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Master of Malt Blog

Author: Kristiane Sherry

Westward Whiskey: a distillery with a brewer’s mentality

Before Covid, Kristiane Sherry visited America’s craft beer capital, Portland, Oregon, to visit Westward Whiskey where the team makes a single malt heavily influenced by their city’s brewing heritage.  “It’s…

Before Covid, Kristiane Sherry visited America’s craft beer capital, Portland, Oregon, to visit Westward Whiskey where the team makes a single malt heavily influenced by their city’s brewing heritage. 

“It’s all about minimalist distilling,” states Christian Krogstad. The founder and master distiller at House Spirits, the maker of Westward Whiskey in Portland, is standing in his visitor centre explaining his production philosophy. “We’re a brewery with a distillery attached.” 

It initially sounds like he’s stating the obvious. Whisky is, essentially, distilled beer. But the simplicity in this mission statement says so much about the intention behind Westward single malt whiskey and makes it so distinctive.  

We’re across the river from downtown Portland – arguably America’s craft beer capital. The city is defined by the Willamette River. It slices through the urban area, punctuated by huge metal bridges; Downtown to the west, small and defined with its terracotta buildings and parks. To the east you find the old industrial area with production space and warehouses, among them cool conversions. It is what Brooklyn is to Manhattan. And it’s here that you find the Westward Whiskey Distillery.


The Willamette River in Oregon

Westward Whiskey and a love of beer

Urban distilleries are having a bit of a moment. As they should: cities bring people and ideas together. Add into the recipe innovation and heritage too, and it becomes clear why distilleries in these settings offer such a strong sense of place through their products. For the Westward team, this isn’t just tapping into everything Portland has to offer. It’s taking inspiration from the surrounding Pacific Northwest, too.

Step into the distillery and it’s a bright space. Westward bottles line the walls, and there’s space for barrel-top tastings. Through the glass wall behind him you can glimpse the pair of Westward pot stills – unusual-looking things, but more on that later. Just across from the duo is the Aviation Gin still (famously actor Ryan Reynolds held a sizable stake before selling to Diageo). And the first thing you realise is how integral beer is to the production.

Wash at Westward

Too delicious to distill?

It starts with the malt

To hit this home, the team takes us for a trip up the road and over the Columbia River (its confluence with the Willamette is just north of the city) and into Washington State. The destination? Great Western Malting. Founded in 1934, it’s one of the oldest businesses of its kind in the US. And here again we find a group of people passionate about flavour. In addition to providing Westward with its grains, it also serves the industry with malt research and development work. 

Westward use two row barley grown in the Pacific Northwest. After harvesting, it goes to Great Western Malting where it is processed ready to be turned into whiskey. But first, it has to be fermented. It’s here where you can’t ignore Westward’s beer mentality. The team uses an ale yeast as opposed to a distiller’s yeast. The fermentation is a slow one, carried out at a low temperature.

You can actually taste this beer-first ethos. At some distilleries, the wash, the ‘beer’, the low-ABV, post-fermentation liquid that heads to the stills, tastes… not quite finished, perhaps. Too acidic. The Westward wash was round, full-bodied, fresh, orchard fruit-led. It almost seems a shame to distil the results.

On to distillation, and curiouser and curiouser. We’re talking double pot distillation, but each has been custom-designed from a flavour perspective, rather than being tied to tradition in terms of what a still should look like. Whereas many others are all about maxing out reflux (where the vapour comes into contact with a cooler surface, falls back, and is essentially redistilled again), at Westward it’s about minimising it to preserve that ale character. The new-make that flows is bold, robust, and fruit-forward with loads of that grain character coming through. ‘Craft’ has so often been co-opted in whiskey, but it feels appropriate to use it here.

Westward Whiskey

It’s team Westward

Westward maturation

We leave the distillery and take a trip outside the city to the maturation site. It’s the first time I’ve seen barrels stacked upright, something done to successfully withstand earthquakes. Here, we taste some maturing spirit (as with Scotch single malt, this has a minimum three-year age statement). I am so surprised: the apple, floral, and yes, ale-heavy notes shine. It’s an exciting realisation – the future of Westward is as flavour-forward as the core range now.

Predominantly the team makes use of new, lightly charred American oak – it’s like a blank canvas that lets that beer quality shine through. But! We also sampled whiskey from stout casks, and locally expressions that make use of local wine barrels are also available (as an aside, do check out Oregon wines. Stunning). But the one to make it over to the UK is the flagship single malt.

Does the ale vibe translate, even at full maturation? Absolutely. This is a beer-lover’s whiskey. On the nose, you’ve got berries, apples, pears and perhaps maple, in with those bold, green, crisp grain notes. The palate is spicier; biscuity malt builds alongside sweet spices. Then there’s a hint of tobacco leaf on the finish. It’s a fascinating dram. And from the beer-led vision to the local malt, those custom stills and the American oak, it’s truly a taste of Oregon.

Westward Single Malt is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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Discovering El Salvador’s Ron Colón

El Salvador has long been known for its excellent coffee. Now, with the growing popularity of Ron Colón Salvadoreño, there’s a rum brand making waves, too. El Salvador is a…

El Salvador has long been known for its excellent coffee. Now, with the growing popularity of Ron Colón Salvadoreño, there’s a rum brand making waves, too.

El Salvador is a small country bursting with flavour. Flanked by Guatemala and Honduras, and with a Pacific coastline, it is vibrant, volcanic, and verdant with rainforest. Some of its biggest exports are coffee and sugar. And, since the country’s first distillery started producing in 2004, its aged rum is becoming noted, too.

Ron Colon

Felicity Gransden from Ron Colon (centre)

El Salvador is a really interesting place,” says Ron Colón co-founder, Felicity Gransden, when we chat over the phone. It’s a tricky one – Google the country and you’re more likely to find negative news headlines, but it deserves to be on the map for more than that. “It’s such a shame because it’s such a beautiful country.” She talks about its 23 volcanoes, its fertile slopes, that it’s surprising that despite being surrounded by such significant rum producing nations (Costa Rica, Guatemala), El Salvador really has no distilling history. “The distillery we work with, Cihuatan, only produced their first rum five years ago, so it’s pretty new.”

Ron Colón founders

Perhaps surprisingly, you can trace Ron Colón’s roots to vodka. Gransden got involved with the project after two colleagues from her time at Pernod Ricard-backed Our/Vodka, 

Pepijn Janssens and Thurman Wise got her on board to work on the coffee element. [“I spent a lot of time on strategy and flavour and working out how we could get people excited about vodka, which was quite hard!” She quips.] They had travelled to the country and fallen in love with it.

There was also a realisation that while they adored the country, very few people from Europe would be able to travel to El Salvador and see it for themselves (and this was before Covid restrictions meant that often travelling beyond our front door was tricky..!). “It was important to us to bring something from El Salvador, but also work with people from El Salvador so that we could understand ourselves or to educate ourselves about the history of the country,” she says. It starts with the name ‘Colón’, which is the country’s currency.  

Currently the range spans three expressions, with coffee at the heart. Ron Colón Salvadoreño Rum is joined by Ron Colón Salvadoreño Coffee Infused Rum, which is also available at a hearty 55.5% ABV as Ron Colón Salvadoreño Coffee Infused High Proof Rum

“We always wanted to make a high-proof spirit,” Gransden explains. “We all come from a bar industry background, and for us it was important to create something that would work for them.” In her view, that’s intense flavour, and something that can be mixed and sipped.

Ron Colon cloud image

This is what El Salvador looks like! (all images courtesy of Ron Colón)

The blending process

Transparency is important for Gransden, and she happily discloses that the Ron Colón blend isn’t 100% sourced from El Salvador. It’s heart, its largest component part, is column still liquid from Cihuatan – “which has a female distiller, which is amazing” – which is then bolstered by small amounts of Jamaican pot still rum. “We are Salvadoran with a funky element,” she says. 

The result? Something that remains light and citrus-forward, but with overripe fruit esters, macadamia nuts and earthy spice tying it together. Then sample the coffee expression, and Ron Colón amps up the darker notes even more. It’s an authentic aroma; deep and complex. This is not just a sweetened spiced-type rum. 

How to best drink Ron Colón, or indeed other aged rums? For Gransden, it’s all about the Highball. “They sound super simple, but for our aged rum, it’s a really, really nice way to drink it. It’s super fruity, quite light, and you have hints of these citrusy flavours.” She recommends trying Ron Colón with a yuzu soda, topped with a lemon zest.

What about the coffee-infused expressions? “It works nicely in stirred drinks with its decadent, richer, creamier texture, for sure in something like an Old Fashioned,” she continues. “But at the same time I drink it in a coffee Highball, just with tonic and orange on the top.”

With travel off for now, and at-home drinking still a bit of a reality, why not take a little trip to El Salvador via a Ron Colón Highball from the comfort of your garden? I’ll see you on the imaginary plane. 

The Ron Colón Salvadoreño range is available from Master of Malt.  

Ron Colon


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Top ten: Bottlings to immerse you in the world of rum

From white rums, aged rums and gold rums, to spiced rums, flavoured rums and beyond, there’s a whole world of rum to explore. So, here are our top bottlings to…

From white rums, aged rums and gold rums, to spiced rums, flavoured rums and beyond, there’s a whole world of rum to explore. So, here are our top bottlings to help you get under the skin of this wondrously diverse category.

We love a bit of rum here at MoM Towers. And why not? Whether it’s got a molasses or sugar cane juice base, a fun mixer or a serious sipper, or something completely quirky all together, there’s so much deliciousness to be found in the wide world of rum. And we’re pretty proud of our enormous offering!

That said, it can be a fairly tricky category to navigate. The flavour experience between each style can be vastly different – which can make choosing the perfect bottling for you (or as a gift) a little tricky. So this is why we’ve picked out ten of our favourite bottlings (ok, there’s a tasting set in there, too) to serve as a useful place to start.

Browse on, and bring on the rums Oh, and made a new discovery recently? Let us know in the comments or on social. We’re @masterofmalt everywhere!!  


Spiced Rum Tasting Set 

So you know you like spiced rums. But even within this rapidly growing and ever-expanding style there are a whole load of discoveries to be made. Which is why we put together this fabulous tasting set! You’ll get 30ml tasters of five different expressions from an array of different producers. Sip, mix, and be [responsibly] merry!


Eminente Reserva 7 Year Old

Aged rum more your thing? You’ll be in super safe hands with this seven year old expression, which hails all the way from Cuba. It’s big, round and mouth-filling, with notes like tobacco and coffee adding depth to the fruity sweetness. A great one for springtime sipping, or why not try it in a Rum Old Fashioned?


The Duppy Share 

Did you know that Duppies are the mischievous spirits said to travel from island to island across the Caribbean, pinching their share of the ageing rum reserves? That’s what this brand pays homage to with its blend of five year old bourbon-barrel-matured rum from Barbados, and Jamaican three year old liquid!


Tidal Rum 

Reckon flavoured rums are only ever sweet? Think again! Tidal Rum brings together a blend of rums from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and the Dominican Republic, with oak-smoked dulse seaweed from Jersey! It’s a green, herbal, slightly vegetal rum with a wisp of smoke running through it – just divine!


Project #173 Chocolate Rum

But if sweeter flavoured rums are your thing, you won’t be disappointed with Project #173 Black Chocolate! It’s tangy, vibrant, and bursting with authentic chocolate notes. Possibly most delicious with cola, this expression also works over ice as a sipper. We also reckon a splash over ice cream would make the most decadent dessert…


El Destilado Rum 

Like your rums on the grassier side? This is a bottling you’ll want in your collection. Hailing from Mexico, El Destilado is made using raw sugar cane juice that’s been wild fermented for all kinds of lush, green notes. The label tells you everything you could ever want to know about the spirit you’re drinking – we love the transparency. And the rum!


O Reizinho 3 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rum Company)

And if you’re after the vegetal vibes of sugar cane juice rums and a cask influence, we recommend you check out Madeira’s O Reizinho’s 3 Year Old! This is full of fabulous funk (green olive and banana) plus the vanilla and treacle notes associated with cask ageing. Both irresistibly delicious and fabulously fun.


Discarded Banana Peel Rum

Like your rum to be tasty and do good? Step forward Discarded Banana Peel Rum! Its creators have taken an aged Caribbean rum and then infused it for a fortnight with banana peel. Here’s the good bit: the peel comes from a flavour house that would otherwise have chucked it away! Hurrah for sustainable sourcing. 


El Dorado 3 Year Old White Rum

Did you know that lots of producers will sometimes age their spirits and then filter out the colour? This is how El Dorado 3 Year Old was made! The result? An award-winning sipper that combines the citrus, icing sugar and fruity notes of molasses rum with subtle coconut, vanilla notes of oak ageing. Win-win!


East London Liquor Co. Rarer Rum

We love rum. We also love puns. East London Liquor Company has brought the two together with its Rarer Rum. How so? ‘Rare’ as in ‘Demerara’, its base! This Guyana-made beauty was distilled in the world’s last remaining wooden Coffey still, and was then matured in ex-bourbon barrels. Delicious indeed.

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Hasta mañana…

From whisky festivals to distillery visits, and even the odd award or two, editor Kristiane Sherry reflects on her time at Master of Malt as she gets set to depart…

From whisky festivals to distillery visits, and even the odd award or two, editor Kristiane Sherry reflects on her time at Master of Malt as she gets set to depart for pastures new.

Usually, when you sit down to start writing a piece, you know exactly what’s going to happen. You’ve usually interviewed someone brilliant, or there’s some breaking news. Or perhaps you’ve tasted something so fabulous you want to tell its story – philosophy, production, palate. This piece is more like a full stop. Today is my last day at the family home we’ve come to call MoM Towers.

It feels tired (and indeed tiring) to focus on the sadness, anxiety and frustrations of life over the last 12-14 months. But I will say that it’s been soul-affirming to go through it all with the wonderful team here. From all the features and guides to video content and Instagram Lives on social, we’ve entertained ourselves (and hopefully some of you!) through the tough months with the wonder of content, drinks storytelling, and most importantly, community. It’s that last part I’m going to miss the most.

(L-R) Kristiane Sherry, Ken Evans, Jake Mountain and Laura Carl at the Port Ellen Maltings. Safety first!

Instead, I want to focus on some of the more joyful moments over the past almost-four years. Because it’s been quite the riot! For all the Islay fans, I’d like to draw your attention to our coverage of Fèis Ìle! The Islay Festival is (was – but I am sure it will be back!) a celebration of the island’s whisky and music, that saw us undertake a whistle-stop tour of each distillery. Want something shorter with added lolz? The 2019 highlights reel pretty much sums it up!

Highlights don’t just include what we do here at Master of Malt. In the last few years, there’s been a seismic change in terms of diversity, inclusion and representation in the drinks industry. While there’s still a long way to go, and it feels like the focus has so far focused solely on binary gender, I’m cheered by the increasing sense that whisky (and indeed wider spirits) really are for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, age, or anything else. I’m delighted that our International Women’s Day coverage this year reflected this. If you’re in need of celebrating the progress we have collectively made as a sector, have a read right here! But let’s not revel too long – we’re not there yet, and we all have a part to play in changing that.

Kristiane Sherry at WhistlePig distillery

Kristiane at WhistlePig distillery

There’s not enough space (even digitally!) to celebrate all the incredible distillers, bartenders, strategists and beyond that I’ve met and been personally inspired by during my time here. And a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has taken a call, met for a drink, or hosted me – grateful doesn’t even come close. It’s dangerous to shout out individuals, but some of the greatest learning curves came on visits to Balcones, Milk & Honey, Kyrö, St George Spirits, WhistlePig, Isle of Raasay, and Cooper King. Whisky is incredible, but it’s nothing without the passion and approaches of the people behind it. 

Sticking with people, and the team here at Master of Malt… there are no words. The editorial, content and PR team – names you may know, like Henry, Adam, Jess, Sam, Jon and Mariella – are talented, witty voices that aren’t afraid to challenge and change the game. But these qualities extend deep behind the scenes, too. The incredible customer service team, the army of web developers, innovative folks across marketing, buying, merch, fulfilment and beyond – Team MoM are a truly marvellous bunch. We’ve collectively scooped a bunch of awards over the years; the two that mean most to me are Best Blog at the UK Social Media Communications Awards, and In-House Team of the Year at the Digital Growth Awards. Team MoM is a team of superstars, and I shall miss everyone terribly. 

But perhaps this is less of a full stop and more of a semicolon. In a joyful twist, I’m going to remain co-hosting the Pour & Sip twice-monthly live tastings. Not familiar? It’s a whisky subscription service, and more. It’s a proper community of whisky geeks, new and (cask?) seasoned. And we have fun. Check it out – and come and join the fun.

Until we meet again via the written word, a virtual tasting, or perhaps, one day soon, over a dram, keep sipping, folks! 

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‘The death knell for the bar is premature’

As England’s on-trade starts to open up, we chat to cocktail historian Jake Burger about how bars have changed, drinks archives, and his new book, An Anthology of 12 Classic…

As England’s on-trade starts to open up, we chat to cocktail historian Jake Burger about how bars have changed, drinks archives, and his new book, An Anthology of 12 Classic Cocktails.

Joy abounds! Today in England, drinks are back on the menu. Pubs, bars and restaurants are open again for outside service. Much rejoicing in the streets!

It’s a moment that coincides with the release of An Anthology of 12 Classic Cocktails, written by cocktail historian and Ginstitute co-founder Jake Burger, in collaboration with distributor Hi-Spirits. It’s a beautiful hardback tome filled to the brim with vibrant cocktail photography, the rich tales behind each of the drinks, and advice and anecdotes on how to best make them. It’s designed to be genuinely useful as well as a joy to read.

“I’ve been an amateur cocktail historian and writer for many years. In my spare time I’m more likely to have my head buried in an archive than to watch Love Island,” Burger says when we discuss the book over the phone. “I’ve got all this research I’m not quite sure what to do with. And when this opportunity came along I thought it would be perfect to get my own research out there.”

With traditional and modern versions of each serve (from the Old Fashioned and Negroni, right through to the Espresso Martini), An Anthology… has an obvious purpose as a guidebook. But it’s also Burger’s chance to “set the record straight” and bust some of those cocktail myths.

“The classic one that keeps popping up in loosely written histories of the drink is the one about the Manhattan being created by Churchill’s mother at a party in New York,” he laughs. “With the aid of modern research tools available these days, it was fairly easy to work out that when she was supposed to be in New York she was giving birth to Winston.”

classic cocktails

It’s time for classic cocktails like the Negroni to shine

Classic cocktails: ‘The right time’

There’s no doubt it’s been a tumultuous year for everyone, perhaps especially so for those working in hospitality. In the UK, like elsewhere, there have been long periods of closure. How does Burger think it’s changed the trade?

“I noticed after the first reopening that it seemed among the general public, a slight regression is probably the wrong word to use… in terms of their taste.” By this, he means people were getting less adventurous in what they were ordering. The upside? More classic cocktails. 

“Perhaps they’d lost that spirit of adventure. Or were more modest in spending their money and didn’t want to take a risk on something they might not like. Classics offer reassurance on what you’re going to get, and if you’re going to like it or not.” As such, “I think the time probably is right for a revisiting of the classics.”

Another major change has been in the rise of cocktail delivery and at-home consumption during lockdown. “People have got used to the idea that they can have great drinks at home. But people never came out to the bar just for great drinks, right? It’s for the atmosphere, for the sociable nature of it. But people’s habits may change, but I think the death knell for the bar is premature.”

classic cocktails

An Anthology of 12 Classic Cocktails is available now!

Classic cocktails competition

As well as the easing of England’s lockdown, the launch of An Anthology of 12 Classic Cocktails is also in tandem with Hi-Spirits announcing a new UK-wide cocktail competition. The Classic Cocktail Masters UK will see bartenders compete with two interpretations of classic serves, and will triumph based on the look and taste of their drinks, plus their classic cocktail knowledge. After eight regional finals, the final eight (if restrictions allow) will be jetted off to Italy to visit the Branca distillery in Milan and tour the Italian Lakes. If you’re a bartender reading this and you want in (quite frankly, why wouldn’t you?), chat to your Hi-Spirits contact for more. 

“None of us have a crystal ball and we’re not quite sure what will happen,” Burger continues as conversation turns to 12 April. I can almost taste the Old Fashioned. Things have changed. For him, with the uncertainty, there’s been a lot of cutting back on perishables, reducing the number of open bottles on the back bar, and just being a little bit more sustainable. But there’s a lot of optimism. “We’re fairly certain people are itching to go out – that when we reopen [the outside area] on the 12th, people will quite quickly be back at it.” See you there!

An Anthology of 12 Classic Cocktails by Jake Burger is available as a digital book or to as an audio book on Anchor and Spotify.

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MoM Loves: Slane Irish Whiskey

Ahead of St Patrick’s Day (17 March, in case you needed a reminder), we catch up with Alex Conyngham, co-founder of the Slane Irish Whiskey brand and distillery, and chat…

Ahead of St Patrick’s Day (17 March, in case you needed a reminder), we catch up with Alex Conyngham, co-founder of the Slane Irish Whiskey brand and distillery, and chat through triple cask blending, biodiversity, and how his family history is immersed in music. 

Paid partnership

What’s the thing you miss most about ‘the before times’? It’s a discussion we often have among ourselves at MoM Towers. If you’re anything like us, there will be four common themes: hugs with friends and family, tasting delicious new things in awesome bars, visiting distilleries, and music. Turns out a trip to Slane (and some of you have won just that!) could well tick off all four in one go. 

Alex Conyngham from Slane Irish Whiskey

Alex Conyngham from Slane Irish Whiskey

“Like music, whiskey brings a lot of people together,” says Alex Conyngham, one of the founders of Slane Irish Whiskey, when we speak – like everyone else right now – over a video call. And he should know. His own personal backstory is steeped in both. He’s calling from the top floor of Slane Castle (yes, it’s an actual castle) where his family have lived since the 1700s. The whiskey was a more recent addition (things kicked off in 2009, and more on that shortly), but it was rock’n’roll that the landmark became most associated with.

“It started with the rock concerts in 1981,” he recalls, although he would have been a child when over 30,000 people first gathered in the castle grounds. “It was The Troubles at the time, and we wanted everyone to forget about it for a day and come together through music.” Thin Lizzy and U2 were the first to headline; the event proved so popular it was repeated annually up until 1987 and more followed. Everyone from The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Queen and David Bowie, through to Oasis, Robbie Williams, Kelis, PJ Harvey, Madonna, The Foo Fighters and Eminem have graced the stage. It’s a heady legacy. Why bother with whiskey at all?

Slane: from music to whiskey

“In 2009, music was under threat,” Conyngham explains, citing the advent of downloads and significant shifts in how music was financed. The future suddenly didn’t look so glossy, and other revenue streams had to be sought. 

“We are surrounded by all the natural materials we need to make whiskey,” he continues, citing the barley fields capable of producing 2,000 litres a year, and the River Boyne water source. “It was my grandfather who introduced me to drinking it – he was very into Irish whiskey and I have great memories of drinking it with him.” He’s also spent time working in Australia as a brand ambassador for Jameson. Like a well-balanced blend, all the component parts came together swimmingly. The family initially released sourced whiskey under the Slane Castle brand, and swiftly caught the attention of Jack Daniel’s and Woodford Reserve parent company Brown-Forman. In 2015, it partnered with the Conyngham family, which enabled it to set up its own distillery within the castle in 2018. The spirit today is a triple-cask expression, with liquid from the distillery gradually being phased into the blend. The recipe, in Conyngham’s words, “builds complexity and character”. 

Slane Castle

Slane Castle!

The anatomy of Slane Irish Whiskey

First of all you’ve got whiskey from virgin American oak, heavily toasted and made specifically for Slane, to its own exacting specifications, at the Brown-Forman Cooperage. Then there’s the ex-Jack Daniel’s barrel liquid, and finally there’s whiskey matured in ex-Oloroso sherry butts. “That’s kind of influenced by my granddad, because he loved his ex-sherry Irish whiskeys,” Conyngham details. “The balance between them as we blend back together is where Slane lands,” he says. “It’s about Irish whiskey amplified.”

Earlier in our conversation, Conyngham mentioned the barley fields in the castle grounds. Is there the ambition to become a grain-to-glass operation? “The objective is to source all our barley from our land, but we’re not there yet,” he confirms. It’s part of a bigger sustainability focus. Whiskey-making is notoriously bad for the environment. “It’s about making change where we can,” he notes, which includes planting break crops between harvests to replenish the nitrogen in the ground (“spring barley is quite greedy”), introducing bird cover to promote biodiversity, and even planting 14,000 trees (“they might one day make casks for us”). Other projects include sourcing an anaerobic digester, which, once commissioned, will reduce the distillery’s carbon footprint by as much as 30%. Then there’s the installation of a salmon ladder. “We restored a 19th century mill pond, which has become inaccessible to spawning salmon,” he says. “We know it’s worked because we’ve seen them there.”

Slane Irish Whiskey in a dimly-lit bar

Slane Irish Whiskey, great on the rocks

Slane celebrations

It sounds like it’s been all go at the castle, despite this prolonged pause we’ve all experienced as a result of the pandemic. What’s next on the agenda, especially with 2021 marking the 40th anniversary of the first Slane Castle concert? 

“We can’t celebrate the 40th with a big, live gig, but we are working on a potential whiskey release,” he says, without revealing any more details. But he’s also looking to “pull off” something music-focused virtually, and open a walking trail in the grounds. More immediately though, there’s a small matter of St Patrick’s Day, even if it is a much quieter affair than usual. 

“We actually have a direct association with St Patrick.” He tells the story of how Patrick challenged the Irish high king’s authority by starting a fire on the Hill of Slane, which you can see from the castle grounds. “For us, Patrick was standing up for what he believed in, and changed things.” It’s a philosophy to think about while enjoying a whiskey on 17 March. 

If you have any questions, we will be talking to Alex Conyngham on Instagram Live on Wednesday 17 March at 6.30pm (GMT). 

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MoM Loves: The Botanist

For The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, there really is no place like home. We chat with brand ambassador Abi Clephane about foraging, second-hand stills, and cocktail ideas for Mother’s Day….

For The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, there really is no place like home. We chat with brand ambassador Abi Clephane about foraging, second-hand stills, and cocktail ideas for Mother’s Day.

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The crystal-clear water in front of Bruichladdich Distillery is the perfect place to skim stones. Visit on a calm day and you can make the smooth slate-like shingle from the little beach defy physics and bounce off into the blue. If the sun’s shining, you can take a stroll up the road past the distillery, past its barley crop experiments and look back at the water, gleaming teal and azure in the light. This is Islay, and this is the home of The Botanist, a gin with the island at its heart. 

Making The Botanist inside Bruichladdich Distillery

Making The Botanist inside Bruichladdich Distillery

Gin from a whisky distillery

“Jim wanted to reflect the flavour of the island and the terroir,” says The Botanist brand ambassador Abi Clephane when we met via video call. She’s referring to Jim McEwan, the whisky luminary who was the master distiller at Bruichladdich from when it was brought back to life again in 2000 up until 2015. The distillery had spent decades changing ownership, and was eventually closed back in 1994. Once spirit was flowing from the whisky stills, he did something which at the time was quite radical: he decided to make a gin.

Step in Dr. Richard and Mavis Gulliver, the husband and wife duo who helped create the gin’s recipe. He was a plant scientist; she was a headmistress and children’s book author. Together they knew the island like the back of their hands. The pair came up with the 22-botanical recipe that gives The Botanist its signature savoury, earthy character. In addition to the more ‘conventional’ gin botanicals (The Botanist is a London dry style, so there’s a classic juniper-forward vibe), you’ve also got the likes of chamomile, creeping thistle, elder, gorse, and meadowsweet. Each one was selected not only for its flavour, but because it could be sustainably foraged each season, leaving no detrimental impact on the island (on sustainability: Bruichladdich Distillery secured B-Corp status in May 2020, a testament to its commitment in this area). The Gullivers have retired now, but their passion for both plants and Islay has set The Botanist in good stead; today is the main forager James Donaldson and he continues sourcing with the same values expertise. 

Some lovely foraged cocktails made with The Botanist gin

Some lovely foraged cocktails made with The Botanist gin

The foraging philosophy

“Foraging is at the heart of everything we do,” Clephane explained. “Even the still we use sort of came from that.”

Anyone who has visited Bruichladdich and taken a distillery tour will likely recall the still used for The Botanist. And it has a fascinating story of its own. It was found at the now-demolished Inverleven distillery which stood in the Scottish Lowlands until the early 1990s. It was part of the much bigger Dumbarton grain distillery, but itself was never used. It’s a really quirky shape, angular and somehow part cuboid. It’s a Lomond still, the only other of its type in use is up at Scapa Distillery on Orkney. Affectionately known as Ugly Betty, the still was modified with the addition of a carterhead, or a sort of botanical basket. “I call her ‘Frankenstill,” Clephane added with a chuckle. 

There are two parts to The Botanist production. First, there’s a maceration of the more traditional gin botanicals in neutral grain spirit. The rest, the island-sourced plants, are placed in the carterhead for a vapour infusion during the distillation process. The spirit comes off at 82% ABV, before being reduced to 42% ABV bottling strength using local spring water. “It’s crystal clear,” Clephane describes, reminiscent of the water in front of the distillery. This is different from the water used in Bruichladdich’s whisky, which comes from a nearby dam. It’s fascinating how different water sources impact flavour, but that’s a discussion for another time. 

Abi Clephane, brand ambassador for The Botanist

The Botanist cocktails

I first tasted The Botanist on Islay. I was in a little pub in Port Ellen, the other side of the island from Bruichladdich. This time it was cold and grey, there was a sharp breeze that blew in bands of rain from the Atlantic. It was not a day for skimming stones. 

Instead of a pint, I opted for an ‘Islay G&T’, and it was made with The Botanist. It was crisp, refreshing, and with its green, herbal notes, a welcome respite from some of the sweeter gins that were just coming onto the market. This must have been six years ago, and it’s become a firm personal favourite. 

“We don’t have a signature serve; we just encourage people to do what they want,” Clephane says, when I ask her about recommended cocktail recipes. And it’s true: there’s no need to get fussy with this gin. But if you are feeling inspired (and with Mother’s Day coming up, why not get a little bit decadent for yourself or your mum), here are some of her ideas.

Botanist Grapefruit & Thyme G&T.

Foraged Botanist & Tonic

Foraged B&T

50ml The Botanist

Add ingredients to a ice-filled Highball glass. Stir and garnish with a piece of grapefruit and sprig of thyme.

The Botanist Bees’ Knees

50ml The Botanist
25ml lemon juice
15ml honey 

Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass

Elderflower Collins

50ml The Botanist
20ml lemon
15ml elderflower cordial
Soda top 

Build in an ice-filled highball, give a good mix and then top with soda. Garnish with lemon zest

Making a Wild Gibson Martini with the Botanist Gin

Making a Wild Gibson Martini

Wild Gibson Martini

75ml The Botanist
10ml Fino sherry
Homemade seasonal pickled onions (or any pickles)

Stir over ice and strain into and frozen/chilled coupe

Elder Bramble

50ml The Botanist
25ml lemon
15ml honey
Drizzle Aelder liqueur

Shake the gin, lemon juice and honey with ice in a shaker, double-strain into a tumbler filled with crushed ice. Drizzle Aelder liqueur on the top and garnish with a bramble that you have foraged yourself.


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IWD 2021 interview: Lisa Roper Wicker, head distiller at Widow Jane

Career discussions often focus on those just starting out. But what if you want to get into whisky (or whiskey!) a bit later on? Lisa Roper Wicker, Widow Jane president…

Career discussions often focus on those just starting out. But what if you want to get into whisky (or whiskey!) a bit later on? Lisa Roper Wicker, Widow Jane president and head distiller tells us her story.

On a recent video call a friend was lamenting not enjoying her job. “It’s too late for me!” she cried. “Why didn’t I realise what I wanted to do in my twenties?” Another chimed in: “We see all these 30 Under 30 lists. I want the stories of people who found their calling later in their career.” It was serendipity most glorious when the following week, I found myself chatting with Lisa Roper Wicker, president and head distiller at Widow Jane Distillery

Her screen is set up in the distillery itself, a site in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Stroll just a few moments from the door and you’ll be at the waterfront, looking across to the Statue of Liberty. The brand has small-batch blending at its heart (think five barrels at a time), and, now in its ninth year, combines sourced bourbon and rye with its own liquid. There’s a focus on heirloom grains, too, and its unusual proofing water which comes from a limestone mine in Rosendale, Upstate New York. As we talk, there are the sounds of production in the background and I can just about glimpse some barrels. It’s almost like being back in a distillery; all that’s needed is the aroma of production to permeate through the screen. 

The Widow Jane Distillery in Brooklyn

The Widow Jane Distillery in Brooklyn

A varied career

“When I was growing up, I never knew what I wanted to do,” she opens. Initial focuses included pursuing careers in journalism, then law. “If someone told me I would have been a whiskey distiller in the second part of my life, I never would have believed them.”

Wicker spent a number of years moving around the country with her husband and young family before setting up a costume design enterprise. Her first foray into drinks was working as a farm hand during the harvest at a vineyard. She quickly fell in love with the production side, and embarked on eight years of winemaking study.

“There weren’t any sacrifices but there were certainly trade-offs,” she says, when I ask about juggling work, study and family. “It’s not a sacrifice if you love it.”

Wicker then moved to Kentucky to build a winery, and it was there that distilling caught her eye. She learned to distil at Limestone Branch, before joining Starlight Distillery, and then launched a consulting business, Saints & Monsters. An early client was Samson & Surrey, which owns FEW Spirits and Brenne among others, plus Widow Jane. She held the position as director of distilling across the entire portfolio, before honing in on the Brooklyn distillery with its corn growing, distilling and blending programme two years ago.  “I’m so grateful that I didn’t have it overlap too much with raising my kids, because it really has been an obsession!” she laughs.

Lisa Roper Wicker from Widow Jane

Lisa Roper Wicker from Widow Jane blending at the distillery

Whiskey career pathways

“I’m not unusual coming to it a little bit later in life,” she says. “There’s not a lot of us, but it’s also not unusual.” She says when talking to women in their twenties and thirties, it’s about stressing the myriad pathways available to them. “Whatever you study, whether it’s marketing or HR or chemistry or food science, culinary skills, there’s a pathway to whiskey through all of it.” Plus, there’s the career change option: “I get that from young women a lot. Like, oh my gosh, I get to change my mind?” The answer is yes!

To highlight the space women can move into at very senior levels, she recalls a panel she sat on a couple of years back. “I was with Pam Heilmann, she was just retiring as the master distiller for Michter’s, and with Joyce Nethery of Jeptha Creed. It was so interesting how many jobs we’d all had before we got into whiskey.” All in the same age group, they’d previously held roles like school teachers, designers, engineers. With eight children between them, they’d also managed to “patch together” roles to ensure they had the flexibility needed to balance family. 

Wicker is also keen to shout out women who demonstrate the significant progression opportunities in the industry. “Like Jane Bowie at Maker’s Mark,” she says. “For years, she was in the UK as the brand advocate. She came back to Kentucky, and went back to work within the distillery. Now she’s the director of maturation for Maker’s Mark.” Responsibilities include the Maker’s Mark 46 programme. “It’s a pretty amazing progression, and we see this a lot in whiskey.”

Casks at Widow Jane Distillery

Barrels are funny things, you never know what you’re going to get

For the love of whiskey blending

Right now whisky is a dynamic sector with lots going on. “I love that it’s not stagnant. I love that there’s so much opportunity.” The increasingly positive standings of both blending and sourcing liquid are particular sources of excitement for her. “I think it’s because whiskey used to be vatted and not necessarily blended. They were just ‘let’s take all these barrels and dump them together’. Blended whiskey got a very bad reputation.” Thankfully times have changed. “Then it was just about elevating really good whiskey!” Sourcing too is starting to be better understood. “Now you can get the good barrels and it means you’re high up on the list and working with the best brokers and the best whiskey houses.” She explains. “I love seeing blending coming into its own.” 

Wicker’s responsibilities at Widow Jane are wide-ranging. She oversees the heirloom corn project (for two years, the largest of its kind in the whole of the US), distilling itself, barrel sourcing (including likes of maple casks), and blending. All while splitting her time between Brooklyn and her home in Bardstown, Kentucky. 

“The barrel game is a game!” She laughs as the blending conversation picks up again. Each one will behave differently. She sources both fully- and part-matured stock, and looking after them can be tricky. “The largest lot I purchased was several years ago and it wasn’t drinking as old as an age statement,” she recalls. “We moved those barrels and now they have taken off and are where they need to be. But it was crazy.”

There’s one delight that comes from whiskey making that will never change, and that’s seeing her creations on-shelf in a store. “I’ll never get over the thrill of that. You don’t tell people who you are or what you do. You just go in and you pat your bottles and buy one.” Even better if there’s product from previous ventures there, too.

Widow Jane 10 year old whiskey

Widow Jane 10 year old whiskey

An optimistic future for women in whiskey

As we say our goodbyes, I recall an earlier part of the conversation where I asked Wicker about what needs to change for more women and underrepresented groups to be aware of the opportunities whiskey can offer. “I think getting more and more women in front of tastings where they realise I am somebody’s grandmother and I love what I do and I’m passionate about it and I won’t ever retire. My mentor, he’s 75 and he still picks and chooses his projects, right? More than anything it’s about setting the example that the business is flexible, it’s definitely something that someone can pursue as a career and stay in it forever.”

There can be a sense that we’ve somehow ‘missed the boat’ if we’ve not kicked off our dream careers by 25. If you’re a woman, that pressure could be compounded by a desire to start a family. In male-dominated industries, this can feel like even more of a weight. Wicker is proof that it’s not only possible to switch it up, but you can excel too. This evening, I’m raising a glass of Widow Jane to Lisa Roper Wicker, the women like her, and all the women who could be about to join our wonderful whiskey industry.

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IWD 2021 interview: Tarita Mullings, associate director, The Story

PRs are perhaps the unsung heroes of the drinks industry. We delve into all things comms with The Story associate director Tarita Mullings, and talk career paths, meaningful diversity, the…

PRs are perhaps the unsung heroes of the drinks industry. We delve into all things comms with The Story associate director Tarita Mullings, and talk career paths, meaningful diversity, the impact of Covid, and quite simply, a love of whisky

If you want to write a story about a drinks brand, or fact check something, or source a bottle shot, or get the details of a new launch, you need to reach out to a PR. PRs are like magicians. They are brand ambassadors, connectors, relationship builders, strategists, content creators, events planners, trend forecasters, social scientists… it’s a multifaceted role that rarely makes the headlines itself. When it does, PR can be portrayed as somehow fluffy or inconsequential. “If I was down to the last dollar of my marketing budget I’d spend it on PR,” Bill Gates once uttered. Brands rely on PRs to be their counsel and their mouthpiece. Journalists rely on PRs to get the essence of a story. And a drinks PR at the very top of her game is Tarita Mullings. 

“PR can be a great career choice,” she opens as we catch up over a cup of tea and a video link (of course. It’s March 2021). She’s relaying her journey which kicked off in tech back in 2006, before she weaved her way through more general consumer-facing roles. She eventually landed in food and drink, where “something just clicked”. She’s worked at H&K Strategies and Publicasity, and has spent the last five years at The Story, where she’s now associate director and sits on the board. Clients include Diageo (which owns Johnnie Walker, Talisker and Lagavulin, among others) and Sipsmith, along with an exciting roster of food brands and hospitality players. 

Telling whisky stories

“Being a specialist is just amazing. You feel so much more confident, untouchable even,” Mullings says. It’s manifested itself in an obsession for flavour, for provenance for creativity. And that’s a compelling combination when it comes to telling whisky stories.

“[Whisky] really is never boring,” she says. “When you think about the fact that this product, from a Scotch point of view, is just three ingredients, how do we have so many different expressions? So many different brands? There’s the ability to create something completely new from these three things, literally blows my mind every day.” 

Tarita Mullings with the team at Glenkinchie Distillery

She loves tapping into the technical aspect and sharing that knowledge too – something that then becomes infectious when shared with the journalist’s audience. “When you talk to the blenders and know the detail and how intricate their role is in understanding flavour, it’s just fantastic. I just love the creativity that you see.”

The type of employer is critical in PR, too. “As a small agency, we do have the ability to consult across brands,” Mullings says. It’s been valuable, giving her exposure to different work areas and clients. Her board responsibilities include nurturing and developing the team. Alongside food, drink, and flavour, a laser focus for her is intentionally building an environment that allows everyone to thrive. Women might make up a significant proportion of PR professionals, but how many of them are in senior roles, and how many of them are Black?

Meaningful inclusion in PR

“When I was thinking about it, the face of PR hasn’t really changed,” Mullings says, looking back over her career. Yes, while working in PR in tech there were a few more men, but it’s predominantly a sector dominated by white, middle class women. It’s a representation piece Mullings wants to challenge, in whisky and beyond. “For me it’s about uncovering the roles that exist in this space, and shining a light on them. PR can be a great career choice.”

Mullings explains that when it comes to early career decisions, what A-Levels to take, or what to study at university, Afro-Caribbean parents prefer their children to prioritise more traditional routes. “Creatives don’t really exist. Your parents are a bit like ‘what’s that?’. And it doesn’t ever seem like something that’s accessible to you.” The wealth of roles within PR just aren’t highlighted, neither are the depth of expertise you can gain, the incredible experiences you can have, or the progression opportunities within. There’s a lot of joy in a PR career, but if you’re Black, it can simply be inaccessible. And that’s where the Black Comms Network comes in, where she is head of brand and partnerships.

“It’s really about supporting people to feel included,” she explains. “How can we bring more people into these spaces?” The network started life as a WhatsApp group following the murder of George Floyd in the US last year. “We said something has got to change, and we’ve got to take control of the narrative.”

Mullings at Talisker Distillery

The network’s mission includes increasing the seniority of Black PR and comms professionals while providing development opportunities, career coaching and networking. “What we found is that people work in the industry, get to account manager level, and then drop out.” It’s a combination of bias, a lack of support, and ultimately feeling alone. “How do we make sure the environment is inclusive so people want to stay?” She describes feeling like a “unicorn”, looking round a room and realising you’re the only person who looks like you. It’s an ongoing challenge, and an urgent one. Both in whisky and PR.  

A love of the PR craft

One of the reasons Mullings is so passionate about opening up the door to opportunities in PR is fundamentally because she loves her craft. Press trips are “definitely one of the highlights”, whether that’s visiting Scotch distilleries or hosting bartender competitions in the likes of Morocco. But it runs deeper than that.

“We want to uncover the next generation of whisky drinkers, and that’s what makes me passionate about doing my job,” she enthuses. It’s about making sure everyone knows whisky is for them. “We know we need to spend time reaching new communities and finding new voices.” She adores working with influencers, and not just established whisky geeks. People who are starting on their own whisky journey have a role to play, too. 

Adapting PR to the new normal

The pandemic has affected everyone’s way of working in the last 12 months. But for PR professionals, where relationship building, events, launches and press trips are such an integral part of life, it’s forced a seismic change. But Mullings is adamant it isn’t all bad. “It’s created for us new ways to talk to consumers. We really weren’t making the most of Zoom.” It’s accelerated the importance of influencers, too. With experiential on pause, she mentions the likes of Tik-Tok. “What other new channels can we identify?” She’s energised and enthused. At this stage of the pandemic, we can all do with that perspective. 

But there is the other side, too. “We desperately want to get people out there, we desperately want to get people back into bars and restaurants,” she says, highlighting the role drinks PRs especially can play in helping the hospitality sector get back on its feet. But it comes with a caveat. “There’s also the need for sensitivity for journalists and colleagues. Not everyone is going to want to get back out there at the same pace,” she acknowledges, stressing it’s ok for people not to want to rush back to bars. She predicts a “hybrid approach” for PR events for the rest of the year. 

Executing The Singleton Experience in China with Maureen Robinson

And what does she hope for personally? “I want to go back to Scotland! I want to get back to doing what we were doing, but with a twist. Because there are learnings we can take from Covid.” 

She taps into that deeper purpose, too: “I’m excited about being the change we all want to see in the world.” There’s a challenge to others around representation, too. “I want to see that brands and businesses are addressing the lack of diversity we see in the industry and taking it seriously. And we need to address the slow progress that’s been made and turn our attention into action.”

Associate director, Black Comms Network co-founder, whisky lover, changemaker. Mullings noted earlier in our interview that “there’s lots of power in PR!”. There’s a lot of power in her, too. 

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Master of Malt tastes: Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series

This week we’re revelling in a gloriously aged single malt from an Islay exemplar. Say hello to Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series! It’s a truth universally acknowledged that…

This week we’re revelling in a gloriously aged single malt from an Islay exemplar. Say hello to Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series!

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the mail is a highlight of any given lockdown day. Last week, a truly intriguing parcel arrived. I’d put my name down for a Bowmore Twitter Tasting (keep your eyes peeled this Thursday evening!), but what I held in my hands was a whole host of deliciousness from the Islay distillery all bundled up in one box. One jewel that especially stood out? Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series.

The biggest challenge was keeping the news, the sample and its tastiness quiet until today. And then saving some of the liquid for Thursday’s tasting. Damn you, embargo! TL;DR: this whisky is gorgeous, and I can’t quite believe I get to taste it.

Bowmore ditillery from the air

The beautiful Bowmore Distillery

After all this promise and hyperbole, what actually is it? Bowmore is one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries with a recorded heritage stretching back to 1779. And it’s become something of an Islay icon; its signature balance of tropical fruit, approachable smoke, and a coastal influence has won it fans all over the world. The team at the distillery often talk about how its Warehouse No.1, which sits right against the glimmering expanse of sea known as Loch Indaal, is one of the longest standing maturation warehouses. With the distillery’s storied history such a key theme, it makes sense to group together a range of much older expressions under one banner, and here we have a new expression in the Timeless Series. 

Pleasingly, we get quite a lot of detail about this bottling. The single malt comprises liquid that spent 15 years in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (although at this point we don’t know exactly what type of sherry). Then it was transferred into first-fill Oloroso butts for the remaining 12 years – and this shines through via the gorgeous heap of dried fruit and almond on the nose. It’s then been bottled at cask strength – here that means 52.7% ABV. There are 3,000 bottles available globally, and we’ve got some here at MoM Towers! (Though it may have sold out by the time you read this. In which case, sorry!) At £1,500 a bottle it’s not cheap, but it really is something wonderful. (There’s also a 31yo travel retail exclusive, but you’ll have to keep an eye on Twitter on Thursday evening for more on that!).

The longer you age a whisky, the trickier it can be to achieve that balance between spirit and cask. As Ron Welsh, Bowmore’s master blender puts it: “With Bowmore Timeless Series, the key is the careful selection of the right casks, at the right time.  This enables us to determine when the spirit has reached its peak, or if it should be left longer to develop its character further. This careful balance is vital to ensuring we allow the character of our whiskies to be optimised and can, therefore, promise exceptional flavour delivery.”

Bowmore’s also teamed up with French film director and artist Thomas Vanz to create an audiovisual digital immersion to support the launch of Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series. You can check it out here at bowmore-experience.com!

Tasting Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series

Bowmore 27 Timeless Series and its fancy box

Bowmore 27 Timeless Series and its fancy box

Crucial stuff now: what does it actually taste like? Here are my thoughts:

Appearance: Deep amber 

Nose: Opens with oodles of raisins, sultanas and prunes all wrapped up in marzipan. Then comes the gentle beach bonfire smoke, balanced out with cinnamon and toffee apple vibes. There’s a reminder of the traditional Bowmore tropical fruit too, a suggestion of mango and papaya. Then the smoke gets a smidge more medicinal with time. 

Palate: Hugely mouth-filling, pretty viscous, gently warming. The dried fruit cake elements continue, and they’re joined by just-crushed coffee bean, honey, and cigar smoke elements. Old leather, orange oil, proper vanilla pod, and black cherry come through, too.

Finish: It’s all about that cigar-bonfire hybrid smoke, cracked black pepper, and is reminiscent of seaweed. It’s long and just keeps developing on the palate. 

Overall: Gloriously complex and like smoking the most decadent cigar on a seriously sumptuous sofa in a library filled with dusty books. 

And if that’s not enough, it comes in a really rather fancy sand timer-shaped box. Complete with an actual sand timer. It’s set for three minutes, which is apparently how long you should savour the nose for. I say sit with it for as long as you can. It’s really rather lovely, and getting to taste it has been an enormous luxury, and a true highlight in these monotonous lockdown times. 

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