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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Kristiane Sherry

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 discontinued.

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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Pre-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 pre-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 pre-order yours now, for shipping mid-October!

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, 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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