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Category: MoM Loves

MoM Loves: Rabbit Hole whiskey

Kaveh Zamanian fell in love with a Kentucky native and then its bourbon. Then he went down the rabbit hole and came out the other side with an ambitious and…

Kaveh Zamanian fell in love with a Kentucky native and then its bourbon. Then he went down the rabbit hole and came out the other side with an ambitious and innovative brand. Here’s the story of Rabbit Hole whiskey.

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After emigrating from Iran as a child, Kaveh Zamanian grew up in LA and lived in New York and Chicago, working as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst for over 20 years. In Chicago, he met his future wife, Heather, a fourth-generation Louisvillian who introduced him to bourbon. From there, an obsession started. One Zamanian described as going down a “rabbit hole”, and a course was set for him which would lead him to found his own whiskey brand.

Beginning his journey around fifteen years ago, Zamanian decided there was no better way to learn how to make Kentucky bourbon than with some of its most respected distillers. “Back then there wasn’t as much excitement as there is now so it was easier to get access to veterans like Larry Ebersole, who was the master distiller at Seagram’s for 25 years, and former Four Roses master distiller Jim Routledge,” Zamanian says. “I was reading the right books, taking the right courses and talking to the right distilleries, learning from soup to nuts what goes into the art and science of making whiskey”. 

From there was able to start developing his very own recipes, informed by a desire to contribute to American whiskey in a way that’s unique. “I realised after the Civil War in the first golden age of bourbon that there were about 2,000 distilleries in Kentucky with a variety of expressions,” Zamanian explains. “I wanted to position Rabbit Hole to be one of the new renaissance of producers who wanted to create something different. The idea was that no two expressions could be the same and the whiskeys should give you a tasting experience that covers a broad range of notes and flavours”.

Rabbit Hole whiskey

The man himself

A glass castle of a distillery

It was in 2012 that Zamanian officially founded Rabbit Hole, before he had a distillery to call home. In the meantime, he found a producer that would make his recipes for him while working hand-in-hand with an architect to design and oversee the building of his own site in the heart of Louisville. By 2016, the first bottle of Rabbit Hole whiskey was released. 

The distillery itself opened in May 2018 in the heart of NuLu, the city’s creative district. It’s a shiny behemoth of a place, a glass and steel structure that allows for a fully immersive experience of sights, sounds, smells that lays the whiskey-making process out before visitors. A top-floor bar, The Overlook, serves cocktails with a view of the city. It’s what you’d think a modern distillery would look like. No matter what you’re level of engagement with whiskey is, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped out of the rabbit hole and into wonderland.

But it’s a commitment to transparency that will engage whiskey nerds, with even the sensory and quality assurance lab being fully viewable. “Transparency is not a marketing slogan, it’s part of the DNA of Rabbit Hole and the distillery embodies that. And it’s not only beautiful but it really packs a punch from an efficiency and production point of view,” Zamanian says. The capacity allows Rabbit Hole to produce 1.2 million proof gallons (5.5 milion litres at 50% ABV) per year, which equates to 27,000 barrels being filled annually. 

Rabbit Hole whiskey

Rabbit Hole Distillery

The Rabbit Hole way of making whiskey

The process of creating Rabbit Hole begins by selecting one of the five different recipes Zamanian devised. He is also working on a handful of finishing projects and experiments in rye and single malt. But it’s bourbon that really get him going. 

“I’m a big fan of malting grains, it’s an art in itself. They’re all spices on the spice rack that are able to elevate the core ingredient. As you need 51% corn in your mashbill, that leaves 49% of innovation,” Zamanian explains. “But most bourbon on the market is made from only a handful of recipes. There’s so much room for creativity and allows a whiskey maker to spread their wings and make unique expressions. We make all kinds of fun expressions that shine through their natural flavour”.

In July 2021, Rabbit Hole completed construction on three 8,000-gallon fermentation tanks which, at capacity, boosted production an additional 25%. But all of Rabbit Hole’s are made carefully in small batches with less than 15 barrels per batch. The column still, a 48-foot, 24-inch beauty produced by Vendome Copper & Brass Works, as well as the fermentation tanks and cooker are all in one space which required significant engineering, but ensures that transparency and efficiency Zamanian is so insistent on.

Speaking to the Rabbit Hole founder, it’s clear the only thing he values more than them is making sure his whiskey-making process prioritises quality over cost and volume. Flavour is king here. He puts his liquid in the barrel at 55% ABV (or 110 proof), which provides less yield but preserves more of the flavour, and only uses handmade barrels which are not only charred, but toasted slowly by wood fire, not gas. Everything is then bottled without chill-filtration. “We take no shortcuts to ensure the profiles of the whiskeys are accentuated as organically as possible,” Zamanian summarises.

Rabbit Hole whiskey

No shortcuts here

Looking forward

Making whiskey this way not only means you get a delicious dram at the end, but you attract some serious attention. That’s exactly what Rabbit Hole did and, in 2019, a majority stake was snapped up by Pernod Ricard. The intent was to utilise the drink giant’s distribution network, but maintain Rabbit Hole’s process and Louisville location. Hence why the core whiskeys were rebranded with the intent of honouring Louisville figures along with the life of Zamanian. 

“It’s a wonderful partnership,” he says. “I started the brand with personal and family resources and raised capital with local inventors, who believed in me and got the brand off the ground. But when Pernod came in it made sense. We share the value of conviviality. We have our eyes on national and international growth, sales, and distribution. And they leave us to make the whiskey”.

Now Rabbit Hole has made its way to the UK. “COVID delayed us reaching your shores but it’s a market we’ve had our eyes on for a long time, full of consumers who know and love their whiskey. It’s really exciting,” Zamanian. 

Rabbit Hole whiskey

Anyone for some Rabbit Hole whiskey?

Reviewing Rabbit Hole

It’s exciting for us too, because we love great whiskey at Master of Malt. And that’s exactly what we have here. Below are tasting notes and info on the two expressions we have, but to summarise quickly it’s fair to say that Rabbit Hole is the kind of distillery that gets us worked up. With a commitment to pushing boundaries, being transparent, and making tasty yet affordable whiskey, you’re always going to win us round.

Zamanian says his ultimate goal is to make a range of American whiskeys that are truly unique against a sea of similarity. “We’re leading the pack of the new distilleries since we’ve emerged on the market, with our focus on details, transparency, and production raising the bar. An old graduate tutor of mine used to say ‘just shoot me if I only have one idea’. We are always innovative and creative to make booze that re-imagines what American whiskey can be”.

We think he’s off to a great start, and that this rabbit might just win its race.

Rabbit Hole whiskeys are available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Rabbit Hole whiskey

Rabbit Hole Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Rabbit Hole’s Boxergrail straight rye whiskey combines 95% rye and 5% malted barley to create a bold, rich, and warming expression. The work the brand does on its barrels shows, allowing integration and nuance which are elevated by a luscious mouthfeel. This is a top-notch rye, which features a name inspired by the local boxing community.

Nose: Dark chocolate and toffee, underpinned by robust rye spiciness and a waft of warm sawdust.

Palate: Still plenty of oak and spice to it, well-balanced by vanilla and a hint of cigar box.

Finish: Brown sugar, apple, blackberry, cassia.

Rabbit Hole whiskey

Rabbit Hole Heigold Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

A marvellous high-rye bourbon, this expression has been dubbed Heigold, inspired by a Christian Heigold, a German stonecutter who settled in Louisville prior to 1850 and soon after, carved elaborate symbols of his patriotism on the facade of his now landmark home. It’s a twist on the standard Kentucky high-rye bourbons, made from a mash bill of 70% corn, 25% malted German rye, and 5% malted barley, with the extra malting infusing an array of flavours and a bold 47.5% ABV giving it great weight and depth.

Nose: Warming cinnamon and caramel, with a hint of Jamaican Ginger Cake underneath.

Palate: Thick vanilla pods, dry oak, peppercorn, and more cinnamon bringing spiciness.

Finish: A smidge of citrus appears through the toffee and toasted spices.

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MoM Loves: Benriach Malting Season

Benriach’s traditional floor malting reopened in 2012, and, nine long years later, the very first Benriach Malting Season release has landed at Master of Malt. So we took a closer…

Benriach’s traditional floor malting reopened in 2012, and, nine long years later, the very first Benriach Malting Season release has landed at Master of Malt. So we took a closer look at this historic release from the Speyside distillery.

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Good things come to those who wait. In 2012 Speyside distillery Benriach began using its old floor maltings to malt barley the traditional way. In 2018, we visited in the company of master blender Rachel Barrie. She gave us two new makes to try, one made with bought-in malt, and one using barley malted on the premises. The latter was fuller, funkier and packed full of flavour. We knew something exciting was in the pipeline.

Benriach Distillery in Speyside

The pagoda at Benriach is not just for show

Doing things the traditional way

Floor malting is a labour-intensive technique practised by very few distilleries these days. Stewart Buchanan, global brand ambassador at Benriach, elaborated: “Passed from distiller to distiller throughout the generations, the floor malting process keeps a traditional part of the whisky-making process alive with Benriach being one of only seven distilleries in Scotland to continue the practice of floor malting. Distilling spirit from barley malted here on site is a true labour of love and something we are passionate about keeping alive here at Benriach.”

The process involves highly-skilled maltsters who spread barley that has been steeped in water on the malting floor and turn it by hand over several days for optimum germination of the barley. They then move it to the kiln where it’s dried under the pagoda-shaped chimney. This pagoda has become the symbol of Scotch whisky but for most distilleries, it’s now just for show. At Benriach it’s both beautiful and functional. 

Benriach’s turbulent history

The past has come back to life, but for much of its history, Benriach was at death’s door. It opened in 1898 at the height of a long boom in Scotch whisky. It was built by John Duff & Co as the sister distillery to neighbouring Longmorn. Sadly, the bust came soon after with the collapse of Pattison’s whisky blenders the same year and Benriach closed in 1900.

Unlike many other speculative distilleries built at the time, Benriach wasn’t demolished because the floor maltings stayed open to supply malted barley for its neighbour. The stills, however, remained dormant until 1965 when Benriach was bought by the Glenlivet Company.

The distillery changed hands a few more times. The floor maltings was closed in 1996 and then with demand dwindling, production stopped entirely in 2002. Happily, the distillery was bought by a dynamic company headed by industry veteran Billy Walker, and it became part of a group including GlenDronach and Glenglassaugh. The three were then acquired by distilling giant Brown-Forman in 2016. You might know it from a Tennessee whiskey called Jack Daniel’s.

Rachel Barrie tasting whisky

Dr Rachel Barrie in action

Myriad styles

Throughout Benriach’s chequered history a range of different styles, unpeated, peated and, unusually, triple-distilled have been produced. All three are still made today (you can read about the distillery’s revamped core range here) but for this inaugural Maltings Season release Barrie has kept it simple: the Concerto barley is dried without peat and double-distilled.

There is also a vast range of casks in the warehouse. On our visit, Barrie pointed out Port pipes, sherry butts, Marsala casks, virgin wood barrels and, of course, plenty of ex-bourbon casks. For this very special release, Barrie has used an unusual ageing regime with the new make aged in both ex-bourbon and virgin oak barrels. This accentuates the fruity and cereal character of the new make. It’s bottled at 48.7% ABV.

Worth the wait

She explained: “At Benriach, we never stop exploring how fruit, oak and barley flavours intertwine and mature in our broad range of eclectic casks. The unique process behind Malting Season allows the cereal flavour from the concerto barley to pull through and when married with the creamy, wholesome flavour from being two-cask matured in bourbon and virgin oak barrels, creates a truly unique expression.”

This first batch consists of only 23 barrels which were all distilled on 2 November 2012, yielding 6672 bottles at 48.7% ABV. The will be the first in a regular release of special floor-malted Benriach.

We were given a little sample and have to say that it was truly worth the wait (full tasting note below). There’s a strong cereal note on the nose with fresh apple fruit with creamy vanilla notes; the palate balances custard with peppery spice, cinnamon, and toffee with that fresh fruit note running through it. If you like a dram with a zest for life, then you’ll love this.

It’s sure to be highly in-demand so we don’t think it will hang around long. Click here to taste a little bit of history. 

Benriach Malting Season KV landscape

Tastings note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Pear drops and Campino sweeties, with earthy barley and a smidge of cut oak for balance.

Palate: Vanilla, lemon, grassy malt, toffee, melted butter on crumpets.

Finish: Lasting sweetness of caramel and vanilla pod on the finish.


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MoM Loves: Elephant Gin

Every time you buy a bottle of Elephant Gin, 15% of the profits go to foundations that support the conservation of African elephants. Today we uncover the story behind the…

Every time you buy a bottle of Elephant Gin, 15% of the profits go to foundations that support the conservation of African elephants. Today we uncover the story behind the brand whose activism is based in booze.

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Today is World Elephant Day and, while we’d love to simply just share pics and trade stories of the glorious animals, sadly all is not well for elephants. There used to be millions of elephants roaming Africa’s huge open spaces. Today, after two drastic surges in poaching, only 415,000 remain. Criminals kill endangered animals for tusks, horns, scales, and skins. Ivory demand, human-wildlife conflict, and a simple battle for space have greatly affected the plight of the African elephant.

Since 2013, a gin brand has been doing its bit fighting the good fight on behalf of elephants (who, despite being awesome don’t actually possess the ability of distillation). Elephant Gin was founded with the belief that the first step to changing the world is having the right spirit. 

The team has been boosting conservation efforts for Africa’s favourite gentle giants, contributing 15% of all of its gins’ profits to elephant conservation. Up to date, Elephant Gin has donated over €500,000 to its partner foundations.

Elephant Gin

Elephant Gin does what it can to support these beautiful creatures

The cause

These include the Big Life Foundation, in which Elephant Gin supports the work of the 45 rangers who protect two million acres of wilderness in Kenya, paying for training, salary, and equipment such as rucksacks, tents, and mosquito nets. There’s also The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which rescues and rehabilitates baby elephants that are left behind when their mother dies due to poaching, with Elephant Gin becoming a foster parent of 22 orphaned elephants.

The gin brand has also partnered with Space for Giants Foundation to fund an education centre called The Wildlife Spirit, the purpose of which is to educate local youth and adults in the area on their country’s wildlife and environment, as well as give local and international visitors an opportunity to learn about elephants.

Donations are one method, but Elephant Gin also gets directly involved too, offering jobs that provide income for people that might have looked for illegal activities and are keen to work with the communities. For its Sloe Gin, for example, the beautiful craftsmanship of the Kenyan Maasai tribe is celebrated by paying them to create beads for the bottle.

One example of how Elephant Gin is committed to the cause was in 2016 when the brand helped save 69 elephants by negotiating the removal of a fence between Pongola Game Reserve and Swaziland Reserve (two big reserves of 15,000-25,000 hectares of wildlife each). Dropping the fence resulted in reconnecting the two reserves and letting all wild animals roam freely between borders. Several elephants that were on the brink of being shot (as a result of the current drought) were able to survive under the new circumstances.

Elephant Gin

The Elephant Gin range

The gin

Elephant Gin was founded by Robin Gerlach and Tessa Wienker. They were inspired after spending time in Africa, where they witnessed first-hand the reduction of elephant’s natural habitat for farming and the horror of ivory poaching. The duo decided that they would prefer to create a physical product that people could enjoy and relate to rather than simply establishing a charity, utilizing the power of a forward-thinking, socially-minded business.

A keen gin enthusiast, Gerlach began researching African botanicals to combine his desire to see more radical ingredients in gin and maintaining a narrative that suited the project’s inspiration. Botanicals like buchu, devil’s claw, and lion’s tail (plants and herbs native to South Africa), as well as Baobab (the fruit of the baobab tree) and African wormwood, are distilled at a German schnapps distillery. Elephant Dry Gin also features more classic botanicals such as juniper, ginger, elderflower, lavender, cassia bark, sweet orange peel, and more.

The same recipe is used for a navy strength edition, fittingly called Elephant Strength, and there’s also a Sloe Gin. And don’t forget, 15% of the profits of each goes to helping African elephants.

Elephant Gin

Happy World Elephant Day, folks!

Making a difference with drinks

Social responsibility is reflected in all facets of the company, which includes sustainability too. Elephant Gin is committed to a plastic policy that actively avoids single-use plastic, favouring shredded 100% recyclable boxes and paper straws (sugar cane alternatives are in the works), and omitting the likes of bubble wrap and styrofoam.

Recyclable and sustainable materials like glass bottles, natural corks, and hemp string decoration are also used, as is a 100% biodegradable shrink sleeve made from a compostable material called polylactic acid. When Elephant Gin hands out brochures and flyers, the paper is made out of elephant dung, which is neat.

Gin and elephants might not be the most obvious combination. But, by working closely with foundations to ensure that donations arrive on the ground and regularly visiting Africa in order to keep up to date on the progress and developments, the Elephant Gin team has managed to make a real difference with drinks.

Now that’s something worth raising a glass to.

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MoM Loves: Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila

This week at MoM Towers we’re loving a long-awaited Tequila that’s here just in time for National Tequila Day: it’s Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila! Paid partnership For a long…

This week at MoM Towers we’re loving a long-awaited Tequila that’s here just in time for National Tequila Day: it’s Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila!

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For a long time, there was no answer to the question: where is LVMH’s Tequila brand? The enormous French company has had its fingers in a number of boozy pies over years, with its considerable portfolio including names such as Ardbeg, Belvedere, Eminente, Glenmorangie, Hennessy, Moët & Chandon, and Ruinart. But nothing agave-based.

That all changed in May 2017, when the drinks giant formed an alliance with the Gallardo family to create its first original spirit since LVMH was founded 30 years ago. The result was Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila, a range made with 100% blue Agave from two regions of Jalisco, the lowlands and highlands. Each is distilled separately before blending and bottling with no additives. It’s a distinctive distilling process designed to marry history and tradition with innovation.

The spirit is made at a revamped historic distillery on the same site as the Gallardo family’s beautifully restored hacienda. Even though there are over 2,500 Tequila brands, there’s only around 150 distilleries in Mexico, so it’s not that common to see a new company emerge with its own space to create and innovate. The distillery sits at the base of a volcano, hence calling the brand Volcan De Mi Tierra, which translates into ‘land of the volcano’. But here’s the best bit. The name of the inactive but still imposing volcano itself is Tequila. No, you shut up.

Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila

The home of Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila sits underneath the Tequila volcano

A unique process

This isn’t just useful for branding purposes. More than 200,000 years ago, the volcano erupted and created the fertile soil of the Jalisco region in Mexico. The mineral-rich soil is ideal for growing two distinct types of agave in both the lowlands at the volcano’s base and the highlands nearer its summit. 

Blending two distinct agave types is not a typical process, but it allows Volcan to embrace the nuances of each and showcase the characteristics of the soil across the different regions. This focus on terroir and innovation creates a unique style of Tequila, with the lowlands agave bringing spicy and herbaceous flavours complemented by the highlands agave’s fruity and floral notes.

During the three-plus years of development, much experimentation was carried out with yeast variations, agave selection and blending, and maturation in multiple casks. After 150 tests, the method for making its Blanco was established, using a process that mixes the traditional with the modern. This means slow-roasting its agave in two different kind of ovens (traditional & autoclave) and using both a tahona (a volcanic stone wheel), and more contemporary techniques to crush and extract the agave juice.

Fermentation takes place in wooden tanks with champagne yeast used for the two lowland agaves and rum yeast for the one highland agave variety. Each agave is individually double-distilled separately in copper pot stills, not steel, before being blended together and the spirit then rests in stainless steel tanks. The whole process is overseen by Tequila maestro Tomas Perez, whose family has been agave growers for the past 70 years and he himself has been working in the industry for 32 years in different Tequila houses.

Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila

Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila is all about showcasing agave varieties

The Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequilas

The Blanco is bottled at 40% ABV without additives. Most of you will be familiar with a Blanco expression, unaged bottlings which are often called ‘silver’ that allow you to really taste and appreciate the flavours the agave contributes. The brand also wanted to take advantage of the increasing market for Cristalino Tequilas, however, which are essentially añejo Tequilas that are filtered (often through charcoal) to remove some of the colour and prominent wood influence. In Volcan’s case, its Cristalino is made from a blend of añejo and extra añejo Tequilas which were aged in brandy and whisky casks and then filtered.

The bottle design incorporates the terrain of the volcano, with textures inspired by the mountain set into the base. The Blanco has a blue tint in homage to the agave it’s made from, while the Cristalino is highlighted in copper, referencing the copper stills it was made in.

Both expressions have been very well received, winning multiple awards across 14 different international spirit competitions. We’re equally impressed. The Blanco is beautifully balanced with a backbone of complex agave notes complementing an array of citrus, floral and spicy elements. While the Cristalino adds some interesting cask-influenced flavours of caramel, dried fruit and chocolate without ever overpowering the distillery character. 

The full tasting notes are below with some delightful cocktail recipes if you fancy experimenting with the two new expressions. And you can buy them both now right here.


Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila

Volcan De Mi Tierra Blanco Tequila

Nose: Fresh, herbaceous, and slightly earthy notes of roasted agave are at the core of the nose, joined by eucalyptus and summer flowers. Lime peel, pink grapefruit, cherry, and cooked apple add citrus and fruity elements alongside some flinty minerality and petrichor. A little cinnamon and black pepper bring aromatic spice.

Palate: Charred agave once again takes centre stage bringing sweet, slightly smoky, and vegetal notes. A rich and silky texture carries plenty more orchard fruit and floral elements as well as touches of sea salt and honeyed sweetness.

Finish: The clean, crisp agave lingers.

Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila

Volcan De Mi Tierra Añejo Cristalino Tequila

Nose: A decadent, full-bodied blend of dried fruit, salted caramel, white chocolate, and vanilla emerges first before the agave appears alongside hints of sweet tobacco, desiccated coconut, and apricot yogurt.

Palate: The palate is silky and unctuous with soft toffee pennies melting over waves of stone fruits, red apples, and barrel char. Creamy milk chocolate with plenty of vanilla is present throughout. Salted popcorn, citrus, and roasted agave add depth underneath.

Finish: The finish is peppery and bold with some hints of tropical fruit, herbs, buttery vanilla, and honey.

Volcan De Mi Tierra Tequila

The Tequilas are delicious neat but also works beautifully in cocktails

Suggested serves:

Both Tequilas are more than delicious enough to enjoy neat, but you can never go wrong with a great cocktail too. We’ve got three amazing serves to enjoy here that are simple enough to make and both look and taste terrific.

Rhubarb Tonic

35ml Volcan De Mi Tierra Blanco

125ml rhubarb tonic water

Assemble in a tumbler or Highball glass over ice and garnish with a wedge of lime.

Jalapeño Margarita

50ml Volcan De Mi Tierra Blanco

25ml freshly squeezed lime juice

20ml agave syrup

3 chunks of fresh pineapple

1cm fresh jalapeño 

Salt the rim of your glass if that’s your preference then slice 1cm of fresh jalapeño, remove seeds and finely dice. Add to a shaker alongside the other ingredients. Fill with ice and shake vigorously for 10-12 seconds. Fine strain into an ice-filled short glass. Garnish with pineapple leaves.

Apricot & Vanilla Old Fashioned

50ml Volcan De Mi Tierra Añejo Cristalino Tequila

10ml apricot liqueur

5ml vanilla syrup

3 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Add all ingredients to an ice-filled mixing glass and stir for 15 seconds. Strain into an ice-filled Old Fashioned glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

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MoM Loves: Talisker Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge

Talisker has always valued its maritime heritage. Now, it has released a whisky aged with staves that have travelled across the Atlantic. And at 43 years old Talisker Xpedition Oak:…

Talisker has always valued its maritime heritage. Now, it has released a whisky aged with staves that have travelled across the Atlantic. And at 43 years old Talisker Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge is the oldest commercial release from the Isle of Skye distillery. Intrigued?

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Talisker and boats go together like, well, whisky and oak casks. The story begins in 1830 when Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill rowed across to Skye from the Isle of Eigg to found a distillery.

That distillery would go on to produce one of Scotland’s most distinctive and famous whiskies. Robert Louis Stevenson described it, along with Glenlivet and Islay, as the “King of drinks.”

The Talisker character

Talisker gets its classic character from a unique production process. It begins with medium-peated barley from the Glen Ord Maltings. The team produces a clean wort which is then subjected to a long fermentation in Oregon pine washbacks. The distillation process is a bit unusual as the wash stills have purifiers, pipes leading back to the lyne arm, which increase reflux removing heavier compounds. There are three spirit stills with washtub condensers. Ageing is mainly in bourbon barrels with some sherry and Port casks for special editions. 

This all leads to that classic Talisker profile: peppery, smoky, strongly-flavoured but with a certain delicacy and fragrance provided by heather and honey notes, and all the time with a distinct whiff of the ocean. No wonder each bottle carries the legend: “Made by the sea.”

Talisker - James Aiken

It’s intrepid yachtsman James Aiken

A life on the ocean waves

To celebrate this maritime heritage, since 2011 the distillery has sponsored the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge. It’s one of the hardest endurance events in the world: teams have to row from La Gomera in the Canary Islands to Antigua in the Caribbean. A distance of 3,264 miles. You’ll need a wee dram at the end of that.

The last race ran in 2019 and was won by British team Fortitude IV who made the Atlantic crossing in an impressive time of 32 days 12 hours and 35 minutes. 

Oak across the Atlantic

Well, the event didn’t take place last year because of the pandemic. Instead, Talisker sent an intrepid fellow called James Aiken on the journey across the Atlantic on his yacht. On board was a very special cargo, oak staves from a selection of casks. We imagine the rowers were glad that they weren’t carrying this extra cargo.

Aiken commented: “Over twenty-four days, sailing from La Gomera, Spain, to the island of Antigua, I crossed the Atlantic solo aboard my boat Oaken Yarn. I cared for the wooden staves aboard ensuring their safe passage. The crossing was an almost meditative experience in nature: both challenging and a joy.”

On his arrival in the West Indies, the staves were sent back to Scotland where they were made up into barrels to complete the maturation of a very special Talisker.


Talisker Xpedition Oak and its fancy packaging

Talisker Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge

In recent years Talisker has been releasing increasingly older whiskies in very limited quantities such as the Bodegas Series with 40 and 41 year old releases, but this is the oldest release yet from the distillery. It’s called the Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge and it’s 43 years old bottled at 49.7% ABV.  It was drawn from 10 casks and as a tribute to Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill only 1830 have been filled with an RRP of £3500.

As part of Talisker’s commitment to the ocean, the very first bottle of Xpedition Oak filled will be auctioned with all proceeds going to Parley for the Oceans. This charity’s mission is to help preserve 100 million square metres of marine ecosystems around the world by 2023.

Ewan Gunn, senior global brand ambassador, said: “This whisky is a sublime single malt that captures the pinnacle of the key aromas of Talisker – spice, sweetness, waxy and creamy, with a sense of the sea salt spray the morning after a storm. The four decades of maturation have given a full flavour, yet a softness to this bold drama resulting in a rounded and elegant experience.”

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We can only agree having tried it. That unmistakable Talisker DNA runs like a thread through Xpedition Oak, it’s there on the nose and hauntingly on the palate among the richer waxy, nutty, creamy notes from all that time spent in casks with the most spectacularly long finish. Most amazingly, it’s not a woody whisky in any way. You’d probably never guess it had spent more than 40 years in wood. 

To celebrate its sheer magnificence, we will be talking to brand ambassador Jason Clark live on the Master of Malt Instagram page at 7.30pm on Thursday 14 May. We’ll be discussing all things Talisker so crack open a bottle of the Ten Year Old, sit back and enjoy.

Talisker Xpedition Oak: The Atlantic Challenge is available now from Master of Malt.

Tastings note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Vanilla, cooked apple and waxy aromas lead when you first take a sniff. There’s a mellow smokiness swirling around beneath with notes of bacon, varnish and that characteristic Talisker saline quality.

Palate: Black pepper and chilli dance on the tongue, and then they’re overtaken by a creaminess. There’s a little custard, white peaches and that waxy character again. The smokiness is there in the background but it’s very restrained. That creaminess lingers and is joined by salty maritime notes. 

Finish: Very long and mellow, the texture taking on a little marzipan with a crackle of black pepper. 

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MoM Loves: Canaïma Small Batch Gin

It’s Earth Day 2021! Can we shock you? We’re big fans of the earth. This is why today we’re celebrating a drink that aims to make a difference. A delightful,…

It’s Earth Day 2021! Can we shock you? We’re big fans of the earth. This is why today we’re celebrating a drink that aims to make a difference. A delightful, exotic treat that aids the conservation of the Amazon rainforest: Canaïma Small Batch Gin.

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We’re not sure if you’ve noticed, but there’s a fair amount of gins around at the moment.  Which means that producers are always looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. 

Some use an interesting and unique botanical selection. Or have a compelling brand story. Or create a strong look and use a cool name. Or even support an important cause. 

Or, you could be like Canaïma Small Batch Gin and tick all those boxes.

The brand is dedicated to protecting and preserving its environment and the local communities within it. Named after Canaïma National Park, 10% of the profit from each bottle of the gin goes towards the reforestation of the Amazon as well as preserving the culture and heritage of the indigenous people. 

And as part of this commitment to sustainability, Canaïma is marking this Earth Day by replanting over 1,000 trees in the Amazon rainforest. Furthermore, the gin makers are committing to replanting 2,500 trees by the end of 2021.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

Hey, look. It’s the Canaïma Small Batch Gin. Note, traditional woven baskets and coasters 

The concept of using a spirit brand to aid conservation began with bartending legend, Simone Caporale. His trip to the Peruvian Amazon gave him a troubling insight into the destruction of the rainforest’s fragile ecology. 

Resolving to take action, he met the founder of Diplomático Rum for dinner and together they began to plan a new self-funded project that could support and sustain Amazonian communities. What they decided on was a Venezulan gin. A tasty solution we approve of. 

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

This beauty features a huge 19 nineteen different botanicals

An exotic tipple

Canaïma Small Batch Gin uses a whopping 19 different botanicals in its recipe. Of those, 10 are sustainably sourced Amazonian botanicals harvested by experienced indigenous people. This includes açaí berries (a purple fruit known for its regenerative qualities), uve de palma (red fruit harvested from a palm tree), copoazú (related to the cacao tree), túpiro (an orange fruit known for its pleasant taste), merey (a kidney-shaped fruit that produces just one cashew nut), seje (a palm fruit that has oily flesh and a very delicate, chocolate-like flavour) and semeruco (a fruit foraged from the Andean foothills where Canaïma’s distillery is based). 

Alongside these hand-picked native botanicals, a series of traditional gin ingredients are also used, including grapefruit, orange, passion fruit and juniper. Every botanical is individually treated, macerated and separately distilled in small batches in 500-litre copper pot stills. The distillates are then blended together by the Diplomático team to create the final gin.

It’s not just what’s in the bottle that’s progressive, but what’s on it too. The labels are made from previously recycled, fully biodegradable paper. The Tierra Viva Foundation also helped Canaïma to commission hundreds of traditional woven baskets and coasters used by the brand and its followers, each handcrafted by indigenous women.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

Canaïma supports the production of traditional woven goods

The noble cause

Speaking of foundations, let’s talk about Canaïma’s sustainability mission. Not only does it provide over 250 jobs for indigenous Amazonian people at its distillery, but it also donates 10% of its sales to NGOs to the Saving the Amazon charity and the aforementioned Terra Viva. 

The former combines technology, mobile applications and the potential of indigenous communities to combat the destruction of the Amazon. Canaïma is part of the organisation’s reforestation programme, where each tree planted is photographed and georeferenced. The photo is uploaded to the website to create a virtual forest and give visual proof of replanting. Indigenous people take care of the trees for 36 months, after which time another picture is uploaded to the website to continue the traceability of the forest’s growth.

Fundación Tierra Viva, meanwhile, is a Venezuelan foundation that strives to improve the quality of life for indigenous tribes. Canaïma works in conjunction with the foundation to develop the brand’s marketing materials. Through the joint design and the purchase of handcrafted products, the band supports the creation of sustainable jobs throughout the region.

We love Canaïma Small Batch Gin!

The perfect serve for a delicious drink

Suggested serve: Amazonian G&G

While you’re no doubt admiring Canaïma’s social conscience, there is one question that will remain on your mind. How should I drink it?

Well, you can never go wrong with a good G&T. Caporale also put his bartending skills to good use by making a range of cocktails including the Amazonian G&G. It perfectly complements the gin’s passion fruit, orange and acai berry notes while also looking just gorgeous. A true spring refresher. Happy Earth Day, folks!

How to make an Amazonian G&G

40ml Canaïma Gin
150ml grapefruit soda
2 lime wedges

Assemble in a highball glass with cubed ice. Garnish with grapefruit zest or slice.

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MoM Loves: Our exclusive Glenfiddich Tasting Collection!

Missing whisky tastings? Hankering after a distillery visit? We teamed up with Glenfiddich to put together a rather delectable, limited edition Glenfiddich Tasting Collection packed with some of its fanciest…

Missing whisky tastings? Hankering after a distillery visit? We teamed up with Glenfiddich to put together a rather delectable, limited edition Glenfiddich Tasting Collection packed with some of its fanciest expressions, including the new Glenfiddich Grande Couronne 26 Year Old! There will even be a series of virtual tastings, too…

We love a whisky tasting. And we love tasting sets! That’s why we have a whole load of them available (a way to experience a whole bunch of samples for less than the price of a bottle? Winning!). So when our pals at Scotch whisky distillery Glenfiddich got in touch about teaming up to create a really very special – and exclusive! – tasting set… Well, we were hardly going to decline!

Cracking Glenfiddich Tasting Collection contents

This one is especially cool (and, while we would say that, we do actually mean it). Not only is it filled to the brim with five different 30ml whiskies from the distillery, but it’s packed with tasty newness, too. You might have heard about a very special new release from the iconic Speyside producer. Last month, we got wind of a new addition to The Grand Series. Say hello to Grande Couronne!

It’s a 26 year old single malt that brings together Scotland and France through its production. And this is where we get super geeky, as Brian Kinsman, Glenfiddich’s malt master (what a job title!), explains.

“The Grand Series perfectly encapsulates Glenfiddich’s spirit of innovation and our ability to experiment with aged liquid and intriguing finishes,” he says.. “Grande Couronne is the latest to exemplify that approach. It is the only Glenfiddich single malt that has matured in American and European oak casks and finished in rare French Cognac casks. 

“The length of the finish, two years, is highly unusual and adds extra layers of sweet toasted oak and velvety aromas of café crème, brown sugar and soft spice.”

So far, so delectable. But it doesn’t stop there! The Glenfiddich Tasting Collection also features the other two drams in The Grand Series: Glenfiddich 21 Year Old Reserva Rum Cask Finish, and Glenfiddich Grand Cru 23 Year Old.

Glenfiddich Tasting Collection Set with drams

We love our exclusive Glenfiddich Tasting Collection!

A taste of Glenfiddich

We’re all about bringing the distillery to life as best as we can (seeing as we can’t actually visit right now), so there’s the classic Glenfiddich 18 Year Old in there, too, with the set completed by Glenfiddich Virgin Oak 2010. From innovative finishes to that classic distillery character, if you’re into your Speyside whiskies (or know someone who is!) we reckon it’s worth checking out. 

What’s also worth checking out are Glenfiddich’s live tastings, where brand ambassador Struan Grant Ralph will chat you through each dram in detail via the wonderful medium of Zoom. Tastings are set to take place on 8, 15, 22 and 29 April at 8pm UK time. Dial-in deets are in the box, along with your five drams!

Want in? The Glenfiddich Tasting Collection is available now, exclusively from us, while stocks last. (Once they’ve gone, they’ve really gone!)

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MoM Loves: Slane Irish Whiskey

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

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

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

Alex Conyngham from Slane Irish Whiskey

Alex Conyngham from Slane Irish Whiskey

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

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

Slane: from music to whiskey

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

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

Slane Castle

Slane Castle!

The anatomy of Slane Irish Whiskey

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

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

Slane Irish Whiskey in a dimly-lit bar

Slane Irish Whiskey, great on the rocks

Slane celebrations

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

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

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

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

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MoM Loves: The Botanist

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

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

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

Making The Botanist inside Bruichladdich Distillery

Making The Botanist inside Bruichladdich Distillery

Gin from a whisky distillery

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

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

Some lovely foraged cocktails made with The Botanist gin

Some lovely foraged cocktails made with The Botanist gin

The foraging philosophy

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

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

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

Abi Clephane, brand ambassador for The Botanist

The Botanist cocktails

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

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

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

Botanist Grapefruit & Thyme G&T.

Foraged Botanist & Tonic

Foraged B&T

50ml The Botanist

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

The Botanist Bees’ Knees

50ml The Botanist
25ml lemon juice
15ml honey 

Shake and strain into chilled cocktail glass

Elderflower Collins

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

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

Making a Wild Gibson Martini with the Botanist Gin

Making a Wild Gibson Martini

Wild Gibson Martini

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

Stir over ice and strain into and frozen/chilled coupe

Elder Bramble

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

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


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MoM Loves: Woodford Reserve

From Old Fashioneds to XO Cognac cask-finishing, Woodford Reserve has long balanced tradition and innovation. We get the latest from the American whiskey pioneer’s master distiller, Chris Morris. Paid partnership …

From Old Fashioneds to XO Cognac cask-finishing, Woodford Reserve has long balanced tradition and innovation. We get the latest from the American whiskey pioneer’s master distiller, Chris Morris.

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While resolutely American, Lexington-based Woodford Reserve’s spirit has a subtle, albeit distinct, Scottish accent. Like many of its Scotch cousins, it has a long and storied history. It’s carried multiple names; Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and Labrot & Graham Distillery signs have hung over its classic stone walls. Its annals have been punctuated by periods of closure. When current owner Brown-Forman acquired and reopened it in 1996, it brought pot stills back to Kentucky. In fact, once you turn off the road that winds through the rolling hills of horse country, lined by smart wooden post-and-rail fences, the quintessential Americana, you could well have landed in Speyside. 

“It was a changing moment for the industry,” says Chris Morris, recalling that reopening. He’s worked in whiskey with Brown-Forman since 1976, and has played a pivotal role in Woodford Reserve’s rebirth. We’re catching up via video call (it is 2020 now, after all), but hearing him describe the buildings take me right back to a visit around six years ago. The lush green surrounds, those copper pot stills, the wooden washbacks, the nearby brook… the distillery has a charm about it that certainly stays with you. 

“There was no bourbon tourism, no Bourbon Trail at that time,” he continues. There’s another production method Woodford Reserve brought to America: triple pot still distillation. Everything in the philosophy from reopening onwards is about pursuing distinctiveness. “We’ve come to the industry about being different,” Morris states. “Our approach is all about finding flavour – how we can provide a new flavour, or focus on a new experience.”

Woodford Reserve

Say hello to Chris Morris!

Flavour first

There are a number of production processes that set Woodford Reserve apart and contribute to its grain- and fruit-forward distillery character. One is the surprisingly low fill strength when the spirit enters the barrels, just 55% ABV – industry standard would be around 63-64% ABV. “It’s a big flavour statement for us,” Morris explains. “So many of the wood compounds are water-soluble.” For him, it’s about maxing out the impact of the barrels on the spirit. “You also need 14% more barrels,” he quips, signalling the distillery’s commitment to the role of the cask – the team will use as many as it takes to get things just right. 

Woodford Reserve became the first US producer to offer the four core straight mash bill styles: bourbon, rye, malt and wheat – the latter being a four-grain recipe. There’s a surprisingly high malt content across each of them. “We never add artificial enzymes,” Morris details, adding that whatever he does, be it tweak the mash bill or play with cask finishes, the distillery character must shine through. 

Woodford Reserve

Wood policy is of huge importance to Woodford Reserve

Elevating American whiskey

One such cask finish to have received a whole load of attention recently is Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition. Already launched in travel retail and set for imminent arrival on UK shores, the expression sees Woodford Reserve age its bourbon in three-times-used XO Cognac barrels made from French oak. Well-seasoned stuff indeed. The liquid is then presented in a gorgeous crystal incarnation of its signature bottle shape – which in itself is also Cognac inspired. It’s impressive stuff, and carries a £1,500 price tag. 

“We’ve taken American whiskey to a whole new level,” says Morris, explaining that this elevation has never really happened before. And it’s a permanent addition to the new range. I’m curious as to what difference the French oak itself will have on the resulting flavour. 

“It’s got a different grain,” he explains, adding that the oak doesn’t grow as straight or dense as its US counterparts. “French oak is a little more porous – you don’t char it, you toast it.” He also adds that the ex-XO vessels are twice the size of the standard Woodford barrels, and are shipped over whole. 

Woodford Reserve

The beautiful Woodford Reserve Distillery

How did the whole collaboration come about? After all, it’s the first time an American whiskey producer has been encased in Baccarat crystal. “They approached us!” Morris laughs. He tells the story of a Baccarat executive taking a trip to Woodford Reserve. “When he came to the distillery he sees our Cognac casks and thought, ‘that’s really cool!’” After the visit, the Woodford team received the call from Baccarat. “We never would have dreamed of that possibility.”

The super-fancy Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition in a super-fancy setting

The result is a richly toasted number, with chocolate, cocoa and vanilla bean notes, with classic malt and gentle spices coming through, too. It’s deep, velvety, and with a coffee suggestion on the finish – luxe stuff all round. 

Oak and smoke

Away from fancy crystal, there’s another type of shiny glassware that’s important right now: the Old Fashioned glass. Because it’s Old Fashioned Week from 30 October to 8 November! (Ok, it’s more than a week, but with so much tastiness to pack in, we’ll go with it.) And the Woodford Reserve team will certainly be celebrating.

“When I have a cocktail I want to taste Woodford,” Morris continues, citing a Manhattan as one of his very favourite serves, along with a Boulevardier. Then he mentions a Smoked Old Fashioned made using Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, and I start salivating. 

Woodford Reserve

Don’t be afraid to experiment, this whiskey works on a number serves

Ok, so full disclosure, it might be tricky to make at home. To get the smoulder in the serve, sugar is smoked over burning Woodford Reserve barrels. Which might be a bit tricky if you’re stuck inside (cheers, 2020), But the rest still sounds incredible. Simply take 50ml of Double Oaked, a barspoon of sugar (smoky or otherwise), and up to five dashes of Angostura bitters. Chuck it all in a mixing glass, add ice, and stir, stir, stir! Strain into a serving glass over ice and garnish with a gently squeezed orange peel. “It’s like drinking a s’more,” Morris says, of the smoked version. I’d take either.

We exchange stories of delicious whiskey serves before Morris becomes reflective for a moment. “I have seen our industry at the lowest ebb, distilleries closing…” Not so long ago times were very different. Now American whiskey is a vibrant, fast-growing category, with distillers and blenders pushing the boundaries, buoyed by the momentum. “I still can’t fully comprehend where we are today.” And with expressions and innovations like the Baccarat Edition and a real focus on flavour, there’s a lot more to come from Woodford Reserve.

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