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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

New Arrival of the Week: Citadelle Juniper Décadence

Citadelle gin is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with a special spirit that has been aged in casks made from juniper wood. It’s called Citadelle Juniper Décadence and it’s…

Citadelle gin is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with a special spirit that has been aged in casks made from juniper wood. It’s called Citadelle Juniper Décadence and it’s only available from Master of Malt.

The founding of Sipsmith in 2009 is generally considered the beginnings of the British gin boom, along with the loosening of regulations around the size of stills that gin producers were legally allowed to use. This opened the floodgates to the cornucopia of gins that were now take for granted.

Before the gin boom

Things were very different back in 1997. Most pubs would have stocked Gordon’s and Beefeater, Tanqueray if you were lucky, generic house gin if you weren’t. The consensus within the industry was that nobody needed any more gin brands. LIke British Rail, it was about managed decline.

This was the year that Cognac producer Alexandre Gabriel decided to launch a new gin called Citadelle (read the full story here). He was ahead of his time: “It was like a moon landing!” he said. ”There was nobody on the gin planet. In 1996 I thought the world was waiting for an artisanal delicious gin. It was not!”

Citadelle Gin

“Who’s laughing now?” – Alexandre Gabriel at home in France

A French gin, que c’est?

“I remember our importer in America looking at me like I must have gone mad. A French gin?! This decision was made purely out of passion and it was almost disastrous to our business. I have made many mistakes and I hope I am going to make less,” he says. “It looked like Citadelle wouldn’t work because it was out of time and it was financially painful. But, in the end, the two wrongs became a right. Now there is a new gin every week, right?” he continues.

The thing that put Citadelle on the map was when super chef Ferran Adrià from El Bulli, the world’s best restaurant, endorsed the brand.  “In about 1997/98 Adrià was on TV. He said that Gin and Tonic is a gastronomic act and a beautiful aperitif and that you should use a great gin. He whipped out a bottle of Citadelle. We were like ‘wow’. That made a difference,” Gabriel says. 

25 years of fine gin

Gradually, the rest of the world caught up with Grabriel’s vision. Now, as Citadelle celebrates its 25th anniversary, the gin landscape looks very different. The market is probably saturated with gins at all price points – I wouldn’t want to be launching a new product now – but Citadelle is well-established as one of the best premium products on the shelves. 

It gets its distinct flavour from a unique process which Gabriel calls ‘progressive infusion.’ He uses a mixture of 19 botanicals including French juniper berries, orris root, French violet root, Moroccan coriander, almonds, Spanish lemon peel, and Mexican orange peel. According to Gabriel: “Each botanical is infused in neutral alcohol of French wheat for different lengths of proof and time, according to its aromatic function. While some require a strong degree of alcohol and a long infusion such as juniper berries, others infuse better in a weaker degree of alcohol, in a shorter time like star anise”.

Citadelle Juniper Décadence

Citadelle Juniper Décadence is aged in juniper wood casks

Introducing Citadelle Juniper Décadence

To commemorate 25 years of juniper-infused excellence, Citadelle has released a new gin called Juniper Décadence. It’s made with the brand’s signature 19-botanical recipe but then the gin is aged for a period of time in casks made from juniper wood, before bottling at 44.4% ABV. This imparts a gentle smokiness alongside the bright, herbaceous gin notes. We think the subtle woodiness would work brilliantly with sherry in something like a Palo Cortado Martini. Only 84 bottles are available to the UK market and only from Master of Malt. 

It’s the perfect way to celebrate Alexander Gabriel’s persistence and prescience. As the man behind Plantation rum and Ferrand Cognac, he’s one of the most innovative people in the drinks business and we make no apologies for the blog being somewhat Gabriel heavy at the moment – there’s a lot going on and more to come. 

Let’s raise a glass to Citadelle’s silver anniversary. Santé!

Citadelle Juniper Décadence is only available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy. This is a strictly limited edition product, once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Robust oaky juniper, liquorice, grapefruit, a hint of dry smoke, toasted seeds.

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Top ten bubbles for Mother’s Day 

Mother’s Day is coming soon! Very soon. At least in the UK, it’s Sunday 27 March so why not treat your old girl to a bottle of something sparkling? Here…

Mother’s Day is coming soon! Very soon. At least in the UK, it’s Sunday 27 March so why not treat your old girl to a bottle of something sparkling? Here are some great bubbles for Mother’s Day 2022!

Forget flowers, treat your mum to some delicious sparkling wine or Champagne this Mother’s Day. Actually, whatever you do, don’t forget flowers. I did one year and my mother didn’t speak to me for six months. Remember flowers, but also bring a bottle of something nice to enjoy on the day.

To aid you in your quest for effervescent deliciousness we have rounded up our favourite Champagnes, sparkling wines and we’ve even thrown a fizzy cocktail in there for good measure. And if you’re in need of more inspiration, take a look at the Master of Malt Mother’s Day Gift Finder (or MoM Mum as it’s known in-house).

Here are our favourite bubbles for Mother’s Day!


Pol Roger Brut 2013

We love Pol Roger’s classic NV, but the vintage wines are always a treat. This 2013 is made up of the usual blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. After a full malolactic fermentation the wine was aged for seven years in the cellars before being released. It was a cooler vintage so expect raciness aplenty. 

How does it taste?

Lemon blossom and honeysuckle, with a mineral backbone supporting zingy citrus and touches of toasted almond.


Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial

Consistently excellent, Moet et Chandon are one of the most successful Champagne houses in France. Interesting trivia: Moet is pronounced ‘Moh-Et’, and not Moh-Eh’ due to the Germanic origins of the house’s founders. So now you can sound terribly sophisticated when pouring a glass for your mother!

How does it taste?

Fresh lemon and apple, supported by almond pastries, vanilla blossom and a hint of buttered brioche.

veuve-clicquot-brut-yellow-label-non-vintage-champagne WEB

Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label 

Don’t overlook Veuve Clicquot, it’s a tremendously good Champagne especially if you like it in a richer style. The name literally translates as ‘Widow Clicquot’, and is in honour of the formidable widow of the house who turned the company’s fortunes round in the early 19th Century. But you probably knew that already.

How does it taste?

Racy citrus fruit, lemon and orange peel, with notes of yeast, apple, a creamy texture and a long nutty finish. 


Bollinger Rosé

Bring out the Bolly! This is consistently one of the finest rosés money can buy. Your mother is going to love this. It gets its gorgeous colour from the addition of red wine made from Pinot Noir grapes grown in Bollinger’s Grand Cru vineyards. Its full character means that it’ll go well with richer dishes such as duck in a fruit sauce. 

How does it taste?

Fresh berries, namely strawberry and cranberry, with pastry and gentle spices.


Beau Joie Brut Champagne

If your mother likes a bit of bling she’ll love the packaging on this Champagne. But it’s not just for show, the jacket made from recycled copper not only looks pretty cool but means it will bottle cold for longer, without the need for an ice bucket! Unusually, no sugar is added to this Champagne, allowing the crisp fruit character to lead the way. 

How does it taste?

Elegant florals, doughy notes of brioche followed crisp orchard fruits, a touch of vanilla, and gently zesty acidity.


Sensi 18K Sparkling Pinot Noir Rosé

More wine for a bling-loving mother. This comes from Italy and it’s made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, which were harvested just a few days before being fully ripe to preserve its freshness and higher acidity. Wonderfully refreshing, and it pairs well with fish dishes.

How does it taste?

Bags of fruit such a fresh raspberry and strawberry with some floral blossom notes and a racy acidity.


Luc Belaire Rosé

What’s better than a chilled glass of Provence rosé? Sparkling Provence rosé, of course! This is made from three classic Souther French varieties Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah, and tastes delicious drunk on a yacht in Cannes harbour or sitting on a garden bench in East Grinstead. 

How does it taste?

Ripe strawberries and red cherries with a grassy, herbaceous freshness supported by thousands of tiny little bubbles. 


Adami Bosco di Gica Prosecco 

If you find most Prosecco a little too sweet, then this is the wine for you. It’s Brut which means it has less than 10g of sugar per litre. It’s mainly made from Glera, the classic Prosecco variety, but there’s also a small portion of Chardonnay which adds complexity. This is a distinct cut above most Proseccos. 

How does it taste?

Dry with a vibrant acidity, notes of nectarine and ripe orchard fruit with honey, cherry blossom and a crisp finish.



Chapel Down Classic Non-Vintage Brut

Nothing says ‘thanks Mum!’ like the pop of a Champagne cork. But wait a moment! This isn’t from France, it’s from Kent! Sacre bleu! And very nice it is too with delicious flavours of apple and toasted brioche. It’s made using the classic sparkling wine grapes of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc, and bottled with a little English je ne sais quoi.

How does it taste?

Cox’s and Granny Smith apples lead followed by notes of Marmite, buttered toast and hazelnuts. Seriously classy fizz.


Sei Bellissimi Bellini Sparkling Cocktail

A beautiful bottled cocktail from Sei Bellissimi – here we have a classic Bellini! Combining sparkling wine made from Moscato grapes with peach puree from the Trentino Alto Adige region of Italy, this is delicately sweet and fruity – ideal if you’re planning a lavish brunch or some evening nibbles.

How does it taste?

Peaches, peaches, and more peaches, it is a Bellini after all. But there’s also delicately sweet floral notes from the Moscato. 

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Master of Malt tastes… Four Roses Small Batch Select bourbon

There’s a new addition to the Four Roses core range! As you might expect we were pretty excited when we heard this, even before we tasted it. And of course,…

There’s a new addition to the Four Roses core range! As you might expect we were pretty excited when we heard this, even before we tasted it. And of course, it didn’t disappoint, Four Roses Small Batch Select is truly sensational.

If you’ve only got room for one bottle of American whiskey in your drinks cupboard, then you should look no further than Four Roses Small Batch. It fulfils three roles in one: it’s a bourbon but with a high rye content, so it covers both those bases in cocktails. But it’s interesting enough to sip neat and admire all that complexity. In fact, you’ll struggle to find a better whiskey from anywhere for under £30. Yes, it’s really that good.

Four Roses fermenting

Batches fermenting at Four Roses. No idea of the mashbill or yeast type

Fancy Four Roses

But it’s not the pinnacle of the Four Roses range. Not by a long way. The great Kentucky distillery also produces barrel strength bottlings which are only available in limited quantities and tend to get hoovered up very quickly despite, or maybe because of, the high prices. Now, however, there’s a bottling between the everyday magic of the Small Batch and the rarified limited editions. It’s called Four Roses Small Batch Select and it’s every good as you might expect.

Before we dive in, we’re going to take a look at the unique production methods at Four Roses. Most whiskeys and indeed whiskies are made from a standard mash bill and production methods. The difference between bottlings is in the casks and the length of time ageing. 

But at Four Roses master distiller Brent Elliott has 10 different recipes to play with. There are two mash bills, ‘E’, a high corn recipe (75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley), and ‘B’, a high rye version (60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley). Then he has the choice to ferment with one of five yeast strains which all contribute different flavours: V (light fruit), O (rich fruit), Q (floral), F (herbaceous), and K (spice.) You can read more depth about the Four Roses process here


Tasting Small Batch Select

Small Batch Select combines six of these recipes: OBSV, OESV, OBSK, OESK, OBSF, and OESF. O means it’s made by Four Roses and S means straight bourbon. So you can see the mash bills are split evenly between high corn and high rye, but with the yeasts the emphasis is very much on the spice with herbal and light fruit supporting. 

And this is born out on tasting as Small Batch Select is spice city. I found it incredibly spicy and dry with much less of the toffee and popcorn you usually get in a bourbon. It’s essentially a bourbon for lovers of rye whiskey. The ABV at 52% is just perfect for sipping neat. You don’t need to dilute it at all. If you are planning to mix, I’d stick 

with simple cocktails like the Old Fashioned. For anything more lavish, I’d go for the standard Small Batch, and save Small Batch Select for long conversations when old friends come over. 

Four Roses Small Batch select is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Tasting note for Four Roses Small Batch Select

Nose: Pumpkin pie, baking spices, dark chocolate, black cherries, cloves, ginger and chilli.

Palate: Dry and super spicy with nutmeg, cinnamon and Szechuan peppers. Hugely aromatic. There are also sweeter notes of caramel, chocolate and peanuts – yes, like an alcoholic snickers bar.

Finish: Dark chocolate, very long and intense. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Hanky Panky

With International Women’s Day this week, we thought it as good a time as any to look at Ada Coleman, the pioneering bartender who ran the American Bar at the…

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

Most bartenders don’t get profiles in the London papers when they retire, but then again most bartenders aren’t Ada Coleman. Coley, as she was known, was a bit special. Born in 1876, she began her career at Claridge’s Hotel at the age of 24. Then in 1903, she landed one of the biggest jobs in booze, head bartender at the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel where she remained until 1925 when she officially retired from bartending (though would live a lot longer, dying in 1966 at the age of 91). Her successor was none other than Harry Craddock, who would go on to write The Savoy Cocktail Book. In August last year, Shannon Tebay followed in Coley’s footsteps when she became the first ever actual American to run the American Bar, though we have just learned from the Washington Post that she has stepped down citing a “cultural mismatch.” Which shows how interested the world still is about what goes on at the American Bar.

Coley in her element

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

Made for Charles Hawtrey, not that one

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

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

The Hanky Panky in all its glory

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

How to make a Hanky Panky

Right, here’s the recipe:

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

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

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Five minutes with… Stephanie Macleod, master blender at Dewar’s 

As part of our coverage for International Women’s Day 2022, we talk Irn Bru, weird casks and how to get more women into the industry with one of the most…

As part of our coverage for International Women’s Day 2022, we talk Irn Bru, weird casks and how to get more women into the industry with one of the most respected people in Scotch whisky, Stephanie Macleod, master blender at Dewar’s. 

Stephanie Macleod’s first job in drinks was working with a Scottish icon. No, not John Dewar & Sons, we’re talking Irn Bru (explainer here for non-British readers). From there she moved into Scotch but, as she admitted to us, she didn’t even like the stuff at the time. At some point, she must have developed a taste for whisky because from working in the lab at Dewar’s, she moved up until she became master blender in 2006.

Macleod is now responsible for the Dewar’s range of blended whiskies plus the single malts that sit under the Bacardi umbrella: Aberfeldy, Craigellachie, Royal Brackla and others. As well as maintaining the quality of classic whiskies like Craigellachie 13 year old and Dewar’s White Label, Macleod is not afraid to experiment. In recent years, her team has launched a Dewar’s 8 Year old finished in Ilegal mezcal casks and various limited edition red wine cask single malts from Aberfeldy.

It’s all go at Dewar’s! We were fortunate enough to spend some time with Macleod to learn what other exciting things she has up her sleeves. 


Just one of the distilleries watched over by Macleod

Master of Malt: It’s International Women’s Day this week, are you encouraged by the number of women setting up their own distilleries/ drinks brands?

Stephanie Macleod: It’s exciting what’s going on at the moment in the spirits and the wine industries. There are more and more women launching their own brands. I get a lot of emails and messages via social platforms from young women who are thinking of starting drinks brands – and it is heartening that they have the confidence and resources to make their ideas into a reality.

MoM: What is Dewar’s parent company Bacardi doing to encourage more women into distilling?

SM: For a few years now, we have been making a determined effort to not only be visible to university students and graduates, but also invite them to apply for our intern and graduate schemes. The recruitment process is intensive, but we’ve now got a tremendous wealth of great talent and most of them are women. When I was a student, the whisky industry as a career didn’t feel like an option – that has now changed and we are reaping the rewards.

MoM: How did you get started in the industry?

SM: I did food science at the University of Strathclyde. I was lucky that the department I was in had a close relationship with the whisky industry, some of their research work was sponsored by Chivas Brothers at the time. After I graduated and I went to work for Irn Bru and then my old supervisor phoned me up and said ‘how would you like to join us and study whisky and other foods?’ I said ‘yes, I’d love to!’ but I had absolutely no idea about whisky, I didn’t even like it! Over four years I was trying to find out why whisky tastes the way it does and unlocking the secrets of maturation. I loved it and that’s really when I thought ‘this is the industry that I want to be in’. A role then came up at Dewar’s and I thought ‘I’ll get in the door and see where it takes me’. I was put in charge of the lab and then I was asked did I want to train up to be the master blender because the current master blender at the time was about to retire. So I said ‘yes, I’d love to!’ 

Craigellachie 39 Year Old 1980 Super Wish

Craigellachie 39 Year Old 1980

Master of Malt:  How has the job changed since then? Because in the nineties being a blender was a sort of backroom kind of job wasn’t it? 

SM: I made that same comment to someone yesterday. I said ‘20 years ago blenders didn’t have to have media training or talk to camera , they just got on with it’. But now a big chunk of your work is communicating what you do to journalists and to consumers. Before a blender would just have worked on a few different blends but now we’ve not only got the blends that we’ve always had, but then there’s offshoots of those, like Dewar’s 8 Series with all the different cask finishes. We’re having to control all of these different casks and then watch what’s going to happen to them in their next cycle and with the flavour profile there. It’s exciting, but I think my predecessor would be shocked by what we’re doing now at Dewar’s. 

MoM: And how has the customer changed since you took over?

SM: The awareness of Scottish whisky and the knowledge of Scottish whisky has grown since even I have taken over the role in 2006. Especially in markets like China and Russia. Whereas before they would maybe be wedded to a particular brand of whisky – and probably that would be a blend in the past – but now their knowledge has come on leaps and bounds and now they’re exploring different malts. In the last 18 months with the pandemic, people also had more time on their hands, doing more research, reading more about whisky and asking more probing questions. 

MoM: Did you feel a huge responsibility working with a brand like Dewar’s White Label?

SM: I did feel the responsibility but I think when you’re younger you don’t really think about it. It’s just another part of your development. I think if I had thought about it too much I probably maybe wouldn’t have taken on the role. 

Stephanie Macleod, master blender at Dewar's

Stephanie Macleod, master blender at Dewar’s

MoM: Have you got some interesting cask finishes that you’re working on at the moment? 

SM: We’ve been looking at some experimental casks, different types and species of oak. Actually, different types of wood as well. Obviously, we can’t call it ‘a Scotch whisky’ when we do that, but we’re just seeing what it brings. What are the differences? It’s almost like ‘why should we use oak?’ 

MoM: If you had wonderful results with chestnut or acacia or something, would you ever consider lobbying the SWA to allow different types of wood?

SM: I don’t think we would actually. Because the whisky regulations are there to protect us from anyone that is trying to do something that is perhaps not to the benefit of Scottish whisky. But what we could do is release it as a spirit drink for people who are interested in whisky and the effects of maturation and the different types of wood. But there are some interesting colours as well that you get from these different types of wood that you don’t get from oak. Who knows what could happen in the future. Will oak always be in abundance or will we have to, as an industry, look to other species of wood? 

MoM: Talking of odd wood, could you tell us about the Dewar’s 8 Mizunara oak finish?

SM: It’s eye-wateringly expensive but they’re beautifully-made casks and I never worked with them before. And although you can look at what other people have done with Mizunara, it reacts differently depending on the whisky that it’s coming in contact with. They’re all made differently and they’re coming from different trees, different growing conditions, so you can’t really say ‘well, this brand tastes of this so ours will taste the same’. When we were trialling the casks, within a month we could see a change in the colour of the spirit and a change in the profile as well. So it was really interesting to observe those casks in action. We’d been told some horror stories about Mizunara – about how much they leak and they’re brittle. But the casks that we got were just exceptional and we didn’t have any of those problems. We’ll be rolling Mizunara out to other age expressions as well. 

The Nightcap

This 18 year old Aberfeldy was finished in barriques from Pauillac in Bordeaux

MoM; How do you go about getting casks for your limited edition Aberfeldy red wine editions and others? 

SM: We’ve got a very good cask supplier and she will send us a list of casks based on what we’re interested in, because we want them to be as fresh as possible; we don’t want them when they’ve been lying about and doing the rounds of different vineyards. They send the casks to us, we nose them, we’ll chuck out any that we don’t think are suitable because in this increasing temperatures that we’re seeing in France, sometimes the casks go off. When we nose the casks there’s just almost intuitively we think ‘this is going to go with our whisky’ and then it’s just a matter of sampling to ensure that that does happen. We’ve always got in mind when we want to release the casks for bottling but my caveat to our markets is always ‘well, if it’s not ready then I’m sorry but you can’t have it’ because there’s just no point in us releasing a Côte-Rôtie finish if it’s got no flavour or it’s completely the wrong flavour for Aberfeldy. So it really has to be a beautiful marriage – a real interaction of the two sets of flavour profiles. 

MoM: Do you think people are getting the message that Scotch whisky single malts can be used in cocktails or do you think there’s still a lot of resistance to that?

SM: People are accepting it with blends, but we’re certainly trying our hardest to show them what you can do with single malts. Aberfeldy distillery has been doing lots of take-home cocktails. Our Instagram accounts are always showcasing the honey-element in cocktails with Aberfeldy. Some people think they’re being disrespectful to the whisky by putting it in a cocktail but people are always saying to me ‘I just can’t get the hang of single malts, I’d really love to’. I say ‘well try it in a cocktail, experiment and have a bit of fun with it. I would hate for anyone to not want to try a whisky because they think they’re not drinking it in the right way. Probably the most common question that I get asked is ‘how should I drink Scotch whisky?’ and it’s just ‘drink it however you want to!’ 

MoM: And finally do you have a favourite cocktail?

SM: Well actually my favourite cocktail is probably a Negroni but that’s not a whisky cocktail. I love a Mamie Taylor, so that is whisky, ginger ale or ginger beer, with a squeeze of lime juice. All of my friends told me ‘I don’t like whisky’ and I said ‘well try this’ and they were converted. So if you like it a bit sweeter ginger beer but something more refreshing would be ginger ale. 


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Cocktail of the Week: the Vodka Martini

Last week we tried a vodka that knocked our socks off, X Muse from Scotland, and what better way to celebrate its magnificence than in that simplest of cocktails, the Vodka…

Last week we tried a vodka that knocked our socks off, X Muse from Scotland, and what better way to celebrate its magnificence than in that simplest of cocktails, the Vodka Martini.

I’ll put my hand up and admit that in the past I have been a bit sniffy about Vodka Martinis. Why would you swap something that’s full of flavour, gin, for something that isn’t, vodka? Is it even a Martini if it doesn’t contain gin?

But gradually, I’ve been moving towards vodka in my Martini. A few months ago, I began making a Vesper in place of my usual Dry Martini. Baby steps, perhaps, but I was learning the importance of high-quality vodka in a cocktail.

Shaken, not stirred

Then a couple of weeks ago, I was watching Skyfall and it got to the bit where Bond has a Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, in the casino in Macau. It looked so delicious, that I had to immediately pause the television and make one myself. I used some Ramsbury wheat vodka and Regal Rogue Daring Dry vermouth, and yes I did what all cocktail books advise against and gave it a damn good shake. Once I’d got over the cloudiness from the fine ice particles, it’s actually a delicious drink: very very cold from the shaking, a little more dilute than the stirred version. Perhaps Bond was on to something.

But it wasn’t as good as a Vodka Martini I had last week at the Copper Rivet Distillery in Chatham Dockyard. I was meeting Stuart and Dan from Cask Marketing. Before eating we sat down with the distiller Abhishek Banik for a vodka tasting. For me, the two standouts were Vela from Copper Rivet, it’s spicy and creamy with a distinct banana edge, and one I’d never had before called X Muse from Scotland. It’s pronounced ‘tenth muse’, the name comes from the Greek poet Sappho who was dubbed the tenth muse. The packaging and the hefty price makes it look like another style over substance designer brand but it’s actually a vodka for lovers of single malt whisky.

X Muse

This might be the best Vodka Martini we’ve ever had

New make vodka

The brand is currently working on its own distillery but at the moment X Muse is made at the Holyrood Distillery in Edinburgh. It’s made from two types of malted barley, Maris Otter and Plumage Archer – both of which were commonly used in whisky production but have largely been superseded by more high yielding varieties. The Holyrood team double distil it before sending it to a secret location just over the border in England for rectification to 96% ABV. It’s then diluted and bottled at 40% ABV.  

As you’d hope for a vodka made from single malt new make, it’s packed full of flavour. It’s full of spice, roasted coffee, chocolate, and creamy oaty notes. Imagine the essence of malted barley, and you’re there. 

The taste is spectacularly neat but it’s even better stirred down with a little vermouth in a very dry Vodka Martini. This heightened the sweet barley and chocolate side of the spirit making a truly complex cocktail. 

While I tend to love quite wet classic Martinis, this is best served very dry to fully appreciate that creamy texture and I’d recommend a subtle dry vermouth like Dolin. You don’t want to complicate things. Be prepared for the best Vodka Martini you’ve ever had. 

How to make a Vodka Martini

50ml X Muse vodka
5ml Dolin Dry vermouth

First, chill your Nick & Nora or Martini glass in the freezer. Then fill a shaker or jug with lots of very cold ice. Add the vodka and vermouth and stir for a minute. Strain into your chilled glass and garnish with a lemon twist.

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New Arrival of the Week: Ferrand Renegade Barrel No.3

Our New Arrival, Ferrand Renegade Barrel No.3, is an eau-de-vie from the Charente region aged in French oak before a secondary maturation in casks that previously held some seriously funky…

Our New Arrival, Ferrand Renegade Barrel No.3, is an eau-de-vie from the Charente region aged in French oak before a secondary maturation in casks that previously held some seriously funky Jamaican rum. Just don’t call it Cognac. 

When is a Cognac not a Cognac? When it’s aged in rogue barrels, that’s when. Our New Arrival, Ferrand Renegade Barrel No.3, comes from spirits maverick Alexandre Gabriel who we have written about on the blog before. Since he took over venerable Cognac producer Maison Ferrand, he’s had a whale of a time pushing the boundaries of what’s acceptable in this often rather staid region.

This is not acceptable!

As a rum producer through the Plantation brand, and a whisky lover, he brings a cross-category approach to Cognac. He’s always looking to experiment with casks he has acquired from other spirits. But while this kind of approach might work in Scotch whisky – mezcal cask Lagavulin, anyone? – or rum, it hasn’t always gone down well with the BNIC, Cognac’s regulatory body.

The first Renegade bottling was partly aged in old Sauternes barriques, a historic technique in the region, and it was passed, somewhat reluctantly I like to think, by the BNIC. But Renegade No. 2 was finished in chestnut wood casks and that had the Cognac bigwigs harrumphing into their moustaches so Alexander simply marketed it as an eau-de-vie. 

Since then, in a move that surprised many in the industry, Gabriel became vice president of the BNIC in December 2020. And yet he’s still producing maverick bottlings like Ferrand Renegade Barrel No.3, our New Arrival of the Week. This started life as a Grand Champagne Cognac from premier cru vineyards distilled in 2011. But following a period of ageing in French oak, Gabriel moved it into barrels that had previously held Plantation rum from the Long Pond Distillery in Jamaica that was distilled in 1996. This would be a funky high ester rum providing a touch of what the French used to call ‘hogo’ or ‘haut gout’ – high flavour ie. the funk. The moment it hit that wood, it was no longer legally Cognac. Following this extra maturation, it was bottled at 48.2% ABV.

The Nightcap

Alexander Gabriel

The history man

Gabriel is something of a controversial figure not just for his Cognac experiments but for partly-ageing his Caribbean rums in France and being completely open about sweetening some of his products if he feels they need it. We have covered the long-running feud between him and Richard Seale of Foursquare over the GI (geographical indication) for Barbados rum. Gabriel’s reply is that in rum as in Cognac he’s simply reviving old techniques that have fallen by the wayside: “Cognac has a rich history full of old and forgotten techniques that we love to explore and revive,” he said. Anyone who has spent time with him will know his deep love and knowledge of the history of drinks. 

He elaborated: “This Renegade Barrel No. 3 is a tribute to the old master bonders who, until 40 years ago, would go to the harbour in Bordeaux to collect rum barrels as they arrived from the Caribbean. I know an old Cognac maker who actually remembers ageing some of his Cognacs that way. I could help but try it. We were so excited to see how beautifully it developed.” Gabriel has found newspaper adverts from 1912 offering rum barrels for sale to Cognac producers.

It’s difficult to argue with someone who brings so much knowledge and passion to his products so probably best just to sit back and enjoy the magnificence of his creations. Gabriel is also a massive cocktail fan so as well as savouring this rare spirit neat, we imagine he’d love you to try it in a cocktail. It would be particularly good in a Harvard – similar to a Manhattan but made with Cognac. Sorry, eaux-de-vie.

New Arrival of the Week: Ferrand Renegade Barrel No.3 is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Ferrand Renegade

Tasting note for Ferrand Renegade Barrel No.3

Nose: Intense and fruity with orange, guava and Cape gooseberry, accompanied by pastry notes of almond and vanilla with a floral touch of honeysuckle.

Taste: With the same fruity profile on the nose, some notes of quince paste, peach and tangerine with a spicy touch of nutmeg and cinnamon.

Finish: Long and suave with lemongrass and liquorice and a touch of coffee and a minty feel. 

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Norwest Europe Express Whiskies are coming soon

All aboard for a journey into big flavours and idiosyncratic spirits, as we take a ride on the Norwest Europe Express with That Boutique-y Whisky Company. A whole load of…

All aboard for a journey into big flavours and idiosyncratic spirits, as we take a ride on the Norwest Europe Express with That Boutique-y Whisky Company. A whole load of whiskies from Austria, Germany, France, and Scandinavia will be arriving at Master of Malt any day now. Here’s a little preview of what to expect. 

UPDATE: the whiskies are now available, right here!

Whisky from non-traditional countries, so-called world whisky, has come on massively in the last 10 years. And yet in a globalised economy where materials, knowledge and equipment can travel, there is a danger that far-flung bottlings may end up tasting pretty similar. After all, many new distilleries make very Scotchy-type spirits using stills from Forsyths, Scottish malted barley, Scottish know-how and age in familiar casks. 

Well, if you’re worried about whisky becoming homogenous, then you need to take a ride on the Norwest Europe Express. That Boutique-y Whisky Company has rounded up a bunch of idiosyncratic bottlings from northern Europe and Scandinavia. Starting in Brittany, the journey goes through Germany and Switzerland and into Austria. Then it heads north into Scandinavia with great whiskies from Finland, Sweden, and Denmark.

Be warned, there’s some pretty wild stuff here. In fact, because one is made from buckwheat, it’s not even technically whisky according to European regulations. But nothing will prepare you for Borgen whisky from Austria, a whisky so smoky it makes Ardbeg taste like Glenkinchie. Be afraid, be very afraid. A small cabal of peatheads, however, will love it. Me, my favourites were the Kyrö Malted Rye from Finland and Fary Lochan from Denmark. Let us know what you think below or on social. 

Right here’s a rundown of what we’ve got: 


Broger Austrian Single Malt 6 Year Old 

This one should come with a warning like heavy metal CDs used to have in the ‘80s. It comes from a small family-run distillery in Austria. They use heavily peated malt. Nothing wrong with that but they retain the husks and include them in fermentation. Basically, every bit of smoke goes into your whisky. It’s aged in French Limousin oak and bottled at 60.2% ABV.

Nose: Acetone, rubber and burnt clutch. Smells like something that shouldn’t be drunk.

Palate: Crickey! It tastes like it smells. My God.

Finish: Mercifully, it does finish at some point. 


Eddu Single Malt Buckwheat Spirit 14 Year Old

This is not allowed to be called whisky in Europe because it’s made from buckwheat which isn’t a real grain, it’s a pseudo-grain. It’s apparently even harder to work than rye. This is made at Brittany’s Distillerie Des Menhirs. Yes, like in Asterix. The family have been distilling cider since 1921 but moved into whisky or pseudo whisky in 2002. It’s aged in Limousin oak and bottled at 47.9% ABV.

Nose: Cumin on the nose, with sweet ginger and malt, plus grassy notes, vanilla, apple and oaty cereal.

Palate: Creamy, light-bodied, smooth, almost single-grain like whisky.

Finish: Creamy vanilla and a little spicy ginger. 


Fary Lochan Danish Single Malt 6 Year Old 

We’re heading to Southern Jutland for our next whisky. It was founded by Jens-Erik Jorgensen in 2009. He died in 2016, but it’s still run by his family.  This is aged in sherry wood before bottling at 60.2% ABV. This was a great favourite of mine. 

Nose: Tobacco, smoke, dried fruit, pungent spices and a little dark chocolate. 

Palate: Super spicy like rye bread, peppery, malty-sweet chocolate notes with big maraschino cherry fruit and some grippy wood tannin.

Finish: That dark cherry note really lingers. 


Helsinki Distilling Co. Finnish Rye Whisky Batch 2 6 Year Old

The Finns have taken to rye whisky in a big way. From the Helsinki distillery, this is a 6-year-old rye whisky distilled from 70% malted rye, and 30% malted barley mashbill. It’s been matured for the full term in a new charred, (char level 3) American oak cask. The country’s cold climate means that this matures slowly so despite the age and the new casks, there’s no danger of it getting woody. It’s bottled at 58.9% ABV.

Nose: Spicy, malty rye bread with menthol and tobacco.

Palate: Super aromatic, chilli peppers, with strong cereal notes and touch of salt.

Finish: Creamy delicious cereal and spice.


Kyrö malted rye whisky 4 year old

A distillery that probably needs no introduction to Master of Malt customers. But here’s a short one anyway: Kyrö was founded in 2014 and since then rye whiskey has become its calling card. It uses 100% malted Finnish rye. Fermentation times are long, around six days, and ageing takes place in a mixture of ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks. This example is bottled at 53.1% ABV. I absolutely loved it.

Nose: Super aromatic, rye bread, malty, you can really smell the cereal.

Palate: Wow! Sensationally spicy, with Szechuan pepper, then the cereal comes in and it’s like biting into a piece of alcoholic rye bread. It tastes so alive and full of malty goodness.

Finish: Dark and roasty, like a pint of porter with a shot of espresso in it. 


Smogen Swedish Single Malt Batch 2 8 Year Old 

We’re heading to Hunnebostrand in Sweden to the Smogen distillery for our next whisky. This 8-year-old was fully matured in a first-fill bourbon barrel, and we’ve bottled this at natural cask strength, 60.3% ABV.

Nose: Apple and pears, clear clean fruit with gentle wood fire and a touch of bacon.

Palate: Vanilla and apple, with light bonfires, seaweed and black pepper. Lovely balance between fruit and smoke.

Finish: Gentle wafts of smoke.


Slyrs German Single Malt Batch 3 3 Year Old 

Next stop is Bavaria for the Slyrs Distillery. This is a 3-year-old single malt that has been treated to some pretty severe cask ageing. The team uses an American oak cask with the heaviest char available, also known as ‘Crocodile Toast’ as the inside of the cask is charred so deep that it resembles the cracked skin of a crocodile. It was bottled at 52.6% ABV.

Nose: Big cherries, and cherrywood, aromatic with spicy rye-like notes, toffee and muscovado sugar. 

Palate: Creamy and peppery, smooth, with chocolate and toffee and clove spiciness.

Finish: Sweet and spicy. 


Teerenpeli Finnish Single Malt Batch 2 3 Year

We’re back in Finland now heading to the famous Teerenpeli distillery. The name means ‘flirtation’ but also ‘black grouse’, apparently. Yeah, it can get pretty complicated in Finland. The malted barley is local. The ageing is pretty local too as it takes plylace in old sea containers which are exposed to temperatures between -35C to +30C. This particular batch was aged in re-coopered American oak ex-bourbon hogshead before bottling at 55.5% ABV.

Nose: Super fruity, apples, lemons, with vanilla, toffee and cream.

Palate: Peppery and then sweet like banana custard, very light smoke.

Finish: Distant wafts of smoke and custard creams.


Highglen Swiss Single Malt 3 Year Old

Highglen is a one-man band. The man being local character Lord Gunter Sommer who makes whisky in Switzerland near the border with Italy. Highglen is an appropriate name as the distillery’s altitude is twice that of Ben Nevis. He ages the whisky in his own special 100-litre casks made from ex-bourbon staves, and ex-sherry heads.

Tasting notes from TBWC:

Nose: Deliciously complex! Aromas of coffee, light honey on toasted rye bread, dark chocolate, and hints of pine needles and linseed oil.

Palate: Hints of liquorice, dried apricots, creamy vanilla caramel, coffee, and cocoa, alongside a charred wood smoke note. Love this!

These are limited edition whiskies. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

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Ramsbury Distillery – taking local spirits to a whole new level

Last month we took a trip to the beautiful Wiltshire countryside to visit Ramsbury Estate which grows (almost) everything needed to make gin, vodka, beer and so many delicious snacks….

Last month we took a trip to the beautiful Wiltshire countryside to visit Ramsbury Estate which grows (almost) everything needed to make gin, vodka, beer and so many delicious snacks.

If you want to start making gin, there’s an easy way and a hard way. You could order a little Portuguese still on the internet for £500, get a licence, buy neutral alcohol, some botanicals and off you go. You can make very nice gin this way. Or you can buy a farm, grow your own wheat, ferment it, equip a distillery with an expensive column still to make neutral alcohol, distill your gin and then use the leftover botanicals to cure meat which, of course, you have raised on your farm. No prizes for guessing how they do things at the Ramsbury Estate in Wiltshire.

The estate covers around 20,000 acres and it’s owned by a Swede called Stefan Persson. He’s not the most high profile billionaire but the chairman and main shareholder of H&M, he’s not short of a bob or two. When I visited, I was shown around by the estate manager Alistair Ewing, head of marketing and sales Will Thompson and Mats Olsson, who used to work with Absolut Vodka. The estate employs 25 people not including the pub staff.

But first a pint

We began the day with a pint of Ramsbury bitter at the pub on the estate, The Bell at Ramsbury. This was followed by a superb meal cooked by chef Oli Clark using ingredients from the estate as much as possible. To finish we had a Gin & Tonic pudding made with, naturally, Ramsbury Gin.

The Ramsbury ethos in diagram form

The Ramsbury ethos in diagram form

“We are a farm that has a distillery”, Ewing explained to me. He then outlined all the activities that take place on the estate in addition to spirit manufacture. There’s brewery which produces a variety of traditional English beers brewed from estate-grown barley. Apparently the soil isn’t good for hops growing so Kentish hops (with some Czech and New Zealand hops) are used instead. There’s cattle and pigs as well as game like deer and pheasants. The estate produces cold-pressed nutty rapeseed oil and grows rye to be used as biofuel. Waste goes into anaerobic digester, and water used in the distillery and brewery is filtered through reed beds. Not all the sustainable practices have worked: “We tried to reuse yeast waste from fermentation to make bread but the results were revolting”, Ewing told me.

Probably had a fight with a badger

Then it was off in the Land Rover for a tour of the estate with Ewing pointing things out to us in his deadpan Devonian burr. Seeing a hare galloping across the Wiltshire hills on a bright April day was a magical sight. When we couldn’t see any pigs, Ewing said, “they probably had a fight with a badger”. Less amusingly, he pointed out ash trees that are dying from a fungal disease. He expects to lose about 90% of the ash on the estate. These will be cut down and put in a wood chipper to be used as fuel.

Massive column still

Massive column still

After the tour, we had a quick look round the brewery (and yes, some beer) before the main reason for the trip, the distillery! And what a set-up they have! Distiller Dhiraj Pujari showed off his kit: Dominating the room is a 42 plate column still and to the side two pot stills. The neutral alcohol is made from wheat grown on the estate, fermented with a distillers yeast. The wash is first distilled in a pot still and then the low wines go through the column to create a 95% spirit. The fact that they have a pot still means that a whisky is a possibility though they haven’t produced any new make yet. Ewing told me that team are currently experimenting with making casks out of local oak which they might use to age their own whisky.

Custodians of the land

The gin is a classic London dry style partly distilled using juniper growing outside the distillery though they do buy in some too. Other botanicals include cinnamon, orange, lemon, and quince (which comes from the estate). Barrie Wilson, owner of Scotch and Limon, knocked up some drinks including Gin and Tonics and delicious beetroot Martinis, which were a meal in a glass. All the time snacking on delicious meats cured by smoke from leftover botanicals. Other products include a fruity, peppery vodka and a damson gin.  Your bottle will you not only when your spirit was made, but also when the cereal was harvested and which part of the estate it came from. Can’t get more local than that?

All this commitment to sustainability and localism doesn’t come cheap. According to Ewing, the estate owner “takes a long view on profit”. But Ramsbury Estate is much more than a rich man’s plaything. “We are custodians of the land”, Ewing said, “we’re not doing anything people weren’t doing 300 years ago. . . Except with more health and safety.”

Ramsbury Estate products are available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Reeds at Ramsbury

Reed beds outside the distillery clean waste water and provide a habitat for birds

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Book review: ‘Exploring Blended Scotch’ by Charles MacLean and Stuart Leaf 

Whisky writer extraordinaire Charles MacLean MBE has a new book out called ‘Exploring Blended Scotch’ written with American whisky amateur Stuart Leaf. But is it worth your hard-earned cash? Ian Buxton…

Whisky writer extraordinaire Charles MacLean MBE has a new book out called ‘Exploring Blended Scotch’ written with American whisky amateur Stuart Leaf. But is it worth your hard-earned cash? Ian Buxton finds out.

Given my own very recent thoughts here on value in Scotch blends, I was pleased to note that renowned whisky writer Charles Maclean has not been idle in lockdown. His Stakhanovite literary labours have delivered a slim monograph Exploring Blended Scotch, jointly with Stuart Leaf for the International Wine & Food Society.


Charlie MacLean (photo courtesy of the SMWS)

Blended Scotch 1.01

Slight though it may appear – a mere 150 pages, including illustrations – members of the IFWS and others will find much of interest and value within its covers. It could perhaps have been titled Introducing Blended Scotch or Blended Scotch 1.01 for this is in truth a primer, but one that will lead the curious or inquiring reader down many fruitful paths.

The authors attempt a broad-brush coverage of blended Scotch’s history, the blending process, appreciation, leading brands, collecting, cocktails, pairing whisky with food, concluding with a modest assortment of recipes. Each has contributed around half of the text, with MacLean taking the introduction and parts I, II and III, and Leaf – a US-based hedge fund manager, part-owner of a Brooklyn bar and true amateur of whisky – responsible for the remaining chapters.

Where’s the viscimetry?

As might be anticipated from MacLean’s experienced hand, his opening ‘History of Blended Scotch’ is an admirably succinct account of major developments in the industry, condensing many hours of studying rather dryer texts into a brisk and readable synopsis. Similarly, parts II and III provide a useful summary of the blending process and the business of appreciation. Even knowledgeable readers will appreciate this handy refresher though I was disappointed to find no discussion of viscimetry, surely overdue for inclusion in the OED.

In the latter half the authors turn to discussing brands, collecting, cocktails, pairing whisky with food and offer some recipes – somewhat more contentious questions but worthy of our attention. However, the choice of brands appears quixotic, perhaps unduly influenced by a US perspective. Brands with substantial European sales, such as William Lawson’s (approx. 3m cases) and important French labels such as William Peel, Label 5 and Clan Campbell (around 6.5 m cases in total) are ignored in favour of lesser Diageo blends.

Blended Scotch - Charles Maclean

More whisky books, please publishers

The thoughts on collecting will provoke discussion, not least the suggestion that “profiting financially by acquiring blends inexpensively and reselling them is unlikely in the short run” but, refreshingly, readers are invited to taste and share their opinions on a range of older blends. Hallelujah! Whisky for drinking!

A selection of whisky cocktails follows, arguably somewhat redundant when the current plethora of cocktail books is considered, together with some thoughts on pairing whisky with various foods, a topic also widely covered in more authoritative titles.

However, the brief bibliography illustrates the relative paucity of in-depth writing on blended Scotch. Perhaps the greatest contribution then that this slender volume can make to whisky’s literature is to encourage another publisher to commission the more detailed and exhaustive study that the subject demands.

Exploring Blended Scotch by Charles Maclean and Stuart Leaf is available here, price £9.99.

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