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Master of Malt Blog

Category: Features

Waterford Cuvée and the future of whisky

Last week we met with Mark Reynier from Waterford and tried the latest release. Called Waterford Cuvée, it’s the ‘big whisky’ from this innovative distillery, and it might just change…

Last week we met with Mark Reynier from Waterford and tried the latest release. Called Waterford Cuvée, it’s the ‘big whisky’ from this innovative distillery, and it might just change how we look at premium whisky forever. 

Two of the most-read things on the blog this year were the post on changes to Japanese whisky regulations, and an article on research sponsored by Waterford in Ireland into terroir in whisky.

At first the two don’t seem to have that much in common but they both beg the same question: what makes a particular country’s whisky unique? If whisky can be made in Scotland but for years lauded as Japanese then what is Japanese whisky? Or indeed what is Scotch? 

The expanding world of whisky

The whisky world is rapidly expanding, thanks in a large part to itinerant Scots like the late Jim Swan. Around the world, there are Scotch-style whisky distilleries right down to the stills made by Forsyths of Rothes. They might well be using Scottish malt. At the moment the Chinese are buying Macallan by the boatload – but what happens when they develop their own luxury whisky brands as they surely will? See this article by Ian Buxton on the subject. 

Scotch has something of a problem among luxury products in that the raw materials are the same for the cheapest single malt to the most expensive. It’s all barley that could come from Scotland, England, Canada or Ukraine. Sure, there’s expensive sherry casks and all that time, skill and rarity. But compare with wine, Cognac or Cuban cigars which are rooted firmly in a specific place, and you’ll see that the legacy whisky countries in particular have a problem.

Grace O’Reilly - Waterford Distillery 1

Grace O’Reilly in the barley

The Waterford story

Which brings us neatly on to Waterford in Ireland which is just about to launch its Cuvée whisky, a blend of various sites. I met with Mark Reynier and agronomist Grace O’Reilly (don’t call her the barley queen, she warned) for lunch at Berry Bros & Rudd in London. An apt venue for a whisky inspired by wine.

You can read a full article on the distillery but first a brief recap. It was founded by Mark Reynier and some of the team behind the revived Bruichladdich with a mission to show that terroir in whisky exists as it does for wine and Cognac.

He was told that the “best barley in the world comes from Ireland,” so with his backers he acquired a state-of-the art former Guinness brewery in Waterford and equipped it with stills from-now closed Lowland Scotch distillery, Inverleven. Reynier described it as “the facilitator”. It’s a purely functional building, “I don’t love it like I do Bruichladdich,” he said.

Each batch of barley is malted, fermented, distilled and aged separately. The local farmers are paid extra for their grain. Waterford gives them the “confidence to grow barley so it’s not just a commodity,” Reynier said. Last year we finally got to try the fruits of all that work. Both the new makes we tried and the two Waterford Single Farm Origins do taste highly different. And though everything is not done exactly the same for each whisky regarding malting, fermentation times and oak, it is a pretty convincing demonstration of how different sites affect flavour. They are also superb whiskies, justifying their high prices, in my opinion for such young spirits, by the quality and sheer amount of work that goes into each of them. 

WaterfordDistillery_The_Facilitator_River_Suir_01

Meet the facilitator

Grand vin de Waterford

The point of the Cuvée is to do something different. Reynier quoted the winemaker at Krug who said that for the vintage wines, it’s God’s work, but for the multi-vintage Grand Cuvée, “I am God!” With the Cuvée, Reynier gets to play God, a role he clearly relishes.

The other inspiration is Bordeaux. To make the Cuvée, “we don’t just stick all the barley in at once”, O’Reilly explained. Instead just as Latour takes lots of vineyards and grape varieties, and blends them into a Grand Vin, distiller Ned Gahan blended 25 separate single farm origins, which remember, have been malted, fermented, distilled and aged separately, into the Cuvée. Reynier described it as “the essence of the Waterford project.”

Waterford-Mark-Reynier

Mark Reynier, he has opinions

It’s the barley, stupid

For Reynier, distillation and ageing are the least interesting parts of the process. “It’s the barley, stupid,” he said, and the fermentation, “that’s where the flavour comes from.” I mentioned to Reynier that a very well-known blender had told me that 80% of whisky’s flavour comes from casks. “That’s bullshit”. Reynier went on to tell me that this very blender’s famous Highland malt got its rich flavour from gallons of molasses. He was also bracingly frank about the classic job of Scotch whisky blender: “they’re all finished” he said, mentioning some of the biggest names in the industry. 

Of course, wood is still important. Waterford uses a mixture of first-fill bourbon, new American oak, first-fill French wine and fortified wine casks. They play a supporting role to the barley, however, the team are not looking to get as much cask flavour as possible into the young spirit. In the small dining room at Berry Bros, the air positively hummed with the smell of barley. There’s fruit and flowers and spice and stuff – full tasting note below – but what stands out is the sheer cereal flavour, and the length and texture in the mouth. It’s bottled at 50% ABV with no chill-filtering or additions. The complexity is astonishing for such a young, around four years old, whisky. It’s exciting to think what subsequent releases will be like.

Not everyone is convinced, however. Some, such as Andrew Jefford, have expressed their scepticism about whether whisky can have terroir in the same way as wine. But whether you accept all of Reynier’s claims, there’s no doubt that Waterford is creating a new model for premium whisky, or rather, reviving an old one. It’s not based on sherry casks, or esoteric stills shapes, or lyne arms, or the time Captain so-and-so founded an illegal distillery in 1797. It’s based on high quality produce from a specific place. That’s something that can’t be imitated. 

Waterford Cuvée will be landing at Master of Malt soon, RRP £70. See the range Single Farm Origin whiskies here

Waterford Cuvee

Waterford Cuvée tasting note

Nose: Barley all the way, strong, creamy cereal note. It’s malty with floral honey, gingerbread and fresh apple. Just deliciously fresh. 

Palate: Super creamy. It’s all about feeling that texture in the mouth. Then there’s cloves, cinnamon and custard, with peach and apple. Beautifully balanced.

Finish: It’s that cereal note going on and on and on. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Aber Falls Single Malt Autumn 2021

The first release from Aber Falls distillery sold out in 40 minutes. Thankfully, the second batch is now here, and even better, it’s very reasonably priced which is why Aber…

The first release from Aber Falls distillery sold out in 40 minutes. Thankfully, the second batch is now here, and even better, it’s very reasonably priced which is why Aber Falls Single Malt Autumn 2021 release is our New Arrival of the Week.

Whisky has always been expensive but it does sometimes seem that prices have been going particularly bananas of late. At the top end five figures are not unusual while new distilleries often release their three year old whiskies for north of £50.

Aber Falls Single Malt Autumn 2021 release 

So it’s refreshing to see the price of the second release from Aber Falls in Wales. Just £26 (at the time of writing). Roughly the price of a good blend. And for that you’re getting a small batch single malt whisky made entirely from local barley. And this isn’t some light fruity little whisky, it’s packed full of flavour from its complicated ageing regime. The distillery is going for maximum flavour in the young spirit. How do they do it for the money? 

The Aber Falls set-up is an interesting one with a mixture of copper pot and stainless steel stills. The 2021 release was then matured in a mix of ex-Oloroso and PX sherry casks, ex-bourbon casks, and virgin oak casks, before diluting with local spring water and bottling at 40% ABV. It’s a little more conventional than the inaugural release which included ageing in orange wine casks – yes, wine made from oranges. 

A big signing

Aber Falls began distilling in January 2018. The distillery is located in a beautiful part of North Wales located just south of Abergwyngregyn between the A55 and the Menai Strait. Earlier this year, parent company Halewood caused waves in the whisky world when it signed Dr Kirstie McCallum as its master blender earlier. She had only just joined Glen Moray in 2019 from Distell which owned Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory, but seemingly relished the challenge of joining a company where there was everything to play for. Halewood has many booze pies (mmmmm, booze pies) including the Crabbie’s single malt distillery in Edinburgh which is yet to release its inaugural whisky – more on that later this week.

McCallum commented on the Aber Falls 2021 release: “The perfect whisky is made up of exceptional ingredients, ideal conditions and well considered casks made of top-quality wood. In particular, the two sherry casks used for this single malt have provided a very enjoyable flavour that we’re incredibly proud of.”

The inaugural release sold out in 40 minutes

MD James Wright, who has been with the distillery since it was founded, added: “We are thrilled to release our 2021 Welsh Single Malt whisky, following the successful inaugural release earlier in the year, which saw 2,000 bottles sell out in just 40 minutes! We’re a distillery that proudly produces 100% Welsh whisky, capturing the Welsh craft and heritage in every bottle. As a result, our products are extremely sustainable, enabling us to benefit Wales at every stage of production, including returning any waste ingredients to local farms for use as fertiliser or cattle feed”.

Naturally there’s also a signature cocktail. Welsh Bartender Alex Mills has come up with an Old Fashioned with a Welsh twist that’s loosely based on the flavours of a Bara Brith, a spiced tea cake common in North Wales. The signature serve consists of ingredients from the four corners of Wales, including 15ml of honey from Nature’s Little Helpers in Cardiff, a pinch of black Welsh tea from Tea Traders in Carmarthen, five drops of coffee bitters from Dyfi Coffee in Machynlleth and, of course, 50ml of Aber Falls single malt.

With Aber Falls releasing whisky, there’s now something of a Welsh whisky scene alongside Penderyn’s Brecon Beacons distillery which was founded in 2000. Penderyn is now expanding with an outpost in Llandudno open and one in the pipeline in Swansea. Meanwhile we were fortunate enough to try some very promising new make from the In the Welsh Wind distillery in Cardigan Bay in South Wales. Let’s hope it follows the Aber Falls model of good whisky and reasonable prices. 

Aber Falls single malt 2021 release

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Creamy malt with diced nuts, caramel crystallized fruit, dates, and prunes.

Palate: Vanilla and toffee cross zesty orange peel, heaps of sherried sultanas, and dried fruits. A gentle spice picks up with clove, earthy coffee, and extra dark chocolate, studded with nuts.

Finish: The creamy texture prevails, vanilla fudge, darker notes of berries and cherries, sherried fruit cake, soft barley spice.

To buy Aber Falls Single Malt Autumn 2021 release click here

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Sassy: Putting the sass in cidre

Sassy in France blends traditional Norman techniques with modern flavour profiles and marketing to make an authentic cider with a twist. We meet the man with cider flowing through his…

Sassy in France blends traditional Norman techniques with modern flavour profiles and marketing to make an authentic cider with a twist. We meet the man with cider flowing through his veins, Xavier D’ Audiffret Pasquier.

First, let’s get that name out of the way. It doesn’t come from that tired word to describe young heroines, ‘sassy’. No, the brand is named after the Château de Sassy owned by the family of the brand’s founder Xavier D’Audiffret Pasquier. Sometimes in France, the word Chateau can be used rather generously to describe large farmhouses, but the family’s place is the real thing, looking for all the world like a miniature Versailles. 

Sassy_Château founders

Xavier D’Audiffret Pasquier (left) and Pierre-Emmanuel Racine-Jourden in the grounds of the Chateau de Sassy

Changing the image of cider

The D’Audiffret Pasquier family are cider aristocracy, as you’d expect with such a magnificent name. They have been making cider and Calvados in Normandy since the 19th century. But Xavier’s (I’m going to break convention by using his Christian name as saying D’Audiffret Pasquier over and over again just looks too unwieldy) business has only been going since 2014 and is completely independent. 

His background is in finance but, he told us “I had always wanted to launch my own company.” So he partnered with his old school friend, the equally magnificently-monikered, Pierre-Emmanuel Racine-Jourden to create Sassy. The idea was to shake up the image of cider in France which Xavier said “is very old fashioned, something you eat with galettes and crêpes.” 

Getting the branding right was very important. But they also wanted to make a cider that tasted a bit different while staying true to their Norman roots. Working with a cellar master, they developed three recipes. “I wanted to create something different to what every other farmer is making in Normandy,” Xavier said. Whereas most French ciders use four different apple species, Sassy uses 20, and less of the classic bitter apples to create something “delicate, fine and well-balanced with good complexity” as he puts it.

Sassy apple

It all starts with the humble apple

Very artisan

He describes production as “very artisan.” He uses fruit from trees planted in loam soils which apparently creates a “nice acidity” with low yields, they only plant 150 trees per hectare compared with the normal 600, and he waits eight years for the trees to mature before using the apples. The ciders are made from a combination of his own orchards and bought-in fruit from ten local farmers. 

As well as rejuvenate the category, Xavier wants to help promote his home region and protect its cider inheritance. “We wanted to launch something that could help to revitalise the Norman economy. The wine economy is massive and we’d like to do the same now for cidre. We saw that a lot of apple producers were destroying orchards,” he said. 

Innovative production methods

To make the cider, the team uses a pneumatic Champagne press that works gently so it doesn’t introduce any harsh tannins into the juice. His ciders are lower in alcohol than the Norman average, beginning at 2.5% ABV for the Le Vertueux and going up to 5.2% ABV for the L’Inimitable. He puts this low alcohol down to shorter fermentation times which they cut short by chilling to leave a little residual sugar. The ciders are then bottled and carbonated. 

Despite the low alcohol, Sassy ciders are packed full of flavour with a distinct fruit taste – like spiced apple pie. They stay true to their roots with a little tannic bite. The taste is distinctly Norman but also very fruity, modern and accessible. My mother-in-law, who doesn’t really drink, loved them. I was particularly taken with the 3% ABV rose La Sulfureuse cider made with pink-fleshed apples. 

Sassy cider rose

Sassy cider, perfect for picnics

Good mixers

They are also, Xavier said, “great low ABV mixers.” I can vouch that it makes a superb Anglo-French Kir Royale combined with White Heron British Framboise. He’s been working with Michelin-starred chefs like Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon, and making sure his cider is poured in 5 star hotels and cocktail bars like Nightjar. The aim is to: “change the perception and be disruptive.” He has begun to see his hard work pay off with cider increasingly seen on “cool terraces in Paris,” he said.

In 2017, they began exporting to Britain. If cider has a problem in France with its old man image, then Britain has it far worse. Say cider and many will think of tramps or teenagers in parks. In the UK, cider only has to contain 35% apple juice compared with 80% in France. Sassy is made from 100% whole fruit, and yet it is in the same category as Kopparberg.

“Kopparberg, it is not real cider. It’s more like hard seltzer than a cider,” Xavier complained. At the same time he recognises that though much of what people drink isn’t great quality, the cider market in Britain is ten times the size of France. Low apple ciders “make cider popular. It’s not a good product, but people like it,” he admits.  

But attitudes are changing in England too, with companies like Cider is Wine or the Fine Cider Company insisting that cider should be made like wine and enjoyed as such. Better quality ciders are increasingly available in pubs and restaurants, and people are waking up to the joys of real, whole fruit cider. Sassy is a great place to start if you want to know what the fuss is about. 

Buy Sassy cider here

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Celebrating our favourite bars for National Hospitality Day

The Drinks Trust, Hospitality Action, Licensed Trade Charity, and Springboard have come together to create National Hospitality Day. We think it’s a great idea, so we decided we’d shout about…

The Drinks Trust, Hospitality Action, Licensed Trade Charity, and Springboard have come together to create National Hospitality Day. We think it’s a great idea, so we decided we’d shout about some of our favourite establishments. 

Good news everyone, National Hospitality Day is on the horizon (18 September)! 

Ok, so you might not know what that is. In your defence, it is new. On Saturday the very first one launches as a nationwide celebration of pubs, bars, restaurants, operators, and suppliers in the UK. It was founded by four charities, The Drinks Trust, Hospitality Action, Licensed Trade Charity, and Springboard, to mark the resilience of an industry which has been brought to its knees by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. 

While they had a devastating effect on the industry, they did also serve as an invaluable reminder of how much richer our lives are for having great bars, pubs, restaurants, hotels, and more in them. No more taking our favourite destinations for granted. Now they’re back, they need our support to survive and National Hospitality Day is a chance to say “welcome back – we’ve missed you” and celebrate all that’s great about UK hospitality.

The charities behind the initiative are asking brands, distributors, bars, pubs, restaurants, or any operator up and down the land to pull out all the stops to come up with a fundraising and sponsorship activity. And we’re doing our bit by championing some of the fantastic venues at the heart of our communities. Here are some great destinations we think you should head to from various people throughout Master of Malt.

National Hospitality Day

You will not be disappointed

The Prince of Greenwich, London – Henry, features editor 

We stumbled upon this place in 2018 when we heard jazz music as we were walking up Royal Hill in Greenwich. We poked our heads in and the place was packed, so we were about to turn around and go home when we were collared by a jolly bearded man who greeted us like old friends, and somehow found space for my wife, daughter, and me to sit. Delicious pizzas on long wooden boards were going by so it seemed silly not to order one. The beer was nice, Harvey’s Best, and the house wine was tasty and Sicilian. The man who greeted us turned out to be Sicilian as well, Pietro la Rosa, and he ran the pub with his family. The whole room was stacked top to bottom with bric-a-brac including a lifesize plastic rhinoceros head sticking out of the wall. The music was great, and we ended up spending most of the afternoon there. Pietro brought over colouring books for our daughter. Since that day, we went at least once a month for the music, the pizza, a few drinks but mainly for the welcome. During lockdown, we avidly followed the Prince’s Instagram account, worried that Pietro was going to throw in the towel. Thankfully he didn’t and the place is as wonderful as ever. It’s the best pub in London, if not England, as far as I’m concerned.  Here’s to you Pietro, the Prince of Greenwich!

National Hospitality Day

London’s best-kept secret? It just might be.

The Discount Suit Company, London – Adam, writer

For one of the East Ends must-visit bars, it’s not exactly easy to find The Discount Suit Company. Down a narrow staircase past an unmarked black door and behind a heavy black curtain is a former suit tailor’s store room that was turned into a ridiculously cool London bar in January 2014. Stumble on in and you’ll be greeted by a blend of Northern soul and vintage rock’n’roll in a space that evokes its 1970’s suit shop heritage with original brickwork and low hanging ceiling rafters. A bar top chiseled from a large cutting table is the centrepiece, manned by a really friendly staff making delicious classic cocktails with minimum fuss. It was one of the first places I visited once we were all allowed to go to a bar properly again and the cosy atmosphere, quality drink and conversation with the bartenders really underlined just how much I missed it. If you’re looking for somewhere a little off the beaten track to settle back into the world of high-end cocktails without all the return-to-normality mayhem, this is the place.

National Hospitality Day

Old-school charm in the beautiful Sussex countryside. Perfect.

The Six Bells, Chiddingly, Sussex – Emily, marketing campaigns executive

What do you look for on a night out? If your answer is any of the following: cracking and varied live music acts, cheap and cheerful food served in big portions, a super friendly atmosphere, and/or plenty of cute reading nooks, then I haven’t found anywhere better than The Six Bells in Chiddingly, Sussex. In the heart of a quaint, but energetic village, there’s loads of great walks to go on in the area if you’ve eaten too much (which you probably will) and the pub is patronised by lots of charming locals who appreciate the no-fuss, old-school nature of the place. Some have been going there since the 70s, which says an awful lot about The Six Bells.

National Hospitality Day

The cocktail menu sounds too good to not give it a try, to be honest

Mother Mercy, Newcastle – Luke, UK market manager for Samson and Surrey

Mother Mercy is one of those places that just makes me happy. Housed in an intimate basement cocktail bar in the heart of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the bar managed to pull through lockdown with the help of 750ml bottled cocktails, which are full of fizz, full of flavour, and available for home delivery across the UK. Now that you can visit, however, you should check out the modern classic cocktails (think East 8 Hold Up, Espresso Martini, and Gin Basil Smash) as well as original creations like the Bananabread Punch, Marshmallow Fizz 2.0, and Pinwheel. All made with fresh ingredients, great spirits, and skill. Couple that with a hip-hop playlist, bring pink decor, and the friendliest staff in town… what’s not to love?! 

National Hospitality Day

A sight many of us here at MoM Towers are pleasantly familiar with

The Ragged Trousers, Tunbridge Wells (and more!) – Emma, content executive

A staple stop off on many a Master of Malt night out, The Ragged Trousers in Tunbridge Wells has been fully independent since opening its doors almost 16 years ago. Located on the historic Pantiles which, to be honest, was all looking a bit neglected before The Ragged came along – when a few local folk decided enough was enough and they needed a good, indie local pub. These days, you’ll struggle to find a seat on a sunny weekend, with exceptional food during the day, a well-procured list of wines, spirits, and guest beers, throw in some of the friendliest staff in town and their Spotify playlists and I’ll stay all day! An impressive testament to its popularity and success, the team behind the Ragged has expanded its franchise to include sister pubs The Sussex Arms which will forever hold a soft spot in my heart – great people, great music, a basement for gigs downstairs, fires in winter… check it out! And The George, which is up the hill (usually a no-no for someone based in downtown Tunbridge Wells), but does brew its own beer, making it an ideal safe haven for Pantiles people who have ventured to the dreaded “top of town”.

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Negroni Week: Seven twists on a classic

It’s finally here – Negroni Week (13-19 September) has officially begun. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up seven of the best twists out there and asked their creators for the inspiration…

It’s finally here – Negroni Week (13-19 September) has officially begun. To celebrate, we’ve rounded up seven of the best twists out there and asked their creators for the inspiration behind them. And you can get involved too – scroll to the bottom to learn about our Negroni Week competition. 

Count Camillo Negroni or General Pascal Oliver Comte de Negroni? Who invented the classic cocktail, the Negroni? It’s a question that has been posed by drinks historians, writers and Master of Malt’s own Henry Jeffreys with opposing – or non-committal – views.

What we do know though is that the vibrant, bitter aperitif – classically made using equal measures gin, vermouth and Campari – has been enjoying a prolonged revival in the UK since 2009. Step inside any bar or restaurant in the UK and you’d do well to find one that doesn’t serve a Negroni. 

Twelve years since the great Negroni revival and it shows no signs of waning. The Guardian called it “the cocktail of 2021” and you can even buy them ready-made in a bottle, a can or a pouch. And while we love the original, we thought we’d celebrate 2021’s Negroni Week, 13-19 September, with some of the best twists on the classic being served in bars across town.

From swapping gin for Tequila, infusing mixes with herbs and giving them a fruity component, we asked the makers and shakers for the story behind their creations. They even gave us the full recipes so you can try your hand at home*.

*Though some of them are pretty involved, so we’ve divided them up into ones to attempt and ones that should be left to the professionals. 

You’ve been warned.

Ones to try at home

Credit: Shots London

“Wanky” Negroni, FAM Bar

7.5ml Fords Gin
17.5ml Singani 63
25ml Londinio Aperitivo
12.5ml Punt e Mes
12.5ml Londinio Rosé Vermouth
15ml water

Build and serve over ice with an orange slice garnish.

“I wanted to play on the idea of the multiple ingredient “Wanky” Negroni and create something that actually wasn’t that wanky and satisfied both hardcore bitter drinks fans like myself and people just edging into that bitter realm with a twist on a Negroni that will fulfil both varying palates.” Tatjana Sendzimir, bar manager.

Sbagliato Carafe

Sbagliato carafe, Tayer + Elementary

200ml Campari
200ml Martini Rosso
200ml Pago de Tharsys cava (or another sparkling wine)

Combine all ingredients in a carafe with ice and share.

“We love it because it’s delicious, and it’s a fizzy and low-abv alternative.” Monica Berg, bar co-owner.

Nebula Negroni

Nebula Negroni, Nebula

25ml East London Liquor Gin
25ml Carpano Bitter
25ml Punt E Mes Sweet Vermouth

Combine ingredients and infuse with basil until you have the flavour you want. You can store it in a bottle. When serving, garnish with orange slice and basil leaf.

“At Nebula, we’re proud of our awesome pizzas, so we wanted to pay homage to their Italian birthplace and really cement the link with our Negronis by infusing our blend with dried basil. We use East London Liquor Co gin not just because it’s awesome, but because it’s made just down the road (neighbourhoods are the future!). We finish our blend with Carpano bitter and the powerfully herbaceous Punt E Mes vermouth, so all things sing together in a herby take on the classic that pairs perfectly with our pizzas.” Nate Brown, bar owner

Heads and Tails - Rose Negroni

Rosé Negroni, Heads + Tails

40ml La Vie en Rosé or another Provence rosé
20ml Lillet Rose Vermouth
15ml Campari

Stir down, strain into a rocks glass and garnish with grapefruit. 

“It’s a Negroni, in the south of France and it’s sunny. I made the drink for a festival in Nice where we needed a bitter drink that had a slightly lower abv yet had the feel of the area. Using a Campari to follow the brief but pull the bitterness for the beverage paired with a Provence rosé allowed for the elegance of the area. Finished off with slight fruity and aroma of Lillet Rose gave a Negroni that you could drink throughout the summer days at a festival.” Callum Dunne, bar manager 

Leave it to the professionals:

Pandan Negroni - Nomad

Pandan Negroni, Nomad Hotel

45ml Pandan-infused Tapatio Reposado Tequila
22.5ml Campari
22.5ml Cocchi Vermouth di Torino
15ml coconut water
7.5ml cold-brew coffee

Build in rocks glass with a large ice cube, stir and serve.

“The Pandan Negroni was created after we discovered how delicious Reposado Tequila incorporates with pandan [a herbaceous tropical plant]. The pandan brings out all the green aspects of the Tequila while enhancing the barrel spice notes and softening the acidity. The almond flavour coming from the leaf also plays off the coconut water, which is the only component which dilutes the cocktail, giving it more body and a rounder finish.” Pietro Collina, bar director.

Rhubarb & Tarragon Negroni..jpg RS

Rhubarb and Tarragon Negroni, Publiq

22.5ml Belvedere Heritage 176 malt spirit
2.5ml Tarragon-infused Sipsmith VJOP
25ml Rhubarb-cooked bitter blend
25ml Vermouth rosso blend
25ml Mineral water

Have all ingredients stored cold in the fridge. Pour all ingredients in a rock glass over an ice block. Garnish with an orange slice.

“When looking for a new flavour for our seasonal Negroni, rhubarb was at the peak of its flavour, with lovely fruity and earthy notes, making it an obvious choice for us. Tarragon, with its fresh menthol and anise aroma, brought freshness to this favourite of the summer.” Greg Almeida, bar co-owner.

LITTLE MERCIES FINAL JULY 2021 @lateef.photography-155

Passionfruit Negroni, Little Mercies

20ml passion fruit vermouth
20ml Victory house gin
12.5ml Campari
2.5ml passion berry vodka
0.08ml MSK passionfruit flavour drops

Stir over ice and strain into a rocks glass with block ice and garnish with an orange wedge.

“We have had a house Negroni on our menu since the day we opened. We decided that we would make a sweet vermouth in house, from a seasonal fruit rather than from grapes. The passion fruit was the latest in the line of fruits we chose to work on, more as a challenge as they don’t contain much in the way of juice, and they are high in acid so hard to ferment. We actually ended up soaking the fruits in a mixture of water and sugar, and then letting that ferment. We also made an Oleo Saccharum with sugar and the spare fruit, so that ended up being the sweetness in the vermouth. We also add a passion berry infusion to this Negroni, as it brings some extra complexity and aroma that ties nicely to passionfruit.” Alan Sherwood, bar owner.

Show us your Negroni with a twist recipe, for a chance to win a Jaffa Cake Gin Negroni bundle! Post a video or image on your Instagram feed (not Instagram Story), showcasing your creative “Negroni with a twist” cocktail recipe; and include the hashtag #momnegronitwist (so we can locate your entry)!  Comp opens 12:00:00 BST on 13 September 2021 and closes at 23:59:59 BST on 26 September 2021. Full T&Cs below. Open to 18+ or legal drinking age only. The best and most creative entry wins.

 

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Inside the Lighthouse, Glenmorangie’s innovation hub

“Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination…” Whisky’s Willy Wonka has a new factory of fun to create the drams of the future and we…

“Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination…” Whisky’s Willy Wonka has a new factory of fun to create the drams of the future and we got a chance to see it before the experiments begin. Here’s what to expect from Glenmorangie’s new distillery: The Lighthouse!

Dr Bill Lumsden’s first-ever sip of whisky was Glenmorangie 10 Year Old in 1984 at a party on Marchmont Road, Edinburgh, while Let’s Hear it For The Boys played on the radio.  Since then, he has spent almost four decades in whisky innovating and creating exceptional drams like the world’s first made with high-roast chocolate malt, exploring the benefit of various cask styles and even sending the odd tipple into the final frontier. You can see where the Willy Wonka comparisons come from.

This week we got a first-hand glimpse at how Lumsden’s experimental days are far from behind him as Glenmorangie invited us to visit its new on-site innovation distillery called The Lighthouse. A spectacular multi-million-pound creation, the new landmark on the site where Glenmorangie has been creating its single malt since 1843 stands tall like an actual lighthouse, a 20m-high beacon in its rural highland home that promises to give Lumsden and co. true flexibility at all stages of whisky-making. 

Designed by Barthélémy Griño, known for creating premises for Berluti, Dior, and Louis Vuitton, those who attended from the luxury magazines will appreciate all the reclaimed stone and slate, the stunning views and the wood aluminium hybrid cladding made with wood from bourbon and sherry casks that sits behind the Lighthouse’s glass façade. But this is MoM, so we were there to get our geek on. Because Lumsden tells us this is where Scotch whisky innovation is going to get seriously funky.

Glenmorangie Distillery Lighthouse

Dr. Bill in front of his new pride and joy

Inside the Lighthouse

“The ambition is to look at every aspect of primary production. Experimentation in terms of maturation is well established, as is Glenmorangie’s reputation for it. But dabbling in primary production isn’t easy when you’ve got your main distillery set up and running smoothly. So, you name it: raw materials, malting, milling, mashing, fermentation, and all sorts of things with distillation. There’s nothing on or off the table,” says Lumsden. He will spend a week of every month here doing things that were never possible before because the old distillery was too busy or lacked the required equipment. 

As our tour demonstrated, that’s very much not the case anymore. Beginning on the bottom floor, a Briggs of Burton-designed malt intake and mill can process array of cereals, so for the first time in Glenmorangie’s history, you can expect whisky made from things other than malted barley. Wheat, maize and oats are all tipped, as is spirit from things that aren’t cereals at all… On the next floor, the two mash tuns capable of processing one-and-a-half to two tonnes of mash (compared with 12 in the main distillery) can create different clarities of wort, from crystal clear to cloudy. 

A cereal cooker is fixed to each, a piece of equipment that Lumsden says he “hasn’t used in anger in many years” which breaks down the husk of grains to get to the starch. This is useful because in Scotch you can’t add chemical enzymes (or jungle juice as Lumsden calls it) and if you’re using non-malted barley, for example, there are no naturally occurring enzymes to break things down for you. Two temperature-controlled fermentation vessels, common in brewing but not in Scotch, meanwhile, give Lumsden control in his specialist subject.

Glenmorangie Distillery Lighthouse

What does the future hold? Bold, original and distinctive drams are surely on the way

The possibilities are endless…

Armed with a PhD in biochemistry, the workings of yeast and fermentation is very much his bag, baby, and he laments the fact that in Scotch whisky, fermentation is typically a two or three-day process that’s very vigorous and violent. “There’s got to be a reason why our colleagues in the wine industry allow fermentations to run for two weeks, or beer for five or six days,” Lumsden explains. “I’m deeply intrigued by how those two industries focus on the flavour from primary production, whereas in Scotch we rely a lot more on maturation to drive the shape of our products”. 

Lengthy fermentations are to be expected then, as are different yeasts. According to Lumsden these are “magical microorganism” which are sadly just treated like a commodity. “When I first joined DCL (now Diageo), I was aghast that they were just emptying bags of yeast into water. You never do that as a yeast physiologist! It’s simply used to reach an end, but there’s so many different avenues you can go down. I know others like my old friends at Diageo have tried things, but a lot of experimentation in the industry is never really published”.

From outside, the glass tower offers a glimpse at the two gleaming Forsyth’s copper stills, modelled on the 12 giraffe-high stills in the main stillhouse, and they’re even more impressive up close. While the wash still is fairly conventional, the spirit still (or “the little beauty” as Lumsden calls it) is full of additional modifications. A glass man door allows the distillers to see what’s being distilled, while an optional purifier like the one at Ardbeg is there to recycle vapours and increase reflux. 

Glenmorangie Distillery Lighthouse

These might look like regular stills, but they’re anything but

Worth the wait

Look up at the lyne arm and you’ll see it splits to go into either a standard copper condenser (to create the lighter, elegant signature style) or a stainless steel condenser designed to mimic the effect of a worm tub, exposing the vapours to less copper to create meatier, more full-bodied whisky like Ardbeg. The neck of the still is covered with temperature-controlled cooling jackets, which metaphorically double the height of the still to allow the vapours to condense and reflux. “Many of these bells and whistles exist in other distilleries, but this is the only place where they ALL exist,” Lumsden says, beaming with pride.

On the fourth and top floor, our tour concludes with the Sensory Laboratory, a space in which the team will be able to study raw spirit and assess their experiments after every six-hour spirit run. It’s not finished yet, but soon it will be complete with a tasting room, while a terrace offering truly spectacular views of the neighbouring Dornoch Firth. Although Lumsden does add he would have been happy with a shed, it’s hard not to think that such a vibrant space won’t be inspiring. 

He has had to wait to play with his new toys, as the launch has been postponed since April 2020 due to COVID. This delay has the benefit of giving him the time to plan, however, and Lumsden knows the dozen or so things he’s going to do when things kick off properly next month. Which includes the freedom and capacity to bottle things that aren’t Scotch whisky, which might not even be presented as Glenmorangie. “The first thing will be to make a normal spirit, and then after that I will never make a normal spirit again here,” Lumsden says.

Glenmorangie Distillery Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

Nothing holds them back

Glenmorangie fans need not fear, however, as the whisky maker stresses that this will not distract him from the core whisky that makes the distillery what it is. “People don’t realise that at least 50% of my working time and effort goes into maintaining the quality and integrity of our core offerings. It just doesn’t generate press coverage. If we don’t have that foundation we don’t have anything else. Innovation is the cherry on top of the icing on top of the case”. 

Lumsden is also a supporter of the current Scotch whisky regulations, saying they are “stifling in a good way” and that they make you take a step back and be really creative. “I wouldn’t want the regulations to be loosened again. When they were last changed, my question was ‘why would you want to use a Tequila cask anyway? Is it going to give you a good flavour?’ It’s easy to lose sight of that fact. I won’t sit down and think about using a wild yeast, I think about what product I want to create and then work back from that”. 

The maverick malt master also goes out of his way to credit the LVMH group for backing his visions, saying that many of its brands are run as if they are independent, which is also true of its modest but mighty Scotch portfolio: Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. “We’re very much left to our own devices, which allows us to be nimble and experiment with ease,” he explains. “A lot of things I’ve worked on I never told anyone what I was doing until I thought there was a product ready to be talked about, which I could never do in any previous role.”

Glenmorangie Distillery Lighthouse

We can’t wait to see what’s to come

The whisky of the future

While the Lighthouse part of the distillery won’t be open to the general public day-to-day, there will be a special limited edition ‘Lighthouse’ whisky release available to purchase from the distillery to mark the occasion. Limited to 4,782 bottles, the 12‑year‑old malt has been aged in the very same bourbon and sherry casks that are now embedded in the Lighthouse distillery’s walls. In addition to this, Glenmorangie House, the brand home in the Highlands, has undergone a large renovation and now looks completely and brilliantly bonkers. 

It’s all part of an approach to rebrand Glenmorangie as a vibrant producer, welcoming a world of colour and innovation to take on the difficult, dark, masculine and often closed-off world of whisky and the “sea of sameness”, as Lumsden puts it. Even the packaging is currently being reviewed.

What we can expect from the Lighthouse is truly exciting. The brand promises new ways to make whisky, new ways to drink it and everything in between. The fourth-biggest single malt in the world doesn’t need to rock the boat and, at 61, Lumsden is aware he won’t even see some of the products he creates. But the ambition is here to embrace modernity, and creative, original and category-defying booze lies in the distance. The future of Scotch is bright. And The Lighthouse promises to be one of its leading lights.

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The lost whisky industries of Australia and New Zealand

In all the excitement about new world whiskies, it’s not generally known that we have been here before. Until surprisingly recently, both Australia and New Zealand had thriving whisky industries….

In all the excitement about new world whiskies, it’s not generally known that we have been here before. Until surprisingly recently, both Australia and New Zealand had thriving whisky industries. But by the late 1990s they were gone. So what happened? Ian Buxton investigates.

Casting my eye idly over my bookshelves recently a curious question came to mind. Why, I wondered, did the Canadian whisky industry go from strength to strength yet distilling failed to make much impact in Australia and New Zealand?  While today we may be increasingly aware of small-batch whiskies from both, few appreciate that they have a hidden history.

All three countries had more than a fair share of the Scottish diaspora and those new immigrants brought with them an appreciation of fine whisky and the know-how necessary to produce it. And, as new English-speaking countries with colonial links to Britain they were predisposed to favour the spirits they remembered from their original homeland. Australia, in particular, has been a strong market for Scotch blends but though their history is little-known today it turns out that there were local distilleries to be found.

The New Zealand whisky book

New Zealand’s whisky heritage

These musings were prompted by the sight of an interesting old book. The New Zealand Whisky Book by Stuart Perry was published back in 1980. Perry tells a tangled tale of bootleggers, some less-than-subtle discouraging words from Scotland, local pressures for high taxation and advocates of prohibitionist pressures. Notwithstanding this, a small industry did get off the ground in the middle of the nineteenth century but these modest efforts were strangled more or less at birth by NZ Government action in the 1870s.

Fast forward about one hundred years and in November 1969, Wilsons Malt began distilling in Dunedin under New Zealand’s first modern distiller, one Robert Logan. Over the years the distillery has had several names, including Dunedin, Lammerlaw and Willowbank. According to Perry’s book, initial production was a modest 90,000 litres per annum though he notes that in 1975 the whisky was awarded a ‘Certificate of Excellence’ in a Chicago competition.  There were early losses, however, and it would seem there was some trade reluctance to embrace domestically-produced whisky over Scotch.

By the early 1990s, the business had been acquired by Seagram, who produced the New Zealand single malt originally sold under the Lammerlaw brand. However, this was discontinued in 1997 when Seagram sold the stocks and the plant to Australian brewer Fosters. Only for Fosters to mothball operations and send the stills to Fiji for making rum, since when the rest of the distilling equipment has been dismantled.

The whisky then languished in Wilson’s old aeroplane hangar warehouse until bought first by Rachel and Matthew Thomson, who today are distilling in Auckland. However, the bulk of the remaining stock, then said to comprise 80,000 litres in 443 barrels, was acquired by The New Zealand Single Malt Whisky Company in 2010. It is primarily this whisky that appears from time to time in the UK.

Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin, New Zealand

Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin, New Zealand

Australian whisky waxes and wanes

While much Scotch whisky was exported to Australia, there was also a vibrant local industry from the 1860s, greatly helped by the discovery of gold. The resultant boom saw the population grow rapidly and the thirsty miners (and others) enthusiastically embraced whiskies from Melbourne, in particular. Soon, protected by a customs wall, substantial distilleries were built here. 

In 1929, to avoid prohibitive import duties on Scotch and other spirits, William H Ross of the Distillers Company opened a very large malt and grain operation at Corio, near Melbourne making whisky and gin. By the 1950s, locally-made whiskies took more than two-thirds of the market but were unable to compete once the tariff barriers fell and Scotch returned in force.

Corio 5 Star whisky, launched in 1956, was once a considerable force in the market but latterly, perhaps because of its low 37.1% abv bottling strength and a perceived inferiority to growing Scotch imports, sales began to fall away. Matters were not helped by the construction of an adjacent fuel refinery. Losses then mounted, the distillery closed in 1989 (some accounts say 1983) and within thirty years, the local industry had disappeared.

Come to think of it, distillery closures were not entirely unknown in Scotland during the 1980s so suggestions that Corio’s owners deliberately ran it down may be misplaced. Wider market forces are a more probable explanation.

Corio still

Old still from the Corio Distillery

So why did Canada thrive?

Meanwhile, in Canada, an already well-established industry received an unexpected bonus. As a result of Prohibition, clandestine imports to the USA boomed and fortunes were made (not least by organized crime). A substantial industry was built at this time and brands such as Canadian Club, first launched in 1884, grew significantly in volume.

The Canadian industry benefited greatly from a fortunate set of circumstances: huge demand in a contiguous market; favourable conditions for the growing of quality grain; and a generation of determined entrepreneurs, such as the original Hiram Walker and Joseph Seagram, and later the redoubtable Samuel Bronfman of Seagram. Despite this, and most probably because of ease of access to the US, Canadian whisky never really took off in world markets.

Today, with the explosion of craft distilling, all three countries are represented on the world whisky scene. Due in no small part to brands such as Forty Creek and the landmark Northern Border Collection from Pernod Ricard’s Corby the reputation of Canadian whisky has grown to unprecedented levels.

Starward

Australian whisky revived: Starward distillery in Melbourne

The modern revival

Australia too has seen a boom in small-scale distilling, dating from Bill Lark’s eponymous Hobart operation (1992) which kick-started Tasmanian production. Today, Tasmania remains a key force down-under but has been joined by larger operations such as the Diageo-backed Starward, building on Melbourne’s distilling heritage and a number of smaller craft distillers such as Bakery Hill, The Gospel Distillers and Limeburners.  Domestic demand has proved so large however, that many of the smaller distillers simply don’t have stock to export.

And, as for New Zealand, well they are catching up fast. Following the 1970s revival which petered out with the closure of Wilson’s Willowbank distillery, interest in the remaining stock proved just about sufficient to justify the opening of the small Thomson Distillery in Auckland some ten years ago and, more recently, Desiree Whitaker’s Cardrona Distillery at Wanaka on the South Island. Both are exporting now to the UK, albeit in very limited volumes.

And so the wheel turns.  Perhaps, after more than forty years, a new book is called for.  We’re not yet at the point of 101 Australian & New Zealand Whiskies but it can’t be far off….

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Shannon Tebay: an American at the American Bar

Last month the American Bar at the Savoy in London welcomed its first ever real actual American head bartender, Shannon Tebay, formerly of Death & Co. in New York. We took…

Last month the American Bar at the Savoy in London welcomed its first ever real actual American head bartender, Shannon Tebay, formerly of Death & Co. in New York. We took some time with her to find out how she’s enjoying one of the most high profile jobs in the business.

Dill and coconut. Passionfruit and fennel. Carrot eau de vie? These are some of the flavour combinations set to appear (word has it) on the new cocktail menu at The Savoy’s American Bar in London.

The iconic bar first opened its doors in the 1890s and was one of the first places to introduce American-style cocktails to Europe. Famous patrons include Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin and Winston Churchill. While head bartender Harry Craddock’s The Savoy Cocktail Book, published in 1930, has been a bartending bible for nearly a century.

An American at the American Bar

After a temporary closure it is finally set to reopen this month (walk-ins only) and with a new head bartender at the helm: Shannon Tebay. She brings with her a decade’s worth of experience bartending in New York, including seven at one of the city’s must-go cocktail bars, Death & Co.

Yes, she’s an American and a woman; the first American to ever hold the title and only the second woman since the inimitable Ada Coleman, who filled the role from 1903-1926. She’s also an acclaimed bartender with a penchant for painting and pastry who is crazy about coconuts.

Shannon Tebay

An American at the American Bar, whatever next?

Precision and consistency

Tebay, originally from New Mexico, first moved to New York in 2010 to pursue a masters degree in painting and drawing but instead fell in love with the epicurean delights of the city. No sooner had she put down her paint brush, she picked up a palette knife, signing up for a course in French pastry at the French Culinary institute. While studying pastry she took a serving job at the Death & Co. cocktail bar. Ultimately, the allure of mixology proved too great and, realising the parallels between the two crafts, decided to pursue a career in cocktails.

“People often ask me if I use my pastry skills in cocktails. I think they picture me brulée-ing drinks but that’s not really the case. What I apply is the craft of precision and consistency, because it comes down to chemistry for it to be successful.”

In 2012 she left Death & Co. to join one of its original bartenders, Joaquín Simó, on the opening of his own bar, Pouring Ribbons. Tebay became head bartender and later general manager. It was during this time that she perfected The Faultline – a Negroni variation comprising aquavit, sweet vermouth, amaro and carrot eau de vie. She later returned to Death & Co., rising to head bartender.

Her approach to cocktails is one of minimalism, working to find ways to “do more with less”, being innovative and taking away “necessary bells and whistles”. That’s evident in her own choice of favourite cocktail (Gin Martini with a lemon twist, if you are curious). So don’t expect any elaborate garnishes.

“I think it requires more creativity to come up with an idea that’s new and unusual using ingredients directly out of the bottle and letting the flavour speak for itself, rather than doll it up with unnecessary elements. I’ve had cocktails where the presentation is elaborate but the drink falls flat. First of all the drink has to be delicious, and then we can build on that, rather than the other way around,” she explained.

Nuts about coconut

So, what can we expect from the American Bar’s new menu? Tebay’s minimalistic approach will be evident, as well as a few signature ingredients that are never far from her reach.

“I like to combine unexpected pairings between fruity and savoury or fruity and herbal. For example coconut and dill is a combo I love, passionfruit and fennel are great together too. I gravitate towards combos that on the surface seem surprising but have an unexpected harmony. I’m always going to have a bottle of pear eau de vie within arms reach. I use it in a lot of things and I adore it on it’s own. And I love love love coconut in any form, coconut liqueur, coconut cream, toasted coconut,” she said.

One of Tebay’s signature drinks is the Catamaran, a gin-based coconut cocktail crafted for Death & Co. It calls for a combination of Bimini  gin and navy strength gin, Aperol, Don’s Mix (a blend of two parts grapefruit juice and one part cinnamon-infused simple syrup), Coco Lopez (cream coconut) and lemon juice, served over crushed ice. Essentially a Grapefruit Colada, she explains.

American Bar at the Savoy

But will she be upstaged by the carpets?

No one should ever feel unwelcome at a bar

She’s also adamant that the new menu will be approachable and innovative, stamping out any pretentiousness, paying homage to the bar’s history but paving the way for a new generation of clientele and staff. This includes a modernisation of bartending culture, with Tebay placing particular emphasis on sustainability and building a diverse workforce.

“The fact is no one should ever feel unwelcome at a bar – it doesn’t matter if it’s a dive bar or the fanciest cocktail bar in the world. I want the menu to reflect that. I want it to be approachable yet interesting and the cocktails delicious but not off-putting in their construction or concept,” she said.

The magnitude of the role she’s taking on is not lost on Tebay. How is she feeling about joining one of the most historic bars in London? “You can pick any emotion and I’m feeling it – I am absolutely all of it. Excited, nervous, honoured, humbled and terrified. I know the anticipation for the reopening of the bar is high, and I want to make sure that when we reopen we are delivering at the standard people expect,” she said.

The American Bar is a revered cocktail institution so steeped in history and grandeur that it can seem intimidating. This feels like a new chapter – one that’s starting with a fresh, female and (for the first time) an American, lead. And that’s pretty exciting.

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A first look at Johnnie Walker Princes Street

It’s been a long time coming but finally the all-singing, all-dancing Johnnie Walker Princes Street in Edinburgh opens to the public on Monday 6 September. We were treated to a…

It’s been a long time coming but finally the all-singing, all-dancing Johnnie Walker Princes Street in Edinburgh opens to the public on Monday 6 September. We were treated to a sneak preview. Here’s what we thought.

It has to be said that Edinburgh’s Princes Street, once the Champs-Élysées of the North, has seen better days. The grand old department store Jenners closed earlier this year and all along the street there are boarded-up shops and a noticeable shortage of tourists.

So, it’s a relief to reach the far end, opposite the Caledonian hotel, and see that another former department store, Binns, a magnificent art deco building, has been beautifully-renovated into the Johnnie Walker brand home. Diageo has even fixed the old clock which plays Scotland the Brave at seven minutes past the hour while Highland figures jig about.

It’s part of Diageo £185m splurge on Scottish whisky tourism which also includes the renovation of four distilleries’ visitor experiences, Clynelish in the HIghlands, Caol Ila on Islay (to open soon), Glenkinchie in the Lowlands and Cardhu in Speyside. The home is set over eight floors and 71,500 sq ft; it includes not one but two rooftop bars, a blending room, a shop, and a VIP whisky vault. But most of all, it’s the home of the Johnnie Walker Experience, which tells the story of the brand. So the big question is: is it worth a visit?

Johnnie Walker Princes Street

Make it so!

It’s all about flavour

The experience will cost you £25 as part of a guided tour and takes around 1.5 hours, and includes three drinks. Your ‘journey’, the word ‘journey’ is used a lot, starts on the ground floor where visitors take a flavour test. What you choose will determine the drinks that you receive on your tour – mine came up tropical fruit.

We then watched a short film which explained, as all brand ambassadors do these days, that whisky is for everyone, there are no rules, drink it how you will, as long as you do it responsibly etc etc. There’ll be no tartans, tweeds, slippers, spaniels, fireplaces and all the things that apparently people used to associate with whisky. 

From there, we were treated to a whistlestop history of the brand told by a dancing lady on a moving walkway – keep walking, get it? It’s witty and stylish though the history is rather rushed. From there, we were guided through various rooms while the guide explained the various flavours behind Johnnie Walker, aided or sometimes hindered by stunning sounds and visuals. Along the way, we got three whisky-based drinks based on our flavour profile. These are described as “carefully controlled” in the press bumf ie. you’re not going to get merry on your journey. Non-alcoholic options are available.

The company who designed the brand home is  Los Angeles-based BRC Imagination Arts, which is also responsible for Jameson’s Bow Street visitor centre and the new Guinness experience, both in Dublin. The firm’s signature consists of amazing light displays combined with audio which at times made the visit seem more like a music festival than a whisky tour. The decor is resolutely modern, coming in somewhere between Star Trek: the Next Generation and the future bits in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Johnnie Walker Princes Street archive

The Johnnie Walker archive, it’s not on the tour but should be

Two cheers

There are moments of pure magic that made a jaded old hack like me gasp. At times, the Willy Wonka comparisons are very much warranted but it’s by no means perfect.

Though it’s designed for non-whisky geeks, it also manages to be a bit confusing. There’s a room featuring the ‘Four Corners’ of Johnnie Walker, Clynelish, Glenkinchie, Caol Ila and Cardhu, but without much explanation of what they have to do with Johnnie Walker’s blends. The drinks included in the tour are no help as they are all heavily-diluted cocktails. 

There are also disembodied voices of Johnnie Walker blenders, names which will mean nothing to non-whisky geeks. I think it would have been better if all the explanations came from the guides – ours was brilliant on the day.

It’s hard not to get the feeling that the pyrotechnics are all sound and fury signifying nothing. Which is a shame because the Johnnie Walker story is so rich and naturally visual. Why wasn’t more made of the brand’s striking advertising history? For all the talk of diversity, there’s very little on how or indeed why Johnnie Walker became a global icon. Imagine a section of the brand’s cultural role in India, America or the Arab world.

Our group were particularly interested in a small archive office with its old Johnnie Walker posters. It wasn’t part of the tour but we sneaked in anyway. Apparently, there will at some point be archive tours available which sound brilliant. 

Finally, my worry is the futuristic decor is going to look very dated very quickly. The most visually successful place was the Whisky Makers’ Cellar, which is based on John Walker’s old cellar in Kilmarnock.

Johnnie Walker

Filling a bottle of Johnnie Walker

What else is there?

In addition to the main experience, there’s plenty of other things to do on site. We highly recommend having a drink in one of the two rooftop bars with their breathtaking views across the city. Naturally, there’s a shop where you can fill your own bottle.

Then there’s the Whisky Makers’ Cellar in the basement where a brand ambassador will blend for your group one of 11 different Johnnie Walker’s based on your personal tastes. Then the dreaded disembodied voice will tell you about your blend. The cellar contains various casks including some that are maturing into what will be a special Johnnie Walker Princes Street blend. 

Finally, there’s the invitation-only VIP Whisky Vault – housed in an old bank vault – which has the most astonishing selection of whisky samples from Brora, Port Ellen, Roseisle and other ‘unicorn’ whiskies.  

Amazing views from Johnnie Walker Princes Street

Amazing views from Johnnie Walker Princes Street

So, should I visit?

If you’re in Edinburgh, it’s well worth a visit, even if it’s just to have a drink and enjoy the amazing views. The tour is fun, visually-impressive and has a real magic about it. Having said that, if you’re a proper whisky nerd, we recommend you do the blending experience in the Whisky Makers’ Cellar or better still, get a bus to nearby Glenkinchie where the same team has done an amazing job of upgrading the visitor experience without Disneyfying a working distillery. It’s particularly good at explaining where various flavours come from during the whisky making process. Again our guide was superb.

Overall, it’s great that Diageo is investing so much in Edinburgh and to see a fine building put to use. Maybe that’s the answer to all those emptying department stores, turn them into drinking experiences.

Click here to book and for more information.

 

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Master of Malt Tastes… Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey is welcoming explorers to broaden their boozy horizons and taste unconventional and experimental spirit. We find out if it’s a journey worth taking. In 2020 a…

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey is welcoming explorers to broaden their boozy horizons and taste unconventional and experimental spirit. We find out if it’s a journey worth taking.

In 2020 a new Irish whiskey brand emerged in an already thriving scene with a plan to stand out from the crowd. The ambition? “To bring new taste profiles to Irish whiskey,” says Cian Quilty, co-founder and managing director of Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey. “It’s renowned for being accessible and approachable, so our idea was to create a range with a lot of personality, whiskey that has a distinctive taste and a bold character”.

The brand would be based out of Limerick, a county with a rich distilling history renowned for its single pot still whiskey, although distillation last took place over a century ago. While there’s something of a local revival mirroring the national one taking place at the moment, Quilty was keen that the identity of the brand wouldn’t solely represent a sense of place. “We didn’t want to call it ‘Limerick whiskey’ or just use a family name. We wanted to tell a story,” says Quilty. “So we looked at the history of the city and came across the Sailor’s Home”.  

Limerick has always been a significant port city, located at the head of the Shannon Estuary, where the river widens before it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Back in the 1860s, a shelter was built to accommodate the international community of seafarers travelling from Spain, America, and the Caribbean. “We loved what the Sailor’s Home represented, that the city honoured the explorer that way, giving them a home from home. It’s perfect because it’s what we’re about. It’s rooted in the place of Limerick, it’s an Irish experience, but it’s also about the promise of something better, a reward for the brave”.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

You might not know his name, but Dr. Jack Ó’Sé has had a sizeable impact on Irish whiskey

Dr. Jack Ó’Sé: the secret weapon

A nice brand story will only get you so far, however, and an expert whiskey maker was needed to oversee the sourcing, blending, and maturation of what would become Sailor’s Home whiskey. The brand couldn’t have done much better than to recruit the legendary Dr. Jack Ó’Sé. With more than 40 years of experience, he’s done it all. Beginning back in ’79 by producing neutral spirit of Irish cream at Ceimici Teoranta, the veteran’s career has since taken him to the US to commission and design pot stills for Alltech, work on yeast production in Brazil and Serbia, guide Irish newcomers like Pearse Lyons, Achill Distillery, and The Burren Distillery, assist expert coopers such as John Neilly, and become a consultant tutor of whiskey. He has an MBA, BSc in biochemistry, and an MSc in brewing & distilling. In 2020, while in his seventies, he was awarded his Ph.D. in yeast production and fermentation.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t previously heard of this remarkable man, that’s because Dr. Ó’Sé was never at the forefront of the brand. Quilty describes him as the master of understatement. “He’ll tell you he just ‘popped some stills in Pearse Lyons’, and he just ‘distilled award-winning whisky’,” Quilty says. “He has a subtle way of pushing you in the right direction. When we were developing The Journey, we thought at one point we had an award-winning whiskey, but Jack thought it could be stronger. He had the idea of finishing the malt component in rum casks and the result was something that’s like nothing else in Irish whiskey”.

Dr. Ó’Sé was something of a coup for Sailor’s Home and his decision to come aboard vindicates the brand’s vision, particularly as he has a rather infamous nature of deciding whether to work for you within minutes of meeting you. “I have a company but I have no business card and I don’t approach anybody. I have no interest in working with people I don’t like or in projects that don’t intrigue me,” says Dr. Ó’Sé. “For a long time in Irish whiskey it was lacking in experience and expertise, there were too many people who didn’t have a clue. A lot of people would approach me with an idea but no idea of how to fund it or make it work. Cian was different. His ambition and plan were thorough and I liked the guy, so I decided to work with him”.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

Tasting the Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey range

What they created together was a core range comprising of The Journey Irish Whiskey, The Haven Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, and The Horizon 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey. Inside each nautically named bottling is a triple distilled Irish whiskey presented at 43% ABV to avoid chill-filtration. The packaging has plenty of detail, demonstrating a desire for transparency (a big plus in Irish whiskey that’s sadly still too lacking), as well as beautiful, bright, and distinctive labels. 

Right now, every drop of Sailor’s Home whisky is sourced, distilled, and matured with a wood policy set to the brand’s specification, but the plan is to distill in the future. “We wanted to first launch a brand defined by amazing whiskey and back that into a distillery, rather than the other way round,” says Quilty. “There’s been some good early talks with the owners of the Sailor’s Home to see if we can turn into the actual home of the brand, not just the spiritual one”. 

Two more products are on the way, another rum-cask-finished example (which we believe will be a Martinique rum finish that should be here very soon), as well as a single malt launching next year, so the innovation isn’t stopping anytime soon. We’re very much looking forward to testing them, as it’s safe to say that the current crop of Sailor’s Home whiskies is an encouraging first voyage for the brand.

This is a diverse and intriguing range that features some profiles different from what a lot of people would expect of Irish whiskey. Dr. Ó’Sé has put his experience to good work, using those considerable contacts to source excellent spirit and expertise to pick some interesting cask finishes that elevate each dram. Let’s take a look at each in some more detail. Oh, and don’t forget they’re all available here.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Journey Irish Whiskey

A four-year-old blend of triple distilled whiskey from Great Nothern Distillery, the grain element of The Journey spent most of its life in virgin American oak, giving it a high concentration of oaky, vanilla-led flavours. The malt element of the same age was matured in ex-bourbon casks, before the two were combined and finished in Jamaican rum casks for six months. “Jamaican rum is mainly pot still rum that’s heavy, fruity, and funky, which uses the weird and wonderful dunder pits to amplify this profile. We knew that our bold and bright young spirit would be able to stand up to the heavier style and that was key in achieving the right balance,” Dr. Ó’Sé says.

Nose: Pineapple caramelised with brown sugar, banana bread, and apricot in syrup lead with ground ginger, vanilla custard, and toasted oak in support. There’s some green apple, pear drops, clove, black pepper, and toffee popcorn underneath.

Palate: Spiced, rich, and with plenty of thick rummy sweetness with crème brûlée, apricot jam, molasses, and Christmas spices. There are hints of flamed orange zest, milk chocolate, cinnamon, and sweet tobacco throughout.

Finish: Seville marmalade, salty popcorn, and layers of caramel. 

Overall: It’s a great go-to dram, so rich and rummy and yummy with a profile that should entice those who aren’t yet convinced whiskey is for them. It also mixes beautifully, and with its price point, bartenders will be happy to do so. I’d recommend adding soda or ginger ale for a Highball, while the brand provides an Old Fashioned recipe. 

Serve: The Journey Old Fashioned 

50ml The Journey 

10ml sugar syrup 

2 dashes of Angostura bitters 

Build in a rocks glass with a large cube of ice and stir and garnish with a twist of orange.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Haven Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 

A triple distilled, single pot still Irish whiskey, The Haven was made with the required mix of malted and unmalted barley. However, 5% of the recipe was spared for some oats, which is quite traditional but sadly not seen much because the technical file for single pot still limits its use. Most of the new make spirit (95%) is matured in ex-bourbon barrels, while the other 5% spent time in Oloroso sherry casks, which Dr. Ó’Sé says was the hardest part to get right as the latter cask can often dominate if not measured correctly.

Nose: Through juicy orchard fruits, lemon peel and fresh oak come classic pot still spice, copper pennies, and a little new leather. Creamy rice pudding, caramel, and vanilla bring depth alongside raisins, dark chocolate, ripe banana, rosemary, and red liquorice laces.

Palate: It’s got a creamy, full, and yet still refined texture with more of that peppery, baking spice you expect from pot still whiskey as well as roasted almonds, blackcurrant lozenges and vanilla. Toasted barley, red apple, and salted caramel are present in the backdrop.

Finish: Liquorice, dried fruit, and ginger snaps. 

Overall: This is a beautiful example of a single pot still, carrying all the bold, spicy, and full-bodied creamy texture you’re looking for. The integration is excellent too, with the sherry casks adding a fresh dimension but not overpowering the spirit, allowing room for the mellow sweetness of the oats and plenty of fruit to shine. This one is best enjoyed neat or in a Manhattan cocktail.  

Serve: The Haven Sweet Manhattan 

60ml The Haven

30ml sweet vermouth  

2.5ml Luxardo Maraschino 

1 dash Angostura bitters 

1 dash Angostura orange bitters 

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a fresh cherry and zest of orange.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Horizon 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey 

Here Dr. Ó’Sé has taken some 14-year-old malt and 11-year-old grain whiskeys from Cooley Distillery that were initially matured in ex-bourbon barrels and filled them into Barbados rum casks for a finishing period of 6 months. “The blend was already a special whiskey so wanted to do something different but subtle to it, which is where we arrived at Bajan rum,” Dr. Ó’Sé explains. “They’re virtually all column-still rums which are refined and delicate, so where Jamaican rum would have been overpowering here, the cask we used just rounds the whiskey off. It also fits the theme of the brand nicely”.

Nose: Demerara sugar, vanilla buttercream, and a host of ripe tropical fruits are at the core of this nose, which is so elegant and deep. There’s ripe apples and peaches throughout too as well as sweet oak, cookie dough, and toffee. Nutmeg, burnt lime, orange zest, and some minty/herbal notes add depth in the backdrop.

Palate: A pleasant, velvety mouthfeel with more delicate, creamy, and sweeter notes. Malted honey, banana pudding, gummy bears, and orange peel initially, then cinnamon, vanilla fudge, and rum-soaked oak. All the way through you’ll get a plethora of tropical fruits again, papaya, guava, and melon mostly.

Finish: Butterscotch with makrut lime leaves and polished oak. 

Overall: Rewarding stuff. I like the rummy qualities here a lot as they add just a touch of something different while letting the beautifully creamy, fruity body of the spirit remain in command. The Horizon is just so refined and stately, like a gentle old man with Werther’s Originals in his pocket. No mixing needed here, just pour a dram, give it some time and let it do its thing.

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