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Essential Journal

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High Spirits

Dawn Davies, Master of Wine and head buyer for The Whisky
Exchange, gives us the lowdown on what’s set to trend in 2019

Words by Dawn DAVIES

Despite its popularity behind the bar for some years as a bartender’s favourite, mezcal hasn’t yet had its turn in the spotlight. Perhaps now, with a little bit of ‘gin-fatigue’ setting in, and a growing need for something new to mix with tonic, it’s time for this smokey, fruity little number to shine. Mezcal is made in the Oaxaca province of Mexico from agave plants, in the same vein as Tequila but with different agave species. Where tequila offers pepper and spice characters, mezcal presents smoke and fruit. Try it mixed with tonic (trust us) or even as a replacement for gin in your Negroni. 

Case in Point: Ilegal Joven 
If you want to discover mezcal for the first time, Ilegal Joven is a damn fine place to start. Desperate for a good Mezcal to stock at his bar, Café No Sé, John Rexer began smuggling artisanal Mezcal from Oaxaca to Guatemala in 2004. Once in his bar, it didn’t take long for word to get out about this smooth and smoky spirit that was only available from the backroom at Café No Sé. Soon, this Mezcal was being carried in the luggage of travellers passing from Guatemala to America and beyond. In late 2009, Ilegal Mezcal became legal. 


There’s something special happening in rum at the moment; a gradual show of interest in the styles of rum that connoisseurs have known about for some time. The majority of rum is made using column-still distillation to feed the demand for blended rums and high volume, but increasingly there is more of a passion for pot-still distillation in batches which tends to create a richer and fuller-flavoured rum. 

Then there’s agricole rums, made exclusively from sugar cane instead of molasses, and what you could call ‘pure rum’ with no added sugar, flavourings or colourings. Gone are the days when we have to choose between dark sticky and sweet, or clear and harsh. Producers are creating more liquid that’ll make any whisky-drinker fall for rum.

Case in Point: Foursquare Veritas White Rum
Richard Seale of Foursquare Distillery in Barbados is leading the charge for this new generation of rum, and the rather unique Veritas white rum – a collaboration between Foursquare and Hampden Estate – is a testament to the quality that can be created. This is a white rum like you’ve never tasted before. 

A blend of traditional Coffey still (column) and pot still rums, and with no filtration or added sugars, this is round and rich with a hint of green banana and a fantastic freshness on the finish. It makes one hell of a Daiquiri!


Good things are happening south of the Equator. They’ve actually been happening for some time but no-one has been paying attention. Well, now it’s time to sit up and listen. South Africa is producing some awesome spirits including Geometric Gin using Cape botanicals, and the deliciously smooth Oude Molen Cape Brandy, a brandy made in exactly the same way as Cognac just not in the Cognac region, hence ‘brandy’.

Case in Point: New Zealand 18 Year Old Double Wood Blended
Further afield, New Zealand has for some years created dram-worthy whiskies including this little number from closed distillery, Willowbank in Dunedin – the world’s southernmost distillery until its destruction in the late 1990s. After an unconventional double maturation – a quartet of ex-bourbon barrels followed by a lengthy period in French oak New Zealand wine casks – this is a complex 18-year-old full of full-bodied, lingering dark fruit notes and woody spice. 


It’s been like music to the ears of every designated driver or non-drinker on the planet: Something other than Diet Coke to drink. There’s absolutely no doubt that this is a booming trend, as more producers look to create interesting and flavoursome ‘spirits’
or alternatives to alcohol. 

Case in Point: Ceder’s Classic
Ceder’s is distilled in the same way as gin, just without the alcohol. This classic version focuses on juniper, coriander and rose-geranium botanicals and is delicious served with Mediterranean tonic. Ceder’s was created by a husband and wife team who combined their origins of South Africa (botanicals) and Sweden (spring water) to craft unique alcohol-free spirits.


If you’re a whisky enthusiast, it is definitely worth finding out a little more about independent bottlers. This is a whisky category that’s only going to go from strength to strength as more people realise that you can get your hands on some truly unique liquid that would never have otherwise been released. 

Very few scotch whisky distilleries keep everything they make. If the distillery has no need for casks of liquid – maybe the whisky has not developed the key flavours and aromas needed for that distillery’s own style, or maybe it’s simply surplus to requirements – then said casks will be sold to independent bottlers who might blend, marry and age the liquid to their own desires, and release whiskies, usually in small numbers, that will never be seen again. 

Case in Point: Glenturret 2004 Sherry Cask Connoisseurs Choice Gordon & MacPhail have been selecting, maturing and bottling whisky since 1895 so they really know what they’re doing. This 2004 sherry-matured, single-cask Glenturret is an exclusive release for The Whisky Exchange and we love it. It’s rich and spicy with stacks of juicy berries and raisins.