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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Adam O'Connell

US scraps tariffs on British whisky exports

Fans of cashmere, Stilton and, most importantly, whisky rejoice. The dreaded tariffs have been banished! Given that it’s been one of the biggest stories in the drinks industry over the…

Fans of cashmere, Stilton and, most importantly, whisky rejoice. The dreaded tariffs have been banished!

Given that it’s been one of the biggest stories in the drinks industry over the last couple of years and we’ve reported on it several times, we think you’re probably aware that whisky in the UK has had an issue when it comes to tariffs imposed by the United States government.

Today we can finally report on some tremendous news: the US has agreed to suspend them. The millions of pounds’ worth of tariffs have been cut for four months as part of a de-escalation of the long-running trade dispute.

The removal of the 25% tariff rate on whisky exports to zero is a huge relief. It’s been reported that they were costing the UK industry about £30 million a week. Given that Scotch was the UK’s largest food and drink export last year, that loss was felt by all. Even in the US itself, where exports of single malt Irish and Scotch whiskies to the US were worth about £340 million in 2018.  

whisky tariffs

You’ll have an easier time crossing the Atlantic now!

Last year Liz Truss, the trade secretary, had suspended UK tariffs, but this action wasn’t reciprocated by the Trump administration, in a move you could describe as ‘shady’. This earlier-than-expected announcement, however, goes some way to ending the bad blood and to help both sides resolve the dispute over subsidies given to Airbus and Boeing when the UK was a member of the European Union. 

The news provides some vindication for trade bodies on both sides of the pond too, who campaigned tirelessly for the removal of the tariffs after they were first imposed in October 2019, foreshadowing a truly awful year. And thanks to the grim pandemic wreaking havoc across our industry, this move is all the more important. The department of international trade has said the tariff suspension will help to protect jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

The move will also help cashmere producers, Stilton exporters and the UK’s aerospace industry, which were all subject to US tariffs. But it should be noted that the government said it reserved the right to reimpose tariffs on US products if the four months of scheduled talks on the Airbus dispute failed to make “satisfactory progress towards an agreeable settlement”. 

whisky tariffs

Karen Betts welcomes the news

Chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) Karen Betts, however, is understandably delighted with the development. “This is fabulous news. The tariff on single malt Scotch whisky exports to the US has been doing real damage to Scotch whisky in the 16 months it has been in place, with exports to the US falling by 35%, costing companies over half a billion pounds. So today, everyone in our industry – from small companies to large – is breathing a sigh of relief.”

Betts also paid tribute to Truss and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and their teams, while asserting that the UK government and the new US administration will now need to work hard on “finding a negotiated settlement to this long-running aerospace dispute”. 

We await further news to see how this situation changes from here. Tonight, however, we raise a dram!

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Brendan McCarron to leave Glenmorangie for Distell

Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stocks at The Glenmorangie Company, has announced he will leave the role to take up the mantle of master distiller at Distell.  Pretty huge…

Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stocks at The Glenmorangie Company, has announced he will leave the role to take up the mantle of master distiller at Distell

Pretty huge news emerged on Instagram yesterday as Brendan McCarron revealed that his time with The Glenmorangie Company is drawing to a close after seven years. The former head of maturing whisky stocks will be moving to Distell to become the brand’s new master distiller, where he’ll work with its considerable Scotch whisky cohort. This includes Bunnahabhain, Tobermory and Deanston distilleries as well as Black Bottle whisky.

It’s a striking revelation as it appeared that he would be the natural successor to Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation and because he’s enjoyed so much success with the brand. Both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg Distillery have released all kinds of wonderful new expressions over the years under the duo’s stewardship. We’ve also heard that the news came as a surprise to Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), the owner of The Glenmorangie Company.

In a post on his personal Instagram account, McCarron commented “So I have a bit of news. I’ve just accepted an offer to be the master distiller for Distell. I’m going to work with the team responsible for Bunnahabhain, Tobermory and Deanston distilleries as well as blends such as Black Bottle and my first time working on gin too”. McCarron added that he is “beyond excited to get started”, and has been enjoying his “research“ recently, in particular tasting Tobermory 12 Year Old. He signed off by stating that he was very sad to leave the Glenmorangie company after “7 great years”, but that he can’t wait to get started in the new role.

Brendan McCarron has announced he will take up the mantle of master distiller at Distell. 

McCarron is one of the most respected whisky producers in the industry

We reached out to McCarron and he informed us that he’ll likely start working in his new role next month. He’s based near Deanston and will split his time between there, Tobermory and, of course, Islay, as well as Distell’s new multi-million-pound blending and disgorging centre in East Kilbride. “I am becoming like a proper west coast distiller,” McCarron remarked to us. He also says the role he’s taking will mean more time working in distilleries. “One thing I do miss is production, the hiss and singing of the stills as the steam goes through them. There’s an energy to production which I haven’t had in this role which has been nosing, blending and travelling. I’ve always missed the connection to the distilleries. So this ticks every box. I’ll be directly in charge of production.”

Ultimately, the allure of the new gig and what it entails is what has sold McCarron. “I’ve done stuff I wouldn’t have imagined being a working-class boy from Coatbridge, I’ve drunk Krug in five-star hotels, drunk amazing whiskies with incredible people in China, Russia and various parts of the States. And got to work on incredible whiskies. But it’s been seven years. Bill’s still got lots that he wants to achieve. I could continue to work under Bill but I love the idea of Distell saying, here’s what we want to do, here’s what our plans are, here are our liquids,” he explains. “I’ve always loved Deanston, Bunnahabhain and Tobermory. It was the distilleries, the liquids, and seeing the investment that’s going into the company. All this appealed to me. My boss, Julian Patton, told me about his plans, how much he believed in the whiskies. And I do too. Being the master distiller of three distilleries you love, it’s hard to say no.”

McCarron was also keen to thank everyone for the response he’s had, commenting. “My phone was dead this morning, I had so many missed calls and messages that it drained the battery. There have been lots of lovely messages coming in.” He also said that Bill is sad to see him go, but is excited for him too, saying that it’s “an amazing role but they are lucky to have you”. McCarron added that he “didn’t anticipate me leaving. I didn’t anticipate me leaving. But, when a role like this appears, you can feel the energy in the company. It’s impossible to say no.”

Brendan McCarron has announced he will take up the mantle of master distiller at Distell. 

McCarron will split his time across the distilleries he’ll work with, which will include trips to his beloved Islay

Before working for The Glenmorangie Company, McCarron had managed Oban Distillery, was the group manager of Lagavulin, Caol Ila, and Port Ellen Maltings on Islay, and helped to design Roseisle Distillery – the first distillery to be built in Speyside for 30 years. His new employer Distell is a South African-based producer and marketer of spirits, wines, ciders and ready-to-drink products (RTDs). The company was formed in 2000 by the merger of Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW) and Distillers Corporation. In 2013, Distell purchased the Scotch whisky business of Burn Stewart Distillers from CL Financial for £160m and took on its impressive portfolio, which includes the aforementioned distillery giants as well as brands like Black Bottle and Scottish Leader

We wish him all the best and can’t wait to see what he does at Distell. Slainte, Brendan!

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Top ten: New and exciting beers

A hoard of tasty beers have recently arrived here and we thought it was high-time we showed them off. Particularly as the sun appears to be making a comeback… The…

A hoard of tasty beers have recently arrived here and we thought it was high-time we showed them off. Particularly as the sun appears to be making a comeback…

The fact that we sell beer won’t come as a surprise to many of you, who will have noticed bottles and cans slowly accumulating on the site in the last few years. But recently we’ve decided to ramp things up a notch and increase and diversify our selection, adding even more top producers and embracing all kinds of styles and profiles. We are Master of Malt, after all…

To give you an idea of what to expect, we’ve rounded up some of our finest new arrivals, from bargain bundles, thirst-quenching pilsners, trendy pale ales and mouth-puckering sours. Beers perfect for enjoying in the sunshine in all those picnics you’re planning… 

We’ve rounded up some of the finest beers to recently arrive at MoM Towers

La Virgen Bundle (12 x 330ml) 

We’re kicking things off with a terrific bundle of beers from Madrid’s La Virgen. There’s four cans of its IPA, four cans of its Lager and four cans of its 360 Pale Ale, making it the perfect picnic accompaniment. Plus, you save some shiny coins versus buying all 12 cans individually!

We’ve rounded up some of the finest beers to recently arrive at MoM Towers

Belching Beaver Batch No.5 (Sour Series)

If you want a top sour beer, then you can’t really go wrong by picking up a bottle from a range named the Sour Series! Good thing Belching Beaver lives up to expectations by creating a delightful barrel-aged American ale with blackberries. It’s all about them tart fruity notes. 

What does it taste like:

Sour fruit leads into touches of sweetness, with toasty cereal notes, oak influence and a funky finish.

We’ve rounded up some of the finest beers to recently arrive at MoM Towers

Great Divide Denver Pale Ale (6 x 355ml)

For fans of American pale ale who loved that citrus-forward and hoppy style, we’ve got this tremendous six-pack from Great Divide. The Denver Pale Ale, a boozy ode to the brewery’s home city, also features the designs of local artist Scot Lefavor on its cans, so it looks as good as it tastes.

What does it taste like:

Floral hops, grapefruit zest and grassy pine, hints of honeyed malt and a pleasingly bitter finish.

We’ve rounded up some of the finest beers to recently arrive at MoM Towers

Wicked Weed Dark Age

Classic, chocolatey stouts don’t come much better than this bottle from the lovely folks at the Wicked Weed Brewing Co. Dubbed Dark Age, this boisterous brew benefits from a short spell in an ex-bourbon barrel, adding lighter, sweeter and oaky notes to complement those dark and bitter characteristics. 

What does it taste like:

Dark chocolate, cola cubes and coffee bitterness, with a drizzle of honey and vanilla.

We’ve rounded up some of the finest beers to recently arrive at MoM Towers

Bruery Terreux Oude Tart 

This jammy, sour brew from Bruery Terreux in California caught our eye because we love a good Flemish-style red ale. It was aged in oak barrels with raspberries, so you’re going to get all that berry goodness as well as the toasty vanilla notes from the cask.

What does it taste like:

Crushed tart raspberries and currants, with touches of oaky vanilla and berry jam bringing a smidge of sweetness.

We’ve rounded up some of the finest beers to recently arrive at MoM Towers

Siren Maltiverse Nitro 

This brew is a really cool little innovation by the fabulous Siren. It’s something between a dark mild and a porter, where one part is carbonated, and one part is nitrogenated. The colliding of these two worlds led to its nifty name. Welcome to the Maltiverse! 

What does it taste like:

Orange peel and pith, with yeasty bread, pepper and ginger spice, and a dash of balsamic.

We’ve rounded up some of the finest beers to recently arrive at MoM Towers

Goose Island Halia

It was hard to pick just one brew from the excellent Goose Island, but we settled on Halia because we love its lip-smacking summer style. It was aged in wine barrels alongside whole peaches, so you prepare yourself for an explosion of fruity flavours.

What does it taste like:

Somewhat sour, leading into red grape, fresh peach and apricot sweetness, and prickles of spice.

We’ve rounded up some of the finest beers to recently arrive at MoM Towers

Birra Del Borgo My Antonia

If pilsner is more your thing than check out this delightful Italian creation. My Antonia, which gets its name from the 1918 novel by Willa Cather, is made with a combination of American and European hops (Simcoe, Warrior, and Saaz), and it’s dry-hopped, too. This means Birra Del Borgo has brewed a tropical, hoppy and thirst-quenching beer.

What does it taste like:

Honey and resinous balanced hoppy bitterness, with pink grapefruit, tangerine, and tangy pineapple.

We’ve rounded up some of the finest beers to recently arrive at MoM Towers

Jester King Queen’s Order

Jester King in Austin is the kind of zesty, subtly sweet brew that’s both sessionable and ideal for pairing with food. Oh, and those bees on the label are there because this farmhouse ale was brewed with Texas Guajillo honey, along with Texas-grown Eureka and Ujukitsu lemons.

What does it taste like:

Zesty lemon, touches of funk, honey sweetness and bitter pithy notes, leading into a crisp, dry finish.

We’ve rounded up some of the finest beers to recently arrive at MoM Towers

Paulaner Weissbeir 0.0%

Finally, for those who’d like a solid zero-alcohol option, we’ve got this variation of Paulaner’s classic Weissbeir. It is brewed using malted wheat and malted barley, along with Herkules hops and after it’s matured, the alcohol is removed. But the flavour certainly isn’t!

What does it taste like:

Crisp and softly sweet with orchard fruit and juicy citrus

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Realising Devon’s whisky potential with Dartmoor Whisky Distillery

A few years ago a group of friends visited Islay to learn all about whisky and asked why no one ever made whisky in Devon. That idea eventually turned into a…

A few years ago a group of friends visited Islay to learn all about whisky and asked why no one ever made whisky in Devon. That idea eventually turned into a brand. This is the story of Dartmoor Whisky Distillery.

If you’re interested in founding a distillery in England, there’s plenty of great places to choose from. But few areas tick quite as many boxes as Devon. While sandy beaches, medieval towns and national parks will appeal to tourists, whisky lovers will note the abundance of high-quality barley, pure spring water and a coastal climate perfect for maturation. Devon native Greg Miller realised all of this back in 2009. He and a group of friends had ventured to Islay to take part in an intensive distillation course at Bruichladdich. The experience made him realise his home county had everything needed to make great whisky. So he teamed up with partner Simon Crow to found the Dartmoor Whisky Distillery.

The first thing they needed was a still. The duo immediately hit a roadblock, however, after visiting Forsyths of Rothes in Scotland only to return with a sizable quote and a potential spot on a two-year waiting list. Old connections and happenstance provided the solution. A lifelong friendship established with a French exchange student as a child caused Miller’s love-affair with France, where he owns a house. While there in the summer of 2014 it occurred to him that there’s an awful lot of distillation going on in Cognac. He wondered if he could find a still down there. 

As luck would have it, there was a tiny advert for one posted on a French agricultural website by Miguel D’Anjou, a third-generation Cognac master distiller. His still was built in 1966 and was in operation until 1994 when the family upgraded to two larger stills and it was mothballed. Miller and Crow were able to purchase and refurbish the still, even establishing a relationship with D’Anjou who ended up teaching the duo a lot about distillation.

The Dartmoor Distillery's unique Cognac still

The Dartmoor Distillery’s unique Cognac still

Making Devonshire drams at Dartmoor Whisky Distillery

While Dartmoor Whisky Distillery is not the first or only whisky distillery to use a Cognac still, it’s certainly rare and there are some significant differences between it and a traditional whisky pot still. The shape of the head on the 1400-litre Alembic still is very bulbous, while the swan neck is very narrow. This creates a very high level of reflux. Crow explains: “Before the vapours get up the swan neck they fold back on themselves an awful lot. Then the swan neck is very narrow so it distils our spirit very slowly, probably about a quarter to a third the speed of a traditional whisky pot still. This creates an incredibly smooth, sweet new make”. Then there’s the central copper ‘wash warmer’ which sits between the still and the condenser. While the first charge of beer wash is distilling, this holds and preheats the next charge, both saving energy and doubling the time that the wash is in contact with copper.

Despite inspiration striking on Islay, it was never Miller and Crow’s intention to make peated whisky. Partly because the local barley traditionally wasn’t peated and Crow says the duo is determined that the whisky is a product of Dartmoor. All of its barley, 50 tonnes a year, is sourced from Preston Farm, which supplies a lot of Devonshire breweries too. The barley is malted at the legendary Warminster Maltings, then it goes to Dartmoor Brewery who make a 9% ABV beer wash. Post distillation that 9% ABV beer is a 70% ABV spirit which is reduced with water down to the barrel strength of 63% ABV. That’s pure Dartmoor spring water sourced from a 200-foot deep borehole up on the moor at Holne that’s been filtered over the course of two centuries through peat, granite and more. 

The first releases are expressions matured in ex-bourbon, ex-Oloroso sherry and ex-Bordeaux red wine casks, which make up the bulk of Dartmoor Whisky Distillery’s wood programme. There are some Port and Madeira casks that are being used to finish some ex-bourbon expressions, however, and Miller’s love of smokier drams means some new make has been popped into ex-Laphroaig casks. The first 50 casks are stored underneath the distillery, but the majority are housed in a local warehouse to make the most of that Dartmoor climate. The plan was to vat whisky from the three primary casks together, but after master distiller Frank McCardy tasted each spirit after a year of ageing he advised Miller and Crow that each expression was too interesting and should stand on their own.

The Dartmoor Distillery

The Dartmoor Distillery

A beautiful building and a bright future

If you’re wondering, yes that it is the Frank McCardy of Springbank and Bushmills Distillery, who brought his 50+ years of experience to Dartmoor. An old friend of Miller and Crow, the Cognac still and integrity of the process was intriguing enough to McCardy to tempt him to lend expertise, despite being in semi-retirement. “We consult him on everything we are doing”, Crow says. With D’Anjou and McHardy guiding them, Miller and Crow currently handle the bulk of the distillation. This year they will be employing a distiller, however, who will have the pleasure of working out of one of England’s most scenic distilleries.

You’ll find Dartmoor Whisky Distillery in the Old Town Hall in Bovey Tracey. It became available when the council moved to a new building. “It would be easier to have a more logistical space with a big modern warehouse. But it’s such a beautiful building. It dates back to the 1860s and for us to be able to give that lovely historic building a new lease of life was great,” Crow says. The striking still sits on a stage while the rest of the hall is a visitors centre complete with a bar. A retail shop is now open and when tourism picks back up, you can bet the Dartmoor Distillery is handily placed to take advantage.

Crow tells us that a gin distilled in another old copper Cognac still, this one from 1890, with some local Dartmoor botanicals is on the way. But for now, we’re most interested in Dartmoor’s three core expressions and tasting them we found plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The Bourbon Cask is delicate, refined and balanced, with plenty of distillery character (sparkling orchard fruit, warm biscuit crumble and a honeyed element) and some solid cask integration. The Bordeaux Cask melds pleasantly with the new make and adds some intriguing elements. But the Sherry Cask is the standout dram so far. Those dense, sweet and rich Oloroso notes mask any immaturity and you can tell the quality of the cask itself is first-rate from how complex its flavours are. All three have had not enough time in their respective casks yet and demonstrate some raw spirit qualities (particularly in the Bourbon Cask). But it’s promising to taste a forming distillery character and to see another emerging producer resisting the urge to overload the oak in an effort to mask its youth.

There’s a lot of potential here. And thanks to the local barley, water, floor maltings, it’s whisky that’s Devon through and through. To grab yourself a bottle head to the Dartmoor Whisky Distillery page.

The Dartmoor Distillery range

The Dartmoor Distillery range

Tasting Dartmoor Whisky Distillery’s whisky

Dartmoor Bourbon Cask Matured Whisky

Nose: There’s a big malty backdrop (almost into beer/shandy territory) to this one which combined with some heat and raw touches reveal its youth. But it also showcases plenty of Dartmoor distillery character, green apples, Rich Tea biscuits and acacia honey in this case. Among those notes, you’ll find heaps of vanilla, as well as Scotch tablet, flour and a little black pepper. With time comes hints of milk chocolate, nectarines, orange blossom and white wine grapes. Then also a faint nutty quality as well as pencil shavings and a hint of strawberries and cream.

Palate: More of that biscuity, malty goodness at the core, alongside toffee, vanilla, baking spices and a little toasted oak as the cask presence makes itself more known. There’s also a little more of that citrus character from lemon zest. Also some dried grass, toasted almond and cacao powder. Throughout there are more honeycomb and crisp green apple flavours. Underneath there’s touches of marshmallow, melon, apricot yoghurt and cream soda to make themselves known.

Finish: A tad dry and carrying some peppery heat, but plenty of honey, fruit and a little gingerbread keeps things pleasant.

Dartmoor Bordeaux Cask Matured Whisky 

Nose: The wine cask makes itself known from the off with a mixed summer berry compote (blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries, redcurrants, strawberries) at the forefront alongside tannic red apple skins, plum, clove and some stony minerality. Notes of Manuka honey, caramel shortbread and a hint of sweet tobacco then develop. With more time comes orange peel, crunchy brown sugar, black peppercorn and cinnamon. There’s also some dried earth, melted chocolate and red chilli heat. Throughout that raw new make threatens to derail things slightly but never gets a firm grip on the nose.

Palate: Kellogg’s Fruit and Fibre, drying wood tannins and red berries lead, with walnut oil, posh dark chocolate and apple chutney in support. Among hints of candied orange there’s crème caramel, gingernuts, black pepper and damsons. Touches of peppermint, tomato puree and flint are present in the backdrop.

Finish: Medium finish with soft nutmeg, red and black Wine Gums and cocoa powder.

Dartmoor Sherry Cask Matured Whisky

Nose: Classic rich and nutty Oloroso goodness kicks things off with Corinth raisins, figs and stewed plums supported by sticky toffee, marmalade, manuka honey and walnut. There’s notes of damp earth, sherry-stained oak and tobacco leaves in the backdrop, as well as brown sugar, caramelised orchard fruit, stem ginger and brandy butter.

Palate: Through treacle, juicy dark fruits and some woody tannins there’s coconut, vanilla pod sweetness and thick caramel. Toasty cereals, sherried spice and the slightest menthol heat add depth. Underneath there’s dark honey, malt extract, rum and raisin ice cream and a little marzipan.

Finish: Some cinnamon and cacao powder keeps more summer berries company.  

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The winner of a bundle of 1826 booze is…

It’s winner time, folks. Who’s got their hands on some delicious 1862 pre-bottled cocktails? We reveal all… We love being the bearer of good news. Like when we get to…

It’s winner time, folks. Who’s got their hands on some delicious 1862 pre-bottled cocktails? We reveal all…

We love being the bearer of good news. Like when we get to shout about the arrival of wonderful new booze or tell folks they’ve won the prize from one of our many lovely competitions.

Happily, we’re getting to do the latter today by announcing the winner of our 1826 cocktail competition. Just as a refresher, the prize is four bottled cocktails that provide bar-quality booze in a matter of moments. There’s a Cognac Espresso Martini made with Courvoisier, a Smoky French Martini crafted using Laphroaig whisky as well as an Old Fashioned and a Mint Julep that makes use of the delightful Maker’s Mark bourbon. Oh, and a Maker’s Mark bar spoon, a Courvoisier cocktail shaker and a Laphroaig beanie hat!

The winner of a bundle of 1826 booze is...

All of this is now yours!

And not one, but two lucky winners are about to receive a bundle of each. Who are they? Well, it’s…

Jules Eley and Emma Whiteman!

Congratulations to you both. We hope you and your friends enjoy the booze. Don’t forget, you did promise to share…

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The winner of a VIP trip to Jura Distillery is…

The time has come to announce the winner of our VIP trip to the wonderful Jura Distillery!  There are few distillery locations as iconic and romantic as Jura, a remote…

The time has come to announce the winner of our VIP trip to the wonderful Jura Distillery

There are few distillery locations as iconic and romantic as Jura, a remote island home to deer and drams that’s on the bucket list for many whisky fans. In November we had the pleasure of inviting you to win the chance to bag a VIP trip to the famous distillery and now we get to announce which lucky person will be packing their bags…

Hannah Berry – London!

Congratulations to you, a private VIP tour and tasting, as well as free accommodation, food and island activity await. Oh, and an opportunity to take home a distillery exclusive bottling signed by distillery manager Graham Logan. What a prize!

The winner of a VIP trip to Jura Distillery is...

Congrats to all our victors! We hope you love your boozy prizes.

Speaking of which, there’s also a few runners up to announce who have bagged themselves a bottle of distillery exclusive 17 Year Old sherry cask expression! Congratulations to…

George Heslop – Leeds

Rhian Broomhead – Cheshire

Paul Loran – Warwickshire

Sandra Clarke – Kent

Well done all, we hope you enjoy your bounty!

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Restoring Peerless Whiskey to Kentucky

Peerless Whiskey describes itself as a legacy reborn. But does the Kentucky distillery produce bourbon and rye worthy of its historic name? We find out. There are two main chapters…

Peerless Whiskey describes itself as a legacy reborn. But does the Kentucky distillery produce bourbon and rye worthy of its historic name? We find out.

There are two main chapters to the story of Peerless Distillery. The first starred Henry Kraver, your classic early Kentucky bourbon pioneer. After he purchased the brand in 1899, he spent his reign investing, innovating and merrily making booze. Until he headed into the double trouble of war and Prohibition. A familiar roadblock for many, Peerless eventually succumbed and when the last barrel was sold, it went dormant. 

The second chapter began in 2014, when Kraver’s great-grandson, Corky Taylor, and his son Carson, revived the project. The Taylors constructed a distillery in an abandoned 115-year-old tobacco warehouse in the Bourbon District of downtown Louisville and even got special dispensation to restore Peerless’ old DSP number, KY 50. The team has been producing the good stuff since 2015 an in 2017, a two-year-old rye whiskey became the first whiskey made at a distillery named Peerless for nearly a century. Now, Peerless Rye and Peerless Bourbon make up the core range.

An impressive family history will get you far in this business. But that isn’t what has generated the buzz around Peerless. While there’s a story to tell, there wasn’t a legacy of recipes or a brand profile to follow. The Taylors instead made a decision to take things slow, not purchasing a single drop of whiskey from anyone else and creating a new generation of whiskies that prioritise quality over volume or cost. And it’s paying off. The booze it produces today has received widespread acclaim and picked up a slew of awards.

Caleb Kilburn, master distiller at Peerless Whiskey

Say hello to Caleb Kilburn, master distiller at Peerless Whiskey!

What makes Peerless whiskey unique

In many ways, the new Peerless is embodied as much by master distiller Caleb Kilburn as it is by the family. He grew up on a dairy farm and has no family connections. But his fascination with the science of distilling led him to shadow various producers and a summer job at Peerless. The Taylors were so impressed they invited the young man (he’s only 29 now) to become master distiller. There he had a say in the equipment design and was able to implement his beliefs. “I didn’t have any handcuffs on as a distiller. There was no flavour profile, mash bills, yeast strains, fermentation proofs or even economic concerns to follow. The focus was on crafting something special,” says Kilburn. 

This is the spirit that Peerless whiskey is being made with today. One of Kilburn’s ideals is to ensure the spirit had a low barrel proof (ABV) entry and high bottle strength. This used to be commonplace, but economic factors and a cultural shift towards white spirits in the sixties prompted producers to change tact to achieve a lighter flavour and lower cost. Kilburn, who has a keen understanding of bourbon history, prefers the old way of doing things. “By adding water before maturation rather than after, we’re not diluting the spirit. This way, the water actually becomes an ingredient. It’s a great solvent and really pulls out the caramel and vanilla characteristics,” he says. “So our maximum barrel entry strength is 53.5% ABV and we bottle every whiskey at cask strength without chill-filtration”. 

Another of Kilburn’s beliefs is that sweet mash fermentation creates better booze. The industry standard is sour mash, which involves adding a portion of a prior fermentation batch into the next run. The acidity helps prevent contamination from microorganisms. When bourbon was in its infancy a lack of understanding of microbiology meant it was the only feasible option. “Sour mash produces a consistent, safe mash that makes good whiskey,” Kilburn says. “But there’s also a sour note which gives the process its name that can be magnified in distillation. The workaround was to distil at a higher ABV. But that can cut out some of the fruit, oils and a lot of grain character. It’s a consistent spirit, but it doesn’t have all the flavour that’s on the table”. 

Sweet mash fermentation is key to creating the character of Peerless Whiskey

Sweet mash fermentation is key to creating the character of Peerless Whiskey

Peerless whiskey: flavour comes first

Being a new distillery with no established process, as well as access to equipment and technology that can eliminate contaminants led Kilburn to implement his preferred sweet mash fermentation. That means no recycled stillage, just fresh grains and water fills the brand’s six fermentation tanks, creating sweet, floral and citrus notes. A long, controlled fermentation runs five to six days in order to retain more flavour. Kilburn explains, “Fermenting for two-four days means you get a high volume of alcohol fast. But for a quick ferment, the temperature needs to be high, which stresses the yeast. This produces more heads and tails that you have to cut out.” 

The distillery doesn’t reveal the particulars of its mash bill, but we know it’s a mix of corn, rye and barley. These are grown in the US and malted with Kentucky limestone water. In the bourbon, there’s around 10-15% of both rye and malted barley, but the fermentation character’s floral sweetness keeps the rye’s peppery elements balanced. Similarly, Kilburn ensures the rye isn’t too heavy on its signature grain so the corn’s more grassy, buttery elements shine. Double distillation takes place first in a 26-foot continuous copper still from Vendome Copper & Brass Works which strips the distillate away from the beer. The spirit then goes to a smaller pot still, which creates adds body and weight while allowing Kilburn to work with greater attention to detail so he can more accurately cut the flavours he doesn’t want. 

Peerless also uses a 3,800-gallon beer well which pumps a slurry of grains and alcohol into the column still. It flows down a series of trays and spillways while steam blows up through each level. As that steam blows through the beer, it condenses the water within the steam and boils away the alcohol vapour until it’s roughly 60% ABV at the top of the column. From there it condenses and runs into the pot still. The hearts boil off ahead of tails and the latter is consistently fed back to the beer well to start the process over again, allowing Kilburn to re-distil the discarded spirit and separate the good elements away from the bad (methanol, propanol, butanol and other harsh oils and acids).

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Peerless by name…

Ageing occurs for a minimum of four years in barrels housed in the Peerless rickhouse on a single-story. Using gimmicks to heat, cool or change the whiskey is out of the question. Kelvin Cooperage supply the casks with a medium toast beneath a number three char. Kilburn says this maximises the red layer of the char. It’s an active layer where the wood’s structure breaks open to allow tannins you can extract during ageing. “This was where a great deal of the colour, flavour and aroma characteristics of the wood comes from, so we have a shallow char to maximise that red layer”. 

Kilburn is understandably excited for the future. Peerless have started looking into different finishes and is already assembling an impressive range of single barrel releases. “I can’t tell you exactly what innovations we’ll be rolling out within the coming years, but there are no restrictions on my creativity with what I can do here. The product just keeps getting better and we’re laying down more and more whiskey all the time in this amazing facility”.

Which is something to look forward too. For now, we have quite enough excitement tasting the Bourbon and Rye, which are just smashing, frankly. The bourbon is mellow, crisp and so beautifully composed. As well as being more Kentucky than any chicken-frying colonel stereotype you can think of. And forget those brash and overly peppery, herbaceous young ryes you’re used to. This is a creamy, deep and complex spirit. It’s also got so much toasty goodness you could sell blankets scented with it. They have both the slightest bit of imbalance in places, but at just four-years-old, these are seriously impressive expressions. So many distilleries are butchering the word craft that it’s losing all sense of meaning. But Peerless is the kind of enterprise we should be reserving it for. I guess they’ll have to make do with calling themselves Peerless.

Peerless Bourbon Small Batch

Peerless Bourbon Small Batch

Nose: There’s brown sugar, chocolate-coated peanuts, golden syrup, posh vanilla ice cream (the kind with the little black specs of vanilla pod in them) and ripe red apples initially. Then lemon mousse, farmhouse loaf, red berries, cola cubes and floral elements. Keep nosing and you’ll find cedar BBQ char, peppermint essential oil and dry earth notes tucked away in different corners of the glass.

Palate: The palate takes its cue from the nose, in that the flavours are clean, well-integrated and persistently interesting. First, there’s toasted oak, butterscotch, cinnamon-dusted almonds and some stewed dark fruits. Underneath there’s earthy red chilli, eucalyptus leaves, wood ash, loose-leaf tobacco, ginger snaps and green tea.

Finish: Warming and of a good length, the finish has hints of cacao powder, dry grass, cookie dough, orchard fruit and the faintest copper penny note.

Peerless Rye Small Batch

Peerless Rye Small Batch

Nose: There’s ripe green apples, cranberry, peanut brittle, buttery vanilla, toasted brown sugar and toffee popcorn bring a wave of complex sweetness while nutmeg, ginger, black pepper add aromatic spice. As it develops there’s orange peel, fennel and baked earth as well as some barrel char. There’s also touches of Dr Pepper, rosewater, Taveners Coconut Mushrooms, fluffy marshmallow and sandalwood in support.

Palate: An impressive variety of flavour emerges from that same core of apple fruitiness, baking spice and nutty woody goodness. Fresh malty rye grains, earthy vanilla, stem ginger and floral honey then emerge. They’re present among touches of chocolate milk, raspberry, black tea and apricots in syrup. Underneath there’s charred pepper, toasted oak and just a handful of dried herbs. 

Finish: Homemade apple juice, salty porridge, marmalade and hints of cedar, clove and menthol linger.

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New Arrival of the Week: Starward Left-Field

This week we turn our attention to Starward Left-Field, an Australian single malt with aspirations to woo us Europeans.  A new bottle of whisky has arrived from Starward Distillery and it’s…

This week we turn our attention to Starward Left-Field, an Australian single malt with aspirations to woo us Europeans. 

A new bottle of whisky has arrived from Starward Distillery and it’s got us scratching our heads. It’s called Left-Field, but like the distillery’s other bottlings there’s no age statement. Plus it demonstrates that the brand’s love affair with Australian wine barrels is still going strong. This time the ageing too place in 100% charred French oak red wine barrels (Shiraz, Cabernet and Pinot Noir) from the Barossa Valley and Yarra Valley regions, before Left-Field was bottled at 40% ABV. So, by Starward’s standards, not very ‘left field’.

There’s more confusion in the press materials where it says that Left-Field was designed with the ‘European palate’ in mind. Up till now, Starward has only been available in Australia, UK and the US. So this points to a push into continental Europe. But what exactly is a ‘European palate’? Are European tastes particularly different from American, Australian or British? Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see an Australian whisky going global. Despite making outstanding spirit, other Australasian brands such as Lark, Cardrona, Sullivan’s Cove have been unable to do so with any real regularity due to stock constraints. 

It’s just that, in many ways, this expression is business as usual for Starward. Not a problem as the whisky is often delicious. The distillery makes good use of Australian barley and wine barrels, giving the spirit a point of difference and a determinable house style. David Vitale, Starward’s founder, is an open and interesting leader who has done a brilliant job communicating its process and ambition. The marketing and brand design is sleek and modern, the booze is very affordable, at least by Australian whisky standards, and in my mind, the distillery has done well to achieve its tricky aim of combining the best of the old world and marrying it with the new

Starward Left-Field

The Starward distillery is looking to make its mark in Europe

Starward Left-Field: a marvellously mixable malt

What Starward also does well is make versatile booze that can be mixed with ease. With regards to Left-Field, Vitale describes it as a “flavourful but easy drinking and approachable whisky” and says that it’s a whisky for people’s “sharing cabinet”, rather than their “special occasion” whisky cabinet. The sample I received also came with tonic water as that’s the recommended serve, which Vitale claims is “refreshing and bright and brings out the smooth, full flavour of our whisky”. To hammer home the playfulness of this one, there’s also a couple of cocktails recipes (below) for a Spritz made with vermouth and grapefruit soda as well as a classic Sour which includes Australian red wine.

While the richer, darker elements of Left-Field profile seems more suited to an Old Fashioned or Manhattan/Rob Roy (what are they called when they’re made with Australian whisky? A Cate Blanchett? A Phar Lap?) than a Sour, I still think this is the approach that has greater merit. Left-Field is versatile enough to suggest a fair number of bartenders will (hopefully) soon be having a lot of fun experimenting with it. But, again this isn’t very left-field, given Starward’s other expressions are all great mixers. 

Regardless of how it’s marketed, Starward Left-Field is an approachable, enjoyable dram. It’s got that Starward DNA I love. Think fresh malted barley still warm from the washback and toasty, slightly spicy oak providing the hammock in which a litany of orchard, tropical and red fruits sit merrily in the Aussie sun. There is also a youthful vibrancy I find charming though occasionally I get a little immaturity as well as some clumsy tannic and earthier elements on the palate. But tonic water is a good remedy for this, it rounds off the rougher edges and allows all that fruitiness to really shine. 

So that’s the new Starward: it’s not particularly left field but it’s a great mixer. And it certainly appeals to my European palate. 

Starward Left-Field

Starward Left-Field Tasting Note:

Nose: Fruity notes come from tannic red apple skin, strawberry laces, apricot jam, orange peel, fresh raspberries and mango slices in juice. Alongside them is a dusting of cacao powder, oaky vanilla, ginger beer, a little charred chilli pepper. Then demerara sugar, maple syrup, nougat and milky coffee. Around the edges, toasted almonds and marzipan make an appearance, with some fresh nutmeg grated on top for good measure.

Palate: Through a core of winey-woodiness, there’s PX-soaked sultanas, ginger cake, more of that beautiful maltiness and some tartness from cherries and cranberries. The tone is darker than the nose thanks to blackcurrants, dark chocolate and liquorice taking centre stage. Although there’s enough rye bread, stewed orchard fruit, aniseed and caramel to keep thing interesting. The palate is also earthier than the nose and a touch too tannic. 

Finish: Some of those tropical and darker fruit notes echo into the finish, which also has a tang of balsamic vinegar, a sprightly touch of peppermint and more of that red wine funk.

Starward Left-Field

Part of Starward’s signature style comes from ageing its spirit in Australian wine barrels

Starward Left-Field Cocktails:

Left-Field and Tonic

30ml Left-Field
100ml tonic water

Build all ingredients over ice in a highball glass. Garnish with a wedge of grapefruit (orange will do in a pinch).

Starward Spritz

30ml Left-Field
30ml rose vermouth
90ml grapefruit soda

Build all ingredients over ice in a wine glass and garnish with a mint sprig and grapefruit wedge.

New World Sour

50ml Left-Field
20ml lemon juice
15ml Australian red wine
20ml sugar syrup
20ml egg white

Dry shake all ingredients but the red wine in a cocktail shaker, add ice and shake again. Serve on the rocks then gently pour the red wine into the glass

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Torabhaig Legacy 2017 is here!

Torabhaig Legacy 2017 has arrived and due to high demand, we’ve made the decision to sell the bottles via lottery. Here’s how you can get your hands on one. The…

Torabhaig Legacy 2017 has arrived and due to high demand, we’ve made the decision to sell the bottles via lottery. Here’s how you can get your hands on one.

The first whisky from Torabhaig Distillery is here and, much like the rest of the whisky world, we are delighted. We even did a whole blog post about itIt’s called Torabhaig Legacy 2017 and it’s a single vintage, single malt Scotch whisky matured in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at 46% ABV.

But it’s not those details that have got people so excited and ready to throw their money at it. It’s the fact that it’s the inaugural dram from only the second-ever licensed single malt Scotch whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye. That means this release does come with certain realities. Which is that there is a limited supply of bottles and loads and loads of people want it.

Because we want to be as fair as possible, we’ve decided that a bottle lottery is the best way to sell this spirit (for more details we refer you to this sweary and handily post from 2016). We will approach this lottery the same as we have others before, by listing the timeline below, and promising that we will adorn the bottle with the message: “I hereby swear not to sell this bottle – but to drink it with my chums. May my taste-buds and olfactory bulb shrivel and die if I should break my word.”

Now that the ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘how’ and have been taken care of, let’s get straight to the ‘when’ and ‘where’.

Torabhaig Legacy 2017 is here!

Look, it’s Torabhaig Legacy 2017!

Torabhaig Legacy 2017 lottery timeline:

All of the action is taking place on the Torabhaig Legacy 2017 product page, so to enter you’ll need to make sure you head to the product page and pop in your email address (it’s on the right-hand side, you can’t miss it). All the times are in GMT. Be sure to stick a reminder of them in your phone/on the fridge door/mow them into your lawn to make sure you’re in it to win it. We wish you the best of luck.

Bottle Lottery: Friday 19 Feb 12:00 – Monday 22 Feb 13:00 GMT

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Master of Malt tastes… Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky!

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky launches tomorrow, so we thought we’d let you know what to expect from one of the most anticipated releases of the year.  No matter how many…

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky launches tomorrow, so we thought we’d let you know what to expect from one of the most anticipated releases of the year. 

No matter how many times you see a distillery release its inaugural whisky, it never stops being exciting. When that whisky distillery is the first to be built on Skye in 190 years and only the second legal site to operate on the island, that really ramps up the anticipation. Torabhaig has been firmly on whisky fans’ radar ever since the plans to build it were announced. At long last, its first expression, Torabhaig Legacy 2017, is here. Well, it is tomorrow. Keep your eye out on the MoM blog for details of how you might be able to get hold of a bottle (UPDATE: The post is now live).

A peak behind the curtain

Today, we’re going to look at how this whisky was made, how this production process has influenced its profile and review the spirit itself. But before we get to that, the first thing to note about this release is how Torabhaig is doing things a little differently. The inaugural whisky is not a permanent expression. Instead, it will be the first of four bottlings in the Legacy Series which will straddle Torabhaig’s formative years until a single malt that has been aged for ten years (which we can expect to see in 2028) is ready. That means that what we’re tasting today is more of a peek behind the curtain. The brand is letting us see the process of its whisky’s evolution into what will eventually become its signature style.

Neil Mathieson, chief executive at Mossburn Distillers, the company behind Torabhaig, explains that since production began in January 2017 various changes have been implemented to achieve the ideal style. Over the last four years, the distillers have experimented with the peating levels, yeast and barley varieties (single farmer’s grain and speciality malts etc.), the effect of the harvest and how the mashing, fermentation and distillation process affects the Torabhaig spirit. “For the first few years we’ll be possibly surprising ourselves and hoping that everybody enjoys the journey,” he says. 

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky

Are you excited to try Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky?

Mathieson reveals the initial inspiration for Torabhaig whisky was the earthy, vegetal aromas of Lagavulin and the piercing phenolics on the Laphroaig. The intention was never to make a whisky that tasted like Talisker. “There is room on the island for two distinct styles. It would be a great privilege to be spoken of in the same tone as Talisker, however, because they are a standard-bearer”.

Constantly evolving process

Through this constantly evolving process, the brand has defined its ideal profile as an island-style malt whisky with “well-tempered” peat profile and a fruit-forward character that’s been “shaped by Skye”; the factors contributing to this are pure island spring water sourced from the Allt Breacach and the Allt Gleann burns and the tempestuous climate the maturation takes place in. We’ll see elements of this in the first release, but Mathieson also says that peatiness is even more gentle than people might expect and that we won’t see this profile again since then the grain and phenol levels have since been changed. “The next two releases are looking like they will be heavier in peat”. 

That gentler quality was influenced by the shape and size of the 8000-litre wash still and 5000-litre spirit still made by Forsyths of Rothes, which have traditional downward sloping lyne arms and condensers but a wider neck than typical. This adds an element of reflux which allows aromatic phenols and a more gentle flavour to come through, according to Mathieson. It was built this way due to height restrictions within the distillery, which is housed in a listed 200-year-old farmstead.

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky

The beautiful Torabhaig Distillery is on the site of a 19th-century farmstead

The site for Torabhaig was actually chosen by Sir Iain Noble, who founded Pràban na Linne in 1976 (we have an article from Ian Buxton coming up delving further into this story). Sadly, Noble passed in 2010 before he could see his plan through and Mossburn Distillers took advantage of the established planning permission. Work began in July 2014, but it was a complicated construction (the roof had to be removed to get the stills in and the master stonemason actually ended up living there during the rebuild). The reward for patience and perseverance, however, was a scenic distillery that’s rich in history and local lore, which will surely appeal to tourists and whisky geeks alike. 

How the whisky is made and matured

The latter will be intrigued to learn that all of Torabhaig’s barley is sourced from Scotland and is milled on-site on a roller mill and then mashed in the 1.5-tonne capacity mash tun. The grain is currently peated to at least 75ppm, an increase for the initial 60-65ppm standard. In order to attain a more full-bodied, peaty profile, the dominant barley strain was also changed, from Concerto to Laureate, as has the strain of yeast and fermentation times. Fermentation currently lasts between 70-100 hours, on some runs as long as 120, in eight traditional Douglas fir wooden washbacks. There’s also a cooling pond on-site, which is a method of cooling hot water from the condensers before it’s returned to the river not often seen anymore. 

As for maturation, more than 50% of Torabhaig whisky is currently being aged in first-fill bourbon casks and the remaining percentage is predominantly refill. The wood programme also includes Port, Madeira, Cognac, Sauternes, Bordeaux wine and virgin European oak casks between the 200-500-litres in size, however. Each batch produces 80-100 barrels, and once you account for grain and yeast variations as well as the various cask styles Mathieson estimates there are about 40 different profiles of Torabhaig whisky currently maturing. The spread of warehouses includes dunnaged, racked and palletised, so Mathieson says an assessment on what effect these different styles of storage have will be undertaken in the coming years.

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky

Iona Macphie, one of the nine distillers who make Torabhaig whisky

All of this work is overseen by a total of nine distillers. Initially an experienced team of consultant brewers, distillers and malts men helped the apprentices learn the craft while they studied and achieved their qualifications before all nine were ready to take on the roles themselves. This remarkable approach was informed by a desire for a team who understood every stage of production, which in turn breeds an environment of constant experimentation and innovation. Mathieson says the influence of each distiller is profound. They’ll each have their names printed on the labels and he hopes they’ll all stay to see through the full maturation of their own distillate.

First impressions

This brings us to the whisky itself: Torabhaig Legacy 2017. It’s a single vintage expression aged solely in ex-bourbon from the first quarter’s distillation made with Concerto barley and Pinnacle MG+ yeast. The label also informs us that the in-grain phenols are 55ppm and the residual phenols are 16ppm. It was bottled at 46% ABV and there are just over 3,000 bottles available in the UK. 

The first thing you notice about Torabhaig Legacy 2017 is that it’s not full of youthful aggression or imbued with too much wood character to give the impression of more years in cask. Instead, there’s a harmonious balance of the distillery’s fresh and fruity new make character with the influence of first-fill bourbon barrels and a tonne of coastal characteristics which give it the sense of a good young island dram. It’s every bit as gentle and mellow as we were told to expect, however, and this does mean it lacks some presence and texture initially. Give it time and let it breathe though, and complexity is your reward. All in all, it’s a very promising first chapter for Torabhaig.

 

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky

Look, it’s Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky!

Torabhaig Legacy 2017 tasting notes:

Nose: Whispers of coastal peat pass through vanilla and a rich, warming apple note, like the inside of a freshly baked crumble. There’s also wet oak, limestone, mineral salts, seaweed, cockle brine, dried grass and a slight vegetal element among a very pleasant note of sherbet lemons. Underneath there are touches of toasted almond, darker fruits, sugary latte, white pepper and toffee.

Palate: The peat is more pronounced here and has an ashy profile with a touch of iodine. More briny sweetness and orchard fruit (apples and pears mostly) are present too, as well as notes of tinned apricots, wild herbs, fennel, brown bread with salted butter, shellfish doused in lemon juice and freshly cracked black pepper. Throughout there are some light floral and medicinal elements, while the cask adds flavours of vanilla, banana and roasted nuts.

Finish: The finish is lightly charred with wood smoke and has plenty of that salty, seaside charm (cockle brine, rock pools etc.) There’s also browning apples, eucalyptus, a little chewy liquorice and dark fruit.

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