Scotch Whisky: Is A Change Gonna Come?

Yes. If Diageo has its way. According to documents, they’re looking at ways to create “more innovative products”.

Given the amount of money scotch sales, and exports in particular, are worth to the Scottish economy, it could be very interesting to see what happens next. Scotch used to make up roughly 60% of the world whisky market. That has now dropped to 50%.

Which makes me wonder whether the Scotch Whisky Association, which exists to police innovation, will react as strongly as it has in the past.

Readers may recall how quickly the SWA reacted to stop Manx Spirit from calling itself Manx White Whisky. (By recalling this story, I am in no way recommending Manx Spirit, which I had the misfortune to taste a long time ago, and might as well have kept the White in the middle of its name, for all its rough lack of deliciousness.)

With the onslaught of craft gins following hard on the heels of vodka premiumisation, it must be hard for the brown spirits to feel they can compete. After all, it takes a good three years to take a new whisky from still to bottle. Consumers frequently search for novelty over tradition.

What leaps out at me from this article in The Herald is its story of the SWA’s stopping Eden Mill Gin adding a chocolate component to its malting for their first whisky, which launches this year. The idea sounds fascinating.

Perhaps the SWA will realise that, sometimes, the best way to preserve what you have is to allow it to change.

(h/t @girl_whisky)

In Praise Of Well Liquor #1—Gin

You don’t need me to tell you that premium liquor’s all the rage. All those sexy bottles, disporting themselves, flashing their labels, revelling in their shelf presence. Time to spare a thought for some of the others. The stuff hidden in the well. What you get if you just order a gin and tonic, and forget to specify your premium desires.

The contents of the well, or what’s lurking on the optics, tells you a lot about a joint awfully fast. If you walk in and they try to serve you Gordon’s, you know that they either know nothing about gin or they don’t care about their drinks, and you should leave at once. Gordon’s is a product responsible for more crimes against drinking than the 1980s. More on this soon.

The fact of it is that there is enormous quality lurking at the cheaper end of the market, often hiding right under your nose. And when it comes to gin, that means one thing: Beefeater.

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Beefeater is a premium gin hiding behind a very reasonable price. So reasonable, in fact, that I think some people have a snobby tendency to turn up their noses at it.

Bear in mind the following:

  1. It’s made by Desmond Payne, a master distiller who weighs out each botanical by hand for every distillation. His gin is as handmade as anyone else’s.
  2. Desmond oversaw the distilling aspects of MD Charles Rolls (now of Fever-Tree)’s transformation of Plymouth Gin from also-ran to PGI prestige.
  3. Desmond taught the guys behind gin premium-isation trend-setter Sipsmith how to make gin.

This is a man who really knows what he’s doing. If you need a convincer, you need to pop by the Beefeater Distillery, the only place where you can buy Desmond’s limited edition experiments in gin, my favourite of which is the subtly spectacular London Garden, which makes the most delicate martini I have ever had.

Some people out there are doing fascinating things with gin, interesting things with florals, spice, citrus, tea, you name it. (Someone—and you know who you are—is even doing hideous things with pine to create a gin which makes a martini that tastes like Toilet Duck, so let’s step away from that while we still can.)

You’re welcome to them.

Beefeater’s my buddy, and I can see no earthly reason why anyone would order anything else.

A Scottish Rye Whisky?

So here’s a curiosity: a Scottish rye whisky. Two in fact, made by the Arbikie Distillery in the Highlands.

Their Scottish Rye Whisky is made according to The Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009; the other is made in the American style.

In recent years, I have found my tastes drifting away from scotch and towards ryes and bourbons. So I find this a compelling idea. I must find a tasting as a matter of urgency.

You can buy directly from the distillery, I believe. And all profits from this first issue go to the Euan Macdonald Foundation for Motor Neurone Disease. So you can drink and do a good thing at the same time.

Bacardi Buys Patron

In a not-entirely-surprising turn of events, Bacardi has upped its 30% stake in premium tequila brand Patrón to go all in on the tequila business in a deal valued at an eye-watering $5.1 billion.

I say not entirely surprising because tequila, and especially sipping tequila, has become big business in the US market while rum and coke… is not so popular.

Bacardi are a long way from being the first to buy into premium tequila. Diageo bought Casamigos from George Clooney and his partners back in June for a hearty $1 billion. Pernod Ricard went all in on Avión earlier this month. Neither brand produces anywhere near the quantity of liquor as Patrón.

Here in the UK, I still see premium tequila as a niche but growing business. It will be interesting to see where this sector of the market heads with so much financial clout behind it.

As London finally embraces decent Mexican food, I’m noticing more and more quality tequila and, more excitingly, mezcal in bars across the city. And one can’t underestimate the impact of the Wahaca chain in bringing these flavours to an increasingly curious public.

More on mezcal later in the week.

What Is And What Is Not A Martini

Let’s kick this off properly with a drink that divides opinion. The Martini.

A wise woman once wrote that a martini is made with gin, a vodka martini is made with vodka, and an apple martini is an abomination. I know this because I’m married to her. And I agree.

Which is probably just as well.

But let’s go further.

The famous “martini” at Duke’s is not a martini. It is a large glass of cold gin. A martini is a mixed drink. It requires dry vermouth. Now, I don’t care if you add the vermouth with an atomiser, but it must be there.

A martini should be small. It should be very, very cold. And the balance of its dilution over the ice must be tight-rope perfect. Which is why the martini should ideally be stirred. As President Bartlett once said of James Bond’s shaken specimens, “He’s ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.”

And, to go a little further still, a martini is made of two ingredients, chilled over ice, served “up”, and garnished. Just because your drink is served in a martini (or cocktail) glass, it doesn’t mean it’s a fucking martini. All your lychee martinis, espresso martinis, marmalade martinis and (oh kill me now)_ pornstar martinis… they are not martinis. Why? Because a martini is made with gin and a vodka martini is made with vodka.

All these other drinks may be perfectly enjoyable, though many are not, but they’re just scrabbling for attention on the noble martini’s coat tails. And their names display both a paucity of imagination on the part of their inventors, and a cynical piece of marketing.

To put it another way, the Cosmopolitan is not a cranberry martini.

So you can take your “martini lists”, and shove ’em.

Oops…

 

… so you launch a new web thing with all these things you want to write about, and then you promptly go and catch a cold and nothing happens.

Sorry about that.

Posting begins tomorrow.

Honest.

Tonight—The Wine Show

The new season of The Wine Show starts this evening on Channel 5 at 7pm. And jolly good it is too. I know this because I’ve seen it. I also know this because Kay (the wife, and all-round top food writer) did the catering and dragged me along to help out. Which meant, among other things, rising at five to drive to the nearest industrial boulangerie for everyone’s breakfast and not driving into the villa’s formal fountain. Which also happened.

This season, Joe Fattorini does his level best to educate Matthew Goode and James Purefoy, and us too. And once you’ve seen him in action, you’ll understand exactly why he is the IWSC Wine Communicator Of The Year. Alas, you won’t get to see his marvellous collection of T-shirts with obscure movie references printed upon them, nor his collection of hats. But hey, you do get to see him in lederhosen, which is surely a win in anyone’s book.