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Master of Malt Blog

Westerhall Rum: Grenada’s best-kept secret

Grenada’s Westerhall Estate has produced rum since the late 1700s, but it only ever supplied neighbouring Caribbean islands. That all changed in 2014, when entrepreneurial rum lovers Annabel Kingsman and…

Grenada’s Westerhall Estate has produced rum since the late 1700s, but it only ever supplied neighbouring Caribbean islands. That all changed in 2014, when entrepreneurial rum lovers Annabel Kingsman and her father Nick set out to share the phenomenal liquid they discovered on this laid-back island – dubbed the ‘Spice Isle’ – with the rest of the world. We caught up with Annabel to find out more…

Located between the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean on the West Indies archipelago, Grenada is similar in size to the Isle of Wight – and has a population to match, with just 100,000 inhabitants. Thanks to the bountiful nutmeg and mace crops grown there, it’s known as the ‘Spice Isle’. “When you walk off the plane, you just get that hit of spice straight away,” says Annabel Kingsman, co-founder of Westerhall Rum. “It’s in the air. Grenada really is such a fragrant island, so it’s pretty unique.”

St. George’s, the island’s capital. Looks alright

The Westerhall Estate lies in the south eastern corner of Grenada, and has been owned by the Williams & Wells families since the early 1940s. The estate has long been bottling its own rum – indeed, its distilling history dates back to the late 1700s – but its liquid had only ever been enjoyed by locals and a few neighbouring islands. Until the Kingsmans came along, no one at Westerhall Estate had ever considered exporting it elsewhere.

“We used to go to Grenada a lot on holiday as a family, and fell in love with the rum,” says Annabel. “On one trip, we went to the distillery to chat with the owner about getting hold of it in the UK. When they said they don’t ship it anywhere, we thought, ‘We really love it. Maybe other people will too?’ We had zero experience in the drinks industry between us – I was fresh out of university and my dad has a background in construction – but we ordered 50 cases and said, ‘Let’s see what happens’.”

Loving a specific rum so much you start an entire business dedicated to it? That’s dedication folks. We couldn’t approve more. You might be wondering what makes Grenadian rum – specifically Westerhall’s creations – quite so alluring. Is there something in the water? And the answer is: yes, literally. The waters of Grenada are naturally infused with the spices and flavours of the island, and during the blending process, these are filtered into Westerhall’s rums.

Everyone loves Westerhall rum

“They’ve got a lot of nutmeg and mace, real flavours of the island, but they’re very subtle because they come through in the water,” Kingsman explains [referring to the water used to reduce the ABV of the rum before bottling]. “There’s a stream that runs through the estate, where they grow all these spices and limes, and the water picks up all those flavours. It’s all natural spring water, so they’ve got naturally-infused spices.”

When it comes to production, the Kingsmans leave the technical process to the professionals. And by ‘professionals’ we mean ‘the owner’ – who also happens to be the master blender – and his family. At present, each rum recipe is a closely-guarded secret composed of carefully-source distillates from across the Caribbean. However, thanks to a new initiative, these recipes may be about to evolve.

“For the past couple of hundred years, they’ve been sourcing the raw product from various other Caribbean distilleries – finding the best, blending them together, and then using their barrels and water to create this unique product,” Annabel says. “They’ve just started planting sugarcane on the island and so it will soon become a completely Grenadian product from cane to bottle, which is going to be really great.”

Mojito made with Westerhall Rum No. 2

When the Kingsmans first launched the brand with those initial 50 cases, they had mixed results. While the liquid was well received in spirits tastings, the packaging wasn’t quite right. After 18 months of hard work, they re-branded and re-launched the range in late 2016. The master blender and his family liked the new design so much, they rolled it out in Grenada, too. 

Westerhall Rum relaunched with five bottlings in the range: No.2, No.3, No.5, No.7, and No.10, which denote the ages of the liquids within. There are still a few first-release bottles lingering, including the seriously punchy Jack Iron, a 69% ABV overproof rum that scooped up a Master medal at The Spirits Business’ awards. 

By the end of the year, a (deliberately) spiced liquid will join the fresh line up. “We’ve been working on that for a while, but because it’s coming from the Spice Isle, we want it to be absolutely perfect,” she continues. “We’ve been going back and forth trying to get the perfect balance. Hopefully that’ll launch by the end of the year. That’s the plan.”

 

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Five minutes with… Natalie Wallis from Langley Distillery

Home to some of the UK’s oldest working copper pot stills, and with a century of gin-making under its belt, Langley Distillery creates bespoke recipes for around 75% of the…

Home to some of the UK’s oldest working copper pot stills, and with a century of gin-making under its belt, Langley Distillery creates bespoke recipes for around 75% of the country’s artisanal gin brands – including its very own Palmers Gin. We take five with master distiller Natalie Wallis, whose great-great-great-grandfather founded the business more than 200 years ago…

Incredibly, it’s been over two centuries since the Palmer family first began distilling spirits, and precisely 100 since they started producing gin at Langley Distillery in the Midlands. Today, the Oldbury-based distillery boasts some of the oldest working copper gin stills in the UK; the oldest, McKay, dates back to the mid 19th century.

When she stepped into the business to cover a maternity role a little over 10 years ago, Natalie Wallis became the sixth generation of the Palmer family to work at the distillery. Today, she’s responsible for distilling more than 300 stock gin recipes. Here, she talks stock recipes, surreal stills, and the nation’s love of gin.

It’s Natalie Wallis!

Master of Malt: Let’s start with your family’s incredible distilling history. How far back does it go, and what was it like growing up in that environment?

Natalie Wallis: Our family’s distilling journey began in Old Street, London in 1805 with my great, great, great grandfather, who sold chemical sundries and varnishes. Charles Dickens used to pop into his shop to pick up supplies, so we had well-known faces buying our wares from the start! As the business grew, it was moved to East London – where part of our chemical business resides to this day – and to Oldbury, just outside Birmingham, where all of our global distillation happens. As a child, I was lucky enough to occasionally visit the distillery in Oldbury. I remember it being a real treat, full of the most exotic and wonderful aromas. Even from an early age you could feel how special it was. 

MoM: When it comes to production, your stills certainly set the distillery apart. Tell us about those – is it surreal to make gin with some of the oldest working copper gin stills in the UK?

NW: Our stills are named after influential women within our family and the company’s history, with some dating back to the very early 1800s. Our distilling method is very traditional and respects the age and style of each individual still – they were all made in the UK and each has its own story to tell. When you consider the people and botanicals those copper stills would’ve seen and the multitude of gins that they have produced, it is very surreal. We are so lucky to have these wonderful works of art, all with their own idiosyncrasies and stories.

That’s Jenny, that is

MoM: How important is contract production to Langley Distillery? Do you ever say ‘no’ if an idea or concept won’t work?

NW: Contract gin production is integral to what we do; it’s in our veins. The stock recipes have a real story around each of them – some have been created exactly from our old recipe books from the 1800s, others are new-fangled gins influenced by current trends, CBD, for example. They start life in our laboratory on our test still and are continually assessed and adapted to meet customer specific requirements. There are always a few runs before we get the recipe spot on. We spend a great amount of time working closely with our clients – sometimes they come to us with very specific briefs, other times we are given free reign. We’ve never said no – people come to us with their dream, and we guide them on what we think would work in the market and within category definitions. 

MoM: People can be dismissive of contract distilling, even though the quality of the liquid is far higher than a gin made by an inexperienced distiller. Do you think drinkers are starting to appreciate that?

NW: One of the great things about the resurgence in gin is that there’s room for everyone to enter the market. Sometimes contract distilling can get a bad rep for being cold and mass produced, but if you think about ‘craft’ gin, that’s still what we do. The recipes are all created by a person – not by some sterile corporate computer – and our stills are loaded with ingredients by hand; the team manually filling the still with up to 60kg of juniper. There is no machinery to do the lifting or weigh it out. One benefit of contract distilling is the benefit of experience and experimentation, so we have the capability to grow with all of our customers. We have kept very true to our roots in our methodology, despite our size. The distillery is 200 years old; there is so much romance and tradition there. We have a minimum order quantity of 5 litres and Jenny, our largest still can distil 250,000 bottles of liquid a day. So we really do work with gin companies of all sizes.

Cocktail? Don’t mind if I do

MoM: 2020 is Langley Distillery’s 100th year of producing gin – a remarkable achievement in a hugely busy and diverse category! With your insight, what’s next for gin? 

NW: I don’t think the nation’s love for gin is going to change. The category will continue with the great strength it has seen over the last few years, it has such a rich past and such an exciting future. We’re starting to see a move back to classic gin profiles now – moving away from the flavoured gins that reigned supreme in 2019. I love classic gins, especially our own Palmers London Dry. It’s made in a 1,000 litre still from 1903 called Angela, named after my grandmother Angela Palmer who died in 2016 at the age of 91. She loved a classic gin and this was her favourite recipe.  

MoM: What’s your favourite gin cocktail and why? 

NW: The Bees Knees [made with gin, lemon juice and honey]. It will forever remind me of sitting in my favourite hotel in Hampshire in the sunshine with my husband.

*Interview edited for length and clarity

 

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Cocktail of the Week: the Gulliver’s Travels

This week’s cocktail is New York meets Ireland. It was created by Samuel Stepney at Underdog in Manhattan using Knappogue Castle 12 Year Irish Whiskey. It’s often overlooked in preference…

This week’s cocktail is New York meets Ireland. It was created by Samuel Stepney at Underdog in Manhattan using Knappogue Castle 12 Year Irish Whiskey.

It’s often overlooked in preference to rye or bourbon, but Irish whiskey can be a great mixer. This week’s recipe is doubly Irish as it’s not only made with an Irish whiskey, Knappogue Castle 12 Year Old, but also named after one of the great works of Irish literature, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. It was created at the Underdog, a bar located right at the tip of Manhattan island in Battery Park. Its creator Sam Stepney began tending bar with a stint at TGI Fridays. Not very cool but a surprising number of successful bartenders got their break at this chain. 

From there he moved to a bar on Staten Island with the tremendous name of Bootleg Mannings. Stepney said: “It was essentially a massive warehouse converted into a sports bar with a stage and outdoor space. The owner/manager at the time wished for Bootlegs to be a whiskey/craft beer bar and then proceeded to will it into being. During this process, as I learned more and more about whiskey, craft beer, and now classic cocktails, I was eventually inspired to make my first original cocktail which was a riff on an Aviation called the Frequent Flyer”.

Then three years ago he moved to Underdog, a Manhattan stalwart since 2013. He loves working in New York because “it is constantly growing and evolving. But unlike some other big cocktail cities, we champion the classics, and the heritage of the golden age of the cocktail in New York without being swayed too much by trends or gimmicks.”

The idea for the Gulliver’s Travels came from working at Underdog: “This particular menu needed a stirred and boozy cocktail that was not a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned variation”, he said. “I wanted to do something that would be strong but also accessible, bright, and maybe a little elegant. Essentially, I came up with a more spirit-forward reimagining of a Corpse Reviver #2 or 20th Century cocktail.”

He went on to explain some of the flavours in his choice of Irish whiskey: “I found myself picking up a ton of chocolate, banana and orange notes”, hence the use of creme de cacao and banane du Brésil, “I wanted to augment those notes but only enough to make sure that Knappogue 12 was still lead vocals. I love Lillet, it is one of the few modifiers that I will willingly drink straight, and it has that nice touch of lime/orange citrus that I was looking for.”

He also recommends the 12 year old Marsala cask expression from Knappogue but it’s not all about Irish whiskey: My other favorites generally rotate during the seasons and whether I’m on vacation or not, but since the pandemic has exiled me to Staten Island, this lockdown has been appropriately rum-heavy”, he said. “The most used bottles at the bar are Cynar and rye to make Ryenar shots for the guests, and at home it’s typically a nice overproof rum, probably Wray & Nephew.” Sounds like he’s doing lockdown in style.

Right, here’s how to make a Gulliver’s Travels: 

40ml Knappogue Castle 12 Year single malt
20ml Lillet Blanc
7ml Banane du Brésil Giffard
3ml Creme de Cacao Giffard

Add ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, stir until cold and strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass. Express oil from lemon peel and discard. 

 

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Get a head start on Father’s Day!

Father’s Day is on the horizon and you know it always comes around too fast. Get ahead of the curve by sorting out a brilliantly boozy gift that can be…

Father’s Day is on the horizon and you know it always comes around too fast. Get ahead of the curve by sorting out a brilliantly boozy gift that can be delivered straight to his home.

You know it’s only a few weeks until Father’s Day, right? These occasions have a habit of creeping up on you and it’s easy to panic buy and be the child who buys dad another pair of silly socks or branded mug. We sympathise. Father’s Day is arguably the most difficult occasion to shop for. Dads always say they don’t need anything. And that’s probably true. So you need to buy him something he really wants. A bottle of something special may just be your best bet in your quest to remind your dear old dad how much he’s appreciated. Where can you find one of those? Right here. That’s where.

Get a head start on Father's Day!

The Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set 

Our very own Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set is very much a home-run when it comes to great Father’s Day gifts. It says Father’s Day on it, for a start. It really looks like you made an effort when you buy something like this. Especially as we guarantee there are five 30ml drams of superb whisky from world-class producers in this exclusive set. Plus, right now it’s over 25% off. 

The Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set Contents:

Scallywag

Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old – The Character of Islay Whisky Company

The ONE Sherry Expression

Colonel EH Taylor Small Batch

Loch Lomond 12 Year Old

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask

Warming, spicy and utterly delicious, this well-rounded single malt from The Balvenie was initially aged in traditional oak casks before it was finished in casks which previously held a select blend of Caribbean rums chosen by malt master David C. Stewart MBE. Perfect for those who love a good Scotch and for those who want something with a touch of the tropical to mark all this good weather we’re having.

What does it taste like?

Tropical fruits, namely passion fruit, sweet vanilla, apples, mangoes, orange and creamy toffee.

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Talisker 10 Year Old 

If sweet maritime peatiness, orchard fruit and pleasant spice sounds like the kind of profile your pops would enjoy, then you’d have a hard time bettering this classic Island dram from the Isle of Skye. Talisker 10 Year Old is one of those classic expressions that’s always got a welcome spot in any good drinks cabinet.

What does it taste like?

Smoke, sweet pear and apple peels, maritime salt, seaweed, peat, black pepper, brine and dry barley. 

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Jaffa Cake Gin

What if your father isn’t fussed with whisky? For those who have something of a sweet tooth, we recommend Jaffa Cake Gin. Yep. It’s a gin made to taste like Jaffa Cakes and even includes the timeless treat in its botanical selection. Now we’re talking. An insanely delicious Negroni awaits. Extra dad points are awarded if they position an actual Jaffa Cake on the glass in the style of a citrus wheel garnish.

What does it taste like?

Zingy orange (marmalade-esque), rich and earthy chocolate, vanilla-rich cake, a touch of almondy-goodness and a solid backbone of juniper. Also, Jaffa Cakes!

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva 

If rum is more your dad’s thing, then you’ll want a good premium expression that boasts a large number of fans and a trophy cabinet like Michael Jordan. Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva is a delightful blend of dark rums distilled from molasses in ancient copper pot stills before being matured in small oak casks for up to 12 years. This Venezuelan treat is delicious served neat or in cocktails like an Old Fashioned or Daiquiri.

What does it taste?

Dark chocolate, vanilla cream, espresso, orange peel, liquorice and sweet toffee fudge.

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2008 

It’s hard to underestimate the brilliance of a seriously good bottle of red wine, which is exactly what we have here. This Gran Reserva comes from one of the most famous producers in the Rioja region, Bodegas Faustino and the 2008 vintage was crafted from Tempranillo, Graciano and Mazuelo grapes. By law Gran Reserva Riojas have to age for at least five years (two of them in oak). All that time means that by the time you reach for the corkscrew the wine has taken on some seriously complex flavours, which are best enjoyed when paired with roast lamb.

What does it taste?

Rich and subtly oak, but still manages to show off some bright summer fruit sweetness.

Get a head start on Father's Day!

Bathtub Gin

If you’re on the lookout for classic juniper-forward gin, you might as well go for a serial award winner. From Ableforth’s comes this year’s World’s Best Compound Gin at the World Gin Awards, Bathtub Gin. It was named for the 1920s Prohibition method of infusing botanicals in a bathtub, but don’t worry, this tastes a little more sophisticated than that. It was crafted with six botanicals using an interesting technique known as cold compounding. The result? An aromatic, rich profile filled with notes of orange citrus, fragrant spices and a good core of juniper. 

What does it taste?

Juniper-rich bouquet, cardamom, orange blossom and cinnamon.

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New Arrival of the Week: Dunderhead Rum

There’s a bit of a rum theme this week at Master of Malt. No particular reason, we just love the stuff. We’re particularly excited about a bottle that has just…

There’s a bit of a rum theme this week at Master of Malt. No particular reason, we just love the stuff. We’re particularly excited about a bottle that has just arrived in our warehouse: it’s funkier than Fela Kuti, fruitier than a tube of Fruit Pastilles and riper than a prize-winning pineapple, it’s Dunderhead rum!

There’s no mistaking high ester Jamaican rum. That smell: pineapples, bananas, fruit so ripe it’s almost rotten. So wrong and yet so perfectly right. That’s what you get with Dunderhead rum. It’s a blend of rums from around the Caribbean but it gets its name from its most noticeable component country, Jamaica. 

Dunder is the leftovers from fermentation. In most rum producing countries, these would be used a fertiliser. Not so in Jamaica, it goes into so-called dunder pits. Essentially holes in the ground full of rotting fermented molasses. Mmmmmmm, rotting fermented molasses! You hear rumours that sometimes animals* wander into these pits and die, all adding to the funk. This might sound revolting but all the bacteria working away creates esters. Esters are volatile compounds produced by fermentation; they include ethyl butyrate, which smells of pineapple and ethyl acetate, which smells of nail varnish. 

This dunder is used to add complexity to fermentations with fresh molasses. It might sound bizarre but it’s not unique to Jamaica. Similar things happen in bourbon with sour mash and in the production of baijiu. In Scotland, many distilleries keep their old pine fermenters in order to encourage the build up of bacteria that create interesting flavours. The Jamaicans just take it really far. Fermentations take place over many days with natural yeasts, all good for creating those magical flavours.

Modern multi-column distillation would remove most of these flavours so high ester rums tend to be made with shorter old school columns or traditional pot stills. Distilleries such as Long Pond and Hampden are famous for producing this style of rum, though Appleton Estate, probably Jamaica’s most famous distillery, produces a much cleaner spirit and doesn’t use dunder. These rums are delicious drunk young for the full pineapple and banana effect but also certain esters are formed during the ageing process giving you balsamic and Madeira-like flavours. Extremely high ester rums can be so strongly flavoured as to be almost undrinkable on their own but they are highly prized for blending. A special class of rums known as ‘continental flavour’ are produced with off-the-scale esters and used in minuscule quantities to create rums in Germany. You sometimes see this bottled on their own and they make an amazing experience. Be warned, a little goes a long way. 

Can you spot the esters?

So that’s dunder and now back to Dunderhead. This uses some of that Jamaican magic blended with other rums from around the Caribbean before bottling at 42% ABV. Look closely at the label and you’ll see that the jewels around the neck of the skull make up ester compounds: ethyl propionate (smells like pineapple), ethyl acetate (nail polish), amyl acetate (bananas) and ethyl butyrate (more pineapple). Very educational. The taste is approachable but you’ll still feel the thunder of dunder. Expect flavours of banana, pineapple, orange zest and honey. Then there’s sweet toffee, brown sugar and molasses with a grassy green banana flavour.  

How should you drink it? Well, this is a mixing rum par excellence, those bold high ester notes can compete against anything. Try it mixed  with ginger ale or Coca-Cola, or in a Mai Tai. We spoke with Peter Holland from the Floating Rum Shack and he reckoned it would be good in Trader Vic’s Grog:

2 parts Dunderhead rum
1 part lime juice
1 part fresh pineapple juice
1 part passion fruit syrup
Dash of Angostura bitters

Shake all the ingredients with lots of crushed ice. Pour, ice and all, into an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint.

Dunderhead rum is available now from Master of Malt.

*These are just rumours. No animals were harmed in the production of Dunderhead rum.

 

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Virtual pub quiz 22 May

Do you  think you know a bit about booze? Well, why not put your knowledge to the test in our weekly pub quiz? There’s some easy questions, some difficult ones…

Do you  think you know a bit about booze? Well, why not put your knowledge to the test in our weekly pub quiz? There’s some easy questions, some difficult ones and some that look easy but are actually difficult. All entries will get a discount code and one winner a £25 off voucher. Prizes all round!

It’s the return of the Master of Malt pub quiz. Last week was the most popular ever though we noticed that some people didn’t leave their email addresses. No email addresses, no prizes, so please do fill in that bit of the form. You can find the answers to last week’s quiz here. Right, enough preamble, no more beating about the bush, let’s get on with this week’s quiz. As usual, it’s strict pub quiz rules, no Google, phoning a friend or asking the audience.

Simply click the button below, and computerised quiz magic will happen.

CLICK HERE

Poitín

This is what a beer in a pub looks like, in case you’d forgotten

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The Nightcap: 22 May

We’ve got another smashing edition of The Nightcap to take you into the long weekend. All the week’s top booze stories in one handy chunk.  It’s always pretty hard to…

We’ve got another smashing edition of The Nightcap to take you into the long weekend. All the week’s top booze stories in one handy chunk. 

It’s always pretty hard to predict things. Even just coin flips are tough to get right every time, and there’s only maybe about two outcomes. I’m not sure many people could have predicted how this year was going to go. It’s a bit like taking a sock full of coins, throwing them in the air and trying to predict which one a magpie will swoop in from the window and steal to buy itself a bag of Jelly Babies. However, you could easily have predicted that we would have another edition of The Nightcap, packed with bite-sized bits of booze news, for you to peruse this Friday! Enjoy!

On the MoM blog this week, we invited you to join our celebrations of all things Islay, in light of the absence of a certain huge whisky festival, on Instagram Live! As today is World Paloma Day (have a great one, guys!), we made Mexico’s favourite cocktail the slightly fancy way, while our New Arrival of the Week was a delightful limited edition fino. Elsewhere, Ian Buxton returned to present a story of great wealth and the Scotch whisky industry, while Henry was given a lesson in the complexities of sherry cask-ageing by the fab folk at Tamdhu. Annie then shared some industry top tips for drinking mindfully during lockdown before enjoying four simple and delicious Scotch whisky, Cognac and vodka-based cocktails courtesy of Moët Hennessy.

Congratulations are in order for Alex Priest, who was the victor of last week’s virtual pub quiz! A huge thanks as well to all those who entered and if you’re curious to see all the answers to last Friday’s quiz, they’re listed below. For those who want some more boozy brain teasers or some sweet, sweet discounts, this week’s edition of the MoM pub quiz will be on our blog from 5pm as always.

The Nightcap

We’re big fans of the 2020 edition of the Redbreast Dream Cask

Redbreast’s new Dream Cask is here!

Regular readers will know we’re pretty keen here at Master of Malt on Redbreast Irish whiskey, in all its many forms. That’s why we’re so excited about the launch of the third limited-edition Dream Cask earlier this week. It’s made up of liquids no younger than 28 years from ex-bourbon casks, an oloroso sherry butt and a Port cask, all brought together and finished in a ruby Port cask. The whiskey was bottled at 51.5% ABV. Master blender Billy Leighton commented: “It’s more than three decades since my predecessors went to the Douro Valley and hand-selected the cask which would become Redbreast Dream Cask 2020. I’m delighted to be able to share its creation with whiskey lovers around the world. Blender Dave McCabe added: “Because a Dream Cask is not constrained by volume, we have great licence to select a unique expression with a bold flavour which couldn’t be replicated in a permanent offering. Thankfully, Billy and I were in absolute agreement that this was the right time to release this year’s Dream Cask.” We were given a little taste and we have to say that we were absolutely knocked out: it’s beautifully creamy and spicy with notes of butterscotch, cooked apple, ginger and walnuts, but what really comes through is cherry: fresh cherry, cooked cherry and then on the finish, the lingering taste of cherryade. Top stuff Midleton! So how do you get your hands on this dreamy release? Well, first you’ll need €490, and then you need to go to Redbreast’s private members’ club, The Birdhouse, where you can take part in a ballot that runs from Monday 25 May until 14:59 (GMT +1) on 2 June for a chance to buy a 500ml bottle. There are 921 available. Good luck!

The Nightcap

The new initiative from California’s Wine Institute should brighten up your Zoom meetings

California wine country comes to Zoom

The team here at MoM has just discovered the joy of changing your background on zoom. It’s brilliant, your friends will think you’re in a tropical paradise or floating in space, and there’s no need to rearrange your bookshelves to remove all those old Jeffrey Archer novels. Now wine lovers can look as if they’re exploring the vineyards of Napa rather than in a semi in Surbiton thanks to a new initiative from California’s Wine Institute. Simply download a jpeg from the link here , go to the menu on the bottom left and click virtual background, and then upload your very own wine wonderland. There are loads to choose from and more available from Visit Napa Valley, the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, Visit Temecula Valley, Visit California, and Discover Buellton. Amaze your friends! Brighten up dreary marketing meetings!

The Nightcap

Happy 20th anniversary!

The Glencairn Glass celebrates 20th anniversary

While 2020 may resemble what the Mayans predicted 2012 would be for most of us, for the family-owned and award-winning Scottish crystal company Glencairn Crystal Studio it’s a special anniversary. That’s right, it’s been 20 years since it created its iconic Glencairn Glass. The glass, which was designed by the brand’s founder Raymond Davidson, has become the definitive whisky glass around the world today over the last two decades, with over 3 million being sold each year, across 140 different countries in every corner of the globe. The brand boasts clients such as Liverpool FC, BP, Brown-Forman, Cunard, Diageo, Houses of Parliament and Scottish Parliament, Muller, Google and the majority of the Scottish whisky manufacturers. The Glencairn team have marked this momentous anniversary by launching the Glencairn PodGlass series: a series of podcasts with Davidson and guest appearances by some renowned and respected names like Richard ‘the nose’ Paterson. The brand will also release new versions of the Glencairn glass, launch a fundraising initiative with the proceeds going to the company’s chosen charity partners and open the new expanded Glencairn Crystal Studio site in East Kilbride, which incorporates a refurbishment and a substantial new build on the original Glencairn site to cater for expanding demand – all built by local businesses. Glencairn is also encouraging whisky lovers to follow @TheGlencairnGlass and share their favourite stay at home Glencairn moments with the tag: #beathomewithGlencairn. For more info, go to: http://www.glencairncrystal.co.uk/ or https://whiskyglass.com/.

The Nightcap

Noble sentiments from winner Bréagha Wolfgang, though the skeletal hand is a bit ominous, don’t you think?

Fernet Branca coin winner announced

The winner has been announced in the Fernet Branca coin competition and it’s Bréagha Wolfgang of Draffens cocktail bar in Dundee! As we’ve mentioned on the Nightcap before, the competition has been going since 2010, and every year Fernet Branca picks a design to be made into a coin to be distributed among bartenders. There’s even a game that they can play with the coins. In these incredibly difficult times for the hospitality industry, it’s not surprising that a design has been chosen with a positive message (see above). Wolfgang commented on her winning entry: “My coin design was inspired by reflecting on the tough times and stress we all go through in this industry and how incredible it is that our communities support and lift each other during those times. The ‘cheers’ around the edge of the coin is about seeing each other as an equal part in life, drinking to new friends and to those we’ve lost along the way which I think defines our industry well. Winning this means a whole lot to me, getting given a Fernet coin was such an incredible relief after working so hard for so long and now having my very own coin design! That’s something I will never forget the feeling of.” Poppy Croft, Fratelli Branca brand manager, added: ‘Launching the Fernet Branca Coin Design Challenge just after lock-down was something I felt needed to happen, then more than ever, to show solidarity and support to the incredible bartenders in the UK who, at that point, had literally no idea of what was ahead. Bréagha’s design really stood out, reflecting the camaraderie of the industry in the face of stark adversity, a truly well-deserved win and I’d also like to congratulate all the runners up for their incredible designs,we hope to raise a Fernet with them all soon!” Here’s hoping.

The Nightcap

The Cold Brew Espresso Martini

And finally… Cocktail Porter delivers cocktail kit to your door

The lockdown is an ideal time to work on your cocktail-making skills, but ideally, you wouldn’t have to leave the house to get your hands on the perfect ingredients. Cocktail Porter may well have a solution for the budding bartender trying to stir and shake in the comfort of their home. Since 2018, it has delivered over 500 cocktail boxes a month to the Australian market and it’s now arrived in the UK. From the 18 May 2020, it has been delivering craft cocktail boxes from Global Drinks Agency Sweet&Chilli (you may know them as the guys that brought us the fab Nine Lives cocktail bar in London Bridge) containing individual recipes, bottles of spirits, infusions, cordials, home-grown garnishes, infused tonics and bespoke barware to fill out our drink trolleys. Each cocktail in the collection is designed by professional bartenders and the first collection features the ingredients to create a Passionfruit Margarita (Don Julio Blanco Tequila, fresh passion fruit, fresh limes, passion fruit-infused syrup and dehydrated limes to garnish), an Elderflower ‘Le Fizz’ Spritz (Grey Goose Vodka, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, Double Dutch Soda Water, fresh lemon and with organic Persian rosebuds to garnish), the Whisky Highball Collection (Johnnie Walker Black Label Whisky, Belvoir Farms ginger/lemon & mint/elderflower cordials, Double Dutch soda water and dehydrated lemons & candied ginger to garnish), Cold Brew Espresso Martini (Ketel One Vodka, Kuka’s Cold Brew Espresso, Conker Coffee Liqueur, simple syrup and Halo Raw organic dark chocolate to garnish) and a Seville Orange Negroni (Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla, Campari, sweet vermouth with orange to garnish). It should be stressed, these are not pre-batched cocktails, you do have to do some work yourself. Each cocktail is available in The Petite Kit (£45, 6 serves) and The Porter (Full Size) Kit (£85, 17-20 serves) and if ordered by 3pm will be delivered the next day, while live hosted masterclasses on YouTube will show you how to stir things up whilst staying safe at home. Order from the website: cocktailporter.co.uk

The Nightcap

Pub quiz answers

1) What Champagne brand is Beyonce drinking in 2013 banger Drunk in Love?

Answer: Armand de Brignac

2) Which sweet wine is known as ‘the king of wines, the wine of kings’?

Answer: Tokay

3) Which lager refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach (according to the ad campaign)?

Answer: Heineken

4) Which brewery serves a beer known colloquially as ‘man in the box’ in its tied pubs?

Answer: Sam Smith’s

5) In Breaking Bad, which spirit does Gus Fring lace with poison and gift to the Cartel?

Answer: Tequila

6) What is the pub called in Shaun of the Dead?

Answer: The Winchester

7) What counts as a ‘hole in one’ in pub golf?

Answer: Downing a drink

8) Rapper and singer Post Malone launched a wine brand this week. But what style is the wine?

Answer: Provence rosé

9) Single Pot Still whiskey can only come from which country?

Answer: Ireland

10)   In the book ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ what wine does Hannibal Lector eat with fava beans and someone’s liver?

Answer: Amarone

 

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Lessons in sherry casks with Tamdhu

We take a lesson in the complexities of sherry cask-ageing with one of the very few single malts that is entirely aged in sherry casks, Tamdhu in Speyside. The last…

We take a lesson in the complexities of sherry cask-ageing with one of the very few single malts that is entirely aged in sherry casks, Tamdhu in Speyside.

The last tasting I attended in person before lockdown was with Gordon Dundas, brand ambassador from Tamdhu. We met in a tiny room in London: a few writers, lots of whisky and no social distancing. At the time it was fun and enlightening, looking back, it seems almost miraculous that such a thing was possible.

Tamdhu has to be one of Speyside’s least-known distilleries. Dundas said that he’d never even heard of it before he got the job at Ian McLeod Distillers, the parent company. “Even whisky people don’t know Tamdhu”, Dundas said. “We are not an old distillery,” he continued, “when the distillery opened in 1897, it was the most modern distillery of its time.” Tamdhu nearly disappeared a couple of times: no distillation took place between 1925 to 1947 and then after a period of expansion in the 1970s, it was mothballed by the Edrington Group in 2010. Ian McLeod acquired the distillery in 2011 and production resumed the following year. The company, Scotland’s second largest family-run distillers, now owns three whisky distilleries, Tamdhu, Glengoyne, and the soon to be reborn Rosebank, along with brands such as Smokehead, Sheep Dip and Edinburgh Gin

Sandy McIntyre and Gordon Dundas

The distillery:

At Tamdhu there’s capacity to produce four million litres of pure alcohol per year, 85% of this goes into blends. The rest is put into sherry casks to be sold as a single malt. Despite the rather trendy looking St. Germain-style bottles, introduced in 2013, it’s marketed very much at the single malt lover. There’s no line about demystifying the category or changing whisky’s image. Dundas commented: “We’re after the whisky drinker. We’re not trying to convert people nor are we after the cocktail market.” 

While sister distillery Glengoyne packs in 90,000 visitors per year, Tamdhu doesn’t even have a visitor centre. According to Dunadas it would cost £1million and they would rather spend the money on sherry casks. He also added: “We are not a pretty distillery”. The whole operation is automated. Dundas told us little about the process: “we heat the stills slowly. It’s a very different whisky when stills get too hot. It’s more of a simmer than a boil which gives us lots of reflux. Historically people used to whack the stills on full power.” 

The new make certainly tasted good. We tried it at 66.9% ABV and it showed lots of cereal character and green minty notes. Water brought out a creamy texture. You wouldn’t know it but Tamdhu uses a tiny amount of peated barley because, according to Dundas, that’s what’s always been done.

The casks:

Then we got onto the serious business of sherry casks. The distillery has its own on-site cooperage presided over by an ex-Glenfiddich cooper. The firm has produced a useful 12 minute film called Spain to Speyside (above) to explain how the casks get to Scotland. The team buys from various firms in Spain: Tevasa, Vasyma, and Huberto Domecq (scion of the great Domecq sherry family). Tamdhu uses butts (around 500 litres), puncheons (like a dumpier butt, no giggling at the back!), and Hogsheads (250 litres). These are sent whole to Scotland, not broken down. 

The casks are all seasoned for two years with oloroso sherry of roughly five years of age. This is real sherry, not sherry-style wines that some producers use. The wood soaks up about 35 litres of sherry per year. Dundas said: “The role of sherry is to modify the oak. Colour and flavour come from oak not the sherry. Sometimes it can be hard to tell sherry-infused oak from bourbon oak.” 

Tamdhu uses both American oak (quercus alba) and European oak (quercus rober). The Spanish wine industry has long-used American oak barrels which are much cheaper as you get many more casks per tree. It’s not just in Jerez, traditional Rioja owes its signature taste to long ageing in American oak. The final factor to be considered is whether the casks are first-fill or refill.

Tamdhu cooperage (you probably don’t need a caption here)

 

So when someone says ‘sherry cask’, there are a number of questions we can ask:

-What size is the cask?
-Is it European or American oak?
-What type of sherry was used to season?
-How long was the sherry in the wood for?
-Is the cask refill or first-fill?
-How long was the whisky in the sherry cask for?

It’s complicated. To demonstrate the importance of just one of these factors, European or American oak, we tried two limited edition Tamdhus:

– Representing America was a single cask bottling named in honour of Sandy Mcintyre, distillery manager, winner of best Single Cask at the World Whiskies Awards this year. It was distilled in 2003, bottled in 2019 at 56.2% ABV, and only aged in a first fill American oak sherry butt.

– And in the European corner was the Edinburgh Airport Cask which was distilled in 2006, bottled in 2019 at 58.9% ABV, and only aged in a first fill European oak sherry butt

 

Casks, very important

The American oak one had some of what you might think of as sherry notes on the nose, some dried fruits, but really it was all about fresh fruit with vanilla, crème brûlée, and caramel. Tried blind, I think most people would say something about bourbon casks. The American oak character is really strong. 

Then we tried the European one, the colour is much darker (all Tamdhu expressions are the colour they came out of the cask, unlike some other famous sherry-influenced malts that Dundas mentioned). Now this is what you’d think of as a sherry bomb: dried apricot, tobacco, leather, a smell like getting into a Jensen Interceptor. Then the mouth, it’s all about wood tannins, strong chilli spice, drying leather and maraschino cherries. 

Both are superb sherry-influenced whiskies but only one is what you’d think of as a classic sherried whisky, the European oak version. Those ‘sherry bomb’ notes come not from sherry but from European oak. It makes sense, because those flavours also crop up in old Cognacs. Old Macallan often tastes a lot like Cognac. 

Tamdhu 12 Year Old, a lovely drop

We then tried some of core range bottling that combine the two oak types, different cask types as well as refill and first fill casks: 

– The 12 Year Old leans more to American oak. The nose smells of butter and vanilla with a touch of tobacco then peachy fruit with some strong herbal new make character coming through. It’s creamy and sweet on the palate with some peppery notes.

– The 15 Year Old is matured in around 40% European oak. The nose is so fruity with apricot, pineapple, oranges in syrup, lots of rancio character. On the palate, there’s vanilla, orange peel, demerara sugar with walnuts on the finish.

– Finally, we tried the Batch Strength #4, a limited edition NAS expression bottled at 57.8% ABV.  It’s a real beastie that would appeal to lovers of whiskies like Mortlach. Nose is marmalade, dark chocolate, then the palate is like burnt sugar, thick dark marmalade, dark chocolate and chilli spice. 

My favourite of the day was probably the 15 year old, a graceful melding of European and American oak but everything we tried was spectacularly good. Tamdhu is very quietly, without making too much fuss about it, turning out some of the finest whiskies in Scotland. You should check them out. And now you’ll never use the words ‘sherry cask’ when tasting whisky without thinking carefully again. 

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Paloma

This Friday the 22 May is World Paloma Day, when todo el mundo celebrates Mexico’s favourite cocktail. Here’s how to make it the slightly fancy way. Say the words ‘Mexico’…

This Friday the 22 May is World Paloma Day, when todo el mundo celebrates Mexico’s favourite cocktail. Here’s how to make it the slightly fancy way.

Say the words ‘Mexico’ and ‘cocktail’, and most people will reply ‘Margarita’ but in Mexico itself, the Paloma is far more popular. It makes sense, Margaritas tend to be very strong, not ideal for sipping all day in the sunshine without things getting exciting. They also contain Cointreau or Grand Marnier, things that most people don’t have lying around. 

The Paloma in contrast is a long drink made up of Tequila, which most households in Mexico will have,  plus fresh lime juice and grapefruit soda. Oddly enough, over here it’s the grapefruit soda that might not be so easy to find. You could substitute with another citrussy drink like bitter lemon or old-fashioned sparkling lemonade, or you can make your own soda using fresh grapefruit, fizzy water and caster sugar as I’m doing below. 

The word ‘paloma’ means ‘dove’ in Spanish. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of World Paloma Day, it’s a new one, this is only its second year. Soon every drink will have its own place in the calendar: like International Pornstar Martini Day, World Snakebite & Black Day and National Shandy Week.

As with all Tequila cocktails, in fact all cocktails, it’s worth using a decent spirit. Cheap nasty Tequila will make your Paloma taste, well, cheap and nasty. I’m using Vivir Blanco, made from 100% Blue Weber agave. It’s double distilled In Jalisco and blended with local water from a volcanic spring. The result is smooth, delicious and ideal for mixing.

The final touch is entirely optional but it’s quite a fun way of adding character to your drink. At the end pour in a teaspoonful of mezcal, I’m using the quite difficult to pronounce QuiQuiRiQui Matatlan. Feel free to leave it out but it does give the drink a wonderful kick of complexity without overpowering the fruit or Tequila. Consider it a supporting spirit. 

Oh, and finally to salt or not to salt? Salt is counterintuitive as it actually makes the drink taste sweeter so you need less sugar but I find a whole rim coated in a thick layer of salt too, um, salty. So, I just wet the rim of the glass and dip it in a couple of places in crunchy sea salt. 

Pretty in pink, it’s the Paloma!

It’s worth making it up in batches and keeping in the fridge to drink over the course of a summer’s afternoon. Right, here’s the recipe.

60ml Vivir Blanco Tequila
Juice of one ruby grapefruit or approx 100 ml
30ml lime juice
Teaspoon of caster sugar
Sparkling or soda water
Teaspoon of QuiQuiRiQui Matatlan mezcal (optional)

Rub some Tequila round the rim of a tumbler or Highball glass, dip it in sea salt but don’t coat the entire rim. Add the grapefruit juice, lime juice, Tequila and sugar. Stir thoroughly and taste. Add more sugar if it’s too tart for you. Fill with ice, stir and top up with fizzy water. Add a teaspoon of mezcal and garnish with a lime wedge or piece of grapefruit. Or both.

 

 

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Whisky business

On the blog today, Ian Buxton looks at two scions of whisky families, Edwin York Bowen and Richard Seaman, who turned their backs on the booze business to become a…

On the blog today, Ian Buxton looks at two scions of whisky families, Edwin York Bowen and Richard Seaman, who turned their backs on the booze business to become a composer and a racing driver respectively.

If we turn the clock back to the late Victorian period there were substantial fortunes to be made in whisky and, in a period before industry consolidation, much of this accrued to a privileged class of owners who lived in considerable style. But their offspring didn’t always care to follow their parents into ‘trade’, preferring very different lifestyles. In one case, this brought respectability in the arts whilst another was to excel briefly in the raffish world of pre-War Grand Prix motor racing – with a tainted and notorious association with the Nazi party.

The composer Edwin York Bowen (1884-1961) achieved early fame and was hailed as the ‘English Rachmaninov’. Indeed, Camille Saint-Saëns saluted him as ‘the finest of English composers’ after attending the premiere of Bowen’s Piano Concerto No. 1. The whisky connection came through his father who was a partner in the blenders Bowen & McKechnie. Bottles of its Lords & Barons and Gold Braid blends appear from time to time at auction and an attractive water jug decorated with the message ‘Ask for Melrose whisky’ forms a poignant coda to his story. 

York Bowen: Photograph by Herbert Hughes, 1935. McCann Collection, ©Royal Academy of Music.

Bowen’s fame as a composer was short lived, though he continued to compose, perform and teach for the rest of his life, by the late 1920s his romantic style was considered outdated and his reputation faded. But in recent years, his reputation has risen. Bowen was a great pianist and some of his early recordings are now available on CD from Presto Classical. His own compositions may be obtained on notable classical labels such as Chandos and Hyperion, and are occasionally heard in the present day repertoire of a number of performers resulting in something of a recovery of interest in his work.

Likewise, Richard ‘Dick’ Seaman’s reputation has recently been boosted by the publication of Richard William’s book A Race with Love and Death: The Story of Richard Seaman.  Seaman (1913-1939) was the son of William Seaman. Originally destined for the diplomatic service, a decline in the family fortunes meant William was sent to work for his uncle William Lowrie, then said to be the world’s largest whisky stockholder. Lowrie took a shine to his nephew, paying him handsomely and appointing him a director. By 1910, recently widowed, he was a significant shareholder in not only W P Lowrie & Co., but also Haig & Haig, Mackie & Co. and Dewar’s, where he was also a director. 

In fact it was the great Sir Tommy Dewar who introduced him to his second wife, Lillian Pearce at a dinner at the Savoy Hotel. Love followed at first sight, Dewar later quipping at the wedding reception that this was the last time he was going to introduce any of his widows to any of his friends, as it always led to trouble.

John Richard Beattie Seaman. Photo courtesy of Daimler-Benz

Trouble – and great sorrow – certainly followed their son Richard. Educated at Rugby and Trinity College, Cambridge, he began motor racing in 1934 and was very soon successful in European competition driving first, as a privateer, an MG with later an ERA and Delage. His victories were spotted by Mercedes-Benz, whose Silver Arrow cars were a dominant force on the European Grand Prix circuit, and he signed for them in 1937. This resulted in a breach with his mother, who was opposed to him driving for a “Nazi team”, and the family tensions worsened when he married the daughter of a BMW director.

However, success on the track continued and in 1938 he won the German Grand Prix, came second in the Swiss event and was third at Donington. Now seen as one of the leading drivers on the European circuit he was leading the 1939 Belgian Grand Prix at Spa when he crashed and was severely injured, dying just a few hours later of the burns he received in the crash.

Richard Seaman’s wrecked car, Belgian Grand Prix, 25 June 1939. Photo courtesy of Daimler-Benz

Driving for a German team in the days just prior to the Second World War was bad enough, but Seaman gave further offence when he was seen to give, rather half-heartedly it must be said, a Hitler salute on winning the German Grand Prix. Worse was to come – at his funeral at Putney Vale Cemetery (where, curiously, F1 driver James Hunt is also buried) an enormous wreath of white lilies was placed among the piles of flowers, adorned with the name Adolf Hitler. It is said that Mercedes continues to tend his grave to the present day.

The very varied lives of Dick Seaman and York Bowen are linked by whisky and hark back to a world of great wealth derived from the Scotch whisky industry.  Yet in very different ways they set their faces against the source of their privileged existences – and perhaps are remembered all the more for that.

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks. A former marketing director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

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