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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Jessica Williamson

Diageo releases new Italian gin, Villa Ascenti

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a new premium gin! Drinks giant Diageo has just announced the launch of Villa Ascenti, a new Italian gin with…

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a new premium gin! Drinks giant Diageo has just announced the launch of Villa Ascenti, a new Italian gin with an intriguing signature botanical.

The growth of the gin-dustry truly shows no signs of slowing down, with new releases popping up left, right and centre. The most recent of these is Diageo’s Villa Ascenti, produced at a new £360,000 distillery, Distilleria Santa Vittoria, based (rather unshockingly) in Santa Vittoria. It is the latest tipple to join Diageo’s luxury spirits portfolio. Trained winemaker and master distiller, Lorenzo Rosso, who has over 20 years’ experience with Diageo, is the brains behind the new spirit. Rosso works closely with local farmers and producers in Piedmont to source ingredients for the gin.

“Villa Ascenti Gin is rooted in provenance and brings local, fresh ingredients from Piemonte to life,” Tanya Clarke, general manager of Diageo Reserve Europe, commented. “Its use of locally-grown ingredients from the foothills of Piemonte, alongside some of the more classic botanicals associated with gin, has allowed us to create a high-quality liquid, which we hope existing and new gin drinkers will love.”

The local Piedmontese botanicals include fresh mint and thyme, which are distilled at their freshest within hours of harvest, and sweet Moscato grapes. The grapes are harvested in August and September and are then three times distilled, while during the third distillation they are infused with Tuscan juniper berries. Botanicals are distilled in a newly-refurbished Frilli copper pot still from the 1970s, so you can be sure there’s a splash of history in each bottle, too.

Villa Ascenti

One way to enjoy Villa Ascenti

“It has been an absolute privilege to be involved in developing Villa Ascenti Gin and to have the chance to showcase the very best of Piemonte to the world,” Rosso added. “It’s a beautiful gin with the region at its heart in its aroma and flavour, but also in how it’s best enjoyed – around the table with friends. I’m particularly proud of the use of the Moscato grape distillate, an idea that stemmed from my winemaking experience.”

So, we know you’re all wondering, what does it taste like? Well, who better to tell us than the Master Distiller himself:

Nose: Mint and thyme are vibrant and refreshing alongside the spice of the Tuscan juniper berries.

Palate: The Moscato grapes really come to life. Enhanced through copper distillation, the smooth, fruity flavour of this distillate rounds off zesty juniper notes to create a velvety, slightly sweet gin.

We reckon it would do very nicely in a Gin & Tonic with a sprig of thyme, and perhaps even some fresh mint leaves. The good news is that there isn’t long to wait, as Villa Ascenti will be available to buy this month! Keep your eyes peeled for news from your favourite online retailer.

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New Arrival of the Week: Nelson’s Signature Rum Blend

When you hear news surrounding Nelson’s distillery, you’d be forgiven for assuming it would be about gin. Well, Nelson’s have only gone and released a couple of fantastic rums! Nelson’s…

When you hear news surrounding Nelson’s distillery, you’d be forgiven for assuming it would be about gin. Well, Nelson’s have only gone and released a couple of fantastic rums!

Nelson’s Distillery has been around since 2014, producing a range of  delightful and intriguing gins. However, when you consider that Nelson’s is dedicated to Lord Nelson, the iconic naval hero, it’s almost surprising that we haven’t seen a rum sooner! The still at the distillery was even christened Victory, after Lord Nelson’s ship at the Battle of Trafalgar.

This week we’re looking at the Signature Blend Rum from Nelson’s Distillery, which marries three rums from undisclosed distilleries in Barbados, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. These are then aged in oak barrels for three years imbuing the spirit with notes of vanilla, espresso, tropical fruit and herbs. After ageing, the is whacked into the trademark  white opaque Nelson’s bottles.

Nelson’s Signature Rum Blend in a tasty cocktail

Alongside the Signature Blend, there is also the Roasted Pineapple Rum. For the fruity expression the same base is used, also aged in oak for three years, though after that some tasty natural pineapple extract is then added. With notes of tangy pineapple, BBQ and caramel, we couldn’t think of a better spirit to try out some summery tiki cocktails with, or even just a simple Daiquiri.

Nelson’s Roasted Pineapple Rum

We’re sure you’ve heard the rumblings (pun intended) that rum is on the rise, destined to be the next gin or whisky, and releases like this are only cementing that notion. “We know that rum is the next big trend here in the UK, especially flavoured rum”, Neil Harrison, founder and master distiller, explained. “As a forward-thinking, proactive business, we wanted to ensure that our expansion not only includes the development of our signature gin range, but also places us firmly at the forefront of this exciting new marketplace”, he said.

So yes, we’ve sort of cheated with this week’s new product of the week, because (as you may have noticed) there are two! We won’t apologise for a double dose of fantastic new booze news.

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Kopparberg launches pink gin

Yes, you read that right – Swedish cider giant Kopparberg is launching its very own gin! It’s pretty in pink and showcases a flavour you may recognise… Unless you’ve been…

Yes, you read that right Swedish cider giant Kopparberg is launching its very own gin! It’s pretty in pink and showcases a flavour you may recognise…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have noticed a little trend called pink gin. It’s certainly on the rise and shows no signs of stopping, especially with the release of the new Kopparberg Premium Gin. It’s infused with the brand’s strawberry and lime flavour, along with juniper, lemon zest and coriander, sporting a pink candy floss hue. Seeing as Kopparberg’s strawberry and lime flavour has proved popular since its launch in 2010, it’s perhaps not a huge surprise that it was chosen for this inaugural gin.

“We are extremely excited to be bringing our new Premium Gin to the UK. Kopparberg is famous for flavour and we’ve worked hard to create a pink gin in the iconic Kopparberg flavour of strawberry and lime, that we know the nation loves”, commented Rob Salvesen, head of marketing. “We look forward to seeing pink gin fans across the country spend many sunsets making memories with friends this summer with a glass of Kopparberg Premium Gin.”

Kopparberg pink gin

The illustration on the bottle was designed by Marcin Wolski, and takes the drinker from day to night with a pink blush sunset, and a plethora of fun summer activities scattered across the fields. It looks like quite the gintopia.

Although the gin seems to be aimed at the festival scene, with its festival debut at We Are FSTVL in Upminster on 24 May and appearing at other festivals throughout the season, we are sure it tastes just as good in more sedate surroundings like your back garden. Kopparberg has suggested that it’s best served over mountains of ice, either mixed with lemonade and garnished with fresh strawberries, or for a more traditional serve with tonic, garnished with cucumber and basil. We reckon it’s time to get those cocktail shakers out and experiment!

Kopparberg Premium Gin will initially be available at Greene King pubs and venues from the 6 May, and through your favourite online retailer from 22 May.

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Bats, agave and mezcal: a love story

We headed over to Temper in Covent Garden for an outstandingly educational afternoon with Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, known as the Bat Man of Mexico, for a chat about bats and…

We headed over to Temper in Covent Garden for an outstandingly educational afternoon with Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, known as the Bat Man of Mexico, for a chat about bats and their synonymous relationship with agave plants.

Did you know that 80% of agave pollination is due to the humble bat? Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, a professor at the University of Mexico, has spent pretty much his whole life studying and protecting bats, hence his nickname. Born with a love of animals, his first word was “flamingo”. At the age of 12, he held his first bat and his fate was sealed: he was going to work with bats for the rest of his life. We were lucky enough to see him talk about his passion, and learnt a lot about a species that isn’t given much good press. Move over Bruce Wayne, here’s the real batman.

With a glass of mezcal in hand, Medellin began to explain how bats and agave plants are linked. The relationship goes back around 12 million years, but don’t worry, we won’t start all the way back then. Instead, we’ll begin in 1988 with the lesser long-nosed bat, which are found in Central America and were, at the time listed as endangered. Fast forward 30 years, and in a truly historic moment in 2018 they were the first mammal to be delisted! This was no cue to relax, it was now time to focus on the maintenance and conservation of the species.

Batman of Mexico

The Bat Man with a lesser long-nosed bat

When Medellin first started studying the largest colony of lesser long-nosed bats in northwest Mexico, he and his team realised that the area was completely barren. Not an agave in sight. The nearest sources of agave were at least 40 or 50km away. Too far, Medellin thought, for such a small bat to fly just to feed. In a great plot twist, they found out that the bats were flying 90km one way to feed from agave plants. Medellin showed us a picture of a bat after feeding, its whole body completely covered in pollen. So, when these bats are flying 90km each way to find food, of course they’re spreading this pollen around from agave to agave like nobody’s business.

Agave is used to make mezcal, and Blue Weber agave is specifically used to make Tequila. The plants take between six to eight years to grow, and only sexually reproduce once in their entire lifetime, during which they bloom a magnificently tall flower. Medellin compared it to “a humongous penis”, and this flower is what bats feed from. However, this process takes up a huge amount of sugar and energy from the plant, so agaves that are destined to make mezcal are harvested before it can take place. Instead of natural reproduction, agave farmers take clonal shoots from beneath the plant and replant those.

The problem with this is that there is no genetic diversity from all these cloned baby agaves. Farmed agave have not been allowed to bloom in over 150 years, and in 2014 it was discovered that 270 million agave plants were clones of just two original agaves. Yep, our jaws dropped too. This means that they all have the same genetic makeup, so should a disease come along (or even the effects of climate change) they would all be equally susceptible. That’s a pretty precarious situation.

Agave plants destined for mezcal

Medellin proposed a solution to recover the genetic diversity of the agave species and, importantly for him, to help conserve the bat population. If agave farmers allow just 5% of their agave harvest to bloom, that will feed 100 bats per hectare. These bats will then pollinate the agave, reviving the genetic diversity. Should the farmers do this, they will be able to claim their mezcal or Tequila as ‘bat friendly’, and will be able to display a special hologram on their bottles certifying this. So far, mezcal and Tequila brands Ocho, Tapatio, Siete Leguas, Siembra Valles Ancestral and Cascahuin have earnt the title. Clearly, it has been hugely popular, as every single bottle of bat friendly mezcal has sold out. At the moment, it’s impossible to get your hands on any!  

Medellin is also urging bars and other establishments to display this information around the bar, in menus, and to educate the bartenders. The key is to offer people a choice (when some bat friendly mezcal returns to the market!) to help support this crucial cause.

Behold, a very tall agave bloom waiting for bats

Mezcal is one of the very few alcohols that doesn’t rely on a monoculture. Beer? Fields of barley. Wine? Grapes of one species (vitis vinifera) as far as the eye can see. Cognac? More grapes! Even Tequila is made only with Blue Weber agave. Mezcal can be made from any one of over 200 agave species, and this bodes for far healthier and robust ecosystems. When we asked Medellin about his favourite mezcal, he answered that from his top 10 at least half of them he would never be able to try again, and that’s fine with him. “Dwell in diversity”, he said, “or mezcal will become the next Tequila.” What he means by this is that, when you try a brilliant small batch mezcal, you must enjoy it and move on. Whoever said that variety is the spice of life was really on to something.  

At the end, we asked Medellin what Master of Malt could do to help. He answered, “the industry is thirsty for information”, so if we can continue to convey the crucial role that bats play then awareness will only increase. The industry is also thirsty for Tequila, so spread the word, just like those lesser long-nosed bats spread that agave pollen! Seeing Medellin speak about his work was truly inspiring. He was passionate, informative and downright hilarious, and his cause is something that we can all get on board with.

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Whiskey to return to Donegal with Ardara Distillery!

Irish whiskey (and gin) fans, we bring you good tidings. Sliabh Liag Distillers has unveiled plans for its new Ardara Distillery in Donegal – yes, Ireland looks set to get another whiskey…

Irish whiskey (and gin) fans, we bring you good tidings. Sliabh Liag Distillers has unveiled plans for its new Ardara Distillery in Donegal – yes, Ireland looks set to get another whiskey maker!

The company has acquired the Show Field in Ardara, and will be formally submitting a planning application to Donegal County Council for the new distillery this week. This is the beginning of its ambitious plan to return whiskey distilling to Donegal for the first time in 177 years. Now that’s a long old time. Company directors James and Moira Doherty and James Keith stated that the construction of Ardara Distillery is scheduled to start later this year (subject to planning approval, of course), and if all goes to plan distilling operations will commence in 2020. Exciting stuff!

The brand already produces some familiar names, including Dúlamán Irish Maritime gin, and also The Legendary Silkie Irish whiskey. The company is also planning to create a number of new brands at the new distillery. We can expect to see a couple of peaty treats, such as Ardara and Sliabh Liag single malt and pot still whiskeys, which will remain faithful to the style of 19th century whiskeys from the county.

With a €6 million investment, Ardara Distillery will employ at least 40 people, and will have the capacity to produce 400,000 litres of pure alcohol a year. That’s the equivalent of around 1,700 filled casks, and over 1.2 million bottles of whiskey. Our mouths are already watering.

It’s not just the whiskey itself which is impressive here. The company has put a lot of thought into the design of the new Ardara Distillery building, with a particular focus on how best to complement the village and its natural surroundings. CornerStone Architecture has been called on for the task, and has designed a building that will make use of traditional shapes and materials. It will be “truly unique but will look very much part of the town”, according to Gavin Shovelin of CornerStone.

Ardara Distillery

The shiny proposed Ardara Distillery!

The An Dúlamán gin still, named Méabh, currently resides just outside the village of Carrick at the existing production site, and will be moved to the Ardara Distillery so whiskey and gin are both under one roof. A visitor centre has also been planned, and featuring a Poitín museum, exhibition space, tasting bar and shop. In a rather interesting but admirable move, there will be no café or restaurant, as the directors wanted to encourage visitors to make use of all that the local village has to offer.

“The design of the development is a mix of contemporary and traditional finishes which complement the village of Ardara,” said James Doherty, Sliabh Liag Distillers managing director.

“It is important to us that local businesses benefit from the foot fall, and if we can get visitors walking in the village, increasing their dwell time, then it’s so much the better for the entire community.” We wholeheartedly agree. As well as supporting the village itself, a large portion of the land surrounding the new distillery will be kept as an open green space for anyone to enjoy. Sliabh Liag Distillers clearly has huge respect for its natural surroundings and community, and it’s great to see a company so invested in preserving both.

There was a public consultation in Ardara yesterday (2 April) and the Planning Application is due to be submitted tomorrow (4 April). We’ll keep our fingers crossed!

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New Arrival of the Week: Mackmyra Äppelblom

Our new arrival this week is Mackmyra Äppelblom, a whisky from Sweden’s original single malt distillery which has been finished in a pretty rare cask. The clue is in the…

Our new arrival this week is Mackmyra Äppelblom, a whisky from Sweden’s original single malt distillery which has been finished in a pretty rare cask. The clue is in the name…

Back in 1999, Mackmyra was the first and only whisky distillery in Sweden. The story began with eight friends who all loved whisky but realised there were no Swedish producers. Naturally, they questioned why, and solved this problem by creating their own!

Today, Mackmyra is actually made up of two distilleries and continues to push boundaries. When it launched in 2002, distillation was carried out at the Mackmyra Bruk site, until 2011 when production was moved to the new Gravity Distillery at Gävle. This innovative feat of construction stands 35 metres tall and seven storeys high. As you might have guessed from the name, the distillery makes use of gravity throughout the whisky-making process. In 2017, the old distillery at Mackmyra Bruk was brought back up-and-running under the name Lab+Distillery, which explores slightly more experimental spirits.

The Gravity Distillery!

Mackmyra Äppelblom, the latest release, is a single malt aged in ex-bourbon and new American oak casks. Äppelblom, meaning apple blossom in Swedish, refers to the very special finishing process in oak casks which previously held Calvados from one of the region’s leading producers, Christian Drouin (Calvados is an apple or pear brandy from Normandy in France). The family-run company began in 1960, and the apples come from the Drouin family orchards, many of them harvested by hand. Mackmyra’s master blender Angela D’Orazio partnered with Christian Drouin and his son Guillaume to create the whisky, which is bottled at 46.1% ABV. It seems it was a match made in heaven; D’Orazio commented that “the choice of Calvados producer was easy. Christian Drouin creates absolutely fantastic Calvados, […] he has challenged French traditions in this area, and is therefore the perfect match for Mackmyra’s approach and our enjoyment of experimenting”.

Since Christian Drouin’s Calvados is aged for an exceptionally long time, a minimum of 20 years, there’s very little opportunity for the casks to be used a second time. For the first 20 years of the business, all of Drouin’s Calvados was ageing and not one bottle was sold. We’d say that was quite an investment, and clearly this isn’t a finish that we’ll see all that often! Guillaume Drouin, managing director at Calvados Christian Drouin stated that he was “happy to see the result of this innovative ageing using one of the very few casks we ship from our cellar”.

We present to you, Mackmyra Äppelblom!

The result is a lightly-spiced and fruity whisky, reminiscent of fresh green apples, just in time for spring! While wonderful served neat, you can also try Mackmyra Äppelblom alongside a warm apple dessert or even apple sorbet.

Tasting note for Mackmyra Äppelblom:

Nose: Toasted oak and orchard fruits galore, namely apple and pear with a hint of lemon, delicate floral notes with sweet vanilla and toffee.

Palate: Well-rounded fruity and spicy notes continue with the marriage of pear and citrus. Cedar wood emerges alongside aniseed, caramelised almonds, white pepper and ginger spiciness.

Finish: Spicy tones linger with gentle oak and zesty lemon and apple.

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An evening of cocktails and perfume with Theodore Gin

We headed to London’s Eve Bar to check out the perfumery of Theodore Pictish Gin, the inaugural release from Greenwood Distillers. The wonderful folks from Greenwood Distillers hosted an evening…

We headed to London’s Eve Bar to check out the perfumery of Theodore Pictish Gin, the inaugural release from Greenwood Distillers.

The wonderful folks from Greenwood Distillers hosted an evening of gin, cocktails and perfume to celebrate their very first release, Theodore Pictish Gin. The brand was founded in 2018 by Barthelemy Brosseau, while the first Theodore gin expression was only released in February this year.

The gin takes its name from the Picts, an ancient tribe that once settled in Ardross in the Scotland’s Northern Highlands. Meanwhile, Theodore de Bry was a 16th century engraver who brought the Picts to life through his art, hence the gin’s name. The spirit was crafted with the help of olfactory expert and perfume designer Barnabé Fillion, so it made perfect sense for the brand to link the gin and perfume, and it was illuminating to understand how the botanicals and their scents interact together in order to fully grasp how the gin works.

Behold the Oud Gimlet!

We were welcomed through swirls of incense with a rather delicious cocktail that we found out was a ‘Celery Spritz’, a mix of Theodore Gin, celery cordial, salted honey and a dash of fizz. There were also three other cocktails which celebrated the botanicals in Theodore Gin, curated by the fabulous team at Eve:

Holy Collins: Theodore Gin, clear lemon, Makrut lime tincture, holy wood, and soda

Sakura Fizz: Theodore Gin, sakura blossom, lemon, and benzoin gum

Oud Gimlet: Theodore Gin, jasmine cordial, and oud essence.

Theodore Pictish Gin contains 16 botanicals including pine, lavender, pomelo and bourbon vetiver. As part of the sensory experience we were given each botanical to smell in its purest form, most of them as oils, as though the gin had been deconstructed into its key components. During this we also had a glass of the gin in hand, and it was fascinating to have the botanicals right in front of us as well as the finished product.

Now, these potent pure scents weren’t all sweet as roses (although we may note that Damask rose was in fact one of them!), some were downright weird and fairly unpleasant. Brand ambassador Keivan Nemati began to explain that “off-flavours are essential to composition”. If you were to separate out the compounds of let’s say, Makrut lime, remove the aromas that didn’t smell nice on their own and take all the ‘best’ or ‘nicest’ scents of, you would perhaps expect it to be some sort of extraordinary Makrut lime scent? You would be mistaken!

Scents that aren’t necessarily pleasant are still crucial when combined with other components. For example, in terms of the gin, bourbon vetiver is not the most alluring scent on its own, though it is exactly the addition of botanicals like vetiver that help others shine through and also bring balance.

Perfume and gin – an atmospheric combination

It was then time to enjoy the rest of the gin and have a chat with founder Barth Brosseau. Needless to say, the packaging of the gin is really quite something. The wonderful bespoke bottle is simultaneously refined and rustic, while the presentation tube is elaborately adorned with two strong and fierce Pictish warriors, surrounded by ornate drawings of the botanicals in the gin, drawn by the fabulous Carlotta Saracco. Brosseau mentioned that the male and female Picts are on opposite sides of the tube to reflect the same balance that is seen in every aspect of the gin.

It was fabulous to see Brosseau talk so passionately about the history that inspired him to create such a gin, as well as his vision for Greenwood Distillers’ future which is set to include Armagnac, mezcal and much more. Currently, half of the gin is produced in France and half is produced in the UK. But the brand is in the process of building its own distillery in Scotland, where it will be closer to the history which inspired Theodore Gin. Watch this space.

Wonderfully refreshing, this stuff…

 

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Glenmorangie marks a decade of Private Edition with Allta

Glenmorangie has unveiled Glenmorangie Allta, the 10th release in its annual Private Edition series of pioneering whiskies. This is the story of a love affair between Scotch whisky and humble…

Glenmorangie has unveiled Glenmorangie Allta, the 10th release in its annual Private Edition series of pioneering whiskies.

This is the story of a love affair between Scotch whisky and humble yeast. Or, perhaps not as humble as we thought. Glenmorangie’s director of distilling, whisky creation and whisky stocks, Dr. Bill Lumsden is brandishing the potential of yeast in the latest Private Edition’s rich, fruity release – Glenmorangie Allta (Scottish Gaelic for ‘wild’, pronounced ‘al-ta’). Not only does it mark the 10th anniversary of the Private Edition series, it’s also the distillery’s first expression created using wild yeast.

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