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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Jess Williamson

Royal Salute on innovation and Scottish oak

Royal Salute is celebrating a milestone. It’s kicking off the new Kingdom Collection with a 26-year-old whisky that’s fully finished in Scottish oak casks, a first for the brand. We spent…

Royal Salute is celebrating a milestone. It’s kicking off the new Kingdom Collection with a 26-year-old whisky that’s fully finished in Scottish oak casks, a first for the brand. We spent some time with master blender Sandy Hyslop to find out where all this innovation is coming from, and where it’s going. 

How does a Scotch whisky brand created in 1953 avoid getting held back by heritage? Get a master blender like Sandy Hyslop in, that’s how.

If anyone can charm you into the world of not just Scotch whisky, but blended Scotch, it’s him. His passion is pure and infectious, and that’s after nearly 40 years in the industry, beginning in 1983 at Stewarts Cream of the Barley. In September 2016, Hyslop took on the role of director of blending across all of Chivas Brothers’ blended Scotch whisky, including Royal Salute.

Royal Salute Sandy Hyslop

A milestone with Scottish oak

But we’re not looking into the past here, but the future, as are Hyslop and his team. On a freakishly hot week in March, we’re up in Speyside to celebrate the release of the newest addition to the Royal Salute family, the 26 Year Old Scottish Oak Cask Finish. The first release in the brand’s limited-edition Kingdom Collection, it’s the first time Royal Salute has dabbled with Scottish oak, and this is the first time anyone in the world (apart from the blending team, of course) has tried the brand new release. Even Royal Salute marketing director Mathieu Deslandes is in the same boat as us! 

The Scottish oak, a type of quercus alba, is sourced and selected by Hyslop from a single sustainably-managed forest in Scotland, and the wood was dried for two years prior to being made into a cask. “This isn’t just something we’ve dreamt up overnight,” Hyslop clarifies. Specifically, it was dreamt up three years ago. “There are a lot of milestones – we want to know the provenance of the oak, we want to be there when it’s being cut down, we want to dry them properly.” The credentials behind this must be strong. “We don’t just want Royal Salute to be amazing. We want it to be amazing, and everybody know why.”

Royal Salute 26 Year Old Scottish oak

Speyside Cooperage foreman Darren Morrison shows us the types of char they’ve used; medium toast and heavy char (which only takes around 30 seconds of firing to achieve). Hyslop went for this combination to avoid the freshness of virgin oak that’s so divisive, saying he desperately didn’t want any ‘cut wood joiner’s workshop’ flavours. The heavier the char, the better the cask, in Hyslop’s opinion.

The team ordered about 70 Scottish oak casks, which Hyslop isn’t afraid to admit were “eye-wateringly expensive”. He and his team are there from start to finish, from the cutting of the oak to the drying and the barrel-making. “We’re dealing with 26-year-old whisky here,” he tells us. “It’s got a lot to say for itself anyway, so the cask needed to be well-prepared to be able to give a bit of influence.” It went so well that Hyslop has committed to buying this Scottish oak for the next three years.

A rampant flavour uptake

How was Hyslop comfortable sending this precious whisky into a somewhat unknown cask type? “I sampled it every two weeks. That’s how comfortable I felt – not at all!” Needless to say, once you’ve made that call as a blender there’s no going back. It turns out that Scottish oak imparts a wealth of flavour very quickly, so much so that this particular finishing period was just six-and-a-half months long. He tells us that the oak influence was “really rampant – it was freaking me out, actually.” Hyslop makes an interesting point that 26-year-old spirit is much lower in strength than new make, meaning that it draws flavour more slowly from the wood. Just imagine the flavour uptake from freshly-distilled spirit.

Strathisla distillery

The 26-year-old is even more malt-led than the Signature Blend, with second-fill butt-matured Longmorn a crucial part, and Caperdonich adding a whisper of bonfire embers at the finish. “There’s something like 28 different malts in this blend, with a very complicated cask recipe as well,” Hyslop adds. The whisky proportions were crafted specifically for this edition and the Scottish oak was filled with the finished blend, rather than each individual component. “Without a doubt, I designed the blend to suit the cask finish,” he tells us. “We knew it would need to be something pretty robust and flavourful to stand that period of time.” The spirit was ready before the packaging was, so Hyslop had to take the whisky out of the Scottish oak and back into fourth-fill American oak so it didn’t become overpowering. “We couldn’t leave it. We were frightened it was going to go too far, with more oak than spirit influence.”

So where does Scottish oak sit on a scale of spicy European to creamy American oak? Hyslop describes it as gingery spice and dark toffee – “not quite treacle, but dark, dark toffee” – almost immediately. The good news is that the team were so happy with how it turned out that they’ve already refilled the Scottish oak casks from this release: “I think second-fill is going to be ace, but we’ve got no plan for it.” Hyslop is relieved though that he’ll only have to sample the refill casks every month.

Royal Salute 26 Year Old Scottish oak

Hyslop gives us the opportunity to taste the new 26-year-old next to the 21 Year Old Signature Blend. Ripe orchard fruits (think apples and pears), sweet orange marmalade, toffee, and a dash of cinnamon spice are the hallmarks of the Signature Blend. We move onto the 26 Year Old Kingdom Edition, and there’s that dark toffee and stone fruit, but this time with plum and apricot. It’s thicker and sweeter than the original blend. “I know the 26 Year Old is five years older, but you can see the influence of the wood – lovely spicy, toasty, nutty, cinnamon flavours.” 

A licence to fail

What drives the team is the fact that these experiments are blending room-led, rather than demands coming from the marketing department. “Had it not worked out, we wouldn’t have released it,” Hyslop admits. “It was all about knowledge and experimentation at the end of the day. Fortunately, this one worked absolutely perfectly.”

What’s also interesting is that the ceramic decanters are on their way out. In front of me is a new coated glass flagon, and it’s almost impossible to tell the difference. If anything, the embossing is sharper than on the ceramic. It’s part of Pernod Ricard’s (owner of Chivas Brothers) move towards making everything either recyclable or compostable by 2025, while still keeping high-end brands like Royal Salute as luxurious as ever – but don’t expect to see them everywhere just yet. 

“It’s a golden period for Royal Salute,” he continues. “We’ve got a phenomenal aged inventory, and the innovation we’ve done over the past few years is a pleasure. So many things that are led by Royal Salute then influence other expressions after. But if people want to copy you, then they’re going to be one step behind you.” Because Hyslop is actively encouraged to experiment, he has something which he calls his ‘licence to fail’, which no doubt encourages him to take risks, and seems to have done the brand a whole lot of good. He clearly relishes his work: “It’s a lot of detail, but it’s loads of fun.” The devil is indeed in the detail, and Hyslop misses nothing. 

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Charm on the farm: keeping WhistlePig local and global with Moët Hennessy

At the tail-end of 2020 it was announced that WhistlePig would be partnering with Moët Hennessy – given that its rye whiskey is all about farm to bottle, how will…

At the tail-end of 2020 it was announced that WhistlePig would be partnering with Moët Hennessy – given that its rye whiskey is all about farm to bottle, how will it keep its charm with the backing of one of the world’s luxury industry leaders? We chatted with CEO Jeff Kozak to find out. 

WhistlePig takes the crown as the most-awarded rye whiskey in the world. Not only that, but being founded in 2007, it spearheaded the rye whiskey renaissance and a wave of innovation within the American whiskey industry. The team began by sourcing 10-year-old Canadian rye whiskey as it slowly grew its own production. It wasn’t until 2015 that the brand opened its own distillery at its current home, the 500-acre farm in Vermont. The process from milling, mashing, fermentation, and distillation to maturation was overseen by the late Dave Pickerell. The brand is very open about the sources of its liquid with a complete breakdown on the back of bottles. 

A new stakeholder

When we met with CEO Jeff Kozak in London a few months back, he was very excited about the future of the brand – and for good reason, as this meeting was following the announcement of the international partnership between Moët Hennessy and WhistlePig in 2020. “We had never been widely distributed internationally – we always had a small foothold in the UK,” Kozak tells me. “But we also never had the inventory or the volume. Our aged whiskies are super scarce, inventory is very tight. Having signed with LVMH, we now have the ability to sell more to the international market.”

WhistlePig distillery

The WhistlePig farm in snowier times

“It’s early days of going back out and reintroducing ourselves to the markets, it’s almost like going back and re-educating people all over again,” says Kozak. But the reaction has been super positive, with bartenders and sales teams genuinely eager to (re)learn the story, given the events from the last two years. “It’s really exciting to have someone who has the brand building history like Moët Hennessy, otherwise it’s tough to do it all yourself.”

Age statement American whiskey isn’t a particularly common sight, which, paired with its focus on rye, are what makes WhistlePig unique. I wonder if, with the expansion, there might be a microcosm of the Japanese whisky industry, where huge demand stripped it of many of the age statement expressions. “There’s no plan for us to remove age statements or reduce them, because it just gives us that edge,” Kozak affirms. “We’ve been planning for international expansion and building our infrastructure for a while. I don’t see us not being able to support our ambitions. We have eight warehouses with whisky in the US. We have the backing, and now we have the power to get into countries we wouldn’t have been able to before.” After the core range, the 10-, 12-, and 15-year-old releases, are established, WhistlePig will then begin to introduce other (currently) US-only bottlings. 

“Charm on the farm”

Part of the discussion with the new investment has been about how Whistlepig doesn’t lose its youth and freshness. Not in terms of the whiskey, but in terms of the freedom to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from them. A huge benefit that WhistlePig has is that it isn’t bogged down with history, something that so many other brands have to take into account. “There are no traditions that you can’t break,” says distiller Mitch Mahar. “It’s nice as a distiller to have that freedom and just run with things.” For example, distilling bucketloads of maple syrup, which took nearly four weeks to ferment. Four weeks is an insanely long time, and I ask if there was ever a point where they would have given up on the project, to which Kozak simply answers: “Do you know how expensive maple syrup is?!” 

WhistlePig range

While some of the core range is matured in Vermont oak, cask finishing is where Kozak believes WhistlePig really got recognised. “Finishing in rye whiskey, or US whiskey in general, was never a thing five years ago – of course we stole that idea from Scotch and ran with it.” There are over 50 different types of barrels on the farm at any one time, ready to experiment with. “For the first time ever, we’re beginning to run out of potential barrels.” One-off standout finishes end up in the annual BossHog releases. Last year’s was finished in a teakwood ex-cachaça barrel for little over two-and-a-half days (the shortest finish they’ve ever used), so as not to overwhelm the spirit. Where do you go from there? 

Fermentation

The team are already wondering what to experiment with after exhausting a lot of the cask finishing options. Fermentation may well be it. Four of the five current WhistlePig distillers came from craft brewing backgrounds. Kozak uses the term “blurring categories”. Unlike the rules and regulations surrounding Scotch, within US whiskey the team can propagate their own yeast strains, their own enzymes. “We try to see what’s going on not just in the whisk(e)y world but also in the beer world,” Mahar tells me. They found a yeast strain from the maple tree, but got so excited experimenting with it that they forgot to keep any back, so Mahar is hoping to find it again this year. It’s intriguing, and incredibly on-brand.

WhistePig farm

The WhistlePig farm in sunnier times

Another focus is becoming more self-sufficient. What’s the advantage of being grain to glass? “Control of the supply chain from start to finish, being able to tell the story behind the grain and the spirit,” says Kozak. But with the expansion comes a flipside. “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to distil as much as we want because we live in the middle of nowhere on a small farm – you’re limited. I think it’s a balance of how much we can do ourselves versus how much we can source from other individuals. Sourcing isn’t a bad thing.” Its FarmStock series, first launched in 2017, was a big deal because the releases had a proportion of aged whiskey produced from rye grown and distilled at the farm. Now, FarmStock Beyond Bonded rye and bourbon have hit the market, the first expressions that fully encompass the farm to bottle philosophy. 

In the end, it comes down to balancing the volume of whiskey they want to make with the intricacy that has always made WhistlePig special. “When you’re a fledgling company, you don’t have all the resources,” Kozak continues. “With LVMH we can be in more places, be in the right places, and tell the right stories.”

Master of Malt tastes WhistlePig 10, 12 & 15

WhistlePig 10 Year Old

Nose: Cracked black pepper, fresh mint, white chocolate, toasted nuts, and orange curd.

Palate: A symphony of clove, nutmeg, sweet oak, and cinnamon sugar, balanced by fresh grassiness.

Finish: A good dose of peppery spice alongside vanilla shortbread.

WhistlePig 12 Year Old

Nose: Super jammy, with toasted butterscotch, strawberries and raspberries, and golden syrup. The wine casks really shine.

Palate: Toasty wood spices come in, alongside more berries, ripe pears in syrup, and sultanas.

Finish: Earthy rye balances out a bright, fruity finish.

WhistlePig 15 Year Old

Nose: Bittersweet cocoa, dried thyme, pear skin, burnt marshmallow, and oak char.

Palate: Rich and viscous, with runny honey, dark caramel, peppery rye spice, and oily orange peel.

Finish: Tannic oak, herbal rye, cinnamon-spiced milk chocolate, and more barrel char.

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Spirit of Speyside whisky festival returns for its 22nd year!

The Spirit of Speyside whisky festival is returning bigger and better than ever for its 22nd edition in April 2022. Tickets go on sale tomorrow (8 March), and we’ve rustled…

The Spirit of Speyside whisky festival is returning bigger and better than ever for its 22nd edition in April 2022. Tickets go on sale tomorrow (8 March), and we’ve rustled together a preview so you can start getting excited. 

We had the pleasure of scooting up to Scotland last week to chat with just a few of the many brilliant faces that are involved with Spirit of Speyside – namely chairman George McNeil and ex-chairman James Campbell, as well as one of the festival’s founders, Scotch whisky expert Ann Miller (who you may know as Dram Queen), and Sarah Burgess, ex-Macallan lead whisky maker with over 25 years in the industry. As such, we’re rather well-placed to give you a sneak preview of some of the exciting things lined up for this year’s festival!

The whole gang together (chairman George McNeil centre) for the launch of Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival

Festival history 

Since it was first launched in 1999, the festival has come on in leaps and bounds, and it’s now a six-day bonanza, with over 500 events and more than 50 Speyside distilleries getting involved. James Campbell held the role of chairman for over a decade, helping build the festival into what it is today, and only stepped down from the role in November 2021, passing the baton to George McNeil. 

The festival had its first in-person event since 2019 in November last year, though this was a smaller affair than the usual spring events. This year, it’s set to run between 27 April to 2 May, and the excitement between everyone involved was palpable – those who attend are in for a treat. 

A Speyside view with a Speyside dram

“We have an impressive range of events on offer, with some stellar new additions to the 2022 programme,” said chairman George McNeil. “I hope to see people from far and wide joining us to celebrate the world’s largest producing whisky region, from whisky novices, budding master blenders and everyone in between. I look forward to welcoming people once again to an area I am lucky enough to call home.”

New to the 2022 lineup

While we can’t give you a preview for all of the 500+ events that are going to take place, what we can do is show you what’s new and sparkly this year. A particularly notable addition is ‘Star Wars and Whisky’, a tasting session held at the Dowans in honour of Brett Ferencz (better known as The Scotch Trooper) who sadly passed away in February 2021. With 25% of ticket sales going to Cancer Research, what better way to remember his influence in the whisky community than with two of his favourite things, Star Wars and whisky?

Other exciting additions include ‘Chapter and Verse’ from Glen Moray, hosted by global brand ambassador Iain Allan in Elgin Cathedral’s Chapter House. Members of Historic Scotland will be joining to share some entertaining tales, accompanied by some top Glen Moray drams, of course. Last but not least, another new event on the roster is ‘History of the Highball’ with Sarah Burgess at the oldest whisky hotel in Speyside, The Craigellachie Hotel. She’ll be joined by a special guest (which is kept top secret for now) for a deep dive into the history of the Highball, with four special serves in store. 

This could be you, drinking whisky in Speyside!

Look out for an immersive whisky and chocolate sensory experience from Ballindalloch (from new make spirit to 30-year-old whisky), the one and only whisky auction of the festival, and even a free(!) Scottish Aperitivo Hour hosted by John Dewar & Sons at the famed Craigellachie bridge. What’s always extra exciting about Spirit of Speyside is that it offers access to distilleries that aren’t normally open to the public – namely Roseisle, Linkwood, Dufftown, and Mortlach, as well as Tamdhu, Tamnavulin, and Craigellachie, giving ticket holders the chance to not only see the distillery, but to meet the people behind the liquid too.

Yes, it’s all about the whisky, but it’s also all about the incredible people of Scotland and Speyside – they clearly can’t wait to welcome people back from all over the world and show off all it has to offer.

You can buy tickets here, but with over 500 events taking place, you might want to have a peruse before they go live on 8 March!

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Whisky Advent 2021 Days 22, 23, and 24

It’s our final Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar blog for the year! What tasty drams were behind doors 22, 23, and 24? We’re about to find out. Along…

It’s our final Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar blog for the year! What tasty drams were behind doors 22, 23, and 24? We’re about to find out.

Along with a few last minute presents, we’re wrapping up our Advent updates because it’s finally Christmas Eve! So before you leave a mince pie and a glass of sherry out for you know who, let’s catch up on the final three drams that you’ve been sipping.

Oh, and if you’re after some drinking inspiration we’ve even included a cocktail recipe at the bottom. Smoky Cokeys are go, people! 

Day 22: Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera

This fruity Speyside dram was matured in a trio of casks: American oak ex-bourbon, Portuguese sherry, and virgin oak, before all three spirits are married in a solera vat. A solera is something historically used in the sherry industry, whereby whenever any spirit is drawn from the cask (which is never emptied), it’s continuously topped up again.

What does it taste like?

Well-sherried, with spiced fruitcake and candied citrus followed by honey sweetness and oaky warmth on the finish. 

Day 23: Lagavulin 8 Year Old

This beloved expression was only added to the Lagavulin core range in 2016, after a special edition initially released to celebrate the distillery’s 200th anniversary was received very well by whisky drinkers. A classic Islay malt for a reason, it’s got savoury smoke and bursts of fruity sweetness all in one.

What does it taste like?

Smoky and savoury. Smoked kipper and ashy bonfire are balanced by frangipane, baking spices, and apple crumble.

Day 24: Mortlach 16 Year Old

Mortlach added a trio of tasty whiskies to its range in 2018, and this 16 Year Old is one of them. Drawn from ex-sherry casks, all that delicious dark fruit and warming spice works deliciously well with the full-bodied spirit that Mortlach is known for – it’s not called the Beast of Dufftown for nothing!

What does it taste like?

Gloriously chewy, with oily nuts (think walnut), dried fruit, and oak furniture, supported by clove and ginger warmth. 

How to make a Smoky Cokey with Lagavulin

The Smoky Cokey a firm favourite of industry legend Colin Dunn, and a brilliant way to make what can be an intimidating dram more approachable. Plus, it’s incredibly easy. Don’t be afraid to mix Lagavulin, no matter what people say!

Add the Lagavulin to a glass filled with lots of ice, and then top with the cola. Stir, then add a wedge of lime if desired. Then all that’s left to do is enjoy.

Have a wonderful Christmas, folks! May your day be filled with roast potatoes and a glass of something delicious.

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Whisky Advent 2021 Days 15, 16, and 17

We have but one week of Advent left – how time flies! Today we’re looking at days 15, 16, and 17, and seeing what delicious delights are behind those cardboard…

We have but one week of Advent left – how time flies! Today we’re looking at days 15, 16, and 17, and seeing what delicious delights are behind those cardboard doors.

We hope you’re enjoying your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar so far – we know we are. We’re unpacking what was behind the last three doors, because whisky is better when it’s shared, even if that sharing is virtual.

Prepare for Speyside Scotch, a world whisky blend, and Irish whiskey that was matured in many casks. Oh, and we’ve also got a cocktail recipe for you, because we’re nice like that.

Balvenie Doublewood

Day 15: Balvenie DoubleWood 12 Year Old

This is a ‘does what it says on the tin bottle’ type whisky from the wonderful Balvenie. DoubleWood is, unsurprisingly, aged in two kinds of oak casks! It’s matured for 12 years, initially in refill American oak, before being finished in first-fill European oak ex-Oloroso sherry butts for nine months. The expression has been around since 1993, so if you haven’t tried it before, it’s about time.

What does it taste like?

Sweet bourbon influence in the form of vanilla, with dried fruit, warming nutmeg and cinnamon, oily nuts, and gentle undertones of peat. 

world whisky blend that boutiquey whisky company

Day 16: That Boutique-y Whisky Company World Whisky Blend

This contains whiskies from: Scotland, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, USA, Switzerland, Netherlands, Taiwan, India, Italy, Germany (Bavaria), France, Japan, and Finland. Whew! The whole point of it is to drink it however you like, but the team did come up with seven Highball World Whisky Blend serves inspired by the way the world drinks whisky. They are: ginger ale, cola, coconut water, green tea, soda water, or tonic water. The seventh serve is… simply neat!

What does it taste like?

Warming and spicy, with floral honey, apple crumble and vanilla, alongside a mineral hint.

grace o'malley irish whiskey

Day 17: Grace O’Malley

This blended Irish whiskey was only launched in March 2021, so Grace O’Malley is relatively new to our glasses. It’s a combination of triple- and double-distilled malt and grain whiskeys, aged in a plethora of casks including French oak, ex-bourbon, and ex-rum barrels. As you can imagine, those casks impart a wealth of depth and character to the whiskey – deliciously versatile!

What does it taste like?

Caramelised nuts, well-baked cinnamon-spiced flapjack, and vanilla sponge cake balanced by white pepper and green oak.

World Whisky Blend Highball

How to make a World Whisky Blend Highball

The term ‘Highball’ has been around since the late 19th century and originated in America, but like most classic cocktails nobody knows for sure exactly where it came from. What we do know is that Japan was mostly responsible for its revival. They’re simple, tasty, and are a surefire way to introduce your non-whisky drinking pals to the versatile spirit.

Fill your glass with ice, and top with any mixer your heart desires, wherever you may be. Oh, and don’t skip the garnish.

See you on 21 December for your next (and penultimate) Advent update! 

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Top ten boozy gift sets

Branded glasses. Fancy boxes. Miniature bottles! Yep, you guessed it – we’re shining our spotlight on our favourite top ten boozy gift sets.  Something tasty for Christmas is great –…

Branded glasses. Fancy boxes. Miniature bottles! Yep, you guessed it – we’re shining our spotlight on our favourite top ten boozy gift sets. 

Something tasty for Christmas is great – but what about something tasty that’s all beautifully packaged, and maybe even comes with a special glass or two?! Now that’s what we’re talking about. Literally. Here are our top ten boozy gift sets for this Christmas. 

Jaffa Cake Trio

Jaffa Cake Trio Pack

We don’t know why miniature things please us so much as a species. But we’re not psychologists, we’re drinks experts, so we’re not going to dwell on it. Instead, we’re going to let you feast your eyes on this Jaffa Cake Trio Pack, containing 50ml miniatures of Jaffa Cake Gin, Jaffa Cake Rum, and Jaffa Cake Vodka – all of which are made with real, actual, no-foolin’ Jaffa cakes! It truly has it all.

Faustino Rioja Red Wine Experience Gift Pack 

Cor, now this is a gift set for someone really special. We don’t know about you, but we’re not giving four bottles of Rioja wine from the brilliant Faustino to any old acquaintance. It includes the Faustino V Reserva 2015, Faustino I Gran Reserva 2009, Faustino VII 2019, and Faustino Crianza 2017, all packed up in a very impressive wooden box – and if you can find a sheet large enough, it looks rather easy to wrap.

Retro Gin Fridge Tin (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

Eight mini bottles of gin. In a gift tin. Shaped like a retro fridge! We hardly feel like we need to elaborate – but we will, because that’s what we’re here for. That Boutique-y Gin Company took eight of its favourite gins, from the likes of Smoked Rosemary to Spit-Roasted Pineapple, and bundled them into miniature 50ml bottles, as colourfully-decorated as ever. Gin fans? Covered. Fridge fans? Also covered. 

That Boutique-y Whisky Company Premium Scotch Whisky Collection

That Boutique-y bunch sure know how to nail a handsome-looking (and tasting) present. This time it’s That Boutique-y Whisky Company we have to thank. Featuring a set of four Scotch whisky 50ml miniatures, from ridiculously well-aged single grain (Cameronbridge 27 Year Old) to peaty single malt (Ledaig 19 Year Old) from the independent bottler, with its iconic comic book-style labels and all. But smaller, obviously.original-magnum-cream-liqueur-gift-pack

Original Magnum Cream Liqueur Gift Pack with Tumbler

Nothing shouts Christmas like a cream liqueur. And nothing shouts “gift me now!” like a shiny bottle that looks just like a milk churn! The folks behind this decadent combination of Benriach whisky and Dutch cream decided to pair it with a pourer and matching metal tumbler in this snazzy set, which we think was a very good idea indeed.

Teeling Small Batch Gold Presentation Tin Gift Pack

Teeling Small Batch Gold Presentation Tin Gift Pack

The brilliant Teeling in Dublin has paired its Small Batch Irish whiskey (initially aged in ex-bourbon barrels before a finishing period in Central American rum casks) with a couple of branded tumbler glasses. That’s all bundled (carefully) into a gold presentation tin that’s shinier than your Christmas eyeshadow, and it looks just as fabulous.

Charlie’s Classic Cocktails Gift Box

Got a mate who thinks they’re a bit of a cocktail expert, but could actually do with laying off the shaker for a minute? Enter Charlie’s Classic Cocktails Gift Box, a set of six pre-bottled cocktails with a Black Russian, Manhattan, and Sazerac among the classic serves within. Not only that, but there are also two little spritz bottles containing orange and lemon garnishes. But in liquid form. None of that peeling/expressing faff here.

u'luvka gift set

U’Luvka Vodka Gift Pack with Glasses 

Now this is a cool one – a delightfully wiggly 100ml bottle of the excellent U’Luvka Vodka, and two tasting glasses which look like they’ve come straight from an old Polish castle. In fact, the glasses have no flat bases, which harks back to an old royal tradition from 17th century Poland. Na Zdrowie! (That’s ‘cheers’ in Polish, if your linguistic skills are a tad rusty.)

Botanist Gin Planter gift pack

The Botanist Gin Herb Planter Gift Pack

This might be one of the most original gift packs we’ve ever come across – alongside your bottle of superb Botanist Islay Dry Gin (produced at the Bruichladdich distillery, don’t you know), there’s also a self-watering herb planter! All the lucky receiver of this pressie needs to do is grab some seeds and soil, or even a pre-potted plant, and maybe they’ll have some herbs to sprinkle over next Christmas’ roast potatoes. 

Plantation Rum Experience Gift Pack

Plantation Rum Experience Gift Pack

Who says rum is only for the summer? This gift set from the ever-awesome Plantation packs in six of its Caribbean rums, presented in 100ml bottles – but the producer didn’t eschew its brilliant packaging for these miniature delights, oh no. A top choice for satisfying rum fiends, though it’s also a lovely introduction to the world of rum. A great all-rounder, is what we’re trying to say. Plus, with six bottles, maybe they’ll crack open at least one with you… 

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New Arrival of the Week: Compass Box Orchard House

Our New Arrival this week is Orchard House, the newest core offering from Compass Box and the first to be made with whiskies entirely laid down by the bottler/blender. We…

Our New Arrival this week is Orchard House, the newest core offering from Compass Box and the first to be made with whiskies entirely laid down by the bottler/blender. We tasted it with founder John Glaser, and found out how it earned its name.

It’s as idyllic as a Zoom tasting could be – held on the autumnal equinox, and John Glaser is sitting in what was to be the last of the summer (or is it autumn?) sun in his garden, chatting us through a momentous new release for Compass Box called Orchard House. 

Whisky Exploder

Glaser likens what he’s doing to the Song Exploder podcast, where each episode a musician takes apart their song, and piece by piece, tells the story of how it was made. He wants to create Whisky Exploder, and get whisky-makers to take you through the inception and creation of a whisky – you heard it here first. This won’t surprise those of you who are already familiar with Compass Box however, as it’s long been a champion for transparency within the whisky industry. 

The origins of Orchard House began in 2018, when Oak Cross, a long-standing blended malt, was going to lose one of its key ingredients due to stock issues. Glaser and fellow whiskymaker James Saxon couldn’t lay down the whiskies in time to create an exact replacement for Oak Cross. “It’s not trying to be Oak Cross,” Glaser is quick to note, but it was in trying to replicate Oak Cross that Orchard House was born. Eventually, the team gave up on trying to get a replacement, and instead ran with the fruity spirits they were finding along the way.

Compass Box Orchard House

Orchard House, appropriately surrounded by orchard fruit

It’s all about distillery character

Orchard House is a “spirit-forward, fruity style” with the vanilla pastry cream, light oak character that you get from American oak allowing each spirit’s distillery character to evolve over time, too. New oak maturation and sherry bombs are all over the place now, Glaser notes, but he believes that distillery character ought to be at the forefront of the flavour profile. 90% of the whisky is matured in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, which allow exactly that.

It’s a big step for Compass Box because Orchard House is the first release from the bottler to be wholly made with whiskies that were laid down and entirely matured by Glaser and the team. The core is made up of “perfumed, what the industry calls waxy” Clynelish and fruity Linkwood. Benrinnes comes in as a hefty support, “adding a bit of weight”. There’s also a decent percentage from a distillery in the town of Aberlour – he’s not allowed to say exactly which distillery, but it’s completely sherried, and described by Glaser as ‘meaty’, so you can probably work it out. There’s also a minimal amount (just 2%) of Caol Ila bringing a smoky depth to an otherwise very bright, fresh spirit. 

Compass Box Orchard House label

Orchard House, ready for a close up

We can see this being a brilliant whisky to introduce people to the spirit, as it’s approachable while still packing in a lot of flavour – though that’s not to say seasoned sippers won’t enjoy it too. Unsurprisingly, given its orchard-forward flavour profile, it’s apparently a wonder with cheese.

In classic Compass Box style, the label is something to behold. It was inspired by the work of a pair of Californian artists who go by the name Fallen Fruit, and is a pretty accurate visual representation of what you can expect from the whisky within the bottle. Stranger & Stranger created the finished packaging, a firm that Compass Box has been collaborating with for around 13 years now. 

This marks the start of an exciting future for Compass Box. Glaser is thinking long term into the next 10 and 15 years, laying down whiskies with future core products in mind – Orchard House is just the beginning!

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Fresh green and red apples almost hit you in the face, living up to its name. Underneath there’s notes of grainy pear skin, bright lychee, and a faint hint of aromatic smoke.

Palate: Sweet and bright. Tart apple is balanced by pineapple, golden syrup, buttery pastry, with that subtle peat smoke appearing underneath. 

Finish: Creamier on the finish, with vanilla buttercream and fresh fruit lingering.

You can buy a bottle of Compass Box Orchard House here.

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MoM visits… The Glenlivet’s new visitor centre

After much excitement and 18 months of renovations, we finally made our way up to Speyside to see The Glenlivet’s newly-refurbished visitor centre in all its glory. Back in June,…

After much excitement and 18 months of renovations, we finally made our way up to Speyside to see The Glenlivet’s newly-refurbished visitor centre in all its glory.

Back in June, we reported that The Glenlivet’s new visitor centre would be opening its doors on 1 July, and hoped that we would be able to see it in the flesh. Folks, that’s called manifestation, because just a few weeks ago we got on a plane for the first time in over 18 months, and scooted up to the Scottish Highlands to check it out for ourselves. 

Spoiler alert: it’s incredibly well done. Though it’s obviously brand new, rather than something sterile and untouched – like a new toy that you’re afraid to play with – we were amazed at how warm and homely it felt. The Glenlivet is clearly striking a balance between leaning into its smuggling history and legacy, while looking forward to appealing to a younger set of whisky drinkers.

Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre

Greeted at the reception area with a flower ceiling

History of The Glenlivet

George Smith began as one of many illicit distillers during the 1800s in the Livet valley. As the story goes, those who travelled up to the area realised that his Speyside whisky was miles ahead of the spirits that were being produced in the Lowlands, which were also more expensive because they were being produced at licensed distilleries. In August 1822, King George IV on his visit to Scotland specifically requested George Smith’s whisky – even though it was illegal.

Nonetheless, the trailblazer that he was, in 1824 Smith decided that he couldn’t evade the threat of excisemen forever, and decided to open up the first legal distillery in the parish of Glenlivet – to many people’s disdain. Given that this was practically like sending a written invitation to excisemen to search his neighbour’s bothies, it didn’t go down very well. Death threats soon followed, so Smith began carrying a pair of pistols with him at all times, which are proudly displayed in the new reception room after being kindly donated by the family. Apparently he never used them – apart from this one time he fired a shot into a coal fire, simply to create dust as a diversion. Make of that what you will… 

Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre

The marvellous bottle wall

The tour

We’re hosted by Lyndsey Gray, whose knowledge seemingly knows no bounds. Beginning at a magnificent golden wall of bottles, we learn the history of the distillery and its owners while gazing upon The Glenlivet 12 Year Old throughout the decades – each  bottle a snapshot in time. 

Next up, and one of my favourite segments, is an indoor field of barley, harvested and preserved at one of the local farms that supplies The Glenlivet. We’re presented with short videos from people all along the whisky’s journey; from the local barley farmers and coopers, to master distiller Alan Winchester. Humanising the people behind the liquid makes for a lovely touch, and coupled with the glorious smell and sight of the barley, it’s a mesmeric room.

Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre

Yep, that’s an indoor field of barley alright

Now, time for some more of the geeky stuff: the milling, mashing, fermentation, and distillation processes. We gather inside an actual washback for this part of the tour, and it’s a wonderful touch, make you realise just how big these wooden structures are! Sadly, because of the pandemic the production areas aren’t included as part of the tours at present – though the team are feeling hopeful that by 2022 that will be able to change. Until we can marvel at the shiny pot stills once more (rather than peeking at them through the windows), this is the next best thing.

This part of the tour finishes, naturally, in the warehouse. Gray admits this is the most difficult room to get people to leave – people want to stay in here because of the smell. Well, you are literally breathing in whisky, so perhaps that’s unsurprising.

Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre

Hone in your senses in the tasting room

What better way to end a tour than with a tasting? We sip on the core trio: the 12, 15, and 18 Year Old expressions. The darkened tasting room envelops your senses, with a shining beacon of whiskies taking centre stage in the middle. It’s a great way to explore the impact of various maturations, with the 12 and 18 boasting the same cask combinations, though tasting radically different. 

Whisky and food – but not as you know it

Back into the main area, we pass through the bar and into the Smuggler’s Hideout room for a whisky tasting and food pairing. The walls of this cosy den are lined with eighty-three hand-crafted clay flagons, replicas of the vessels that were historically used to smuggle The Glenlivet through the Scottish hillside back in George Smith’s day. It’s here that Gray guides us through two twists on the well-trodden path of pairing whiskies with cheese and chocolate.

Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre

Check out whisky, popcorn, and chocolate in the Smuggler’s Hideout

First up is a 25-year-old Glenlivet from the Single Cask Collection, paired with Bare Bones 60% milk single origin chocolate. Gray acknowledges that “naturally you’d probably go with at least a 75% dark chocolate, but the milk chocolate brings out all that creaminess” from the second-fill ex-sherry butt where the whisky spent its days. The team wanted to concentrate on provenance, with the provenance of the cacao bean echoing The Glenlivet’s use of Scottish barley.

The second pairing is The Glenlivet’s take on whisky and cheese. This time, the Illicit Still 12 Year Old (a limited-edition available only at the distillery) is paired with cheddar popcorn from Popcorn Shed. Should it work? I’m not sure. Does it work? Yes – it brings out the bundles of ripe banana flavours in the whisky. Fans of salty/sweet combinations, this is a treat. 

Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre

Left: 60% milk chocolate. Centre: Mai Tai Cocktail Capsule. Right: Cheddar popcorn.

Of course, we have to round off with the famed Cocktail Capsule Collection – since launching at London Cocktail Week 2019, I’ve read the good, the bad, and the ugly about these little flavour bombs. Finally, a chance to form my own opinion. It’s worth mentioning that they’ve been revised, and are now half the size they were before (from 25ml to 7ml), at a reduced strength, too (from 28% down to between 15-20%). 

I’m presented with the Mai Tai version, and seeing as the collection is all about challenging perceptions of whisky, I’d say it’s a job deliciously well done. You can only try them at the distillery these days, which is a double-edged sword – it makes them all the more exclusive, but all I wanted to do was bring back a whole case for my friends.

Bottle your own 

A highlight of this new experience is the chance to fill your very own bottle of whisky at the end! You can choose from distillery-exclusive cask strength editions of The Glenlivet’s 12 Year Old (£50), 15 Year Old (£70), and 18 Year Old (£125) expressions. You pull the lever, fill it up, and write your name on the label which you stick on yourself. A drinkable, personalised souvenir? Don’t mind if we do.

Glenlivet Distillery Visitor Centre

You can fill your own bottle of whisky!

From a range of geeky tastings, unusual pairings, and delicious cocktails, The Glenlivet has made sure there’s something for every stage, age, and budget of whisky drinker in this new refurb. The tours range from an accessible £15, which includes a tasting of the core trio, to a swanky £100, which includes a visit to the warehouse and a taste of ​​some of The Glenlivet’s oldest and rarest whiskies – namely The Glenlivet 30 Year Old Cellar Collection. You can check out the various tour options here.

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Ice ice baby – why ice is the vital element in your drink

Not all ice is created equal, as it turns out. So we turned to the experts at London’s Crossroads bar to help explain why ice is the vital element in…

Not all ice is created equal, as it turns out. So we turned to the experts at London’s Crossroads bar to help explain why ice is the vital element in your drink.

If you had told me before I joined the world of drinks that I would care at all about the quality of an ice cube, I would probably have taken a sip of my vodka and squash (forgive me) and laughed you out the door. Now, a near-invisible, slow-melting ice cube brings me unparalleled joy, and vodka and squash remains exactly where it should – deep, deep in the past. But my knowledge of what makes ‘proper’ ice proper, why it’s better, and how on earth to recreate it at home, was limited. So I turned to the experts for help.

ice behind a bar

The ice station at Crossroads

What makes good ice?

Ice isn’t just frozen water. (Well, it technically is, but bear with me.) You’d do better to think of it as a cocktail ingredient in its own right. You’ve invested in fabulous spirits and mixers – why scrimp on the final stage? “A cocktail is only as good as the weakest ingredient, and ice is one in the vast majority of them,” Bart Miedeksza of Camden’s Crossroads bar tells me. 

The one thing you absolutely do not want in your ice is air. Well, there are lots of other things you don’t want in your ice, but air is the most likely foe to sneak its way in there. The clearer the ice, the less air it has in it, which is why a good ice cube will be almost invisible when it’s in your drink. “It’s like the bass player of your drink,” he says, “rarely noticed, but keeps the whole band together.”

Ice: the bass player of your drink

Something Miedeksza mentioned was that your ice straight out of the freezer might actually be too cold. It sounds counterintuitive, but ice behind a bar actually sits waiting to get to exactly the right temperature (between -2ºC and 0ºC) and acquires a certain amount of surface water, which will then dilute and cool the drink it’s put into. “In bars we not only consider the amount of ice, but also it’s temperature, shape, purity and volume.”

ice cubes

Clear ice – the dream

Yes, ice helps with dilution, but Miedeksza makes an interesting point for the contrary, too. “The amount of ice in a Highball helps regulate the ratio between your gin and your tonic – if you put less ice, you tend to top up the glass with a mixer all the way to the top resulting in a glass of gin-flavoured tonic.” And, obviously, the more ice you have, the cooler it stays and the slower it melts. Stronger drinks all around!

Bad news: the ice you’ve been grabbing from your local supermarket is less than ideal. “Common bagged ice that we find at supermarkets tends to also be impure, with plenty of cloudiness and cracks,” Miedeksza confirms. It’ll melt before you can say “cheers”!

Shaken or stirred?

It’s not just the ice itself, but how to use it. We hope you haven’t been shaking your Old Fashioned, or stirring your Daiquiri. Miedeksza gave me some helpful tips. “As a general rule of thumb a drink containing fresh juice – such as lime juice in a Margarita – will be shaken while one consisting of only (or mostly) alcoholic components is stirred.” Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule – Gimlets and Vesper Martinis just love to make things complicated. 

When ice is shaken, it cracks and dilutes “balancing the acidity of juices versus sweetness of syrups, liqueurs,” he tells me. Shaking a cocktail brings the temperature down to a lower temperature much faster, as well as aerating it. Generally, if you want a creamy or a frothy, fluffy cocktail, you’ll want to shake it. But bubbles in a Manhattan or Negroni? No, thank you. 

crossroads cocktail bar ice

These shorter spirit-forward serves don’t benefit from being too cold, or from the extra dilution of shaking, either. You want to stir these because “you still want your cocktail cold, but not as cold as to dull all the flavours of a beautiful bourbon.” That’s why the temperature for each serve differs: around -6.75°C for shaken cocktails and -4°C for stirred.

Going back to the idea that not all ice is created equal, Miedeksza gave some intriguing insight into the inner ice workings of Crossroads. “We’re quite geeky about our ice and we use different ice as our service ice (the one we use to make drinks) and as our dispense ice (the one that ends up in your drink).” Smaller ice cubes from a machine are used to bring the ice down to the right temperature (depending on whether it’s shaken or stirred), and then block ice cubes almost double the size are used to actually serve it. 

ice block bar

Serious kit for serious ice cubes

Ice at home

This is all well and good, but it’s unlikely that you’ll have any snazzy ice machines in your kitchen. Back in 2014, we even wrote a step by step guide on how to create that wonderful clear ice at home, so if you have some time on your hands you can give it a whirl. Once you have your ice, Miedeksza is here to give us some home-friendly tips on how to use it! Turns out, it’s all about balance. “In a drink, glass should be so full of ice that it’s resting on the bottom at all times. It prevents the ice movement and stops the drink from being overdiluted.” On the flipside, “putting too much ice in your shaking or stirring vessel has the effect of under-diluting a cocktail.” If it’s packed in too tightly, it won’t be able to move around in the shaker and dilute the drink. Simple thermodynamics, duh. 

Of course, if this all sounds like too much faff, you can always pop into your favourite bar and get the professionals to do all the hard work for you.

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Classic Bars – Quaglino’s

We’re back in the swing of indoor drinking again so it’s time for the return of our Classic Bars series. Today, we’re looking at Quaglino’s in Mayfair, haunt of royalty…

We’re back in the swing of indoor drinking again so it’s time for the return of our Classic Bars series. Today, we’re looking at Quaglino’s in Mayfair, haunt of royalty of all sorts. 

When we kickstarted our Classic Bars series back in September 2020, the future looked bright – until a month later, when our beloved watering holes were closed once more, that is. So when the opportunity came up to not only go to a bar (inside, no less), but to visit the one and only Quaglino’s, we jumped at the chance.

Quaglino’s comes with a lot of expectation. Famous clientele has previously included not just pop royalty such as Sir Elton John, George Michael, and Kanye West, but actual royalty – yes, the royal family. In fact, in 1956 it became the first public restaurant to be visited by a reigning monarch, when the Queen and Prince Philip paid a visit.

It’s not just a top-notch cocktail bar, but a restaurant, too, founded in 1929 by Giovanni Quaglino (a talented restaurateur from Italy, in case you hadn’t guessed) – though the motivation to open the bar was actually born out of spite. 

Quaglino's Cocktail Bar

The view from the grand, famed Quag’s staircase

A bittersweet history

Quaglino followed his colleague and friend Giovanni (clearly a popular name at the time for Italians) Sovrani from The Savoy to work at Sovrani’s own newly-opened restaurant. Things turned sour, however, when Sovrani started getting a bit too close to his friend’s wife. As stated the Quaglino’s website recalls: “Quaglino returned the favour by moving on and taking charge of the restaurant at the St James’s Palace Hotel, just around the corner in Bury Street, and competing for Sovrani’s customers.” 

Long story short, Quaglino won this feud through talent, charisma, and delicious cocktails. From the 1930s up until it was sold in the 1960s, it was where you’d find London’s high society drinking and dancing the night away. It was affectionately known as “Quag’s”, a nickname that prevails to this day (though we wonder how often you’d have to visit for that to become necessary…). Vogue magazine wrote in 1936: “To have a famous maître d’hôtel greet you respectfully by your surname, to greet him in turn familiarly is a strong tonic for your ego”. 

Quaglino stepped back from his restaurant after World War II, and in the 1960s it was sold – this didn’t bode well for the bar and restaurant, as it eventually closed in 1977. In 1993, it was bought by the late, great Sir Terence Conran and reopened after 16 years of silence, “aiming to revive the spirit of the original”. The relaunch gave it a new lease of life, decked out with temptingly stealable, trophy-like ash trays, and even ‘cigarette girls’ (though the indoor smoking ban of 2007 put an end to that). 

The Duke's Strength Cocktail Quaglino's

The Duke’s Strength cocktail, in honour of the late Prince Philip

A new cocktail menu: ‘The Glamour Is Back’

The bar really leans into its history, still boasting its famed winding staircase, with art deco splashes throughout the venue. Its new cocktail menu is inspired by the elegance of those glory years by offering classic cocktails (though in updated form), appropriately titled ‘The Glamour Is Back’ – and what a treat it is. Alongside the official menu, there’s another new serve titled ‘The Duke’s Strength’, crafted to honour the life of Prince Philip. The blend of Plymouth Gin Navy Strength washed with Greek olive oil, Belsazar dry vermouth, clarified tomato consommé, and pickled cherry tomato all nod to the Prince’s Royal Navy past, Greek heritage, and favourite cocktails (Bloody Mary and dry Martini). The creation itself is indeed like a cross between the two – a Bloody Martini, if you will – and balances that ripe tomato sweetness with the more savoury nuances brilliantly.

White Truffle Negroni Quaglino's Cocktail Bar

Behold, the White Truffle Negroni

Twists on classic cocktails can often be gimmicky, and it’s far too easy to make a twist that’s worse than the original – they’re classic for a reason, right? But Quaglino’s managed to pull off these variations through sheer deliciousness, because each twist made sense. Not a gimmick in sight. 

Some favourites of ours on the new menu were the White Truffle Negroni, which brings together Tanqueray No. Ten, Luxardo Bitter, and Cocchi Americano-washed truffle oil, and the Cuban Fashioned, a rum-based take on the serve with Havana Club 7-washed peanut butter, banana oleo skin, and Angostura bitters. These two couldn’t be more different; the former, a subtly savoury, earthy twist on the usually citrusy cocktail, while the latter was all about that peanut butter richness and tropical vibrancy. 

Bramblerry Quaglino's Cocktail Bar

Bramb(L)erry, a firm favourite of ours

But the one that truly blew our socks off was Bramb(L)erry – Olmeca Blanco Tequila, Vida mezcal, three-berry shrub, and Tio Pepe dry sherry made for a smoky, jammy, and super refreshing take on the classic gin-based cocktail. We were also lucky enough to catch some live music from Juke Joints later in the evening, with the blues band playing brassy versions of all our favourite songs, from Oasis to The Piña Colada Song.

Live music, exceptional service, and classic cocktails with elegant twists – we’re so glad Quaglino’s wasn’t lost to history. 

 

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