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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

New Arrival of the Week: Barbaresco Asili Riserva 2015 Produttori del Barbaresco

This week we’re shining a spotlight on a delicious single vineyard Barbaresco from the excellent 2015 vintage. It would be perfect for Easter lunch, if you’re feeling fancy. It’s not…

This week we’re shining a spotlight on a delicious single vineyard Barbaresco from the excellent 2015 vintage. It would be perfect for Easter lunch, if you’re feeling fancy.

It’s not all Margaritas and Macallan here at Master of Malt HQ, we have some very enthusiastic wine lovers on the team. None more so than our head buyer Guy Hodcroft which means that though we don’t stock a huge selection of wine, what we do have is always interesting. This week buyer Hodcroft (that’s what we call him) is particularly excited about a parcel of single vineyard Barbarescos that have just landed at MoM HQ. 

Barbaresco is one of the three ‘B’s of Italian wine along with Barolo and Brunello. Like Barolo, Barbaresco is  produced in Piedmont from the Nebbiolo grape (the name comes from the fog that often blankets the hills, nebbia) but whereas Barolo is famous throughout the world as the ‘king of wines’, it’s very close relative is not so well known. So much so that in olden days a lot of grapes from Barbaresco went into generic Barolo. Poor overlooked Barbaresco! This is now beginning to change as wine drinkers around the world wake up to the quality lurking in its vineyards, usually at a better price than Barolo. This new awareness is being driven by single vineyard bottlings, so rather than all the grapes going into one wine labelled simply Barbaresco, you can taste the different patches of land. They’re been doing this in Burgundy, of course, for hundreds of years but it’s relatively new in Piedmont. 

We have five bottlings altogether, Asili, Montefico, Montestefano, Ovello and Rabajà, all from Produttori del Barbaresco. This firm which was founded in 1958 has been producing single vineyard wines, only in the best vintages, since 1967. It is a co-operative, owned and run by a group of farmers who pool their grapes and resources. Usually such enterprises make cheaper wines, but not the PdB which has been described as the ‘The Wine World’s Most Amazing Cooperative’. It’s probably not the easiest job marshalling 54 Italian farmers with over 105 hectares of vines between them but MD Aldo Vacca whose family were founder members is clearly a master of organisation and diplomacy. Stephen Brook writing in Decanter said: “Aldo Vacca probably knows more about the region than anyone else alive”. All the growers must contribute 100% of their Nebbiolo to the co-op avoiding the common problem where growers keep their best grapes to bottle under their own labels. 

The wine making is in the hands of Gianni Testa, who has been with the firm since he graduated from college in the 1980s. He uses traditional processes, long fermentation times and three years ageing in large oak botti which soften the wines without contributing woody flavours. Nevertheless, these wines are accessible sooner than in the past. Though Barbaresco tends to be lighter than Barolo, traditionally you wanted to wait at least ten years before broaching them; Nebbiolo can be fiercely tannic but more gentle handling allows the fruit to shine from a younger age especially in a warm vintage like 2015. 

Nice botti

You can really taste the difference of the vineyards from the fleshy and powerful Rabajà to this week’s New Arrival, the elegant Asili which is already showing classic flavours of red cherry, Turkish delight and earthy mushroom notes. Despite the more accessible style, it’s definitely not an aperitif sort of wine, but sipped slowly with the right food, roast lamb or wild mushroom risotto, you will see why Barbaresco is one of Italy’s greatest wines.

Barbaresco Asili 2015 Produttori del Barbaresco is available now from Master of Malt.

 

 

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La Hechicera rum: the Colombian enchantress

La Hechicera makes some of the best Spanish-style rum out there with nothing added: no sugar, no flavourings, no nothing. We caught up with managing director Miguel Riascos for a…

La Hechicera makes some of the best Spanish-style rum out there with nothing added: no sugar, no flavourings, no nothing. We caught up with managing director Miguel Riascos for a few drinks.

La Hechicera as a brand is a recent creation; it was launched in London in 2012. However, the Riascos family’s involvement in the rum business goes back to 1994.  They learned how to make rum in Cuba, Miguel Riascos explained: “After deciding to leave the banana business due to instability and insecurity in Colombia at the time (early ‘90s), my father, Miguel Riascos Noguera, decided to travel to Cuba in search of new business opportunities and alternatives to agriculture, which at the time carried an inherent risk. In Cuba, my father quickly fell in love with the promise of rum and sought a deal with the Cuban Ministry of Sugar with the purpose of establishing a rum factory in Barranquilla with the Cuban establishment’s technical support. As part of this arrangement, several qualified chemical engineers and master blenders were sent from Cuba to Colombia”, including master blender Giraldo Mituoka Kagana who is still with the company.  

Master blender Giraldo Mituoka Kagana looking very cool in white

Barranquilla, a city on the Caribbean coast, near Cartagena, was the perfect place to do this because it had been designated a Free Zone. In the rest of the country alcohol above 20% ABV was a state monopoly. Unlike in Venezuela, there were no private brands, which is perhaps why Colombian rum doesn’t have the same reputation as its neighbour. The family bought in Colombian cane spirit and aged it in ex-bourbon barrels to their own exacting standards meaning no sugar or other additives. The rum would then be sold on to be blended into Colombian or generic Caribbean rums. Which seems a shame. 

So, the decision was taken to bottle some of their own. The result was La Hechicera, the name means Enchantress in Spanish, a reference to the magical fecundity and diversity of Colombia. Riascos said: “Colombia has more species of flora and fauna than any other country in the world.” Appropriately, I was meeting with Riascos in the jungle-inspired splendour of Amazonico in Mayfair. 

The project goes back to when the family got into the rum business , Riascos said: “When we initially created La Hechicera, it was by far the oldest rum that our family had aged. This is the epitome of everything we want to produce”. He went on to tell me a little about the rum: “The idea was to bottle something absolutely pure. It’s a typical Hispanic-style rum in that it is molasses-fermented, column-distilled and aged in ex-Jack Daniel’s American white oak for a minimum of 12 years.” The oldest component is 21 years old. The rum comes off the column at between 88 and 96% ABV so, according to Riascos, “it’s light in its congenic make-up, and yet it’s very characterful in its woodiness. It’s spent so long in the barrel. That is quite simply the way we like to make our rum and I do feel this almost epitomises our rum making style in Barranquilla.” Though at the moment they buy in the spirit, the family has plans to build their own distillery in the near future though will continue to buy in spirit even when it’s up and running as they like the diversity of flavours, according to Riascos. 

Colombia, once a byword for a failed state, is now one of Latin America’s success stories. I asked Riascos if the country was more stable now and he replied with obvious pride: “It’s firmly stable, today it’s one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. It’s the third largest already after Mexico and Brazil. It’s got an unbelievably diversified economy which is obviously a source of growth and future growth for sure.”

Family banana plantation in Magdalena, 1955

Nevertheless, he’s surprised by how his home country has taken to La Hechicera, it’s now the biggest market. “Colombians generally are not big consumers of Colombian products,” he said. In the past sophisticated drinkers went for Scotch brands, especially Grand Old Parr which is a cult drink in the country. Now though, people are taking pride in home-grown products: “Today La Hechicera is almost synonymous with Colombia”, Riascos said. 

The family expected La Hechicera to be an export-led product so they launched it in London in 2012. “ In the UK and in London specifically you do have all the expert bartenders, the awards, the publications, and the master blenders, so it’s a great platform to position the brands in the on-trade,” Riascos said. “We are constantly working with bartenders. A classic cocktail is always a great anchor to create a new idea.” Over our interview, we tried two takes on the Old Fashioned: firstly the so-called Gold Fashioned, made with a gold-coated (yes real gold!) cube of panela (unrefined cane sugar). Then the Banana Republic, made with banana liqueur, bitters and a piece of dehydrated banana. It’s a nod to the family’s involvement in the banana business. “What we try to do with our cocktails is to tell the story about Colombia, about provenance, about who we are, “ Riascos said. 

Michael Fink from Amazanico had also been hard at work coming up with cocktails (yes, it was quite a boozy interview.) First off an Old Fashioned made with Antica Formula vermouth and strawberry and tobacco bitters which really brought out the chocolate in the rum. This was followed by a sort of Daiquiri meets Sidecar cocktail with lime juice, sugar, Italian vermouth and Cointreau. It worked so well because like the best Spanish-style rums, there’s more than a little of Cognac about La Hechicera. It’s a beautifully-poised rum, perfumed and wine-like with intense notes of nuts and vanilla; the long ageing in no way overpowers the spirit. And all the time with that purity, there’s none of the sugar that you get in some Venezualan rums.

Miguel Riascos enjoying some rum

The company currently produces around 20,000 cases a year with plans to raise that to 100,000 in three years. It currently holds around 12,000 casks of rum so there’s plenty in stock. It’s been such a success, that the family has just released a new version called Serie Experimental #1 which is finished in casks that held Spanish Muscat for around 13 years so the oak was heavily impregnated with wine. They had 16 casks yielding 7200 bottles. Riascos said, “it shares the same DNA, but it’s got that added body from that finish.” The Muscat adds sweetness (perceived sweetness that is, not actual sugar) and brings out the rum’s floral side with some added dried fruit and tobacco notes. It’s a great sipping rum, as is the standard bottling. 

You’ll notice that it’s called Serie Experimental #1, so expect others to follow. “We’re currently working on dos, tres and cuatro,” said Riascos. “And we’ll see if one of those hits the market later this year. We’ve been working with wines from Napa Valley. We’ve been working with Canadian rye whisky. We’ve been working with different natural fruits and infusions, things that tell the story of Colombia as the most biodiverse country in the world. We are working together with Colombia’s largest independent brewery to kind of do a barrel exchange. So they’re working with our barrels for their beer and they’re sending them back with a few added notes and then we’re ageing our rum in there to see if that works. I’m very sceptical about it, but if it works it will be very, very good.” We think it will too.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Manly Lilly Pilly Pink Gin

This week we’re crossing our fingers for sunshine while sipping a new pink gin with no added sugar all the way from Australia. And there’s a special cocktail at the…

This week we’re crossing our fingers for sunshine while sipping a new pink gin with no added sugar all the way from Australia. And there’s a special cocktail at the end.

Some people get very upset with pink gin. Just mention of it can get gin aficionados harrumphing into their (extremely) dry Martinis. But we’re equal opportunities boozers here at Master of Malt so we say, if you like pink gin, then ignore the snobs and drink it. Whatever blows your hair back. Some brands, however, are a little sweet for those raised on London dry gin which is why we’re so taken with the new Lilly Pilly Pink Gin from Australia which contains no added sugar. 

It gets its name from Lilly Pilly, a native Australian species of myrtle with striking pink coloured fruits known in New Zealand rather sweetly as monkey apples. Vanessa Wilton, co-founder of Manly Gin described them as “slightly tart but ever so Australian.” The gin, however, gets its pretty colour from raspberries, not from the lilly pillies which are distilled along with other exciting botanicals such as native limes, hibiscus rosella flowers, blood orange, sea fig and nasturtium flowers. The resulting gin is then steeped with raspberries for 18 hours. There is no sugar added. According to Wilton, “we were really inspired by the beautiful pink sea fig and nasturtium flowers found scattered on the sand dunes of Freshwater beach near the distillery.”

Top foraging!

The distillery itself is not named after some Burt Reynolds-type figure, disappointingly, but after Manly, a suburb of Sydney. It was set up by David Whittaker and Vanessa Wilton who got the spirits bug after visiting a distillery in Tasmania. The Manly range arrived in the UK only last year but has already made quite a splash. In addition to the Lilly Pilly, they produce two dry gins, a barrel-aged gin which tastes like an Australian Chartreuse, and two stunning flavoured vodkas. Finally, there’s whisky in the pipeline which came of age last year but isn’t commercially available yet. 

You might be surprised that the distiller of these amazingly Australian spirits is actually an Englishman, Tim Stones. He previously worked with Desmond Payne at Beefeater, and he confided in us that the great man himself had given the Australian Dry Gin the thumbs-up. Stones is clearly relishing working with Australia’s native flora, “these botanicals are incredibly pungent – just like the nation”, he told us last year. 

In addition to all the unusual ingredients, Manly has not stinted on the juniper in the Lilly Pilly gin and though it is definitely exotic, it’s not wacky. This means it’s a very versatile gin. It would be lovely just with tonic water, garnished with some raspberries, mixed into the reddest Negroni on the planet or you could try in a cocktail suggested by the distillery called the Pink Gin Sling. Just the thing for sipping in the garden when the sun comes out. Chin Chin! Or here’s mud in your eye, as they say in Australia. 

45ml Lilly Pilly Pink Gin
15ml Campari
45ml pineapple juice
20ml lime juice
15ml simple syrup
3 raspberries

Shake all the ingredients together and strain into an ice-filled Highball glass. Garnish with a lime wheel and a raspberry. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Improved Whiskey Cocktail

What’s better than a Whiskey Cocktail? A Fancy Whiskey Cocktail. And better than that? Why, the Improved Whiskey Cocktail, of course. It’s an Old Fashioned but slightly better.  Back in…

What’s better than a Whiskey Cocktail? A Fancy Whiskey Cocktail. And better than that? Why, the Improved Whiskey Cocktail, of course. It’s an Old Fashioned but slightly better. 

Back in the good old days, a cocktail was a specific type of drink rather than a generic term for an iced mixed drink. The Cocktail Book from 1900 lists pages of drinks called ‘cocktails’ that are variations on the spirit (or wine) plus bitters, sugar and ice theme. But you can also see new drinks creeping in involving vermouth like the Manhattan and early versions of the Martini. Therefore, in the book, an old timey Whiskey Cocktail is called a Whiskey Cocktail Old-Fashioned to differentiate it. There’s also something called a ‘Fancy’ version made with maraschino liqueur as a sweetener. So fancy!

The Old Fashioned may have been old fashioned but doesn’t mean that it stopped evolving in 1845. It’s an endlessly versatile drink, which is why bartenders love coming up with new versions of it. Jerry Thomas, of the Eldorado Hotel in San Francisco, is usually credited with the invention of the Fancy Old Fashioned. Though more likely it was something that was around at the time and he was the first person to write it down in his Bartenders Guide: How to Mix all Kinds of Plain and Fancy Drinks (1887). There’s that word again, fancy.

Adding maraschino liqueur to a drink that was often garnished with a bittersweet cherry is not such a leap. It’s just a twist on a classic. But Thomas’s next step was more extreme: to turn a ‘Fancy’ into an ‘Improved’, he added absinthe taking the Old Fashioned dangerously into Sazerac territory. For the many who loathe aniseed this is not so much improved as ruined. 

Woodford Reserve Bourbon

Looks fancy. Sorry, I mean improved

Even as an aniseed lover, I will concede that a little goes a long way, so rather than add a teaspoon as with most recipes, you can add a few drops as a wash to the glass and shake it out before adding the rest of the ingredients. I’m using Ricard instead of absinthe as it’s what I’ve got in the house. It provides just a background note of aniseed. If you’re using proper absinthe which is drier instead of pastis then you might want to add more sugar. Then it’s a question of which whiskey to use. Well, it’s got to be American. Thomas would probably have used a rye but I’ve chosen a classic all-rounder bourbon, Woodford Reserve. It’s a really complex, well-balanced drop made, unusually for Kentucky, in a pot still. I’m serving it on the rocks but you could stir it over ice and serve it straight up. Oh and don’t forget the bitters. I’m using a mixture of Angostura and just a drop of orange which really lifts the whole thing.

Right, let’s improve a whiskey cocktail!

60cl Woodford Reserve bourbon
1 tablespoon Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1 tablespoon sugar syrup
1 tsp Ricard pastis (or absinthe)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
1 dash Fee Brothers orange bitters

Add a teaspoon of pastis to an Old Fashioned glass, swirl it around and then shake it out. Add lots of ice cubes, all the other ingredients and give it a good stir. Express a piece of orange over the top and then serve. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Boondocks 11 Year Old Cask Strength whiskey

This week we’re highlighting an American whiskey that’s very close to a bourbon in style but with one crucial difference, created by former Woodford Reserve supremo Dave Scheurich. Whisky distillers…

This week we’re highlighting an American whiskey that’s very close to a bourbon in style but with one crucial difference, created by former Woodford Reserve supremo Dave Scheurich.

Whisky distillers are like master criminals, no, not in terms of morals, well, some of them are, but that’s another story. What they have in common is that both announce their retirements, only to be lured out by one final job. Think of Jim McEwan who retired from Bruichladdich in 2015 only to be made an offer he couldn’t refuse by the Hunter Laing mob when they were setting up a new distillery on Islay, Ardnahoe

Then there’s Dave Scheurich, who retired from Brown-Forman in 2010 after over 21 years at the bourbon giant.  He was instrumental in setting up the Woodford Reserve brand and making it one of the most admired whiskeys in America. Before that he had stints with Wild Turkey, and 14 years man and boy at Seagram, the now-defunct Canadian giant who dominated the international spirits business before collapsing in 2000. In 2012 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Whiskey Advocate magazine. After that sort of career, most of us would be happy to take up fishing and long-winded anecdotes, but not Scheurich.

In 2016, it was announced that he had teamed up with the Royal Wine Company (a New York-based business that specialises in kosher wine) to create a new American whiskey brand, Boondocks. The name is inspired by a slightly-pejorative word used by fancy city types for the countryside. What we might call it ‘the back of beyond’. 

The aim was to create fine American whiskeys that were a bit different from the bourbon norm. Despite its corn-heavy mash bill (80% corn with the rest rye and malted barley), our New Arrival can’t be called bourbon because it’s not put in new oak casks. Instead like much Scotch, it’s aged in used casks. It’s also significantly older than most American whiskeys, which to be sold as such in the EU only have to be three years old (and can be much younger in the home market). This is also bottled at cask strength, 63.5% ABV, something that will appeal to aficionados. There’s also a 47.5% ABV version as well as an 8 year old bourbon.

With a name like Boondocks, you’d probably imagine it’s made in a tiny distillery in the woods, miles from the nearest town of any size, that hasn’t changed much since prohibition was repealed and staffed mainly by men called Jedediah. Sadly, nothing so romantic as the brand doesn’t have its own distillery and buys in its whiskey. Nothing wrong with that, lots of brands in whiskey, especially in the US and Ireland, don’t make their own spirit, it’s just not such a good story.

Still what matters most is what’s in the glass. And it’s good, really good, with a depth of flavour you don’t often find in American whiskeys. Previous releases have won awards like a Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition 2016 and Best of Category in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2016. It’s a great sipper either with a splash of water, with ice or I can’t think of a better whiskey for an Old Fashioned. Drink it slowly, let the ice dilute the high strength and see how it changes.

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Strong coffee with just a splash of milk, rich cherry sweetness and a subtly floral hint.

Palate: Toasted almonds and spicy rye, underneath layers of brown sugar and cookie dough.

Finish: Lingering buttery corn and stem ginger.

Boondocks Cask Strength 11 Year Old American Whiskey is available from Master of Malt.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Betty

Today we’re making a refreshing gin-based cocktail inspired by the great-grandmother of the founder of Ealing Gin. She was quite a gell (say it like the Queen saying ‘girl’ not…

Today we’re making a refreshing gin-based cocktail inspired by the great-grandmother of the founder of Ealing Gin. She was quite a gell (say it like the Queen saying ‘girl’ not like something you might put in your hair). 

America has Hollywood, India has Bollywood and England has. . .  Ealing. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it but the film studios in Ealing made some of the country’s best loved films like Passport to Pimlico, Whisky Galore! and The Lavender Hill Mob. These intensely British films known as Ealing Comedies were usually about small people (in society, not stature) taking on authority and winning. These were made in the ‘40s and ‘50s but the studio was founded in 1902 and is still going strong today: Shaun of the Dead and parts of Downton Abbey were filmed there. 

Ealing Gin

Amanda and Simon Duncan, with Felicity

Ealing is also home to the Ealing Distillery. Nice segway there, don’t you think? Set up by Amanda and Simon Duncan who came to the gin business from a PR and marketing background respectively, it operates from a tiny premises with one still, called Felicity, in Duncan’s home borough. They have styled their gin rather grandly “The Queen of London dry gins”. It’s not just marketing fluff, however, but a reference to Ealing being known as “The Queen of Suburbs”, a phrase coined by the borough’s surveyor Charles Jones in a book published in 1902, and then repeated ad nauseum by estate agents and developers ever since. Still, it is a nice part of London with it low rise suburban housing, wide open green spaces such as Ealing Common and magnificent art deco architecture like the former Hoover factory (now a Tesco) on Western Avenue, which I use to gaze at in wonder as a child as we drove past on our way back home to Amersham.

The bottle with its pink and green art deco motifs takes its cue from buildings like the Hoover. And happily the contents live up to the packaging, it’s a spicy floral London dry gin smelling headily of pink peppercorns and rose petals, but it’s very much juniper-led making it a good all rounder. The Duncans have come up with a special cocktail which they have christened ‘the Betty’ in honour of Simon’s great grandmother. According to the bumf she was an it girl on the 1920s and 1930s Ealing scene. She trained at RADA, and had bit parts in some of the local films while working as a waitress in the Lyon’s tea room in Berkeley Square. She lived to the ripe old age of 96. What a gell!

Swanky bottle!

The cocktail named in her honour is essentially a Tom Collins with the addition of rose syrup instead of sugar which accentuates the rose petal notes in Ealing Gin.  It’s a great sipper for a warm spring day. So, let’s raise a glass to the little man, to Ealing and, most of all, to Betty. 

50ml Ealing Gin
25ml lemon juice
2tsp rose syrup
50ml soda water

Pour the Ealing Gin, rose syrup and lemon juice into a cocktail shaker filled with ice cubes, shake quickly then strain into a high-ball glass filled with more ice. Top up with soda water, give it a quick stir and garnish with a slice of lemon.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Glen Elgin 2007 (Douglas Laing)

You don’t hear about Glen Elgin as a single malt very often, mainly because 95% of its production goes into blends. So, we thought it’s time to celebrate this little…

You don’t hear about Glen Elgin as a single malt very often, mainly because 95% of its production goes into blends. So, we thought it’s time to celebrate this little workhorse of a distillery by shining the MoM torch on a Douglas Laing single cask bottling.

There’s under-the-radar distilleries and then there’s Glen Elgin. Despite its name, it’s about five miles outside the town of Elgin, in a little hamlet called Fogwatt. Actually hamlet isn’t quite the right word as there’s very little there apart from some houses and the distillery. Motoring down the A941 towards Rothes, you’ll pass famous distilleries like BenRiach and Longmorn, but you wouldn’t even know that Glen Elgin was there. That’s a shame because it’s an elegant little distillery in a beautiful setting.

Glen Elgin, it’s actually much prettier from across the water. Still lovely wormtubs, eh?

The buildings were designed by Charles Doig who worked on some of Scotland’s greatest distilleries like Macallan, Glenlivet, Talisker and Mortlach. It’s best known, if is known at all, for being the last distillery to be built in Speyside for 60 years. Work began in 1898 just as Pattison’s Whisky went bankrupt. The company, it transpired, had been committing fraud, passing off cheap spirit as finest Glenlivet, and owed money all over the industry. The resulting scandal nearly collapsed the Scotch whisky business. So, not great timing! Glen Elgin finally opened in 1900 and immediately ran into financial difficulties. But after this uncertain start, it’s had a tranquil last 90 years, bought in 1930 by Distillers Company LImited, forerunners of Diageo, and has remained there ever since. 

The distillery’s rural situation was due to the proximity of Loch Millbuies which provides the water for distillation. For all you fans of technical details, here is a little extract from the excellent recently-published World of Whisky Book by Ridley, Smith & Wishart:

“Glen Elgin was rebuilt in 1964, with a new mash house and still house, and steam heating replaced the coal-fired boilers in 1970. It uses unpeated barley and operates a stainless steel, Steinecker full-lauter mash tun, nine larch washbacks  and six onion-shaped stills.” The fermentation is long and precise to yield a clear wort, and the stills are run slowly to encourage catalysis and produce a lighter, fruity spirit despite being condensed in traditional copper worm condensers.”

 The capacity is 1.8 million litres of pure alcohol per year but you don’t see it very often as a single malt because 95% of production goes into blends like White Horse (there’s a blend you don’t see very often in the UK, sadly) and Bell’s. Charlie Maclean described it like this: “A superb whisky that deserves to be better known. Ranked as ‘top class’ by blenders.” The 12 Year Old expression has a certain following in Japan and Italy, but it’s not one that Diageo puts any marketing muscle behind. There’s no visitor centre. 

Glen Elgin Douglas Laing

You do, however, sometimes see rare bottling from Gordon & MacPhail, That Boutique-y Whisky Company and, as here, by Douglas Laing, a company which, I am sure, needs no introduction to Master of Malt customers. This week’s New Arrival is part of the family firm’s Old Particular series of rare bottlings. It was distilled in 2007 and spent 12 years in single refill hogshead (cask number 13778, to be precise) before being bottled in January of this year. 338 bottles produced at 48.4 % ABV with no chill filtering. So, if you fancy something a little bit unusual, it’s worth taking a punt on this hidden distillery. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Toasted teacakes, clove and ginger. Some blackberry sweetness lingering.

Palate: Slightly peppery and warming with barley and honey. Waxy citrus peels plus a touch of juicy apple.

Finish: Malty chocolate, vanilla pod and stem ginger once again.

Glen Elgin 12 Year Old 2007 (cask 13778) – Old Particular (Douglas Laing) is available to buy here

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Cocktail of the Week: The Kir

Today we try one of the simplest cocktails imaginable. It’s just white wine mixed with blackcurrant liqueur. Not only is it delicious but it’s named after a hero of the…

Today we try one of the simplest cocktails imaginable. It’s just white wine mixed with blackcurrant liqueur. Not only is it delicious but it’s named after a hero of the French resistance. Can’t get better than that.

Kir was big in the 1980s in Britain, and then it just seemed to disappear. People stopped offering it at the fashionable south Bucks drinks parties I was dragged along to as a child. My parents still have some ancient bottles of crème de cassis in the garage gathering dust. I have a theory as to why it went out of fashion: wine got tastier. The kind of stuff my parents would mix with cassis were supermarket Muscadet or discount Chablis. Now Muscadet can be a fine and noble thing, but it can also be thin and highly acidic. Adding blackcurrant liqueur is a great way to perk it up. Then New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with its wild flavours of gooseberries, passion fruit, and yes, blackcurrants hit the shelves and suddenly the Kir seemed old fashioned. 

The drink originated in Burgundy. The story goes that this region of France was full of blackcurrants and the wine wasn’t always that ripe so someone had the brilliant idea of combining them. Though in his book The Discovery of France historian Graham Robb has his doubt about whether this is true. He writes: “the Dijon area was not particularly rich in blackcurrants until an enterprising cafe owner made an explanatory trip to Paris in 1841, noted the popularity of cassis and began to market his own liquor as a regional speciality”. So like most traditional drinks, the Kir is not as ancient as the folklore would suggest.

Canon Kir, on a tank from the cover of Priests de la Resistance

Its name, however, can be precisely dated. A wine and cassis was known as a Blanc de Cassis until the drink was popularised by a French canon called Felix Kir. A famous gourmand and drinker, he achieved fame during the war for his acts of resistance against the Nazi occupation. When the local dignitaries fled in the face of the German army, aged 63, he became de facto leader of the town of Dijon and, in the words of Fergus Butler-Gallie in his book Priests de la Resistance!, “set about making life as difficult as possible for the Nazis.” Kir was involved with gun running, saved the town’s synagogue from destruction by suggesting the Germans use it to store military supplies and, by sheer force of personality, aided the escape of nearly 5,000 prisoners of war by pretending that they were required to help with local construction projects.

Eventually, the Germans cottoned on to Kir’s antics: he was arrested on a couple of occasions, survived an assassination attempt by French fascists, and had to flee. He returned though, riding a tank at the head of the liberating allied army: “Wearing his priest’s cassock, his cloak billowing around him and his beret wedged firmly on his podgy head, Canon Kir made his return to the city from which, a matter of months before, he had only just escaped with his life.” Butler-Gallie writes. He goes on to explain: “When he heard that French were due to roll into Dijon the following morning. Kir . . . quickly arranged to secure a place atop a tank, allowing the photographers, journalists and whoever it is that formulates the annals of local myth and legend to capture him as the liberator of Dijon for posterity.” 

 

Kir Royale, the fancy version

The blanc de cassis became known as the Kir in honour of this great Frenchman. Kir himself would have drunk his Kir with Aligoté, the second white grape of Burgundy which makes rather neutral wines, but the great thing about the Kir is that you can use pretty much anything: Pinot Grigio, Vinho Verde, unoaked Chardonnay, or Picpoul de Pinet. The only thing is that it mustn’t be sweet, oaky or have too much flavour. You can turn your Kir into a Kir Royale by using sparkling wine, Cremant de Bourgogne would be traditional, but any crisp dry sparkler would do. Prosecco won’t. Tarantino fans can serve it alongside a cheese board to create a Kir Royale with Cheese. You can spritz it up by adding ice, soft fruit like raspberries and a splash of soda water. Other fruit liqueurs work well such as Chambord or sloe gin (though I am not sure Kir would approve).

So, let’s raise a glass to the indomitable spirit of Canon Kir. Vive la France!

150ml white wine, this Portuguese one would be good
25ml Gabriel Boudier Crème de Cassis de Dijon

Ideally both ingredients should be chilled. Add the cassis to a wine glass, top up with white wine and stir. Garnish with a raspberry if you’re feeling fancy and drink on a warm day in the garden with one of the two books above, both are highly recommended.  

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Five minutes. . . with Kerri Watt

We talk to Scottish singer Kerri Watt ahead of her gig at Glengoyne Distillery on 20 March about music, meeting your heroes and the best ever song about whisky.  Whisky…

We talk to Scottish singer Kerri Watt ahead of her gig at Glengoyne Distillery on 20 March about music, meeting your heroes and the best ever song about whisky. 

Whisky and music have a long history together. Dave Broom’s recent film, The Amber Light, is as much about his love of music as it is about whisky. Continuing in this grand tradition is Glasgow-born singer-songwriter Kerri Watt. She shot to fame with her single ‘Long Way Home’ which was all over the radio in 2015. Since then she has played Glastonbury, opened for Coldplay, and played with legendary Latin smoothie Julio Iglesias at the Royal Albert Hall. Her latest track is the excellent ‘Kissing Fools’.

On Friday 20 March she will be playing a special gig at the Glengoyne Distillery near Glasgow aptly-called ‘The Spirit of the Song’ (tickets available here).  It will be a special all female line-up with Liv Dawn (runner up of the BBC Scottish Songwriter Award) and Beth Keeping (founder of movement ‘Write Like A Girl’). When we discovered what an enormous whisky fan she is, we jumped at the chance to talk to her: 

Master of Malt: How did this event at Glengoyne come about? 

Kerri Watt: I had the idea after touring round Scotland last year. There was such incredible history and things to discover during the day but most of the little towns went quiet at night. I thought it would be so cool if there was something happening in the evenings. Some of the distilleries I visited had great entertaining spaces where you’d start off the tour. It got me thinking they could be perfect for a small intimate gig. I think music and whisky often go hand in hand and when I started floating the idea to a few people they thought it was great! Ultimately, I’d like to take ‘The Spirit of Song’ on a tour of Scotland hitting as many distilleries as possible. But I thought Glengoyne was a good place to start. When I approached them, they loved the idea! I’m so excited it’s finally happening.

MoM: Can you remember the dram that made you fall in love with whisky?

KW: I think it was Laphroaig when I was 25. Definitely a late starter, but I used to really not get the fascination. I met my partner in 2015, and every time he’d have a whisky in the evening, he’d go through the ritual of offering me one. I eventually gave in and the rest is history. I love that it’s something we can enjoy together especially when we’re travelling. He’s English so it’s been so much fun visiting places like Laphroaig since we moved up to Scotland together.

Anyone for tennis?

MoM: What’s your favourite everyday whisky?

KW: The Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old. It’s accessible and affordable no matter where I am, which makes it great for an everyday whisky.

MoM: And what’s your dream dram?

KW: Hmm tough one! Anything rare that I might otherwise not get to taste. But if I had to name one that I’ve had my eye on, it would be Dalmore Constellation 1973.

MoM: Do you have a favourite distillery that you have visited?

KW: Last year, I had some American friends come to visit, so I took advantage of a holiday in my own country and took them to Islay. It’s crazy because I grew up here, but it really was such an adventure driving down to Kennacraig and getting the ferry across. We visited Laphroaig, Bowmore and Lagavulin. It was amazing to walk through the whole process. The guides are so knowledgeable and passionate about whisky and many of them have been associated with the distilleries for generations. Despite growing up five minutes down the road, I’d never actually visited Glengoyne until recently. My uncle was a tour guide there for years, so that has to be my favourite! They also sell incredible Glengoyne whisky-infused tablet which is to die for. If you haven’t been to Scotland you might not be familiar with tablet it’s much like fudge but less soft and a bit grainier.

MoM: How important are whisky and music in Scottish culture?

KW: Stories of music and whisky are woven into the fabric of our history and both have been enjoyed on Scottish soil for generations. It’s the reason so many people from around the world come to visit us. So many cultures can relate to enjoying music while sharing a drink and Scotland is one of the best places to do it!

MoM: What’s your favourite song about whisky?

KW: There are so many! Especially if you’re into country music like me. But when Chris Stapleton’s album ‘Traveller’ came out in 2015, ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ was the track that made me fall in love with him. If you’ve never heard the song, check it out. Or even better, look up the duet he did of it with Justin Timberlake at the Country Music Awards a few years ago… amazing!

MoM: What did you miss most about Scotland when you were in California?

KW: Well I definitely missed my family. We’re really close so moving to the other side of the world at 16 years old was definitely a bit of a shock. But they came to visit and Skype had just come about around that time. Although i’d never complain about the sunshine, at times i did miss the rain! I’m big into hiking and you can’t wait for a sunny day here in Glasgow, so I’m used to braving the stormy skies for some exercise. There’s no feeling like it!

MoM: And what do you miss most about California?

KW: So many things. The people for a start. I think the sunshine just puts people in a good mood. Everybody was so friendly where I lived a little beach community called Dana Point in Southern California. I miss that you could get up at 5am to go down and watch the surfers catch the first waves (no I wasn’t one of them!) The tacos, the frozen yoghurt and the sunsets. 

MoM: Who is the biggest influence on you musically?

KW: Sheryl Crow. I loved her growing up and she has stood the test of time. 30 years in the business and she’s still a total rockstar. Amazing lyrics, incredible stage presence and she’s just the definition of cool. After being a superfan much of my life, I finally saw her play live a few years ago and was totally blown away and very inspired. Her classic songs from the 90’s still regularly feature on my playlists and I always play her ‘C’mon, C’mon’ album on a roadtrip.

MoM: Do you ever get nervous playing with or meeting your musical heroes?

KW: Luckily, most of them are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met so I’ve always felt welcomed. Chris Martin must be the biggest super star I’ve rubbed shoulders with backstage he was really kind! And getting to share the stage with Keith Urban last year was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. His stage presence is second to none. Funnily enough, I was at a music event recently and got talking to this American guy. About half way through our conversation it clicked with me that he’s the dude who co-wrote all of Sheryl Crow’s biggest hits! Suddenly he was a totally different person to me and admittedly I did feel a bit star struck but I had to tell him I was a fan.

MoM: Finally, do you have a favourite whisky cocktail and if so what is it?

KW: You can never go wrong with an Old Fashioned. It’s a timeless classic that’s relatively simple and I love it with Woodford Reserve after coming off stage. But I’m always up for trying exciting new brands!

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Hanky Panky

With International Women’s Day coming up this Sunday (8 March), we thought it as good a time as any to look at Ada Coleman, the pioneering bartender who ran the…

With International Women’s Day coming up this Sunday (8 March), we thought it as good a time as any to look at Ada Coleman, the pioneering bartender who ran the American Bar at the Savoy, and try one of her creations, the Hanky Panky!

Most bartenders don’t get profiles in the London papers when they retire, but then again most bartenders aren’t Ada Coleman. Coley, as she was known, was a bit special. Born in 1876, she began her career at Claridge’s Hotel at the age of 24. Then in 1903, she landed one of the biggest jobs in booze, head bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel where she remained until 1925 when she officially retired from bartending (though would live a lot longer, dying in 1966 at the age of 91). Her successor was none other than Harry Craddock, who would go on to write The Savoy Cocktails Book. There were giants in those days.

Coley in her element

The American Bar was the place that put London on the cocktail map by introducing properly-made American-style drinks (hence the name) like the Manhattan (Coley said that this was the first drink she learned to make) and the Martini to England. It wasn’t just about the drinks, though – Coley’s hospitality was legendary and the bar attracted celebs from around the world like Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, and Marlene Dietrich. 

One such notable was the actor Sir Charles Hawtrey, who was a star of the London stage at the time. He’s not to be confused with the cheeky chappy actor from the Carry On films who took ‘Charles Hawtrey’ as a stage name. His real name was George Hartree. Hope that’s cleared that one up. Anyway, apparently Sir Charles came in one day feeling a bit low and wanted something to perk him up. In an interview with The People newspaper Coley said:

“The late Charles Hawtrey… was one of the best judges of cocktails that I knew. Some years ago, when he was over working, he used to come into the bar and say, ‘Coley, I am tired. Give me something with a bit of punch in it.’ It was for him that I spent hours experimenting until I had invented a new cocktail. The next time he came in, I told him I had a new drink for him. He sipped it, and, draining the glass, he said, ‘By Jove! That is the real hanky-panky!’ And Hanky-Panky it has been called ever since.”

The Hanky Panky in all its glory

The result is something like a sweet Martini, supercharged with Fernet Branca. I’m using good old Bathtub Gin as you want something with a bit of power that isn’t going to get swamped by the Fernet. Vermouth is another old favourite, Martini Riserva Rubina. For the Fernet, I’m using something a bit different, one made in London by those clever chaps at Asterley Bros. It’s a little bit richer and more chocolatey than Fernet Branca but still with enough menthol oomph. One can imagine giving the performance of your life after a couple of these. Cheers Coley!

Right, here’s the recipe:

60cl Bathtub Gin
30cl Martini Speciale Riserva Rubino vermouth
1 tbsp Fernet Britannica

Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker or mixing glass, and fill with cubed ice. Stir for 30 seconds, and strain into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with an orange twist

 

 

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