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Master of Malt Blog

MoM visits: the Spirit of Speyside Festival 2022

You don’t need to ask us twice to celebrate Scotland’s national drink at one of the world’s largest whisky festivals, particularly after two years of virtual alternatives. Here’s what we…

You don’t need to ask us twice to celebrate Scotland’s national drink at one of the world’s largest whisky festivals, particularly after two years of virtual alternatives. Here’s what we discovered at the Spirit of Speyside Festival 2022.

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival has come a long way since it was first launched in 1999, developing into one of the largest events of its kind anywhere in the world and becoming a mecca for whisky fans old and new. For the first time, I had the pleasure of visiting for a couple of days in the middle of the six-day celebration that ran from Wednesday 27 April until Monday 2 May to experience the festival and attend just a few of the over 550 events on offer.

Welcome to the Spirit of Speyside Festival

The line-up was fantastic this year, and it was wonderful to see a whisky festival recognise that its events don’t have to be limited to a few Glencairn glasses in a room. This year there were events inviting you to pair a dram to a location within the Star Wars universe, e-bike tours, doughnut-based food pairings, Highball masterclasses, whisky tumbler carving workshops, and whisky with a swing of golf. Elsewhere, the Rhythm and Booze Project teamed up with Benromach to host a multi-sensory tasting that incorporated roots, folk, and blues music, while the Murray McDavid whisky team invited folks up into the hills at the Old Bothy to enjoy drinks, storytelling, music, and marshmallows around a bonfire in a site infamous for illicit whisky distilling and smuggling. 

Of course, if you want some hot distillery action, then there was no shortage of whisky-making sites flinging open their doors (even those that don’t usually allow visitors). It was a pleasure being hosted by people who live and breathe these sites. And I didn’t see one long queue of desperate flippers eyeing festival bottles at any site. Instead, I managed to see the rolling water in Craigellachie’s worm tubs, the shiny Cardhu showrooms, the humble but promising Ballindalloch operation, the secrets of hidden neighbour workhorses Mannachmore and Glenlossie, Macallan’s Tubbytronic Superdome, and the sherry-soaked charms of Tamdhu, all in two days in the abundant sunshine. That’s not even counting the tour of Murray McDavid’s stock at the warehouses at the old Coleburn Distillery.

New Macallan Distillery

Time for Tubby bye-bye!

A festival of people

I’ll be following up with individual features on many of the above, but suffice to say for a big whisky nerd the  festival is a treat. If I had more time/could get my hands on tickets, I would have seen even more. £100,000 worth of tickets sold in the first few hours, and some of these events could sell ten times over. It is impossible to see everything Speyside has to offer, and there’s an argument that a limitation of the festival is there’s no central hub. You do feel stretched, and wonder about the negative implications of masses descending on a rural area. There’s only so many beds, cars, and Glencairn glasses. 

The separation has its advantages, however. One is that you feel compelled to come back. Then there’s the joy of folk from more than 29 countries, from Norway to Malaysia to name but a few, making the trek to the global epicentre of ‘the water of life’. You can hear German, Spanish, Korean, and many other languages all talking about the same subject, whisky. The festival brings millions in vital income to the region, while the landscape means you’re bound to meet people and make friends. In London, you can go to an event, hop on a tube and never see that person again, but here there are only a few hotels and bars. If you met somebody from Hong King or Canada, chances are you’re bumping into them again. This year, and next. It’s a whisky reunion, tied together by constant interaction with the welcoming locals. 

Whisky is the fuel that keeps this region going. But the Spirit of Speyside Festival is all really about people. On my first night, a wonderful Brazilian lady drove the taxi from Inverness Airport to the Craigellachie hotel via several distillery stops. She insisted we check out every site along the way. It was 10pm. The fact that we could only peer outside in the dark didn’t dampen either of our spirits. The next day I met a couple from Glasgow who weren’t whisky drinkers before the lockdown. Eventually, they developed a taste. They were attending their second festival, and they now know the local bus timetable intimately, navigating the vast network of distilleries as the locals would. Everybody here is buzzing with excitement about our shared love. Even in the vast space between the rolling mountains and the Moray coastline, there’s a palpable atmosphere.

The Spirit of Speyside Festival

You dancing? You asking?

A welcome reunion 

It wasn’t just the taste of whisky that was spurring everyone on this year, but the promise of interaction with real people in real life. Imagine that! The previous two festivals were  an online event in April 2021 and a Limited Edition festival in November 2021 keeping the appetites whetted for the real return. So many of us are incredibly privileged to have the technological means to be able to stay so connected when the world became divided and distanced. But Zoom calls and virtual meetings can’t replace this. All of us there shared a sentiment: we needed this. We missed it. We won’t take it for granted again. A whisky isn’t really a whisky until it’s shared. And we did an awful lot of sharing this year.

Now we can look forward again properly. The Campbeltown Malts Festival approaches. As does Fèis Ìle 2022. Before you know it, the chance to return to Speyside will arise. The Glaswegians I made friends with tell me they’ll be back next year. So will I.

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Seven out-of-this-world whiskies

We’re enjoying whisky from all across our glorious globe this week, with drams from Japan, Australia, Scotland, and America all featuring. You might have read on blogs like ours that…

We’re enjoying whisky from all across our glorious globe this week, with drams from Japan, Australia, Scotland, and America all featuring.

You might have read on blogs like ours that folks are whipping up fresh batches of whisky all over the world these days. New world whisky, as people call drams from emerging whisky-producing countries, is all the rage. And we’re big fans, of course. 

But that doesn’t mean we’ve left the ‘old’ world behind. We’re the kind of drinks lovers who appreciate the good stuff from all corners of the globe. As long as it tastes great (and you’re not doing anything immoral or weird to make it), we’re a fan. So here’s our pick of some of the best from around the whisky world. Enjoy!

World Whisky Blend (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

World Whisky Blend (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

We’re kicking off with a bang here because this isn’t a dram that’s messing around. The World Whisky Blend is made up of whiskies from well over ten different countries, spanning Europe to Asia, the USA, and beyond. The brilliant Boutique-y team even made this one to be mixed with seven individual drinks, taking inspiration from different regions. They are ginger ale, cola, coconut water, green tea, soda water or tonic water. Which one will you pick?

Talisker 8 Year Old (Special Release 2021) 

Talisker 8 Year Old (Special Release 2021) 

Oh, to drink a young Talisker from Diageo’s Special Releases. There’s few pleasures as great. In the 2021 selection, a vibrant, punchy 8-year-old Talisker single malt matured in heavily peated refill casks was ours to enjoy. We also appreciated the design here as part of the Legends Untold series, as Talisker got a badass looking sea monster in reference to the distillery’s coastal home.

Starward Left-Field

Starward Left-Field

Australian whisky is no longer a left-field choice, thanks to distilleries like Starward. This fab rounded and flavoursome single malt whisky was aged in Australian red wine barrels and designed to be enjoyed in a number of ways. Take it neat, with a mixer, splash it into a cocktail… versatility is the name of the game here. And it’s one Left-Field plays very well.

Suntory Toki

Suntory Toki

Suntory is renowned for making some of the world’s finest whiskies and proudly being one of the standard-setters for the Japanese category. Here, it takes whisky from three of its distilleries, Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita, with its main components being Hakashu single malt and Chita grain whisky. The result is a fresh, fruity whisky with a pinch of smoke that’s ideal for Highballs.

Glenfiddich Experimental Series - IPA Cask Finish

Glenfiddich Experimental Series – IPA Cask Finish

The Glenfiddich Experimental Series has produced some cracking whisky, but arguably the highlight is this single malt, which was finished for three months in casks which previously held IPA! Created collaboratively by Glenfiddich Malt Master Brian Kinsman and IPA expert Seb Jones, the IPA which was in the casks before the whisky was specially brewed for this expression by the Speyside Craft Brewery. One for whisky and beer enthusiasts alike.

Teeling Single Malt

Teeling Single Malt

Exciting, delicious stuff from the Teeling chaps in Dublin, its single malt was crafted using a selection of five wine-cask-finished-whiskeys, including Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon. The result is something rich, fruity, and complex, as well as being a great example of just how diverse and delightful Irish whiskey is becoming.

Westland Colere 2nd Edition

Westland Peated 

A rather chill approach to peat from Seattle’s Westland Distillery. The team combines its peated malt with five non-peated varieties (Washington Select Pale Malt, Munich Malt, Extra Special Malt, Pale Chocolate Malt, and Brown Malt), resulting in a delightful dram that balances smoke and fruit with earthy, herby, nutty flavours.

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New Arrival of the Week: Kentucky Owl the Wiseman 

We’re kicking off a new week with a deliciously spicy premium bourbon from America’s whiskey heartland. It’s the Wiseman from Kentucky Owl! Bourbon is a funny old thing. All that…

We’re kicking off a new week with a deliciously spicy premium bourbon from America’s whiskey heartland. It’s the Wiseman from Kentucky Owl!

Bourbon is a funny old thing. All that rich history of distilling dating back to America’s foundation as a country, and the arrival of Scots and Irish settlers. And yet most American whiskey brands are comparatively recent because of that little 20th-century interlude called Prohibition.

It’s a bit boring, however, for new brands just to say, we’re making great whiskey because we have a passion for good spirits, so there’s often a colourful 19th-century story to even the most recent of brands. So it is with Kentucky Owl whiskey. 

The Kentucky Owl story

The original brand was founded in 1874 by C.M. Dedman in Bardstown. It continued distilling, according to the website, “until Prohibition became law in 1916. At this point, the government seized some 250,00 gallons of Kentucky Owl, taking it away for safekeeping.” Though according to other sources, Prohibition didn’t come into effect in Kentucky until November 1919 so not sure why the government would be seizing whiskey three years early. Anyway, then there was a fire and all the stock burned. Or did it? There were rumours that the stock was actually pinched by bootleggers. 

But frankly who really cares as it has very little to do with the current brand. It’s like one of those tedious origin stories you get in British gin about someone finding his great-great grandfather’s long-lost recipe in the loft and recreating it with the help of a large contract distiller near London. 

The brand’s revival

In the case of Kentucky Owl, the real story starts in 2014 when the brand was revived by Dixon Dedman, a descendant of the founder. He quickly built up the reputation of Kentucky Owl by sourcing and bottling high-quality whiskeys, both bourbon, and rye, from other distilleries. Such was the aura around the brand that bottles were changing hands on the secondary market for significantly more than RRP. Not bad for a young company with no distillery. 

In 2017, Kentucky Owl was purchased by the Stoli group, which is based in Luxembourg and makes its vodka in Latvia, not Russia. Though there is still a vodka brand called Stolichnaya in Russia but it has nothing to do with Stoli the company.

Kentucky Owl

Finally proof that aliens did indeed build the pyramids

Big plans

Confused? Well, it gets more confusing when you go back to Kentucky Owl. The Stoli Group has big plans for Kentucky Owl which include building a huge pyramid-shaped distillery and brand home in Bardstown. The whole thing looks like something from the cover of a ‘60s sci-fi novel. But despite having a breaking ground ceremony back in 2018, it doesn’t appear that anything is operational and there’s much speculation about whether the distillery will ever open. 

Then in 2021, the company announced that Dixon Dedman was moving on and John Rhea formerly of Four Roses had been signed as master blender. It seems he knows what he’s doing as one thing is clear from sampling the latest release called the Wiseman, Kentucky Owl’s stellar reputation is entirely deserved. According to the press release, it’s a blend of “Kentucky Owl 4-year-old wheat and high-rye bourbons” blended with “5 ½-year and 8 ½-year-old Kentucky-sourced bourbons.” Love those half years. Seeing as the distillery isn’t yet operational, those wheat and high-rye bourbons were distilled for Kentucky Owl by Bardstown Bourbon Co. The source of the older whiskeys is top secret.

How does it taste though?

Anyway, it’s a very classy drop for those who love a big spicy bourbon. In fact, if I tried it blind, I’d probably guess it was a rye whisky. The nose explodes with ginger, cardamom, and Szechuan pepper, with lovely mature tobacco-esque aromatics. On the palate, it’s very dry and crackles with aromatic intensity, and it’s perfectly balanced at 45.4% ABV. 

But don’t take my word for it. This is what John Rhea says: “Kentucky Owl the Wiseman is an artful balance of soft wheat and spicy high-rye that provides a smooth but complex bourbon designed to drink neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail. It leads with a beautiful caramel flavour and aroma followed by notes of allspice, citrus fruit, and a nudge of oak.”   

It’s one I’d probably drink neat but if I had a whole bottle rather than a tiny sample I’d be very curious to try it in a Manhattan and a Boulevardier, especially as it’s a lot more affordable than other Kentucky Owl releases. There’s a full tasting note below. 

So Kentucky Owl Wiseman, it has a confusing and not altogether convincing story, but frankly with bourbon this good, who cares?

Kentucky Owl Wiseman is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy. 

The Kentucky Owl The Wiseman Bourbon On the Rocks

Tasting note for Kentucky Owl the Wiseman

Nose: Ginger, cinnamon and cardamom with coffee and woody tobacco notes.

Palate: Massively aromatic with Szechuan pepper, chillies, black pepper and cardamom. The sweetness is really dialled down with subtle toffee notes.

Finish: Long and fragrant with a menthol note coming through. 

 

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Nine of the best whisky bars in Scotland

It’s World Whisky Week so from Edinburgh to Aberlour, Millie Milliken gives you her choice of the best places in Scotland to enjoy a wee dram. Here are (some of)…

It’s World Whisky Week so from Edinburgh to Aberlour, Millie Milliken gives you her choice of the best places in Scotland to enjoy a wee dram. Here are (some of) the best whisky bars in Scotland. 

We’re pretty certain that taking a trip to Scotland and not stopping for a dram in a whisky bar is a criminal offence. From five-star hotels to neighbourhood pubs and whisky-specific watering holes, the Scots know that locals and tourists alike have a thirst for usquebaugh – and it needs to be quenched. To narrow the scores of excellent bars out there down to the definitive ‘best list’ is no mean feat, so I’ve picked out some of my favourites from across the country. Spoiler alert: your favourites might not be in here – so we’d love to hear about them in the comments. And if you’re in London, here are some great places to enjoy a whisky. 

The best whisky bars in Scotland

Black Cat

The Black Cat, Edinburgh

You’ll usually be alerted to The Black Cat’s presence on Edinburgh’s Rose Street by the sound of a folk band playing in the pub’s front window. Then you’ll be hit by the sight of its whisky-laden bar. The Black Cat does a good job of mixing the classics with new and limited bottlings. It recently became a Kilchoman comraich (sanctuary) stocking a huge range of the Islay brand, sitting alongside the likes of Ardbeg Fermutation and the first release from the new Lochlea distillery. The staff are laid back and knowledgeable and cracking at giving you recommendations too. It also serves regularly changing local beers if you fancy a change of pace or a mid-flight refresher, but we love its 50/50 pairings – a dram paired with a baby serve of a complementary beer. This is the spot for unpretentious whisky drinking.

Bertie's Whisky Bar

Bertie’s Bar at The Fife Arms, Highlands

The newest bar on this list, Bertie’s Bar at The Fife Arms opened in October 2021. It was inspired by Queen Victoria’s eldest son, King Edward VII, who was also known as Bertie and to be a bit of a bon viveur. Even calling it a bar is a misnomer because there isn’t actually a bar. Instead 365 whiskies line the walls of this seriously plush space (velvet seating, dramatic lighting and dark wood) giving off the vibe of being a library of booze. We particularly like this bar because of the way the whiskies are arranged – not by brand, age or price but instead by their flavour profiles (fragrance, fruity, richness and smoky), making what could be an overwhelming whisky-choosing experience much more approachable, especially with help from the experienced team. It’s not just Scotch either – bottles from Canada, France, the Netherlands and Japan, well, anywhere that makes whisky, are in there too. Pure whisky immersion.

Quaich-Bar-Hero.png RS

The Quaich Bar, Craigellachie Hotel, Aberlour

Topping the list in terms of its range, The Quaich Bar at the Craigellachie Hotel has a whopping 1,000 bottles of whisky to choose from and specialises in global single malts. The bar itself here is absolutely beautiful: handcrafted wood is lined with a silver band made by the Queen’s silversmith, while the walls are lined with bottles. The team here is also one of the best in the business and service is refreshingly relaxed for a bar of this calibre. They also serve some rather excellent cocktails if sipping neat whisky isn’t your jam. This is one you want to have on your Instagram feed.

Athletic Arms

Athletic Arms, Edinburgh

Most people in Edinburgh know the legendary Athletic Arms as ‘Diggers’. Why? Well, sat between two graveyards it was regularly frequented by the gravediggers after a hard day burying bodies. These days, it’s a nutty little pub with a beautifully balanced mix of old-pub-meets-modern-drinkers vibe. Most importantly though, it has over 500 whiskies behind the bar, with eight flighting options to choose from too. There aren’t many surprises on this heavily Scotch-based list but this is the place to go to get the classics and explore ranges from single distilleries. Our favourite portion of the list however is the Silent Distilleries section featuring whiskies from closed whisky houses, from the likes of Port Ellen 1979 24yo Signatory to Dallas Dhu 10yo – and all reasonably priced at that. We suggest soaking up your drams with one of its award-winning pies too.

Pot Still

The Pot Still, Glasgow

From the outside, The Pot Still on Glasgow’s Hope Street is an unassuming proposition. Head inside though and you’ll be met with over 800 whiskies from around the world. The bar dates back to 1867 but it wasn’t until 1981 when the Waterstone family took over McCalls bar, as it was previously known, that it gained its whisky-related moniker and became a whisky bar with 300 bottles introduced behind the bar. Now the Murphy family own the whisky institution and they’ve created an easy-going establishment that feels much more like your local boozer than a specialist whisky bar – and it’s all the better for it. Once you’re in The Pot Still it’s tricky to leave – go for the whisky, stay for the homely atmosphere.

The Cave Bar

The Cave Bar, Meldrum House, Aberdeenshire

At nearly 800 years old, the Cave Bar at Meldrum House Country Hotel & Golf Course is one of the oldest in Scotland and sits in the building’s original larder (the Whisky Club is where meat and fish would have been hung). As the name suggests, it’s a cavernous, cosy space with original stone walls and displays of some of the 120 whiskies to choose from – including the biggest range of Glen Garioch in the world (the distillery is just down the road and a must-visit for whisky nerds). My favourite spot in the bar are the two seats in a hidden alcove where certain regular guests keep their own bottles.

Mash Tun

The Mash Tun, Aberlour

Just set back from the River Spey, The Mash Tun is the mothership of whisky bars in Aberlour. Quite literally: it was constructed by a sea captain, James Campbell, in 1896 who instructed a marine architect to design it in the shape of a ship. After a stroll along the river this is the spot for a hearty lunch and a dram (and an overnight stay in one of its five rooms named after famous whiskies like The Glenlivet and Macallan). Most of the whiskies you’ll find are from Speyside but the main reason to go is for the Glenfarclas Family Cask Collection. It spans 52 single cask whiskies from every year from 1952 to 2003 – the only one of its kind in the world. Who doesn’t want to drink rarer whisky in a bar shaped like a ship?

Torridon whisky bar

The Whisky Bar, the Torridon hotel, Wester Ross

One of the Highlands’ most beautiful hotels, The Torridon is also home to a top class and rather special whisky bar. Its Scotch whiskies sit on one of the most striking back bars of this list (and even comes with a rolling library ladder for the bartenders to reach all 350 bottles that adorn it). The best way to spend a rainy afternoon is to book its whisky tasting experience from 3pm-4pm and be taken through a selection by one of the bar team’s knowledgeable bartenders. Failing that and taking a pew at the bar is the next best thing with the bar team happy to chat whisky while they work. If whisky isn’t your thing, there are 120 gins to try too.

Oran Mor

Oran Mor, Glasgow

For some, drinking whisky is a religion so it’s fitting that the Oran Mor in Glasgow’s West End is inside a former parish church. As well as being an arts and entertainment venue it also houses a characterful whisky bar. Of all the bars on this list, this one is the most charming in terms of visuals with its stone walls, barrel-adorned bar and stained glass windows offset by 10 huge canvases depicting Robert Burns’ epic poem – it’s quite a spot. The whisky collection isn’t too shabby either (300 in total) and every month the team selects a standout malt.

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The Nightcap: 6 May

In the news this week we’ve got the world’s largest bottle of Scotch whisky, the “world’s first asparagus vodka”, and a possible definition for American single malt. It’s all in…

In the news this week we’ve got the world’s largest bottle of Scotch whisky, the “world’s first asparagus vodka”, and a possible definition for American single malt. It’s all in the Nightcap: 6 May edition. 

We’re off the back of another long weekend and hope you’re feeling nice and refreshed. This particular writer was attending the Spirit of Speyside Festival, and so I’m reinvigorated rather than rested. But even after a weekend of lovely whisky, I’ve still got room for a bit of boozy dessert in the form of The Nightcap. Presumably, you do too, which is why you’re here. Let’s get to it! 

The blog this week featured a fantastic beginners guide to Sake by the oracle himself, Richard Legg, an exploration of what makes Balblair whisky unique, and got our hands on Glen Scotia’s Campbeltown Malts Festival Release 2022. It was also Mexican week here at Master of Malt as we marked Cinco de Mayo by breaking down the difference between Tequila and mezcal, provided some top recommendations, and made the Tequila Sunrise.

But we’re not done yet. It’s The Nightcap: 6 May edition!

World’s largest bottle of Scotch whisky

It’s very big. Look.

World’s largest bottle of Scotch whisky to go under the hammer

Silly season is in full swing with news that the world’s largest bottle of whisky is due to shatter records at auction. Regular readers of The Nightcap might recall The Intrepid (which refers to eleven of the world’s leading explorers) back in September 2021, and its whopping 5ft 11 size. Holding 311 litres of 1989 Macallan single malt, it overtakes the previous record holders, The Famous Grouse, by 83 litres. Its size has been verified by the Guinness World Records and is the equivalent of 444 standard bottles. When Duncan Taylor bottled it last year it took more than an hour to fill. Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull will put it on sale on May 25 and expect to receive more than £1.5 million, a new record. Auctioneer Colin Fraser said bidders will have the chance to buy “a piece of Scotch whisky history,” while Charles MacLean provided some tasting notes to give the eventual winner an idea of what they’re buying (assuming they open it, which they obviously won’t). He says the whisky is full of “baked apple… supported by pear in syrup and a suggestion of flaked almond”. He adds that it has a “smooth texture, and a sweet overall taste with some white pepper in the lengthy, warming finish and a suggestion of French apple tart”. A shame he didn’t add “swanky” at the end. 

Midleton Very Rare releases 47 year old whiskey

We bet this tastes incredible. But we’ll never find out.

Midleton Very Rare releases 47 year old whiskey

Midleton Distillery has unveiled the third expression in its Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery collection ­­– a 47-year-old whiskey priced at $51,000. We were fortunate enough to taste the first expression in the range, a 45-year-old single malt unveiled in February 2020, which was then followed by a 46-year-old bottling last year. The plan is for there to be another three whiskies to follow every year until 2025, with each expression ranging in age from 45 to 50 years making it Ireland’s oldest whiskey collection. Chapter Three in the collection is a 47-year-old single pot still Irish whiskey matured in two casks, ex-sherry butt and ex-bourbon barrel, and is said to have notes of forest fruits, sugar-glazed cherries, muscovado sugar, dark roasted coffee with crushed pistachio and hazelnut. The latest bottling is inspired by fire, dating back to 1854 when the largest pot still in the world was assembled at the Old Midleton Distillery and managed by ‘fire men’ who controlled the temperature. The wooden cabinet the Waterford Crystal the decanter is housed in has markings of the flames that once warmed the old pot still. There are just 97 bottles of whiskey available, so it’s almost certainly another whiskey none of us will ever taste. Oh well.

definition for American single malt

A definition for American single malt could be agreed upon soon

Industry groups demand definition for American single malt

Two trade groups have come together to call on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to establish a standard for American single malt whiskey. The Distilled Spirits Council of the US (Discus) and the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission (ASMWC) have urged the government body to set a new standard, stating the growing category has reached a critical moment as more distillers than ever are labelling their products with this term while there are no formal requirements. The TTB was due to publish a definition for the category in December 2021, the ASMWC said in September after it and Discus submitted official comments to them in June 2019 in support of setting a standard for US-made single malt whiskey as part of TTB’s 2018 plan to modernise the labelling and advertising regulations for alcohol. Following the proposal, TTB added a rule-making for American single malts on its semi-annual regulatory agenda in 2021 but it has yet to issue the notice of the proposed rule. The definition put forth by the ASMWC states that American single malts must be made from 100% malted barley, distilled entirely at one distillery, mashed, distilled and matured in the US, matured in oak casks of no more than 700 litres, distilled to no more than 80% ABV, and bottled at 40% ABV or more. Taking more than a leaf from Scotch single malt, and why not? It works for them. We’ll keep you updated with any developments in this story.

brewdog

Brewdog creates the Bluedog Blueprint

Brewdog is doing some pr damage limitation marking its 15th anniversary as a business by launching The BrewDog Blueprint – a brand new business model defined by a couple of significant initiatives. One is the Hop Stock Employee Ownership Programme, in which 5% of the company previously belonging to James Watt worth just under £100m will be distributed among salaried team members. “This means BrewDog will be more than 25% owned by the people who matter most to us – our incredible team and you, our Equity Punk community, who have been with us every step of the way on this crazy ride,” he says. Based on current headcount and valuation, the shares each salaried team member will receive are worth around £120,000. The other initiative is the Bars 50% Profit Share programme, described by the brand as being a pioneering new business model for hospitality. “Our BrewDog Bars now share 50% of their profits evenly with the fantastic people who work in them. By sharing 50% of profits with our crew, we’re setting the bar higher for hospitality workers everywhere, and democratising the benefits of working for a successful business in our industry,” Watt explains. These are big moves, and we’re intrigued to see what kind of impact they have. To learn more about the Bluedog Blueprint, head here.

Glengyone Legacy

It will be sad to see this series end, it’s had some crackers

Glengoyne reveals final expression in the Legacy Series

The award-winning Legacy Series is sadly coming to a close, but before Glengoyne launches its third, and final, expression. The collection, which was made to tell the stories of people who have shaped the distillery over the last two centuries, concludes with  Glengoyne Legacy Series: Chapter Three,  created in honour of Sir Arthur John Tedder. Sir Tedder, a resident at the Customs House at the distillery between 1889 and 1893 (a beautiful two-story building that is now used for malt intake,) is said to have pioneered an ‘unhurried’ approach to whisky making, shaping the whisky as it’s known today. A worthy man to salute. Chapter Three was bottled un-chill-filtered at 48% ABV, and is said to deliver a pleasant waft of creamy vanilla, followed by spicy cinnamon aromas and notes of mixed berries, cutting through an indulgent base of apple strudel and juicy pears. Sounds delightful. Good thing it will be here at MoM Towers before you know it…

Heineken

Heineken is spreading the love. In its own pubs, of course.

Heineken to invest £42 million in UK pubs

Heineken is doing its good deed for the week and reaping some top publicity by injecting £42 million in pubs across the UK. The Dutch beer brand is supporting the hospitality industry as part of a plan to upgrade Heineken’s Star Pubs & Bars estate. The investment, which will focus on high street pubs serving residential neighbourhoods as well as suburban venues, follows one during the Covid-19 pandemic which focused on the refurbishment of Heineken pubs. Combined, Heineken has now invested £115 million since the beginning of the pandemic, with a total of 660 pubs (more than a quarter of its Star Pubs & Bars business) being upgraded in this latest wave of investment. The group will focus on upgrading outdoor seating areas to mean rising demand for alfresco drinking and dining, while 137 venues will receive a makeover costing a minimum of £125,000. Arguably the best news is that a total of 700 new jobs will be created as a result of the investment, the firm has said. We welcome all the investment the industry can get at the moment, so kudos to Heineken. 

World Aperitivo Day

Tell me that doesn’t look incredible.

World Aperitivo Day to debut on 26 May

We don’t ever need an excuse to champion the delights of an aperitivo, or frankly think there’s much room left in the calendar for anything else to claim a day, but the humble Italian treat is getting one regardless. A global celebration of the Italian tradition of pre-meal drink has been marked in the calendar for Thursday 26 May, aiming to share a proud cultural touchstone with the world. An online campaign (under #WorldAperitivoDay) will be run in conjunction with a live event in Milan where the ‘Manifesto of the Aperitivo will be presented to the world. The document, developed by “leading drinks experts” (nobody asked us, but whatever), will define the original Italian aperitivo, and offer commandments concerning what sets the aperitivo apart from the apéritif. The critical factor? It can only be called an aperitivo if at least half of it has been made in Italy. Too right. Plenty of room for international influence and experimentation there, but if there’s one thing you don’t mess with it’s Italian recipes. They tend to have thoughts on the matter. The full criteria will be shared on social media to the @aperitivofestival page. Does anyone else really fancy an aperitivo now? We’re not waiting three weeks, if you don’t mind.

Portobello Road Distillery flavoured vodka

The world of flavoured vodka is going to start to look very different in the near future…

Portobello Road Distillery creates flavoured vodka range

Portobello Road Distillery has been busy in the world of vodka recently, which we predict will only flourish as taste, provenance, and heritage become more a focus for the category. The former is being ramped up in the Notting Hill-based brand’s latest collection, which is made up of vodkas created using natural ingredients. Eschewing the typical focus of purity, instead character takes centre stage in bottles distilled from 3kg of British potatoes, which create a rich texture enhanced by flavours such as Toasted Coffee Bean, Golden Madagascan Vanilla Vodka, Calabrian Bergamot Citrus, and – in a world first – Asparagus. The latter is the more recent creation, following an original range designed to amplify the nation’s favourite cocktails including the Espresso Martini, the Cosmopolitan & Porn Star Martini. The distillery intends to release the vodka annually, just after the  start of asparagus season, using asparagus grown on Portwood Farm in Norfolk. The vegetable is steeped for 24 hours in British Potato Vodka before being bottled in a limited run of 600 bottles each time. All the bottles will be available soon from our virtual shelves, and having tried the original base Potato Vodka and the Toasted Coffee Bean edition, we can understand why flavoured vodka sales are up 128% in two years. We’ll reserve judgement on the Asparagus edition for now, however… 

A good name, a better cause

And finally… American brewery creates ‘Putin is a d****head’ beer 

When Pravda launched its #BrewforUkraine campaign on the 8 March with a live-streamed brewing session watched by more than 140 breweries, it open-sourced its recipes so that brewers from around the world could make a brew to help raise money for the country. Naturally, a ‘Putin is a d****head’ beer has now emerged. Hot on the heels of an Australian collaboration that led to Puck Futin, a beer created to raise money for humanitarian aid and refugees fleeing the war, this new beer mocking Russia’s leader has been created by the Ornery Beer Company in the US. The brewery has done 3,000 brews using Pravda Brewery’s original labels in order to raise funds for the relief effort in Ukraine. “It’s obviously not a very flattering caricature of Putin…” Ornery Beer Company CEO Randy Barnett said. “Everyone loves this! Obviously, the whole world is uniting around Ukraine and the brewing community is a big community, they want to always be looking to help, we’re a very charitable group.” 

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May 2022 Master of Malt competition winners

The time has come to announce a host of winners for lots of the fantastic competitions we put together. Who’s ready? Competitions have been thrown, winners have been plucked from…

The time has come to announce a host of winners for lots of the fantastic competitions we put together. Who’s ready?

Competitions have been thrown, winners have been plucked from the realms of fate and luck, and now all that remains is to do one thing. Eat cake. While celebrating our winners. Who we’ll need to announce first. That’s actually three things. Let’s get on with the latter so we can proceed with the former. 

Congratulations to…

The winner of a VIP trip to Slane Castle… Anne Graham

The winner of a bundle of Dry January 2022 goodies part one…  Emma Robinson

The winner of a bundle of Dry January 2022 goodies part two… Charlene Aldred

The winner of our #BagThisBundle with Singleton of Dufftown single malts… Adrian Lee

The winner of our #BagThisBundle with Rooster Tequila… Ryan Quin

The winners of single cask whiskies from Jack Daniel’s… Andy Mantell, Stephen Geraghty, and Robert Hayward.

May 2022 Master of Malt competition winners

Congrats to all our winners!

The winners of our Master of Malt Easter egg hunt, of which there are quite a few! 

Easter week 1 – a bottle of Monkey 47… Miss Sam Macaree

Easter week 1 – a bottle of Bollinger Rose… Stephan van Zyl

Easter week 1 – a bottle of Glenfarclas 29 Year Old 1991 (cask 10225) – Family Cask – Master of Malt Exclusive… Iain Bruce

Easter week 2 – a bottle of Balvenie 16 Year Old French Oak… Colleen Colscats

Easter week 2 – a bottle of Plantation XO… Richard McCarron

Easter week 2- a bottle of Hibiki Harmony… Shona Traynor

The big Easter prize (all the above bottles PLUS Jaffa Cake Negroni and Bathtub Gin – Grapefruit & Rosemary)… Charlotte Hood

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The DNA of Balblair

This week we’re visiting a Highland distillery with an unmistakable tropical fruit flavour, Balblair. But why does it taste like this and where does the flavour come from? We take…

This week we’re visiting a Highland distillery with an unmistakable tropical fruit flavour, Balblair. But why does it taste like this and where does the flavour come from? We take a closer look at the DNA of Balblair. 

One of the things that whisky lovers like to discuss over a dram or two is where the flavour in the glass comes from. It depends on who you talk to. Richard Paterson from Dalmore says 80% of the flavour comes from the cask, whereas Mark Reynier from Waterford says it’s all about the barley and where it’s grown. At Glenmorangie, they’ll tell you about their tall giraffe-esque stills which contribute towards a fruity new make. Other distilleries will make much of their water source. 

Balblair_Distillery_Manager_-_John_MacDonald__detail

Distillery manager John MacDonald looking dapper as ever

The DNA of Balblair

At Balblair the distillery’s signature tropical fruit character is noticeable at the fermentation stage. Whereas most wash tastes a bit like a not very nice Belgian beer, the washbacks at Balblair are heady with the smell of pineapples and mangoes. That exotic fruit carries right through the distillery’s range from the Um Bongo-esque (tropical fruit drink popular with British schoolchildren in the 1980s) flavours of the 12 year old, to the almost Jamaican rum funk of the 25 year old. Balblair is tropical fruit city.

We were shown around the distillery by John MacDonald who has been running the place for nearly 16 years. His tweeds are in marked contrast to most distillery manager’s corporate polo shirts and gilets, and give him the air of a local laird rather than the employee of a multinational corporation. He began his career at nearby Glenmorangie as a warehouseman, and worked his way up to mashman, still room assistant and eventually manager. In 2006, he joined Balblair which he described as “the finest distillery on planet earth”. 

Balblair

Balblair’s dumpy stills

How a distillery should look

It’s hard not to agree with him. It’s no wonder that Ken Loach picked Balblair as the location for his whisky film The Angel’s Share. Apparently, he scouted dozens of locations before finding the right one: “this is what I imagined our distillery to look like,” he said, according to MacDonald. 

The distillery dates back to 1790 when it was founded by John Ross making it the oldest working distillery in the Highlands. The Ross family are still involved with the distillery. Balblair means ‘land of the fertile plain’, or, perhaps ‘battlefield’. Despite its age, most of the distillery is much younger as it was entirely rebuilt in 1894, and then refitted in the 1960s with steam-heated stills installed. Like Pulteney which we looked at last month, it’s part of the Thai-owned Inver House group. 

There’s a small museum onsite with various distillery memorabilia including peat cutting equipment from way back which brought back some bad memories for MacDonald. “I hate these tools with a passion!” he said. “Reminds me of holidays going back to Harris and digging peat. Back breaking, smelly dirty work, and midges!”

The standard kit

Then it was on with a tour of the distillery. We started at a Porteus mill, apparently the oldest piece of working equipment in the distillery, and it never breaks down. They use Concerto and Laureate barley. Mashing takes place in a stainless steel semi lauter tun. They use three different water temperatures, and take everything slow, according to MacDonald, to produce a very bright clear wort which will produce that fruity wash.

They have six Oregon pine washbacks with 19,000-litre capacity each. Fermentation is pretty brisk, around 60 hours with a distillers yeast. MacDonald said that if he had a time machine he would love to do a 90 hour ferment.

The condensers at Balblair

The rather grungy condensers at Balblair

Picturesque but scruffy

There are two rather squat stills so the spirit doesn’t get much copper contact. It had worm tubs in the past but in the 1970s owners Hiram Walker changed them over to shell and tube condensers that sit outside the building looking rather scruffy and incongruous. Balblair is like that, a mixture of the picturesque and the purely functional. You can see why Loach thought it perfect for his film. Those dumpy stills mean that there’s weight behind the fruitiness, which really seems to come out with age. 

Maturation is largely in American oak, 95% of production, with the rest in sherry casks. Most of it is aged onsite in eight dunnage warehouses though there is some stored in Airdrie at the bottling plant. Until recently, Balblair bottling were vintage releases but it switched to a more conventional age statement system in 2019. 

Tasting the Balblair range

After our tour with MacDonald, we sat down for a boisterous evening tasting the entire range. I’ve picked out some highlights below. But the DNA of Balblair was apparent in everything we tasted distinctly. There’s no mucking about with wacky casks or any of that nonsense. It’s all about that great tropical fruit, tempered by time, accentuated by sweet American oak, and seasoned with a little sherry. Classic Highland single malts.

Balblair range

Balblair 12 Year Old

100% American oak, bottled at 46% ABV, Macdonald described this as the first whisky he can really put his name to as he saw it through from mashing to bottling.

Nose: That tropical fruit, like Um Bongo, pineapples, and peaches. Touch of honey.

Palate: Clean and fresh, tropical fruit, naturally. Not quite the taste sensation you might expect from the nose but a good, well-balanced malt.

Finish: That honeycomb note persists.

Balblair 15 Year Old

Matured in ex-bourbon casks before being moved over to first-fill Spanish oak butts. 46% ABV.

Nose: Creamy, with oaky vanilla notes and a lovely mixture of fresh and dried stone fruit.

Palate: Creamy and full with honey and ginger, peppery with peachy fruit.

Finish: Long and fruity with walnuts and dates. 

Balblair 18 year old

Mainly refill American oak with some Spanish sherry casks. Bottled at 46% ABV

Nose: Vanilla, chocolate, dried apricot with some Cognac-like rancio notes, plus mango

Palate: Rich and full-bodied with toffee, and chocolate, dried fruit but also fresh mangoes, lemons, and a floral lift.

Finish: Baking spices and walnuts. 

Balblair 25

Balblair 25 Year Old

Matured in American oak bourbon casks, before it was then transferred for a second ageing period in Spanish oak butts. 46% ABV

Nose: A mighty nose, indeed. Something like overripe pineapple and mango with apricots, honey, and earthy woody notes.

Palate: Big and peppery, orange peel, chocolate and, yes you’ve guessed it, tropical fruit.

Finish: Sensationally long. Like a cross between an old Armagnac and high ester Jamaican rum. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Tequila Sunrise

It’s Mexican week here at Master of Malt, so we’re celebrating the joys of Patrón Tequila in a cocktail that dates back to the 1930s but owes its modern incarnation…

It’s Mexican week here at Master of Malt, so we’re celebrating the joys of Patrón Tequila in a cocktail that dates back to the 1930s but owes its modern incarnation to 1970s California. It’s the mighty Tequila Sunrise.

What came first, the song or the cocktail? Well that’s an easy one, it’s the cocktail. ‘Tequila Sunrise’ by the Eagles came out in 1973 whereas the Tequila Sunrise cocktail has been kicking about in one form or other since the 1930s. Originally it was far closer to a Margarita or Paloma being made with lime juice and fizzy water, and it got its trademark reddish haze from crème de cassis rather than grenadine. 

The Tequila Sunrise as we know it is far more recent. It was probably invented in the early 1970s by two bartenders Bobby Lozoff and Billy Rice at the Trident, a bar in Sausalito near San Francisco. It could have just been another cocktail that achieved a modicum of local fame before disappearing into oblivion, but for a chance meeting with an up-and-coming young beat combo known as the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger tried the cocktail, loved it and the band and its entourage took it up as their drink du jour. In his autobiography Life (well worth a read, it’s brilliant), Keith Richards referred to Stones’ 1972 tour of America as “cocaine and Tequila Sunrise tour”. How’s that for a serving suggestion?

With publicity like this, how could the cocktail fail? It quickly became one of the best known cocktails in the world. The Tequila Sunrise’s heyday was the ‘70s and ‘80s. There was even a baffling thriller named after it starring Mel Gibson, Michele Pfeiffer and Kurt Russell that came out in 1988. 

How to make a Tequila Sunrise

It’s not a difficult drink to make but I am sure that readers like me have had some pretty revolting versions. As always you need top quality ingredients starting with the Tequila. I’m using the delightful Patrón Silver Tequila made with 100% Blue Weber Agave. Next, you must use freshly-squeezed orange juice, NOT juice made from concentrate. Then there’s the grenadine. You can buy grenadine but it tastes better if you make it yourself from pomegranate juice (recipe below).

The basic Tequila Sunrise is nice but it can be improved with some judicious fiddling.  Adding a little lime and/or grapefruit juice freshens it up beautifully and takes it back into Margarita/ Paloma territory. And while we are going there why not go old school and use cassis to get that pretty sunrise effect, or perhaps Campari or Aperol?

The Tequila Sunrise,

The Tequila Sunrise, if it’s good enough of Keith, it’s good enough for us

Right got your ingredients in place? Stick on Exile on Main Street, and let’s make a Tequila Sunrise!

60ml Patrón Silver 
120ml freshly-squeezed orange juice
Juice of half a lime
2 teaspoons grenadine*

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add the orange juice and Tequila. Shake and strain into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. Slowly pour the grenadine down the side of the glass to get that red haze. Garnish with an orange slice or a maraschino cherry, or both, rock n’ roll!

* Pomegranate juice (make sure it is pure pomegranate juice and not a drink containing pomegranate and sugar) is already sweet so you don’t need to add as much sugar as to water. A ratio of two parts juice to three parts sugar is ideal. Pour the pomegranate juice into a saucepan and gently heat, don’t boil, add the sugar and slowly and stir until it dissolves. Remove from the heat, pour into a sterilised jar (heated in the oven or with boiling water) and it should last in the fridge for months.

 

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Top ten Tequila and mezcal for Cinco de Mayo

Our Mexican week coverage continues with some agave recommendations featuring colour-changing spirits, celebrity-backed bottlings and even a collection of 12 drams. Here are our Tequila and mezcal for Cinco de Mayo….

Our Mexican week coverage continues with some agave recommendations featuring colour-changing spirits, celebrity-backed bottlings and even a collection of 12 drams. Here are our Tequila and mezcal for Cinco de Mayo.

Continuing our Cinco de Mayo celebrations (it’s tomorrow if you’re not aware), we’re now recommending some top Tequilas and mezcals for the event. Even if you’re not in Mexico itself, you can bring the festivities home with the right drink. And that’s exactly what we have here. From colour-changing spirits to celebrity-backed bottlings and even a collection of 12 drams, this selection has everything you need to make this Cinco de Mayo muy memorable. 

Herradura Plata

Herradura Plata

In the Sierre-Madre mountain range, you’ll find Casa Herradura making its brand of tasty, 100% agave-based Tequila. The brand claims to have introduced the first reposado in 1974 but we’re turning our MoM branded spotlight to its fine Plata Tequila this week, which is aged for forty days in oak barrels before bottling to create a moreish sipper that mixes well too.

Dos Hombres Mezcal

Dos Hombres Mezcal

Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston may have been best known for cooking something very different on their hit show Breaking Bad, but the duo recently teamed up once again to turn their attention to agave. Oaxacan Espadin agave to be specific, is at the heart of a joven expression that’s gloriously smoky, fruity and woody thanks to fermentation in wooden barrels. And you can learn more about this celebrity-backed booze right here on the blog!

Mijenta Tequila Reposado

Mijenta Tequila Reposado

One thing that stands out about Mijenta Tequila is how it manages to balance a commitment to environmental sustainability without forgetting to make very delicious spirits too. This reposado, for example, is lightly aged in a combination of American white oak, French oak, and French acacia casks and works both as a splendid sipping Tequila or as the base for a magnificent Margarita

Dangerous Don Mezcal Espadín

Dangerous Don Mezcal Espadín

Mineral-rich smoke, dark chocolate, earthy agave and coffee are just some of flavours to expect from Dangerous Don’s Espadín expression. It’s made using only that variety of agave, which was been distilled twice and then steeped in Naom Quie coffee beans before being distilled once more. That’s the kind of unconventional process we expect from someone called Dangerous Don.

El Jimador Blanco

El Jimador Blanco

We love this silver Tequila from El Jimador because a) it’s very tasty (made in Jalisco from 100% agave, no less) and b) because it celebrates the jimadors, the farmers who grow and harvest the agave plants. So often the unsung hero, they work with a difficult plant that takes years to grow and mature. We salute you!

Ojo de Tigre Joven Mezcal 

Ojo de Tigre Joven Mezcal 

What we love about this artisanal mezcal from Ojo de Tigre is how it showcases a blend of both Espadín and Tobalá agave. Being unaged, all the complexity of those two agave styles shine, creating a marriage of fresh fruit and citrus notes and gentle, smoky tones. This is delicious sipped slowly with some flavourful Mexican food. 

VIVIR Reposado

VIVIR Reposado

VIVIR Tequila Reposado is made with 100% Blue Weber agave, and allowed to mature in bourbon oak casks for at least six months before making its way into the handsome bottles. Suitable for enjoying neat, but also works particularly well in all manner of Tequila-based cocktails…If you want to find out more about VIVIR, check out our blog post on the brand right here!

The Butterfly Cannon Blue

The Butterfly Cannon Blue

This singular spirit isn’t technically a Tequila because it adds prickly pear and clementine to a base of silver Tequila. But we thought you’d like to see this one because it both supports butterfly conservation and its vivid blue hue changes colour when a mixer (such as tonic) is added. It’s great for cocktails, too.

Fortaleza Añejo 

Fortaleza Añejo 

With its rich family history and commitment to making Tequila in a traditional, flavour-first process, there are few brands that carry the staunch reputation Fortaleza has. Its outstanding añejo was aged for 18 months in American oak casks to create a richly rewarding flavour profile of grapefruit, chocolate, agave, and butterscotch.

Drinks by the Dram 12 Dram Tequila & Mezcal Collection 

Drinks by the Dram 12 Dram Tequila & Mezcal Collection 

Right, so imagine you’re a bit overwhelmed with all the delicious-sounding options and you just don’t know what to plump for. Here’s a solution: a stylish box containing 12 different 30ml wax-sealed drams of absolutely delicious Tequila and mezcal from some of Mexico’s most excellent producers. It’s a great gift a fab way to share some agave-based awesomeness with good company, and the perfect introduction to sublime spirit categories. 

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Tequila vs. Mezcal – what’s the difference anyway?

As part of our Mexican week coverage marking Cinco de Mayo, we break down the country’s two most popular spirits and ask you which one is your favourite. It’s Tequila…

As part of our Mexican week coverage marking Cinco de Mayo, we break down the country’s two most popular spirits and ask you which one is your favourite. It’s Tequila vs. mezcal!

The 5 May or Cinco de Mayo is Mexico’s annual day of celebration. Booze naturally will play its part in the festivities, with spirits like mezcal and Tequila taking centre stage. But they’re not just delicious drinks, they’re spirits unique to the country, a part of Mexico’s heritage. You won’t find many industries that have such a network of farm distillers who operate on a small scale using traditional techniques.

There might be some of you that have always wondered what exactly is the difference between the two. Well, just to confuse matters, Tequila is in fact a type of mezcal but there are lots of factors that separate the two drinks, such as how and where they are made. 

So we’re going to break down what the differences are between them in a fun, Lucha libre-style contest. And we’d love to hear your thoughts on which is your favourite and why.

agave

A jimador cutting the agave plant

Tequila vs. Mezcal round one: agave

Agave is what connects the two spirits as it’s the raw material both are made from. In fact, the word mezcal is derived from the Nahuatl word for cooked agave. It’s a tall, spiky green plant that resembles a cactus, and its rounded stem known as the piña is what’s harvested for spirit production. The piña is cooked to soften the fibres and transform its fructans into sugar. 

A difference between Tequila and mezcal is the type of agave you can use. Tequila must be made from only a variety called Agave Tequilana Weber, more commonly known as Blue Weber, or simply just Blue Agave.

Mezcal, by contrast, can be made from more than 30 varieties of agave. While Agave Angustifolia Haw (or Espadín) is the most widely used and accounts for up to 90% of mezcal production, you’ll find mezcals made from the likes of Tobalá, Tobaziche, Tepeztate, Arroqueño and more, each of which has its own unique flavour.

Both Blue Weber and Espadín are quite intensively grown, the former in particular, but mezcal will also use semi-wild or wild agave often.

piña

The piña

Tequila vs. Mezcal round two: region

While both spirits are only made in Mexico, each has its own set of established regions where production is allowed. Tequila, for example, is made in just five regions: Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Tamaulipas and Jalisco. The latter is the most famous and productive and is where the actual town of Tequila is located.

Mezcal, in contrast, can be made in as many as nine different areas of Mexico. They include Durango, Guanajuato, Guerrero, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Michoacán, Puebla and Oaxaca. Once again, the latter is the most well known, where upwards of 85% of all mezcal is made.

mezcal

Some truly artisanal processes are still preserved, especially in mezcal

Tequila vs. Mezcal round three: production

While both Tequila and mezcal are made from the piña, the manner in which each spirit processes the core of the agave plant differs too. For Tequila, when the blue agave plant is ripe the jimador (farmer) removes the agave leaves with a sharp curved tool called a ‘coa’ and the agave is then typically steamed inside a giant oven, which converts complex carbohydrates in the piña into simple fermentable sugars. The cooked agaves are then milled and crushed to release the liquid inside, which is fermented and then double or triple distilled in stainless steel or copper pot stills

A more recent way of extracting the fructans from agave plants uses a machine called a diffuser.  This essentially subjects the agave to high temperature, pressure and often high acidity, to maximise extraction from the agave fibres and cook the carbohydrates (although sometimes the liquid is cooked after the process). This is fairly controversial, as it’s seen by many to favour efficiency over quality, and while not having to state on the label the distilleries using diffusers are commonly shared online.  

In mezcal, by contrast, the agave is often cooked in fire pits lined with lava rocks and filled with wood and charcoal before the piñas are crushed in a mill, but sometimes done by hand or by donkey using a wheel called a tahona, to extract the sugars. After the agave is crushed, it is placed in wooden barrels to ferment with water and then distilled in either metal or sometimes clay pot stills. While some large-scale mezcal producers have adopted modern methods, artisanal mezcal makers continue to use this more traditional method, which is the source of the smokiness commonly associated with mezcal.

Tequila also allows additives to change the colour, flavour, texture, or sweetness of the spirit like abocado, which can be made from a combination of caramel colour, oak extract, glycerol, and sugar syrup. In mezcal, these aren’t permitted, with the exception of those labelled as such (see below).

Oh, and top tip: on a bottle of tequila or mezcal, the NOM number will inform you of the exact distillery where it is made, regardless of the brand.

vivir tequila

An example of a blanco, reposado, and añejo Tequila

Tequila vs. Mezcal round four: labelling and legislation

Both have their own age-based labelling designations, which are overseen by a respective Consejo Regulador (Regulatory Council) the CRT for tequila and the CRM for mezcal, who govern many areas of production and sale. Tequila is commonly divided into three varieties: blanco (or silver/plato, which is one aged for up to two months), reposado (2-12 months ageing) and añejo (1-3 years in oak vessels with a capacity of 600l or less). There’s also an extra añejo category, only introduced in 2006 and referring to anything over three years aged and cristalino, which is essentially añejo Tequila that has been filtered (often through charcoal) to remove the naturally occurring colours, and Gold Tequila which can be a mix of blanco and aged Tequila, but most often unaged (mixto – see below) blanco with abocado.

Mezcal’s grouping contains similar terms and times, but there isn’t a full overlap. The unaged style is categorised as joven (blanco is also used) which is also up to two months, while reposado is aged in wooden containers of any size or shape for 2-12 months. Añejo, by contrast, means aged in wooden containers that are less than 1000L in capacity for more than 12 months. Madurado en vibrio is also used, which is ‘aged’ in glass. 

Tequila can be labelled in two different styles, Tequila 100% agave (100% agave de agave) where 100% of the fermented sugars come from blue agave, or just Tequila. A minimum of 51% fermentable sugars must come from Blue Weber agave for it to be called the latter, which means that the rest can be derived from raw materials like corn or sugar cane juice. These are often referred to as mixtos, a contrast to the more premium Tequilas which boast 100% agave. 

Mezcal also comes in different styles based on how it’s made. The categories are: Mezcal, which can be made using more industrial techniques; Mezcal Artesanal, made in a specific region using specific artisanal processes; and Mezcal Ancestral, produced using entirely traditional processes and traditional materials (full explainer here). 

Some mezcals are labelled ‘abocado con’ (not to be confused with the abocado used in Tequila), it’s flavoured by maceration with things like agave worm (gusano), damiana, lemon, honey, orange, and mango.  There is also ‘destilado con’ (re-distilled with a flavouring ingredient like turkey, chicken breast, rabbit (all raw), mole, plums, grains, nuts etc.), but these aren’t common.  Those containing Chicken or Turkey are labelled under the name Pechuga, meaning breast.  

Tequila vs. Mezcal

We’ve got some cracking recommendations coming your way tomorrow – but which will you prefer?

Tequila vs. Mezcal round five: taste

As you can imagine, all those different regions, raw material varieties and production processes means that Tequila and mezcal have their own unique profiles and characteristics. In a simplistic term, people will often describe mezcal as being Tequila’s smokier cousin, but there is much more to it than that.

The age and origin of the agave will affect the taste of Tequila, with blanco Tequilas being earthy and vegetal yet sweet, while an añejo Tequila is smoother with a blend of agave and oak flavours. Mixtos will typically have less complexity but are well suited to cocktails and mixers.

Mezcal’s greater variety of agave types and more commonly used traditional processes means it can have a more challenging flavour profile, from the vegetal sweetness of agave, to those classic smoky and meaty notes it’s known for, and anything from citrus, fruit, chocolate, bubblegum, and more. It’s also great in cocktails, but typically enjoyed neat too. 

Tequila vs. Mezcal round six: you

So, all that’s left to know is what you prefer. And yes, we love both, and the world is richer for having the two categories. It’s just a bit of fun. Let your hair down. Go wild. And choose a side. We’ve got some top recommendations coming your way very soon…

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