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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Kristiane Sherry

Our top drinks trends for 2020!

The start of a new year means one thing at MoM Towers: time to crack out the crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses throughout the year….

The start of a new year means one thing at MoM Towers: time to crack out the crystal ball and predict what will be in our glasses throughout the year. Read on for our top drinks trends for 2020!

It’s not just a new year – 2020 brings with it a box-fresh decade, too. But what will be drinking this year? We’ve had a good chinwag in the office, looked at sales trends from the last few years and kept our ears to the ground for word of the Next Big Thing in booze. 

Before we crack on with our top ten trends, a quick note on two topics. First up: sustainability in terms of both production and packaging. We reckon every single producer should have this on their radar by now. We’re working hard to make our own ops here are as lean and green as they can possibly be. It’s not a trend, just the right way to do things. We’ve not included this in our list as it’s a societal shift that’s here to stay. Similar with low- and no-alcohol products. 2019 saw the segment explode – but it’s not going anywhere. Brands that give us the option to drink less alcohol while keeping things delicious are a welcome and permanent part of the drinks industry.

So. What else does the year have in store? This is what we reckon we’ll be drinking for the next 12 months!

spiced rum drinks trends for 2020

Spiced rums will continue their dominance into 2020

Spiced and flavoured rums are just getting started

One of the runaway successes of 2019 has been spiced and flavoured rums. In fact, over the whole of 2019, 15 of our top 20 rum best sellers were spiced or flavoured. It’s a trend that accelerated over the course of the year, and while you’d expect an uptick in November and December (hello Christmas!), sales of the likes of Bombo, Cloven Hoof and Pirate’s Grog rums are in year-on-year growth for the start of January, too. One shift we think we’ll see? A move towards more ‘grown-up’ flavours and bottle designs. Spiced and flavoured rums don’t have to be all about the party; they can hold their own as respectable cocktail ingredients, too. 

world whisky drinks trends for 2020

No need for a passport – explore the world through whisky!

Genuinely world whisky

Move over, Scotland. Hang back, America. You too, Ireland and Japan. Yes, you make delicious whiskies. But 2020 looks set to be the year that world whisky meaningfully comes to the fore for more of us. Take Israel, for example. There are three distilleries already up and running (Milk & Honey, Golan Heights, Pelter), but there’s the Jerusalem Distillery, Legends Distillery and Eder’i Malthouse and Distillery all hot on their heels. Up in Finland, you’ve got Kyrö, Teerenpeli, The Helsinki Distilling Co, and Panimoravintola (and no doubt numerous others at the development stage). Australian whisky continues to gain momentum (Starward, Sullivans Cove, and Hellyers Road, anyone?), and we’re excited by what distillers are doing across New Zealand, Sweden and France, too. And there’s India, South Africa, England, Wales, The Netherlands… you get the picture. We’re also thrilled by the geographic diversity of whisky production and the different approaches and flavours inherent in that. We reckon loads of you will be, too. 

vodka drinks trends for 2020

Get set for a vodka revival

Viva vodka!

A slightly unexpected one, now. Did you know our vodka sales in 2019 soared by 30% year-on-year? It’s a bit of a surprise for us, too. Bottle sales ramped up gradually but noticeably over the course of the year, and it initially had us scratching our heads. After a pretty break time in the 2000s and 2010s, why is vodka falling back into favour? We looked at our top-sellers and noticed a couple of things. It’s generally not flavoured vodka that’s hitting the mark (a couple of notable exceptions: Thunder Toffee Vodka and Whitley Neill Blood Orange Vodka). Instead, it’s the classic, neutral, big names that seem to have appeal. But that’s not all. Smaller brands playing on their legitimate flavour differences derived from their raw materials are doing especially well. We think the likes of Black Cow Vodka (made from leftover whey from cheese-making), East London Liquor Company 100% Wheat Vodka and Konik’s Tail (made with three different grains: spelt, rye and wheat) will drive this trend forward into 2020.

hard seltzers drinks trends for 2020

Hard seltzers will be A Thing

Hard seltzers and sodas

Call them what you like (the seltzer vs. soda debate could go on), but this sparkling, low-ABV mix of flavoured water and booze isn’t going anywhere. Hard seltzers have been big news Stateside for some time now, and we reckon 2020 is the year they’ll make their presence really felt this side of the Pond. Why? Beer sales are down, people are embracing low- and no-, and we’re all rather partial to a train tinnie, which, if you think about what cocktails in a can actually are, we’re barely a swift step from a hard seltzer anyway. Last year saw the UK launch of Mike’s Hard Sparkling Water, and native names DRTY Hard Seltzer and Bodega Bay are already in the market. Plus, White Claw, the US hard seltzer hero, has already registered its trademark here, too. We’re ready

Beyond bourbon drinks trends for 2020

American single malts for the win!

Beyond bourbon

Hands up who loves American whiskey? Us too. And it’s hardly new. So why does it feature on our list of drinks trends for 2020? Bourbon has long been seen as a synonym for American whiskey, but when you think about its legal definition (in short, it’s made in the US; its mashbill recipe contains a minimum of 51% corn; it’s matured in new, charred oak) it becomes clear there’s a whole load more to American whiskey than perhaps we collectively understand. Step in rye. Come in, American single malt. Oh hello, wheat whiskeys. And of course, there’s a whole host of category-defying whiskeys coming out of the US that can’t be called bourbon. Rules are there to be broken, and when distillers shrug off the bourbon confines, deliciousness can spring forth, and we think 2020 is the year we’ll get to grips with these expressions. Want in now? Check out Balcones Texas Single Malt, Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey, St. George Baller Single Malt, and WhistlePig 12 Year Old – Old World.

calvados drinks trends for 2020

Appley goodness right there

Calvados returns

If you’re unfamiliar with this historical French brandy, you are not alone. Calvados is made from apples and pears in Normandy, distilled in either traditional alembic or column stills, and is aged for at least two years. And it’s mighty tasty. We’re waking up to its mixing and sipping potential: last year our Calvados sales soared by an enormous 40% in 2019 over 2018. One of the key drivers was the launch of Avallen in June, a more modern expression that is all about sustainability and boosting biodiversity. Calvados Coquerel has undertaken a re-brand, bringing more energy to the category. And the likes of Berneroy and Château du Breuil are also seeing renewed momentum. 2020 is the time for Calvados to shine.

mezcal drinks trends for 2020

How mezcal gets its smoke

The advent of Mezcal

Tequila’s smoky cousin made its presence felt in 2019, when we saw sales climb by 31%. But what will 2020 have in store for Mezcal? Quite a lot, we think (especially when you consider its 2017-18 growth stood at just 5%). The biggest-selling brands are increasingly well-recognised (Del Maguey, Pensador and Montelobos are rapidly becoming familiar names), and customers in bars and in shops (on and offline) have a deeper understanding of the Mexican spirit. So, what’s next? More at-home mixing and sipping, and a deeper appreciation for all things Mezcal out and about. Bring. It. On.

scotch whisky casks drinks trends for 2020

Bit cold out there

Unconventional cask finishing in Scotch

In June 2019, the Scotch Whisky Association widened the list of permitted cask types in Scotch whisky production. In short, as long as what was previously held in that cask wasn’t made with stone fruits, and hasn’t had flavourings or sweetening added, you’re good to go. It wasn’t an unexpected decision, and loads of Scotch distillers already had experiments under way (Glen Moray Rhum Agricole Cask Finish Project, we’re looking at you). So what? In 2020 we reckon we’ll see loads more esoteric expressions, perhaps some agave finishes, and maybe even some Calvados casks. And probably some stuff we’ve not even thought of yet. Get set for a new wave of flavour in Scotch whisky. (At this point, we’d also like to add a nod to Irish distilleries, who have been playing with different casks for some time.)

aquavit drinks trends for 2020

Delicious dill

An age of aquavit 

Similar to Calvados, aquavit is a traditional category with strong local ties that flies way too low under the radar for our liking. We’re going to stick our necks out and say 2020 is going to be the year that starts to change. To kick off, last year our aquavit sales blossomed by 27%. More people are seeking out the dill- or caraway-flavoured Scandi spirit than ever. What’s also interesting is that some producers in international markets are looking to aquavit for inspiration and are crafting their own expressions, most notably Svöl Danish-Style Aquavit, from Brooklyn, and Psychopomp Aqvavit, hailing from Bristol, UK. This comes hot on the heels of the botanical spirits trend – tried all manner of gins and want something new? Eschew the juniper and look to aquavit instead. It’s a narrative that could well play out this year. 

liqueurs unicorns drinks trends for 2020

RIP, unicorns

Liqueurs ditch the unicorns

2019 was a bumper year for liqueurs, growing 31% to rank as our third-largest drinks category by bottle sales. It’s a notoriously diverse category, defined really only by sugar levels rather than style or flavour. Good job really, three of our top 10 most popular liqueur products are ‘unicorn’ flavoured, whatever that means. There has been a slight shift already though: for the last three months of the year, whisky, coffee, herbal and caramel varieties proved far more popular. Yes, it could be Christmas. But we reckon there’s an underlying trend of a return to more conventional liqueur flavours. Yes, they’re still going to be sweet (that’s kind of the point). But 2020 looks likely to be the year more traditional liqueur variants reclaim the realm from mythical beasts.

Over to you! What do you think will be the biggest drinks trends for 2020? Have we missed something out or got it wildly wrong? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and on social! 

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Did our 2019 drinks trends predictions come true?

As the year (nay, decade) draws to a close, it’s time to fire up the old MoM computer, look at the data and see whether our January 2019 forecasts for…

As the year (nay, decade) draws to a close, it’s time to fire up the old MoM computer, look at the data and see whether our January 2019 forecasts for all things booze came true…

One of our favourite January activities is to dust off the crystal ball (AND the fancy crystal tasting glasses) and have a bit of a think about what might make waves in drinks in the coming months. 2019’s trend musings were one of our most-read features on the site this year. But how accurate were they? 

Boom time for liqueurs

Our prediction that liqueurs were set for a bit of a boom certainly came to fruition. The number of bottles we sold soared by 30% year-on-year, and there were some interesting flavours going on. Three of our top 10 best-sellers try and replicate the essence of unicorn (if you know what unicorns are supposed to taste like, let us know. And we don’t mean in burger form…) while other popular variants were coffee, herbal, caramel and all kinds of other puddingy-type concoctions. Long live the liqueur!

Teeling aside, 2019 wasn’t the year when Ireland’s new distilleries took off

Irish whiskey

We predicted we would see a whole load of new expressions from Ireland’s shiniest distilleries hit the market and liquid came of age. Actually, this didn’t really happen – but we did see even more distilleries get the green light and/or start production. Could next year be the one where we start to taste the fruits of their labour?

Botanical spirits

Back in January we reckoned botanical spirits would be a ‘thing’ this year. And we think we were mostly right! One of the biggest launches to back this up was Ketel One’s Botanical series where the vodka was infused with natural botanicals, then re-distilled. Not a juniper berry in sight. Others started to play in this space, but really what we saw was the launch of even more gins with a questionable level of ‘predominant’ juniper. Perhaps it’s time for some actual legislation?

Category-defying ‘spirits’

Another prediction where we reckon we were sort-of right. Category-defying spirits are products that don’t neatly fit into the rules of one category – think a grain spirit made in Scotland but not from malted barley so it can’t be called a single malt, as one very simple example. But it literally could be anything. While we certainly saw new products from some fresh producers (Circumstantial Mixed Grain from Bristol’s Circumstance Distillery, we’re looking at you, and Affinity, Compass Box’s whisky/Calvados hybrid, too). But we weren’t overrun with these hard-to-define expressions. Another smaller trend set to bubble away in 2020, perhaps.

2019, however, was the year of low/zero products like Three Spirit

Alcohol-free imbibing

Here’s a trend where we were bang on the money. Low- and no-alcohol product sales soared by 89% year-on-year, and there were a whole host of new launches to delight those who for whatever reason are off the sauce (or looking to reduce their intake). At London Cocktail Week, revellers sipped on Nogronis alongside full-ABV serves, and Hayman’s made waves on social media and beyond with the launch of its Small Gin. Other launches that caught our eye? Nine Elms No. 18, Three Spirit, Whyte & Mackay Light (kind of another category-blurrer, too) and Atopia. There’s never been a more delicious time to eschew the booze.

Cognac and Armagnac

We were expecting a bit of a French resurgence this year, and while it wasn’t immediately perceptible, dig a bit deeper and we can see the big names all performed really well. As a whole, however, things weren’t quite as emphatic. Cognac bottle sales climbed 18% as a whole, while Armagnac saw 22% gains. The surprise French spirit to break through? Calvados! Sales soared by almost 40% year-on-year. Can newer players to the market, like Avallen, keep up the momentum? 2020 could be a stellar year for the lesser-known apple- and pear-based French spirit. 

Yeast conversations

After lots of chit chat in Scotch whisky about terroir and cask types, we thought the conversation would shift over the course of the year to the role yeast strains play in production. Apart from the launch of Glenmorangie’s Allta, we didn’t really see much of that. But what we did see in June was the Scotch Whisky Association relax its rules on permissible cask types in Scotch. This brought a new energy to how drinkers and makers think about maturation, and it’s a theme we could see continue on into 2020 as more esoteric finishes hit the market. 

Johnnie Walker highball collection

The Highball, still very much a drinks industry thing

Blended and blended malt Scotch

A tricky one to quantify, this. While we did see more conversation around good blended Scotches (and there was a LOT of lingo around the whisky Highball) we’re not sure it had any mega meaningful impact on what we’re buying. Perhaps it was a prediction too soon – but we do think Highballs rule. 

Could agave beat rum in the premiumisation stakes?

Here’s one where we can now say yes and no. How do you define premiumisation? Is it drinking less but better? Is it spending more on a product for better quality? In many ways, both rum and Tequila and mezcal all made great premiumisation strides this year. Then you factor in spiced and flavoured rums. While rum bottle sales literally skyrocketed (48%! It was emphatic!), so much of this came from spiced and flavoured rums. Now, this is no slight on the sub-category. Good expressions can be the absolute dream. But they tend to cost less per-bottle, and don’t represent meaningful premiumisation to most. In that regard, agave spirits win hands down, even if they represent a far smaller slice of the overall spirits pie. One to keep an eye on – it certainly looks like the race is on. 

Caution from the big players
Brexit, elections, trade tariffs… 2019 was a challenging year for the business types in booze. We predicted companies would operate with caution, and it’s a forecast that has come entirely true. Sizeable spirits acquisitions were few and far between (Diageo snapping up a ‘significant’ majority stake in Seedlip, Campari nabbing a trio of rhum agricole brands including Trois Rivières, and Hill House Capital taking over Loch Lomond were probably the biggest stories), and there weren’t really any huge new launches to shout about. With the exception of CBD-infused products, which while totally legal, still have a disruptive air about them, the drinks industry seemed to like it quiet in 2019. 

The verdict

We’d give ourselves a 6/10. In some areas, our trends forecast was completely spot-on. In other regards, some categories just weren’t quite ready yet. But we’re going to give it another go for 2020! Keep your eyes peeled for what we think could dominate all things booze in the coming months, live on the blog in the New Year. 

What did you think about 2019 in drinks? Were there any big surprises for you? Or did anything play out as planned. Perhaps we missed something entirely? Let us know in the comments below or on social

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #16: Isle Of Jura 18 Year Old

The grand countdown to Christmas Day has entered single digits – and today there’s a dram from a suitably epic location to celebrate. It’s Isle Of Jura 18 Year Old!…

The grand countdown to Christmas Day has entered single digits – and today there’s a dram from a suitably epic location to celebrate. It’s Isle Of Jura 18 Year Old!

Many a distillery plays on its remote location in its marketing. But Jura may just be able to make that claim stick. To visit the island distillery you first need to get to the Glasgow area. Then it’s either a ferry or a flight to Islay, followed by a teeny tiny ferry over the small but mighty Sound of Jura, then you’re on the island. But it’s another eight miles or so down a single track round until you reach the village of Craighouse and the warmest of welcomes.

Jura is a Hebridean island made famous for its sizeable deer population (6,000 or so), it’s tiny human headcount (approximately 200), and because it’s where George Orwell marooned himself to write 1984. It’s also home to the Jura Distillery, which is where today’s dram comes from: Isle Of Jura 18 Year Old! 

It’s a treat of a dram, matured in American oak barrels before it was finished in Premier Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux barrels for a full-on fruity vibe. A perfect sipper on a dark December evening. 

As we tuck into the dram, we catch up with distillery manager Graham Logan, to get his take on island life, the distillery’s history, and what he’ll be drinking this Christmas…

Isle Of Jura 18 Year Old

It’s Graham Logan (on the right)!

Master of Malt: Jura Distillery is set in a stunning but incredibly remote location. Talk us through a typical day on the island…

Graham Logan: As with most on the island, I have a dual role in the community so my first job of the day isn’t actually at the distillery! I live on a croft, so at the crack of dawn, I am up and out feeding all the animals. Then it’s a five-minute ‘commute’ down to Craighouse, the heart of the island and home to the Jura Distillery and most of the community. Believe it or not, there is the occasional traffic jam en route, but I’m not talking about cars, I’m talking about the red deer or pheasants who like to take the run of our single-track road from time to time! When I make it to the distillery, I like to take a few minutes taking in the view from my office window – palm trees, small isles bay, Kintyre peninsular and even over to Ben Cruachan and Ben Lomond in the distance. The sunrises on Jura are spectacular, and a brilliant way to set yourself up for the day ahead. 

I will then spend the next few hours touring the distillery, I will talk to all the site team and do some testing. Usually, gravities of washbacks, mash tun temperatures and doing a shake test on the malt grist. On Jura the pace is a little slower, so we’re never without our 10 am tea break! Then it’s on to catching up on emails and all my regulatory paperwork. In the afternoons, you might see me doing guest tours, talking to visitors who take the effort to come to our remote shores or spending time in a warehouse checking on some of our 30,000 casks.

MoM: How does remote island life affect the character of the whisky or the whisky-making process?

GL: Jura is blessed that the Gulf stream, all the way from the Caribbean, passes up our west coast and keeps Jura very mild in the winter. Snow is a once in a ten-year phenomenon, so our warehouses are a pretty constant temperature which allows our maturation cycles to last longer. The wood grains of the staves on our first-fill ex-bourbon barrels never quite close, which allows maturation to take place all through the winter. The warehouses are only 100 yards from the sea, allowing the salt air to penetrate our casks, leaving a very slight salt note. What makes some of this possible are our exceptionally tall, lantern-shaped stills (25ft 4 inches); only the lightest floral noted spirit makes it to the head of the still. This light spirit is the perfect partner for maturation with the American white oak ex-bourbon casks that each Jura whisky starts its life in.

Isle Of Jura 18 Year Old

The beautiful Jura Distillery

MoM: Jura has a pretty storied history, both the distillery and the island. Share a little tale from the distillery’s past…

GL: I have been at Jura distillery for 28 years and have had some escapades in that time! I had the misfortune to mash some heavy peated barley by mistake one day and because I had a cold at the time, I didn’t notice. Our then manager Willie Tait had a hairy fit and suffice to say, I wasn’t brave enough to do it again! The distillery also had a tractor and trailer for delivering the casks from the filling store to the warehouses. I got to drive it and managed to crash it within 30 seconds. A cask fell off the trailer and went speeding towards the hotel and only the nimbleness of Iain Cameron (our warehouseman) saved the day as he diverted the cask before it was sitting in the bar and whisky really was whisky galore! Surprise, surprise, I was banned from driving the tractor.

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

GL: My tipple of choice this winter will be the Jura Tide. It’s our new 21 Year Old and started its life in American White oak ex-bourbon barrels before being enhanced with a finish in virgin American oak white oak casks. I am also inclined to enjoy a dram of Jura 18 Year Old; Jura whisky enhanced in any red wine cask is excellent but this is really special with a finish in Premier Grand Cru Classé Bordeaux barrels. Delicious, especially on a crisp day! 

Isle Of Jura 18 Year Old

Isle Of Jura 18 Year Old

Isle Of Jura 18 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: Cinnamon, dried berries, Wine Gums, hickory.

Palate: Brandied cherries, Turkish delight, milky coffee and blackcurrant jam.

Finish: Chocolate chip cookies, a touch of hay, orange oil.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #15: Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old

Time for a Sunday treat! And it’s a good’un for day 15 in Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. We’ve taken a trip up… and up… and up some…

Time for a Sunday treat! And it’s a good’un for day 15 in Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. We’ve taken a trip up… and up… and up some more to Scotland’s highest working distillery. Today’s drop is… Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old!

If you’ve taken the A9 in Scotland all the way from Perth to Aviemore, you’ll know a number of things. Firstly – it’s a breathtakingly beautiful part of the world. And we mean seriously. The mountains, the views… It’s a dream. You’ll also know it really is high. There are actual snow gates – at over 1,000ft altitude, the weather gets inclement pretty quickly. You’ll also have likely caught a glimpse of Dalwhinnie, the single malt distillery renowned for its gentle drams. And that’s exactly what we’ve got behind door number 15 in the Whisky Advent Calendar! It’s…

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old!

Visit Dalwhinnie and you’ll get to breathe in the expanse of space across the valley between mountains. It’s all trees, fresh air, and, of course, that distinct aroma of maturing whisky. The environment plays a pivotal role in the spirit’s character – and it really is fascinating. Here to tell us more is Catriona Mackenzie, brand home manager up at the distillery!

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old

Say hello to Catriona Mackenzie!

Master of Malt: Dalwhinnie is the highest distillery in Scotland! What impact does this have on the style of whisky you produce?

Catriona Mackenzie: Our elevation of 1164ft above sea level contributes to an average temperature of 6°C here at Dalwhinnie. Because it’s so cold, our worm tub condensers are outside, with cold water running through them. Our spirit vapour can condense very quickly with minimal copper contact, giving our spirit a heavier mouthfeel yet gentle character.

MoM: Bring us up to speed on visitor centre developments at Dalwhinnie…

CM: We’ve launched a Fill Your Own Bottle experience at the distillery, so visitors who make the journey can draw from a single cask of cask strength liquid on site. Visitors can also write their own personalised label and record their bottle in our HMRC ledger which is such a unique opportunity, so has proved really popular. Our final tasting room has been refurbished and now there is a lovely space to enjoy a dram at the end of a tour.

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old

Dalwhinnie Distillery looking particularly festive

MoM: What have been your 2019 highlights at the distillery?

CM: It has been a very busy year for us and we have enjoyed meeting lots of new visitors from all over the world. However, the biggest highlight has to be that we’ve retained our 5* Tourist Attraction status from Visit Scotland which we are incredibly proud of.

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

CM: 2020 is going to be incredibly exciting for Edinburgh with the new Johnnie Walker Princes Street opening, along with the ongoing upgrade program across many of the Distillery Brand Homes. Scotch in cocktails will continue to be a trend, with more and more bars innovating and surprising whisky lovers with exciting new serves and flavour combinations.

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

CM: I will be drinking our Dalwhinnie Distillers Edition as it is a firm favourite, and I will be giving one of our Fill Your Own bottles to my father (I hope he will be sharing it).

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: It’s all about the orchard fruits here. Dalwhinnie isn’t called the gentle dram for anything! There’s apple, pear, nectarines, honeysuckle, custard and perhaps a whisper of smoke.

Palate: It’s mega malty with lashings of honey and Victoria sponge cake. There’s the waft of smoke again, along with the sweet spices.

Finish: Long, gentle and nutty

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #13: Caol Ila 12 Year Old

Friday 13th is unlucky for some… but not if you’ve got your mitts on a Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar. Today’s delectable drop is Caol Ila 12 Year…

Friday 13th is unlucky for some… but not if you’ve got your mitts on a Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar. Today’s delectable drop is Caol Ila 12 Year Old!

Tucked away in one of the most picturesque corners of the UK lies Caol Ila. It’s the largest of the Islay distilleries by output, but you’d never guess from its quaint, waterfront position, all white-painted warehouses and traditional buildings, only accessible by snaking, single-track road. The distillery clings to the steep hillside; the Paps of Jura tower from across the Sound of Jura. It might produce 6.5 million litres of alcohol a year, and it might be a significant player in the blended behemoth that is Johnnie Walker, but when you visit Caol Ila, there’s an incredible sense of tranquillity.

This could be about to change. As part of a £150 million investment across its network of distilleries, parent company Diageo is in the process of updating the visitor centre at Caol Ila. It’ll be the Johnnie Walker’s Islay embassy, if you will. There’s to be a stunning aerial walkway and state-of-the-art facilities. Get set for a transformation.

We might need to be a little patient before we can explore the new visitor centre, but there are drams aplenty we can enjoy right now. And coincidentally, Whisky Advent’s Day 13 dram hails from Caol Ila. It’s a sumptuously smoky drop, with delicious texture and incredible character. It’s…

Caol Ila 12 Year Old!

Caol Ila 12 Year Old

Say hello to Pierrick Guillaume!

Here to tell us more is Pierrick Guillaume, Caol Ila site operations manager.

Master of Malt: Caol Ila is a remote distillery even by Islay standards! Tell us a little bit about a typical day in that setting…

Pierrick Guillaume: A typical day would consist of walking down to the distillery from home. In the winter you face the sun rising over the Jura hills with the sea between us. Well… when you see the sun! I’m lucky enough to regularly see wildlife through my office’s window such as seals, otters, guillemots or dolphins! Then after work, in the summer you can walk three minutes away from the distillery and catch a fish for dinner or if you are lucky, stop a fishing boat from the pier to get lobsters straight off the water! There are a lot of amazing spots to go for a run or a walk around the distillery too and there are a few sports activities that you can go to at night, rugby, football, netball, swimming, kayaking.

MoM: Talk us through the signature Caol Ila character…

PG: Caol Ila is a fruit market in a smoky hall. Caol Ila 12-year-old is the perfect entry door to the peaty world. When you take away this gentle peat wrapping the aromas, you are facing a whole range of fruitiness going from exotic notes to richer and darker fruits.

Caol Ila 12 Year Old

The beautiful Caol Ila Distillery

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

PG: I think we will see an increased focus on sustainability in whisky-making – we are constantly innovating in this field to reduce the water usage at our distilleries and looking at ways of reducing our environmental impact, and this will, of course, continue to be a priority into 2020 and beyond.

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

PG: It will be Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition back home in the South West of France with my family whilst eating our home-made Yule log cake.

Caol Ila 12 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: It’s lively, fresh and herbal, with a distinct smoke wafting through. There are hints of cooked ham, too, along with cigar leaves and an aromatic citrus vibe. 

Palate: The rich, oily texture is immediately apparent, along with the tar and smoke notes. There’s a confectionery sweetness along with orchard fruits. 

Finish: The smoke goes on and on, framed with a gentle pepper warmth. 

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #9: Dalmore Cigar Malt

There’s no Monday blues here with Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar Day 9. Hidden away behind today’s door is Dalmore Cigar Malt! We get the scoop from Richard…

There’s no Monday blues here with Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar Day 9. Hidden away behind today’s door is Dalmore Cigar Malt! We get the scoop from Richard Paterson himself.

The Dalmore is as much a brand in its own right as a Highland single malt distillery. Its highly recognisable 12-point stag has become an iconic motif, and some of its expressions are highly prized. Old and rare bottlings even command record prices, both on the primary and secondary markets.

Today’s dram from our Whisky Advent Calendar carries that same pedigree – and was specifically blended to be enjoyed with a cigar. It’s a no-age-statement dram, but don’t let that put you off. It’s rich, flavourful, and has that signature Dalmore doughy texture. It’s Cigar Malt!

This dram was discontinued to much uproar in 2009 – but thankfully it’s back, in full bottle size, and in Advent calendar form. We understand this new blend is made with slightly older liquid and it’s a right treat.

And here to tell us more about it is The Nose himself – Dalmore’s Richard Paterson.

Dalmore Cigar Malt

The Nose himself, Richard Paterson!

Master of Malt: The Dalmore is one of the most recognisable brands in single malt Scotch. What do you think sets you apart? 

Richard Paterson: The Dalmore is enduringly recognisable, in part due to our unique bottle shape, and striking packaging, but not least because of the iconic silver ‘Stag’ marking a royal heritage for the distillery that dates to 1263. We are fortunate too that our founding fathers and chain of custodians through the years had a wonderful vision, and we have many aged expressions up to the rare Dalmore 64 Years Old and others that we have released over the years. This is coupled with our consistent ‘wood enhancement’ programmes in which we use only the finest exclusive Sherry, Port and wine casks to provide the highest quality possible, and of course the relentless passion of our dedicated quality team.

MoM: Cigar Malt was originally discontinued but you brought it back! What makes it such a good match with cigars? 

RP: The rich full body of The Dalmore Cigar Malt, with its chocolate orange spice flavours, makes it the perfect accompaniment to the finest Cigars, in particular, “Partagas number 4 & Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No 2. Taken along with hot Colombian or Java coffee you will soon be in heaven!

Dalmore Cigar Malt

Bottura and Paterson, who raised over £108k for charity this year!

MoM: What have been your 2019 highlights for The Dalmore? 

RP: This year marks the beginning of celebrations marking the 180th anniversary of The Dalmore. I’ve hosted many special tastings around the world, in particular, highlighting the rare Dalmore 45 years old and many more different expressions. I cannot forget, our wonderful partnership with Massimo Bottura, raising over £108k for his charity Food For Soul.

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

RP: With there being so many discerning consumers around the world today particularly in the Far East, the thirst for Scotch whisky especially, Single Malt whisky is set to continue for many years to come. However, we in the Scotch whisky industry must never be complacent, we must continue to innovate, evolve and excite our consumers with the finest quality whiskies and superb packaging.

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas? 

RP: Many different wines but there will always be an aged Dalmore, Jura, Fettercairn, Tamnavulin and a Whyte & Mackay close at hand! Slainte Meath.

Dalmore Cigar Malt

Dalmore Cigar Malt

Dalmore Cigar Malt Tasting Notes:

Nose: Loads of shortbread, rich tea biscuit notes, caramel, and chocolate orange. It’s highly tempting for the sweet-toothed.

Palate: toffee and more caramel, with some delicious marmalade-on-burnt-toast in there, too. Lashings of sherry-cask notes.

Finish: Relatively straightforward, but sweet Christmas spices come through towards the finish.

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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 manager, Stewart Walker!

Fettercairn 12 Year Old

Look, it’s distillery manager, 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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