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Master of Malt Blog

Tears before bedtime: are we heading for a whisky crash?

Today we are honoured to introduce Ian Buxton who is going to be writing a series of columns for us. In this his first article he looks back at whisky’s…

Today we are honoured to introduce Ian Buxton who is going to be writing a series of columns for us. In this his first article he looks back at whisky’s turbulent past and asks when the next bust is coming. 

According to Mark Twain, “too much good whiskey is barely enough.”  Well, uncomfortably soon, we might find out if that’s true. Whisky – be that Scotch, American or Irish – has, with monotonous regularity, a very bad habit of shooting off its own foot.  Bear with me: short and grossly simplified history lesson coming up.

whisky crash

Ian Buxton at Glenfiddich

At the end of the 19th century, the Irish whiskey industry, which was heavily invested both financially and emotionally in its large pot stills and regarded grain spirit as ‘sham whisky’ and blending as adulteration, turned its back on the future.  While other factors then came into play, it’s taken the industry more than a century to recover. Our American friends, having just got over the self-inflicted wound of Prohibition, decided that rye was finished and bourbon belonged on the bottom shelf.  That’s taken a while to sort out.

And the Scots, contrary to their national reputation for caution and parsimony, are overly fond of some boom and bust, be it the Pattison crisis of the late 1890s or the closures of the 1920s, which – lesson not learned – were neatly repeated in the mid-1980s when the industry finally confronted the consequences of over-production. Not to be outdone, shortly afterwards, the Japanese industry thought seppuku a smart move. Reacting to economic recession and dropping sales, a series of cutbacks and closures explain why Japanese whisky of any age is so very expensive today.

So, that’s one thing the world of whisky has in common.  Here’s another: we may be on the brink of repeating the same mistake because, wherever you look, distilleries are being expanded and new ones built as if the current good times will never end. The thing is, top-line numbers don’t tell the whole story. While there may be literally thousands of boutique distilleries being built anywhere you can cast a quaich, they don’t actually matter all that much.  Sure, they do if you’re an investor. Furthermore, they add to the gaiety of life and people like me get to write articles about them, but in terms of the volume they add to total production they’re insignificant.

whisky crash

Macallan’s spanking new distillery

If you doubt that, here’s a sum: it would take 125 (that’s one hundred and twenty-five, count ‘em) tiddlers of 100,000 litres annual capacity to equal the output of one Roseisle.  By the way, 100,000 litres is a perfectly decent little distillery: more, for example, than the projected individual outputs of Daftmill, Abhainn Dearg, Strathearn, Eden Mill or Dornoch .  And, while a lot of new boutique distilleries are being built in Scotland, the total doesn’t approach 125.

So, I’m not that worried about the small fry, fascinating though they are.  The problem (if there is one) comes with the less heralded fact that the big are getting very much bigger: Inchdairnie (up to 4 million litres); Ailsa Bay (12.5m); Roseisle (12.5m); Dalmunach (10m); Macallan (15m) and Borders (2m). That’s without considering expansion at Glenfiddich (to 20m), The Glenlivet, Glen Moray (now a 5m-litre plant), Glen Ord, Glenmorangie and the re-opening of Glen Keith.  I could go on.

In fact, I shall.  Exactly the same thing is happening in Kentucky and elsewhere in the USA.  That’s without mentioning the States’ reputed 1,500 plus craft distillers which, however small any one of them may be, does eventually add up to an awful lot of liquor. Expansion in Ireland, chiefly at Tullamore and Midleton, but not forgetting Waterford and Bushmills, has also seen a headlong rush into micro-distilling – which is interesting, given how Jameson continues to dominate the category.  Does the world need twenty or more tiny Irish distilleries? In Japan, following years of under-production and a sudden dramatic rise in demand (and hence those prices), they’re scrambling to catch up.

whisky crash

Artist impression of the new Port Ellen distillery

Now, while you can, of course, keep whisky in cask almost indefinitely, that requires barrels and warehouses, scarce and expensive resources that tax the patience of the most saintly accountant. Because a lot of this expansion has happened within a short period of time, a tsunami of newly-mature spirit can be expected on the market within the next five years.  

In fact, the world has never seen so much whisky. Where will it all go? Who is going to drink it all?

I would like to conclude with the thought that the last time whisky grew this fast it all ended badly. Which is true, but I can’t because whisky has never grown this fast. The size of some of these giant distilleries is unheard of for single malt, and, for the industry as a whole, the scale of expansion is unprecedented. That’s worth thinking about, because it means an unprecedented level of risk of a very messy end to our current golden age.

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

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Littlemill revealed as Scotland’s ‘oldest’ licensed distillery

We finally have an answer. Historical documentary evidence has provided us with proof. Or as much proof as we can get. Scotch whisky now has an oldest distillery! It’s a…

We finally have an answer. Historical documentary evidence has provided us with proof. Or as much proof as we can get. Scotch whisky now has an oldest distillery!

It’s a question you’ve probably asked yourself (or let’s face it, straight up Googled) before. Which distillery holds the claim to be Scotland’s oldest? There hasn’t previously been a conclusive answer, and the debate has gone on for so long it could be the oldest argument in Scotch whisky.

Now, thanks to fresh evidence unearthed from archives, we may finally have an answer: Littlemill Distillery.

Littlemill distillery

Littlemill Distillery from above, in the good ol’ days.

Rumours that Littlemill is Scotland’s oldest distillery, possibly even the oldest in the world, have long persisted. It was hard to say for certain if this was true, despite the distillery’s extensive and fascinating history.

The Littlemill Distillery was established in 1772 on the banks of the River Clyde near Glasgow, on the site of an old brewery that was founded during the 14th century. There are suggestions that illicit distilling took place there from 1750 when the site was bought by George Buchanan, a malt master. Renowned whisky historian and writer Misako Udo in her book The Scotch Whisky Distilleries even suggested that distilling may have happened there many centuries before.

But it was a date stone carved with ‘1772’ on the gable end of one of the distillery’s warehouses that offered the best clue as to the age of this Lowland distillery for over 220 years. That was until Loch Lomond Group, the current owner of the Littlemill brand, commissioned a study of Littlemill’s origins. Behold – new evidence has come to light!

Littlemill distillery

The Littlemill distillery, shortly before it was sadly closed

The research uncovered the local Justice of the Peace’s records for Dumbarton, dated 2 November 1773, which stated that ‘Robert Muir of Littlemiln’ was granted the first-ever license by the Government of King George III to “retail ale, beer and other excisable Liquors”.

That’s not all. In 1772 accommodation was built next door to the distillery to house the Excise officers who represented the King. This measure ensured any distillation was duly recorded and the relevant taxes calculated and paid. There would not have been an excise officer on site had the distillery not been licensed to operate.

This suggests that something was already afoot onsite before 1772, and could well make Littlemill the oldest licensed distillery in Scotland. The distillery is sadly no longer in operation after it fell into perpetual silence in 1994 and was subsequently destroyed by fire in 2004.

Littlemill distillery

The original Thomas stills at the Littlemill Distillery

“It has often been rumoured that Littlemill was the oldest licensed distillery in Scotland, which until now have been only rumours,” said Colin Matthews, CEO of Loch Lomond Group.

“We have now uncovered conclusive documentary evidence to confirm these rumours and claims as reality, having commissioned detailed research to establish the facts. We are thrilled and excited to have discovered these clear and unambiguous documents dating back to 1773 that confirms that Littlemill was indeed the very first Scottish distillery to obtain a licence to sell ‘excisable liquors’.”

Charles MacLean, whisky historian and author, added: “The wrangle about ‘the oldest distillery’ has been running for ages, so this is a significant find. There have been several claims before, based on the fact that illicit distilling took place on the site prior to a license being granted. The Dumbarton Justice of the Peace records, referencing Littlemill, does not refer explicitly to distilling, since prior to 1781 private distilling was perfectly legal so long as the spirits were not offered for sale. So, this license to sell excisable liquors amounted to a license to distil as we understand it today. What a shame Littlemill itself burnt down in 2004, but thankfully some limited stocks remain!”

It’s good of MacLean to look on the bright side, and we’ll join him there ourselves. While it’s true another drop won’t be produced, the remaining stocks from Littlemill continue to be released by Loch Lomond Group.

In late 2018 the brand launched the Littlemill 40 Year Old Celestial Edition, the oldest expression ever to be released from the lost distillery and a celebration of the life’s work of former Littlemill owner Duncan Thomas. His innovative take on the distillery’s stills helped create three styles of single malts from full-bodied to light (seen in the above photo).

The latest addition to the Littlemill range will be released in September 2019. The third release from the Private Cellar Collection, Littlemill 29-year-old will be housed in a Glencairn crystal decanter etched with an illustration of the River Clyde and a silver star signifying the Littlemill distillery’s location. The whisky will be accompanied by a 5cl miniature of the liquid, a piece of an original Littlemill cask, and a booklet sharing the fascinating history of the Littlemill distillery along with tasting notes from Master Distiller Michael Henry. It sounds delightful, but there will only be 600 bottles released across the world, so you’ll need to be quick. You have been warned.

If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle, be sure to boast that it’s from Scotland’s oldest licensed distillery.

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New Arrival of the Week: Martini Fiero

Martini & Rossi have big plans for Martini Fiero, a new super fruity vermouth that the company hopes will be the drink of the summer. We take a closer look……

Martini & Rossi have big plans for Martini Fiero, a new super fruity vermouth that the company hopes will be the drink of the summer. We take a closer look…

The press bumf describes Fiero as “the biggest new product launch undertaken by Martini in years”. And there can be no doubt at the sizeable market Fiero is aimed at: Aperol drinkers. Those bright orange spritzes are so ubiquitous now it’s hard to remember that until 2009/10, Aperol had little presence outside Italy. I think like many Londoners I had my first taste of it at Polpo on Beak Street, which proved so influential when it opened in 2009. By 2014, the Aperol Spritz was everywhere from country pubs in Wiltshire to seaside towns in Spain. It was a stunning example of how to market a product.

Martini Fiero

Martini Fiero, looking very pretty

It’s easy to see the appeal because, though there is a certain amount of bitterness, with its sweet orangey taste and low alcohol (11% ABV), Aperol is almost Kia-Ora for grown-ups. Not that that’s a bad thing. I think it tastes particularly fine mixed with fizzy water and grapefruit juice. Aperol’s success has led to a vogue for spritzes. To my knowledge, however, there haven’t been any mainstream products aimed squarely at Aperol (though I did try a supermarket own-label version a couple of years ago which was pretty revolting). Until now…. 

Martini Fiero has been available on the continent for a couple of years now, but this month it is being officially released in Britain. It’s actually a very different product from Aperol. Though it doesn’t say so on the front label, it’s actually a vermouth, which means that it’s made from white wine rather than the neutral alcohol that goes into Aperol. It’s also higher in alcohol at 14.9% ABV. Martini informed us that it’s made from 100% natural flavours and colours, including orange and two types of wormwood (artemisia absinthium and artemisia pontica, for vermouth geeks).

Martini Fiero

“Go on, I dare you to ask for a beer”

So how does it taste? Rather delicious, I thought. It feels a lot less sugary than Campari or Aperol; the overwhelming flavour is of sweet oranges with some bitter orange peel notes at the end and a certain medicinal tang. You can also really taste the wine base. Perhaps it’s the  bright red colour, but it reminded me a bit of Panda cherryade which used to be sold at my local cinema in the 1980s (interestingly, the same local cinema has been poshed up and now sells Aperol Spritzes). I liked it mixed half and half with soda water, with grapefruit juice and soda, and it makes a cracking Gin and It. Martini recommends drinking Fiero with tonic water which worked beautifully, the bitterness in the tonic chiming with the subtle bitter notes in the vermouth (though I did add a splash of soda to lessen the sweetness).

Just as Campari lovers can be a bit sniffy about Aperol, I think some vermouth fans are going to turn their noses up at Fiero. The flavours are clean and simple, it doesn’t have the complexity of the Martini Riserva range or the power of the standard Martini Rosso (hard to beat in a Negroni). But, of course, it is not aimed at vermouth nuts. According to Martini, “Fiero & Tonic provides a younger adult audience with a refreshing new way to enjoy vermouth as part of the aperitivo occasion”. As a sweet, fruity drink with enough bite to keep it interesting, it’s the perfect uncomplicated drink for a summer’s day. Rather like another orangey Italian drink I could name.

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Google Pay is officially in the building!

Browsing on an Android device right now? We have news for you. Google Pay is live on the site, which means it’s even easier to grab something delicious at Master…

Browsing on an Android device right now? We have news for you. Google Pay is live on the site, which means it’s even easier to grab something delicious at Master of Malt!

What does this mean? Gone is the need to mess about with address and payment deets at check-out. Just let your device do the work! Simply hit the pay button and you’re good to go. Your boozes will be en route to you before you know it!

All you need to do is make sure you’re signed in to your device with your Google account, and then set up your payment options. Once that’s done, just browse Master of Malt and pop what takes your fancy in your basket as per usual (if you want the super-fast experience, instal the Google Pay app). Head to the checkout, tick the Google Pay option and BOOM! It’s cocktail hour.

Google Pay

Google Pay is here!

This is something we’re incredibly excited about. Last month, we got Apple Pay up and running, and now Google Pay is here, too. More and more of you use smartphones to browse the site, check out New Arrivals and read the blog, so we wanted to make it even easier to shop, too!

With Google handling all your details, there’s less typing and more time getting on with your day. You could check out cocktail ideas for your new bottle. Or go down the Buzzfeed quiz rabbit hole. Don’t let anybody tell you that knowing what type of cactus you are is ridiculous.

So. What are you waiting for? Happy shopping!

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The Nightcap: 5 April

It’s been a big week for Irish whiskey, BrewDog, and our very own blog. The Nightcap is here with all the stories from the week! April has arrived, and with…

It’s been a big week for Irish whiskey, BrewDog, and our very own blog. The Nightcap is here with all the stories from the week!

April has arrived, and with it came news both real and fake. Of course, the storied tradition of ‘spend the first morning in April lying through your teeth at every opportunity’ continued this year, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. We’re here for the news. The newsiest of news! The news built upon facts, but also built upon booze. The Nightcap is held up by those two pillars: facts and booze. Like Stonehenge, except not big rocks.

Anyway, it was a busy week on the MoM Blog, which we colloquially referred to as Blogmageddon here at MoM Towers (we know how to have fun). Henry celebrated the news of Bruichladdich’s plan to build on-site maltings, treated us to a Daiquiri for Cocktail of the Week, and then found out the buzz around mead. Jess showed off Mackmyra Äppelblom for New Arrival of the Week, looked at the announcement of a new distillery in Donegal, Ireland, and finally met batman. Not that one, the other one, the one with the mezcal. Adam took a booze-based tour of Scotland’s whisky regions, and chatted with The Whisky Works’ Gregg Glass. Annie got us all hyped up about the upcoming Scotch whisky distilleries that we can’t wait to visit. We had a guest blog from Nate Brown about how not to launch a new drink, we announced the winner of our Yellow Spot competition, and we launched Google Pay as a payment option. Then we got involved with the whole ‘lying through our teeth thing’ (but then came clean about it). Blogmageddon indeed!

After all that, it’s probably time to bring you what else went down this week!

masons

We wish the team at Masons Gin a speedy recovery

‘Still explosion’ causes fire at Masons Gin distillery

Sad news came from Yorkshire this week. Masons Gin, set up in the Dales six years ago by husband and wife team Cathy and Karl Mason, suffered an explosion. According to numerous reports, one of the stills blew out, causing a major fire. The Masons team put a statement on social media shortly afterwards. “We’d like to thank everybody for their concern and well wishes following a fire at the distillery today,” it read. “We can report that all staff are unharmed and there are no injuries sustained. We’d like to express our thanks to the emergency services and staff at SPAR for their support this morning.” We’re thinking of everyone at the distillery and hope things are back up and running soon.

Dublin-Liberties

A ‘momentous achievement’, says The Irish Whiskey Association

Irish spirits get GI recognition

Top news, folks! Irish whiskey, Irish cream liqueurs and Irish Poitín have all secured geographical indication (GI) status in the EU. What does this mean? Basically, both in the EU and markets that the EU has trade agreements with, a product can only be labelled as Irish whiskey, gin or Poitín if it was made on the island of Ireland to set production methods and standards. Single malt Irish whiskey, pot still Irish whiskey, blended Irish whiskey and grain Irish whiskey were all included in the GI agreement, which the country’s drinks industry first submitted in 2014. It essentially means it will be much harder for people to fake Irish drinks or make misleading statements on non-compliant products. The Irish Whiskey Association called the development a “momentous achievement”, giving the drinks the “strongest possible protection”. Best raise a dram of something Irish!

Pernod Ricard to ban single-use promo plastics by 2025

Global drinks group Pernod Ricard, which owns the likes of Beefeater, Chivas Regal, The Glenlivet and Havana Club, has published its 2030 Sustainability & Responsibility roadmap (see video above). The document sets out eight “ambitious and concrete” targets, each developed to support the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Under Biodiversity, Pernod Ricard has pledged to have a dedicated project with evert affiliate, and as part of Regenerative Agriculture, there will be projects to improve topsoil, watershed and ecosystems in eight wine regions. As part of its Equal Pay and Future Leadership banner, the group has pledged to ensure equal pay by 2022 and gender-balanced top management teams by 2030. Shared Knowledge and Learning will see 10,000 bartenders trained in being anti-waste and plastic-free, and on the topic of Packaging and Waste, all promotional single-use plastic items will be banned by 2025. A Water Balance and Carbon Footprint focus will see the company’s total carbon footprint cut by 50%. Pernod Ricard’s Alcohol Misuse focus will see every affiliate have at least one programme to fight problem drinking; while under the Responsible Party pillar, more than one million young adults will learn about responsible consumption. “These 2030 commitments provide us with a focused framework across our business in helping to address some of the biggest sustainability issues, so consumers can enjoy our products in a convivial and sustainable way,” said Vanessa Wright, VP Sustainability & Responsibility. Go Pernod!

Scotch Whisky collection

The most extensive and famous private whisky collection in the world is set to stay!

Diageo Claive Vidiz Scotch collection to stay in Edinburgh

Anyone who has visited the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh will remember the Diageo Claive Vidiz collection. The 3,384 bottle-strong haul includes some seriously rare and covetable expressions, including a Buchanan’s whisky bottle dating from 1897! It was Brazilian businessman Claive Vidiz who gathered the collection over 35 years before it was acquired by Diageo in 2009. It’s been on display at the visitor attraction ever since, attracting a whopping 1.5 million whisky fans. And a deal has been struck to keep it in situ for another 10 years! “The Diageo Claive Vidiz Collection is uniquely eclectic, with brands from across the whole industry and ranging from extremely rare bottlings to everyday drams from years gone by. It really gives visitors a fascinating insight into our whisky history,” said Christine McCafferty, Diageo’s chief archivist. The Scotch Whisky Experience has just revamped its display units for the collection, to make sure the bottles are kept in prime condition for the next decade. Susan Morrison, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Experience, added: “After 10 years of seeing the collection every day we still have the privilege of seeing the reaction of surprise and delight on the faces of each of our visitors as they enter the collection vault for the first time.” We’ll be up again soon!

brewdog

The BrewDog Distilling Co. has arrived (complete with scary wolf)!

BrewDog reveals more spirits, plans a beer hotel

Sound the klaxons, The BrewDog Distilling Co. is here! Yes, BrewDog, responsible for your favourite craft beer, has launched some quite incredible spirits. Although it’s still fairly shrouded in secrecy, here’s what we know. Flagship gin LoneWolf has been on our radar for a while, and is juniper heavy with a touch of lavender. But there’s now another gin, Zealot’s Heart, a small-batch expression “made by zealots for zealots”. Then, we are also treated to Rogue Wave, “a vodka you won’t forget”, dedicated to the co-founder’s cousin, One-Armed Alex, who you can spot on the label. Finally, the distilling team has collaborated with a trio of leading spirit-makers to create the Boilermaker Series, sporting three limited-edition whiskies that are actually designed to be paired with BrewDog craft beer. What a spread! If you think BrewDog has forgotten a certain spirit, fear not. Next on the cards is an authentic spiced rum aged in oak, though you’ll have to wait a little longer for that one. But there’s more! The team has certainly been busy, because this week it also revealed it’s planning the UK’s first craft beer hotel. Known as DogHouse London, it will have its own craft beer museum, fresh craft beer you can pour for yourself in each room, and something called a shower-beer fridge. At least being in the dog house won’t be such a bad thing now. We’ll wag our tails to that, BrewDog!

Glenfiddich

Say hello to the new Glenfiddich UK ambassador: Alex Walker

Meet new Glenfiddich UK brand ambassador, Alex Walker!

We have a new national brand ambassador at Glenfiddich, folks! Independent family distiller William Grant & Sons has confirmed Alex Walker has taken on the role with immediate effect. Walker, who began his career in Australia before working in prestigious hotels bars The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy and Artesian at The Langham, will be tasked with talking all things Glenfiddich Distillery as often as possible (or ‘elevating brand awareness’, to use the industry term). He’ll also keep up comms between the brand and whisky drinkers, bars and restaurants, retailers and the press. Stephen Rutherford vacated the role after taking up the Glenfiddich UK brand manager position. “Alex has proved himself to be an exceptional candidate and a passionate whisky enthusiast, ticking all of the boxes for the role,” he said. Walker added: “I am extremely excited to be joining the William Grant & Sons UK family. It is a huge honour and privilege to work for a brand that represents over 130 years of history, heritage, and experimentation. I can’t wait to be part of this journey and help craft future success for Glenfiddich!” Congratulations, Alex!

Dewar’s releases film starring Game of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon

To celebrate the launch of its new Double Double range of whiskies, Dewar’s has teamed up with a whole bunch of glitzy actors to produce Four: four short films set in the Savoy Hotel in London. First up is Tuppence Middleton (you might remember her from TV series such as War and Peace and Black Mirror), alongside the likes of Iwan Rheon, who plays the baddest of all the baddies from Game of Thrones, and Jack Farthing from Poldark. The film is named after the four-stage ageing process used in these whiskies (step 1: ageing individual grains and malts separately; step 2: blending malts together and ageing, blending grains together and ageing; step 3: marrying the two; step 4: finishing in sherry casks). The Double Double (2+2=4, geddit?) range consists of three luxury age-statement whiskies: a 21 year old finished in oloroso casks; a 27 year old finished in palo cortado wood; and a 32 year old finished in PX barrels. We had a sneak preview with master blender Stephanie Macleod (at the Savoy, natch) and were extremely impressed. According to Macleod, the special ageing process is all about “the pursuit of smoothness”. It’s not unusual these days for drinks brands to make starry promotional films but, Macleod reminded us, Dewar’s was the first. Tommy Dewar commissioned a cinema advert for his whisky way back in 1898. Now there was a man ahead of his time.

talisker

It’s the Wild Spirit tour and bartender competition!

Talisker kicks off Wild Spirit tour and bartender competition

Isle of Skye’s Talisker Distillery has launched a fancy new bartender training programme and competition – the Wild Spirit Whisky Tour! That’s right, no more Race to Skye. Instead, we’ve got a new initiative which kicks off with a 20-stop UK-wide Wild Spirit Whisky Tour inspired by Talisker’s ‘Made by the Sea’ campaign. It runs until 19 April, and events will be delivered by Talisker brand ambassador Jason Clark. He’ll educate bartenders on the distillery’s history and production, and will explore Wild Spirit cocktail techniques. Once that’s wrapped up, bartenders will be invited to submit a Wild Spirit serve, from 20 April to 15 May, on behalf of their bar. The three bars chosen by a judging panel will win a Talisker Wild Spirit adventure for three members of staff! “For two years running, Talisker’s Race to Skye competition was a huge success and we’ve been delighted with the support and excitement received from the nation’s bartenders,” said Clark. “This year, we’ve mixed things up a little and have advanced the event into an all-new training programme and competition, the Talisker Wild Spirit Whisky Tour, which aims to reach and engage as many bartenders as possible.”

Tempus Fugit Spirits

The Tempus Fugit Spirits range was on show at Ziggy’s Bar at the Hotel Cafe Royal

Tempus Fugit Spirits eyes up cocktail bars

We found ourselves at Ziggy’s Bar at Hotel Cafe Royal last week for an extra-special tasting of Tempus Fugit Spirits. Founded in 2007 by John Troia, the brand’s birth coincided with the reintroduction of absinthe into America. Troia and his partner collected old absinthes and paraphernalia, so when the ban was lifted in 2007 they decided to corner the market. And now time has come for a push into cocktail bars! Tempus Fugit has an expansive portfolio of liqueurs and digestifs, as well as many absinthes. The range of spirits are all made from historic recipes, dating back to the 19th century. Including Gran Classico Bitter, Creme de menthe and Fernet del Frate. Jack Hanlon made some fabulous cocktails with the spirits, including a 20th-century cocktail using Creme de Cacao, Kina L’Aero D’Or and gin, and a Banana Bliss from the Cafe Royal Cocktail Book 1937 using Creme de Banane and Cognac. Yum.

hangover free alcohol

You can always avoid a hangover by drinking responsibly, of course

And finally… could hangover-free alcohol actually become A Thing?

While we always intend to drink responsibly, many people have, on occasion, slightly over-indulged. The resulting hangover is NOT fun. So we read a story from Food & Wine this week with interest. A chap called David Nutt from Imperial College London has been working on something called ‘alcosynth’ for some time. It’s billed as a synthetic form of alcohol that gives you all the fun effects but none of the nasties. Up until now, he’s not been too optimistic about the timeline, suggesting it could replace regular alcohol by 2050. But there’s been a development! Apparently, he’s consumed the stuff himself already, and has cut the projected pipeline to a mere five years! The bad side? Nutt says he has to mix it with fruit juices to mask the taste. We’re not sure what the alternative is if you’re into Martinis or Negronis, but if a super-sweet Piña Colada floats your boat, you could be hangover-free before you know it. But remember, folks – sip, don’t gulp.

And that’s a wrap for this week, folks. We hope you enjoyed The Nightcap – have a tip top weekend.

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Bats, agave and mezcal: a love story

We headed over to Temper in Covent Garden for an outstandingly educational afternoon with Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, known as the Bat Man of Mexico, for a chat about bats and…

We headed over to Temper in Covent Garden for an outstandingly educational afternoon with Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, known as the Bat Man of Mexico, for a chat about bats and their synonymous relationship with agave plants.

Did you know that 80% of agave pollination is due to the humble bat? Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, a professor at the University of Mexico, has spent pretty much his whole life studying and protecting bats, hence his nickname. Born with a love of animals, his first word was “flamingo”. At the age of 12, he held his first bat and his fate was sealed: he was going to work with bats for the rest of his life. We were lucky enough to see him talk about his passion, and learnt a lot about a species that isn’t given much good press. Move over Bruce Wayne, here’s the real batman.

With a glass of mezcal in hand, Medellin began to explain how bats and agave plants are linked. The relationship goes back around 12 million years, but don’t worry, we won’t start all the way back then. Instead, we’ll begin in 1988 with the lesser long-nosed bat, which are found in Central America and were, at the time listed as endangered. Fast forward 30 years, and in a truly historic moment in 2018 they were the first mammal to be delisted! This was no cue to relax, it was now time to focus on the maintenance and conservation of the species.

The Bat Man with a lesser long-nosed bat

When Medellin first started studying the largest colony of lesser long-nosed bats in northwest Mexico, he and his team realised that the area was completely barren. Not an agave in sight. The nearest sources of agave were at least 40 or 50km away. Too far, Medellin thought, for such a small bat to fly just to feed. In a great plot twist, they found out that the bats were flying 90km one way to feed from agave plants. Medellin showed us a picture of a bat after feeding, its whole body completely covered in pollen. So, when these bats are flying 90km each way to find food, of course they’re spreading this pollen around from agave to agave like nobody’s business.

Agave is used to make mezcal, and Blue Weber agave is specifically used to make Tequila. The plants take between six to eight years to grow, and only sexually reproduce once in their entire lifetime, during which they bloom a magnificently tall flower. Medellin compared it to “a humongous penis”, and this flower is what bats feed from. However, this process takes up a huge amount of sugar and energy from the plant, so agaves that are destined to make mezcal are harvested before it can take place. Instead of natural reproduction, agave farmers take clonal shoots from beneath the plant and replant those.

The problem with this is that there is no genetic diversity from all these cloned baby agaves. Farmed agave have not been allowed to bloom in over 150 years, and in 2014 it was discovered that 270 million agave plants were clones of just two original agaves. Yep, our jaws dropped too. This means that they all have the same genetic makeup, so should a disease come along (or even the effects of climate change) they would all be equally susceptible. That’s a pretty precarious situation.

Agave plants destined for mezcal

Medellin proposed a solution to recover the genetic diversity of the agave species and, importantly for him, to help conserve the bat population. If agave farmers allow just 5% of their agave harvest to bloom, that will feed 100 bats per hectare. These bats will then pollinate the agave, reviving the genetic diversity. Should the farmers do this, they will be able to claim their mezcal or Tequila as ‘bat friendly’, and will be able to display a special hologram on their bottles certifying this. So far, mezcal and Tequila brands Ocho, Tapatio, Siete Leguas, Siembra Valles Ancestral and Cascahuin have earnt the title. Clearly, it has been hugely popular, as every single bottle of bat friendly mezcal has sold out. At the moment, it’s impossible to get your hands on any!  

Medellin is also urging bars and other establishments to display this information around the bar, in menus, and to educate the bartenders. The key is to offer people a choice (when some bat friendly mezcal returns to the market!) to help support this crucial cause.

Behold, a very tall agave bloom waiting for bats

Mezcal is one of the very few alcohols that doesn’t rely on a monoculture. Beer? Fields of barley. Wine? Grapes of one species (vitis vinifera) as far as the eye can see. Cognac? More grapes! Even Tequila is made only with Blue Weber agave. Mezcal can be made from any one of over 200 agave species, and this bodes for far healthier and robust ecosystems. When we asked Medellin about his favourite mezcal, he answered that from his top 10 at least half of them he would never be able to try again, and that’s fine with him. “Dwell in diversity”, he said, “or mezcal will become the next Tequila.” What he means by this is that, when you try a brilliant small batch mezcal, you must enjoy it and move on. Whoever said that variety is the spice of life was really on to something.  

At the end, we asked Medellin what Master of Malt could do to help. He answered, “the industry is thirsty for information”, so if we can continue to convey the crucial role that bats play then awareness will only increase. The industry is also thirsty for Tequila, so spread the word, just like those lesser long-nosed bats spread that agave pollen! Seeing Medellin speak about his work was truly inspiring. He was passionate, informative and downright hilarious, and his cause is something that we can all get on board with.

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Five new Scotch distilleries we can’t wait to explore

With around 30 new Scotch whisky distilleries in the planning or construction phases, it’s an exhilarating time to be a dram fan. Here, we’ve picked out five of the most…

With around 30 new Scotch whisky distilleries in the planning or construction phases, it’s an exhilarating time to be a dram fan. Here, we’ve picked out five of the most hotly-anticipated producers preparing to join the fold…

The last few years have been a ride, haven’t they? Scotland’s best-known distilleries are expanding, new players are making waves and old favourites like Port Ellen, Brora, and Rosebank are en route to resurrection.

While there are many more Scotch whisky distilleries in progress and no doubt plenty others to be announced over the coming year – we’ve picked out five we’re particularly excited about. What’s yours? Let us know where and why in the comments below…

port of leith distillery

Port of Leith Distillery (it doesn’t quite look like this yet)

Port of Leith Distillery, Edinburgh

We’ve had a soft spot for Port of Leith Distillery for a little while now. A whisky crush, if you will. Not only will the Leith-based site be Edinburgh’s first single malt whisky distillery for more than 100 years, but its ground-breaking design means it’ll be Scotland’s very first vertical distillery too. It’s expected to be up and running by autumn 2020, with the first whisky bottles slated for release in 2023, but that hasn’t stopped co-founders Paddy Fletcher and Ian Stirling from giving us a flavour of what’s to come. Last year the duo released Port of Leith Distillery sherry, sourced from Bodegas Baron in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and Lind & Lime Gin, produced at nearby The Tower Street Stillhouse which will later house the Port of Leith’s whisky development programme. Expect unusual yeast strains, fermentation experiments, and a whole new world of flavour.

Clutha Distillery

Clutha Distillery

Clutha Distillery, Glasgow

Situated at Glasgow’s Pacific Quay development on the south side of the River Clyde, Douglas Laing’s project Clutha – meaning Clyde in Gaelic – isn’t just a single malt whisky distillery. Oh, no. The £10.7m building will also house a bottling complex, visitor centre, whisky laboratory, whisky archive, bar, bistro, and corporate head office. The family-owned business plans on producing whisky with a heavy sherry influence that will differ from traditional Lowland styles: think macerated fruit, dark fruit, chocolate and cocoa character. Last year, third generation family member Cara Laing told MoM to expect a “down-to-earth, very honest distillery” that focuses on “everything from the barley to the finished bottle”.

Cabrach Distillery

Cabrach Distillery as it will look when finished

Cabrach Distillery, Moray

While the stills at Inverharroch Farm in the Highlands – home to Cabrach Distillery and its accompanying heritage centre – are new, the 150,000-or-so bottles of single malt they’ll produce each year will “made with historical methods” according to “the blueprint of an early 19th-century distillery”. The project, operated by The Cabrach Trust, aims to essentially produce Cabrach whisky as it would have been produced in the area in 1820, when wild, remote and rural Moray was at the centre of illicit whisky-making and smuggling. Cabrach Distillery is expected to release its first mature bottling in 2024.

Ardgowan Whisky Distillery

Ardgowan Whisky Distillery visualised by digital artist Tom Barnett

Ardgowan Distillery, Inverkip

Lowlands liquid with a maritime touch is what the good folks at Ardgowan Estate (around 30 miles from Glasgow, FYI) plan on serving up at their site, which will nestle across a cluster of ancient farm buildings on their Bankfoot site. The original Ardgowan Distillery was founded in 1896 in Greenock, and made grain spirit and industrial alcohol until it was destroyed during the Second World War. A £12 million distillery and visitor centre, Ardogowan 2.0 will produce three separate whisky styles – heavily peated, lightly peated, and unpeated – which will be available for sale as four, five, and seven-year old drams. In September 2018, the team released their inaugural whisky, the Ardgowan Expedition: a 20-year-old blended Scotch made with liquid that has travelled to the South Pole and back.

Ardross Distillery

Shadowy figures lurking at Ardross Distillery

Ardross Distillery, Inverness

Located in the Averon Valley, 30 miles north of Inverness, Greenwood Distillers’ Ardross Distillery is set on a 50-acre farm complex that dates back to the 19th century. The two-storey still house, tun room, mash house, milling area, blending and product development lab, vaulted cask storage area, tasting room, marketing suite, offices, and staff accommodation will split across steading buildings, farmhouse and cottages that once made up Ardross Mains Farm. Keen to get distilling, the folks at Greenwood recently unveiled Theodore Gin, created with guidance from olfactory expert and perfumier Barnabe Fillion. Our very own Jessica popped along to the launch in London read all about it here.

That’s it, folks! Five new Scotch whisky distilleries we’d love to visit. Which next-gen distilleries are on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments below, on social.

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Whiskey to return to Donegal with Ardara Distillery!

Irish whiskey (and gin) fans, we bring you good tidings. Sliabh Liag Distillers has unveiled plans for its new Ardara Distillery in Donegal – yes, Ireland looks set to get another whiskey…

Irish whiskey (and gin) fans, we bring you good tidings. Sliabh Liag Distillers has unveiled plans for its new Ardara Distillery in Donegal – yes, Ireland looks set to get another whiskey maker!

The company has acquired the Show Field in Ardara, and will be formally submitting a planning application to Donegal County Council for the new distillery this week. This is the beginning of its ambitious plan to return whiskey distilling to Donegal for the first time in 177 years. Now that’s a long old time. Company directors James and Moira Doherty and James Keith stated that the construction of Ardara Distillery is scheduled to start later this year (subject to planning approval, of course), and if all goes to plan distilling operations will commence in 2020. Exciting stuff!

The brand already produces some familiar names, including Dúlamán Irish Maritime gin, and also The Legendary Silkie Irish whiskey. The company is also planning to create a number of new brands at the new distillery. We can expect to see a couple of peaty treats, such as Ardara and Sliabh Liag single malt and pot still whiskeys, which will remain faithful to the style of 19th century whiskeys from the county.

With a €6 million investment, Ardara Distillery will employ at least 40 people, and will have the capacity to produce 400,000 litres of pure alcohol a year. That’s the equivalent of around 1,700 filled casks, and over 1.2 million bottles of whiskey. Our mouths are already watering.

It’s not just the whiskey itself which is impressive here. The company has put a lot of thought into the design of the new Ardara Distillery building, with a particular focus on how best to complement the village and its natural surroundings. CornerStone Architecture has been called on for the task, and has designed a building that will make use of traditional shapes and materials. It will be “truly unique but will look very much part of the town”, according to Gavin Shovelin of CornerStone.

Ardara Distillery

The shiny proposed Ardara Distillery!

The An Dúlamán gin still, named Méabh, currently resides just outside the village of Carrick at the existing production site, and will be moved to the Ardara Distillery so whiskey and gin are both under one roof. A visitor centre has also been planned, and featuring a Poitín museum, exhibition space, tasting bar and shop. In a rather interesting but admirable move, there will be no café or restaurant, as the directors wanted to encourage visitors to make use of all that the local village has to offer.

“The design of the development is a mix of contemporary and traditional finishes which complement the village of Ardara,” said James Doherty, Sliabh Liag Distillers managing director.

“It is important to us that local businesses benefit from the foot fall, and if we can get visitors walking in the village, increasing their dwell time, then it’s so much the better for the entire community.” We wholeheartedly agree. As well as supporting the village itself, a large portion of the land surrounding the new distillery will be kept as an open green space for anyone to enjoy. Sliabh Liag Distillers clearly has huge respect for its natural surroundings and community, and it’s great to see a company so invested in preserving both.

There was a public consultation in Ardara yesterday (2 April) and the Planning Application is due to be submitted tomorrow (4 April). We’ll keep our fingers crossed!

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Cocktail of the Week: The Daiquiri

Today’s cocktail has the ability to transport you back to the glamour of pre-revolutionary Cuba with just one sip. It is, of course, the Daiquiri! Let’s get the bad news…

Today’s cocktail has the ability to transport you back to the glamour of pre-revolutionary Cuba with just one sip. It is, of course, the Daiquiri!

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: the invention of Cuba’s national drink is usually attributed to an American! The man in question was a certain Jennings Cox, a mining engineer based in the south of the island, near Santiago de Cuba. It was the early 20th century, and one day he was entertaining some friends when he ran out of gin, the drink Americans usually drank. Rather than let his party break up early, he mixed lime juice, sugar, ice and water with the local rum, Bacardi, a light, smooth style of spirit that proved ideal for cocktails. With winning modesty, Cox named his concoction not after himself but after the nearby beach, Daiquiri.

Downtown Havana ©Caleb Krivoshey

Downtown Havana ©Caleb Krivoshey

Or so the story goes; I am sure that the locals were probably drinking something not dissimilar already. This early Daiquiri doesn’t sound so different from a rum punch, a drink ubiquitous across the Caribbean, or indeed that old Royal Navy drink, Grog, a mixture of rum, lime juice, sugar and water, designed to keep sailors soberish and scurvy-free. It was in Havana, however, that the drink became something a little more sophisticated. The barman at La Floridita, Constantino Ribalaigua (born in 1888 in Catalonia), shook the ingredients with ice and then strained the mixture into a cold glass to create… well, it’s sour, isn’t it? Yes, a Daiquiri is simply a sour made with rum.

Nevertheless, the Daiquiri became legendary, perhaps due to the famous people who drank it. Hemingway, a regular at La Floridita, was a fan. He had a special one prepared without sugar because he was diabetic. It was also a lot stronger. During Prohibition, Havana became a playground for Americans: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra were all seen knocking back Daiquiris. The in-crowd drank at the art-deco Hotel Nacional, which opened in 1930. With American celebrities came American criminals; the Mafia poured into Cuba in the 1920s and ‘30s, and Cuba’s capital city became notorious for vice, gambling and corruption.

Emilio Gonzalez at another Havana hotel, the Plaza, came up with the idea of using a blender, a new invention in the 1930s, to crush up ice and fruit to create the frozen Daiquiri. Without Gonzalez’s refinement the greatest drinks conversation in cinema could not have taken place. In The Godfather Part II, the Corleones are in Havana indulging in some vice, gambling and corruption. Alfredo Corleone asks his brother, who he has betrayed, “How do you say Banana Daiquiri in Spanish?”. Michael Corleone replies, “Banana Daiquiri”.

Daiquiri Naturale

Daiquiri Naturale

Nowadays the standard Daiquiri in Havana is frozen; if you want an old-school version you have to ask for a Daiquiri Naturale. The beauty of the Daiquiri is that it is so adaptable: you can use different types of fruit and rum, you can adjust the sweetness, and it can be frozen or merely cold. My own favourite variation is the Daiquiri Mulata, made with dark rum and a coffee liqueur, but this week, I’ve kept it classic with a Havana Club 3 Year Old. Finally, it’s worth double straining to remove any bits of ice and lime pulp.

Right, here’s a basic Naturale recipe:

50ml Havana Club Añejo 3 Year Old
15ml lime juice
10 ml sugar syrup

Shake ingredients with plenty of ice and double strain into a chilled Martini glass. Serve with a wedge of lime and an anecdote about Papa.

Havana Club

Cubans love the smell of Havana Club

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Explore Scotland’s whisky regions!

This week you’ll journey with us through the wonderful whisky regions of Scotland, stopping for a delicious dram or two along the way… I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone…

This week you’ll journey with us through the wonderful whisky regions of Scotland, stopping for a delicious dram or two along the way…

I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone by now that we do enjoy a dram or two of Scotch whisky here at MoM Towers. Some who share our passion may prefer to indulge in expressions from the same region, be it the Lowlands, the Highlands, Campbeltown, Islay, the Islands or Speyside. We, however, love all of them like children and, just like every parent you’ve ever met, we can’t wait to talk your ear off about how much we do.

So, whether you prefer the peaty powerhouses typically found on Islay, the sherried and sweet often associated with Speyside, the malty, fruity whiskies you’ll regularly see in the Highlands or all the above and more, then you’ll be happy to join us on a journey that marvels at the huge range of different styles of whisky that are produced all over Scotland.

Before we start, it’s worth checking out this Drinks by the Dram Tasting Set, which contains five 30ml samples that showcase the Regions of Scotland. Now, on with our adventure!

Bladnoch 17 Year Old California Red Wine Cask Finish

Region: Lowland

We start our journey at the fabulous Bladnoch Distillery, which started up production once again in 2017 following some periods of difficulty. Since its return, the brand has created some delicious and intriguing drams, such as the 17 Year Old California Red Wine Cask Finish. Originally matured into ex-bourbon barrels, this 17 year old single malt was then finished in Californian red wine casks to create a rich, rewarding and wonderfully fruity profile.

What does it taste like?:

Dried fruit, orange marmalade, coffee, cherries, toffee, vanilla, liquorice, shortbread, black pepper and sweet oak.

Glenkinchie 12 Year Old

Region: Lowland

Glenkinchie 12 Year Old is not only the flagship expression from the Glenkinchie distillery, but it makes for a fine introduction to all things Lowland Scotch. A creamy, sweet and smooth expression that’s ever-popular and incredibly versatile, it’s no surprise this expression was named the winner of the Best Lowland Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards in 2016.

What does it taste like?:

Light and aromatic with hints of barley malt, almonds, hazelnuts, stewed fruits, dessert wine, apple peels and manuka honey/beeswax.

Springbank 10 Year Old

Region: Campbeltown

We journey now to Campbeltown and its famed Springbank distillery, which is known for its distinctive, powerful whiskies and loyal following of enthusiastic, passionate fans. The brand’s 10 Year Old expression, a blend of both bourbon and sherry matured whiskies, is the kind of dram that makes you understand why. Quite simply a sublime introduction for those not familiar with the distillery or the Campbeltown region in general.

What does it taste like?:

Oaked aridity, rich peat, earthen rootiness, exotic fruits, salinity, cereal sweetness, dark nuttiness and whirling smoke.

The Glenrothes 12 Year Old – Soleo Collection

Region: Speyside

We venture now to arguably the most famous and certainly most productive of all Scotch whisky regions: Speyside! Glenrothes has been providing great whisky in this part of the world since 1878, but it’s only recently eschewed its famous vintages to make for age statements. This 12 year old single malt, released as part of the Soleo Collection, is one such example and you’ll find that this teaming with the kind of sherried deliciousness people love from a Speyside Scotch.

What does it taste like?:

Floral vanilla, galia melon, shortbread cookies, honey, banana, white chocolate, black pepper and cinnamon.

Strathisla 12 Year Old

Region: Speyside

This fruity, floral and sherry-rich single malt was distilled at Strathisla, which is not only the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland, but also one of the most beautiful. It’s currently owned by Chivas Brothers and much of the whisky is used for its blends, however, given its significance to Scotch whisky and the brand, it’s little surprise Chivas Brothers decided to honour the distillery with its own expression.

What does it taste like?:

Soft oak, candied peel, Danish pastries, cooked apple, malt, sultanas, cinnamon and allspice.

Caol Ila 2004 (bottled 2016) Moscatel Cask Finish – Distillers Edition

Region: Islay

We now find ourselves on the Isle of Islay, which is pretty much the closest we’ve got to a holy land for us Scotch whisky fans (don’t forget to make your pilgrimage for Feis Ile 2019 from 24 May-1 June). We know that some of you will have immediately scrolled when you saw this blog for the first thing that could be classed as Islay awesomeness in a bottle. Good thing you did, as the Caol Ila Distillers Edition bottlings are not to be missed. This edition is the 2004 vintage Distillers Edition, which was bottled in 2016 after it was finished for a period in a Moscatel cask. Expect smoke, expect sweetness and most of all, expect a truly sublime Scotch.

What does it taste like?:

Honey, subtly floral malt, a crash of sea spray, peat smoke, golden syrup, orange oil, jasmine tea, brown sugar, red grapes, cinnamon, cassia and a few touches of spearmint.

Kilchoman Machir Bay

Region: Islay

We’re now at Islay’s farm distillery Kilchoman for a delicious dram of Machir Bay, the flagship of the Kilchoman range. Named after the scenic beach on Islay, this excellent single malt Scotch whisky that was matured in both bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks and boasts a wonderful balance of peat, sweetness and zesty citrus. One to savour.

What does it taste like?:

Citrus zests, crumbly vanilla biscuits, elegant peat smoke, tropical fruit, dried raisin and cracked black pepper.

Deanston 18 Year Old

Region: Highland

Our next stop is the wonderful Highland region for a delightful dram of Deanston. All of the distillery’s whisky is distilled with Scottish-grown barley and the 18 Year Old expression served its finishing period in first-fill Kentucky bourbon casks. With just a hint of drying smoke and plenty of creamy, sweet characteristics, Deanston 18 Year Old is a fine expression that should not be overlooked.

What does it taste like?:

Earthy vanilla, Golden Grahams, honeydew melon, flint, lemon cheesecake, orange boiled sweets, oily walnut, stem ginger and beeswax.

Highland Park Valknut

Region: Island

The Islands, which are often classed as being part of the Highlands, are home to some classic names like Talisker, Tobermory and, of course, Highland Park, the latter of which is our final stop. It’s located on the island of Orkney, where you’ll find puffins, plenty of great Scotch and also puffins (did I mention Orkney has puffins, guys?). The brand’s expression Valknut is part of the Viking Legend series and features a small portion of Orkney-grown Tartan barley. This is a more smoky customer than you may be used to from Highland Park, but it’s still got plenty of that typical rich, succulent profile you’ve come to love from Scotland’s most northerly distillery.

What does it taste like?:

Warming peat smoke, fresh vanilla, thyme honey, toasted barley, fennel seed, flamed orange peel, gingerbread, BBQ char, nutmeg and sandalwood.

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