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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Jessica Williamson

#BagThisBundle – Win a bundle of English whisky from the Lakes Distillery!

You’ve heard of #BagThisBottle, now get ready for… #BagThisBundle! We’ve paired up with the wonderful Lakes Distillery to give you the chance to win not one, not two, but four…

You’ve heard of #BagThisBottle, now get ready for… #BagThisBundle! We’ve paired up with the wonderful Lakes Distillery to give you the chance to win not one, not two, but four bottles of delicious English whisky!

Through the magic of social media, you could be the proud owner of four bottles of lip-smacking whiskies from the Lakes Distillery. What are these delicious bottles? Well, there’s The ONE, the very first whisky from the distillery, The ONE Port Cask Finished, border-crossing blended malt Steel Bonnets, and last but not least, The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1, a delicious new single malt drawn from a combination of red wine and Pedro Ximénez sherry casks.

bag this bundle lakes

You could win these four handsome bottles of English whisky!

All this talk of tasty whisky got your ears perked up? Wonderful. We’re sure you’re eager to know how you could be in with a chance to win it. Handily,  the details are right here.

All you have to do is:

1. Follow the Master of Malt Instagram account.
2. Follow the Lakes Distillery Instagram account.
3. Tag three pals you’d share these exciting whiskies with in our Competition post.
4. Like the post!

And voilà! That’s literally it – complete those tiny quests by midday on Monday 14 October and you’ll be in with a chance to win! So go forth and take to Instagram, we wish you all the best of luck!

MoM ‘Bag This Bundle’ Competition 2019 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 11 October to 14 October 2019. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. See full T&Cs for details.

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The winner of our Mackmyra private cask ownership is…

Back in September we announced something rather marvellous, and that was the chance to win (and consequently own) your own maturing cask of spirit, courtesy of the awesome Mackmyra! It’s…

Back in September we announced something rather marvellous, and that was the chance to win (and consequently own) your own maturing cask of spirit, courtesy of the awesome Mackmyra!

It’s a truly unique opportunity to have you very own cask of maturing spirit, much less to have that new make come straight from the wonderful Mackmyra stills! The friendly folks over in Sweden will fill the lucky winner’s 30-litre first-fill ex-bourbon cask with unpeated new make spirit. The cask will even have a personalised brass plaque, with the winner’s shiny name glinting off it. That cask will then be matured in one of two Mackmyra’s warehouses for at least three years, though which warehouse is totally up to them!

Mackmyra cask

The winner’s cask could be maturing here very soon…

The fun doesn’t stop there. The victor will be given a 50ml sample of their maturing spirit each year so they can monitor their whisky’s maturation journey. Once a least three years and one day have passed (unless they want to let it mature for longer) the winner will be able to crack open the cask for good! Then the whisky will of course be bottled up, with labels boasting the winner’s own message slapped on the front before it’s delivered.

That’s a whole lot of excitement right there. But the really magical thing was that it was so easy to enter! All you had to do was nab yourself one of these tasty Mackmyra bottlings! To make it that little bit tastier, we even lopped £3.50 off MACK by Mackmyra, and a whole fiver off Mackmyra Äppelblom. We’re nice like that.

Mackmyra whisky

Treating yourself to a bottle of one of these tasty whiskies got you in with a chance of winning!

Well, we’ve rambled on for long enough, it’s time to get down to it.

The winner is…
Stephen Maher from Halesowen!

A massive congratulations to Stephen, your cask awaits. And a huge thank you to everyone who took part, though with a bottle of scrumptious Swedish whisky, you’re already winning.

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The winner of our Salcombe Gin competition is…

Cast your minds back to August, when the summer seemed endless and we announced that we teamed up with the brilliant Salcombe Distilling Co. to bring you the chance to…

Cast your minds back to August, when the summer seemed endless and we announced that we teamed up with the brilliant Salcombe Distilling Co. to bring you the chance to win a VIP trip down to the Devon distillery! 

All you had to do was buy a bottle from the mouthwatering Salcombe Gin distillery range, and you were automagically entered. We really made it easy.

Now, summer is nearly over (it’s not over yet, don’t say it) and the time has come to announce our victor! The lucky winner and their fortunate plus one will be treated to a two-night stay at the beautiful Brightham House boutique B&B (named by The Times as one of its top 10 coolest places to stay in the UK) along with dinner at the Salcombe Harbour Hotel. Then ensues a distillery tour with the lovely Salcombe Gin folks chatting all things gin, all to be rounded off with a rib (rigid inflatable boat) ride around Salcombe harbour. Boats, views and gin. Lots of gin. 

Salcombe Gin

Mmm, Salcombe Gin G&Ts…

Anyway, before we get too jealous, it’s time for the big reveal.

The winner is….

Tracey Jennings from Pudsey, West Yorkshire!

Congratulations Tracey, and a huge thanks to everyone who got involved. Let’s be real, everyone’s winning with a bottle of Salcombe Gin. Cheers!

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The connection between Jura Seven Wood and the French forest

The opportunity to see the journey of a whisky from tree to barrel to glass is a rare one. Imagine our delight then, when we were invited to witness exactly…

The opportunity to see the journey of a whisky from tree to barrel to glass is a rare one. Imagine our delight then, when we were invited to witness exactly that in the forests near Bordeaux, following the evolution of Jura Seven Wood

Wood is a huge focus for whisky but how many of us know about the processes before the wood becomes a cask? Probably not that many. We marvel, understandably, at whisky that has been aged for 40 or perhaps even 50 years. And yet, the process really begins centuries before in the forest, which is where our trip began. But first, a brief introduction to Jura Seven Wood. The no age statement lightly peated single malt is initially aged in American white oak bourbon barrels, before it’s finished in six different types of French oak: Limousin, Tronçais, Allier, Vosges, Jupilles, and Les Bertranges. To save you counting on your fingers, yes, that adds up to seven wood types.

Jura Seven Wood

The Loches forest looking particularly magnificent.

As we travel north on what looked like was going to be a rather grey day, the scenery becomes greener until we arrive at the Loches forest, a stark contrast to the stone buildings and baking heat of Bordeaux itself. Forest guard Fabien Daureau emerges from the trees to greet us. The forest is crucial to French history; back in the 1600s wood was predominantly used for energy and ship building. Rather sensibly, to ensure it was protected and managed correctly, the French government split the forest up into parcels, and guards like Daureau were put in place to manage each part. The forest is still divided up the same way, though now the primary use for wood has changed. In the parcel we’re visiting, it’s making casks. 

Oak trees destined to become casks are like the A-listers of the tree world. They must be straight, tall and without branches lower down the trunk. Every 10 years, the guards will comb through the forest, deciding which trees they should cull and which they should keep. It’s a ruthless process. There are an overwhelming number of factors which will exclude a tree from making the cut (pun intended). These include knots in the wood (which would cause barrel leaks), branches low down on the trunk, or tiny imperfections that an untrained eye would never see. We come across a 100 year old tree with something called a ‘pippy’ trunk, a miniscule little nubbin on the trunk caused by a beam of light. Generally other trees act as a barrier to these beams, though clearly this one got through. The ‘pippy’ tree is now unusable as a cask, a century of growth gone to waste!

Jura Seven Wood

Fabien Dareau imparting some serious knowledge.

There are other tricks to reduce the chance of imperfections. To ensure branches don’t grow lower down the tree trunk, Fabien and his team must see that the trees grow close enough together so there isn’t enough light for this to happen. A lack of light also promotes upwards growth, though there’s a fine line. Block out too much light and you’ll no longer encourage the smaller trees, but hinder them.

Choosing when to cut is just as complex as growing them, and Daureau tells us that much like humans, trees have feelings. If all the surrounding trees are suddenly cut, then the remaining tree will go into a state of stress, because of sudden differences in water and light. Older healthy trees are still surrounded by smaller or dying trees, which serve no purpose but to keep the environment stable. As saplings, there are around one million oak trees per hectare. At 250 years old, only between 50 and 100 trees per hectare remain, through both natural selection and rigorous culling from the forest guard. Only a mere quarter of each tree can be used to create casks, as the higher up the tree you go, the less straight it is, lowering the quality of the wood. The very top will be used to make paper or firewood. 

The ideal amount of growth is just incredibly slow, just 2mm a year. Slow growth results in a tight grain, which causes more interaction between the spirit and the wood. Good things take time. It’s incredible to see centuries of growth in one place, with great oaks that are soon to be cut standing tall next to tiny saplings.

Jura Seven Wood

Brownie points if you can spot the pippy trunk, because we certainly can’t!

We leave Daureau and the green wonders of the forest, making our way to the Sogibois stave mill just outside of Bordeaux. Here the oak is cut, revealing if the toils and efforts over the last few centuries have paid off. It’s only here that some trees reveal they’ve been housing bullets from World War I, which have rather poetically turned the wood black. Of course, they can’t be used. That’s not to say there aren’t some happy surprises. We’re shown an eye-catching unique orange wood, its rosy hue thanks to an unexplained mutation and the presence of beta carotene. It’s highly prized and much more expensive, though there’s no way of identifying the mutation until it’s cut. As much as we can try to control these factors, the fact is that nature is unpredictable, which is part of the beauty of the cask.

Jura Seven Wood

Blackened oak from WWI bullets.

Following the journey of the oak, we then head to Demptos cooperage where the staves are made into casks the very casks in which Jura Seven Wood is matured! The wood doesn’t merely pass through the cooperage, but spends a minimum of two years here while the water content is reduced to 20%. Once again, the length of time before the spirit even enters the barrel is just mind-boggling. 

It’s also the cooperage which helps create the flavour profile of the whisky. There are simple differences between different wood types, for example French oak is spicier than the vanilla-heavy American oak. Then, there are more complex layers of wood categorisation, such as micro-porosity, determining how quickly the spirit will age. Demptos has built a menu of 188 different ‘ingredients’, forming a partnership with each whisky blender who will create their own recipe. 

Jura Seven Wood

Many, many staves drying out at Demptos Cooperage.

Having spent much of the day outside, we’re suddenly plunged into a dramatic and fiery warehouse, where the immensely skilled coopers are literally spinning flaming barrels around with their hands. They did have gloves on, mind. The inside of the barrel reaches a scorching 200 degrees celsius, while the outside remains a balmy 35 degrees. A delight to the senses, the barrel smells just like freshly baked bread after one hour of toasting. Of course, there are longer toasting periods, as it’s just another of the many ingredients that can be personalised. Around 150 barrels are made here each day, and it was both astonishing and encouraging how much of the work is still done by hand. Creating a barrel is such a delicate art (albeit with a lot of banging and clanging) that, even in this day and age, it requires a human hand. 

Jura Seven Wood

Talk about playing with fire at Demptos…

Just as we saw the stages of tree growth and barrel-making, we also got to taste each stage of the Jura whisky throughout its ageing. What better place than in the midst of the beautiful Loches forest to taste the evolution of Seven Wood? Naturally, we started with the new make, the majority of which is unpeated, and full of creamy lemon, loads of malt and a hint of pear drop. Then, after maturing in American oak for 10 years, the spirit boasts boatloads of green tea, vanilla, banana and fresh mint.

To really show us the flavour French oak imparts, Glass shows us spirit matured in solely French oak, which is slightly more oily, bursting with mango, baking spices, set honey and chocolate. In Seven Wood however, the six French oak-matured spirits will have spent time in American white oak first, and will be blended with both peated and unpeated spirit that has been aged purely in American white oak. When that all comes together you get Seven Wood, with subtly smoky, nutty notes, vanilla, fresh peach, pear and a prickle of spice.

Jura Seven Wood

Gregg Glass chatting us through Seven Wood in the depths of the forest.

“It’s not just seven woods for the sake of it,” Glass notes as he explains the thought process behind the whisky. “When you look back at the recipes you’ve developed, you don’t realise you’ve used so many. It’s like opening a can of worms in terms of how many ingredients you can use.” Glass and his team found that these specific combinations created the desired layers of depth and complexity, a recipe that was built up over time. “Experimentation has always been very important to me,” Glass continues. “Without that sense of adventure, you’re never going to discover.”

The identity of Seven Wood was found in the French forest, so it’s no surprise Jura wanted to show off the often-overlooked stories of the trees themselves. I know that when I now look at a whisky, I won’t merely see an age statement or time in a warehouse, but will recall the years of growth, nature and talent that begin long before the liquid meets the cask. Glass told us that he was trying to create a harmony with Seven Wood, and harmony he has achieved. A thoroughly delicious whisky, paying its respect to the forest where it all began.

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Win a VIP trip to Salcombe Gin distillery!

Here at MoM, we’ve teamed up with Salcombe Distilling Co. to give you an incredible chance to win a trip down to the Devon distillery! Expect gin, stunning views and…

Here at MoM, we’ve teamed up with Salcombe Distilling Co. to give you an incredible chance to win a trip down to the Devon distillery! Expect gin, stunning views and boats, many many boats…

Gin lovers, boat lovers, this one’s for you. Salcombe’s stunning waterfront and plethora of coastal activities has drawn people to the coastline for years. Lucky for us, it now also has its very own gin! Two friends, Angus and Howard, who met while working as sailing instructors, decided to bottle what makes Salcombe so special. Behold, Salcombe Gin was born. It only opened three short years ago, in November 2016, but there’s boatloads of history down there, and the distillery and the gin itself were inspired by Salcombe’s shipbuilding heritage.

salcombe gin rose sainte marie

Salcombe Gin Rosé Sainte Marie spritzes

Salcombe Distilling Co. has been busy ever since, with new releases popping up left, right and centre, the most recent of which is the delicious Salcombe Gin Rosé Sainte Marie. With no added sugar and inspired by Provence rosé wine, it’s pink, it’s dry and it’s the perfect summer sipper.

Did you know the distillery even deliver their gin… by boat? To other boats? To sum up, these guys are cool, their gin is delicious, and they really like boats. On to the competition!

What do I win?

So many lovely things! A two-night stay for two (the lucky winner and the equally fortuitous plus one) at the beautiful Brightham House boutique B&B, which was named by The Times at one of its top 10 coolest places to stay in the UK. You’ll enjoy a scrumptious dinner for two at the stunning Salcombe Harbour Hotel as well! Of course, it would be rude not to have a wonderful distillery tour and attend the gin school with the lovely Salcombe Gin folks. The distillery is called ‘The Boathouse’, appropriately nestled in the boat-building quarter of Salcombe. Right on the waterfront, it’s one of only a handful of distilleries accessible by boat! Pretty cool, if you ask us. There you can meet the still named Provident, and enjoy some delicious gin while you admire the coastal views.

salcombe gin

Even the views inside the distillery are superb!

All this to be rounded off by a rambunctious rib (rigid inflatable boat) ride around Salcombe harbour!* (Weather and time of year permitting, of course.) It’s going to be quite the excursion.

I want in! How do I enter?

This is the fun part, and it’s so easy! All you have to do is buy a bottle from the following Salcombe Gin distillery range, and you’re automagically entered. (For the nitty gritty details, see the competition terms below.)

Start Point

This is the inaugural gin from the Devon distillery, boasting 13 botanicals including Macedonian juniper, chamomile, fresh lemon, lime and red grapefruit peels. It takes inspiration from the Salcombe fruiters, boats which brought exotic fruit into the humble bay from all over the world in the 19th century. The gin boasts notes of warming spice, peppery heat, a fruity note with piney juniper and a burst of citrus.

Rosé Sainte Marie

A pink expression from Salcombe, inspired by dry rosé Provence wine. That explains why it’s named after the Sainte Marie Lighthouse which marks the Southern entrance to the Old Port of Marseille, where the aftorementioned fruiters would pick up the haul destined for the UK. With no added sugar, it’s full of floral notes, peppery juniper and gentle notes of red fruit and citrus, without being overly sweet.

Guiding Star Voyager Series

Part of the Voyager Series, Guiding Star is a sloe and damson gin made in partnership with Niepoort, a fabulous Portuguese winery. The fruity spirit was finished in a Tawny Port cask from the winery, and is full of jammy Port, orange peel, oak spice and earthy juniper notes.

salcombe gin

The Salcombe Gin Distillery range, in all its glory

Arabella – Voyager Series

This expression was created in collaboration with renowned chef Michael Caines MBE, who was in fact born in Devon himself. Caines selected all the botanicals himself, including hibiscus, bitter almond, lemon thyme and verbena, taking inspiration from a garden in bloom in English summer. It was named Arabella after a famed fruiter built in 1860, and the gin is full of floral notes, with earthy spice, loads of citrus and hallmark juniper.

Island Queen Voyager Series

Another collaboration with Salcombe Gin and a famed chef, this time Monica Galetti influenced the spirit. This gin is super tropical, inspired by another Salcombe fruiter after the same name, with notes of fresh mango, pineapple and coconut, balanced by traditional juniper, citrus and aromatic spices.

Mischief Voyager Series

Made with the help of restaurateur Mark Hix MBE, Mischief contains 10 botanicals in honour of the 10th anniversary of the Hix Restaurant Group. Again, it’s named after a famous Salcombe fruiter built in 1856. With sea buckthorn and samphire, the maritime notes balance well with the supporting floral tones and lots of aromatic juniper.

Finisterre

A wonderful cask aged expression, Finisterre spent 11 months resting in an American oak casks which previously housed Fino sherry from Bodegas Tradición. It takes its name from the Spanish ‘finis terre’, which translates to ‘end of the earth’, which is how far the Salcombe Gin folks say they’ll go for the perfect botanicals!  The cask has imparted a hint of salinity and sweeter fruity notes to the already herbaceous and citrus forward gin.

Finisterre Gift Pack

Remember that Fino sherry we were just talking about from Bodegas Tradición? Well, in this ingenious Finisterre Gift Pack, a bottle of the cask aged gin is accompanied by a bottle of that very sherry! Now you can compare and contrast the two wonderful bottlings.

So that’s it: buy a bottle of gin, and you’re in. We know, it sounds too good to be true, but it is! 

Good luck, and happy gin-drinking to all! 

*Only available between April – September months. £50 spa voucher will be provided in the event the rib ride is not available

MoM Salcombe Gin Competition 2019 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 6 August to 20 August 2019. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. See full T&Cs for details. 

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World spirits: fabulous flavours from far off lands

This week, we’re gathering a whole host of delicious spirits from all over the globe, so you can get a taste of far flung lands and intriguing botanicals wherever you…

This week, we’re gathering a whole host of delicious spirits from all over the globe, so you can get a taste of far flung lands and intriguing botanicals wherever you are!

Travelling the world is fun. This is something we generally all agree on. However, quite frankly we just don’t have time to visit each and every continent and try the local boozy delicacies, however much we’d like to. Enter our fabulous compilation of spirits from many lands, including gin, rum and whisk(e)y! We’ve gathered this wonderful selection to tickle your tastebuds and transport you to all corners of the globe, all without leaving the safety of your sofa. Because sofas are nice, and sometimes they have cats on them, and cats are always a good thing. Anyhow, we digress. Onto the spirits!

Angostura 7 Year Old

Where’s it from?

Trinidad and Tobago

What is it?

A classic, tasty molasses-based rum from the Angostura company, produced in a continuous still. The liquid is aged in bourbon barrels for seven years before it’s filtered. The ideal dark rum for whacking into a cocktail, be it a Mai Tai, Daiquiri or even a Rum Old Fashioned! If you fancy it neat, definitely serve this one with a good wedge of juicy orange to balance the richer creamy notes.

What does it taste like?

Bittersweet dark chocolate balanced by cinnamon, burnt caramel, mocha, creamy crème brûlée, vanilla fudge and a hit of spice on the finish.

St Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Where’s it from?

France

What is it?

An iconic elderflower liqueur made with fresh elderflowers hand-harvested only once a year, for a few weeks in the late spring. Each bottle contains around 1,000 elderflower blossoms! The flowers are macerated, and the infusion is then strained and blended with eau-de-vie de vin, water, sugar, and neutral grain spirit. Splash it in a glass of Prosecco for a floral fizzy treat.

What does it taste like?

Sweet and floral notes of elderflower (of course), supported by lychee, tart lemon, a hint of buttery sweetness and a lengthy elderflower-filled finish.

Nikka Whisky From The Barrel

Where’s it from?

Japan

What is it?

An incredibly delicious, award-winning blended whisky from Nikka! It marries single malt and grain whiskies from the Miyagikyo and coastal Yoichi distilleries. The liquid is aged in a massive range of casks, including bourbon barrels, sherry butts and refill hogsheads.

What does it taste like?

Full of chai spice, buttery caramel and vanilla cream, with sweet cereal notes, raspberry, orange peel and drying oak spice alongside a spicy, warming finish.

Basil Hayden’s

Where’s it from?

Kentucky, America

What is it?

Distilled in Clermont, Kentucky, Basil Hayden’s Bourbon really was created by master distiller Basil Hayden himself, all the way back in 1796. He added rye into a traditional corn-based mashbill, and this innovative risk certainly paid off. The sweetness of corn balances brilliantly with the spiciness of rye, making for a brilliant Whiskey Bramble.

What does it taste like?

Fairly light and spicy, with vanilla and honey balanced by pepper and peppermint, with corn and dark berries on the finish.

Le Tribute Gin

Where’s it from?

Barcelona, Spain

What is it?

From the family-run distillery in Vilanova, a tiny fishing village close to Barcelona comes Le Tribute Gin. It’s a tribute (shocker) to the pioneers, processes and the heritage behind the spirit, and is inspired by the distillery’s history. There are seven botanicals, all distilled separately: juniper, lime, kumquat, lemon, pink and green grapefruit, tangerine, cardamom, bitter and sweet oranges and lemons, and the seventh is lemongrass. Wow, that was a lot. All are distilled in wheat spirit except lemongrass, where water is used in place of spirit to maintain freshness. 

What does it taste like?

Citrus and sherbet sweets, with an amalgamation of vibrant and loud fresh fruity notes. Juniper takes something of a backseat, but still plays a major role here.

Konik’s Tail Vodka

Where’s it from?

Poland

What is it?

It’s 20 years in the making and the vision of one man, Pleurat Shabani, who single-handedly harvests and bottles the vodka himself. Inspired by the elusive Polish Konik horses which, if they are spotted, will promise a good harvest (according to Polish superstition). Shabani had plenty of setbacks and harsh nights sleeping rough, but found a sense of purpose after buying a one-way ticket to escape the conflicts back home in Croatia. Determined to create something people would appreciate, he chose three grains to create this delicious vodka, Spelt (the happy grain), Rye (the dancing grain) and wheat (the smiling grain) – suggesting that the aim in life is to laugh, dance and smile.

What does it taste like?

Nutty, with burnt black pepper, spice and a sweet finish.

Lot 40 Rye Whisky

Where’s it from?

Canada

What is it?

A no-age statement rye whisky from Lot 40. The expression is in fact a revival of a whisky from the 1990s, and is named for the plot of land which used to belong to Joshua Booth, grandfather of the now-retired master distiller, Mike Booth, who created the whisky. In the 2000s, the expression was discontinued, but luckily it returned to us! The mashbill is 90% rye and 10% malted rye, so you can be sure this is sufficiently spicy.

What does it taste like?

A gentle floral start builds into all of those warming spicy notes, with black pepper, cardamom and oak spice, followed by roasted coffee bean and brown sugar on a finish of cigar box. 

 

Dancing Sands Dry Gin

Where’s it from?

Takaka, New Zealand

What is it?

This is the flagship gin from the Dancing Sands Distillery! The brainchild of husband and wife duo Ben and Sarah Bonoma, the gin takes eight hand-crushed botanicals, including manuka, almond, cardamom and liquorice, which are vapour infused. After it’s blended with water sourced from the Dancing Sands Spring over in Golden Bay, which the founders refer to as the ninth botanical, the spirit is bottled. The colours on the bottle represent each of the different botanicals. It also just looks amazing. 

What does it taste like?

Juniper straight away, followed by delicately floral manuka, warming cardamom and a subtle hint of chocolate, creamy nuttiness and a spicy peppery finish. 

Westerhall No.10 

Where’s it from?

Grenada, Caribbean

What is it?

Westerhall No.10 is, would you believe it, a 10 year old rum from the Westerhall Estate! We did not see that one coming. The estate is located on what’s called the ‘Spice Isle’ of Grenada, and this is certainly reflected in its flavour profile. If you happen to get your hands on any, try it with fresh coconut juice for a more local serve.

What does it taste like?

Spiced apple, waxy honey and rich maple syrup, creamy oak and fudge. 

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We head up to the Highlands for Caorunn Gin’s 10th birthday!

Gin and birthdays go together like bread and butter, and on 31 July the wonderful Caorunn Gin turns 10 years old! To celebrate, we scooted up to the Scottish Highlands…

Gin and birthdays go together like bread and butter, and on 31 July the wonderful Caorunn Gin turns 10 years old! To celebrate, we scooted up to the Scottish Highlands and had a look at what makes it so special.

As we arrive in Inverness, it seems we might get something of a rarity; a truly sunny day in the Scottish Highlands. It was short-lived, and we’re soon given a true Speyside greeting as we run, huddled under multiple umbrellas, into Balmenach Distillery, home of Caorunn Gin

Protected from the elements, Gin & Tonics are swiftly passed around, and we chat to gin master Simon Buley about his time at the distillery. The history of the site begins long before Caorunn Gin’s journey, though. Balmenach Distillery was founded in 1824 as one of the very first licensed Scotch whisky distilleries, and Buley has worked at Balmenach for 31 years, before Caorunn was even a twinkle in someone’s eye. 

Caorunn gin

Not a bad view from the distillery…

It wasn’t until August 2009, the very beginning of the gin boom, that Caorunn was launched, with production taking over what used to be the cask filling store. The Scottish gin boasts many points of difference, from its star botanicals down to the actual distillation process (more on that later). Within the 11-botanical recipe, five Celtic botanicals are hand-foraged by Buley himself, and he points just across the road to where the native plants are collected. It’s no more than a 10 minute walk to any of them, so when it says ‘locally-foraged’ you’re in for the real deal. Buley explains during the growing  season, botanicals are picked fresh just before distillation. At the end of season, they’ll pick enough to last them through until next year, ensuring they’re always locally-grown. The Celtic botanicals hold particular significance, as “Caorunn is all about the five,” Buley tells us. The bottle even has five sides, as well as sporting the five-pointed asterisk motif. The devil’s in the detail.

The star botanicals

First off, you have rowan berry. The name itself, Caorunn, is Celtic for ‘rowan berry’, which gives a somewhat Christmassy note. Then there’s heather. “Look where we are, it’s everywhere!” He laughs. “We’re going to use it if we can.” Heather brings those sweeter floral notes, and both the shoot and flowers are used.

Caorunn Gin

Gin master Simon Buley foraging some bog myrtle

Next, dandelion leaf, and Buley notes that foraging for this one isn’t too much of a task. “It grows wherever you don’t want it to grow!” Apparently, dandelion leaf is becoming a rather trendy salad ingredient these days, though we much prefer it in our gin. Then there’s bog myrtle, which was historically used flavour beer before hops, so you can imagine what it imparts to the gin.

Last but not least, you have Coul blush apple, which is native to northernmost Britain. There’s a very short growing season for these apples, in which there can be weather extremes, from rain to shine to snow. The apple trees surrounding the distillery have been there since around 1927, the hardy fellas. The other six botanicals will be much more familiar to gin lovers,  but hail from slightly further afield: juniper, coriander, lemon and orange peel, angelica root and cassia bark.

Copper Berry Chamber fun!

Once foraged, what does Buley do with these botanicals? He uses the world’s only (yes, really) working Copper Berry Chamber, infusing them into vapourised grain spirit. You’ll be forgiven for not knowing what on earth a Copper Berry Chamber is. The chamber was made in the US and previously used in the perfume industry. To make Caorunn, vapour enters the bottom of the chamber and passes up through four perforated trays, grabbing the flavours of each botanical on its way through. 

Caorunn gin

The Copper Berry Chamber, in all its glory!

Where each botanical is placed in the chamber is pivotal. The top only has 10 botanicals, missing heather because the flowers are so light that the vapour would pick them up and carry them into the final liquid! Although we’re sure it would look rather lovely, Buley most definitely won’t allow that to happen.

Not only is it important where each botanical is placed, there’s also an exact science to how full the trays are. “If it’s too deep, the vapours can’t pass through and condense back into a liquid and drop back into the bottom of the chamber,” Buley explains. “If it’s too shallow, the vapours pass through too quickly without picking up flavours.” Slow and steady wins the race with this distillation. The gin is also twice-distilled because some botanicals need rehydrating before they give off any flavour. When the spirit first comes off the still, “it’s basically a genever, all we can taste is juniper”. In the second distillation, the juniper gives off almost nothing at all, and the rest of the botanicals can start paying their dues. Finally, the delicious spirit is blended with Highland spring water, and voilà! You have Caorunn Gin.

What’s next?

After nearly 10 years of the original gin standing solitary, earlier this year the brand launched two new editions:  the Highland Strength and Raspberry expressions. Tweaks to the original formula are minimal (if it ain’t broke, and all that). Highland Strength has the exact same botanical recipe, only it stands at a handsome 54% ABV, with the higher strength amplifying the signature Celtic botanicals. Meanwhile, the Raspberry expression has the addition of infused fresh Scottish Perthshire raspberries, and that’s it. The fruity expression truly captures some of that natural tartness in there.

Caorunn Gin

A fairly rainy botanical garden!

So that’s the first decade, what’s next for Caorunn? The brand is evolving with the times, and currently uses a biomass boiler where previously it used an oil heater, which guzzled through an eye-watering 40,000 litres of oil a week. The team are in the process of building an anaerobic digestion plant, into which all the waste products from the distillery will be fed. When fully functional it will also generate electricity, allowing the distillery to be 80% self-sufficient. In the next six months, Buley tells us, they expect the whole site to be running off renewable energy. 

Buley is also eager to use more home-grown botanicals. As he points out, there’s no way that the small botanical garden could ever produce enough juniper for every batch of gin. However, juniper is of course quite literally the defining feature of gin, so if, in the future, even a tiny percentage of the juniper in Caorunn is Scottish then that’s most certainly a win. When the juniper is fully grown, “we’ll start using a handful of it, so we can actually say we’re using some of our own grown botanicals in it,” Simon tells us.

What better way to celebrate Caorunn’s birthday than with the gin itself?! The signature serve is simply with tonic and a slice of red apple to garnish, though if you’re feeling more experimental then here are some more outlandish serves. 

The Caorunn Raspberry Smash

What you’ll need:

1 part Caorunn Scottish Raspberry Gin

2 parts Pressed Apple Juice

Build both ingredients over ice and garnish with pink lady apple slices and fresh raspberries.

The Pale Highland Negroni 

What you’ll need:

25ml Caorunn Highland Strength

25ml Dry Vermouth

25ml Cocchi Americano 

Lemon Zest for garnish

Build in a mixing glass and stir until it’s chilled and diluted, then garnish with lemon zest.

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Introducing some awesome agave spirits!

From the sudden influx of celebrities promoting their own mezcal to international celebrations of the spirit, it looks like the agave-themed fun just doesn’t stop! We’re carrying on the fun…

From the sudden influx of celebrities promoting their own mezcal to international celebrations of the spirit, it looks like the agave-themed fun just doesn’t stop! We’re carrying on the fun from last week’s London Mezcal Week, while across the pond in the big ol’ USA they’re celebrating National Tequila Day on 24 July.

In light of such festivities, we’ve done exactly what any reasonable folk would do and gathered up nine amazing agave spirits, for your perusal. Put that salt and lime away, these are some tip-top tipples right here.

 

Casamigos Añejo

An Añejo Tequila from Casamigos, a brand founded by some familiar faces, chiefly George Clooney. If you were thinking of another George Clooney, let us just clarify that it is indeed 1997 Batman George Clooney. Funnily enough, Casamigos was never actually intended to be released to the public and was enjoyed solely with friends and family for years, hence the meaning of the name, ‘house of friends’. Luckily for us, Clooney & Co. released it to the world for us to enjoy! Everything about this Tequila takes its sweet time; the Highland agave goes through an 80-hour fermentation process, and is then roasted in traditional brick ovens for 72 long hours, a smashing 10 times longer than average. The spirit is finally aged for 14 months in American white oak, adding those lovely creamy notes to the fresh agave flavours.

What does it taste like?

Roasted cacao and runny caramel balanced by more vegetal notes of agave, with sweet spice and toasty oak on the finish.

El Espolòn Reposado

Produced by Destilladora San Nicholas in Los Atlos, this well spiced Tequila is packed full of rock’n’roll (literally – the factory workers played rock music to inspire the Blue Weber agave). Starting life off as blanco, it rests between 3-5 months in new American oak barrels, gaining a more complex character and a unique, slightly charred flavour.
Inspired by the powerful symbol of pride, the rooster, the brand celebrates Mexican culture. Charmingly called Ramón, the rooster features on every label to tell a different unique story of Tequila. The labels pay tribute to José Guadalupe Posada, an artist, printmaker and rebel most famous for the calavera (skulls) that feature alongside the rooster. The combination is a commentary on social injustices in Mexico, to give the people a voice, and influence today’s pop culture.

What does it taste like?

Earthy roasted agave notes, with a touch of treacle, vanilla pod and fragrant oak influence, with a finish of tropical fruit, namely a lingering note of tangy pineapple.

El Rayo Reposado

El Rayo Tequila is something of a first, blending agave harvested from both Highland and Lowland regions in one bottle! The brand was created a world away from Mexico in the heart of Peckham, by childhood friends Tom Bishop and Jack Vereker. El Rayo translates as ‘the lightning’, after a tale in Mexican folklore which recounts a Blue Weber agave plant being struck by lightning, a phenomenon you can see depicted on the bottle label. Villagers discovered the now-cooked agave, and consequently, Tequila as well! Made up of 70% Highland and 30% Lowland agave, the Reposado has been rested for seven months in barrels which previously housed whisky. The ethos behind El Rayo couldn’t be further from the salt and lime rituals that somewhat plague the spirit. Its signature serve is the Tequila & Tonic, or rather more catchily, the T&T, with a wedge of pink grapefruit. Try it; you won’t be disappointed.

What does it taste like?

Orange oil and orange zest, subtle smoke and oak spice leading into gently salted caramel, toasted almond and hallmark roasted agave notes.

Pensador Mezcal

Produced in Southern Oaxaca, Pensador Mezcal is crafted using methods dating all the way back to the 16th century by Don Atenogenes Garcia and his family. The palenque is located on the Calle Pensamientos, which translates to ‘Thoughts Road’, while the name Pensador also translates to ‘thinker’. The mezcal is made from two species of agave, Espadín and Madrecuishe, both widely cultivated throughout Mexico due to their high sugar content. The piñas are baked in a stone pit for six days before they’re crushed by a traditional tahona wheel. From field to bottle, each batch of Pensador takes around three months, so it’s little surprise that another interpretation of the name means ‘slowness of time’. We reckon the same principle should apply when drinking it; one to sip slowly and savour the smoky goodness.

What does it taste like?

Wood smoke and a dash of citrus peel, with barbecued stone fruit, black pepper and chilli spice, earthy mineral notes with a touch of lychee on the finish.

Mezcal Unión Uno

Mezcal Unión was founded in order to protect traditional mezcal production and benefit the families all around Mexico that are producing the smoky spirit. Indeed, it is a union of sorts, uniting various palenques around Oaxaca while supporting both environmental and social sustainability. Mezcal Unión Uno, a joven expression, is made with Espadín and wild Cirial agave, some of which are at the ripe old age of 20 years old when harvested. After they’re crushed with a traditional tahona wheel pulled by a mule, they go through a double distillation before bottling. This here is a mezcal with a mission, and we’re all for it.

What does it taste like?

Sweet tropical lychee and delicate floral notes, with earthy vanilla, a good helping of smoke and grassy notes, a tang of citrus on the finish.

QuiQuiRiQui Matatlán Mezcal

This smoky tipple is made in Matatlán, known as the ‘World Capital of Mezcal’. That’s a fabulous start right there. Even better, it has a particularly fun name, QuiQuiRiQui! Try saying that five times fast. This unaged joven expression is produced using Lowland Espadín agave, and is double distilled in the village of Santiago de Matatlán in rather small batches of 1,000 litres. If you were wondering about the name, it’s pronounced kee-kee-ree-kee, inspired by the sound of a rooster, one of which you can spot on the label.

What does it taste like?

Smoky to start, with rich cocoa and sweetly vegetal bell pepper, fresh grass, ripe apricot, and sweet baking spice fading into drying smoked black pepper lingering on the finish.

Patrón Silver

From what could well be one of the most famous houses in Mexico, Patrón Silver Tequila is something of a cult classic. It’s made exclusively from 100% Blue Weber agave, over at the Hacienda Patrón distillery. The agave is crushed using a combination of both traditional tahona wheel as well as more modern rollers. Bottled by hand, each glass vessel is signed and individually numbered, complete with Portuguese cork stopper. This is certainly one to try out all those Tequila-based cocktails you’ve been meaning to experiment with.

What does it taste like?

Lovely agave freshness, with buttery caramel, gently spiced with nutmeg and pepper, with lively citrus on the finish.

Mezcal Verde

From Verde Momento comes Mezcal Verde, a true celebration of all things Mexico, with the artisanal mezcal made with Oaxacan Espadín agave. The piñas are baked for five days in an underground oven using ocote, holm oak, and peppertree, giving its smoky profile a very distinctive flavour. Verde Momento means ‘green moment, and the brand is tackling reforestation, with 10 new agaves planted for every one that is harvested. The funky label artwork features work from Mexican artists, with each batch sporting a completely different design. We know you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover, but when they look that good, what’s not to like?! Not to mention, the liquid inside is top-notch, too.

What does it taste like?

A slightly creamy, nutty note, with dried fruit, peach and sweet grass alongside all those expected smoky notes.

Montelobos Joven Mezcal

Montelobos Joven was created by biologist Dr. Iván Saldaña. That’s a good start, having studied plants, but Saldaña knew nothing about how to produce the Mexican spirit. He sought help from fifth generation mezcalero, Don Abel Lopez, and the duo have been smashing it ever since. Organic Espadín agave are harvested and roasted for around one week in a volcanic stone pit. In a pledge for sustainability, Montelobos has committed to never using wild agave in its mezcal. What’s more, in keeping with age-old tradition, Lopez throws chilli peppers into the fire when roasting the agave, because this is said to ward off evil spirits. Montelobos translates to ‘mountain of wolves’, so we reckon that explains the rather fierce looking fella on the handsome square bottle!

What does it taste like?

Loads of fruity sweetness, with pineapple and mango, lemon zest, a distinctive minerality, rosemary and a good hit of smoke remaining long after the last sip.

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The winner of our VIP Bombay Sapphire competition is…

Back in May we announced the chance for you to win a VIP trip to the home of Bombay Sapphire, the gorgeous Laverstoke Mill Distillery. Well, the time has now…

Back in May we announced the chance for you to win a VIP trip to the home of Bombay Sapphire, the gorgeous Laverstoke Mill Distillery. Well, the time has now come to announce the victor…

Seeing inside the workings of a distillery is something that charms all us drinks geeks, and the chance to see inside Bombay Sapphire is truly a steal! For our competition, the lucky winner (with an even luckier plus one!) will get to enjoy a two night’s stay along with a VIP visit to Bombay Sapphire’s distillery in Hampshire, with a hosted tour titled ‘A Taste of Bombay’ round the absolutely stunning Laverstoke Mill Distillery. Of course there were also some complimentary cocktails thrown in there, as well as a relaxing walk along the River Test taking in the English countryside. 

Bombay Sapphire

Laverstoke Mill. Seriously, it’s beautiful.

What’s more, entering couldn’t have been easier! All you had to do was buy any 70cl bottle from the distillery range, and that includes any one of the delicious Bombay Sapphire, Bombay Sapphire East, Star Of Bombay London Dry Gin, Bombay Original London Dry Gin and Bombay English Estate. Even if there’s only one competition champion, everyone’s a winner with a bottle of gin.

Gin has been had, and a winner has been chosen. 

The winner is…

Jeffrey Eden from King’s Lynn!

Hugs congrats Jeffrey, and a big thank you to everyone who took part – G&T’s all around!

 

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The winner of our VIP Mortlach competition is…

Back in May, we at MoM really outdid ourselves by offering you the chance to win a VIP trip to Mortlach Distillery, which on any regular day, isn’t usually open…

Back in May, we at MoM really outdid ourselves by offering you the chance to win a VIP trip to Mortlach Distillery, which on any regular day, isn’t usually open to the public. Nevertheless, we worked our magic and devised a competition to send one lucky Scotch whisky fan (and their chosen plus one) to the home of The Beast of Dufftown.

A VIP trip to a Scotch whisky distillery that is usually hidden away from the public? What a delight! The fortunate folks will be treated to a private tour and tasting, the ultimate rarity for this distillery. They’ll even have tours of Speyside cooperage and Cardhu Distillery, as well as two nights’ accommodation in the Craigellachie Hotel. And then we threw in a bottle of the utterly fabulous Mortlach 20 Year Old, because why not?

Mortlach whisky

Tasty, tasty Mortlach 12 Year Old looking fancy.

Applying for this once in a lifetime opportunity was a breeze. All that was required was a purchase of one 70cl bottle of Mortlach 12 Year Old, 16 Year Old or 20 Year Old, and that was it! Just to sweeten the deal, we even took 10% off those expressions, because we’re nice like that.

Alas, there can only be one winner, and now is the time for the big reveal.

The winner is…

George Paterson from West Yorkshire!

You’re the envy of the town, George, and a great big congratulations! For those of you who missed out, at least you can rest easy knowing you have a delicious dram of Mortlach in your possession.

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