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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Adam O'Connell

Celebrating our favourite bars for National Hospitality Day

The Drinks Trust, Hospitality Action, Licensed Trade Charity, and Springboard have come together to create National Hospitality Day. We think it’s a great idea, so we decided we’d shout about…

The Drinks Trust, Hospitality Action, Licensed Trade Charity, and Springboard have come together to create National Hospitality Day. We think it’s a great idea, so we decided we’d shout about some of our favourite establishments. 

Good news everyone, National Hospitality Day is on the horizon (18 September)! 

Ok, so you might not know what that is. In your defence, it is new. On Saturday the very first one launches as a nationwide celebration of pubs, bars, restaurants, operators, and suppliers in the UK. It was founded by four charities, The Drinks Trust, Hospitality Action, Licensed Trade Charity, and Springboard, to mark the resilience of an industry which has been brought to its knees by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. 

While they had a devastating effect on the industry, they did also serve as an invaluable reminder of how much richer our lives are for having great bars, pubs, restaurants, hotels, and more in them. No more taking our favourite destinations for granted. Now they’re back, they need our support to survive and National Hospitality Day is a chance to say “welcome back – we’ve missed you” and celebrate all that’s great about UK hospitality.

The charities behind the initiative are asking brands, distributors, bars, pubs, restaurants, or any operator up and down the land to pull out all the stops to come up with a fundraising and sponsorship activity. And we’re doing our bit by championing some of the fantastic venues at the heart of our communities. Here are some great destinations we think you should head to from various people throughout Master of Malt.

National Hospitality Day

You will not be disappointed

The Prince of Greenwich, London – Henry, features editor 

We stumbled upon this place in 2018 when we heard jazz music as we were walking up Royal Hill in Greenwich. We poked our heads in and the place was packed, so we were about to turn around and go home when we were collared by a jolly bearded man who greeted us like old friends, and somehow found space for my wife, daughter, and me to sit. Delicious pizzas on long wooden boards were going by so it seemed silly not to order one. The beer was nice, Harvey’s Best, and the house wine was tasty and Sicilian. The man who greeted us turned out to be Sicilian as well, Pietro la Rosa, and he ran the pub with his family. The whole room was stacked top to bottom with bric-a-brac including a lifesize plastic rhinoceros head sticking out of the wall. The music was great, and we ended up spending most of the afternoon there. Pietro brought over colouring books for our daughter. Since that day, we went at least once a month for the music, the pizza, a few drinks but mainly for the welcome. During lockdown, we avidly followed the Prince’s Instagram account, worried that Pietro was going to throw in the towel. Thankfully he didn’t and the place is as wonderful as ever. It’s the best pub in London, if not England, as far as I’m concerned.  Here’s to you Pietro, the Prince of Greenwich!

National Hospitality Day

London’s best-kept secret? It just might be.

The Discount Suit Company, London – Adam, writer

For one of the East Ends must-visit bars, it’s not exactly easy to find The Discount Suit Company. Down a narrow staircase past an unmarked black door and behind a heavy black curtain is a former suit tailor’s store room that was turned into a ridiculously cool London bar in January 2014. Stumble on in and you’ll be greeted by a blend of Northern soul and vintage rock’n’roll in a space that evokes its 1970’s suit shop heritage with original brickwork and low hanging ceiling rafters. A bar top chiseled from a large cutting table is the centrepiece, manned by a really friendly staff making delicious classic cocktails with minimum fuss. It was one of the first places I visited once we were all allowed to go to a bar properly again and the cosy atmosphere, quality drink and conversation with the bartenders really underlined just how much I missed it. If you’re looking for somewhere a little off the beaten track to settle back into the world of high-end cocktails without all the return-to-normality mayhem, this is the place.

National Hospitality Day

Old-school charm in the beautiful Sussex countryside. Perfect.

The Six Bells, Chiddingly, Sussex – Emily, marketing campaigns executive

What do you look for on a night out? If your answer is any of the following: cracking and varied live music acts, cheap and cheerful food served in big portions, a super friendly atmosphere, and/or plenty of cute reading nooks, then I haven’t found anywhere better than The Six Bells in Chiddingly, Sussex. In the heart of a quaint, but energetic village, there’s loads of great walks to go on in the area if you’ve eaten too much (which you probably will) and the pub is patronised by lots of charming locals who appreciate the no-fuss, old-school nature of the place. Some have been going there since the 70s, which says an awful lot about The Six Bells.

National Hospitality Day

The cocktail menu sounds too good to not give it a try, to be honest

Mother Mercy, Newcastle – Luke, UK market manager for Samson and Surrey

Mother Mercy is one of those places that just makes me happy. Housed in an intimate basement cocktail bar in the heart of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the bar managed to pull through lockdown with the help of 750ml bottled cocktails, which are full of fizz, full of flavour, and available for home delivery across the UK. Now that you can visit, however, you should check out the modern classic cocktails (think East 8 Hold Up, Espresso Martini, and Gin Basil Smash) as well as original creations like the Bananabread Punch, Marshmallow Fizz 2.0, and Pinwheel. All made with fresh ingredients, great spirits, and skill. Couple that with a hip-hop playlist, bring pink decor, and the friendliest staff in town… what’s not to love?! 

National Hospitality Day

A sight many of us here at MoM Towers are pleasantly familiar with

The Ragged Trousers, Tunbridge Wells (and more!) – Emma, content executive

A staple stop off on many a Master of Malt night out, The Ragged Trousers in Tunbridge Wells has been fully independent since opening its doors almost 16 years ago. Located on the historic Pantiles which, to be honest, was all looking a bit neglected before The Ragged came along – when a few local folk decided enough was enough and they needed a good, indie local pub. These days, you’ll struggle to find a seat on a sunny weekend, with exceptional food during the day, a well-procured list of wines, spirits, and guest beers, throw in some of the friendliest staff in town and their Spotify playlists and I’ll stay all day! An impressive testament to its popularity and success, the team behind the Ragged has expanded its franchise to include sister pubs The Sussex Arms which will forever hold a soft spot in my heart – great people, great music, a basement for gigs downstairs, fires in winter… check it out! And The George, which is up the hill (usually a no-no for someone based in downtown Tunbridge Wells), but does brew its own beer, making it an ideal safe haven for Pantiles people who have ventured to the dreaded “top of town”.

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Inside the Lighthouse, Glenmorangie’s innovation hub

“Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination…” Whisky’s Willy Wonka has a new factory of fun to create the drams of the future and we…

“Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination…” Whisky’s Willy Wonka has a new factory of fun to create the drams of the future and we got a chance to see it before the experiments begin. Here’s what to expect from Glenmorangie’s new distillery: The Lighthouse!

Dr Bill Lumsden’s first-ever sip of whisky was Glenmorangie 10 Year Old in 1984 at a party on Marchmont Road, Edinburgh, while Let’s Hear it For The Boys played on the radio.  Since then, he has spent almost four decades in whisky innovating and creating exceptional drams like the world’s first made with high-roast chocolate malt, exploring the benefit of various cask styles and even sending the odd tipple into the final frontier. You can see where the Willy Wonka comparisons come from.

This week we got a first-hand glimpse at how Lumsden’s experimental days are far from behind him as Glenmorangie invited us to visit its new on-site innovation distillery called The Lighthouse. A spectacular multi-million-pound creation, the new landmark on the site where Glenmorangie has been creating its single malt since 1843 stands tall like an actual lighthouse, a 20m-high beacon in its rural highland home that promises to give Lumsden and co. true flexibility at all stages of whisky-making. 

Designed by Barthélémy Griño, known for creating premises for Berluti, Dior, and Louis Vuitton, those who attended from the luxury magazines will appreciate all the reclaimed stone and slate, the stunning views and the wood aluminium hybrid cladding made with wood from bourbon and sherry casks that sits behind the Lighthouse’s glass façade. But this is MoM, so we were there to get our geek on. Because Lumsden tells us this is where Scotch whisky innovation is going to get seriously funky.

Glenmorangie Distillery Lighthouse

Dr. Bill in front of his new pride and joy

Inside the Lighthouse

“The ambition is to look at every aspect of primary production. Experimentation in terms of maturation is well established, as is Glenmorangie’s reputation for it. But dabbling in primary production isn’t easy when you’ve got your main distillery set up and running smoothly. So, you name it: raw materials, malting, milling, mashing, fermentation, and all sorts of things with distillation. There’s nothing on or off the table,” says Lumsden. He will spend a week of every month here doing things that were never possible before because the old distillery was too busy or lacked the required equipment. 

As our tour demonstrated, that’s very much not the case anymore. Beginning on the bottom floor, a Briggs of Burton-designed malt intake and mill can process array of cereals, so for the first time in Glenmorangie’s history, you can expect whisky made from things other than malted barley. Wheat, maize and oats are all tipped, as is spirit from things that aren’t cereals at all… On the next floor, the two mash tuns capable of processing one-and-a-half to two tonnes of mash (compared with 12 in the main distillery) can create different clarities of wort, from crystal clear to cloudy. 

A cereal cooker is fixed to each, a piece of equipment that Lumsden says he “hasn’t used in anger in many years” which breaks down the husk of grains to get to the starch. This is useful because in Scotch you can’t add chemical enzymes (or jungle juice as Lumsden calls it) and if you’re using non-malted barley, for example, there are no naturally occurring enzymes to break things down for you. Two temperature-controlled fermentation vessels, common in brewing but not in Scotch, meanwhile, give Lumsden control in his specialist subject.

Glenmorangie Distillery Lighthouse

What does the future hold? Bold, original and distinctive drams are surely on the way

The possibilities are endless…

Armed with a PhD in biochemistry, the workings of yeast and fermentation is very much his bag, baby, and he laments the fact that in Scotch whisky, fermentation is typically a two or three-day process that’s very vigorous and violent. “There’s got to be a reason why our colleagues in the wine industry allow fermentations to run for two weeks, or beer for five or six days,” Lumsden explains. “I’m deeply intrigued by how those two industries focus on the flavour from primary production, whereas in Scotch we rely a lot more on maturation to drive the shape of our products”. 

Lengthy fermentations are to be expected then, as are different yeasts. According to Lumsden these are “magical microorganism” which are sadly just treated like a commodity. “When I first joined DCL (now Diageo), I was aghast that they were just emptying bags of yeast into water. You never do that as a yeast physiologist! It’s simply used to reach an end, but there’s so many different avenues you can go down. I know others like my old friends at Diageo have tried things, but a lot of experimentation in the industry is never really published”.

From outside, the glass tower offers a glimpse at the two gleaming Forsyth’s copper stills, modelled on the 12 giraffe-high stills in the main stillhouse, and they’re even more impressive up close. While the wash still is fairly conventional, the spirit still (or “the little beauty” as Lumsden calls it) is full of additional modifications. A glass man door allows the distillers to see what’s being distilled, while an optional purifier like the one at Ardbeg is there to recycle vapours and increase reflux. 

Glenmorangie Distillery Lighthouse

These might look like regular stills, but they’re anything but

Worth the wait

Look up at the lyne arm and you’ll see it splits to go into either a standard copper condenser (to create the lighter, elegant signature style) or a stainless steel condenser designed to mimic the effect of a worm tub, exposing the vapours to less copper to create meatier, more full-bodied whisky like Ardbeg. The neck of the still is covered with temperature-controlled cooling jackets, which metaphorically double the height of the still to allow the vapours to condense and reflux. “Many of these bells and whistles exist in other distilleries, but this is the only place where they ALL exist,” Lumsden says, beaming with pride.

On the fourth and top floor, our tour concludes with the Sensory Laboratory, a space in which the team will be able to study raw spirit and assess their experiments after every six-hour spirit run. It’s not finished yet, but soon it will be complete with a tasting room, while a terrace offering truly spectacular views of the neighbouring Dornoch Firth. Although Lumsden does add he would have been happy with a shed, it’s hard not to think that such a vibrant space won’t be inspiring. 

He has had to wait to play with his new toys, as the launch has been postponed since April 2020 due to COVID. This delay has the benefit of giving him the time to plan, however, and Lumsden knows the dozen or so things he’s going to do when things kick off properly next month. Which includes the freedom and capacity to bottle things that aren’t Scotch whisky, which might not even be presented as Glenmorangie. “The first thing will be to make a normal spirit, and then after that I will never make a normal spirit again here,” Lumsden says.

Glenmorangie Distillery Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

Nothing holds them back

Glenmorangie fans need not fear, however, as the whisky maker stresses that this will not distract him from the core whisky that makes the distillery what it is. “People don’t realise that at least 50% of my working time and effort goes into maintaining the quality and integrity of our core offerings. It just doesn’t generate press coverage. If we don’t have that foundation we don’t have anything else. Innovation is the cherry on top of the icing on top of the case”. 

Lumsden is also a supporter of the current Scotch whisky regulations, saying they are “stifling in a good way” and that they make you take a step back and be really creative. “I wouldn’t want the regulations to be loosened again. When they were last changed, my question was ‘why would you want to use a Tequila cask anyway? Is it going to give you a good flavour?’ It’s easy to lose sight of that fact. I won’t sit down and think about using a wild yeast, I think about what product I want to create and then work back from that”. 

The maverick malt master also goes out of his way to credit the LVMH group for backing his visions, saying that many of its brands are run as if they are independent, which is also true of its modest but mighty Scotch portfolio: Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. “We’re very much left to our own devices, which allows us to be nimble and experiment with ease,” he explains. “A lot of things I’ve worked on I never told anyone what I was doing until I thought there was a product ready to be talked about, which I could never do in any previous role.”

Glenmorangie Distillery Lighthouse

We can’t wait to see what’s to come

The whisky of the future

While the Lighthouse part of the distillery won’t be open to the general public day-to-day, there will be a special limited edition ‘Lighthouse’ whisky release available to purchase from the distillery to mark the occasion. Limited to 4,782 bottles, the 12‑year‑old malt has been aged in the very same bourbon and sherry casks that are now embedded in the Lighthouse distillery’s walls. In addition to this, Glenmorangie House, the brand home in the Highlands, has undergone a large renovation and now looks completely and brilliantly bonkers. 

It’s all part of an approach to rebrand Glenmorangie as a vibrant producer, welcoming a world of colour and innovation to take on the difficult, dark, masculine and often closed-off world of whisky and the “sea of sameness”, as Lumsden puts it. Even the packaging is currently being reviewed.

What we can expect from the Lighthouse is truly exciting. The brand promises new ways to make whisky, new ways to drink it and everything in between. The fourth-biggest single malt in the world doesn’t need to rock the boat and, at 61, Lumsden is aware he won’t even see some of the products he creates. But the ambition is here to embrace modernity, and creative, original and category-defying booze lies in the distance. The future of Scotch is bright. And The Lighthouse promises to be one of its leading lights.

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Cocktail of the Week: the Gin and Juice

The sun’s out and that means we need a refreshing cocktail made with minimum fuss. Something laid back. A Gin and Juice, perhaps… We like to think our Cocktail of…

The sun’s out and that means we need a refreshing cocktail made with minimum fuss. Something laid back. A Gin and Juice, perhaps…

We like to think our Cocktail of the Week series has a nice wide range of serves that aren’t too tricky to make. But some might involve bitters or liqueurs you’re not familiar with or require some intermediate-level prep you just don’t have the time or inclination for. This is why we also love to feature some of the drinks world’s most simple serves. 

It doesn’t come much easier than a two-part drink. And of all the many variations possible, there is perhaps none as easy or immediately appetizing as the Gin and Juice. It’s so basic, it’s hardly a cocktail. It doesn’t even have a dedicated name like a Screwdriver. Just a description of what’s in the drink. And the exact recipe is up to you.

No fancy equipment. No strange ingredients. It’s cheap, cheerful, and a crowd-pleaser. Who the hell won’t actually enjoy a Gin and Juice? Fruity and refreshing is always a winning combo. Try and mess it up, I dare you.

A classic in two worlds

Best of all, the Gin and Juice will always remind you of the song of the same name by Snoop Dogg. In fact, on the excellent Difford’s Guide, the ‘History’ section of this serve hilariously says the Gin and Juice is “possibly the inspiration behind the Top 10 single ‘Gin and Juice’ by rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg”. I think you might be onto something there, guys.

The second single from his debut album, Doggystyle, Gin and Juice was released in 1994 and is still Snoop’s most-streamed song on Spotify. It also features arguably the greatest line in a music video of all time: “Snoop doggy dog, you need to get a jobby job”. Still amazing after all these years. The song has also helped propel the drink’s fame and no doubt helped make it the name of choice for countless bars and clubs. 

On 27 May 2018, the legend himself even set the world record for the largest ‘Gin and Juice’, a 500-litre paradise cocktail, containing 180 bottles of gin, 154 bottles of apricot brandy, and 38 3.78-litre jugs of orange juice. Good thing he didn’t call the song White Russian. There’s no way that much milk wouldn’t curdle in the California sun.

Gin and Juice

The record-breaking Gin and Juice (Image credit: Guinness World Records)

A gang of Tanqueray

The most important ingredient is obviously the gin, because while your options seem pretty limitless, you will need to consider which style and profile will pair with your choice of juice. A classic London dry gin is the obvious way to go as it’s the easiest to balance. Snoop himself references Seagram’s gin in the Gin and Juice lyrics, but also says the line “Later on that day, my homie Dr. Dre came through with a gang of Tanqueray”. This gives us the perfect excuse to use an excellent brand of gin and also reveals a very generous side to the good doctor.

As for your juice, have fun with it. We’ve gone for a classic blend of orange and pineapple here, but you can go in whatever direction you like: grapefruit, lime, clam. It will all be tasty if you balance it right. Ok, I was joking with the last one (although someone unbearably trendy hipster bartender will probably make that work), but do experiment to find which flavours you like best. You can even theme your Gin and Juice, make it tropical with mango and pineapple, or festive with cranberry etc. 

Once again, as we say often in Cocktail of the Week, the MOST IMPORTANT THING is that the juice is fresh. Otherwise, it just won’t taste as good. Yes, it’s a pain to freshly squeeze your own juice. Yes, it’s easy and cheap to buy pre-made juice. It’s no problem if you want to do that, just understand that it won’t be as good as the fresh stuff. If you’re buying juice, get the stuff from the chiller cabinet, not the shelf. The latter is made from concentrate and heat-treated for long life. Not delicious. Oh, and some Gin and Juice recipes call for simple syrup, for those who like drinks on the sweeter side. That seems mad to me in a drink that is mostly fruit sugars anyway, but if you do need a little extra kick then I would add small amounts (5ml ish) at a time so you don’t mess up what should be the world’s easiest cocktail.

 Gin and Juice

The Tanqueray and Juice

How to make a Gin and Juice

And that’s it, basically. This recipe was provided by the folks at Tanqueray, but really do feel free to play around with this one.

35ml Tanqueray No. 10
60ml fresh orange juice
60ml fresh pineapple juice

Splash your Tanqueray London Dry Gin in a shaker then add the fresh juices. Fill with ice, shake and strain, then squeeze some lime and dunk it in.

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Master of Malt Tastes… Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey is welcoming explorers to broaden their boozy horizons and taste unconventional and experimental spirit. We find out if it’s a journey worth taking. In 2020 a…

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey is welcoming explorers to broaden their boozy horizons and taste unconventional and experimental spirit. We find out if it’s a journey worth taking.

In 2020 a new Irish whiskey brand emerged in an already thriving scene with a plan to stand out from the crowd. The ambition? “To bring new taste profiles to Irish whiskey,” says Cian Quilty, co-founder and managing director of Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey. “It’s renowned for being accessible and approachable, so our idea was to create a range with a lot of personality, whiskey that has a distinctive taste and a bold character”.

The brand would be based out of Limerick, a county with a rich distilling history renowned for its single pot still whiskey, although distillation last took place over a century ago. While there’s something of a local revival mirroring the national one taking place at the moment, Quilty was keen that the identity of the brand wouldn’t solely represent a sense of place. “We didn’t want to call it ‘Limerick whiskey’ or just use a family name. We wanted to tell a story,” says Quilty. “So we looked at the history of the city and came across the Sailor’s Home”.  

Limerick has always been a significant port city, located at the head of the Shannon Estuary, where the river widens before it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Back in the 1860s, a shelter was built to accommodate the international community of seafarers travelling from Spain, America, and the Caribbean. “We loved what the Sailor’s Home represented, that the city honoured the explorer that way, giving them a home from home. It’s perfect because it’s what we’re about. It’s rooted in the place of Limerick, it’s an Irish experience, but it’s also about the promise of something better, a reward for the brave”.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

You might not know his name, but Dr. Jack Ó’Sé has had a sizeable impact on Irish whiskey

Dr. Jack Ó’Sé: the secret weapon

A nice brand story will only get you so far, however, and an expert whiskey maker was needed to oversee the sourcing, blending, and maturation of what would become Sailor’s Home whiskey. The brand couldn’t have done much better than to recruit the legendary Dr. Jack Ó’Sé. With more than 40 years of experience, he’s done it all. Beginning back in ’79 by producing neutral spirit of Irish cream at Ceimici Teoranta, the veteran’s career has since taken him to the US to commission and design pot stills for Alltech, work on yeast production in Brazil and Serbia, guide Irish newcomers like Pearse Lyons, Achill Distillery, and The Burren Distillery, assist expert coopers such as John Neilly, and become a consultant tutor of whiskey. He has an MBA, BSc in biochemistry, and an MSc in brewing & distilling. In 2020, while in his seventies, he was awarded his Ph.D. in yeast production and fermentation.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t previously heard of this remarkable man, that’s because Dr. Ó’Sé was never at the forefront of the brand. Quilty describes him as the master of understatement. “He’ll tell you he just ‘popped some stills in Pearse Lyons’, and he just ‘distilled award-winning whisky’,” Quilty says. “He has a subtle way of pushing you in the right direction. When we were developing The Journey, we thought at one point we had an award-winning whiskey, but Jack thought it could be stronger. He had the idea of finishing the malt component in rum casks and the result was something that’s like nothing else in Irish whiskey”.

Dr. Ó’Sé was something of a coup for Sailor’s Home and his decision to come aboard vindicates the brand’s vision, particularly as he has a rather infamous nature of deciding whether to work for you within minutes of meeting you. “I have a company but I have no business card and I don’t approach anybody. I have no interest in working with people I don’t like or in projects that don’t intrigue me,” says Dr. Ó’Sé. “For a long time in Irish whiskey it was lacking in experience and expertise, there were too many people who didn’t have a clue. A lot of people would approach me with an idea but no idea of how to fund it or make it work. Cian was different. His ambition and plan were thorough and I liked the guy, so I decided to work with him”.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

Tasting the Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey range

What they created together was a core range comprising of The Journey Irish Whiskey, The Haven Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, and The Horizon 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey. Inside each nautically named bottling is a triple distilled Irish whiskey presented at 43% ABV to avoid chill-filtration. The packaging has plenty of detail, demonstrating a desire for transparency (a big plus in Irish whiskey that’s sadly still too lacking), as well as beautiful, bright, and distinctive labels. 

Right now, every drop of Sailor’s Home whisky is sourced, distilled, and matured with a wood policy set to the brand’s specification, but the plan is to distill in the future. “We wanted to first launch a brand defined by amazing whiskey and back that into a distillery, rather than the other way round,” says Quilty. “There’s been some good early talks with the owners of the Sailor’s Home to see if we can turn into the actual home of the brand, not just the spiritual one”. 

Two more products are on the way, another rum-cask-finished example (which we believe will be a Martinique rum finish that should be here very soon), as well as a single malt launching next year, so the innovation isn’t stopping anytime soon. We’re very much looking forward to testing them, as it’s safe to say that the current crop of Sailor’s Home whiskies is an encouraging first voyage for the brand.

This is a diverse and intriguing range that features some profiles different from what a lot of people would expect of Irish whiskey. Dr. Ó’Sé has put his experience to good work, using those considerable contacts to source excellent spirit and expertise to pick some interesting cask finishes that elevate each dram. Let’s take a look at each in some more detail. Oh, and don’t forget they’re all available here.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Journey Irish Whiskey

A four-year-old blend of triple distilled whiskey from Great Nothern Distillery, the grain element of The Journey spent most of its life in virgin American oak, giving it a high concentration of oaky, vanilla-led flavours. The malt element of the same age was matured in ex-bourbon casks, before the two were combined and finished in Jamaican rum casks for six months. “Jamaican rum is mainly pot still rum that’s heavy, fruity, and funky, which uses the weird and wonderful dunder pits to amplify this profile. We knew that our bold and bright young spirit would be able to stand up to the heavier style and that was key in achieving the right balance,” Dr. Ó’Sé says.

Nose: Pineapple caramelised with brown sugar, banana bread, and apricot in syrup lead with ground ginger, vanilla custard, and toasted oak in support. There’s some green apple, pear drops, clove, black pepper, and toffee popcorn underneath.

Palate: Spiced, rich, and with plenty of thick rummy sweetness with crème brûlée, apricot jam, molasses, and Christmas spices. There are hints of flamed orange zest, milk chocolate, cinnamon, and sweet tobacco throughout.

Finish: Seville marmalade, salty popcorn, and layers of caramel. 

Overall: It’s a great go-to dram, so rich and rummy and yummy with a profile that should entice those who aren’t yet convinced whiskey is for them. It also mixes beautifully, and with its price point, bartenders will be happy to do so. I’d recommend adding soda or ginger ale for a Highball, while the brand provides an Old Fashioned recipe. 

Serve: The Journey Old Fashioned 

50ml The Journey 

10ml sugar syrup 

2 dashes of Angostura bitters 

Build in a rocks glass with a large cube of ice and stir and garnish with a twist of orange.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Haven Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 

A triple distilled, single pot still Irish whiskey, The Haven was made with the required mix of malted and unmalted barley. However, 5% of the recipe was spared for some oats, which is quite traditional but sadly not seen much because the technical file for single pot still limits its use. Most of the new make spirit (95%) is matured in ex-bourbon barrels, while the other 5% spent time in Oloroso sherry casks, which Dr. Ó’Sé says was the hardest part to get right as the latter cask can often dominate if not measured correctly.

Nose: Through juicy orchard fruits, lemon peel and fresh oak come classic pot still spice, copper pennies, and a little new leather. Creamy rice pudding, caramel, and vanilla bring depth alongside raisins, dark chocolate, ripe banana, rosemary, and red liquorice laces.

Palate: It’s got a creamy, full, and yet still refined texture with more of that peppery, baking spice you expect from pot still whiskey as well as roasted almonds, blackcurrant lozenges and vanilla. Toasted barley, red apple, and salted caramel are present in the backdrop.

Finish: Liquorice, dried fruit, and ginger snaps. 

Overall: This is a beautiful example of a single pot still, carrying all the bold, spicy, and full-bodied creamy texture you’re looking for. The integration is excellent too, with the sherry casks adding a fresh dimension but not overpowering the spirit, allowing room for the mellow sweetness of the oats and plenty of fruit to shine. This one is best enjoyed neat or in a Manhattan cocktail.  

Serve: The Haven Sweet Manhattan 

60ml The Haven

30ml sweet vermouth  

2.5ml Luxardo Maraschino 

1 dash Angostura bitters 

1 dash Angostura orange bitters 

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a fresh cherry and zest of orange.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Horizon 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey 

Here Dr. Ó’Sé has taken some 14-year-old malt and 11-year-old grain whiskeys from Cooley Distillery that were initially matured in ex-bourbon barrels and filled them into Barbados rum casks for a finishing period of 6 months. “The blend was already a special whiskey so wanted to do something different but subtle to it, which is where we arrived at Bajan rum,” Dr. Ó’Sé explains. “They’re virtually all column-still rums which are refined and delicate, so where Jamaican rum would have been overpowering here, the cask we used just rounds the whiskey off. It also fits the theme of the brand nicely”.

Nose: Demerara sugar, vanilla buttercream, and a host of ripe tropical fruits are at the core of this nose, which is so elegant and deep. There’s ripe apples and peaches throughout too as well as sweet oak, cookie dough, and toffee. Nutmeg, burnt lime, orange zest, and some minty/herbal notes add depth in the backdrop.

Palate: A pleasant, velvety mouthfeel with more delicate, creamy, and sweeter notes. Malted honey, banana pudding, gummy bears, and orange peel initially, then cinnamon, vanilla fudge, and rum-soaked oak. All the way through you’ll get a plethora of tropical fruits again, papaya, guava, and melon mostly.

Finish: Butterscotch with makrut lime leaves and polished oak. 

Overall: Rewarding stuff. I like the rummy qualities here a lot as they add just a touch of something different while letting the beautifully creamy, fruity body of the spirit remain in command. The Horizon is just so refined and stately, like a gentle old man with Werther’s Originals in his pocket. No mixing needed here, just pour a dram, give it some time and let it do its thing.

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Fettercairn Distillery is finally telling its own story

Fettercairn Distillery has spent much of its history being overlooked, maligned, or misunderstood. But the Highland producer is turning the tide. Here’s how. “There’s a great Fettercairn story that we…

Fettercairn Distillery has spent much of its history being overlooked, maligned, or misunderstood. But the Highland producer is turning the tide. Here’s how.

“There’s a great Fettercairn story that we haven’t told well enough and we will going forward.” 

That’s what Daryl Haldane, head of whisky experience at Whyte & Mackay, told us at the launch event of the distillery’s first core range back in 2018Fettercairn is the least-known of the brand’s whisky distilleries. Dalmore and Jura get more headlines and sales. It’s not historically had many official single malt expressions. Independent bottlings are few and far between, while releases like Fior and Fasque, launched in 2009, failed to make an impact.

Worse than that, Fettercairn had the dubious reputation of being one of Scotland’s most pilloried distilleries. For years it was something of a whipping boy, chastised for a sulphury, rubbery spirit that was distinctive for the wrong reasons which led to scores of negative reviews. Most notably from Jim Murray, who was persistent in his disdain for the distillery. 

But the Fettercairn fightback is on. The Highland distillery is aiming to put its chequered past behind it and forge a new identity. New expressions with a revamped look and lots of work behind the scenes have aimed to transform the distillery and tell a new side to the story. The range launched in 2018 includes a 12 year old, 22 Year Old, 28 Year Old, 40 year old, and even a 50 year old that, alongside some rare and small-batch releases, aims to celebrate the new fresh, vibrant, and approachable house style. 

Fettercairn Distillery

Fettercairn Distillery

A story not told

Fettercairn actually has a lot going for it. For one, it’s beautiful, with whitewashed walls and an iconic pagoda roof sitting in the rolling Grampian Hills at the foot of the Cairngorm mountain range. The surrounding fields are filled with barley, with locals referring to it as the ‘Garden of Scotland’, and there was even a time recently that Fettercairn was home to a distillery horse named Fergus, who was often seen kicking around a football. Your everyday distillery cat can’t compete with that.

The distillery’s history is interesting, too. Fettercarin was one of the first licensed distilleries when it was founded in 1824, when Sir Alexander Ramsay bought a corn mill and converted it into a whisky factory as a means to make money off lovely local barley while rallying against illicit distilling. He then hired an illicit distiller (James Stewart), lent his house crest unicorn to the brand’s emblem, and subsequently built an enormous gothic mansion he couldn’t sustain and so had to sell the place to the family of former Prime Minister William Gladstone. Classic stuff.

In those early days, the distillery was a favourite of the London elite and had a solid reputation. But what followed was the usual passing through hands that many distilleries experienced, being mothballed or altered while spirit flowed primarily for the purposes of blends. The likes of Associated Scottish Distilleries and Tomintoul-Glenlivet claimed ownership before finally Whyte & Mackay took it on in 1973. An interesting history was left untold, however, and the brand was relatively obscure for much of the 20th century. 

When Andrew Lennie, whisky specialist at Fettercairn Distillery, joined in 2019 he says the first thing he did was go to all his whisky books to find what had been written about Fettercairn. “Not a great deal had been”. 

Fettercairn Distillery

Stewart Walker and Gregg Glass

Changing the tides

That’s what he and owners Whyte & Mackay are keen to change. A massive period of investment in infrastructure and marketing has taken place, while focus has shifted from blends and retail business to premium brands. “Whyte & Mackay has gone back to where it was when it started out: being whisky makers and blenders first and foremost,” Lennie says. Recently winning distiller of the year Icons of Whisky Scotland 2021 demonstrates that it’s not just Fettercairn that’s benefiting from rehabilitation, but Whyte & Mackay too.

Wholesale changes began in 1991 when a new malt intake and milling equipment were added. Since then, the tun room was rebuilt, the number of washbacks was increased, the wash stills were updated, a comprehensive wood policy was put in place, the visitor centre had a makeover, and stainless steel condensers, which accentuated that unpopular sulfur-forward spirit, made way for copper ones.

Turning the ship around is a dedicated, experienced staff, like Whyte & Mackay whisky makers Gregg Glass and the legendary Richard Paterson. But it’s distillery manager (and another Icons of Whisky Scotland 2021 winner) Stewart Walker who typifies modern Fettercairn best. “He’s the greatest brand ambassador,” Lennie says. “He grew up on the same street as the distillery and is a big personality in the local community. He’s been here 30 years and has done every gig going. He’s also genuinely one of the most humble, passionate, and genuine guys you’ll ever meet and he has stories for days. The way he talks about the distillery is beautiful”. 

Fettercairn Distillery

There’s nothing else like the cooling ring process in whisky

A unique process

Above all, however, is the distillery finally communicating what an interesting production process Fettercairn. A great deal of its barley is local and there’s plans to increase the amount in the works. Not to claim terroir, mind, but to support the local community and create less of a carbon footprint. 

While the distillery’s old malting floor remains, all malting ceased in 1966. Instead, the barley is sent to nearby Bairds Malts. The malted barley then goes through a Bühler mill and then an old Victorian, open-top tumble rig mash tun that was installed in the 1950s. “It came from Glenugie, which was a distillery up in Peterhead, as did the spirit safe,” says Lennie. “It creates a cloudy wort with a rich, biscuity profile, so the process that follows that is all about balancing that”. Fermentation takes place for 60 hours in 13 beautiful Oregon pine washbacks.

Things get truly unique, however, in Fettercairn’s stills. There’s two wash stills and two spirit stills, the latter with the copper cooling rings fitted in the 1950s by Alistair Menzies. He wanted to lighten the distinctive cloudy wort, but didn’t have the right still shape to create enough reflux for it. “This was a nice little bit of ingenuity,” Lennie explains. “Crystal clear water from the Cairngorms literally cascades down the outside while the heart is distilled. This boosts reflux and promotes the funky, tropical notes in the new make. To our knowledge, there’s nobody else in the industry who does it”.

Fettercairn’s improved cask policy focuses on first-fill ex-bourbon casks with a high rye content (Heaven Hill is a favourite provider) to enhance distillery character. On-site is 14 dunnage warehouses, two of which are original from 1824, housing 30,000 casks that are never racked more than three high to create consistent temperature and humidity. Classic old-world casks like sherry butts, Port pipes are used, but Fettercairn is also now a hotbed of innovation, most notably with its programme to responsibly source Scottish oak in the future.

Fettercairn Distillery

The revamped range

The new Fettercairn 

Getting the fundamentals right is no use, however, if you rest on your laurels. An effective core range has been followed by the first release of its 16-year-old expression (new incarnations will follow annually), while this year the Warehouse 2 Collection was launched, taking small batches of single malts to showcase the treasure trove of stock that’s in its warehouses and flex the distillery’s maturation muscles. Along with the recent news of Fettercairn investing in local barley and oak, the distillery is marching forward at an impressive pace.

The new Fettercairn is not perfect, of course. Pricing is just too high right now, considering its low levels of recognition. But across the new releases and the core range, the quality of the whisky is speaking for itself. The consistency of the bourbon cask tells a story of a developing distillery character, which is vibrant and fresh with a house style of funky tropical fruits and malty spice. All in all, the whiskies are balanced, bold, and really stand apart in a crowded market.

With investment and long-term strategy, effective communication of what makes the brand unique, a wonderful staff, and quality whisky that showcases a genuinely good distillery character, Fettercairn is finally ready to tell a different story. And, best of all, it promises more exciting chapters to come.

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Master of Malt tastes… Glenmorangie Cognac Cask Finish 13 Year Old

New Glenmorangie whisky is here! And as this swanky single malt was finished in an ex-Cognac cask, we thought we’d have a quick look at why it’s a rare choice…

New Glenmorangie whisky is here! And as this swanky single malt was finished in an ex-Cognac cask, we thought we’d have a quick look at why it’s a rare choice of barrel for whisky makers and review its impact on the dram.

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped the notice of many of you that an intriguing new Glenmorangie release turned up on our site. The snappily-titled Glenmorangie Barrel Select Release 13 Year Old Cognac Cask Finish arrived this week, radiant with its exciting promise of an interesting cask finish you don’t see that much. 

For those who haven’t spotted the clue in the name yet, the Glenmorangie Barrel bla bla bla was initially aged in ex-bourbon casks for over eight years, before being finished in those unusual Cognac casks for a further four years, and then bottled up at 46% ABV.

Glenmorangie is not the first Scotch whisky brand to turn to France’s most famous spirit export for casks. The Glenlivet, Glenfarclas, Chivas, Arran, Douglas Laing, The Balvenie, and more have used Cognac casks in the past. But it’s still not exactly a common choice. At the time of writing, the only other dram available on our site that was matured for any time in an ex-Cognac cask was The Irishman Single Malt Cognac Cask Finish

Glenmorangie Cognac Cask Finish

Cognac casks are not a common sight in Scotch, yet…

Old frenemies

Cognac and Scotch are better known as old rivals than boozy bedfellows for much of their history, vying for the status of go-to brown spirit in Britain, American and globally since the 19th century. The two have gone through the phylloxera crisis, Prohibition, the golden age of cocktails, world wars, various boom-bust cycles, and more in that time. Both vying for the same customers forging something of partisan drinking environment where folks made the choice between being Cognac drinker or a whisky drinker. Oddly in France, whisky is much more popular than Cognac. 

While Scotch sits prettier than Cognac in raw sales these days, the air of competition is gradually subsiding to leave more room for collaboration and coexistence. Both are taking pages from each other’s books now, with Cognac dipping its toes in the world of cask finishes while Scotch increasingly embraces terroir and prestige (or lets face it, bling).

But that hasn’t translated into routine cask trading. For starters, the rules of Cognac prohibit the use of ex-whisky casks. Furthermore, you can’t get casks once filled with Cognac on the scale or for the value you can an ex-bourbon or sherry. Access is improving as many of the biggest drinks companies produce both, like Pernod Ricard (Martell and Chivas Brothers, among others), Beam Suntory (Courvoisier and Laphroaig), and, of course, LVMH (Hennessy and Glenmorangie). But ex-Cognac casks are not exactly a go-to choice yet.

Glenmorangie Cognac Cask Finish

Dr. Bill is experienced at dealing with tricky casks

A tricky customer

Even if you can get your hands on a barrel you are dealing with the prospect of marrying two distinct spirit styles in order to create something greater than the sum of its parts. As such, Cognac is a tough cask to get right and few whisky makers are capable of striking the perfect balance. It’s all too easy to overpower the whisky, particularly when your spirit is light and elegant like Glenmorangie’s.

Naturally, Glenmorangie’s head of whisky creation Dr. Bill Lumsden has done his fair share of experiments with Cognac casks before. But, surprise surprise, he says previous incarnations resulted in Cognac overshadowing the whisky’s character. The remedy was to utilise Cognac casks that had been filled several times, resulting in a more subtle wood influence on the whisky. 

Sometimes it’s the simple solutions that do the trick. Although, we’d imagine there’s a little more to it than that and there was some trial and error involved. Dr. Bill does, of course, have a history of getting cask innovations right, with expressions like Nectar d’Or, Spìos, and the 12 Year Old Malaga Cask Finish demonstrating his expertise. So an ex-Hennessy cask (we presume, because why wouldn’t it be?) was never going to prove beyond him.

Glenmorangie Cognac Cask Finish

Get your hands on the dram now!

The review

That’s assuming, of course, this cask finish does work. This brings us nicely to the review. And it’s safe to say Dr. Bill has succeeded in measuring this right. The lush fruit and refined sweetness that makes up the Glenmorangie DNA comes through but it’s more decedent here without veering into dangerous saccharine or cloying territory. Glenmorangie Barrel Select Release 13 Year Old Cognac Cask Finish makes for a pleasant sipper and for a good alternative for those wanting a change from the classic wine and sherry cask finishes.

Glenmorangie Barrel Select Release 13 Year Old Cognac Cask Finish Tasting Notes:

Nose: Through notes of passion fruit, white grapes, lemon french fancies, and cooked apples there’s soft cedar, fresh leather, vanilla sugar, cassis, orange chocolate, and a hint of flaked almonds atop warm pastries.

Palate: Soft and a little oily, the palate begins with orange boiled sweets and helpings of dried tropical fruit and nectarines in support. Vanilla shortbread, clove, and some well-rounded oaky spice adds depth among hints of marzipan, dark chocolate, caramel, and a slightly earthy tobacco element.

Finish: A little clove and lingering juicy fruit sweetness.

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Pour & Sip turns one year old!

Grab some party poppers and a cake because our delightful whisky subscription service is about to celebrate its first birthday! Naturally, we’re marking the occasion in style, with a birthday…

Grab some party poppers and a cake because our delightful whisky subscription service is about to celebrate its first birthday! Naturally, we’re marking the occasion in style, with a birthday subscription box and bumper live tastings. Happy Birthday to Pour & Sip! 

Did you know that back when we unveiled Pour & Sip to the world in September 2020, we had a simple dream: maybe, just maybe, Ted Danson would notice our new service, like it, and Tweet us. We also wanted to try and transform the way subscriptions approach community, accessibility, and inclusion. I’m told that’s actually more important than the Danson thing. I probably should have put that bit first.

Now our awesome whisky subscription service is about to turn a year old in September. Where does the time go? It’s already walking and can’t be far off saying its first word. I reckon it will be ‘MoM’. They grow up so fast.

Pour & Sip

We are celebrating with delicious whisky, because of course we are

A birthday present for you!

Anyway, to celebrate the clever clogs at Pour & Sip have created a bumper birthday subscription box, also available as a one-off right here (pre-order now)! 

Yes, we know usually the one having the birthday is supposed to get the present, but when you can put together a birthday set that contains five great drams from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Kentucky, a P&S tumbler, and a diddy Angostura bitters for making an Old Fashioned all for £29.95 – you do it.

Or better still, you could actually sign up for Pour & Sip. If you haven’t done so already, now’s the time. Because when you do, you’ll get the birthday box PLUS a welcome gift of 2x Glencairn crystal whisky tasting glasses (worth another £11)! 

And mark in your diary that Pour & Sip will host two live tasting sessions on 9 and 23 September on its YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook channels. Be sure to tune in, cos we’ve got guests from each distillery/bottler (if you watch live you can even ask them questions) across the two events, as well as a tutorial on how to make your Old Fashioned.

Pour & Sip

Be sure to tune in to the tastings!

I haven’t signed up yet, what am I missing?

Now, we appreciate that there are those of you who won’t be as familiar with Pour & Sip and might be wondering what all the excitement is about. So here’s the skinny. The low-down. The 4-1-1. By which we mean, here’s how it works: every month our team of super-smart and cool whisky-knowing people choose five different drams of the good stuff for you to enjoy, pairing them with matching tasting cards that don’t just explain how a whisky tastes, but why it tastes like that. Neat, huh?

Those who have subscribed will know that in just a year we’ve already showcased whiskies from Taiwan, Israel, and Finland alongside the classic offerings from Japan, Scotland, Ireland and the USA. We’ve also put together themed boxes showcasing different aspects of the industry, from a Women in Whisky-themed selection, to a box celebrating the spoils of Islay.

Here’s just a flavour of what we’ve done over the last 12 months: 

– Hosted 24 live tasting sessions, with 25 distillery guests (and counting) joining the fun, from brand ambassadors and founders, to master blenders and distillers. 

– Offered great perks such as discounts on full bottles of the featured whiskies, loyalty points, and always free shipping all in the P&S Member Store (over on pourandsip.com, not MoM, obv.)

– Written blogs, conducted interviews, and established an interactive whisky community.

– Received praise from the likes of The Independent and BBC Good Food, as well as members with its Feefo Gold Trusted Service Award.

Happy Birthday, Pour & Sip!

Phew! It’s been a big year. And we really hope you’ve enjoyed it. We’re proud of what we’ve put together and we’re excited to keep the adventure going. 

Do be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already, the final day to sign up and receive the Birthday Box is 19 September. The more of you who do, the closer we are to catching Danson’s eye. And if you want to get us a birthday present, that would be a pretty good one. 

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Return to the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

We ventured north to the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery for the first time in four years to see how things changed and taste some of the county’s first whisky: Filey…

We ventured north to the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery for the first time in four years to see how things changed and taste some of the county’s first whisky: Filey Bay.

Yorkshire Tea, Tetley Tea, Tetley’s bitter, John Smith’s, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Rowntree’s., Bassett’s, Henderson’s Relish, and the mighty Marks and Spencer, Yorkshire is the birthplace of some classic food and drinks brands. But there’s one thing God’s own country could never boast about: having its own whisky.

Until now. The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery released its first whisky in 2020. Soon, Cooper King and Whittakers will also join the Yorkshire whisky revolution. But we can recall a time when the trailblazers were young hopefuls themselves.  In 2017, our very own Jake Mountain paid the distillery a visit and so now that there’s actual whisky to taste, we thought it was time for a revisit. 

Unusually, the Spirit of Yorkshire grows all its grain, ferments, distills, and barrel ages on the site, which includes the Wold Top Brewery (founded in 2003) and the 600-acre farm it lives on just a short drive from the distillery. There’s no vodka or gin in sight. This is an English whisky distillery that runs with a simple objective: we’re the first whisky of Yorkshire, so we bloody better get it right.

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery grows 100% of the barley it distills

Truly grain to glass

It all starts on the fields. Co-founder Tom Mellor has lived on the farm his whole life, while longtime friend and co-founder David Thompson’s area of expertise is crop science. Yorkshire may never have had much whisky to speak of, but it grows a healthy amount of barley. In fact, the Yorkshire Wolds is said to be the largest malting barley growing area in the UK. It seemed logical to grow their own raw material. 

Thompson explained the advantages of this approach: “We have complete control over our raw material: the variety of barley we use, the methods of cultivation. That puts us more in control than the majority of distillers. We have the ability and flexibility of experimenting. The strengths certainly outweigh the weaknesses. As Yorkshire’s first, we don’t have any preconceived ideas of what we should be doing. As a result, we can do what we want with our product as nothing is expected of us”. 

Mellor and Thompson use low-impact farming techniques making soil health and biodiversity a priority. The duo employ a technique called direct drilling, which means rather than discing (sic), ploughing, and then drilling the fields as per the ‘usual’ process, they drill a cover crop straight into the stubble left from the previous harvest. Every time you work the land you release carbon dioxide back into the air; but by keeping the soil undisturbed, that carbon stays in the ground. They’re also advocates of wind power, with two wind turbines providing all the electricity for the farm and brewery when spinning.

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

It’s an impressive stillhouse, boasting size and unique equipment

Distilling with a Yorkshire Twist

Malting, the sole part of the process that the Spirit of Yorkshire distillery doesn’t do on site, is handled by neighbours in Bridlington. Mashing and a long 75-95 hour fermentation takes place at the sister brewery, where intriguingly two strains of distiller’s yeasts are used instead of beer yeast. This was done on the advice of the late Dr. Jim Swan, and the process had the desired result, making a clear wort with fruity esters.

Distillation occurs in stills only dwarfed by the Lakes Distillery in England in terms of size, with a capacity to create 450,000 litres of pure alcohol per year. This isn’t a rinky-dink operation, these guys mean serious business. The stills were built by the always in-demand Forsyth’s, who couldn’t fit Mellor and Thompson in for two years. Was it worth the wait? “Definitely,” Thompson says. “The period of time that we spent looking for other suppliers confirmed that only Forsyth could produce the quality and shape for the consistency we wanted for high-quality production”. Whisky maker Joe Clark takes the cut by tasting it directly from the spirit safe.

The sizable stills aren’t the most exciting aspect of the Spirit of Yorkshire’s distillation process. No, that would be a four-plate copper rectifying still, or ‘The Yorkshire Twist’ as Clark dubbed it. It works by pulling a handle attached to the lyne arm before it feeds into the condenser, which moves the spirit into the column for some hardcore rectification. Spirit comes out of the standard pot still at 70% ABV, while the Yorkshire Twist sends out a hearty 87% ABV new make. This spirit is casked separately and its silky, light profile contrasts the pure pot still’s more full-bodied, unctuous new make. Both are delightfully fruity, supple, and distinctive.

Thompson says the inspiration behind the unique bit of kit was to create a point of difference and to explore the possibility of making a white spirit that the Spirit of Yorkshire could market before the whisky came of age. However, upon using the column, they realised the potential and benefit of creating two very distinct new make spirits. “This gave us flexibility within our product that was unique,” he explains. “As a result, no white spirit was sold as a product. We just concentrate on whisky”. 

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

Ex-bourbon allows the quality new-make to shine, but there are plenty of interesting cask choices here too

The Spirit of Yorkshire matured

When we last came here, the Spirit of Yorkshire had laid down over 300 casks. It’s now on 3,200 casks filled, with the new make going in at 63.5% ABV, diluted using water sourced directly from chalk aquifers.  This ensures that consistency in the water supply.

First fill ex-bourbon remain the predominant cask of choice. “The light and fruity character of our spirit lines up very well with the flavour of bourbon casks,” Thompson explains. “This forms the backbone of our wood policy. We then add layers of flavour through our finishing process using STR wine casks, Moscatel sherry butts, and peated casks. There are also full-term sherry butts and hogsheads which have produced some stunning single cask bottles. We will continue to experiment with the finishing process as new and exciting casks become available”. 

The STR casks are an obvious legacy of Dr. Jim Swan, and while the Spirit of Yorkshire has made plenty of its own strides, they are quick to praise his influence. “Having come into whisky-making with no experience it’s been a steep learning curve. From concept to the commission, Dr. Swan’s input was vital,” Thompson explains. “It’s certainly shaped our future. Losing him when we did, we’ve learned a lot on the job. So today, it’s a mixture of his influence and the results of what we’re doing from the advice he gave”.

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

Filey Bay whisky, the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery’s creation

Defining the Spirit of Yorkshire

One thing Jake  wasn’t able to see four years ago was the complete package. The whisky is called Filey Bay after the beautiful beach near the distillery. While the local gannets that gather on nearby cliffs were made the emblem of the brand. The labels are vibrant and fresh, while the packaging is informative without being too detailed, with neat illustrations outlining the process. The brand set out to make something fresh and different from the start, “not just copying preconceived ideas of what whisky should be,” as Thompson says. “Our design, we feel, encapsulates our ethos”.

Not having any history gives the Spirit of Yorkshire the freedom to define what Yorkshire, and indeed English, whisky is. At the moment, however, Thompson wants to keep things simple by saying there is only one philosophy that guides the distillery: quality.

“In both the ingredients and process, we’re all about making something quality that the majority of people can enjoy. Something for everyone,” he explains. “The world whisky scene, particularly the English whisky, is very exciting to be a part of. It is starting to be taken seriously around the world. As long as we maintain the quality of production, the future is very bright”.

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

A snapshot of the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery’s range

Tasting Filey Bay whisky

So, the big question remains: has the philosophy worked? Does the local barley, Yorkshire Twist and first-fill casks make a difference? Is this Filey Yay or Filay No-Way (sorry)? It’s a resounding yay, in my book. The ripe, fruity new-make shines in the samples I tasted (below). The cask influence is measured beautifully, bringing complementary flavours and complexity without stomping all over the distillery profile (orchard/stone fruits and baked goods). There’s some good body and texture too, with only the occasional flickers of raw alcohol immaturity. I think the Flagship, in particular, will be spectacular between 8-12 years old.

Just because you admire the process, it doesn’t mean you’ll admire the whisky it produces. But, delightfully Filey Bay measures up handsomely, and the pricing isn’t outrageous either. All in all, it was a very pleasant return to the Spirit of Yorkshire. The county might not have any whisky history, but it’s certainly got a very bright future. 

Filey Bay Flagship tasting note:

Nose: Light, sweet and creamy aromas of apricot yogurt, foam bananas, pear drops, and golden barley. Touches of citrus come orange peel, lemon sherbets with salted peanuts, fennel, and dried grass adding a savoury bite. Throughout there’s freshly baked notes of apple crumble with cinnamon, vanilla, and sourdough loaf. At points, it’s so fresh and vibrant there’s almost a cider or shandy quality to the nose.

Palate: The palate’s texture is a little oily but retains that creaminess from the nose with a well-balanced bounty of warming baking spice, orchard fruits, vanilla custard, and marzipan. Porridge with honey, peaches, caramel, and candied orange add depth with black pepper, and anise flicker beneath. 

Finish: Tails away for a while leaving a trail of baked good notes.

Filey Bay Peated tasting note:

Nose: Through grassy peat and woodsmoke comes the characteristic pear drops, lemon peel, and bakery notes (bread & butter pudding this time) with cacao powder, toasted almonds, vanilla, nutmeg, and some salty coastal elements in support.

Palate: Drier than the Flagship thanks to ashy smoke but still you and creamy enough to carry some nice body. Subtle earthy, damp peat is in the backdrop with Hobnob oatiness, vanilla custard, sweet anise, and golden syrup taking centre stage. Nectarines, cooked apples, and marmalade bring some fruitiness with peppery spice mingling underneath. 

Finish: Baking spice, faint whispers of smoke, and honey remain.

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How Reyka Vodka got ahead of the curve

Every now and again a spirit ahead of its time appears and helps define what the category will become. Reyka Vodka is one of those spirits. Here’s its story. Iceland…

Every now and again a spirit ahead of its time appears and helps define what the category will become. Reyka Vodka is one of those spirits. Here’s its story.

Iceland isn’t exactly the first place that would come to mind if you were asked to name great vodka-producing countries. You couldn’t even legally sell beer there until 1989. And the country isn’t exactly teeming with distilleries now. But it is home to one brand that has had an enormous impact on the vodka category.

William Grant & Sons first launched Reyka Vodka in 2005 as the ‘world’s first green vodka’. The name is derived from the Icelandic word for ‘smoke’, and the spirit makers chose to base its identity on Iceland’s unique culture and geography while emphasising purity, sustainability, and craft. 

It has since been at the centre of an era of evolution for vodka. Gone are the days when people simply demanded a smooth spirit to mix and a fancy bottle. Story, taste, and responsible production have become the cornerstone for many new brands. So how did William Grant & Sons get ahead of the curve?

An unlikely home for success

Caitlin Robertshawe, brand manager for Hendrick’s & Reyka at William Grant & Sons, says that the inspiration to make Icelandic vodka came from one of the Grant family members who used to holiday regularly in the country. “They loved going to Iceland due to its rugged and pure landscape full of volcanoes, waterfalls, and glaciers,” she explains. “It wasn’t a huge stretch to realise that an island famed for its pure glacial water and clean air made perfect sense to make a clean and pure vodka”.

Where the family-owned spirit makers decided to create its signature vodka was Borgarnes. You know Borganes, right? It’s a tiny fishing village around 75km north of Reykjavik with a population of around 2000 people. Yep, that Borganes. The air here is so clean that Co2 levels are actually falling. It’s also said to have the highest population of elves in Iceland, with an elf village supposedly located about 100 yards from the distillery with an elf church, school and, of course, houses. Yes, that information made the edit.

The village is so small that master distiller is Þórður Sigurðsson (Thordur Sigurdsson) is also the local fireman and policeman. He’s not just an entertaining character though. Sigurdsson is a methodical spirit maker who takes great care in his process and has worked with the brand from the start, becoming master distiller in 2012. 

“Thordur often makes a joke (we think) that his nose is insured for millions,” Robertshawe says. “In a lot of countries, the spirit safe must remain locked by law. However, in Iceland, this is not the case and Thordur keeps the spirit safe open throughout distillation as he uses his nose to first determine when the spirit changes from heads to hearts to tails. His grandparents lived on the farm close to where the distillery site is now, so he’s familiar with the water and lava fields. Thordur actually hand selects the lava rock used for filtration which needs to be changed every few months”.

Reyka Vodka

The enigmatic Thordur Sigurdsson

Truly craft vodka

The vodka is made from barley grain spirit, which, unfortunately, isn’t sourced locally. Reyka’s hands are tied there due to Iceland’s volatile weather, which means only sturdier forms of wheat/barley grow well, which don’t have quite the right starch content to make vodka. But Robertshawe says there are some exciting changes coming in the near future which will certainly address the environmental cost – and then some.

Once this spirit arrives it is distilled once for six hours in one of the few Carter-Head stills in the world (there are also two at Hendrick’s Gin), specially designed by Forsyths. Carter-Head stills specialise in purifying spirits through an efficient separation of the different weights of alcohol molecules. In the tall copper column, a series of plates encourage reflux (repeated condensation and evaporation) which in turn allows only the lightest molecules through first before the medium weight (pure ethanol) and then the heavier stuff to follow last. This helps to make an incredibly accurate cut of the ‘heart’, which is what gives us Reyka its characteristic vanilla flavour.

As Robertshawe touched on before, the brand uses the delightfully Icelandic method of filtering its vodka through lava rocks. Sigurdsson loads them into a basket at the top of the still that would hold botanicals if Reyka made gin. The distilled vapours pass through this as they are being condensed into a liquid. Lava rocks have a coarse structure that acts as such an effective natural filter they’re often used in ponds and aquariums. The water for dilution, meanwhile, is drawn from a glacial spring that runs through a 4,000-year-old lava field, making it so pure it forgoes the need for treatment or demineralisation before it is blended with the vodka. 

Reyka Vodka

Reyka Vodka

Ahead of the trend

The distillery is heated in a unique and sustainable way, with energy from geothermal heat and hydroelectricity (derived from 10% of the country’s 10,000+ waterfalls). It’s quite a sight. Great clouds of steam emerge from the springs thanks to the countries numerous underground volcanoes, creating enough heat o boil an egg in around four minutes. The bottle, meanwhile, is made with 85% recycled glass.

The distillery’s efforts to be green has always been front and centre of its branding. But this has truly been part of the process since 2005, long before it became necessary for brands to boast environmental credentials. This suggests the distillery isn’t interested in greenwashing or hopping on recent trends. In fact, Iceland as a country has always been forward-thinking in this regard. “Around 90% of homes and industries in Iceland use renewable energy. Why? Because it’s everywhere and super accessible,” says Robertshawe.

Reyka’s also unique in that, despite being a decidedly modern brand, it has never embraced the world of flavoured vodka. In its home country, an advertising campaign states ‘In Iceland, the only flavoured vodka we make is vodka-flavoured vodka’. Robertshawe explains that, while you should never say never, one is unlikely to come because William Grant & Sons believes in growing brands for the future and that means thinking long term. The flavoured vodka category may be growing fast, but for Reyka the focus is on unlocking the potential of the core brand.

It’s not surprising Reyka is so confident given the quality of its spirit. Across 92 reviews on our site, the vodka averages 5 stars. It might be filtered and have a smooth, elegant texture, but this isn’t completely neutral vodka. It tastes of something. Pepper. Citrus. And a trademark creamy, sweet vanilla element. In an era (the noughties) when the cleaner the vodka, the better, Reyka managed to still appeal to those who enjoyed the purity of that modern style while creating something with personality, reminiscent of the old styles that hailed from the vodka belt of Russia and Poland. And it just so happens the latter is on the comeback.

Making a characterful, sustainable spirit with a story was not what was in demand in 2005. But as the vodka category evolves, Reyka continues to thrive because it has all of those things. In fact, looking at the direction vodka is going in, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Reyka vodka helped change the spirit. Who knew a Scotch whisky maker creating a brand in a tiny fishing village in Iceland would make such a difference?

You can purchase Reyka Vodka by clicking this link right here.

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New Arrival of the Week… Dingle Single Malt

Dingle Distillery’s first core whiskey, Dingle Single Malt, has finally arrived at MoM Towers and we’re so excited we decided to write lots of words about it. “This has been…

Dingle Distillery’s first core whiskey, Dingle Single Malt, has finally arrived at MoM Towers and we’re so excited we decided to write lots of words about it.

“This has been the most nervous I’ve been about a release I would say! In my previous history working in Scotch whisky, you were adding extensions to the existing lines. But with Dingle, it’s a coming-of-age dram that’s putting our marker down on who we are. People have been waiting to see what direction we’d go in. It’s a big step for the distillery and for me. This is not just another whiskey on the shelf, it’s a statement”. 

Graham Coull has spent more than 25 years in whisky. He joined William Grant & Sons as bottling manager in 1994, before becoming distillation manager for the Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie distilleries. Most notably, he spent 14 years as distillery manager and master distiller of Speyside distillery Glen Moray. Since 2019 he’s been the master distiller for Dingle Distillery. So the release of the brand’s first permanent whiskey is a big moment for him. Particularly as anticipation was high. 

Fans of gin will know Dingle as the creator of a Dry Gin named the World’s Best Gin at the 2019 World Gin Awards, but it’s what the Kerry-based brand has brought to the table in Irish whiskey that’s truly revealed its potential. By putting together one of the most popular and acclaimed ranges of small-batch spirits, the distillery demonstrated an ability to craft its own winning whiskies using manual distillation and an impressive wood programme with quality first-fill ex-bourbon, Pedro Ximénez, Oloroso, and Port casks.

Dingle Single Malt

You can finally get your hands on Dingle Single Malt!

Standing out from the crowd

So folks have been eagerly waiting for the first core release from Dingle. Particularly as Dingle Single Malt represents a continuation of its policy of being one of the few Irish distilleries to produce expressions made entirely with its own spirit. Coull attributes the lack of third-party-bottlings to the background of the directors, who previously created their own brewery and pub business doing everything from start to finish, as well as the gin’s success generating enough capital and accolades to enable them to stay on track. 

“We’re proud that’s part of our ethos,” says Coull about the approach. “It keeps things simple which is good because Irish whiskey is a bit confusing at the moment. Our spirit is never out in the marketplace being produced or presented in a different way. Like it or lump it, what’s in our bottles is what Dingle is”.

Whiskey purists also appreciate the rarity of trying spirit made from a manual distillation process. It’s rare to see such a lack of automation, particularly in a new distillery, and speaks to a romantic ideal of what craft whiskey should be about. “I’ve been in the whisky industry since 1994 and it reminds me of then, and it’s probably even more basic than that!” Coull says.

“Everything is hand and eye coordinated. There’s no intervention with any real technology. So you’re listening to the sounds, reacting to the smells, and using your eyes for the distillation cuts. We even do the old-fashioned water test at the beginning of distillation which most places have phased out. It’s definitely not a perfect science, but it’s nice to have that hands-on approach because if you have too much automation, you can lose touch with what you’re doing and you don’t pick out the subtleties of any changes”. 

As well as the manual mashing, Dingle Distillery makes use of wooden fermentation vessels that feed into the three bespoke copper pot stills, a 5,000-litre wash still and two progressively smaller spirit stills designed by John C. McDougall. These ensure maximum copper contact so a bolder character is retained even after the classic Irish triple distillation, which typically makes a lighter, clean spirit. “We get this oily, earthy element and a creamy mouthfeel to our new-make this way, as well as a rich, fruity profile that we retain by taking a very final small spirit cut in the very final spirit stills,” Coull explains. 

Dingle Single Malt

Say hello to Graham Coull!

The Dingle way of doing things

The distillery has always made a point of explaining its production process as one of quality over quantity, and that Dingle Whiskey is a product of its environment. Localised well water is used for dilution. The climate for maturation is singular, because Dingle itself is a pretty unique place. “It’s very difficult to prove or disprove whether much comes from the climate and the water,” Coull admits. “But we know Dingle has got a mild, damp environment that’s great for maturing whiskey. The spirit matures all year round. What I’m used to in Scotland is it probably stopping in October and starting again in March because the temperatures dip so low. I always say ‘if the grass is growing, the whiskey’s maturing’, and grass pretty much grows all year round in Dingle!”

Aside from the manual distillation of its own spirit, Dingle is also known for using excellent, first-fill casks. It’s a pricey, bold choice but, when done right, it pays off. Not least by becoming a USP in a crowded market. “We have to look to the future. There’s 30 to 35 other distilleries coming in behind us,” explains Coull. “We’re not the biggest. We’re not the most efficient. So having great casks has always been critical. That’s not to say that we won’t refill casks, but I’ll keep them in the background for older Dingles”. 

He says the key to ensuring the quality is consistent is only dealing with tried and trusted cask brokers he knows from years of sourcing casks and building relationships. This not only means he can ensure the standard of the wood and spirit it previously held is high, but the way the casks are handled between the source and the distillery is proper. If they’re not freshly emptied and shipped quickly, you can ruin a cask quite quickly, Coull says.

Dingle Single Malt

Dingle is carving out an impressive space for itself in the competitive world of Irish whiskey

A bright future

It’s this considered and honest approach that brought Coull to Dingle in the first place. Nabbing someone with his CV was a coup for the young distillery, but once he saw the quality that had been laid down and an opportunity to make his mark and build a brand from the ground-up he couldn’t resist. Coull says family ownership also makes a big difference, as they tend to take longer-term views with their distilleries. “It’s their baby and they will see it through”. 

The family’s commitment has been demonstrated by the promise of a multi-million-euro upgrade to Dingle Distillery that will create at least 60 jobs, improve the visitor experience, and eventually double the capacity of the facility, which was originally a sawmill. “If anybody’s ever visited the distillery they’ll know it’s purely a shed with distillation equipment and a few transport containers inside, which become the shop and the bar area. It’s probably had its day so it is time to invest. It’s not going to be a designer distillery by any means, it will still have that rustic edge, but we’re aiming for something that will be fit for visitors too”.

Looking forward, Coull says the batch releases won’t stop just because Dingle now has its own permanent single malt. Every year around 10-15,000 bottles of something new will arrive, with some interesting wood finishes and single casks tipped, as well as 100% bourbon-matured bottling that will present the clearest picture of Dingle’s distillery character. Some Irish peated whiskey is also on the way in the next three or four years and Coull promises it will appeal to fans of the category as it will not be a subtle ‘Irish peat’ by any means.

Dingle Single Malt

We heartily recommend a drop of Dingle. Lucky you can get here now!

Dingle Single Malt review:

But, before we get to all of that we’ve got our New Arrival to enjoy. So, here’s the skinny. The whiskey is about six-to-seven years old. It was triple distilled and then matured in Pedro Ximénez sherry (61%) and ex-bourbon (39%) first-fill casks before being bottled without chill-filtration. There were 50,000 bottles produced in the first run, so this is not something only collectors can get their hands on, and there’s been a big aesthetic change to a more eye-catching packaging. It’s worth mentioning that at just over £50, the price point is lower than the previous batch releases and is very competitive, which means this is a whisky that you can drink and buy again. So far, we’re ticking some good boxes.

The most important thing remains what’s inside the tasting glass, however, and I’m delighted to say I love it. It’s a tremendously assured first addition to the core range, a whisky with all the poise, elegance, and moreish qualities of a go-to dram. You would guess it’s a good 10-12 years old considering how intensely beautiful and full-bodied the sherry and bourbon notes popping up all over the place are, as well as the first-class integration, particularly as PX can overwhelm. But this didn’t at all. It’s a testament to taking your time and doing things right. 

You can purchase Dingle Single Malt from Master of Malt (that’s us!) now.

Dingle Single Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: A creamy, mellow, and supple mix of vanilla, posh dark chocolate, sherried dried fruit, and the prickling of aromatic spice from anise, clove, and nutmeg. Throughout there’s toffee, homemade apple pie, toasted almonds, and lime zest with hints of mint and marzipan.

Palate: More of that indulgent caramel, vanilla, and chocolatey goodness (this time orange chocolate) with raisins, espresso, apricots, and some black pepper in support. There’s also some hints of rhubarb crumble, black fruit, red wine, and black tea as well as acacia honey, leather, and brown sugar underneath.

Finish: Rhubarb and Custard boiled sweets, sticky toffee pudding, a little more lime, and dried fruit.

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