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Master of Malt Blog

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Cocktail of the Week: Tommy’s Margarita

In the build-up to National Tequila Day (on Saturday) we’re enjoying a twist on a standard that originated from a small family restaurant and has gone on to become a fixture on…

In the build-up to National Tequila Day (on Saturday) we’re enjoying a twist on a standard that originated from a small family restaurant and has gone on to become a fixture on cocktail menus across the world. This week regular contributor Lucy is making Tommy’s Margarita.

The Tommy’s Margarita is an accidental modern classic, born out of a passion for Tequila and the boundless enthusiasm of the bar community. The drink essentially sees the triple sec in a Margarita replaced with agave nectar. But to get to know the Tommy’s Margarita, first you need to get to know Tommy’s.

Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco is one of my all-time favourite bars. The neighbourhood venue in the city’s Richmond district is a haven for Tequila fans, locals, football watchers, Mexican food lovers and anyone and everyone in between.

The actual bar area sits in a partitioned section along the side of the restaurant. If you’re lucky enough to get a stool up at the bar, don’t expect to move for the night. Instead, settle in for the Tequila journey of your life – and marvel at just how fast bartenders can squeeze limes.

This warm hug of a place is home to hundreds of Tequilas, a collection built up by highly respected Tequila expert – and one of the nicest people in the industry – Julio Bermejo. His parents, Tomas and Elmy, opened Tommy’s in 1965 and the family’s awesome approach to hospitality is a testament to the bar’s longevity.

Tommy's Margarita

Lucy, her husband Luke Ellis, and the legendary Julio (middle)

Creating Tommy’s Margarita

Today, Tommy’s is famous for its eponymous Margarita cocktail. A drink that is now enjoyed all over the world. “I never started to try and create a modern classic cocktail,” Bermejo says. In fact, several events formed the perfect storm.”

Bermejo talks about getting drunk on beer, rum and brandy at an early age and feeling horrible hangovers”, which eventually led him to try Tequila. He began learning more and more about TequilaHerradura Reposado specifically”, he says. At the same time, he mentions the introduction of agave fructose in Northern California, and a big one: “Making the decision to stop selling regular [mixto] Tequila in favour of 100% agave Tequila as our house pour, when 98% of US Tequila consumers only drank mixto.”

The move was ground-breaking. And it was motivated by Bermejo’s desire for his Margaritas to taste of Tequilanot the modifiers or triple sec. “What ended up happening as a by-product of no longer serving mixto, is I did away with the notion of ‘top shelf Tequila,” he explains. Then, as I began to stock more and more 100% agave Tequilas, I started making Margaritas with other Tequilas to demonstrate to guests how much of a difference replacing the Tequila made to the Margarita.

He says that for drinkers, the difference was “night and day”. His guests eventually found their favourite Margarita and their favourite 100% agave Tequila.

Tommy's Margarita

Tommy’s Margarita is all about showcasing quality Tequila, made entirely from agave

Spreading the love

Though the Tommy’s Margarita was born in San Francisco, Bermejo believes it was made on the international bar scene.

I think the real story is how it became so popular,” he says. For that, he gives credit to bar industry legend and Tequila expert Dre Masso and the late, great Henry Besant – who was a titan in the Tequila world – as well as the International Bartenders Association. They helped put Tommy’s Margarita on the map. And on the menu.

Tequila picks

When it comes to choosing a Tequila to make a Tommy’s Margarita with, I get the impression it’s like asking a person to pick a favourite child. Bermejo doesn’t name brands, but he offers some pretty solid advice all the same. I always say that if one wants a great Tommys, use a great Tequila. If one wants a bad Tommys, use crappy Tequila.Wise words.

He also says that because there are people, like him, who love Margaritas all day, the time and climatic conditions can greatly influence a choice. So, for example, if you live in London and you’re out at night and it is chilly, I would like a Tommy’s with more body and length,” he explains. “So, Tommy’s made with a reposado or even an añejo. If you are in Ibiza for summer, then you need a very bright and crisp Tommy’s, say one made with a great Highland blanco.”

Tommy's Margarita

Tommy’s Margarita: simple to make but so rewarding

Making a Tommy’s

The night we visited Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant, we got chatting to a guy who turned out to be involved in American football. The Tequila flowed and Bermejo ensured we were very, very well educated when it came to understanding how different Tequilas influence the taste of a Tommy’s Margarita. So well educated, in fact, that I can’t remember which was my favourite. Or much about American football. So, here’s my home go-to Tequila brand in Bermejo’s modern classic…

60ml Olmeca Altos Plata

30ml freshly squeezed lime juice

15ml agave syrup

Salt the rim of your glass if you like. Then, shake all ingredients with ice and strain into your ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.

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New Arrival of the Week: The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

Ever enjoyed a blend of rum and whisky before? I hadn’t either. Until I tried our new arrival this week: The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows. What prompted this curious creation?…

Ever enjoyed a blend of rum and whisky before? I hadn’t either. Until I tried our new arrival this week: The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows. What prompted this curious creation? Read on to find out.

We’re welcoming a new spirit drink this week. Which is a pretty rubbish descriptor by our book. There’s got to be something more compelling than ‘spirit drink’, right? We might as well call these expressions ‘vaguely familiar booze’ or ‘legal, but without category strong stuff’.

But then, sometimes a drink appears before you, and no appropriate monikers spring to mind. Take our new arrival from the folks at The Drinks Lab. The first in a series called ‘‘The Drinks Lab: Out of Hours Spirit Experiments’, the aptly named Strange Bedfellows brings together two different spirits inside one bottle. Scotch whisky and rum

So, yeah. What the hell do you call that? Whum? Risky? I’ll say. Purists will presumably be screaming at the screen and calling it madness. Sheer lunacy. And sacrilege besides. But plenty of you will also be intrigued and wondering if this concoction is just mad enough to work.

The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

Is it a rum? Is it a whisky? No! It’s a… spirit drink. I guess.

A divisive coming together

First, let’s get to grips with exactly what we’re dealing with here. The whisky in question is a single cask, no.652 we’re told, which was sourced from the Highlands (not surprising the distillery didn’t put its name to this, although they rarely do in fairness). The whisky is said to be light and creamy with notes of orange zest and fudge. Eighteen different samples of rum were made to match with the whisky and the winner was a dark ruby rum with a base of raspberries and cinnamon. The split is 60% rum, 40% whisky.

The guys at The Drinks Lab are obviously aware that this will divide opinion. You could argue that’s the point of this, given the press release contains a quote explaining that the team “now wait with bated breath as they know that many whisky fans will see the blending of a single cask of single malt with this unique dark rum as sacrilege”. The marketing bumf also says that the brand encourages “those curious individuals to try this first test”. And you don’t have to ask me twice.

More spirit experiments are tipped to follow this year, and beyond. The founders of The Drinks Lab, entrepreneurs Craig Strachan and Hannah Fisher, have been working away on a variety of crazy boozy imaginings ever since 2017 when they created a consultancy and innovation facility designed to assist those wanting to launch drink brands. 

The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

This is just the first experiment. More will follow…

If you want something done right, do it yourself… 

It was inspired by the problems the duo had in launching their own projects. Those stories of folks chatting about distillation dreams in a bar and then putting in some elbow grease to make it happen tend to undermine just how hard it is to build a brand. Challenges are around every corner, mostly capital. And even if you want to outsource some of the hard work, then you have to contend with running into issues over batch sizes, poor client service, lack of knowledge, and more. 

Strachan and Fisher set about establishing a model that would help budding booze makers go from concept to shelf in as little as three months. This entails an ‘all under one roof’ service including recipe development, branding, trial production, small batch bottling, and commercial guidance. The plan worked. The Scottish-based business now employs 12 people in Port Glasgow and has a client list made up of entrepreneurs as well as large global drink companies including the likes of Diageo, TATA, and Fever-Tree.

By day, The Drinks Lab team spends its time making spirits, non-alcoholic alternatives, mixers, adult soft drinks, CBD, and Hard Seltzers. At night, however, it’s a different story. That’s when Strachan and Fisher get busy developing their own curious creations. And we’re about to see the results. Well, of the first experiment anyway. 

The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

The Strange Sour

What to make of Strange Bedfellows

As an experiment, Strange Bedfellows has plenty of curiosity and is sure to raise eyebrows and provoke a reaction. But truth be told, the liquid in the glass doesn’t taste as controversial or divisive as it sounds. The first thing you’ll notice in Strange Bedfellows is the rum, unmistakable with its bright tropical fruit notes, aromatic spice, and some of that tell-tale raspberry sourness. The whisky’s creamy vanilla, toffee, and orange peel notes aren’t far behind. It’s a competent blend and there’s no doubt the two spirits aren’t at war with each other in the glass, but it’s not a seamless affair and throughout it’s a little rough around the edges.

Strange Bedfellows is ultimately a perfectly palatable drink. This is slightly underwhelming if you were expecting flavour fireworks or something so gross you wouldn’t use it as a disinfectant. This is good news for those who want to see more experimentation and freedom in booze creation. It’s is a worthy first attempt and I, for one, am looking to seeing what’s next. Be sure to have a little play with it too. I think it mixes quite well in Highball-style serves (coke, ginger ale and soda water all work well enough).

You should, of course, try it neat first. But if you’re feeling bold then you can have a go at the Strange Sour, the bespoke serve The Drinks Lab has made for its first launch. The idea was to create something that would enhance the rum’s raspberry elements and compliment the whisky’s creamy notes, while vanilla syrup was favoured to match the aromatic cinnamon flavour. Here’s how to make it:

The Strange Sour:

2 ounces of The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

3/4 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 ounce vanilla syrup

1/2 ounce egg white (or your finest vegan alternative)

1-2 Dashes of Aromatic Bitters

Add Strange Bedfellows, lemon juice, vanilla syrup, and egg white to a shaker and dry shake for 30 seconds without ice. Add ice and shake again until well chilled and strain into a short glass. Garnish with a dehydrated lemon slice.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Belafonte

This week we’re stirring up a cocktail created by bartender Cas Oh. He’s the author of a lavish new cocktail book called Co-Specs. It’s called the Belafonte and it’s a…

This week we’re stirring up a cocktail created by bartender Cas Oh. He’s the author of a lavish new cocktail book called Co-Specs. It’s called the Belafonte and it’s a deliciously drinkable blend of Campari, white Port, and tonic. It might just be our drink of the summer.

As I mentioned last week, it’s not easy to invent a new cocktail. Someone has almost always had the idea before you. But this week’s drink does seem to be genuinely new. It’s called the Belafonte and, according to its inventor Cas Oh, it’s “a riff on the way white Port is served with tonic in Portugal.” 

Belafonte comes from the name of Steve Zizzou’s boat (which really existed) in Wes Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic starring Bill Murray as the Jacques Cousteau-esque explorer with a penchant for red hats as well as Campari.

The man behind the drink

But before we show you how to make it, we’re going to take a look at the man behind the drink, Mr Cas Oh (below). He’s just published a lavish new cocktail book called Co-Specs which has been shortlisted for a Fortnum & Mason award!

He’s still reeling from the news: “Being self-published I didn’t seriously think my book had a shot against the professionally-published submissions, but I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring anyway. I damn near soiled myself when I got the email letting me know I was shortlisted,” he said.

 What I love about this book is that for every cocktail featured, he’s gone back to first principles in order to find the “final version I felt was best balanced,” he said. The book took him five years to research and write or as he puts it “goddam forever”. “I essentially went into hibernation and upon my emergence years later I was three shades paler from lack of sun,” he said.

This exactitude extends to measurements. He warns: “every ingredient should be measured and whichever jigger you use, pour exactly to the line as if you were measuring for a science experiment.” He also advises not to use a bar spoon “as the amount you scoop up will vary every time; instead use cooking spoon measures, again flat to the line.”

Cas Oh author of Co-Specs

‘Is this whisky really Japanese?’

100 cocktail books in one

If you’ve just got into cocktails during lockdown, Co-Specs is a great place to start because he doesn’t just show you how to make a cocktail, he gives you the history too. He described it as: “it’s like having a vast library of important bar books condensed into just one.” He continued:The thing about that historical detail is it’s not just there for academic purposes. At the end of the day this is a recipe book, you want to know: ‘how do I make the most accurate, and best version of this classic cocktail?’”

As well as putting the work in researching it, he has also published the book the hard way. Doing everything himself which is described as an “extra headache” but he didn’t want to make any “editorial or creative compromises.” It’s a magnificent-looking book, hardback with shiny paper and colour photography by Debbie Bragg who “perfectly captured the unpretentious and silly vibe of the day.” 

Co-Specs

All these, in one book

But it’s not a coffee table book, he explained: “I chose paper finishes that can handle some heavy-duty page-flicking and the occasional splash. The cover is scuff resistant, the formatting of recipes are separate on the page and in sans serif fonts so they’re really legible if you grab it and want to quickly read the recipe only. “

You won’t be surprised to hear that Cas Oh has done serious time behind the bar working in such famous venues as the Groucho and the Hospital Club as well as running the bar at the Ivy club for ten years. In short, he knows his stuff. 

So, when it comes to inventing his own cocktail he knows what he’s doing. We covered recently what a good cocktail ingredient white Port is either as the focus or in a supporting role. Here it adds depth and texture to the Campari while taming the bitterness somewhat. It’s also comparatively low in alcohol making it great for sipping in the sun. We think it could become a classic.

As Steve Zissou would say: “hey intern, get me a Belafonte.”

Co-Specs

Inside Co-Specs

How to make a Belafonte:

30ml Campari
30ml Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port
Tonic water

Build over ice in a Highball glass, top with tonic and garnish with an orange twist or slice.

Co-Specs by Cas Oh is available to buy direct for £19.99.

Belafonte, Campari, White Port and Tonic

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New Arrival of the Week: Glenmorangie X

Glenmorangie has just released a brand new single malt specifically designed for cocktail use. It’s called Glenmorangie X, and we put it through its paces behind the (home) bar. Makers…

Glenmorangie has just released a brand new single malt specifically designed for cocktail use. It’s called Glenmorangie X, and we put it through its paces behind the (home) bar.

Makers of single malts nowadays will trip over themselves to show how cocktail friendly their products are. They’re trying to give Scotch whisky a fresh urban down-with-the kids image in contrast to the tweed, spaniels and slippers marketing of yore. Though, on a cold winter night, don’t those three things sound very appealing?

The Nightcap

Groovy new image

Single malt cocktails

There’s no doubt that single malts can be great in cocktails. Recently, I had a Espresso Martini at Boisdale restaurant in Belgravia made with Ardbeg Uigeadail that was pretty much unbeatable. 

But, I wonder, how many people spending £50 or more on a bottle of single malt are going to mix it. It would be interesting to read some market research on this but I’d wager that at least 90% of malts are still sipped reverentially with some water on the side, and perhaps some tweed, spaniels and slippers.

When people do make cocktails with Scotch, most people will reach for a blend, which is a problem for a whisky company that wants to tap into the cocktail market, like Glenmorangie. It’s already got the hip new image, now it just needs a mixable whisky. 

The company used to market a wonderful blend called the Bailie Nicol Jarvie which contained a high malt percentage, around 60%. I remember it being the whisky of choice for the impecunious connoisseur when I worked in Oddbins in the late ‘90s. 

Sadly, it was discontinued in 2014 though there were rumours of a revival in 2016, which came to nothing. Glenmorangie’s head of whisky creation Dr Bill Lumsden told me a few years ago that he was very fond of the blend and would love to revive it, but at the moment Glenmornagie could not spare the stock. 

Glenmorangie X

A mixable Glenmorangie

Now, however, the company has whisky that might be able to fill that BNJ-sized hole. It’s a NAS single malt called Glenmorangie X, and it’s specifically designed for mixing. 

Dr Bill explained: “X by Glenmorangie came from our dream of creating even more flavour possibilities, with a single malt that’s made to mix. Consulting with top bartenders, we crafted this sweeter, richer single malt for all those enjoying mixing at home.”

The PR team sent me a little sample to play around this and really enjoyed it. It’s light, sweet and fruity with flavours of peach, honey. vanilla and orange. In fact, it’s very much the 10 year old’s baby brother with similar flavours but without the depth or complexity, and with a little youthful spirityness. In short, perfect for mixing.

I was planning to give it a thorough road test in an Old Fashioned, Rob Roy etc. but it was only a little sample so I ended up just drinking it with soda, orange bitters and a slice of orange in a Highball. A test it passed with flying colours. GM also sent me a delightful batched cocktail called Glenmorangie X Grapefruit.

I have one reservation, however, the price. It’s only £5 less expensive than the 10 year old. From experience, I know that the 10 is a good mixer too but it’s also got the complexity to sip on its own. If I was spending around £30 on a Glenmorangie, I know which one I’d take home. Also, it’s bottled at 40% ABV and when mixing a little more alcohol would stop it getting lost when diluting. 

But, if you’re running a bar and getting through cases of the stuff, then £5 will make a huge difference. And that is, ultimately, who Glenmorangie X is aimed at; it should be a huge hit with the pros. 

For us home bartenders, though, please bring back the BNJ, Dr Bill!

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Honeyed malt with underlying lemon and apple, plus a touch of nutmeg bringing oaky warmth.

Palate: Lots of vanilla and apricot notes, with more apple coming along too. A hint of flaked almond later on.

Finish: The honeyed orchard fruit theme continues on the finish, with a pinch of peppercorn.

Glenmorangie X is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Sex on the Beach

This week Millie Milliken dons her visor and heads to 1980s Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to find out the origins of the Sex on the Beach [adult content warning] ‘Spring break’,…

This week Millie Milliken dons her visor and heads to 1980s Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to find out the origins of the Sex on the Beach [adult content warning]

‘Spring break’, a cultural phenomenon that started in the 1930s might be unknown to us Brits but it’s a bikini and budgie-smuggler-clad right of passage for most young Americans partying their way into adulthood. Every March, thousands of college students descend on the Sunshine State’s many beaches to partake in the holiday’s festivities: sun, shots and insalubrious antics are had by all.

It feels only natural then that the Sex on the Beach cocktail, rumour has it, was invented during one such sun-drenched and saucy spring break. Traditionally made up of vodka, peach schnapps, orange juice and cranberry juice, the drink – usually served to look like a sunset – is typically presented in a hurricane glass and topped with a wedge of pineapple or a slice of orange, a glacier cherry and a jaunty cocktail umbrella.

These days you’re most likely to see it featured on large, laminated menus alongside Piña Coladas (a personal favourite) and Long Island Iced Teas (again, not complaining). So, who invented the ’80s classic you wouldn’t want to order in front of your parents?

“I’ll have a Sex on the Beach” lol

Under pressure

The story goes that in 1987, a company called National Distribution launched a new product – peach schnapps. As a way of selling their new liquid, they launched a competition in Fort Lauderdale during the famous party season, asking bartenders to create a cocktail using it. One bartender was Ted Pizio of Confetti Bar. He mixed the schnapps with vodka, grenadine and orange juice and the partygoers loved it. When Pizio was asked to name his cocktail, his mind went straight to what he believed the Spring Breakers came away to Florida to do… and so, Sex on the Beach was born.

While this is the most accepted story, eagle-eyed cocktail nerds have disputed this being the drink’s origin story, noting its appearance in the American Bartenders School Guide to Drinks (published in 1982). In this version of events, it’s believed that the Sex on the Beach was actually created when a bartender combined a Fuzzy Naval (peach schnapps and orange juice) and a Cape Codder (vodka and cranberry).

Don’t you want me?

Whoever invented in, Sex on the Beach quickly achieved global fame, helped by T-Spoon’s 1997 song of the same name, the Sex on Beach. But it has not been immune to modernisation. Perhaps the most notable version is the Woo Woo, basically everything except the orange juice and a lime wedge garnish instead of pineapple or orange.

The most obvious change over the years has been the transition from grenadine to cranberry juice, while some recipes also call for the addition of pineapple juice for a slightly more tropical taste. A dash of raspberry liqueur is also a popular riff – think Chambord, Tiptree (of jam fame) or St George.

Then it’s the look. Some bartenders choose to mix the ingredient together punch-style before serving (as opposed to layering a combination of cranberry and vodka over the top of orange juice and peach schnapps). Glassware too has changed, from a Hurricane to a Highball, and more simple, low-key garnishes have come into favour.

Sex on the Beach Cocktail

Sex on the Beach, classic layered style in a Hurricane glass

Walk this way

It’s so easy to make this underrated serve at home and it’s just as easy to pump it full of quality. When it comes to the vodka, adding something salty like Mermaid Salt Vodka may help to balance the sweetness of this cocktail and satisfy 2021 drinkers. Ciroc Black Raspberry or Pineapple could be a hybrid option if you’re eschewing raspberry liqueur or pineapple juice. While Misty Isle Vodka is the sort of clean and crisp liquid able to bring this cocktail up in premium.

And then there’s the schnapps. You can’t go wrong with a trusty Archer’s Peach Schnapps but something like Freihof’s 1885 Marille Apricot will elevate your Sex on the Beach. Needless to say, make sure your juice is as fresh as possible. When it comes to the garnish, I’m in favour of a cocktail umbrella and a slice of pineapple for a touch of kitsch, although pineapple leaves in favour of the brolly make for a more sophisticated flourish. At the end of the day, this cocktail is meant to be a bit of fun – make sure you have plenty of it, if you catch my drift.

How to make a Sex on the Beach

50ml Master of Malt vodka
25ml peach schnapps
2 oranges, juiced
50ml cranberry juice

Mix the vodka, peach schnapps and orange juice together and pour into a hurricane glass over ice. Pour over the cranberry juice and garnish as you please. Stir before drinking.

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Ten bottles to transport you

It looks like most of us won’t be travelling very far in the near future because of that ongoing pandemic thing. But never fear, you can still travel through the…

It looks like most of us won’t be travelling very far in the near future because of that ongoing pandemic thing. But never fear, you can still travel through the magic of booze. From dry sherry to pungent cachaça, here are ten bottles to transport you to faraway lands. 

Nobody wants to go on holiday at the moment because it means that you might have to spend two weeks in quarantine stuck in a Travelodge at Gatwick airport. A bit like Alan Partridge, but less funny.

But it’s not all bad. There’s so much to see and do in Britain, from the mountains of Scotland to the sandy beaches of Kent. The summer holidays should be boom time for the country’s hospitality industry, which let’s face it, could do with the business. Next week, we’ll be looking at some of this country’s top boozy destinations.

And don’t forget that you can always take a holiday in a glass. Sip a Negroni in the sunshine, close your eyes and you could be in Rome. A glass of chilled sherry and some high quality ham, and you could be in a bar in Jerez. Who needs aeroplane travel when you’ve got next day delivery? 

Here are ten bottles to transport you to your favourite country

The Nightcap

Portugal: Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port

There’s no better place to watch the sun go down over Porto than on the terrace of the Yeatman Hotel, especially with a White Port & Tonic in your hands. This week on the blog, Lucy Britner looked at all the great things you can do with white Port, but you can’t beat an old classic. With its rich fruity and nutty taste, Taylor’s Chip Dry goes brilliantly with tonic, just make sure you use plenty of ice and add a sprig of rosemary and a slice of orange.

Tio Pepe Fino En Rama

Spain: Tio Pepe Sherry En Rama

Every year Gonzalez Byass releases a small quantity of Tio Pepe En Rama. This is dry Fino sherry pretty much as it tastes straight out of the barrel in Jerez, bottled with minimal filtering. It’s always a treat but this year’s release is absolute dynamite. It walks a bold line between big flavours of apples and hazelnuts, and the elegance that you’d expect from Tio Pepe. Just add some olives and cheese, and you’re in Andalucia. 

These delightful cocktails will transport you to your favourite holiday destination

Italy: Select Aperitivo

Aperol and Campari might be better known, but you can’t beat a drop of Select Aperitivo when you want some Italian magic. Select is the choice of Venetians, it’s been made in the city since the 1920s. The flavour profile is bitter and grown-up but a bit more delicate than Campari. We love drinking it in a Bicicletta – a mixture of ice, white wine and fizzy water. It’s the perfect lazing in the sun kind of drink.

Mijenta Tequila

Mexico: Mijenta Tequila Blanca

Well, we had to put a Tequila in there somewhere, we’re agave mad here at Master of Malt. We were particularly taken with this recently-launched brand. It’s made by Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero, and it’s a tasty drop laden with flavours of green olives, cinnamon spice and a delicious creamy texture. It does good, too, with some of the proceeds going to various charities in Mexico. Try it in a Blood Orange Margarita

Ricard Pastis

France: Ricard Pastis

Now this one is likely to be controversial because some people hate, really hate, the taste of aniseed. But for those who don’t, nothing is more evocative of the south of France than Ricard Pastis. Drink it slowly with ice and a jug of water on the side, and before you know it you’ll be contemplating buying a beret and one of those blue jackets that old French farmers wear, and whiling away the evening playing boule and discussing politics.  

Plantation XO

Barbados: Plantation XO rum

This has proved itself a favourite among Master of Malt customers over the years. It’s a well-aged Barbados rum from spirits master Alexandre Gabriel. It spends its first few years in ex-bourbon barrels in the Caribbean before being shipped to France for secondary maturation in Cognac casks. It’s then sweetened before bottling to make a mixing rum par excellence. We love it in a Mai Tai.

caipirinha Ableha Cachaca

Brazil: Abelha Cachaça

Brazil’s national drink, the Caipirinha, calls for cachaça, which is made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses to produce a pungent, grassy spirit that’s a bit like a rhum agricole. Much of the production is industrial but there are some smaller high quality producers like Abelha using organic sugar cane for something with a bit more character. 

Woodford Reserve Bourbon

America: Woodford Reserve bourbon

If you’re into cocktails, then you need at least one bottle of American whiskey in your drinks cabinet to make Manhattans, Old Fashioneds et al. Woodford Reserve is a great all-rounder. Unlike most bourbons it’s distilled in a pot rather than a column still. It also contains a high percentage of rye, 18%, with 72% corn and 10% malted barley, giving it a spicy, smooth and dry taste.

Inverroche Cocktail

South Africa: Inverroche Classic Gin

Many drinks claim to be a certain country in a bottle but Inveroche is literally South Africa in a bottle. It’s made by mother and son duo Lorna and Rohan Scott who use native South African plants called fynbos as botanicals to give you a gin that is infused with the taste of the Cape. This is the classic version, a dry gin, that makes a killer Martini, or a delicious Bramble.

Ming River

China: Ming River Sichuan Baijiu

If you really want to experience a different culture in a glass, there’s no better spirit than baijiu. It is one of the world’s most distinctive spirits, from the raw materials, sorghum, rice, millet and others, and production techniques involving fermentation over weeks and complex distillation methods. Some types can be a bit much for European taste buds, but Ming River produces a baijiu that is accessible and cocktail friendly.

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New Arrival of the Week: The Lakes Miramar

This week’s New Arrival is a MoM exclusive: a limited-edition single malt from The Lakes Distillery in England that is part-matured in Port casks. It’s called The Lakes Miramar! We’ve…

This week’s New Arrival is a MoM exclusive: a limited-edition single malt from The Lakes Distillery in England that is part-matured in Port casks. It’s called The Lakes Miramar!

We’ve long been fans of The Lakes Distillery in Cumbria here at Master of Malt. We’ve visited, made films, eaten at the great on-site restaurant and, most of all, enjoyed the excellent whisky coming out of this most gorgeously-situated English distillery.

Despite being founded as recently as 2011, the distillery has some solid whisky heritage. Co-founder Paul Currie was involved with setting up the Isle of Arran Distillery. Then in 2016, The Lakes announced a big signing, Dhavall Gandhi, who swapped the might and majesty of Macallan, for a small operation that had yet to release its own whisky.

whisky lakes distillery

Dhavall Gandhi doing that thing with his glass that whisky pros do

For the love of sherry casks

Gandhi brought a love and knowledge of sherry casks on the journey down south. They have since become a key part of the distillery’s style. But he also gets to let his hair down a bit experimenting with different ageing regimes under the Whiskeymaker’s Edition banner. 

So, when we were offered an exclusive English whisky just for Master of Malt, we jumped at the chance. This limited edition single malt is part-matured in Port casks and called ‘Miramar’, meaning ‘seaview’. It sounds much more glamorous in Portuguese conjuring up images of Lisbon rather than a bungalow in Birchington-on-Sea.

But before we take a look at Miramar, it’s worth going into The Lakes production process because it’s a bit unusual. Gandhi starts with the basic building blocks of Scotch whisky, and then makes them really complicated. 

Broccoli and marshmallows

It all starts with the yeast. He uses three types: a traditional Scotch yeast, a French yeast, and a heritage yeast. As Gandhi puts it: “each yeast behaves like a child faced with a plate of broccoli and marshmallows. Given the choice, it will gorge on the sugariest treats first, until they, and it, are spent. That is why we activate each strain of yeast independently, on different days of the week, to ensure the most aggressive yeast doesn’t eat all of the ‘marshmallows’, leaving only the ‘broccoli’ for the weakest. We want each of the yeasts to interact with all of the fermentable sugars, to give the best possible character and flavour.”

So each fermentation with each yeast takes place separately producing three different washes. Each yeast brings something different to the party, the heritage yeast in particular creating waxy notes. Each fermentation takes 96 hours, double the time of most Scotch whiskies. Unusually, the washes go through malolactic fermentation where the sharp malic acid is turned into creamy lactic acid.

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery

Keeping it complicated

Things get even more complicated on the distillation side because Gandhi creates two different new make spirits from each wash. One lot goes through a copper condenser and, as we all know, more copper contact equals a lighter spirit. The other goes through a stainless steel condenser which means more heavier compounds are kept. The spirit comes off the stills at around 67% ABV and it’s diluted down to 58% ABV. The three different yeast strains are blended before going into casks, with the different weights of new makes aged apart.

As you might have guessed by now, Gandhi has a bewildering choice of casks to choose from. As an ex-Macallan man, you know that he’s going to be pretty keen on sherry. Not just Oloroso but Fino, Cream, and PX, from American and European oak. He uses both 500-litre butts and 250-litre hogsheads. They are the basis of The Lakes’ style. He told us ahead of the distillery’s first single malt releases: “If you like sherry bombs you are going to like the initial releases of Lakes Distillery!” 

Around 80-90% of the casks used are ex-sherry. But it’s not all about the sherry. There are bourbon casks, naturally. Gandhi can also play around with Moscatel, red wine casks, Port, and even orange wine casks – that’s a special kind of wine made from oranges popular in Southern Spain.

The Lakes Miramar Highball (1)

Makes a cracking Highball

The Lakes Miramar

It’s those Port pipes, however, that are the inspiration for this week’s New Arrival. The whisky is part-matured in these giant 600-litre casks. It’s blended with bourbon-matured whisky so you get vanilla, coconut, and tropical fruit that you get from ex-bourbon casks, with red fruit and plums you get from maturation in a Port pipe.

Miramar is bottled at a punchy 54% ABV with no chill-filtering. It’s a delightful fun drop, happy sipped neat, as most of us do with single malt, but also a great mixer. That high ABV makes it a cocktail whisky par excellence. We love it in a simple Highball but The Lakes has come up with some more elaborate cocktails such as the Spritz recipe below. There’s also a suitably romantic label (below), designed by an artist called Tom Clohosy Cole, inspired by Lisbon. It’s almost as good a summer holiday in Portugal. 

Miramar Spritz

45ml of The Lakes Miramar whisky
10ml of Taylor’s Chip Dry white port
10ml of Aperol
100ml of green tea kombucha.

Fill a Highball glass with ice, add the first four ingredients, stir and top with kombucha. Garnish with a sprig of thyme and dried apricot.

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Dried cherry, brandy snaps, fresh peaches, a waft of sea air and a touch of buttery malt.

Palate: Salted caramel tart, red plums, softly toasted barley, cinnamon, orange oil, still subtly coastal.

Finish: Lingering hints honey and stewed fruits last on the finish.

Only 600 individually-numbered bottles of The Lakes Miramar have been filled. They are available exclusively from Master of Malt, one bottle per customer. It is now sold out

The Lakes Miramar label

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Cocktail of the Week: The Blood Orange Margarita

It’s Tequila time again as we’re making a refreshing twist on a classic using Mijenta Tequila, a new brand that takes sustainability very seriously. Here is the Blood Orange Margarita!…

It’s Tequila time again as we’re making a refreshing twist on a classic using Mijenta Tequila, a new brand that takes sustainability very seriously. Here is the Blood Orange Margarita!

One of the joys of amateur mixology is creating our own cocktails. Over the years, I have invented such not quite classics as the Martoni, basically a Martini with a tiny bit of Campari in it, the Christmas Negroni, a Negroni made with tawny Port, and, best of all, the Blood Orange Margarita.

Introducing the Blood Orange Margarita

This came about one sweltering day when my wife had cooked a massive Mexican feast, carnitas, homemade corn tortillas, black beans, roast tomato salsa, and her own secret recipe guacamole (the secret is mango). It’s pretty spicy so I was looking for something refreshing and not too strong to wash it down with so I started playing around with the proportions of the Margarita

To the classic 2:1:1 (Tequila, lime juice and triple sec) I added one part blood orange juice and served the whole thing on the rocks with a splash of soda water. Delicious. The next day, I was planning to take my drink to the cocktail patent office but a second’s search on Google told me that there were already dozens of recipes for Blood Orange Margaritas. And there’s no such place as the cocktail patent office.

No matter, it’s a damn good cocktail which has become something of a family favourite. I’m making it this week using a new Tequila called Mijenta which was founded by Mike Dolan, an ex-Bacardi big cheese (queso grande in Spanish) bartender Juan Coronado, and designer Elise Som.

Mijenta Tequila

Mijenta Tequila

To make their Tequila dream a reality, the trio enlisted the help of maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero. The agave is sourced from Arandas in the highlands of Jalisco, about 70 miles from Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city. Naturally, the Tequila is 100% blue agave. The piñas are slow-cooked in the traditional manner and double-distilled in pot stills before bottling at 40% ABV. 

In an interview with the Spirits Business, Romero commented: “We really wanted it to have the local characteristics of the region. Things like the red clay soil, the agave, all these aspects really influenced the characteristics of the terroir. The characteristics are fruity flavours and aromas. I worked with jimadors to select the agave that was of a specific height and maturity to create the flavour profile of Mijenta.”

My people

The Mijenta team is into sustainability in a big way. That’s sustainable for the environment and for the community. The name comes from the Spanish phrase, mi gente, my people. The company has set up a non-profit foundation called the Mijenta Foundation which aims to preserve traditional ways of making Tequila, and invests in the local community. Juan Coronado explained, “We wanted Mijenta to tell a story of the land and its people and ensure that the artisanal nature of Tequila is not lost.”

The environmental side comes in the form of labels and boxes that are made from agave waste while all the packaging comes from Mexico. The company is even working to save the whales through an organisation called Whales of Guerrero.

All this is great, but happily Mijenta also really delivers on flavour. It’s pungent and full of mint and lime with black pepper, chillies and cinnamon tempered by the smoothest creamiest vanilla texture. Then the spices come back for a lingering finish. 

I think that creamy vanilla feel should work brilliantly with a little oak ageing so you’ll be pleased to know that there’s a reposado on the way and the brand is also working on a cristalino (aged and then filtered to remove colour) version. 

It’s a lovely sipping Tequila but that lime note means that it makes a magical Margarita. Or a bloody tasty Blood Orange Margarita, which I still like to think I invented. 

Blood Orange Margarita

How to make a Blood Orange Margarita

50ml Mijenta Tequila Blanco
25ml Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge
25ml lime juice
25ml blood orange juice
Soda water

Briefly shake the first four ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Strain into an ice-filled tumbler (you can salt the rim if you so wish but it’s not essential), top up with soda, stir and garnish with a half slice of blood orange.

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Top ten whiskeys for BBQs

Today, we’re rounding up some of our favourite bottles from the US of A. They’re perfect to enjoy while eating outdoors, in cocktails on their own. Here are our top…

Today, we’re rounding up some of our favourite bottles from the US of A. They’re perfect to enjoy while eating outdoors, in cocktails on their own. Here are our top ten whiskeys for BBQs.

America is a booze superpower. The country’s influence on what we drink is vast. Without America, there would be no Manhattan, no Old Fashioned, no cocktails at all. The very word ‘cocktail’ is almost certainly an American invention.

And to make these quintessentially American concoctions, you need American whiskeys like rye or bourbon. So as Americans gear up to celebrate their Independence Day by doing baffling things like throwing tea in the river (they do do this, don’t they?) and watching their own peculiar type of football, we picked our favourite whiskeys from across the pond. 

So, let’s raise a glass and say cheers, and thank you for all the great whiskey

Top ten whiskeys for BBQs

Peaky Blinder Bourbon

Peaky Blinder Bourbon

Those crazy cats at Peaky Blinders (nothing to do with the hit TV series, nothing at all) have branched out from Irish whiskey into bourbon country. This is a sweet simple whiskey with plenty of big flavours of vanilla, toffee and buttered popcorn. If the sun comes out this 4 July, we’ll be drinking it in a Lynchbourg Lemonade – a mixture of bourbon, triple sec and, yes, you’ve guessed it, lemonade.

american-eagle-4-year-old-whiskey

American Eagle 4 Year Old 

This tasty bourbon is the work of American Eagle, distilled from a mash bill of 84% corn, so you can be sure there’s buttery notes galore in here. The whiskey has been matured in American oak barrels for four years, and was treated to charcoal-mellow filtration before it was bottled at 40% ABV. Superb sipped neat, but also great for mixing. Bourbon Sour, anyone?

Whisky - Charcoal & - Closeup

Charcoal & Cornmeal & Rickhouses & a Decade 10 Year Old

Bourbon matures quickly in the heat of Kentucky, so it’s unusual to find bottles with age statements, so we were delighted when our colleagues at Atoms Labs managed to get their hands on this liquid. From an undisclosed distillery, this is loaded with flavours of peanut brittle, liquorice, cooked apple and more spices than you can shake a stick at. This is a great one just to sip neat and appreciate all that age. 

Michters Whiskey

Michter’s US*1 Straight Rye

A straight rye whiskey from the Michter’s Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Every bottle of their excellent rye comes from a single barrel, highlighting the quality of their craft. It’s loaded with big spicy flavours like cumin, cinnamon and ginger balanced with a brown sugar sweetness. No wonder it’s such a huge hit with bartenders, this is a cocktail whiskey par excellence. We like it best in a Sazerac. 

Angel's Envy

Angel’s Envy

Angel’s Envy is the brainchild of former Brown Forman master distiller Lincoln Henderson and his son Wes. The idea was to take Henderson’s years of experience in bourbon, and shake up the category a little. So, they have taken a leaf out of the Scotch whisky handbook and got into cask finishes, in this case Port which brings a big helping of red fruit and dark chocolate to the bourbon party. Fancy bottle, too. 

Stateside Whiskey

Stateside Heaven Hill 11 Year Old 2009 (cask 152735 Heroes & Heretics)

The folks at Heroes & Heretics know how to sniff out a great whiskey, and this one they’ve bottled exclusively for Master of Malt. It was distilled back in 2009 at the great Heaven Hill in Kentucky. After 11 years ageing (old for a bourbon), they bottled it at a generous 51% ABV, without any chill-filtration or additional colourings, for a rich, powerful experience. 

Wilderness TRail range

Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon

This Single Barrel release from Wilderness Trail is made from a mash bill of 64% corn, 24% wheat and 12% malted barley, aged in toasted and charred barrels. It’s also bottled in bond, meaning that, as laid out in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, it must be aged between five and six years and bottled under the supervision of the U.S. Government at 100 proof, or 50% ABV in British English.

Balcones-Day-Single malt

Balcones Texas Single Malt (cask 17581)

And now for something completely different. This is a single malt whiskey, no corn or rye in sight, but it’s a single malt from the place where everything is bigger. Yes, it’s from Texas, yeh haw! So it’s going to be a bit different from something from Scotland or Japan. It’s also bottled at a mighty 61.1% ABV. Expect massive flavours of toasted oak, Demerara sugar, orange liqueur, roast chestnuts and fried banana. 

new-riff-straight-bourbon-whiskey

New Riff Straight Bourbon

A Kentucky Straight Bourbon from the ever-wonderful New Riff. There’s a fairly generous amount of rye in the mash bill, 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley, so expect a good helping of spice alongside the sweeter, buttery notes. It’s aged in toasted and charred new oak barrels before bottling at 50% ABV. Perfect for when you can’t decide between rye and bourbon.

whistlepig-12-year-old-oloroso-cask-old-world-master-of-malt-whiskey

WhistlePig 12 Year Old Oloroso Cask

Another Master of Malt exclusive and another unusually old American whiskey. This is from WhistlePig, the masters of rye whiskey and unusual cask ageing. This 12-year-old bottling was finished in Oloroso sherry casks before bottling at 43% ABV. You get all the spice you want in a rye but it’s been joined by mature notes of dried fruit, leather and tobacco. Simple cocktails like an Old Fashioned suit this best. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin

This week’s hot new arrival is a very special spirit from Haiti. Not only is it superb and distinctive but 100% of the profits from sales of Saint Benevolence Rum…

This week’s hot new arrival is a very special spirit from Haiti. Not only is it superb and distinctive but 100% of the profits from sales of Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin go to helping the Haitian people.

If you want to taste a spirit that reflects its place of origin, nothing beats clairin. It’s a kind of Haitian rum made from pure sugar cane juice rather than molasses, like a rhum agricole

Until very recently, clairin was only available to intrepid visitors to Haiti but now there are two companies bottling this distinctive spirit for export (there’s also Boukman botanical rum). One is La Maison & Velier, a collaboration between La Maison du Whisky and Italian rum specialists, Velier. The other is a father and son operation called Saint Benevolence run by Chase and Calvin Babcock.

Chase Babcock told me that his father Calvin became interested in Haiti after doing some building work there in the 1970s. He is from Miami so the island republic was just a short plane ride away, but a totally different world. It’s a desperately poor country.

Babcock in Haiti

Calvin Babcock at a school in Saint Michel

Haiti’s history

Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. It was a French sugar plantation worked by African slaves. According to Babcock, at one time half of the world’s sugar came from this island. In 1791, inspired, somewhat ironically, by the ideals of the French revolution, slaves led by Toussaint Louverture overthrew the French and established a republic. The only successful slave revolt of the modern era. 

Since then, the country’s history has not been a happy one: a catalogue of coups, invasions by colonial powers and misrule. Most notoriously in the ‘60s and ‘70s the country was governed by a bizarre dictator Papa Doc Duvalier and later by his son, known as Baby Doc. 

At times, the island’s beauty and closeness to America has made it a tourist destination. During a brief period in the ‘60s, it became a playground for the rich and famous. But more recently, Haiti has suffered from natural disasters like the devastating earthquake of 2010.

Founding a school in St. Michel

Following his first trip there, Babcock became a regular visitor to Haiti. In the late ‘90s, Babcock senior met a Haitian native living in Miami called Gueillant Dorcinvil who urged Babcock to get fully involved in helping the people of Haiti. In 2002, this led to the foundation of a school in the town of Saint Michel, “built on land donated by Guillant’s family and that’s how they got started,” Chase said, when I spoke to him over Zoom this week.

He went on to say: “I inherited passion and responsibility for the town”, and wanted to start a business that would help the community of Saint Michel. Initially, he thought of coffee but the quality wasn’t there, “but they were making this beautiful clairin. Dorcinvil’s family had been growing sugar cane for three generations, and distilling it to the family still. I realised the moonshine they were making was a complex agricultural product,” he said.

Saint Benevolence

Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin works in classic rum cocktails

What is clairin?

Clairin is made using techniques and raw materials that haven’t changed much since the revolution. British writer Claire Dodd wrote about this unique spirit for drinks magazine Tonic:

“It’s hard not to feel frozen in time here, where hundreds of tiny shack distilleries dot the fields, and donkeys pull carts of cane to be crushed and ultimately distilled all metres from where it was grown. With an estimated 500 independent producers, Haiti’s clairin industry is unique in the world.”

Apart from the famed Barbancourt distillery, there are no large distillers. Whereas most sugar cane production is industrialised, in Haiti, Chase said “you get a really wild and unique variant of sugar cane”. He went on to say how the different types are like grape varieties with distinct flavours.

How Saint Benevolence clairin is made

Farming is 100% organic because nobody has the money for pesticides, synthetic fertilizer, or herbicides. To make Saint Benevolence clairin, they crush four different varieties of sugar cane using a diesel-powered grinder. The juice is then left in the open air to spontaneously ferment for around a week. It’s then distilled once in a 300-gallon pot still with a three plate column which is fired by burning leftovers from sugar cane production, producing a spirit of about 57% ABV. Chase describes the process as “more art than science.”

They also do something known as “method Saint Michel”, which involves boiling the sugar cane juice to create a syrup. This is then fermented using a selected yeast strain, and then distilled as above. The two are blended and diluted down to 50% ABV to create Saint Benevolence clairin. 

Chase described the strength as: “really well-balanced for sipping,” which is how it is drunk in Haiti. But he accepts that clairin with its big funky flavours of green banana “can be polarising.” He hopes that it can emulate the success of mezcal, the spirit clairin most closely resembles in production techniques, history, and flavour. “If mezcal can do it, clairin can do it too,” he said. And apparently it’s already proving a hit with bartenders. It’s superb in limey cocktails like a Mojito or Caipirinha, and it makes a particularly fierce Daiquiri

Chas Babcock from Saint Benevolence in Haiti

Chase Babcock from Saint Benevolence in Haiti

Serious about transparency 

100% of the profits from Saint Benevolence go to three charities helping the people of Haiti. There’s Living Hope Haiti, a Christian mission that runs schools in Saint Michel. From that first school, the charity now educates around 1,500 pupils all the way from kindergarten to secondary school. There’s even a university that teaches vocational courses. 

Then there are two medical charities: Innovating Health International, helping women and cancer patients, and Ti Kay dedicated to TB and HIV sufferers. “All these organisations are Haitian-led, and Haitians are the only people benefitting and getting a paycheck. We’re really proud of that,” Chase said. 

The Babcocks are so serious about transparency that they publish their tax return on their website to show how everything Saint Benevolence makes is going to help the Haitians. In an age where charity work is increasingly seen as a career rather than a calling, this is a powerful statement of intent. 

Chase finished by saying that “rum is a beautiful product with a complex and dark past.” Saint Benevolence clairin shows that something tangible can be done to ensure that rum’s future is brighter.  

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Underripe banana with earthy minerality, and green olives. Plenty of spicy crushed peppercorn heat with clove, cardamom, and crisp sugar on the finish.

Saint Benevolence Rum Clairin is available from Master of Malt. To buy, click here

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