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Master of Malt Blog

Springtime treats for Mother’s Day

Struggling for Mother’s Day presents? In need to replace the winter warmers with refreshing, spring-tastic booze? Well then you’ve come to the right place. With Mother’s Day fast approaching (it’s…

Struggling for Mother’s Day presents? In need to replace the winter warmers with refreshing, spring-tastic booze? Well then you’ve come to the right place.

With Mother’s Day fast approaching (it’s Sunday 31st) and spring very much in full flow, it’s the perfect time to indulge in some seasonal spirits and splash out on great gift ideas.

Fortunately for you, we’re on hand to give you a, err… hand. Not only have we put together a show-stopping list of perfect presents on our Mother’s Day gifts page (where you’ll find gin gifts, whisky gifts, tasting sets, gift sets and gift vouchers), but we’ve also picked out a super selection of spring-themed tipples that we reckon you and the matriarch in your family would most certainly love to sip on a warm evening.

So, what are you waiting for? Brilliant booze is just a scroll away…

The Epicurean

One of Douglas Laing’s Remarkable Regional Malts, The Epicurean is an expression created to highlight the best of Scotland’s Lowland region and tell the story of a 1930s Glaswegian maverick, who is pictured on the bottle’s label. A small-batch bottling that’s presented without any additional colouring or chill-filtration, The Epicurean is another winner from the ever-reliable Douglas Laing that’s delicious neat or in a variety of serves.

What does it taste like?:

Apples, pears and white grapes, chocolate fudge, cloudy lemonade, honey’d barley and a thin layer of thyme honey are joined by notes of elegant lemongrass, grist and cereals, as well as a pinch of pepper.

Spring-tastic serve: The Epicurean Horse’s Neck

Douglas Laing created this cocktail to highlight all that’s great about The Epicurean’s light, sweet and grassy profile. To make, simply add ice, lemon peel and 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters to a tall glass. Then add 25ml of The Epicurean and top with a good quality ginger ale. Stir and then serve, while preparing yourself for any number of Godfather-based dad jokes.

Whitley Neill Rhubarb & Ginger Gin

Who doesn’t look at this beauty and immediately think of sprucing up their G&Ts or creating any number of delicious cocktails? You may know Whitley Neill as the English gin with an exotic, African inspired flavour profile, but the brand has looked closer to home for its inspiration with this expression. This Rhubarb & Ginger Gin pairs two rustic and distinctive flavours in delicious gin-tastic harmony, to the extent that the World Gin Awards 2018 felt it deserved a silver medal in the Flavoured Gin category!

What does it taste like?:

Subtly tart with clear rhubarb influence. A twist of orange sweetness and herbaceous coriander brings balance to the palate.

Spring-tastic serve: The Rhubarb and Ginger Spritz

This cocktail is spring and simplicity in a glass, metaphorically of course. To make, simply take a highball glass and fill with cubed ice. Pour 50ml Whitley Neill Rhubarb and Ginger Gin and 15ml of lemon juice into the glass and give it a quick stir to infuse. Top with a good quality tonic water, then garnish with fresh orange slices and serve to your guests who are no doubt picking flowers or birthing lambs or whatever people do when it’s springtime.

Glenmorangie Allta Private Edition

A rich, fruity and intriguing expression, Allta (Scots Gaelic for ‘wild’) was released as part of the pioneering Private Edition series. It’s the very first whisky to be created from a bespoke strain of wild yeast growing on local barley and the resulting spirit was matured in ex-bourbon barrels. Classic Glenmorangie style meets experimental flair. What’s not to love?

What does it taste like?:

Rounded, with biscuity, yeasty tones, floral notes of carnations, vanilla, butter candy, soft raisins, gentle mint and sweet mandarin orange.

Spring-tastic serve: The Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is delicious and simple. What more could you ask from a cocktail? To create, start by putting a level teaspoon of brown sugar into an Old Fashioned glass. Then add a splash of hot water and a two dashes of Fee Brothers Orange bitters. Stir vigorously so that the sugar dissolves, then add 80ml of Glenmorangie Allta Private Edition. Stir a bit more, add ice cubes, stir a bit more and garnish with a piece of orange peel. Serve while trying to keep the yeast-based facts to a minimum. It’s not much of a crowd pleaser for those who aren’t whisky geeks like us.

Issan (That Boutique-y Rum Company)

For those who want an introduction to the superb category of cane juice spirits, this complex and characterful Rhum Agricole should do the trick. It was sourced by That Boutique-y Rum Company from Issan, a Thai distillery that places a pleasing emphasis on sustainability and community. The spirit is made with the juice from red sugar cane, which is distilled in the copper pot still that you see on the label. Intriguing, tasty and perfect for enjoying in cocktails or on its own, this is one for the adventurous types.

What does it taste like?:

Grassy and herbaceous, with green olive water, damp hay, tinned sweetcorn water, aromatic vanilla, butterscotch, dark berries and a hint of honey blossom lingers.

Spring-tastic serve: Neat

It’s really worth trying this one on its own before you indulge yourself in the wonderful world of Agricole rum cocktails. The connoisseurs of this style of spirit will be rewarded with the kind of profile they adore, while newcomers will get a chance to experience the delights of its unique character in all of its naked glory.

Glenkinchie 12 Year Old

The flagship expression from the Glenkinchie distillery and a sublime introduction to the Lowland region, Glenkinchie 12 Year Old was declared the winner of the Best Lowland Single Malt at the World Whiskies Awards 2016 for good reason. Full of light, sweet and creamy notes, this is one to have fun and play with in a number of serves.

What does it taste like?:

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

Spring-tastic serve: The Whisky Sour

It’s a classic for good reason, the Whisky Sour. To create your own barnstorming edition, you’ll need to add 45ml of Glenkinchie 12 Year Old, 25ml of fresh lemon juice and 25ml of simple syrup (if you want to make your own, it’s one part water to one part sugar) to a shaker filled with ice. Then shake the mix and strain it into a tumbler filled with fresh ice. Finally, garnish with a single Luxardo Maraschino Cherry and a lemon wedge, then serve and raise a glass to whisky, springtime, whisky, Mother’s Day and great whisky!

Monkey 47 Dry Gin

An ever-popular, wonderfully unusual and utterly delicious gin from the Black Forest in Germany, Monkey 47 contains a total of 47 botanicals (actual monkeys, or indeed any member of the band The Monkeys aren’t one them, relax) and was bottled at a healthy 47%. No prizes for guessing why it’s called Monkey 47 (also presumably because monkeys rock). Among the 47 botanicals are the likes of Acorus calamus, almond, angelica, bitter orange, blackberry, cardamom, cassia, chamomile, cinnamon, lemon verbena, cloves, coriander, cranberries, cubeb, dog rose, elderflower, ginger, Grains of Paradise, hawthorn berries, hibiscus abelmoschus, hibiscus syriacus… you get the idea.

What does it taste like?:

Fresh grassy citrus, sweet liquorice, plenty of spice, juicy berries, cardamom, pine and herbal juniper.

Spring-tastic serve: Schwarzendorff Martini

A brilliant Black Forest-inspired twist on the universally adored cocktail, the Schwarzendorff Martini couldn’t be simpler to make. All you have to do is combine 45ml of Monkey 47 Dry Gin, 45ml of Schatzel Riesling 2016, two dashes of Angostura Orange Bitters and a little ice together in a cocktail shaker. Shake this mix and then strain it into a chilled Martini glass. Garnish with lemon zest and a dash of cinnamon, and have a few monkey-based puns ready for when you serve. If you don’t do it, somebody else will.

Cazcabel Honey Liqueur

One for the mothers or mother figures that are sweeter than sugar, this superb honey liqueur from Cazcabel was made using its Blanco Tequila as a base and honey sourced from local bees. An individual, distinctive liqueur, this is a bold and crowd-pleasing tipple that’s simply begging to be put to good use in a cocktail.

What does it taste like?:

Rich, sweet and full of honey and caramel with earthy and smoky notes.

Spring-tastic serve: Honey I’ve Made Margaritas!

A refreshing, warm and street treat, you can make this take on the classic Margarita by combining 55ml of Cazcabel Honey Liqueur, 20ml of fresh lemon juice and 40ml of Gran Marnier in a cocktail shaker. Stir vigorously then add a cup of ice and shake for 10 seconds. Pour straight into a Margarita glass, garnish with a lemon wheel and serve. If you want a salted rim, then before you make the cocktail you’ll need to take a lemon wedge and coat the rim of the glass. Then dip it in margarita salt, rotating until coated.

Compass Box Hedonism

Smooth, creamy and really very tasty, Hedonism represents Compass Box trying to create a decedent dram, as the name suggests. It’s a blended grain whisky featuring liquid (depending on batch variation) from Cameronbridge, Carsebridge, Cambus, Invergordon, Port Dundas or Dumbarton that was matured in 100% first-fill American oak barrels or rejuvenated American oak hogsheads. Equally delicious neat or in a multitude of classic cocktails, Hedonism is also amazing with a caramel-based dessert.

What does it taste like?:

Fraises des bois, sponge cake, red pepper, black cherry, milk chocolate, toasted oak and sweet spices with some cereal notes.

Spring-tastic serve: The Rob Roy

In this delightful Rob Roy the vanilla-rich Hedonism mirrors the bourbon-based profile of the cocktail’s inspiration, The Manhattan. To create, stir 50ml of Compass Box Hedonism with 20ml Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, a dash of Angostura Bitters and ice. Then strain and serve up in a coupe glass garnished with a Luxardo Maraschino Cherry before toasting your mother/mother figure because they’ve almost certainly earned it!

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Have a nose around Aberfeldy Distillery!

We paid a visit to Highland distillery Aberfeldy – AKA the Home of Dewar’s – for a good old explore. The results? Six videos, so you can check it out,…

We paid a visit to Highland distillery Aberfeldy – AKA the Home of Dewar’s – for a good old explore. The results? Six videos, so you can check it out, too!

Aberfeldy is a small town of about 2,000 people. It’s huddled in a valley near the source of the River Tay, and sits on a crossroads. Walking through, it feels very typically Scottish – it’s got a pretty high street, people are friendly and you don’t have to go very far to find a decent pub. Also, it’s got a distillery.

Aberfeldy Distillery is unusual though, mostly because it’s probably better known as the Home of Dewar’s, the blended Scotch brand. At least on the tourist trail anyway. From the start, the branding is all Dewar’s. And actually, it’s refreshing to find a single malt distillery celebrating the blend it is such an integral part of. There’s none of that ‘single malts are just better’ nonsense here.

Aberfeldy Distillery Dewar's

#HomeofDewars – and Aberfeldy

“Aberfeldy has a great, rich history and story centred round the Dewar’s family,” said Matthew Cordiner, Dewar’s Aberfeldy distillery brand ambassador. And that’s the real ethos of the distillery – it doesn’t just celebrate the whisky (although of course it does), but there’s a huge focus on the family and the history behind it all, too. And there are stories galore.

After stopping by the Pitilie Burn (gotta have a decent water source), we check out the milling. And, of course, there’s a classic Porteus malt mill! On-site maltings stopped in the 1960s, so pre-malted Concerto barley is now delivered by lorry.

Then it’s tun time. The vessel was only designed to handle 6.5 tonnes of grist, but the team manages to produce 7.5 tonnes each time. “We’re actually over-producing,” Cordiner detailed. In total, Aberfeldy makes 3.4 million litres of spirit a year.

Fermentation is really where you start to see the Aberfeldy, as we know it, come to life. The long 72-hour average fermentation brings out that sweet, honeyed note. The distillery has eight larch washbacks and two stainless steel ones, installed three years ago.

Time to check out the stillhouse! Aberfeldy has two wash and two spirit stills, with two shell and tube condensers. In 2014, the distillery switched over to a biomass boiler.

Aberfeldy doesn’t really mature on-site, but there are some casks you can check out…

And voilà! If that’s given you a taste for Aberfeldy, you can visit the Home of Dewar’s all year round!

Matt and our ace video team!

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New Arrival of the Week: Graham’s Blend No. 5 Port

For generations mankind has searched for something as refreshingly satisfying as a G&T. Now, thanks to a new release from Graham’s, the quest might just be over. White Port and…

For generations mankind has searched for something as refreshingly satisfying as a G&T. Now, thanks to a new release from Graham’s, the quest might just be over.

White Port and tonic is the drink of Oporto. The Portuguese take it as seriously as the Spanish take their Gin Tonicas. Nothing tastes better on a hot September evening in a bar overlooking the Douro river. It hasn’t quite caught on in Britain (though we did used to drink something similar, Port and lemonade, which functioned as sort of proto-alcopop in the 1950s and ‘60s). So I’ve been on a mission to convert people. I made some the other day for my parents with an old bottle of Royal Oporto White Port I found under the stairs. Judging by the bottle size, 700ml, my parents must have brought it back from holiday some time before Portugal joined the EU (1986). I’m not sure what it tasted like when it was young, but after 30 years in the cupboard it reminded me a little of Noilly Prat, ie. delicious with tonic, ice and a slice of orange.

White Port is made in a similar way to the better known red stuff. The grapes are allowed to ferment a little and then brandy is added which kills the yeast and preserves sugar. The resulting wine is usually kept in wood for at least a couple of years and sometimes for much longer. White Port usually has an oxidative edge (even before ageing in a warm Buckinghamshire drinks cupboard).

Graham’s no. 5 – “intensely aromatic”

Graham’s, however, has done something a little different for this new release. Rather than the cocktail of grape varieties normally used, only two go into Graham’s Blend No. 5, Malvasia Fina and Moscatel Gallega. The latter is intensely aromatic, as anyone who has drunk Moscato d’Asti will know. The grapes are cold-fermented and the resulting wine is released young so rather than the savoury woody notes you normally find in white Port, it’s all about floral, honey and citrus flavours. In fact, it is so intense that it tastes rather like a botanically-flavoured wine.

We think those bold flavours will appeal to gin drinkers. Just in case there’s any doubt who this is aimed at, take a look at the packaging. Looks rather like a craft gin, doesn’t it? No surprise then that it tastes great with a plain tonic water, though very different to a standard white Port. But with it’s natural sweetness and bold aromatics, I thought Graham’s Blend No. 5 tasted even better just with fizzy water and a slice of pink grapefruit. And at only 19% ABV it makes a great lighter alternative to gin.

Quinta do Gricha credit Misti Traya

A good place to drink a white Port & tonic (credit Misti Traya)

But instead of drinking it as an alternative to gin, why not have it with? I’m thinking of a Martini made with a heavy juniper-led gin like Tanqueray No. Ten freshened up with a bit of Graham’s No. 5 instead of vermouth. As we said back in January, fortified wines should be the secret weapon in your cocktail arsenal.

 

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You can now snap up delicious boozes using Apple Pay!

Big news, folks! As of today, you can use Apple Pay to complete your orders on Master of Malt. Which means it’s even easier to stock your drinks cabinet with…

Big news, folks! As of today, you can use Apple Pay to complete your orders on Master of Malt. Which means it’s even easier to stock your drinks cabinet with treats!

Browsing Master of Malt in Safari on an iPhone right now? A Mac? Or even an iPad? If so, you can forget all the faffing associated with typing your address and payment details at the checkout. Simply fingerprint/facial recognition it and go!

Apple Pay MoM

Simples

We’re super-excited about this development. We know more and more of you use your smartphones to check us out, research what’s new in the world of drinks, and read up on developments on the blog. As such, we wanted to make it even easier to actually get those bottles you’re eyeing up from your basket to your booze cabinet!

If you’ve got Apple Wallet set up of your device, you’re good to go. If not, if you’ve got an Apple gadget and you want in, there’s a little bit of admin involved to add your payment card to your Apple account. But don’t worry, we’ll wait.

Then, once you’re ready to check out, pop in your delivery postcode and head to the payment page. Hit the Apple Pay box above the card payment option, and voilà! Easy peasy. Ready the glassware – your drinks are on their way!

MoM Apple Pay

Not THOSE sorts of apples

How does it work? All the necessary deets are held by Apple Pay, so we get the info (encrypted and super-safe, obvs) from them, not you. So you spend less time typing and more time watching all-important cat videos. You’re welcome.

Reading this on a Google device and feeling all kinds of FOMO? Fret not. Our team of ace developers are on the case. We’ll have more news soon…

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Win two incredible bottles of money-can’t-buy Yellow Spot!

To celebrate the day devoted to the man who chased the snakes out of Ireland, we’re offering you £5 off Yellow Spot, PLUS the chance to win two very rare…

To celebrate the day devoted to the man who chased the snakes out of Ireland, we’re offering you £5 off Yellow Spot, PLUS the chance to win two very rare bottles. So rare, there are only two of them. And one lucky person will win both!

Sunday 17 March is St. Patrick’s Day, and what better way to celebrate than with a good drop of Irish whiskey. There are so many delicious ones to choose from nowadays. We’re particularly partial to the Spot range of single pot still whiskeys. We went to to Dublin recently to try the latest release, Red Spot 15 Year Old, which we thought was pretty bloody brilliant.

Billy doing his hand-selecting thing

But we have something for you that trumps even that. You could win two very special bottles of Yellow Spot drawn from a single cask specially selected by master blender Billy Leighton! The spirit was originally laid down in November 2003 in an American oak ex-bourbon cask. Then in April 2008, it was transferred to a first-fill Spanish oak Malaga wine cask where it has been resting until now. Bottled at a natural cask strength of 58.2% ABV, these two bottles offer an incredible opportunity to taste a unique single cask component of Yellow Spot whiskey. Malaga, an intensely sweet wine from Andalucia, gives the whiskey a rich honeyed quality, and combined with that creamy spicy pot still flavour, the results are out of this world.

Only two sample bottles have been filled with this special whisky (don’t worry! They’re still 700ml), and just to reiterate, the winner will get both. Two bottles! One to drink now and one to keep for that special occasion: daughter getting into medical school, winning a charity golf tournament, or just because you’re worth it. Simply snap up a bottle from the excellent Spot range between now and 23:59 Fri 22 March, and you’ll be automagically be entered into the Yellow Spot draw. See below for Terms and Conditions.

Yellow Spot

Lovely, lovely Yellow Spot – at £5 off!

Everyone’s a winner with £5 off Yellow Spot!

And hold onto your hats because we’re not done yet with whiskey-related excitement – regardless of whether you’re the lucky winner of those Malaga cask bottlings (we’re not jealous at all…) we’re delighting your wallet as well as your taste buds with £5 off Yellow Spot this St. Patrick’s Day!

Yep, so you can snap up a bargain to savour now, while giving yourself the chance to win something truly extraordinary. Good luck!

MoM Yellow Spot St. Patrick’s Day 2019 Competition open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 8 – 22 March 2019. Winner chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. Some shipping destinations excluded. Entry also available with no purchase. See full T&Cs for details.

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St George Spirits: The home of dynamic distilling

California’s St George Spirits knows no bounds when it comes to distilling invention. We travel to Alameda to meet the team. Across the Bay from the contrasts of San Francisco…

California’s St George Spirits knows no bounds when it comes to distilling invention. We travel to Alameda to meet the team.

Across the Bay from the contrasts of San Francisco – the confines of the street grids and the expanse of sky, the nostalgia and the novelty, the big business and the homelessness – is a startling stretch of nothing. After the colour, the noise, the sharp undulations of the city, arriving the St George Spirits Distillery in Alameda is disorienting.

Driving down West Midway and onto Monarch Street, you feel like you’ve landed on a different planet. The scale is extraordinary; cavernous buildings set back from the road, each in acres of space, barely another car to be seen. The proportions, the flatness, the emptiness are the opposite of the city across the water. I was half an hour ahead of schedule when my Lyft pulled up outside St George, one of the last buildings on the island. I’d enormously overestimated the time it would take to drive over from the city, and was feeling as worried about my early arrival as I was surprised by Alameda’s quiet. It all felt mildly post-apocalyptic.

St George Spirits

Storm incoming: the view from St George back to San Francisco on a grey day. We promise the city is there somewhere

The weather didn’t help. A winter storm was about to roll in; sensible types were already safely harboured from the forecast deluge. My driver had inadvertently, or perhaps intentionally, dropped me on the wrong side, keen to get back over the bridges into the city before the worst of the weather. The St George building was as huge as all the others, and I wondered if anyone would hear my knock. They did. A warm, friendly welcome greeted me, completely at odds to the starkness outside; one of the distilling team led me through the impressive 65,000 sq ft production and warehouse space. There were two banks of gleaming stills, vats and tanks galore, and near-floor to ceiling racking – more on all that shortly. It somehow felt far smaller on the inside that it did from the outside, stack after stack of maturing spirits filling the vast space to the brim. Out the other side, right by the really rather obvious entrance I should have arrived at, was a generous visitor area, with two bars and a shop at the far end. Windows down the exterior wall provided a glorious view back to San Francisco, with all its towers. There’s nothing between the distillery and the city except for a wash of wetland, the Bay itself, and an expanse of concrete which turned out to be a disused runway.

St George Spirits roof

St George barrels and the original WWII hangar roof

“This is World War II construction, an old aircraft hangar,” confirmed Dave Smith, St George Spirits head distiller and vice president, an animated yet softly-spoken fellow who joined the team nearly 14 years ago. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me despite my poor timekeeping, and welcomed me with literal open arms. “The last squadron stationed in the hangar prior to the base’s retirement was Atkron 304, known as the Firebirds, which were made up of Grumman A-6 Intruders.” The scale of the buildings now makes sense, and when I looked into the site afterwards it turns out it was a Naval air base that only closed in 1997.

‘Creating a movement’

St George Spirits dates back to well before the airfield closed, though in a different location. Jörg Rupf, widely considered to be the father of American artisan distilling, set up St George way back in 1982 – long before hipster beards and ubiquitous quirkiness overran the territory marked ‘craft’. He travelled to the US on an assignment from the Ministry of Culture in his native Germany, but it was San Francisco, and his family heritage as Black Forest brandy makers, that shaped his course. It started with eaux-de-vie, pear in particular, made in a tiny “20ft by 20ft” room, Smith told me. Times might have changed when it comes to production scale (the team moved to the current site in 2004) but fruit brandy remains an integral part of the St George offering today.

St George Spirits

St George Pear Brandy in front of the distillery – a starting point for the brand

The breadth of the distillery’s product portfolio is one indicator as to why a visit to St George Spirits is high on the bucket list for so many drinks lovers, myself included. And that’s where we began, hunkered down at one of the gleaming bars as the storm swept in across the Bay. As he poured St George Pear Brandy, Smith was keen to stress just how much of a catalyst Rupf was for the US spirits scene. “Jörg was really thoughtful about helping other distillers,” he said. “He really had a sense of ‘all ships will rise’; he created a movement.” Under his mentorship, other distillers set up shop, and he shared his expertise in fermentation and distilling, especially with regards to eaux-de-vies and fruit spirits – drinks totally new to the market, at the time. It’s a category that makes perfect sense for California, with its lush fruit harvests.

And that’s what you get with Pear Brandy – a hit of fresh lushness. It’s made with Bartlett pears, and a lot of them: there are 30-35lb of pears in each bottle. Why Bartlett pears? “We want small fruit, so the essential oils are very concentrated,” Smith said. The cinnamon spice, pear drop notes develop during a two-week fermentation, with the spirit eventually made in a 250-litre pot still. “Our job as distillers is to be expressive of the raw materials,” Smith stated. It’s this pear spirit that is the base for so many other St George products, including the All Purpose Vodka. That vibrant pear note is like a signature sillage you pick up throughout the portfolio.

St George Spirits

All kinds of distilling options at St George

We tasted our way through the vodka line with California Citrus and Green Chile Vodka. It’s here that the St George philosophy to showcase raw materials really hits home. The spirit is made with five different chilies (jalapeños, serranos, and habaneros, then red and yellow bell peppers) in a mix of infusions and distillations, depending on what flavours, textures and heat levels each technique extracts. “We separate these things out, and then recombine,” he explained. “I can use alcohol as a solvent, I can distil, I can infuse… But I don’t want things to be complex for the sake of being complex.” The creativity, the technicalities, the detail… it’s mind-boggling. And this is just for one bottling among 20 or so – not including limited-run expressions.

Transparent production

We moved on from the vodkas to the trio of St George gins, each distinct, each characterful, but each clearly St George. We start with Dry Rye, which, as the name implies, uses 100% pot-distilled rye spirit as a base. It’s juniper-forward, with just five other botanicals: black peppercorn, caraway, coriander, grapefruit peel and lime peel, combining for a rich, warming hit, but never overpowering the rye character. “We’re trying to find things that are expressive, and that have a statement to make,” Smith said. Next is Botanivore, Smith’s “botanical leader” made with a whopping 19 botanicals with a mix of infusions, macerations and distillations. It’s deliciously complex on the palate, still with that vital juniper but with a St George eccentricity, too.

St George Spirits gin

The trio of St George gins

Next up: Terroir Gin, which was actually the first St George gin, Smith explained. It was master distiller and president Lance Winters who came up with the concept. “He was picking up his son from summer camp, when he had the idea,” he detailed. When you taste the gin, you can picture the scene: the mountains, the forests, the sea. It’s California in a bottle, an evocative, aromatic gin made with Douglas fir, California bay laurel, coastal sage and other local botanicals. The flavour is earthy, outdoorsy, and especially effective with a building storm as a backdrop.

Time to segue into whiskey. First stop: the latest batch of Breaking & Entering, an intriguing expression that blends sourced bourbon and rye with some of St George’s own California malt whiskey. “We want to be really transparent that we’re not making it all in-house,” Smith stated. “And as none of the four grains are more than 51%, there really isn’t a category that we can label it as.” The rye, barley, corn and wheat mashbill is balanced so that none is prominent, but all is delicious. The 2018 edition was bursting with rich, pastry notes, jammy red fruits and dash of menthol, all wrapped up in a sweetcorn smoothness. A treat, indeed.

Just one of the very many barrel types

The final thing we tasted before stepping back into the distillery was St George Single Malt, a fascinating expression that Smith described as a “brandy made from grain”. Winters’ background is brewing; combine that with the eaux-de-vie obsession that underpins operations, and this starts to make sense. The barley at the base of this bottling is malted in multiple ways, including smoking some over beech and alder wood. Different barrels, from ex-Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee, to Port pipes and both French and local wine casks, contribute all kinds of flavours. Maturation spans from four to 19 years. You’d expect it to be bonkers, but it works. It’s batch-produced and changes each year, but the 2018 expression was like a sweetly-spiced hot chocolate, with zesty orange top notes. Lovely stuff. And that’s just part of the portfolio; after the distillery tour we sampled the Raspberry Brandy, Aqua Perfecta Basil Eau de Vie, California Reserve Agricole Rum, Raspberry Liqueur, Spiced Pear Liqueur, NOLA Coffee Liqueur, Bruto Americano bitters and Absinthe Verte, complete with a mischievous monkey on the label. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered such a range from a single producer. Tasting the whole lot in one morning was quite an experience.

Influences and inspiration

St George lays claim to a number of American-firsts in that list, including the Absinthe, which Smith described as “the worst kept secret in the Bay Area for about a decade prior to its official release”. Many defy category definitions (can you even make Rhum Agricole in California? The answer is yes, as long as you drop the ‘h’), and walking through the production space it all starts to make sense. The team here has an infatuation with flavour and a mastery of raw materials and process. There are five pot stills ranging in size from 250 litres to 1,500 litres, including hybrids with column options and an old Holstein, plus a coffee roaster dating back to 1952. If they can possibly make it in house, they will.

St George Spirits

Creation station: All kinds of stills

Grain for spirit currently maturing is floor-malted down the road at Admiral Maltings (“if you think about the real-estate in the Bay Area and what you need for maltings…” Smith says, as an aside). New cask requirements are met by Burgundy-style barrels. The California climate does hit the angel’s share – as much as 10% is lost in the first year, with 3-6% evaporating every year after that. We stopped for a taste of something really exciting – some California Shochu, followed by some unusual cask samples. It was a real treat, and there were yet more examples of surprising ideas coming out of this distillery.

Cali shochu, anyone?

In terms of newness, the stakes ramp up even higher in the St George lab. We stepped into the experiential space and the energy from all the ideas was almost tangible. On the left was a library of samples. Single distillates, infusions and more stack from floor to ceiling. There were two test stills, one 10-litre, one 30-litre, and all kinds of tanks, one even styled to look like Star Wars’ R2-D2. There’s stuff on every surface – you couldn’t call it clutter because it all felt purposeful, like the next big idea could be in any of those little bottles.

St George Spirits

Dave Smith gets the cask sample spirit flowing

“It’s what we’re influenced by, what we’re excited by,” Smith said. “We need to do more than what we did yesterday, increase our repertoire and techniques.” Not everything is successful, he added. But it doesn’t need to be. There’s clearly no fear of failure here, which goes some way to explaining why the range of St George spirits is not just delicious, but incredibly diverse.

St George Spirits lab

Experimental lab stills!

We headed out of the room and back to the bar. The storm was in full swing; rain pounding against the windows, the old WWII wooden roof hollering in the elements. You couldn’t even see across the old runway, let alone make out any shape of the city beyond. Smith looked around back towards the distillery as if taking it all in, and summed up what seems to be the St George philosophy: “We create things because we can.” And what better reason is there than that?

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Vodka: Ultra-premium is out, terroir is in

Serious spirits fans often consider vodka to be mass-produced and dull, with little to shout about other than questionable marketing fluff – but if you follow the liquid from field…

Serious spirits fans often consider vodka to be mass-produced and dull, with little to shout about other than questionable marketing fluff – but if you follow the liquid from field to bottle, what you find might surprise you. We speak to distillers championing the category’s flavour nuances…

Over the course of the 25 years Jan Woroniecki spent working in eastern European bars and restaurants, he reckons that he sampled almost every vodka known to man. The “crass marketing” and “desperate search for a point of difference” adopted by many brands had left a bitter taste in his mouth, and so a dejected Woroniecki sought to do better. And so Kavka Vodka was born.

Frozen Kavka

Frozen Kavka

“A number of factors have determined the direction that mainstream vodkas have taken over the last century – industrialisation of production, economies of scale, cartels of producers, a drive to satisfy the lower end of the market – where if you can’t have quality, at least you can make it as inoffensive as possible,” he says.

“The idea behind Kavka was to fight back against the idea that vodka should be without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or colour – the American legal definition of vodka and to go back to the production methods popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, when each distillery would produce spirits that emphasised taste and individuality rather than trying to filter them out.

For many, this mission begins in the field. For, William Borrell, founder of Vestal Vodka (based in London but the liquid comes from Poland), his “eureka moment” occurred after tasting potatoes grown in different fields. “They tasted completely different when cooked, and had almost tropical notes when taken from the soil and lightly steamed immediately after picking,” he says. “By using ingredients grown in different fields during different yearly cycles, you have both terroir and vintage much like viticulture in wine production.”

Vodka has “a long history of outrageous marketing”, Borrell continues, “filtered through diamonds, crystal skull bottles and ‘P Diddy* is my best friend’”. But over the last few years, in vodka and spirits in general the T-word has becoming increasingly commonplace.

Polish vodka Belvedere took terroir to the next level with the launch of its Single Estate Series a few years back. The brand works with only eight local agricultural sources to create Belvedere Pure, and honed in on two of those for the series, global brand ambassador Michael Foster tells me “focusing on the lakeside Bartężek and forested Smogóry to illustrate the variation of terroir on Dankowskie Diamond rye”.

Lake Bartężek looking particularly beautiful

Smogóry Forest is made from rye grown at a single small estate deep in western Poland, he says; a region “known for its vast forests, short, continental weather fronts, mild winters and fertile soils”. Lake Bartężek, meanwhile, is crafted from the same rye strain grown at a single farm in northern Poland’s Mazury lake district, “renowned for its crystal-clear glacial lakes, weather shaped by Baltic winds and long, snowy winters”. The former creates a “bold and savoury” vodka, with notes of salted caramel, honey and white pepper; while the latter is “delicate and fresh”, with notes of black pepper, toasted nuts and cream.

“For many years, there has been a long-standing assumption that all vodka tastes the same, and is largely a neutral spirit,” says Foster. “Although the nuances between vodkas are much more subtle than other liquids, as demonstrated by the Smogóry Forest and Lake Bartężek, there is an ability to develop vodkas that reflect the environment in which they were created.”

Then there’s the small matter of distillation. Say what you like about vodka, but there’s no scope to improve behind a decade in wood or a wine cask finish. Every step counts. Column still distillation – how the vast majority of vodka is produced – creates a high quality base spirit, “so long as it’s not over-distilled or over-filtered”, says Woroniecki, but using a pot still allows more character to come through, “as you can control the purity levels of the spirit and accentuate the flavours of the raw materials whether it is potato, rye or grain”.

Kavka vodka Martini

Kavka vodka Martini

Then there’s flavoured vodka. It has a long and noble history: not the saccharine birthday cake or Parma Violet flavours that plagued the early 2,000s, but rather herbs and botanicals used to make what’s known as a “bitters” style vodka, says Woroniecki, “Zoladkowa being a classic, as well as Zubrowka, which is made with a wild bison grass”.

“Macerating fruit is a classic country method, cherry being the most well-known,” he continues. “There are, however, subtler variations; traditionally Zytnia was made with the addition of apple spirit, while Stolichnaya used caraway to add extra depth.”

Woroniecki adopted some of these methods to create Kavka, which contains a blend of rye and wheat spirits along with small quantities of aged pot-stilled fruit spirits: apple and plum. “The fruit flavours are very much in the background but they combine to create a vodka with length, depth and character,” he explains.

This reflects the taste preferences of a more discerning drinker, says Foster. “With the rise of the ‘craft’ movement particularly in gin people are becoming ever more interested about the provenance of products, production processes and the source of raw ingredients,” he says.

“Now that we’ve passed the ‘Disco Era’ of bartending, quality has become the topic of discussion rather than quantity, and people are looking to expand their horizons to drink better. In relation to vodka, this has led to an upturn in the super premium category, and a wider understanding that vodka can have taste, character and substance.”

*Apparently he goes by “Ciroc Obama” now.

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The Nightcap: 15 March

Rock, rye and Bristol – that’s what The Nightcap is about this week (among other things. There are many, many other things, too). Time to dig in! Spring is here….

Rock, rye and Bristol – that’s what The Nightcap is about this week (among other things. There are many, many other things, too). Time to dig in!

Spring is here. Kinda. Meteorological spring has been here for a while, but astronomical spring is kicking off next Wednesday. Also, the weather has still been a bit grim. We’re in a bit of a weird mini-season, which we’re going to call wing, partly because it’s the words winter and spring smooshed together, and partly as an homage to Wings, the band The Beatles could have been. Anyway, kick start your wonderful wing weekend with our weekly round-up of booze news – it’s The Nightcap!

Here’s what has been happening on the MoM Blog this week. Our Annie chatted to Knappogue Castle Irish Whiskey’s Tony Carroll and then showed off our Cocktail of the Week – The Shallow Negroni. Henry started up a new weekly feature for the blog focusing on exciting new arrivals at MoM Towers, and then did a spot of reading (whiskey-related reading, of course). Kristy caught up on all things Irish whiskey with Irish Distillers master blender Billy Leighton, and had a look at the plans for Gordon & MacPhail’s upcoming distillery. Adam then checked out the new series of photogenic whiskies from Berry Bros. & Rudd. Good stuff all around.

Now. On with the news!

Pernod Ricard

Will Pernod Ricard follow in the footsteps of Diageo and sell its wine brands?

Is Pernod Ricard about to sell its wine brands?

This week, we’re kicking off The Nightcap by dipping our toes into the world of reports, speculation and rumour – but if true, this development could significantly shape the structure of the global wine industry. On 13 March, Bloomberg reported that Pernod Ricard, best-known perhaps for its Jameson, The Glenlivet, Beefeater, and Havana Club spirits brands, is thinking about selling off its wine division. Why is this significant? Because its wine portfolio includes the likes of Jacob’s Creek and Campo Viejo, some of the biggest wine brands in the world. Pernod Ricard itself is tight-lipped, but if it does decide to sell up, it wouldn’t be the first spirits-maker to sharpen its focus on spirits by sacking off the wine. In 2015, Diageo offloaded its Chateau and Estate wine brands to Treasury Wine Estates, and in 2017, Campari Group sold off the Château de Sancerre winery, its final foothold in wine. Will Pernod Ricard follow suit? We’ll have to wait and see – probably with a glass of wine in-hand.

WSTA Brexit

Brexit is difficult and confusing. Booze? Now that we understand…

WSTA ‘delighted’ by apparent Brexit delay

If you’ve had one eye on UK politics this week, you’ll know there’s been a right load of drama. Votes left, right and centre, rebellious MPs, and more confusion than how and why Stonehenge was built – it’s been a palaver and a half. One group who have some sort of handle on what it all means for drinks is the Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). On Wednesday, the day after Theresa May’s deal was thrown out (again), Miles Beale, WSTA chief exec, said the drinks trade faced “deeper uncertainty, and for longer”. He continued: “We welcome the decision that there would be a temporary suspension of tariffs on wine and most spirits under ‘No Deal’,” adding that more action was needed to keep the booze industry flowing. He was in chirpier spirits on Thursday though, when he said the WSTA was “delighted” to see ‘No Deal’ off the table. But is it actually? Beale said it was “imperative” for the government to pass emergency legislation before 29 March, the UK’s current leaving date. Still confused? Us too. “The wine and spirit industry still lacks clarity as to what the trading landscape will look like when we do leave the EU,” Beale continued. Can we have some of that clarity too, please?

Foo Fighters

It’s Times Like These you learn to love bourbon! Image: Andreas Lawen

Foo Fighters named Bourbon & Beyond headliners

Like your bourbon with a side of rock and folk? Then you’d better head on down to Louisville, Kentucky from 20-22 September. Annual festival Bourbon & Beyond, founded by whiskey author Fred Minnick and music exec Danny Wimmer, is a celebration of bourbon, music and food (throw in cats and you’ll have our top four all-time favourites), and this week the line-up was announced. Top of the bill? The Foo Fighters! Other acts include John Fogerty, The Flaming Lips, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and loads more, including one big name yet to be revealed. The bourbon line-up is also pretty impressive. Festival-goers will be able to sample more than 40 brands, including the likes of Blanton’s, Buffalo Trace, Coopers’ Craft, Evan Williams, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark, Michter’s, Old Forester, Wild Turkey, WL Weller, and Woodford Reserve. Blenders and distillers will be on hand to dish out info about their brands, and there’s a full programme of masterclasses, too. Tickets go on sale today, 15 March! Time to book some flights…

Aber Falls

All smiles at Aber Falls distilling Wales’s first rye

Aber Falls distils Wales’s first rye!

Rye whisky fans, we bring you glad tidings: Aber Falls has distilled its first ever rye whisky! It seems that Aber Falls is a distillery of firsts, as it is also the first whisky distillery that North Wales has seen for over 100 years. The distillery has been producing new-make malt spirit for just little over a year, since January 2018. Of course, the rye whisky will only be available from 2020, once it’s mature. Though it appears rye is the first of many plans, as the distillery is aiming to put itself on the world whisky map, building a portfolio fit for the next 20 years. Innovation is key to the distillery and James Wright, managing director at Aber Falls stated that this addition of a rye whisky “allows us to bring into the fold whisky drinkers beginning their journey of experimentation”. For both new and seasoned whisky drinkers, this is fantastic news from those Aber Falls folks.

legent

Introducing: Legent, which you will find at MoM Towers later this year…

Meet Legent, a bourbon where ‘East meets West’

When Japan’s Suntory Holdings snapped up US-based Beam, Inc. in 2014, it was a very stark union of East and West. And this accord is now playing out in actual whiskey! Behold Legent (pronounced ‘lee-jent’), an unusual bourbon developed jointly by Fred Noe, seventh-generation Jim Beam master distiller, and Shinji Fukuyo, the chief blender at Suntory whisky, and only the fifth person to ever hold the role. Legent starts life as a Kentucky straight bourbon made with a classic Beam recipe. It’s then aged in wine and sherry casks, before being blended with more straight bourbon for a “perfectly balanced yet complex and layered” tipple. Takeshi Niinami, Suntory Holdings CEO, described the expression as “the perfect articulation of the amazing things that can be achieved when two great cultures come together as one”. We’re intrigued – but might have to wait a bit to taste it. Legent is due to land a MoM Towers later this year.

Circumstance Distillery

The “unashamedly funky” Circumstance Distillery

Circumstance distillery releases saison yeast spirit

You want innovation? The team at Circumstance Distillery in Bristol has it coming out of their ears. Not content with offering pre-sales with their very own cryptocurrency, the team is now pushing the envelope with the first release. Called Circumstantial Barley, it will be made from 100% British malted barley. Doesn’t sound so crazy does it? The interesting thing is the fermentation process. In addition to distillers yeast, the team is using a French saison beer yeast, and the whole lot ferments for nearly two weeks. Most distilleries are all done within two days. The resulting wash is packed full of flavour. It’s then put through a short column still and, according to head distiller Mark Scot, aged for “six months on a combination of charred bespoke oak spindles and first-fill bourbon casks”. The result? “A beautiful raw spirit, and our short ageing techniques allows the quality of the raw spirit to shine through,” he continued. Co-founder Danny Walker added: “We have thrown out the rule book and are focusing on flavour over tradition and experimenting with every step of the process to make a ‘new world’-style spirit.” It will be bottled 45% ABV and cost £44 for 700ml bottle. Circumstance has a rye and an “unashamedly funky” (who is ashamed of being funky?) white rum in the pipeline. We want to try them all!

Waterford Distillery

Say hello to Hunter (the barley, not the person)

Waterford Distillery successfully makes spirit from heritage Hunter barley

Those barley- and terroir-obsessed Waterford folks are at the grain experimentation game again – this time with a spirited outcome! This week the distillery successfully distilled 10,000 litres of spirit – 50 barrels-worth – from a barley varietal that’s not been available to distillers for 40 years. The grain in question is called Hunter, named after a chap called Herbert Hunter who worked in barley breeding at Ireland’s Cereal Station (cool name, vital work). Hunter (the barley, not the person) was introduced in 1959, but was last used in 1979 when it fell out of favour as other strains provided better yields. So why bring it back now? It’s all part of efforts, led by the Waterford team, to take a flavour-focused approach to barley selection, rather than solely focusing on how much booze it generates. “Contrary to what much of the industry is telling drinkers, flavour starts with the grain and the terroir in which it’s grown,” said Neil Conway, Waterford’s head brewer. “Hunter is an old favourite, a very successful variety, so much so that it dominated for 20 years. That’s why we’re working with Minch Malt and our growers – we’re on the hunt for profound sources of flavour, even if that means going back decades to find these forgotten treasures.” Good luck to them! The Hunter development at Waterford follows the production of the ‘world’s first’ biodynamic whiskey at the distillery last year.

Kestin Hare x BenRiach

Those look lovely – and the clothes are nice too…

Kestin Hare x BenRiach collection arrives

We knew that whisky was fashionable, but combining whisky and fashion? That’s new! Scottish menswear designer Kestin Hare has joined forces with BenRiach distillery for his Spring Summer 2019 Collection! It features five different garments inspired by the whisky itself, the Speyside landscape and architecture of BenRiach distillery. The clothing has been dyed with peat, each shade representing a different aged single malt from BenRiach. Peat isn’t the only influence for the collection; inspired by the whisky casks themselves, Hare created a digital print that reflects the colours and patterns seen on the wood. What’s more, the pieces are fully functional for a trip to Speyside! They’re made from water-resistant fabrics inspired by golfing and fishing garments, while the colour scheme, full of golden sand, grass green and peaty tones, is sure to help you blend into the natural surroundings. Or camouflage into a wall full of BenRiach whiskies. It’s up to you. The SS19 collection can be found in store, online and in selected global retailers from today.

Francois Badel and Aldrick John Baptiste

Congrats to Francois Badel and Aldrick John Baptiste!

Francois Badel and Aldrick John Baptiste named Mai Tai Champions

How’s that for a title – Mai Tai Champion? Well, we now have two new ones following the conclusion of the Chairman’s Reserve Mai Tai Challenge 2019. What is such a challenge? The Saint Lucian rum brand whisked a whole host of talented bartenders to the island’s Rodney Bay (aka, paradise) to put them through their paces. This was after heats in France, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Switzerland, Canada and the US, so we know we’re dealing with the world’s best here. Each bartender was then paired up with a local St Lucian bartender to collaborate on creating an incredible original Mai Tai-like serve using local ingredients and Chairman’s Reserve as a base. Each pair then had to present their creation to a panel, demonstrating the culture of St Lucia at the same time. And France’s Francois Badel and St Lucia’s Aldrick John Baptiste were named champions! “I was taken aback by the passion these skilful bartenders had for Chairman’s Reserve,” said Margaret Monplaisir, St Lucia Distillers managing director. “Their attention to every detail, their enthusiasm, and knowledge of Chairman’s Reserve was remarkable.” Mai Tai, anyone?

And finally… Joss Stone performs in North Korea as part of ultimate bar crawl

Yep, you read that right. Pop singer Joss Stone, best known for early noughties tunes such as Fell in Love with a Boy and You Had Me, has taken to the stage in a North Korean bar, of all places. Two questions: why; and, surely this isn’t newsworthy?! Bear with us. Stone is embarking on a literal world tour, or in her words, “to bring loveliness in the form of music to every single country on our planet”. It’s a noble effort. She’s already sung in Syria. And why is it newsworthy? We all have ambitions: to drink in every watering hole in town (responsibly, of course); visit as many breweries as possible; enjoy a dram at every Islay distillery. We reckon performing in every country in the world, taking in its many myriad bars as you go, is the stuff of dreams. It’s something we’d certainly sign up for if we could hold a tune. And the more adventurous of us would include North Korea in that…

On that note, have excellent weekends, folks!

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BBR unveils photography-inspired Perspective Series

Berry Bros. & Rudd (BBR) has released The Perspective Series, a collection of blended Scotch whiskies, in collaboration with award-winning Scottish photographer Lindsay Robertson. We were invited to the brand’s…

Berry Bros. & Rudd (BBR) has released The Perspective Series, a collection of blended Scotch whiskies, in collaboration with award-winning Scottish photographer Lindsay Robertson. We were invited to the brand’s famous home at 3 St. James’ Street, London to check it out.

If you know us at all, you’ll be aware that a collectable range of limited edition blended Scotch whiskies with serious age was always going to be of interest to us. But, London wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd (BBR) didn’t just have sublime Scotch to present last night, but some remarkable photography, too.

The Perspective Series, Berry Bros. & Rudd master blender Doug McIvor explained, “is all about the use of our senses”. That’s where Robertson comes into the picture. He was approached by BBR with a task: to adorn each bottle in the range with images of majestic Scottish landscapes. Having seen these images in person, it’s fair to say he met his brief.

Robertson himself began life as an advertising photographer, where he often found himself snapping promotional shots for Bell’s. Now, all these years later, he’s gone full circle, creating images that portray a visual metaphor of each whisky’s flavour. Combine this with McIvor’s experience in expertly blending Scotch, and you’ve got yourself a range that’s all about artistry, inside and out.

Perspective Series

The lone cottage on Rannoch Moor, the striking image that was chosen to pair with the 35-year-old expression.

“Photography is to see,” Robertson explained. “The art of being aware of our natural surroundings which are the raw ingredients to compose the image – that image is then captured within a moment in time. Whisky is similar in that it is the taste which is the art… using the same raw natural ingredients, composing and distilling these ingredients in time, then patiently awaiting the day of maturity with anticipation.”

McIvor added: “Absorbing the spectacular images on the label whilst taking a sip of the amber dew provides a powerful combination that can amplify and instil joyful memories of a time and a place. Visual beauty is emotive, and I look for balance and complexity, maturity and texture in the whisky. It is the task of the blender to bring all these elements together to create extraordinary landscapes of aroma and flavour.”

The Perspective Series will be available from Master of Malt soon. In the meantime, let’s check out the range:

Perspective Series

The 21-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky

21-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky

First in the selection is a 21-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky, bottled at 43% ABV and set to retail for £89.00. We were seriously impressed by this one, which could prove quite the bargain for a spirit of its age.

Producer Tasting Note: Fresh, vibrant fruit is undercut by delicate oak and spice, gracefully interwoven with vanilla and honey. A lingering finish caps the experience.

Label image: Sandwood Bay, a natural bay on the north-west coast of mainland Scotland best known for its remote mile-long beach.

Robertson says: “The last shot of the day. I can still hear the cliffs resounding with the timeless echo of the waves. The combination of the creamy, subtle tones of the ocean crashing onto the fine, granular structure of the sand capture the soulful and beautiful peace exuded by the area.”

Perspective Series

The 25-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky

25-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky

Next up is 25-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky, bottled at 43% ABV and priced at £145.00. An intriguing blend, the 25-year-old features a stunning snap of The Cuillins as its label art.

Producer Tasting Note: The nose exudes soft, ripe autumnal fruit and fresh citrus with waves of honey and prickles of spice. The palate is full, viscous, fresh and lively, leading to a long, satisfying finish.

Label image: The Cuillins, a range of rocky mountains located near Talisker’s home on the Isle of Skye.

Robertson says: “The light danced around the mountains, creating interesting shapes and textures over the rugged terrain, and eventually all the elements came together for that one moment. Pure in its simplicity, it captures the vastness, ruggedness and subtlety of nature.”

Perspective Series

The 35-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky

35-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky

We felt the standout of the range (narrowly edging out the 21-year-old), was this 35-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky, bottled at 43% ABV and priced at £250.00. It’s absolutely sublime, and also features our favourite image of the image of the night as its label art.

Producer Tasting Note: Rich, mature notes of fruit and malt are augmented by a lively crispness from the grain. Candied fruit emerges, carried on waves of honey and balanced by judicious hints of oak. The finish is long and relaxed.

Label image: Rannoch Moor, an expanse of around 50 square miles of boggy moorland notable for its wildlife.

Robertson says: “Below the distant Grampian mountains, silence and solitude reigns, with the deer, heather and bog myrtle all contributing to this desolate no-man’s land fashioned by nature. One thousand feet above sea-level, the light and shadow play against the lone cottage on Rannoch Moor.”

Perspective Series

The 40-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky

40-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky

The final expression in the range is the impressive 40-Year-Old Blended Scotch Whisky, bottled at 40.1% ABV and set to retail for £450.00. This is the only bottling with a peat-forward profile, so if that’s your kind of thing don’t miss out on this beauty.

Producer Tasting Note: Plentiful soft, ripe tropical fruit combines with hints of vanilla, coffee beans and subtle yet uplifting spice. A rich, textured, lively palate builds in luxuriance towards a deliciously long, lingering and rewarding finish.

Label image: Buichaille Etive Mòr, a mountain at the head of Glen Etive in the Highlands of Scotland.

Robertson says: “The sentinel of Glen Coe displays its majestic dominance over the landscape in a striking yet sympathetic way. The early morning light, coupled with the winter morning air, rendered an absolute clarity and sharpness not normally seen.”

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We chat all things Irish whiskey with Billy Leighton!

St Patrick’s Day is almost upon us! In the spirit of the moment, we caught up with Irish Distillers master blender Billy Leighton to talk Spot Irish whiskey, the ace…

St Patrick’s Day is almost upon us! In the spirit of the moment, we caught up with Irish Distillers master blender Billy Leighton to talk Spot Irish whiskey, the ace cask samples we have up for grabs, new distilleries and innovations for the future.

It’s St Patrick’s Day on Sunday! 17 March brings with it a celebration of all things Ireland, and it would be highly remiss if that didn’t include a splash of something boozily delicious – Irish gin, Poitín, and of course, whiskey! And to help get in the celebratory spirit, we’ve not only taken £5 off each bottle of the marvellous Yellow Spot, but we’re running a competition to win two 700ml bottles of incredible Malaga cask whiskey, too. Hand drawn by Billy Leighton, Irish Distillers master blender, no less!

But Irish spirits are for life, not just St Patrick’s Day. With that in mind, we got Billy himself on the blower to quiz him not only on Yellow Spot and those delicious sample bottles, but the past, present and future of Irish whiskey, too. And from the historical single pot still style to the wealth of new distilleries opening up (Clonakilty became the 23rd earlier this month!), it’s looking bright indeed…

Master of Malt: Hello Billy! First off, in your own words, tell us about the history of Spot and how all the whiskeys came about?

Billy Leighton: I think the Spot range has a really good heritage. It goes back to the family, Mitchell & Son, and they’ve been in Dublin for generations now, close 240 years. And it’s still run by Mitchell and his son; we [Irish Distillers] have a very good relationship with them. They’re a lovely family, Jonathan and Robert are the current father and son. But when their family business started up back in the early 1800s, they were wine merchants, importing wine from all around the world. Casks of oak, fortified wine: sherry, Port, Madeira, Marsala, all those fortified wines. And then, about 1880, 1890, they then became whiskey bonders. They had all these empty wine casks, having the wine bottled, and where they’re left with the casks. So they then will have bought new-make spirit from the Jameson Distillery in Dublin and filled that into their freshly emptied fortified wine casks. I don’t know what spawned the colour-coding system, but it was a good idea to colour-code their casks, to designate the age of the whiskey they were going to bottle. For example, they would have put out a green dawb of paint on casks that were intended to be used at ten years old, and that became their ‘green spot’. And likewise, the yellow paint was 12 years old; the red paint was 15 years old. They had a ‘blue spot’ as well, which was a seven year old. So that’s how the whole Spot range came about.

Spot Irish whiskey family

The Spot family of Irish whiskeys

MoM: And that was in Irish whiskey boom time…

BL: Well certainly in the 1970s, 1976-ish I think it was, Irish pot still whiskey had gone through a very, very bad time. Between the early 1900s and right up until the 1960s, Irish pot still whiskey was almost dead and buried! It was brands like Green Spot and Redbreast, two single pot still brands, that endured the bad times. In the mid-seventies, Irish Distillers basically took over the Spot Whiskies – of which there was only one at the time! The Green Spot. It became an Irish Distillers brand but the distribution in Ireland remained with Mitchell & Son. Then we did a bit of a makeover on the brand, and it got a new lease of life. I think the interest in Irish single pot still whiskey was starting to gain a bit more traction again, so we decided then to extend the range. That’s when we re-introduced Yellow Spot with the 12 year old age-statement on it, and then just recently the Red Spot, with the 15 year old statement.

MoM: Why do you think the Green Spot survived and the others didn’t? Was it to do with the age or the flavour profile? Why did one endure when the others fell by the wayside?

You know, it could have been availability of stock. The Irish whiskey category had dwindled away to virtual extinction. They couldn’t have sustained or justified maintaining the full range. The Green Spot is no longer a ten year old, it doesn’t have an age statement. So I think it was just to keep that brand alive. And maybe more for sentimental purposes than anything else, you know?

Bill Leighton Irish whiskey

Billy does his thing

MoM: Sure. And today, aside from age statements, what separates the different Spots, and are they very similar at all to the historical ones?

BL: Well, we like to think so. But the wood management wouldn’t have been as sophisticated as what we have today. So they would have had all of those different fortified wine casks available – sherry, Port, Madeira, Marsala – they wouldn’t necessarily have… structured their formulations to call out any cask type in particular. What we have tried to do is stay as close to the heritage of the brand, but we tend now to call out the different fortified wine casks that we’re using. In the Yellow Spot we call out the Malaga cask inclusion, with the Red Spot it’s the Marsala cask, Green Spot has got oloroso sherry casks. It is the only fortified wine cask in there. The Yellow Spot and the Red Spot have a little bit of oloroso sherry in there, but again, it’s kind of doing what the Mitchells did. It wasn’t so much one particular cask type became Yellow Spot and a different cask type became Red Spot. There would have been a mix of casks. Back in the day, the age was the only differentiating factor.

MoM: So we’ve got these two Malaga cask bottles up for grabs, which is incredibly exciting. Tell us a little bit about what sets these apart, and how you go about choosing casks for bottling…

BL: Well for these special bottles that are up for grabs, we went and looked at what Malaga casks we’re currently using in Yellow Spot. We sampled a few of them, and picked out a good one that we felt had a nice balance of the single pot still character and also that Malaga component we’re using in Yellow Spot. How I see the Malaga cask manifesting itself in Yellow Spot is kind of heather-honey sweet note. It takes the sweetness you would see in Green Spot and it takes the sweetness up another level. The Malaga casks, whenever they’re seasoned in Malaga, the wine that’s used is 100% Pedro Ximénez. 30% of the Pedro Ximénez grapes would be sundried, so it’s concentrating the sweetness there. And I’m particularly partial to sweet wine, and the Malaga just fits the bill. Those honey-sweet notes very much complement and balance with the spiciness of the pot-still distillate itself. So it works, it works very, very well for me.

Red Spot Irish whiskey

Red Spot is a recent addition to the Irish pot still family

MoM: Fabulous. More broadly, Irish whiskey is obviously booming. Why do you think that is, and why do you think single pot still Irish whiskies are so popular again?

BL: Taking a step back a little bit, I think it’s fairly well-accepted within the Irish whiskey industry that the whole renaissance has been brought about by the success of Jameson. Around the world, you know?  And where people are getting a taste for Jameson, they’re more inquisitive; a lot of the flavour is being driven by that pot still component. People are always wanting to find out more, and Green Spot would be the opportunity for them to try that single pot still component. I think it’s consumer awareness brought about by the attention that Jameson is bringing to the Irish whiskey category as a whole. ‘Why do we talk about Irish single pot still whiskey, is it not just the same as Scotch malt, only it comes from Ireland?’ When they try it, they find out that Irish single pot still is a completely different style of whiskey from a Scotch malt. And once they get the experience of a single pot still, such as Green Spot, they want to know a little bit more about what other offerings there are. And then of course there are other brands, like Redbreast for example, which is a single pot still Irish whiskey but with a different expression of maturation. I really think the Irish single pot still whiskey is where the future is.

MoM: Absolutely. But Irish whiskey as a whole is changing, not just single pot still. I think one of the reasons is all the new distilleries coming online. And now we’re seeing a lot of new spirit coming into the market. Do you think we’re going to see significant shifts in the structure of Irish whiskey and the character of the category?

BL: There are lot of new distilleries and it’s exciting when you see so many opening up, and they’re all going to want to make their mark and have their own individual style. I think that’s only good for the whole category, consumers included in that. I think for a long time, like ten years ago when we had only four operating distilleries, we didn’t have such a selection. And neither did we need one, to be honest! But each new distillery coming on stream is going to want to make their own mark and do things their own way. The only thing maybe to add there is that [it’s great] as long as all these new styles of whiskey don’t compromise the quality standard that Jameson has set, you know? That’s one thing we want to be careful about, that the perceived quality of Irish whiskey doesn’t slip.

Yellow Spot Irish whiskey

Oh haiiii Yellow Spot

MoM: Yeah, it’s got to be good!

BL: And from that point of view, Irish Distillers has probably been in the business the longest, but our doors are always open. We have a mentoring scheme in place now where new distillers can come along, probably through the Irish Whiskey Association, and see how we do things. We’re not telling them how to make the whiskey because they’d probably all end up making the same sort of whiskey! But it’s just to highlight production methods, even cask procurement, things that people don’t even think about. Like how much freight on casks costs. We’re quite open to tell things as they are, because we want to see everybody succeeding in the Irish whiskey category, making their own contribution to future growth.

MoM: Through the mentoring programme, you and the team must meet a lot of new people and a lot of new minds with a lot of new ideas. Is there anything that particularly excites you?

BL: It’s early days, but a lot of the new brands that we’re seeing in the marketplace now are pretty much different maturation expressions. People are procuring some whiskey for themselves and then doing their own twist on it. That in itself is adding a bit of excitement, maturation styles and tweaks that wouldn’t have been done before. When we had the four operating distilleries [Midleton, Cooley, Bushmills and Kilbeggan], everybody was kind of just set in their ways. They had successful formulations, why mess with them? But now we have the Irish Whiskey Regulations, they’re out there, but they’re there to be tested. There will be opportunities for using different types of wood, for example; Irish regulations allow us to use wood other than oak. So there’s interest there at the moment. We’ve introduced a whiskey finished in chestnut casks with Method and Madness. Bushmills has introduced an acacia cask finish. But also, whenever the new distilleries are up and running there are loads of opportunities for using different cereal types rather than just barley; raw barley and malted barley. There are opportunities there for other grain types, maybe rye or oats, wheat, whatever. I would say in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be seeing a little bit more variation on the distillate type itself, driven by different cereals.

Billy Leighton Irish whiskey experiments

Billy being all experimental

MoM: That’s exciting. And how much of this might be happening at the Middleton microdistillery?

BL: Oh yeah, we do quite a lot of experimentation there in the micro. We have done some trials with various cereals over the past few years. Some of that will actually become whiskey in the next while – it will be over three years old. It’s going along and it’s working very nicely. But we wouldn’t be giving anything away on that or releasing anything until we’re happy that it’s of the quality and the style that we’re happy to share with the consumers.

MoM: And going back full circle to Spot Whiskeys, what’s next for the Spot brand? We don’t have a Blue Spot anymore, might we see a return of that?

BL: We get this on social media all the time: ‘when are you going to complete the family of Spots?’, and it’s not something that we have ignored at all. It’s been discussed, but we don’t have any solid plans at the minute to reintroduce a Blue Spot. There have been discussions. Maybe what could be more likely, I’m not saying it would happen, but we might look at other variants on Green Spot. For example, to add to the Léoville Barton and the Chateau Montelena expressions. So I think there’s a lovely story there that connects Irish families that have left Ireland to go and get involved in the wine business around the world. And the Mitchells are still wine importers, so they have contacts all around the world. So anything we may do in that direction would be in collaboration with the Mitchells. You probably will see maybe the odd single cask offering with the Green Spot label on it. But that’s as much as there is really at the minute.

MoM: Lots of potential developments in the future. Thanks so much, Billy!

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