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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

New Arrival of the Week: Reverend Hubert Garden Gin Liqueur

We have a Master of Malt exclusive, a special gin liqueur, perfect for summer sipping. To tell us more, we speak to one of the people behind Reverend Hubert Garden…

We have a Master of Malt exclusive, a special gin liqueur, perfect for summer sipping. To tell us more, we speak to one of the people behind Reverend Hubert Garden Gin Liqueur, drinks personality extraordinaire Joe Wadsack.

One of the few consolations of lockdown was watching Joe Wadsack’s Drink Coach videos on YouTube. There’s no editing or fancy production values. Just Wadsack, sitting down, sipping, and talking. It helps that the wine he talks about is always interesting but what really matters is Wadsack’s personality, knowledge, and sheer exuberance. I’d happily watch him talk about Seedlip.

Joe is more than just a wine man, he’s also deeply into his spirits. So much so that he has collaborated with Thomas Lester on a spirits brand called the Reverend Hubert. Two years ago, they launched a winter liqueur, which we made New Arrival of the Week, and now there’s a Garden Gin Liqueur, exclusive to Master of Malt. It’s perfect for loading up with fruit, and lemonade, or tonic water, and sitting back and soaking up the sun. Should it ever return.

Gerard Basset taught me to play table tennis

Before we take a closer look at this new summer bottling, I asked Wadsack about his wonderfully varied career. He was steeped in food and drink culture from an early age. His mother is Swedish and his father came over from Germany to England to work in the hospitality business in 1966 – “not the best time for a German to arrive,” he joked.

Wadsack senior worked for Trusthouse Forte hotels around the country, before opening a proto-gastro pub in Hampshire called The Three Lions. At one point, he employed legendary sommelier Gerard Basset. “Gerard Basset taught me to play table tennis,” Wadsack said. There’s not many people who can make that boast.

In his holidays, Wadsack would work in the family pub, regaling customers with his knowledge and enthusiasm for food and wine. A planned career as a pilot in the RAF didn’t work out. “I learned a lot about the world which horrified me,” he said. “Also I was too tall to be a fighter pilot which someone should have noticed before.” So Wadsack bowed to the inevitable and followed his love of wine by studying for a postgraduate degree at the University of Bordeaux despite only having O-level French. 

Following this, he worked for Oddbins wine merchants in its ‘90s heyday, before a job in the wine department at Sainsbury’s led to him becoming a buyer at Waitrose. His career stalled, however, when “Waitrose made the reckless decision that senior buyers had to be a Master of Wine,” he said.  Studying for this notoriously hard exam, only one in 400 pass, according to Wadsack, did not suit someone who describes himself as having “massive ADHD.”

Joe Wadsack

It’s only Joe Wadsack!

The whirlwind of wine

So with “a six-month-old child and another on the way”, as he put it, Wadsack left the job for life at Waitrose and found his true calling on television. He is one of TV’s genuine naturals, as ebullient and amusing on-screen as he is in real life. Wadsack is always performing which makes him such wonderful if sometimes exhausting company. Victoria Moore in the Daily Telegraph described him as “the whirlwind of wine.” “I love live TV, I’m a massive show-off. I did stand-up at university,” he said. In his varied career, he’s worked with Rick Stein, done Saturday Kitchen and the BBC Food & Drink programme with Tom Kerridge.

At the London Wine Show, Wadsack does a popular slot called Challenge Joe’s Nose where punters would bring mystery bottles for him to identify. Which invariably he did. 

During Lockdown, Wadsack started the Drinks Coach. He’s now delighted to be out and about again. “I’ve reconnected more with bars and pubs. They are social catalysts, people leave their ego at the door, and can talk and connect over food and drink.” 

This love and knowledge of cocktails and spirits shows in the enthusiasm with which he talks about the Reverend Hubert range. Wadsack was introduced to Thomas Lester, the inventor, and the two got on like a house on fire. Wadsack’s knowledge of the drinks industry was vital in getting it off the ground. 


Rhubarb Kryptonite

This new summer version, Reverend Hubert Garden Gin Liqueur, Wadsack describes as a “logical replacement to Pimm’s.” The recipe starts with a premium gin made to their specifications “heavy on coriander and liquorice – it tastes weird on its own.” It’s then steeped with Slovak plums, cranberry, pomegranate, and rhubarb. Rather than using fresh rhubarb, the flavour is too volatile, they make a concentrated distillate which Wadsack describes as “Kryptonite, you have to wear gloves when working with it.” A little goes a long way. All the colours and flavours are natural, and it’s bottled at 20% ABV.

Once the recipe was perfected, Wadsack and Lester handed it over to Ed Wood at Wood Bros distillery in the Cotswolds who he described as “very safe pair hands. He knows the science.”

Wadsack recommends drinking Reverend Hubert Garden Gin Liqueur with Hibiscus Tonic water from Merchant Heart, topped with soda water and a sprig of mint. Or serving it with ginger ale, an extra shot of gin garnished with mint and borage. But he’s also been having a lot of fun experimenting with it in cocktails. It makes a cracking Bourbon Smash and a sublime Bramble: “If Dick Bradsell were still alive, he would have used it instead of creme de mure” he said.

So what’s next for Wadsack? He’d like to expand the Rev Hubert brand into non-alcoholic things, like gravadlax, salmon cured with gin. But he’d really like to fly again. “I miss the flying terribly gets under your skin in a way sex does. I look outside even on an overcast day like today, I’d love to fly in that.”

Reverend Hubert Garden Gin Liqueur is available exclusively from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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New Arrival of the Week: Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama

Today, we’re dreaming of Spain while sipping the latest release of a very special dry sherry called Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama. Just add gordal olives and you could be in…

Today, we’re dreaming of Spain while sipping the latest release of a very special dry sherry called Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama. Just add gordal olives and you could be in Andalusia. 

As we still can’t easily travel abroad, my wife and I often talk wistfully of where we’d like to be rather than sitting in our garden in Kent. Usually, it’s outside a bar in Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the south of Spain, sipping chilled Manzanilla sherry and eating tortillitas de camarones – addictive fritters made from tiny shrimp.

Well, we can’t eat tortillitas de camarones, mainly because we don’t know where we would get the camarones from but we can drink sherry and eat Spanish snacks. We should probably buy shares in Brindisa the amount we’re spending on chorizo, manchego and, best of all, chunky gordal olives. Naturally, there’s always a bottle of sherry in the fridge. Or should be if someone hasn’t drunk it. Tristan Stephenson, the Curious Bartender, touched on this when we spoke to him recently:

“I tend to have a bottle of sherry in the fridge anyway, well, actually that’s a lie, it tends to get drunk and then I don’t have one! But I always say I have one… I always want to have one, in the fridge”. 

It seems we’re not the only ones. Last year sherry sales were unusually strong which one producer put down to the holiday at home syndrome. If you’re missing Spain, then there’s no better palliative than sherry and tapas.

Fermin Hidalgo from Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana

Fermin Hidalgo from Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana

What is en rama sherry?

If I close my eyes with the sun shining and a chilled glass of Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama in my hand, I could almost be back on a magical spring holiday we took in Sanlucar a few years ago. 

Magical at least for the grown-ups, our daughter did get a bit bored during the five hour visit to Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana in the company of Fermin Hidalgo. Sherry tastes even better when drunk straight from the barrel via a venencia, a cup on a stick which you have to learn how to use if you want to be taken seriously in the sherry region.

For a long time, this unfiltered, straight-from-the barrel taste was only available to visitors but in the past 20 years, sherry producers have started bottling wines ‘en rama’. The word ‘rama’ literally means ‘branch’ or ‘on the vine’ which translates roughly as ‘in its natural state’.

It’s become an annual tradition, much-anticipated by wine lovers. The cellar master at bodegas like Hidalgo or Gonzalez Byass in Jerez (Tio Pepe’s 201 en rama release is available here), pick out a few exceptional casks. These are then bottled with only a very light filtering. Each annual release is different and the wines change in bottle. Drink them young for maximum freshness or keep them to gain nutty complexity.

En Rama 2021 with glass

Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama – just add some olives and you can pretend you’re in Andalusia

La Gitana

‘La Gitana’ means ‘the gypsy’ and it’s the bestselling Manzanilla sherry in the world. A Manzanilla is a type of Fino which is made only in Sanlúcar de Barrameda where the salty sea air imparts a saline-tang to the sherry. Or so it seems. Anyway, this part of the sherry region is famous for the freshness and sheer drinkability of its wines.

A Manzanilla is a dry wine, very lightly fortified to 15% ABV and aged under flor, a layer of yeast, that keeps it protected from the oxygen. It’s blended in a solera before bottling (learn more about sherry here). At Bodegas Hidalgo, they only use Palomino grapes from their own vineyards and ferment using wild yeasts. 

The standard bottling is excellent but the ‘en rama’ is something else: nuttier and more complex but all the time with that fresh saline tang. Some years, it’s incredibly rich, but this year, it’s particularly refreshing and delicious. It can both be enjoyed in a carefree party mood, or sipped slowly, lost in concentration.

The more I drink fine dry sherries like this, the more I think that they have more in common with white Burgundy than the sticky brown concoctions that many still associate with sherry.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the sticky brown concoctions, they’re especially good for sweetening cocktails, but a Manzanilla en rama is a very different proposition. If you’re new to sherry, chill the wine and serve with some olives and almonds. The first glass might taste a bit odd if you’re used to very fruity wines like Sauvignon Blanc but by the second, I promise you’ll be hooked.

There’s really no easier way to travel to Spain this summer.

Tasting note:

Nose: Green apple, bready with floral and saline notes like smelling the sea.

Palate: Intense freshness, fruit like lemons and a Cox’s apples, salty and then creamy.

Finish: Pure almonds. Very long. 

Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Tipperary

Today, we’re mixing up a classic Irish whiskey-based cocktail with a tangled history which might have you singing a famous song. It’s the Tipperary! One of the most unforgettable scenes…

Today, we’re mixing up a classic Irish whiskey-based cocktail with a tangled history which might have you singing a famous song. It’s the Tipperary!

One of the most unforgettable scenes from a film full of great moments is in Das Boot where all the German World War Two submariners put on a gramophone record and sing along, badly, to ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’. Meanwhile the political officer looks on disapprovingly at the men singing an enemy song. 

The song was originally written for and sung by homesick Irishmen but it tapped into a universal nostalgia for home and a weariness with war. It was first performed in 1912 and quickly became part of the popular culture of Europe and America.

A man walks into a bar

And like much popular culture in the early 20th century, it inspired a cocktail too. 

The story goes that in 1916 a customer walked into the bar at the Hotel Wallick in New York singing the song, and asked for a drink. On the spot, the bar manager Hugo Ensslin came up with the Tipperary. He put it in his 1917 book Recipes for Mixed Drinks specifying equal parts Chartreuse, Bushmills Irish whiskey and sweet vermouth

Or the other story is that Ensslin invented the cocktail to cash in on the visit to New York of Irish tenor John McCormack, the most famous singer of ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’.

This equal parts version shaken with ice and served straight up is the one that appears in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book under the name Tipperary Cocktail No. 1. There’s also a rather strange sounding Tipperary Cocktail No. 2 which is totally different, mixing orange juice, grenadine, French vermouth, gin and fresh mint. Must try it one day. It’s the no. 2 that is listed in David Embury’s The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks.

To further muddy the waters, the 1935 Waldorf Astoria cocktail book contains a third Tipperary which it says was “invented long before the wartime song of the same name was heard, so it must be considered a direct namesake of the Irish county, and so-called by a fond exile.” It contains two parts sloe gin, one part French vermouth and a teaspoon of lemon juice. It doesn’t say what you do with the ingredients but we imagine shaking with ice and serving straight up would suit the cocktail well. Very nice but not terribly Irish. 

Modern variations

Nowadays, the Irish whiskey, Chartreuse, sweet vermouth version is canonical. But it’s often made heavy on the whiskey to suit drier tastes. Two parts whiskey to one part each Chartreuse and Vermouth makes it not dissimilar to a Boulevardier. Or you could try a version created by Gaz Regan from Dead Rabbit in San Francisco, a 4:2:1 ratio of whiskey, vermouth and Chartreuse. He writes:

The Savoy’s Tipperary Cocktail (No. 1) calls for equal parts Irish whiskey, sweet vermouth and green Chartreuse…. This is the formula I decided to play with when I gave myself the task of pimping this drink. I love Chartreuse, so this was an easy decision. Chartreuse, as you might know, is a heavy-duty herbal liqueur and, as such, it’s an ingredient that ought to be handled judiciously when one is indulging in cocktailian pursuits, lest it mask the other ingredients. I cut back on the vermouth in the new formula. Or perhaps I added more whiskey. I’ll let you decide. The new drink sips quite well, though. The vermouth plays well with the whiskey, and the Chartreuse merely dances in the backdrop, making itself known, but not going anywhere near center stage.”

Whiskey Tipperary Cocktail with Chartreuse

However you make it, use a quality Irish whiskey with a good dose of pot still to it, we recommend Powers Gold Label (though I’m using my house blend) and a decent sweet vermouth. It’s usually stirred over ice and served straight up but there’s no reason why you couldn’t serve it on ice like a Negroni. Because of its name, greenish tinge and the presence of Irish whiskey, it’s often saved for St Patrick’s Day but we think it’s much too good to serve only once a year.

Incidentally, the story of the song is almost as complicated as the cocktail. You might be surprised to hear that it was written by two Englishmen, albeit one of Irish descent: Jack Judge, whose parents were from Mayo, and Harry Williams. But then again Shane MacGowan was born in Kent.

Here’s how to make the Tipperary

70ml Powers Gold Label Irish Whiskey
35ml Green Chartreuse
35ml Gonzalez Byass La Copa vermouth

Stir thoroughly over ice and strain into a chilled coupe. Serve with an orange or lemon twist while singing ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ in a thick German accent. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Timorous Beastie: Meet the Beast

Today a fearsome whisky has arrived at Master of Malt. It’s a blended malt from Douglas Laing, a special ex-bourbon cask 54.9% ABV monster called Timorous Beastie: Meet The Beast….

Today a fearsome whisky has arrived at Master of Malt. It’s a blended malt from Douglas Laing, a special ex-bourbon cask 54.9% ABV monster called Timorous Beastie: Meet The Beast.

If you don’t think there’s an art to blending whisky, have a go at it yourself. Mix different whiskies together and you can very quickly end up with something that’s more dog’s dinner than Copper Dog. I know because I’ve done it.

When blends go wrong

Many people involved in the drinks business keep a running blend going made up of samples. There’s now a term for this, infinity bottles, but for most of us, it’s just a way to keep the house tidy. The other choice is either to drink the whole sample, which for buyers who have to taste dozens a day would be dangerous. Or the house begins to fill up with tiny little bottles, and wives, daughters, husbands, parents, or housemates start to complain. 

So into the vat they go though obviously we don’t do this with samples of 1977 Brora. Those we drink. 

Currently, I have two whisky blends on the go: a Scotch (and Scotch-style) blend, and an Irish. The latter is currently tasting fabulous. Sadly, I ruined the Scotch blend by adding a particular sample of single malt. Tasted neat, it had a very pleasant and distinctive lavender note but it did something unholy when mixed with smoke. It’s a complete disaster. I really need some sweet grain to smooth the whole thing out. 

Anyway, all this preamble is just to say that blending whisky is not easy. Blenders not only have to make something delicious and harmonious but do it at a certain price in large batches with an ever changing cast of whisky because no two casks are the same.

Imagine doing it on the scale of Jim Beveridge and team at Johnnie Walker. The mind boggles. Even doing things on a smaller scale, like Douglas Laing does with its blends, requires a superb palate, an eye for details, and access to high quality whisky.

Timorous Beastie: Meet the Beast

Unchain the beast!

A mighty mouse

This Glasgow-based business has been producing independent bottlings and in-house blends for over 70 years. It was founded by Fred Douglas Laing in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. His son Fred Hamilton Laing joined the business in 1972 and now his daughter Cara Laing has the title of director of whisky while her husband Chris Leggat is the CEO.

The blends are particularly interesting and show a mastery of melding something harmonious out of distinctive single malts. There a smoky island blend called Big Peat, Scallywag a sherry-led Speyside vatting containing Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes, and Timorous Beastie, a blended malt made entirely of Highland whiskies from distilleries such as Dalmore, Glen Garioch, Glengoyne and others.

The name is, of course, inspired by Robert Burns’s poem, To a Mouse: “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!”. A little in-joke as there’s nothing mouse-like about this mighty dram. 

But now there’s an even mightier mouse on the loose about the house. Called Timorous Beastie: Meet the Beast, it’s a limited edition (only 3600 bottles have been filled) matured exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at a mighty 54.9% ABV. 

The result is crammed full of fruit, oak and spice. We’re fortunate to get our hands on a few bottles. Whatever you do, don’t tip it into your infinity bottle. Leave the blending to the masters. 

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Red apples, slightly toasted barley, pain au chocolat, walnuts, mahogany.

Palate: Cinnamon and nutmeg, followed by pancakes with maple syrup, spun sugar, anise, and cedar.

Finish: A touch of oaky spice lingers on the finish, balanced by sweet popcorn.

Timorous Beastie: Meet the Beast is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 7: Kilchoman

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 7: Kilchoman time! So we’re taking a look at the history of one of the newer distilleries on the island but one…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 7: Kilchoman time! So we’re taking a look at the history of one of the newer distilleries on the island but one that has had a huge impact on Scotch whisky in its short life. 

Somehow we’ve got to Day 7 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021. To be honest, we’re flagging a bit but never fear, when there’s a dram of Kilchoman on the horizon our spirits lift and we’re ready to put out some more high quality content.

Today, we’re delving into the story of Islay’s newest distillery that has actually released some whisky, looking at how Kilchoman has gone from new kid on the block to justified and ancient (that’s enough ‘80s musical references), and seeing what the team has planned for Fèis Ìles this year. Don’t forget to listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify or watch the above clip of Anthony Wills talking to MoM.

What’s going on today:

Unlike some distilleries (naming no names) which are playing their cards close to their chests when it comes to Feis action, the team at Kilchoman has published a full list of all the online malty goodness going on. They’re dubbing it 360° Fèis Ìle – full details can be found on website or go to: Facebook, Instagram and YouTube for more information. Sadly tasting packs and the Fèis Ìle 2021 distillery bottling are all sold out but you can tune in. And there’s still plenty of Kilchoman goodness on the Master of Malt website.

Here’s a little taster of what to expect;

12 noon – Kilchoman ‘DNA’ Live Tasting 

A tasting of some of the core range including Machir Bay, Loch Gorm and Sanaig all at cask strength. Plus a preview of the 11th Edition of the 100% Islay release which is “distilled from our 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 barley harvests” and “matured for a minimum of nine years in 26 bourbon barrels and seven Oloroso sherry butts.” 

1pm – On the Farm 

The general manager at Kilchoman, Islay Heads (yes that really is his name), talks through how different barley varieties and fields affect the flavour of the whisky. Followed by a live Q&A.

2pm – Malting and Peating 

Fancy learning about how a traditional floor malting works? Of course you do, well maltman Derek Scott is on hand to show you how it’s done, and there will be an opportunity to ask questions too.

The Nightcap

The new shiny Kilchoman stills

3pm –  In the Stillhouse 

Now we move on to the next stage of the process as production manager, Robin Bignal, will give you a behind the scenes tour of the stillhouse from milling and mashing to fermentation and distillation.  And yes, you can ask questions. 

4pm – Maturing in the Warehouse 

This sounds fun, Anthony Wills talks all things cask maturation and delves into the dark corners of the warehouse. What might he find? Whisky probably. 

5pm – Vatting and Bottling 

And for the final part of the 360 degree tour, bottling hall manager Michal Besser takes you on a tour of perhaps the least glamorous, but extremely vital, part of the whole process. If you have a question about chill filtering, now is the time to ask. 

But that’s not all. There are still two more tastings to get through. Phew!

6pm – ‘Through the Ages’ Live Tasting 

Tune in for a tasting of our before following the journey of maturation with samples of 2006, 2011 and 2016 casks.

7.15pm – ‘Experimental Casks’ Live Tasting 

This sounds like enormous fun. A tasting of some unusual casks that whisky has been entirely aged in. No finishing here. Featuring Cognac, Calvados, Port and STR (shaved, toasted and charred) casks. If only those pesky tasting sets weren’t sold out. 

Kilchoman Distillery new stillhouse

Founder Anthony Wills at the opening of the new stillhouse and visitor centre

Kilchoman’s history

Kilchoman is such a fixture on Islay’s whisky scene that it’s easy to forget how unusual it was when it first opened in 2005. Back then, it was the island’s first new distillery for 120 years. Since then it’s been joined by Ardnahoe and there’s a tenth on the way courtesy of Speciality Drinks. 

From the beginning, Kilchoman’s owners, the Wills family, wanted to do things a bit differently using barley grown on the island and malted in their own floor maltings. And it worked, the first releases had whisky lovers in raptures over Kilchoman’s elegant, light-peated style. 

Indeed, the whisky proved so popular that the distillery began plans for expansion in 2018. It involved building an entirely new still house with identical equipment to the current one, doubling capacity to 480,000 litres of pure alcohol annually. This opened in 2020 along with a new visitor centre. We were meant to visit but the Islay weather had other ideas. Then Covid struck and as such we haven’t seen the expanded distillery in all its glory. Something we hope to remedy as soon as possible.  


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Cocktail of the Week: The Disco Picante

This week we’re shaking up one of the snazziest-looking cocktails we’ve seen in a while. It’s sexy, it’s spicy and it’s called the Disco Picante! And for the second week…

This week we’re shaking up one of the snazziest-looking cocktails we’ve seen in a while. It’s sexy, it’s spicy and it’s called the Disco Picante! And for the second week in a row, we’ve mentioned Tom Cruise in Cocktail. There must be something in the air.

There’s something that just screams ‘80s about a blue cocktail. It’s Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses, summer holidays in Tenerife or Tom Cruise in Cocktail. In that film. Cruise shakes up a drink called a Turquoise Blue, aka a Turquoise Daiquiri, combining white rum, triple sec, lime juice, pineapple juice and the all important blue Curaçao. 

Brilliant blue

For a long time, blue Curaçao was perhaps the naffest ingredient in a bartender’s armory. It’s not authentic, it’s not small-batch, nobody is going to get a blue Curaçao tattoo, unless they’re really drunk. But that’s part of its charm. Cocktails aren’t meant to be about beard stroking and willfully obscure ingredients, they’re meant to be fun and blue Curaçao is nothing if not fun.

It’s just orange Curaçao so it is sweet, orangey with a little bitterness but with the addition of a synthetic food colouring known as Brilliant Blue. You probably ate your bodyweight in synthetic colouring as a child, I know I did, and it never did me any harm. 

Disco Picante

None more blue

Blue planet

For a couple of years now, bar trend types have predicted that fun cocktails would be coming back in.  You know the sort of ones that you would order on holiday with a giggle like the Sex on the Beach or the Screaming Orgasm. The fact that this is the second week in a row we’ve mentioned Tom Cruise in the CoW slot, suggests that there is indeed something going on. Perhaps, the post-Covid roaring ‘20s really are happening. Heaven knows, we could all do with a bit of light-hearted fun at the moment. 

Like our Cocktail of the Week. Called the Disco Picante, let’s just pause there to reflect on what a great name this is, it’s a sort of halfway house between an ‘80s holiday cocktail and something a bit more grown-up. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s blue, and quite sweet, but it’s also spicy and made with smoky mezcal so there are some quite challenging flavours in there. For the spice element, you can use a spice liqueur like Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur or Giffard Piment. Or make your own chilli liqueur, it’s very easy, or just add something spicy like brine from a jar of jalapeno peppers.

Blue juice

The Disco Picante was created by Sarah Ben Saoud who swapped the corporate world for a life behind the bar. She said her favourite cocktail is a Dry Martini but she also has “an extreme weakness for a disco drink” when she’s in the mood. ‘I like disco drinks because they come from a time before roto vaps, sous vides, infusions and fat washing. There’s basically zero wankiness attached to them and I like that. They are just unapologetically garish and in your face, and more often than not they are absolutely delicious!” she explained.

And today’s Cocktail of the Week is nothing if not a disco drink: it’s blue and it has the word ‘disco’ in the title. You could use ordinary orange Curaçao but then it wouldn’t be blue and therefore not disco. Saoud explained: “we all know blue drinks are the best drinks. Seriously though, the colour is just wonderful. A drink with blue Curaçao in it makes me happy just looking at it. I couldn’t live without it.”

Following a stint at a bar called Bandra Bhai beneath an Indian restaurant which is described in the press bumf as: “delightfully tacky,” Saoud is just about to start a new role at The Duchess of Dalston in East London. She said that it’s “currently a building site but in the process of being finished in the next few weeks.” Let’s hope she puts the Disco Picante on the menu.

Right, stick on some  appropriate music, and get shaking. Do you wanna funk with me? Yes, yes I do.

Here’s how to make a Disco Picante

45ml Recuerdo Joven Mezcal
10ml De Kuyper Blue Curaçao
25ml lime juice
10ml agave syrup
15ml spice liqueur such as Giffard Piment D’Espelette or Ancho Reyes 

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake. Serve in rocks or Highball glass over fresh ice. Garnish with lime or jalapeño pepper.

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New Arrival of the Week: Capreolus Perry Pear 2019 

We’re toasting the first day of  June with a very special vintage English pear brandy from the Cotswolds, made by someone who brings a whole new level of artistry to…

We’re toasting the first day of  June with a very special vintage English pear brandy from the Cotswolds, made by someone who brings a whole new level of artistry to distilling, Barney Wilczak. It’s called Capreolus Perry Pear 2019.

Central and Eastern Europe has a strong tradition of fruit brandies. German, Hungary, Slovakia and into Asia with Armenia are full of small scale distillers beavering away in the autumn, turning that season’s fruit into strong spirits. Meanwhile in Britain we make jams and chutneys. Not quite so much fun.

Distillation became industrialised

Why this might be is complicated. England used to have a strong tradition of making cider and pear brandies in the 17th and 18th centuries but this died out as regulations on distilling became increasingly stringent and the business became commercialised. Witness how this affected distillation in Scotland: Highland whisky went from an often illegal cottage industry to big business between 1823 and 1897.

Combine that with industrialisation and urbanisation, and Britain’s population was by far the most detached from the land in Europe. Whereas countries like France have maintained a strong peasant, in the best sense of the word, tradition, Britain’s countryside was given over to large scale farming while the people moved to cities.

If they wanted spirits, they could buy Gordon’s gin or Johnnie Walker, rather than old man Johnson’s moonshine. Interestingly, the British and Irish home-grown distilling tradition survived in America, illegally. 


Barney Wilczak in action

Fruit brandy revival

But there’s something going on in the British countryside. The pioneer here was Julian Temperley, a cider maker, who began distilling apples in 1989 and now produces a highly-lauded range of aged cider brandies in Somerset. The success of Sipsmith opened doors too. It helped overturn centuries of domination by the big boys by petitioning for and eventually obtaining a licence to make gin in small batches. 

Now there are quite a few distillers making apple and other fruit eaux-de-vie all over the country, like Greensand Ridge in Kent. None though has garnered such praise as a professional photographer working away near Cirencester in the Cotswolds. His name is Barney Wilczak and his company is called Capreolus, the Latin name for roe deer. Like some other brandy producers, he does make a gin, the superb Garden Swift Gin, but his real focus is his fruit brandies

Based in an old greenhouse with a garage for storage, Wilczak is entirely self-taught using a couple of pot stills imported from Czechia. Here he makes a range of brandies all from local-grown seasonal fruit such as pears, raspberries and, of course, apples. He only uses the best fruit is used and production runs are measured in the low hundreds of bottles. His brandies are incredibly in demand from Michelin-starred restaurants and upmarket wine merchants. 

Ian Buxton, in an article about Wilczak on this site described them like this: “They are incredibly demanding and expensive to produce. His pursuit of absolute purity of taste borders on the obsessive.”

Capreolus-Distillery-Garden-Swift-perry-pear-Eau-de-Vie-- RS

Made only from the finest perry pears

Capreolus Perry Pear 2019

Take the 2019 Perry Pear brandy we are highlighting this week, for example. It’s made from pears that would traditionally have been used to make perry – a fiercely individual type of pear cider. Perry trees don’t produce a lot of fruit and demand for perry is not high, so many are neglected or have been pulled up to make way for more profitable crops. The website states:

“Most of the varieties we work with are bred within 30 miles of the distillery and carry with them the incredible complexity which is much more akin to the wild pear than any relation to the dessert pears we are used to.”

Wilczak gets these pears from two nearby farms. After picking, he washes and grades the fruit, and discards anything that isn’t up to scratch. Wilczak is looking for pure fruit flavours, not funky farmhouse tastes. Then he presses the fruit and ferments it very slowly using wild yeasts, all the time building up flavour, before double distillation in some pot stills. He only made 248 bottles from this vintage.

Just a little glass will make the perfect digestif to linger over, savouring the fruit complexity. And then there’s a whole world of English fruit brandies to explore.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Crisp and crunchy fresh wild pears, hints of boozy perry cider, floral spice, and vanilla with a lingering woody orchard character.

Capreolus Perry Pear 2019 is available from Master of Malt. Click here. Image is of previous vintage but the one available is 2019.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 3: Bruichladdich 

For Day 3 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021, we’re celebrating 20 years of the rebirth of Bruichladdich and looking in detail at its special Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Fèis Ìle…

For Day 3 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021, we’re celebrating 20 years of the rebirth of Bruichladdich and looking in detail at its special Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Fèis Ìle 2021 bottling. 

We’re at Day 3 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 and the next stop of our whistle tour around the Inner Hebrides is Bruichladdich. This distillery inspires some serious loyalty among whisky fans since it was revived by Jim McEwan, Mark Reynier et al in 2001. So this the 20th anniversary of the new Bruichladdich, and also its 140th anniversary as the distillery was originally founded in 1881. So many anniversaries. 

Today, it’s famed for doing things just a little bit differently such as experimenting with different types of barley – something Reynier has taken even further with his new venture Waterford in Ireland. But that’s another story. It’s also unusual on Islay for making unpeated whisky but it’s no stranger to smoke either, saving the peat for the Port Charlotte and Octomore brands. 

We try something special from the distillery below, but first here’s a look at the fun going on at the distillery today. And to get you in the island mood, don’t forget to listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify and watch our interview above with head distiller Adam Hannett from Fèis Ìle 2019.  Oh, and be sure to check out our daily deals! We’ve got discounts on Octomore 10 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)Port Charlotte 14 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)Bruichladdich Scottish Barley – The Classic Laddie and Bruichladdich 1985/32 – Hidden Glory.

What’s going on today

Well, it’s all a bit mysterious, but seeing as this year marks 20 years of the revived distillery, it’s sure to be a lot of fun. Bruichladdich is promising “one big virtual party to celebrate a whole swathe of anniversaries.” The event is called Times Travellers and you need to register here to find out more. But we do know there are two special bottles: a 10-anniversary cask-aged Botanist gin and a special 57% ABV bottling called Laddie Origins which we’re looking at in detail below. 3,000 bottles have been filled. Both are only available via a ballot from the Bruichladdich site. 

Bruichladdich Feis Ile 2021 - 30th May 2021 Poster Announcement

What is going on at Bruichladdich?

Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Fèis Ìle 2021 release

Here’s a bit of fun. We’ve been sent a sample of 2021’s Laddie Origins alongside six samples that go into this special expression. We aren’t allowed to say exactly what’s in the samples but will say that there’s an interesting mixture of casks, ages, barley types and even distillation techniques. We can’t say anymore. All will be made clear at Adam Hannett’s masterclass which is taking place at 2pm. It’s all booked up but we’ll update when we are allowed. 

So without further ado here’s what we thought:

Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Fèis Ìle 2021 tasting notes

ABV: 57%

Colour: Mid-gold.

Nose: Sweet-smelling, heavy on the toffee, with porridge-like cereal notes, ginger biscuits, baked apple, dried fruit and orange peel.

Palate: Lots of peppery alcohol but this is smooth considering the high ABV, creamy texture with salted caramel. Second sip and a drop of water brings out cloves, cardamom, citrus peel, fruitcake and some brazil nuts. 

Finish: Honey and lingering baking spices.

Overall: Deliciously complex. Needs a drop of water to be fully appreciated but this is a magnificent whisky. 

Now we’re going to taste through six mystery samples. Yeah, it’s all a bit of a mystery at Bruichladdich at the moment.

Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Feis Ile 2021

Delicious and mysterious

Sample no. 1:

ABV: 57.1%

Colour: Very pale gold

Nose: Vanilla, fresh, lemon peel, clean and fruity.

Palate: Lots of spice, creamy vanilla texture, toasted almonds.

Finish: Toasted nuts with more vanilla and black pepper. 

Sample no. 2:

ABV: 58.4%

Colour: Pale gold

Nose: Touch of cheese rind, vanilla, and waxy notes, with white peaches.

Palate: Peppery, creamy texture, that waxy note persists. There’s a nutty almond flavour here too.

Finish: Creamy, quite short. 

Sample no. 3

ABV: 59.8%

Colour: Gold

Nose: Very fruity, peaches, apples and orange peel, there’s a herbal note here too, plus vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon. 

Palate: Wow, super spicy! Hot chillies and then all the baking spices but particularly cardamom, some wood tannin here too and then fruity green apple and pears.

Finish: Creamy vanilla.

Bruichladdich Laddie Origins Feis Ile 2021 - glass

It’s a fine drop

Sample no. 4:

ABV: 60.9% 

Colour: Pale green gold

Nose: Toffee, vanilla, waxy notes, touch of burnt caramel, fresh peaches, lemon peel.

Palate: Custard tarts dusted with cinnamon, sweet and fruity, has a nice refreshing citrus fruit lift to it. Lovely mixture of sweetness and spice. 

Finish: Peppery and spicy. 

Sample no. 5:

ABV: 61.5%

Colour: Pale green gold

Nose: Burnt caramel, more custard, cinnamon and other baking spices, 

Palate: Lively, lots of fruity new make character backed up with a delicious creaminess, spices present but less prominent than in other samples. 

Finish: That dark toffee note returns on the finish.

Sample no. 6

ABV: 69.3%

Colour: Deep gold gold

Nose: Highly aromatic, spicy/ herbal quality, camphor perhaps, and then lots of toffee, coffee and chocolate.

Palate: Salted caramel and milk chocolate, hedonistic sweetness here, mingling with big spices, both hot and mellow. Citrus fruit here too keeping it all nice and fresh. 

Finish: Sweet mocha coffee with a shot of rum in it.

Well that’s the Laddie Origins and some, though not all of its component parts. All will be revealed at around 3pm today, Sunday 30 May. Go to Bruichladdich’s website for more information, or we’ll update when we can.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 1: Ardnahoe

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 day 1. And we begin over a week of Islay whisky fun with a look at the island’s newest  producer, Ardnahoe. We find…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 day 1. And we begin over a week of Islay whisky fun with a look at the island’s newest  producer, Ardnahoe. We find out what’s going on at the distillery and take a look at  how difficult it can be to even reach the island.

Islay’s newest working distillery was built by indie bottler Hunter Laing and began distilling in 2019. We visited for the launch and had a particularly scary descent onto the island (though the old hands took it in their stride) so we thought we’d ask some industry types to share their own interesting journeys to Islay. But first, we take a look at what kind of online excitement the Laing family has waiting for you at Ardnahoe. And don’t forget to listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the mood.

What’s going on today

Events will take place on 28 May. The distillery will be running a virtual operator’s tour at 11am hosted by Stuart Hughes, then a Kill Devil rum cocktail session with rum expert Emily, followed by at 7pm the main event: a live tasting of rare Kinship single malts and the Ardnahoe new make. Tasting kits are available. Go here for more information. Below we have an interview we did with Andrew Laing back in 2019.

Islay travel stories

For an island that’s only 20 miles off the coast of mainland Scotland, Islay can be surprisingly hard to get to. Whether you’re flying in or taking the ferry, your journey may well be disrupted by the rapidly-changing weather. You might not reach the island at all. We’ve all had experiences of product launches on Islay being rerouted at the last minute. So we thought we’d ask some whisky veterans to share their stories of travel misadventures on Islay and Jura. 

Pay the ferryman

The traditional way to get to the island is via a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry or CalMac as it’s affectionately known. Though Paul Gordon from Ardnahoe hasn’t had much luck with this great Scottish institution “with the service consistently disrupted.” He puts the blame squarely at the feet of “Scotgov and Transport Scotland who have underinvested in the fleet and when they invested they built one large boat instead of smaller more flexible vessels.”

Meanwhile Felipe Schrieberg, drinks writer and co-founder of Rhythm and Booze project, warned: “Woe betide the poor soul that manages to book the Islay ferry far in advance but then proceeds to arrive even a minute late than the cutoff point for check in. Your assured spot then becomes meaningless, and in the purgatory of ‘standby’ you’ll have to wait most of the day before a berth miraculously frees up.” He went on to tell us that leaving the island can be no easier: “Our ferry, the last of the day, was cancelled due to bad weather which meant that rather than spend a pleasant night in our apartment we had to dash at midnight to wait all night in the standby queue to get on the first ferry the next day.”

Jura whisky distillery

On a clear day, there’s lots to see on Jura

Misty mountain hop

During Feis Ile 2019, Master of Malt’s own Laura Carl “spent a day on Jura without actually seeing Jura.” She explained: “It was an ABYSMAL day, grey, overcast, on and off rain. We were waiting to get the ferry over to Jura and it didn’t look too bad. We exited the ferry on Jura and started to climb, the higher we got, the further the mist descended upon us. It was so bad that we could only see about a foot in front of the car with fog lights on. It was honestly like driving through soup.”

Meanwhile Rachel McCormack’s, author of Chasing the Dram, problems started long before she even got to the island on the bus ride from Glasgow: “The driver turned up 20 mins late with bloodshot eyes, stinking of booze and didn’t seem to be entirely sure how traffic lights in Glasgow worked, but did manage to get us all up past the Rest and Be Thankful and down to Inveraray without incident. At Tarbert he phoned the ferry company and blamed Glasgow roadworks visible only to himself for the delay so the ferry had to wait for us.”

Nicholas Morgan, author of A Long Stride, and former head of whisky outreach at Diageo, is a veteran of Islay visits. He told me about one attempt to visit Lagavulin for the ceilidh: “We never got there; the Islay curse of low clouds and almost zero visibility.  Delayed take off, three white-knuckle ride attempts at landing (I swear I saw a very adjacent sheep’s arse as we lifted rapidly from the third) and off we headed to Glasgow, much to the relief of many on the flight.  I was told later that Iain McArthur had been standing out on the pier at Lagavulin with one of the cruise people, who, hearing the sound of a plane through the mist said ‘that’ll be Dr Nick heading in for the ceilidh’.  Iain listened carefully and said, ‘no, that’ll be Dr Nick heading back to London’”.

Ardbeg Distillery on Islay

Looks like there storm brewing over Ardbeg

And I said what about breakfast at Wetherspoons

Morgan isn’t the only one whose plans have been disrupted by the weather. Joel Harrison’s, from World’s Best Spirits, journey to the launch of Ardbeg An Oa was repeatedly delayed because of fog: “Eventually we boarded the small plane, and the flight took off. 20 mins later we were circling Islay, waiting to land. But the dreaded fog had returned. Informed by our captain that he was waiting for a break in the low-level cloud, it took an hour before he finally announced he had a gap and that he was going for it.” 

He continued: “The cloud was low, the expectation high. As we descended, from my window seat I could see nothing but the reflection of the fear in my own eyes staring back at me. Finally, the cloud broke. We were so low to the ground that I swear I was able to look a fisherman in the eye. Immediately, the engines roared once again, and we started to lift. No dice. This wasn’t to be our landing.” 

Eventually, the group had to head to a hotel in Glasgow, where the samples had to be hastily sent by Glenmorangie. “That day, instead of a slap-up seafood platter, I had breakfast, lunch and my dinner in the ’Spoons at Glasgow airport,” Harrison said.

Here comes the sun

It’s not all bad though, Christopher Coates from Whisky Magazine has been much luckier with his visits to the island:  “I’ve only ever had sunshine, clear skies and calm seas for my crossings to Islay. But I’ll never forget my first time: I had to get up at 5am to make the 7am Kennacraig-Port Ellen ferry and, shortly after boarding, fell asleep in the top-deck lounge. After what felt like only a few seconds of shut-eye, I was awoken by the sounds of some very excitable German visitors whooping and yelling out on the observation deck. The early morning mist had cleared and they’d just spotted the whitewashed buildings of Ardbeg. I went outside and cheered along with them. It was the start of a very good day.”

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New Arrival of the Week: Domaine Dupont 12 Year Old Calvados

Just this week a load of delicious apple brandies has just landed at MoM towers, fresh off the boat from Normandy. So we’re shining our New Arrival spotlight on one…

Just this week a load of delicious apple brandies has just landed at MoM towers, fresh off the boat from Normandy. So we’re shining our New Arrival spotlight on one in particular: Domaine Dupont 12 year old Calvados.

We were having one of our regular discussions at MoM towers, over brandy and cigars naturally, about which was the most civilised time to have a drink. Some proposed the traditional cocktail hour between 5 and 7 o’ clock. Yes, we are aware that that is two hours. There were votes for the 12 noon pre-lunch aperitif as the most agreeable drink of the day while others put in a spirited defence of the nightcap, especially as that’s the name of our weekly news round-up. 

A little digestif? Don’t mind if I do

But in the end, we all had to agree that there’s no better drink than a digestif. A little nip of alcohol at the end of the meal, to aid digestion (perhaps), conversation (definitely) and to signal that the meal is over but the evening has only just begun.

It’s a great excuse to get out that fine bottle that you’ve been keeping for special occasions. Most places have a specific drink for just this purpose like grappa in Italy or fruit brandies in central Europe but it’s the French who probably do the digestif better than anyone. Even the word is French. There’s Cognac from Charente region, Armagnac from Gascony, and then from Normandy there’s the mighty Calvados.

Apples growing at Domaine Dupont in Calvados

Apples growing at Domaine Dupont in Calvados

The perfect time to drink Calvados

This superb apple brandy has been undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years. It’s certainly been flying out the door at Master of Malt. Old producers have been revitalised and new ones are springing up bringing a more modern aesthetic to what can be seen as a very traditional category. There are even maverick producers like Christian Drouin going outside the appellation contrôlée and doing crazy things like ageing in Japanese whisky casks.

Some of the newer brands like Avellen are aimed squarely at the cocktail market, to make such delicious drinks as the Diamondback or the Corpse Reviver No.1, but today’s New Arrival, Domaine Dupont 12 Year Old Calvados, is very much an after dinner sipper. Though you could make some pretty extravagant cocktails out of it, if you were feeling fancy. 

Domaine Dupont, a family affair

The estate is owned by the Dupont family and dates back to 1887. Originally Jules Dupont worked as a tenant farmer on the estate when it was called La Vigannerie, before buying it outright. It remained in the family ever since, and is currently run by the brother and sister duo of Jérôme Dupont and Anne-Pamy Dupont.

The 74 acre estate is located in the Pays d’Auge region of Normandy and grows 13 kinds of special cider apples.  The family makes all kinds of boozy appley things (see the full range here) including cider, Calvados, pommeau (a mixture of Calvados and apple juice rather like Pineau des Charentes in Cognac). They even make a very tasty Calvados cream liqueur – yes, a bit like Bailey’s.

Cider which is destined for Calvados will be aged on the lees for six months (dead yeast cells which provide richness and texture) before being double-distilled. Our New Arrival is then aged for 12 years in toasted French oak barrels, a quarter of which are new, before bottling at 42% ABV. In our Norman shipment, we’ve also got some vintage Calvados from 1975 and ‘77, a 30 year old and a magnificent Pomme Captive. Which Francophones will be able to work out contains an actual apple – wouldn’t that look splendid on the table?

But back to the 12 year old. It’s the kind of bottle that after a long meal with old friends, when they are making taxi noises, you produce with a gleam in your eye, and suddenly the night is young. The only problem is that nobody will want to leave.

Domaine Dupont 12 year old Calvados

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Coffee, apple and vanilla.

Palate: Rounded, with well developed fruit bitterness and layers of complexity.

Finish: Long. A finish that evolves with each new contemplative sip.

Domaine Dupont 12 Year Old Calvados is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy. 

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