Marcel Thompson is an acclaimed distiller, renowned for his award-winning absinthe and gin. He creates unique, sustainable spirits and has won multiple awards, including gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, International Wine and Spirits Competition, and International Spirits Challenge. His spirits have been featured in the New York Times. Marcel is passionate about craftsmanship and sustainability, and proud to be part of the craft spirits movement.
Ultimately, which type of martini to make comes down to personal preference. Quality is important, but ultimately it is up to the originator of the cocktail to decide which type of vodka or gin is preferable for the desired outcome. Transcript: "This is always an absolute classic question. Do you make a martini with vodka or do you make a martini with gin? And ultimately, there are two ways to find your way through that question, which can be a chocolate block full of minefields, right? Often, quality is one aspect around cocktail production. So you can have a high-quality vodka-based martini and a high-quality gin-based martini. But here's the distinction. You can have a high-quality either one of those, but you will always have your own preference. So there is a distinction that needs to be made between what is high-quality, what is tasty, and what is your preference. So I have no firm view about what a martini ought to be made of. That's really something for the originators of that fantastic cocktail need to work their way through, I think. But I think in this day and age, it comes down to preference, even if either one is made to the highest quality possible."
Single malt whiskey is legally defined by its criteria of using multiple barley and being distilled in a single distillery with pot stills. It must also be stored in barrels of no larger than 7,700 L for it to be classified as a single malt whiskey. Transcript: "The significance of the term single malt whiskey is actually designated specifically if we look at the situation in Scotland in legislation. So the whole key with being a single malt whiskey is that it's legally defined, there's a certain set of criteria associated with it, but the major thing is that it uses malt barley and it's distilled at a single distillery in pot stills. So those are the major criteria. There's other criteria as well, so for example, you can bring a malt and barley in from different places, you can't use exogenous enzymes, it's got to be distilled to 94.8% or no more than that, it's got to be stored in barrels of no larger than 700 litres, but the actual distinction of single malt whiskey is legislatively important and it's determined by the use of a single site and the use of pot stills."
Flavor and volume are two separate things. There is a trend towards smaller batch products being more flavorsome, but when they become popular, they will still maintain their flavor while reaching scale. Transcript: "It's an interesting question insofar as the whole notion of flavour and volume. And from my viewpoint, they are two completely separate things. There is a trend towards smaller batch, which just happens to be more flavoursome, if you like. But ultimately, what will happen is that when these smaller brands do become more popular, through really good branding and marketing and building up your own tribe and getting their characteristics known out in the marketplace, ultimately these products then become at scale. So what that means is that you can have what started off as a flavoursome, small batch type product, and then when it reaches scale, it still needs to be flavoursome. And it still needs to be pretty much the way it was before it went to scale. So what that actually means is that at the moment there is a trend towards more flavoursome, if you like, more flavoursome gins, which suppress juniper to a certain extent, which just happen to be small batch. Ultimately, with the popularity of these batches improves and increases, they will also become large scale."
The biggest challenge of producing Spirits is getting the compliance, licensing, sizing and product briefs right, as well as having a great quality control group and test equipment. Treating the business as an Enterprise is the best way to ensure success. Transcript: "Some of the biggest challenges with producing spirits actually lies in the word itself, producing spirits. Quite often people that venture into a distilling business have a real focus on being able to produce things. And that's great. It's absolutely fantastic. But ultimately, you only make money by selling spirits rather than producing them. And what it also means though, is that to produce good spirits, you need to have great quality control, great process control, fantastic equipment, great ingredients, water, lots of love, all those other elements that go in there as well. And probably the biggest challenge of all is around safety and compliance. And it's really important. All of those measures exist for the good of the industry and the good of your own health and safety and for those around you. And so that's probably the biggest challenge is get your compliance right, get your licensing right, get your sizing right, get your product brief right, and really treat the entire enterprise as a business and get the right team to help you out because that's the best way to success."
The selection of grind can have a major influence on the final product profile and taste. Grain provides sugary liquid as the starting point, but fermentation and distillation help to hone down flavors. The skill of the distiller also plays an important role in selecting the right shots, hearts and tails. Transcript: "The selection of grain can have a major influence on what the final product profile or the taste of that product will be. Now it's not so much to do with the grain, but the processing that takes place when you create a sugary liquid from that grain. So the grain that produces sugary liquids for barley and rye, which and other materials, even things like potatoes or bison grass or whey or anything like that, produces a sugary liquid that's one part. And then it's the use of a particular yeast under certain conditions that generally delivers the flavors that would be attributed to the grain. So the grain is a source of sugary liquid. It's the fermentation process and the selection of yeast that then determines what those flavors will be. And then the distillation process through two steps in that case actually helps to hone down which flavors that become predominant. That's the skill of the distiller, determining four shots, hearts and tails."
My background in distilling had a lot of influence from the United Kingdom and traditional gin. I created a unique gin that used 3 different processes to pack in flavor while not being overly strong. The production and treatment of the key botanical, juniper, was also unique. It won a gold medal. Transcript: "It's fair to say that given the background that I've had in gin distilling, most of the influences I've had actually come from the United Kingdom and the whole notion of traditional gin. So the most unique gin I've actually produced looked at producing, looked at treating gin in three different ways. And what that meant was that we could pack a lot of flavour into a gin, deliver a really fantastic flavour outcome without it being overly strong. So not a particularly high proof or an alcoholic strength as such. Now to say it was unique is probably, yeah, that's a fairly reasonable assessment because the approach that I actually took was not common. It's one thing. It did actually leverage on a number of different techniques I've learned over the years. And plus I split it into two halves. So the actual production of it was unique in that sense. And the treatment of the key botanical juniper was unique in that sense as well. And a minimal number of botanicals gave it a really good balance, tremendous mouthfeel, and it won a gold medal."