, unique, and distinctive taste, which is delicately balanced by grain whiskies. This gives J&B Rare its distinctive and unexpected character”. Martin also said that the maturation process is flexible to account for taste and that the brand uses American or European oak. “I love the flexibility of selecting the flavour when it is right, not working by a number. The right cask at the right time”.

J&B Rare

A common sight at Hollywood parties, J&B Rare was a pop culture icon

A Hollywood fixture

The secret to J&B Rare’s success, however, is not solely down to what’s inside the bottle. It’s always had an impressive look and that bottle you see today remains virtually unchanged from the 1930s. The striking red and yellow label, and retro design continue to give the whisky standout appeal on the shelves of supermarkets, bars, and retailers. But J&B Rare also became one of those brands that found its way into the limelight via famous fans and notable appearances. Martin explains Tatham’s ability to make excellent contacts in America was a key reason this happened. “J&B Rare had the reputation of being the drink of the influencers and innovators of the day and flourished in America after Prohibition. It was known to be of high quality and from a London wine merchant based in St James’s”. 

It’s a whisky with a significant pop culture history. J&B Rare was something of a fixture in Italian cinema in the 1970s and appears in both John Carpenter’s The Thing and in the novel American Psycho. It scored a lucrative association with the Hollywood Rat Pack of the 1950s and ’60s. Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jnr all drank J&B, and even John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe counted themselves as fans. Martin says that, by the 1960s, J&B Rare had become “a society whisky, with colourful characters making it their whisky of preference including Hollywood greats such as Cary Grant, Rex Harrison and Truman Capote who always ordered a ‘Justerini & Brooks’ by its full name”. 

J&B Rare’s appeal has seemingly always extended to royalty too, as all those warrants demonstrate. Martin says the Duke of Windsor, in particular, was a noted fan. He always travelled with a few cases of J&B Rare in his luggage and would telephone Justerini & Brooks directly to place an order. There was once an amusing mix-up with the girl taking the order, Martin says, as she didn’t recognise his voice. After announcing “Hello, it’s the Duke of Windsor. I’d like to order some J&B Rare”, her response was “I’m afraid we don’t supply public houses directly, Sir.” Martin says that Edward VIII then “graciously explained that he was the actual Duke of Windsor and not a pub of the same name!”

J&B Rare

Whip an Old Fashioned for yourself with one of the world’s most enduring blends

Standing the test of time

Stories behind brands like Famous Grouse and J&B Rare intrigue me because both are so ubiquitous. Anywhere there’s whisky, there they are. It’s a remarkable achievement and it’s one we don’t often recognize. Plenty of blends that were around in the golden age haven’t stood the test of time like the first two whiskies we’ve featured in the story behind the Scotch series. It’s a shame blends like these can still be overlooked by whisky enthusiasts gravitating to the oldest, most rare, and/or expensive bottlings they can get their hands on.

But not only does huge-selling blended whisky still very much power the Scotch industry, but many of them are also responsible for our first moments of whisky fandom. It’s easy to forget that the majority of us began our love affair with this spirit after trying stepping stone blends commonly available in corner shops, supermarkets, and award-winning online retailers (ahem). As we move into the world of single malts, age statements and start to passionately care about things like bottling strength and additional colouring our tastes change. Our palates get treated to a diverse array of whisky. But at no point should we think we’re too good for the backbone blends. And the generation of whisky lovers to come will also need accessible, affordable Scotch to join us in this wonderful world.

For anyone in the market for such a drink, I’ve long been a fan of J&B Rare and think it remains an excellent beginner whisky. It’s light, delicately sweet, and has some really beautiful fruity notes (toffee apples mostly for me). Throughout there’s also a slightly malty, rich note underneath that brings body and depth. It can be a touch immature and brash on the nose, but those rougher edges are easily soothed in an array of cocktails, where this dram really shines. It makes a fantastic Whisky Sour, I love it in Highballs (ginger ale, soda, cola – it all works) and even makes a surprisingly good Mint Julep. To show you how easy it is to enjoy this classic Scotch, I’ve popped a delightfully simple Old Fashioned recipe underneath. You can pretend you’re Frank Sinatra while you imbibe. 

How to make a J&B Old Fashioned

50ml J&B Rare
1 sugar cube
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Add one sugar cube and the Angostura Bitters to a rocks glass. Crush the sugar cube and add J&B Rare. Add ice cubes and stir, adding more ice as you go along. Garnish with a touch of orange zest and a couple of Maraschino cherries.

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The 12 new bars to visit in 2021

As UK hospitality slowly wakes up from lockdown, sadly slower than originally anticipated, there are a slew of new bars to go out and celebrate in. From new hotel classics…

As UK hospitality slowly wakes up from lockdown, sadly slower than originally anticipated, there are a slew of new bars to go out and celebrate in. From new hotel classics to neighbourhood joints, Millie Milliken rounds up 12 new bars to visit in 2021.

As if opening an existing bar after being locked down for the best part of 18 months isn’t stressful enough, some madcap bar operators have decided to open brand new offerings – and it’s just the (nearly) end-of-lockdown news we needed.

Some of the biggest names in hospitality have given 2021 the boozy boost it needed – from the Nomad London to the Schofield brothers (who are also well known for their Schofield vermouth), and the kings of modern Irish hospitality – and we’ve rounded up some of the ones on our list, as well as a couple coming soon. So, get your diaries out – you’re in for a treat.

12 new bars to visit in 2021

Get your hustle on at Side Hustle (credit Simon Upton)

Get your hustle on at Side Hustle (credit Simon Upton)

Best for… the very cool kids: Side Hustle, NoMad Hotel, London WC2

Arguably the most exciting hotel opening in London, nay, the world, is the new NoMad Hotel in Covent Garden. Although the atrium restaurant and bar has taken Insta by storm, it is its darker little sister, Side Hustle that has had bar folk descend on the old police station the hotel is housed in. British-pub-meets-New-York is the vibe (the hotel’s NYC outpost is legendary) and the menu is split nicely between classics and new creations with a leaning towards agave spirits. Under the watchful eye of bar director Pietro Collina, it’s no wonder this place is the spot to be this summer.

Best for… classics lovers: Schofield’s Bar and Atomeca, Manchester

It’s hard to believe that the brothers behind one of this year’s most anticipated openings haven’t owned their own bar before. And not content with opening just one after a national lockdown, Joe and Daniel Schofield have gone and opened two. First up, is Schofield’s Bar. Classic in its stylings (white stone façade, a large glass entrance, white aprons) the menu comprises 12 classics – from Gin Fizzes to Daiquiris – and an additional 12 of the brothers’ creations. Second is Atomeca, a slightly more reserved but no less impressive small plates, wine and cocktail bar.

A Bar with Shapes for a Name,

No, not a shoot from The Face circa 1986 but the natty boiler-suited staff at A Bar with Shapes for a Name,

Best for… inquisitive drinkers: A Bar with Shapes for a Name, London E2

With this latest opening, bar mavericks Remy Savage and Paul Lougrat have taken their inspiration from the Bauhaus art movement of 20th century Germany and the ever-changing cocktail world. The coloured shapes above its door makes it instantly recognisable while also paying homage to artist Kandinsky. The team have already been causing a frenzy in the drinks world with their colourful, playful and scaled-back menu, innovative creations and what now, even after a few weeks of opening, feel like signature staff boiler suits. Get yourselves to 232 Kingsland Road. Now.

Best for… agave-spirits lovers: Mezcaleria, Kol Restaurant, London W1

This mezcal bar headed up by bartender extraordinaire Maxim Schulte (previously of the American Bar at The Savoy) is a very exciting addition to London’s burgeoning agave-centred bar scene. Part of Kol restaurant, headed by chef Santiago Lastra who champions Mexican food using British ingredients, Mezcaleria has over 70 different agave spirits on the menu (arranged by agave species) as well as a range of cocktails that include Schulte’s twists on classics, such as a French 75 using sea buckthorn espadin mezcal, sea buckthorn, Nixta corn liqueur and sparkling wine. Salud!

HOMEBOY BATTERSEA APRIL 2021 CREDIT @lateef.photography-36

Homeboy Battersea is here

Best for… Irish whiskey heads: Homeboy Embassy Gardens, London SW11

Another bar that had drinkers itching to get out of lockdown is the new Homeboy bar from Irish duo Ciaran Smith and Aaron Wall. A larger offering than their Islington original, the new Embassy Gardens venue has more of an all-day vibe to it with an extensive food menu alongside the boys’ signature Irish whiskey-focused offering. 150 bottles of the stuff line the statement back bar while classics from the original such as the lads’ signature Irish Coffee feature alongside new creations, some with rather Insta-friendly glassware. And I think it might be illegal to visit without ordering a pint of Guinness and a bag of Tato crisps.

Best for… the after-work crowd: Lost Cat and Junior Jacksons, Manchester

Yet another double act of openings from Manchester, this time from tastemaker Lyndon Higginson (of Bunny Jaksons and Crazy Pedro fame). Housed on separate floors of the same building, the two bars are signature Higginson with neighbourhood vibes and fun events. On the ground level, Lost Cat serves up fun cocktails featuring ingredients like carrot cake syrup, cream cheese foam and miso caramel; downstairs, Junior Jacksons is the spot for bourbon and beer lovers, while both joints offer drink-friendly food from bagels to burgers.

Publiq

“Pint of mild and a packet of pork scratchings, please”

Best for… savouring ingredients: Publiq, London W8

Positioned to be a modern British public house, this new opening from Greg Almeida and Charles Montanaro (the minds behind some of London’s most regarded hospitality joints) has already gathered copious amounts of praise from the drinks industry. When it comes to food, guests can expect regularly changing seasonal plates, but let’s focus on the drinks. Nine, seasonally driven cocktails sit on the menu including a Beetroot and Rosehip Highball, Lemongrass and Caao Gimlet and a Tumeric and Kumquat Negroni. There’s also an interesting wine list from countries including Morocco to Slovakia.

Coming soon…

Best for… modern pub fans: The Cadogan Arms, London SW3

The Kings Road institution is being readied for reopening after new investment. A dream team of hospitality names are behind the project including James Knappet whose Kitchen Table holds two Michelin stars, while the drinks offering will be cask and craft ales alongside an extensive wine list and contemporary cocktails. Opening July 2021

Best for… those after a new regular: Fox and Chance, Birmingham

Opening soon at 45 Pinfold Street, Fox and Chance has kept a relatively low profile, but looks set to be an enchanting new addition to the Birmingham drinking scene. Teaser cocktails on its social channels showcase serves like The Flip & Pip (banana-infused rum, maple syrup and stout), a Stone Fence and a rather slick looking Espresso Martini.

Best for… natural wine inquisitors: aspen & meursault, London SW11

A new minimal intervention wine bar, café and shop is coming from Sunny Hodge, the man behind Elephant & Castle’s destination wine bar, Diogenes the Dog. The new venture in Battersea will looks to demystify the natural wine trend with a list including biodynamic Champagne and Franciacorta, orange wines plus low-intervention classics from around the world, even Wales. Opening August 2021

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How to mix BBQ and booze for Father’s Day

If your dad has moved beyond the classic cremated sausage (black on the outside, raw in the middle) and supermarket lager combo, this is the blog post for you. And…

If your dad has moved beyond the classic cremated sausage (black on the outside, raw in the middle) and supermarket lager combo, this is the blog post for you. And him. So here are our tips on putting together BBQ and booze this Father’s Day.

Beer and a burger are about as perfect a match as Kylie and Jason. But the world of the barbecue offers a range of ingredients and flavours, opening up a whole load of drinks opportunities. From marinating meats with a splash of whisk(e)y to pepping up tomato sides with a slug of vodka, barbecues and booze are brilliant bedfellows.

Cooking with alcohol

Let’s take a closer look at how to put the booze on or in the food:

“We love adding a small quantity of alcohol into a barbecue marinade or glaze,” say Aaron & Susannah Rickard, authors of the newly published book Cooking with Alcohol. “The volatile alcohol molecules will gradually evaporate from the warm food as you eat, and this evaporation carries the vibrant, fresh aromas to your nose – fragrance is a big part of how our brains perceive flavour, so the addition of alcohol can literally make it seem more delicious.”

Well, there’s the science. The Rickards tend to use dark spirits when barbecuing with alcohol – they look for booze that can stand up to the strong, smoky flavours without adding too much liquid. “Dark rum, bourbon and even Jägermeister are all great options,” they recommend.

Cornish sustainability expert and development chef James Strawbridge from Strawbridge Kitchen agrees. He recently worked with online farm shop 44 Foods to create National BBQ Week ideas and he says using whisky in marinades helps to build a robust depth of flavour.

“It works wonderfully with the following spices and herbs: clove, mustard, rosemary, allspice, smoked sea salt, soy sauces, cinnamon and orange zest,” he explains. “Bourbon with its vanilla, spiced caramel notes is excellent with maple syrup for a smoky glaze brushed onto sticky ribs or with pulled pork.”

Buffalo Trace and butcher Jonny Farrell

Jonny Farrell demonstrates the thrill of the grill

BBQ and bourbon

Speaking of bourbon, Buffalo Trace has gone big on Father’s Day this year, with a competition for people to nominate a strong father figure for a chance to win a bourbon and barbecue experience. The brand has teamed up with renowned butcher Jonny Farrell, who has given MoM a top tip for the grill.

“If you’re outside and have a decent space around you – no covers and walls nearby – you can always use a little Buffalo Trace to flambé your steaks,” he says. “Just as they’re about to finish, carefully pour a shot over the coals and watch the flames lick the meat!”

Farrell explains that not only does this look “seriously cool”, but it also adds a little extra flavour.

Peat smoke and fire

Away from bourbon and back on this side of the pond, Strawbridge is a fan of peaty Scotch, which he says works “wonderfully well with BBQ beef short ribs or smoked beetroot to enhance the woody notes”.

The folks at Ardbeg are also unsurprisingly big on smoke – and smoking meat. They have once again joined forces with DJ BBQ to bring “big, smoky flavours to backyard barbecues”. The DJ’s big hit has to be 18-hour whisky smoked pulled pork, a recipe that features half a bottle of Ardbeg.

If that’s not enough Ardbeg, you could also make the Hot or Cold Apple Cider drinks pairing – a heady mix of Ardbeg Wee Beastie, cider and ginger (recipe below).

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

Ardbeg Wee Beastie, smokin’!

Beyond meat

But if red meat or big peat are not your bag, Cornish chef Strawbridge has a dish for that, too. “Irish whiskey is the drink to use with a little orange zest on lobster tails or to flambé wood roasted scallops in their shells,” he explains. “It’s lighter, complex and can be paired with seafood or poultry.”

Cooking with Alcohol authors the Rickards also have some tips beyond the meaty main. To pep up side dishes, they reckon stirring in a little alcohol can add a bright, fresh flavour.

“The zesty, herbal notes of gin will enhance a coleslaw beautifully, while just a teaspoon of vodka in a spicy tomato sauce adds a lovely zing,” they say. “And to finish your meal, marinade large pieces of pineapple or peach together with a little brown sugar, lime juice and spiced rum, before tossing them on the barbecue. The sugars in the fruit will caramelise over the heat to create a deliciously sticky sauce with incredible depth of flavour.”

Whatever you’re barbecuing this Father’s Day, there’s a drink for that.

Hot or Cold Apple Cider

Ingredients

50ml Ardbeg Wee Beastie
50ml apple cider
50ml ginger beer
25ml freshly squeezed lime juice
Demerara vanilla sugar to taste

Decide whether you would like to make cocktails individually or as part of a batch. Add the ingredients together and stir well. Heat the mixture on a BBQ (depending on your preference) and serve with a ladle or use a hot poker to heat individual serves (careful now!) Garnish with a cinnamon quill, a star anise and a mini toffee apple

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Family spirit: father and daughter/ son distillers

We’re keeping it in the family today as Millie Milliken takes a look at some of the father and daughter/ son distillers around the world – they’re braver than we…

We’re keeping it in the family today as Millie Milliken takes a look at some of the father and daughter/ son distillers around the world – they’re braver than we would be

One of my earliest memories is of my grandad (papa) showing me how to make beer in his garage, probably at a much younger age than I should have been. Luckily, there are some families who actually know what they’re doing when it comes to making drinks. Well-known brands from whisky like Teeling, Glenfarclas and Kilchoman trade on their family name, and there are plenty more out there from bourbon to brandy.

In celebration of this year’s Father’s Day, I’ve unearthed some of the father and daughter/ son distillers from around the wide world of drinks. From Florida to Manchester – and including a touching tribute to a recently lost father – they’re an eclectic bunch, and testament to the benefits of keeping their distilling and blending secrets in the family. Maybe it’s true: blood is thicker than whisky.

Jimmy and Eddie Russell at Distillery

Jimmy and Eddie Russell, Wild Turkey

First up is one of America’s most famous bourbons, Wild Turkey. Master distiller Eddie Russell and his father, the legendary Jimmy are a team with around 100 years of whisky making experience between them. And it was all down to Eddie’s mother, Joretta.

“I really wanted to move away as a young man, when I got the chance,” says Eddie. “I played football on scholarship at Western Kentucky University, but when I came home for my first summer break, my job options were the distillery or… the distillery. The mandate wasn’t Jimmy’s, but at my mother, Joretta Russell’s insistence.”

Eddie started at the bottom, rolling barrels, mowing lawns, painting houses before Jimmy moved him into the distillery to learn about yeast and mashing. Now Eddie sits alongside his father on the illustrious Bourbon Hall of Fame. Jimmy isn’t hanging his whisky making boots up any time soon either. “I’ve never thought of it as work. I’ve always said ‘the day it becomes work, I’ll retire.”

Where Eddie gets his father’s strong work ethic, Jimmy benefits from Eddie’s honesty: “When Eddie tells you something, it’s true. If he doesn’t like it, he will tell you!” Between the two of them, they’ve grown an empire that now Eddie’s son is getting in on, and there are now four generations working at Wild Turkey.

Until that day that working at Wild Turkey feels like work, though, Jimmy Russell will (for Eddie at least) always be the reigning patriarch: “For my dad, it took about 17 years before he became a master distiller. It was 34 years for me because my dad is still working – you should really only have one master.”

Father and son at Prestwich gin

Michael and Jack Scargill, Prestwich Gin

This Manchester born and bred gin was the result of a family dinner. “With my Dad approaching retirement, we were talking over dinner about what he was going to do with his spare time and the idea of starting our own gin cropped up,” explains Jack. “I didn’t think much of it but the next time I went round, Dad had bought a few books and a small still and started working on a few recipes and it went from there.”

With a background in chemistry, Michael takes on playing around with recipes and tweaking them as he sees fit, while Jack prefers tasting – as well as sales and marketing, which he has a professional background in.

The father/son duo’s love for gin came long before the gin boom, with birthday and Christmas presents often coming in the form of a bottle of the botanical spirit. Now, they can enjoy the fact that other people are giving theirs as gifts on special occasions – maybe a few fathers will receive one this Father’s Day.

Kristy and Billy Lark

Bill Lark and Kristy Lark-Booth, Killara Distillery

“Working with my Dad can be super amazing and at times very exasperating!” So says Kristy Lark-Booth, founder of Killara Distillery in Tasmania. Having spent years working at the family whisky business, Lark Distillery, with her father Bill, she branched out on her own in 2016 to set up her own venture.

Despite not working together as regularly day-to-day, Bill’s tutelage of Kristy on all this whisky distillation is testament to their working relationship: “I have learnt so much from him, not only how to distil amazing whisky but also a great work and personal ethic. Things like how to relate to people and to see the best in others, to follow your dreams and never give up. Working with him has given me the opportunity to explore and develop my own distilling style and certainly develop my palette.” 

Kristy’s integration into the family business wasn’t always a given. She had her eyes on a career in Air Traffic Control – and while she got a coveted place at the ATC school, having spent some time working at the distillery, she changed her mind: “They were, of course very supportive of that so I began learning whisky making from my Dad, and gin/liqueur making from my Mum. We worked closely together right up until Lark was taken over by investors.”

Looking to the future, Kristy and Bill will be working on a few projects that will see them come together again in a father/daughter – or daughter/father – capacity, including bringing back the old distillery school. Anything about distilling you don’t learn in there, ain’t worth knowing.

Wayne&Holly Bass & Flinders Distillery

Holly and Wayne Klintworth, Bass & Flinders Distillery

From the Bass & Flinders Distillery in Mornington Peninsula, Australia, head distiller Holly Klintworth produces gin, liqueurs and brandies, including a recent Maritime Gin with locally-foraged samphire, salt bush and kelp, as well as  Heartbreak Gin infused with Pinot Noir. The distillery started its life in 2009, but it wasn’t until a few years later that Holly decided to join her dad.

“Over the years dad would ask my opinion on a product or packaging, and here and there I would help out on weekends with bottling, or peeling oranges for our gins. I got a good feel for the passion my dad had for the craft spirits industry and I suppose it was pretty infectious.” Having previously spent time working in marketing in the wine industry, Holly joined her father’s distillery in 2016.

It didn’t come easy: Holly found getting up to speed so quickly a challenge without having a science background and not being initially too familiar with the production process. She was also one of few women working in the Australian distilling industry, although her father was keen to not let that deter her: “He would say to me, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you you aren’t as capable as a man in production’… He really empowered me to take ownership of the still, of the spirit and of the product from start to finish.”

Sadly, Wayne Klintworth passed away in early 2020, but his mentorship and inspiration have fuelled his daughter’s love and passion for producing fine spirits. “My dad was a real mentor and inspiration for me as I stepped into the distilling world. Having him mentoring me and him also being my dad, meant I learned the ropes extremely quickly as I had access to his knowledge and expertise at all hours of the day or night and he was always ready for a chat about the business.”

Rollins Distillery, father and son

Paul and Patrick Rollins, Rollins Distillery

If you look closely at the Rollins Distillery logo, you’ll notice it’s two rams butting heads. Florida isn’t known for its rams, so it’s probably more likely that those rams represent Patrick and Paul Rollins, the son and father who distil their 100% Floridian molasses rum.

It all started with father, Paul, whose time at the Naval Academy saw him studying chemistry and growing an interest in distillation. Several years later, the family was stationed in Scotland, where Paul spent some time studying operations at the Old Fettercairn Distillery. Back in Florida, with grown up kids, Paul decided to take the plunge, being sure to utilise Florida’s agriculture in the process.

Patrick was more interested in beer when his father approached him with the idea of setting up a distillery. Dreams of a brewpub slowly faded when he started learning more about distilling and rum – attending lectures and seminars – and he fell in love with the craft.

For Paul and Patrick, two heads are better than one: “Dad is a very inside-the-box technical thinker. He sees the trees. I am a very outside-the-box creative thinker. I see the forest. Together we are able to create so much more than we could separately.”

Paul agrees, with a slight caveat: “Let me be frank, I would have tried to make the distillery happen with or without Patrick, but I cannot say it would be as successful as it is today without him.”

 

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The story of Grey Goose vodka

This is the story of Grey Goose vodka, the brand that kickstarted the super-premium movement and changed the face of the category. But did you know that before it was…

This is the story of Grey Goose vodka, the brand that kickstarted the super-premium movement and changed the face of the category. But did you know that before it was vodka, the Goose was a brand of cheap German wine? Lucy Britner has the whole story.

The tale of Grey Goose can’t take flight without talking about its creator, the US booze tycoon Sidney Frank (who with his bow tie and cigar looked just like you hope a booze tycoon would look). It might surprise you to know that Grey Goose wasn’t always a vodka. The brand ‘Grey Goose’ started life as a German Liebfraumilch (like Blue Nun) – registered by Frank in the ‘70s. And although the sweet wine died, the trademark lived on, revived by Frank two decades later, to become a vodka.

The ultimate vodka brand

It was the ultimate vodka brand – it started life with no liquid, no distillery and no bottle. But Frank knew there was a tremendous opportunity. Absolut was already making waves and he had the contacts, thanks to his success with Jägermeister.

You see, Frank started Sidney Frank Importing Co (SFIC) in 1972, bringing Jägermeister from Germany and putting it on the map in the US. Among SFIC’s contributions to its success are the Jägerettes – what the company claimed were the first promotional models in the spirits industry. SFIC also introduced the Jägermeister Tap Machine, which brought the brand out of the freezer and onto the bar. So, Frank and his team were well connected in the US bar world.

Grey Goose vodka advert

Ooh la la!

Super Premium

Frank could see Absolut was doing pretty well, but he had worked out how he might do even better. In an interview with Inc, he points out that Absolut was selling for $15 a bottle. “I figured, let’s make it [Grey Goose] very exclusive and sell it for $30 a bottle,” he said.

And the story of how it came to be made in France is just as ‘matter of fact’ as Frank’s pricing structure. “I said, France has the best of everything. I asked a distiller there whether they could make a vodka. They said sure. The product manager and I tasted about 100 vodkas on my front porch here, and we agreed on one vodka as the best-tasting,” he told Inc.

If you’ve been to Cognac, you might’ve seen the big grey, Grey Goose plant outside of the town. And despite its location among the vines, Grey Goose is made using winter wheat from Picardy, France.

The liquid was created by François Thibault (below), Grey Goose’s own maître de chai. “The vodka was created in Gensac, near Cognac, a region renowned for its high-quality wines and spirits and high mastery of the distillation process,” says Sébastien Roncin, heritage curator for French brands at Bacardi (which now owns the brand). “The pure grain undergoes a five-step distillation process, maximising the flavour at each stage and retaining the unique qualities of fine French wheat. The spirit is then combined with naturally-filtered water from the Gensac spring.”

The vodka quickly won ‘best-tasting’ status with the Beverage Testing Institute and the story goes that Frank put all his projected profit for the year into advertising. The brand went from nothing but a name to 1.5-million cases by 2004. 

Francois Thibault Grey Goose Vodka

Frank becomes a billionaire

And in that same year, Frank sold Grey Goose to Bacardi, for a reported “more than” $2bn.

Bacardi made the purchase to become a “serious player in the strategically important vodka category”. And Frank, though rolling in cash, was a little bittersweet about it. He said of the sale: “One cannot avoid having mixed feelings on the sale of such a great brand. However, I cannot think of a better new home for Grey Goose than Bacardi. The people at Bacardi understand brand building, and this will ensure the development of the full potential of Grey Goose.”

Frank handed out big bonuses to his employees so they wouldn’t quit the company and he also splashed a bit of cash on himself – he bought two big Maybachs and a Bentley. And he gave $100m to Brown university, which is used to provide financial aid to students in need. (Frank himself had attended Brown in 1942 but had to leave after a year because he couldn’t afford the tuition.)

Before he sold the brand, Frank, who was a big golf fan, contributed to the creation of the Grey Goose 19th Hole TV programme on the Golf Channel. This was continued after the acquisition by Bacardi and in 2005, golfer Retief Goosen was endorsed by the brand, then Matt Kuchar in 2012.

The story goes that in his older years, Frank, unable to still play golf, would ride around on his cart, instructing a team of aspiring pros to play for him. And they say money can’t buy you happiness.

Frank died in 2006, at the age of 86, having fulfilled his dream of becoming a billionaire.

And the story of Sidney Frank Importing went full circle when, in 2015, it was acquired by Mast-Jägermeister. Two years later, the company’s name was changed to Mast-Jägermeister US.

Grey Goose is celeb-tastic

Celeb-tastic!

The Bacardi years

With Bacardi in the driving seat, Grey Goose has continued to champion the super-premium mentality, with straplines like ‘Fly Beyond’ and ‘Live Victoriously’.

The company has also carried on producing flavours, after Frank introduced L’Orange in 2000 and Le Citron a couple of years later. La Vanille ran from 2003-2007 and was reintroduced in 2018, while La Poire (2007), Cherry Noir (2012) and Le Melon (2014) have kept things fruity over the years.

All the while, Grey Goose has gained traction in popular culture. It was explicitly mentioned in the Sex and the City TV series and in songs such as Stop Playing Games by 8Ball & MJG. Roncin says these mentions contributed to Grey Goose vodka’s popularity.

And ‘sleb’ tie-ups are still on the bill. In 2018, Grey Goose announced a partnership with top Hollywood actor Jamie Foxx. The collaboration included a 9-part digital series called ‘Off Script’, which featured Foxx interviewing other superstars, including Denzel Washington, Benicio Del Toro and Melissa McCarthy.

The brand’s latest iteration, Grey Goose Essences, also got a spot at the Oscars. The 30% ABV flavoured vodka range was launched in February and it comprises three flavours: Strawberry & Lemongrass, White Peach & Rosemary and Watermelon & Basil. The Oscars push included a 30-second ad that ran during the ceremony.

Interestingly, Roncin describes Bacardi’s investment in Essences as the “largest investment in the brand since the original Grey Goose”. 

Today, Grey Goose is available in 152 markets – and it’s not yet 25 years old.

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The surprisingly long history of column single malt whisky

Copper Rivet Distillery has just released what is claimed to be “the first column single malt whisky ever released from any distillery in Britain”. Not so, says Ian Buxton. Here…

Copper Rivet Distillery has just released what is claimed to be “the first column single malt whisky ever released from any distillery in Britain”. Not so, says Ian Buxton. Here he takes takes a look at the long history of malt whisky made using a continuous still.

Dramatic news from Kent where Chatham’s Copper Rivet Distillery has announced the launch of its ‘Column Single Malt Whisky’.

Since opening in December 2017, Copper Rivet has been doing some interesting and noteworthy things.  The team makes a tasty gin (OK, so a small distillery making gin isn’t the most interesting and noteworthy thing in the entire history of the world, but it is very tasty) and have gone on to release a fine English malt whisky, made using classic pot stills.

But this is something different and unique – single malt whisky distilled in a column still. In fact, they claim it’s “the first column single malt whisky ever released from any distillery in Britain”.  This puppy comes courtesy of Copper Rivet’s Head Distiller Abhi Banik who joined them from Heriot-Watt University’s internationally renowned International Centre for Brewing and Distilling where he was teaching brewing and distilling on the post-graduate course.

You can see him here discussing the new product, from which it’s fair to conclude that, apart from wearing a pretty fetching tartan bunnet, he knows more than a little about making whisky.

But, as we shall see, they clearly don’t study much history on the course.

Copper Rivet Distillery - Abhi Banik

Abhi Banik sporting a very fetching ‘bunnet’

The SWA says no

Interesting though this is, it’s very far from Britain’s first column still single malt. In fact, were it not for an apparently arcane clause in the 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations, we could be enjoying Loch Lomond Distillery’s Rhosdhu.

Back in 2007, Loch Lomond’s then production director John Peterson revived this name to describe the ‘single malt’ whisky he was making in the distillery’s column stills. And very agreeable it was, as I recall. The company’s argument was that the process was inherently more efficient than pot still distillation, saving as he claimed “more than 1,400 tonnes of CO2 being released every year” – as well as being something the industry had done in the past.  They weren’t even arguing for inclusion in the single malt category but proposing a distinct and clear description for column-distilled single malt.

The SWA was having none of it, arguing that “the further category being floated does not reflect traditional Scotch whisky distillation and practice” according to then spokesman Campbell Evans.

However, he was wrong.

Copper_Rivet_Disitllery_312_5134

The mighty central column still at the Copper Rivet distillery

The history of column single malt whisky

In fact, the technique had been used ever since the invention of the column still c.1826 and when our old friend distillery hack Alfred Barnard visited Yoker Distillery in Glasgow in 1886 he saw ‘one of Stein’s patent stills for the manufacture of malt whisky, the same as that described hereafter at Cameron Bridge Distillery.’ At Glenmavis he witnessed the patent still installed in 1855 producing 2,000 gallons of malt whisky every 24 hours. 

In 1913, in his magisterial survey of whisky production, J A Nettleton noted the production of patent-still all-malt whisky in “one or two distilleries” which he thought “may claim the title ‘whisky’ with the qualifying description” [patent i.e. continuous still].  Known then as ‘silent malt’ the practice certainly continued until the 1960s at the North of Scotland Distillery. 

Just as pertinently, the unusual Lomond still wasn’t invented until 1955 and never widely adopted. But one large distiller still operated such equipment and so a place was found for it in the 2009 regulations.

But as regards traditional practice, the SWA is more flexible than an Olympic gymnast. The use of former Tequila and mezcal casks was never, ever Scotch whisky practice. However, as an industry trade body, the SWA argues for what the industry wants – and that generally means what the bigger firms want (they pay the bills after all and Loch Lomond wasn’t then even a member). Back in 2009 the industry’s paymasters didn’t want continuous still single malt and so a part of whisky’s history was conveniently airbrushed out of the records. 

More recently, with trend-driven new consumers to attract alternative cask types seemed the way forward and, once again, commercial imperatives triumphed. Now a wide variety of hitherto-unknown barrels are used in finishing (itself a technique not widely seen until the 1982 launch of Balvenie Classic).

Copper Rivet Masthouse Column Still Single malt

Masthouse Column Still Single Malt – with the still in question behind

It’s not unusual

In recent years, column malts have been distilled outside Scotland. From Japan we have Nikka’s excellent Coffey Malt and there are other examples from world whisky.

Right, that’s enough history. My purpose is not to bury Copper Rivet but to praise them. This is a bold, exciting and innovative thing they’ve done and I hope it causes one or two folk in the hills and glens (or more probably, some urban corporate office blocks) to think hard about what opportunities Scotch whisky may be missing.

Copper Rivet’s PR person summed it up nicely, telling me “Copper Rivet’s viewpoint is that the Scotch Whisky regs have done enormously well for Scotland and for whisky in general; but that new whisky producers who are not bound by these regs can help add excitement and perhaps new flavours and new drinkers (who knows) to the whole whisky category”.

Amen to that: let’s welcome the buzz and intellectual and gastronomic excitement they’re adding by using a broader rule book for the 21st Century.

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The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura

It’s The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura time! Today we say hello to Jura and wave goodbye to the festival on its final day. Good thing…

It’s The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura time! Today we say hello to Jura and wave goodbye to the festival on its final day. Good thing we’ve got a range of delicious whisky cocktails lined up to toast another fantastic Fèis!

Sadly all good things must come to an end and the Islay Festival is no exception. We hope you’ve enjoyed the many virtual celebrations that have taken place over the last 10 days and still have some energy left to enjoy a cocktail or two with us and the folk at Jura Distillery.

The remote island whisky producer is home to more deer than Bambifest 2021 (we’ll see you there), George Orwell’s classic 1984 (he wrote the novel here on something of a writers’ retreat), and a distinctive brand of soft, fruity, coastal, and delicately peaty drams. While we can’t make the pilgrimage this year, we can still enjoy the fruits of the island’s labour in a variety of serves with Stephen Martin, global single malt whisky specialist for Whyte & Mackay, Jura’s parent company.

But first, let’s see what the distillery is up to and, one last time, we’ll remind you that we made this rad playlist on Spotify. It’s got the kind of music you’d expect to hear at the festival and some others fun tunes. What’s not to like? 

What’s going on today:

Jura kicks off its celebration with Brunch Cocktails, a relaxed cocktail session that takes place from 1.30-2.30pm on Instagram Live hosted by Stephen Martin, and Kyle Jameson, co-founder of Nauticus, Edinburgh. Then from 7.30-8.30pm on Instagram Live there’s the Jura Pub Lock-In. For this, Martin will be joined by Andy Gemmell, owner of The Gate, Glasgow, for an event that aims to recreate an afternoon down the pub.

The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura

Our final day sees us heading to Jura (virtually)!

Jura’s whisky cocktail masterclass

“To us, Jura is so much more than a whisky – it’s a way of life and Jura Day is a celebration of that. It’s a festival that celebrates not only our vibrant and lively whisky but the spirited community that crafts our whisky and makes our island home special. Usually, we’d be welcoming visitors to our shores to toast the day with us in person. While we’re not able to do that this year, we’re hoping our virtual cocktail and beer-pairing events will bring a bit of fun to anyone tuning in wherever they are in the world,” said Stephen Martin .

He has a busy schedule today. In two different cocktail events, he aims to showcase how Jura’s whiskies can be used in countless ways, from brunch-style cocktails to sippers to pair with a pint in a cosy pub, and everything in between. “Whilst Jura is an authentic, island single malt, we’re also proud of how accessible it is – it’s enjoyable and approachable for everyone. These sessions are designed to showcase the true versatility of the range. Ultimately, we want everyone to be able to enjoy Jura and get creative with how they choose to drink it,” he says.

Martin hopes that events like today’s will demonstrate there’s more to single malts than sipping a neat dram. “We’re slowly but surely seeing a change in attitudes in the category with a wider variety of people enjoying Scotch – including younger whisky fans – which has certainly helped to shake things up,” he says.

The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura

Grab your bottle of Jura and get mixing!

Changing perceptions

The progress being made is underlined by the fact that not long ago it would have seemed inconceivable to base a festival day around mixing peated whisky. But cocktail culture has firmly made it to Islay, despite it being a setting that is often presented as a traditional throwback. You won’t find a distillery that doesn’t offer cocktails at the festival now and each brand is very happy to recruit highly skilled bartenders like Jamieson and Gemmell.

Today Martin and co. will be playing around with whiskies from the brand’s Signature Series, including Jura 10 Year Old, Journey, Seven Wood and 12 Year Old. Martin says they have flavour palates that lend themselves well to mixology. “We like to say this range is full of whiskies that are smooth, bright and lively (just like the tiny island community who make them) which work fantastically in cocktails. Each whisky brings something different to the mix so it’s great to experiment with the whole range”.

If you’re interested in learning how to mix Scotch whisky like the best, then watching the sessions today should provide inspiration and a source of invaluable expertise. Martin says there’s also plenty of advice available online (such as on Jura’s Instagram page) and that should start with simple cocktails. “And remember to have fun with it.”

We can’t reveal all the recipes you’ll get to see today, but Martin has kindly revealed how to make the Journey in a Breakfast Martini and a Coffee Highball featuring the 12-year-old expression. They’re both delicious and easy enough to make. As for the rest, you’ll have to tune in to see those!

The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 10: Jura

There’s plenty of virtual festivities to enjoy today.

Jura Coffee Highball

35ml Jura 12 Year Old
10ml coffee liqueur
15ml Amarosa
Cream soda 

Build all ingredients into a tall glass then top with cream soda and garnish with a dehydrated orange slice.

Journey Breakfast Martini 

40ml Jura Journey
10ml Lucky Liquor Orange
5ml Lucky Liquor Kummel
15ml lemon juice
1 tsp marmalade 

Shake all ingredients with plenty of ice. Double strain into a martini glass and garnish with a twist of orange.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 9: Ardbeg

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 9: Ardbeg time! For the ninth day we travel to the mighty Ardbeg to see what the team has planned while Lucy…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 9: Ardbeg time! For the ninth day we travel to the mighty Ardbeg to see what the team has planned while Lucy Britner shares her own painful memories of the distillery.

We’re so near the end of the Master of Malt Islay festival 2021. This is the last day on the island itself before we head to Jura and from there back to MoM Towers at a secret location in Kent. We’ve got a treat today, as we’re going to Ardbeg, home of some of the most individual and fiercely-loved whiskies in Scotland. 

Before we hand over to Lucy Britner for her memories of Ardbeg and the Islay half marathon, we’re going to take a look at what kind of online shenanigans the team has planned for Ardbeg Day. But before that, check out our very own Jake Mountain talking to now-retired distillery manager Mickey Heads from Feis Ile 2019 and don’t forget to listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify 

What’s going on today?

As you might expect, Ardbeg is doing things a bit differently with what’s described as a “Fantasy Island Map” that you can navigate around to discover whisky-based treasure. “Simply click where you want to travel to, pour yourself an Ardbeg, and enjoy uncovering the myth behind this year’s malt – Ardbeg Scorch,” it says. It’s a bit hard to explain so we recommend going to the special page to find out more. 

What’s the festival exclusive?

Ardbeg Scorch, of course! This will be released in time for Ardbeg Day on 5 June. That’s today! Naturally, Ardbeg Committee members get first dibs. The name comes from a dragon that apparently lives in Dunnage Warehouse no. 3. The limited release whisky is aged in heavily-charred ex-bourbon casks and bottled with no age statement at 46% ABV. Dr Bill Lumsden described it as “a fire-breathing beast of a dram!” The tasting note is quite something: “A long and heroic finale, with a subtle tarry aftertaste. A finish that will drag on, well into its happily ever after.” Blimey! 

Colin Gordon, Ardbeg’s new distillery manager, said: “This year will be my first Ardbeg Day ever: a baptism of fire! It’s a shame we Ardbeggians can’t enjoy it together in person, but the online event is shaping up to be tremendous fun. With a whole virtual world to explore, including fantasy inns, campfire tales, medieval feasts and live tastings, there’s plenty for people to be excited about this year.” 

The brave runners of the Islay half marathon (credit: Phil Williams)

The brave runners of the Islay half marathon. Lucy Britner is 132

Tales from Islay: The Ardbeg half Marathon

This is the story of how Lucy Britner came to be wearing the former Ardbeg distillery manager’s socks. It’s also a story of friendship, loss and an ill-advised ceilidh.

The mile marker said ‘7’. I was over halfway in the half marathon that I’d only half trained for. Horizontal rain turned to hail and then back to sunshine, and I could no longer see any of the other drinks journalists that were also taking part in the Ardbeg Islay half. We were all doing the race in memory of one of our peers, Alan Lodge, who had died of a brain haemorrhage shortly before his 30th birthday. 

Ardbeg had always been Alan’s favourite dram, and he would mention it frequently and passionately. And so here I was, plodding along a country road, trying to avoid grain trucks as they sped past. The rain kept coming and with it, every emotion I had. Of course, I was sad to be thinking about Alan but then moments later, laughing out loud at what he would’ve made of this motley crew of booze hacks running 13.1 miles. 

I suspect I looked genuinely deranged. More so, perhaps, because mile seven was going on forever. And ever. I knew I couldn’t give up because I was alone in the middle of nowhere – and as I was fighting a feeling of despair, finally a mile marker came into view. It was mile 10. It turned out the others had blown away.

The finest illustration of just how lonely the run was, is Phill Williams’ brilliant picture of booze journo Richard Siddle. We called it the ‘never-ending road’ – and I genuinely don’t know how he’s smiling in the picture. Well, actually I do… Richard, or ‘the chief’ as he is known, ran the race on a cocktail of painkillers, owing to a bad back. He told me later that he’d been listening to Kylie and even enjoyed a blissful few miles where she had been running along beside him. Maybe that’s how to run a half marathon…

Celidh, Islay half marathon. Credit: Phil Williams

Never do this after a half marathon

The end of the road

The race started and ended in Bowmore and as I approached the finish, I could see familiar faces, already wearing medals and spurring me on for the final few paces.  A stranger shouted ‘C’mon, Lucy’ and for a second, I thought I was some kind of new local celebrity, but then I remembered my name was printed on the back of my top. Still, it gave me a boost for those last steps, especially as to meet the 13.1-mile requirement, you had to sort of run beyond a natural finishing point and round a little corner, away from the bustling main drag of Bowmore.

So, we finished. We ate snacks on Bowmore beach and patted each other on the back. The competitive ones among us talked times and tactics, showed each other app readings and compared running notes.

But I had something else on my mind. I’m a big believer in rewarding myself after any kind of exercise, so my thoughts naturally turned to what I could eat and drink after running that far. And so, just a couple of hours later, I was sipping from a can of lager in the village hall, awaiting my turn to be flung around the dance floor at the ceilidh. The hall was packed with locals and runners, and no one showed any of that ‘school disco’ fear. Indeed, we clapped and danced for hours and hours.

This, it turns out, was a huge mistake.

The next morning, my blisters had blisters and no amount of plasters would let me put on yesterday’s trainers. For some reason, I had taken flipflops to Scotland, which was a blessed relief until I got to the Ardbeg distillery.

We were hosted by the wonderful Mickey Heads, who was the distillery manager at the time – and if  my memory serves, we got to try many drams, including a limited-edition Ardbeg from 1973, as well as Alligator, Corryvreckan and Galileo. (Soz, Alan, you would’ve loved this.)

Mickey heads Credit: Phil Williams

Mickey Heads to the rescue with a fresh pair of socks

You can’t hike to a water source in flip flops

After a tour of the distillery, Heads announced we were going to hike to Ardbeg’s water source, Loch Uigeadail, for a picnic. Now, it’s not that far – about 1.5 miles – but there’s always a danger of ticks and the like, so my flip flops quickly became a bone of contention. There was no chance the trainers were going back on and soon a pair of wellies appeared, and then Mickey handed over a fresh pair of socks. From his own sock drawer. What a legend.

And so we walked (slowly) and lazed by the loch, eating, drinking, chatting.

In hindsight, the Ardbeg half was a wonderful way to see a chunk of Islay. And I’d do it again, just with better trainers.

And so, for this year’s virtual Fèis Ìle, I raise a glass of Ardbeg to you, Alan. Gone, but never forgotten. 

Photos of Islay half marathon courtesy of Phil Williams.

 

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