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Master of Malt Blog

New Arrival of the Week: Compass Box Orchard House

Our New Arrival this week is Orchard House, the newest core offering from Compass Box and the first to be made with whiskies entirely laid down by the bottler/blender. We…

Our New Arrival this week is Orchard House, the newest core offering from Compass Box and the first to be made with whiskies entirely laid down by the bottler/blender. We tasted it with founder John Glaser, and found out how it earned its name.

It’s as idyllic as a Zoom tasting could be – held on the autumnal equinox, and John Glaser is sitting in what was to be the last of the summer (or is it autumn?) sun in his garden, chatting us through a momentous new release for Compass Box called Orchard House. 

Whisky Exploder

Glaser likens what he’s doing to the Song Exploder podcast, where each episode a musician takes apart their song, and piece by piece, tells the story of how it was made. He wants to create Whisky Exploder, and get whisky-makers to take you through the inception and creation of a whisky – you heard it here first. This won’t surprise those of you who are already familiar with Compass Box however, as it’s long been a champion for transparency within the whisky industry. 

The origins of Orchard House began in 2018, when Oak Cross, a long-standing blended malt, was going to lose one of its key ingredients due to stock issues. Glaser and fellow whiskymaker James Saxon couldn’t lay down the whiskies in time to create an exact replacement for Oak Cross. “It’s not trying to be Oak Cross,” Glaser is quick to note, but it was in trying to replicate Oak Cross that Orchard House was born. Eventually, the team gave up on trying to get a replacement, and instead ran with the fruity spirits they were finding along the way.

Compass Box Orchard House

Orchard House, appropriately surrounded by orchard fruit

It’s all about distillery character

Orchard House is a “spirit-forward, fruity style” with the vanilla pastry cream, light oak character that you get from American oak allowing each spirit’s distillery character to evolve over time, too. New oak maturation and sherry bombs are all over the place now, Glaser notes, but he believes that distillery character ought to be at the forefront of the flavour profile. 90% of the whisky is matured in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, which allow exactly that.

It’s a big step for Compass Box because Orchard House is the first release from the bottler to be wholly made with whiskies that were laid down and entirely matured by Glaser and the team. The core is made up of “perfumed, what the industry calls waxy” Clynelish and fruity Linkwood. Benrinnes comes in as a hefty support, “adding a bit of weight”. There’s also a decent percentage from a distillery in the town of Aberlour – he’s not allowed to say exactly which distillery, but it’s completely sherried, and described by Glaser as ‘meaty’, so you can probably work it out. There’s also a minimal amount (just 2%) of Caol Ila bringing a smoky depth to an otherwise very bright, fresh spirit. 

Compass Box Orchard House label

Orchard House, ready for a close up

We can see this being a brilliant whisky to introduce people to the spirit, as it’s approachable while still packing in a lot of flavour – though that’s not to say seasoned sippers won’t enjoy it too. Unsurprisingly, given its orchard-forward flavour profile, it’s apparently a wonder with cheese.

In classic Compass Box style, the label is something to behold. It was inspired by the work of a pair of Californian artists who go by the name Fallen Fruit, and is a pretty accurate visual representation of what you can expect from the whisky within the bottle. Stranger & Stranger created the finished packaging, a firm that Compass Box has been collaborating with for around 13 years now. 

This marks the start of an exciting future for Compass Box. Glaser is thinking long term into the next 10 and 15 years, laying down whiskies with future core products in mind – Orchard House is just the beginning!

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Fresh green and red apples almost hit you in the face, living up to its name. Underneath there’s notes of grainy pear skin, bright lychee, and a faint hint of aromatic smoke.

Palate: Sweet and bright. Tart apple is balanced by pineapple, golden syrup, buttery pastry, with that subtle peat smoke appearing underneath. 

Finish: Creamier on the finish, with vanilla buttercream and fresh fruit lingering.

You can buy a bottle of Compass Box Orchard House here.

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Mezcal Amores: turning the customer on to agave

Luis Niño de Rivera from Mezcal Amores is on a mission to persuade customers to try his agave spirits neat. Though he’s also partial to a cocktail or two of…

Luis Niño de Rivera from Mezcal Amores is on a mission to persuade customers to try his agave spirits neat. Though he’s also partial to a cocktail or two of an evening.

A popular refrain in the whisky industry is: it doesn’t matter how you drink our whisky, mix it with coke, drown it in ice, drink it through a straw, as long as you enjoy it, that’s the only thing that matters. It’s all done in the name of opening up the category ie. selling you more whisky. 

It was interesting therefore, talking to Luis Niño de Rivera from Mezcal Amores who said just the opposite. He thinks, in order to build his brand, it was important that customers learned to appreciate it neat. He explained the mentality: “consumers will think ‘I know mezcal is hot, I want a cocktail with mezcal’ but no one goes in and says ‘I want an Amores’.” In the huge US market, 95% of mezcal is consumed in cocktails, but this means that you’re not just competing with other brands, you’re competing with other spirits. 

According to Niño de Rivera, for mezcal to thrive customers should be drinking it neat so they can understand “the precious time it takes to make, all the different flavours and aromas. It’s a very rich palate experience”. This is how 70% of mezcal is drunk in Mexico.

Maestros mezcaleros are at the heart of Mezcal Amores

Maestros mezcaleros are at the heart of Mezcal Amores

Amaras, Amores, let’s call the whole thing off.

Amores Mezcal dates back to 2011 when it was founded by a group of friends and investors including Niño de Rivera. In the US it’s known as Amaras Mezcal, meaning “you will love”, whereas in the rest of the world it’s Amores, “love is.” At some point soon, the brand is going to change to Amaras globally. 

They began by sourcing mezcal from one maestro mezcalero but in 2013 they diversified to take in other producers and began bottling themselves. According to Niño de Rivera things began taking off: “In 2015 we knew we needed an artisanal mezcal produced at a good price for cocktails. The original range was never going to do well because of price.” ‘Artisanal’ is a legally-defined term specifying how the mezcal can be made. It’s less stringent than ‘ancestral’ but uses more traditional practises than plain ‘mezcal’. So they began work on their own distillery in 2016 and the first batch came off the stills in March 2017. 

In addition to their own mezcal, they work with 24 maestro mezcaleros around the country. “They are very important to us, they are the roots of what mezcal is,” he said. “We work in three different states with five different agave species.” With so many different producers involved, it’s difficult to generalise about production processes. Maestro mezcaleros will typically use wood or stone, and grind the agave to different textures, but each distillery has its own recipe as well as favoured fermentation and distillation techniques. “Some cut heads and tails, some put everything in the second distillation, everyone cuts differently.” 

Master of Malt currently stocks two Amores Mezcals, an Espadin and a Cupreata (both varieties of agave). Luis Niño de Rivera describes the former as “a blend of all the Espadin we have – like a blended malt.” Whereas the Cupreata is from a single producer like “a single malt.”

Mezcal Amores Lifestyle 22

Go on, try it neat. You might love it

Sustainability and agave

One of the difficulties with working with agave is that it takes a long time to mature before you can use it, up to about 14 years. As Niño de Rivera puts it “you don’t just open the faucet and it pours out, and if you don’t have agave, you don’t have mezcal.” So sustainability is very important to Amores.

He continued: “We knew we had to get vertically integrated and see a holistic model that could work in the whole supply chain. Since 2012/ 2013, we plant agave in a very organic way.” They pride themselves on being “seed to sip”, working with nurseries where different varieties of agave are grown. In some places, in order to avoid deforestation, they either plant in “already-ploughed agave lands that were already worked” or even planted the agave around the trees. He added: “We never launch an agave if we don’t have a planting programme.” This year they have planted over 100 hectares. 

The respect for the agave continues after harvesting: “We don’t use any chemical, additives, during fermentation or post-distillation.” They use natural yeasts for fermentation. They are also environmentally friendly in other ways: “in 2018 we started buying carbon bonds so we are carbon neutral. First mezcal and Mexican distilled spirit with carbon neutral accreditation”. This involved planting trees in the Amazon, the Dominican Republic and now in Mexico. 

Mezcal Amores Lifestyle 2

The all-important agave

Reaching the customer

Then it’s just the problem of getting people to drink the stuff. “Industry people are very keen, they love it, they are going deep into the mezcal world.” But according to Luis Niño de Rivera, this enthusiasm isn’t filtering down to the end customer, it’s just “industry-driven right now, customers know it is a trend but they haven’t got to the next stage of trying to understand it.”

Which brings us back to where we started, educating the consumer. Niño de Rivera compares it with how widely understood concepts like blended whisky, single malt, age statements and different brands are in Scotch whisky. But for most customers mezcal is just mezcal. Which is why he wants to encourage people to drink and appreciate mezcal neat, so that they can begin to understand all the different types. “For a white spirit to have all those complex aromas, it’s very unique,” he said. 

With Scotch, producers are trying to simplify their products for consumers to make it more accessible. With mezcal, producers are trying to get people to understand its sheer variety so that they treat it with more reverence. Two different approaches to marketing.

But while we should drink more Mezcal neat, don’t forget it does make some bloody good cocktails. Niño de Rivera is a particular fan of the Mezcal Negroni made with their Cupreata. His favourite, however, is something called the Cupreatini. He explains: “just take a couple of measures of Cupreata, shake with four cubes of ice, strain into a Martini glass and serve with an olive. The cold and shaking brings out the veggie green aromas in the mezcal.” It’s the perfect introduction for someone who is mezcal curious who isn’t quite ready to drink it neat. 

Mezcal Amores is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy. 

Mezcal Amores Cupreata Bottle 41º - 700 ml

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The Nightcap: 1 October

This week’s Nightcap stars Skepta, two MoMers who are in contention to be the IWSC Spirit Communicator for 2022, and some truly rubbish wine. October. It’s October. October 2021. How…

This week’s Nightcap stars Skepta, two MoMers who are in contention to be the IWSC Spirit Communicator for 2022, and some truly rubbish wine.

October. It’s October. October 2021. How is this even possible? Time is making a shambles of us all. Our 2021 to-do lists mock us. Halloween is this month. Christmas is on the horizon. It’s all too much, isn’t it? Well, we’ve got just the tonic. Lots of gin. Just kidding. Although we do have lots of gin, our actual solution is light reading about all the goings-on in the world of booze. It’s called The Nightcap. Here it is.

Things were extra exciting on the blog these last few days because it just so happens to be MoM Week! Amazing, and exclusive to us, Glengoyne, Hermitage Cognac, and more are here and ready to be enjoyed. 

Oh, and we have a 71-year-old Macallan knocking around. Plus, news on Diageo’s Special Releases 2021 as well as some fascinating insights into why whisky can break the bank, how Crabbie’s is restoring a whisky legacy and why St. James Bar is so great. We also made a delicious cocktail called The Brooklyn and reported on the shock news that John Campbell is leaving Laphroaig. All in a week’s work. A MoM week’s work. Do check it out.

We also crowned one distillery as our Whisky Icon. Who was it? Click here to find out. Then click here to see the world’s greatest reaction video.

Now, let’s crack on. It’s the Nightcap: 1 October edition!

The Nightcap: 1 October

Hoorah for Kristy, Millie, and all other nominees!

Two MoMers make the IWSC Spirit Communicator 2022 shortlist!

If you’re aware of the IWSC Spirit Communicator 2022 award (sponsored by Chivas Brothers), you’ll know that it’s a pretty big deal in our industry. The award aims to recognise someone who is making an “exceptional contribution towards promoting spirits to the public”, and “reward those who have succeeded in using an omnichannel approach to communicate their spirits message to their audience”, according to the IWSC. For 2022, applications were at an all-time high, so it’s especially impressive to make the list of nominees, which is just five outstanding candidates. We are delighted to say that on the shortlist for this year’s Spirits Communicator of the Year award are former MoM editor Kristiane Sherry and current MoM contributor Millie Milliken! Ok, so technically Kristy is now head of spirits at Fine & Rare, but she spent part of this year here at MoM Towers so that counts as far we’re concerned (and she still hosts Pour & Sip tastings), while Millie has been writing all kinds of outstanding content for our blog in the last year. The other nominees are the excellent Moa Nilsson, or the ‘Swedish Whisky Girl’ as you probably know her best, the wonderful Felipe Schrieberg of ‘The Rhythm and Booze’ project and Forbes fame, and Billy Abbot from the enemy (just kidding, we love you really Billy). For more information on each nominee, visit here. Congratulations to all of them for making the shortlist, it’s a stellar lineup and any one of the five would be a worthy winner. You will forgive us if we have a couple of people we’re rooting for though…

The Nightcap: 1 October

That bottle is still sealed, my guy.

Havana Club unveils limited-edition rum with grime star Skepta

Havana Club and international music icon Skepta are proud to announce the next chapter of their global collaboration, a limited-edition rum created by the artist himself. The collaboration began in 2019, when Skepta first visited Havana, Cuba, and noticed parallels in Cuban traditions and those of his own West African Yoruba heritage through paths of migration. The first two chapters of the collaboration – a pair of redesigned Havana Club 7 Rum bottles – captured this cultural infusion in their labels, which featured traditional Nigerian symbols. But this is much more swanky. In fact, it’s described as “a truly unique spirit for the next generation of rum drinkers”, which was made as a “celebration of excellence and the cultural links between Cuba and Skepta’s homeland of Nigeria.” It’s also £85. Which is swanky, right? The rapper himself is also said to have been involved in the creation, collaborating with maestro del ron Cubano Asbel Morales, to make Rum of Skepta in a limited-edition batch of just 3,000 bottles. The press shots are a tad goofy, given Skepta appears to be drinking from a sealed bottle (maybe he’s just that good?), but we actually think this could prove very fruitful. If it opens the world of rum to a diverse set of new people, then that’s always welcome. As is the fact that I can do a Super Hans impression to anyone who brings this rum up in conversation and say “the secret ingredient is grime”. 

The Nightcap: 1 October

Some classic podcast posing on show here

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) launches new podcast with Vic Galloway

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) has partnered with Vic Galloway for a special podcast series dedicated to great music and stunning whisky. You might remember they collaborated before, but now they’re taking things to the next level, with the Whisky Talk: Malts & Music podcast series. Along with a tasting pack of five Society single cask malt whiskies, each of Vic’s guests will explore their creative loves, their passion for whisky, and most importantly, how each of the five Society drams has inspired a favourite piece of music. Hosted in the Tasting Room at The Vaults, the Society’s home in Leith, the podcast will feature a whisky-fuelled chat with well-known whisky fans from Scottish cultural life like Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub, writer Val McDermid, Justin Currie from Del Amitri and Stina Tweeddale of Honeyblood. Whisky Talk: Malts & Music kicks off on Thursday, 7 October with crime writer Ian Rankin, who pairs his Society drams with tunes from John Martyn, James Yorkston, and more. “Good whisky and good music go hand in hand. I had such a great time pairing 12 music genres with the 12 Scotch Malt Whisky Society flavour profiles earlier this year, and that gave us the idea for Whisky Talk: Malts & Music,” says Galloway. “Asking a whisky-loving creative person to match five malts with five pieces of music and chat to our guests about the experience was a huge amount of fun. As the whisky flows, we go off on unexpected tangents about creative work, opinions, and life in general. Join us for a good chinwag and spectacular drams!” Whisky Talk: Malt & Music is on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher, or you can watch the videos of the conversations on the SMWS YouTube channel.

The Nightcap: 1 October

Congrats to you Nancy!

Santa Teresa 1796 announces first female master blender

News this week from Santa Teresa rum reveals that Nancy Duarte will take over as its new master blender, the first woman to hold this position within the company, and just the fifth altogether in the history of the brand. Holding a Superior Technical degree in food and beverage, specializing in wines and fermented drinks, since 1990 Duarte has held several positions in the production area of Ron Santa Teresa, including the supervision of quality control, development, and formulation of liquids as well as innovations in the productive process and new products for the company portfolio. Couldn’t be more qualified, by the sounds of it. A vital part of her responsibilities has been to supervise the entire production process, from raw materials obtained at the Hacienda Santa Teresa to the finished product, to guarantee the quality and consistency of the blends. Duarte points out that, out of all the areas she is in charge of, the aging stage is one of her great passions because it is where the transformation of alcohol into rum takes place and where the mastery of the rum blender helps create exceptionally aged rums.

The Nightcap: 1 October

Our new favourite cocktail has to be the Espresso Martini made with this

Sipspresso Coffee Gin released for World Coffee Day

Did you know that today, 1 October, is World Coffee Day? We only knew because last night we were at the launch for Sipspresso Coffee Gin at the Artesian Bar in London. We were fortunate enough to chat with Mr. Sipsmith himself, Jared Brown, who seems to have more ideas in 10 minutes than most people have in a lifetime. But his wife seems even more interesting. Apparently, she’s uncovered some startling revelations about the history of gin in England. We can’t say anymore. But back to the point of the evening, Brown commented:  “We crafted Sipspresso Coffee Gin to our exacting standards. We ensured the same level of uncompromising commitment to quality and sustainability in our coffee supplier – Pact Coffee – who work with farmers from three continents to ethically source the finest ingredients for their premium coffee. Layering Pact’s Brazilian and Rwandan ground coffee with cinnamon and fresh vanilla on top of our original London Dry Gin base creates a delightfully rich, warm, and indulgent gin with a smooth and balanced finish.” Naturally, we tried it in Espresso Martinis but even better was the Coffee Negroni served with peach which has to be one of the most delicious things we’re ever tried. So hats off to the Artesian team for such amazing drinks. Sipspresso will be landing at Master of Malt very soon.

The Nightcap: 1 October

Distinguished chef Emily Roux will put together quite a menu

Emily Roux and The Balvenie create immersive dining experience

The Balvenie has come up with a nifty way to celebrate its newest release, 25 Year Old – Rare Marriages, by teaming up with distinguished chef Emily Roux to create a one-off immersive experience. On Friday 8th October, Harvey Nichols in London’s Knightsbridge, will host a gastronomic experience in a forest-like space featuring a six-course menu Roux made to perfectly complement the liquid and tell the story of how the whisky was made. Expect smoked beetroot tartelette, fresh Scottish langoustines tartare, roast venison saddle, and more deliciousness, along with specially concocted Balvenie cocktails and a tasting of The Balvenie Twenty Five. Paper quilling artist, Yulia Brosdskaya has also made a three-dimensional artwork that will be on display at Harvey Nichols as a full window display for the month of October. Tickets are £45.00 and are redeemable against £45.00 off a purchase of The Balvenie Twenty-Five in-store or online at Harvey Nichols.  We also wrote a feature on the 25 Year Old – Rare Marriages if you’d like to get an idea of what to expect.

The Nightcap: 1 October

Want to blend your own whiskey? You know where to go.

The Whiskey Thing at The Distillery Portobello Road

This week we went over to the rainbow streets of Portobello Road to (finally) try The Whiskey Thing, the newest experience from Jake Burger (of Portobello Road Gin) and the team behind The Ginstitute at The Distillery. Over three hours, Burger took us through everything you need to (and could) know about whisk(e)y, with the evening culminating in the chance to blend your own creation and take home the bottle. There’s no actual whisky distilling going on here – rather, Burger has selected 18 whiskies from around the world to showcase all that the spirit has to offer. Beginning with a journey through the production, from fermentation to maturation, it’s a fun and interactive experience. Peat is set alight with a blowtorch, and foam banana sweets are presented to mirror ripe ester-y flavours, as is shortbread to demonstrate the flavours of American oak. A mini crème brûlée is brought out alongside a Mexican corn whisky to amplify those buttery notes – and all of this is before we get to the official tasting! There are 18 whiskies to create your blend from, and we taste nine of them (18 glasses would be a little intimidating, we all agreed). The tasting is blind, and only after we’ve created the blend does Burger reveal what we’ve been sipping. No spoilers here, but ours was a mix of Irish, Indian, Scotch malt, and grain whiskies. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, refreshing evening. Huge thanks to the whole team – if you want to brush up on your whisky knowledge and tasting skills, head on down!

The Nightcap: 1 October

Irish whiskey sales were down, but we’re confident they’ll bounce back

Irish whiskey sales slumped in 2020

The Irish Spirits Market Report 2022 from Drinks Ireland is here and it makes sobering reading for the country’s whiskey business. Global sales by value were down by 4% mainly due to Covid and the resulting collapse of global travel retail, the second biggest market for Irish whiskey, and the closure of bars and restaurants. Though whiskey seems more resilient than other categories – overall spirit exports were down 16%. Bryan Fallon, chairman of Drinks Ireland commented: “The report shows that the spirits sector did not escape unscathed from the Covid-19 pandemic. Irish hospitality venues are a vital component to the continued growth and prosperity of Ireland’s spirits and craft spirits sector, allowing companies to engage with consumers, so their closure was very much felt.” To help the country’s industry, Drinks Ireland is calling for a cut in excise tax, Ireland has the third-highest tax on spirits in the EU. Fallon explained: “While 2020 has shown that our sector is resilient and adaptable, this resilience and adaptability will be tested in the post-Covid world, and the government must support our sector’s recovery through an excise cut.”

The Nightcap: 1 October

Thanks to the largesse of William Borrell from Vestal Vodka, it’s here!

Award-winning drinks magazine Tonic celebrates its second issue

Many people talk of starting their own magazine, but husband and wife team Robert Ellison and Benita Finanzio made their dream a reality when they founded Tonic, a magazine devoted to drinks and travel. They got some money together, commissioned some articles and the first issue landed last year… just in time for Covid. It’s been a struggle as Ellison admitted at the launch party for the second issue last night. But at his lowest point when he was thinking of jacking it all in, he got a phone call from someone saying he loved the magazine and wanted to help out financially. It was none other than William Borrell from Vestal Vodka who had a bit of spare cash after selling half his business to Halewood. Not only that but Halewood sponsored the launch at their City of London Distillery. The first issue has proved a triumph: lighting up awards lists up and down the country with contributors, Juliet Rix and Claire Dodd both shortlisted for awards, and Will Hawkes winning a Fortnum & Mason award for best drink writer. Plus the magazine is a finalist in the Travel Media Awards for the Consumer Publication of the Year. All this from a team with a lot of passion but no publishing experience at all. Now there’s a second issue out (go here to buy), and it’s even better. Moral of the story: dare to dream.

The Nightcap: 1 October

Rubbish wine, it’s the future.

And finally… rubbish wine anyone?

We love making use of leftovers here at Master of Malt. Rarely a week goes by when we don’t have bubble & squeak for breakfast but we’re recycling amateurs compared with two Aberdeen students. For a couple of years now, Elliott Martens and Lasse Melgaard have been taking advantage of the amount of perfectly edible food that supermarkets chuck out every day. Dubbing themselves Two Racoons, the pair told the Daily Record that they could “eat like kings” on food that had been binned. Now, they’re taking their Womble-tendencies up a notch with a range of wines made from surplus fruit. Varieties include ‘Strawberry Feels Forever’ and the not-quite-so-catchy ‘Overripe Raspberries Make Good Wine’. It’s worth following them on Instagram @tworaccoonswinery and see the Press & Journal for the full story. These lads have turned more than four tons of unwanted fruit into 10,000 bottles of wine that’s literally rubbish. 

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Classic Bars: St. James Bar, Sofitel Hotel

Tucked away in one of the capital’s hotspots in a five-star hotel, St. James Bar has been home to some of the most eclectic and inviting cocktail menus around the…

Tucked away in one of the capital’s hotspots in a five-star hotel, St. James Bar has been home to some of the most eclectic and inviting cocktail menus around the last few years. Which makes it worth a visit in our eyes.

Enter the Grade II-listed Sofitel Hotel in St James and you’ll be greeted by the kind of glitz and glamour you’d expect from a luxury hotel in London’s West End. Marble floors. Grand floral displays. Opulent sports cars parked outside. The historic French influences and aristocratic associations are apparent everywhere you look and the hotel is all chic and sophistication, full of desperately fancy Dans here to patronise the exclusive shops of Jermyn Street and the West End theatres nearby.

But it’s worth popping into even if you don’t have a hotel reservation, because adjacent to Anthony Demetre’s popular restaurant Wild Honey is St. James Bar. It’s a cosy space decked out with decadent rich mohair velvet banquettes and reflective antique mirror tables absorbing the warm mood lighting and brass accents. Respected bar and restaurant architect Jim Hamilton did his thing here, elegantly combining French and English themes to match the hotel’s aesthetic and adding subtle nods to the building’s history as a military bank. At first, this might not seem like a drink lover’s paradise. But you’d be wrong.

Head to the centrepiece, a marble-topped and backlit bar, and you’ll find 100 whiskies, 60 gins, and 35 (!) Tequilas, as well as all kinds of liqueurs and other spirits. Your eyes are especially drawn to the colourful rows of perfume-style bottles featuring handmade liqueurs, bitters, and tinctures. Running the bar is a dedicated, knowledgeable staff who are open to answering any and all of your boozy questions, all while crafting exceptional drinks from some truly imaginative menus (you’ll get that joke after roughly 30 seconds more reading). It’s the standard of cocktails, in particular, that draws drinks enthusiasts to St. James Bar. 

St. James Bar Sofitel Hotel

Oh yeah. That’s what I’m talking about.

How the magic happens

The ambition is to create abstract, intriguing cocktails that are typically minimalist when it comes to the ingredient list, with the creativity and flair reserved for the construction and concept. The previous menu, Passport, for example, was designed to take you on a journey, and the menu looked like an actual British passport boasting 12 cocktails from 12 different countries. It was a smash hit and was awarded by Imbibe Magazine the ‘Most Innovative Drink List of the Year 2020’ award.

The creation of the menu begins with an idea which is then pitched to the bartenders, who all contribute their own takes on the concept. “The brief we give them is that you should aim to change people’s perception of what you’d expect a cocktail to be, like creating a serve you eat or making something that evokes a childhood memory,” says Kostas Bardas, bar manager at St. James. “We should appeal to every sense, not just taste but touch and everything in between”. Once a bartender pitches an idea of how the cocktail should look and taste, the other staff input their ideas to elevate the serve and ensure it meets standards.

This year’s menu is Imagination, a creation featuring molecular techniques and sustainable processes with inspiration coming from as diverse sources as Iron Man, impressionism, dragons, and Elton John lyrics. The bartenders use words like spherification, carbonation and foaming while presenting cocktails with liquid shapes you can hold in your hand and edible photos.

St. James Bar Sofitel Hotel

The E=m(t+6.71²) typifies the concept behind the new menu

Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination…

The menu itself is something to behold. It’s presented on a 3D ‘molecule’ model of the chemical serotonin (the hormone that provides feelings of well-being and happiness), with 22 cocktails (including a couple of virgin offerings) split across on both sides, one containing dark and intense serves, the other light and delicate.

I tried three cocktails, beginning with The Dreaming Mexico, a showstopper with a unique sharp, complex, and beautifully fruity profile thanks to a combination of Casamigos Caso Tequila, agave and aloe, pear, Martino Ambreto, yuzu cordial, and Peychaud’s bitters. The story is that this drink has its roots in dreams and the theatre of its construction happens before you, as the bartender combines each ingredient in a decanter shaped like a globe of the world, which is billowing with smoke and then turned to Mexico before served. 

This very much set the tone for the next two cocktails. The elegant and refreshing Déjà vu tames Laphroaig 10 with pear carbonation and umami flavours, while E=m(t+6.71²) does away with the assumptions of what going for a drink means with pearls of edible cocktails, reminiscent of the controversial Glenlivet examples, made with cocoa butter casing garnished them with a zest of lime. Bite and swallow swiftly if you a) don’t want to make a mess, and b) want the full-bodied flavour experience unleashed at once.

St. James Bar Sofitel Hotel

St. James Bar at the Sofitel Hotel is home to some of the finest cocktails menus around

A classic bar: St. James Bar, Sofitel Hotel

The Imagination cocktail menu demonstrates what this bar does best, comfortably catering to all tastes while constructing drinks that are an experience. Every serve is dripping with showmanship and the fact they’re all delicious is a given. And there are only a handful of London bars that can boast that. 

Just bear in mind that this isn’t just London. This is Pall Mall London. The cocktails here are typically priced between £15-£25 and the clientele appears to be desperately fashionable folks with money or people with so much wealth they don’t have to care how they look. 

If you’re not someone who can imbibe without checking your bank balance, then think of St James as a boozy treat. Pop in to sample purely for the theatre, story, and quality. And if you can’t decide between the 22 impressive choices, just ask a bartender for a recommendation and watch them use their imagination.

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Crabbie’s on the comeback: restoring a whisky legacy

Crabbie’s is synonymous with green ginger wine and alcoholic ginger beer, but its long and important whisky history is too often overlooked. Now, Halewood Artisanal Spirits is reviving the brand…

Crabbie’s is synonymous with green ginger wine and alcoholic ginger beer, but its long and important whisky history is too often overlooked. Now, Halewood Artisanal Spirits is reviving the brand and working on ensuring its future is bright as its past.

When you think of the name Crabbie’s, I guarantee one drink springs to mind. Ginger beer, right? But the company behind the iconic green bottles, John Crabbie & Co, was once one of the most respected names in whisky. 

A whisky giant

Beginning in the mid-19th century, for decades the brand was a key player in the former Scotch epicentre of Leith, which was home to around 90% of all maturing Scotch until the 1960s. But both Leith’s dominance and Crabbie’s contributions aren’t well-known. Even Kirstie McCallum, master distiller for Crabbie’s whisky, saying that she wasn’t that familiar with the brand’s history when she started back in January. 

Some put the origins of the brand as being 1801 when John’s father Miller Crabbie became a merchant in Edinburgh. But John Crabbie actually set up his own business dealing in alcoholic drinks around 1832, partnering with William Cree for a time until his death, and trading in malts from the likes of J Haig. In 1839, the first record of ‘Crabbie’s Green Ginger Wine‘ appears in a sale to MacDonald of Glenalbyn.

Around 1852, Crabbie acquired a former porter brewery on Great Junction Street in Leith, close to Yardheads distillery. Until 1884 it was the hub of Crabbie’s blending and bottling, where he traded with more than 70 whisky distilleries (records show during his life he worked with the likes of Bowmore, Jura, Glen Grant, Laphroaig, Talisker, BalmenachBenrinnes, and more), as well as producing gin, fruit cordials, and his famous Ginger Wine.

Crabbie was an early adopter of the art of blending malt and grain whisky, acquiring Westfield distillery in Haddington, East Lothian in 1852 and using its Coffey still to produce grain whisky. When Westfield closed just a decade later, Crabbie wasn’t deterred and sought to break the near-monopoly The Distillers Company Ltd (DCL – essentially now Diageo) had on grain whisky. He co-founded and became the first chairman of North British Distillery, which still stands today. 

Crabbie’s

A bottle of Green Ginger Wine dating back to the 1960s

Downfall to rebirth

John Crabbie died in 1891, by which time his business was exporting whisky to Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. From there comes the part of the story that will be familiar to anyone who has read the history of a Scotch whisky brand. The changing of hands! Family involvement lasted until 1963 when DCL, having the last laugh, purchasing John Crabbie & Co. in 1963. Macdonald & Muir (later the Glenmorangie Company) then bought it in the ’80s, temporarily ending the Leith association by transferring production to its headquarters at Broxburn in West Lothian.

Crabbie’s Green Ginger Wine continued to be made on the premises at Great Junction Street until the 1980s, but while this side of the business remained strong, any identity rooted in whisky was firmly a thing of the past by the time the brand was sold to Halewood Artisanal Spirits in 2007.

The owners of Whitley Neill Gin, and more, restored the connection in 2015 when it bought the site and later announced a £7m malt distillery would be builtbringing the Crabbie name back home to Leith. An experimental, smaller distillery was set up in Granton whilst construction of what has become Bonnington Distillery took place. The latter is now making whisky and recently I got a chance to see it in action.

Crabbie’s

I got a glimpse behind the scenes at Bonnington’s

Inside Bonnington Distillery

The name comes from a location that was said to contain the ‘lost mansion’ Bonnington House, and by chance just as construction was wrapping up remains of the 17th-century building was unearthed by an archaeologist Crabbie’s hired. As was evidence of an 18th-century distillery, furnaces from a bronze foundry, and remnants from the Siege of Leith, when French troops were camped in the port in the 16th-century. Wonderful, right?

Not for Crabbie’s. It set back progress by six months and cost £500k in change to work out all the preservation and bureaucracy. Even when the first mash was made in December 2019 further bureaucratic nonsense delayed a distilling license so that production didn’t start until March 2020. Any idea what happened then?

Yes, the bloody world ended thanks to COVID, and the team, fearing the worst, spent 20 hours over two days distilling all the wash on-site, only to find out that they would shut down for a grand total of one day. Since then small, dedicated team has finally been able to do its thing undisturbed, manning the semi-automated distillery, which means plenty of hands-on work. Don’t let the modest-looking site deceive you though, it will soon be able to produce half a million litres of pure alcohol a year.

Crabbie’s

Expect a wide range of cask finishes in the future

The John Crabbie way lives on

My tour began in an open space containing silos and a two roller Alan Ruddock mill that processes a tonne of barley an hour, twice a day. Every week Crabbie’s does 12 mashes of 2.2 tonnes of barley. Local farmers take the slurry for now, but there are plans to introduce biomass and fertilisers to make this part of the process greener. Crabbie’s even spent tens of thousands of pounds on a borehole to gain access to an aquifer beneath their Leith distillery and were rewarded with crystal clear water untouched for over 1,000 years and a totally unique source of hydration and dilution.

Peat heads will be excited to learn that 50ppm of peated barley from Muntons is distilled for two months a year, with blending primarily in mind. Fermentation uses Pinnacle distillers yeast and goes from 48-115 hours in stainless steel washbacks, depending on how much is being mashed.

The stills are based on designs gathered from the old John Crabbie archives, and are designed to create a heavy, waxy spirit, so there’s little reflux thanks to big wide bulbs and flat lyne arms.  Typically cut points are at 76% ABV then 62% ABV, but two different receivers in the spirit safe allow for different cuts of high and low cuts, allowing greater variety and room to experiment. Just past them is a smaller still called Judy, the first Holstein Halewood Artisanal Spirits bought which is now used to make Crabbie’s range of gins. 

As for maturation, it’s fair to say that you can expect some interesting cask finishes in the future. I spotted virgin oak, ex-bourbon, Calvados, Tokaji, Cognac, and Tequila in just the short time I was there, as well as some Chateau Margaux wine casks which are particularly cool as we know that in 1918 John Crabbie sourced the exact same type. A century later they became the first casks filled here at Bonningtons (on the 24 March 2020, to be precise). The casks are filled at 63.5% ABV at a rate of 3000 to 3,500 a year, and eventually coopering will happen on site.

Crabbie’s

Say hello to Kirstie McCallum!

From John Crabbie to Kirstie McCallum

While the name and heritage belongs to John Crabbie, the future of the brand is in the hands of accomplished whisky maker McCallum. Formerly of Glen Moray and with 20 years of experience in the spirits sector, it was a real coup for Halewood Artisanal Spirits to land her. The temptation was obvious, however, to McCallum. “To work for Halewood means a chance to work with a breadth of the spirits, from Welsh and English whisky to bourbon and, of course, the opportunity to take on a great name in Crabbie’s. But it’s also a chance to help shape and mould a brand new distillery”.

McCallum will do that in her signature style, which means lots of experimentation particularly when it comes to cask finishing (as we saw). You might think that would make her someone who felt restricted by the Scotch Whisky Associations’ regulations, but in fact, the opposite is true. She describes herself as “a firm believer in the heritage and tradition of Scotch,” adding that “there’s enough room for innovation in the current legislation” and that she “doesn’t want to see that disappear”. 

Working with such a legacy might be wonderful for the marketing team, but for production that can mean a lot of pressure. McCallum is too assured and experienced to feel it, however, and says that having a name like John Crabbie behind the brand “can only lead to good things”. She continues, “I’ve got access to archives and his actual book of blend recipes, it’s wonderful. One of these days I want to replicate one of those blends!”.

Crabbie’s

Crabbie’s whisky association is no longer just an old story worth retelling

An old name gets new life

While the distillery was being built, the Crabbie whisky portfolio was revived initially with releases using spirit sourced from other distilleries, fitting as John Crabbie was a cracking independent bottler by all accounts. This includes Yardhead (remember the name?) and made to be the kind of whisky bartenders would love. “Yardhead is a very versatile whisky that helps dispel the myth that you can only drink whisk a certain way,” says McCallum. “I’m of the belief that if you’ve paid for it, you enjoy your whisky how you want. If you like it with Iron Bru, then go ahead!” 

While the history is compelling, it’s Crabbie’s future that has my attention. McCallum is an engaging communicator for her brands and a skilled producer, as evidenced by the fantastic new make I tasted. Waxy, honeyed, and full-bodied, rich in notes of raspberry, black pepper, vanilla, and Hobnobs, it’s got all the hallmarks of a whisky that will mature superbly, while representing a departure from the signature Lowland style. “You would expect Lowland spirits to be quite light, fruity, and floral,” McCallum says. “But there’s a lot of body behind the spirit we’re making at Bonningtons, which makes it unique”.

To those who love whisky, Lowland malts, and the ongoing return of great whisky to Scotland’s capital, this is everything you could want. Fittingly, Yardhead pairs perfectly with ginger wine. So, do yourself a favour and grab a Whisky Mac bundle and raise a glass to the breathing of new life into an old name.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Brooklyn

Today we’re making a forgotten classic from the golden age of cocktails. It’s made with rye and it’s from New York, but it’s not a Manhattan. No, it’s the Brooklyn!…

Today we’re making a forgotten classic from the golden age of cocktails. It’s made with rye and it’s from New York, but it’s not a Manhattan. No, it’s the Brooklyn!

You’ve probably had a Manhattan, and maybe a Bronx. But did you know that there are cocktails named after other boroughs of New York City, the Queens and the Brooklyn*? 

The Brooklyn was probably invented around the beginning of the 20th century. The first mention is from 1908 in J.A. Grohusko 1908 bartender’s handbook, Jack’s Manual. The Brooklyn is part of the great family of cocktails that came about with the arrival of vermouth on America’s shores, including the Rob Roy, the Harvard, Palmetto and, of course, the Manhattan.  

But whereas the Manhattan is made from ingredients that most cocktail enthusiasts will have in their cabinets, whiskey, vermouth and bitters, the Brooklyn requires more specialist kit. The secret ingredient is Amer Picon, a bitter French drink made with gentian, quinine and oranges. 

Brooklyn-Sazerac

Brooklyn (and a Sazerac). Photo taken from The Home Bar by Henry Jeffreys

The secret ingredient

Amer Picon has an even longer history than the Brooklyn. It was invented in 1837 but in the 1970s the alcohol was reduced from 39% ABV to 21% ABV. Purists will say you can’t make a proper Brooklyn with Amer Picon as it is now. Furthermore, Amer Picon, though widely available on the continent, isn’t easy to find in Britain and isn’t imported at all into the US. Some American bartenders stock up when they are in France and smuggle bottles back into the country, which gives the Brooklyn an illicit Prohibition feel. 

Other resourceful bartenders have created myriad takes on the Brooklyn to make up for the lack of this crucial ingredient. They are named after different neighbourhoods of Brooklyn like Red Hook or Williamsburg, and use ingredients like Punt e Mes or Cynar in place of the missing French liqueur. 

Now, though, it is possible to make a proper Brooklyn in Britain thanks to the Bloomsbury Distillery in London with its Bloomsbury Amer – a take on the pre-1970s Amer Picon and weighing in at a hefty 42% ABV.

The other ingredients in a Brooklyn are more straightforward: dry vermouth (both Dolin or Noilly Prat work well here), and then maraschino liqueur (Luxardo is the classic brand). It’s the interplay between the two bittersweet fruits, cherry and orange that makes the Brooklyn so special. 

Oxford-RyeWhisky-April-01-14

English rye, American cocktail

An English rye in New York

The final component is whiskey, ideally rye. A few years ago I would have said that it has to be American, but you can now buy some superb rye whiskeys from England, Ireland and Scotland. The spiciness of rye complements the bitterness of the fruit liqueurs with the vermouth playing a supporting role. I’m using the utterly superb Oxford Rye, the second batch of which arrived recently at Master of Malt. 

So I’m making a decidedly English take on one of America’s great cocktails. It tastes like a more complex, bitter version of the Manhattan. In fact, the Brooklyn reminds me of a Boulevardier crossed with a Manhattan. It’s normally served straight, up but there’s no reason why you couldn’t pour this one over ice. 

How to make a Brooklyn

45ml Oxford Rye Whisky
45ml Dolin Dry Vermouth
10ml Maraschino Liqueur
10ml Bloomsbury Amer

Stir all the ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry – from Luxardo naturally. 

* There is still a gap in the market for a Staten Island cocktail. Come on, New York bartenders! What are you waiting for? 

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Master of Malt Week exclusive: Hermitage Grand Champagne Cognac 1975

The Master of Malt Week train rolls on with another exclusive. Today, it’s a Grand Champagne Cognac 1975 bottled by Hermitage. We talk to the man behind, Mr Cognac himself,…

The Master of Malt Week train rolls on with another exclusive. Today, it’s a Grand Champagne Cognac 1975 bottled by Hermitage. We talk to the man behind, Mr Cognac himself, David Baker!

David Baker from Hermitage has one of the best jobs in booze sniffing out rare old Cognacs. With his unerring palate, not to mention unrivalled list of contacts throughout the region, he’s brought some astonishing brandies to Master of Malt customers over the years. Including one from 1885 which Baker described as “beyond perfect.”

Cognac-sniffer extraordinaire 

It was an even older bottle, an 1840 A.E Dor at a hotel in Monaco, that turned David Baker (above) on to the magic of Cognac. It sparked off a great love affair. In 1987 he set up his own business, Hermitage Cognacs, to showcase the finest, rarest and oldest brandies that the region has to offer. Normally, he divides his time between Bath and Segonzac but he hasn’t been over to France for some time because of Covid.

Baker mainly buys from Grande Champagne, considered the finest part of Cognac, as well as Petite Champagne and Borderies. He bottles brandies from individual producers and much of what he sells is vintage. “There’s a growing need for vintages,” he said. Now, I’ve been doing this for 30 years and what I’ve always tried to do is get to a situation whereby we can actually talk to people about individual Cognacs rather than Cognac as a whole.”

Finding these vintage Cognacs is not an easy business. Baker’s experience and reputation help him sniff out the rare barrels, and he’s reluctant to reveal his sources. He did tell me about one producer who usually only sells to Rémy Martin but keeps a little of the best stuff back for the family. Persuading a producer such as this to sell his rarest brandies is a little like asking someone to part with precious heirlooms. He knows that the family treasures will be in safe hands with Baker.

Hermitage 1975

Fewer than 50 bottles in existence

One such treasure is this 1975 Grand Champagne of which there are fewer than 50 bottles in existence and Master of Malt has the lot (apart from a couple Baker has kept back for himself.) He cannot be sure of the exact provenance. “This particular Cognac came from somebody who had bought Cognacs from other people. He bought it years and years ago. Kept it in its cellar, and he decided he would sell it to us. Came from a distillery, but he can’t remember where”, he explained. Or perhaps the owner just didn’t want to tell. 

But on tasting, Baker immediately knew it was something special. “When you  try a good Cognac like this you know instantly,” he said “It has a lovely softness and balance to it.” It’s balance more than anything that he’s after. He went on to describe the taste “cloves, turmeric, blackberry, Macadamia nuts, thyme and rosemary, even flavours like white truffle. It impressed me straight away.” Baker is convinced that it comes from the central or southern part of Grand Champagne, apparently the citrussy note is a giveaway.

It was bottled earlier this year  at 43% ABV by Hermitage in Segonzac with no filtering and nothing added. So what we have here is an extremely rare, nearly 50 year old spirit of astonishing quality and it comes in at under £400. Baker explained: “We try very hard to put them out at reasonable prices.” We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, vintage Cognac is ridiculously underpriced compared with single malt Scotch whisky. But don’t tell everyone, or the prices will start to go up. 

Hermitage 1975 Grand Champagne Cognac is only available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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Why are some whiskies so expensive

You may have noticed that there have been a flurry of fancy whiskies on Master of Malt recently such as the Yamazaki 55 Year Old and The Dalmore Decades. But…

You may have noticed that there have been a flurry of fancy whiskies on Master of Malt recently such as the Yamazaki 55 Year Old and The Dalmore Decades. But what why are they so expensive? Lauren Eads takes a closer look. 

Sometimes it’s obvious why a bottle of whisky costs the earth. A very old or very rare single malt will always carry a high price. That doesn’t mean it will be to your taste, but you can understand its value. The secondary market can dictate price and collectability. Novelty and uniqueness can also play a part. But how can you tell if a bottle is overpriced?

There are some basic factors that affect the price of Scotch, which go a long way in understanding value, no matter the price.

The macallan Fine and Rare 60-year-old

Yours for a cool £1.5 million

The older the better?

Quite often, yes, certainly when it comes to cost. The older the bottle, the higher price it will command. As a general rule, whiskies bottled before 2000 will carry a higher price tag, with this rising higher with those bottled before the 1990 when the 70cl bottle was introduced in Europe. Before then, bottles were labelled as 75cl, 750ml or 26 2/3 fl ozs, making them easy to identify. The same goes for bottles made from limited edition runs, which become rarer the older they get. In general, cask strength whiskies – bottled direct from the cask with no water added – also tend to be more sought after with a higher cost.

But a grand old age does not mean a whisky will taste any different or better to when it was first bottled. Its value will rise because there will be less of it on the market. Whisky doesn’t evolve once bottled (as wine does) – it’s inert with little to no oxygen ingress (unless closed with a cork, but that’s another debate). What you are buying is a drop of liquid history, frozen in time. The bigger factor is the amount of time it spent in cask, which determines a good proportion of flavour. Any bottle can be old, irrespective of its age statement, but a much smaller proportion of whiskies are aged in casks for significant periods of time. These older malts are much rarer.

Add to this the fact that distilleries have been running out of older casks for some time now, increasing the rarity of older malts and making the bottles that do appear on the market even more sought after (and expensive). In 2019 a single bottle The Macallan Fine & Rare 1926 60-year-old set a new world record after fetching £1.5 million (US$1.9m) at auction. Great for the distillery, and those that can afford it, but not great for the wider market. With older casks in shorter supply, many distilleries have introduced more no-age statement bottles in a bid to meet demand and help control prices.

Brora Distillery

Brora is open again – what does this mean for the price of old single malts from this distillery?

What makes a whisky collectable?

So, old = expensive. Old + rare = really expensive, got it. Old + rare + collectable? That’s the hat trick.

Some brands are more coveted than others. Auctions play a big part in this, pushing up the price of certain brands. The Macallan still reigns supreme on the secondary market, but other collectable brands include Highland Park, Balvenie, Bowmore, Laphroaig, Ardbeg and The Dalmore, to name a few.

Bottles from silent distilleries, too, are more sought after. Rosebank, Ben Wyvis, Littlemill and Caperdonich are all good examples. As are Diageo’s Port Ellen and Brora, with pre-closure bottles still commanding a premium (Brora reopened in 2021 after a multi-million investment, with Port Ellen to follow).

Sometimes the fervour surrounding a whisky takes the industry by surprise. In 2020 Highland distillery Nc’Nean, founded in 2013, broke world records when bottle number one of its Ainnir single malt sold for £41,004 (US$54,183) during an online auction. Only 1,320 bottles of the no-age-statement whisky were made.

Love them or loathe them, critics can also build a brand’s prestige. Suntory’s Yamazaki achieved rapid growth after its Sherry Cask 2013 won the coveted Best Whisky Award in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015. Since then, prices have skyrocketed.

Oak barrels at Yamazaki

Oak barrels at Yamazaki

What about independent bottlings?

Independent bottlings are whiskies bottled by companies or individuals who are not part of the distillery, for example the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) or The Boutique-y Whisky Company. But there are dozens more. Bottlers source casks and release small batch bottles of rare or unique malts. Historically, these bottles often used to be cheaper, they were considered a distiller’s cast off casks. Today, there is exceptional quality to be found. Many releases are one-off expressions that can be very collectible and command surprisingly high prices, while also adding to the diversity of whisky.

The price of independent bottles is also tied up with a growing appetite for cask whisky investment. Increasing numbers of investors are buying up casks instead of bottles, hampering the ability of smaller bottlers to procure casks and pushing up prices of independent bottles.

Will 2020 be a good year for Scotch?

Then there are unprecedented events such as the Covid-19 pandemic. With many distilleries temporarily closing during 2020 due to restrictions production slowed with fewer casks filled. The Scotch Whisky Association said in May that during the first lockdown 87% of production sites were either “operating at reduced capacity or closed entirely”.

Consequently, some commentators have tipped whiskies produced in 2020 to become some of the rarest and most valuable. It will be some years before that theory is tested, but perhaps 2020 is as good a time as ever to invest in a bottle?

There’s no accounting for taste

The value of a Scotch can really be found at the intersection of its age, rarity and brand. Of course (investment purposes aside), none of these factors mean much at all if a whisky isn’t to your taste, no matter what it costs. If a particular dram sings to your senses, then the cost is merely a practical consideration. The enjoyment you get out of it – that’s where the real value lies.

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Whisky icons – we have a winner!

Whether they’re bourbons, single malts or blended whiskies, some brands are so famous that they’re iconic. But which is the biggest whisky icon? We’re running a poll on social media…

Whether they’re bourbons, single malts or blended whiskies, some brands are so famous that they’re iconic. But which is the biggest whisky icon? We’re running a poll on social media to find out, and this is the page to follow the results.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word ‘icon’ as: “A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration.”

So, what makes a whisky an icon? Well, it has to be a great whisky to start with. One that’s revered across the world. But more than this, it has to have a strong memorable image. Say the name of a particular distillery or brand, and it should instantly resonate. 

Worthy of veneration

Now this could be a globally famous brand like Johnnie Walker or Jack Daniel’s. Many people who have never even drunk whisky will have heard of these brands. Jack Daniel’s for its association with music, and Johnnie Walker because it’s an icon of consumer capitalism (as well as a great whisky). Then there’s Macallan, a symbol of luxury up there with Rolls Royce or Cartier. 

But lesser-known names can be iconic among the whisky cognoscenti. Take Springbank, for example. You have to know a bit about whisky to have heard of it but it’s undoubtedly “worthy of veneration.” We’ve seen grown men and women go all tearful at the thought of a rare bottle of Springbank. 

But your whisky icon might be Lagavulin from Islay, Four Roses from Kentucky or even a newer distillery like Mackmyra from Sweden. So to decide this once and for all, we’re giving Master of Malt customers the opportunity to shout about their favourite brands. 

Vote for your whisky of icon

Social polls will be posted on a @masterofmalt Instagram story Monday to Friday this week (simply view our story and tap on the distillery/brand you wish to vote for). Or alternatively you can vote over on the @MasterOfMalt Twitter page where a poll will be posted to our feed.

The tournament will end on Monday 27 September with the winner announced that day. This is how it will work:

Monday 20 September – first round with 32 whiskies

Tuesday 21 September – second round with 16 whiskies

Wednesday 22 September – quarter finals 

Thursday 23 September – semi finals 

Friday 24 September – finals

Saturday 25 September – voting closes

Monday 27 September – announcement of the winner

Get voting so we can say once and for all what the greatest icon of whisky is! And then we find something else to argue about. 

UPDATE, 27 September:

The winner was… Bunnahabhain with Lagavulin as the runner-up.

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New Arrival of the Week: Glengoyne 15 Year Old – Old Particular

It’s Master of Malt week here at Master of Malt. Which means many interesting exclusive spirits to be had. Such as our New Arrival: Glengoyne 15 Year Old – Old…

It’s Master of Malt week here at Master of Malt. Which means many interesting exclusive spirits to be had. Such as our New Arrival: Glengoyne 15 Year Old – Old Particular, a single cask bottled by Douglas Laing. And did we mention that it’s only available from MoM?

Looking back through 10 years of Master of Malt blog posts – yes we have been blogging that long – I’ve noticed that we haven’t written much about Glengoyne. Whenever it’s sister distillery Tamdhu does anything, we’re all over it, but Glengoyne just doesn’t seem to get the love. Until now…

Glengoyne Distillery launches new whisky and revamped look

Master distiller Robbie Hughes at Glengoyne Distillery

A Master of Malt exclusive

Yes, this week we’ve got one hell of a Glengoyne for you. It was distilled in 2005, and comes from a single refill hogshead bottled without colouring or chill-filtration at 58.4% ABV by the good people at Douglas Laing. 242 bottles have been filled and they are only available from Master of Malt.

Glengoyne is one of the closest distilleries to Glasgow, located not far from the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. It’s also generally considered one of the prettiest distilleries in Scotland so it’s well worth a day trip if you’re spending a few days in the city. Legal distilling began there in 1833 when it was known as Burnfoot distillery. In 1879 it was bought by the Lang Brothers who changed the name to Glen Guin – meaning valley of the wild geese. In 1965 it was bought by Robertson & Baxter, a forerunner of Macallan owner the Edrington Group. Then in 2003, it was acquired by Ian MacLeod distillers who also own Tamdhu, as well as Edinburgh Gin and brands such as Smokehead and Sheep Dip. The current master distiller Robbie Hughes has been with the distillery since 2003.

A light fruity style

Glengoyne’s water comes from nearby Loch Carron. It makes a distinctive light, fruity and floral whisky – a world away from the meaty sherry bombs at its sister distillery Tamdhu. The still set-up consists of one wash and two spirit stills with level lyne arms, designed to create lots of reflux to create that characteristic fruity new make. The distillery practises both long and short ferments, and always with unpeated barley.

In a quirk of geography, distillation takes place in the Highlands whereas maturation takes place south of the Highland line, in the Lowlands. So, it’s both a Highland and a Lowland whisky. 

Traditionally, Glengoyne was used in blends such as Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark but it’s also a highly-regarded single malt. The 12-year-old Glengoyne is something of a classic for lovers of fruity light single malts. If you love the Glengoyne style, then you’re going to love this exclusive bottling from Douglas Laing. And we promise in future to write more about this distinctive distillery.

Glengoyne 15 Year Old 2005 (cask 14639) – Old Particular (Douglas Laing) is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Glen Goyne Old Particular

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Sticky toffee pudding, lemon meringue pie, and a hint of buttered brown bread.

Palate: Tangy marmalade, cassia, malted milk biscuits, caramelised nuts, and honey.

Finish: A touch of woody spice and nutmeg, while more orange notes linger on the finish.

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