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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Henry Jeffreys

Win two incredible bottles of money-can’t-buy Yellow Spot!

To celebrate the day devoted to the man who chased the snakes out of Ireland, we’re offering you £5 off Yellow Spot, PLUS the chance to win two very rare…

To celebrate the day devoted to the man who chased the snakes out of Ireland, we’re offering you £5 off Yellow Spot, PLUS the chance to win two very rare bottles. So rare, there are only two of them. And one lucky person will win both!

Sunday 17 March is St. Patrick’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a good drop of Irish whiskey. There are so many delicious ones to choose from nowadays. We’re particularly partial to the Spot range of single pot still whiskeys. We went to to Dublin recently to try the latest release, Red Spot 15 Year Old, which we thought was pretty bloody brilliant.

Billy doing his hand-selecting thing

But we have something for you that trumps even that. You could win two very special bottles of Yellow Spot drawn from a single cask specially selected by master blender Billy Leighton! The spirit was originally laid down in November 2003 in an American oak ex-bourbon cask. Then in April 2008, it was transferred to a first-fill Spanish oak Malaga wine cask where it has been resting until now. Bottled at a natural cask strength of 58.2% ABV, these two bottles offer an incredible opportunity to taste a unique single cask component of Yellow Spot whiskey. Malaga, an intensely sweet wine from Andalucia, gives the whiskey a rich honeyed quality, and combined with that creamy spicy pot still flavour, the results are out of this world.

Only two sample bottles have been filled with this special whisky (don’t worry! They’re still 700ml), and just to reiterate, the winner will get both. Two bottles! One to drink now and one to keep for that special occasion: daughter getting into medical school, winning a charity golf tournament, or just because you’re worth it. Simply snap up a bottle from the excellent Spot range between now and 23:59 Fri 22 March, and you’ll be automagically be entered into the Yellow Spot draw. See below for Terms and Conditions.

Yellow Spot

Lovely, lovely Yellow Spot – at £5 off!

Everyone’s a winner with £5 off Yellow Spot!

And hold onto your hats because we’re not done yet with whiskey-related excitement – regardless of whether you’re the lucky winner of those Malaga cask bottlings (we’re not jealous at all…) we’re delighting your wallet as well as your taste buds with £5 off Yellow Spot this St. Patrick’s Day!

Yep, so you can snap up a bargain to savour now, while giving yourself the chance to win something truly extraordinary. Good luck!

MoM Yellow Spot St. Patrick’s Day 2019 Competition open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 8 – 22 March 2019. Winner chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. Some shipping destinations excluded. Entry also available with no purchase. See full T&Cs for details.

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When All is Said: A novel told through whiskey

As you may have already guessed, we love whiskey at Master of Malt. We also love reading, that is why we’re head-over-heels with When All is Said, a novel told…

As you may have already guessed, we love whiskey at Master of Malt. We also love reading, that is why we’re head-over-heels with When All is Said, a novel told through Irish whiskey.

When All is Said is Anne Griffin’s debut, but it reads like the work of a master storyteller. No surprise then that it’s been selling like hot cakes in Britain and Ireland (where it was a number one bestseller), and picking up great reviews. Master of Malt has been conducting whiskey tastings at some of her talks, including one at Waterstones Covent Garden, where Griffin used to work. Before the event started, she told us a bit about the inspiration for the book:

“It must have been July of 2014, I happened into a bar in Mayo and here was an old gent standing there having a pint. He came over to talk to us. He said, ‘you know I used to work here when I was a boy’, and then he said the most amazing thing as he walked away, he said, ‘I’m not going to see the morning’. But he was gone before I could pull him back say ‘so exactly what does that mean?!’ What a statement! The next day that sentence stayed in my head and the idea of Maurice Hannigan, this fictional character sitting at a bar, to drink five toasts to the most five most important people in his life, came to me. And that’s where it all started.”

Midleton whiskey

Midleton Very Rare – so rare that we have sold out

Over the course of the evening, he has a few drinks, and he tells us his whole life. The three whiskeys he consumes are Bushmills to his daughter Molly, Jefferson’s Bourbon to his son in America, and finally something old and rare from Midleton to his long-suffering wife Sadie. He also drinks a bottle of stout to his brother Tony and one to his sister-in-law Noreen. We learn about his upbringing in poverty in Ireland, working in service for the brutal local landowners, his marriage, and children. There’s skulduggery involving a rare gold sovereign, family revelations and more than a little tragedy.

When All Is Said

Fiction chart-topper, When All Is Said

Hannigan is not always a likeable man. He can be stubborn, mean and greedy. As a boy, he grew up with nothing and gradually became the richest man in the area, but this success came at the expense of personal relationships. It’s a story about regret: that evening, Hannigan says all the things he should have said in person to the people he is addressing. I read much of it on the plane back from Dublin and found myself welling up more than a few times (though apparently altitude makes people emotional). Reading When All is Said is like meeting an interesting, engaging, amusing and occasionally maddening man in the pub, and listening to his life story. There’s something very believable about this reticent man opening up over a few drinks. This quote from the book, sums him up:

“As for Irish men, I’ve news for you. It’s worse as you get older. It’s like we tunnel ourselves deeper into our aloneness. Solving our problems on our own. Men, sitting alone at bars going over and over the same old territory in their heads.”

Anne Griffin

Anne Griffin

Anne Griffin herself is a keen whiskey drinker: “My family, my mum and dad are teetotallers. But around 25, I began to just have a whiskey after dinner. I loved Bushmills and I adored Midleton. And I just felt that Maurice Hannigan had to be a whiskey drinker.” We’ll drink to that.

Master of Malt will be supporting Anne Griffin at the Cork World Book Festival on Saturday 27th April.

When All is Said by Anne Griffin is published by Sceptre, hardback, £12.99.

 

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Plantation Barbados Rum 2002

As part of a new series on the blog, we will be highlighting new bottles that we are particularly excited about. To begin with, here is a delicious Bayan rum…

As part of a new series on the blog, we will be highlighting new bottles that we are particularly excited about. To begin with, here is a delicious Bayan rum with a French twist.

I know we’ve said it before but it’s worth reiterating, rum is going to be the next single malt whisky. It might be taking longer than we first thought but the quality is there and prices compared with the whiskies from Scotland, America and Japan are very friendly (at least for the time being). At the moment, most rum sold is a blend of distilleries, islands and even countries, but gradually drinkers are waking up to single distillery offerings the rum equivalent of single malts.

Just as in Scotland, independent merchants play an important role, tracking down, buying and bottling rare spirits. Which brings us on to this week’s new product from the Plantation range. This company bottles rums from around the Caribbean: Jamaica, Trinidad and this little beauty from Barbados.

It comes from the West Indies Rum Distillery. You’ve probably never heard of it but you’ve almost certainly drunk something made there. Spirits distilled here go into big names like Cockspur Five Star and Malibu. Alongside such familiar faces, the distillery also produces more upmarket rums which are sold under a myriad of labels. If your rum is from Barbados, it’s probably distilled here, at the famous Mount Gay distillery, or at Four Square, which is owned by a great rum family, the Seales. There is also the tiny St. Nicholas Abbey Distillery

Barbados has a rich rum history. It’s the island where the word ‘rum’ (a contraction of rumbullion, meaning a fight or a disturbance) comes from, probably. It’s also where rum evolved from a rough borderline poisonous spirit drunk by slaves and indentured labour into something to rival Cognac. The Mount Gay distillery dates back to 1703; the West Indies Rum Distillery is more recent being founded in 1893. Four Square is the baby of the group, it began distilling in 1996.

Plantation 2002 Barbados Rum

Plantation 2002 Barbados Rum

The Plantation range and, since 2017, the West Indies Rum Distillery are owned by a French company, Maison Ferrand (the people behind Pierre Ferrand Cognac and Citadelle Gin). And the influence of the parent company certainly shows in the 2002 Plantation Barbados rumIt’s made from a blend of pot and column still spirits (heavier and lighter rums, respectively) which were distilled in a single year, 2002. It spent 12 years on the island maturing in ex-bourbon casks. The heat of Caribbean leads to rapid ageing. Then it was transferred to former Cognac casks and matured in the cool of the Cognac region in France before bottling. You’d be hard-pressed to find a whisky with this kind of maturity for under £50. 

This is just the kind of thing that gets us lovers of dark spirits a bit hot under the collar. The unusual two climate, two wood ageing process has produced a rich elegant rum with notes of toffee, fruitcake, vanilla and cigars. It’s delicious neat but, I think, even better in a rum Old Fashioned, just add a little sugar, ice and bitters. Whisky lovers, what are you waiting for? Rum lovers, we probably already had you at ‘Plantation’.

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The Golden Dram: A new whisky film coming soon

Master of Malt was lucky enough to attend a preview of new documentary The Golden Dram, set to hit cinemas from 8 March. So, what’s it all about? If you…

Master of Malt was lucky enough to attend a preview of new documentary The Golden Dram, set to hit cinemas from 8 March. So, what’s it all about?

If you like your whisky on screen, then you are spoiled for choice at the moment. A couple of years ago the BBC made Scotch! The Story of Whisky, there’s The Three Drinkers Do Scotch Whisky, which we wrote about recently, and Dave Broom has a crowdfunded film in the pipeline which sounds great. Now there’s The Golden Dram, and it’s directed by a man called Andrew Peat. How perfect is that?

The film features some of the biggest names in whisky including Charles MacLean, Richard Paterson (on magnificently hammy form) and Dr. Bill Lumsden. But at the heart of the film is Jim McEwan. Peat has been clever in constructing the film around this industry legend on the verge of retirement. This gives the story an elegiac, end-of-an-era quality.

Jim McEwan

Jim McEwan, standing in a barley field, thinking about whisky (probably)

McEwan was born on Islay near the Bowmore Distillery. The distillery was the heart of the town, and from an early age all he wanted to do was work there. He began as an apprentice in 1963. It was a different world. Bill Lumsden, who began his career in the 80s, tells the story of how, on his first day as a fresh-faced graduate, the distillery manager flicked his cigarette butt into a fermentation vat, just to show the college boy who was boss. There are stories about taking a dram of cask-strength whisky at 8am and another a lunchtime. Oh, for the days before health and safety!

Today, many in the business are university graduates but in McEwan’s day you worked your way up from the floor. He did shifts in all parts of Bowmore, including  coopering, malting and distilling. He quickly rose through the ranks and, after a spell blending whisky in Glasgow, in 1986 he was named Bowmore distillery manager.

Under McEwan, Bowmore became one of the most highly-regarded distilleries in Scotland. When Suntory took over in 1994, head office in Japan realised what a treasure they had in McEwan and sent him off around the world spreading the word about whisky. And you can see why – when he’s on screen, you can’t take your eyes off him. To hear him talk is to hear a master storyteller with a deep love and knowledge of whisky.

Tired of all the travelling and missing his family– there are some moving contributions from his daughters – McEwan surprised everyone by leaving Bowmore in 2000 to take over a dilapidated distillery nearby, Bruichladdich. “When Bruichladdich died the community died,” McEwan tells us at one point in the film. This is the best part of the production, seeing how McEwan and the team rebuilt the distillery and reemployed all the old team who had been laid off. No, that’s just something in my eye. His relationship with distillery manager Duncan McGillivray is particularly warm and amusing.

Lynne McEwan

Lynne McEwan who works at her father’s old distillery, Bruichladdich

It is all beautifully shot with shimmering barley, sparkling water and lambs gamboling in the fields. As well as an intimate portrait of McEwan and Islay, the film also tells us some of the history of Scotch whisky and shows us how that barley is turned into the golden dram. Here, I think, it is less successful. If you don’t know how whisky is made you are probably going to be none the wiser after watching. The history element is similarly rushed. There’s stuff about the wild days of distilling before it went legal with the passing of the Excise Act in 1823, but then it jumps straight to the present day. I think something on the booms and busts that plague the industry would have been helpful in explaining why Bruichladdich and other distilleries on Islay closed. The directors could have cut many of the talking heads; there were so many that at times it reminded me a little of those 80s nostalgia shows featuring Stuart Maconie. A long segment about glass blowing also added nothing to the story.

But whenever McEwan is on screen, the film is nothing less than spellbinding. It ends with McEwan shutting the gates at Bruichladdich, we assume for the last time, to go into retirement. His work is done; Bruichladdich is back to its former glory and distilling on Islay is booming. But then, just before the credits roll, we are told that McEwan has been lured out of retirement for one final caper, building Islay’s newest distillery, Ardnahoe, which opens next month. You can’t keep him away from the business he loves.

To find out about screening for The Golden Dram go to: www.scotchthegoldendram.co.uk/cinemas/

 

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Espresso Martini

27 February was the third anniversary of the death of British bar legend Dick Bradsell. So this week, as a belated tribute, we are looking at one of his most…

27 February was the third anniversary of the death of British bar legend Dick Bradsell. So this week, as a belated tribute, we are looking at one of his most famous creations, the Espresso Martini.

The story goes that the Espresso Martini was invented by Bradsell in 1983 after a supermodel came into the Soho Brasserie and asked for a drink that would “wake me up, and then fuck me up” (responsibly, of course). He christened it the Vodka Espresso, but it soon became known as the Espresso Martini because of the shape of the glass. Despite being a recent invention, it’s a cocktail that has inspired much debate as to the proper way to make it. Should it just be coffee, sugar syrup and vodka, or should you use a coffee liqueur like Tia Maria or Kahlúa? Another problem is that it proved so popular that soon bars began cutting corners, using stale, bad-quality coffee, and even pre-making the whole thing and just shaking them to order. If you’re not careful with an Espresso Martini, you can end up with something perilously close to sweetened iced coffee.

Dick Bradsell

The late, great Dick Bradsell (credit: Diffordsguide.com)

What you want is a drink that looks like an espresso complete with crema on top. In order to achieve this, I spoke with Rod Eslamieh from Chapter 72 on Bermondsey Street, a coffee and cocktail bar which modestly claims to make “the best Espresso Martini in town”. He uses only three ingredients: coffee, vodka and Tia Maria in equal parts. So no sugar syrup. “One of the mistakes people make is that they think any vodka will do,” he said. “We use a really good premium vodka.” Next, don’t make your coffee too far in advance: “Once you extract the coffee, oxidation starts taking place and it’s very bitter.” I find that coffee from a stove-top mocha works well in place of an proper espresso; just be careful that you don’t over-boil it or the coffee will turn out bitter. And finally, shake with lots of ice like your life depended on it.

“You have to shake hard because you have to get that iconic cream at the top,” Eslamieh told me. “Sometimes we actually do a reverse shake. We would dry shake it first, then shake it with ice as well, and then pour it. So when you pour it, there’s just this nice caramel look.”

Espresso Martini

Now that’s a proper Espresso Martini

Thanks to people like Eslamieh, the Espresso Martini has been rescued from the bargain basement and is now extremely fashionable. Once you have mastered the basic recipe, you can start playing around with it. Eslamieh likes to add Disaronno Amaretto to give it a nutty taste. You could try adding a little Sambuca as a nod to that Italian classic, the Caffè Corretto. And finally, I’ve been playing around with Asterley Bros London Fernet, which has a bitter chocolate flavour may as well be custom-made to go with coffee. Lots of fun to be had. Here’s the classic recipe:

30ml ice-cold Reyka Icelandic vodka
30ml freshly-made espresso
30ml Tia Maria

First make your espresso and let it cool. Fill the shaker with ice, add the vodka and Tia Maria, stir, and then add the coffee. Shake very hard and double strain into a frozen Martini glass. Garnish with a coffee bean or three.

 

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Milk and Honey: Israel’s first single malt whisky distillery

We talk extreme climate ageing, Israeli terroir and Jim Swan’s influence on world whisky with the team at Milk & Honey (or M&H to its friends). When is a single…

We talk extreme climate ageing, Israeli terroir and Jim Swan’s influence on world whisky with the team at Milk & Honey (or M&H to its friends).

When is a single malt not a whisky? When it’s the snappily-titled M&H Young Single Malt Aged Spirit, that’s when. Later this year, there will be a whisky release from Israel’s first single malt distillery, but the spirit is so delicious at about six months ageing that the team has decided to bottle some now. This is the Triple Cask release, and it’s aged in a combination of ex-bourbon, Islay and STR (shaved, toasted and re-charred) casks that previously held Israeli wine.

I tried some last year; firstly in its component parts, and then put together where it had notes of honeycomb and cherry, all with an underlying smokiness coming through strongly on the finish. The liquid is so rich, harmonious and golden in colour, that it’s hard to believe it is only six months old.

Milk & Honey

M&H Triple Cask

Dana Baran, head of marketing, explained to me why it had so much flavour already. “It’s very hot and humid in Tel Aviv, and the climate helps with fast maturation,” she says. “It’s like Kavalan in Taiwan. The negative side is the evaporation rate, which is about 8-10% yearly.” Head distiller Tomer Goren added: “Whiskies over three-to-four years old, which we already have, are well-matured. We will not reach more than five or six years of maturation.” The Triple Cask bodes well for the distillery’s first full release of whisky, due out later this year. There was a very limited release of 391 bottles in 2017, the first of which went for £2,400 at auction.

Milk & Honey (from the biblical name for ancient Israel, the land of milk and honey) has something else in common with Kavalan: the involvement of Jim Swan, distiller extraordinaire, who died in 2017. “Dr Jim Swan was our consultant,” said Baran. “He helped us to build the distillery from scratch, chose the casks, the yeast, and designed our pot stills.” According to Goren, Jim Swan found Israel’s climate fascinating from a maturation point of view. “We are such a small country, but we have three or four different climate zones. All the zones see whisky mature at different rates.”  

The team have been experimenting with ageing casks in the ultra-salty environment of the Dead Sea. ”The air is very dry and salty,” said Baran. “Temperatures can run up to 50°C in the summer there, so obviously the evaporation rates will be sky-high. But we might get some interesting flavours from there as well.”

The climate isn’t the only unique thing the team has to play around with. “Our ‘terroir’ is trying to use locally-based interesting things,” Baran told me. Israel has a burgeoning wine scene. At the moment, Israeli wineries use mainly French grape varieties like Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon, but some are experimenting with indigenous grapes. M&H is ageing some spirit in casks that previously held these grapes for added local flavour. The team also uses casks that contained wine made from fermented pomegranates, “a very biblical and very Israeli fruit”, according to Baran.

Milk & Honey

It’s a barrel of laughs working at M&H

Sadly, Israeli barley is not suitable for distillation so the grain comes from Muntons, a British company. Most of the M&H distillation runs are unpeated, but every six months Goren does a two-week run of peated barley. The yeast comes from Fermentis in Belgium, and the team ferments for between 60 and 70 hours. There is a 9,000 litre wash still and a 3,500 litre spirit still producing around 170,000 litres of pure spirit per year, enough to fill 800 casks. So it’s a small operation, at least by Scottish standards. For comparison, Ardbeg produces around 1.25 million litres per year.

M&H filled its first cask in 2015. At the time there were no other whisky distilleries in the country. But, according to Goren, “the whisky industry is booming, so there is now one more that is up and running, and there’s one or two that are in the construction stages.” There are no Israeli regulations for whisky. Goren told me that distillers largely use those of the Scotch Whisky Association, so the first whisky will be aged for a minimum of three years.  

As well as whisky and nearly whisky, M&H also makes gin and other liqueurs using the house malt spirit. Being based in the tourist hot spot of Tel Aviv means that the distillery gets a lot of visitors, around 10,000 a year according to Baran. “But we’re actually not aiming for the Israeli market, we’re thinking global,” she said. Welcome, Israel, to the world whisky club.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Elderflower Collins

To make your evening go with a swing, this week we have a twist on the Tom Collins. Yep, it’s basically an upmarket gin and lemonade. But why is it…

To make your evening go with a swing, this week we have a twist on the Tom Collins. Yep, it’s basically an upmarket gin and lemonade.

But why is it called a Tom Collins? Who was this Tom Collins fellow? As with most things in cocktails, it’s complicated. The Tom Collins is probably derived from the John Collins, a drink named after the head waiter at Limmer’s Hotel in Mayfair in the early 19th century. There’s even a poem written about him by Frank and Charles Sheridan:

My name is John Collins, head waiter at Limmer’s,
Corner of Conduit Street, Hanover Square,
My chief occupation is filling brimmers
For all the young gentlemen frequenters there.

The John Collins consisted of sweet Old Tom gin, lemon, sugar and soda water. Doesn’t that sound a lot like the modern Tom Collins? The Cocktail Book (originally published in 1900) has something almost identical which calls for Dutch gin. But Jerry Thomas’s Bartenders Guide (published in 1876) has something called a Tom Collins that consists of gin, lemon, soda and sugar though it doesn’t specify which kind of gin.  

Cambridge Elderflower Collins

The Cambridge Elderflower Collins

So what gives? Why the name change? Well, it might be related to a hilarious hoax that began in New York in 1874 and quickly spread across America.  People would go up to someone in a bar and say to something like, “have you seen Tom Collins? He’s in the bar down the road and he’s been saying unpleasant things about you.” The hoaxee would then with any luck run into the bar in question spoiling for a fight saying, “have you seen Tom Collins?” And then everyone would fall about laughing. As I said, hilarious. And so the name changed, at least in America. Then the new version came over to Britain and, like the grey squirrel taking over from the native red, Tom pushed out John.

Tom or John, it’s one of only a handful of cocktails so famous that it has a glass named after it. The Collins glass is narrower and taller than a Highball, though I don’t think anyone will notice if you use the latter. You can make your Tom/John Collins with Old Tom Gin or traditional Dutch gin, which is sweeter and richer than English gin, for that proper 19th century feel. You could even substitute gin for Tequila which makes it a Juan Collins, or pisco which makes it a Phil Collins (for some reason.) But we’ve got something a bit different for this week’s cocktail. The recipe comes from the good people at Cambridge Gin. Rather than just use dry gin and then sweeten it with sugar syrup, some of the sweetness comes from their Elderflower Liqueur which also provides fragrance and chimes particularly well with the lemon.

Cambridge Gin/ Elderflower Liqueur

The Cambridge two

I’ve poshed it up a bit by shaking the ingredients first with and then adding to a glass of fresh ice and fizz. This makes everything really cold and adds oxygen for extra fizziness. But you can just put all the ingredients in a glass with ice and stir. Finally, the Cambridge Gin recipe calls for tonic water which results in a kind of G&T/ Collins mash-up. Instead, I’ve used fizzy water to make a more traditional Collins but the tonic water version is excellent too.

Right, here’s the recipe!

40ml Cambridge Elderflower Liqueur
20ml Cambridge Dry Gin
20ml fresh lemon juice
10ml sugar syrup
100ml sparkling water (or tonic if you prefer)

Fill a Collins glass with ice and add the sparkling water (or tonic). Shake the first four ingredients quickly with ice (you don’t want too much dilution), strain into the glass on top of the fizzy water, and garnish with a piece of lemon rind.

You can buy Cambridge Gin and Elderflower Liqueur together at a discount price while stocks last.

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Train your nose with The Balvenie’s Alwynne Gwilt

Do you love whisky but struggle to put what you taste and smell into words? Then read on, as we have some tips from Miss Whisky herself Alwynne Gwilt on…

Do you love whisky but struggle to put what you taste and smell into words? Then read on, as we have some tips from Miss Whisky herself Alwynne Gwilt on how to get the most out of your olfactory system.

It was a tasting at Milroy’s of Soho in 2011 that changed Alwynne Gwilt’s life forever. Originally from Canada, she was not a whisky drinker but that fateful evening she fell in love with the spirit, and, rather as Peter Parker became Spider Man thanks to a bite from a radioactive spider, Gwilt was transformed into. . . Miss Whisky! She set up her own website that same year and began to immerse herself (not literally, of course) in whisky full time. Since then, she has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, appeared on TV and radio, and won awards including International Whisky Ambassador of the Year at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, She now works as a brand ambassador for William Grant, representing The Balvenie.

Alwynne Gwilt

Alwynne Gwilt in the still room at The Balvenie

We caught up with Gwilt at The Wigmore, a bar in London, for a nasal tune-up. Her view is that we don’t make full use of our sense of smell because we are so visually-oriented. But we do actually have a fine nasal system from our hunting and gathering days which just needs to be used properly. “Humans have become generally quite lazy when it comes to the nose, but our noses would have been a thing. Before we were cooking meat and we were processing food, we would have been much more aware of the wider environment around us and using our nose to help keep us safe,” she said. “Now our eyesight has taken over but the ability of the nose to learn things and to understand aroma is just as great as it always has been.”

Smells helps us remember things, Gwilt explained. “Your aroma receptors are close to the amygdala and the hippocampus, which is where you start thinking about emotion and memory. So, more than sight, more than sound, when you smell an aroma and you categorise that in your head, you’re much more likely to remember that moment, that time, that place.” What a piece of work your nose is! Now here are some tips on how to use it better:

Free your mind, and your nose will follow

Even people who’ve been drinking whisky for years can be extremely reticent about trying to describe smells. Gwilt explained to me:  “I can stand up there as someone who’s been drinking whisky for years and go, ‘I get aromas of raisins and chocolate’, and someone might look at you like you’re absolutely nuts because they’re like, ‘well it just smells like whisky!’.” So, don’t be embarrassed; try to put what you smell into words, and remember there are no right or wrong answers. A great way to do this, according to Gwilt, is to try to become aware of the smells around you when you’re out walking.

Alwynne Gwilt Balvenie

Building her flavour vocabulary

Build your aroma vocabulary

“Aroma is based hugely around vocabulary, “ Gwilt told me. “Just like we learn language, your brain does the same thing when it’s learning different aromas. If I were to say to you ‘this smells like curry leaves’, for instance, and you’ve never smelled a fresh curry leaf, then that’s not in your vocabulary. So you have to experience an aroma before you can then process it, understand it and recognise it in another scenario.” A great way to build that flavour vocabulary when you’re smelling whisky is to pretend you are in a supermarket, she said. “Imagine you’re walking through the fruit aisle and you’re picking out your fruit, and then you’re walking through the veg aisle. And then in each section, as you smell the whisky you think to yourself, ‘visualise it’. Say, ‘is this an orange, is this an apple, is this a banana, is this a carrot?’. Start going through those things individually, and if you go ‘no, no, no, I smell something sweet’, then go to the baking aisle. Is it a baked good? Is it a pastry? Or is it a Haribo?’. A lot of people will say, ‘I get sweet, I get spicy, I get smoke’, and it’s about continuously breaking everything down.”

Smell with your mouth open

You will look a bit like a goldfish but this really helps. “When you first start smelling whiskies, keep your mouth open, because that helps to circulate things,” Gwilt explained. “If you keep your mouth open, it helps to circulate the air, stopping you from just getting the alcohol.” We smell in two ways, she continued: direct olfaction (right up your nose), and retronasal olfaction (the back of the nose through the mouth).  If your mouth isn’t open, you’re not getting the full effect.

Hold it in your mouth  

You’ve seen wine tasters do it: swilling it around their mouths and making weird sucking noises. Well, it all helps get the flavour out. “A huge amount of what you taste is actually aroma; it’s the nose doing its job. It is not your taste buds,” she continued. “So when you go to taste a whisky, always hold it on your palate for ten or 15 seconds. That gives enough time for your brain to register what’s happening and start to pick out some of those aromas.”

Alwynne Gwilt at the Balvenie

Gwilt with this year’s must have accessory, the malt shovel

And finally, just to prove how hard it is to put smells into words without practise, Gwilt gave me a little test. I had to smell three essences which commonly crop up in whisky vocabulary.

The first was anise, which I correctly identified immediately. The second was coffee, which I guessed as roasted nuts. And finally, Gwilt gave me something to smell which initially smelt of vanilla, at least to me, and then of lemons. Apparently it was actually blackcurrant leaf. D’oh! C-, must try harder.  

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Brendan McCarron tastes Ardbeg’s core expressions

Recently, we were fortunate enough to spend a few hours with one of the most entertaining men in whisky, Brendan McCarron. Now, we have produced four short films where McCarron…

Recently, we were fortunate enough to spend a few hours with one of the most entertaining men in whisky, Brendan McCarron. Now, we have produced four short films where McCarron gives a masterclass around each core expression. 

If you like your whiskies wild and smoky, then you’re probably an Ardbeg drinker. This Islay distillery inspires a fierce loyalty among whisky fans. So, when Brendan McCarron joined in 2014, he knew that he was taking on a big responsibility. Before Ardbeg, he has had an interesting career in whisky. A chemical engineering graduate, his first whisky job was with Diageo. He worked as distillery manager at Oban, before moving to Islay to run Caol Ila, Lagavulin and the Port Ellen Maltings.

Brendan McCarron Ardbeg

Brendan McCarron explaining whisky through hand gestures

Then he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse, an invitation to join the team at Ardbeg and Glenmorangie (which are both in the LVMH stable). McCarron’s official job title is head of maturing whisky stocks. He works alongside Dr Bill Lumsden (they described themselves at the recent launch for Glenmorangie Allta Private Edition as “like the two Ronnies, only not funny”) and is being groomed to succeed the good doctor when he retires.

We have produced a long interview with McCarron where he talks about the responsibility of working for a cult distillery like Ardbeg, his plans for the future and tells us which is his favourite expression, as well as a short Q&A. Below are four short films where McCarron gives us a mini masterclass on each of the four core whiskies in the Ardbeg range: 10 Year Old, An Oa, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan.

Slainte!

Ardbeg 10 Year Old –  The classic expression is aged exclusively in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 46% ABV.

Ardbeg An Oa –  Named after a peninsula on Islay, this is aged in a mixture of Pedro Ximénez, charred virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks, and bottled at 46.6% ABV.

Ardbeg Uigeadail – The name comes from the water source used by the distillery. It is aged in oloroso and ex-bourbon casks, roughly half and half, and bottled at 54.2% ABV.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan – Named after a fearsome whirlpool about 40 miles off the coast of the island, around 30% of this expression is aged in new French oak barriques and the rest in ex-bourbon casks, and it is bottled at 57.1% ABV.

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Master of Malt triumphs (again!) at the Icons of Gin

Last night was the Gin Magazine Awards in London, which saw the Icons of Gin 2019 named. There were many trophies up for grabs, including the coveted World’s Best Gin…

Last night was the Gin Magazine Awards in London, which saw the Icons of Gin 2019 named. There were many trophies up for grabs, including the coveted World’s Best Gin slot (and, spoiler alert! One had our name on it!). We have the full story.

Last night, we arrived at the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC to its friends), a massive seven-acre site in the City of London, to be confronted with the biggest G&Ts I’d ever seen. We were clearly in the right place for the Gin Magazine Awards. The evening was divided into three sections: Icons of Gin (honouring brands, retailers, bars and people), World Gin Awards (looking at liquid quality), and finally the Hall of Fame (individuals who have made notable contributions to the world of gin). Paragraph Publishing, the company behind Whisky Magazine, launched Gin Magazine in 2017 and the accompanying awards last year.

World Gin Awards

The trophy! And in the background Laura Carl and Angus Lugsdin from Salcombe Gin

Regular readers will know that we love gin here at Master of Malt, so much so that we just launched our very own bottling. We were delighted therefore to win Online Retailer Award for the second year running! The judges were particularly impressed with the range, the simplicity of the website, and the quality of the tasting notes and the blog. There to collect the award were campaigns executive Laura Carl, managing director Justin Petszaft, campaigns manager Jake Mountain, Atom Nucleus MD Joel Kelly and features editor Henry Jeffreys (that’s me!).

Master of Malt

The winning team, from left: Mountain, Petszaft, Carl, Jeffreys and Kelly.

Also honoured in the Icons of Gin category were our friends over at That Boutique-y Gin Company: Steph DiCamillo won Gin Brand Ambassador of the Year, and the company won Brand Innovator of the Year.

There was then a short break where a couple belted out opera classics and a bit of Tom Jones at full volume. I think they were paid entertainers, but may have been waiting staff with an urge to entertain. When they had finished, it was time for the World Gin Awards section of the evening.

In this section, all the gins were blind-tasted by a panel of judges led by David T. Smith, someone who will be familiar to gin lovers. There were lots of categories, but the overall World’s Best Gin award (sponsored by Wade Ceramics, mustn’t forget to mention the sponsor) went to Dingle Gin from Ireland, which also picked up the London Dry Gin Trophy. Congratulations to the team at Dingle! Their gin really is superb and their whiskey ain’t bad, either.

Christopher Hayman

Christopher Hayman with a gin still called Marjorie

For the finale, two gin legends were inducted into the Hall of Fame: Jon Hillgren from Hernö Gin in Sweden, and Christopher Hayman from Hayman’s Gin in London. These were two extremely popular choices, especially Hayman who kept the faith with gin in Britain when it was unfashionable. Hayman said a few words about how things have changed since he joined the business: there were very few brands and spirits were still shipped in cask. He finished by concluding that “gin runs in his family’s veins”.

Congratulations to all the winners!

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