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Master of Malt Blog

Five minutes with… Bhagath Reddy from Comte de Grasse gin

From Bangalore and Kuala Lumpur to founding a French distillery that makes a perfume-inspired gin, Comte de Grasse CEO Bhagath Reddy has had quite the journey. He tells us his…

From Bangalore and Kuala Lumpur to founding a French distillery that makes a perfume-inspired gin, Comte de Grasse CEO Bhagath Reddy has had quite the journey. He tells us his story here and discusses age-old perfume extraction techniques, the potential for ultra-premium gin and plans to create rum and whisky in the future.

Comte de Grasse is not your typical gin distillery. It’s housed in a 19th-century perfume distillery in Grasse, France. It employs techniques such as ultrasonic maceration, vacuum distillation and CO2 extraction. It has even established a partnership with the University of Nice, enabling access to research facilities and technical understanding. A visitor centre in 2021 is planned, and rum and whisky could well be on the way (more on
that later). For now, spirits fans can enjoy its signature Comte de Grasse 44°N Gin, which it described as “the world’s first luxury, sustainable gin”.

To discuss all of this and more, we managed to get some face-to-face time with Bhagath Reddy, CEO and founder of Comte De Grasse.

Comte De Grasse

Say hello to Bhagath Reddy!

Master of Malt: Hi Bhagath! Tell us how you came to found your own distillery.

Bhagath Reddy: My background is fashion retail. I previously worked in Malaysia with luxury brands like Gomez, Rolex, Chanel etc., but I always wanted to start a distillery. It was a passion project. I always say that my family is governed by a spirit-line and not a bloodline! My dad loves his whisky, and this made me want to make the best whisky for my dad. This was around the time that Amrut was launched and I thought maybe I could make a whisky from my country, India, too. But setting up a distillery in India is a very complicated business. It’s not a very conducive environment. Most states are still conservative, where drinking is still a social taboo. I had to rethink. The essence of my idea was to make really high quality, super-premium, luxury drinks. So, why not go to the home of luxury? Which is Europe. I wanted to stay away from Scotland and the UK because the market was saturated.

MoM: So how did you make your way to Grasse in France?

It was through my research that I found Grasse and the connection with perfume. I realised that perfumers used to use copper stills, which are very similar to copper alembics but smaller in size. I thought there’s an idea there; to pick up some old perfume stills, recondition them, and make whisky out of them. That’s what I came to research the first time I came to France in March 2016. We found a contact for the University of Nice and met up with them, and that’s when things changed completely. I spoke with the head of the lab and he explained that in the past 25 years spirits and perfumes have taken a very different direction. In spirits, the investment has been in automation but the marketing and the storyline have been based in tradition. Whereas in perfume, they had to invest in technology because the raw materials are more delicate and becoming more expensive. They needed to invest in advanced sciences to be able to extract and distil better, using less energy in more efficient ways. That’s where vacuum distillation, molecular distillation, CO² extraction and all of these processes came up. I said ‘wait, hold on, why hasn’t somebody else made this connection?’. That’s when I realised that Comte de Grasse needs to be a distillery, it can’t be about just one spirit, it needs to be an innovation hub. So, we started building the company on our key fundamentals: innovation, sustainability, curiosity and art.

MoM: Tell us about Grasse itself and its history.

BR: The perfume history in Grasse is about 200 years old. Before that, Grasse was known for its tanning and its leather industry. The perfume came about completely accidentally; one of the tanners decided to perfume their gloves, because gloves then had an unpleasant smell, and gave them to Catherine the Great. She loved this so much the tanners started working with perfumers and slowly the perfume industry grew, and the tanning industry eventually died out in Grasse. It’s also very unique because it’s got a microclimate of its own. It’s located in the hills, just off the coast, and there’s plenty of good rainfall. Therefore, the soil in the area is very, very fertile and is great for growing exotic botanicals. This also helped to build up and reassert the perfume industry in and around Grasse.

Comte De Grasse

Grasse, France.

MoM: You say you employ ‘age-old perfume extraction techniques melded with cutting-edge distilling technology’, can you explain what this means?

BR: The age-old extraction techniques are actually very simple ones. For example, rose hydrolat is one of the first perfumes ever made. It’s just steeping roses in water. At Comte de Grasse, we bring the rose in on two levels. First, we bring in rose petals into the ultrasonic maceration process. We ultrasonically macerate them with pure alcohol and then distil in a vacuum distillation. What we realised is the flavour of rose that we got from this process disappeared in the middle of the palate. It didn’t remain consistent throughout. So, we introduced the rose hydrolat in a final stage, back into the drink, so that the rose hydrolat stays and remains at the back of the palate. That’s a combination of cutting-edge, where we use ultrasonic maceration and vacuum distillation, but also bringing in an age-old technique to create the depth we desired.

MoM: Tell us about the set up at your distillery.

It’s completely modern, with custom-made equipment. Everything was built from scratch. There’s no copper anywhere, no steam, no use of heat. Everything is cold-distilled, like the ultrasonic maceration we use, which is the first step in our three-step process. In ultrasonic maceration, you take GNS (grain neutral spirit), add the botanicals and bombard it with ultrasonic frequency. The ultrasonic frequency creates microbubbles in the GNS through a process called ‘cavitation’ and these bubbles extract the flavour from the botanicals. Traditionally, in a 45-minute maceration, you get the same level of extraction as you would from two weeks of steeping, or traditional maceration, depending on the botanicals. It’s a much faster process, but it’s a much higher quality process. The liquid then gets passed through a vacuum still where it gets distilled at a very low temperature. With vacuum distillation, you reduce the atmospheric pressure to create a vacuum. At low pressure, the boiling point of alcohol decreases, so you are able to boil and extract the flavours at 35-45 degrees. The freshness of the compounds that were extracted through the ultrasonic process is retained and then we get what we call the base for our gin. This base gin is then compounded with rose hydrolat. We also do CO² extractions for certain botanicals, like jasmine, which cannot be treated to any form of heat since it is extremely delicate. CO² extraction is where you pass liquid CO² over powdered jasmine or the flower itself. Liquid CO² is a universal solvent and the minute you expose it to the atmosphere it completely evaporates, leaving only the flavour compounds behind. We bring those flavours in the third stage. So that’s the three-step process for the making of our gin. We call it the Grasse (HyperX) Process.

MoM: I was going to ask you what sets your gin apart, it sounds like that’s it!

BR: Yes, that’s it – The Grasse (HyperX) Process!

Comte De Grasse

The Comte de Grasse Distillery

MoM: Tell us about distiller Marie-Anne Contamin, why was she the right person for the role? What was the process of bringing her into the company?

BR: We found Marie through the University of Nice, she was a professor there. Initially, we worked together on an experimental basis as she is one of the rare people who is experienced in both flavour and fragrance, and has spent a lot of time researching the correlation between the two. We thought that for our core USP, which is translating the perfume science of Grasse into a flavour and spirit, she was the right profile. We worked with both Marie and the other professors at the university to understand all the distillation processes. Marie helped us create a flavour profile, and instructed us how to identify and extract the best aspects of a particular botanical.

MoM: Let’s talk about the botanical selection in the gin and how you distil them.

BR: It took us almost 11 months to develop the recipe. We tried about a hundred different botanicals. The principle was to try and use botanicals from the region; if not from Grasse, then Provence. It wasn’t just about using rare or exotic botanicals, it was about making sure that we identified the ideal flavour profile. The brief we gave Marie was: ‘if light were a flavour and illumination a scent, this is what it should taste like’. This was because of the beauty of the light in Grasse, we wanted to capture that feeling and put that emotion into the liquid. Marie then started working on a pyramid, which any perfumer works on, where you have the base notes, middle notes and top notes. She started building and engineering a flavour profile lived up to that phrase and that’s how the botanical selection began. We slowly narrowed it down to 20, with the focus always on the consumer’s experience, mouthfeel and ensuring the flavour worked through the whole palate from front to back. Every botanical was put through a test, something called a GC-MS analysis. It’s a gas-chromatic graphic analysis that allows you to identify what kind of flavour extraction you are getting. That’s how we were able to zero in on the ideal timings, the ideal temperature and the ideal process for every single botanical. Of the 20 botanicals, 13 are used in the ultrasonic maceration. The other seven are introduced in different stages because they are not suitable for an ultrasonic maceration. There was some pre-existing knowledge because a few of these botanicals are already used in the perfume industry, such as rose water and lemon peels, so that helped speed up the process. But we still had to do every single test ourselves.

MoM: So would it be fair to say you were drawn to making gin because the use botanicals mirrors that of the perfume industry?

BR: Yes, and the fact that gin is the spirit of the moment! In terms of translation and synergies between the processes, gin was the most immediate spirit into which we could apply some direct learnings from the perfume industry. Gin is all about botanicals, all about flavour and all about being able to deliver a smooth palate.

Comte De Grasse

The famous ancient Fragonard perfumery in Grasse, the world perfume capital.

MoM: What was the inspiration for the name?

BR: The latitude on which Grasse is situated. The city of Grasse is situated on 43.663 degrees north, so we adjusted it up to 44 degrees north. Grasse plays a very important role in the company in terms of technology, the terroir and everything it lends to the company – that’s why it is called Comte de Grasse.

MoM: What are your personal tasting notes?

BR: I love the citrusy notes, the verbena, and I love the smoothness that the rose and honey brings too, which rounds everything off. If you put a couple of cubes of ice into the liquid and let the gin rest a bit, you see the taste profile evolving. I sometimes feel that the liquid is a living creature! We don’t chill-filter it, we don’t remove all the nice stuff, we want the liquid to be constantly evolving.

MoM: What about any suggested serves you particularly enjoy with it?

BR: While we were making the gin, we thought a lot about the perfect serve and did a lot of research on what should it be. However, we realised that if it’s a luxury gin it should work with anything. Each consumer should be able to identify their own way of enjoying 44°N. Some people just like sipping it with ice, but we don’t claim that as a perfect serve because we want it to be a process of self-exploration. We want every bottle to be a process of self-exploration where you identify what it works with. Personally, I like having it neat, but it works very well with most premium tonics. We recommend having it with a light tonic simply because in a strong tonic the quinine can be overpowering. It works fantastically in a Dry Martini and in a Negroni.

Comte De Grasse

44°N Gin works in a variety of serves

MoM: Tell us about the inspiration behind the striking bottle design.

BR: The inspiration was the Mediterranean. Much like the inspiration for the liquid, the design of the bottle was purely emotional. We wanted to be able to transport people back to the Mediterranean, that feeling of the south of France, the feeling of light, the blue sea. We worked with two French agencies: Chic and forceMAJEURE, and they collaborated to create the bottle design. If you hold it up against the light it looks like the Mediterranean, the blue sky, shimmering water. The yellow disc on the top of the lid represents the sun shining down on the ocean. For a luxury consumer, you need to be able to provide a more holistic experience that covers all these elements.

MoM: What do you think the potential for premium gin is?

BR: In the past ten years the premium and super-premium category have been growing. But when we looked at the market at the end of 2016, early 2017, we thought that the super-premium and premium categories were very, very crowded. There was still a lot of growth, but there were a lot of brands coming in and there was a lot of saturation. That’s why our goal was always to create a very unique consumer experience. We saw a gap in what we described as the luxury sector, above premium and ultra-premium. That’s how we went about engineering the product, the bottle, the look and everything. It came from identifying potential and trying to engineer the best product that lives up to the expectations of that sector.

MoM: People have been saying for years now that gin is a ‘bubble’ that will eventually burst. What’s your perspective?

BR: It’s definitely a bubble but I think the bubble is still going to grow. It might not burst, it might saturate. There might be a consolidation eventually where some brands which are more sustainable and have stronger legs will remain, but some of the smaller brands and others might disappear. There might be a small adjustment in the market, but I don’t think the bubble will burst and gin consumption will suddenly drop to nothing. It’s all to do with consumer trends. The most popular white spirit is vodka, and vodka’s growth is down due to its association with clubbing and the fact that it’s easy to mix. But increasingly, we’re drinking less and we’re drinking better. We drink for the experience. It’s about that moment in life when you’re sitting with friends enjoying a great drink prepared by a great bartender. Gin falls into that category because it offers options, there’s scope to innovate and create new things and keep that interest going.

Comte De Grasse

The distillery, housed in a 19th-century perfume distillery, could well be a whisky-making site in the future.

MoM: Is there any possibility of you distilling rum or whisky in the future?

BR: Sure. I want Comte de Grasse to be an innovative hub in the spirits industry. The goal is to continuously challenge and innovate. We are working on a rum. Whisky is on the cards because my dad is waiting for it! We’re thinking about some other spirits as well. We have an innovation pipeline that we’re working on, but expect something different from every single spirit. None of the spirits are going to be made in a traditional manner and there will be some element where we challenge the norm with every single spirit. Hopefully in a good way and for the right reasons – not just for the sake of challenging it!

MoM: What does the future hold for the distillery, and what’s your ambition for it?

BR: The ambition is to continue to be innovative, and to continue to enjoy it. All of us enjoy what we are doing right now. That’s what drives most of the work and most of the energy that’s behind the company. The ambition is to build an environment where we are able to sustain this feeling. With most companies, as they grow big, this kind of energy starts dying out. I want to continue to love waking up every morning and going to work. I want to be able to build a work environment where this feeling resonates for everybody in the company. That’s the kind of an environment that fosters innovation, growth and the building of a great and sustainable business. So, I guess the goal is to continue having fun!

Comte De Grasse

Comte de Grasse 44°N Gin

Comte de Grasse 44°N Tasting Note:

Nose: Bright, crisp and piney juniper positions itself at the core the nose. Aromatic spice, sea salt and potpourri follow, with a touch of tart pink grapefruit. A bouquet of floral notes then develop with some warming aromatic spice in support.

Palate: The winter spices (orris root in particular) take hold initially, before more of that woody juniper returns. There are more earthy and floral elements present on the palate, with jasmine, lavender and patchouli standing out. There’s a pleasant salinity that runs through from the nose, as well as a creamy sweetness that adds balance throughout.

Finish: More of that potpourri element lingers among warming citrus, softer juniper and orris root.

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The rise of cask whisky investment

Curious about cask whisky investment? Don’t get your assets in a twist. No matter whether you’re sourcing direct from distillery or exploring your options through a third party, here’s everything…

Curious about cask whisky investment? Don’t get your assets in a twist. No matter whether you’re sourcing direct from distillery or exploring your options through a third party, here’s everything you need to know about buying booze by the barrel…

Owning a maturing cask of whisky might be every dram lover’s dream, but it can also be a sound investment for the future – with none of the insidious money-grabbing associated with bottle flipping. No matter whether you opt for a quarter-cask or a full-blown butt, the contents should appreciate in value over time. That’s in the current climate, this is dependent on those fickle financial markets. 

“The reason people invest in whisky is because you get a personal touch,” explains Elliot Wynn-Higgins, cask custodian at Lindores Abbey Distillery in Scotland. “You don’t tend to get the same welcome from banks or investment advisors. Whisky is a fun investment, it’s not an ISA that sweats cash – it’s a journey in spirits maturation and an ongoing project. You can even taste it.” 

The stills at Lindores Abbey

The stills at Lindores Abbey

Interest rate averages for whisky, he continues, can be higher than gold and vintage sports cars, with an average of around 6% return every year. But dollar signs aside, there are a number of motivations to invest, whether it’s marking an important milestone like a wedding or a newborn, creating your own independent whisky bottling, or fulfilling a lifelong dream to participate in whisky-making history.

After all, maturing whisky evolves in a way that a bottle of whisky just won’t. Each cask is patently unique – even when two identical casks are filled at the same time with the same spirit, they’ll taste different. It’s a limited commodity, observes Simon Aron, co-founder of Cask Trade, “if a particular cask yields 250 bottles, after they’re gone, they’re gone, that’s it. There will never be another cask like it.” 

So with that in mind, what should a would-be investor bear in mind? “Buying at the lowest price you can is obviously the smartest, but make sure that it’s a branded facility,” says Whiskey & Wealth Club co-founder Jay Bradley. “It’s quite easy to buy whisky in Scotland and Ireland from a commercial facility – you can buy it at a decent enough price, and that’s great for blending and whatnot.” 

If if it’s return on investment you’re chasing, he says, stick with known brands. “For example, a five-year-old Macallan cask is worth more than five-year-old cask of no-name whiskey. Making sure it’s a solid distillery with a good master distiller behind it is very important as well – the more they build their brand, the more the cask of whisky will go up in value.”

Lindores Abbery

That’s your actual Latin

And make sure you do your maths, first. “Look at your budget and your targets,” suggests Aron, who says the youngest whisky on Cask Trade’s list is three years old and comes in at £1,500, while the oldest, at the ripe old age of 50, is north of £300,000. “The budget would be personal to that individual and the target would be: do you want to see a return in three years, five years, 10 years? Do you want to buy one cask and sit on it, or would you rather a portfolio of different ages? Do you want a portfolio where you can cash in at different dates?”

Just as there are a few reasons to consider trading your hard-earned cash for amber nectar, there are several means to go about doing so. Before you commit, remember to ask about any extra costs associated with warehouse storage, insurance and bottling, including HMRC duty and VAT. Here, we run through your options…

From a distillery

Plenty of distilleries now offer their own private cask purchase programmes. The benefits are two-fold: buyers have the chance to own a piece of whisky history, while distilleries receive a cash injection – often, in the case of younger producers, precisely when their overheads are steepest and they perhaps. need it the most. 

“As a potential buyers comes to me, I suss out why they want to buy a cask,” says Wynn-Higgins. “From there, I help them select the perfect cask with their budget in mind, and they come along to fill it with me where they can. Casks typically aren’t cheap things to buy, so when we make a sale of a cask it helps us out financially very strongly. It also helps us build great customer rapport from a very early stage.” 

While the small-print surrounding your purchase will vary from producer to producer – “some distilleries won’t allow you to sell to private brokers, whereas some do,” he says – there are a few common rules. “Typically, you can’t take your cask home with you as it needs to mature in a bonded warehouse. Unless you have a rather large shed in your garden.”

whisky casks

Whisky slowly maturing and, with any luck, appreciating in value

From a broker

Cask brokerage company Rare Whisky 101 essentially acts as the middle-man that links serious cask buyers with genuine cask sellers. The team screens potential interested parties to make sure they have sufficient funds to complete the acquisition process and take a 100ml sample from each cask to assess the quality according to a ten-point rating scale – providing reassurance for both the buyer and the seller. After all, maturing whisky has a time limit. For sellers, particularly those new to the world of whisky investment, prospective buyers can be hard to find.

“Many people would assume that as long as their whisky is stored in cask in a bonded warehouse, no harm can come to it,” says RW101 co-founder, David Robertson. “However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is most definitely a finite time in which to sell a cask. We recently saw a 50-year-old cask that had dropped below the legal minimum of 40% alcohol to 28% and was subsequently deemed worthless. I’d encourage any owners, even if they don’t want to sell, to get their casks regauged and sampled. Casks can also leak and become overly-woody so cask owners should ensure that their casks are checked annually.”

From an alternative investment company

Whiskey & Wealth Club (WWC) sources Irish whiskey and Scotch for investors. The distilleries sell casks of their new make spirit – usually bulk in the form of six 200-litre palates – to private investors through WWC, which stores them in a government bonded warehouse, typically for between three and five years. Investors then decide whether to bottle for themselves, sell for a profit through WWC, or allow the contents to continue maturing. 

“We’re bridging the gap financially between a distillery and a whiskey brand that wants to buy mature stock,” explains WWC co-founder and CEO Scott Sciberras. “From the distillery’s point of view, producing whisky is a very expensive business, and you don’t see a return for years down the track. And from a whisky brand’s point of view, they want to buy mature stock to bottle and sell straight away.”

With WWC’s format, everyone’s a winner. “Rather than either one of them tying the money up for maturation period, private investors bridge the gap,” Scott says. “We purchase it by litres of pure alcohol, which gives us volume to sell to our clients without the overheads of running the distillery – so we can sell it for a far cheaper price. If we purchase 20% of a distillery’s fresh new make, it gives them enough working capital to run their stills.”

Macallan cask, probably worth a bit

From a dedicated marketplace 

Put simply, Cask Trade is a marketplace for trading whisky casks. Unlike a broker, it only sells whisky casks it owns, and only whole casks – no fractional sales. “We buy casks from all sorts of different places, so distilleries, warehouses, blenders, independent bottlers, investors; casks are moving around constantly between all of those groups,” Aron explains. “Some of the distilleries will never come up for sale because they don’t sell, full stop. Everything goes into production. But most distilleries are moving stock around Scotland all the time.”

The casks are held in HMRC-bonded warehouses, which are regularly visited by Cask Trade whisky masters. The business offers regular sampling and re-gauging of casks, re-racking, estimates of bottles and strength in cask, the financial modelling of bottling, costings for bottling, labelling and shipping, and will arrange for buyers to receive samples of their whiskies and visit their barrel(s) in person. It also guarantees to buy the cask back from its clients should they decide to sell it.

“If you’re got a bottle in your hand,  it’s sealed with a cork, all the information is on the label, it’s pretty much a done deal,” says Aron. “With a cask, it’s a moving target. It needs to be checked, sampled and looked after by a safe set of hands. Because there’s no label on a cask, you need to give the details – so people can understand how many bottles it would give at 12 years, how many at 15 years, how it’s expected to taste depending on the cask type, examples of bottles that have been sold in the past. It’s much more of a journey, like buying a classic car. You need to know when it was made, how it was made, who looked after it, how it was looked after and whether it still runs well.”

Through an auction website

As of last month, Cask Trade launched an auction website aimed at private buyers and sellers. With casks going under the hammer four times a year, auctionyourcask.com will help private owners sell their casks to independent bottlers and investors from across the globe. 

There’s a stringent application process for sellers, and all casks are regauged ready for auction with a full 700ml drawn, so bidders can try before they buy. Since there’s no commission fee, Cask Trade sellers take the full hammer price home, bar the price of the reguage. Win-win.

“It gives bottlers and other buyers the chance to get a cask that has been sitting with an investor privately somewhere,” explains Aron. “From there, they can either take it on a journey for a few more years or bottle it. It’s like wanting to buy a Tiffany bracelet from an old catalogue in the 1930s. You just won’t be able to buy it unless you find it auction – otherwise it’s going to sit in someone’s jewellery box in their house forever and ever.”

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New Arrival of the Week: Reverend Hubert Winter Gin Liqueur

This week we’re very excited about a gin liqueur created by an Edwardian vicar, and now resurrected by his great grandson and some wine chap off the telly. You might…

This week we’re very excited about a gin liqueur created by an Edwardian vicar, and now resurrected by his great grandson and some wine chap off the telly.

You might recognise Joe Wadsack from such TV programmes as BBC 2’s Food & Drink, Richard and Judy, and now, This Morning on ITV. He’s a one man wine whirlwind, as enthusiastic in person as he is on television. But he’s not just an enthusiast, Wadsack is generally thought to have the best palate in the wine business. At wine shows around the country, he regularly does a turn where people bring him mystery wines to try. Nine times out of ten, he’s able to identify whatever his brought to him with a quick sniff, swill and a flex of that mighty bean. In his career he’s worked blending wines for supermarkets and producers, and now he’s turned that famous palate (best in the business, apparently) to a gin liqueur. As you might expect, it’s rather good. 

Joe Wadsack

It’s only Joe Wadsack!

It’s a collaboration with Thomas Lester, a kindred spirit, who discovered his great grandfather’s recipe. The Reverend Hubert Bell Lester (who lived from 1868 to 1916) created his gin liqueur in 1904 and used to dole it out during the festive season. We can imagine that his church was packed around Christmas. Lester had the brilliant idea of recreating the recipe but needed someone to help perfect it. Enter the best palate in the business!

According to Lester, Wadsack was a demanding taskmaster: “Joe is ecumenical, he made me taste 20 different lemons, 20 different oranges, and sultanas from different regions of Turkey. His level of perfectionism is outstanding. As a result, we have created a completely unique and delicious gin liqueur. I wanted to reincarnate my great grandfather’s recipe because it has become family legend and what an opportunity to spread a message of conviviality.” 

The liqueur is made at a distillery in the Cotswolds but Wadsack told us, “it tastes like it was made in a garden shed. The only tools used were two peelers and a kitchen knife –this is hand-transported, we hand-screwed the press and we hand-filtered every individual bottle. The flavours are of fresh Amalfi lemons and oranges, with the pithiness of the rings offsetting the sweetness of the sultanas – it is sweet but refreshing and not cloying with warm ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon on the finish.” It’s bottled at 27% ABV.

Reverend Hubert Winter Gin Liqueur

We think the good Reverend would approve

So what should one do with this delightful concoction? We think it would have a delightful Hot Toddy in place of whisky or you could try it in a Negroni instead of ordinary gin. Wadsack had some ideas of his own: “it’s perfect apres ski, in a hip flask, and also amazing mixed with prosecco or ruby Port.” Port and gin liqueur? We think the good Reverend would approve.

Reverend Hubert Winter Gin Liqueur is now available from Master of Malt.

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The Nightcap: 8 November

Greetings, one and all! Another week has been and gone, so that means there’s a fresh harvest of stories for The Nightcap! OK, so Halloween is done. Bonfire Night has…

Greetings, one and all! Another week has been and gone, so that means there’s a fresh harvest of stories for The Nightcap!

OK, so Halloween is done. Bonfire Night has passed. Pancake Day was ages ago. I wonder if there are any other events coming up that people are very excited about and won’t stop posting about on the internet and making us slightly panic…? If only we could see past the piles of mince pies and giant sock-shaped boxes of chocolate bars in the shops, we might be able to see if they’re advertising something (as that is where we look to find out what’s happening in the world – the displays in shops).Well, I’m sure we’ll know soon enough. In the meantime, let’s see what’s been going on in the world of boozes this week – it’s The Nightcap!

On the MoM blog this week we excitedly announced the launch of The Three Drinkers Cask Selection No. 1, the first official whisky bottling released by the Amazon Prime TV show released exclusively with, well, us! Elsewhere you’ll have noticed the return of Dram Club and Ian Buxton, who celebrated a true whisky hero in his guest feature this week. Annie then talked with Kirsteen Campbell, the new master whisky maker at The Macallan, and then created a handy little guide to sherry. We also marked Old Fashioned Week by making the classic serve our Cocktail of the Week, while Adam round-up some sublime whiskies that feature intriguing cask-finishes. Oh, and don’t forget to check out video tour of Glenrinnes Distillery!

Now, onto the Nightcap!

The Nightcap

Six Kingdoms, the new 15 Year Old Mortlach expression

Diageo reveals bonus ninth Game of Thrones single malt Scotch

Now, deep down we all knew that when Game of Thrones ended back in May that this wasn’t really going to be the end. The worlds of Westeros will live on through prequels (if they don’t all get cancelled) and, more importantly, through whisky! You guessed it, there’s another Game of Thrones expression out. Diageo announced the ninth and final bottling in the Game of Thrones Single Malt Scotch Whisky Collection, and it’s a 15 Year Old Mortlach dubbed Six Kingdoms. If your memory is a bit hazy, Westeros’ Seven Kingdoms, mentioned many times throughout the show, became six in the finale. Remember the independence of the North and all that? Anyway, the single malt was matured in first-fill sherry casks, with a finish in American oak bourbon casks. Flavour-wise, we can expect those hallmark beasty notes with “vanilla and spice befitting of those with a noble palate”. “Eight fantastic scotches toasted the coming of the final season of the show, and we now look back on the most captivating television show of all time and raise a ninth glass in celebration,” said Jeff Peters, vice president, licensing and retail, at HBO. It comes in a metallic gold presentation tube, decorated with an intricate pen and ink drawing of the three-eyed raven, who we’re sure would be great company to share a dram with. If this all sounds right up your street, then keep an eye (or three) on our New Arrivals page!

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Be sure to have an Old Fashioned yourself!

The UK celebrates five years of Old Fashioned Week

A landmark of the international cocktail year stirred up some action once again as Old Fashioned Week returned to bars around the world. It was the fifth anniversary of the event and in such a short amount of time it’s become quite the success. Last year 1,300 bars participated across 60 countries, an estimated 205,000 Old Fashioned cocktails were sold and the likes of Cambodia, Czech Republic, Netherlands, South Africa, Sudan and Vietnam took part for the first time. But what was on offer to enjoy this year? Aside from the obvious answer, sponsors Woodford Reserve hosted an array of experiences, events and limited edition menus with 285 bars from London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bristol and Cardiff. Working alongside some of its leading bartenders, the American whiskey brand created a map across the UK, featuring the likes of Swift, Murder Inc, Discount Suit Company, Three Sheets and Homeboy. “Woodford Reserve really is the perfect base for all kinds of twists on the Old Fashioned, our most popular serve,” said Mia Johansson, co-owner of Swift, Soho. We’ve taken inspiration from the ‘sweet aromatics’ flavour segment of Distiller’s Select – the backbone of the complex whiskey flavour – to craft a complex, wholesome Old Fashioned with notes directly from the award-winning mashbill. We’re delighted to have partnered with Woodford Reserve for Old Fashioned Week and look forward to welcoming cocktail lovers from across the country.”

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The new-look Blue Label

Timorous Beasties reveals limited edition Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Last night we attended the launch of a new-look Johnnie Walker Blue Label entitled the Rare Side of Scotland. It features a limited-edition bottle and pack designed by the Timorous Beasties, an award-winning Glasgow-based textile design studio. The aspect of the design you’ll notice first is the image of Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights), shining theatrically over the Scottish Highlands, which serves as a backdrop for three of Scotland’s rare large birds: the white-tailed eagle, the curlew and the rapid eider duck (best bird name ever). These aren’t the only ‘beasties’ you’ll find, there’s also the narrow-bordered bee hawk-moth, and Scotland’s smallest butterfly – the Small Blue, as well as floral depictions of machair, saxifrage and mountain havens. “Exploring the rarest spirits from the four corners of Scotland has been a remarkable privilege and a personal passion throughout my four decades at Johnnie Walker,” says Johnnie Walker master blender Dr. Jim Beveridge. “The celebration of rare, exceptional Scotch whiskies – paired with the rare craftsmanship of our team of expert whisky makers – will always be at the very heart of Johnnie Walker Blue Label. We know that our devotion to our craft is mirrored by Timorous Beasties, and this is highlighted by these beautiful bottle designs.” Johnnie Walker Blue Label Rare Side of Scotland will be available from MoM Towers soon.

The Nightcap

Winter rooftop terraces are all the rage this year, darling.

It’s festive rooftop winter terrace season!

You may be thinking that, as we descend into the cooler months, it’s time to stay inside and wrap up warm. You’re mistaken! This year it looks like winter rooftop terraces are all the rage, so we thought we’d give you a sneak-peek roundup of what to expect. Firstly, Fentimans has an exciting new release, Pink Ginger, a lightly spiced botanically-brewed soft drink combining pear juice, orange and herbal extracts. To celebrate, the brand is taking over the ninth floor of London’s Skylight, which will now be home to a life size, edible pink gingerbread house! We’re not joking. The gingerbread house will be decorated with icing, candy canes, and inside you’ll find edible sweet-filled walls. Hansel and Gretel, eat your heart out (literally). It’s available to book in three-hour slots for groups of eight throughout the festive season, with each group receiving a cockle-warming Fentimans hot Pink Ginger cocktail on arrival. You can also just visit Skylight itself and treat yourself to a whole menu of festive Fentimans ginger drinks. Get ready to fill your boots with pink, gingery goodness from Thursday 14 November until January. Secondly, the iconic Madison’s in St Paul’s is teaming up with Belvedere Vodka and being transformed into a winter haven, dubbed The Enchanted Woods, filled with fairy lights, warm cocktails and blankets to boot. We particularly like the sound of ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’, which sees a warming blend of Hennessy VS, Quaglia Chamomile Liquore and Italicus, with lemon and chamomile tea. It’s certainly a panoramic spot to snuggle up at and enjoy the festive views of London, and opened this week on 6 November and is running all the way through to February. So go on, get out there and get into the Christmas spirit(s)!

The Nightcap

At Balthazar London you’ll find a unique bottling of Maker’s Mark

Balthazar London launches whiskey in collaboration with Maker’s Mark

Not many restaurants can boast its own signature whiskey, but Balthazar, the New York-style brasserie in Covent Garden, is one of the few that can, following its partnership with Maker’s Mark Private Select. A first-of-its-kind barrelling programme, Private Select allows brands to purchase a barrel from the Kentucky distillery and create a truly bespoke spirit that encapsulates the restaurant’s distinct character. Two of Balthazar’s team spent a day at the distillery creating eight different blends, eventually settling on a mix of French and American oak finishing staves, as a nod to the inspiration behind the restaurant. Essentially a variation of Maker’s Mark 46, the whiskey was then aged for an additional nine weeks and bottled in bespoke-labelled Balthazar whiskey bottles. Expect notes of sweet butterscotch, honey, cinnamon, coffee, wood oak smoke, tobacco and dark bitter chocolate. “Balthazar was the ideal partner to work with on this new whiskey. The restaurant already boasts such an impressive collection of American whiskies so we were pleased to work with them on a unique blend,” commented Amanda Humphrey, brand ambassador for Maker’s Mark. “Its flavours of vanilla and butterscotch, mixed with bitter chocolate and cured tobacco, make it the perfect drink for both seasoned whiskey drinkers as well as the uninitiated.” Guests can enjoy the whiskey as part of a cocktail or on its own, while the chefs have also created two specially-paired dishes: a Chestnut Tortellini with Smoked Delica pumpkin and vanilla beurre noisette as well as a Gingerbread soufflé and whiskey ice cream for dessert. We can say from personal experience that they’re both delicious, as is the whiskey. You can purchase the bottling from the restaurant itself, or online for £100.

The Nightcap

The Chosen – due to land at MoM Towers soon!

JJ Corry unveils 27 year old The Chosen

In a really rather exciting treat for our taste buds, JJ Corry has teamed up with J. Hill’s Standard Crystal and John Galvin Design for something really rather special: The Chosen. Just 100 hand-cut decanters of the 27 year old Irish single malt single cask have been released. We checked it out at the official launch this week, and can confirm each decanter is both slightly different and as beautiful as they look, evoking the grasses on the beaches on the Wild Atlantic Way, close to the JJ Corry brand home. The ash wood cabinet is pretty swanky, too. “The Chosen is a celebration of excellence in Irish whiskey and contemporary Irish design,” said Louise McGuane, JJ Corry founder. “Irish whiskey has not been celebrated for its quality and rarity, as perhaps other categories have. We have some of the finest mature stock of whiskey in the world and yet I feel the industry undersells itself. I wanted to change that. Our approach to making Irish whiskey celebrates tradition, embraces change and has the modern whiskey drinker front of mind. All of this is reflected in The Chosen.” Each 52% ABV decanter is priced at £6,500 – keep your eyes peeled on our New Arrivals feed, they’re due in soon!

The Nightcap

The sign. The sign has wisdom.

On Tuesday evening, we hot-footed it up to London for one of the liveliest and most affirming bar takeovers of 2019. For one night only, Artesian bar manager Anna Sebastian brought together a dream team/army of talented women bartenders from across the industry for an evening called Celebrate Her. There were too many epic faces behind the bar to possibly name everyone, but with the likes of Pippa Guy, Sophie Bratt, Megs Miller, Cami Vidal and Sebastian herself crafting an array of signature drinks, the packed room was treated to delicious serve after delicious serve. The evening even ended with sparklers. And £1 from every drink spent went to industry wellness platform Healthy Hospo! “Celebrate her every day, celebrate this industry, celebrate each other, celebrate yourself, but above all, build a community and make the industry better,” Sebastian wrote on social after the event. Cheers to that!

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Nightcap favourite Miles Beale

Boris Johnson promises to review alcohol taxation

Boris Johnson has pledged to review Britain’s alcohol taxation system if the Conservative government win the next election. On a visit to Diageo’s Roseisle Maltings near Elgin, he said that he would conduct a “review into excise on Scotch whisky”. This is partly to alleviate the effect of the 25% tariffs that have been imposed by the US administration on Scotch whisky imports. Britain currently has some of the highest taxation on spirits in the world with an average of £3 in every £4 spent going to the state. Karen Betts from the Scotch Whisky Association commented: “A simplified alcohol duty regime in the UK to better reflect alcohol content would be fairer for consumers, increase competitiveness and remain an important driver of tax revenue.” Nightcap favourite Miles Beale, from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, also had something to say: “The current excise duty regime doesn’t work for UK business, consumers or the Exchequer. The EU framework is unnecessarily complex and has created a distorted market and an uneven competitive playing field. Once the UK has left the EU, it would be appropriate to review the operation of excise duty. A thorough review will, however, take time. In the short term, and in order to maintain the UK position at the heart of the world wine and spirit trade, the next Chancellor should take the opportunity to take immediate action and cut excise duty ahead of any review. This would benefit UK consumers, business and increase revenue to the Exchequer.” We can but hope.

The Nightcap

It’s like the Terminator. But with booze.

Coming soon, a gin created by AI

The team at Circumstance Distillery in Bristol are not afraid to do things differently, whether it’s issuing their own cryptocurrency or experimenting with yeast and cereal (triticale anyone?). But this time they’ve really taken the biscuit with a gin created by artificial intelligence. Yes, just like in the Terminator, but with booze. The gin is a collaboration with technology scientists Tiny Giant and Rewrite Digital who have created a neural network that they have christened Ginette which was fed information on botanicals, recipes, labels etc. with some of the data coming from Master of Malt (that’s us!). She even came up with the gin’s name, Monker’s Garkel, from analysing 500 different brands. Oh well, at least it tastes good. Liam Hirt, co-founder of Circumstance Distillery, commented: “AI and machine learning are exciting new tools. We do a lot of contract distilling and wanted to know if these tools could make a meaningful contribution to new product development. At present they are not a substitute for the skill of the distiller, but we have clearly shown that they can make a valuable contribution to all aspects of the development process, from the recipe to the naming and labelling. We trained Ginette well, and with a little human help and guidance, her product is interesting, attractive and, most importantly, delicious.” Kerry Harrison, co-founder of Tiny Giant, added: “The creation of Monker’s Garkel has demonstrated that it’s perfectly possible to align machine predictive power and human creativity to make something delicious, valuable and commercial”. The gin will only be available from Master of Malt or direct from the distillery for £42 for a 50cl bottle.

The Nightcap

Graham’s 1977 was the Queen Mother’s favourite

And finally… Queen Mum’s undrunk Port goes up for auction

The Queen Mum had quite a reputation for being fond of the sauce, so when she visited The Winter Gardens Theatre in Margate in 1983, the team got in plenty of her favourite Port, Graham’s 1977. It seems they rather over-catered because 36 years later, there are still 40 bottles of the stuff left. Apparently it’s been counted in stock takes all this time, but when the last food and beverage manager retired, the new one had the brilliant idea to auction it. It goes under the hammer at Chiswick Auctions in London on 5 December. The three sealed cases of 12 are expected to go for £700-800, with an odd lot of four bottles expected to go for £100-150. Back in 1983, this wine would have been much too young to drink, perhaps why the dear old Queen Mum didn’t get through much of it. But now it should be perfectly mature. Sam Hellyer, head of Chiswick Auctions wine department, described the wines as: “Luscious, smooth, with the last hurrah of thick tannins lining the tongue and laying down a plush carpet for the chewy fig and lingering acidity to mingle on. With them came a hint of smoky and chocolately notes, the smell of cigar boxes and freshly sanded wood.” Cor!

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Five minutes with… Kirsteen Campbell, master whisky maker at The Macallan

Overseeing the production of the industry’s most sought-after Scotch whisky may be a gargantuan undertaking, but with 18 years’ experience under her belt, The Macallan’s master whisky maker Kirsteen Campbell…

Overseeing the production of the industry’s most sought-after Scotch whisky may be a gargantuan undertaking, but with 18 years’ experience under her belt, The Macallan’s master whisky maker Kirsteen Campbell is more than up to the task. Here, we chat about the evolution of the newly-strengthened whisky mastery team… 

Hailing from Thurso in the windswept Highlands, Campbell’s career started in 2001 with a degree in food science and a job in a new make spirits laboratory. Fast forward almost two decades, and she’s only gone and made history as the first female Macallan master whisky maker in the brand’s 200-year history*. Surely a contender for the world’s best job.

Having worked on the likes of Cutty Sark, Naked Grouse, The Famous Grouse and The Glenrothes at parent company Edrington, Campbell has become the newest addition to The Macallan’s six-strong whisky mastery team, made up of: Stuart MacPherson, master of wood; Sarah Burgess, lead whisky maker; Polly Logan, whisky maker; Steven Bremner, whisky maker; and Russell Greig, sample room assistant.

Here, we caught up with Campbell to chat through her new role – and find out a little more about how she enjoys one of the world’s best-loved Scotch whiskies…

Macallan whisky mastery team

Not a cutting electronic group from Zurich, it’s The Macallan whisky mastery team

MoM: Huge congratulations on the new role, Kirsteen! Could you tell us a little bit about when and where your love of Scotch whisky first began? 

Campbell: My career began with a scientific background, I studied food science at Glasgow Caledonian University and, following a bit of travel, started working within a lab at a distillery –  that’s when I first began to appreciate all the complexities in Scotch whisky. I started to do a bit of sensory work as well which fascinated me, so it was really from that point onwards that my love began. From there on I moved into research at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute in Edinburgh, delving more into the science behind flavour and gravitating more and more towards the sensory side of things. Then a role came up at Edrington – it was titled whisky quality technologist which essentially was a trainee blender, so I applied for that. I was successful and joined Edrington in 2007, and that’s where my role really became about blending and flavour. I’ve just had my 12 year anniversary with Edrington. I can’t quite believe it, it’s gone by in a blink.

The Macallan is one of the most revered whisky brands in the world. From a flavour perspective, what do you think makes the whisky so beloved among fans?

It’s definitely about our exceptional oak casks. We’ve a very rigorous cask policy and even have our own master of wood, Stuart McPherson. It’s just such an important factor of Macallan – so much of the flavour of Scotch whisky comes from oak casks, so we pay huge attention to that and place huge emphasis on it. But of course we look at quality throughout every stage of the process from the new make spirit to the casks we’re bringing in. Throughout the maturation period we’re checking on the whisky to make sure it’s developing in the way that we want it to. In the sample room we check the quality of every single cask that goes into every single batch of Macallan, so we’re moving thousands of samples. Attention to detail is really important in terms of the final quality of the whiskies and our sherry casks which deliver that rich, distinguishing flavour of the entire Macallan portfolio.

Kirsteen Campbell

Campbell in front of Macallan’s space age Speyside HQ

Could you talk a little bit about the various roles within the Whisky Mastery Team and how each relates to the liquid in the bottle?

It’s very much a team approach, we’re very collaborative with each other. I’m based in Glasgow so I spend my time between our headquarters, our bottling plant and The Macallan estate. Up there we have a team of four – Sarah Burgess is the lead whisky maker, there’s also Polly Logan, Steven Bremner and Russell Greig. Between us we look specifically at the quality of the liquid while Stuart McPherson looks after the quality of our casks. We’ve got over 100 years in the industry between us – Stuart’s working in the industry for 40 years, Sarah’s 28, I’m 18, Paulie’s 15 so between us we have a breadth of experience. We work very much as a team and bring our individual experiences together to make Macallan the best it possibly can be.

The art and science of whisky making is a huge focus for The Macallan. Which aspect of the whisky-making process do you personally find the most compelling – the arty, creative side or the really technical lab-based stuff?

It’s a very interesting one for me because I am quite split on it. There’s definitely a technical, logical side to the role, you’re working with numbers a lot and liaise closely with the team in Glasgow who are more scientific, so I get involved in some of their research. Then the other side, which I do also equally enjoy, is the arty side of things, and that really comes into play for new product development (NPD) in particular. It’s really fun to get involved in creating something completely new. Some people [in the whisky mastery team] are more creative while others are more technical and that overall balance works really well.

Macallan

Some seriously fancy Macallan

Could you talk about the research and development process at the distillery – for example, does your team work closely with other departments, or as a team are you quite independent in creating new bottlings?

All aspects of our roles require collaboration and NPD is one of those. We work very closely with the marketing and packaging teams on that, it’s not something that you can do in isolation and when a new product comes out there’s a huge range of people who have been involved in that process. Everything has to come together to make a successful product – from our perspective it’s the liquid, but you also need the background story and a great pack. We’re meeting with people throughout the company on a regular basis.

When you’re winding down at home, what’s your go-to Macallan expression?

That’s a tough choice because we have a wonderful portfolio of whiskies. For me, I do enjoy Double Cask, I have to say. I love that balance of the American oak sherry – the lovely sweet, vanilla, citrus notes – balanced perfectly with rich dried fruits and spicy character from the European oak casks. It’s a beautiful marriage of the two different cask types that we use.

*Well, almost – the brand celebrates its bicentenary in 2024.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Old Fashioned

It’s Old Fashioned Week! Time to dust off those plus fours, oil the old penny farthing and start getting excited about the new Sherlock Holmes story that’s being serialised in…

It’s Old Fashioned Week! Time to dust off those plus fours, oil the old penny farthing and start getting excited about the new Sherlock Holmes story that’s being serialised in the Strand magazine. Or you could just make an Old Fashioned cocktail. 

Why is an Old Fashioned called an Old Fashioned? Well, once upon a time, a cocktail wasn’t a general term for a mixed drink, it was a combination of a spirit (usually whiskey), sugar, ice and bitters. But in the 1850s and 60s, new fangled European concoctions like vermouth arrived in America and the term cocktail expanded to include drinks made with vermouth: proto-Manhattans, Brooklyns and Martinis. Hence, if you wanted an old timey cocktail, you asked for an Old Fashioned.

The Cocktail Book (published in 1900) lists cocktails, in the old-fashioned sense of the word, made with Cognac, rum, gin, and Scotch whisky but until quite recently the Old Fashioned was synonymous with American whiskey. Bourbon is the classic choice and this Old Fashioned Week (1-10 November), Woodford Reserve is putting on a series of events where top London bars like Swift, Homeboy, Murder Inc, Discount Suit Co. and Three Sheets are offering their takes on the bourbon Old Fashioned. 

We are, however, rediscovering how good this drink can be made with other spirits like aged Tequila, Jamaican rum or single malt Scotch. This week, therefore, I’m using a Speyside whisky, Glen Moray Classic Port Cask Finish. Something that might annoy the malt purists but the Old Fashioned is such a good drink because it highlights rather than masks the flavour of the base spirit. So much so that Glen Moray has really got behind the whole thing and released a series of Old Fashioned recipes produced by those diffident drinks enthusiasts Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley from World’s Best Spirits. These include a particularly nice one made with marmalade instead of sugar syrup. In fact, playing with the sweetening agent you can have a lot of fun. Other great sugary switcharoos include the syrup from maraschino cherries, honey or Pedro Ximenez sherry.

Glen Moray

The Old Fashioned is so adaptable that you can even put a burning sprig in it

But if you’re sticking with pure sugar, the big question when making your Old Fashioned is whether to use granulated sugar and spend ages stirring, or just use sugar syrup. If I was a professional bartender, I’d go for syrup every time. Time is money after all. But at home, I like the ritual of using sugar, preferably brown, and stirring for a good two minutes. It’s therapeutic. 

Finally the bitters. Angostura is a great all rounder, but fruity and chocolate bitters can be fun, accentuating flavours in the whisky (or whatever you are using). Cherry bitters are a great foil to the Glen Moray Port Cask Finish bringing out the red fruit but the distillery has also come up with its own bitters which are only available to bartenders. 

This spirit of constant experimentation is what makes the Old Fashioned perhaps the most satisfying cocktail to make at home. Choose your spirit, and then play around with different sweeteners and bitters, and you can’t go wrong. Well, you can but mistakes are easily rectified. So, find a nice heavy glass, get out your sturdiest spoon and let’s make a cocktail the old-fashioned way.

50ml Glen Moray Classic Port Cask Finish 
1/2 teaspoon of brown sugar (or more if you like it sweeter)
2 teaspoons hot water
1 dash Fee Brothers Cherry Bitters

In a tumbler add the sugar, bitters and hot water. Stir vigorously until most of the sugar has dissolved. Add half the whisky, keep stirring until there is no graininess left. Now add three or four big cubes of ice and stir. Finally, add the rest of the whisky, stir some more and serve with a maraschino cherry. 

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Wonderful whiskies from curious casks

From Château Léoville Barton to Rhum Agricole, taking in a combination of Tequila and mezcal, these are some of the most strange and sensational cask-finishes used to mature whisky you’ll…

From Château Léoville Barton to Rhum Agricole, taking in a combination of Tequila and mezcal, these are some of the most strange and sensational cask-finishes used to mature whisky you’ll find at MoM Towers.

Cask-finishing has become a popular phenomenon in the whisky industry over the last couple of decades as experimental producers seek to add a touch of something different and delightful to their distillates. But despite there being a glut of great expressions on the market that benefit from secondary maturation already, there’s always room for innovation and this leads some to choose a road that’s less travelled, but very rewarding.

To celebrate those who dare to do it differently, we’ve decided to shine a light on some of the most unusual cask-finished whiskies around. Enjoy the selection!

Glen Moray Rhum Agricole Cask Finish Project

Glen Moray loves a good experiment, to the joy of fans of all things unusual and writers who need ideas for a blog like this. The distillery in Speyside has finished this single malt Scotch whisky in casks that previously held rhum agricole from Martinique for around 24 months, a style that should bring a lot of grassy, fruity sweetness to the dram.

What does it taste like?:

Candied lemon peel, honey, white pepper, toffee apple, dried grass, toasted brown sugar, walnut, cherry and banana.

J.J. Corry The Battalion

From Chapel Gate whiskey bonders comes J.J. Corry The Battalion, a blend of 60% grain and 40% malt whiskey that was initially aged in bourbon casks. Then the grain portion continued its maturation in a combination of Tequila and mezcal casks for seven months, while the malt portion continued maturing in just mezcal casks for seven months. Ever had a whiskey matured in both Tequila and mezcal casks? Of course, you haven’t! This bottling gets extra badass brownie points for being named after the Battalion San Patricos, a group of Irish soldiers who fought for Mexico in the Mexican-American war

What does it taste like?:

Fresh leafy notes, apple skin, tangy pineapple, ripe pear, green grass, vegetal agave, oak spice, sea salt, dried herbs, lemon curd and a slight oily nutty note.

Talisker 2007 (bottled 2017) Amoroso Cask Finish – Distillers Edition

The Distillers Editions from Talisker are always sure to deliver some true delights and this expression is no exception. Finished for a period in casks that previously held amoroso (a blend of oloroso and sweet Pedro Ximénez)  sherry, the profile pairs wonderfully with the distinctive maritime salinity of this single malt.

What does it taste like?:

Toffee, seaweed, a sharp hint of fresh citrus fruit, milky coffee, juicy pineapple, apple and some light vegetal hints of fresh thyme and basil balanced by a kick of sea spray, lingering smoke and dried fruit.

Penderyn Madeira Finish

Not many brands would make its original ‘house style’ such a distinctive profile, but then Penderyn has proved itself to be quite the experimental distillery since it first began distilling back in September 2000. This bottling was aged initially in ex-bourbon barrels before it was finished in ex-Madeira wine casks, an idea that speaks to the influence the late Dr. Jim Swan had on the Welsh whisky makers.

What does it taste like?:

Herbs, vanilla sweetness, resin, sultanas, toast, over-ripe grapes, custard and stem ginger.

Glenfiddich Experimental Series – IPA Cask Finish

You’d expect Glenfiddich’s Experimental Series to have a few single malts with a point of difference and this IPA Cask finish doesn’t disappoint. Created from a collaboration between Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman and IPA expert Seb Jones, the IPA which was in the casks before the whisky was specially brewed for this expression by the Speyside Craft Brewery.

What does it taste like?:

Fresh green apple, William’s pear, spring blossom, aromatic hops, fresh herbs, zesty citrus and creamy vanilla.

Midleton Method and Madness Single Pot Still

Another highly innovative series from an exceptional distillery, Method and Madness Single Pot Still was perhaps the most intriguing release from the first batch of Midleton’s experimental range. You won’t find many single pot still whiskies, matured initially in ex-sherry and bourbon barrels and finished in French chestnut, believe us!

What does it taste like?:

Red liquorice laces, fresh rosemary mint, grated root ginger, sweet fruit, aromatic green tea, cinnamon toast, rich wood and ripe banana.

Jefferson’s Grand Selection Château Pichon Baron Cask Finish

Jefferson’s Grand Selection range demonstrates that the Americans are no strangers to the joys of cask-finishing with a selection of excellent Jefferson bourbons finished in a variety of wine casks. This particular bottling was finished for a period in casks that previously held Bordeaux red wine from Château Pichon Baron, and it’s as downright delicious as it sounds.

What does it taste like?:

Red apples, raspberries, buttered corn, honey, heavy cinnamon heat, fresh floral notes and dense red berry elements supported by waxy peels and earthy oak.

Green Spot Château Léoville Barton

This beauty is certainly a treat. We’re always suckers for all things Spot (Red, Yellow, Green – they’re all great), but this happens to be the first-ever single pot still Irish whiskey finished in Bordeaux casks! The Bordeaux wine takes its name from the Irish wine merchant Thomas “French Tom” Barton and the grand cru Château is still run by his descendants to this day, so this is a real celebration all things awesome and Irish.

What does it taste like?:

Wild raspberry, a little potpourri, crab apple, toffee, lemon peel, warming spice, vanilla, honey and gingerbread.

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Sherry, the ultimate food wine

Sherry has long been the wallflower of the wine list, but it’s time to give the tipple the recognition it deserves. To toast Sherry Week, we’ve assembled a handy little…

Sherry has long been the wallflower of the wine list, but it’s time to give the tipple the recognition it deserves. To toast Sherry Week, we’ve assembled a handy little guide to pairing Southern Spain’s finest with your favourite dish…

“Sherry is a drink for every dish, every culture, every hour – whether you’re drinking it with sushi at dinner time in Japan, with almonds before lunch in Spain, in an evening cocktail in a New York bar, or poured over ice-cream for pudding in England,” writes the Sherry Wines Council. “Whatever you’re eating, there will be a type of sherry to match.”

So why aren’t more of us partial to a glass these days? Well, partly because today’s dishes are so much more creative and their flavours far more complex, reckons Adrian Coppelstone, manager at The Tapas Room in Tooting. “Thirty to 40 years ago, you’d have a classic dish and there would be a wine that goes with that, job done,” he explains. “But tastes have changed and cookery methods are so much more technical now than they used to be.”

Bodegas Estevez

One of these barrels contains The Ark of the Covenant

Rather than adopting an all-or-nothing approach by pairing with, say, a certain meat or a particular fish, Coppelstone has a nifty trick that can be used to pair any wine with your dish du jour: identify the ‘base note’ in your tipple of choice and pair that with the food. “Whenever I go to a restaurant – much to the irritation of the people I’m with – the first thing I do is pick up the wine list and decide what I want to drink,” he explains. “I don’t pick up the menu and decide what I’m going to eat; I do it in reverse. And I’m looking for those base notes.”

The base note of a meal doesn’t necessarily refer to the overarching flavour or ingredient. Despite what supermarket signposting will have you believe, it’s a little more complicated than that. “A white wine that ‘goes well with chicken or fish’ is such a lazy description,” he says. “There’s so much going on in that bottle – it might actually go with one specific type of fish or one specific type of vegetable, so this is the kind of base flavour that I would use to marry it up.” 

Coppelstone uses foie gras as an example. “The base note is the fat, the oiliness,” he explains. “Therefore, rather than go for a classic Sauternes which is what the old boys say should go with it, I look for that note in the wine, so I’d go for something like an aged German Riesling.” Sherry is, he admits, a little trickier to pair than your average bottle of white, because the base note can be masked by the fortifying alcohol, the wood influence of the cask and the age of the liquid, but it’s not all bad news. “The brilliant thing is we now have so many more sherry houses available to us than we did, say, 10 or 15 years ago,” he continues, “so we really can mix and match”. 

Here, we run through three everyday sherry styles and what to drink them with…

Sherry flor

That’s flor, a layer of yeast that protects fino sherry from oxygen

Fino (eg. Tio Pepe Fino En Rama)

A fino tends to be a young wine (average is usually between four and seven years) that develops a layer of yeast on the top known as flor. The flor if looked after can last for up to about 15 years meaning that there are some older finos available. The wine is fortified to 15% ABV, the perfect level for development of the yeast that protects the wine from oxidation and consumes glycerol, alcohol and any residual sugar in the wine. This gives fino a crispness and lightness that belies its high alcohol and low acidity, making it the ideal pairing for sea bass and anchovies, says Coppelstone.

Amontillado (eg. Lustau Los Arcos)

Amontillado is essentially a fino that has been aged further, but without the flor. This can be because the flor dies naturally or when more grape spirit is added. “This is one of the most changeable sherries in terms of style and flavour, depending on who makes it,” says Coppelstone. “When you’re pairing sherry with spicy food, amontillado is the answer.” Pick an Amontillado at the lower end of the acidity spectrum, and opt for curry spice, rather than ‘chili’ hot spice, so the flavour “doesn’t bounce off the wine, but instead blends with the sharp, nutty notes of the sherry”, he says.

Oloroso  (eg. Colosia Oloroso)

Oloroso is a deliberately oxidised sherry, so the wine is much heavier to start with, says Coppelstone. It’s fortified up to around 20% depending on the producer – far too strong for flor to grow. Classically olorosos are fully dry (though you can buy sweetened ones) but because there is nothing feeding on the glycerol (part of what gives a wine body) olosoros tend to taste a little bit sweeter though, with notes of caramel, nuts, leather and wood. Try pairing with hard cheeses “that have a little bit of spice in there”, says Coppelstone, “rather than Camembert or potent cheese like Bourgogne – they’ll bounce off each other in your mouth”.

 

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Ronnie Lee – the man who mends mills

This week Ian Buxton celebrates a true whisky hero, a Welshman without whom Scotland’s distilleries would literally grind to a halt. What about those malt mills, eh? They’re just about…

This week Ian Buxton celebrates a true whisky hero, a Welshman without whom Scotland’s distilleries would literally grind to a halt.

What about those malt mills, eh? They’re just about the first thing you see on any distillery tour but, once you’ve heard the guide’s regulation story about their age and how they outlived the company who made them, you move on.  

It’s a shame. Painted, usually, in that distinctive shade of dark red, sturdy, planted four-square in the mill room, ready to receive another load of malt, these quiet occupants of an unobtrusive corner of the distillery just do their job in a modest and under-stated way.  A malt mill would never shout or draw attention to itself you feel, happy to do an honest day’s work and then await the next consignment to be turned into grist.

But if you take a second, harder look you might see a simple plaque discreetly fixed to the side with the legend RONNIE LEE, MILLWRIGHT and a telephone number.  One day I couldn’t bear it any longer; I was puzzled and intrigued; I had to ask: “Who is this bloke Ronnie Lee?” 

R. Boby

Plate from an old Boby mill

“I have no idea,” was my host’s honest, if unhelpful reply (but then he was a marketing type). I began asking production folks – real whisky people. To a man, they smiled.  “Ronnie Lee,” they said. “You must know Ronnie Lee.” Embarrassingly, I didn’t and the more I learned the worse I felt. So, I set to tracking him down because everyone told me that, though he wasn’t their employee, Ronnie Lee was a vital part of their team. From Diageo to Kilchoman, Chivas Brothers to Rosebank, he keeps the mills running. Without his unique service those antique rollers might seize up and fail, whisky could not be produced – indeed, a great national disaster would befall Scotland.

So I called the number and found myself on an industrial unit alongside a chicken farm in Chepstow – about as far from the glamorous world of luxury seen in whisky’s current imagery as may be imagined. This is where old-school engineer Ronnie and his two sons are based and where the world comes when a mill – possibly more than one hundred years old – needs some TLC. 

These fine pieces of machinery, be they the familiar Porteus design or that of their less well-known rival Boby, were built to last.  Their solid construction and simple, yet well-proven design has stood the test of time and, entirely fortuitously, speak to our present-day concerns about sustainability and the responsible use of resources.

A beautifully-restored Porteus

A beautifully-restored Porteus mill

But how long can they continue to run? The answer may well surprise you. I was certainly taken aback when Ronnie proudly shared with me his latest project: the restoration of a Boby mill, found in an Australian brewery and saved from scrap, that he believes was manufactured around 1855-60.

It may well be the oldest surviving example of a malt mill anywhere in the world and, following 80-100 hours of skilled and experienced cleaning and restoration, it will certainly work again and looks good for another 150 years of service (though, strictly speaking, non-commercial use as it lacks the anti-explosion guard fitted to later models).  Perhaps it will become a display piece, tribute to some far-sighted Victorian engineers as Robert Boby Ltd of Bury St Edmunds.

And how has it happened that Ronnie has found himself in this highly specialised niche? He grew up near his present Chepstow home and, after school, was apprenticed to the motor trade, quickly passing through a dozen or more jobs before embracing self-employment.  Back in 1995 he was contracting to Buhler, a Swiss mill manufacturer, installing their larger systems in flour mills (there aren’t many in distilleries, though you can see a mighty example at Glenfarclas). 

Ronnie Lee with an old Boby mill

The man himself with an old Boby mill

By this time, Boby was being closed down and the old Porteus company was owned by Briggs of Burton (a name you’ll find on mashtuns and other larger pieces of brewery and distillery equipment). But the heyday of the Porteus mill was the 1960s and by 1972/73 manufacturing had ceased. Maintenance and spare parts became more and more of a problem and eventually Briggs were unable to support what was by now, for them, an obsolete product. 

Ronnie was able to acquire the original Boby plans and drawings (he could build you one from scratch) and armed with these and Porteus’ withdrawal from the market, it was natural for him to step into this gap. His affinity with old machinery and his ability to coax new life from their aging cogs and gears has ensured his unique place in whisky. So, in a world which lauds distillery managers as rock stars, spare a thought and raise a glass to Ronnie Lee, the man who mends the mills and a true whisky hero.

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New Arrival of the Week: The Three Drinkers Cask Selection No. 1

Our new arrival this week is hot off the press! Behold, the first official whisky bottling from The Three Drinkers, released in collaboration with your favourite online retailer. Yes, us!…

Our new arrival this week is hot off the press! Behold, the first official whisky bottling from The Three Drinkers, released in collaboration with your favourite online retailer. Yes, us!

In preparation for The Three Drinkers’ new season, due to be released on Amazon Prime TV in December, we joined forces with the trio who have just released their brand new whisky! If you’re unfamiliar with The Three Drinkers, then you should know they’re also known as Aidy Smith, Helena Nicklin and Colin Hampden-White, with the three friends gallivanting around Scotland’s distilleries while teaching us a thing or two about Scotch whisky on camera.

Three Drinkers Whisky

The Three Drinkers, doing their thing with a dram!

The new blended malt has been dubbed The Three Drinkers Scotch Whisky, Cask Selection No. 1, and was created with support from Cask Trade, a new online whisky trading platform. The flavour profile of the 17 year old is inspired by the different locations the trio visited during the show, which took them all over Scotland.

Now we don’t want to blow our own trumpet but we’re pretty excited, because the whisky is available exclusively through Master of Malt! What’s more, we’ll also be featuring in part two of the second season, ‘The Three Drinkers do Scotch Whisky’, which is due to air in early December. What better dram to sit down and binge watch the first season of The Three Drinkers with while we eagerly await the second?

“We’re delighted to be working with The Three Drinkers in the run up to the second series,” says Kristiane Sherry, Master of Malt editor. “It’s exciting to be able to offer The Three Drinkers Scotch Whisky, Cask Selection No.1 – not only does it make the perfect liquid accompaniment to watching the new episodes, it also makes an ideal Christmas gift as the festive season approaches.”

The Three Drinkers Whisky

The Three Drinkers Scotch Whisky, Cask Selection No. 1 in all its glory.

Only a limited 300 bottles have been released, with each individual bottle signed by each of The Three Drinkers. You’ll be thrilled to know that you can pre-order Cask Selection No.1 now through our website, though we’re sure you’ll want to know what it tastes like first…

Master of Malt tasting notes

Nose: Jamaican ginger cake, stewed apples, melted butter and a touch of floral barley.

Palate: Juicy apricot sweetness as it opens, followed by cinnamon, clove and sultana. Very subtle smoke, with a few hints of salted caramel along the way.

Finish: Vanilla tablet, almond and Victoria sponge cake.

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