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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Master of Malt tastes… Glenmorangie Grand Vintage 1996

We’ve got a very fancy whisky on the tasting counter today. A Glenmorangie laid down in 1996 in special casks cut from oak trees growing in the Ozark mountains. Was…

We’ve got a very fancy whisky on the tasting counter today. A Glenmorangie laid down in 1996 in special casks cut from oak trees growing in the Ozark mountains. Was it worth the wait? Read on…

When people get into whisky, they often go for the big flavours. Which is why Islay has such a cult appeal, with peatheads in search of bigger and bigger hits of smoke, measuring out their obsession in PPM. For me, however, it was all about sherry. If it didn’t smell like old Cognac, then I wasn’t interested. I wanted heavy oily new make, fruit cake and tannins from European oak. It was rich Speysiders like Glenfarclas, Macallan and Mortlach that got me all hot and bothered. 

Which is why it took me a long time to come round to Glenmorangie. My sherried palate didn’t quite get the flavours, the sweet peachy fruit, the cream, the all-bourbon cask smoothness of the 10 year old Original. Initially it seemed a bit, well, vanilla. But slowly I came to appreciate what a superbly-made whisky it is: no rough edges, so creamy and fruity but with great depth of flavour. It’s not shouty or showy, it’s a grown-up dram.

The rest of the Glenmorangie range takes things in different directions adding Port or sherry, or, to my mind perfect marriage, Sauternes barrels. Then there’s the ‘and now for something completely different’ Signet – that’s a whisky with more than a touch of old Cognac about it. Now, however, there’s an expression that takes all the elements of the Original, and lifts them into something sublime.

It’s the sixth release from Bond House No. 1 Collection, a series of Glenmorangie’s most prized whiskies: a limited edition 23 year old bourbon-cask whisky. The barrels have an interesting story. Rather than just buying used casks from American whiskey producers, each tree was especially by the team at Glenmorangie. They come from the Ozark mountains in Missouri, the oak trees grow slower here producing a tighter grain to the wood. These first chosen trees were made into casks to precise specifications, seasoned with bourbon and filled with new make in 1996.

These casks are now made every year in small numbers; they are used to age the small batch Astar expression and form the heart of the 10 year old. The original casks were tasted every year by Dr Bill Lumsden until they were pronounced ready and bottled in 2019 at 43% ABV. He commented: “Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1996 wonderfully demonstrates how we can bring our most extraordinary dreams to life. The oldest whisky we have ever aged in our bespoke casks, its fresh, floral aromas and luxuriously creamy tastes are gloriously enhanced by age. A delicious step on from Glenmorangie Astar, this limited edition will be adored by whisky lovers old and new.”

We can’t argue with Dr Bill, we absolutely loved it. You can really taste the DNA running through from the 10 Year Old but it’s so much richer, more intense and complex. The apotheosis of the Glenmorangie style with the classic fruity, creamy flavours joined by more aromatic notes like tobacco. Not cheap but it is absolutely stunning.

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Warm baking spices, cinnamon, custard, toffee, vanilla, so opulent. Custard tarts and a hint of espresso – it’s like a Portuguese breakfast here. 

Palate: Super creamy, very smooth, dark chocolate, coffee, and salted caramel with fresh peach and pear fruit, it’s like a super-charged Ten Year Old. But it’s not all sweet and smooth, there’s aromatic tobacco and menthol notes lurking in the background.  

Finish: It’s back to custard, long and lingering with vanilla, cinnamon and almond plus that faint aromatic herbal note.  

Glenmorangie Bond House No.1 Grand Vintage 1996 is now available from Master of Malt.

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Five minutes with… Elwyn Gladstone from Hotel Starlino

Today, we talk to the marketing guru behind such brands as Sailor Jerry rum, Hendrick’s and, most recently, Malfy Gin. His latest venture, Hotel Starlino, aims to bring Italian aperitivos…

Today, we talk to the marketing guru behind such brands as Sailor Jerry rum, Hendrick’s and, most recently, Malfy Gin. His latest venture, Hotel Starlino, aims to bring Italian aperitivos to a whole new audience. If anyone can do it, Gladstone can. 

You probably haven’t heard of Elwyn Gladstone but will have drunk something he has worked on. He’s not a distiller or a blender, instead he’s the person who supplied the marketing magic behind brands including Sailor Jerry, Hendrick’s gin and Kraken Rum. He worked in-house at global multinationals before forming his own company  Biggar & Leith which had a notable hit with Malfy Gin which launched in 2017. Last year, he sold the brand to Pernod Ricard. So you could say that Gladstone has the midas touch when it comes to drinks. We were particularly excited, therefore, to talk to him about his latest venture, a range of Italian aperitivos, including a bourbon-cask Vermouth Rosso, an Arancione and a grapefruit-scented Rosé, under the Hotel Starlino brand. All of them share the Gladstone ethos of delicious bright flavours, stylish packaging and an eye for an untapped corner of the market. 

Welcome, Mr Gladstone!

Elwyn Gladstone with Carlo Vergnano from Torino Distillati

Master of Malt: How did you get into the booze business?

Elwyn Gladstone: I worked in Edinburgh in the Oddbins there and they used to do really good single malt programmes and lots of champagne stuff. I got really interested in wine and spirits; I travelled a lot in France and with my dad and learned about wine. I decided after university I would go to UC Davis [wine school of the University of California] and I got a scholarship to go there. And I found it really, really interesting. I actually decided to move back to the UK  – my wife didn’t want to live in California, which perhaps was a mistake but anyway…  Then I went to work for Bulmers Cider, in Hereford, when it was family-owned.

MoM: How did you make the change to spirits?

EG: I went to work for William Grant & Sons in London. And that was the time that we started brands like Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum. And my business partner now, is a guy called Mark Teasdale and he was really the one who started up all those brands. He did them in the US, I was based in the UK. It was really interesting: William Grant’s at the time was really a Scotch whisky company, they didn’t have anything that wasn’t Scotch. And they really didn’t want to do anything that wasn’t Scotch. So it was a really interesting challenge to both get brands like Hendrick’s Gin going. And what was most interesting about it was actually they worked, which is quite unusual with these new brands. 

MoM: Why did you decide to strike out on your own? 

EG: I went to work for Jose Cuervo, the Tequila company, in the US. And we did a lot of good brands there, like we created one called Kraken Rum. And then after a while I didn’t enjoy it anymore and started my own little company called Biggar & Leith and created a brand called Malfy Gin, from Italy, and grew it really, really well to become a big million bottle brand in a very short space of time and we sold it to Pernod Ricard. 

MoM: Can you just tell me a bit about the idea for Malfy because it was a very strongly-branded gin?

EG: We wanted to do something that was a little bit different to the traditional juniper-heavy gin, there’s so many of those that are really good, it didn’t seem like the world needed another one. We found this really interesting factoid that gin maybe came from Italy originally with monks adding juniper to alcohol, way, way back, on the Amalfi coast. Citrus fruits are really interesting flavour profiles and they fit with the whole gin thing. Strong juniper flavours are possibly the reason that gin was limited in terms of consumer acceptance. Brands like Hendrick’s did a much softer, easier-to-drink profile.  We just thought ‘people love Italian stuff’ and there were no Italian gins at the time. It has a great connection with cocktail culture, Italy and all that kind of thing. The packaging was bright and stood out and very good-looking. And it really caught people’s imagination, we created a brand that took you to the Amalfi Coast. What was interesting to me was it had such international acceptance, we got it into about 90 different countries, Japan and Russia and China and all sorts of places, and that whole Amalfi thing works all over the world. 

Hotel Starlino vermouth

MoM: How did Hotel Starlino come about?

EG: Another category that I think is really interesting is vermouth. Which is sort of the wine equivalent of gin. It’s wine that is infused or flavoured with various different botanicals and herbs. It’s lower in alcohol than gin. The people we work with, that made Malfy, are Torino Distillati, it’s an old distillery and bottler. And we became enormous friends with the family that owns it, the Vergnano Family, and all the people that work there. And they’ve been making vermouth for a long, long time. But people don’t really know what aperitivos and vermouths are. I don’t know whether people understand what Aperol is. But anyway, this nice family was making lots of interesting products, they just weren’t particularly well marketed or nicely presented. And so that’s our expertise: making interesting brands with really nice, easy-to-drink, good high quality liquids and making a story around them that hopefully will interest consumers and grow the category overall. 

MoM: So how do you think yours are different from other vermouths or aperitivos on the market?

EG: In the US most people drink red vermouth as a cocktail mixer with bourbon. And so we came up with the idea finishing the red product in bourbon barrels. And then in terms of the pink and the orange, we really wanted to make something very friendly. I think some might critique Aperol as being a little chemically, a little overdone perhaps, a bit mass-market. So we wanted to try and do something that was an easier flavour profile but still had that interesting bitter and sweet combination. It has pink grapefruit in it which is a very popular flavour at the moment and it’s something that grows a lot in Italy. We created an interesting brand story with nice modern-looking packaging but it also has traditional hues in it as well. I come back to this thing like we did with Malfy Gin, the world doesn’t need another very traditional bitter-style aperitivo. So again, we try and do stuff that has the heritage but is much more approachable, interesting-tasting and drinkable.

Beppe Ronco and Carlo Vergnano in the blending room

MoM: How long did it take you and who was it who worked on the recipes?

EG: We do everything with Torino Distillati. There’s a guy there called Beppe Ronco and a very nice man called Denis Muni. They have a lab and they have all various botanicals and they have lots of miniature stills and access to all different types of wine and stuff. It took maybe three or four months of experimenting with various different flavour profiles and different blends and mixes. And the feedback we’re getting at the moment is people seem to like them, they’re pretty well-accepted. 

MoM: We hear a lot about vermouths and aperitivos being the next big thing. What do you think about that?

EG: I think the drinks industry is guilty of saying everything is the next big thing: mezcal, Islay whisky and absinthe, that was a classic one that was going to be the next big thing! I think they [aperitivos] hit a lot of good spots which is that they are lower in alcohol compared to spirits, but they look like spirits. This is just me pontificating but people have bottles of Martini in their drinks cabinet, so they don’t think of those things as wine. They think of them more as a spirits-type product. They last once you open them for a while. And I was reading a very interesting article about Treasury Wine Estates and their belief is that these sort of hybrid wine products, of instance one they were talking about is red wine with coffee in it sounds bad, don’t judge! I do think there is something interesting in terms of categories blurring more and more. And I do think the aperitivo ‘moment’ in places like the UK and in France and in Germany is a real thing because consumers go on vacation, they go to Italy or they go somewhere and they really do have that great moment of a pre-dinner drink. A very refreshing drink. And that’s the other thing, I think it sounds a bit stupid but global warming, as things get hotter and hotter, I think people do want more and more refreshing drinks. And I think they fit into that very well because you can have a decent glass of it and not fall over. 

Bright vivid flavours and strong branding

MoM: What’s your favourite way to drink them in cocktails or just very simple with tonic or soda?

EG: I think really simple. I think with soda is great. Tonic is delicious if it’s good tonic. And then the spritz with some prosecco or… we launched a range of sparkling Moscato, with the same branding, to give the consumer an idea of what to do with it. 

MoM: What else are you working on?

EG: We have a big number of different brands. We’ve got our cherries; we’ve got an amaro, that we’re going to bring out, that we think is also a really interesting category. It’s made with traditional amaro botanicals etc. but then we distill cherries around it, again, to give it a slightly brighter, easier to drink, less bitter flavour. We’ve got a very fun blended malt brand that we’re bringing out, all around Gladstone, my ancestor, who is receiving some not-so-good press recently! My great-great-grandfather was Gladstone and my mum and dad live in his old house. He was the one in 1860 who signed the Spirits Act which allowed blending of Scotch whiskies together. And his relatives had all been in the Scotch whisky trade as well, back in the 1780s and later. Then we have an interesting Tequila project that we’re working on, which is really fun and cool, called Butterfly Cannon. And some of them have some flavour in them, no one’s cracked flavoured Tequila really, and I think that’s an interesting opportunity to try and bring people into the category.

MoM: What are the rules on flavouring Tequila, can you still call it ‘Tequila’?

EG: There is no such thing as ‘flavoured Tequila’ but you can communicate on the packaging that it has Tequila in it. So that’s a fun one and Tequila is obviously very fancy at the moment. We have a few new brands coming out and we’ll kind of roll them out one-by-one and we’re trying to create a portfolio of interesting brands and do them in categories that are perhaps a little bit overlooked. I think to say it’s the next big thing is a bit pompous but overlooked things that are interesting but perhaps haven’t had the magic unlocked yet. 

The Hotel Starlino is available from Master of Malt. If you’re looking for some cocktail inspiration, go to the website.

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New Arrival of the Week: Yoichi Apple Brandy Cask

Just landed at MoM, a Japanese single malt whisky from Yoichi distillery part-aged in an apple brandy cask. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the marriage of Nikka’s founder Masataka…

Just landed at MoM, a Japanese single malt whisky from Yoichi distillery part-aged in an apple brandy cask. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the marriage of Nikka’s founder Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan, and pays tribute to the early days of the company. To find out more, read on…

At Yoichi, the distillery workers  still use a technique that has long since disappeared in Scotland: coal-fired stills. They are very hard to manage, it’s a skilled job feeding the flames and a moment’s negligence can burn the still. Gas is much more controllable which is why it’s taken over in Scotch whisky. But the team at Yoichi think it’s worth it, producing rich roasty flavours in the new make.

The happy couple: Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan

The distillery was built in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru. It’s on the island of Hokkaido. Damp and cold, apparently it reminded him of Campbeltown where he had worked at Hazelburn and lived with his Scottish wife Rita. Though the winters are very cold, summers are hot so casks mature very differently to the more steady climate of Scotland. Hokkaido is also rich in fresh water and peat (though the onsite maltings are no longer used and Yoichi buys in most of  its malt from Scotland). At first the distillery had only one still which was used for both wash and spirit but it expanded in 1966 and now has six. A much more modern distillery at Miyagikyo, in the north eastern part of Japan’s main island Honshu, was set up in 1969. A wide variety of whiskies are made here in pot and continuous stills including a Coffey malt whisky, something that would not be allowed in Scotland. 

It’s not just the coal-fired stills, Yoichi is traditional in other ways. Ferments, usually with a brewers yeast, are long, up to five days and the distillery uses worm tub condensers. These combined with steeply-sloping lyne arms on the stills, resulting in less copper contact, create a heavy oily spirit. The classic Yoichi taste combines the heavy and smoky with a fruity lift. In common with most Japanese distilleries, a wide variety of spirits are made in the one distillery by playing with the wort (it’s usually clear but they do make occasional batches with cloudy), yeasts, peat, cut points etc. And that’s before you get onto the wide variety of oak at the blender’s command.

Our new arrival celebrates the 100th anniversary, on 8 January 1920, of the marriage between Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan which did more than join two people together but linked Japan and Scotland together in shared love of whisky. Originally he worked for Suntory on his return for Japan. When he set up on his own in 1934, his main business wasn’t just whisky. Hokkaido is famous for its apples and so he also made fruit juice. In fact the original name of  the company was Dai Nippon Kaju: the Great Japanese Juice Company, which was later abbreviated in the 1950s to Nikka.

So this new release also pays homage to the early days of Nikka by being part-aged in a cask that formerly held apple brandy. The primary ageing took place largely in new American oak plus some ex-sherry casks. Like all Yoichi releases, it’s a blend of different styles produced at this one distillery. It’s bottled at 47% and released with no age statement. It’s a fitting tribute to the marriage that founded Japanese whisky.

But that’s not all, in addition to this special Yoichi (click here to buy), Nikka has also released a special apple brandy cask single malt from Miyagikyo and, naturally, it’s also available (here) from Master of Malt. 

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Baked apples initially and then the peat comes in strongly with wood fires, Havana cigars and salty seaside notes. It’s rich and full-flavoured.

Palate: Deliciously fruity, apple pie and pears, with smoky lingering in the background, grassy and aromatic notes come in. The texture is oily and full.

Finish: Citrus fruits combine with dates and other dried fruits with spicy liquorice, vanilla, roasted nuts and toasted brioche. Long and harmonious.

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Cocktail of the Week: All Cobbling Together

Today’s we’re mixing up a take on a classic sherry cobbler but made with English blackcurrant liqueur, created by bartender extraordinaire Alex Williams. The Cobbler is one of the great…

Today’s we’re mixing up a take on a classic sherry cobbler but made with English blackcurrant liqueur, created by bartender extraordinaire Alex Williams.

The Cobbler is one of the great old time cocktails: a refreshing blend of ice, sugar, fruit and alcohol, like a Slush Puppie for grown-ups. It’s usually made with sherry but you can use pretty much anything, Champagne, Port, even claret. Today, we’re mixing up a new version of this classic created by Alex Williams, head bartender at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel in London which opened last year. When we visited in January, we were particularly taken with one of William’s concoctions, the Clear Conscience. Based on that old warhorse the Grasshopper, it’s made with poitin, Branca Menta and lashing of booze alchemy. The result is something that smells just like a Matchmaker mint. Very clever but also completely delicious. 

Like many in the business, Williams never intended to be a bartender. After studying classics, he intended to pursue an academic career. But while struggling with his MA thesis, he got a job at The Whisky Shop in Guildford and never returned to his books. Since then he’s worked for Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands followed by a stint working in India with Chivas Brothers and then behind the bar at some of London’s best venues including Black Rock, London Cocktail Club, Discount Suit Company and now at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel. 

The hotel is still currently closed but Williams hasn’t been sitting at home playing endless games of Super Mario Kart. He’s studying for his WSET Level 3 in spirits, “an absolute beast of a qualification” he told us. And to bring in the money he told us he’s been doing a bit of writing for Imbibe, “acting as a bicycle courier for Highball Brands’ Drinks Drop”, and “collaborating with Love Drinks on these summer drinks”, like this week’s cocktail which he calls All Cobbling Together.

It’s a bit unusual as it’s made with non-French cassis. Williams filled us in: “I first encountered White Heron British Cassis while working at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel. It was one of the ingredients in our house Punch, the Elephants Cup. In contrast to more widespread creme de cassis brands, White Heron retains great acidity while also showcasing the vibrancy of the fruit flavours. At the time when I was approached by Love Drinks to collaborate with the brand, I was drinking a lot of sherry at home, mainly oloroso, and it struck me that the combination of the cassis and oloroso might sing loudly in a riff on the classic Sherry Cobbler. In my opinion, the Cobbler is a quintessential summer drink: one that is bright and refreshing, with great lip-smacking acidity. While traditionally one might use orange and/or pineapple juice, I found that pink grapefruit juice melded beautifully with the cassis and the sherry, creating a tall, refreshing, and, most importantly, incredibly moreish summer tipple.”

Sounds good doesn’t it? Here’s how to make it:

50ml White Heron British Cassis
20ml Gonzalez Byass Alfonso Oloroso Seco
50ml Pink grapefruit juice
5ml 1:1 sugar syrup (Monin or you can make your own)

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, shake and strain into a Highball glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with an orange slice and a blackberry.

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New Arrival of the Week: Port Dundas 12 Year Old 2006 Signatory

This week we’re looking at a rare bottling from a ghost distillery. But there’s no need to sell the car or send the children out to work, because this bottling…

This week we’re looking at a rare bottling from a ghost distillery. But there’s no need to sell the car or send the children out to work, because this bottling is a distinctly affordable single grain whisky.

Grain whiskies used to be the embarrassing uncle of the Scotch whisky family. Whereas malt whiskies are feted around the world and the often picturesque distilleries have become major tourist attractions, poor grain, source of enormous wealth, was hardly spoken about, or just dismissed as filler. It doesn’t help that grain distilleries look more like oil refineries, none of the gleaming copper and whimsical stories of their malty cousins. However, in recent years, old single grain bottlings have started to appear and be appreciated by whisky connoisseurs. It probably helps that they are usually cheaper than equivalent malt whiskies. Though not always, Last Drop released a rare single cask Dumbarton from 1977 recently for £2500 a bottle. 

Port Dundas

Port Dundas no more (credit Thomas Nugent)

This week’s New Arrival was distilled at Glasgow’s Port Dundas in 2006. This distillery has a great history dating back to 1811. In 1877 it was a founder member of the DCL, Distillers Company Limited, a grouping of the largest Lowland grain distillers. Over the years, it just got bigger and bigger, swallowing up the neighbouring Cowlairs and Dundashills distilleries. In the early days of the 20th century, this mega-distillery didn’t just produce grain but also malt of all kinds, double and triple-distilled, peated and unpeated, even in a patent still. Like a modern Japanese distillery, it was a one stop shop for all your whisky needs. There was even a piggery, the animals were fed on the leftovers from fermentation. Lucky pigs.

Port Dundas was one of the first distilleries to use maize (what Americans call corn). Grain from Port Dundas would have gone into brands like Johnnie Walker, VAT 69, Bell’s and White Horse. But sadly, even the greatest distillery is not immune to corporate rationalisation and in 2010, Diageo expanded Cameronbridge as its main grain distillery and the decision was taken to close Port Dundas. There was talk about selling it but no buyer was found, and in 2011 it was demolished. Nearly 200 years of history came to an end. Occasionally, however, old bottlings appear from this ghost distillery, which is just what we have today.

It was bottled as part of its Single Grain Collection by Signatory, an independent firm founded by brothers Andrew and Brian Symington in 1988 (Brian left in 1998). Signatory is now one of the largest independent whisky bottlers, and in 2002 went into the distilling business with the purchase of Edradour Distillery (at the time it was the smallest distillery in Scotland, though smaller ones have come along since). The company has its own bonded warehouse. All the actual bottling is done in-house with no colouring or chill filtering. This example was distilled in 2006, aged (we’d guess from tasting) in bourbon casks before bottling in 2019 at 43% ABV. At some point grain from Port Dundas will all be gone, so this is a good chance to bag a bit of delicious history at a very reasonable price. 

Tasting note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Straw, coconut, honeydew melon, sawdust and choux pastry.

Palate: Marmalade, brown sugar, a hint of papaya juiciness.

Finish: Fried banana and vanilla ice cream.

Port Dundas 12 Year Old 2006 Signatory is available to buy now from Master of Malt.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Bee’s Knees

It’s time to dust off your dusting shoes, put on some Duke Ellington and shake a leg, as we make the ultimate Jazz Age gin cocktail. It’s the business. There’s…

It’s time to dust off your dusting shoes, put on some Duke Ellington and shake a leg, as we make the ultimate Jazz Age gin cocktail. It’s the business.

There’s an easy way to spot a cocktail that was created or popularised during Prohibition, look for sugar and fruit juice. Cocktails like the Bronx, the Southside (apparently Al Capone’s favourite) and our Cocktail of the Week, the Bee’s Knees, contained lots of both mainly to hide the fact that the gin you were drinking wasn’t exactly Tanqueray. It might not even be gin. David A. Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks, first published in 1948 when Prohibition was still a recent memory, refers to such concoctions as ‘pernicious recipes.’

Don’t listen to old grumbles Embury, however, as the Bee’s Knees is actually delicious. The name is a bit of Jazz Age slang that was popular among bright young things of the time. Much, one imagines, to the disapproval of their parents. There’s a story that the phrase was inspired by Bee Jackson, aka Miss Fancy Feet or the Charleston Queen. A New Yorker, she helped bring the dance to London with a series of shows at the Piccadilly Hotel and the Kit Kat club. Or the bee’s knees might just be a hep way of saying ‘the business. It was one such phrase along with the cat’s pyjamas, monkey’s eyebrows or badger’s whiskers which all mean absolutely spiffing. You’d say them while dancing the Charleston to your new Duke Ellington 78 while assuring your friends that there would never be a war like the last one.

To keep it true to the spirit of the roaring ‘20s, we’re using Bathtub gin. Bathtub gin originally got its name as it was usually made from industrial alcohol (hopefully not containing too much methanol or customers would go blind) which would be dumped in a large container, such as a bathtub, and flavours added. If you were lucky this might be juniper essence and sugar, if not turpentine or even sulphuric acid. Mmmm, tangy! 

I should hasten to add that the only thing this Bathtub Gin has in common with the illicit stuff is that the botanicals, including juniper, orange peel, coriander, cassia, cloves and cardamom, are added to the spirit post-distillation in a technique known as cold-compounding where they slowly give up their aromas. The result is something richer, heavier and more intensely-flavoured than a London dry, and also very lightly tinted from the botanicals. It’s a gin for all seasons but it’s particularly good when paired with strong flavours like lemon juice and honey because it’s not going to get drowned out. In short, it’s a gin that means business. 

Which brings us back to our cocktail. Made using Bathtub gin, fresh lemon juice and a nice drop of honey, it really is the cat’s pyjamas. 

Right, let’s get shaking!

60ml Bathtub Gin
30ml fresh lemon juice
15ml honey

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously and double strain into a chilled coupette glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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New Arrival of the Week: Killowen 10 year old Txakolina Acacia whiskey

This week we’re drinking a blended whiskey put together by one of Ireland’s newest and smallest distilleries, and aged in Basque wines casks. Very unconventional! Brendan Carty is an architect…

This week we’re drinking a blended whiskey put together by one of Ireland’s newest and smallest distilleries, and aged in Basque wines casks. Very unconventional!

Brendan Carty is an architect by profession but he got the idea to start his own distillery from visiting small producers in Australia, particularly in Tasmania. “I tried two year old whisky from Belgrove and it was as good as 21 year old Redbreast,” he said. When he returned to Northern Ireland in 2017, he set about making his dream a reality.

He acquired a derelict stables at Killowen near a megalithic tomb in County Down and fitted it with ultra-traditional equipment: two direct-fired stills, a 1,000 litre wash still called Christoir and an 800 litre spirit still called Broc (after the Irish for badger), and worm tub condensers. This set-up, unique to Ireland, “creates an amazing flavour, another layer of complexity,” according to Carty. He began filling casks a year and half ago, the aim is to create a traditional single pot still whiskey. Although Carty’s view of what is traditional doesn’t chime with those formulated by the Irish Whiskey Association, so he won’t be able to call it as such. His mash bill consists of about 30% oats, rye and wheat, the Geographical Indication (GI) only allows for 5%, 30% unmalted barley and 40% malted barley. According to Carty, the 5% came at the instigation of Midleton which at the time the rules were created was the only distillery making single malt still whiskeys like Redbreast and Green Spot. In the past, the non-barley component was much higher. Furthermore, Killowen uses peated malt (GI rules do not allow for the word peated to be on the label of single pot stills releases) and only distills twice. According to Carty in the past: “Irish whiskey was more double than triple-distilled and more often peated than not. To turn our back on that heritage is absurd.”

Brendan Carty with Christoir and Broc

His whiskey comes of age in a year and a half, we’re sure it’s going to be well worth trying. Meanwhile, there are various gins and a poitin to try. The latter, made with an unpeated single pot still mash bill, he’s particularly proud of, describing it as “full of flavour, you get the influence of the direct flame, the Maillard reaction, giving an oiliness and full body.” He has also released some blended whiskies as part of the Bonder Experimental Series and as you might imagine these are proudly unconventional right down to his transparency about sourcing liquids. 

As per IWA rules, he’s not allowed to say which distilleries go into the blend so instead he says where the distilleries are located. The whiskey we’re looking at this week consists of Irish single malt and grain whiskeys, matured separately in bourbon casks, before being blended and aged in a sherry barrel, then married with a bourbon-aged Irish single malt in a Spanish wine cask. The grain came from County Louth so we can assume it’s from Cooley and the malt from County Antrim so it doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to work out that it’s from Bushmills Distillery. Carty told us that he did try to buy some from Midleton but it “doesn’t sell whiskey to small producers.”

Some of the Killowen range

The Spanish wine cask used is not straightforward either. It formerly held Txakolina. Pronounced something like ‘chakolina’, this is a very dry, slightly sparkling wine, not dissimilar to a vinho verde, that comes from the Basque country. It’s just the thing to drink with mountains of seafood. But that’s not the end of the craziness, because the ends of the wine barrel were swapped for virgin wood Acacia. This is one of the areas where the IWA is relaxed giving producers the kind of freedom when it comes to cask that would cause the SWA to have kittens. Finally, it was bottled with a 10 year old age statement at cask strength, 55.4% ABV, with no chill-filtering. In fact, according to Carty, no filtering of any kind. Only 490 50cl bottles have been filled.  

There are other whiskeys in the series including one finished in an old Islay cask and a Tequila barrel bottling. So, lots of exciting things going on at Killowen. We are expecting great things from the first whiskey distilled in-house.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Sweet white fruit, with peach, nectarine and grape, with ripe pear, citrus peel and subtle oak spice.

Palate: More fresh pear accompanied by greener notes now, with dried kitchen herbs, oaky vanilla and dried apricot.

Finish: Hints of lychee, grapefruit and more ripe stone fruit, with more wood spice returning on a lengthy finish.

Killowen 10 year old Txakolina Acacia whiskey is now available from Master of Malt

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Cocktail of the Week: The White Russian

Today we’re shaking up perhaps the most famous cocktail in cinema, the White Russian, with Black Cow, a vodka distilled from milk. Whatever next! There are some cocktails that are…

Today we’re shaking up perhaps the most famous cocktail in cinema, the White Russian, with Black Cow, a vodka distilled from milk. Whatever next!

There are some cocktails that are inextricably linked with films or TV series: like the Cosmopolitan in ‘Sex and the City’, ‘Mad Men’ and Martinis and the Tequila Sunrise in, um, ‘Tequila Sunrise.’ But the union of drink and film reaches its apotheosis in the Coen Brothers’ 1998 fim, ‘The Big Lebowski.’ It’s now not possible to drink a White Russian without thinking of Jeff Bridges as The Dude in his dressing gown saying: ‘careful man! There’s a beverage here!’ The film, which initially had an underwhelming response on its launch, has become a cult favourite with Big Lebowski-themed evenings involving the consumption of many White Russians.

The cocktail also known in the film as a Caucasian (cos it’s white) is a derivation of the Black Russian (a mixture of vodka and coffee liqueur) with cream and/or milk added to it. Both Russians, Black and White are relatively recent cocktails, the Black was first mentioned in 1949 and the White in 1965. The big question is should you use cream or milk in your cocktail. Well, the Dude uses both. Fans of the film will recall the Dude paying for a carton of half and half in Ralphs with a cheque for 69 cents. For non-American readers, half and half is a mixture of milk and cream weighing in at about 10% dairy fat (and Ralphs is a chain of Californian supermarkets). Personally, I prefer my White Russians a little lighter so would just use whole milk, with about 4% fat. The other ingredients are vodka and coffee liqueur, the Dude uses Kahlua but you can use Tia Maria. Or there are other coffee liqueurs out there, or you could even add a shot of espresso, though you might want to sweeten it a bit then.

With real dairy goodness

Finally vodka, the Dude uses Smirnoff. But we’ve got something that’s custom built to go with dairy products because it is itself a dairy product. Black Cow vodka was launched back in 2012 by dairy farmer Jason Barber and his friend Paul Archard. It’s made by fermenting the whey, the liquid left over from making cheese, and distilling it. They then filter the vodka through coconut-shell charcoal. The result is something distinctly creamy and dairy, but at the same time tasting clean and fresh like a vodka should. It sounds a bit weird, but it really works. 

There are tonnes of variation on the classic White Russian. Our favourite is the addition of ice cream and then blending it to create a decadent boozy milkshake. But today, we’ve just kept it classic. With it’s simple sweet flavours, high dairy content and coffee kick, the White Russian is the perfect cocktail for when you just got up, or look like you’ve just got up. Which is perhaps why the Dude likes them so much. 

Right, got your dressing gown? Got your Creedence tapes? Let’s make a White Russian!

35ml Black Cow Pure Milk Vodka
35ml full-fat milk
35ml Kahlua 

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, shake quickly and strain into an ice-filled tumbler. 

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Five of London’s best whisky bars

With the capital’s venues tentatively opening up again on the 4 July, we thought it as good a time as any to celebrate some of our favourite places in London…

With the capital’s venues tentatively opening up again on the 4 July, we thought it as good a time as any to celebrate some of our favourite places in London to drink whisky.

It’s happening, it’s finally happening! Soon, when you want to have a drink with a friend it won’t mean dropped connections and unflattering camera angles on Zoom, or sitting two metres apart in your garden wondering whether using the loo would break government guidelines on social distancing. No, we’re talking about sitting at a table under a roof while someone brings you a drink, and then you pay for it. Sounds bananas, but it could catch on. So, we’ve rounded up five of our favourite places to drink whisky. Where we know, we’ve put when the venue will be opening again and whether booking is required. Please do contact the bar first though. Right, without further ado, here they are. Let us know about your favourites in the comments or on social media.

The Boisdale buzz

Boisdale, Belgravia

Almost every day, Boisdale owner, the magnificently-monickered Ranald Macdonald, is to be found enjoying lunch in the Belgravia branch. Always a good sign. This first Boisdale specialising in Macdonald’s three favourite things steak, cigars and whisky, opened in 1988, and has since been joined by three other venues, Mayfair, Bishopsgate and a mammoth venue at Canary Wharf. Macdonald also loves music and so there are regular jazz, soul and reggae gigs with some serious talent on offer like Courtney Pine or Horace Andy. The Mayfair branch has a special vinyl and cocktail bar in the basement whereas in Belgravia you can indulge your inner plutocrat on the cigar terrace where Glen Collins will suggest the perfect malt to go with your Montecristo. During lockdown, MacDonald has kept the wolf from the door issuing Boisdale War Bonds where one can buy fine whisky, wine, food and music in advance at a massive discount. The Belgravia branch will open from 8 July. 

You could spend a lot of time and money at Bull in a China Shop

Bull in a China Shop, Shoreditch

This amazing bar in London by Old Street roundabout is a booze wonderland especially for lovers of Japanese whisky. It was founded by brothers Simon and Stephen Chan who created the Drunken Monkey dim sum bar also in Shoreditch. Bull in a China Shop has been open since 2015, and offers an incredible range of Japanese whisky including some Karuizawa at £55 a glass and the biggest bottle of Nikka from the Barrel you have ever seen, plus whiskies from smaller producers like Mars. There’s plenty of Scotch too. Stephen Chan told me he had a soft spot for Tomatin, in particular. There’s Japanese, Taiwanese and Korean bar snacks to wash down with your single malt. 

Milroy’s has been a whisky destination since the ’60s

Milroy’s, Soho

Milroy’s is a Soho institution that was revived and revitalised when Martyn ‘Simo’ Simpson took over in 2014. There’s a cocktail bar in the basement and a whisky bar on the ground floor with over 1,000 bottles to try; they claim it’s the largest selection outside Scotland. Simo buys and bottles his own rare casks so there are things here that you can’t find anywhere else. During lockdown, the team kept busy by selling rare casks, offering Zoom tastings and selling bottled cocktails. “We will come out of this stronger than we went in,” he said.  He opened a three story Spitalfields outpost last year which contains a whisky-focused private members club. This will be selling drams to take away while the Soho branch will open up next week with seating at the whisky bar and 16 tables outside as part of Soho’s evening pedestrianisation transformation. He’s taking the opening slowly “we’ll be fully open in September, no one is going to rush back to central London yet.”

Homeboy, a little bit of Ireland in North London

Homeboy, Islington

The aim with Homeboy was to bring a bit of Dublin to Islington, according to founders Aaron Wall and Ciaran Smith. As you’d expect there’s a remarkably range of Irish whiskeys alongside some excellent cocktails along with simple food like toasties or, sure to bring back childhood memories, a crisp sandwich made with Tayto’s cheese and onion. One of London’s smallest bars, it will be reopening on 4 July; Wall told us: “we are just doing table service and blocking off every second table for distancing. We are happy to take walks too and also takeaway. Bookings have been really good for Saturday but really quiet for after that.” Wall has kept busy experimenting with Home Boy Irish Coffee Bitters (why has no one done this before?), which should be coming soon, bottled cocktails and “our own limited release top secret finished Irish Whiskey.” Sounds exciting. 

Unusual whiskeys at Sibin

Sibin, Westminster

We love a bit of theatre here at Master of Malt, and there’s theatre a-plenty at the secret Sibin bar at the recently-opened Great Scotland Yard Hotel. It was so secret that we struggled to find it until a helpful member of staff pressed a discreet button and, James Bond villain-style, a section of bookcase opened to reveal a secret bar. It’s called Sibín, as in an Irish drinking den (sometimes spelt shebeen). The drinks menu takes a turn for the unexpected too with old classics given a tune-up. The Rusty Nail is made with two types of Talisker, and Drambuie, and then left to oxidise for two days to mellow. Bars manager Michal Mariarz adds a little PX to his Smokey Cokey, Lagavulin 16 year old and Coke. For the more classically-inclined there are unusual whiskies like a 2005 Caol Ila part-matured in Hermitage red wine casks. Please note, opening date for Sibin is still TBC.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Piña Colada

Today we’re making one of the world’s most delicious cocktails, the way it should be made. With a good flavoured rum and fresh ingredients. I had a Piña Colada epiphany…

Today we’re making one of the world’s most delicious cocktails, the way it should be made. With a good flavoured rum and fresh ingredients.

I had a Piña Colada epiphany a few years ago. I’d always dismissed it as the sort of lurid concoction laden with sugar, cream and cocktail umbrellas that Del Boy might order in Only Fools and Horses. Or that my older brother would drink on family holidays on Lanzarote. But a French friend made one for me with fresh pineapple, coconut water and Martinque rum, and it was about the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted. It was so delicious, that I didn’t notice how much rum was in it until I tried to stand up. 

So what is a Piña Colada? The name literally means ‘strained pineapple’ in Spanish and something like the modern version was invented in 1954 by a barman at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico called Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, or so the story goes. There are other pretenders to the crown of the inventor of the world’s greatest pineapple-based cocktail. The story is further complicated by the existence of a Cuban cocktail called a Piña Colada mentioned in the 1920s which mixes pineapple with rum but doesn’t contain coconut. It was the Puerto Rican version, however, that went global in the 1960s and naturally it began to change a bit. The cream of coconut from the originally was substituted with the sort of cream that might once have had something to do with cows, pasteurised or tinned pineapple replaced the fresh stuff, and cheap rums sneaked in like cheap rums do along with glace cherries, umbrellas, fireworks etc. Just the sort of thing that Del Boy would have ordered in the Nags Head.

But made properly, a Piña Colada is a magnificent thing combining as it does the three most tropical ingredients imaginable: pineapple, rum and coconut. Imagine if you could get a mango in there somewhere, or would that be too tropical? Anyway, as long as you use decent ingredients you can’t go wrong. So fresh pineapple juice, coconut cream or water and, of course, a rum that tastes like rum. 

We’re using Aluna Coconut rum; it’s unusual among coconut rums in really tasting of both rum and coconut. In fact, it tastes like opening up a coconut to find that it’s full of rum rather than coconut water. Wouldn’t that be amazing? That’s because it’s not only macerated with coconut but also sweetened with coconut water so it’s about the nearest thing you’ll get to a rum-filled coconut. The base spirit is a blend of Guatemala and Caribbean rums. It’s bottled at 35% ABV, so significantly stronger than some other coconut rum drinks so be careful standing up after a couple. 

So whether you’re celebrating Piña Colada day on the 10 July or want to make the ultimate a tropical cocktail now, here’s how to do it properly:

50ml Aluna Coconut rum
50ml Coconut water
100ml Fresh pineapple juice
Juice of half a lime

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker. Shake hard and strain into a tumbler or Collins glass filled with ice. Garnish with a slice of lime or pineapple. And, what the hell, a glace cherry, umbrella and sparkler too. Lubbly jubbly!

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