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Master of Malt Blog

Category: Features

Five minutes with… the Schofield brothers

Internationally-renowned bartenders Joe and Daniel Schofield have amassed more than 25 years’ experience tending the world’s best bars, including American Bar at The Savoy Hotel in London, Singapore’s Tippling Club,…

Internationally-renowned bartenders Joe and Daniel Schofield have amassed more than 25 years’ experience tending the world’s best bars, including American Bar at The Savoy Hotel in London, Singapore’s Tippling Club, and Little Red Door in Paris. Now, with the ink still drying on their first cocktail book, the brothers are gearing up to open a place of their own in their hometown of Manchester. We took five with the duo…

Bartending brothers Joe and Daniel Schofield have spent more than a quarter of a century working in some of the world’s top cocktail venues, and they have the industry accolades and acclaim to show for it. In 2018 alone, Joe was recognised as International Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards and Bartenders’ Bartender at The World’s 50 Best Bars. At the very same awards ceremonies, with Daniel as assistant bar manager, London’s Coupette scooped Best New International Bar at the former, and Best New Opening at the latter.

Since then, the Schofield’s have been busier than ever, launching their eponymous Schofield’s Dry Vermouth in collaboration with Asterley Bros – which sees 28 English botanicals blended into a British Bacchus, Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc base – traversing the globe doing guest shifts in bars, and speaking at seminars and masterclasses. Most recently, they released Schofield’s Fine and Classic Cocktails: Celebrated Libations & Other Fancy Drinks, in which you’ll find out why you should ‘throw’ Bellinis, discover the perfect Spritz ratios, and update your classics repertoire using subtle tweaks and adjustments favoured by high-end bartenders.

The Schofield brothers, outstanding in their field

Now, the brothers have set their sights on what could quite possibly be their greatest challenge yet: the launch of Schofield’s Bar in their hometown of Manchester later this year. As we await news of the grand opening with baited breath, we took five with Joe and Daniel to find out more about the unique journey that brought them here. They were even kind enough to share a cocktail recipe (a Scotch libation called the William Wallace) for us to try out at home – scroll to the bottom for the recipe.

Master of Malt: Thanks for chatting with us, guys! As people who are constantly travelling for work, how has this year been from your perspective? 

Daniel: This is undeniably an incredibly tough time for our whole industry globally, but as with all situations like this, we always try and focus on the positives. We’ve both spent the last five to six months working on all the admin and logistical aspects ahead of our bar opening – time that we wouldn’t have had normally due to the travel. From a personal perspective, it’s actually been quite nice to spend so much time in our home city after living away for so many years! Even though we’ve been based here for the past two years, we have spent so much of that travelling.

MoM: You’ve amassed years of experience working in some of the best bars in the world. Which of your past cocktails – or menus – do you look back most fondly on, and why? 

Joe: For me, I have a couple of moments that really stand out. Placing a cocktail on the menu at The American Bar at The Savoy was very special to me. As were the Sensorium menus I created with chef Ryan [Clift] at Tippling Club in Singapore. We created two menus, the first was about triggering memory with aroma, and this was followed by a completely edible menu in the form of gummy bears. Each bear took on the main flavours of the cocktail and the dream or desire it represented.

The brothers out standing in the street

MoM: What would you say are your biggest creative influences?

Joe: Inspiration can be found anywhere! I love looking to different industries for inspiration. Food is a very obvious choice. Whenever I’m overseas, I love eating local street food and flavours.

MoM: Tell us more about the book. How would you describe it to someone who’s never read it?

Joe: Daniel and I have always loved classic cocktails and we wanted to create a book that a bartender and a home enthusiast could pick up and have the tools they need to make great drinks at home. Explaining why we do things, how we do things and featuring recipes from our collective 25 years in the industry.

MoM: Having worked independently in different venues across the globe for much of your careers, what’s it like when you get to work behind the bar together?

Daniel: Most of the different bars we have worked in have all had similar core values to hospitality, and we cut our teeth in several of the same bars, so we have the same attitude to hospitality. We both have slightly different strengths which lend themselves to different aspects of the operations, which we feel is going to be beneficial for the bar opening.

MoM: You’ve also worked with some key figures in the industry. What’s the best bartending advice you’ve ever been given? 

Daniel: We’ve both been very lucky to work with some hugely inspirational people in our industry, and I believe that we’ve definitely learnt something from every single person we’ve worked with. I think the most important thing to always remember is that good work ethic, a positive attitude, and being nice to people will get you very far in this industry.

MoM: Aside from being your hometown, are there any other reasons you chose to open a bar in Manchester?

Daniel: Not many people know this, but Manchester is currently the quickest-growing city in Europe, the rate that the city is expanding and developing is unlike anything I have seen before. There are many great operators moving here from other major cities in the UK such as Edinburgh or London, which makes us incredibly excited. The drinks scene is rapidly developing too, there are many great bars here and we both believe that Northerners have a natural sense of hospitality. For personal reasons, it’s great to be so close to our family. After so many years of living away, it’s good to make up for some lost time with them!

MoM: We’ve seen immense innovation in cocktail culture over recent years – are there any bars or bartenders that you feel have really pushed the scene forward, or whose work you admire?

Daniel: What Max and Noel Venning and the team at Three Sheets [in east London] are doing – and have been doing since they opened – has influenced a huge shift in the industry towards simplicity in drinks. I really respect that they make some of the best drinks in London, yet they have a fun, relaxed atmosphere. I have the utmost respect for the team at Satan’s Whiskers [in east London], there aren’t many bars that I go to and want to try every single drink on the menu.Now, here’s that cocktail from the book:

William Wallace 

50ml Blended Scotch (we love Hankey Bannister)
10ml Asterley Bros. Estate Vermouth (or Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino, if you can’t get hold of it)
10ml Gonzalez-Byass Pedro Ximenez Sherry
3 Dashes Orange Bitters

Method:

Stir all ingredients together with ice. Strain and pour into a frozen coupette, and garnish with an orange twist.

 

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Getting a taste of vodka’s past with Belvedere Heritage 176

What’s the deal with Belvedere’s new and intriguing rye-based expression? We get the low-down and learn all about history of rye in spirits, how Scotch whisky was an inspiration to Polish…

What’s the deal with Belvedere’s new and intriguing rye-based expression? We get the low-down and learn all about history of rye in spirits, how Scotch whisky was an inspiration to Polish distillers and why the brand is looking to the past to create the flavours of the future.

On Friday we attended another cyber-tasting, this time with Belvedere’s brand ambassadors Mike Foster and Mark Tracey for the launch of Heritage 176. The new kid in the town is a “spirit drink” (we’ll explain in a bit) which was inspired by Polish distilling traditions and uses centuries-old rye malting techniques to showcase the taste of the distinctive grain and recreate a historical taste.

I know what you’re thinking. Taste? Vodka? Doesn’t it all taste the same? Well, as we’ve covered before, this is a recent development. Historically, vodka was all about taste and flavour, and those days are coming back. “There’s a renewed interest and energy in the category. When Belvedere first launched vodka was in a very different place to where it is now. Thankfully, the days of these candied, toffee, whipped cream or peanut butter vodkas are gone,” says Foster. “The direction of travel is towards credible vodka innovation. It’s more about being authentic. For spirits that means stories of origin and inspiration”.

Foster dedicates a portion of his presentation to Belvedere’s inspiration, the history of distillation and malting in Poland. Belvedere has spent much of the last decade investing in research to better understand the core ingredient, from its role in Polish culture to its origins, covering traditional production methods and examining the places where it’s grown. We learned about perevera, a strong alcoholic drink made by heating mead together with beer which was consumed across eastern Europe from the middle of the 14th century and how the culture developed from there into widespread distillation and innovation. Did you know the first written record of vodka is from 1405 and is written in Polish?

Belvedere Heritage 176

Historical malting techniques were used to create Heritage 176

“The Poles take their alcohol very seriously; it’s part of everyday life. Given that it was too cold to produce grapes, malt and rye fueled the industrious Poles to develop their own domestic distilling industry on an unprecedented scale. By 1850, the city of Poznan alone had almost 500 distilleries”, Foster explained. This research into Poland’s malting past uncovered some surprising facts. Archival records from the agricultural society in Warsaw revealed Scotland was seen as a source of farming knowledge. Scottish farmers even migrated to Poland, bringing with them an understanding of distillation and malting practices, and many set up their own agricultural distilleries. “From our research, we found that a distilling process more associated with Scotch whisky and beer making was once at the heart of Polish vodka tradition, and that is malting.”

However, with the 20th century came modernisation, the ability to scale up production and with that, the use of malted grain in vodka production began to be phased out. The focus became the neutrality vodka is associated with now. It’s this development Belvedere challenges, which makes sense given it creates vodka solely from good ol’ Polska rye and purified water, which is drawn from a natural well on the grounds of the distillery. No additives or sugars here. Its Single Estate Series demonstrates this outlook, a range created using rye grown on a single estate to show off the terroir and quality of the grain. As does Heritage 176, the brand’s latest innovative malted rye expression. 

Heritage 176 was created from a blend of just 2% malted rye spirit with 98% of Belvedere Pure. Although 2% does not seem like much, it makes a huge difference (the upcoming tasting note will reveal more). “We found the formula to reveal the characteristics that would have been present in historical Polish vodka, but sadly became lost with time thanks to a desire for cheaper and faster spirit,” Foster explains. “We all know that malt is not new news. Distillers, brewers, bakers and milkshake makers have been talking about its ability to give character for years. But our ancient natural process made using only rye, water and heat is not very well understood”. 

Belvedere Heritage 176

Rye is the key ingredient in Belvedere booze and naturally, the brand is pretty passionate about it

Thankfully, Foster was happy to explain the malting rye techniques Belvedere employed, along with its partners in crime at Viking Malt (which has six malt houses across the world, including two in Poland) to create Heritage 176. “Rye is a very challenging grain to malt, it requires a great level of knowledge and expertise. The malt house we worked with was specifically set up to produce special malts with rye for craft producers such as ourselves,” says Foster. “But the principles of malting grains haven’t really changed for centuries. It’s the same three-stage process of steeping, germination and kilning.”

Steeping

The first step entails submerging the grain in water at three different temperatures, 35-40 degrees, 25 degrees and 20 degrees. The water is then drained and the rye is left to rest in the air for 24 hours. “What’s happening is this combination of water and air is used to increase the moisture content of the grain. We need to get it around about 46% to allow the complete modification of starch into sugar,” Foster explains. 

Germination

Once the ideal moisture content is achieved, the grain is transferred to germination drums (big steel drums, basically), which rotates the grain around to keep it loose which allows the funnelled-in air (which is around room temperature) to dry it. At this point, the grain has become green malt, which means it’s started to grow again. For Heritage 176, the green malt is left in the drums for about 4-6 days, in which time the grain is constantly monitored by the maltsters so it doesn’t grow too much. When the sprout reaches the size of the grain, you’re in the money and can stop the process.

Belvedere Heritage 176

The Żyrardów Polmos distillery where Belvedere is made

Kilning

The third and final stage takes the kiln, which Foster explains is “the most vital stage of malting”. Heat is applied to kill the growth and germination and reduce the moisture content back down to 5%. “There are four aspects to this process for Heritage 176 which starts with forced drying, where we’ll push hot air for about three or four hours into all of the grain to dry all the moisture. Next is the pre-break, this is where the air is blown through the grain for around 12 hours, which dries the surface of each of the grains,” Foster explains. “Then there’s the curing, in which the green malt is cured in kilns up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit which stops all the changes, modifications and growth in the grain. Hence why we decided to call it Heritage 176. We’re using the old heritage style of vodka production and the name leads to a sense of intrigue which gives us a chance to explain this process of malting”.

All of these steps occur at one of Viking Malt’s Polish sites and then the entire rest of the production takes place at Belvedere Distillery. Heritage 176 even has its own exclusive distilling team and stillhouse. At the distillery, the malted grain is milled to create a mash which is then placed in small stainless steel vats where yeast (the same strain used for Pure and the Single Estate series) is added to the mixture. The liquid is then double distilled, the first distillation lasting around 16 hours and creates a spirit of 88% ABV. From this spirit, the heads and tails are cut and the heart is distilled for another 16 hours, creating a 91-92% ABV spirit. This malt spirit is then blended with Belvedere Pure in stainless steel vats and left to rest for two days before it’s bottled at 40% ABV.

Belvedere Heritage 176

Belvedere Heritage 176 will be coming to MoM Towers soon

What’s in that bottle is a delightful spirit drink. Why not vodka? Well, because technically the malted ry e spirit was distilled to 92% rather than the required 96% ABV by European law. Belvedere isn’t concerned about this, however. “To us, it didn’t matter if it isn’t legally called a vodka. We’re masters of rye, we want to explore this raw ingredient and to adapt and manipulate in weird and wonderful ways to create flavours”, said Foster. “We’re not trying to adapt to a flavour that hits a certain consumer palate or add anything synthetic or unnatural post-dilation. We’ve just taken this wonderful rye ingredient and processed it in a different, more traditional way. What excites us is getting down to the nitty-gritty and the science of rye”.

Foster also remarked that it opens up the potential for a subcategory for a vodka. After all, as we’ve already learned, vodka made with malted grain and distilled to a lower ABV has its place in history. “I don’t want to as be brash to say we’ve created a spirit category, but we’re on the way to it. It’s a niche product: there are not many vodkas in the world that use malted grain to produce a spirit. To that extent, we’ve probably created a sub-category. I’m quite excited to see if other vodka companies expand to try projects like this and diversify their portfolios,” Foster explains. “The key thing is that vodka does have taste and character. Hopefully, we’ll encourage the rest of the distilling community to create some exceptional vodkas that use different techniques which can showcase to consumers that vodka isn’t just what Dick Bradsell described it as, ‘the coat hanger from which you hang all the flavours onto in a drink’. We want that to be switched around where vodka is the primary flavour of the drink that then accentuates the other ingredients”.

Tracey recommends serving the spirit over a block of ice with a lemon twist, or alternatively in cocktails. He made one during the presentation which combined 60ml of Belvedere Heritage 176, 5ml of honey syrup and three dashes of walnut bitters. It was delicious and easy to make so I’d suggest giving it a go. Equally, you can happily sip this one neat. Heritage 176 is impressive and fascinating in equal measure. It’s a complex, rich and dynamic spirit, filled with multiple aromas and flavours supported by an indulgently creamy texture. It’s such a contrast from the classic Belvedere Pure and I recommend comparing it with a classic vodka so you can appreciate the difference.

Think vodka doesn’t taste of anything? Think again. Belvedere Heritage 176 will be available from MoM Towers in the near future, so keep an eye out for it

Belvedere Heritage 176

Belvedere Heritage 176 Tasting Note:

Nose: Clotted cream, homemade vanilla ice cream and almond butter lead, with toffee fudge, cinnamon and acacia honey in support. Compared to the regular Belvedere, it’s thicker, richer and the spices are more aromatic (think allspice and cinnamon).

Palate: If you thought the nose was creamy, wait until you get to the palate. It’s like liquified vanilla fudge with a helping of salted butter thrown in for good measure. There’s a touch of lemon shortbread, walnut bread, baking spice and some classic rye notes of black pepper underneath.

Finish: Butterscotch, freshly cracked pepper and toffee apple linger.

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Classic Bars – Coupette

Say hello to our shiny new Classic Bars blog series! Here we’ll be looking at… well, classic bars. What better time than now to shine a spotlight on these well-loved…

Say hello to our shiny new Classic Bars blog series! Here we’ll be looking at… well, classic bars. What better time than now to shine a spotlight on these well-loved haunts, just as we’re allowed to return to our favourite watering holes? (For now, anyway.) First up is Coupette over in Bethnal Green, which also just happens to have released its new cocktail menu.

Though Coupette only came onto the scene in the summer of 2017, it secured its place as a classic in no time. It’s ranked number 23 in The World’s 50 Best Bars, and while that may set some expectations, it doesn’t really tell you anything else about the bar itself. We’re here to do that. 

Coupette is the brainchild of bartender extraordinaire Chris Moore. Moore has been behind the bar since he was legally allowed, joining the Savoy’s Beaufort Bar in 2010. There he stayed until 2015, when he left to start working on opening Coupette. You may have guessed from its name that the bar has French ties (Coupette translates as “cheeky one”), inspired by France’s cocktail history. As such, it has an intense love affair with Calvados – well, Moore’s Instagram handle is literally @mr.calvados, so this was to be expected. 

Its modest front means you could easily walk past it, though once you’re inside, its charm is irresistible; the interior strikes the perfect balance between chic and rustic – an old ‘tabac’ neon sign sits between exposed brick walls above a luxurious leather armchair. Plus, you can even nibble on gratin dauphinoise or a croque monsieur while you sip. A whole new level of bar snack.

Anyway, let’s talk about the cocktails! “Coupette has a main concept, which is a French 5* neighbourhood bar,” bar manager Andrei Marcu explains. “Everything we do has to fall under that concept.” Coupette boasts three award-winning serves that withstand any menu change. The first ensures there is always Calvados on the menu, and that’s Apples, made with the brandy as well as pressed apples, carbonated on-site. There’s also Boardroom, a smoky, Don Draper-esque blend of Hennessy and Dubonnet, with walnut, cherry and coffee. And finally, the snazziest twist on a classic to grace our palates, the famed Champagne Piña Colada, boasting coconut sorbet (rather than cream) and a luxurious splash of fizz. The rest of the cocktails come and go with each drastic menu change. (More on that later.)

After a successful couple of years, Moore stepped away from his project in late 2019. So now Marcu is heading things up – and what a job he and the team have done throughout this crazy year. “We have a saying here at Coupette,” says Marcu. “‘Good is never good enough’.” That sets the tone for every drink that they serve.

Obviously this year has posed more challenges than usual, but crafting an entirely new cocktail menu in lockdown was one of them. Usually, Coupette changes its menu every three to six months. “We always liked the idea of a seasonal menu and that is exactly what we did so far. Yet, with the new menu we decided to create more of a conceptual menu that will last for almost a year or less. This is a bit due to the pandemic that made us feel insecure about launching a new menu every three or six months.”

So, how was it coming out of lockdown? “It was very hard to be honest,” Marcu tells me. “The fact that we went from five days a week work to nothing and back to five days a week after three months was very exhausting. But it is slowly getting better and we are happy to be able to open our door every single day and have guests visiting us.” 

We’re pretty happy about it too, because it meant we finally got to try the new menu! Dubbed Urban Legends & Their Uprising Tales, it launched on 10 September and explores  ‘the darker side of East London’. A jaw-dropping (and mouth-watering) 21 new serves have been created by the team, Marcu tells me it was over six months in the making. “We were meant to launch in April,” he says, but obviously you-know-what rather got in the way of that. “So then we had to go back and reformulate.” 

The menu illustration for the Watermelon Spritz

The six-chapter menu tells the (fictional) origin story of an East London gang through illicit rum deals, spirit smuggling and ingredient hustling. It’s grittier and darker than previous menus. The physical menu is gorgeous more of a hardback book as the team enlisted the help of illustrator Molly Rose for each cocktail. When I ask Marcu what his favourite new drink is (which is probably his least favourite question) he ends up naming half the menu. 

You start drinking a cocktail with your eyes, so it’s no surprise the presentation is always a delight – though never flamboyant. Dazzling glassware and simple garnishes showcase the liquid each serve, along with the most impressive ice cubes (or sometimes spheres) you’ve ever seen.

Chocolate & Red Wine, a firm favourite

“Every single drink has to be its perfect version,” Marcu says when I ask him if there were any new serves which were particularly challenging to get right. It was pretty much all of them, by the sound of it. “We have tried a tremendous amount of ingredients, recipes and drinks until we chose the one that we believe is perfect. For example, we have a drink called Chocolate & Red Wine for which we have tried 15 to 20 different recipes. But the hardest to get right was Ain’t Easy Being Cheesy, a Parmigiano-inspired drink that we wanted to turn into a pleasant flavour to everyone. We were looking into getting out fruity notes from one of the strongest flavoured cheeses one can find and we definitely managed to do so. But that one was a hustle.” 

Yes, that is a corn in my Gimlet

No doubt the hard work has more than paid off. There is truly something for everyone, from Rhubarb Bellinis and insanely refreshing Watermelon Spritzes to twists on Negronis (with carrot as an ingredient) and Manhattans (made with ale vermouth), and everything in between. While I didn’t get to try them all, there were two absolute stand-outs for me. First, was one Marcu has already mentioned, Chocolate & Red Wine. This short serve made with Flor de Caña 18 Year Old, chocolate wine and cacao manages to remain delicate and light, even though it packs a boozy, fruity, chocolatey punch. Second was the Corny Gimlet, with salted butter-distilled Plymouth Gin, home-made corn liqueur and sour popcorn tea, garnished with a charred baby corn. It was sweet, sour and slightly bitter, by far one of the strangest things I’ve ever tasted – and I loved every sip.

“We just launched Urban Legends & Their Uprising Tales but we already started thinking about the next one, and I have to tell you so far it sounds very exciting.” Luckily this 24-cocktail menu will keep us busy until the next one!

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Master of Malt tastes… new Glengoyne whiskies

Glengoyne Distillery has been very busy recently, launching a host of tasty expressions while also undergoing a brand and packaging refresh. We were lucky enough to try the new drams,…

Glengoyne Distillery has been very busy recently, launching a host of tasty expressions while also undergoing a brand and packaging refresh. We were lucky enough to try the new drams, including the particularly interesting, fan-chosen ‘Cask of the Moment’ single cask bottling…

For a lot of us, the extra time we got in lockdown was spent trying to find something useful to do with all these strange new hours. You might have got into shape, started reading more books or found a way to disable the “Are you still watching?” prompts Netflix has (if you found a way then feel free to share). Ian Macleod Distillers, however, was clearly very productive. The Scottish family-owned spirits company has announced the release of the next instalment of Tamdhu’s excellent Batch Strength series (more on that in an upcoming post soon…), as well as all kinds of cool new Glengoyne developments in recent weeks.

Yesterday, Glengoyne revealed that its range has become fully recyclable and unveiled a swanky Queer Eye-style makeover (see bottles below). However, this is Master of Malt, so while we’re excited about sustainability and love the new look, we’re even more interested in the new whiskies that have been launched alongside this rebrand. The first is the next chapter in the Legacy Series, the second is the eighth batch in the Cask Strength range, (both are on their way to MoM Towers, so look out for those) and the third is the ‘Cask of the Moment’ single cask bottling, which we’ll discuss in detail later. For now, let’s take a look at the Legacy Series: 

Hoodies All Summer

Glengoyne Legacy Series: Chapter Two (48% ABV)

The second chapter in Glengoyne’s Legacy Series marries whisky matured in first-fill bourbon (which includes spirit from 7-8 years old up to 23 years old) and refill sherry casks. Hughes revealed that 48% of Chapter Two was the former, making it the most bourbon-cask-forward of any Glengoyne bottling. It’s a deliberate contrast to Chapter One, which was matured in first-fill European oak oloroso sherry casks as well as refill casks. 

Nose: Buttery pastry filled with cooked apple and a dash of baking spice with notes of tinned peaches, papaya and toffee in support. There’s a hint of white chocolate and raspberry blondies in the backdrop with earthy vanilla, autumnal leaves and candied lemon peel.

Palate: Pear drops, sweet vanilla pod and a kick of cinnamon, with buttery lemon shortbread, dried herbs, red apples and a little lime marmalade in support.

Finish: Exceptionally long and mellow with a pleasant prickle of spice.

Overall: A pleasant dram with moments of real depth complex whisky that shows distillery character and cask in harmony. This is a great example of how bourbon casks can make Glengoyne distillate shine and a fantastic demonstration of the distillery’s wood management policy. Impressive stuff.

Hoodies All Summer

Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch No. 008 (59.2% ABV.)

The second on the list of new whiskies to try is from another belter of a series, the Cask Strength range. These bottlings show off the rich, powerful Glengoyne flavour profile and for this reason, always prove very popular. The previous seven batches have all sold out on MoM. Batch No. 008 was created from malts that were matured in a number of different barrels, with 50% of it coming from refill casks, 30% from first-fill sherry (40% American oak and 60% European oak), 10% first-fill bourbon and 10% Rioja cask.

Nose: There’s rich oak spice, tannic red grape skins and fresh malt which blends with sweeter notes of buttery toffee popcorn, apple pie, vanilla ice cream and white chocolate buttons.

Palate: Stewed fruits, Seville orange and chewy toffee with some warm gingerbread spiciness emerge first, with hints of peaches and cream and caramelised apple underneath. A little earthy clove and black peppercorn add depth among burnt sugar and some tropical fruit.  

Finish: More cooked orchard fruit lingers with a little bit of chocolatey malt and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Overall: A dram that moves in many directions simultaneously, but enough Glengoyne DNA keeps things interesting and prevents it from becoming too muddled. I’d say this will be quite crowd-pleaser, it boasts plenty of that sherried goodness the distillery is known and adored for while offering something a little different.

Two delightful drams of contrasting style. However, they don’t take the prize for the most exciting recent Glengoyne release. That accolade belongs to the latest ‘Cask of the Moment’ single cask bottling, which is part of a collection of single cask expressions that show off Glengoyne’s wood policy and the versatility of its spirit. So, what makes this one stand out? Allow us to explain…

Glengoyne Distillery launches new whisky and revamped look

Alongside the revamped looks and sustainable policies, Glengoyne has released some cracking new drams

How fans came to choose Glengoyne’s latest whisky

On the evening of Friday 28 August, I was one of may Glengoyne fans who (virtually) tuned in to a live stream of a tasting of four amples, one of which would become the new ‘Cask of the Moment’ expression. Global brand ambassador Gordon Dundas hosted, with distillery manager Robbie Hughes and industry experts Rosalind Erskine, Christopher Coates and Blair Bowman joining him to discuss each dram and pick a favourite. The difference was, we all got to do the same. Armed with a tasting kit filled with the samples, we simply clicked a link, selected a chosen dram and bam! Democracy. It was basically the Highland’s X-Factor“To get our fans involved in such a unique way from the comfort of their own homes was special. The ability to host a public vote, get an instant result of the favourite cask and then have it available to buy on the shop made it a truly seamless event,” Dundas commented.

The four candidates were single casks samples that were chosen from Glengoyne’s Warehouse #8, included a sherry hogshead, an ex-bourbon barrel, a Port pipe and a Madeira cask. This is a particularly exciting line-up not only because of its variety but, as Hughes pointed out, “some of the liquid in the sample kits may have never been released for sale”, making it a one-of-a-kind experience. Hughes added he’s always wanted to do a tasting of single casks straight out of the warehouse and that he had three main objectives in mind. “One was to select styles of whisky Glengoyne isn’t normally associated with. Secondly, I didn’t want the whiskies to be too old because I wanted people to be able to afford them. The third objective was to select three whiskies that I really liked. It took us just 40 minutes to choose these four whiskies, that’s how outstanding they were”. 

So, without further ado, here are the four samples and our thoughts on them:

Glengoyne Distillery launches new whisky and revamped look

The tasting kit featured four completely different samples

Cask A 

An ex-bourbon barrel that Hughes remembers filling back in December 2004, as it was “the first bourbon cask we distilled in years”. Only two of the 73 casks remain, but despite this Glengoyne isn’t known for its use of bourbon cask, with only the 12 Year Old featuring any first fill bourbon in it from the core range. 

Nose: There’s masses of vanilla upfront with desiccated coconut and some classic Glengoyne fruitiness (mostly green apples). Lemon drizzle cake adds some citrus elements among tangy elements of barbecued pineapple and blackberries. Throughout there’s a note of sticky toffee pudding filled with dates and covered in vanilla ice cream, as well as hints of freshly grated nutmeg and cacao powder.

Palate: Through drying oak spice, ginger and black pepper comes brown sugar, polished furniture and raspberry and vanilla sponge. There’s plenty of dried mango and makrut lime as well as a note of summer flowers throughout. 

Finish: Lemon bonbons, dark berry jam and red apple skins linger.

Overall: A terrific whisky. There’s heaps of distillery profile that the cask enhances while bringing enough of its own personality to the table. To be honest, I thought we already had our winner with the first dram when I tasted this. Then came Cask B…

Cask B

Back on 19 January 2005 Glengoyne distilled a batch of its signature new make and popped it into a 404 litre Port pipe, and boy am I glad they did. Hughes says this cask was one of the biggest ever filled at the distillery and that only three remains. This would have had Colheita Port in it for nearly 30 years (1977), which actually doesn’t sound promising as you would think it’s taken a lot of goodness out of the cask itself. Hughes says he was wary himself, but the angel share was reasonable (they ​lost 23.4%) and there proved to be plenty of power left. 

Nose: Wow. The best nose of the range. The thick and rich elements of dark chocolate, black cherry, raisins and treacle come first, then clove, liquorice and caramelised oranges add contrast. An underlying oaky dryness adds structure to the sweet richness of the port elements before we get that classic Glengoyne orchard fruit note, hazelnut, pomegranate molasses then leather and espresso beans. You could nose this all day and not get bored.

Palate: Blackberry jam, stewed plum and black wine gums provide a similar big and bold opening to the nose with manuka honey dried apricots and fresh herbs bringing balance this time. Lots of nutty tones, vanilla and red cola cubes are present with an underlying note that’s similar to Tunes Cherry Menthol Lozenges.

Finish: Damp earth, fruitcake and salted caramel with a little black pepper remain.

Overall: A spectacular dram. It’s so indulgent, full-bodied and moreish. The cask brings an incredible variety of flavours, but the most impressive aspect is how well the distillery character has been integrated beautifully. Port is usually a finishing cask, but this is the kind of dram that proves it can do full maturation. Hughes remarked in the tasting he’s “never tasted a Glengoyne like this before,” and that he was “going to have to go and try the other two casks now… for science!”

Glengoyne Distillery launches new whisky and revamped look

Seeing the public’s thoughts on the samples in real-time gave the tasting an extra element of excitement

Cask C

Cask C is an ex-sherry refill hogshead, which means we’re in very familiar Glengoyne territory here. The hogshead’s capacity was 148.2 litres, which Hughes says is one of the smallest he’s seen. Cask C is the last one of this particular batch, so it’s exceptionally rare. Hughes also remarked that when they tried this one in the warehouse they didn’t think twice about putting it in the tasting, so that gives you an idea of the standard we’re working with here. 

Nose: Big notes of sherry-soaked fruit upfront (dates, plums and blackberries) as well as pomander balls, Christmas cake and marzipan. Grape skin, strawberry pencil sweets and vanilla come next with toasted almonds, old leather, dark chocolate, sweet tobacco and toasted brown sugar. Sublime.

Palate: Chocolate ice-cream, vanilla pod, Seville marmalade and red fruit (cranberries, mostly) lead with baking spice, potpourri and cracked black peppercorns in support. As the palate develops there’s nectarine in syrup, caramel, stewed pear and resinous wax. With water, there’s a really beautiful note of fresh melon as the palate becomes lighter, creamier and more aromatic.

Finish: The finish is tannic and dry with red apple skin and melted chocolate. 

Overall: A beauty. Sadly, this sample has much in common with the core range and this meant it became a little overlooked compared to the more intriguing cask types. But it’s an expression any fan of the distillery would be delighted with if they purchased it.

Cask D

Our final dram of the evening is the Madeira cask, another very rare option as there’s only two of these left on site. This one dates back to 2007 and was probably the sample I was most intrigued to taste. A quick look at MoM demonstrates how rare whisky fully-matured in Madeira casks are.

Nose: Salted caramel, rhubarb and custard cake and old leather initially followed by black cherry, banana foam sweets and tinned pineapple chunks. Underneath there’s a note of coke and vanilla ice cream float. 

Palate: Beautiful, for my money the best palate of the range. There’s nectarines in syrup, marmalade and acacia honey with drying spice, balsamic vinegar, condensed milk and toasted almonds adding depth. Tangy pineapple, creme brulee and apricot jam arrive in the mid-palate with marzipan, creamy vanilla and stewed orchard fruits.

Finish: Stem ginger, resin, sultanas and a hint of banana milkshake.

Overall: I love this whisky. It’s an exceptional example of Madeira cask whisky done right and a lesson in balance between distillery character and a cask that can often easily overwhelm the liquid. It’s a multifaceted, complex and integrated whisky. The palate offered new notes with every sip. 

Glengoyne Distillery launches new whisky and revamped look

This project demonstrated how many wonderful varieties of whisky Glengoyne has maturing in its warehouses

As you can imagine, casting my vote proved very difficult. Cask B had the best nose but I was so impressed with Cask D on the palate. I felt bad for not giving Cask A enough consideration, which was sublime. Then I felt really bad for Cask C, which would stand out in any other tasting but here got lost in all the fun and exploration. Glengoyne could, and should, release all of them (I’m not being greedy).

Hughes says that Glengoyne’s spirit works well in so many different cask styles as the new make has few harsh spikes that need ironing out with time in a cask. “It means our original character, which is light, with strong fruity, estery notes, doesn’t change dramatically over the years. It doesn’t diminish quickly in the cask and the cask rarely domineers it either, quite a strange combination to be honest, but the end result is excellent,” he explained. “What is also key is that you must get your cask selection right from the start. It isn’t enough to just produce an excellent spirit, you must have quality oak casks to put it in. Our whisky is complimented by many different styles of cask for this reason. Once you put them both together and leave time to do its stuff you can get something special”.

As far as the format for picking a new whisky goes, I was a huge fan of this process. Not only can I not remember the last time I did a round of tastings and enjoyed each whisky so much, but the execution of the event was smooth, with everything delivered on time and with clear instructions. The live vote brought genuine excitement and anticipation. The range also worked as an insight into the effects of full-term, single cask maturation and an education in how distillery character reacts to different profiles of casks. I’d like to see this become a more common approach and Dundas believes the brand could do it again. “When you’re able to engage your fans in such a unique way, it makes sense to see how you can evolve it to make their experience with Glengoyne the best it can be”.

Anyway, you’re probably all anxious to learn which dram was the winner. Well, first here’s how the panel ranked the samples:

Robbie Hughes – Winner: Cask B (Runner up: Cask A)

Rosalind Erskine – Winner: Cask B (Runner up: Cask A) 

Blair Bowman – Winner: Cask B (Runner up: Cask A) 

Christopher Coates – Winner: Cask B (Runner up: Cask D) 

Gordon Dundas – Winner: Cask A (Runner up: Cask B)

So, Cask B was the clear winner there. But, the public still had the ultimate say. And the winner was…

Glengoyne Distillery launches new whisky and revamped look

Cask B in bottle form!

Cask B!

On the face of it, it would appear the public may have been influenced by the panel’s thoughts, although Cask B was so good it’s perfectly possible the entire Glengoyne community came to the same conclusion in unison. Hughes, who picked Cask B as the standout whisky of the evening, summarised that “Glengoyne has a top-notch core range offering and we release high-quality single cask whiskies as well, but Cask B has a point of difference from them all. It has enjoyed full maturation in a Port pipe cask since January 2005 so this isn’t simply a cask seasoned with Port for a couple of years,” he said. “This cask has a pedigree and over the 15 years of maturation, the Glengoyne spirit was, in my opinion, able to develop into one of the finest single casks we have produced. It’s yet another example of what this wee distillery is capable of producing. It never fails to surprise me!”

It’s a worthy victor. I highly recommend the purchase, although I will note that it does come with a premium price. However, one of the many advantages of going for the Port pipe was that it’s huge and so Glengoyne was able to fill 789 bottles from it, meaning there is still some left (at the time of writing). The whisky is available to purchase at the newly reopened distillery shop and online via the Glengoyne website. And don’t forget, the Legacy Series: Chapter Two the Cask Strength series Batch No. 008 will be arriving at MoM Towers soon!

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How to buy (a bit of) your own drinks brand

This week Ian Buxton explores how you can own a little bit of your own booze business through the magic of crowdfunding. You might even get in on the ground…

This week Ian Buxton explores how you can own a little bit of your own booze business through the magic of crowdfunding. You might even get in on the ground floor of the new Brewdog and get rich! But you probably won’t.

Did you get any Brewdog? Not pints of the eponymous beer but a bit of the company. The self-styled bad boys of brewing raised capital through crowdfunding. If you picked Brewdog as an investment in 2010 then well done – early backers saw huge returns. As James Watt, BrewDog’s co-founder, explained in 2017 when a US private equity company took a 22% share: “Shares purchased in Equity for Punks I are now worth 2,765 percent of their original value. Even craft beer fans that invested in Equity for Punks IV, which closed in April 2016, have seen the value of their shares increase by 177 percent in just one year.”

If you’d invested in Brewdog in 2010, you’d be rich. RICH!

Unlike schemes such as Kickstarter where your cash is effectively a pre-order for a product and you don’t own a share in the company, crowdfunding means you are buying equity and become a shareholder – a co-owner of the business.

Now, you can buy shares in the large publicly-quoted drinks businesses, such as Diageo. In fact, if you have any kind of formal pension fund you quite probably already do. But crowdfunding is different: it allows you to get in at an early stage of the development of a new company. It’s interesting, fun, and potentially more profitable than investing in a well-established company but – pay particular attention to this bit – carries considerable risk that you can lose all your money.

So why do it? Well, several reasons. You may know the founders or principals of the fledgling concern and be prepared to back their judgement; you might agree that they’ve spotted a genuine gap in the market; in the case of a community-based enterprise you might take an essentially philanthropic view or you might just fancy a flutter.

You’ve missed out on Brewdog but, on the basis that you’re reading this on a drinks site I’ll assume you’re interested in booze, so what opportunities are out there right now? I’ve taken a look at Seedrs.com, a UK crowdfunding site, and WeFunder.com based in the USA. Note that these sites operate by providing you with information on the company, funds to be raised, intended use of the cash and details on what percentage of the business is being offered. There will be a fundraising target and a date when the offer will close. Read all this information VERY carefully before you commit.

Burleighs gin raised over £100,000 through crowdfunding this year

No one can have missed the gin craze of the last few years. If you think it can carry on for a while yet, then £10 will buy you a piece of Burleighs Gin – they’ve already raised over £100,000 on Seedrs.com.   

On the other hand, you might consider that gin is already a little passé and have heard of the hard seltzer boom in the USA. In that case, premium non-alcoholic and alcoholic seltzer brand Something & Nothing could be a good fit for your portfolio. Investment, also on Seedrs.com starts at £20, but one bold backer has already pledged £96,000 so evidently someone believes in the proposition.

Perhaps something on the huge US drinks scene will appeal. Turning to WeFunder.com there are a number of opportunities, ranging from flavoured malt beverage HoopTea (a $1,000 minimum commitment though) to Kokoro Spirits ($100 and up). Starting with Tequila it aims to build a “collection of premium spirits and a brand that celebrates communities and cultures from around the world”.

It’s always a good idea to spread your risk by diversifying investments. With that in mind, Drifter Spirits is creating a portfolio of craft spirits for the US market, starting with cachaça and aquavit brands. The company has been trading for some seven years with an experienced management team  $500 gets you a place on its share register.

There are many more opportunities arising on a regular basis and there are other crowdfunding sites. These are simply examples of an interesting new trend.  Any of these companies could be the next Brewdog or all might crash and burn, taking your hard-earned with them. Caveat emptor!

IMPORTANT: Nothing in the foregoing constitutes investment advice or a recommendation. As with any investment consider the risk factors, do not invest more than you can afford to lose and seek appropriate professional advice. Disclosure: Ian Buxton may be an active investor in one or more of the businesses mentioned here.

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The history of Chivas Regal

When Chivas Regal made its debut as a 25 year old whisky in 1909, not only was it the oldest blended Scotch whisky of its era, but it was also…

When Chivas Regal made its debut as a 25 year old whisky in 1909, not only was it the oldest blended Scotch whisky of its era, but it was also the world’s first luxury whisky. Navigating a tumultuous geopolitical landscape in the years that followed, Chivas weathered the storm, establishing its home in Strathisla, Speyside, from where it continues to influence and shape the Scotch whisky industry today. Chris Brousseau, archivist at Chivas Brothers, talks us through the brand’s fascinating history…

Chivas Regal may have hit the market at the turn of the 20th century, but its history can be traced back to a grocery business established in Aberdeen back in 1801, which sold “quality provisions, wine and spirits” – and also with the birth of brothers James and John Chivas. Born into a family of tenant farmers in 1810 and 1814 respectively, they left their rural home in 1836 to work in the city; James as a partner in the grocery business, John at a wholesale firm. 

“A royal warrant was granted by Queen Victoria to James Chivas in 1843, as Purveyor of Grocery to Her Majesty,” says Brousseau. It would be the first of many. “They were supplying the Queen of Balmoral with food, with spirits, with wine – just about anything,” he says. “She even asked for a quiet donkey that she could have to pull her around the ground.”

James Chivas outside King Street shop in 1862 (only existing pic of him)

When James’ business partner Charles Stewart left the grocery in 1867, John took his place, and Chivas Brothers was born. Three years later, the Spirit Act of 1860 came into force, allowing whisky from different distilleries to be blended without payment of duty. “That allowed people like Chivas Brothers to start buying from different distilleries – both grain whisky and malt whisky – and start blending for the first time,” says Brousseau. “It really opened the door. And this is when we think James and John started creating what we’d call branded whiskies.”

Their first blended malt Scotch whisky was a no age statement (NAS) bottling called the Royal Glen Dee. It would be followed by six others over the course of the next 40 years, including Royal Strathythan, a 10 year old whisky, and Royal Loch Nevis, a 25 year old. Over the course of their whisky career, the brothers had amassed extensive knowledge on ageing and blended whiskies, and they’d also built up vast stocks of maturing whisky.

Fast-forward to 1895, and both James, John, and James’ son Alexander – the last of the Chivas lineage – had died. Chivas Brothers was bought by Alexander Smith, said to be the ‘right-hand man of Alexander Chivas’ and then-master blender, Charles Stewart Howard. “The youngest whisky that they were producing in 1895 was five years of age, which is quite amazing when you didn’t have to age whisky until some 20 years later,” says Brousseau. 

Chivas Brothers price list front cover 1890s

Howard decided to pay tribute to the founding brothers with a malt-heavy recipe and launched Chivas Regal as a 25 year old whisky in 1909, primarily for the North American market. “We call this the world’s first luxury whisky, because when you look at what was going on in the market at that time, there was nothing like it; nothing of that age,” says Brousseau. “There were a few branded whiskies, maybe 10 years old, something like that. This was really something very special.”

Just five years later, World War I begins, signalling the beginning of a global downturn that would last decades. Few distilleries would emerge on the other side. “We had Prohibition in the US and Canada,” says Brousseau. “We had the Great Depression for several years. Then World War II comes along, which had a huge impact on the Scotch whisky industry. Chivas Regal went from 25 years, to ‘of great age’ on the label. Then it went to NAS for a while, until it was resurrected in the 1950s,” joining Chivas Regal 12 Year Old, which had launched in 1939.

In 1949, Canadian businessman Samuel Bronfman, head of Seagrams, took a trip to Scotland. He left as the owner of Chivas Brothers, having bought the business from whisky brokers Morrison & Lundie for £85,000. “He always had this vision that there would always be a special market for aged Scotch whiskies,” says Brousseau. “One of the reasons some people think he bought Chivas Brothers as opposed to other companies was not only because it was a great company with great whisky stocks, but because he was a keen royalist.”

Bottling whisky – mid to late 1800s

When Queen Elizabeth II succeeded her father George IV on 2 June 1953, Bronfman launched Royal Salute blended Scotch whisky in tribute on the same day. He was even invited to the coronation. Shortly after taking over Chivas Brothers, Bronfman hired Charles Julian – “the best Scotch whisky master blender at the time,” says Brousseau – and paid £71,000 for Milton distillery, renaming it Strathisla, which remains the home of Chivas Regal to this day and produces a key malt component of a blend.

When it comes to telling the story of Chivas Regal, Strathisla is the final piece of the puzzle. Built in 1786 at Keith, Moray in Speyside, it’s the oldest continuously operating distillery in the Highlands. “Just recently, we found an accounts book for the very first year,” says Brousseau. “Because it was built by two people, they listed everything they bought and how much it cost, so at the end of the year they could split it 50/50.” 

What would you buy if you were going to start a distillery in the late 1700s? “On June 22nd 1786,” he reads, “two shovels, a wheelbarrow, a sand harp – which is a sieve – some advice, and some stones. It began operation with a 40 gallon still, and a capacity of 28 tonnes of malted barley per year. They were licensed on the amount of barley they could use. Grain lorries today hold 29 tonnes, so we do in a day what we used to do in a year.”

Chivas Brothers price list inside 1890s

Today, the core range comprises Chivas Regal 12, Chivas Regal 18, and Chivas Regal 25. There’s also Chivas Regal Extra, which contains a higher proportion of sherry casks; Chivas Regal Ultis, a blended malt containing no grain whisky; Chivas Regal Mizunara, which is the world’s first Scotch whisky to be aged in Japanese oak; plus a wealth of limited editions and market exclusives – for example Chivas Regal XV, a 15 year old blend finished in casks that previously held Grande Champagne Cognac.

From a small Aberdeen grocery to the pride of high-end back bars across the globe, the story of Chivas Regal is a lesson in weathering adversity. Now owned by Pernod Ricard, the brand sells more than 4.2 million cases every year, and has retained the sense of grandeur Howard instilled when he launched the world’s first luxury whisky back in 1909. In the words of his business partner Smith, writing in 1904: “The name Chivas may be carried down to posterity as meaning the best service, the best quality, the best value – in short, the name Chivas shall be the equivalent to the hallmark of excellence.”

The Chivas Regal range is available from Master of Malt.

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A spotlight on Storywood Tequila

The brainchild of Scottish chef, whisky lover and bona fide wood expert Michael Ballantyne, Storywood Tequila takes Mexico’s national spirit and treats it to a full maturation in former Speyside…

The brainchild of Scottish chef, whisky lover and bona fide wood expert Michael Ballantyne, Storywood Tequila takes Mexico’s national spirit and treats it to a full maturation in former Speyside Scotch whisky barrels. Here, Ballantyne shares the story behind his creative Tequila range and describes the magic that happens when Speyside meets San Miguel…

Born in Scotland and raised in Texas from the age of eight, Ballantyne – a chef by trade – returned from overseas at 22. “I was trying to get back into the restaurant industry, but being in Aberdeen, there are so many oil companies, I fell into oil and gas,” says Ballantyne. “I started from the bottom, sweeping floors in the workshop and packing boxes, and within six years I was writing up a sales team for oil and gas tools across the world. The problem was, it didn’t really matter how much my salary increased, I just wasn’t happy doing what I was doing.”

He started spending a lot more time over in Mexico, visiting his mum who lives in San Miguel de Allende. Disenchanted with working in the oil and gas industry, Ballantyne resolved to open a whisky bar in San Miguel, and set about planning the venue. His research led him to La Cofradia distillery in Jalisco, which has been producing and bottling Tequila for more than 50 years. There, he met master distiller Luis Trejo.

“We got to speaking about Tequila and whisky production, and what we realised is the process of making Tequila is very much the same as whisky, the only difference is the roles are reversed,” Ballantyne says. “With Tequila, agave is aged in the ground for long periods of time and then aged in barrels for short periods of time. And with whisky, that rule is reversed, so it’s shorter grown, longer aged. I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could bring our national spirits together somehow?’.”

Storywood Tequila

Say hello to Storywood Tequila founder Michael Ballantyne!

He bought some bottles from La Cofradia and upon returning to Scotland, shared them with his friends – serving the liquid in some fancy shot glasses he’d procured on his visit. “Everybody was asking me where the salt and lime was,” Ballantyne says, “I was trying to convince them that that wasn’t how you were to drink it. You have to drink it like a malt. It wasn’t until my wife said, ‘you know, if you’re telling people to drink it like a malt, you should put it in a whisky glass’. I did this and gave it to a friend of mine. He said, ‘Wow, that’s a really good whisky. What is that?’.”

This was Ballantyne’s lightbulb moment. “I thought, ‘if I can change somebody’s perception of Tequila by changing the glass, what can I do if I put it in a single malt whisky barrel?’.” This interaction occurred in April 2015, and by September, Ballantyne had handed in his notice to go “all in” on the project. “In October, I found out we were having our first baby,” he laughs. “All this crazy stuff was happening. That’s why our tagline is ‘live free, sip slow’. You have to enjoy what you do, that’s the living free aspect of the brand. And ‘sip slow’ is to communicate that Tequila should be treated with respect, just like any premium spirit.” 

The next step was sourcing spent casks from Speyside distilleries, which was easier said than done. “A lot of them were reluctant to work with me because it was such a different idea,” Ballantyne says. “I think they worry that when they give barrels out to people, they might use the distillery names, so it can be very closed off and confidential.” He started working with Speyside Cooperage in Dufftown, which supplies all the barrels for Storywood Tequila. “I go there and hand-select all the casks that we want to use,” Ballantyne says. “We try to make sure we get the freshest casks that have just been emptied. We’re looking for ones that are a little bit sweeter because the Tequila is made from lowland agave, which is quite earthy.”

Storywood Tequila

The 100% Blue Weber agave Storywood Tequila is made from

The entire Storywood Range is made from 100% Blue Weber agave harvested from the lowland region of Jalisco. The piñas are roasted in traditional brick ovens for 72 hours before being crushed using a corkscrew mill. The juice is fermented using the distillery’s wild yeast strains and then double distilled using copper pot stills. The water used in distillation is sourced from a stream that runs through the distillery, which comes from Volcán de Tequila. The new make goes into the barrel at 55% ABV, which is the maximum strength permitted by Tequila production regulations, says Ballantyne. “By barreling right at the top end of the alcohol percentage, you draw out a lot of flavour from the barrel,” he says.

The liquid is aged for between seven and 14 months, depending on the expression – there are three bottlings in the core range, scroll down for details – and the entire process takes place in Mexico. “We buy the barrels here in Scotland and then we ship them in containers to Mexico,” Ballantyne says. “Everything’s aged and bottled in Mexico.” So… how does spending time in a Scotch whisky cask shape the taste of the Tequila? “As soon as you put the Tequila in those barrels, it really changes the earthiness of the agave,” he says. “It becomes very sweet initially, and starts moving into oakier flavours the longer you leave it.”

Take Speyside 7, Storywood’s first expression. “It has a real sweetness to it, with honey caramel notes,” says Ballantyne. “As soon as you take that liquid and age it twice as long, you get a really different style of liquid. It starts to develop toffee toasted oak-style flavours. Just a little bit more time can totally change the liquid. That’s what I’ve been experimenting with since the beginning – ageing the liquid in different barrels for different lengths of time. Roasting agave longer, roasting it shorter. That’s why it’s taken about five years to get a really diverse style of liquids.”

Storywood Tequila

Every barrel has a story to tell

Compiling the range – which has expanded to include two limited edition oloroso sherry cask-aged Tequilas – hasn’t been easy, but that’s part of the fun, says Ballantyne. “I like the challenge of having to wait and experiment,” he says. “The biggest thing has been having the right people around me. When you go through this journey, you meet so many people, from the guys at the cooperage who put the barrels together, to the people at the distillery who make the Tequila. With Jeremy Hill, the former owner of Hi-Spirits, and James Patterson, who was also working for Hi-Spirits, we’re starting to really build a great team. Especially with Proof Drinks, they’ve got some fantastic brands. We’re lucky to be in such a good portfolio.” 

That Storywood’s journey is ultimately a team effort is reflected in the name, says Ballantyne. “Every barrel has a story to tell, and it has this crazy journey before they even get to us,” he says. “The barrels are American oak, so they’re crafted in America and filled with bourbon. Then those barrels are sent to Scotland, where they’re used for whisky. By the time we get them, they’re second fill barrels – then we fly them to tequila. It’s almost like you’re getting a slice of three different spirits in one bottle: bourbon, single malt and Tequila.”

The Storywood Tequila Range

 Storywood Tequila

Storywood Tequila Speyside 7 Reposado

Aged for seven months in Scottish Speyside whisky casks. Tasting notes include caramel, oak, vanilla and honey on an earthy agave base. Delicious served neat or mixed with ginger beer or coca-cola in a highball glass with ice and lime wedge.

 Storywood Tequila

Storywood Tequila Speyside 14 Añejo

Aged for over 14 months in Speyside whisky casks. Tasting notes include toasting oak, roasted nuts and treacle toffee. Can be served neat, on ice or in an Old Fashioned Cocktail.

 Storywood Tequila

Storywood Tequila Speyside Cask Strength 7 Reposado

Aged for seven months in Speyside whisky casks with hints of oak, vanilla and honey. Perfect neat, on ice or in a Tequila Sour.

 Storywood Tequila

Storywood Tequila Sherry Cask Strength 7 Reposado

A limited-edition expression aged for seven months in oloroso sherry casks, it’s bold and full-flavoured with sweet cherry and jammy dark fruits. Can be enjoyed neat, on ice or in an Old Fashioned.

 Storywood Tequila

Storywood Tequila Double Oak Cask Strength 14 Añejo

Another limited edition expression aged for 14 months in oloroso sherry casks and single malt Scotch whisky barrels. Tasting notes include honey and caramel with cherry and dark fruit notes.

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Cask customisation: have your whisky made bespoke

Bourbon hogshead or red wine barrique? Limousin or American oak? For devoted whisky lovers keen to call a barrel their own, there’s never been quite so many cask options available….

Bourbon hogshead or red wine barrique? Limousin or American oak? For devoted whisky lovers keen to call a barrel their own, there’s never been quite so many cask options available. As Edinburgh’s Holyrood Distillery launches its custom cask programme for 2020, inviting buyers to tailor every aspect of the process – from yeast varieties to distilling cut points – we take stock of the evolution of cask ownership…

Laying claim to your very own cask of whisky is a dream shared by many. But what if you could choose the precise type of malted barley you’d like, and pick out the yeast used for fermentation? What if you could tinker with the distillation process – cut points and flow rates – choose the cask type, oak species, size and previous fill? What if you could tailor the whisky from start to finish, becoming involved in every stage of the production process to create your ultimate personalised dram? 

At Edinburgh-based Holyrood, you can do just that. “We thought, rather than just making hundreds of the same cask, why don’t we ask people what they would like to make?,” says distillery co-founder David Robertson. The process starts with an in-depth consultation and sample tasting, in order to identify exactly which flavours you’re looking for. From there, the team will come up with several recipe suggestions based on your preferences. “You might say, ‘I’d rather have an extra yeast in it,’ or ‘I’d rather pick that wood rather than this wood’, and eventually we’ll land on a recipe,” he says.

Holyrood boy: David Robertson talks a client through the options

Got your heart set on rare Japanese oak, barley from a bygone era, or a cask that previously contained beer? Whatever the request, the team will help you make your dream into reality – but they’ll also guide you to make sure it tastes good. “If someone said, ‘I want you to have a cut point from 75% down to 42%, I want you to put it into a Tokay cask, and I want you to mature it for 247 years, we’d be going, ‘Yeah… That’s probably not the best idea’,” Robertson says. “We want to be there to guide, make recommendations and make sure there’s no mistakes.”

Besides offering more choice for whisky fans, there are other benefits to offering such tailored cask choices. Giving whisky fans control over the whisky-making process provides a unique jumping off point for learning and experimentation. “It’s a real two-way collaboration,” Robertson says. “We might have ideas and suggestions, but we won’t be smart enough to come up with all the best ideas and suggestions. The people we meet through this programme give us stimulus, inspire us and push us in different ways that we maybe hadn’t thought of ourselves.”

It also presents an opportunity for distilleries to engage with fans and expand their community. “I love getting a request from a potential customer to source a unique cask,” says Elliot Wynn-Higgins, cask custodian at Lindores Distillery, which has one of the largest and most diverse private cask offerings in Scotland, and allows buyers to choose from metrics such as cask size and flavour profile. The ownership scheme is seen as “an experience, rather than just a sale,” he says. “Each year we host exclusive cask owner’s events at the distillery, and they also get exclusive early bird offers on our whisky releases in the years to come.”

Casks in the warehouse at Lindores Distillery

It could be argued that an element of personalisation acts as a deterrent to those viewing cask ownership solely as a money-making endeavour – the type of buyer David Thompson, co-founder and director of Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery, is keen to avoid. There, the team offers buyers a choice of first fill ex-bourbon and various ex-red wine casks. “The secondary market worries me to an extent,” he says. “If someone said to me, ‘how much money am I going to make?’, I probably wouldn’t go any further with [the sale], because they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. I’d much rather someone bought a cask because they wanted to get involved in our business, our philosophy, the people.”

While distilleries selling private casks is nothing new – “this was quite a big deal in the nineties,” John Fordyce, director and co-founder of the Three Stills Company, informs me – today’s interested buyers have more say than those in previous decades when it comes to the final liquid. At Borders Distillery, Fordyce and his fellow directors have released 1,837 private whisky casks for sale by invitation only, allowing buyers to choose their preferred filling date and cask type across rum, bourbon, rye and Douro wine. “Not every distiller wants to do this, and those that do tend to engage in an quite intimate way,” he says. “One of the great things about the drinks industry is that you’re always in a position of moving with the times. And these waves sweep across us all, and some react and some choose to stay out. And that’s what provides all the variety and choice for the consumer.”

Having only been distilling for a year, the Holyrood team can afford to be more experimental than most. “We’re lucky in that we’re new and we’re small, which means that we can be as flexible as we want to be,” says Robertson. “If you’re a large, established distillery, you probably have a style of spirit that people expect you to produce. We don’t have that kind of heritage or history. We don’t have a core range that we’re known for yet. Now, that might be different in three, four, five years’ time, because we’ll have to start putting out whisky that defines Holyrood Distillery’s style. But at the moment, we are playing at the edges.”

Holyrood Distillery manager Jack Mayo peers into a still

As distilleries become more established, and their spirit comes of age, the custom cask market will inevitably change again. “In 10 to 15 years’ time, many current distilleries offering cask ownership will no longer be doing so, or at least be offering a reduced variety,” says Wynn-Higgins. “The reason being because their whisky will have hit the market, and the majority of their spirit will be required to satisfy customer requirements in bottles on shelves rather than entire casks. This makes now an even better time to buy a cask, as opportunities to do so will become ever rarer.”

It’s a delicate trade-off, acknowledges Annabel Thomas, founder and CEO of Nc’nean Distillery. Each year, the team offers up 60 casks for sale, allowing buyers to choose which type of cask you want and which of their two new make recipes they’d like to fill it with. “The cask sales are important, obviously, for cash flow,” she says. “And also, we end up with an amazing community of cask owners around us, which is a really important part of that whole process for us. On the other hand, we can’t spend the whole year producing private casks, because we have to actually have whisky to put into bottles at the end of it!”

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Exciting times for Sliabh Liag Irish whiskey

It’s been a momentous few months for Ireland’s Sliabh Liag Distillers. Husband and wife team James and Moira Doherty filled their first cask, bringing legal whiskey distilling back to Donegal…

It’s been a momentous few months for Ireland’s Sliabh Liag Distillers. Husband and wife team James and Moira Doherty filled their first cask, bringing legal whiskey distilling back to Donegal for the first time in almost 200 years. Weeks later, having turned the turf at their future distillery in the historic town of Ardara, they launched a €1.5m crowdfunding campaign to fuel the next phase of their expansion. MoM took five with James to find out more…

When the time comes for distillery founders to fill their very first cask, we can only imagine how magical and poignant that moment must be. And when said cask will incubate the first legal whiskey distilled in the region for almost two centuries – the same region your poitín-producing ancestors distilled in – well, it must be a feeling like no other. “There’s a lovely sense of coming full circle,” said co-founder James Doherty, whose grandfather “was creating a smoky, double-distilled spirit under the authorities’ radar” long after the last legal producer, Burt Distillery, ceased production in 1841. “I think my grandfather would approve,” he added.

Looking happy in their distillery, it’s James and Moira Doherty!

Made from Irish Craft Malts barley grown in Meath, malted over peat from Mín na bhFachraín, double-distilled and filled into a first fill bourbon oak cask, the smoky profile of the new make is said to be true to what was being distilled in Ulster 200 years ago. Flavour-wise, James described the liquid as “soft and smoky sweet, with a fresh pear note and a hint of treacle”. And later: ‘exceptionally soft and is fresh, citrusy and has rich chocolate notes to complement the pronounced smoke’.

The new distillate is in rather good company. Sliabh Liag Distillers (pronounced ‘sleeve league’, named after a mountain on the Atlantic coast) currently produces Silkie and Dark Silkie blended Irish whiskeys, which James says “paints a picture of what will come from the distillery in the future,” and is also home to An Dúlamán gin and Assaranca Vodka, made on a copper pot still called Méabh at its current Carrick facility. Heavily-peated single malt and pot still Irish whiskeys will follow at the new site, but right now, space and equipment are limited. 

“The still we have at the moment is a 500-litre copper pot made by Forsyths in Scotland,” James told us. “It’s a very traditional still with quite a long neck on it, which creates a really soft gin. And we knew it would create a really soft whisky. But it’s a very conventional gin set up.” At the moment, around one week of each month is dedicated to distilling new make for whiskey. This small-batch approach to production represents a valuable research opportunity for the Doherty’s as they fine tune the recipe ahead of the move to Ardara.

Artist’s impression of the new distillery at Ardara. We particularly like the rock feature.

“It’s more of a learning and development exercise than full commercial production,” says James. “When we go to Ardara, we’re using an all-grains-in process, which will be fundamentally different. So, instead of using a mash tun, separating the grains out, taking the wash through and fermenting on, we’re actually leaving the grains in the process through the fermenter and into the wash still. It’s prevalent in America, I think there’s one distillery in Scotland doing it, and there’s certainly no one in Ireland doing it.” The new-make will also be triple-distilled, rather than double-distilled. And there’s production scale to account for – “instead of making batches of 500 litres at a time, we’ll be making 10,000 litres at a time,” he adds.

When it comes to the core character of their whiskey, the team at Sliabh Liag have a very specific flavour profile in mind. “I’d say it’s almost a triple-distilled peated Macallan, if you could imagine that,” says James. “Lots of congeners in there, but probably still at the lighter end of the flavour profile – not going into those oilier tastes that you get with the later cuts that say, Lagavulin would use. This is my view of where smoky whiskies from Ireland should be – a more general overlay to the core flavours that come from the barley. The smell of my grandfather’s pipe, if that makes sense, overlaid onto a triple-distilled absolutely-Irish-to-the-core single malt and pot still.”

Progress is being made on the new site. Of the 10 acres that will house Ardara Distillery, four have required lengthy flood mitigation works, which are now complete. Next, contractors will begin working on the road that leads to the main entrance of the distillery. “The stills and the distilling equipment is arriving at the end of February, so we will have to have the sheds ready for then,” says James. “Late spring, early summer is when we’ll be in production, and it’ll be mid-summer by the time we really get things ramped up and we’ve learnt all of our lessons.”

They bloody love their whiskey.

For Sliabh Liag, the next focus is fundraising, with the launch of a €1.5m crowdfunding campaign. Previously, a direct investment in the distillery was €25,000, whereas now, you can own a share for £75 pounds, says James. “Lots of people have said to us, ‘we’d love to come with you on the journey’, and it’s been really difficult to try and work out a mechanic to open the shareholding up to a wider group,” he says. “Crowdcube seems to be a really effective way of doing that.”

There are a range of rewards on offer – having your name etched on a copper still, receiving a bespoke Donegal ‘Silkie’ fishing fly, bagging a bottle of exclusive Rioja-finished Silkie. “My uncle is a weaver of many years, and he’s designed tweed especially for the distillery so we’re making scarves out of that and they’re beautiful,” he continues. “It’s great that fans and supporters can take part and there’s some cool rewards. But also, it’s an equity investment in a business that’s growing pretty rapidly – a 75% [increase] in case sales year on year despite Covid.” 

When James and Moira moved to Donegal in 2014, their dream was to reignite the county’s distilling heritage. Today, they hope to make the Sliabh Liag peninsula to Irish whiskey what Islay is to Scotch. “When we talk about reclaiming the distilling heritage of this county, we want to make something that’s true to Donegal and then Ireland, not Ireland and then Donegal,” James explains. “And if that makes us the Islay of Ireland, that would be job done.” 

The Sliabh Liag range is available from Master of Malt.

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The growing pains of Irish whiskey

It’s an Irish whiskey double-bill today. This morning we had exciting news of developments at Sliabh Liag, and now this afternoon Ian Buxton looks at problems and disagreements behind the…

It’s an Irish whiskey double-bill today. This morning we had exciting news of developments at Sliabh Liag, and now this afternoon Ian Buxton looks at problems and disagreements behind the much-heralded Irish whiskey renaissance.

According to James Joyce “the light music of whiskey falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude”. Ironically, though, that was written in 1914 when Irish whiskey was in near-terminal decline; a hiatus rather than an acquiescent break. Two years earlier, in 1912, a group of Scotch whisky distillers had founded the Wine & Spirit Brand Association, the body which thirty years later evolved into the Scotch Whisky Association. Their goal was to create a united industry voice, just one step in Scotch’s march to global domination. In fact, things were to get a great deal worse for the beleaguered Irish industry. By 1930, William Ross of the DCL was able to observe that “Ireland is an irrelevance.” Cruel, perhaps, but at the time entirely accurate.

It took a long time but, eventually, things did get better. Much better, as it happens as up until coronavirus’s rude interruption, Irish whiskey was enjoying its biggest boom since the mid-1800s with new distilleries being opened at a furious rate, existing distilleries expanded and a bewildering range of new brands being launched.

Why Irish whiskey needs a moment of self-reflection

Irish whiskey has welcomed a hoard of new brands, distilleries and whiskies in the last few years

Not that everything went smoothly. In particular, many of these new brands seemed to be little more than marketing labels – whiskey from one of Ireland’s major producers repackaged by third-party bottlers. Some went further leading to the misleading impression, according to their critics, that such bottles were produced by one of the new wave of boutique distilleries. As the ever-outspoken Mark Reynier, now distilling in Waterford summed it up earlier this year in a fascinating interview for The Irish Times. “Most of the whiskey business in Ireland is independent bottling. Almost all Irish whiskey comes from three distilleries, so while there may be over 100 labels on display at Dublin airport, most of it comes from the same few sources. It is a charade and it risks doing untold damage to Irish whiskey.”

So you would think that an Irish equivalent to the Scotch Whisky Association is just what the industry needs. And indeed there is such a body. Founded in 2014 as the Irish Whiskey Association (now Drinks Ireland and covering all Irish alcohol) it boldly identifies the number one objective of its ‘work plan’ as: “To protect the integrity and high standards of the Irish Whiskey category by securing and enforcing the strongest possible legal protection for the Irish Whiskey category name and Geographic Indication.”

Why Irish whiskey needs a moment of self-reflection

Reynier says the proliferation of whiskey repackaged by third-party bottlers could do lasting damage  

That would seem to be a wholly laudable objective and Drinks Ireland played a key role in defining Irish whiskey in a Technical File for the EU which became law in 2014. Indeed, according to DI’s William Lavelle, “Since the Technical File was adopted in 2014, Irish whiskey has benefited from increased exports, increased whiskey tourism to Ireland and a rise in the number of new brands in Irish whiskey.”

Quite possibly, but a lot has happened in the last six years, and not everyone seems to agree that the growth noted by Drinks Ireland is a consequence of their work rather than a coincidence. Mark Reynier for one regards them with some concern as under-resourced and “trying their best but pretty disjointed”. His main concern is that, as Irish whiskey grows in world markets, cynical competitors will take the opportunity to point to the proliferation of labels and suggest, through their crocodile tears, that ‘sadly, you can’t trust Irish whiskey’.  

Others, such as the relatively new Blackwater Distillery in Waterford point to what they see as an inherent bias in the regulations that favour the larger producers who were well established when the rules were written.  In a provocative entry on their hard-hitting blog, they are particularly critical of Irish Distillers, the Pernod Ricard subsidiary. 

Why Irish whiskey needs a moment of self-reflection

The promise of Irish whiskey is great, but so are the challenges facing the industry

Is this I wonder, any more than the inevitable growing pains that come with such a rapid expansion in the industry and the arrival of so many new producers, all with their own ideas, enthusiasm and desire to innovate? After all, as the Scotch whisky industry knows, new ideas and methods of production can be adopted into the regulations if the demand is there and the industry can show a need.  

Change can come, albeit over time. Irish whiskey has been around for centuries and survived any number of crises, some self-inflicted. As the world emerges from the current disagreeable interlude, as eventually, it will, perhaps this is the moment for all the players, large and small, to seize this opportunity for self-reflection and build the credibility and integrity that their trade association seeks to promote.

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