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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Kristiane Sherry

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, and is on its way to MoM Towers as I type!

 

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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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New Arrival of the Week: Darkness 8 Year Old

Sherried Scotch whisky your thing? Then today’s New Arrival of the Week is set to get you salivating… Say hello to Darkness 8 Year Old! We ADORE sherried whisky here…

Sherried Scotch whisky your thing? Then today’s New Arrival of the Week is set to get you salivating… Say hello to Darkness 8 Year Old!

We ADORE sherried whisky here at MoM Towers. One of our top go-tos for all things sherry flavour has been the Darkness!* range, where liquid from well-known distilleries has been finished in specially-coopered sherry octave casks. The result? Something truly mouth-watering.

But the results were also pretty scarce. Each octave cask produces around 46 litres of whisky (it’s called an ‘octave’ because it is one-eighth of the size, in this case, of a sherry butt). The smaller size gives an increased surface area to volume ratio, so the whisky packs a punch. But also… once it’s gone, it’s gone. There are still some drops of these expressions left (you can see them right here), but generally it’s pretty tricky to get your mitts on all things Darkness!. 

One solution (which we are THOROUGHLY on board with) was to get clever with the blending process and introduce a core, permanent expression. Which is exactly what the clever folks at Darkness did! 

Continuous sherried deliciousness.

Those nifty little octave casks are still very much involved (the influence immediately shines through in the silky, nutty, chocolatey palate), but what’s new is that the single malt (undisclosed distillery, this time) starts off life in ex-bourbon barrels. Much easier to source. And where the smaller-run Darknesses! showcased a whole heap of distillery character (fun if you’re the experimental sort), this new eight year old will offer exactly the same deliciousness bottle after bottle. 

Speaking of deliciousness, what do we have here? In the glass on the nose, it’s all dried dark fruit, Christmas cake, chocolate-covered cashews, cinnamon spice and dried orange peel. On the palate, it’s mega oily, with some olive bread notes, raisins, nutmeg, orange furniture polish and gentle oakiness, too. The finish is all about those Christmas chocolates. 

It might be July, but Darkness 8 Year Old is serving us all kinds of delectable festive vibes. And we’re here for it. The best thing? So will this expression come actual Christmas! Long live continuous-release Darkness. 

*Why the ‘!’ sometimes? The new Darkness branding has dropped the over-excitement. Consider this consistently inconsistent.

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Discover Highland Park with Martin Markvardsen!

Love Highland Park? So do we! We grabbed some time with brand ambassador Martin Markvardsen while he was in London to find out more about what sets the Orkney distillery…

Love Highland Park? So do we! We grabbed some time with brand ambassador Martin Markvardsen while he was in London to find out more about what sets the Orkney distillery apart, and of course, have an all-important taste…

One of just two distilleries to call the Orkney Islands home, Highland Park has a pretty compelling sense-of-place story. We met Martin Markvardsen at Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch for an in-depth chat, exploring peat, floor maltings, the brand’s Viking heritage and more. And have a taste, of course! Join us as we check out Highland Park 12 Year Old, Valknut, and the 18 year old expression in detail. Enjoy!

Delicious Highland Park

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Unusual Scotch ahoy! SWA widens permissible cask types

Good news if you like your Scotch on the esoteric side of things, or felt the rules on cask maturation were too restrictive. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has announced…

Good news if you like your Scotch on the esoteric side of things, or felt the rules on cask maturation were too restrictive. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has announced a broadening of allowable cask types, and the changes are already in law!

If you thought the days of ‘innovation’ in whisky solely referring to cask types were over, think again. The floodgates are about to open: the legal requirements for Scotch have been amended to include more cask types, and we sense there’s a wave of experimentation about to hit the warehouse shelves.

Essentially, there is now a list of casks that distilleries can’t use. Before, whisky-makers could only use casks types that came with evidence of ‘traditional use’ in the industry – a pretty vague definition that left many scratching their heads.

The rules now state that:

The spirit must be matured in new oak casks and/or in oak casks which have only been used to mature wine (still or fortified) and/or beer/ale and/or spirits with the exception of:

  • wine, beer/ale or spirits produced from, or made with, stone fruits
  • beer/ale to which fruit, flavouring or sweetening has been added after fermentation
  • spirits to which fruit, flavouring or sweetening has been added after distillation

and where such previous maturation is part of the traditional processes for those wines, beers/ales or spirits.

It’s an exciting development, and one that opens up possibilities for the likes of Tequila and mezcal cask finishing, and even experiments with things like Baijiu, Calvados and some fruit spirits (none of those with pesky stones, though). It means that previously unreleasable experiments (or those that simply couldn’t be labelled ‘Scotch’) may now see the light of day. It’s really is a big development.

There is a note of caution in the Technical File, however:

Regardless of the type of cask used, the resulting product must have the traditional colour, taste and aroma characteristics of Scotch whisky.

So no lurid colours or out-there aromas – the rules do still set out a standard expectation for Scotch whisky, which should keep more traditional folks happy, too.

SWA’s chief exec days the new rules provide ‘clarity and some additional flexibility’

The move comes after a consultation with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (aka, DEFRA), the official Technical File has been updated, passed through the European Commission, and is now law.  

“This amendment provides clarity and some additional flexibility on the range of casks in which Scotch whisky can be matured,” said Karen Betts, SWA chief exec. “The change is consistent with Scotch whisky’s heritage and traditions, and strengthens our foundations into the future.”

Alan Park, legal director at the SWA, added: “The global reputation for the quality and origin of Scotch whisky has been built over many decades, aided by strong legal protection. The legal requirements are vital to protecting the reputation and quality of the world’s premier spirit which millions around the world know and love.

“A wide range of wine, beer and spirit casks have been used over the years to mature Scotch whisky and clarity about what is allowed under the law should be provided in the Scotch Whisky Technical File.

“The amendment is consistent with the continued use of all those categories of casks where there is evidence of longstanding traditional use in the industry. But it will also create more flexibility, particularly in the range of spirits casks which can be used, subject to a number of safeguards which protect the reputation of Scotch whisky.”

What do you think about the development? Is there a type of whisky maturation or finish you’d like to see? Are you worried that the traditions of Scotch whisky are being eroded? Let us know in the comments below, or on social.

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Roe & Co kicks off Irish whiskey production

Exciting news out of Ireland – Diageo’s €25 million Roe & Co whiskey distillery has started production in Dublin! Located inside the former Guinness Power Station at St James Gate,…

Exciting news out of Ireland – Diageo’s €25 million Roe & Co whiskey distillery has started production in Dublin!

Located inside the former Guinness Power Station at St James Gate, Roe & Co houses three copper stills, which will run both double and triple distillation.

Up until now, the Roe & Co blend has been developed by master blender Caroline Martin, who used fruity malt whiskey blended with grain, matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks.

The new site will produce 14,000 litres of malt spirit each run, up to an annual maximum capacity of 500,000 litres each year. In all, the distillery will provide direct employment for 18 people.

On opening, Roe & Coe becomes Ireland’s 27th operational whiskey distillery – at the start of the decade there were just four.

The building housing the distillery was renovated to offer an industrial feel. The vibe is reflected through all kinds of design elements, from the staff uniforms, to a contemporary tiki illustration on the barware, based on the original pear tree which stood in the grounds since the 17th century.

Roe & Co

Roe & Co opens to visitors next week

Roe & Co will open to visitors later this month, with guests treated to an immersive, 75-minute experience spanning Irish whiskey history, the old power station building, and of course, the operational distillery, which can be viewed from an elevated glass walkway.

Visitors can explore whiskey blending in Room 106, while in the Flavours Workshop they can experience sweet, sour, bitter, salt and umami flavours to work out their preferred cocktail profile. Meanwhile, the Power House Bar will offer seasonal signature serves based on Roe & Co and Irish wildflowers, made with home-grown ingredients. Tours cost €25 per guest, including a whiskey taster, flavours workshop and complimentary cocktail.

The launch of the distillery has been led by an all-female team, including Gráinne Wafer, Roe & Co global brand director; Caroline Martin, Diageo’s master blender; Lora Hemy, Roe & Co’s head distiller; Fiona Sheridan, Roe & Co’s assistant distiller; Tanya Clarke, general manager Diageo Reserve and Incubation Brands; Hayley Millner, marketing manager, Roe & Co Irish Whiskey; and Shannon Green, project engineer.

“Our master blender, Caroline Martin began the journey of reimagining Irish whiskey, but we didn’t stop the reinvention there,” said Wafer.

“Today we are launching a state-of-the-art distillery and experience like no other, led by our extremely talented distiller, Lora Hemy. This boutique experience, which will have a maximum of 16 guests per tour, will ensure visitors can get up close and personal with our remarkable distillery and whiskey, focusing on the five pillars of flavour.”

Inside Ireland’s 27th whiskey distillery

Speaking at a lunch to officially open the distillery, Diageo CEO, Ivan Menezes, added: “I am proud to be standing here today in one of the most iconic buildings of the Dublin skyline, which has been reimagined and regenerated into this world-class distillery and experience for Roe & Co.

“I am proud that we are here because of Diageo’s most valuable assets, its employees. We encourage them to be the best they can, to achieve great things, to be inclusive and diverse. We have focused on gender and today you see the progress we’ve made, because we are here now in this Roe & Co Irish whiskey distillery and experience because of the amazing team of talented women. You should be so proud, Gráinne, Lora, Fiona, Caroline, Tanya, Shannon and Hayley.”

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Fèis Ìle 2019: Day Six, Kilchoman

Shiny new distillery expansion, cocktails galore, and more drams than you could shake a stick at. It can only be the Kilchoman Open Day at Fèis Ìle 2019! The sunshine…

Shiny new distillery expansion, cocktails galore, and more drams than you could shake a stick at. It can only be the Kilchoman Open Day at Fèis Ìle 2019!

The sunshine couldn’t last forever. Fèis Ìle 2019 Day Six dawned mightily murky, with no end in sight to the drizzle. It was the dedicated Kilchoman day, and Islay’s self-styled farm distillery seems to have little luck with the weather – as I recall it was the only grey day of the Fèis last year. But! Festival goers are more than prepared for the elements. A little bit of Islay sogginess wasn’t going to put anyone off.

We rose moderately fresh – last night’s activities involved a brief jaunt to the Lochindaal Hotel, only to discover festival-goers had quite literally drunk the bar dry. Beer was off. After a swift one, we decamped to the Port Charlotte Hotel for beers. (Don’t worry, Rinns residents – we were assured the Lochindaal was due to be restocked today!) By the time we arrived at Kilchoman, situated right out west, towards Machir Bay, we were ready for a dram (anyone else now alarmingly comfortable with sipping whisky at 10am?!).

Kilchoman Feis Ile

Behold, Kilchoman’s 2019 festival bottling!

First thing on the day’s agenda was an interview with Kilchoman founder Anthony Wills. Kilchoman was born out of Wills’s vision and started producing spirit in 2005. Fast-forward to 2019, and the distillery has big news! Last year, Anthony shared distillery expansion plans with us. Today we were itching to see the results of the project in the flesh! The only thing standing in our way was a tasting of the Kilchoman Fèis Ìle 2019 release, and 11 year old, 54.4% ABV expression! A delicious distraction. Wills chatted us through it, and you can watch it below!

After the tasting and a Q&A with Wills (we put your questions to him), it was time to give away t-shirts and drams. The shiny new stills would have to wait a little longer! We’ve seen a handful of t-shirt selfies – do keep sending them our way, we’re @masterofmalt on social. We want to get your thoughts and tasting notes on our All Islay Blended Malt, too!

The Kilchoman team really had thought of everything today. As well has covering the courtyard with gazebos (useful, as the rain was flat refusing to stop), they had also made a handy guide to proceedings, complete with a map of where you could nose your way round the distillery, and grab a dram in the process!

Kilchoman Feis Ile

Mapping out the day!

We headed over to the Comraich Blend Bar (so named after a distillery-only expression) for a refreshing sipper to accompany our plan-making. The guys from Blend Whisky Bar, off of actual Italy, were on it! We sampled a few, but particularly recommend the Machir Bay serve, made with green tea and Abbott’s Bitters. Green tea really is the cocktail ingredient that keeps on giving!

Kilchoman Feis Ile

Ciao, Blend Whisky Bar chaps!

Cocktails done, and we plotted our route, making our way to the Kilchoman stillhouse with haste. Last year, Wills said the plan was to knock down the end wall of the existing production space and create a carbon copy, almost like a mirror image. That’s exactly what’s happened! Production capacity has soared from 240,000 litres of alcohol a year to 480,000 litres. Still tiny compared to the likes of Caol Ila, which produces in the region of 6.5 million litres! There’s a brand new mash tun, two fermenters, and two very sleek and shiny new stills. And we got to taste the new new make! So fruity, deliciously oily, and with that characteristic waft of Kilchoman smoke. We approve.

Kilchoman Feis Ile

Gorgeous new Kilchoman stills!

After the stillhouse, we meandered our way through to Warehouse No. 1, where myriad casks are maturing. We then popped in to check out the malting floor, which opened last year (our mini-tour was not in production order, but who cares?!). We even tried our hand at turning the locally-grown barley, with only medium levels of success!

Kilchoman Feis Ile

Inside Warehouse No.1

We popped back outside, dodging the raindrops, to explore the full Kilchoman line-up on the dram bar. Punters could choose from a whole range of liquid, including distillery-only bottlings, and the 2019 festival release! Such a treat to be able to sample from such a wide range!

Kilchoman Feis Ile

Dram time!

As we’ve come to expect on a distillery day, there was not only ace tunes from myriad bands, but also a whole host of excellent doggos!

Kilchoman Feis Ile

So many excellent poochies!

Before heading back we zipped along to take in the sights and sounds (and accompanying sea spray!) of Machir Bay. Gorgeous in the sunshine, but still bleakly beautiful in the rain, Kilchoman has named an expression after the huge expanse of sand – and rightly so, it’s a defining feature of the area.

Kilchoman Feis Ile

Machir Bay!

Kilchoman truly knows how to do a distillery open day. As well as all the fun and games we took part in, the team had all kinds of tastings on offer, plus farm tours. The best bit was being able to explore so much of the distillery, dram in hand, at our own speed without waiting for an organised tour. It was brilliant. Job well done, team – thank you for a tremendous day, and congrats on the distillery expansion!

Next up: a tasting at Ardnahoe this evening, before checking out both Bunnahabhain and Jura tomorrow. We’re excited!

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Fèis Ìle 2019: Day Five, Bowmore and Ardnahoe

We love a double Fèis Ìle distillery outing! And on the fifth day of the festival we joined the party in Bowmore, before taking in Islay’s newest whisky-maker, Ardnahoe. After…

We love a double Fèis Ìle distillery outing! And on the fifth day of the festival we joined the party in Bowmore, before taking in Islay’s newest whisky-maker, Ardnahoe.

After a moderately late night (an early morning for some in!), Fèis Ìle dawned on a fairly sedate note. The evening before we’d joined our good friends at The Whisky Lounge over at their Ellister abode for pizza, Negronis, drams, and a marvellously good time (although no hot tubbage this year). It was rather helpful, then, that we didn’t need to be in Bowmore until late morning! (Serious kudos to all of you who camped out in the legendary queue for the super-rare Bowmore bottling. We gather the line started at 10am yesterday when we were all sunning ourselves over at Laphroaig!)

Bowmore’s Open Day is always a lot of fun, and this year was no different. The distillery knows how to do it responsibly too though, handing out separate wrist bands to designated drivers (in fetching orange) and non-drivers (complete with dram tokens!) as people arrived on-site. Today, I can confirm I was NOT the Des, and swiftly made my way to the dram tent to suss out the bar. And I was not disappointed! Bowmore No.1 set the scene, with Bowmore 10 providing a tasty follow-up a little while later, both complimentary, with a whole haul of other drams on offer, too. Great stuff!

Bowmore Ardnahoe Feis Ile

What’s better than a dram? A complimentary dram!

Did you grab a dram and t-shirt from us at Bowmore? We were swamped! If you’re in possession of either (hopefully both!) we want to see you in your shirt, and hear what you think about our All Islay Blended Malt, made with our pals at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Drop us a line on social or leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!  

Back to the distillery day! Next on the agenda was checking out all the fun of the Fèis, and Bowmore was pretty much rammed. There was a coopering demo, which pulled in the crowds…

Bowmore Ardnahoe Feis Ile

Noisy lot, those coopers…

…a kind of cask bung shuffleboard-type challenge (we were rubbish).

Bowmore Ardnahoe Feis Ile

NOT winning

You could also engrave a bung, which seemed far more sensible to us! (Not sore losers at all…)

Better to engrave than slide…

And if that wasn’t enough of a souvenir, you could even get a group snap taken against a green screen! Who knows what those Bowmore folks might put in the background…

Bowmore Ardnahoe Feis Ile

But what’s behind you?!

After a super speedy prance about (and dance, the music was ace again!) we met distillery manager David Turner for a catch-up and a taste of both festival bottlings* (yep, folks – we got to sample both the highly sought after 1995 vintage, 55.2% ABV 23 year old sherried single cask, of which there are just 325 bottles, and the delectable 15 year old 51.7% ABV bourbon cask release). You can check out Turner’s assessment of them both right here!

We also put some of your questions to him – the Q&A vid will be out on the blog and the old socialz ASAP post-Fèis!

Bowmore Ardnahoe Feis Ile

Nom.

From the oldest warehouse to the newest distillery

The arrival of a new distillery on Islay doesn’t just mean more whisky. It means an even more tightly-packed Fèis schedule, too! After a quick bite (our Laura especially loved the paella on offer at Bowmore!) we packed the film kit into the car and hurtled up the island to Ardnahoe.

Bowmore Ardnahoe Feis Ile

Ardnahoe in all its glory

The distillery, founded by family-owned company Hunter Laing, only started production six months ago, and officially opened its doors in April (Henry even stopped by for a visit!). So 2019 is the team’s first Fèis Ìle! Nothing quite beats the excitement of visiting a distillery for the first time, and if it’s brand-spanking new, the thrill is somehow even more intense. And Ardnahoe lived up to the hype!

https://www.masterofmalt.com/blog/post/ardnahoe-a-closer-look-at-islays-newest-distillery.aspx

Goodie bag!

We were met with a goodie bag (hello drams!) and, with the sun just about still out, we made the most of the views. This distillery is in a seriously spectacular location (and Islay is so stunning it’s easy to get blasé). But the scenery across the Sound of Islay and across to the Paps of Jura is genuinely astonishing. We highly recommend popping over for a dram on the open-air terrace!

https://www.masterofmalt.com/blog/post/ardnahoe-a-closer-look-at-islays-newest-distillery.aspx

That view though…

We quizzed Hunter Laing export director Andrew Laing with your questions on plans for the distillery, and then had a good nose around. The still house makes the most of that incredible view – sadly it was raining by the time we popped our noses in; we’re desperate to return on a sunny day!

https://www.masterofmalt.com/blog/post/ardnahoe-a-closer-look-at-islays-newest-distillery.aspx

The newest stills on Islay!

After chilling in the bar, taking in the gift shop, and checking out the obligatory Fèis Ìle band, it was about time to head back to Port Ellen for an evening in. Cheese and drams are on the agenda. But we may head up to the Loch Indaal for a dram if we’re feeling adventurous enough to brave the rain. Cheers to both Bowmore and Ardnahoe for a mega Islay day!

Whatever you’re up to this evening, enjoy – and see you at Kilchoman tomorrow!

*Apparently there’s a mystery third bottling?! Let us know if you’ve spotted it in the wild!

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Fèis Ìle 2019: Day Four, Laphroaig

We go again! Laphroaig Open Day is known for its tasting experiences and mellow vibes – and 2019 was no different. The sun even came out for us! Team MoM…

We go again! Laphroaig Open Day is known for its tasting experiences and mellow vibes – and 2019 was no different. The sun even came out for us!

Team MoM had a quiet one last night, and we collectively woke up fresh as daisies for Fèis Ìle Day 4’s Laphroaig Open Day. Good job really – in order to nab some time with distillery manager John Campbell we needed to arrive before the gates even opened/the crack of dawn. He’s a popular man!

Laphroaig Feis Ile

It’s John Campbell! We chat to Laphroaig’s distillery manager

Made it we did, and the day started as all should – with a dram down on the beach in good company. John was on excellent form as he chatted us through this year’s distillery release. So the first drop of the day was Càirdeas Triple Wood Cask Strength, the 2019 festival bottling! It’s a no-age statement 51.7% ABV release matured in ex-bourbon barrels, quarter casks, and then European oak ex-Oloroso casks. An absolute bargain at £77. And there are 36,000 bottles available, from the distillery and through its members’ society, Friends of Laphroaig. The sheer number of bottles available really added to the relaxed setting – no queuing overnight here! Wondering what it tastes like? We’ve got it all in John’s own words:

John hung around with us a bit longer to answer the questions you all put to him via Twitter and Instagram – the Q&A will be released shortly after Fèis Ìle!

With the interviews in the bag, it was time to dish out some t-shirts and drams! We LOVE chatting to you all as we hand them out. We’d also really like to hear what you think about our All Islay Blended Malt, made with our pals at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. We’d be especially excited to see your t-shirt selfies, too. Just tag us in – we’re @masterofmalt on Instagram and Twitter, You’ll find us on Facebook as well!

Laphroaig Feis Ile

Drammage.

What next? Drams, of course! We checked out the bar (tip-top selection), and frequented the warehouse where you could even win a measure or two. Spot of bung tossing, anyone?! Then, two things caught our beady eyes. Firstly, VisitScotland’s Coo Van (have you ever seen such a vehicle in all your days?!)…

Laphroaig Feis Ile

Behold: Visit Scotland’s Coo Van!

…and a cheese tent! Yes, really! Campbeltown-based (and excellently-named) Scotcheese was there with its delicious wares, and we hoovered up all the samples going before nabbing some for later on. Already getting hungry thinking about it.

Laphroaig Feis Ile

Cheese? Yes, please, Scotcheese!

After all that cheese sampling we needed a refresher. Luckily Islay Ales was on hand! For those not into the beer, Laphroaig was on it with the cocktails (much like the other Open Days. Are consistently good cocktails the big Fèis trend of 2019? I reckon so). There were two Laphroaig Select-based, part pre-batched options: a Fruit of the Fèis, made with raspberry, lemon, apple, mango and lemon juice; and the Fizzy Ginger, with ginger cordial, sugar syrup, and an orange and lemon juice. We plumped for ginger, and it made a tasty refresher out in the sunshine.

Laphroaig Feis Ile

Cocktail hour at Laphroaig

The music was on point once more (shout out to The Coaltown Daisies who were especially excellent!), and sitting out in the sun you could have been almost anywhere in the world (once you take the pesky windchill factor out).

Laphroaig Feis Ile

Cheers, The Coaltown Daisies!

And it was another ace distillery day when it came to dog-spotting opportunities! Here are two of our faves from the day:

Laphroaig Feis Ile

Surely takes Sirius Stardust’s crown as the fluffiest poochie of the Isle?

Laphroaig Feis Ile

Our Laura makes a new friend

With an excellent day over at Laphroaig in the bag, our Jake had another mission: head off to catch fancy boat The Flying Dutchman for a voyage/tasting around the Scottish island distilleries with That Boutique-y Whisky Company! He was last seen rowing over from the distillery. The legendary Boutique-y fellow Dave Worthington even dressed as a pirate for the occasion. And we snuck our All Islay Blended Malt into the line-up, which also included a 22 year old Springbank*, 18 year old Highland Park, and a 22 year old Arran. Fab whisky, ace company and the high seas. There’s no better way to round off a distillery day!

Laphroaig Feis Ile Boutique-y tasting

All aboard the Boutique-y boat!

*apparently a canal cuts them off so the locals consider themselves islanders

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