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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Adam O'Connell

Top ten whiskies for Burns Night 2022

Want some bonnie booze to celebrate Burns Night (25 January) this year? You’ll find everything you need to toast Scotland’s national bard in this sublime Scotch-filled line-up! Burns Night is…

Want some bonnie booze to celebrate Burns Night (25 January) this year? You’ll find everything you need to toast Scotland’s national bard in this sublime Scotch-filled line-up!

Burns Night is just a week away and that means you’ll need to stock up on Scotch to do the night justice. Celebrating Burns Night with a good dram is a tradition we’re happy to help keep alive this year, so to help you out we’ve rounded up a remarkable range to mark the occasion. Each has an accompanying Burns poem or song and themed cocktail to boot. Happy Burns Night all!

Burns Night 2022

1) The Sassenach Blended Scotch Whisky

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

Do you know that great sci-fi TV show Outlander? Well, star Sam Heughan isn’t pretending, the Dumfries and Galloway man is a true Scotsman and patriot as his whisky brand The Sassenach demonstrates. And it’s been an absolute smash hit, winning award after award and getting five stars across 223 reviews on our site. Get it while you can, because this beauty sells like hotcakes.

What does it taste like?:

Caramel latte, tangy orange, walnut, cereal, coconut, fruit salad, a hint of savoury spice, with a touch of nutty bread too.

Scots serve: The Robbie Burns Roy

Celebrate three Scotch heroes for the price of one (Robert Burns, Rob Roy and Sam Heughan, if you’re keeping count) at once with the Rob Roy cocktail. To make it you’ll need a mixing glass, to which you add 60ml of The Sassenach Blended Scotch Whisky, 25ml of Lustau Vermut Rojo and 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters. Stir well, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry. Serve, preferably at supper while reciting the Address to a Haggis. This means you’ll need to get yourself some haggis (or whatever the vegetarian/vegan equivalent is, I can’t even imagine) and, please forget any negatives you’ve heard, it is smashing.

Burns Night 2022

2) Robert Burns Single Malt

O Whisky! soul o’ plays and pranks!
Accept a bardie’s gratfu’ thanks!

If you’re on the lookout for a good bottle of Scotch for Burns Night, then you could do far worse than to pick up one that was actually created in his honour. In fact, this single malt from the Isle of Arran distillery was officially endorsed by the World Burns Federation. And has his face on the bottle. That’s pretty perfect, right? 

What does it taste like?:

Apple strudel, a little pear juice, hints of coconut, vanilla, pannacotta, and cinnamon.

Scots serve: The Scotch Drink Sour

A sensationally sour tribute to the Scotch drink, this Whisky Sour is made by adding 50ml Robert Burns Single Malt, 25ml lemon juice, 2 tsp orange marmalade, 2 tsp maple syrup and one egg white to your shaker and dry shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Fill with ice and shake hard again, then double strain into a chilled tumbler and garnish with a piece of orange zest. Serve and proudly recite the Scotch Drink poem in your best 18th-century Scottish to your entertained/slightly embarrassed guests.

Burns Night 2022

3) Cù Bòcan Signature

Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippeny, we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!

Tomatin’s smoky series of single malts are a reliably consistent bunch and Signature is a fine example, with a sweet, fruity profile balanced by light peated edge. It’s aged in a trio of casks; bourbon, Oloroso sherry, and North American virgin oak. No chill-filtration or additional colours in this one, just fine whisky presented at its best.

What does it taste like?:

Dry and fragrant, with woodsmoke, dried lemon peel, Conference pear, espresso vanilla, then orchard fruit and heather honey, with a touch of liquorice.

Scots serve: Tam Collins

A Jock Collins with a Burns-ian spin, all you have to do to make this one is mix the 60ml of Cù Bòcan Signature, 30ml of lemon juice and 1 tsp sugar in a shaker. Then shake and pour into a Collins glass half-filled with ice. Top with soda water, garnish with an orange slice and serve. Simple, sophisticated and oh-so Scottish. And comes with a built-in challenge: to recite the epic Tam O’ Shanter off-by-heart.

Burns Night 2022

4) Berry Bros. & Rudd Sherry Cask Matured – The Classic Range

Ye banks and braes o’ bonie Doon,
How can ye bloom sae fresh and fair?
How can ye chant, ye little birds,
And I sae weary fu’ o’ care!

Legendary independent bottler Berry Bros. and Rudd doesn’t tend to get it wrong and this classic example of a well-sherried Scotch whisky demonstrates why. Part of The Classic Range, it’s great value for money and should be a treat for those who want a big sherry bomb for Burns Night.

What does it taste like?:

Blood orange juice, brown sugar, herbal tea, bitter dark chocolate, Seville orange marmalade, and dried fruit with a hint of charred pineapple and perhaps some rancio.

Scots serve: The Rusty Banks o’ Doon

A Rusty Nail inspired by The Banks o’ Doon’, make this super simple serve by stirring 60ml Berry Bros. & Rudd Sherry Cask Matured – The Classic Range and 30ml Drambuie on a tumbler over ice. Garnish with a lemon twist. The traditional version is half and half or if you have a sweeter tooth you can reverse the ratio. Or halve the amount of Drambuie if you like it drier.

Burns Night 2022

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

O gin my love were yon red rose,
That grows upon the castle wa’;
And I myself a drap o’ dew,
Into her bonie breast to fa’!

When winter’s here there’s nothing better than a warm, sweet and smoky dram. Pair this with a good fire and a tartan blanket and you’ve got the cosiest Burns Night imaginable. According to the folks at The Character of Islay Whisky Company, everything you need to know about this dram is in the name, Aerolite Lyndsay. Any guesses? 

What does it taste like?:

Maritime peat, iodine, honey sweetness, paprika, salted caramel, old bookshelves, mint dark chocolate, espresso, new leather, soy sauce, liquorice allsorts, bonfire smoke and toffee penny, with a pinch of salt.

Scots serve: The Drap O’ Dew Penicillin

A Burns-tastic adaptation of the classic Penicillin cocktail, probably the finest of all peated whisky cocktails. Combine 50ml blended whisky (Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old or Compass Box Great King Street – Artist’s Blend), 20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice and 20ml honey & ginger syrup into your cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice and give it a good hard shake, then strain into a chilled rocks glass over a large piece of ice. Then gently pour the 15ml of Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old slowly over the back of a spoon so it floats delicately on the top of the drink. Garnish with candied ginger on a skewer and enjoy, while reciting, Ron Swanson-style, the beautiful O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair to whoever your heart burns for.

Burns Night 2022

6) Crabbie’s Yardhead Gift Pack with 1x Tumbler

O Lord, Thou kens what zeal I bear,
When drinkers drink, an’ swearers swear,
An’ singing here, an’ dancin there,
Wi’ great and sma’

A tasty single malt bottled up by Crabbie’s that’s perfect for using in cocktails and mixed drinks. This is what you want for a party setting where you need a versatile, approachable and reliable whisky. Plus, it comes with a handsome branded tumbler for serving said cocktails and mixed drinks in. How handy!

What does it taste like?:

Custard Cream biscuits, lemon peel, a touch of savoury wood, mint leaf, toffee apple, white grape, and soft cinnamon.

Scots serve: Holy Willie’s Presbyterian

A delicious variation of a whisky Highball that pays tribute to Holy Willie’s Prayer, a poem in which Burns fittingly attempts to uncover what he sees as the absurdity of the Presbyterian doctrine of predestination. Pretty neat, huh? To create, start by adding 45ml of Crabbie’s Yardhead to a Highball glass filled with ice. Then top with 55ml each of ginger ale and soda water and stir. Garnish with a lemon twist, then serve and delight/bore everyone in sight with your newly acquired knowledge of the defiant Holy Willie’s Prayer.

Burns Night 2022

7) Timorous Beastie

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!”

Named after the Burns poem To a Mouse, this Scotch whisky was created by Douglas Laing. It’s a blended malt made entirely of Highland whiskies from distilleries such as Dalmore, Glen Garioch, Glengoyne and more, so you know it’s made of purely good stuff. Plus, there’s the Burns connection again. An all-round winner.

What does it taste like?:

Acacia honey, creamy boiled sweeties (the strawberry flavour), dried apricots, green apple, fresh bread, sherry, a whiff of coastal air and classic Highland heather, too.

Scots serve: The Beastie Boulevardier

Essentially a whisky equivalent of a Negroni, The Boulevardier is a beautiful, rich and complex serve. To make, combine 45ml of Timorous Beastie, 25ml of Campari and 25ml of Martini Rosso in a mixing glass with ice. Stir, then strain into chilled tumbler over fresh ice. Garnish with an orange twist, serve and pay tribute to your creation with a rendition of To a Mouse.

Burns Night 2022

8) Glen Scotia 12 Year Old Seasonal Release

O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in june;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune:

The Glen Scotia Distillery in Campbeltown is one of those distilleries that gets people incredibly excited as this 12-year-old from the Seasonal Release series is a great example of why. Matured combination of first-fill bourbon and American oak casks for 11 years and then finished for 12 months in a combination of first-fill Oloroso sherry hogsheads and heavily charred American oak barrels, this combo of combos will be a firm favourite at Burns Night bash you attend.

What does it taste like?:

Pear, red apple, layers of toffee, orange oil, ginger, oak, and a hint of seashell salinity.

Scots serve: A Red, Red Blood and Sand

The Blood and Sand looks as good as it tastes and, luckily, it’s easy to make. Begin by popping a coupe glass in the freezer for a few minutes before you start to get it nice and chilled. Then add 25ml of Glen Scotia 12 Year Old Seasonal Release, 25ml of Martini Rosso, 25ml of Ableforth’s Cherry Brandy (or Heering Cherry Liqueur) and 25ml of fresh orange juice to a shaker with ice and give your best hard shake for about 30 seconds. Then take your chilled glass out of the freezer, pop a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry in the bottom of it, and then strain the mix into the glass. Garnish with an orange zest before you serve and recite the beautiful A Red, Red Rose to what I can only imagine will be a room of people struggling to hold back the tears.

Burns Night 2022

9) Teaninich 11 Year Old 2010 (cask 356846) – James Eadie (Master of Malt Exclusive)

Farewell to the Highlands, farewell to the north,
The birth-place of Valour, the country of Worth;
Wherever I wander, wherever I rove,
The hills of the Highlands for ever I love.

A single cask single malt from the terrific Teaninich Distillery, independently bottled by James Eadie exclusively for Master of Malt! An intriguing finishing period in a first-fill Amontillado sherry cask for 16 months was given to this beauty before it was bottled up at cask strength, and with just 321 bottles produced you’ll want to make sure you grab a bottle before they’re all gone!

What does it taste like?:

Roasted almond, chewy apricot, maple syrup, fresh cedar, fudge and buttered scones. 

Scots serve: My Heart’s in the Toddy

The perfect winter warmer and an ideal treat if you’re staying in this year, this Hot Toddy is made by filling a heat-proof glass with boiling water and letting it stand for 1-2 mins to warm. Empty the mug and half-fill with 150ml of boiling water. Add 50ml Teaninich 11 Year Old 2010 (cask 356846) – James Eadie (Master of Malt Exclusive), the juice of half a lemon, ¼ tsp ground cinnamon, ¼ tsp ground nutmeg, 1 cinnamon stick and 2 cloves (slightly ground using pestle and mortar) to the glass and stir. Garnish with a slice of lemon and a cinnamon stick. Serve with the words of My Heart’s in the Highlands warming your heart in tandem with the Toddy.

Burns Night 2022

10) Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old 

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

A genuine classic, Balvenie DoubleWood’s mixed maturation of refill American oak casks followed by first-fill European oak Oloroso sherry butts changed the game when it was launched in 1993 and the rich and complex dram has been wowing folks ever since. If you want no-risk and all-reward, this is the one for you.

What does it taste like?:

Supple nuttiness intertwined with spices as well as vanilla, nutmeg, honeyed sultanas and grapes.

Scots serve: The Auld Fashioned

The Auld (Old) Fashioned is a classic for a reason and this is a surefire recipe perfect to taste the Bard himself. Start by putting a level teaspoon of brown sugar into an Old Fashioned glass, then add a splash of hot water and two dashes of Fee Brothers Orange Bitters. Stir vigorously so that the sugar dissolves, then add 80ml of Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old. Stir a bit more, add ice cubes, stir a bit more and garnish with a piece of orange peel. Serve while belting out a resounding edition of Auld Lang Syne.

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Drinks without category: Pussanga

Pussanga is made from a plant used in shamanic medicine as a love potion. It has been described as a liqueur, a new style of a spirit, or even a hybrid….

Pussanga is made from a plant used in shamanic medicine as a love potion. It has been described as a liqueur, a new style of a spirit, or even a hybrid. But what is it? We speak to the founder to find out.

In Central and South American jungles there are plants  known as pussanga whose root is used historically by local shamans to make love potions. This process was witnessed by a German scientist named Petra Spamer-Riether in the late 1980s, who visited Peru after her bachelor’s degree and then again after her masters’s degree, and later for her PhD travelled into the jungle to find with this special plant.

“I already started to learn quite good Spanish and I was in five different places at the Madre de Dios River, near the Manú National Park. I used to live with Machiguenga and Piro Pueblo indigenous people, and then I went to the Ucayali River,” says Spamer-Riether. 

“I was working there in a little Indian village, Limojema, and I heard that locally there were some roots of ‘pussanga plants’, which means an aphrodisiac plant in the local language. They showed me the root and how they blended it with different herbs, plants, ginger and honey. It was always sweet and a little spicy, but it varies from different areas”.

Tasting that drink in the Peruvian jungle didn’t immediately lead to Spamer-Riether creating her own, however. She spent the next couple of decades working as a journalist in TV, radio, and newspapers, eventually making documentary films about science and nature, including about her travels in Peru. 


Petra and Janina

A drink to remember

After one particularly grueling project her daughter, Janina, bought her a novel to relax with, The Cook by Martin Suter. In it, there’s a story about a cook who made aphrodisiac recipes for dinners. “I had a flashback to my time in Peru 25 years ago and thought I could create an aphrodisiac spirit like the shamans did”.

By 2011 she was working on what would become Pussanga, although it took a year of experimenting to create the recipe. “In the beginning, it tasted like cough medicine! I used some other aphrodisiac ingredients, like chilli and ginger, and settled on a recipe with a selection of fruits, herbs, and plants like pomegranate, thyme, basil, orange, strawberry, tangy raspberry, a lot of cardamom, some cinnamon, and a lot of vanilla”. 

Of course, there’s the vital ingredient: crushed pussanga root from Peru and Mexico. Spamer-Riether won’t reveal the exact type of plant, but we do know it adds a complex, bitter flavour. With the help of her daughter, who is still involved although now splits her time between a PhD and the brand. She launched Pussanga at Bar Convent Berlin in 2013 to a great reception. People might not have known what it was exactly, but they liked it.


There’s some classic botanicals, and one special, secret ingredient

How to make a drink like no other

The drink is now made at a distillery in Spamer-Riether’s native Germany, using what she describes as a very complicated, handmade process. In a glass ball, alcohol is mixed with soft water from the mountains of the Spessarts in order to extract the flavours from the fruits, herbs, and spices. 

Each ingredient is macerated over the course of two weeks, steeped into alcohol in cotton bags at selected intervals. “It’s tough because when you bring them all together you can’t filter the liquid. The pussanga root in particular is like dust, which is nearly impossible to filtrate. So one ingredient could need five days, another one nine,” Spamer-Riether explains. 

The spirit is filtered several times and then everything spends a few months together in stainless steel containers to allow all the ingredients a chance to marry together and develop. Because each batch is made to taste rather than to measure, each bottle is unique.

The result is a drink that is fruity, spicy, bitter, and a little bit sweet. “It’s a unique taste. When one of our first awards in 2015, Cocktail Spirits Paris, one of the founders said ‘it’s a singular product, you can’t compare it with anything, it’s so special’,” Spamer-Riether says. She describes it as a hybrid. In 2015, Pussanga was chosen among the 100 most innovative spirits and has picked up numerous awards since its creation. 


Is it a liqueur? Something else? Whatever it is, Pussanga tastes good

Drinking Pussanga

But what is it? In some countries, Pussanga can be classified as a liqueur, but as the definition of what makes a drink a liqueur differs so much across the world, that’s not a complete classification. A hybrid is not a bad way to put it. What’s most important is what it tastes like in your glass anyway, and happily it’s not only unique but really enjoyable.

Pour yourself a glass and you’ll find it’s spicy from chilli and baking spice. There’s also heaps of red fruit sweetness and sour tang which is balanced with a really pleasant dose of bitterness. There’s a touch of German liqueur heritage in that spice and herbaceousness, but it definitely stands on its own two feet. Immediately I’m thinking Pussanga would be an interesting base for a Spritz, but it would also mix well with tonic or sparkling wine. Although, I can’t say it had any love-potion qualities for me, and, in fairness, that’s not something the brand guarantees either.

While you might not land your soulmate with Pussanga, finding a suitable pair for the drink itself is not particularly hard. For Spamer-Riether, the sky’s the limit with how you can drink it. “It works in so many different cocktails because you can pair it with every spirit, Tequila, gin, vodka, rum, mezcal, whisky. The Ritz Hotel last year made a very nice cocktail with a Glenmorangie, and it makes a good Manhattan variation. Tony Pescatori created a very nice Pisco Sour with Pussanga,” she says. There’s a reason why top bars like Isabel’s, Amazonico, and Nightjar stock it. 

But, if you want to keep it simple you can make yourself a Pussaga Tonic, just avoid the sweeter, flavoured tonics, or mix it with some Champagne. It’s also tasty neat, with Spamer-Riether saying she drinks it in the summer as a digestive, sometimes with ice cubes and a lemon or orange garnish, but she also likes to heat it in the winter, mixing it with black tea, making punches, or even with hot chocolate. It’s worth experimenting to find how you like best. Whatever you decide, it’s a safe bet you won’t have many other drinks like it in your cabinet.

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How the Morris winery turned its hand to Australian whisky

Morris might be one of Australia’s most celebrated wineries, but it has recently entered the world of whisky and has hit the ground running. Here’s how a respected wine family…

Morris might be one of Australia’s most celebrated wineries, but it has recently entered the world of whisky and has hit the ground running. Here’s how a respected wine family dynasty made the transition look easy.

In Australia, north-eastern Victoria is regarded as the capital of fortified wines, ever since vines were brought along with the Gold Rush of the 1850s and were planted in the rolling hills of Victoria’s Riverland, fed by the mighty Snowy Mountains and Murray River. Here you’ll find the small town of Rutherglen, home to less than 2,000 people, including the Morris family, whose winery was established in 1859. Here six generations have made fortified wine, a tradition maintained today led by head winemaker David Morris. 

This generational expertise, impressive stock, and popular brand made the winery an attractive proposition for Casella Family Brands, which bought it in 2016 but kept the Morris family doing what it does best. But it wasn’t just the wine that tempted John Casella. He always had a passion for single malt whisky and had a dream to create a great Australian example. And the Morris family had an original 1930’s hybrid copper-pot still, used to make the spirit for the fortified wines since 1941, although it had laid dormant for some time.

When you put 2+2 together you get 4, and when you realise you have a unique still as well as access to an amazing library of fortified casks that could be used to finish whisky, you have yourselves the making of a great distillery. One with a point of difference. Who else starts off with that level of drinks knowledge and quality of equipment to hand? “With these factors combined, alongside a passion for whisky from the family, we knew it was an opportunity that couldn’t be passed up,” says global marketing manager, Michael Sergeant.

Morris Whisky

The Morris Winery

Living up to the family name

With all these advantages comes a certain pressure: the Morris brand has a reputation to uphold. John Casella knew the most critical thing was to get the liquid quality and brand proposition right from the outset. He set up the Copper & Grain Distilling Co. and the Rutherglen Distillery to be the home to Morris Whisky, and carefully restored the hybrid copper pot and column still, naming it Aurora, after the princess in Sleeping Beauty who awoke after close to a century of slumber.

He then ensured that all the barley used in Morris Whisky production is 100% Australian sourced, malted in Australian maltsters, and then brewed at the family-owned brewery. “Having our own grain supply is an advantage as we are able to control the quality and consistency of the grains we are using in our whisky, allowing us to ensure that each bottle of Morris Whisky has the same exceptional flavour,” Sergeant explains. There is scope in the future to try other grains but for now it’s just malted barley.

Pure, filtered water from the Snowy Mountains is also used in Morris whisky production. But the star of the show is Aurora which produces 400-500 litres of high strength new make spirit per batch which comes off the still at 78% ABV – the strength chosen by the distillers for having the right balance of flavours and congeners. The process is overseen by a team of highly-regarded experts, including ex-Diageo man and head distiller Darren Peck, who has worked for the last five years under the tutelage of John McDougall, a renowned whisky maker with experience with Balvenie, Laphroaig, and Springbank. He now consults exclusively to Morris as master distiller, while the late Dr Jim Swan, was also a key member of the original Morris Whisky team. 

Morris Whisky

The muscat wine barrel

Where whisky and wine meet

Both McDougall and Swan were integral in designing a unique barrel maturation program, and providing the team with a special and unique barrel toasting regime. David Morris helps identify the best casks from a library that includes barrels over a 100-years-old. They’re all prepared by hand at a private cooperage in-house in Yenda, which is led by Anton Remkes, a great advantage as the distillery can create customised shaving and toasting methods for optimal maturation.

The whisky is matured in a combination of American and French oak casks, ex-Shiraz, and Cabernet red wine barrels specifically, selected from wineries in the Barossa and Coonawarra regions.  The Signature Whisky is then finished in a combination of Morris fortified barrels, while the Muscat Barrel Whisky is finished in, you guessed it, rare Morris Muscat barrels, some of which have held what the brand claims is the world’s most highly awarded fortified wine.

These fortified barrels offer Morris an exceptional edge, creating whiskies with a combination of style and quality few can match. The Morris winery makes some of thebest fortified wines in the world, while the Rutherglen region’s climate lends itself to whisky production with hot summer days and cool nights, conditions that are perfect for ageing and helping create the distinctive Morris Whisky taste. 

Morris Whisky

There’s a lot of promise in those barrels

At the forefront of a growing category

Creating whisky with a winemaker’s perspective is an intriguing perspective, as two worlds collide.  Morris says that, from the beginning, the brand set itself two main guardrails: 1) to be respectful of the traditions of single malt whisky-making and 2) honour the heritage of the Morris family. “We also found on our journey that there are more similarities than not between these two worlds, the attention to detail, the influence of terroir, the quality and purity of ingredients, and the role of the barrels in ageing and blending,” Sergeant explains. “Over time, we also learnt that both consumers and trade alike were open and intrigued to learn more about the craft of fortified winemaking and how these amazing aged liquids can impart rich and intense flavour into whisky.  While our ambition is for Morris Whisky to be regarded as a world-class single malt in its own right, we hope that we can help shine a light back onto the amazing fortified category for many spirits consumers to rediscover and enjoy”.  

This approach has helped set Morris whisky apart from other distilleries in what is an increasingly strong and competitive Australian whisky market. Accelerated growth has defined the category, with the sales of local whisky more than doubling from 2019 to 2020 according to IWSR (International Wines and Spirits Record). The folks at Morris are confident that success isn’t fleeting and that drinkers both local and overseas will continue to appreciate the Australian flavour. Certainly, Morris seems to have a bright future, with 2021 a bumper year for the brand with the release of its first whiskies.

Australia’s leading wine and spirits writers have given Morris Whisky glowing reviews, picking up numerous awards and receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from both consumer and industry professionals for redefining the pricing of quality Australian single malt whisky and making it more widely accessible.  These last two points, in particular, are very encouraging as they have tended to be the factors holding the category back. For Morris though, everything is moving forward. Premium releases and ideas to develop the range further are in the works, as are plans for greater distribution to an increasing number of markets, and the team are also close to opening its own brand home, the Morris Distillery in Rutherglen in 2022.  

The review

It’s a story and an approach that has grabbed the attention of a few of us at MoM Towers, with its reasonably priced inaugural releases (especially for 700ml bottles, a rarity in Australia) and wine legacy prompting several of us to find out if what’s in the bottle lives up to the promise. So, let’s take a look at the two releases, which are available now simply by clicking the links.

Morris Whisky

Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Signature

Here we have the Signature single malt whisky from Australia’s Morris Distillery. This expression is aged in fortified wine barrels and, as you’d expect, benefits from all that intense, rich fruity character. Sherry cask lovers will love its blend of spice, sweetness and nutty qualities, while an underlying biscuity malt and orchard fruit character I’d guess is coming from the spirit adds depth and plays with the cask notes beautifully. A very enjoyable sipper, one that’s hard not to go back to.

Nose: Biscuit malt, marzipan and jammy black fruits make way for dark chocolate, stewed apples, earthy vanilla, and zingy orange zest.

Palate: Rich and unctuous, with fruitcake, nutmeg, chocolate digestive biscuits, as well as touches of menthol cherry sweets and a little cassia underneath.

Finish: The full-bodied sweetness lingers with a hint of aromatic spice.

Morris Whisky

Morris Australian Single Malt Whisky Muscat Barrel Finish

The more premium offering with its unique finishing period in Morris Muscat barrels, no other whisky can boast that. The prestige is matched in good measure by personality, with oodles of aromatic spice, toasty sweet notes and dense fruit mingling away together. It’s a statement whisky from the brand and it’s got very interesting things to say, particularly in a palate that defies its age and has some truly complex notes. This will prove very popular I think.

Nose: There’s an unctuous funk moving through this, Medjool dates, deeply caramelised apple and wine-soaked oak playing with beeswax, Muscovado sugar, mocha and rich malt. Licks of manuka honey and a hint of sweet tobacco are present throughout.

Palate: Prunes, raisin and oily nuts lead with vanilla pod earthiness, dark chocolate, cardamom, and more stewed orchard fruit in support. Underneath it all, there’s floral, fruity tones, allspice, and a touch of damp forest floor.

Finish: A drier, spicier finish carries with it rich oak, dark molasses, strawberry bonbons and baking spice.

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January 2022 Master of Malt competition winners

Lots of competitions have been and gone, so now all that’s left is to announce the winners. Let’s do this. Here are our January 2022 Master of Malt competition winners….

Lots of competitions have been and gone, so now all that’s left is to announce the winners. Let’s do this. Here are our January 2022 Master of Malt competition winners.

We love throwing together a good competition. Giving someone the chance to receive a bundle of boozy brilliance or get jetted off somewhere swanky is a real pleasure. This is why we throw a lot of them. That means there are plenty of winners, and we’ve got a whole bunch from 2021 to announce. Who’s ready to hear some names and pop some Champagne?

Congratulations to…

The winner of a VIP trip to Brown-Forman in the USA… Martin Kendall

The winner of a VIP trip to Highland Park Distillery… Nicola Ross

The winner of a VIP trip to Glenturret Distillery… Jason Oldfield

The winner of a VIP trip to Glen Scotia Distillery… Sandra Fursman

The winners of a year’s supply of Tomatin whisky… Nigel Beale and Daniel Abbey

A year's supply of Tomatin whisky

A year’s supply of Tomatin whisky!

The winner of a bottle of Macallan 25 Year Old Sherry Oak… Glen (who wanted us to print just his first name)

The winner of a year’s subscription to Pour & Sip… Kimberley Hale

The winner of a bundle of Jack Daniel’s goodies… Wendy Smith

The winner of a bundle of goodies from Inverroche Gin… Sonia Capitao

The winner of a bundle of Christmas goodies from Atom Labs… Emma Anderson

The winner of a bundle of whiskey from Bushmills Distillery… Owain Llewellyn

30 Days of Bunnahabhain

A fantastic comp closes with many lucky winners

And the many, many winners we have for the 30 Days of Bunnahabhain giveaway, who are… 

Pamela Robertson

William Middleton

Stuart Fell

Annette MacDonald

Christine Goodman

Sarah Kivlin

Sarah Smith

Iain Richmond

Mark Rogers

Dave Ford

Paula Rendall

Sophie Parker-Loftus

Martin Stanley

Charlotte Jacobs

Martine Middleton

Josh Wrigley

Megan Bowles

Judith Shaw

Hayley Watson

Lynn Hall

Connie Grantham

Julie Pope

Jordan Simmonds

Rachel Calver

Paul Edwards

Richard Hooker

Graham Purkins

Carroll Pettit

Jason Bandy

Styliani Kaltzidou

Congratulations all! We hope you enjoy your prizes. 

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Enjoy alcohol-free cocktails this Dry January with High Point

High Point Drinks is the brainchild of Eddie Lofthouse, founder of Cornish brewery Harbour Brewing. And we reckon the non-alcoholic alternatives are ideal for making booze-free cocktails you’ll actually enjoy…

High Point Drinks is the brainchild of Eddie Lofthouse, founder of Cornish brewery Harbour Brewing. And we reckon the non-alcoholic alternatives are ideal for making booze-free cocktails you’ll actually enjoy this Dry January. 

Just ten minutes from Eddie Lofthouse’s house is the highest point in Bodmin (and in Cornwall), the summit of Rough Tor. He and his family go up there to see sunrises and sunsets, the ocean and the local wildlife. “It’s wild, rugged and ace. When life is moving at pace, how you choose to spend your time can quickly become about choices,” he says. 

It was having this thought and this spot that Lofthouse conceived of High Point Drinks, a brand based on the idea that the choice not to drink alcohol should be about an elevated experience, not a compromised one. As was the case with Harbour Brewing Co, he couldn’t find what he was looking for in the market so he decided to make it himself. “Despite the pace of its growth, we couldn’t find depth, complexity or rich flavours in the no-to-low booze world. Our expertise in fermentation meant that we had craft production and layers of authentic flavour to introduce to the conversation”. 

The Cornwall brand currently makes two drinks, a non-alcoholic fermented Aperitif and Digestif. Lofthouse was attracted to this style of drink because he feels they’re sophisticated and hold depth of flavour, complexity and are interesting to drink. He adds that “we chose to create an aperitif and a digestif for more than just their style. It’s the occasions that are associated with them. Two key moments around the table that we love, an aperitif at the beginning of a delicious meal with friends, and a digestif when the meal ends and the pace of the evening begins to wind down”. 

High Point

Eddie Lofthouse, in his element

How a brewer makes low-and-no alcohol

The process to create both beings with a brew of Cornish spring water (the elixir of life – depending on who you ask, says Lofthouse) and tea leaves. Then a two-stage fermentation process is done, one bacteria and the other yeast, or anaerobic and aerobic if you’re the kind of person who watches Only Connect

While alcohol is produced as a natural part of this process, it’s eaten up and converted into acetic acid. From there natural fruits, herbs, and spices are infused and afterwards, a blending method is used to achieve balance. The digestif has an extra step in that it ages for a week or so to create a smoother mouthfeel and extract some deeper notes. 

Lofthouse’s brewing background comes into its own here, as flavour in High Point drinks really is driven by the fermentation. “Those years of perfecting and deepening our knowledge, and an ability to play with the process has uncovered layers of complexity and flavour beyond our expectations,” Lofthouse says. “We knew the science behind it would work, but the personalities shining through so distinctly in both Ruby and Amber have been rewarding and surprising, for both ourselves and the on-trade”. 

High Point

Fermentation is the key

Providing choices, not compromises

Dry January isn’t a pledge I’ve ever taken myself and, as the founder of Harbour Brewing, it’s fair to say that Lofthouse is more motivated by moderation, not sobriety. “People want choices. We’re not anti-alcohol. It’s about finding balance in a world of indulgence, something we’ve all become increasingly aware of throughout the pandemic,” he explains. “The ritual of preparing a sophisticated drink and enjoying it at home; for many, this is simply relaxation. If we can offer someone that same occasion without the alcohol then that is finding balance without compromise for us. People want to compromise on their alcohol intake, not on flavour and experience”. 

It’s this perspective that demonstrates the potential of the no-and-low alcohol market. The desire for choices means the need for options, so expect more brands like High Point to pop up. Lofthouse predicts we’ll see some unprecedented growth first, as new brands and ideas make themselves known, followed by a natural evolution in quality and understanding as awareness of the market grows. “The NA market has the potential to give consumers what they’re seeking, a way to master moderation without feeling excluded or left with a “less than” taste,” he summarises. 

The question that remains is, how do you create non-alcoholic cocktails that don’t skimp on flavour or a sense of occasion? “Keeping it simple, and letting the complexity perfected in our liquids lead the way. We’re not looking to be a ‘replacement’, High Point Drinks stand up by themselves in cocktails,” Lofthouse explains. “We keep it simple for at home recipes, and hand the controls over to the bartenders and mixologists that truly know what they’re doing”.

Here’s some recipes and a breakdown of each product to get you started. 

High Point

The High Point Ruby Spritz

High Point Ruby

High Point Ruby is a vibrant fermented aperitif and delicious served as a spritz with tonic and ice. This bittersweet citrus aperitif also works really well when paired with fine food.

Ingredients: Hibiscus, lavender, wormwood, pink peppercorn, orange zest and pink grapefruit zest.

Tasting note: A wild herbal aroma, a wave of zest and spice that rolls onto your palate with long-lasting bittersweet citrus flavours.

Simple serve: The High Point Ruby Spritz. To make, combine 50ml High Point Ruby and 200ml of good quality tonic water in a large wine glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with a slice of pink grapefruit. Simple but effective. Lovely.

Take it up a notch: Ruby Bitter Summer. Put 50ml High Point Ruby, 50ml freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice, 15ml freshly squeezed lemon juice, 10ml sugar syrup (made 1:1), 5ml passionfruit syrup and 5-8 mint leaves into a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake for 10 seconds. Fine strain into a chilled highball glass full of cubed ice. Garnish with a mint sprig and a slice of pink grapefruit.

For the mixologists: Ruby Clover Club. Place 50ml High Point Ruby, 20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice. 15ml sugar syrup (made 1:1), 5 raspberries, 20ml egg white/vegan foamer in a cocktail shaker, shake without ice, add ice and shake again. Fine strain into a chilled coupette/cocktail glass then garnish with freeze-dried raspberry powder.

High Point

The High Point Amber Old Fashioned

High Point Amber

A deeply smoky fermented digestif, which has been cold smoked and aged for one week after blending. Best enjoyed with ginger ale or neat over ice. 

Ingredients: Lasag, ginger, clove, vanilla, cacao nibs and gentian root.

Tasting note: Freshly stoked embers and notes of toffee aroma, the scent of freshly stoked embers rise up with notes of log-fired toffee before its signature mouthfeel is ignited, and smoke and spice start to gently warm the soul.

Simple serve: Amber Lowball. To make, combine 50ml High Point Amber and 200ml of good quality ginger ale in a large wine glass filled with cubed ice. Garnish with a slice of orange. 

Take it up a notch: The High Point Amber Old Fashioned. To make, combine 50ml High Point Amber Digestif, 5ml of sugar syrup (made 1:1) and three dashes of aromatic bitters in a mixing glass filled with cubed ice. Give it a hearty stir, before straining into a chilled rocks glass over cubed or block ice. Garnish with an orange twist. An effective and rewarding twist on a classic.

For the mixologists: Amber Penicillin. Put 50ml High Point Amber, 20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice, 10ml homemade ginger syrup and 10ml honey syrup (made 3:1) into a cocktail shaker, filled with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled rocks glass filled with cubed ice.

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#BagThisBundle part 2 – win more Dry January 2022 goodies!

The second bundle from our two-part competition for Dry January 2022 is now up for grabs, so if you want to kick off the new year with a win you…

The second bundle from our two-part competition for Dry January 2022 is now up for grabs, so if you want to kick off the new year with a win you know what to do… 

Hey, remember last week when we gave you the chance to win loads of terrific bottles of no-and-low booze and we said that there was more to come? Well, we weren’t just having you on, there really is a second lot of goodies to be won. This week we’ve got everything you need to make cracking cocktails with High Point!

Dry Jan

Want to make some great cocktails without booze? This should help…

In full, here’s what is up for grabs:

And all you have to do to enter is the following:

Do that and you’re in it to win it. Good luck!

MoM ‘Dry January Bag This Bundle’ Competition Part Two 2022 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 10:00:00 GMT on 10 January to 17:00:00 GMT on 16 January 2022. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. See full T&Cs for details.

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Whisky distilleries to watch out for in 2022

2022 should be another landmark year in whisky with new distilleries opening and first releases from new players hitting the market. Here’s our pick of some of the most exciting…

2022 should be another landmark year in whisky with new distilleries opening and first releases from new players hitting the market. Here’s our pick of some of the most exciting ones to watch.

It’s not exactly been the most encouraging couple of years for the drinks industry but whisky is doing pretty well, all things considered. Just look at all the distilleries that will open this year, and all the first releases we have to look forward to. The path to getting back on track is paved with good drams, from all over the world. Here, we shine our big ‘MoM’ branded spotlight on just five distilleries that we’re particularly excited about.

Whisky distilleries to watch out for in 2022

Whisky distilleries 2022

On our recent visit, we were very impressed by Bankhall’s approach

Bankhall Distillery, Blackpool, England

The team at Bankhall have been busy re-imagining the traditional whisky process in Britain with a star-spangled twist. The Halewood Artisanal Spirits (the people behind Aber Falls, Whitley Neil, Vestal Vodka and many others) owned project was founded in 2018 and has spent the last few years working to create a bourbon-like spirit in the UK. Master distiller Vince Oleson (previously of the Widow Jane Distillery in New York) uses a single batch process to make a spirit that’s American in, well, spirit, as well as experimenting with single malt and rye whiskies. Two young sweet mash spirits have already been released to acclaim, but this year we should see its first official whisky, and we can’t wait. What we’ve tried so far is full of promise, reasonably priced and so intriguing. Plus, the distillery is in Blackpool. Which is an amazing city.

Whisky distilleries 2022

Not just a beautiful place, this is home to some already impressive whisky

Killara Distillery, Tasmania, Australia

This is one of the most highly anticipated new distilleries in the world for good reason. Headed up by Kristy Booth-Lark, daughter of Australian whisky guru Bill Lark and the creator of many of the Lark distilleries’ most loved expressions, she’s now running the show as something of a ‘one woman band’. We love people keeping the family tradition alive, but when they do so by making whisky with locally-sourced grain, a focus on supporting neighbouring businesses and a process that prioritises quality, that’s when you really start talking our language. Early expressions have been extremely good for their age, like this lovely Boutique-y bottling, and the only problem with whatever comes next will be getting your hands on a bottle, because they sell out quickly.

Whisky distilleries 2022

Progress is coming along nicely and we can’t wait to see the finished distillery

The Port of Leith Distillery, Edinburgh, Scotland

We’ve spoken about The Port of Leith Distillery before, because it’s an extremely exciting project. While whisky is still a few years away yet, we wanted to flag this Edinburgh distillery because it should open this year and, once it does, you’ll have to get in line behind us for a visit. The ‘vertical distillery’ rises 40 metres above the quayside, and will feature a top floor double height whisky bar (with views to Edinburgh Castle, no less) and the capacity to produce up to million bottles of single malt a year. It doesn’t take Nostradamus to predict that this will become a tourist attraction in no time, but the level of detail that co-founders Paddy Fletcher and Ian Stirling have put into this distillery demonstrates that it won’t be a case of style over substance.

Whisky distilleries 2022

Japanese whisky is about to welcome an influx of newcomers and we’re very excited

Kanosuke Distillery, Kagoshima, Japan

Quite a few Japanese distilleries are gonna come of age this year so it’s hard to pick just one to get fired up about, but the Kanosuke Distillery is already making so many waves it’s hard not to take notice. Even though it only opened in 2018, the company behind it Komasa Jyozo has been producing traditional spirits such as shochu since 1883. This might explain why its hit the ground running with its first releases including young spirits showing the whisky’s progression and then a single malt first edition and second edition, as well as a distillery exclusive. There’s a real sense of originality here, with three pot stills, each with a different shape and neck inclination, allowing for diversity of production of whiskies and a unique climate impacting maturation. Early signs are great, and this distillery is just getting started.

Whisky distilleries 2022

A humble but outstanding young distillery

Killowen Distillery, Co. Down, Northern Ireland

There’s just so much to like about Killowen Distillery. This is a really honest, pure operation that’s all about creating interesting, tasty whisky. From the worm tub condensers to the direct-fire-heated alembic stills, the long fermentations, experimental mash bills and bottling everything at cask strength with no filtration or additional colouring, head distiller Brendan Carty is making whisky for the purist. Expect some of the most distinctive Irish whiskies you’ve ever tasted. I’m actually slightly regretting telling you them as I want all the whisky to myself. But that very much goes against what my actual job is. So, you’re welcome.

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The stories that make Fable Whisky

How do you stand out from the crowd as an independent bottler? Fable Whisky did it by embracing storytelling, animation, and illustration to create an approachable, modern brand. It was…

How do you stand out from the crowd as an independent bottler? Fable Whisky did it by embracing storytelling, animation, and illustration to create an approachable, modern brand.

It was at a duty-free show in Cannes that drinks industry veterans Calum Lawrie and Andrew Torrance decided it was time to branch out and create their own brand. Lawrie had held various roles at companies including Diageo, while Torrance had done a stint at Morrison Bowmore, and was at one time MD of the Whisky Shop. But they wanted to be independent bottlers of great whisky. They knew the game well enough that simply sourcing tasty booze wouldn’t be enough to sustain a business, however, so the question was: how to cut through in an industry that’s already got a lot of great brands.

At the Whisky Shop, Torrance worked with an agency called GP Studio and a brainstorming session with them provided the answer. The duo wanted to create a brand rooted in storytelling, utilising animation, illustration, creative writing, and even ceramics to tell those tales.

“We felt in this subcategory of single cask and independent bottlings, there was a space to do things a bit differently,” Lawrie recalls “It’s one steeped in heritage, provenance, family names. We’ve been in the industry for a long time but we don’t have any links in that way. We had to come up with a USP, something different from everyone else. Andrew spent time in travel retail and was always impressed by the packaging of the perfume industry versus Scotch whisky, feeling it was more inspirational and beautiful. Obviously, that liquid has to be good, but we thought if we can create a beautiful aesthetic and convey the right tone, then we’ve got a chance to standout”.

A different approach

The stories weren’t simply going to be about the whisky in the glass or the distillery, however, but lesser-known stories, myths of Scotland with a whisky association. For the first collection of whiskies, the brand expanded on the legend of ‘The Ghost Piper of Clanyard Bay’, working with artist Hugo Cuellar to make an enchanted world of gothic-style illustration and macabre imagery. In order to convey a sense of place, drone footage of Clanyard Bay was shot, videos with narration and a character-rich story were made, and each of the eleven whiskies in the series were named after its own aspect of the fable.

Cuellar’s input was supported by creative writer Des Waddy, narrator and actor Jeff Rawle, and even potter Bella Jones, who makes Fable’s black volcanic clay whisky tumblers and water jugs, all helping bring the story of Clanyard Bay to life. This is all just for one collection, don’t forget, the life cycle of which will be about 18 months to two years. “We’ll have a new illustrator, animator,  narrator, etc. for the next one and keep things exciting and evolving over time. That’s the beauty of it. It can get repetitive to regurgitate an iconic brand in a different way. Whereas we have the scope to really do anything,” Lawrie says.

People from all walks of life

There’s a clear ambition here to attract more than just your traditional, dyed-in-the-wool whisky drinker. The kind of people who would usually support independent bottlers can be seen as a restricted demographic traditionally, so it’s not lost on the team at Fable how significant it is that people from all walks of life have engaged. 

“It goes from one end of the spectrum; to the other. From millennials and women, to the guys that you might think are very staid in their choices. The stories actually become collectables, not for the kind of person who collects priceless prestige bottlings that never comes out of the cabinet, but amateurs who are interested in the brand and want to participate,” Creative director Daryl Haldane explains. “A lot of classic bottlings are heather and weather, all the classic malt whisky cues. Here we have Fable which is doing something in a very different way. We see this as an opportunity for single cask, indie bottlings to become more mainstream”. 

Fable Whisky

Fable Whisky is getting it right inside and outside the bottle

Not just a pretty label

It’s not an easy task putting together a brand like this, though. Every label, package, chapter is different, as is the liquid inside each bottle. There might have been easier roots for the founders, but they say becoming independent bottlers wasn’t a debate for them, they love the work and the whisky. “Sometimes there are sleepless nights, but it’s exciting. We can try lots of new whiskies and different styles,” Lawrie says. “We know how important the quality is. The whole idea is that, if we can pull people in from a creative angle, then we can have that conversation about whisky, how it is produced, and why it’s great”. 

For the first collection, each of the eleven chapters share a style. “They’re raw, unadulterated. Whisky, it’s as it should be. We want to showcase distillery character, not disguise them with casks,” Lawrie explains. “Certainly where I’ve come from in the past, we’ve talked a lot about casks and didn’t talk enough about distillery character, We feel that’s a great place to start with the first Fable for sure. The feedback we’ve been getting is how refreshing it is to try these distilleries and really get their true style coming through”. 

One way to win over whisky purists is to bottle the whisky you source with no added colouring, chill-filtration, and at cask strength, and Fable’s approach respects this holy trilogy. “We know this is what whisky nerds love and it’s a credibility thing, but when you’re talking about distillery character and letting that shine through, that’s just how you do it,” Haldane says. “We’re passionate about showcasing distilleries that don’t always get enough love, so when you get whisky from places you don’t get to taste every single day you have a responsibility to present them at their best”.

Fable Whisky

The Fable style is distinctive and engaging

A fable worth knowing

It’s a system that’s working, at least if you look at our stock. Fable whisky sells out quickly for a reason. I love whiskies that showcase distillery character anyway, and tasting a few of the Fable drams it’s clear that the first collection has met the mark. Getting to peel back the curtain and get to know producers I haven’t had the chance to enjoy as much as I’d like, such as Mannochmore and Dailuaine, is also very rewarding. Entrepreneurism, creativity, and branding are all well and good, but Fable also manages to do the really important work and makes sure the quality of the whiskies adds depth to the stories.

I love the look and feel of the brand too. It’s fun to see Scotch being fun, and to see brands be brave and creative to try to create something new. It’s not the only bottler to embrace story or interesting aesthetic, but Fable typifies how Scotch whisky is becoming more open to different approaches and doesn’t need to lean on purely traditional imagery. People engage with brands like Fable, not just new drinkers, but old whisky fans too, who aren’t a monolith. Everybody appreciates a good story. You pair that with great whisky and you’ve got yourself something that will stand out from the crowd. 

Glen Elgin 7 Year Old 2014 – Piper (Fable Whisky), Blair Athol 12 Year Old 2009 – Crows (Fable Whisky), and Teaninich 13 Year Old 2008 – Fairies (Fable Whisky) have all just arrived at MoM Towers, with more Fable whisky to come…

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Cardrona Distillery: putting New Zealand on the whisky map

How did a Kiwi farmer from a teetotal family fall in love with whisky and shape a country’s category? We talk to Cardrona Distillery’s CEO and founder Desiree Whitaker to…

How did a Kiwi farmer from a teetotal family fall in love with whisky and shape a country’s category? We talk to Cardrona Distillery’s CEO and founder Desiree Whitaker to find out.

Desiree Whitaker is something of a seasoned distillery traveller. Despite being born into a teetotal family, over the years she’s visited well in excess of 50 distilleries. Her journey began out of passion but eventually becoming valuable research. Her first was Edradour on her 21st birthday with her mum. Jameson’s and the Koval Distillery in Chicago followed later, and from there she was hooked. “I travelled many times for the next few years to trawl through the distilleries, big and small, many with multiple repeat visits,” she says. 

Whitaker’s love of whisky didn’t initially lead to a career, however. For years she was successfully running a farm. It wasn’t until early 2011 when Whitaker made a list of the things she wanted to achieve that she realised her heart was in whisky. By May 2013 she had sold her farm and moved to Wanaka to find the distillery site at Cardrona.  The valley between Queenstown and Wanaka is really something, full of stunning vistas and flanked by two ancient mountain ranges with an abundance of clear water and an alpine environment ideal for maturation. It’s there she founded the distillery.

A New Zealand Fellow of the Institute of Architecture, Sarah Scott, was drafted in to design the distillery as she understood Whitaker’s vision and made it come to life. Still makers Forsyths of Rothes also helped a lot in guiding the design process. “Both Richard Snr and Richard Jnr [Forsyth] were very generous with their time,” Whitaker recalls, who also notes the impact of Harry Cockburn, former manager of Bowmore Distillery, who was sent to commission the distillery and spent three weeks training the team, bringing with him a wealth of knowledge. 

Cardrona Distillery

Say hello to the founder of Cardrona Distillery!

Making whisky the Whitaker way

She was inspired by three in particular: Woodford Reserve, Glenlivet, and Glenfarclas. The floorplan on the former, the windows in the main still room at Glenlivet, and the shape of the pot stills in Glenfarclas were all details she wanted for her distillery. She also cites the late great Dave Pickerell, ex- Maker’s Mark and WhistlePig as an influence. They met at a conference and he mentored Whitaker from afar. “Dave had an incredible mind and was very generous with his time,” Whitaker says. She’s quick to credit others but it’s clear Cardrona is the realisation of a personal vision. For Whitaker, that meant a rich, sweet, and creamy spirit.

The process begins with local barley. Although Whitaker initially imported grain from the UK, once she felt that the New Zealand malting industry had made enough strides forward (Cardrona had a role in that development) she began to source grain grown on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, specifically the Laurette variety, none of it peated. The distillery’s water comes from Alvin’s Well, named after its builder, who happens to be Whitaker’s father. Isn’t that lovely? The barley is milled to a grist with the classic 70:20:10 ratio using an Allan Ruddock four-roller mill that has the capacity to process two tonnes per hour. Whitaker wanted the distillery to be exclusively malt fed so a lauter mash tun was essential, and Forsyth’s delivered with a 1.5 tonne unit. This creates a clear wort which is then filtered through an Alfa Laval filter.

Fermentation is really interesting here. It takes place in six 10,000-litre stainless steel washbacks and lasts for 70 hours, using the Pinnacle yeast variety. But, the distillation team also encourages natural strains of wild yeast and lactobacillus. Stainless steel washbacks are very clean, an advantage in a lot of ways, but there’s really nowhere for lactobacillus to thrive like it can in the nooks and crannies you get in wooden washbacks. So the distillers will inoculate each new batch of wash with a few litres of wash from a mature batch, which encourages lactobacillus which, in turn, helps create that rich, creamy profile. It was actually a process that Dave Broom encouraged after a visit early on. 

Cardrona Distillery

Like miniature Glenfarclas stills

There’s just a single pair of copper pot stills, a 2,000-litre wash still and a 1,3000-litre spirit still. One thing Whitaker was very keen on was smaller stills for a greater copper interaction. Each also has a boil ball in the neck to increase reflux as well as relatively short necks to increase the oiliness of the texture, providing balance. 

The brand’s white spirits (gin, vodka and liqueurs are also made here) are created in a second-hand, but previously never used Jacob-Carl column still. The distillery was designed from the outset to produce three spirits from scratch. Even though each style requires a different type of still, all are fed from the same mash tun and washbacks. Maturation takes place in a mixture of ex-bourbon and sherry casks in what Whitaker describes as an extreme environment that sits at 600m above sea level. 

“We have a dry climate with just 600ml of rainfall per year and, unless it is raining, humidity is very low. Temperature can peak at 40 degrees Celsius in summer, and hit a low of negative 10 in winter,” she says. “All of these elements combine together to impact the spirit as it matures. The high altitude means that the angel’s share will evaporate at a slightly lower temperature, while the low humidity encourages a higher water to alcohol component in the angel’s share, compared to Scotland. The dramatic temperature swings mean the natural seasonal ebb and flow of interaction with wood inside the cask is elevated. Altogether, the Cardrona climate is stamping its mark into the spirit”.

Cardrona Distillery

The Cardrona area is a beautiful place to make beautiful drinks

Helping to define New Zealand whisky

What comes out of those barrels is distinctly New Zealand whisky, from start to finish. At least, by my definition. Like many countries in the process of establishing a whisky identity, there isn’t much of a legislative framework yet. When Willowbank shut down in the late 90s (worth reading this article on New Zealand’s surprisingly rich whisky heritage), Kiwi whisky barely existed anymore. Growth is on the horizon, however, and The Distilled Spirits Aotearoa (DSA) is in the process of creating its own set of guidelines for the labelling of New Zealand whisky. At present, distilleries are free to choose whether to adhere to them, but the protocol is expected to be formally recognised in the coming years.

Whitaker thinks the DSA’s new production guidelines have the potential to help shape it into a quality-led and innovative industry. “The proposed standards were developed by the New Zealand Whisky Association and our master distiller, Sarah Elsom, was a founding member. She’s a tireless advocate for entrenching high standards in the industry”. There are elements Whitaker thought could have been stronger – for example, the opportunity to remove the use of colourant – which is allowable in Scotland (Cardrona does not use colourant) and she felt that a three-year minimum time spent in cask would have been better. But, overall she believes the introduction of the legislation will prove a crucial step in building a healthy future.

There’s some discussion on whether it’s too early to define a New Zealand whisky character, which happens to be one of Whitaker’s favourite subjects. And she’s got a lot to say. “By all accounts, it is still too early to homogeneously define a Scotch whisky character. The variation is as wide as the country, from the clean fertile Speyside countryside, to the earthy peats of Islay, and the heathery peats of Orkney. Whisky is a celebration of place, and the micro-climate a distillery enjoys. Why would we want to make things homogeneous?” she says. “New Zealand is as large as the whole of Scotland, England and Wales put together – and its climate as varied. Provided the New Zealand industry is following good whisky-making practises, my view is that the successful development of our industry will be seen in a wide variation, rich with nuance, much like Scotland enjoys”.  Which makes sense, right?

Cardrona Distillery

We can’t wait to see what comes next

Cardrona Distillery: leading the way for a category

Both Cardrona and New Zealand whisky are in their formative years, but the promise is certainly there. It’s something we’ve been able to track as, much in the same way the Ardbeg released Very Young, Still Young, and Almost There, Whitaker released a series of project reports to share the spirit’s progression. She was initially committed to releasing nothing before the 10-year mark, but a team of Dave Broom, Charles Maclean, Alex Bruce, and Anthony & Kathy Wills, convinced her of the benefits of demonstrating how the spirit was coming along. Crucially, this came after they tasted what was in the Cardrona warehouse, so it’s safe to say they were as impressed as I am.

I got to try two of its early expressions, the five-year-old Growing Wings and the three-year-old Just Hatched. An Oloroso Single Cask edition and a Breckenridge Bourbon Cask of the former have also been released, but I’d move quickly if you want to get your hands on them. Both supply and the price point is an issue for now, which is nothing new or unique for that part of the world. The whiskies are also a little brash with age in places. But that’s where the negative end and the positives begin to flow.

Whitaker wanted to make a rich, sweet, and creamy spirit and you can absolutely taste it already, complete with a distinctive sun-scorched stone fruit note as well as an array of malty, chocolatey goodness. The cask influences blend beautifully with the spirit too, with the sherry, in particular, accentuating the heavier, more full-bodied elements of the new make. I asked for a second helping. Ok, I asked for a third too, if we’re being honest. It’s cracking stuff. Just as an aside, I also got to taste some white spirits and the reid Single Malt Vodka is as good as any I’ve ever had.

The potential here is massive because the process is strong. Whitaker makes whisky like an idealist, somebody who has had a deep love of the spirit and didn’t simply see a gap in the market to exploit. The country’s Scottish heritage means that there is a ready market here and it would be silly not to take advantage, of course. But Whitaker’s commitment to properly made spirits means that Cardrona is making such a mark on the whisky map.

Cardrona Spirits are available from Master of Malt. Click here to see the full range.

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Top ten funniest stories from 2021

Here’s our favourite ‘And finally’ stories from the past year, including a distillery hiring a dog, a beer made from goose poo, and Mariah Carey launching an Irish cream liqueur….

Here’s our favourite ‘And finally’ stories from the past year, including a distillery hiring a dog, a beer made from goose poo, and Mariah Carey launching an Irish cream liqueur. These are our ten funniest stories from 2021.

Who wants a bit of festive fun? Well, we aim to please. Regular readers of our blog will know that in each edition of our weekly news round-up, The Nightcap, we feature a funny final story. Something lighthearted or strange that occurred in booze that we just had to share.

And given there’s never a bad moment to bring a little joy into our lives, we thought we’d remind you of just how brilliant and bizarre the world of booze has been in 2021. So, here’s our top picks of the funniest stories of 2021.

And finally

1. The search is on to find the worst tasting note – 26 March

We begin with something close to our hearts as we’ve written plenty of tasting notes in our time. So it was great to see Fake Booze launch a competition to find the worst tasting note. The satirical drinks website didn’t mind what booze was reviewed, saying “if it’s crap it’s a contender.” The #thecrappies even had categories including ‘most pompous’, ‘crappiest food match suggestion’, and ‘most sexist.’ Folks could enter with the #crapnotes hashtag on Twitter or send a DM to @fakebooze on Twitter or fake.booze on Instagram and the winners were announced in June on the Fake Booze website. We’re very grateful to announce that it wasn’t one of us…

And finally
2. UB40 releases an actual red, red wine – 7 May

In what must be the most inevitable celebrity booze release of all time, top light reggae outfit UB40 delighted us all by releasing it’s own wine. And yes, it’s called Red, Red Wine after the band’s monster hit (which was actually written by Neil Diamond in 1968). The Merlot-heavy Bordeaux Supérieur, made in conjunction with a company called Eminent Life, got a good review from Wine Enthusiast magazine, although it does cost the best part of £30. Still, that might be worth the joy of belting out the chorus every time you pour a glass.

And finally
3. Chernobyl brandy seized by authorities – 14 May

Ukrainian authorities were forced to seize some brandy this year as it was bafflingly made from apples grown near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The story gets even stranger when we learned that it wasn’t stopped from entering the UK because of its atomic provenance but for bureaucratic reasons. The creator of the controversial brandy, professor Jim Smith, has previous form, releasing Atomik Vodka from the Chernobyl Spirit Company in 2019 that was made from “slightly contaminated” rye but after radioactivity levels are “below their limit of detection.” Sounds delightful. The company says its aim is to conduct research into whether the contaminated area can be used for safe agriculture and help communities still affected by the economic consequences of the 1986 explosion. Which does sound great. Atomic spirits? Less so.

And finally
4. Girvan Distillery hires sniffer dog – 21 May

We were never going to ignore a distillery hiring a dog. Not getting a pet. An employee. The one-year-old cocker spaniel Rocco was brought in to be a full-time sniffer dog, tasked with nosing any imperfections in wood used to make the distillery’s casks. This cracking story somehow gets even better when you realise his boss is global brand director Chris Wooff. Rocco actually did six months of training for the role and is said to be great for morale. Which, of course, he is. We’re still waiting for our overlords to grant us permission to hire a dog. What do you say, guys? It is Christmas…

5. Charlie MacLean tastes tonic wine on camera – 28 May

A clean sweep in May, which proved to be a corker of a month for final stories. This one regarded a series of videos Eldorado Tonic wine made with whisky expert Charlie MacLean. The company, which makes a rival product to the infamous Buckfast known as LD in Glasgow, got MacLean to review its tonic wine and the results are hilarious. First, he doesn’t even pretend to know what a tonic wine is, and then he is visibly disgusted by the tasting.  it. The coupe glass was a great touch too. It’s well worth a watch.

And finally
6. A beer made from goose poo. Mmmm! – 11 June

The And Finally… section is often home to some of the craziest drinks but this new beer might take the gold medal. And it’s up against atomic apple brandy. Why? Because it’s made from goose poo. Yep. The Finnish brewery called Ant Brew created a series called Wasted Potential which is brewed from waste including goose droppings. Apparently, it was used in a food-safe way to smoke malt to create a stout beer and is a sustainable solution as the goose droppings from local parks were causing a messy problem. It will all be vain if the beer tastes like shit though, won’t it?

And finally
7. Mariah Carey launches Irish cream liqueur – 20 August

Of all the strange things we expect to write for our final story of the week, we would never have believed that we would write the words ‘Mariah Carey has made an Irish cream liqueur brand’. The iconic diva and noted harbinger of the holidays then immediately ran into legal issues, after an ongoing trademark battle resulted in the brand not being able to be sold in the EU. It’s all because she named her liqueur Black Irish, even though Darker Still Spirits Co Ltd already makes a drink called that already. What a delightful mess. We can’t wait to see what the next chapter of this bizarre story is.

And finally
8. Dog taught to fetch gin – 22 October

The second canine-based story to make the top ten, and it’s another tale of a very good boy. You see, a woman in Somerset managed to teach her dog to fetch her a drink when she says ‘it’s gin o’clock!’ Labrador Bear’s capacity for exceptional customer service was discovered after his humans took a break from gardening and he then retrieved them a premixed can of Gin and Tonic with his mouth on request. We’re both very proud and incredibly jealous. Just look at his little face.

And finally
9. And finally… Man who hates whisky collects 4,000 miniatures worth £35,000 – 12 November

Brian Marshall from Kettering, Northamptonshire doesn’t like whisky. Not that interesting a story, right? And yet, it turns out Marshall amassed a collection of more than 4,000 whisky miniatures. This month he sold them for £30,000. So there you have it. Whisky is brilliant even if you don’t love the taste. The collection was mostly made up of whisky miniatures from Scotland, although it also includes bottles from America, Iraq, Uruguay, and Australia. It all began when a colleague told him how collectible the miniatures were in the late 80s. And now he’s got a small fortune for a bunch of booze he doesn’t even like. Life just isn’t fair.

And finally
10. And properly finally… Man pretends to be a wine merchant to hide model train obsession – 10 December

An all-time And Finally… contender came just a fortnight ago as news broke that Simon George from Yorkshire had hidden his model train obsession by pretending to be a wine merchant. George created an enormous 200ft (61m) miniature railway in his basement over the course of eight years, and the model is so impressive it’s now on display in Wakefield Market. It even took three lorries to transport it. And yet he was so ashamed of the gigantic model railway that he hid it from his girlfriend by telling her that he was a wine merchant, “because that sounded cooler than building a model railway.” This is true, because we can attest that working in drinks is very cool. Just look at us. Wait, why are you laughing?

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