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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Kristiane Sherry

Whisky Advent 2019 Day #8: Fettercairn 12 Year Old

Squirrelled away behind door number 8 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar is a distillery you may not have heard of, but offers a deliciously sweet treat. Say…

Squirrelled away behind door number 8 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar is a distillery you may not have heard of, but offers a deliciously sweet treat. Say hello to Fettercairn 12 Year Old!

Head up to deepest, darkest Aberdeenshire, not far from the stunning Grampian mountains, and you’ll discover a perhaps lesser-known distillery that is ready to make its mark on the whisky-drinking world. Sister to the likes of The Dalmore and Jura, Fettercairn has a rich history and intriguing production processes but hasn’t really ever shouted about it.

But that’s about to change. Last year, Fettercairn for the first time unveiled a core range of single malts, bringing the distillery to a broader audience than ever before. And more innovation has followed!

Here to tell us more about Fettercairn as we tuck into a dram of the 12 Year Old expression is distillery brewer, Stewart Walker!

Fettercairn 12 Year Old

Look, it’s distillery brewer, Stewart Walker!

Master of Malt: Fettercairn has had a pretty exciting time of late! Bring us up to date with developments at the distillery and with the brand…

Stewart Walker: We’ve had a brilliant year at Fettercairn with plenty of upgrades at the distillery to keep me and the team busy, while also crafting and laying down thousands of barrels for future generations to enjoy. At the distillery itself, we have installed a new malt intake and milling equipment, we’ve also rebuilt the tun room which is stunning, adding two huge windows that look onto the Grampians behind the distillery. Our visitor centre has also had a makeover, and we welcomed Claire Sabiston to the team. We’re looking great and have had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of new and old Fettercairn fans from around the world at the distillery. This year we released a Fettercairn 12 Year Old PX cask finished single malt into travel retail. It is delicious!

MoM: One of the features of the distillery that sets it apart is the cooling ring on the still. Talk us through how this works, and the impact it has on the character of the whisky…

SW: At Fettercairn we have a unique cooling rings fitted to each of our spirit spills. The drench our stills in crystal clear water from the Cairngorms, and ensure we capture the purest expression of our whisky’s character. They also create a beautiful green patina to our copper stills, and are simply mesmerising to watch in action. The feature was installed in 1952 when the manager of Fettercairn was looking for a way to create a floral, fruity nose on his new make spirit. He discovered that by allowing cold water to run down the head of still he could create something rather special. I like to imagine how they might have come up with this, and can imagine the distillery workers spraying water onto the stills with hoses to test the results before creating the actual cooling rings! Today the original cooling rings still take pride of place on our stills, and I’m glad they made this discovery as it really does allow us to create a lovely floral tropical fruit nose that is found throughout the Fettercairn Range.

Fettercairn 12 Year Old

Walker at Fettercairn Distillery

MoM: Talk us through a typical day at Fettercairn!

SW: It’s always an early start at Fettercairn, with a shift change at 6.00 am as the weary night workers head home, the day shift team prepare for mashing to begin at 7.00 am. Depending on where we are in production the spirit still might also be running – the cooling rings and warmth of the stills in action are always a welcome sight in the morning, especially in the winter months. We then take in a load of malt, checking the quality before off-loading to one of the malt bins before checking that everything is running as planned across the distillery. Then it’s time for a cup of tea and chat with the team. On days that we are filling casks, we take a charge and nose the spirit before reducing the ABV to 63.5% ABV, fill 60 casks and then roll them to their resting place in the warehouse where they’ll spend years asleep. We run tours seasonally so I like to say hello to our visitors as they walk around the site, and we regularly welcome special guests and press so I can often be found hosting tours and tastings too. I love my job – it’s busy, varied and no two days are the same. 

MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

SW: Around the world consumers thirst of whisky is growing! I think this will continue with people exploring more styles and experimenting with ways to enjoy their whisky – neat, with ice, in a cocktail – whisky is for everyone. For Fettercairn, we’ll be introducing more consumers across the world to our fantastic whiskies, and hopefully sharing some new expressions that will excite people’s taste buds! 

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

SW: Winter is a beautiful time of year at Fettercairn, with snow on the Cairngorms and frost in the fields. We tried a beautiful hot chocolate recently, made with chocolate drinking powder, coconut milk, a dash of PX sherry and Fettercairn 12 Year Old PX. A real treat that I can see enjoying around the fire with the family on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day itself, it will be a nice dram of Fettercairn 12 Year Old.

Fettercairn 12 Year Old

Fettercairn 12 Year Old

Fettercairn 12 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: Loads of stone fruit, florals and even some white chocolate coming through. With time, earthier coffee emerges as a bit of a base note.

Palate: The apricot vibes turn more tropical fruit, with ginger coming through, too. Vanilla pods and some drier herbs add a pleasing complexity.

Finish: Back to those orchard fruits, with more sweet spices!

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #3: Talisker 10 Year Old

On the third day of Advent, my Whisky Advent Calendar gave to me… an enticingly smoky dram indeed! Discover what Drinks by the Dram has hidden away for us today……

On the third day of Advent, my Whisky Advent Calendar gave to me… an enticingly smoky dram indeed! Discover what Drinks by the Dram has hidden away for us today…

Feeling the festive vibes yet? If not… WHY?! We’ve already had two liquid treats this Advent. And now we’re ready to crack open the third door of Drinks by the Dram’s 2019 Whisky Advent Calendar.

And the dram behind window #3 is…

Talisker 10 Year Old!

One of Diageo’s most-loved single malt Scotch distilleries, Talisker is located on the Isle of Skye, off Scotland’s stunning west coast. Its history stretches all the way back to 1830, when brothers Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill kicked off distillation. Today, the distillery takes a thoroughly modern approach to all things whisky, encouraging us to drink the stuff in whatever form we like, championing whisky cocktails, and even hosting a Race to Skye bartender competition.

We got hold of Diane Farrell, senior site manager, up at Talisker, to tell us more…

Talisker 10 Year Old Dianne Farrell

Say hello to Talisker’s Dianne Farrell!

Master of Malt: Talisker is located on the Isle of Skye! What impact does this have on the style of whisky you produce?

Diane Farrell: Talisker is such a fantastic representation of place – you taste it and you are transported right here; sitting by a campfire by the sea with your dram of Talisker. We are able to capture a lot of the flavour and character of our environment through our production process. It’s prevalent in our new make spirit and continues to shine through after its maturation period and into your glass. Talisker has been battered by the elements on the windswept cost which means our whisky has a uniquely maritime flavour that means we are uniquely ‘Made by the Sea’.

MoM: Tell us a bit about island life. What challenges does this hold for whisky-making?

DF: Talisker is one of the most remote distilleries in Scotland, located on the west coast of the Isle of Skye. Since it was founded in 1830 it has been in near-constant operation which truly shows the resilience of our people, past and present. In the early 1900s our own pier was built along with a purpose-built tramway to make bringing supplies to the distillery easier. Of course, now that we have the Skye Bridge it makes bringing supplies to the distillery much more straightforward than ever before!

Talisker 10 Year Old Distillery

The gorgeous Talisker Distillery

MoM: What have been your 2019 highlights at Talisker?

DF: 2019 has been an incredible year with so many highlights, including the second release in the Talisker Bodega Series, Talisker 41-year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky, one of the oldest from Skye’s oldest distillery. We hosted the finalists of the Diageo World Class Competition in September where the four elements of the wild were truly embraced during the Talisker Mystery Box Challenge. The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the premier event in ocean rowing, starts on 12 December which is set to be the biggest and best to date, and we cannot wait to follow the action – we wish all of the rowers the very best of luck out there in the Atlantic facing the elements!

MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

DF: The increasing number of new serves for Scotch in bars. Whisky cocktails on menus are becoming more and more popular, reaching the next generation of Scotch whisky drinkers. This is a big evolution and it’s exciting!  

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

DF: Most definitely a Talisker Old Fashioned! Being warm and cozy indoors, sipping a Talisker Old Fashioned and spending time with loved ones – you can’t beat it!

Talisker 10 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: Lively and aromatic, there’s all sorts going on. Alongside the pronounced bonfire smoke there’s pear and apple too, seaweed, and almost a brine note, too. 

Palate: The bonfire smoke leaps from the glass, with a malty barley note, too. Dashes of black pepper give a warmth, but it’s balanced well with orchard fruit sweetness. 

Finish: Long and lush. The sweetness and bonfire embers go on and on.

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Five things to look for in rum in 2020

Will 2020 really be rum’s time to shine? We’ve got a hunch it just might be – and so does Lucy Cottrell, brand manager for Dead Man’s Fingers. Here’s her…

Will 2020 really be rum’s time to shine? We’ve got a hunch it just might be – and so does Lucy Cottrell, brand manager for Dead Man’s Fingers. Here’s her hot takes for the year to come in rum.

It’s official: rum is on the up. It’s a sprawling category, defined, perhaps more than anything else, by its immense flavour and aroma spectrum. From fun, lively, often sweet, spiced and flavoured bottlings, to seriously delicious, highly luxurious, oak-aged sippers that challenge the status of even the fanciest of Scotch whiskies, there literally is a rum for everyone. And it seems we’re collectively waking up to the tastiness: volume sales here at MoM Towers have soared by a whopping 55% year-on-year. 

Someone else looking to harness our collective hankering for the wonder that is rum is Lucy Cottrell, the brand manager for Dead Man’s Fingers. The Halewood-owned brand has had a stellar year itself, not only launching its latest flavour expression, Hemp Rum, but opening a brand new distillery, too. The Bath & Bristol Distillery will predominantly focus on rum, giving rum geeks and bartenders alike the kind of experience you’d usually have to travel to the Caribbean for. 

“It’s not just looking ahead to 2020; 2019 already is a huge milestone for the growth of the rum category,” Cottrell told me over the phone shortly after the distillery opened its doors in October. With that in mind, and after years and years of being told now is rum’s time, has the category really stepped forward? Here are her top five reasons we’ll all be looking to rum in 2020.

It’s Lucy Cottrell

Rum in 2020: It’s no longer about just white rum

Mojitos, Daiquiris, Punches, or simply with cola, white rum has, in recent history at least, owned the mixed drink space. Gold and dark styles just… didn’t quite work. Maybe we were just all used to clear spirits in drinks after vodka’s 90s heyday. But things are changing – and there’s been a collective realisation that there’s more to rum. “In terms of the on-trade, after gin, rum is the fastest growing category at 7% growth,” Cottrell outlines. “Then in the off-trade, flavoured and spiced rums are up 8% in volume and value, and are now bigger than white rum in the off-trade. What we’ve seen over the last few years is this real evolution of consumer perception, from rum being just white rum to now being much more diverse. I really think it’s a big milestone in a category that flavoured and spiced rum has now overtaken the value of white rum.”

More than just Mojitos: rum cocktails of all sorts are coming to the fore

Rum cocktails are stirring up interest

Cottrell reckons that cocktails in general have a lot to answer for when it comes to this new-wave rum boom. “If you look at the top 10 mainstream cocktails in the on-trade, four of them contain rum, and only two contain gin [CGA data],” she says. “We hear non-stop about gin, and obviously it’s huge, but when you go back to the bare bones of cocktails, rum is inherent. It’s been there for a long time, it’s arguably the most versatile spirit of all, and as the brand manager on a rum, I was super happy to read that [data]. It’s very much a staple ingredient.” Forget rum in 2020, it’s here already!

Sweet and bitter drinks will lead the way

Our palates are shifting in two seemingly incompatible directions, Cottrell says, and rum can bridge the gap between both. “We’re almost seeing a polarisation in terms of trends within drinks,” she muses. “We’re seeing the success of very sweet drinks; the number one cocktail in the UK is the Porn Star Martini, and look at the number of sweeter profile gins. But then we’re also seeing the rise of more bitter serves, so Aperol, Campari, and even in soft drinks you’ve got vitamin shots, kombucha. They’re very different, but equally both are really growing.” She adds that rum’s established reputation is for slightly sweet serves, and sweetness levels can be dialled up even further. But some flavoured rums, like Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum, can help in the other direction, too. “We have something with a slightly more bitter profile, a bit more complex.” Can we expect rum in 2020 to follow a similar pattern?

At the Dead Man’s Fingers Hemp Rum launch

Expect more flavoured and spiced expressions

The short answer to that question is yes! “We’re seeing statistics that show from a consumer point of view, a quarter of rum drinkers are disappointed with the lack of choice, and that’s actually the highest out of all spirits categories,” Cottrell continues. “There’s evidently a gap in the market.” She says it’s clear from the gin boom, and flavoured vodka before that, that we’re an experimental bunch and happy to try different flavour combinations. “So why aren’t dark spirits categories doing that to attract new and slightly younger consumers?” It’s not just in booze that we’re seeing the demand for new flavours. “Ten years ago, you could only get three or four cuisines from a supermarket. Now you can get such a variety,” she says. “Consumers’ palates are changing as well as their expectations, so there’s a wider confidence piece – they want to explore and try new things.” For rum in 2020, expect a lot more in this space. 

Inside the Bath & Bristol Distillery

Get set for a host of rum experiences

It’s not just flavour experiences: we want hands-on, drinks adventures, too! In the same way that pop-ups, blend-your-own workshops, schools and distillery visits for gin have hit the mainstream, 2020 should see rum come to the fore IRL, too. This is something Halewood definitely has its eye on. “As a business we understand the importance of white spirits, but also that trends come and go, and that we need to start investing in dark spirits,” Cottrell states. “You’ll be aware that we’re building a whisky distillery in Leith, for Crabbie Whisky, we’re building a distillery in North Wales at Aber Falls, and The Bath & Bristol Distillery is kind of the third prong to that in terms of investing in dark spirits. Because of the geographical challenge with rum mostly being made in the Caribbean, you can’t just pop over and make your own rum like you can with gin. This is a bit of a hybrid solution for us that gives us the opportunity to educate people about how rum is made, and also get them involved and become almost advocates for it as well, because rum is still very much misunderstood.” A distillery to visit that will result in an army of rum ambassadors? Sign us up!

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1792 Full Proof is Jim Murray’s World Whisky of the Year 2020

Kentucky has come out on top in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020, with 1792 Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon from the Barton 1792 distillery scooping the World Whisky of the…

Kentucky has come out on top in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020, with 1792 Full Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon from the Barton 1792 distillery scooping the World Whisky of the Year accolade. 

1792 Full Proof  is a non-chill-filtered expression, bottled at 62.5% ABV. It’s hugely full-flavoured, bursting with toffee penny, burnt sugar and nutmeg notes – but as a limited-run, is sadly sold out (we’re trying to get more in – keep you posted!).

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2020 1792 Full Proof

Mr Murray’s top drop

Second place went to William Larue Weller 125.7 proof, an updated version of the winning 2019 expression, with third place nabbed by Thomas Handy Sazerac Rye 127.2 proof.

1792 Full Proof is made at Barton 1792 Distillery, while William Larue Weller and Thomas Handy are both made at Buffalo Trace. All three are owned by Sazerac. 

“To not only be named World Whisky of the Year but also to have our whiskeys named second and third finest is astonishing,” said Mark Brown, Sazerac president. “We could not be happier or more motivated to continue to strive for perfection in the American whiskeys we make.”

Murray chose his 2020 winners from 1,250 new drams. Sectional winners include: the Taiwanese Nantou Distillery Omar Cask Strength Bourbon Cask (Single Cask of the Year); Glen Grant Aged 18 Years Rare Edition (Scotch of the Year); Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare (Blended Scotch of the Year); Penderyn Single Cask no.M75-32 (European Whisky of the Year); and Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt (Japanese Whisky of the Year).

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2020 Scotch Glen Grant

Behold, Jim’s Scotch of the Year!

“There will be eyebrows raised and claims of favouritism which, of course, is never the case with the Whisky Bible: I call it exactly as I see it,” Murray said. “Once I knew the top three were from the same company, I spent two extra days running through my top ten whiskies once more…and the results came out exactly the same!

“For the 1792 Distillery to win World Whisky of the Year is extraordinary because when I first went there some 25 years ago, the then-owners had no interest in high-end whiskey. The oldest they produced was a six-year-old, which I thought was one of the most complex on the market but still under-cooked. I implored them then to bring out something much older.” He added that the team has “turned a potentially great distillery into something truly magnificent”.

Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020 is due to arrive at MoM Towers imminently! 

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Win! The Mackmyra private cask ownership experience!

Ever wanted to own your own maturing cask of spirit, soon to be whisky? Now you can, courtesy of Swedish distillery Mackmyra! It’s a whisky lover’s dream – not just…

Ever wanted to own your own maturing cask of spirit, soon to be whisky? Now you can, courtesy of Swedish distillery Mackmyra!

It’s a whisky lover’s dream – not just having the drinks cabinet of dreams, but owning an actual cask, too. And Mackmyra wants to make this very dream come true for one very lucky drinks geek!

Mackmyra became Sweden’s first dedicated whisky distillery when it was founded in 1999. Now in 2019, the year of its 20th anniversary, it operates two sites, with a fierce focus on flavour and innovation. There’s peated (using bog moss and juniper!) and unpeated spirit, and there’s a real passion for capturing the local sense of place, too. And now, one mega-lucky winner can go behind the scenes at the whisky-maker with a cask of their very own!

So… what’s up for grabs?

Super simply, 30 litres of unpeated new make spirit, destined to go into a 30-litre first-fill ex-bourbon cask, complete with a personalised brass plaque. That cask will then be matured in one of two Mackmyra’s warehouses for at least three years. Victor’s choice! You can select between The Bodås Mine (the distillery’s primary warehouse, which has high humidity and stays at around 7-10°C all year round – you won’t be able to visit your cask here though, mind) or the Forest Warehouse (concrete-built and half-buried into a bank, with a drier atmosphere, a higher temperature in summer, and as such, a greater angels’ share – and you can visit it!).

Mackmyra cask

You could be the proud owner of a cask!

The winner will be able to monitor their whisky’s maturation journey, receiving a 50ml sample each year so they can see how it’s coming along. Once a least three years and one day have passed, it’ll be time for that lucky so-and-so to get their mitts on the actual whisky (that is, unless you want to let it mature for longer, which you’re free to do so).

The whisky will be bottled up, complete with labels bearing the winner’s own message, and then delivered. Be warned, though, Mackmyra can only deliver to the UK, Denmark, Germany or France – if the winner choose to further ship them elsewhere, they may be subject to duties and taxes by authorities at the destination country at the winner’s expense.

Loving the sound of the private cask ownership experience but fancy adding an extra flavour dimension? The winner will be given the option of upgrading (at their own expense) to peated spirit (£200), or to oloroso sherry, American oak or Anniversary casks (£600). You can even choose to start the process with a four year old spirit for £300.

I want the private cask experience! How do I enter?

Super simple! Snap up one of these delicious Mackmyra bottlings, and we’ll pop your name in a hat, just like that. Magic! (See T&Cs)

Mackmyra Whiskies

Snap up one of the delicious Swedish whiskies and you’ll be in with a chance to win!

To make it even easier, we’ve lopped £3.50 off MACK by Mackmyra, and a whole fiver off the mouthwatering Äppelblom! We are good to you.

You could also snap up Brukswhisky, Svensk Ek, Svensk Rök, or Svensk Rök/Amerikansk Ek from the core range, or Skördetid, Gruvguld, the Moment series, Fjällmark, Efva, Prestige, or Ledin from the seasonal line!

So. If you fancy winning the chance to join Mackmyra’s private cask ownership experience (provided by and Mackmyra’s sole responsibility), you know what to do! We’re not jealous of the winner at all…

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A postcard from Kyrö Distillery

Isokyrö might be tiny town, but it’s inspired one of Finland’s fastest-growing and best-known gin and whisky brands. We go back to nature with the Kyrö Distillery team. . ….

Isokyrö might be tiny town, but it’s inspired one of Finland’s fastest-growing and best-known gin and whisky brands. We go back to nature with the Kyrö Distillery team. . .

There’s something about the light in Finland. One of the most Northerly countries in Europe, the land reaches more than 1,100km north to south, from the depths of the Arctic Circle through densely-forested, gently undulating, river-carved hills and stretched-out plains, to the relative hustle of Helsinki in the south. Arrive during winter and you’ll be greeted by a haunting, pervasive dusk, even at noonday. In the summer, the sun extends its rays from 4am to the early hours. The light itself is a protagonist, telling a story and reflecting the general mood of the nation. It might be vibrant jubilance, a celebration of the luminescence itself, the land, the energy. Or it might be the need to head indoors for cosy comforts and bolt out the gloom of the day. 

When I visited Isokyrö, home of Kyrö Distillery, not far from the city of Vaasa, the light – and the mood – was vivid. It was in the middle of a heatwave, and the River Kyrö was glistening in the sun. Even the trees surrounding the train station had a luminosity about them. Or it could have been the Gin Long Drinks on the train. Regardless, come high summer Finland comes alive, even in a town of 4,500 people like Isokyrö. 

The light!

Kyrö is a brand with a near cult-like following. Its fans hail from across the world, gin and whisky lovers alike. When five whisky-loving friends started construction on the project in 2014, the ambition was to make delicious products with rye as a base. Fast-forward to today, and the distillery, a former dairy, has seen multiple expansion projects. The latest round, due for completion in October, will see capacity soar from 85,000 to 350,000  litres per annum. Most of this is dedicated to whisky production; the four-year expansion representing around 10 million investment. Not bad for an idea dreamed up in a sauna.

“Let’s say the initial inspiration came from rye whisky,” says Miika Lipiäinen, Kyrö CEO. He was one of the five (alongside Mikko Koskinen, Kalle Valkonen, Jouni Ritola and Miko Heinilä) to come up with the concept that would reshape the country’s spirits landscape. Rye is everything in Finland, he explained. It adds a sense of place, a distinct flavour, and is readily available. “We don’t need pesticides because most of the central European or Western European pests wouldn’t survive this climate,” he says matter of factly as we sit down for a tasting inside the distillery’s dedicated bar. It’s a space that’s part of both the visitor centre and the local community, hosting all kinds of events and gatherings – and even as the brand grows, this locale is at the heart. 

The Nordics and nature

We’d arrived in Isokyrö the previous afternoon, fresh off the train from Helsinki. A train network can tell you a lot about a country, and this rings especially true in Finland. The service was efficient and prompt, elegantly and ergonomically designed for ease of movement. The carriages themselves were sleek; charging points were there for those who needed, there was more than enough seating. Understatedly effective, and polished with it – yes. But there’s also a dedicated bar carriage where people chatted, laughed, made the most of their journeys. The Finns love the simple pleasure of a relaxed good time. The word ‘kalsarikännit’, or the anglicised ‘päntsdrunk’, exists for a reason (yes, drinking at home, on your own, in your undies is considered self-care).

Kyro Distillery

Kyrö Distillery is housed in a former cheese factory

Lipiäinen travelled up on the train with us, holding court in the bar carriage. As soon as we arrived, he was quick to point out the forests. Not that you could miss the dense trees that line the arrow-straight roads, the only gaps being flat, arable fields no doubt growing that all-important rye. Almost every Finn seems to feel an affinity with nature – from foraging to fishing, hiking to camping, the great outdoors is a serious pastime. And it’s one that informs the Kyrö philosophy as much as the rye base. 

“The original idea was that we need to combine two worlds; we need to combine the world of super-premium but in a Nordic way of being very unassuming, and ‘we don’t rub it in people’s faces’,” Lipiäinen explained. The other was, alongside the rye, “to use the other stuff we have in nature”. 

Arriving at Kyrö, this hybrid is immediately apparent. We’re welcomed into the distillery cottage, a beautifully-furnished (in Nordic-style chic of course, with bespoke wallpaper), cosy space, filled to the brim with nods to both Finland and the natural world. Plants, wood, light – and the inevitable sauna next door (did you know that there are two million saunas in Finland to share between five million people?). There to greet us is the perennially smiling Anniina Kumara, Kyrö’s event manager, who is preparing a feast for us in the kitchen. It immediately feels like coming home.

A convivial evening follows; Kyrö Gin Long Drinks flow, as do Napue G&Ts. Conversation is easy. Lipiäinen and UK brand ambassador George Krastev are effervescent. Suddenly it’s late; you wouldn’t know because even though it’s well after midnight the light lives on in the sky. Time for bed – there’s foraging, followed by a forest breakfast, to come in the morning. 

Foraging for botanicals at Kyro

Foraging for botanicals

Rye rye

“It was not supposed to happen, but we’re the biggest gin in Finland,” Lipiäinen says. “Not from craft gins, but all the gins. It’s very perverse!” he seems in disbelief. We’re back in the tasting room at the distillery. We’ve looked round production, met the team, and given them our foraging haul from the forest to work their magic with. Martta Ruohomaa, resident botanical expert, steered us away from anything too risky as we scavenged our way between the trees. Think: cloudberry, lingonberry, moss, raspberry leaf. The forest was generous to us.  Before long, King Stone Gin, our own limited-run creation, named after a legendary rock in the Kyrö River, is in production. While it does its thing, we take a seat and make our way through the core Kyrö range. 

“We’ve sort of jumped a category here in the sense that we started picking up wine drinkers and champagne drinkers and beer and cider drinkers,” Lipiäinen says, attributing the brand’s massive growth to its far-reaching appeal. “It got a bit out of hand.”

It’s easy to see why. The Kyrö vibe is infectious, it’s no surprise the team has drawn people into spirits from other categories. The brand is strong, the people behind it have a fervent passion for what they’re doing and why. And the production story is a compelling one, too. On the gin side, it’s all hand-foraged, local botanicals. There’s unaged gin, Napue, and cask-aged Koskue (“gin for when the weather sucks”, the advertising campaign quips. I can confirm it’s also delicious in the sunshine). But rye whisky was the first love, the passion that fuelled its ambition, and it’s just about to come into a season all of its own at Kyrö. 

Whisky maturing at Kyro

Whisky maturing at Kyrö

“We’re following the same idea as we had with the gins,” Lipiäinen explained, referencing the focus on raw materials and the six-day fermentation process. “We can leave the cut really long and leave it oily, leave it thick and preserve everything that the rye has to give us,” He continues. “So wholegrain rye, 100% malted, no enzymes, no grain mixed in and only rye.” 

We’ve seen a handful of limited-run whisky releases from the distillery, mostly matured in 200-litre casks, either virgin oak or ex-bourbon. But it’s a fine balance to strike between keeping that rye character, that sense of place, and the cask influence. “The ex-bourbon gives some really great notes but I really don’t want to go down that banana route at all,” Lipiäinen details, as we taste through some samples. 

“The profile we’re going for is big, bold, spicy. So it’s going to be very different from your bourbon, I don’t hate but I don’t have a lot of time or respect for the ryes which are essentially bourbon just, 51% rye and then the rest is really sweetcorn and then a bit of malted barley. It really needs to display what rye has to offer.”

From the samples we taste, the juggling act is paying off. Kyrö Single Malt Rye Whisky Batch 4 is especially successful, building a sense of impatience for when the new plant is up and running, and there will be far more Kyrö rye whisky to go around. 

You’re never far away from a wooden hot tub in Finland

We wrap up the tasting and head back to the cottage. A wooden hot tub has just arrived on a trailer, parked up next to the sauna. Logs are ready to fire up the wood burner to heat it. As we get set, the evening sun glimmers on the Kyrö River. It’s not long before we’re all jumping in off the little wooden jetty, plunging from the unseasonably warm sunshine into the snowmelt water, running back up the bank and into the sauna. Rinse, repeat. I’m told it’s the traditional way to pass the Isokyrö summer evenings. It’s exhilarating.  The Kyrö Gin Long Drinks are back, the sun casts long shadows, we laugh. Is there anywhere quite like this season in Finland? “Rye rye!” someone shouts, meaning ‘bottoms up’. Forget gin for when the weather’s bad; it’s just possible that Team Kyrö has bottled the very essence of summer.  

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Order your delicious booze-filled Advent Calendars now!

Perhaps you’re a festive forward planner. Or maybe you just can’t resist the idea of a dram a day in the run-up to Christmas. Either way, we have news: Drinks…

Perhaps you’re a festive forward planner. Or maybe you just can’t resist the idea of a dram a day in the run-up to Christmas. Either way, we have news: Drinks by the Dram’s delectable drinks-filled Advent Calendars are available to order now!

Deck the halls, jingle those bells, and ready the tasting glasses. Drinks by the Dram’s epic booze-filled Advent Calendars are almost here! The 2019 collection has been revealed, and there are more ways than ever to get into the Christmas spirit this December.

Each and every Advent Calendar is filled to the brim with delectable drinks. 24 different 30ml drams, one for each in the Christmas run-in, to be precise. From all manner of whisky, gin and rum, to Tequila, Cognac and other more intriguing options, there is an Advent Calendar for every taste (good to know if you’re planning on treating the drinks geek in your life – we recommend, ahem, self-gifting, too).

Drinks by the Dram Advent Calendars

Drinks by the Dram’s Advent Calendars are back!

And there’s a whole load of tasty newness! We’re especially excited about The Calendar of Curiosities, an esoteric selection comprising thoroughly unusual gins, whiskies, rums, mezcals and more (sotol, anyone?). It’s all wrapped up in a shiny new look across the main Calendar spectrum. Advent now looks as good as it tastes.

So, what does the full team line-up look like? Feast your eyes on the 2019 Advent selection of dr(e)ams and order yours now!

Main Collection

Drinks by the Dram’s 2019 Advent Calendars have a whole new look! These beauties look as good as the drams hidden away inside…

The Cognac Advent Calendar

The Cognac Advent Calendar – £149.95

The Old and Rare Advent Calendar

The Old and Rare Advent Calendar – £999.00

The Irish Whiskey Advent Calendar

The Irish Whiskey Advent Calendar – £149.95

The American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye Advent Calendar

The American Whiskey, Bourbon & Rye Advent Calendar – £124.95

Explorer Editions

Specially-curated selections for an Advent journey of discovery!

That Boutique-y Gin and Whisky Calendars

Gorgeously illustrated and irresistibly delicious…

Icon Advent Calendars

The absolute ultimate in Advent luxury, hand-waxed and presented in a bespoke box, nestled in a leather satchel. These calendars contain some of the rarest whiskies on earth!

Classic Advent Calendars

Adore Drinks by the Dram’s classically-shaped box? We’ve got a stash right here! Don’t panic – they’re up to date with the latest 2019 contents, even if there’s something familiar about the exterior…

Classic exterior, the latest 2019 contents within!

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Behold: Fancy Brora 40-Year-Old 200th Anniversary incoming!

Hold on to your tasting glasses: closed Scotch whisky distillery Brora is about to release something very special indeed. With just one year to go until its highly-anticipated revival, Brora…

Hold on to your tasting glasses: closed Scotch whisky distillery Brora is about to release something very special indeed. With just one year to go until its highly-anticipated revival, Brora 40-Year-Old celebrates 200 years of the Highland distillery – and it’s one to get whisky fans salivating.

The new expression is the first commercial release since Brora’s Special Releases 2017 appearance, and it’s also one of the distillery’s oldest. Drawn from 12 American oak hogsheads with liquid distilled in 1978, just 1,812 bottles will be available (a nod to the year the distillery was founded). And expect the 49.2% ABV whisky to be fairly heavily peated, too.

“Of all the stories of Brora, there is one that seemed particularly fitting to tell on its 200th Anniversary,” said Diageo master blender, Dr Craig Wilson. “From 1969-83, there was a new experimentation phase in production and the Brora distillers created a smoky malt used heavily-peated Northern Highland barley. Used primarily in blends at the time, the few casks that are left from this Age of Peat, matured remarkably well and what remains is a multi-layered and complex single malt of astonishing quality.”

It all came about by working closely with the Diageo Archive team, who helped Wilson identify when the smoky Brora style was at its peak. The archivists discovered original production records during the distillery’s restoration work. “Little did the craftsmen at the time know, they had created a masterpiece,” he continued. “It is emblematic of the varied past of the distillery that makes it so special to all that know it: a humble story of experimentation, craft and happy coincidence.”

The celebratory bottling is one the oldest ever released by Brora

What does it taste like? According to Diageo, expect a whisky clear amber in appearance, with long, fine beading. On the nose, there’s sweet, smoky peat wafts, treacle toffee, ripe figs, raisings, and with water, sacking and tweet notes come through. On the palate, there’s a waxy texture with sweet and savoury smoke, dates, white pepper, and a minty note with a dash of water. The finish? “Long, rich, and sweetly warming”.

Brora 40-Year-Old: 200th Anniversary Limited Edition will retail at £4,500 – click right here to see it in all its glory!

 

 

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Milk & Honey Distillery: A taste of Tel Aviv

Forget tradition: Tel Aviv’s Milk & Honey Distillery is taking conventional whisky-making and turning it on its head in pursuit of bold flavour and a focus on locality. This is…

Forget tradition: Tel Aviv’s Milk & Honey Distillery is taking conventional whisky-making and turning it on its head in pursuit of bold flavour and a focus on locality. This is what meaningful drinks innovation looks like in 2019.

What makes a whisky a whisky? For purists, there are stringent rules to adhere to, especially if you come from a classical Scotch perspective. For others, it’s all about the flavour, and the innovation that comes from experimentation: grains, cask type, yeast strain. Then, for world whisky especially, there’s a growing consideration: locale. And none of these have to exist in isolation, something that Israel’s Milk & Honey Distillery is setting out to prove.

“There’s no whisky-making in Israel,” an El Al representative forcefully tells me at the airport. I’m about to travel out to Tel Aviv to get a taste for the distillery first-hand. The immediate issue: convincing the national airline that I’m not some kind of security threat. 

“There is!” I respond. “And there’s gin, too. I can’t wait to taste the whole range, actually.”

The Milk & Honey Distillery tasting room

The Milk & Honey Distillery tasting room

He looks at me like I may well be both mad and geographically confused. But he lets me proceed. And that perhaps is the first barrier Milk & Honey faces; Israel is known for many things internationally, good and bad, but spirits production isn’t one of them.

It’s something that a group of whisky-loving entrepreneurs set out to change back in 2012. Considered, thoughtful co-founder Gal Kalkshtein describes himself as a serial entrepreneur. Tomer Goren, a contemplative drinks and chemistry geek, is head distiller. Eitan Attir, CEO, is commercially-minded and collaboration-focused. Dana Baran, marketing vice-president, is glowingly cordial and welcomes us with open arms. Tal Chotiner, a more recent addition to the team as international sales director, is an easy-going beer-lover. Tal Gantz is an infectiously boisterous brand ambassador. The team we meet are all so different, but they share a collective vision: to get the world to fall in love with Tel Aviv whisky.

Milk & Honey Distillery

Tal Chotiner and Tomer Goren showcase an STR cask

“There is just no tradition of distilling in Israel,” Kalkshtein tell us when we meet in the distillery’s sleek visitor centre, complete with bar and highly instragrammable wall art. Yes, there’s wine production that dates back centuries, but whisky and gin production is entirely new. Times are changing though, and while Milk & Honey is the “biggest, largest, most serious” distillery, he says, others are coming online. Production details of course sets M&H apart (more to follow!), but the first thing that piques interest initially is its Tel Aviv location.

The non-stop city

Think ‘Tel Aviv’, and you may well conjure up images of beachfront chill, award-winning bars and beautiful people – the Miami of the Med, if you like. Stark Bauhaus buildings bask in 300 days of sunshine each year; the snaking staircases of Old Jaffa hold millennia-old secrets. By day, the city takes to the beaches, the golden sand peppered with bars, colourful lifeguard huts and volleyball courts. By night, there’s a different energy. Tel Aviv becomes fluorescent; neon signs adorn the walls of sleek cocktail bars, meticulously-presented dishes delight elegant diners in the fanciest of restaurants. But there’s no pretence: there’s as much of an appetite for pitta bread feasts from street food vendors washed down with beer as there is for haute cuisine. 

Milk & Honey Distillery

The steps in Old Jaffa

Tel Aviv has become almost as well-known for its food scene as it is for its laid-back, liberal outlook. The Milk & Honey Distillery largely sits at this intersection, keen to align itself more with the city’s international reputation than that of its native country. 

Tel Aviv beach: The Miami of the Med

“We wanted to go global from the get-go,” Baran explained, over a welcome cocktail at the distillery. And it’s an effective philosophy. Work to convert the former bakery to a distilling space started in 2014, five short years ago. The first “serious” distillation took place in 2015, when the visitor centre opened. Already, 72% of production is destined for export. “The ambition is to get to 90%,” Baran explained. 

Milk & Honey Distillery

The colours of Tel Aviv

Good news for international spirits lovers, then. Even better news: whisky is on the way. “There will be a commercial whisky out at the end of the year,” she confirms.  Expect a founders’ edition, followed by liquid for The Whisky Show. And we should anticipate high demand: more than 12,000 visitors have made the trip to the distillery since April 2016, with 10,000 expected in 2019 alone. 

Rescue still

But, back to that fundamental question: what makes a whisky a whisky? However you approach it, production has to play a part. And for the Milk & Honey team, balancing the traditions of Scotch with the challenges (quirks?) of the Israeli climate its physiography has resulted in some really quite stunning spirits.

After the introduction in the bar space, we embarked on a tour. “We doubled the size of the distillery a year ago,” said Baran as we moved through. The space is substantial but not cavernous, and it’s already pretty full with tanks, stills, casks, the lab, and even a bottling line.

Milk & Honey Distillery

Different casks line up in front of the Milk & Honey lab

“Everything is operated by steam,” said Goren, almost wryly as we walked through the distillery. “There’s no cold spring for us to use.” 

The Israeli climate is perhaps the fourth ingredient in this whisky (alongside malted barley from the UK and peated barley from the Czech Republic, yeast, and of course, the water, which is filtered before use). Winter doesn’t dip below 16°C, while summer highs can top 40°C. Humidity is in the 50-90% range. This isn’t just an environment for rapid ageing, it’s positively breakneck.

Good job, then, that the team set up the distillery under the wise and watchful eye of the late Dr. Jim Swan. His legacy is everywhere, from the still design to the widespread use of STR casks (shaved, toasted and re-charred). Everything is purposefully set up to harness that swift maturation speed, and channel the character into whisky that thrives at a younger age.

Milk & Honey Distillery

Casks in the Tel Aviv sunshine

We start off by the mash tun, which processes 10 one-tonne batches each week. Production stops on Fridays and Saturdays (the resulting whisky will be kosher) with as much as 450 tons of malt processed each year. It’s then on to the Israel-designed one-tonne mash tun, interesting because it operates with two waters, rather than the traditional three.  

Fermentation is perhaps longer than expected, given the climate. The process is allowed to bubble away for up to 72 hours, in four stainless steel tanks. The team uses M yeast (“typical, really”), and the resulting wash is bursting with orchard fruit (we were there during unpeated production). 

The great rescue still!

Distillation is where it really starts to get interesting. The 9,000-litre wash still was literally salvaged from Romania – “like a rescue still!” I remarked – and dates back to the 1980s. The team think it was made in Spain for Spanish brandy-making, but it’s impossible to be certain. The 3,500-litre spirit still came from CARL in Germany. “We want ‘Scottish-style’ single malt,” said Goren. And why did they plump for the Romanian still? “Go to Forsyths and you’ll have a 10-year wait,” he commented. “We take a very, very short, very high cut,” he continues, with the spirit coming off at around 73% ABV, bursting with big, round fruit notes. 

Milk & Honey Distillery

Gin botanicals!

While Milk & Honey is very much in the whisky business (even if most liquid is still to come of age), gin is a massive part of its activity, too. Local botanicals, sourced from the famous Levinsky market, include cinnamon, coriander, chamomile, black pepper, lemon peel, verbena, and hyssop. These are macerated in the dedicated 250-litre pot still for 48 hours prior to distillation. There’s even a Levantine Gin – Tel Aviv 2019 edition specially blended to capture the essence of the city. We explored the labyrinthine Levinsky market after the distillery tour – this expression really is a taste of Tel Aviv, with its zesty citrus and fresh spice.

Dead Sea maturation

Milk & Honey makes use of a tremendous array of casks. Along with the mix of ex-bourbon, STR and virgin oak (at around a 70%/20%/10% ratio for what will become the classic whisky expressions), there’s a whole load of esoteric vessels, too. Think: Israeli wine casks (“Israeli wines are kosher”), STR red wine casks hailing from Portugal, and even a pomegranate wine cask. This is perhaps where operations diverge from the strictly Scotch-style approach. We gather in a warehouse space, fittingly surrounded by casks, for a tasting session.

Milk & Honey Distillery

Dead Sea spirit!

But it’s not just what you mature spirit in; where that cask rests will have a massive impact on flavour. This is most marked when we taste spirit from casks matured on the shores of the Dead Sea – the lowest place on Earth. After the new make (surprisingly soft, bursting with pear, apple and green grain notes) and a couple of samples of maturing spirit (including exceptionally rounded liquid from an ex-bourbon cask just one year and seven months old), we move on to the Dead Sea liquid. “This one is six months old,” Chotiner explained. I was stunned. The liquid was almost garnet in colour, an astonishing hue given the short time exposed to oak.

I’ve not visited the Dead Sea, but photographs will show you it shares a similarly jewelled complexion. Turquoise and sapphire waters lap at lemon quartz shores – and then there’s the salt factor. It’s 430.5 metres below sea level, and the Sea is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. Temperatures can reach 50°C in summer. Milk & Honey was the first distillery to mature spirit in these “incredible” conditions.  

The casks chosen to reside here? Ex-bourbon, ex-red wine and more of those STR casks. The first impressions of the spirit (at six months it’s WAY too young to be called a whisky) was its overwhelmingly velvety quality on the palate. Young spirit is usually spiky, lively, harsh. Not this stuff. It was super well-integrated and soft, with dark fruit and chocolate notes. I had to double check with Goren that I’d written down the age correctly in my notes. But yes. Six months it is.

Milk & Honey Distillery

Tasting in the warehouse space

“We could never fully mature there, it would be too much,” he added. Anticipate future Milk & Honey whiskies to spend a short finishing period at the Dead Sea though – and expect them to be incredible. 

We taste some more young spirits, including a delectable rum cask-matured expression, an ex-Islay cask, and even a sample from the aforementioned ex-pomegranate wine casks. Each added another dimension to the Milk & Honey vision: yes, this is ‘proper’ whisky, double-distilled and treated to thoughtful processing from raw materials to maturation. But this is a team unafraid of showcasing its inventive side – or its Israeli heritage.

We walk back through to that sleek bar and event space for a quick cocktail before heading back out into the sparkling Tel Aviv sunshine. I ask Kalkshtein whether among all the iterations, the distillery expansions, the international growth, if he ever takes a second to appreciate everything he and the team have already achieved. 

“You never stop and think, ‘wow, we did it’,” he pauses for a moment. “But the stills are the most amazing thing. That’s the point where you say, ‘wow, we did something good’.” Watch out, world whisky: Israel is about to arrive on the scene. 

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Diageo Special Releases 2019 details are here!

Diageo has just this moment released early details of its Special Releases 2019 collection – eight cask-strength Scotch whiskies under a ‘Rare by Nature’ theme. We’re excited! While pricing, full tasting…

Diageo has just this moment released early details of its Special Releases 2019 collection – eight cask-strength Scotch whiskies under a ‘Rare by Nature’ theme. We’re excited!

While pricing, full tasting notes and availability have yet to be disclosed, the octet features liquid from Mortlach, The Singleton of Glen Ord, Cragganmore, Cardhu, Lagavulin, Talisker, Pittyvaich and Dalwhinnie. So no Port Ellen, and no single grain this time round.

The ‘Rare by Nature’ theme refers to the surroundings of each distillery, as well as the distillers and blenders who made them, and “the whisky lovers who will enjoy them”.

So. What’s in the line-up?

Cardhu 14 Years Old

Said to be a “supremely elegant” expression of the “warm-hearted” Speyside Scotch.

Cragganmore 12 Years Old

A “complex and intriguing” bottling, bringing together Speyside character with “a touch of spice and smoke”.

Dalwhinnie 30 Years Old

And “extra matured and unusual” one, with an “undeniably” gentle character.

Lagavulin 12 Years Old

“Truly spirited yet youthful” – one from the classic Islay distillery.

Mortlach 26 Years Old

The Beast of Dufftown apparently at its “most impressive”.

Pittyvaich 29 Years Old

A “rare sighting” from the closed distillery.

Talisker 15 Years Old

“Sweet yet deep and spicy”. Delicious.

The Singleton of Glen Ord 18 Years Old

“Different and delicious” expression, said to never have been previously bottled.

We know they’re only skeleton details, but which of the Special Releases 2019 expressions are you most excited to taste? Let us know on social or in the comments below!

Diageo Special Releases 2019

Such mystery

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