A brief, but cask-strength, history of whisky
PLUS Mythic Mixing Professor Pyro Jerry Thomas
Brianâ€™s Booze Tipple talk with Hollywood star Brian Cox
S ed amp itio le n
Hip Hop Hooray Dissecting hops with Tempest Brewing Co.
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No.3: Whisky mixing ALCOHOLIC GINGER
Let’s face it, there is a certain preciousness about whisky. Speak to the wrong po–faced connoisseur and you’ll be lucky to get permission to add water. With the rise of the whisky cocktail, attitudes towards mixing whisky have been relaxing, but it’s a risky business. Don’t fret though, we’ve run the rule over a range of mixers to sort the draff from the drinkable. We put a bottle of Monkey Shoulder to work as it’s ‘the whisky that loves company’ – perhaps not all the company we keep ...
WASTE OF WHISKY
Dashed hope on the rocks
Hair of the Scottie Dug
Shortcut to a whisky chaser
So much wasted potential. The George Best of whisky mixers. With whisky and ginger such comfortable bedfellows, surely using an alcoholic ginger beer could only cement the happy union. Apparently not. ‘Flat’, ‘no ginger kick’, ‘heartburn in a glass’, ‘smells like facewipes’ – were the kinder comments.
A vaunted hangover cure but does it work the night before the morning after? In short, no. This has the dubious distinction of being the least sophisticated offering in this rogues’ gallery of innappropriate mixers. Sweeter than cream soda, like a bad alcopop and barely leaving a trace of the whisky.
Why dirty two glasses? Well, it turns out, for good reason. The logic here was sound – a stout aged in whisky barrels with all those chocolate and coffee flavours from the wood should surely blend perfectly with the whisky. No such luck. The look of flat whisky and coke, too strong with a cloying texture and clashing flavours.
Scottish cities have been happy homes for thriving Italian communities for decades, but this crosscultural mix of grain and grape proved a divisive dram indeed. Some felt the whisky overpowered the wine and it was all too acidic. But others felt the wine lifted the whisky – a dram for warmer climes.
WORKS FOR WHISKY
Mine’s a Monk and Monkey
Whisky and Vim Tonic
You might think Buckfast Tonic Wine has a bad enough reputation in parts of the UK without adding whisky to it. The wine cloaks the whisky at first but it’s warming from every angle. You can taste liquorice, mint humbug and cough sweets. Not one to be taken in large quantities – you can almost chew it.
With a unique blend of 23 flavours, surely a few of them must go with whisky? The familiar look of a whisky and coke but a far more interesting flowery, medicinal flavour. Hints of cherry and almond, almost reminiscent of a Frangelico. What’s the worst that could happen to your whisky? Not Dr Pepper.
On paper our worst crime against whisky. The 1990s ‘fruit’ phenomenon scored highly with our ‘expert’ panel. Definitely one for the summer, it kindled nostalgia for Opal Fruits and Skittles (and possibly drinking on park benches). The whisky’s acidity actually made the juice taste like authentic pure orange.
Against all odds, a roaring success. Expectations were of a sickly sweet abomination. It’s obviously sweet – think trifle and marzipan – but there’s enough from the herbs and spices in Vimto’s centuryold secret recipe to make it work. Hide the empties and squint and, for all the world, it could be cocktail hour. www.hotrumcow.co.uk
NORTH AMERICA Ontario, CANADA
● Canadian Mist Distillery Produces one of America’s most popular whiskies Nova Scotia, CANADA
● Glenora Distillery Claims to produce North America’s first single malt whisky – Glen Breton Rare British Columbia, CANADA
● Pemberton Distillery Situated in an area famous for its potatoes, the distillery began by hand-distilling vodka before moving on to organic whisky
Brecon Beacons, WALES
● Penderyn Distillery Produces just one cask of malt whisky per day
Kentucky, UNITED STATES
Køge Bay, DENMARK
The oldest and smallest working bourbon distillery in Kentucky
Dreamt up by two brothers whilst they were on a fishing trip in Scotland
● Woodford Reserve
SOUTH AMERICA Veranópolis, BRAZIL
● Union Distillery Situated in the mountain area of Rio Grande do Sul, it benefits from a unique microclimate with low temperatures
● Braunstein Distillery
● Locher Brewery
Säntis Malt Whisky is matured in old oak wood beer barrels – some of which are more than 100 years old ASIA/AUSTRALIA
EUROPE Granada, SPAIN
● Destilerías Liber The first distillery in Spain to produce single malt whisky
● Amrut Distilleries Amrut Single Malt is made from Indian barley grown in the Himalayas Yamanashi, JAPAN
● Distillerie des Menhirs Produces EDDU Silver – the only whisky in the world to be made exclusively from buckwheat
● Suntory Hakushu
Located on Mt Kaikomagatake, Hakushu is one of the highest distilleries in the world
The Whisky World From distilleries in the mountains of Brazil to the tropics of Taiwan, whisky has gone global
● Kavalan Distillery Kavalan is Taiwan’s first ever whisky distillery Tasmania, AUSTRALIA
● Lark Distillery
The first licensed distillery in Tasmania since 1839 AFRICA Wellington, SOUTH AFRICA
● The James
Sedgwick Distillery Named after an intrepid captain who made the Cape his home and then bought a distillery in 1886
A DARK AND COMPLEX DRAM
A BRIEF, BUT CASK STRENGTH, HISTORY OF WHISKY WORDS: Liz Longden ILLUSTRATIONS: Nicholas Saunders
“Freedom an'whisky gang thegither” So Robert Burns once wrote, and the image has stuck. Whether it’s illicit distilling, the Whisky Rebellion, Whisky Galore or Prohibition, whisky is a drink that has always had something of the outlaw about it, a bit of Robin Hood, with a touch of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart. Drenched with subversion, glistening with resistance, it’s a drink to put a fire in the belly. And yet, as with all the great heroes of legend, strict adherence to historical fact has not always been essential to the telling of whisky’s story. Neither entirely fact nor wholly fiction, the history of whisky as it has popularly been told is more a delicate blend of the two. Which is something of a shame, because hidden behind the dewy-eyed tartan marketing, lie some less well-known, but much more interesting skeletons. 30
ne story sometimes heard is that whisky is an ancient Celtic drink, a claim often backed up by the fact that the word ‘whisky’ is a corruption of the Gaelic uisce beatha, meaning ‘water of life’. It’s such a pleasing idea that it really ought to be true. However, in the great family tree of alcoholic drinks, all spirits are but wee whippersnappers, with nothing ancient about them. There is no firm evidence of the distillation of alcohol before the dabblings of the Salerno School of southern Italy in the 12th century. This is at least 5,000 years after barley beer was being brewed 32
and at least around 6,000 years after the first wines were fermented. Even then, it is not clear how widespread distilling was among the general population – distillation techniques were developed during the Islamic Golden Age, between the 8th and 13th century AD, but it’s thanks to the monasteries, those medieval powerhouses of knowledge, that these techniques were preserved, developed and disseminated throughout Europe. The word ‘whisky’ actually testifies to this monastic heritage – ‘water of life’ was a general term used across the Christian word for distilled spirits, more commonly rendered as aqua vitae in Latin. The term survives today in drinks such as eau de vie (France), acquavita (Italy), akvavit (Scandinavia)
and okowita (Poland). Rather than being an ancient Celtic elixir, it’s likely that the ancestor of modern whisky developed some time in the late middle ages, in the monasteries of Ireland. What is true, however, is that whisky has a long and proud tradition of being distilled on the sly. In Ireland, the first licence to distil was granted in 1609 to a Sir Thomas Phillips. A licence, however, was hardly considered a must-have by the ‘rebellious Irish’, who by then already had a tradition of distilling in the home. There soon developed a distinction, therefore, between ‘Parliament whisky’, distilled under licence from the Crown, and ‘poteen’, distilled under licence from no one,
except perhaps God. Throughout the storms which battered the legal Irish whisky industry over the centuries, small-scale illicit poteen distilling proved much more robust. According to Heidi Donelon, an Irish whisky historian and founder of the Ireland Whiskey Trail, in 1779, when the number of licensed distilleries in Ireland plummeted to just 20, County Donegal alone was home to around 800 illegal stills. In Scotland, meanwhile, as in England, the first taxes on distilling were introduced in the 17th century. By the time the two parliaments were joined as one in 1707, excise on spirits was well established, and continued throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Naturally, there developed
a thriving illicit industry, primarily in the Highlands regions, and the legendary tussles between the wily illicit distiller and the excise man have become an essential part of whisky folklore. Many accounts of crafty ruses, colourful characters and improbable escapes are recorded in Gavin Smith’s book The Secret Still. Highlights include ‘Sarah of the Bog’, a West Highland lady alleged to have masqueraded as a witch to keep nosy neighbours away from her still (before one day tragically staggering drunk into her own furnace); and Magnus Eunson, an infamous Orkney smuggler, known for his quick thinking and habit of hiding his contraband stash in pulpits and under coffins, among
other places. Other accounts include barrels hidden beneath broody hens, barrels hidden in funeral corteges and barrels ‘nursed’ by breastfeeding mothers. Of course, for an illicit distilling enterprise to survive, the first requirement was a well-hidden still. While sometimes a remote sea cave or a treacherous bog, navigable only by locals, would do the job, on other occasions a more intricate arrangement was called for. One account in Smith’s book, dating from 1824, describes an ingenious set-up, with a still hidden in an underground cavern, beneath a trap door covered with earth, with water supplied by a subterranean stream, and its smoke diverted through the chimney of a cottage some distance away. www.hotrumcow.co.uk
was being served up in the growing cities was anything but pure Highland dew. A relatively little-known scandal that tainted the whisky industry is explored by Edward Burns in his book Bad Whisky. In 1872, the editor of the North British Daily Mail took 30 samples of whisky from bars and pubs across Glasgow and had them analysed under lab conditions. To his horror, almost every sample was a very special ‘blend’ of whisky, water, and noxious additives. These included: turpentine; methylated spirits; ‘finish’ (a thin form of varnish); and highly corrosive sulphuric acid. One sample was found to contain as little as a couple of ounces of whisky to the gallon. Another, worryingly described in the lab notes as ‘pinkish green’ in appearance, was alleged to be nothing but ‘finish’ and water. These ‘drams’ were not only foul-tasting, they were often poisonous. 38
There was also the issue of fusel alcohols – oily compounds which occur naturally during distillation, mostly towards the end of the run. With an initial taste of something like nail polish, fusel alcohols mellow over time in the barrel and help to give whisky its distinctive taste, but in new whisky they remain biting and raw. Cheaply distilled whisky, without judicious cutting at the ‘tail’ of the distilling run, would contain even higher levels, while adulterants such as potato starch increased levels further. Fusel alcohols are today often associated with bad hangovers, but the Victorians thought it was much worse than that. According to Burns, they had long suspected that fusel alcohols could turn a Jekyll into a Hyde, and blamed them for the antisocial behaviour that marred
19th-century cities. To prove it, they carried out an extraordinary experiment in which they fed two monkeys large amounts of two different whiskies: one was given new whisky, high in fusel alcohol; and the other a nicely matured Scotch. While the fusel monkey was bad tempered and aggressive, the monkey fed on aged Scotch was a good-tempered, if silly, drunk. When the doses were reversed and the same findings recorded, the evidence, they decided, was conclusive. The monkey experiment was carried out as part of an 1890 inquiry by a Select Committee of the House of Commons, which in turn led to a Royal Commission entitled: ‘What is whisky?’. It reported in 1909, to clarify once and for all that yes, grain whisky was real whisky, and that Scotch was produced in Scotland, and
“Even James Bond reaches for a 50-year-old bottle of Macallan in Skyfall”
Irish whisky in Ireland. Within a few years, legislation followed to prohibit the sale of whisky aged for less than three years. Whisky producers began to market themselves on purity, and whisky cleaned up its act to become one of the most prized and highest quality spirits in the world.
nd where is whisky today? In Ireland, from the hundreds of distilleries once licensed, there are now just four. Brands such as Jameson and Bushmills still enjoy international acclaim, but the Fates, on the whole, have not been kind to Irish ‘whiskey’, which continues to come a poor second to Guinness in the Irish national psyche. There are some stirrings of revival, suggestions that a handful of smaller boutique distilleries may soon open up. But there is a lot of work to be done.
Over in the States, meanwhile, there are no such problems. A small core of larger distilleries has now been joined by a growing number of micro distilleries, and the longstanding success of bourbon has now been joined by the revival of rye whisky, while American blends also continue to sell well. Across the world, too, whisky distilleries have opened up over recent decades. Japanese whisky is long established, but perhaps less well known are the distilleries in Sweden, Wales, England, Germany, Australia, India and Brazil. These days everybody wants to distil a dram. But if there is one winner in the world whisky boom, it must surely be Scotch. Scotch, perhaps more than any other drink, has become the global symbol for refinement, arguably trumping even champagne
in the status symbol stakes. Even James Bond reaches for a 50-year-old bottle of Macallan in Skyfall. Between 2010 and 2011, exports of Scotch whisky totalled an astonishing £4.23 billion. It was the seventh year-on-year increase for the industry, and a 62% increase in exports over four years. In 2011 there were even reports that a surge in demand among a new, imageconscious, affluent middle class in the far east could lead to a global shortage. Meanwhile, the Scotch Whisky Association, the body which promotes the Scotch industry, has claimed that the industry earns £125 a second for the UK economy. All of which seems a far cry from the days of illicit stills hidden in the bracken. But that’s unlikely to be anything that whisky lovers will lose any sleep over. n www.hotrumcow.co.uk
The winner tastes it all To ABBA, Volvo and IKEA, you can now add whisky to the list of great Swedish exports. We meet one lucky woman with a job to envy
WORDS: Liz Longden PICTURES: Christopher Hunt
t’s normal to imagine that other people have more fun at work than you do, but in the case of Angela D’Orazio, maybe you’d be right. Because, as master blender for Swedish distillery Mackmyra, D’Orazio earns her corn by tasting, creating and experimenting with whisky. It sounds like a dream job, but what does the role of master blender really involve? How do you set about getting such a job? And, if you were lucky enough to land yourself it, would you make the grade? The Mackmyra distillery lies about an hour and a half north of
Stockholm, near the town of Gävle. Springing incongruously from the middle of a pine forest, it looks something like a tower block. It does, however, offer great views from the top, which is where we settle down with a cup of tea, being too early for whisky, to find out just how, exactly, one swings a job like this. D’Orazio shrugs. “Well, it’s a mixture of banana skins and ... I don’t know. I happened here, and, yeah, I really love it. I must admit it.” I can imagine. In the distance, across the trees, an old water tower can just be picked out in the old industrial village of Mackmyra, where, around
13 years ago, a group of intrepid friends decided to try out their crackpot scheme of creating the first Swedish whisky. Mackmyra has since gone on to great success at home, picking up a fair few awards along the way, and has now been released in the UK and France. D’Orazio herself has been with the company since 2004. Well known within the whisky world, she’s been an intrinsic part of the distillery’s success. So it’s quite refreshing to learn that she stumbled into the whisky industry, about 20 years ago, pretty much by chance. Back then she was working as a waitress, and, having had some
rs Thatcher. She’s the reason I became a chef,” declares Paul Kitching, founder and Head Chef of 21212. “There was a lot of unemployment in the 1980s, and when I left school and went along to the job centre in Gateshead, there was an advert for a kitchen assistant. I liked food – I liked eating food – but I couldn’t cook for toffee,” he laughs. In reality the role wasn’t even as glamorous as kitchen assistant and Kitching’s first foray into the catering world was as a pot washer. “I started my career washing pots. It’s where a lot of people start their careers in the kitchen. Then I moved into a kitchen assistant role and I loved it. That was in the first restaurant I worked in – a pizza restaurant – and it only paid £16 a week. But I loved it anyway and that’s when I knew I was supposed to be a chef.” And so began a 24-hours-a-day, sevendays-a-week obsession with food and drink that led Kitching from the pizza parlour to a succession of Michelin-starred kitchens. “I’ve spent 25 years working in Michelin-starred restaurants, and 18 of those years as a head chef, but nothing really prepares you for taking on that role. It’s the most frightening thing in the world. Suddenly, there’s no one to ask anymore and you’ve got to start creating your own dishes. It took me a while to adapt,” Kitching explains. He earned his own first Michelin star after moving to Juniper in Manchester. “My partner, Katie O'Brien, and I really liked Manchester, 68
but we wanted to get two Michelin stars, and in order to do that we needed a bigger stage to play on,” says Kitching. Manchester’s loss was Scotland’s gain as Kitching decided that his new playground would be Edinburgh. “For the past 15 years we've been coming to Edinburgh for our holidays. Every February and every August we would spend two weeks here, walking around and eating in some of Edinburgh’s great restaurants. We would visit other chefs in the city and always think how lucky they were to get the chance to cook here. “It was this, amongst other things, that made me come to Edinburgh. I also think it’s the nicest, lightest, freshest, prettiest city in the world. Can you believe we actually walked down the street where 21212 is now and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a restaurant here?’ Eight years later and hey presto, we got the restaurant on Royal Terrace. It’s bloody hard work, but we’ve got it and it’s ours!” Edinburgh has embraced 21212 and its approach to dining – patrons have two choices for a selection of courses and are served
Smoked Salmon with Caviar and Whisky Yoghurt Kitching starts by making the whisky yoghurt, which consists of natural yoghurt, lemon juice and Glengoyne Cask Strength whisky. This particular dram was chosen as it has a hint of pepper and an oily finish, which sits well with the texture of the smoked salmon. He drapes thinly sliced pieces of smoked salmon onto the plate and adds a few teaspoons of caviar before drizzling the whisky yoghurt over the dish. The dish is garnished with pineapple parchment, chilli parchment (which contains some of the whisky yoghurt), red pepper parchment and coriander parchment, which really bring the dish to life visually. Before the dish leaves the kitchen it is drizzled with olive oil and chive oil – a garnish for every dish that leaves the 21212 kitchen.
what is on the menu that day for the other courses, hence 21212. “We came up with the 21212 concept when we still had Juniper,” Kitching says. “Restaurants don’t tend to be particularly busy on Tuesday evenings, yet you still do the same amount of preparation. If the food doesn’t get eaten, it goes in the bin and you start all over again the next day. So I decided to do a set menu and the 21212 concept was born – two starters, a soup course, two main courses, a cheese course and two dessert options. We trialled it in Juniper before we came up to Edinburgh and it was really successful, so we knew it would work in Edinburgh. And four years on, it’s still working.” A mere eight months after opening, 21212, which has four luxurious rooms for out-oftowners, was awarded its first Michelin star, as well as winning Best New Restaurant in the www.hotrumcow.co.uk
WORDS: Liz Longden
It has spent almost a century in exile, but now, like all good things, the shrub is back. The term shrub dates back to at least the mid-18th century, but over the years its meaning has evolved to refer to two quite different drinks. Both are cordials, but while one is a sour, non-alcoholic mixer, the other is a hearty, warming infusion, made with a premium spirit base, enhanced with sugar and packed with mouth-watering ripened fruit. No prizes for guessing which branch of this family we’re interested in. The shrub is such a comforting concoction, so tasty, so easy to make, and with such a number of creative variations that it’s something of a surprise that it has almost vanished from the modern drinks repertoire. Perhaps it’s the name. Even if its etymology is sexier than it sounds – believed to come from the Persian ‘sharaba’, meaning ‘to drink’ (incidentally also the root of the word ‘sherbet’) – it does carry an unfortunate connotation of damp compost and soggy bulbs. Certainly, it competes unfavourably with a Martini or Pinot Noir in the sophistication stakes. Yet what the shrub lacks in superficial elegance, it makes up for in history. In fact, in an age when drinks brands are straining every sinew to conjure that elusive air of authenticity, the shrub has a backstory that most 21st-century marketing teams could only dream of.
Tim Oakley is the co-owner and manager of the House of Tippler in East Dulwich, one of a number of London bars that have welcomed back the shrub. According to Oakley, shrubs have been around in England since the late medieval era, where they were drunk primarily to boost health and well-being. “When you say ‘cordial’ these days it’s more of a non-alcoholic fruit-based syrup, but in the olden days a cordial was more of an elixir,” Oakley explains. The word ‘cordial’, indeed, comes from the Latin ‘cordialis’, meaning ‘of the heart’. Shrubs were staples of the English larder throughout the second half of the last millennium – one of the more interesting ways to preserve fruit in the days before refrigeration and speedy global exports – but Oakley claims that it wasn’t until the late 17th century that the shrub came into its own. With the English Crown piling on the duties on spirit imports, smuggling was rife, and nowhere more so than in Cornwall, with its hidden coves making perfect hideaways for a contraband stash. Popular techniques for keeping smuggled booze away from the prying eyes of the King’s excise men included sinking the barrels beneath the waves and transforming the barrels into makeshift rafts, which were then discreetly floated ashore. With such methods, however, it wasn’t just rum, brandy and genever that found its way into local tankards – smuggled spirits occasionally found themselves
————— RAISE A GLASS TO THE
REVOLUTIONARIES. ————— THOSE WHO GOT THERE FIRST ————— 42
Professor Pyrotechnic ‘Professor’ Jerry Thomas set the cocktail world alight with his explosive signature drink, The Blue Blazer, and his seminal manual for the mixed drink. Iain Meldum delves into his unreliable but never unremarkable history y his own account we can add to the pantheon of pioneers such as Charles Darwin, Neil Armstrong and Emmeline Pankhurst, the name Jeremiah P. Thomas. Though not as familiar a face beyond the drinks world, Jerry Thomas was to cocktails what Mrs Beeton was to food. And his book How to Mix Drinks – published more than 150 years ago – can still be considered the seminal cocktail book. By the time his name appeared below the book’s banner headline claiming ‘Clear and Reliable Directions for Mixing all the Beverages Used in the United States ... Embracing Punches, Juleps, Cobblers, Etc., Etc., Etc. in Endless Variety’, Jerry Thomas had already become well known as one of bartending’s best – holding high office in the illustrious saloons of the Planter’s House Hotel in St. Louis and The Metropolitan in New York. Within a year he would move to the Occidental in San Francisco, where he was paid a wage that reputedly eclipsed the US Vice President’s, and nurtured a reputation that made him “as familiar in
the Eastern States as [he] now is out here in California” according to English traveller and writer Edward Hingston. But for a man commanding such respect and adulation, it seems strange – initially, at least – that much of his story is so shrouded in murk and obscurity. One account of his life surfaced in H. L. Menken’s notorious American Mercury magazine in 1927 – deep in the midst of Prohibition. Written by true-crime author and journalist Herbert Asbury, it is a mythic, Homer-esque ode to Thomas, shot through with a kind of rose-tinted romanticism that only seven straight years of enforced national temperance could induce. Here we encounter Jerry Thomas the Inventor – concocting classic drink after classic drink as if it were easier than breathing. We find Jerry Thomas the Do-Gooder in Gold Rush-era San Francisco thwarting a band of desperadoes by simply preparing “a dram which stretched them quivering and helpless upon the floor”. Asbury even riffs on David and Goliath as he recounts at great length how a colossal gold prospector
INTERESTING DRINKS WORTH TRYING
Birkir Snaps and Bjรถrk Liqueur ILLUSTRATION:
brainchild of Ólafur Örn Ólafsson and Gunnar Karl Gíslason, Birkir Snaps and Björk Liqueur owe their unique flavour to Iceland’s signature tree: the birch. The co-owners of Reykjavik’s renowned Dill restaurant use birch from the forest at the Haukafell Mountain – where birch trees were planted in the 1960s as part of a soil reclamation programme. These sturdy trees are often planted in neglected wasteland because of their ability to prosper in even the most challenging of landscapes. Foss Distillery uses a mixed grain spirit and infuses it with birch branches picked in the spring to get the sweetness of the birch flavour. Birch is not only known for its ability to thrive against the odds, but is also prized for its health
benefits. In alternative medicine, it’s widely used as a diuretic and is said to do wonders for skin and hair. And as if that wasn’t enough, birch also has the ability to get your pulse racing – apparently it’s good for the libido. That must be why it’s colloquially known as the ‘Giving Tree’. Birkir and Björk are both great sipping spirits, ideal for those who prefer something a little sweeter. The liqueur is a little less heavy handed with the birch and works great as a base for cocktails – the Björktini with two parts Björk to three parts vodka is recommended.
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It's the turn of whisky, as we seek it out in Sweden, Japan and England (no, you're not seeing things). There's also barrel-ageing, birch li...
Published on May 28, 2014
It's the turn of whisky, as we seek it out in Sweden, Japan and England (no, you're not seeing things). There's also barrel-ageing, birch li...