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Master of Malt Blog

Category: MoM Loves

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

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
Tonic

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.

Enjoy!

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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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A world of flavour: Behind Benriach’s new look

Speyside Scotch whisky distillery Benriach has undergone something of a makeover, with a refreshed core range and revamped presentation. We chat to Dr. Rachel Barrie, Benriach master blender, to get…

Speyside Scotch whisky distillery Benriach has undergone something of a makeover, with a refreshed core range and revamped presentation. We chat to Dr. Rachel Barrie, Benriach master blender, to get the inside scoop.

Paid partnership

Benriach is a distillery with a storied history. It dates back to 1898 when it was founded towards the north of Speyside by a chap called John Duff. Over the following decades, and like many distilleries, it faced periods of closure and changed hands multiple times. Since 2016, Benriach has been part of the Brown-Forman’s family, marking the Jack Daniel’s- and Woodford Reserve-maker’s first foray into the world of Scotch. At the time, the deal made the whisky headlines. But now, with its new look, a refocusing on flavour, and a compelling narrative around innovative cask combinations, Benriach is making waves all on its own.

Dr. Rachel Barrie has developed the range

“I’ve been with the company three-and-a-half years now, and I’ve really got to know all of the whiskies,” said Dr. Rachel Barrie, Benriach’s master blender. We’re speaking on the day of the relaunch. The line-up has been unveiled to the world, and drinks social media is in a chatter about the news. And it’s been a while in the works. Even within six months of taking on whisky development at Benriach, Dr. Barrie said she was thinking ‘what’s next?’.

“I had thousands of casks,” she said, outlining the process. “I’ve described it like discovering all these paint pots; it’s like painting with flavour.”

She mentioned she’d always admired Benriach from afar. “I’ve always loved the balance of the fruit and the malt,” and this balance is at the heart of the new core range. 

So what have we got in the line-up? Dr. Barrie took it back to Benriach’s Speyside home (Did you know it gets 40 more days of sunshine a year than anywhere else in Scotland?” She quipped.). A key source of inspiration was the 1994 Benriach 10 Year Old expression, the first bottling that really cemented the distillery as a brand in its own right. It’s balance, body and mouthfeel underpin the philosophy behind each new expression.

All about the cask: the new core range lines up

At the heart of it all, there’s The Original Ten, The Smoky Ten, The Original Twelve, and The Smoky Twelve, all bottled at natural colour. Two fundamentals thread through the quartet: production (essentially peated versus unpeated), and the cask make-up. These are all a blend of three different cask maturations. Move higher up the range to The Twenty One, The Twenty Five and The Thirty, and you’ll find four different cask types. The entire line-up was crafted to offer accessibility to whisky newcomers, and established enthusiasts alike. And the clear positioning does just that.  

When it comes to the malt specification itself, it’s useful to look at the calendar. Each September is devoted to ‘smoke season’, where malt processed to 55ppm using local Highland peat prior to distillation tracks its way through the distillery. Then malting season (yes, Benriach has its own malting floor), takes place each spring. There will be dedicated Smoke Season and Malting Season limited editions to come in due course, too. 

“My job was to create this perfect world of flavour, a journey of taste, many different layers all perfectly integrated,” Dr Barrie continues. “There’s a rainbow of flavour as the spirit comes off the still, which you can then amplify with casks.” 

And why such an overt focus on smoke? “It’s such a sweet smoke with Benriach, it opens the door to new consumers,” she explained. “Just saying ‘peated’ is too simple, it’s a different character.” 

The core quartet

In the tasting glass first is The Original Ten. “It’s like sunshine on Speyside,” Dr. Barrie described it. “A fruit orchard, ripening peaches, a patisserie.” Interestingly, while it’s barely perceptible, there is still a wisp of that Benriach smoke running through. “It’s less than 5ppm,” she said, adding that it adds more of a depth, a textural quality, rather than contributing flavour as such. Going into the Original Ten is liquid from bourbon barrels and sherry casks, plus virgin oak. “It’s got layers of perfect balance,” she continued. 

Benriach is embracing its smokier side

Next up was The Smoky Ten with an intriguing cask mix indeed: bourbon barrels, toasted virgin oak, and Jamaican rum casks. She confirmed the latter previously held high-ester, pot still liquid. “It amplifies the esterification that happens with the maturation,” she got technical for a moment. “It brings out the vanilla, coconut, lactones, the sweetness.” The result? “Exotic fruits charred on a barbeque.” Delicious!

The Twelve is a “new to world” expression, Dr. Barrie continued. “Everything changes with maturation. You’re going to have more oxidation, and therefore more of those top notes.” She reckoned the esterification reaches a “sweet spot” at this age for Benriach. Plus the addition of Port pipes to the bourbon and sherry make-up “lifts and lengthens”, with a “dark chocolate note on the end”.   

Rounding off the four at the heart of the range is The Smoky Twelve. “This is unexpected in its cask combination,” Dr. Barrie said, referencing the bourbon, sherry and sweet Marsala cask recipe. “It’s a collision of the rugged side of Benriach with the sweet side,” she added. “Plus, I love Italian food, I love Sicily. You can see how I was drawn to this.”

An experimental approach

It’s true that there are some unusual cask combinations across the four expressions we explored. How does that come about, and will there be more experimentation to come?

“There’s like a ‘eureka!’ moment with all of the whiskies,” she detailed. “It’s a constant quest. You have all the casks, you blend, you go back and think, ‘imagine…’. Eventually to get to the point where you’re, 80%, 90% there, and then you raise the bar even further.”

Announced alongside the new range was an intention to release esoteric limited editions in the future. Are there any experiments or cask types she’d like to play with yet but hasn’t?

“Oh, there’s so much experimentation,” she said, referencing what’s going on in American whiskey with mashbills and developments within wine. “And within our group [Brown-Forman], there are so many different types of spirit… Tequila with Herradura. Now, that would be interesting. Never say never!”

The range takes on the character of the distillery and the surrounding Speyside region

Other ongoing projects include working with the R&D team at Brown-Forman’s Louisville HQ to investigate the impact of different types of oak on flavour, another area of interest. It makes the whisky lover incredibly excited to see what might come next from Benriach as part of this new programme. 

“There’s plenty to try, and then different combinations to try!” There’s an energy to her statement that makes you long for a sneak peek around her blending lab, just to see what’s there. There’s lots to taste in the new range, and there’s certainly deliciousness to come. Dr. Barrie best sums it up: “There’s an everlasting world of flavour.” 

Benriach’s new-look line-up

The Original Ten, 43% ABV

Bourbon, sherry and virgin oak casks with a trace smoke level for orchard fruit, honeyed malt and marmalade on toast notes. 

The Smoky Ten, 46% ABV

Bourbon barrels, virgin oak and Jamaican rum casks combine for smoky sweetness with barbecued fruit notes. 

The Twelve, 46% ABV

Sherry rich maturation and layers of dark berry fruit encapture the flavours of Benriach in the autumn.

The Smoky Twelve, 46% ABV

Made with an unusual combination of bourbon, sherry and sweet Marsala casks for a rich smoky sweetness with dark chocolate, almond and charred orange notes. 

Plus coming soon, three older bottlings which we were given a sneak preview of:

The Twenty One, 46%

Bourbon, sherry, virgin oak and red wine cask liquids with elegant smoke. Lashings of orchard fruit, pinewood and honey smoke. 

The Twenty Five, 46% ABV

Sherry, bourbon, virgin oak and Madeira wine casks combine for an intensely rich mouthfeel with baked fruit, cinnamon spice and caramelised smoke. 

The Thirty, 46% ABV

The oldest peated Speyside ever bottled. Sherry, bourbon, virgin oak and Port casks result in chocolate raisin, smoked walnut and cinnamon cocoa notes. 

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MoM Loves: The Sexton Single Malt

If it wasn’t already on your radar because of its awesome bottle and delicious liquid within, The Sexton ought to be, seeing as the Irish single malt was created by…

If it wasn’t already on your radar because of its awesome bottle and delicious liquid within, The Sexton ought to be, seeing as the Irish single malt was created by one of the few female master blenders in the Irish whiskey industry, Alex Thomas! We chatted with her to find out more about her wonderful creation.

Paid partnership 

The Irish whiskey industry has had something of a revival in the last decade or so, and with unique, modern expressions like The Sexton gracing our palates, it’s easy to see why! “I had a dream of creating a whiskey that everyone would enjoy and that paid homage to those who came before us,” The Sexton creator, master blender and distiller Alex Thomas tells us. 

The Sexton Single Malt

The wonderful Alex Thomas with her creation

Having worked at Bushmills before venturing to craft her own whiskey, there’s no doubt that Thomas is well-versed in what makes a classic Irish whiskey. But while tradition and history is important to her, there’s no way she’s stuck in the past. “I wanted it to be approachable for those who thought whiskey was not for them, and memorable enough for the whiskey connoisseur to enjoy the experience.” Sounds like an all-rounder to us! “As the Irish Whiskey category continues to rise, I wanted to introduce a liquid that could represent the changing face of Ireland – capturing the heritage and provenance of the past and the optimism and creativity of the future.” What we have here is a modern whiskey that’s not afraid to be mixed, while still paying homage to its heritage. 

The whiskey

The Sexton is distilled entirely from Irish malted barley, triple distilled in copper pot stills  before it’s matured in some very special casks. European oak from France is dried for a minimum of 16 months before it’s crafted into casks and toasted. They’re not filled yet, but seasoned with Oloroso sherry from Jerez over in Spain.

The Sexton Single Malt

Sherried Irish single malt, what more could we want?

Why sherry? “My grandmother inspired my love for sherry. I was always interested in why sherry was her secret ingredient in her fruit cakes,” says Thomas. “Ageing the liquid in these wine-soaked barrels results in the perfect balance of dried fruits and subtle oak notes, which helps achieve a depth of flavour.” We’d have to agree, with balanced but complex notes of oak spice, marmalade and dried fruit alongside dark chocolate and honey leaping from the glass. 

The bottle!

There is more to this wonderful bottle than just aesthetics, that’s for sure. The shape is inspired by the mesmerising Giant’s Causeway, found over on the North Coast of Ireland, which we’d have to say is rather original.  

The Sexton Single Malt

Giant’s Causeway, or lots of bottles of The Sexton?

The name, Sexton, is derived from the Medieval Latin word sacristanus, meaning custodian of sacred objects, used to describe the man who prepared the grave. “The Sexton challenges you that before you meet the man that will lay your body to rest, to make choices every day that will add up to a life story worth telling.” Well, that explains the skull and top hat on the front of the bottle. We guess you could call Thomas a custodian in her own way, a guardian of her own brilliant Irish whiskey. Too far? Never…

The Sexton Single Malt

It’s all in the detail

We had to ask Thomas what’s next for The Sexton, and as is usually the case with these kinds of questions, her answer was as exciting and cryptic as we hoped! “As a master blender and distiller I am always experimenting, and dream of expanding The Sexton family in time,” she tells us. “But watch this space.” Consider our eyes peeled.

How do I drink it?

Thomas is far from a purist here, and while she herself enjoys it neat she encourages drinkers to try it in a whole range of cocktails. We’ve got a couple of serves here for you, recommended by the master blender herself!

You can find The Sexton on MoM right now!

Love It To Death

50ml The Sexton

2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Top with soda water

Serve over ice and garnish with a lemon peel.

The Sexton Single Malt

It’s all sherry and whiskey in the Laid to Rest cocktail!

Laid To Rest

25ml The Sexton

10ml Pedro Ximénez sherry

20ml Manzanilla sherry

20ml spiced claret syrup

Serve over crushed ice and garnish with mint leaves and dried spices.

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MoM Loves: NÜTRL Vodka Soda

A cocktail in a tin made by actual distillers with the same attention to detail you get with spirits? We’re intrigued. It’s high time we checked out NÜTRL’s shiny new…

A cocktail in a tin made by actual distillers with the same attention to detail you get with spirits? We’re intrigued. It’s high time we checked out NÜTRL’s shiny new range of Vodka Sodas.

Paid partnership 

Visit a distillery and you’ll get a tour of all the kit: tuns, fermenters, stills, the full works. Chat about drinks in a tin and – as a general rule – the production story, the obsession with technicalities, the meticulous focus on how process affects flavour, kind of gets replaced by… fluff. One of the most striking things about NÜTRL Vodka Sodas (aside from how refreshing the collection is), is the transparency around how each variant is made.

NÜTRL

Vodka plus soda plus flavour plus friends (at a social distance, of course)

Vodka. Soda. And then the natural flavouring for each. That’s it. Super straightforward. Gorgeous in its simplicity. Goodridge & Williams Distilling, the folks behind NÜTRL, are passionate about keeping things precise, straightforward and delicious. No carbs, no sugar, no preservatives. A hastily made pre-mixed beverage this is not. And we’re fascinated by the back story.

But before we get too geeky, here’s the quick version of events. Goodridge & Williams opened its distillery doors in 2013. Located in Delta, British Columbia, the craft, small-batch site makes its award-winning NÜTRL Vodka (it picked up a Gold medal at the 2019 Sip Awards, natch), and its range of Vodka Sodas have just touched down in the UK. Here, we’re being treated to a range of flavours and ABVs. At 3% ABV you’ve got the ultra-refreshing White Grape and Green Apple expressions, while at 5% ABV there’s both Lemon and Red Apple options. Highly ideal for summer sipping. But if you’re after something a smidge boozier, or a bit of an autumnal feel (let’s face it, the great British summer doesn’t last forever), then the 7% ABV Black Cherry and Black Raspberry should be right up your street.

NÜTRL

Just add beach.

All about the vodka 

So what’s the deal with the production story? For Goodridge & Williams, it’s all about crafting the best vodka, and then building the sodas from the best base possible. There’s no point having a vodka soda, where you want the simplicity of the spirit to shine, if it’s not impeccably crafted.

The team kicks things off with local grains from the BC area. These are fermented, resulting in a classic wash. It’s then over to the distillery’s 38-plate copper column still, which is used twice for each batch. While that seems like an awful lot of plates, you still get subtle grain flavours, most notably a gentle hint of rye. Crucially, it’s a slow, temperature-controlled distillation run. It’s all about getting the perfect cut, keeping the grain character alongside an undeniable crispness. This keeps things wonderfully balanced, with the smoothest of smooth mouthfeels. The team also produces a BC craft gin, a pair of craft whiskies, and, intriguingly, a European-inspired Amari. Making great spirits is at the heart of the production philosophy.

NÜTRL

Beach trip drinks: sorted

Authentic, natural flavours

We’ve got the base NÜTRL Vodka. Now what? Time to craft the classic Vodka Soda! The team pays close attention to the all-natural flavours, choosing fruits that give maximum refreshment and enjoyment. The finished cans are perfect for enjoying with friends at picnics, barbeques or on the beach (or even at sporting events… hopefully again one day soon). Basically, if you’d automatically reach for a beer, you’ve got a lower-calorie alternative right here. NÜTRL Vodka Sodas aren’t sweet. They’re not heavy. What they are is deliciously simple. An alfresco at-home staple this summer! 

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