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Master of Malt Blog

The Yamazaki 55 Year Old is here!

We can scarcely believe what has just landed at MoM Towers, a single bottle of the oldest ever single malt from Japan, a Yamazaki 55 Year Old. That’s right, just…

We can scarcely believe what has just landed at MoM Towers, a single bottle of the oldest ever single malt from Japan, a Yamazaki 55 Year Old. That’s right, just one very special bottle. To tell us more we have brand ambassador James Bowker.

It’s not often that we get a whisky in that’s a piece of history, but this incredibly rare release from Suntory, a Yamazaki 55-year-old single malt, is just such a thing. It’s a blend of three casks of whisky, filled in 1960, 1961 and 1964, and captures a pivotal moment in Yamazaki’s history. The 1960 was filled under the watchful eye of Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii. But in 1961 his son Keizo Saji took over as president and master blender..

Japan’s original single malt

Then in 1963, according to brand ambassador James Bowker, Yamazaki was completely remodelled. The distillery, Japan’s first, was founded in 1923. “Before the stills were like old Macallan stills, quite small and stubby,” he said. They were replaced with the current set-up of eight unique pairs of stills to create a diverse range of flavour styles. So this is a taste of a lost style of Yamazaki that can never be recreated. 

According to Bowker, these casks were laid down with the expectation that they would age for a long time. Current master blender Shinji Fukuyo tasted the 1964 cask “for release to coincide with the 55th anniversary of the Olympics being held in Japan”, Bowker explained. It was “lovely but not perfectly balanced so he brought in the two older casks to harmonise it.” 

Master blender Shinji Fukuyo

Delicate, complex and balanced

Bowker explained how everything at Suntory must conform to founder Shinjiro Torii’s concept of “subtle and refined yet complex,” or “delicate, complex and balanced” as the company now puts it. As such at Yamazaki the team can produce a bewildering array of styles from different fermenters, yeast strains, still types (including some direct-fired stills), and peating levels of malt – and that’s before you even get on to casks.

Compare this with Macallan or Bowmore, Bowker said, “where every drop is identical up until the moment it goes into cask.” He went on to explain the difference. One approach is like “taking a photograph of one aspect of a thing”, whereas at Yamazaki they “take snapshots of all these angles and perspectives of the core malt profile of the distillery.” As such it’s hard to define the distillery’s style but, Bowker said, it always includes tropical fruit and a resinous quality from mizunara, Japan’s native oak. 

Sadly, the records have been lost as to exactly what went into those three special casks but according to Bowker, there is a hint of smoke about the finished whisky. The original casks are also something of a mystery. Bowker thinks the 1960 began in Spanish oak before moving to mizunara after about 25 years. “We re-cask whisky at around 25 years old to make sure it continues to improve,” he said. Finally, the three years were married together in glass for around six months before bottling in 2020 at 46% ABV.

Calm and mysterious

Fifth-generation chief blender Shinji Fukuyo commented: “Throughout the process of blending Yamazaki 55, I used as inspiration the passage of time and ‘wabi-sabi’ – the Japanese belief that imperfections can help to ultimately contribute to perfection. While I often view other extra-aged whiskies as art, I consider Yamazaki 55 to be more like a Buddhist statue: calm and mysterious, requiring time to truly enjoy the inner beauty.”

The result, with a minimum age of 55 years, is the oldest Japanese whisky ever released. Naturally, the packaging is pretty fancy too. It comes in a crystal bottle decorated with gold dust and lacquer. The bottle is wrapped in handmade Echizen washi paper and bound with a Kyo-kumihimo plaited cord, and comes in a box made from Japanese Mizunara wood and coated with Suruga lacquer.

Only 200 bottles have been filled, 100 for Japan and 100 for the rest of the world, and we have one. Just one. So how do you get your hands on this piece of history? Simple click here and fill out the form to register interest, and we’ll get back to you.

Yamazaki 55

Behold, the Yamazaki 55 Year Old

Tasting note for Yamazaki 55 Year Old

Nose: A robust aroma redolent of sandal wood. A sweet, mature bouquet like well-ripened fruit.

Palate: A soft, smooth first sip that blossoms in the mouth with flavor. A mixture of sweet and slightly bitter, followed by a woody note from the mizunara cask.

Finish: Slightly bitter, a fragrance like scented wood and a hint of smokiness. A sweet, rich, lingering finish.

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September 2021 Master of Malt competition winners part one

We’ve had competitions and that means we now have winners. Let’s announce some names of our recent competition winners! There are several kinds of lovely news to break. Like telling…

We’ve had competitions and that means we now have winners. Let’s announce some names of our recent competition winners!

There are several kinds of lovely news to break. Like telling your family and friends you’re pregnant/getting married/ blocked by Piers Morgan on Twitter. Or letting people know that they’ve won the competition you put together. Luckily we’re getting to do the latter today. And there will be more exciting announcements to follow soon… Anyway, let’s put some smiles on faces!

House of Hine, Jarnac

The House of Hine on the river Charente

Congratulations to…

The winner of a VIP trip to the House of Hine Cognac is… Adrian Moeckell

The winner of a virtual cocktail party with Wing Walker and Horse Guards is… Caroline Obbard

The winners of a bundle of boozy goodies from Jack Daniel’s are… Miriam Bland and Will Brooks


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The lost whisky industries of Australia and New Zealand

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

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

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

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

The New Zealand whisky book

New Zealand’s whisky heritage

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

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

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

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

Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin, New Zealand

Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin, New Zealand

Australian whisky waxes and wanes

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

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

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

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

Corio still

Old still from the Corio Distillery

So why did Canada thrive?

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

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

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


Australian whisky revived: Starward distillery in Melbourne

The modern revival

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

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

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

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Cocktail of the Week: the Gin and Juice

The sun’s out and that means we need a refreshing cocktail made with minimum fuss. Something laid back. A Gin and Juice, perhaps… We like to think our Cocktail of…

The sun’s out and that means we need a refreshing cocktail made with minimum fuss. Something laid back. A Gin and Juice, perhaps…

We like to think our Cocktail of the Week series has a nice wide range of serves that aren’t too tricky to make. But some might involve bitters or liqueurs you’re not familiar with or require some intermediate-level prep you just don’t have the time or inclination for. This is why we also love to feature some of the drinks world’s most simple serves. 

It doesn’t come much easier than a two-part drink. And of all the many variations possible, there is perhaps none as easy or immediately appetizing as the Gin and Juice. It’s so basic, it’s hardly a cocktail. It doesn’t even have a dedicated name like a Screwdriver. Just a description of what’s in the drink. And the exact recipe is up to you.

No fancy equipment. No strange ingredients. It’s cheap, cheerful, and a crowd-pleaser. Who the hell won’t actually enjoy a Gin and Juice? Fruity and refreshing is always a winning combo. Try and mess it up, I dare you.

A classic in two worlds

Best of all, the Gin and Juice will always remind you of the song of the same name by Snoop Dogg. In fact, on the excellent Difford’s Guide, the ‘History’ section of this serve hilariously says the Gin and Juice is “possibly the inspiration behind the Top 10 single ‘Gin and Juice’ by rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg”. I think you might be onto something there, guys.

The second single from his debut album, Doggystyle, Gin and Juice was released in 1994 and is still Snoop’s most-streamed song on Spotify. It also features arguably the greatest line in a music video of all time: “Snoop doggy dog, you need to get a jobby job”. Still amazing after all these years. The song has also helped propel the drink’s fame and no doubt helped make it the name of choice for countless bars and clubs. 

On 27 May 2018, the legend himself even set the world record for the largest ‘Gin and Juice’, a 500-litre paradise cocktail, containing 180 bottles of gin, 154 bottles of apricot brandy, and 38 3.78-litre jugs of orange juice. Good thing he didn’t call the song White Russian. There’s no way that much milk wouldn’t curdle in the California sun.

Gin and Juice

The record-breaking Gin and Juice (Image credit: Guinness World Records)

A gang of Tanqueray

The most important ingredient is obviously the gin, because while your options seem pretty limitless, you will need to consider which style and profile will pair with your choice of juice. A classic London dry gin is the obvious way to go as it’s the easiest to balance. Snoop himself references Seagram’s gin in the Gin and Juice lyrics, but also says the line “Later on that day, my homie Dr. Dre came through with a gang of Tanqueray”. This gives us the perfect excuse to use an excellent brand of gin and also reveals a very generous side to the good doctor.

As for your juice, have fun with it. We’ve gone for a classic blend of orange and pineapple here, but you can go in whatever direction you like: grapefruit, lime, clam. It will all be tasty if you balance it right. Ok, I was joking with the last one (although someone unbearably trendy hipster bartender will probably make that work), but do experiment to find which flavours you like best. You can even theme your Gin and Juice, make it tropical with mango and pineapple, or festive with cranberry etc. 

Once again, as we say often in Cocktail of the Week, the MOST IMPORTANT THING is that the juice is fresh. Otherwise, it just won’t taste as good. Yes, it’s a pain to freshly squeeze your own juice. Yes, it’s easy and cheap to buy pre-made juice. It’s no problem if you want to do that, just understand that it won’t be as good as the fresh stuff. If you’re buying juice, get the stuff from the chiller cabinet, not the shelf. The latter is made from concentrate and heat-treated for long life. Not delicious. Oh, and some Gin and Juice recipes call for simple syrup, for those who like drinks on the sweeter side. That seems mad to me in a drink that is mostly fruit sugars anyway, but if you do need a little extra kick then I would add small amounts (5ml ish) at a time so you don’t mess up what should be the world’s easiest cocktail.

 Gin and Juice

The Tanqueray and Juice

How to make a Gin and Juice

And that’s it, basically. This recipe was provided by the folks at Tanqueray, but really do feel free to play around with this one.

35ml Tanqueray No. 10
60ml fresh orange juice
60ml fresh pineapple juice

Splash your Tanqueray London Dry Gin in a shaker then add the fresh juices. Fill with ice, shake and strain, then squeeze some lime and dunk it in.

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Shannon Tebay: an American at the American Bar

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

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

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

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

An American at the American Bar

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

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

Shannon Tebay

An American at the American Bar, whatever next?

Precision and consistency

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

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

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

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

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

Nuts about coconut

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

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

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

American Bar at the Savoy

But will she be upstaged by the carpets?

No one should ever feel unwelcome at a bar

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

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

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

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

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New Arrival of the Week: Deanston 12 Year Old 2008 Oloroso Cask 

We’re toasting a glorious new week here at Master of Malt with a limited edition Oloroso cask Deanston 12 year old. But that’s not all. Not by a long way….

We’re toasting a glorious new week here at Master of Malt with a limited edition Oloroso cask Deanston 12 year old. But that’s not all. Not by a long way. Alongside it, Distell has released three other limited editions from Bunnahabhain, Tobermory and Ledaig. Yes it’s bonus week!

Earlier this month we joined some of the team from Distell for one of those online tastings that have become fashionable of late. On the call were master blender Julieann Fernandez, master distiller Brendan McCarron and travel writer Robin McKelvie, who has just made a film about the three Scotch whisky distilleries in the Distell stable: Tobermory, Bunnahabhain and Deanston.

Deanston distillery

Deanston distillery is housed in a former mill

Not faceless whisky factories

McKelvie spoke passionately about his film. He said that the distilleries are not “faceless whisky factories”, they mean something to the local community. The real stars are the distillery workers who during the height of the pandemic were frustrated that they could not share the love of whisky with visitors. You can watch the film here

Julieann Fernandez commented on the film: “To be able to tell the stories behind each distillery and showcase the team who have worked so hard behind the scenes to keep our whisky flowing, is a real honour for us. These film clips pay tribute to these teams and our distillery homelands”.

This was Brendan McCarron’s first public engagement since his surprise move from Glenmorangie earlier this year. He described himself as the “new boy ” and seemed to be enjoying his new job thoroughly. The only problem is he’s spending too much money on whisky especially Ledaig, the peated expression from Tobermory: “my wife banned me from bringing anymore in.”

As well as enjoying McKelvie’s film, we were there to try four limited edition whiskies from the three distilleries. They range from the classic to the slightly off-the-wall, but all are worth trying especially as none is overpriced. Fernandez commented: “We’re incredibly excited to share these four wonderful, limited-edition whiskies with fans around the world, each with their own defining characteristics and flavour profiles.”

Here’s what we tried:

Distell Limited Editions

Deanston 12 year old Oloroso cask

This was distilled in 2008 before filling into an American oak Oloroso cask. McCarron is clearly a massive fan of his local distillery located near Stirling in the central belt of Scotland. “It has a waxy texture which is impossible to copy. You can try but you won’t succeed”, he said, “it has a robustness about it which suits the high ABV.” It’s bottled at 52.7% ABV.

This has an amazingly fruity nose with sweet orange notes, bitter orange peel and that classic Deanston waxy flavour. The palate is an explosion in the mouth of dried fruits, waxy notes (naturally), cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and honey with aromatic wood notes. McCarron described it as having a bitter cherry note like an old Chianti. It’s a big sweet dram but that spiciness balances the sweetness nicely.

Bunnahabhain Aonadh 10 year old

This is a daring whisky from Islay’s famous unpeated distillery. It’s aged in sherry casks but with a Port finish. Does sherry go with Port? McCarron commented: “It shouldn’t work but it does” and praised how the Port and sherry were harmonised. Fernandez explained how it was a matter of mixing a range of Port finishes together some at four, five or six years in the Port casks, “finding the right length of time in cask.” It’s bottled at 56.2% ABV.

So does it work? The nose is massive, lots of wood, caramel, cloves and cardamom with distinct varnish notes. It’s certainly distinctive. The palate is much more classic with sweet toffee balanced by a salty dryness and then in comes a massive wave of nuts, walnuts, brazil nuts and chestnuts. It’s like Xmas day on Islay. One that tastes far more harmonious than it smells. One to discuss at your whisky group!

Tobermory 17 year old Oloroso cask

We’ve been fortunate enough to try a lot of long-aged sherry cask malts from Tobermory recently and this is a classic example. It was distilled in 2004 at the Isle of Mull distillery and aged in Oloroso sherry casks. Nothing strange going on here. According to Fernandez, Tobermory has a light new make so you have to be careful not to swamp it in sherry. It’s bottled at 55.9% ABV.

This is a lovely dram for fans of sherry cask whisky. The nose is sweet with malt, toffee and dark chocolate, a dash of water brings out orange, orange peel and for one taster a little lime. I loved the sweet nuttiness on the palate, like roasted walnuts and coconut, with a thick full texture like creamy toffee. A load of spice comes in towards the end and it finishes dry to prepare you for another sip. Another great old sherried Tobermory.

Ledaig 22 year old PX cask

Distilled in 1999, this was fully matured in a Pedro Ximénez cask before bottling at 55.6% ABV. Ledaig is the peated version of Tobermory but it’s very much not a “peat monster” according to McCarron.

At first the main smell is the wine, floral like a muscat with dried fruit, then comes the wood smoke and bacon-flavoured crisps. The mouth is all about the balance of sweet grapey notes with cigar smoke, bonfire and roasted nuts. This is a very special dram. You can see why McCarron is spending so much money on Ledaig.

All in all some seriously distinctive and impressive drams from the Distell stable. 

They are available to buy from Master of Malt. Click on links above to buy.

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A first look at Johnnie Walker Princes Street

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

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

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

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

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

Johnnie Walker Princes Street

Make it so!

It’s all about flavour

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

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

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

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

Johnnie Walker Princes Street archive

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

Two cheers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johnnie Walker

Filling a bottle of Johnnie Walker

What else is there?

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

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

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

Amazing views from Johnnie Walker Princes Street

Amazing views from Johnnie Walker Princes Street

So, should I visit?

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

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

Click here to book and for more information.


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The Nightcap: 3 September

It’s Friday, The Nightcap is back and the Tequila is on Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and his doppelgänger, unless us Brits spill it all coming back from the bar of…

It’s Friday, The Nightcap is back and the Tequila is on Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and his doppelgänger, unless us Brits spill it all coming back from the bar of course… What are we talking about? Read on to find out…

How hard is it to get a saying going, do you think? For example, if we wanted to replace ‘Thank God it’s Friday’ (or TGI Friday if you’re rad/a restaurant chain) with ‘Thank God it’s The Nightcap’, how long would it take to popularise the new and improved version? We know we can count on everyone who reads this to get on board, and that must be at least six people. We just need a weekly round-up of boozy news to become so synonymous with the beginning of the weekend and Friday itself that it’s a natural move for people. It can’t be that hard. Hoover is synonymous with the vacuum cleaner and I don’t know anyone who owns a Hoover. Let’s aim for Christmas.

Anyway, those of you who take a gander at our lovely little blog every now and then will have noticed there were some very exciting things happening this week. Like us celebrating Boutique-y Whisky’s birthday by shouting all about the Home Nations Series, or reviewing the very first Benriach Malting Season release. Elsewhere, Adam had a taste of some intriguing Irish whiskey, Lauren spoke to the remarkable woman behind Montanya Rum, and Millie uncovered the world of whisky auctions. Oh, and if you’re in the mood to whip something up tonight, then perhaps try our Cocktail of the Week: The Dominican Double!

And yet there’s still even more drinks stories to tell this week. So let’s get on with it. Here’s The Nightcap: 3 September edition!

The Nightcap: 3 September

Jameson is the toast of 2021 for Pernod Ricard

Pernod Ricard “rebounding very strongly” from Covid

Pernod Ricard announced some very promising results this week with organic sales up 9.7% on pre-Covid levels and profits up by 18.3%. “The business rebounded very strongly during FY21 to exceed FY19 levels,” said CEO Alexandre Ricard. Much of this success was driven by the irresistible rise of Jameson, seeing a 15% growth globally. The Irish whiskey brand is now bigger than Absolut in the US. Looking at other brands in the portfolio there was a strong performance from the Chivas Brothers side of the business with Glenlivet, Chivas, and Ballantine’s all enjoying growth, as well as Martell and Malibu. On the other hand Royal Salute, Beefeater, and Havana Club all lost ground. Looking at markets individually: Europe was up 4%, with the UK, Germany, and Eastern Europe all performing strongly, in contrast to Spain and Ireland. Globally, China (up a massive 34%), Russia, India, and the US (up 6%) all performed well. As expected, travel retail was a disaster, down 50%. Ricard continued: “I would like to take this opportunity to praise the exceptional commitment of our teams during this difficult time and express my support to those who have been or continue to be impacted by this pandemic. We will stay the strategic course, accelerating our digital transformation and our ambitious sustainability & responsibility roadmap. Thanks to our solid fundamentals, our teams, and our brand portfolio, we are emerging from this crisis stronger.” Trebles all around!

The Nightcap: 3 September

Congratulations, Kirsten!

Brown-Forman Scotland welcomes new assistant blender, Kirsten Ainslie

Congratulations to Kirsten Ainslie who has just landed the job of assistant blender for Brown-Forman’s Scotch distilleries, working with the master herself, Dr. Rachel Barrie. Ainslie, who spent three years as distiller at Edinburgh’s John Crabbie & Co, will join Barrie looking after Benriach, The GlenDronach, and Glenglassaugh. The job will involve new product development, cask management, and assessing spirit quality. As you can imagine she’s quite pleased: “I feel very privileged to be taking on the role of assistant blender and working alongside Rachel Barrie who is renowned in the whisky industry. Working closely with Rachel, I hope to build on the legacy of maturing and marrying different casks, and crafting whiskies to be enjoyed by newcomers and connoisseurs alike,” she commented. Barrie added. “Kirsten will be a great addition to the team. Nurturing young talent is an important part of what we do at Brown-Forman and Kirsten has certainly proven she has the best nose for the job.” Sounds like she’s going to be a Scotch whisky star of the future. 

The Nightcap: 3 September

Real talk. The new-look Chivas is no cap. Yas queen. That’s how young people talk, right?

Chivas Bros gets down with the kids

My 10-year-old daughter has come up with a portmanteau word, ‘dadbarrassing.’ It’s for those moments when fathers try to get down with the kids. This new word sprang to mind when we received a press release announcing a redesign for Chivas 12 Year Old. Apparently the biggest in the brand’s 112-year history. Global marketing director of Chivas, Nick Blacknell explained (if that’s the right word) the thinking behind the change: “Social media has introduced a new, broader audience to the wonder of whisky – ‘flex’ consumers with a hustle-first ethos that seek out upmarket brands to align themselves with.” We’re not quite sure what this means but the colour scheme has changed to “vibrant burgundy” and the packaging has changed to be more environmentally friendly with a new lighter bottle that will apparently save 1,000 tonnes of glass annually. Meanwhile, the liquid will remain the same. Blacknell continued: “I’m particularly proud of the central role sustainability has played in reconceptualising Chivas 12 for a new generation. With this redesign, we have once again reinforced our belief that sustainable luxury is not an oxymoron.” Expect to see the hip cats drinking Chivas 12 in fashionable discotheques this autumn.

The Nightcap: 3 September

Free whisky cocktails is a deal we’ll never turn down

Whisky pop-up giving out free drinks

London pubs The Culpeper and The Duke of Cambridge are doing the Lord’s work, it has been revealed this week, by launching ‘Whisky Six Wednesday’. This means that to celebrate the teaming up of Nc’nean and the sustainable pubs, a pop-up is being made that will give out free whisky, soda, and mint cocktails every Wednesday throughout September from 6-7pm at the two locations. The Scotch whisky distillery and eco-conscious London establishments will offer the former’s signature Whisky Six serve free of charge for anyone who can make a pledge for what they’re going to do differently in life, via Nc’nean’s website here. Whether it’s going zero waste for a month, cycling to work, or simply not checking emails outside work hours – this partnership wants to encourage positive change. The Whisky Six is intended to be a fresh take on a G&T (as in, it’s a Highball) and mirrors the approach the partnership encourages, which celebrates the ‘golden hour’, an early evening moment to reflect and encourage new experiences and fresh takes on old ones. If you want to make the serve yourself, just combine 50ml of Nc’nean Organic Single Malt Whisky and 100ml of soda water in a glass filled with ice. Gently stir then garnish with a fresh sprig of mint. Otherwise, you can get it at all four Culpeper venues across London outside of the promotion. But you’ll have to pay. Our advice would be to get the free ones if you can.

The Nightcap: 3 September

The distillery is looking to harness its environment to become more sustainable

Bruichladdich Distillery aims for net-zero whisky

Great whisky doesn’t come without cost. It’s estimated that Islay’s nine distilleries burn 15 million litres of oil each year, which means a lot of CO2 emissions. Good thing a lot of effort has been made by various distilleries and companies to recognise the importance of sustainability, with Bruichladdich Distillery becoming the latest to make a commitment. The Islay maker says that, by 2025, its distillation process will be net-zero. The production of malted barley and the hot mash to create the wort, whisky’s source fluid, will follow. Innovative types of green hydrogen production using green electricity and water electrolysis are planned, but for now, Bruichladdich is depending on a green tariff. Renewables will hopefully be installed over the next few years with Douglas Taylor, Bruichladdich’s chief executive, hoping that the technique could then be applied to Islay’s other distilleries, businesses, and homes, transforming the island, which is also the site of experimental tidal energy pilot projects, from fossil fuel dependency into renewables self-sufficiency. “We have this view of ‘think big, start small, but start today’,” Taylor says. “And that’s one of the things you need in the industry: to take a brave and courageous step to represent what change could look like,” he said. “What you have to do is start with what you can control.” For more info on Scotch whisky’s quest for sustainability, this Guardian article goes into some great detail.

The Nightcap: 3 September

This is a distillery we’re very excited by

Aber Falls releases its latest whisky

Aber Falls continues to show off its whisky prowess following the launch of its Single Malt Inaugural Release in May, with a new 2021 bottling. The three-year-old expression was made using 100% Welsh malted barley and rock-filtered water taken from the Aber Falls Waterfall, so it’s delightfully local for those who love a bit of provenance. Whisky fans who like intriguing processes will also appreciate that the bottling was distilled in an intriguing mix of copper pot and stainless-steel stills before being matured in a mix of ex-Oloroso and PX sherry casks, ex-bourbon casks, and virgin oak casks, before being bottled at 40% ABV. The Welsh distillery says to expect an aroma of sweet fruits with a hint of clove and delivers a rich and full-bodied palate, with sweet sherry notes, dark chocolate and espresso. It stimulates a long and lingering finish of dried fruit and subtle spice. Welsh bartender Alex Mills has also made a signature serve, an Old Fashioned with a Welsh twist that’s loosely based on the flavours of a Bara Brith, a spiced tea cake common in North Wales. The signature serve consists of ingredients from the four corners of Wales, including 15ml of honey from Nature’s Little Helpers in Cardiff, a pinch of black Welsh tea from Tea Traders in Carmarthen, five drops of coffee bitters from Dyfi Coffee in Machynlleth and, of course, 50ml of Welsh whisky. The 2021 bottling is on its way to MoM Towers and you’ll be delighted to know the price point is insanely reasonable (the RRP is £26). Lots to like about this distillery, folks.

The Nightcap: 3 September

Apparently, one of these isn’t Dwayne Johnson.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson wants to drink Tequila with his doppelgänger

The man who is definitely, totally and unequivocally most famous for owning Teremana Tequila, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, wants to share some of his greatest work with police officer Eric Fields, who happens to be the most remarkable doppelgänger. A picture of patrol lieutenant Fields’ was posted by the sheriff’s office on Facebook with the caption: “This gentlemen recently ran into Sgt. Mason and informed him he wanted to meet our Deputy that people say looks like “The Rock”. Sgt. Mason passed that along and Lieutenant Fields was happy to swing by the Hartselle Wal-mart to see him. Tyler is one of their many hard workers and it was great to meet him and some of his coworkers!” On Monday, the movie star responded by reposting a tweet comparing the two men side-by-side along with the caption: “Oh s**t! Wow. Guy on the left is way cooler. Stay safe brother and thank you for your service. One day we’ll drink @Teremana and I need to hear all your ‘Rock stories’ because I KNOW you got ’em #ericfields.” As for Fields himself, he’s surprisingly taken the news he looks like an international star and sex symbol in good spirits, telling AL.com “I’ve been called The Rock and Vin Diesel’s love child. I go along with it. It’s humorous. It’s flattering. It could be worse people, I guess.” 

The Nightcap: 3 September

RIP to all the lost pints.

And finally… data reveals Brits spill 11m pints per round

The return to busy bars and pubs means the old challenges are back. Getting the attention of bar staff. Nabbing a table that isn’t by the kitchen door. And trying to not spill everything you’ve just bought to huge ironic cheers from the other punters (this is actually a strangely loving response if you’re not from the UK and Ireland). According to hospitality app, OrderPay, Britons collectively spill an average of 11 million pints per round, and with the average pint in the UK costing £3.94 that’s the equivalent of over £43,340,000 each time! A whopping 40% of Brits confess to regularly dropping their drinks, with the average amount spilled per round just under a quarter of a pint. Disparities inevitably exist across the regions and the different age groups. The obviously lying over 55’s painted a cautious picture, with only 30% saying they lost beer to the floor, compared to 55% of honest 25 to 34-year-olds. Londoners typically seem to be in a rush the whole time as spillages were most prevalent in the capital, with almost half of people (49%) saying they regularly lost beer en-route. This perhaps is a good time to take stock and rethink. It’s an awful lot of drink wasted, folks. Our beloved booze deserves better. 

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Master of Malt Tastes… Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

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

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

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

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

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

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

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

Dr. Jack Ó’Sé: the secret weapon

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

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

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

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

Tasting the Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey range

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

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

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

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

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Journey Irish Whiskey

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

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

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

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

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

Serve: The Journey Old Fashioned 

50ml The Journey 

10ml sugar syrup 

2 dashes of Angostura bitters 

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

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Haven Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 

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

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

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

Finish: Liquorice, dried fruit, and ginger snaps. 

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

Serve: The Haven Sweet Manhattan 

60ml The Haven

30ml sweet vermouth  

2.5ml Luxardo Maraschino 

1 dash Angostura bitters 

1 dash Angostura orange bitters 

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

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Horizon 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey 

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

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

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

Finish: Butterscotch with makrut lime leaves and polished oak. 

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

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How to win at whisky auctions

The last few years have seen some serious records and numbers being set in the world of whisky auctions. Millie Milliken asks the experts how the industry works and what…

The last few years have seen some serious records and numbers being set in the world of whisky auctions. Millie Milliken asks the experts how the industry works and what newcomers should be bearing in mind.

There are only 14 bottles of the Macallan Fine and Rare 60 year old in existence – one of which was bought for approximately £1.3m at Sotheby’s in London in 2019, the most expensive single bottle of whisky ever sold at auction. Other bottles and collections to join Macallan at the top of the pile are Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series (£1.1m), The Macallan Peter Blake 1926 60yo (£765,000), and The Macallan Red Series which raised a whopping £756,400 for charity.

Auctions are, unsurprisingly, big business (it’s small business too with a recent rare collection of 400 miniatures selling for a total of £56,732.95 via Whisky.Auction). But there are bargains to be had. So, how does the auction world work? And how can first-time bidders navigate the (virtual or live) auction room?


Miniatures can be big business. This Springbank 5cl went for £5600 via Whisky.Auction

The auctioneers

“I actually come from an art background,” Georgia Porteous of Bonhams in Edinburgh tells me of how she got into the auction game. “I’ve worked for Bonhams since leaving university, so 10 years ago now. I always had a passion for whisky so when I moved up to Edinburgh, a job finally came up in the department.” Now, she’s the junior whisky specialist at the auctioneer, working alongside Martin Green (head of whisky) and Diego Lanza (whisky specialist) valuing bottles, cataloguing them ahead of quarterly auctions, and consigning items for sale.

As first sales go, Porteous’ – a Macallan Peter Blake 1926 which fetch upwards of £700,000 – wasn’t a disappointment: “What I love about working at an auction house is that it so varied: you can be handling a lot of five bottles that are worth £300 and then you can go on to a £350,000 bottle of whisky – it’s a real privilege.”

Sam Hellyer, wine and spirits specialist at Chiswick Auctions unknowingly began his career in drinks when he got himself a job at a Bottoms Up wine shop at 18, before heading to university, getting his foot in the door at Oddbins after graduating, a couple of nights a week and finally embarking on a decade-long job with the retailer. After a time working for small importers, Brexit hit and Hellyer decided a move into the world of auctions was the more disaster-proof option.

Georgia Porteous of Bonhams

Death, downsizing and divorce

“We operate on the three ‘d’s: Death, downsizing, and divorce,” he explains matter-of-factly. “It’s a miserable way to look at things but the pandemic has actually particularly seen a lot of downsizing… so we’ve picked up quite a few cellars.” One recent cellar held a 2004 vintage of Bordeaux en primeur on which the seller made a 200% profit.

As well as valuations, visiting cellars, and negotiating listing timings, Hellyer is also a key factor to the live auction, acting as auctioneer for the wine and spirits lots – I say key as the sale rate drops by 20% when he misses one. Why? “Knowing the wines and being able to talk about them and even pronounce them is very important… there is a recognised value in the knowledge when you’re working in the auction side.”

And when it comes to valuing the goods, Hellyer has a layman’s explanation: “The most basic explanation is everyone looks over everyone else’s shoulder. I see what it sold for at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Bonhams… all of these places because they set the price and once they’re not selling it, I’m setting the price,” he said.

The Nightcap

It’s not just about whisky, this Taylor’s 1977 Port sold through Chiswick Auctions recently

The bidder

Over his time in the drinks industry, Matt Hastings, now blender at Nc’Nean whisky, would acquire bottles of fun liquids that he didn’t want to drink and would sit in a dark cupboard. So, he started selling them in auction to fund the purchase of liquids he did want to drink. “I’ve entered bottles in batches five or six times and never been disappointed – I always get a good or fair price.”

Hastings opts for the platform Whisky Auctioneer which he came across organically and was so impressed with that he used them for Nc’Nean’s inaugural release auction – an auction that saw its first bottle go for £41,004.

But Hastings started buying at auctions before he embarked on selling. “I was just looking for fun things I couldn’t buy in shops anymore… seven or eight years ago you could get some absolute bargains with bottles selling for less than they originally sold.” And although he admits that coming across these bargains is harder nearly a decade later, there are still some specific bottles that get him excited. “Things that pique my interest are bottles like earlier Compass Box releases and old Jack Daniel’s before they changed the ABV, like an early 80s Jack Daniel’s 90 proof which is just amazing. [You’re paying for] a piece of history and to get the chance to taste something in its early [phase] of phenomena.”

Matt Hastings frequents auction sites as a buyer and seller

The industry

Of course, when it comes to selling and buying at auction, there are some variables that have impacted the industry over the years. Most notably, and recently, the EU/ US trade war that saw Scotch whisky hammered by tariffs. “In our February sale barely anything whisky-wise shifted,” explains Hellyer while continuing that there was a huge uptick in brandy, Cognac and Armagnac. “Trump’s final passing shot was putting a tariff on the brandies too, so in February those didn’t shift either, not because people don’t want them, but because a huge chunk of brokers’ clients are in the US, so they all pulled out.”

Now that those tariffs are lifted though, Chiswick Auctions did a big whisky sale, selling over 90% in one go, while 87% of the brandies listed also went. “It would be so much cheaper for the end-user to buy directly from us [rather than through a broker],” he laments, “but you’ve got to know when the auctions are and be available to be there on the day.”

A subtle change Porteous has discovered has been the type of bidder turning up to Bonhams’ auctions. While they’ve been online for years (unlike Chiswick who moved online due to the pandemic), she’s noticed that “over the last 18 months we’ve seen new, keen bidders who are participating for the first time and have more questions.”

So, with that in mind, we asked our experts for some of their top tips for newbies to the world of auctions.

Tips for first-timers to whisky auctions

Ask for a condition report. This is something you can do a few days before the auction – don’t be scared to ask, it’s what I’m paid to do! Sam Hellyer, Chiswick Auctions

Check the fees before you bid. See what fees the auction house charges and don’t forget about VAT. Georgia Porteous, Bonhams

Do some value research. The platforms have their old lots on display so you can look at pricing to see what similar bottles are getting which will help guide your decision. Matthew Hastings, Nc’Nean

Have a maximum budget for everything. Someone outbids you by £10 and then you’re in it and you could spend £100/£200 over – I see it all the time. The increments get bigger the higher you go too (before £100 your bidding in £5 increments, £200 it’s £10 and so on). Sam Hellyer, Chiswick Auctions

Don’t forget shipping and insurance. The most important thing to do is get a quote before you bid because most people aren’t aware of how much shipping and insurance is. The auction house is not responsible for the bottles once they leave the property, so do your research and get a reputable shipper with insurance. Georgia Porteous, Bonhams

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