Introducing Glenmorangie Spìos

I feel ever-so-slightly that Glenmorangie are trolling me. Just as I start banging on about how my allegiances have shifted from scotch to rye whisky, they announce the first single malt aged in ex-rye whiskey casks!

Glenmorangie’s Director of Distilling, Dr Bill Lumsden says that the goal is to important some of rye’s savoury spiciness into the scotch. Which sounds lovely.

I cannot tell you if he’s succeeded, because I’ve only seen the press release. But it sounds good, and if the results are anything like Glenmorangie’s sherry cask aged scotch, I’m sure it will make for a fine dram.

If you’d like to find out for yourself, and if you can spare the £79 it will cost you, you can buy a bottle from The Whisky Shop. Or you can make your way to London’s Fitzrovia, where they plan to open a pop-up “Spìos-inspired speakeasy’ from March 19–24.

Knock yourselves out!

What The Hell Will It Take To Make Sherry Cool?

One of the most annoying things about January is that it demands of every writer a list of what they think will be on trend in the coming year. Almost all of them are wrong. But everyone does it anyway because… it’s expected.

If you cast your eyes back over these lists, you will notice that, every year since about 1979, there has been at least one “this is the year of the Sherry Resurgence” or some variation on the theme.

The reality has sadly been one of a gradual decline, especially in the UK, whose market has driven the sherry business for generations, to the extent that sherry sales halved between 2006 and 2016.

I find this baffling, because the drinks biz’s biggest open secret is this: if you want value for money, buy sherry. The next biggest is that it’s really hard to find a shit bottle of sherry. More often than not, you’ll find something spectacular.

However, change, perhaps, is in the air. Last year, those clever clogs over at Majestic said something interesting. Their sherry sales were up. By a staggering 41%. Because of hipsters.

Now, I never thought I’d say this, but I think this could be A Very Good Thing™. Like most of my generation, I have something of a visceral loathing of those bearded twats in Hoxton drinking out of jam jars, but they could be exactly what my beloved sherry needs.

Why? Because every one of those Sherry Resurgence articles of yore always leads off with the rather negative apology that says something a bit like this: “Isn’t sherry wonderful… no, really… there’s much more to it than that God-awful bottle of alcoholic sugar-water you remember lurking in your Granny’s cupboard.” Which puts you off before you’ve read any further.

The thing about hipsters is that they don’t care about any of this. They think everything they grow, wear or taste is something they’ve discovered for the very first time and no one has ever ever EVER thought of it before. One of them probably bought a Zippo lighter in a vintage store and then persuaded themselves that they’d invented fire.

Sherry is deserving of all the love it can get. Even Harvey’s Bristol Cream. And I really don’t care who provides it. So, if the hipsters really are pushing up sherry sales, more power to them.

I can see only one downside.

They could push the price up.

Here, in no particular order, are my Top 10 Sherries:—

  • La Gitana Manzanilla — bone dry deliciousness with a hint of salinity, this will enhance your best day, and brighten your worst;
  • Tio Pepe — ground zero for fino, a sherry that plays with the straight-batted grace of David Gower;
  • La Ina Fino — formerly made by Domenq, now by Lustau, those great saviours of historic sherry;
  • Valdespino Fino Inocente — as much as I love the others, this is possibly my favorite fino of all time;
  • Gonzalez Byass Del Duque Amontillado — a rich, nutty VOS (very old sherry, seriously), this is a real winner for Gonzalez Byass
  • Valdespino Tio Diego Amontillado — with 12 years under flor and 6 in barrel after oxidation, this packs a flavour punch like no other… it’s just sublime;
  • Williams & Humbert Dos Cortados — supple, spicy and glorious;
  • Waitrose Solera Jerezano Palo Cortado — what, you say, Waitrose? Yes. Made for them by Lustau (from sherrys at another rescued bodega), this might just be the best value for money bottle of wine in the country;
  • Lustau Emperatriz Eugenia Oloroso — so approachably delicious it’s easy to forget how complex this is. It’s also one of the best olorosos I know to convert the doubters;
  • Emilio Hidalgo Oloroso Gobernador — savoury to the point of meatiness, this is serious (and seriously good) stuff.

[Picture credit: Tamin Jones]

Review: Espadín Mezcal from Corte Vetusto

It’s always a pleasure to taste something new. Still more so when the chap behind it decides to bring a bottle to the house and tell you all about it. Even more of a pleasure to tell you that it’s really, really good.

Corte Vetusto offer a range of three hand-crafted mezcals, made by fourth generation mezcalero Juan Carlos Gonzalez Diaz. Espadín is the “entry level” bottle, if you will. But even so, it still retails from £58.95 (at The Whisky Exchange), which may seem at first glance to be a bit steep. But here’s what you get for your money: a double-distilled, bright, agave forward (that will be the espadín bit) drink that stands out from its peers by its being less smoked than your average mezcal.

This means that the creamy agave flavour sings through.

As David Shepherd, the man behind Corte Vesusto, explained it to me, it helps to think of the smoke in mezcal as something akin to the oak in chardonnay. It is something you can really over do. As a relative newcomer to mezcal, this hadn’t occurred to me before. But a mouthful of this brings home the point. There’s a clarity of flavour here I hadn’t expected, with a strange leafy-meatiness which seems to be distinctly of the agave. With green, herbaceous notes mid-mouth and a lingering spicy, almost cinnamon-bark finish, this is superior stuff.

Recommended.

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.