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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Cocktail of the Week: The New York Sour

Today’s we’re making a rather forgotten-about cocktail made with bourbon and red wine. Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy, but trust us, you’ll love the New York Sour. There’s a…

Today’s we’re making a rather forgotten-about cocktail made with bourbon and red wine. Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy, but trust us, you’ll love the New York Sour.

There’s a lot of cocktails named after parts of New York, the Manhattan, obviously, but also the Red Hook, the Harlem Nights and the Staten Island Ferry. This week we’re making a drink named after the entire city, the New York Sour. It’s essentially a whiskey sour made with bourbon but with red wine floating on the top. 

What? Red wine and bourbon? Sounds a bit disgusting, doesn’t it? Red wine and bourbon aren’t what you’d call a classic cocktail pairing like, say, gin and vermouth. But actually red wine and whisky have a long history together. Queen Victoria herself used to enjoy Scotch mixed with claret. No one was going to tell her she was doing it wrong. Stop and take it apart for a moment and it makes sense. Whiskies are increasingly aged in different casks including one that formerly held red wine. Think of the delicious Starward Nova from Australia or the recent Aberfeldy aged in Pauillac casks. We’re happy with fortified wines, like Port and sherry, in cocktails. So why not red wine? 

The sour is the cocktail stripped back to its basic parts: alcohol, sweet and, of course, sour. Adding the red wine adds a bitter element, rather like adding bitters or vermouth. According to Difford’s Guide, the New York Sour probably dates back to the 1880s and was first made in Chicago, not New York. It’s been through a number of names like the Claret Snap and the Brunswick Sour before settling on its current name. There have been other New Yorky cocktails: Harry Craddock has a drink called a New York Cocktail in The Savoy Cocktail Book, a sour made with Canadian Club whisky and grenadine but no red wine; David Embury writes about a similar cocktail called a New Yorker also made with grenadine but he writes “a spoonful of claret may be floated on top if desired.” The only problem with this is that as grenadine is also red, you don’t really get the pretty two layer effect which is half the fun.

Careful pouring the wine so that it floats on top

Neither call for egg white but it’s a nice addition as it looks pretty and makes your drink taste all fluffy and lovely. The recipe below is served on the rocks in an Old Fashioned glass but you could serve it straight up. For bourbon I’m using Woodford Reserve because a) it’s delicious b) it’s what I have in the cupboard. And then the big question is what sort of red wine to use. The traditional accompaniment would have been claret, red Bordeaux, which would have been even more tannic back in the early 20th century when it was colder and grapes weren’t picked so ripe. Whatever you decide, it’s worth using something which has a bit of bite to it. A jammy Californian Merlot just won’t cut the mustard or anything that’s too oaky. Instead, try something bitter and interesting from Piedmont (the home of Italian vermouth) in northern Italian like a Barbera, Dolcetto, or even if you’re feeling fancy, Barolo or Barbaresco would turn this drink into a special occasion.

So here’s to New York Sour. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, even Tonbridge:

60ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
25ml lemon juice
25ml sugar syrup
Half an egg white
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 measure Barbera d’Asti Casareggio (or any red with a bitter edge to it) 

Add all the ingredients except the red wine to your cocktail shaker and “dry shake” without ice for 10 seconds, then take the shaker apart and add cubed ice. Shake vigorously and double strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with cubed ice, then slowly pour the red wine carefully down the side of the glass and with any luck it will float on the top.

Recipe from The Cocktail Dictionary: An A–Zof cocktail recipes, from Daiquiri and Negroni to Martini and Spritz by Henry Jeffreys published by Mitchell Beazley, £15.99.

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New Arrival of the Week: Powers Three Swallow

This week we’re toasting Monday with a single pot still whiskey from one of the great names in Irish whiskey, John Power & Sons. In the days when there were…

This week we’re toasting Monday with a single pot still whiskey from one of the great names in Irish whiskey, John Power & Sons.

In the days when there were only two distilleries in Ireland, Bushmills and Midleton, it used to be said that while Jameson was what they drank in Britain and America, the Irish kept the good stuff for themselves, Powers Gold Label. And even now with the range of Irish whiskey available expanding daily, it’s still an essential bottle.

The Powers story begins in 1791 with the establishment by James Power of a distillery in Thomas Street, Dublin. In 1822 the business, now called John Power & Sons, moved round the corner to John’s Lane. The city, as we have covered on the MoM blog before, was the world powerhouse (if you’ll excuse the pun) of whiskey at a time when commercial distilling in Scotland was still in its infancy. Demand was such that the distillery kept on expanding from 160,000 gallons produced in 1827 to 900,000 gallons by the 1880s. The site was so vast that it covered over six acres of the city and employed 300 people. 

A map of Powers Quarter around the old distillery in Dublin

The style of whiskey made was what became known as single pot still, pot-distilled (probably twice rather than three times as is the norm now) from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley, and other cereals such as oats. This was originally a wheeze to get around the tax on malted barley and accidently created one of the world’s great whiskey styles. You can see the sort of monumentally large stills that were used at the time at the old Midleton Distillery near Cork, which is home to a vast non-working 19th century still. 

Traditionally, Irish distillers didn’t bottle their own whiskey. Instead they sold it to merchants, who would mature it under bond (ie. without having to pay duty) and bottle it under their own names. Brands like Green Spot, which was created by Dublin wine merchant Mitchell’s, has its origins in this time. But John Power and Sons were different. In 1886 the company began bottling its own whiskey with a gold label, hence the origins of the Power’s Gold label. 

Following the decline of Irish whiskey, the big firms, John Jameson & Sons, Powers, and Cork Distillers Company amalgamated to form Irish Distillers and moved to a purpose-built new distillery at Midleton. Powers Gold Label was reformulated as a blended whiskey, though still with a high ratio of pot to column still in the mix. It was thought that part of the Irish whiskey’s problem was that it had too much character for the uninitiated and couldn’t compete with easy-going Scotch whisky blends like Cutty Sark and J&B especially in the all important American market.

For a long time the only single pot still whisky on the market was Green Spot which was made in very small quantities. Writing in the 2010 edition of his book 101 Whiskies to Try Before you Die, Ian Buxton described it as “the coelacanth of whisky – a dogged survivor of a virtually extinct race of giants.” 

The Powers Range has just had this snazzy rebrand (your order might be in the classic bottle, however)

The revival began with the launch of Redbreast in the 1990s by Irish distillers and then in 2011 with Powers John’s Lane, the first all pot still Powers since the 1970s. There’s some lively debate going on in Irish whiskey at the moment about the term ‘single pot still’. Up until the 1950s, mash bills were made up of malted and unmalted barley and around 20% oats and wheat but by the 1960s non-barley cereals had fallen out of use. When the current rules were formulated in 2014, the only company making the style was Irish Distillers using just malted and unmalted barley so the rules only allowed for 5% other cereals. 

The Midleton distillery makes a variety of different weights of triple-distilled pot still spirits to go into its single pot still whiskeys like Redbreast or Green Spot, or blended with column still distillates for bestsellers like Jameson. Master distiller Kevin O’ Gorman wouldn’t go into specifics about how the different whiskeys were made but would say that Redbreast has a “completely different flavour profile to the Powers range thanks to the selection of a range of specific distillate styles and to the maturation techniques.” At the top of the Powers tree is the fabulous 12 year old John’s Lane, a premium product with a premium price tag and worth every penny. Three Swallow is younger, there’s no age statement, has less sherry cask influence, and offers that pure pot still magic at a price that’s only a bit more expensive than Gold Label. If you like Irish whiskey, your cupboard should not be without a bottle.

Tasting note from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Cinnamon and warming nutmeg, maple syrup, banana fritters and dried oak.

Palate: Roasted almonds, crunchy brown sugar, melted butter and a hint of toasted marshmallow.

Finish: Whispers of malt loaf and aromatic spices.

Powers Three Swallow is available now from Master of Malt.

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Master of Malt tastes… Delamain Pléiade Cognac

Earlier this year we were invited to a swanky London club to try a very special new range of Cognacs from Delamain. Now, at last, they have arrived at MoM…

Earlier this year we were invited to a swanky London club to try a very special new range of Cognacs from Delamain. Now, at last, they have arrived at MoM HQ. What took you so long?

Delamain is aiming at the enthusiast rather than the plutocrat with a new range of Cognacs called Pléiade. Admittedly with prices going up to £1000, these will be quite well-heeled enthusiasts. The packaging with information about age, ABV, the village where the grapes were grown, cask size, and distillation type, is more nerdy than blingy. These are Cognacs for single malt or wine lovers according to Rebecca Montgomery, who works on the export and marketing side of the business and was our host at a launch dinner at the Carlton Club in London.

The new range comes in three levels, (each linked to an accompanying video):

Révélation: Cognacs of 20 to 30 years
Plénitude: very old mature Cognacs of 30 to 50 years
Apogée: extremely old, exceptional Cognacs 50+ years

Cognacs so valuable they have to be kept behind bars

These will be single cask or demijohn and, mainly, single vintage releases. All have been matured in a special cellar above a crypt. This lets in the sun so the temperature is not constant. Cellar master Dominique Touteau only uses old casks so there’s no bitter tannins from the wood. Some of the range will be bottled at cask strength while others are diluted. Montgomery described dilution as an “art in itself” where watered down Cognac at 15% ABV is slowly added to the cask. All of them are bottled with no boize or colouring. Anyone who knows Pale & Dry will recognise the style in these Cognacs, they are light, fruity and joyful. Montgomery described them as perfect for the “sophisticated” British market. Flattery will get you everywhere.

Pale and Dry XO, Delamain’s flagship bottling, has long been a British favourite, particularly among the wine trade. It celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and to celebrate, the house has tuned the blend a little. As before it only contains fruit from premier cru vineyards within Grand Champagne but now contains more from the aptly-named Bellevigne, where Delamain has recently begun cultivating fruit again. The blend is now done earlier so the component parts have longer to marry and crucially it is now bottled at a higher ABV, 42%, with no colouring or syrup added. Previously, at 40% ABV, a little caramel was added for consistency and syrup sometimes added depending on the batch. According to Dominique Touteau, this higher alcohol brings out the natural sweetness. It’s a double celebration this year because  Touteau celebrates 40 years with the firm.

The vineyard at Bellevigne

Delamain has a long history: it dates back to 1759 when James Delamain went into the Cognac business with his father-in-law Jean-Isaac Ranson. Like many Cognac dynasties, there’s an Irish or British connection, the Delamain family were French protestants who had been living in Ireland since the 17th century. In 2017, the firm was bought by Bollinger, something Rebecca Montgomery described as “perfect marriage”, but it is still run by a direct descendant of James Delamain: Charles Braastad. Now, that it has begun working vines again, for the first time since 1910, the company is looking to own some too so that eventually it will have complete control of the entire process, though good vineyards in Grand Champagne don’t come on the market very often.

The company only produces Cognacs at XO level and above, and only from Grand Champagne. Though blends (link here to full range) will remain at the heart of the business but these new releases explore the quality and variety of the terroir in Grand Champagne. Prices range from around £150 up to £1000 a bottle. So, they are not cheap but if you think what Macallan, for example, would charge for a 50 year old single cask bottling, neither are they outrageously expensive. Quality Cognac is currently undervalued, it won’t be for long.

Here are the first three releases which have just landed at MoM:

Collection Révélation Malavile

Cask number: 709-01
Village: Malaville
Age: not a vintage release, it is described as very old
45% ABV

Nose: Very grapey, fruity and floral, orange blossom, a little apricot and Brazil nut. It’s a bit like nosing an old Muscat de Rivesaltes

Palate: Gentle, soft and very fruity, floral, creamy texture with some pepper and toffee. Just a little oakiness.

Finish: Very long with oak and rancio notes. 

Collection Plénitude Mainxe 1980

Cask number: 212-01
Village: Mainxe
Age: 40 years
Vintage: 1980
44% ABV

Nose: Wow! this is like stepping into a vintage Bentley (something we do a lot of here at MoM), or expensive furniture shop: old leather, walnut, and furniture polish. Then there’s autumn leaves and rancio notes.

Palate: so mellow and soft, with baking spice, creamy toffee, and fruitcake.

Finish: salted caramel ice cream. Utterly gorgeous. This was my favourite. 

Collection Apogée Verrieres 1965 

Dame-Jeanne number: 339-01
Village: Verrieres
Age: 50 years old, distilled in 1965.
42% ABV

Nose: menthol, tobacco, dried apricot, orange marmalade and dark chocolate. So rich and powerful.

Palate: Chocolate and fresh apricot with just a little tannic bitterness coming, huge hit of aromatic tobacco. Very savoury.

Finish: walnuts and more tobacco, bring on the Havanas! 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Metaxa Spritz

Today’s we’re getting to grips with one of the world’s unique spirits, Metaxa, a blend of brandy, sweet wine and natural flavours with a special cocktail from award-winning Athenian bar…

Today’s we’re getting to grips with one of the world’s unique spirits, Metaxa, a blend of brandy, sweet wine and natural flavours with a special cocktail from award-winning Athenian bar The Clumsies. 

If you’ve ever been on holiday to Greece, then you’ve probably tried Metaxa. Many restaurants give customers a little glass after a meal rather as they do with limoncello in southern Italy. Only, in my opinion, Metaxa is a far superior drink. It’s often described as a brandy, but this isn’t quite right as it’s a blend of brandy with sweet wine and natural flavours such as anise, rose petal and herbs.

The brand was founded in 1888 by Spyros Metaxa in Piraeus, the port of Athens. From the beginning, the firm has used sweet Muscat wine from the island of Samos. This is an ancient style of wine that was especially-prized in the Middle Ages but Muscats crammed full of sugar are still made all over the Mediterranean not just in the Greek islands but Sicily, France and Spain, and as far away as South Africa and Australia. The brandy is high quality too, double pot-distilled brandy from Savatiano, Soultanino, Kourtikakis grape varieties and aged in Limousin oak. The wine, flavouring and brandy are then married in cask for a year.  The man in charge of the process is the so-called Metaxa master Constantinos Raptis, only the fifth ever to hold this title.

The Metaxa journey starts with the 5 Star expression, the sort you’ve probably tried in Greek restaurants and goes up in age and complexity to 7 and 12 Stars plus various special bottlings. I find the older they get, the less sweet they taste, with more Cognac-like woody notes but always with that floral Muscat and rose petal taste. 

It’s a unique spirit, but the idea behind it isn’t so unusual. From fortified wines to sherry-cask whisky, mixing wine and distilled alcohol has a noble history. There’s even a law in Canada known as the 9.09% rule allowing whisky producers to add up to 9.09% non-Canadian whisky to the blend such as sherry or Port. You can try this at home, a spoonful of Oloroso sherry is a great way to liven up an indifferent whisky. Anyway, I digress…

Metaxa, supremely national

What I love about Metaxa is you can really taste the quality of the ingredients, the Muscat-laden sweet wine, the delicate spicing and then the long finish from aged brandy. I’ve been fiddling around with a bottle of 7 Star and it’s really an incredibly versatile drop. The cocktail below is from award-winning Athenian bar The Clumsies, and very nice it is too, but you don’t need to go to such lengths to get the best out of Metaxa. As a mixture of wine, brandy and spices, it’s basically a cocktail in a glass. You don’t need to add much or really anything to get a delicious complex drink. 

I added a measure to a Champagne flute, topped it up with some Biddenden Kentish dry sparkling cider (though sparkling wine would also be great) and then added an orange twist. Absolutely delicious. It’s also great neat and chilled, especially after a big Greek feast. But the recipe below from the Clumsies shows how well this adaptable spirit works in more elaborate cocktails. Behold, the magnificent Metaxa Spritz!

50ml Metaxa Amphora 7 Star
100ml Chapel Down English Sparkling Rose
10ml Fever Tree tonic water
10ml honey
Pinch of Salt 

Build over ice in a large wine glass, stir gently, garnish with an orange twist and sprig of mint. Yamas!

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Richard Paterson ‘steps back’ from Whyte & Mackay

Big news at Whyte & Mackay as Richard ‘the Nose’ Paterson celebrates 50 years at firm and announces that he will give up his current role to concentrate on The…

Big news at Whyte & Mackay as Richard ‘the Nose’ Paterson celebrates 50 years at firm and announces that he will give up his current role to concentrate on The Dalmore.

There’s about to be some big shoes to fill at Whyte & Mackay as it has been announced that Richard Paterson will be stepping back from his role at the Glasgow whisky makers. Today marks exactly 50 years since Paterson joined the firm, 14 September 1970. Since then he’s gone on to be one of the most respected master distillers in the business, known as ‘the Nose’ for his unerring palate. We at Master of Malt have had the privilege of tasting with him on more than one occasion and can attest not only to his amazing senses but his natural showmanship that has made such a successful ambassador for Scotch whisky.

But Paterson isn’t going to be golfing full time. He will remain at the company’s flagship distillery, The Dalmore. There’s plenty going on: back in December we reported on a very special 60 year old expression which will go under the hammer this December at Harrods in London. And next year will see the release of six whiskies called “The Decades of The Dalmore”, part of an ongoing series of whiskies that have been nurtured by Paterson over his long years at the company. We’ll bring you more on them as we know more. 

The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

Paterson will be staying on at The Dalmore

Paterson commented: “I have been fortunate to have enjoyed each and every one of my 50 wonderful years. I have had the opportunity to work with many incredible people down through the years, and incredible whiskies too of course. I am truly proud of what we have achieved together as Whyte and Mackay. For myself, I have the great honour to care for the truly extraordinary whisky we create at The Dalmore. I look forward to sharing some very special releases of The Dalmore in 2021”. 

Whyte & Mackay CEO, Bryan Donaghey, added: “To work for one company for 50 years is a fantastic achievement that few will repeat. Through all those years Richard has made an outstanding contribution to the continued success of Whyte & Mackay, and especially The Dalmore.  His energy and passion for what he does is remarkable and an inspiration to all of us. My thanks and congratulations to Richard on this incredible achievement.”

With Paterson concentrating on the Dalmore, this means that there is a very big nose-shaped hole at Whyte & Mackay. That noise you can hear is distillers and blenders throughout Scotland (and further afield) polishing their CVs.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Harvard

This week we’re making a drink named after the fanciest college in America, the Sarah Lawrence! Sorry, no, it’s the Harvard. Plus there’s a shameless plug for a new book…

This week we’re making a drink named after the fanciest college in America, the Sarah Lawrence! Sorry, no, it’s the Harvard. Plus there’s a shameless plug for a new book called The Cocktail Dictionary

In January 2019, I started writing, with help from Adam and Annie, a weekly cocktail column for this blog. The first entry was the Brooklyn. Since then I was asked by Mitchell Beazley to do The Cocktail Dictionary, part of a series of booze books like The Whisky Dictionary, The Tequila Dictionary, you get the idea. And now it’s here! It’s an A-Z of drinks with entries on shaking, ice, equipment etc. Not only are the words top quality but it has witty illustrations by George Wyesol. 

Anyway, that’s enough shameless plugging. Let’s talk cocktails. This week we’re making the Harvard, part of a series of old time drinks named after Ivy League universities such as the Princeton, the Yale, and erm, the Brown. It’s rather like a Manhattan but made with Cognac instead of bourbon, and then diluted with a splash of soda. The Harvard may actually predate the Manhattan, however. Many cocktails were originally made with brandy. Cognac was king in the 19th century but its preeminence among spirits was destroyed by phylloxera, the vine-eating louse that wrecked Europe’s vineyards. British drinkers switched to blended Scotch whisky and American cocktail enthusiasts switched to bourbon or rye. So the Harvard is a little taste of what Americans were drinking in the 1880s.

Just one of the excellent illustrations by George Wyesol

As with all cocktails, there are lots of ways to make it. In some recipes, the Harvard is just a Manhattan but made with brandy instead of bourbon or rye, and very nice it is too made like that. According to David Embury in his Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), if you use orange bitters it’s a Harvard but if you use Angostura, it’s a Delmonico try asking for that one in your local bar. Other versions call for sugar syrup, lemon juice and even grenadine (!) which sounds much too sweet. Harry Craddock in The Savoy Cocktail Book (1935) makes his with half brandy and half vermouth with a dash of sugar syrup and two dashes of Angostura. But earlier still, George J. Kappeler Modern American Drinks (1895) was adding a splash of soda which is how we’re going to do it today. It makes it more accessible than a Manhattan and the dilution brings out the fruit in the brandy. You could even, in the summer, up the soda quotient and serve it as a Highball-type thing. But the evenings are getting cold now, so we’re not going to do that.

Traditionally Cognac would have been used but I’m using Janneau VSOP Armagnac which is very fruity and with a wine-like tang. It’s a very superior brandy for the money. Instead of Italian vermouth, I’m using Gonzalez Byass La Copa from Spain. This is made with PX sherry so it’s really quite sweet. Too sweet, I find, to drink on its own but works beautifully in booze-heavy cocktails. You really don’t need any sugar syrup. After a bit of experimentation, I found that adding the soda in two stages kept some fizz without warming up the drink. Finally bitters, the recipe in the book doesn’t call for bitters, but it’s a nice addition. Angostura or orange, it’s up to you.

Are you a Harvard man?

Right, got your ingredients ready? Let’s Harvard! Oh, and here’s a final plug for the book: The Cocktail Dictionary: An A–Z of cocktail recipes, from Daiquiri and Negroni to Martini and Spritz by Henry Jeffreys is published by Mitchell Beazley, £15.99. Totally shameless.

60ml Janneau VSOP Armagnac
30ml Gonzalez-Byass La Copa vermouth
Two dashes of Angostura bitters (optional)
30ml soda water (ideally chilled)

Add the first three ingredients and half the soda, a splash, to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Stir for 30 seconds until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupette or Martini glass, add another splash of soda water and garnish with an orange twist.

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New Arrival of the Week: Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (COIWC)

Today we’re welcoming a series of exciting bottlings at MoM from that mecca for whisky lovers, the Jewel of the Hebrides itself, Islay, including releases from Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Octomore…

Today we’re welcoming a series of exciting bottlings at MoM from that mecca for whisky lovers, the Jewel of the Hebrides itself, Islay, including releases from Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Octomore and, rarest of all, Port Ellen. The collection is called The Stories of Wind and Wave and it’s brought to you from the aptly-named Character of Islay Whisky Company.

It can be quite an adventure getting to Islay. Many times Master of Malt team members have tried to reach the island only to be thwarted by adverse weather conditions. And should you be lucky enough to have your flight from Glasgow cleared for take off, the wind-blown descent into the island’s airport on the tiny propeller plane can be terrifying for the uninitiated. Or there’s the joy of a two hour crossing on a CalMac ferry through rough seas. The fun doesn’t stop when you arrive down either, on a visit last year to visit Islay’s newest distillery, Ardnahoe, the air was thick with the scent of burnt heather. A combination of high winds, dry weather, and, probably, a stray cigarette end had set much of the south of the island on fire. The air smelt just like Islay whisky. 

For whisky lovers, this very inaccessibility is part of the magic of the island. You have to really want to visit. And the lure is, of course, the extraordinary concentration of distilleries all with their own unique character and the way the whiskies taste of their location, salt, peat smoke and seaweed. There are other peated whiskies from Scotland, but it’s the ones from Islay that get all the attention. 

Laphroaig John Campbell

Laphroaig on a rare sunny day

Those names, Ardbeg, Bowmore, and Laproaig, are music to whisky enthusiasts. And aiming to bottle some of that music, if such a thing were even possible, is a batch of rare malts that has just landed at MoM towers. It’s from our friends at the Character of Islay Whisky Company which previously released whiskies from anonymous distilleries on the island, but for this batch has revealed where they came from. Which is nice of them. The series is called the Stories of Wind and the Wave and includes bottlings from Bowmore, Laproaig and Ardbeg (see below). Plus still to come some Octomore and something tres fancy from Port Ellen.

The one we’re highlighting today is from Laphroaig, the most medicinal of all the Islay whiskies. It gets its distinctive character from only using Islay peat. The distillery has a traditional floor maltings and makes about 25% of its requirements using local Machrie moss peat which cold smokes the barley. The rest of the malt comes from the nearby Port Ellen maltings. Islay peat is largely made from seaweed which is where that love-it-or-hate-it salty iodine flavour comes from. The reason it tastes of the sea is because it comes from the sea, albeit a long time ago. This smokiness is accentuated by taking a late cut, so you get more of that peat smoke. 

The classic expression for lovers of medicinal malts is the 10 year old. But the longer you keep Laphroaig, the less smoky it becomes and the more tropical fruits start to appear. Release No.11693 was distilled in 2004 and aged for 15 years in a refill bourbon cask so you’re not getting that much wood influence. It’s bottled at 50.2% ABV. All that smoky character is still there but it’s been joined by stone fruit and quince (see below for full tastings notes). It’s a great dram to launch a series of rare and unusual whiskies that Islay fans will not want to miss. They’re the next best thing to a visit to the island itself.

Here is the full range of Stories of Wind and Wave whiskies currently available from Master of Malt:

Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11694)

Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11693)

Bowmore 18 Year Old 2001 (Release No.11715)

Bowmore 18 Year Old 2001 (Release No.11714) 

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11698) 

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11699)

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11697)

Ardbeg 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11673)

Tasting note for the Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11693) from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Waxy peels, peppermint leaf and smoky black tea with a touch of baked earth to it.

Palate: Sweet smoke with savoury hints of salted butter and cedar underneath, plus stone fruit developing later on.

Finish: Polished oak, a touch of ash and continuing fruity elements.


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New Arrival of the Week: The Epicurean Rivesaltes Finish

This week we’re highlighting the arrival of a new version of the Epicurean, a blend of Lowland malts from independent whisky bottlers Douglas Laing. It’s part-aged in Rivesaltes casks. What…

This week we’re highlighting the arrival of a new version of the Epicurean, a blend of Lowland malts from independent whisky bottlers Douglas Laing. It’s part-aged in Rivesaltes casks. What on earth is Riveslates? Read on, and all will be revealed. 

Fortified wine and whisky go together like Morecambe and Wise, or for younger readers Wallace and Gromit, or for even younger readers Charlie and Lola. Anyway! This liquid symbiosis was probably discovered by accident. Whisky would have been stored in whatever container was easily available and seeing as sherry was arriving in Britain in huge quantities in the 19th century, there were a lot of empty casks to go round. It wasn’t just sherry, other fortified wines and spirits such as rum and Cognac were also shipped in cask, so these would have been used too.

Sherry, Port and Madeira are the big three of fortified wines. But this style of wine is made all over the world particularly in hot climates (adding brandy was a way of preserving wines before refrigeration became the norm while if you add the alcohol while the wine is still fermenting, you can preserve sweetness and the fresh taste of the fruit, something that would be lost in a hot fast fermentation). There’s Marsala from Sicily, liqueur muscats and all kinds of Port and sherry-style wines from Australia (Starward whisky makes good use of such casks) and Vin Doux Naturals from the south of France. 

The epicentre of VDNs, as they are known, is the Roussillon, the part of France that was until the 17th century in Spain; there is a long tradition on both sides of the border of producing fortified wines. The best-known in France are Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes. The first two are reds wines, made mainly from Grenache Noir and fortified during fermentation to create something a little like Port but drier and less sweet. Rivesaltes is made in a similar way but from white grapes, Grenache Blanc, Macabeo and Muscat. After fortification it’s either aged in cask or in glass demijohns that are left out in the sun so that the wine cooks, a bit like Madeira or Noilly Prat vermouth.

These VDNs would have been drunk as aperitifs in France, Belgium and Holland but with the rise of beer, gin and especially Scotch whisky, they fell out of favour in the 1960s. Table wines are now the main business of most producers, but limited amounts of sweet wines are still made. These are either blended in solera or sold as vintage bottlings, some of incredible age. There are people who sniff out rare and exceptional casks and bottle them (check out this 1931 vintage from Chateau Mosse), rather as whisky companies like Douglas Laing do.

Only two casks of this special Epicurean were filled

Which, after a very long preamble, is a neat segue way into this week’s New Arrival. It’s a blend of Lowland malts, aged in, according to Douglas Laing, “traditional” casks, mainly ex-bourbon, we’d guess, before being finished in two Rivesaltes casks. Each cask produced 546 bottles at 48% ABV. The press release states: “In the passionate belief that the cask can give the spirit up to 70% of its flavour, our Limited Edition Wood Series has seen us tirelessly journey the globe, searching for the finest casks in which to finish our Epicurean spirit.” 

The flavours you get in Rivesaltes are not unlike an old Cognac or indeed a sherried whisky: nuts, apricot, pineapple, classic rancio flavours. In fact, the word ‘rancio’ is Catalan, it comes from this part of the world. These casks add a layer of dried fruit intensity to the classic citrus, honey and flowers of the Lowland style. A perfect combination, you might say.

The Epicurean Rivesaltes Cask Edition is available to buy from Master of Malt

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt: 

Nose: Sweetly honeyed with pear drops, oats and dried fruit.

Palate: Fresh oranges and lemons, followed by dried fruits like prunes, dates and apricots, rich chocolate and citrus peel.

Finish: Nut city, hazelnuts and almonds. Long and creamy. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Mad City Rum

This month we’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with a rum that thinks it’s a gin from those booze innovators at Foxhole Spirits. Sound a bit crazy?…

This month we’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with a rum that thinks it’s a gin from those booze innovators at Foxhole Spirits. Sound a bit crazy? Well, it is called Mad City.

One of the biggest trends in spirits in the last few years is the blurring of previously discrete categories. For example, gin starts to take on some of the characteristics of whisky after ageing in bourbon casks. Our new arrival, Mad City, is a flavoured rum, no doubt about that, but its clean bright flavours, which we think will appeal to gin lovers in particular, are a world away from sweet spiced rum

The man behind it is James Oag-Cooper. The company was originally set up in conjunction with Sam Linter from Bolney Estate, one of England’s best vineyards, but  is now independent. The team has form when it comes to this sort of genre-bending. Their first product was the Foxhole Gin made with a grappa-like spirit distilled from leftovers from wine production. This was followed last year by HYKE, another gin which strayed into brandy territory as the base spirit is made from surplus grapes. 

Oag-Cooper explains: “Our goal has always been to prove that using sustainably sourced, surplus materials can create spirits better than those that use grown for, single-purpose materials. With Mad City we’ve been able to apply our skill working with botanicals to rum and demonstrate expertise in a different category. We believe that the style of Mad City, with no sugar added post distillation, puts it in a category all of its own. The result is fine and balanced, absolutely delicious, and thoroughly satisfying to drink. This isn’t a flavoured rum or a spiced rum. It’s Mad City”.

The label is by Bristol-based urban artist, Sled-One. Pretty crazy

The base spirit used to make Mad City is packed with flavour. No wonder, as it includes pot still rums from three distilleries in Jamaica: Worthy Park, Clarendon and Hampden Estate; column still rum from the Diamond distillery in Guyana; pot still from Consuelo Estate in the Dominican Republic and finally some column still spirit from the West Indies distillery in Barbados. All of these are unaged. 

Oag-Cooper told us: “The approach was the same as for HYKE & Foxhole Gin.” It’s about matching the botanicals to flavours in the spirit. He continued: “The development process involved lots of blending of rums and botanicals, but the final production method once we had the exact flavour profile dialled down is just like a gin; we add all of the botanicals together, macerate and distil through an Arnold Holstein hybrid still, before cutting with natural spring water.” The botanical list is long: coffee, coconut, papaya, cherry, lime peel, sweet and bitter orange, rosemary, coriander seed, allspice, cassia bark, green and black cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, cacao nibs, ginger root, tonka bean, molasses, liquorice root, lapsang souchong, cubeb, hibiscus tea, and vetiver root. Phew! It can’t have been easy getting that line up to harmonise especially with such characterful rums.

The coconut, coffee and molasses aside, you would not be surprised to find these botanicals in a gin, and indeed the profile is quite like a gin. The spicing is very subtle and elegantly done, first sip you think it might be gin but hold the front door, there’s no juniper and then there’s pineapple, chocolate and coconut with grassy and citrus notes with warm baking spices. It’s extremely elegant and has a sweetness about it though without any added sugar.

The big question is then how do you drink it? With gin, everyone knows what they are doing, mix it with tonic, make a Martini, stick it in a Negroni. That’s why gin is so loved because it’s so adaptable while always remaining distinctive. But what do you do with this botanical rum? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that it does go with tonic water making a sort of G&T that isn’t a G&T. It’s also great in other classic gin drinks like a Tom Collins or indeed a Martini; the latter worked particularly well-made half and half with dry vermouth. Naturally, it’s right at home in a Mojito or Daiquiri. Mad City suggests adding basil and acacia honey to the latter for “a mad twist on a classic”. They’ve also come up with a Hard Seltzer made with coconut water, fizzy water and orange zest. Very simple and refreshing. And a take on the rum and ginger with a little added Italian vermouth. See here for the full recipes. 

Treat it like a white rum or a gin, and really you can’t go wrong. We’ve been told time and time again that rum is the new gin. Hell, we’ve been saying ourselves more than once. It hasn’t quite happened yet but if there’s any rum that’s doing to tempt the gin drinker, Mad City is it.

Mad City rum is now available from Master of Malt.

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New Arrival of the Week: Bollinger PN VZ15

We’re toasting the start of the week with a brand new Champagne from Bollinger. Don’t worry about the baffling-sounding name, everything will become clear shortly. ‘PN VZ15’, it doesn’t quite…

We’re toasting the start of the week with a brand new Champagne from Bollinger. Don’t worry about the baffling-sounding name, everything will become clear shortly.

‘PN VZ15’, it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Special Cuvée or Grande Année. Can you imagine ordering a glass of PN VZ15 in a restaurant? Well it might sound like a form you fill in when you want to sell your car but it actually provides lots of information about the make-up of this special Bollinger cuvée. We’ll explain shortly.

Champagne is something of an anomaly in wine because for the majority of bottles, the only information you get on the label is the name of the producer plus an indication of how sweet it is, normally brut meaning bone dry. Just take a look at the label for the classic Bollinger Special Cuvée, there’s nothing about a vintage, grape variety, where it was grown etc. Compare that with Burgundy, a region that mostly uses the same grapes as Champagne, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There the label will be increasingly specific depending on the quality level of the wine; from the region, eg. Côte de Nuits, to a village, Gevrey Chambertin, and right at the top, a specific vineyard such as Chambertin-Clos de Bèze. Even the greatest Champagnes, in contrast, will usually just say ‘Champagne’ on the label and will be blended from all over this large and disparate region. 

The idea is that it’s the same consistent quality year in year out. Champagne is great for people who just want excellence without disappearing down the rabbit hole of wine geekery. You don’t need to know anything about wine to order a bottle of Bolly in a restaurant whereas ordering Burgundy and Bordeaux it helps to have a bit of knowledge. But now Champagne producers are waking up to the fact that some of their customers are interested in the story behind the wines.

Increasingly on labels you are seeing names of regions within Champagne and even specific vineyards. As with most French AOCs, producers are not allowed to put the grape varieties on the front (but if you see ‘Blanc de Blancs’, it means it’s all Chardonnay, while ‘Blanc des Noirs’ means it’s made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier). Which is where the cryptic name of today’s New Arrival of the Week comes from. The PN stands for Pinot Noir. The VZ refers to Verzenay, a commune within Champagne (rather like Pauillac is a commune within Bordeaux) and the 2015 refers to the harvest. So that’s a lot more information already than on a standard Champagne label. 

But this isn’t a vintage wine. Those who want to dig further, can learn that in addition to 2015, it contains about 20% reserve wines mainly from the 2009 and ‘10 vintages from famous red grape communes including Aÿ, Bouzy and Tauxières. The idea is to celebrate Pinot Noir, the backbone of Bollinger’s wines. Of the 178 ha of vineyards owned by Bollinger, 104 ha are planted with Pinot Noir, but along with the super pricey Vieilles Vignes Françaises cuvée (yours for about £650 a bottle if you can find it), this is the only all Pinot Noir offering. Charles-Armand de Belenet, general manager of Champagne Bollinger, commented: “ This cuvée made entirely from Pinot Noir is ingrained in what has become the very essence, the DNA of our House – an inimitable vision of an iconic grape variety and uncompromising efforts to fulfil the mission we started in 1829 as creators of taste.”

It’s the first in what will be an annual series focussing on Bollinger’s Pinot Noir crus. Like all the company’s wines, it’s fermented in oak. Not that it tastes oaky, it just gives the wine a richness. There’s 7g of sugar added post-disgorgement so it tastes completely dry. Not only is it a delicious wine but it’s ideal for those who want to dig a bit deeper into this fascinating region. Practise saying: ‘I’ll have a bottle of  PN VZ15’, or just order it from Master of Malt

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Fig, cherry and orange zest, with a hint of rose jelly sweetness too. Toasted almonds, spring blossom and just a smidge of buttered brioche.

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