MB Insights: World Whisky Day 2023 – A History of Whisky

Consumer, Drink, Drinks, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Retail, Technology

Posted on 19 May 2023

Evolving from small medieval distilleries into the colossal $88 billion dollar industry that it is today, the story of whisky is one founded on tradition, revolution, and a thirst for innovation.

So, in honor of World Whisky Day, MacGregor Black explores the murky origins of whisky, the art of distilling, and the factors that fueled the rise of one of the world’s most popular spirits.

 

Where Did Whisky Come From?

Whisky’s history dates back hundreds of years. Which means, unfortunately, there are a number of theories as to where exactly the fiery golden liquid originates from.

Some academics argue that the ancestor to modern whisky was first discovered by Irish, Scottish, and English farmers, who began distilling spirits from their surplus grains. Although, a more favoured theory suggests that missionary monks brought the art of distillation over to the UK over a thousand years ago having mastered the practice on their travels across the Mediterranean, the Middle East and mainland Europe.

If we turn to the pages of history, we find the first ever written evidence of whisky appears as early as 1405, in the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise. Here it was documented that the head of a clan died from ‘taking a surfeit of ‘aqua vitea’. However, the earliest historical reference to whisky appears a little later down the line, in the Scottish Exchequer Rolls of 1494 where an entry refers to King James IV of Scotland granting ‘eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aqua vitae’.

Aqua vitea, a term historically used to describe distilled spirits, is a Latin term meaning ‘water of life’. When translated from Latin to Gaelic, ‘aqua vitea’ became ‘uisge beatha’, which over the years, eventually evolved into the word ‘whisky’ that we know and love today.

 

Whisky Production & The Art of Distillation

Whisky, like all of its spirit counterparts, is made using distillation. A complex practice that dates back as far as the 1st century BC and research suggests originates from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, where early practitioners first used the process to create a mix of potent perfumes and aromas.

 

 

 

However, thanks to the global migration of knowledge and through the adaptation of ingredients & techniques, over time, alchemists refined and expanded distillation beyond perfumes to include medicines, poisons and of course, whisky.

One such factor that fanned the flames of mass whisky production took place in 1536, when Henry VIII broke ties with the Roman Church and disbanded many of the English monasteries. Prior to this point, distilling spirits remained largely a monastic and medical practice, but with so many unemployed Monks dispersed into the general population at the time, the art of distilling spirits quickly made its way into homes and farms, and the general production of whisky shifted into the hands of the people.

The increasing popularity of whisky would soon attract Scottish Parliament, where plans to profit from the growing industry, saw the introduction of the first taxes on whisky, in 1644. However, in protest, many Scots turned to illicit distilling in an attempt to avoid the high taxes. By the 1820s, as many as 14,000 illicit stills were being confiscated every year, and more than half the whisky consumed in Scotland was being enjoyed without the taxman taking his cut.

However, in 1823, the Excise Act was passed, which allowed Scots to distil whisky in return for a license fee of £10 and Illicit distilling and smuggling eventually died out.

With restrictions lifted for the import and export of commercial whisky, this incentivised people to grow barley and licensed distilleries began emerging in all corners of the Scottish lands. With a license now required, the process of distilling whisky became more refined and eventually upped the quality of the product. From here, whisky gradually gained worldwide popularity, becoming a talisman of heritage, craftmanship and cultural identity for the regions it was produced in.

In the early days of whisky production, the process was relatively simple. Grains were mashed, fermented using yeast, and the resulting liquid was then distilled. Following distillation, the liquid was aged in wooden casks for several years, providing it with the unique characteristics, colour, and flavours that whisky is known for today.

 

 

In the modern era, the fundamentals of whisky making remain largely unchanged. Grains are still mashed, fermented, and distilled, and whisky is still aged in wooden casks. However, over the centuries, advancements in innovation and technology, as well as the introduction of advanced aging and maturation processes have birthed a new age of whisky production.

In the 18th and 19th century, the industrial revolution brought significant advancements to the field. Namely, the invention of the column still in 1830, by Aneas Coffey, which revolutionised distillation and paved the way for large-scale whisky production. Today, distillation has transcended its traditional ties to spirits and is now a crucial process in various other industries including, the production of fuels, petroleum refining, essential oils, pharmaceuticals, and even water purification. Proving that distillation has played, and will continue to play, an essential role in the advancement of human society… not to mention good quality spirits.

 

 

Whisky or Whiskey…

The terms, whisky and whiskey are often used interchangeably, causing quite a bit of confusion amongst connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. However, there are a number of distinct differences in their production methods, geographical origins, and their unique flavour profiles.

Whisky (without an e, and the starring spirit of this article) typically refers to whisky produced in Scotland and is often dubbed, Scotch whisky. Scottish distilling largely inspired the production of whisky in countries like Japan and Canada, explaining why both countries also use the ‘without an e’ spelling of whisky.

Scotch whisky has some pretty stern regulations when it comes to what can actually be labelled as a true Scotch Whisky. It must be made from malted barley, water, and yeast, and must be distilled in Scotland for at least three years. Scotch whisky is also well-known for its range of rich and smoky flavours, which can be attributed to the use of peat in the malting process.

 

 

However, recent research found that peat releases an excessive amount of stored carbon dioxide when harvested and is currently under some scrutiny for its potential contribution to climate change. The Scottish Government has since drawn plans to move away from using peat products in the future, thus protecting the environment, and ensuring no further damage to the peatlands.

Whiskey, on the other hand, is the preferred spelling of grain spirits that have been distilled in Ireland and the United States.

As Irish colonists began to arrive in America, they brought with them the process of distilling grain spirits and from that moment onwards, whiskey was born.

American whiskey encompasses various styles, including bourbon, rye whiskey and Tennessee whiskey, all of which are distilled in different ways, using different ingredients and under strict legal regulations specific to America. For example, similar to Scotch, for a bourbon whiskey to officially labelled as a bourbon whiskey, it must be distilled in America and at no higher than 160 proof, 80% alcohol-by-volume.

 

 

Brands to watch…

As the world of whisky continues to evolve, and an increasing number of individuals embrace the charm and cultural complexities of this cherished spirit, certain brands have emerged as rising stars in the industry. MacGregor Black caught up with award-winning mixologist and drinks practice operations consultant, Kieron Hall, to gauge which brands are gaining popularity and the reasons behind their rise.

Nc’nean Distillery

 

Nc’nean Distillery is a young, independent, organic whisky distillery perched above the Sound of Mull in the remote community of Drimnin on the west coast of Scotland. Declaring their main purpose to be “creating experimental spirits, and pioneering sustainable production”, Nc’nean Distillery aims to really get people thinking about Scotch.

“Nc’nean Distillery is a favourite brand of mine for a number of reasons, I think they’ve just hit the mark with everything a brand needs to be in today’s economy,” comments, Kieron.

“The brand is constantly looking at ways to shake-up the traditional Scotch market and improve their impact on the planet. Like, using organic Scottish barley at their distillery, which is powered by renewable energy, as well as recycling 99.97% of their waste, and making all of their bottles out of 100% recycled clear glass. Not to mention,

I think the quality of their product is brilliant, particularly their Organic Single Malt Whisky.

If you haven’t checked out Nc’nean yet, you definitely should!”

 

InchDairnie Distillery

 

InchDairnie Distillery, based in Fife, Scotland, pride themselves on their origins, whisky traditions, and their ability to take an innovative approach to flavour. Their distillery uses only barley that has been grown locally in Fife and they operate using two bespoke pieces of equipment; a Mash Filter and Lomond Hill Still, both used for experimentation and innovation.

Kieron Hall comments, “InchDairnie opened in 2015 and they literally built the whole distillery around their mash filter. Their bespoke methods to whisky production means that they can handle a variety of different grains and can extract more flavour and sugar during the process.

Every year, the brand clears two weeks in their calendar to distil something ‘out of the ordinary’ which most recently saw the distillery make their way to ‘the dark side’, being the first to distil a mash made from a majority of Dark Kilned Malted Spring Barley, which is usually used to brew dark beers.

A great drink and I suspect a great deal of innovation to come from InchDairnie in the near future.”

 

Ellers Farm Distillery

 

Based in North Yorkshire, Ellers Farm Distillery’s state-of-the-art production ranks as one of the largest distilleries in the country. The brand prides itself on being carbon neutral since day one of its operations, with further plans to achieve official B Corp certification. Ellers Farm Distillery has also partnered with Bristol based environmental organisation, Ecologi with the aim of planting one million trees.

“Ellers Farm is a classic,” says Kieron Hall.

“My colleague, Dana Bond and I recently visited the famous Ellers Farm Distillery and toured their site. After hearing some of their ambitious environmental goals and their plans for the future, we were pretty impressed.

Not only do they distil whisky, but they also produce vodka, gin and a range of small batch spirits that are only released in batches of 500 bottles. Ellers Farm will surely continue to lead the charge when it comes to sustainability, NPD and of course, great quality spirits.”

Kieron also comments about the “up and coming challenger brands” stating that:

“There are so many brands that deserved a mention, with many up-and-coming challenger brands also making big moves in the world of whisky right now, such as, Wolfburn, Milk & Honey, Mackmyra and Stauning Whisky to name a few.”

“It’s an exciting time to be a whisky lover as we have front row seats to watch a wave of new brands redefine the landscape of whisky.”

 

 

Whether it’s neat, on the rocks, or mixed into a complex cocktail, whisky clearly has a rich history of being beloved by many, throughout the centuries.  From the rolling hills of Scotland to the bourbon-soaked barrels of Kentucky, the production methods, legal regulations, and geographical influences have shaped the unique identity of whisky.

With each sip, we embark on a sensory journey of tradition, rebellion, and innovation, connecting us to a rich, yet murky, history of one of the world’s most beloved spirits.

So, if you’re a complete connoisseur, a beloved bourbon fan or an avid enthusiast, join us on World Whisky Day 2023 to appreciate the deep and remarkable world of whisky.

 

Consumer, Drink, Drinks, Events, Hospitality, Industry, Insight

Posted on 30 January 2023

In the wake of new year celebrations, from Sydney to San José, one particular trend has steadily gained popularity worldwide.

A valued tradition in human history for over 4,000 years, from exercise goals, to ‘going green’, billions of people across the globe mark the beginning of the solar calendar with promises of new year’s resolutions.

Yet, one such resolution is pouring into society with ease, leaving many of us asking ourselves the question… to dry or not to dry.

MacGregor Black takes a closer look at why so many are committing to Dry January, what impact the movement is having on the global Drinks industry, and the no and low brands that are toasting to its success.

The History…

Dry January, as we know it today, is a relatively new concept. Established by British charity, Alcohol Change, the ‘Dry January’ campaign was launched with the ambitious aim of encouraging sobriety throughout Britain during the month of January. The Alcohol Change UK trademarked the name ‘Dry January in 2014’, however the practice of abstaining from alcohol during the first month of the year can be dated all the way back to 1942; when the Finnish Government launched their ‘Sober January’ campaign as part of their war efforts against the Soviet Union. Although, you guessed it… the campaign was rather short-lived, and the following January saw alcohol welcomed back with open arms.

The Stats…

In 2014, 17,000 Brits signed up to Alcohol Change’s debut campaign. In 2022, more than 130,000 people registered, it’s most successful year to date. And in 2023, although official numbers have dwindled slightly, statistics may suggest that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing…

The decrease seen in 2023’s Dry January participation is not for a lack of consciousness but is most likely accredited to there simply being fewer ‘drinkers’ out there. A survey conducted by business intelligence company, Morning Consult, revealed that the proportion of Millennials that said they drink alcohol has reduced by 10%, from December 2021 to December 2022. Not only that, but a study conducted by the University of Sussex found that 4% of people were who previously participated, were able to stay abstinent even after Dry January, another factor that could also account for fewer participants during future campaigns.

Despite the slight dip in interest, it’s important to note the number of repeat participants in 2023’s official Dry January campaign. Among those who have previously participated, an impressive 72% said they were planning on participating again.

The Impact…

While there are many reasons one might dive headfirst into Dry January, the desire to make healthier choices remaining the no.1 influencer, what exactly are the impacts of starting the year sober? How does this benefit those participating? And what effect does this have on the Drinks industry?

Although often thought of as a sheer test of willpower, studies show that those who participate in Dry January experience a range of long-lasting benefits. Published in Psychology & Health, a 2020 study of 4,323 adults who participated in Dry January reported that 63% saved money, 56% experienced improved sleep, 52% had more energy, and 50% reported better overall health. Successful participants also found that the challenge brought about a significant increase in well-being and positive self-belief.

Whist Dry January is a great way to spread awareness and encourage healthier choices, since the campaign’s debut in 2014, it has spread rapidly, and proves to be far more than just a month-long trend. As a result, no and low product innovation has flourished, and the fast-moving nature of the ‘alcohol-free’ category has birthed a range of new products.

New findings from the IWSR Drinks Market Analysis revealed that the UK no-and-low category rose by 9% in 2022, and the sector is predicted to grow by a compound annual growth rate of 7% between 2023-2026. In 2020, no and low alcohol beers represented 5% of the overall beer market, with many mainstream beer brands like Heineken, Peroni, Coors and Budweiser launching their own now-and-low product ranges, which has resulted in no-and-low beer options seeing a 6% growth in the UK. When we compare this to the wider beer market, which is actually predicted to flatline, or even decline slightly this year, the shift in not only consumption, but also production, is clear to see.

“The recent explosion in no-and-low beverages could possibly lay the foundations for higher numbers of participants in future Dry Jan Campaigns,” comments Annie Cairns, Specialist Drinks Consultant at MacGregor Black.

“Non-alcoholic spirits volume climbed by 38% last year in the UK alone, with agave alternatives more than doubling! So, it stands to reason that, if people have a wider range of alternative options, they’re more likely to stick with the challenge. Not to mention that the recent rise in health-conscious consumerism will, no doubt, also play a part in influencing the success of this year’s Dry January campaign, as transparency around nutrition and ingredients continues to empower more people to make healthier choices.”

While the health benefits are clear to see, one important factor remains somewhat unchanged. As many low and no alcohol products often cost equally as much as their alcoholic counterparts, those participating to save money may find their alcohol-free options much less attractive.

Based on the overall aim of Dry January, you’d be right to assume that alcohol brands, bars, pubs, and restaurants usually suffer a dip in revenue. However, with a change in demand, comes evolution. In an attempt to stay ahead of the alcohol curve and join in on the Dry January trend, many businesses opt for executing strategic plans ahead of the campaign. For example, increasing the marketing spend allocated to their non-alcoholic product ranges, or launching new tactical partnerships with retailers prior to the New Year, with the aim of better positioning their product to draw in those that are participating. Furthermore, many brands are choosing to offer limited-time promotions on their alcoholic products (along-side their no and low offerings) in an effort to avoid a drop in overall sales.

‘The Ones to watch’…

Whether you’re jumping on the Dry January trend, cutting out alcohol completely, or just looking to try something new, there are exciting new alcohol-free products hitting the shelves daily. Deriving from a subtle blend of plants and passion, these alcohol alternatives promise to be equally as triumphant in flavour as their liquor laden brothers and sisters.

Lucky Saint

Dry January aside, the no and low sector is continuing to grow at a brisk pace and alcohol-free beer brand, Lucky Saint is definitely along for the ride. Now the UK’s #1 alcohol-free beer, Lucky Saint is the love child of great tasting flavour and high-quality German brewing. Only a few weeks ago, the brand secured over US$12.2 million in investment during a series A funding round, led by venture capital companies, Beringea and Jam Jar Investments. The funding round marks a record level of investment for a non-alcohol beer brand in Europe!

“This latest investment will ensure further success for the company in the UK and help us build a globally recognized alcohol-free brand,” says Lucky Saint’s Founder & CEO, Luke Boase. “We’ve just scratched the surface of this opportunity.”

Most recently, Lucky Saint has run with its religious theme having launched a series of out of home ads encouraging people to switch to their 0.5% lager during the month of Dry January. Using slogans like ‘Lead me not into temptation’ and ‘Thou shalt not, not drink’, the disruptive campaign has featured across 6-sheets and cross track 48-sheets on the London Underground. The transcendent campaign imagery was captured by iconic photographer, Rankin and also featured still-life photography from Susan Lee.

Lucky Saint’s Managing Director, Emma Heal also announced on LinkedIn last week that the growing alcohol-free beer brand is planning to open a ‘Pub for our times’ this March. The multifaceted hospitality venue will serve the brand’s range of non-alcoholic drinks, as well as a vast portfolio of alcoholic drinks, enjoyed inside or outside under their stunning new awnings. The venue will also offer customers, food, a sneak peek at the podcast studio, events, mental health training and mindful drinking courses held by global sobriety movement, Club Soda.

Thomas & Scott Noughty Alcohol Free

Looking to lead the global shift to alcohol-free drinking, Thomas & Scott recently launched the game-changing brand, Noughty, a range of delicious ‘dealcoholized’ alternatives to Champagne and fine wines.

Launched in 2019, Noughty is the first top quality alcohol free, organic, sustainable, vegan, halal, low-sugar sparkling beverage, and if that wasn’t enough to seal the deal, the brand is also officially B Corp certified! Voted one of ‘Business Insider’s Coolest People in Food & Drink 2019’, Founder & CEO of Thompson & Scott, Amanda Thompson, is a driving force behind the need for greater transparency in wine production labelling and aims to educate consumers on what’s in their bottles. Noughty’s range of high-class, non-alcoholic beverages can be found in some of the coolest bars, clubs, restaurants, and hotels across key locations in Europe, Australia & North America.

Everleaf

‘Grown from adventure’ Everleaf pride themselves on creating the world’s most complex non-alcoholic aperitifs, with taste that ‘transports you to the natural world’. Launched by Conservation Biologist and bar owner, Paul Matthew, who spent over a year researching plants, sustainable sourcing, dehydrating samples, macerating, and extracting, all to find the perfect blend of complimentary flavours.

As part of their 2023 Dry January campaign, Everleaf have teamed up with Pale Fox Wines to offer their customers a limited-edition Mountain Spritz Kit. Made increasingly popular during Dry Jan’s sister month, ‘Sober October’, Everleaf and Pale Fox Wines decided to extend the offering until January, promising that Everleaf’s vibrant blend of botanicals in their Mountain Aperitif, coupled with Pale Fox Wines’ Alcohol Free will produce a delicious, aromatic fresh spritz.

Days Lager

Born and Brewed in the luscious Lammermuir hills in Scotland, Days Lager in an award-winning 0.0% abv lager that is committed to using only the finest local plant-based ingredients. Launched during lockdown 2.0, Founders Mike Gammell and Duncan Keith spent a whole year researching, innovating, and testing, before landing on their unique brewing process, specifically designed to never produce alcohol.

In 2022, the brand partnered with The Wave Project, as part of their ongoing commitment to progressive mental health practices, pledging to support and fund the training of up to 1,000 new surf mentors across the UK. Not only that, but Days Lager prides itself on being B-Corp Certified.

As part of their Dry January campaign, the ‘100% beer 0% Alcohol’ brand also offered their customers 30% off their first order using the code ‘BEERME’.

The Conclusion

As we draw the curtains on Dry January 2023, despite the campaigns limited duration, it’s clear to see how and why the no-and-low sector will continue to flourish.

With an honest and transparent approach to health & wellness dominating consumer expectations, Dry January is an opportunity for people to re-evaluate their relationship with alcohol, improve their health, re-assess how they spend their time and of course, save money. And for brands? A rare opportunity to engage with a unique and emerging audience, experiment with exciting marketing initiatives, and launch limited edition products.

Which leads us back to the big question. January 2024 – To dry or not to dry?

If you’d like to speak to a specialist in our dedicated Drinks practice, get in touch today via 0191 691 1949 or email us at hello@macgregorblack.com

Consumer, Drink, Events, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Interview, Retail

Posted on 15 November 2022

As a wave of drinks brands look to innovate and evolve in a post-Covid world, consumers are often left wading through an overwhelming number of choices that currently flood the shelves of bars, restaurants, and supermarkets alike.

This sudden burst of quality spirits has birthed a highly competitive market, with one such brand, launching on the cusp of the global pandemic, having embraced the highs and lows of the unpredictable, yet exciting drinks industry.

Born out of a deep love for the Caribbean and a desire to shake up the rum category, this unique brand has gone above and beyond, voyaging across the oceans to bring us a range of quality, craft rums… with a twist.

MacGregor Black talks with Cleo Farman, Managing Director of award-winning drinks company, Diablesse Rum, about ‘savouring over sessioning’, breaking the sailor mold, and what the future holds for this ambitious brand.

MacGregor Black: So, Cleo, to someone who’s never come across Diablesse Rum before, how would you introduce the brand?

Cleo: Gosh, where do I start? First of all, I’m proud to say it’s the first female-owned rum brand in the UK (Yay!). Diablesse was born out of a HUGE appreciation for quality Caribbean rums, where people have distilled rum since the early 17th century and is where I think the best rums come from! The figurehead of the brand, the beautiful woman on the label, is La Diablesse, a mythical female enchantress character from Caribbean folklore. The purpose of the brand is to change people’s outdated perception of rum which still seems to be that it’s mega strong and quite samey flavours, if you know what I mean?

MacGregor Black: And why did you choose La Diablesse to represent the brand?

Cleo: Some of the best master distillers out there are women but unfortunately, you wouldn’t always know that. I wanted to get a bit more female representation in the industry, and I was lucky enough to come across Diablesse. She was a temptress that also stood for female empowerment and she’s of Caribbean descent so represents the heritage of the beautiful rums in the blends (and it would be a travesty to put anyone else on the label in my opinion), But, yeah, I thought her character sat well with the brand and what we stand for, which is that: Diablesse rum is a female forward inclusive rum brand, is flavour lead and is here to show people that there’s more to rum than they might think.

MacGregor Black: With so many spirits out there to work with, why did you choose to launch a rum brand?

Cleo: Basically, I used to be a gin drinker but, to be honest, I got a bit bored. And since I used to own four bars in Manchester, that gave me a really good platform to explore distinct categories of spirits and I discovered that I quite liked rum.

So, I went off to the Caribbean and looked at the distilleries there, met with loads of impressive people that knew a lot about rum and I really loved it. Ok, I’m going to be a nerd now, but my Diablesse Golden Rum is a blend of an eight-year-old double distilled rum from Barbados, a four-year-old copper pot still rum from Jamaica and a three-year-old rum that’s made in the only wooden column still in the whole world! It’s been really exciting working with all these lovely flavours and pairing them up to see what fits.

MacGregor Black: So, what exciting things do you have going on now at Diablesse Rum?

Cleo: Oh my gosh. Loads of things! So, right now I’m going through a major fundraise. There’s so much money involved in launching a spirit brand. I’ve put a lot of my own money into the brand because I believe in Diablesse and now that I’ve demonstrated, through a good sales record, that people like it and want to buy it, I’m now looking for investors to join me!

I’ve also got a new Marketing person starting with me soon who is working with me to put together quite an ambitious marketing plan. If we raise the money, we’ll be doing activations across the UK, attending festivals, and just working hard to get the brand message out there, really. Which is nerve-wracking but also super exciting!

Diablesse Rum is also going to be making an appearance at the Manchester Christmas markets this year, which is 41 days solid of talking about rum! I’ve put a team together and we’ll be there to spread the message and speak with anyone who’s interested in knowing more (and to give everyone a taste!)  I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve got a stall at St Anne’s Square, and we’ll be there from the 10th of November, so come and see us!

MacGregor Black: What would you say your most ambitious goal is for the Diablesse Brand?

Cleo: I’d love to open a little distillery under the Diablesse brand, where I could experiment with creating more of my own small batch limited addition rums. I’d like to have a brand home at some point in the near future, where people can learn about the company, visit our in-house bar, and really get a feel for the complete Diablesse experience. And I’d also love to see Diablesse launch into the US and China, but not just yet. 

But, having said all that, I’d say my most ambitious goal for the brand is, like I say, to change people’s opinion about rum entirely. In the UK, a lot of people still associate rum with the Navy and it’s seen as quite a male drink. You know, you’ve got many rums brands such as, Neptune Rum, Captain Morgan, or Sailor Jerry, but I wanted to do something a bit different. Bring a new light in and really shake up people’s perception of rum to see it as something that can be savoured, rather than chucked back with a coke mixer. ’Savour, not session’ is what I’m going for!

After building Diablesse here and abroad, one of my most ambitious personal goals is to launch into different spirits, but not under the Diablesse brand. Diablesse is so personal to rum and the Caribbean, so I don’t think another spirit would sit under that brand. I would probably look to get into white spirits, but not gin. There you go, there’s a clue… yeah, Gin is brilliant, it’s doing really well but not gin ….  I’d like to keep away from that.

MacGregor Black: Having been there and done it, what advice would you offer someone looking to launch their own brand-new rum brand?

Cleo: Well, firstly I’d say do your homework! It takes a lot to get off the ground, there’s so many hoops you have to jump through for instance getting your licenses from HMRC. I even had people check my home to make sure I wasn’t some sort of dodgy rum dealer! For Diablesse, I store a lot of the rum under bond, which basically means I stored my rum in HMRC-operated warehouses and am only required to pay the Alcohol tax once I’ve taken a bottle out of the warehouse, rather than paying it all in one go. That has helped with cashflow immensely, but you have to get special government licenses to be able to do it and it can be quite difficult.

Secondly, I’d say be honest with your forecasting. It costs a lot more money than you’d ever think to get going, I learned that the hard way.

Another thing is, you’ve got to build your distribution. Once you’ve made your rum, how are people actually going to buy it? It’s not often that you can just walk into a bar and say, here, I have a rum, do you want to sell it? You need to work with wholesalers, which can be hard and takes a lot of time. I started out doing markets to push Diablesse out there and that’s how I met my wholesaler. I now have a distributor that sells to wholesalers, so I’ve gone about it that way.

Lastly, build a brand that means something. Don’t just think, ok, I want to make a rum because I want to make lots of money because people see right through that. people want to know who you are, what you’re about, what drives you and what drives the brand. For me, I really like rum and I’ve built the brand around a story that resonates with what I’m trying to achieve.

MacGregor Black: And finally, to round things off, which Diablesse drink would you recommend to newcomers?

Cleo: I’m sorry, but I love them all!

Well, I guess you could say my personal favourite is our Golden Rum with a ginger and lime mixer, but that’s not always to everyone’s taste, is it? So, I’d recommend trying the Clementine Spice Rum, paired with a Fever Tree Spiced Orange Ginger Ale mixer, or at this time of year, hot apple juice! I also really love the Diablesse Coconut & Hibiscus Flower Rum with Franklin’s Pineapple and Almond mixer. All of those are delicious and I drink them at home.

If you would like to speak with our specialist team of Drinks Consultants, or would like to discuss featuring in our next MB Talks, contact us on 0191 691 1949 or email us at hello@macgregorblack.com

Consumer, Drink, Events, Food, Gifting, Industry, Sustainability

Posted on 12 October 2022

Just a few short generations ago our planet’s natural resources seemed cheap, easy to acquire, and plentiful, with the consequences of our actions too often an afterthought. The hard truth is that the responsibility has fallen upon each one of us to make better decisions, as the choices we make in our everyday lives, known or unknown to us, have a cumulative impact on the world we live in. 

Fast forward to present day and with the domino’s beginning to fall, the race to repair, redesign, and replace has begun. 

With the combat against climate change now one of the most important conversations of our generation, a rising number of corporations have pledged to increase their sustainability efforts in the name of ‘going green’. But what does that really involve? How does a business ‘go green’? And why are some of our favourite household brands slow to following suit?

What does ‘Going Green’ really mean? 

To understand what it takes for a business to go green, first we must understand what the term means. In short, when a company decides to ‘go green’ it means they are making a conscious effort to reduce/offset the negative impact their operations have on the environment. 

Why Would a Business ‘Go Green’?

As mentioned in our last article, ‘MB Insights: Vertical Farming – Is the only way up?’, many of the earth’s natural resources are depleting. From the soil we plant in, to the fabrics we weave, it’s reported that there aren’t enough materials to sustain the population’s ever-growing demand for commerce. Therefore, aside from the main incentive of, sustaining the delicate ecosystem that is our planet, businesses are continuing to go green for a number of different reasons. 

One reason for adopting a greener strategy is, for the cynics among us, because it’s expected of them. In 2021, Deloitte conducted a study to explore how consumers are adopting a more sustainable lifestyle and found that an overwhelming 61% of consumers had consciously reduced their usage of single use plastics. The study also revealed that nearly 1 in 3 consumers claimed to have stopped purchasing certain environmentally impactful brands or products entirely. A clear sign that a growing number of customers are judging their favourite brands, based upon their impact on the environment. 

Studies have also shown that such practices aren’t just influencing our shopping habits. A further investigation revealed that 74% of employees interviewed, say their job is more fulfilling when they’re provided with the opportunity to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues. Evidence that developing a sustainability focused corporate social responsibility programme is not only directly influencing customers, but also candidates. So much so, that ‘going green’ is now one of the top five internal practices that encourages an positive corporate culture. 

Going green isn’t just a positive change for the environment, it’s also good for your wallet! Although a number of large upfront costs are difficult to avoid, in the long-term, efficiency saves money. As companies look to reduce their energy consumption, minimise their use of wasted materials, and decrease their carbon footprint, with that eventually comes a reduction in operational costs. Not to mention the potential for a higher sales value, as consumers actively seek out ‘greener’ options. 

But perhaps the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. With many complex moving parts, and a large initial outlay, there comes a reduction in available capital, which in turn brings risk, a dampened ability to react, and a potential need to reduce costs elsewhere. For example, people. Which raises the question. Would you begrudge your favourite company for choosing survival over sustainability?

As mentioned earlier, both consumers and employees are favouring businesses based on their environmental impact. Unfortunately, this leaves us with the opportunity for businesses to appear to be more climate conscious than they really are. Typically, these companies only one goal in mind…fattening their profits. When companies use ‘green’ as a status symbol, this is often referred to in the industry as ‘greenwashing’. A term coined in 1986 by environmentalist, Jay Westerveld. One such example of this is the oil giant, Chevron. With the release of their TV, radio, and print advertising campaign in the 1980’s, the company proudly declared its dedication to executing positive environmental practices. Yet in reality, they were regularly violating the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act bills, while continuing to ‘spill’ tons of oil into wildlife refuges. 

Something brands should be wary of crossing is the thin line between promising eco-friendly practices and actually delivering on them. In a world where consumers increasingly demand accountability, it is all too easy for companies to accidently ‘greenwash’ their brand. Despite having the best initial intentions, situations like these arise as implementing a whole new sustainability strategy may not be a quick or smooth sailing process for some businesses. Ultimately leaving the company overwhelmed, underprepared and under-delivering on their promise. 

Finally, big or small, it’s clear to see that businesses can benefit from being more eco-friendly. For those sitting on the fence, a tip in the right direction might now come in the form of legal and regulatory compliance standards. For example, the UK government has recently committed to achieving a net zero society by 2050. Something that can only be met with the uncompromised support of businesses across the country. 

Is It Easy Being Green?

Is it easy being green? 

If we were to ask Kermit the frog, the answer would be no. 

If we were to ask the businesses out there that are making eco-friendly changes, the answer would probably still be no. 

However, we’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘nothing good comes easy’ and it’s safe to say that although it may be tricky, making greener choices has its benefits. So, what are the choices that businesses have and how do they make them?

One of the first, and arguably most important things a business might look at when starting their sustainability journey, is reducing their carbon emissions output. There are many ways to do this, one of which is a business dialling back on the amount of energy it consumes, or its partners consume. For example, if there’s a piece of equipment, large or small, that can be swapped out for a more sustainable alternative, such as energy saving light bulbs, motion sensitive lighting and smart thermostats, make the change! Or perhaps powering operations with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, or trading petrol fuelled HGV’s for hybrid or fully electric fleet vehicles.

You know that meeting that definitely could have been an email, well… put it in an email! And if that can’t be done, switching to online meetings, or even offering a working from home option could not only this save businesses money, but also requires less travelling from the team– meaning less harm done to the planet – and… side bonus, no changing out of your PJ’s! As more and more people lean towards a remote/hybrid role, with sustainability (and PJ’s) being a huge factor in their decision, working from home is looking like it may be here to stay, with some businesses even claiming an increase in staff productivity as a result. According to a study performed by global job site, Indeed, searches for remote work have increased by more than 500% since February 2020, and job postings mentioning remote work have increased by 180%, now totalling 10% of all job posts on the site. Of course, this has been heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, which could also be another key driver in the demand for increased climate consciousness, with many people believing the lockdown gave the planet ‘a break’ from human interaction.

In order to meet the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of the future, not only do we need to improve sustainability in the workplace, but we also need to review and improve on the products being produced, including how they’re packaged. Many organisations are already making huge strides towards combating this issue, such as the global home, gift, and party accessories specialists, Talking Tables. Founded in London in 1999 by Clare Harris, with the ethos of bringing people together around the table, Talking Tables is a clear example of a company that truly takes responsibility for the impact their operations have on the planet. With sustainability at the heart of their brand, supporting the planet through their business success was a natural step for Talking Tables, who are keen to lead by example.

One of the first things the company wanted to improve on was their packaging. In particular, reducing the ‘P’ word, plastic. With packaging becoming a prime focal point for those that wish to be more conscious of their personal environmental impact, a great start to becoming more sustainable is swapping out plastic packaging for natural, biodegradable, or recycled alternatives. And so that’s exactly what Talking Tables did. After thorough research, the brand now packages most of their paper tableware products, such as paper plates and napkins, in card-based packaging. Producing an effective, attractive, and recyclable alternative. Along-side cardboard, another alternative is compostable packaging, which can be made entirely of bio-based polymers and non-toxic wheat or corn materials. However, Talking Tables avoided the use of bio-based polymers, such as PLA, due to fact that there’s a limited amount of bio plastic recycling facilities in the UK and an increased risk of potential contamination to plastic recycling streams.

Once their packaging got the ‘green’ light, Talking Tables were able to look at the overall design of their product and how they can make their range eco-friendlier. For those of us with a house party or two under our belts, or for the American Pie fans out there, the famous red party cup is legendary. But what most consumers don’t realise is that the well-known cups, aren’t quite as much fun for the planet. In-fact, most party cups contain an inner plastic lining that means they can’t be recycled and could even take a whopping 1,000 years to decompose. An issue that Talking Tables had to address. Thankfully, not only have they successfully created the world’s first recyclable party cup but have also taken further steps towards a ‘plastic-free’ status across 95% of their product roll out, as well has having launched a range of home compostable napkins. 

In the case of Talking Table’s, a key factor to their success has been partnering with the right suppliers. A practice that a number of multinational corporations have adopted, pledging to only work with suppliers that adhere to social and environmental standards, who in turn must expect the same from their suppliers. Therefore, creating a cascade of sustainable practices that flow smoothly throughout the supply chain. Ironically, one of the most prominent difficulties issues suppliers currently face, is automation. The more a supply chain is designed for mass production, the more likely it is that it’s automated, therefore the more difficult it is to make small changes to that cycle. As a result, some companies turn to overseas suppliers that use less automated equipment, although this still leaves them with the issue of transporting the goods across larger areas, which ultimately tips the scales back toward increasing their carbon emissions output. Therefore, cultivating loyal relationships with local suppliers becomes hugely important when it comes to relying on them for support when making changes. 

Talking Tables’ Director of Supply Chain, Daniel Fagan, comments on the need to build long-lasting relationships with reliable suppliers and how this affected their environmental goals: 

“When looking at the sustainability of our products and packaging, we found that one of the most important things to us was collaborating with the right suppliers. Over the years we’ve built long-lasting relationships with our partners, some of which we’ve worked with for over 10 years, and when the time came to looking at our collective environmental impact, everyone was all too happy to help. I think these trusting relationships and the loyalty we’ve built with them have played a huge part in the support we’ve had during our sustainability mission.”. 

To work out exactly how they were impacting the environment, Talking Tables sent out detailed surveys to their suppliers, asking about their waste management, their use of hazardous materials and chemicals (if any), and any other impacts they may be having on the planet. 

“From there, we worked hand-in-hand with our partners to make improvements and set action plans for our operations moving forward. Every two years, we hold a suppliers’ conference, as well as regular workshop sessions to keep everyone on the same page. As sustainability isn’t always at the forefront of supplier’s minds and they can often face issues like rising material costs, transport issues and high shipping costs, it’s up to businesses like us to drive the mission by supporting them through the process and keep them wanting to support us on our journey.” Said Daniel. 

We asked Daniel, if he was to offer a piece of advice to businesses going green, what would it be? 

“As well as being really passionate about my role, a key thing for Talking Tables is that a lot of the energy and drive around sustainability has come from the founders, Clare, and Mark. They are truly invested in wanting to make a change and for any company wanting to go green, you have to have the buy in from the top.”

“For us, what worked really well was breaking down everything we planned to do. Each year we’ve set specific pillars of strategy, with sustainability being one of them, and within that we built out all the key areas we want to go for that year. Whether that be a target on reducing the percentage of plastic we have in our products, or on boarding new or recycled materials. I think breaking it down annually, then breaking that down again to around 90 days helped us put it all in a digestible format and made it easier to communicate to the wider team.”

After chatting with Talking Tables, we can all rest easy knowing that there are businesses out there with a true passion and commitment to combating climate change. So much so, that Talking Tables are even on track to becoming officially B Corp Certified. A designation that signifies they are ‘leaders in the global movement for an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy’. A clear statement that the brand continues to invest in social and environmental practices, even offering all team members two volunteer days, a wellness budget and funding towards any training they wish to complete.  

As you’ve probably worked out, there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to a business going green. The whole process depends on whether the sustainability changes being made are affordable, accessible, manageable, and dependable. All of which can be difficult to achieve for certain types of businesses but is vital to the longevity of our existence. At some point in the cycle, the responsibility also falls upon consumers to take accountability and make greener choices. 

However, with companies like Talking tables pioneering advancements in sustainability, there’s certainly hope for a greener future. 

The rest they say… is up to us. 

If you would like to speak with our team of dedicated Gifting & Accessories specialists, contact us on 0191 691 1949 or email us at hello@macgregorblack.com

Advertising, Consumer, Drink, Events, Food, Hospitality, Industry, Insight, Sustainability, Technology

Posted on 27 May 2022

Once dubbed, ‘the juice of the gods’ and given its own official deity, wine has been a well-enjoyed beverage for thousands of years. From the range of alcoholic drinks in circulation today, arguably none have impacted society in quite the same way. The history books show that this much-cherished drink has bridged the gap between ancient cultures, opened up channels for philosophical ideas to spread across Europe and even played a key role in the evolution of worship.

And so… in celebration of Wine Day 2022, MacGregor Black explores the rich history of wine. From how it’s produced, to the popular variations we know today, and how they could be changing for modern wine-lovers all over the world.

Where Does Wine Come From?

Unfortunately, no one can be 100% certain about the exact origins of wine. As with any new innovation, as it journeyed across cities, countries and continents, the birthplace slowly became more story than substance. Fast forward to today and there equally as many new theories as old as to where this beloved beverage began its journey.

If we were to turn to Greek mythology, it’s said that Dionysus, the son of Zeus and ‘God of Wine’, invented wine whilst living among ancient mythological creatures called Nymphs. As much as we’d like to close the age-old case of ‘who did it first’, it’s likely that grape culture, or viticulture, outdates Greek civilisation itself.

If we turn to archaeology, recent discoveries suggest that the earliest known ancient wine production evidence dates between 6,000 BC and 4,000 BC during the Neolithic era, with winery sites, grape residue or clay jars being discovered in Georgia, Iran, and Egypt. However, some researchers argue that the earliest evidence of a non-grape-based drink, often compared to wine, was found in ancient China as far back as 7000 BC and was made from fermented rice, honey, and fruit.

Many people believe that wine is central to civilisation as we know it in the west. We use it as a medicine, a means of celebration, a social lubricant, a religious symbol, and last but certainly not least, to unwind after a long day at work. Whilst we can’t say exactly where it originated, we do know that we have sea-fairing civilisations such as the ancient Phoenicians to thank for spreading wine throughout much of the Mediterranean, along with olive oil, the alphabet and glass! The Phoenicians shared their understanding of viticulture and winemaking to several world-renowned wine-producing nations such as, Spain, France, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Italy, and Portugal to name a few. Not only that, but the Phoenicians also had a direct influence on the expanding winemaking cultures of the ancient Greeks and Romans, which would later spread their understanding of viticulture across the rest of Europe.

Although we can’t say with certainty where wine began, one thing we can be certain of is that we all owe our well-deserved appreciation for wine to one single plant. The grape vine.

As there are many different variations of wine, you’ve probably guessed that there are also many different variations of grape. In fact, there are over 10,000 different species in existence today, with the majority of the world’s wine stemming from just one. Vitis Vinifera Sylvestris. Over the course of its ancient existence, and as early humans spread the desire for high-quality wine to varied climates across the globe, the Vitis Vinifera Sylvestris grape vine mutated and evolved to adapt to small variations in its new home. All culminating in the rich variety of grapes we know today, and hence why we’re lucky to have so many different delicious wines! Unfortunately, in more recent years, such high demand for particular wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, has led to a decrease in the world’s natural grape diversity. As many regions join the race to produce in line with demand, many vineyards have begun digging out their niche, native vines in favour of more mainstream varieties.

How Was Ancient Wine Made?

Whether it be a thousand years ago or this very evening to celebrate US National Wine Day, the process of turning grapes into wine is as impressive as ever. With modern-day technology playing its part in providing us with a smoother and safer drinking experience.

For ancient cultures to produce wine, workers would spend long, exhausting hours harvesting ripened grapes. Followed by pouring them into a large open top vat, with some opting to leave the grapes to dry in the sun beforehand in order to concentrate their flavour. Then comes the part many of us have seen and heard about. They would use their bare feet to repeatedly crush the grapes, producing enough pressure to both release tannins throughout the wine and break the skin encasing the grape. Yet, just enough pressure to preserve the seed inside, as breaking this would leave the wine tasting bitter.

After hitting their step count for the day, the liquid was then left to settle for a period of time while native yeasts converted the sugars in the grapes into alcohol, leading to the fermentation process, with some cultures then adding a variety of spices to sweeten the taste. Over the ages, many civilisations have fine-tuned their methods. The ancient Greeks invented a winepress to crush the grapes, followed by the Romans later using barrels and other techniques that helped them produce greater volumes at a quicker pace and lower cost.

With a limited drinks on the menu at the time, often including fruit juice, goats’ milk, or stagnant water, it should come as no surprise that some ancient cultures even chose to sweeten their foul-tasting water with wine. In fact, wine provided not only flavour but a safer and more sanitary drinking option for many. Although even our ancestors had to learn to pace themselves, with excess consumption leading to… well you know the rest. And so, it was common to also add water to wine thus avoiding over intoxication. So much so, that in some cultures drinking undiluted wine was considered scandalous and some Jewish Rabbis would even refuse to bless ceremonial wine if it hadn’t been first mixed with water.

Wine & Religion

Throughout time, wine has played an integral role in the course of human history as we know it, with religion being no exception. Where some religions, such as Islam, forbid the drinking of alcohol, others like Christianity and Judaism have been known to use wine as a ceremonial symbol. In fact, the Christian church may well be the ones to thank for improving the tase of ancient wine, as it’s recorded that around the sixth century, priests, monks and nuns cultivated vineyards in areas that weren’t as familiar with every-day wine drinking, which largely increased production and ultimately improved wine knowledge.  

From the Old World to the New

Following its unrivalled popularity, grape culture and winemaking was quickly transported from the Old World to the New and unsurprisingly many different cultures have since attempted to perfect the process.

Fast forward to today and you’ll be pleased to learn that the wine we drink now differs largely from the wine shared amongst our ancestors. For example, in comparison to today, ancient wines certainly packed a little extra punch. Converting them into today’s metrics, they were likely as high as 15% or even 20% ABV. Hence the rather wise desire to water them down. However, the most notable difference between ancient and modern-day wines are the preservation efforts. The modern bottles we use today help in protecting and preserving the quality of wine for many years to come, whereas many ancient wines we’re quickly spoiled by regular exposure to Oxygen. Thus, forcing Vintners to preserve them with resin, which unfortunately often compromised the wine inside, making it thick and sticky.  

Now they say not to judge a book by its cover, but in the case of wine, there’s a lot to be said for the bottle labels…

When ancient Egyptians dominated the wine trade, even sending King Tutankhamen to the afterlife with over 26 bottles of the stuff! an issue began to arise around how to determine a bottle of wine’s origin. And so, the wine label was born. Appearing to date back as far as 1550 BC, or maybe even further, seals and etchings were placed on bottles as a way to simplify trade, but also to signify the date, type, and quality of wine.

By the 18th century, the wine trade was booming, and etched labels had become a thing of the past, replaced with bottle labels that were printed on parchment and tied to bottlenecks with string, much like the hanging tags we sometimes still see today. Fast forward to 1798 and thanks to the invention of the lithograph, bottle labels could now be printed in mass. This in turn brought with it new innovations in in design bringing bright colours and an emphasis on artistic design to the forefront. Today, this same practice has reached far and wide from the simple wine bottle, now extending to print media as we know it.


In the 20th century, far from the days of clay jars and oak barrels, an Australian winemaker called Thomas Angove filed a patent in 1965 for what would later be known as bag-in-box-wine. The design was actually based off a very similar product already on the market, which was a bag in a box used by mechanics to transfer battery acid. With Angove’s new design, consumers were required to cut the corner of the bag, pour out the wine and seal it with a special peg. In 2010, the Scandinavian state institutions, Systembolaget and Vinmonopolet analysed the environmental impact of various wines, finding that bag-in-box packaging generated up to 90% less carbon than bottled wine. Not to mention the fact that, since the wine is removed from the flexible bag without adding much air to fill the remining space, it greatly reduces oxidation, ultimately keeping your wine fresh for longer!

It’s clear to see why the method is very much being carried on today by companies like Laylo, manufacturers of Premium boxed Wines.

Co-Founder of Laylo, Laura Riches, commented:

“The reason we chose to box our wine, rather than bottle it, comes down to three factors. One, the wine stays fresher for longer, and as I’m a personal fan of the odd glass of wine whilst cooking, it meant that I could open a box and keep it for up to 6 weeks after. Secondly, sustainability. As you’ve mentioned, boxed wine generates up to 90% less carbon and our product can actually be 100% recycled through our ‘return by post’ scheme. Lastly, here at Laylo we love telling stories and people love to know more about the history of the wine they’re drinking, and since there’s 6 faces on the box, that gives us plenty of freedom to do that.”

We asked Laura, how is it that boxed wine generates less carbon than bottled wine?

“When making wine bottles, there’s actually a huge amount of energy that goes into that process, not to mention the amount of energy it takes to transport wine bottles. If you were to weigh a bottle of wine, the bottle itself actually accounts for a large portion of that quantity and their awkward shape often means they’re packed using lots of plastic to keep them safe during transport. At Laylo, we actually ship our product to the UK in large containers, then package it from there to reduce the amount of transport required, ultimately reducing emissions.”

Whether you’re a history buff, a wine connoisseur, or just brushing up ahead of your next vineyard visit, knowing how various cultures have produced and used wine since it began will without doubt enhance your appreciation for the brilliant beverage. From the first flowering grape vine to the beautiful boxes by Laylo, wine is far more than just fermented grapes, it’s a journey through history that you can savour with every sip.

If you would like to speak with our specialist team of Drinks experts, call us on 0191 691 1949 or email us at hello@www.macgregorblack.com