In My Opinion: Neil Braidwood: It’s the illustration that especially makes Hot Rum Cow such a joy

THIS is the perfect time of year to be enjoying a little Hot Rum Cow.

I could, of course, be talking about sipping the rum and milk-based warming cocktail with that moniker – but as this is a column about magazines, I am of course referring to the independent drinks publication produced by Edinburgh-based White Light Media.

As publisher, Fraser Allen, says: “We chose to launch a drinks magazine because there seemed to be an obvious gap in the market. There are loads of great food magazines but there are very few about drinks and those that do exist tend to be aimed at the connoisseur market. We felt there was a demand for a magazine among readers who are interested and curious about drinks, and the stories and people behind them.”

Hot Rum Cow first appeared in August last year, and confirms the fact that these days niche, independent magazines are going through a bit of a golden age. Especially, it seems, magazines about food and drink. Witness Fire & Knives, Put A Egg On It, Eat Me, Doghouse and Gin & It.

Maybe that’s because we are in a recession. We still have to eat and we may well turn to drink.

Hot Rum Cow is a magazine about booze. Something that is as ‘old as the hills’ and touches nearly everyone in the world in one way or another. One thing is for certain: they will never run out of things to write about.

Issue two is themed around cider – not the cheap ‘n’ nasty, but the lovely, artisan-crafted stuff, like Thistly Cross, produced right here in Scotland.

There is an article on the history of cider (and perry), and guest chef, Romy Gill, reveals that cider doesn’t just go with pork, but tastes brilliant when cooked with salmon too.

There are some amazing vintage Babycham drinkmats on show (did you know it was a perry?), while another article focuses on our American cousins and their fascination with Applejack – a kind of Calvados – that all but disappeared after the Prohibition era.

So far, so good. The content does not disappoint, and is intriguing even if you aren’t that interested in booze.

But what makes Hot Rum Cow extra special is the beautiful design and quality of photography and illustration. Especially the illustration. It is so rare to see any illustration in newspapers and magazines these days – most opt for dull, royalty-free stock images.

The cover is illustrated, which in itself sets the magazine apart from many other titles out there.

A technical diagram by Mark McCormick encourages the reader to build their own cider press, and the regular, ‘Interesting drinks worth trying’ section also has a glorious watercolour by staffer, Jenny Proudfoot.

Most magazines achieve a sense of pace through advertising – the reader speeds up and slows down according to how the advertising pages break up the content. As a fledgling title, there are less adverts, which makes the editorial pages work that bit harder.

Eric Campbell, creative director at White Light Media, plays with editorial headlines, breaking rules by using different fonts and at times incorporating the headline into an illustration. This simple but effective technique creates a pace of its own, slowing the reader down to take in the variation in design.

And the magazine is printed on uncoated paper stock, which gives it a deliciously inky aroma, and it extends to 100 pages.

There’s an iPad version too, which looks great, but is essentially identical to the printed version. I scrolled through it, and the pictures do look great on the tablet, and the navigation is easy too.

But I still prefer a good flick through a printed magazine; for a start, you can’t smell those inky pages on an iPad.

Neil Braidwood is head of CMYK magazine design and publishing company. He is also vice-chair of PPA Scotland.