June 2019's Selection – Thameside Rum
 

With summer arriving we thought it was high time to revisit the world of sugar-based spirits in all their approachably complex deliciousness. Enter our June delivery: Thameside Rum's Signature Blend. 

We were attracted by Thameside's commitment to openness about the provenance of its liquor – something that's often sadly lacking in the rum world – as well as its mellow but complex palate.

Thameside signature blend rum

The name Thameside is supposed to evoke the traditional importing and blending warehouses that dotted the banks of the river running through London in the 17th and 18th centuries, mainly supplying rum to the thirsty sailors of the British Navy.

It's a blend of rums produced in Britain's former colonies in the Caribbean then shipped over the Atlantic – just like in centuries past.

Founder Matt Perkins got into rum while visiting his brother in the British Virgin Islands. Amazingly, he went on to build the brand from scratch while working a day job in financial services. We for one are very glad he found the time!

 
April 2019's Selection – Mackmyra Svensk Ek Whisky
 

To celebrate the newly light-filled evenings, for April we selected a beverage from somewhere renowned for beautiful summers and beastly winters: Sweden.

The founding saga of Mackmyra (pronounced “"Mack-MEER-uh") dates back to 1998, when eight friends went on a skiing trip. They knew the host loved whisky, so every guest had brought along a bottle – which got them pondering why there wasn't any Swedish whisky. When no one could come up with a good reason, they resolved to found Sweden's first whisky distillery. They moved fast and began small-scale production in October 1999.

Mackmyra whisky bottle

This embrace of Sweden feeds through to the ingredients Mackmyra selects for its whiskies: they're all sourced locally. In fact, everything except the yeast (made in a suburb of Stockholm) comes from within 75 miles of the distillery. Mackmyra's use of Swedish barley brings the sweetness that is characteristic of all their whiskies. 

We selected Mackmyra’s Svensk Ek expression because it's the oldest and most representative expression of the distillery's output. This whisky has only been sold under the Svensk Ek label for a few years – before that it was known as The First Edition and was Mackmyra's signature single malt.

Literally translating as "Swedish oak," 10 percent of the whisky in Svensk Ek is aged in Swedish oak casks – with the remaining 90 percent matured in ex-bourbon barrels (shipped over from the US after they've served their purpose there). 

Oak is not common at all in Sweden. Mackmyra take theirs from a forest planted on the island of Visingsö centuries ago to supply the Swedish navy with ships. Oak grows slowly in the harsh Swedish climate, resulting in a dense wood that imparts harsher, more fiery flavours than American oak. 

Mackmyra Svensk Ek
 
Andrew Rummer
February 2019's Selection – Pensador Mezcal
 

Pensador is a trans-Atlantic collaboration between Atenogenes García, a Mexican farmer and distiller, and Ben Schroder, a 26-year-old Englishman. Ben fell in love with mezcal during his post-degree travels in Mexico in 2015. He came back wanting to share his new-found appreciation of mezcal with his home country and, the very next summer, he went back with the mission of finding a producer to work with. 

When Ben discovered Don Atenogenes’s farm in the state of Oaxaca he was blown away by his "clean, clear and bright” mezcal.

Sipping Liquor box with Pensador Mezcal

Don Atenogenes is very abstemious in his distilling. When a still is run – concentrating the alcohol and flavour-giving compounds – the volatile heads come off first, followed by the hearts (the bit you really want), and finally the heavier, oilier, funkier tails.

Ben estimates that the Atenogenes palenque (as a Mexican distillery is known) dicards five times more of the heads and tails than most mezcal producers. It's this focus on the heart of the run that gives you the pure essence of agave in the final spirit. 

Otherwise, Pensador production is very traditional. The farm only has two stills, bakes its agave in a pit oven, and crushes it with an ox-drawn tahona – a giant stone that rolls round and round a wooden spindle.

Pensador Mezcal Bottles

Like most mezcal, Pensador uses natural fermentation techniques, where the agave mixture is simply exposed to the air for several weeks to be innocculated with whatever yeast is floating past. Producers of other spiritis would almost never allow this random element into production – instead deciding on a certain strain of yeast and buying it in bulk from a specialist supplier. 

It takes about two months to produce each batch of Pensador – even though it's a joven mezcal, which means it's unaged. Because they insist on hand bottling and labeling, the total time from field to shipping is almost three months. 

 
Andrew Rummer
December 2018's Selection – Samalens Single 8 Armagnac
 

To see you safely through the depths of winter we've chosen a warming French brandy – the beautiful Samalens Single 8 Armagnac. 

Armagnac is a grape brandy. Basically distilled wine. It’s produced in the Armagnac region of south-west France – south of Bordeaux and west of Toulouse, and not a million miles from the Spanish border.

Samalens Single 8 bottle

Samalens is an Armagnac producer with great history, dating back to 1882. But yet it hasn't been afraid to try new things.

Samalens is actually one of the biggest Armagnac producers (though they're still tiny compared with the well-known Cognac houses). They have eight stills in their distillery, including one constructed in the 19th century – and their oldest cellar reserves date back to 1888.

The distillery sources its wines from the Bas Armagnac area, which is known as the "best" appellation. The topsoil is composed of boulbène, an alluvial sandy deposit left by the sea, which adds a delicacy and complexity to Samalen's Armagnacs. The wood for their new barrels is taken from local forests in Gascony.

Samalens Armagnac bottle

The Samalens Single 8 is an Armagnac that has taken inspiration from whisky production methods – hence why the bottle is shaped like a whisky, rather than the more flattened bottle of most Armagnacs.

While Samalens has the full gamut of traditonal brandies, defined in broad age categories from VS to XO, it has also developed a range it calls Single – aged from 8 to 15 years. 

The Single 8 is produced from just one variety of grape: ugni blanc from Bas Armagnac. This acidic grape means a greater proportion of flavour-giving chemicals will survive through distillation. After fermenation, the wines are distilled in both column and pot stills to create a variety of eaux de vie, which are later blended together.

 
Andrew Rummer
October 2018's Selection – Puni Nova Whisky
 

Inside October's Sipping Liquor box you’ll find Puni Nova whisky from South Tyrol – the part of Italy that’s so far north it’s basically Austria.

Back in 2010 the Ebensperger family started building a beautiful distillery in the tiny town of Glorenza (population 900) in the Venosta Valley. The name Puni comes from a local river and derives from ancient Raetic.

Sipping Liquor box with Puni Nova whisky

Venosta has been a centre of grain cultivation – particularly rye – for hundreds of years. So the distillery has a ready local source of raw materials and quality water with which to make its whisky. Puni uses a mixture of malted rye, barley and wheat. Puni bought two traditional pot stills from the Scottish manufacturer Forsyths but decided to use water rather than steam to heat them.

Once distillation is complete, Puni uses three different types of cask for maturation to create a variety of flavours: barrels that used to contain American bourbon, Sicilian Marsala or local South Tyrolean wine. Nova is matured for three years in former bourbon barrels and finished for a short period in new casks made of European oak.

Puni Nova whisky bottle

Puni’s younger whiskies are matured in local warehouses. The region has very warm summers and cold, snowy winters. This accelerates the ageing of the spirit inside the casks – compared with somewhere like Scotland – as liquid is more rigourously forced in and out of the oak.

In the ultimate act of recycling, Puni stores whiskies it intends to mature for longer periods inside military bunkers left over from the Second World War. 

 
Andrew Rummer
August 2018's Selection – Yokka Koji Awamori
 

This month’s selection is an incredibly rare and unique Asian beverage called awamori. This spirit is produced only in Okinawa, a subtropical archipelago that’s the southernmost prefecture of Japan – but actually geographically closer to Taiwan than Tokyo.

Yokka Koji Awamori Bottle

The raw material for awamori is long-grain rice from Thailand, which is used nowadays because Okinawa can’t produce enough of the right kind locally. The rice is steamed then laid out on large tables to cool to the correct temperature.  

Next comes the part that’s unknown in the West – the rice is inoculated with koji, a type of fungus. The koji has several functions – it breaks down the starch in the rice to sugar, which can then be converted to alcohol by yeast, and also starts adding compounds that give unique umami flavours by breaking down proteins to their constituent amino acids. This step is very similar to the way the Japanese produce sake rice wine.

After the koji spores have been sprinkled on the rice, they are usually left for two days to act. The rice that’s used for Yokka Koji is however left for four days, so that more intense flavours can be formed (yokka literally means fourth, as in the fourth day of the month).

After the koji phase, the treated rice is placed in a tank with yet more steamed rice, water and yeast – and allowed to ferment.  The resulting low-alcohol beverage is then distilled one time in a pot still to produce awamori. Some awamori – like Yokka Koji – is bottled basically straight away while some varieties are aged in clay pots for several years to mellow their flavor.

Yokka Koji Awamori With Sipping Liquor Magazine

The islands of Okinawa were for centuries part of the ­ancient Ryukyu Kingdom before they were annexed by Japan in the late 19th century.

Like many beverages with a long history, the etymology behind the name awamori is a bit of a mystery. One popular theory is that awa refers to the bubbles created during production and mori refers to the way they rise or swell.

The four-sided design on the bottle alludes to the Japanese character for the number four. Which of course refers to the number of days the steamed rice is allowed to react with the koji.

 
Andrew Rummer
June 2018's Selection - Christian Drouin Calvados
 
Christian Drouin Calvados Bottles

Calvados is an often overlooked category in the UK, something we wanted to rectify. When done well it can match or even exceed the traditional big beasts of the aged-spirits world: whisky and brandy. 

Just as brandy is distilled wine and whisky is basically distilled beer, calvados is distilled cider. But not just any old cider. Christian Drouin produces its cider from 30 varieties of apple (and a small amount of pear) grown in organic orchards around Gonneville-sur-Honfleur in Normandy, northern France. Strongbow this ain’t. 

Christian Drouin's Réserve des Fiefs is a blend of calvados aged from three to six years. It combines fresh apple flavours with smooth spices and vanilla from the wood. 

Drouin resides in the Pays d’Auge appellation d’origine contrôlée, generally considered the "best" of the three calvados AOCs. The orchards have shallow soils rich in clay and limestone, spread over rolling hills. Drouin uses a very apple-heavy cider mix, with only 2-5 percent pear. The results in a “very round style” with a soft mouth that “grows in time with a lot of complexity,” Guillaume Drouin, grandson of the company’s founder, told us in an interview.

Sipping Liquor Box with Drouin Calvados

The story of the distillery begins in 1960, when Christian Drouin became the owner of the Fiefs Sainte Anne estate near Honfleur. The farm was planted with cider-apple trees and he soon decided to produce his own calvados, more as a hobby than a serious business. With the help of a local distiller, Pierre Pivet, he spent the next 20 years producing calvados and setting it aside without selling much. He also acquired several batches of very old calvados when the estates of some reputed regional producers were sold. 

By 1979 Christian and his son, also called Christian, began marketing their calvados to high-end restaurants and hotels in France and overseas. At the time calvados was mainly a regional beverage consumed by the working class of Normandy with meals or coffee. In 1991-92 Christian junior transferred production to another 17th-century farm in Coudray-Rabut near Pont l’Evèque, to meet growing demand.

In 2004 the third generation of Drouins joined the firm. Guillaume Drouin gradually took on more responsibilities before becoming general manager in 2013. To this day Guillaume and his father, Christian junior, create the calvados blends together. The company now exports to 50 different countries. 

“We’re not a big player in terms of volume and that’s not what we’re aiming to be,” Guillaume told us. “We want to be in all the good restaurants and hotels.”

 
Andrew Rummer
April 2018's Selection - St Abbs Captain's Table XO Rum
 
St Abbs Captains Table XO With Sipping Liquor Magazine

Our selection for April is an aged Caribbean rum, a young brand that looks back to the time when sail-rigged vessels dominated international trade. St Abbs Captain’s Table XO is a blend of rums from Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica. St Abbs sources ten different marks, the rum-making term for a single distillate, from distilleries around the Caribbean. Each has been aged for a different time in ex-bourbon casks in the tropical heat, creating a variation of flavours, before they are shipped to Amsterdam for final mixing and maturing.

St Abbs Captain's Table XO Bottles

St Abbs rum was founded by David Owens and Matthew Norris, an Englishman and an Australian living in the Seychelles. David was there helping to set up a distillery on the Indian Ocean island paradise when he came across the story of the St Abbs shipwreck in a local museum and thought it would make a great spirits brand. 

The three-masted full-rigged wooden vessel St Abbs was named after a village near the border between England and Scotland. It was launched from the ship yards of Sunderland in 1848, chartered to the East India Company. In 1855 the vessel set sail on a ten-month passage from London to Bombay with a cargo of Caribbean rum and municipal supplies for the Indian navy.

On 14th June, during the final leg of the journey, the ship struck a reef in the shallow waters of an atoll at the southern tip of the Seychelles archipelago. The vessel was ripped in two and the aft part of the ship, along with most of her crew, were never seen again. St Abbs’ fore part washed ahore, along with 100 barrels of rum. Only a handful of crew members ever made it safely home to England, among them the captain. 

Curious stories emerged in the years following the shipwreck of distress calls carved on wood and leather, carried on ocean currents and washing up as far away as the East African coast. This sombre artwork was traded by curio vendors in African bazaars, spreading the tale of the St Abbs and her rum-soaked crew far and wide.