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Master of Malt Blog

A spotlight on… Ron Izalco

Founder and CEO of Phenomenal Spirits Karthik Sudhir talks to us about his brand, Ron Izalco, why Central American rum deserves your attention and why the future is bright for…

Founder and CEO of Phenomenal Spirits Karthik Sudhir talks to us about his brand, Ron Izalco, why Central American rum deserves your attention and why the future is bright for the category…

Former Indian track and field athlete Karthik Sudhir is a passionate man. He’s excited when he’s explaining how he founded his company, Phenomenal Spirits, in June of 2017 after leaving behind a software career in the US. He’s excited when discussing the potential of Central American rum. He’s especially excited when we talk about Ron Izalco, the first brand he has created. 

He has good reason to be. His first release, Ron Izalco 10 Year Old, has already become a darling of trade shows and has been showered in awards. From gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Festival to double-gold in the International Spirits Challenge and even Masters awards at the Rum & Cachaça Masters World Masters and The Rum Masters (The Spirits Business) competition, Ron Izalco 10 Year Old has already made waves. It was only launched in April 2018. 

“Every whisky maker, every Tequila maker, every rum maker is going to say ‘my booze is the best booze’. I know Ron Izalco is great, but I also wanted that industry validation,” says Sudhir. “I am beyond overwhelmed with the response that we have received. At the 2018 Paris Rhum Festival all we got was great feedback. For three days in a row, at four o’clock in the evening, we had big lines of people. The smallest booth in the entire Paris Rhum Festival had the biggest line. The response has been really, really positive.”

Ron Izalco

Say hello to Karthik Sudhir!

Ron Izalco 10 Year Old is a blend of Central American rum matured in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 43% ABV. “It’s designed to be a full-bodied, complex rum for sipping rum, although it does work in a craft cocktail like an Old Fashioned,” says Sudhir. “The whole idea of Ron was to challenge the status quo. We didn’t want to make a pirate-looking rum. We didn’t want to create a rum that’s very syrupy and sugary. We wanted to make a rum with balance, something complex with a long finish. 

But what makes the early promise of Ron Izalco 10 Year Old particularly intriguing is that it’s casting a spotlight on Central American rum, which Sudhir believes is often overlooked. “Our blend consists of multiple countries from Central America, which we believe is a very underdeveloped market. It hasn’t got the prominence of Caribbean rum, for example. The Caribbean has done a phenomenal job of marketing themselves and they have some exceptionally good products. But Central America has got some really good products too.”

Sudhir hadn’t actually set out to create a Central American rum initially. In the year he and his blending team worked on the recipe, they imported and sampled rums from multiple countries. Through a blind tasting, they decided on a Central American rum to be the foundation of the blend. Every rum that was subsequently chosen for the blend also happened to be Central American. “It wasn’t by design. They were just the best rums we tried,” says Sudhir. “I subsequently started visiting multiple countries and studied the volcanic soil, the sugarcane, the high angel share and the use of ex-bourbon barrels and then I was able to understand why it was so special”.

Ron Izalco

The Izalco volcano in El Salvador, which you can see on the Ron Izalco bottle’s label

Inspired by the new-found Central American identity of his rum, Sudhir looked to the same region to form the basis of his brand. The name he chose references the 6,447 feet stratovolcano in El Salvador. Izalco erupted almost continuously from 1770 (when it formed) to 1958, earning it the nickname of ‘Lighthouse of the Pacific’ was its fire was said to have guided adventurous explorers to safe harbours. But its impact goes beyond its spectacular fireworks, however. Combined with the tropical climate of Central America, its lava has helped create mineral-rich black soil which produces fruitful and succulent sugarcane fields. “Izalco is a true story and a story that’s relevant to the rum. I had to be honest. My great-grandfather’s not a bootlegger. I’m not going to make a story up for my rum, I want to be authentic,” explains Sudhir. 

Throughout the course of our conversation, Sudhir makes a point of prioritising authenticity. He makes it very clear there is no Ron Izalco distillery, nor will there be: “We are not distillers, we do not have a distillery. We are master blenders.” He also ensured that before he blended a drop of rum he had formal education in spirits. He attended Moonshine University in Kentucky to get his distillation degree and then studied blending, ageing and other techniques with the American Distillers Association. It was here that the team behind Ron Izalco began to take shape. “One of the teachers there specialised in rum and happened to be a master blender. That’s was the beginning of how we formed a team together,” Sudhir says. “Our blenders have a multitude of backgrounds and hold multiple jobs. They are veterans in the industry.”

The rum is blended in California, where his team and Phenomenal Spirits is based. Sudhir can’t reveal which distilleries or producers the blends are sourced from, simply because he has non-disclosure agreements with them that he wants to respect. What Sudhir does tell me, however, is some of the countries included and what profile each brings to the blend. “Nicaraguan rum is phenomenal as a base because of its structure. Panama has got this beautiful caramel element and creates a long finish. Then you have Guatemala which has got this molasses, brown sugar and toasted oak notes.” Sudhir pours us a glass each as he describes Ron Izalco 10 Year Old and hand’s one to me with the widest of smiles. In my professional opinion, it’s bloody delicious. 

Ron Izalco

There’s more to come from Sudhir and Ron Izalco

Sudhir has no intention of resting on his laurels, however. There’s more to come from Phenomenal Spirits. Sudhir explains that there are two things which he absolutely loves: rum and rye whisky, the latter of which he is in the process of adding to the Phenomenal Spirits portfolio. But more pressingly, Ron Izalco is preparing to launch a 15-year-old bottling of rum, which will eventually be followed by a 21-year-old expression.

The upcoming 15-year-old is a blend of five rums from five different Central American countries aged for 15 years in their own respective distilleries in ex-bourbon barrels. It will be bottled at cask strength, 55.3% ABV, and according to Sudhir, “It has zero additional ingredients, no sugar, no caramel, nothing”. 

Once again, Sudhir gleefully pours us a glass each. It’s exceptional, and pleasantly it’s also a real departure from the 10 Year Old. “This is a completely different beast from the 10 Year Old. That was intentional,” says Sudhir. “It was designed to create a completely different taste profile with the purist in mind. It’s for people who like Agricole-style rum or cask strength or high-ester Caribbean rum. I don’t think anything of that nature exists from Central America, so that’s what we wanted to create. It’s earthy, it’s a little drier, there’s tobacco but it’s very fruity too”.

Ron Izalco

Sudhir created Ron Izalco 10 Year Old to be a ‘premium rum’

As we talk and sample rum, one thing that stands out is that Sudhir is consistent in his description of Ron Izalco as a premium rum brand. “I don’t believe rum has ever been through premiumisation as a category,” says Sudhir. “Rum is the next big market. It’s already happened for vodka, it’s already happened for gin. Tequila has been done, as has bourbon, rye, Scotch and Cognac.” But it’s clear he thinks that’s all about to change. 

“Spirits enthusiasts and rum lovers are curious and eager to move on to the next level. We are seeing early stages of rum premiumisation in Europe and we are predicting this trend will cross over to North America in the coming year,” he explains. “They want to try something less sweet and more full-bodied, with complex fruity notes that are evenly balanced with a long finish. This is exactly what Ron Izalco 10 has to offer to rum lovers.”

It has been a long time coming. People have predicted the ‘year of rum’ for seemingly every year in this last decade, but after it broke through the £1bn sales barrier in 2018 and became second to gin as the UK’s most popular spirit (according to those lovely folks over at the Wine and Spirit Trade Association), there is renewed optimism. There is four times the number of rum brands in the UK now than there were in 2006, with 200 of them now competing on the market. “It’s going to explode. We’ve only scratched the surface. It’s a matter of time,” says Sudhir. “From Diageo to Pernod Ricard and Bacardi to Havana Club, everybody is investing in super-premium brands, everybody is innovating, investing in packaging, coming up with higher age statements, or newer products, The message is becoming more and more clear,” he says. 

Ron Izalco

Sudhir believes that the future of rum is bright

He attributes this move a couple of factors. The first is the impact of bartenders. “The mixologist is driving this expansion. They’re tired of providing sugary drinks. That tiki bar market will always be there and it’s great. I love the daiquiris, I love the piña coladas, I love all the fizz. But these mixologists are coming up with creative ideas and because there are some really good rums available, not just some deep sugary rums people are willing to explore.”

Sudhir also believes that consumers are much more knowledgeable and that modern drinkers are ready for a change. “That’s why our market strategy is ‘Ron Izalco is the new ritual’. What is ‘the new ritual’? The new ritual means that you don’t have to only drink whisky or Tequila. Sipping rum has arrived! That’s the new ritual.” Tasting Ron Izalco, you can see why Sudhir is so optimistic.

 

Ron Izalco

Ron Izalco 10 Year Old

Ron Izalco 10 Year Old Tasting Notes:

Nose: Lovely balance with sweet vanilla, milk chocolate and brown sugar, then some stoned fruits such as dark cherries and dried apricots. Zesty notes of oak and juicy oranges emerge among syrupy dried fruit. It ends with wafts of toffee and caramel.

Palate: Initially it’s quite woody with a lot of spicy oak and some real zesty notes of marmalade. With time comes wonderful complexity of it, subtle sweetness of rum-soaked raisins, dried prunes, dark caramels and rich vanilla. The mid-palate has a slightly herbal feel to it. 

Finish: The finish is long, rich and pretty spicy with a fruity kick to the end. There’s a satisfying note of oak throughout and plenty of nuances to keep things interesting.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #6: Mackmyra Vinterglöd

Roll up, roll up, it’s the sixth day of Advent, which means that door number six on your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar is eagerly awaiting to be…

Roll up, roll up, it’s the sixth day of Advent, which means that door number six on your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar is eagerly awaiting to be opened! What’s in store for us today?

The first week of Advent is just flying by, don’t you think? With a different dram to look forward to every day, it’s hard not to wish away the whole 24 days! Today, we’re in for a real treat, with a whisky from a place which, over the last couple of decades, has now been put on the tasty whisky map. Yes, it’s a thing. Yes, it also looks a lot like a regular map, except… this one’s full of places which produce tasty whisky. Duh. 

Today’s dram is… Mackmyra Vinterglöd!

Once the friends behind Mackmyra started looking to create a Swedish whisky distillery back in 1998, it seemed ridiculous that nobody had thought of this before! There’s pure water running past the distillery, with Swedish barley growing in the fields, to the Swedish oak which can be used to make barrels for ageing. It’s like this is what the country was born to do!

Mackmyra Vinterglod

Mmm, maturing Mackmyra whisky…

Vinterglöd means ‘winter glow’ in Swedish, and the whisky was inspired by the Swedish tradition of drinking mulled wine during winter (though we wouldn’t say that’s an exclusively Swedish tradition, we don’t want to know how many ladles of mulled wine we get through during the festive period here at MoM Towers). To achieve this fruity, wine-y flavour, Vinterglöd is matured in casks that previously held Pedro Ximénez sherry and Swedish mulled wine. That should do it.

To learn a bit more about this fun-loving Swedish distillery, we chatted to UK sales manager Alex Johnson!

Master of Malt: What memories come to mind when you nose/taste Vinterglöd?

AJ: It’s all those lovely evocative Christmas flavours – Christmas cake, marzipan, fragrant spices, dried fruits, candied peel, sweet sherry and panettone.

MoM: What’s your favourite way to drink Vinterglöd?

AJ: With a slice of ginger cake or a bowl of Christmas Pudding. A roaring fire is not obligatory but it helps, however good company is essential.

Mackmyra Vinterglöd

It’s Mackmyra Vinterglöd!

MoM: What can we expect from Mackmyra in 2020?

AJ: More innovative finishes and more people experiencing their own personal 30L casks.

MoM: It’s Christmas Eve, and you’re sitting down with a Mackmyra dram. Which one is it?

AJ: It would have to be a bottle from my own Mackmyra Reserve 30L Peated Oloroso cask.

MoM: Okay, and besides mulled wine and (obviously) whisky, what’s your favourite Christmas tipple?

AJ: Sherry, sherry and more sherry – Manzanilla in the morning, Amontillado in the afternoon and PX with pudding!

Mackmyra Vinterglöd Tasting Note:

Nose: Christmas cake spice cuts through blood orange and red berries. Aromas of burnt toffee popcorn, caramel fudge and a little marzipan develop throughout.

Palate: Blackcurrant, pink grapefruit and a little floral barley blend with caramelised almonds and tobacco leaves.

Finish: Oak spice and ginger linger with a little cherry.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day # 5: Steel Bonnets

Open door #5 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and you’ll find a blend that unites those two great rivals, England and Scotland, together in one bottle.  First…

Open door #5 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and you’ll find a blend that unites those two great rivals, England and Scotland, together in one bottle. 

First of all, why is it called Steel Bonnets? Well, it’s time to don the old tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and indulge in a bit of history. Pay attention at the back, Jenkins! Cumbria, where the Lakes Distillery is situated has long been fought over by England and Scotland. Borderers developed their own fierce outlaw culture (which they took to Ulster and Appalachia). Bandits who operated across the frontier were known as border reivers and wore metal helmets aka steel bonnets. There’s a non-fiction book about them by George MacDonald Fraser (he of Flashman fame) called, Steel Bonnets.

So, what better name for a blend of Cumbrian and Scottish whisky? Steel Bonnets is a blend of malts from the Lakes Distillery and from further north. The distillery was founded in 2014 by Chris Currie, who had previously set up the Isle of Arran Distillery, and Nigel Mills, who made a bit of money in property and hotels. They had some serious talent on board from day one in the form of former Dewar’s master distiller Chris Anderson and Alan Rutherford, former production director at Diageo. In addition to Steel Bonnets, there’s another British blend called The ONE plus vodka and various gins.

In 2016 Dhavall Gandhi joined the team from Macallan. As you might imagine, he’s not averse to a sherry cask or two. And indeed, this year’s long-awaited first commercial single malt release, The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1, is a sherry monster. To tell us more about the Lakes, Steel Bonnets and sherry casks, we spoke with Gandhi:

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery

Master of Malt: Steel Bonnets is such a great idea, a blend of English and Scottish whiskies. Can you tell me how you came up with it and whether you have any other cross border plans?

Dhavall Gandhi: The idea of our cross-border blended malt, Steel Bonnets, was conceived by our two founders, Nigel Mills and Paul Currie, and our chairman, Dr Alan Rutherford. This is a very unique platform and gives us many opportunities to create some interesting cross-border blends. Watch this space!

MoM: How much do you love sherry casks?

DG: Every cask will influence the character of the whisky in a unique way, and, out of all the casks available for whisky maturation, sherry casks are my absolute favourite. I love them so much that I have decided to make it the focus of my professional career. I continue to study them in-depth and work very closely with our trusted suppliers on a variety of experiments.

MoM: In what ways does it help the Lakes Distillery to be part of a category, English whisky?

DG: English whisky or even world whisky in general is an exciting and growing category. A lot of whisky makers in England are producing great whiskies and it helps to be a part of the category when everybody is doing the best they can to create they own distinctive style and contribute to growing this category. 

Steel Bonnets

Steel Bonnets, an Anglo-Scots collaboration

MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

DG: Whisky-making is a subjective topic and hugely influenced by the philosophy of the whisky maker. The focus will be in flavour but the most interesting thing is that every whisky maker will focus on areas they believe are important in creating their own style of whisky. These will highlight the nuances and diversity of flavours created by raw materials, fermentation, distillation, maturation and blending.

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

DG: It will depend on the time, occasion and the company, but there will be a variety of whiskies and some wine. I am looking forward to enjoying the Quatrefoil Hope with my dad.

Steel Bonnets Tasting Note:

Nose: Hazelnut whip, vanilla pod and gingerbread, with stewed plums and a hint of wood smoke underneath.

Palate: Touches of exotic fruit, cinder toffee and nutmeg emerge through the combination of dried fruit and creamy nuttiness at the core.

Finish: Medium-length, sweet and a little bit smoky.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Hard Seltzer

Those who live outside of the US might not be familiar with the concept of a Hard Seltzer. The trend is certainly yet to catch on among us Brits. To…

Those who live outside of the US might not be familiar with the concept of a Hard Seltzer. The trend is certainly yet to catch on among us Brits. To gain a little industry insight, we stirred down the popular Stateside serve at a J&B Rare masterclass with Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch drinks experts Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison…

A whisky highball on steroids. That’s my first impression of America’s beloved Hard Seltzer, which has exploded in popularity both as a bar serve and in bottled form. Seltzer drinks – “effectively naturally-flavoured sparkling water,” Harrison explains – are absolutely booming across the pond, and their boozy iterations are set to become a US$2.5 billion category by 2021, according to an estimate shared with Business Insider.

If you hadn’t already guessed, the Hard Seltzer is flavoured water “with an added element of alcohol,” Harrison continues, “often whisky, so it’s essentially a Highball but with flavoured water.” Despite runaway success overseas, in Blighty, the term has most of us scratching our heads (hard soft drink doesn’t quite have the same ring to it), which is ironic, really, since the serve in its simplest form was initially made with liquid from the UK. 

Well, sort of. In The Mixicologist, Or, How to Mix All Kinds of Fancy Drinks, penned by Chris F. Lawlor in 1895, there are two recipes, says Harrison. “The first calls for British Isles whisky, likely Irish whiskey at the time, lengthened with soda water,” he explains. “In terms of measurements, [Lawlor] simply says, ‘Let your guests help themselves to the amount of whisky they like, and top the rest up with water’. There is also another recipe for a B&S (Brandy and Soda), where he calls for a ‘pony’, which would’ve been about 28ml. And that kick-started this refreshing club soda-style drink.”

Hard seltzer

Hard Seltzer, easy to make

Among the first to tackle the trend was Scotland’s J&B Rare. Made with 42 different whiskies, the blend was created first and foremost for club soda-style drinks, says Ridley. “If you were going out for dinner or having a lavish dinner party, you want to spoil your palate for all these fantastic wines that you were going to be drinking. At the time, people weren’t drinking single malt, largely speaking they were very peaty, smoky, heavyweight whiskies. The idea was to create eminently lighter, more delicate, and more refined.”

Such was its success in the UK, parent company Justerini & Brooks rebranded the bottling J&B Rare and took it to America just in time to toast the end of Prohibition. US drinkers loved it, and soon the brand found a real foothold in New York and Las Vegas, becoming a firm favourite among The Rat Pack – particularly Dean Martin. The Highball spread to Japan, where it became a striking vessel for the nation’s light, delicate whisky style and was adopted as a cultural icon., Japan’s bartenders refined the signature serve with crystal-clear ice and delicate glassware, paving the way for the modern Highball you find on menus in bars around the world today.

But I digress. Back to the Hard Seltzer serve. You don’t need a fridge full of flavoured soda to execute your own perfect version of the drink. In fact, Ridley and Harrison recommend giving the dodgy artificial-tasting stuff a wide berth in favour of making your own flavoured sparkling water seltzer at home. It’s easy enough – just infuse fruits, vegetables and other tidbits with sparkling water in one of those lovely glass barrels with the tap attached. 

Hard Seltzer

You can buy ready-made flavoured water, or make your own

Flavour-wise, you could go for a refreshing cucumber and mint combination, spice things up with ginger, apple, and cinnamon, or keep things simple with a classic lemon and lime. However, if you don’t fancy making your own and would rather stockpile the bottled stuff, a handful of health-conscious flavoured sparkling water brands are starting to crop up in the UK, for example No1 Rosemary Water (which has also started branching out with fizzy versions of other tasty herbs like fennel).

You’ll also need bitters, preferably fruit-flavoured – peach, orange, lemon, rhubarb, plum, grapefruit, whatever you’re feeling – and a handful of tasty garnishes to really set the drink off: lemon zest, rosemary, cherry, or mint, for example. Ready to jump on the Hard Seltzer trend? Here’s the recipe for the Rosemary Hard Seltzer to get you started:

25ml J&B Rare 
125ml No.1 Sparkling Rosemary Water

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add J&B Rare and top with Sparkling Rosemary Water. Stir slowly and garnish with a fresh sprig of rosemary. Could not be simpler.

 

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #4: Nikka Days

There’s something a bit special behind door #4 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. It’s a creamy blended whisky from Nikka in Japan. You’ve probably noticed that Japanese…

There’s something a bit special behind door #4 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. It’s a creamy blended whisky from Nikka in Japan.

You’ve probably noticed that Japanese whisky especially of the age statement variety has become rather expensive. It’s a simple matter of too many customers and not enough whisky. Supply and demand, innit? There are, however, a few Japanese bottlings that overdeliver on flavour per pound like Nikka from the Barrel, a cask strength blended whisky with a high malt content. Not surprisingly, it’s one of our bestselling whiskies and a massive staff favourite. But now there’s a new rival for the coveted top Japanese blend slot and it’s from the same stable. Called Nikka Days, it was launched earlier this year with some rather groovy packaging. It’s gentler, softer and sweeter than the big flavours of Nikka from the Barrel. We think it might be the ultimate Highball whisky.

Nikka has some serious pedigree: it was set up by Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky. He studied in Scotland where he met and married Rita Cowan. Returning to Japan, he worked with Suntory before setting up on his own in 1934 with the foundation of the Yoichi single malt distillery. In 1952 the name of the company changed from Dai Nippon Kaju to Nikka. Later Taketsuru would be the first person to make whisky in Japan with a Coffey still. To tell us more about Nikka Days, we have brand ambassador, Stefanie Holt:

Masataka Taketsuru

Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky

Master of Malt: Can you tell us a little about the components in Nikka Days?

Stefanie Holt: Nikka Days is  a combination of the Coffey Grain, lightly-peated single malt from Miyagikyo distillery, Coffey malt and Yoichi single malt, so the balance between the main flavours from each of those components is what makes it so rounded and complex. It’s a really well-balanced blend – it starts off fruity and floral on the nose, then soft flavours of toffee, cereal, roasted nuts and a hint of smoke come through on the palate, along with a creamy texture. Finishes off with dried apricot, orange blossom and vanilla. 

MoM: What’s the best way to drink it in your opinion?

SH: It’s fantastic neat and shows a lot of complexity and elegance for a very affordable price, but it was designed for mixing into Mizuwaris or Highballs. The best ones mix Nikka Days with elderflower tonic or coconut water – one part whisky to two parts mixer, served over plenty of ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

MoM: Now that Japanese distilleries like Nikka have upped production to meet to meet demand, are we likely to see more age statement whiskies soon?

SH: I think ‘soon’ might be a bit optimistic, but the aim is for there to be enough for that eventually. You can’t rush good whisky! We still have age statements in the Taketsuru range though (17, 21 and 25 year old – limited allocation each year), and the Nikka 12yo is still available in the UK (even though it’s been discontinued in Japan) until stocks run out, so we have a few age statements around. It’s really exciting about the increased production capacity though as it will give the blenders there some more flexibility and allow them to be creative.

Nikka Days

Thank you for the Days

MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

SH: It’s going to be interesting with all the changes to import duties being imposed in various countries around the world, but I think in general we’re still seeing more new distilleries & countries producing whisky. It’s an exciting time as a lot of distilleries started producing three to five years ago, so there are lots of newly released things to taste!

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

SH: I’ll be on holiday in Bali, so will be aiming for Piña Coladas/Miami Vices on the beach, but I’ll also take a bottle of Nikka Coffey Gin with me for some 5pm G&Ts on the balcony! If I was back home having a snowy Christmas, then I’d most likely sip & savour Nikka’s Pure Malt Red or some Hine Homage.

Tasting Note for Nikka Days:

Nose: Orchard fruit, honeydew melon and Campino sweets, then orange oil, golden barley and lemon cheesecake.

Palate: Creamy hazelnuts, toffee apple, sweet cereals and vanilla fudge alongside a hint of barrel char, freshened up by Conference pears.

Finish: Buttery shortbread, brown sugar and vanilla pod.

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Temporary shipping pause to the EU 

We’re incredibly sorry to drop this on you just before Christmas, but we have to temporarily stop shipping to most EU countries. As of today, the only places we can…

We’re incredibly sorry to drop this on you just before Christmas, but we have to temporarily stop shipping to most EU countries.

As of today, the only places we can ship to inside the EU are the UK, Belgium and Denmark.

We expect to bring most of the other countries back online within the next few months (expect one or two each month).

We’re (obviously) totally gutted about this – giving all of you across the globe access to the world’s largest library of drinks is what we’re here for, and having to stop shipping to any countries, particularly at this time of year, is a bitter, bitter, blow.  We feel awful about letting you down.

So what on earth happened?

Alas this is one of those times where we can’t go into that much detail, but suffice to say there’s a whole load of complexity around shipping things internationally, especially when those things are whisky and gin.

We’re working hard on this, and we promise each country will be back online as soon as humanly possible (if not slightly sooner).

Thank you for your understanding, your patience and your loyalty. We know how much this sucks.

Please bear with us.

– Team MoM

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FAQ:
Is this anything to do with Brexit?

No.

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Adventure bottled: Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Great British Rum

From pirates to the Royal Navy, rum has long been associated with the spirit of adventure. All things considered, no one is better placed to break ground in English rum…

From pirates to the Royal Navy, rum has long been associated with the spirit of adventure. All things considered, no one is better placed to break ground in English rum than British expedition leader Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Allow us to regale you with the tale of his daring Great British Rum – rather than age the liquid in a barrel, the barrel is put in the still… 

As CVs go, Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ one is pretty damn impressive. Named the world’s greatest living explorer by the Guinness Book of Records, the author, poet, former military man and endurance record holder is the first person to have visited both the North and South Poles travelling only on the surface, crossing the Antarctic and Arctic Oceans. 

In 2009, aged 65, Fiennes climbed the summit of Mount Everest; the oldest Brit to achieve this feat. In fact, he’s climbed the highest mountain on three of the world’s continents, and aims to do so on the remaining four, too. In 2003, he ran seven marathons in seven days on seven continents (despite a heart attack that left him in a coma for three days and double heart bypass operation four months prior). And now, he has his very own rum.

Sir Ranulph with Dr John Waters

The idea for Great British Rum has its roots in the late seventies during the Transglobe Expedition, which saw a team, led by Fiennes, circumnavigate the world on its polar axis using only surface transport back in the late Seventies. The trip took seven years to plan and saw the hardy crew cover some 52,000 miles in three years – so huge was the undertaking, no one has repeated the route since. 

To keep spirits high, crew mate Oliver Shepherd devised a plan inspired by the ‘happy hour’ commonplace in military messes. Every day at 17.30, everyone on the ship would congregate in his room and toast the expedition with something tasty – more often than not, rum. In January this year, as a nod to this special memory, Fiennes partnered with the folks at English Spirit distillery to tread new ground in rum. And the resulting liquid is as pioneering as the adventure it stems from.

“It’s bringing back, into this format, memories of an expeditionary type from 50 years plus,” says Fiennes. “The Brits have been at the forefront, not just because of colonialism, of exploring remote areas and getting there first, and to me there’s 50 years of doing just that. Going beyond the limits, that’s really what it’s all about, Some of my moments of joy at completing sometimes 10 years of work – getting to the ship, living instead of dying – have been celebrated with rum.” 

Lovely colour, John

Instead of ageing Great British Rum in a barrel, master distiller Dr John Walters has put the barrel in the still, having sourced wood from the locations of Fiennes’ favourite adventures – Sequoia from Canada, Pine from Norway and Date Palm from Oman – to add during distillation. First, though, the process starts with 100% pure sugar cane molasses from Venezuela, which are fermented with a bespoke yeast for 10 to 14 days. 

The wash is distilled three times in a 200-litre copper pot still, with the three bespoke woods introduced during the final run. Those woods will have their own amount in the recipe, their own time in the still, their own unique shape and their own level of bespoke charring, Dr Walters explains. Then, the rum goes through a micro-oxygenation step that involves cascading distillate through the wood, which gives the rum its golden colour. 

“Ten years ago we bought a variety of different barrels from different places and the first thing we did was break them up to understand how they’re put together – their chemistry, their charring, the rate at which they can bind alcohol, the rate at which they would allow oxygen to migrate through them and other bits and bobs,” he says. “We got a vague understanding – the chemistry is very complicated – about pairing woods with spirits, and so we were able to buy certain woods looking for different chemical subsets to help provide the characteristics we wanted to embellish our rum with.”

Great British Rum

That’s a Great British Rum

The result? Given tasting notes of orange, caramel and spiced Christmas cake on the nose, a hint of tobacco and vanilla on the palate, followed by a mix of milk and dark chocolate and golden liquorice. Very British flavours indeed. If there was just one thing about your rum that you could share with everyone, I ask Fiennes, what would it be? The memories associated with the specific types of wood, he says, pointing to an experience in British Columbia back in 1971. 

“We did the first ever water journey from their northern border, 2,000 miles through the Rockies along nine interlocking rough rivers as part of the country’s centenary,” he explains. “At one point, I ended up by myself in mosquito-laden woods and started smelling burning wood. Now, if you’re in the middle of a forest with no way out and you smell burning wood you’re in trouble. I remember the smell of that wood was delicious, but frightening. And when you taste the wood from those same pines in the rum, you’ll bring amazing memories back to us.”

Great British Rum will be landing at Master of Malt soon. Check the New Arrivals page for more information.

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The winner of our Jarrod Dickenson competition is…

A couple of weeks ago we asked you to tell us your dream Balcones and music pairing to win tickets to a London leg of country star Jarrod Dickenson’s sold-out…

A couple of weeks ago we asked you to tell us your dream Balcones and music pairing to win tickets to a London leg of country star Jarrod Dickenson’s sold-out UK tour. And we have a winner!

We all know there’s great joy to be had in a fine whisky pairing. Some opt for chocolate. Others cheese. We’re on board with both. But the finest pairing known to humans? Whisky and music. There’s an option for all moods. You can even create your own. AND music doesn’t require a list of dietary requirements. How pleasing.

So, when we got word that Waco-born country artist Jarrod Dickenson was gracing these shores with his presence, supported by whisky brand Balcones (also Waco based! What a match) we wanted in. We headed down one Friday, we cheered, we clapped, we marvelled at his voice. And we also had some VERY delicious Balcones drams. What a night. And then we gave you the chance to head over, too!

How fabulously Texas

All you needed to do was comment on the competition blog telling us your dream Balcones and music pairing. We chose a winner at random, and they are…

Louise Spencer and her plus one! The pairing in question? Texas single malt annual release with George Strait ‘All my exes live in Texas’.

Hurrah!

We hope you had the most incredible evening with Jarrod Dickenson and Team Balcones!

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #3: Talisker 10 Year Old

On the third day of Advent, my Whisky Advent Calendar gave to me… an enticingly smoky dram indeed! Discover what Drinks by the Dram has hidden away for us today……

On the third day of Advent, my Whisky Advent Calendar gave to me… an enticingly smoky dram indeed! Discover what Drinks by the Dram has hidden away for us today…

Feeling the festive vibes yet? If not… WHY?! We’ve already had two liquid treats this Advent. And now we’re ready to crack open the third door of Drinks by the Dram’s 2019 Whisky Advent Calendar.

And the dram behind window #3 is…

Talisker 10 Year Old!

One of Diageo’s most-loved single malt Scotch distilleries, Talisker is located on the Isle of Skye, off Scotland’s stunning west coast. Its history stretches all the way back to 1830, when brothers Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill kicked off distillation. Today, the distillery takes a thoroughly modern approach to all things whisky, encouraging us to drink the stuff in whatever form we like, championing whisky cocktails, and even hosting a Race to Skye bartender competition.

We got hold of Diane Farrell, senior site manager, up at Talisker, to tell us more…

Talisker 10 Year Old Dianne Farrell

Say hello to Talisker’s Dianne Farrell!

Master of Malt: Talisker is located on the Isle of Skye! What impact does this have on the style of whisky you produce?

Diane Farrell: Talisker is such a fantastic representation of place – you taste it and you are transported right here; sitting by a campfire by the sea with your dram of Talisker. We are able to capture a lot of the flavour and character of our environment through our production process. It’s prevalent in our new make spirit and continues to shine through after its maturation period and into your glass. Talisker has been battered by the elements on the windswept cost which means our whisky has a uniquely maritime flavour that means we are uniquely ‘Made by the Sea’.

MoM: Tell us a bit about island life. What challenges does this hold for whisky-making?

DF: Talisker is one of the most remote distilleries in Scotland, located on the west coast of the Isle of Skye. Since it was founded in 1830 it has been in near-constant operation which truly shows the resilience of our people, past and present. In the early 1900s our own pier was built along with a purpose-built tramway to make bringing supplies to the distillery easier. Of course, now that we have the Skye Bridge it makes bringing supplies to the distillery much more straightforward than ever before!

Talisker 10 Year Old Distillery

The gorgeous Talisker Distillery

MoM: What have been your 2019 highlights at Talisker?

DF: 2019 has been an incredible year with so many highlights, including the second release in the Talisker Bodega Series, Talisker 41-year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky, one of the oldest from Skye’s oldest distillery. We hosted the finalists of the Diageo World Class Competition in September where the four elements of the wild were truly embraced during the Talisker Mystery Box Challenge. The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the premier event in ocean rowing, starts on 12 December which is set to be the biggest and best to date, and we cannot wait to follow the action – we wish all of the rowers the very best of luck out there in the Atlantic facing the elements!

MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

DF: The increasing number of new serves for Scotch in bars. Whisky cocktails on menus are becoming more and more popular, reaching the next generation of Scotch whisky drinkers. This is a big evolution and it’s exciting!  

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

DF: Most definitely a Talisker Old Fashioned! Being warm and cozy indoors, sipping a Talisker Old Fashioned and spending time with loved ones – you can’t beat it!

Talisker 10 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: Lively and aromatic, there’s all sorts going on. Alongside the pronounced bonfire smoke there’s pear and apple too, seaweed, and almost a brine note, too. 

Palate: The bonfire smoke leaps from the glass, with a malty barley note, too. Dashes of black pepper give a warmth, but it’s balanced well with orchard fruit sweetness. 

Finish: Long and lush. The sweetness and bonfire embers go on and on.

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Drink books of the year 2019

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by…

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by the fire with this Christmas. 

Well, it’s been a bumper year for drink books. There’s new offerings from old pros like Jancis Robinson and Tristan Stephenson, as well as debuts from Felix Nash and Eddie Ludlow. In fact, it was such a good year that we had trouble narrowing the list down so apologies if your favourite is missing. 

All of them will make great gifts for the drink lover in your life. And we can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays than with a roaring fire, a dram/ glass/ pint of something delicious and one of these books, and that includes watching Casablanca on Christmas Day with a belly full of Port and Stilton. 

A Brief History of Lager Mark Dredge

Lager is so ubiquitous, it’s the beer the world drinks, that it’s hard to imagine how 200 years ago it was a Bavarian speciality. At that time, beer in the rest of Europe was essentially ale. But slowly lager spread and along the way mutated from a sweet, brown beer to the crisp golden brew we know today. It’s a great story told with a real sense of fun by award-winning beer writer and TV regular Mark Dredge. 

Sample line: “Lederer kept contact with Sedlmayr and Dreher, and there’s a wonderful photo taken in 1939 of the three of them all wearing top hats and overcoats, each with a thick moustache, and all holding hands.”

The Curious Bartender’s Whiskey Road Trip Tristan Stephenson

Tristan Stephenson aka the Curious Bartender is the author of many excellent cocktails books. In this latest outing, he takes a journey across America sampling whiskeys from 44 distilleries both large and small including some real MoM favourites like Balcones 44, St George, and Michter’s  nice work if you can get it.

Sample line: “Tuthilltown is home to a huge cat call Bourbon (there another cat called Rye that we didn’t get to meet.”

Fine Cider Felix Nash 

You probably haven’t realised it yet but we are living through a golden age of cider. It hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet, but all over England, Wales and the cider-producing world (which is much bigger than you think), producers are waking up to the potential of apple-based goodness. Felix Nash, a cider merchant, has written a heartfelt, in-depth hymn to his favourite fruit and drink.

Sample line: “I wouldn’t be able to tell you about all the apples used to make cider or the pears used to make perry, and no one could. It’s not simply that so many varieties exist in the world, but that they can very localised”.

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! Ben Howkins

We’ve written a fair bit on the blog about how much we like sherry, so this was a book after our own hearts. Written by a man with more experience in the wine trade that he would like to admit, this is a love letter to one of the world’s great wines. Reading this, you can almost smell the bodegas of Jerez. Warning, it’s almost impossible to read this book without developing a serious sherry habit. 

Sample line: “Olorosos are the wines that will emulate rugby players, rather than ballet dancers.”

Spirited: How to create easy, fun drinks at home Signe Johansen

You might know Johansen (the lady in the header) as Scandilicious, evangelist for all things Scandinavian and delicious. Originally from Norway, now living in London, she’s just as good on drinks as food. This book makes a great introduction to cocktails, tips for non-alcoholic drinks and all round guide to stress free non-nerdy entertaining. 

Sample line: “Life is too short to worry about what anoraks and bores think so now I happily enjoy whichever drinks I’m in the mood for.”

The Whisky Dictionary Ian Wisniewski

Someone who is certainly a bit of an anorak but never a bore is Ian Wisniewski. He’s the one on distillery tours who will always be asking more questions than anyone else. We know as we’ve been round a few with him and we always learn a lot. This book, which we have already found an invaluable reference guide, is a testament to that insatiable curiosity. 

Sample line: “Do enzymes ever get the applause they deserve? Rarely. If ever. It’s time to make up for that with a standing ovation.”

Whisky Tasting Course  Eddie Ludlow

Like many of the best people in the drinks business, Ludlow began his career at Oddbins. Since then he’s become an expert at opening up the often confusing world of whisky. In this book, Ludlow breaks it down into easily digestible segments, explains why whiskies taste as they do, and talks the reader through the most common styles of whisky such as single pot still Irish, small batch bourbon and Islay single malt. Before you know it, you’ll be saying “bonfires on the beach” or muttering “mmm, Jamaica cake” like an old pro.

Sample line: “Your mouth and tongue are actually quite inefficient at detecting all but the most basic flavours.”

The World of Whisky – Neil Ridley, Gavin D. Smith and David Wishart

Lavishly-produced guide to the every-expanding world of whisky by three of the best writers in the business. And you do really need three to cover what is now such an enormous topic. Inevitably the majority of the book is on Scotland with a page devoted to each malt distillery, but the Irish, US and Japan sections are also impressive.

Sample line: “Would even the most discerning of palate be able to detect a differences made using barley grown in Mr McTavish’s bottom field and the one, over yonder hill, behind the tree and the babbling burn?”

The World Atlas of Gin Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

Another book part-written by Neil Ridley! How does it do it? We suspect that he has actually cloned himself to spread the workload. There’s a lot of gin out there and it’s expanding all the time, meaning that this book can only be a snapshot of what’s available but you know with these two that everything in here is going to be worth drinking. Also extra points for not being afraid to put in the big names, like Beefeater, rather than going for hipster obscurity points.

Sample line: “France has embraced the gin revolution with a charismatic style and charm of its own.”

The World Atlas of Wine Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson

This is the 8th edition of an all time classic book, first published in the 1970s and updated every few years. Originally just written by Johnson, Robinson joined the team in 2003. It’s hard to think of a better looking book with its lavish photos and intricate maps of the world’s greatest wine regions. The words are pretty nifty too as you’d expect from (probably) the world’s top two wine writers. 

Sample line: “For centuries, Hungary has had the most distinctive food and wine culture, the most varied grape varieties, and the most refined wine laws and customs of any country east of Germany.”

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