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Master of Malt Blog

Q&A: Gregg Glass, founder of The Whisky Works

Innovation in Scotch whisky is now everywhere, with numerous brands taking creative steps to stand out from the crowd. The Whisky Works from Whyte & Mackay (W&M) is one such…

Innovation in Scotch whisky is now everywhere, with numerous brands taking creative steps to stand out from the crowd. The Whisky Works from Whyte & Mackay (W&M) is one such approach; we spoke with its creator Gregg Glass to learn what it’s all about.

It’s not every day we hear about a new blending and bottling house focused on producing intriguing small-batch Scotch whisky, so when we do, we sit up and take notice here at MoM Towers. It’s safe to say our curiosity has been piqued by The Whisky Works, the newly-launched independent arm of Whyte & Mackay which operates under the watchful eye of W&M blender and whisky maker Gregg Glass.

We were fortunate enough to speak to the man himself about how The Whisky Works works, how it came to life and what to expect from the two delicious launch expressions: the King of Trees and the Glaswegian.

The Whisky Works

Gregg Glass holding a glass

Master of Malt: What is The Whisky Works?

Gregg Glass: The Whisky Works has been on my mind for a number of years. It was probably about five years ago I started to think about what sort of company would I like to build and what would be the best method to make that happen. Then, literally, the first week that I joined Whyte & Mackay, it was a discussion that we had. That’s why you’ll see in our logo ‘established in 2017’ because it was very early on in 2017 I actually started to action a lot of these cask laydowns and cask selections. What we created is an innovation hub where there’s complete creative freedom but it’s within the structure of Whyte & Mackay. What’s really great about that, certainly from my point of view as a whisky maker, is that I can utilise the real skill base that is here both in human resource but also the depth and breadth of our whisky stocks as well in creating exciting new whiskies. Part of where the name ‘The Whisky Works’ came from was my love of motorsports. A works team for a rally are the people on the ground. They have that freedom to explore different avenues and innovate in different ways that can then also feed back into the parent company, the manufacturer. The Whisky Works is an opportunity to also engage with everyone who works at the company and for them to feel part of the process too. It was a way of spending time with the guys on the ground and band about ideas.

MoM: What are you trying to achieve with The Whisky Works?

GG: I want to create unique and different characteristics both from a flavour profile point of view and perhaps methodology in making whisky through new innovative practices. We’re really a flavour-led company. Through The Whisky Works, we can look at doing things on a small scale with responsible risk-taking within this structure, almost like a test hub. When Richard Paterson (W&M master blender) and I work alongside each other on a variety of projects, we experiment with concepts that might be interesting to use or try out. Through The Whisky Works, we can test these ideas here, maybe at a smaller scale. Some of these concepts will then go out to maybe some of the other brands, once we’ve successfully tested or trialled them within the Whisky Works.

MoM: You’ve said the inspiration for The Whisky Works was your collaborations with wine and spirit producers, coopers and sawmills. How did those experiences inspire you?

GG: Through my career path, this year is going to be my 20th year in the industry, I’ve been very fortunate to work one-on-one with different people not only within the Scotch whisky industry but also with winemakers. When Richard Paterson and I travel the world we make a point to go out and see cask suppliers or other producers. It gives me a lot of creative inspiration. I’m a bit of a sponge for information, and these opportunities provoke me to go off and think about innovative things and do my own testing based on that.

The Whisky Works

The King of Trees

MoM: The first Modern Whisky Experiment expression is the King of Trees (a 10 year old Highland blended malt whisky). Can you talk us through how you created it?

GG: The concept behind the King of Trees began with the thought of using native Scottish oak. Although other people have used Scottish oak before, for me this is actually part of a bigger process and this is not a one-off idea or use. I’m actually building a bigger programme around that, about which we’ll be disclosing a little bit more in the coming months. But essentially what happened was that I found myself spending a lot of my own time researching and sourcing Scottish oak, going to sawmills close to where I grew up in the Highlands and trying to investigate how to utilise them. This was the inspiration behind the cask we used to finish the King of Trees. It was built from two windfall trees from the same estate in the Highlands that were between 160 and around 220 years old. We used windfall trees as we didn’t want to be cutting down trees unless they were necessarily having to be done so for forest management.

Now in terms of the flavour profile, what I really wanted to try and achieve with King of Trees was a lovely freshness in the recipe that allowed the core orchard fruit characters in the apple/pear notes to really come through. So I wanted to use the Highland oak to really accentuate that, but not to overpower the recipe. That’s why, in terms of the proportion, the Scottish oak is a roundabout 14% of the overall recipe. It expands the aftertaste and the longevity of the whisky, so what you find is that lovely soft spice will build up and come through in the finish really nicely. It’s very much a fresh, almost summery style of whisky, which is exactly the style I wanted to create.

The Whisky Works

The Glaswegian

MoM: The other launch expression is the first Classic Whisky bottling, the Glaswegian (a 29 year old single grain whisky). What can we expect from it?

The 29-year-old Glaswegian, for me, is beautiful, it’s fresh and, while it’s an older expression and it’s got depth, it’s also got the elegance and balance within there. I wanted to bring out the butterscotch type of characters and custard notes, crème brûlée and retain some of the exotic fruit characteristics that are within there. That’s something you’ll see with all of the projects that I work on. What I’m trying to do is build in depth and complexity but also at the same time harmony and balance to the recipes as well. All of our expressions are non-chill filtered, natural colouring and, if it’s not natural cask strength, then they are bottled at an alcohol level that was chosen very much specifically for the flavour delivery and the flavour experience that comes through there.

I’ve been a great lover of grain whisky for many years. Look at my experience working at Compass Box and some of the grain whiskies that I had exposure to there! What I found when it came to grain whiskies throughout my career was that I was drawn to casks from particular parts of our dunnage warehouse that were imparting a lovely freshness to whisky. So the majority of the casks for the Glaswegian came from dunnage warehousing. When it comes to the Glaswegian, we can’t talk too much about the spirit itself as it came from a closed distillery that was in Glasgow and we’re not disclosing the distillery name. But, what we can talk about is the cask maturation side of things, and hopefully, that provides a different message and insight into whisky creation that may act to help to educate people who are maybe newer into whisky or wanting to try and explore new flavours.

Both the King of Trees and the Glaswegian will soon be available from 15th April at Master of Malt, so set a reminder in your calendar.

 

 

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How (not) to launch a drinks product

Today, we are delighted to announce a new series of columns from writer and former bar owner Nate Brown. This week he takes a not entirely serious look at how…

Today, we are delighted to announce a new series of columns from writer and former bar owner Nate Brown. This week he takes a not entirely serious look at how to launch a new drinks brand…

There has been an explosion of new products launched over the last couple of years. Every week we are introduced to something ‘new’. From so-called craft distilleries to the big boys, any excuse to launch a new expression will be hunted down and executed. We’re bombarded with whisky from TV shows (we definitely needed those), more pink gin expressions (really?) and so many cask finishes it’s a wonder there are any trees left standing.

There is one thing all these newbies have in common, and that’s the launch night. Get it right and the entire industry will be abuzz. Get it wrong and the entire industry, well, will be abuzz also. With so many launches to ‘enjoy’, you’d think the industry would have arrived at a fairly formulaic process: invite guests, show off, have a nice time. Everyone leaves a little wiser and a little happier. But oh no. No, no, double no. Again and again, a product launch party rolls around that makes my jaw drop, and not because someone is pouring something delicious. You’d think the hospitality industry would be better at hospitality. You’d be wrong.  

To illustrate this, I have collated a few steps of how not to launch a product. All of these have happened. Most of these have happened more than once. Some are repeated again and again and for the love of Christ, I have no idea why. Please don’t try this at home.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown in his natural habitat

Step 1

Choose a suitable location for the launch. Chances are you won’t have bothered with your own distillery, and instead contracted out production. Without a distillery, the world is your oyster. How freeing! Choose your favourite zeitgeist bar, preferably somewhere in whatever suburb of London you live. Just make sure that it’s a blank canvas, or at least has an identity of its own that has nothing whatsoever to do with yours. You know how confused journalists get, must be all that drinking! A cunning trick is to send the stock as late as possible, or maybe not at all, to make sure those pesky bartenders don’t drink any beforehand. Sure, you could partner with someone whose brand story overlaps with yours, and they could bring a host of folks to your party, but this is your party, why let them steal your limelight? Exposure is measured in seconds, people!

Step 2

It’s important to remind everyone of how cool you are, and how hard you’ve worked. This should be a party, and when do parties happen? Why, Friday nights of course! It’s not as if people will have anything better to do.

Step 3

With your raison d’être, a date and neutral location sorted, next is the guest list. There are two schools of thought: one is to invite industry players, although bar managers, bartenders, bar owners are all too flaky to come to things like this. I mean, if they can’t be trusted to sack off the bar for a Friday party celebrating how hard you’ve worked and how cool your brand is, then to hell with them. What do they know? The second, time-honoured approach is to invite the stalwarts of the trade press. It’s their job to report on what you do, which makes it a doddle. They won’t even need explanations, hosting or entertaining, and they’ll still pop a lovely little mention of how cool you are and how hard you’ve worked online. Everyone’s a winner, especially you. Now that’s value.

One thing we can agree on is do not, under any circumstances, invite those with a social media presence. Sure, they may have thousands of eager followers who hang on their every word and buy the most ridiculous skincare placebos for buckets of cash, but they don’t work in the industry, so you’d have to spend your entire evening curating some sort of explanation of the processes behind your wonderful brand. If they don’t know how exactly a Coffey Still works they’re beyond help.  Nah, just ignore them. This social media fad has no power and will never catch on anyway.

Having a great time!

They’re lovin’ it!

Step 4

That’s the guest list sorted. Now the easy bit the running of the evening. It’s a product launch; all your guests know the score and each other. Just have them turn up around 7pm and your work here is done. Better make sure they get some drinks, but this spirits game is an expensive business, so don’t go crazy. If you have a cheaper expression, offer them that instead. Bespoke cocktails are overrated. And bartenders all of a sudden seem to know their worth, so any Tom or Dick will do. Better still, just put an arbitrary cash tab behind the bar, that way your guests don’t even have to drink your brand. Remember, the slower the drinks flow, the longer the free bar lasts, the cooler this party looks. Simples.

Step 5

It is wise to avoid looking like you (or anyone for that matter) are in charge. Keep people guessing, it’ll give the guests something to talk about. Otherwise, you’ll spend the entire evening answering questions and putting out fires. It’s your job to start the fires. Look hot. Maybe get your flirt on. Alternatively, have that one member of your team you dislike the most wearing a branded tee (you can get these done super cheap online). That way they can act as question fodder for the annoyingly curious attendees, leaving you free to chat up the cool kids and the hotties.

Step 6

Do not even consider hiring a photographer. You want people to loosen up and let their hair down. Who wants that on record? No, in fact, don’t do anything that stands in the way of a boozy one. Think about instead confiscating people’s phones. We don’t want any embarrassing pictures online.

Step 7

If you really must, make some sort of speech to introduce the brand. But personally, I wouldn’t bother. Who likes to have their evening interrupted with a speech? This isn’t a wedding. Besides, these hermit-like journalists probably haven’t seen each other since yesterday’s launch, and will have plenty of catching up to do without you sticking your nose in. Just get drunk, get your team drunk, and have well-deserved blow-out. Lead by example. Better for everyone to talk about that totally epic party you had than to walk away sober.

Nate Brown

You want opinions? Nate Brown’s got ’em

Step 8

If things go according to plan, your guests will be so drunk that they’ll struggle to remember their own coats, so I wouldn’t bother with any takeaways or gift bags, they’ll only get left in the Uber.

Step 9

By which stage, you’ve achieved what you set out to do. You’ve unleashed your product to the world. Leave the journalists to do whatever it is journalists do, then wait for the orders to come rolling in. You’re a game changer. It’s time to enjoy yourself. Get your friends to come, just make sure they get there before the bar tab has run dry. Maybe even get on the old winking app and swipe right a few times. You’ll never look so glamorous to a stranger as when you’re hosting your own product launch. Guaranteed lay.

And there you have it. At least until next week’s launch.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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New Arrival of the Week: Mackmyra Äppelblom

Our new arrival this week is Mackmyra Äppelblom, a whisky from Sweden’s original single malt distillery which has been finished in a pretty rare cask. The clue is in the…

Our new arrival this week is Mackmyra Äppelblom, a whisky from Sweden’s original single malt distillery which has been finished in a pretty rare cask. The clue is in the name…

Back in 1999, Mackmyra was the first and only whisky distillery in Sweden. The story began with eight friends who all loved whisky but realised there were no Swedish producers. Naturally, they questioned why, and solved this problem by creating their own!

Today, Mackmyra is actually made up of two distilleries and continues to push boundaries. When it launched in 2002, distillation was carried out at the Mackmyra Bruk site, until 2011 when production was moved to the new Gravity Distillery at Gävle. This innovative feat of construction stands 35 metres tall and seven storeys high. As you might have guessed from the name, the distillery makes use of gravity throughout the whisky-making process. In 2017, the old distillery at Mackmyra Bruk was brought back up-and-running under the name Lab+Distillery, which explores slightly more experimental spirits.

The Gravity Distillery!

Mackmyra Äppelblom, the latest release, is a single malt aged in ex-bourbon and new American oak casks. Äppelblom, meaning apple blossom in Swedish, refers to the very special finishing process in oak casks which previously held Calvados from one of the region’s leading producers, Christian Drouin (Calvados is an apple or pear brandy from Normandy in France). The family-run company began in 1960, and the apples come from the Drouin family orchards, many of them harvested by hand. Mackmyra’s master blender Angela D’Orazio partnered with Christian Drouin and his son Guillaume to create the whisky, which is bottled at 46.1% ABV. It seems it was a match made in heaven; D’Orazio commented that “the choice of Calvados producer was easy. Christian Drouin creates absolutely fantastic Calvados, […] he has challenged French traditions in this area, and is therefore the perfect match for Mackmyra’s approach and our enjoyment of experimenting”.

Since Christian Drouin’s Calvados is aged for an exceptionally long time, a minimum of 20 years, there’s very little opportunity for the casks to be used a second time. For the first 20 years of the business, all of Drouin’s Calvados was ageing and not one bottle was sold. We’d say that was quite an investment, and clearly this isn’t a finish that we’ll see all that often! Guillaume Drouin, managing director at Calvados Christian Drouin stated that he was “happy to see the result of this innovative ageing using one of the very few casks we ship from our cellar”.

We present to you, Mackmyra Äppelblom!

The result is a lightly-spiced and fruity whisky, reminiscent of fresh green apples, just in time for spring! While wonderful served neat, you can also try Mackmyra Äppelblom alongside a warm apple dessert or even apple sorbet.

Tasting note for Mackmyra Äppelblom:

Nose: Toasted oak and orchard fruits galore, namely apple and pear with a hint of lemon, delicate floral notes with sweet vanilla and toffee.

Palate: Well-rounded fruity and spicy notes continue with the marriage of pear and citrus. Cedar wood emerges alongside aniseed, caramelised almonds, white pepper and ginger spiciness.

Finish: Spicy tones linger with gentle oak and zesty lemon and apple.

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Bruichladdich to build on-site maltings

As part of its sustainability efforts and commitment to investment in Islay, Bruichladdich has announced plans to build at an in-house maltings by 2023 and confirmed the purchase of a…

As part of its sustainability efforts and commitment to investment in Islay, Bruichladdich has announced plans to build at an in-house maltings by 2023 and confirmed the purchase of a farm, Shore House Croft.

One of Scotland’s most innovative distilleries, Bruichladdich will build a maltings, due to be operational by 2023. Plans are subject to change and planning permission, but the proposed facility will consist of Saladin boxes rather than floor maltings. It will be used predominantly to malt small batches, including barley grown on the island, organic grain from Elgin, and bere barley from Orkney. The aim is that it will provide about 50% of the distillery’s needs, and may expand to 100% in time.

Bruichladdich

Bruichladdich, local barley

Bruichladdich has been at the forefront of trialling different types of barley, as the innovative Bruichladdich Bere Barley bottling attests. To help with further experimentation, the distillery has purchased the 30 acre Shore House Croft where it can run barley trials. At the moment Bruichladdich uses 100% Scottish barley, with 42% of this grown on Islay.

The new maltings will enable this barley to be processed on the island rather than being sent to Inverness, cutting down on food, or rather booze, miles. It’s all part of the distillery’s drive to be more sustainable. The team is currently looking into using renewable energy sources such as tidal power, water turbine and biomass. It already uses electric vehicles and hot waste water to run the central heating.

“Running a business from an island makes us distinctly aware that our social, economic and environmental impact must be a positive one,” said CEO, Douglas Taylor.  

“We feel strongly about our responsibility to the island the people of Islay. In recent years, we have endeavoured to be more sustainable in our operations and more environmental in our actions. Some have been straightforward, like stopping using bottled water and introducing electric vehicles, or more complicated, like habitat protection, wildlife corridor agreements with landowners for barley growing and engineering a solution that reuses hot water-water from distillation.”

Douglas Taylor

Douglas Taylor!

Bruichladdich dates back to 1881 but has existed in its present form since 2001 when it was revived by Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin and Jim McEwan. It was acquired by Rémy Cointreau in 2012. The distillery produces one million litres of pure alcohol per year, which goes into a range of spirits including The Botanist gin, and the Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore whisky brands.

Expansion plans also include new warehouses.  There are four in the pipeline, meaning that all its casks can continue to be matured on Islay. You might be surprised to learn that the distillery is the largest private sector employer on the island. It employs 80 people (and a further 20 on the mainland), more than Diageo, and second only to the council. Good work, team laddy!

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The truth about the Master of Malt Luxury Trilogy…

This morning we revealed our incredible new range of innovative single malt Scotch whiskies with its accompanying Sven Nekyan film. Since then we’ve received plenty of feedback across social media….

This morning we revealed our incredible new range of innovative single malt Scotch whiskies with its accompanying Sven Nekyan film. Since then we’ve received plenty of feedback across social media. Now it’s time to come clean.

The Master of Malt Luxury Trilogy, comprising of the eminently covetable Limitless, Opulence and Kryptós expressions, will not be available to buy later this month. We’re extremely sorry for the inevitable disappointment this must cause you and whisky lovers around the world.

Fry

The whisky-craving masses just this morning.

As hard as it may be to believe, for example, we’re not going to release a whisky with a palate that’s “Full and buoyant, akin to a private party submarine drifting beside the Lucayan Archipelago on the way to a festival on the island of Great Exuma”.

In fact, isn’t Sven Nekyan an anagram of Kenny Evans, the Master of Malt Digital Media Manager?! We’re sure some aspects of these whiskies “like no others” are giving us deja-vu, too…

All we can say for sure is that Limitless, Opulence and Kryptós are as real as Handsome Clive’s Ginder profile.

(And that we had a lot of fun in the lead up to 1 April! Huge thanks to the good people at The Warren in Tunbridge Wells where the ‘Opulence’ scene was shot.)

The gang hard at work. [left to right: Jack (procurement buyer), Laura (campaign exec), Jake (campaign manager), Kenny (digital media manager) and Phillippa (digital creative planner)]

Tom Ball, goods in supervisor and part-time birdperson

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Master of Malt Dram Club – April 2019

The customary shenanigans of the 1st of April have no place here. This is all about stone cold facts. This is what our Master of Malt Dram Club members will…

The customary shenanigans of the 1st of April have no place here. This is all about stone cold facts. This is what our Master of Malt Dram Club members will be receiving this month!

Look, we know everyone is going to be wary of everything posted on the internet today. We’ve all looked at Twitter this morning and seen some brand doing something silly. We’ve all gone on Facebook and seen that one relative posting something that barely counts as a prank followed by countless laughing-face emoji. No horseplay here, though. Not with your monthly update about what deliciousness you’re going to find in your Master of Malt Dram Club Tasting Sets.

So, here’s what to expect in April’s Dram Club Tasting Sets…

Dram Club Whisky for April:

Dram Club Premium Whisky for April:

Dram Club Old & Rare Whisky for April:

Dram Club Gin for April:

Dram Club Rum for April:

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Introducing the Master of Malt Luxury Trilogy

It’s with enormous pride that we’re able to bring you an incredible new range of single malt Scotch whiskies, like no others that have come before. Meet the Master of…

It’s with enormous pride that we’re able to bring you an incredible new range of single malt Scotch whiskies, like no others that have come before. Meet the Master of Malt Luxury Trilogy.

*UPDATE: It’s time for you all to know the truth about Limitless, Opulence and Kryptós.*

Today represents the start of a journey, one that will lead drinkers to new worlds and new possibilities. Leave all your preconceptions at the door and join us…

It was important to us to bring the concept for each of these new whiskies to life and to convey its meaning in a coherent manner. By working with acclaimed filmmaker Sven Nekyan, we hope you’ll agree the video above does just that and more.

The Master of Malt Luxury Trilogy is made up of three innovative whiskies, each representing a different story. Be brave and invite a little glamour, or perhaps some mystery, into your life and into your glass.

Limitless

Your destiny is in your hands. Be who you want to be in your limitless life with this majestic single malt Scotch whisky. Aged patiently in carefully selected American and European oak casks for at least three long years, this expression is beautifully presented in a decanter bottle complete with sterling silver stopper and matching wings. We leave it up to you to embrace the infinite.

Opulence

Eau de Vie de grain vieillie en fûts de chêne. Pour Homme ou Femme. Or simply for everyone, actually. Everyone to whom style and grace speaks. Adroitly assembled for this very purpose by a perfumier par excellence and leading aromachologists, this is an expression that’s certainly not to be missed. You only get one life, make it opulent.

Kryptós

The most enigmatic expression of all is saved until last. The excitement in life is often in the unknown, thusly we offer fewer details for Kryptós than for any of the rest of the Luxury Trilogy. The elegant, opaque bottle, adorned with its greek name (meaning ‘secret’), contains a liquid inspired by the science of cryptography. Based on an incredibly ancient recipe that’s been reinterpreted for a thoroughly modern experience, we’re committed to not revealing any more information about this whisky until this time next year.

So there you have it. Three extraordinary whiskies borne of the desires of now. Although currently produced through unprecedented exclusive partnerships with the very finest distilleries, within a couple of years the already celebrated Master of Malt Luxury Trilogy will become the first releases from our cutting-edge 3D-printed distillery.

Limitless, Opulence and Kryptós will be available to purchase later this month. You will, of course, also be able to experience these whiskies digitally through our multi-sensory Joculus Snift eDramming headset.

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The winner of our Yellow Spot competition is…

To celebrate all things Emerald Isle this month, we offered you the chance to win some outstanding and rare Irish whiskey. The competition has now concluded, and we have a…

To celebrate all things Emerald Isle this month, we offered you the chance to win some outstanding and rare Irish whiskey. The competition has now concluded, and we have a victor.

You might remember way back about a fortnight ago when it was St. Patrick’s Day that there was a Master of Malt competition taking place to give away some sensational Irish whiskey.

The rules were simple: snap up a bottle from the sublime Spot range before 23:59 Fri 22 March and you would be automagically be entered into the draw (we also offered you £5 off Yellow Spot, because we’re just that lovely).

The prize? Two incredible bottles of money-can’t-buy Yellow Spot whisky. Two very rare bottles. The only two there are, in fact. That’s how delightfully rare this whisky is.

Now the competition has ended and we’re delighted to announce that both bottles are on their way to one extremely lucky person.

The winner of our Yellow Spot St. Patrick’s Day 2019 Competition is…

Toby Coe, from Exeter!

Yellow Spot St. Patrick’s Day 2019

The two bottles of Yellow Spot were drawn from a single cask selected by master blender Billy Leighton

Thank you to all who entered, and massive congratulations to our winner. Don’t be afraid to invite your favourite online retailer round for a dram or two every now and again…

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The Nightcap: 29 March

Carbon neutral distilleries, robots that scare birds away from grapes and a farewell to vintages. It’s a particularly varied week for The Nightcap. You’re tuned in to The Nightcap, Master…

Carbon neutral distilleries, robots that scare birds away from grapes and a farewell to vintages. It’s a particularly varied week for The Nightcap.

You’re tuned in to The Nightcap, Master of Malt’s round-up of booze news stories from the week that was. If there was a way to make sound happen automatically when you open The Nightcap in a way that wasn’t completely terrifying (it scares us every time a website just randomly decides that we’d love for a video to make noise right away, or that we just have to hear this royalty-free classical music while reading about something on the internet), you bet it would be one of those cool ‘dun-dun-dun-da-daaaah’ type melodies that all good news shows on TV have.

So, what have been the happenings on the MoM Blog this week? Adam got a taste for new releases, firstly showing off HYKE Gin, and then even more lip-smacking new arrivals to MoM Towers. Annie got out a magnifying glass to check out what could be the smallest gin distilleries in Britain, and followed it up with a look at the rise of cocktail-specific booze. Henry mixed up a French 75 for Cocktail of the Week, and met with Glenlivet’s Alan Winchester to taste a 50 year old single malt. Jess headed to London for a night of perfume and cocktails with Theodore Pictish Gin. Kristy was lucky enough to try something completely new from Tobermory – a gin!

More news? More news!

Balblair

No more vintages: the new Balblair core range

Balblair replaces vintages with age-statement whiskies

Some of us thought we’d never see the day. Age statements instead of vintages at Balblair? That’s the news this week from the Highland distillery, who confirmed a departure from the distillery’s ‘vintage-only’ approach in favour of four age-statement expressions. The new collection of single malt Scotch whiskies will be available in the UK this month and globally from April 2019. It consists of: a 12 Year Old, matured in American oak ex-bourbon and double-fired American oak casks; a 15 Year Old, aged initially in American oak ex-bourbon casks, followed by first-fill Spanish oak butts; an 18 Year Old, matured initially in American oak ex-bourbon casks, followed by first-fill Spanish oak butts; and finally, the standout in the range is a 25 Year Old that was initially aged in American oak ex-bourbon casks then re-casked in Spanish oak oloroso casks. John MacDonald, Distillery Manager at Balblair, said: “As one of the oldest working distilleries in the Scottish Highlands, Balblair has a long and rich history of crafting premium single malt Scotch whisky. Our new collection is intrinsically linked to our heritage and is testament to the place and the people behind our whisky, while being emblematic of our ‘True Highland Spirit’.” We’re sad to see the vintages go, but we’re looking forward to seeing what’s to come from this new era for Balblair – and tasting those age-statement whiskies!

don julio

The ‘world’s first’ Añejo Claro Tequila in a White Negroni

Don Julio brings ‘world’s first’ Añejo Claro Tequila to the UK

As everyone who is studying for the WSET Level 2 knows, or should know, Tequila Añejo is aged for a minimum of one year in oak so that it takes on colour and flavour from the cask. Well, that was true up until now because Don Julio Tequila has just launched an Añejo Claro into the UK market. It is aged for 18 months in American oak barrels but then filtered, rather as with some white rums, so you have all (or most) of the flavour of an aged spirit but without that pesky colour. It’s called Don Julio 70 and, coincidentally, will retail for around £70. Richard Larkin, head of Diageo Reserve GB, said: “This first-of-its-kind Tequila showcases the talent and skill of master distiller Enrique de Colsa who has created an Añejo Claro to challenge conventions and support the growth of super premium tequila in the UK. It’s a masterpiece of innovation.” First of its kind? Masterpiece of innovation? We’re always a bit sceptical when we hear that. So we did some investigating. It’s certainly new to the UK, although it sounds very much like a product called Hornitos Cristalino, also a filtered colourless Añejo. The folks at Diageo got in touch to tell us Don Julio 70 was first conceived in 2011 though, so it does indeed have claim to the ‘first-ever’ Añejo Claro title after all.*

ailsa bay

The new technological tipple

Ailsa Bay unveils blockchain whisky bottle

News that will please whisky geeks and, well, geeks in general came from William Grant & Sons this week, which announced the launch of a new Ailsa Bay expression that features blockchain technology. For those of you scratching your head, blockchain is a list of registers, or blocks, that contain information about the previous block and transaction data between the two blocks. Essentially, it acts as an open ledger to track authenticity and (in this case) allows shoppers to digitally track the whisky’s production journey. This new whisky features data acquired from William Grant & Sons including cask types, filling dates and bottling dates. The brand’s use of blockchain captures the full distilling and manufacturing process, allowing customers to track their whisky from source to store and trace the origins of their whisky via a web experience, which is individually tailored to each bottle. All you have to do is scan the QR code and you’ll be presented with a visual history of your whisky. William Grant & Sons partnered with specialist blockchain technology company Arc-Net to create this bottling. Dominic Parfitt, head of E-commerce at William Grant & Sons, said: “Innovation is a key part of our business. We’re constantly looking to evolve our offering and learn new things in order to push the boundaries within the drinks industry. We’re doing something now that we hope will set the bar for the future experience of spirits, and we look forward to seeing how other brands follow suit as innovation within the industry continues to develop in the next few years.”

greensand ridge

Greensand Ridge becomes carbon neutral

Kent-based Greensand Ridge is the UK’s first carbon neutral distillery

It’s 2019, and with environmental concerns becoming more pressing than ever we are happy to announce that craft distillery Greensand Ridge in Kent has become carbon neutral. It’s the first distillery in the UK to achieve this milestone, so we’ll certainly raise a glass to that! When the distillery opened in 2015, it already had the goal of having as little impact on the environment as possible, and it’s taken the last four years of hard work to reach this point. It uses surplus produce from local farmers that supermarkets won’t take, which is why you’ll see a fair few fruit spirits from the distillery such as Apple Brandy or Raspberry Ghost. With a zero target for chemical use and non-recyclable waste, and powered by 100% renewable electricity, Greensand Ridge truly has its eye on the sustainability ball. Greensand Ridge founder and distiller Will Edge says that becoming carbon neutral “doesn’t change our spirits, but it’s a statement of what is important to us as a new and growing business.” If you happen to be in the area, you can visit the distillery and even make your own bottle of carbon-neutral gin! Let’s hope more follow suit.

patron

Best of luck and many thanks to Dave Wilson!

Patrón global president and chief operations officer Dave Wilson to retire

Bacardi Limited has announced this week that Dave Wilson, global president and chief operations officer of Patrón Spirits International and the Patrón Spirits Company, will retire as of 1 April 2019. During his tenure, Wilson helped establish Patrón, which was acquired by Bacardi Limited in April 2018, in the ultra-premium Tequila category and to become one of the most recognisable agave-spirit brands around. With Wilson’s retirement, Pete Carr, president of Bacardi North America, will now lead both the Bacardi and Patrón organisations for North America, while Wilson will continue as a senior adviser to Patrón. Mahesh Madhavan, CEO of Bacardi Limited commented: “During his tremendously successful 40-year career, Dave has made an everlasting imprint in the spirits industry driving pioneering marketing, world-class operations, and innovative environmental programs. On behalf of Bacardi and our newest colleagues from Patrón, I thank Dave for his contributions to the industry and for supporting the union of two incredible organisations that are Bacardi and Patrón.” Best of luck in all future endeavours, Mr. Wilson!

valour

Is there anything more fashionable these days than gin?

Fashion designer partners with start-up distillery to launch bespoke designer gin

It seems that fashion and booze go hand-in-hand these days. Fashion designer Scott Henshall has partnered with Cooper King Distillery as part of Henshall’s new ‘Valour’ brand which launched during York Fashion Week. Don’t worry, we didn’t forget any prefixes, this is Yorkshire’s very own fashion week. Henshall, who has worked with the likes of Victoria Beckham and Paris Hilton, became, at the age of 22, the youngest designer to show during London Fashion Week. Originally from York, he wanted to celebrate his 21st year in the fashion industry by going back to his roots. The Valour range urges people to ‘be courageous in all you do’. Co-founder of Cooper King Distillery Chris Jaume said that it had been great fun working on “a unique gin which articulates the luxury and courage which Scott’s Valour brand signifies”. Among the botanicals is local honey from Cooper King’s own beehives, and lemongrass. With at least 1% of all proceeds going to the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust as part of Cooper King Distillery’s 1% for the Planet initiative, the gin not only looks fabulous and tastes amazing, but even has a positive environmental impact. If that’s not fashionable, we don’t know what is.

luxardo

Gareth Franklin, Luxardo global brand ambassador

Luxardo launches ‘Modify This’ masterclass tour

Italian drinks company Luxardo is taking its products on the road with a series of guest nights and masterclasses at bars around the country. The initiative is called ‘Modify This!’ and it’s fronted by global brand ambassador Gareth ‘G’ Franklin. The journey begins in Wales at Pennyroyal in Cardiff on 10 April and will take him all over this great country of ours. The point is to encourage bartenders and customers alike to look at liqueurs like Luxardo Maraschino or Bitter Bianco as the headliner rather than the supporting act. Mr G said: “Liqueurs are by far the largest and most diverse category out there, but they are often seen as a lower priority on the list and in terms of the location where they are placed at the bar. I want to change this. With fresh thinking, bartenders will re-discover the benefits, authentic style and distinctive flavours of liqueurs, and how they can transform popular, simple spirit plus mixer drinks into original cocktails.” To make his point, G has come up with a special serve called the Iceberg Slim consisting of Luxardo Bitter Bianco mixed with tonic, lemon essential oils and fresh dill. Sounds like a definite contender for Cocktail of the Week.

Yeah, you can chuck those out

Gin: from mother’s ruin to Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday, but on the same day the clocks go forward meaning less time in bed. What’s that all about? Better make sure you have a good present for the mother in your life to make up for that extra hour awake. According to the WSTA, gin is now the gift du jour on Mothering Sunday. Figures released yesterday show that in the last two years gin sales spiked in March. In the first quarter of 2017, 6.4m bottles of gin were sold in UK shops, and of that 2.6m, 41%, were sold in March. Last year was even stronger, with 9m bottles of gin sold in January, February and March of which 4.7 million, 52%, of those were sold in the run up to Mother’s Day. Marcus Pickering of Pickering’s Gin whose company offers a personalised gin wrapping service said: “After years of giving flowers and chocolates we have discovered what mums really want is gin”.

bombay sapphire

Bombay Sapphire Limited Edition English Estate is a summer-inspired gin

Bombay Sapphire launches new gin inspired by the English countryside

Bombay Sapphire announced this week that it planned to release more gin-based deliciousness in the form of Bombay Sapphire Limited Edition: English Estate. It’s a gin inspired by the landscape surrounding the brand’s home at Laverstoke Mill in the Hampshire countryside. The first in a series of limited editions, Bombay Sapphire English Estate was made with an infusion of three new botanicals: Pennyroyal mint, rosehip and toasted hazelnut to create a summery profile. But be warned, this gin will only be available for 12 months from April 2019. Two bespoke cocktails were created to showcase this drink, ‘The Secret English Garden’, which blends English Estate gin with Fever-Tree ginger ale and cloudy apple juice served long with lemon, apple, thyme and ice, as well as a twist on the classic G&T, combining English Estate gin with Fever-Tree tonic over ice, garnished with mint and a lemon wedge. Ivano Tonutti, Bombay Sapphire master of botanicals, commented on the expression: “Each botanical in our gin is carefully balanced to create a smooth and complex taste and the new Bombay Sapphire English Estate is no different. Hand-selected from the English countryside and drawing creative inspiration from the Hampshire home of Bombay Sapphire, the additional botanicals produce a summer-inspired vibrant gin.”

bird that hates grapes

It’s saying: “I’m gonna eat your graaaaaaaapes!”

And finally… Drone to deter birds from stealing wine grapes

Grapes have made a few enemies over the years. Phylloxera, for example. One grape enemy you may be more familiar with is birds. Birds have trouble resisting those little globes of deliciousness, and while making sure birds enjoy a balanced breakfast is a noble cause, we can all agree that this should not come at the cost of wine. In a report from The HeraldDarren Fahey, the viticulture development officer for NSW Department of Primary Industries, estimated that birds cause $300 million-a-year crop and winegrape losses in Australia. That’s where Zi Wang, a Sydney University School of Aerospace Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering PhD candidate, comes in with his plan to use a drone to scare away the hungry birds from Australian vineyards. The drone, which is being trialled in Hunter valley, Hilltops and Orange vineyards, can be piloted remotely, and the aim is to make it so the system can detect birds and automatically launch into action. It can emit mimicked bird distress calls, and even has a dummy crow attached to it, to make it look like the drone has just caught it. Perhaps if Heathrow starts having drone problems again, the way to defeat them is to send out a rival drone with another drone attached to it…

That’s it for The Nightcap this week, folks. Have a good one!

*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Hornitos Cristalino was first to market – apologies, folks. 

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First taste of Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection

We were given a very special personal tasting with master distiller Alan Winchester ahead of the release of Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection Vintage 1967, the distillery’s new $25,000 expression….

We were given a very special personal tasting with master distiller Alan Winchester ahead of the release of Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection Vintage 1967, the distillery’s new $25,000 expression.

The Glenlivet was still in family hands when the youngest component in this 50 year old whisky was distilled in 1967. It was run by the great Captain Bill Smith Grant, descendent of distillery founder George Smith. In those days the stills would have been direct-fired by coal, and yet, according to the current master blender, Alan Winchester, the spirit has the same character today.

Alan Winchester, Glenlivet

Alan Winchester with very old cask

We met in the Punch Room at the London Edition Hotel along with Bethan Gray, the noted furniture designer, who has created a spectacular box for this very special Glenlivet. It’s inspired by the distillery, the landscape and her father, who was raised in the Cairngorms. It features stained maple wood inlaid with copper representing the charred casks and the stills, and mother of pearl, a nod to the freshwater mussels in the Spey. The whisky is housed in a hand-blown bottle by Brodie Nairn. It’s a work of such extraordinary craftsmanship that I didn’t dare touch it.

I felt the same about the contents; I was reluctant to risk spilling a precious drop (only 150 bottles have been filled) until Winchester picked his glass first and began describing it to me: “The whisky started life in European oak but spent most of its life in Amerian oak casks, it was then taken out and put in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, that‘s why there’s still so much distillery character,” he said.

On the nose I could see what he meant. It was dominated by sweet peachy fruit followed by notes of apricot jam and toffee. On the palate there’s dark chocolate and orange peel. It’s very smooth despite the high alcohol. The finish has toffee, coconut, and “banoffee pie”, according to Winchester.

He went on to say, “at 48% ABV, it’s kept a lot of strength in maturation, and retained lots of Glenlivet flavours. It’s full of sweetness and has not been dominated by European oak”. Adding water brought out aromatic floral notes and spices like cardamom. Winchester put it more poetically: “it’s like heather after a shower of rain, everything is fragrant.” He reckoned the release is “in keeping with the fruity floral Glenlivet style. This is how it was produced a few generations ago and this is how we are producing it today, they were right and we’ve followed them. Good news!”

Glenlivet

Ah! the smell of heather after rain

Winchester is a native of Morayshire. His father had a farm that supplied barley for Glenfarclas and indeed, that is where Winchester got his start in whisky. He moved to Glenlivet in 1979 and became master distiller a short 40 years later in 2009. It’s an immense responsibility. “Glenlivet is the holder of the Speyside style,” Winchester said, “and it’s been handed over to me. You can change everything if you like but you must make sure the whisky doesn’t change.” When this whisky was distilled two generations back, the master distiller was Bob Arthur. It was a more formal time, “you called the manager Mister, it’s all Christian names now,” he said, with perhaps a tinge of regret.

After a period with Seagram, the distillery was bought by Pernod Ricard in 2000. Production at Glenlivet has been ramped up in recent years. “Glenlivet has been expanded three times in my career, the last two I was heavily involved in,” Winchester told me. “This has given us more capacity to meet the demands of anticipated growth”. But, he said, “though it’s a large distillery we speak about things in terms of craft.”

This Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection Vintage 1967 (which will be released later in spring at $25,000 per bottle!) is part of the Winchester Collection of rare whiskies named, of course, after the master distiller himself, who is due to retire soon. I asked Winchester about retirement but he corrected me: “semi-retirement.” He was cagey about who was lined up to replace him (“there’s a few folk being groomed to take over, I hope they’re jostling for position”). He seems reluctant to leave (and who can blame him?), but soon the responsibility for this famous name will be in someone else’s hands.

 

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