The Spot whiskey range adds the golden touch, an all-singing gin trolley, and the oldest Talisker ever released. These are just some of the stories to feature in this week’s Nightcap 10 June edition!
Hey, did you know we won a shiny award this week? Our trade team was awarded Distribution Company of the Year at The Drinks Business Awards, while there were special commendations for Social Media Campaign of the Year for our Whisky Icons campaign, and Online Retailer of the Year. What a lovely treat that was. A bit like The Nightcap is, every Friday. Including today.
Let’s crack on, starting with a look at the blog this week. We gave you the opportunity to eat Michelin star food thanks to a new competition with Glenfiddich, then gave you top tips on how to spot a fake whisky as well as a handy guide to explain what the heck a London dry gin is. We also gave Miltonduff Distillery a well-deserved spotlight, made a Tiki treat for our Cocktail of the Week, gave you some more Father’s Day recommendations (not long now) for both gin and whisky, and turned our attention to cracking African spirits like Matugga Rum and Procera Gin.
But we’re not done yet. It’s The Nightcap: 10 June edition.
Port Ellen appoints first distillery manager in 40 years
One of the most prestigious jobs in Scotch whisky has just been filled as Port Ellen gets its first distillery manager since 1983, Alexander MacDonald. Last year he took over from Georgie Crawford as project manager for the distillery’s restoration after she jumped ship to Elixir Distillers’ new Islay outpost, Portintruan. MacDonald has some serious Islay pedigree having worked at Kilchoman before joining Diageo with stints at Caol Ila and Lagavulin. The plan is to bring the distillery back into production next year. The revived Port Ellen will produce both a traditional style of whisky using replicas of the original stills and an experimental spirit using a pair of smaller stills. MacDonald commented: “It is an honour and a privilege to be appointed as Port Ellen distillery manager. This is an incredibly exciting time for everyone at Port Ellen and I look forward to leading the team as we prepare for the historic moment when spirit flows through the stills once again.” Let’s hope he lasts longer than recent Diageo Islay distillery managers.
Talisker launches oldest ever whisky
This week we had the pleasure of tasting the oldest ever whisky to be released by the fantastic Talisker Distillery, and learning about how massive sea kelp can get (think Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square). It’s called Talisker 44 Year Old – Forests of the Deep, and, as you might have guessed, it was matured for a massive 44 years before being bottled at 49.1% ABV. Parley, Talisker’s partner in ocean conservation who plan to protect and rewild 100m sq. metres of marine ecosystems by 2023, provided the inspiration for the bottling following an expedition to one of the world’s largest sea kelp forests near the Cape of Good Hope. The whisky was finished in casks charred with shavings from staves on board Parley for the Oceans’ Cape of Good Hope expedition and sustainably sourced Scottish sea kelp. Our Jake was in attendance at an official tasting this week to give us some thoughts beyond the brand’s own notes. “I got the shitake mushroom note off the bat on the nose (and dare I say it… petrichor? Clichéd note these days, right?), and you definitely get more of the venerable oak on the finish” he says. We’re unclear what the ‘marine cask finish’ has been responsible for (is it helping prop up some of those classic marine notes, or just marketing and not ‘interfered’ with whisky too much?!), but recommend a drop of water after your initial tasting, as it really did unlock the sweeter side with maple syrup and lemon sherbets. There’s just 1,997 bottles available globally, and we have a few ourselves, so if you have a few quid spare then you know what to do.
The Spot whiskey range expands with Gold Spot whiskey
Incredibly exciting news came from Irish Distillers this week, which has expanded its Spot whiskey range. The always interesting series, apparently not content with a shedload of gold medals, welcomes Gold Spot Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, a limited edition whiskey that marks the celebration of 135 years of whiskey bonding in the Mitchell family. It was back in 1887 that the original creators of Spot, wine and spirits merchants Mitchell & Son, first sent empty wine and fortified wine casks to the local Jameson Distillery in Bow Street to be filled with new single pot still spirit for maturation in its underground cellars. Once filled, the fortified wine casks would be marked with a daub or ‘spot’ of coloured paint, to determine the age potential. While the family didn’t have a gold themselves, this tribute whiskey from Midleton Distillery is a marriage ex-bourbon and ex-sherry cask whisky that has been matured for a minimum of nine years with a proportion of aged in Bordeaux wine casks and Port pipes. The latter is a first for the Spot range, and a nice reflection of the style of barrels that would have been available to the Mitchell family. It will be available soon with an RRP of £105, which is high for its age. But the demand will be crazy regardless, so we’d suggest if you want some, you don’t hang around.
Sliabh Liag Distillers seeking €2m to expand
Sliabh Liag Distillers (pronounced ‘sleeve league’) plans to raise €2 million in crowdfunding as part of a new equity round in a bid to further the reach of its Irish whiskey. On 20 June its Crowdcube campaign launches and will run for four weeks, inviting investors to revitalise peated Irish whiskey and to help boost production capacity as demand for Irish spirits explodes. The whiskey category alone is expected to double to almost 25 million 9L cases by the end of the decade, according to an international trade report from 2021, while sales volumes for all the Sliabh Liag Distillers’ brands – Silkie Irish Whiskeys, An Dúlamán Gin, and Assaranca Vodka – grew by 166% across the same year. It’s not the first time the brand has sought fundraising, with major investment from one of Europe’s most successful food and beverage crowdfunds of 2020 helping to build the Ardara Distillery. Since then, as the first legal distiller in Ireland’s north-west for 175 years, the company has increased its global footprint to 40 countries, including the launch of its Legendary Silkie range in 41 states across the USA. The investment will see its newly-built Ardara Distillery move to 24/7 production and increase output from 440,000 litres to 600,000 litres per annum. It’s all a sign that Irish whiskey continues to thrive and we couldn’t be happier, and we’re very excited by Sliabh Liag’s aim is to make Donegal to Irish whiskey what Islay is to Scotch.
Royal Salute releases Platinum Jubilee Edition
If you thought Royal Salute was done for the year with its 26 Year Old Scottish Oak edition, think again. For the Platinum Jubilee, the blended Scotch whisky brand kept it pretty low-key, and only took over the Tower of London for dinner, drinks, and the launch of its Platinum Jubilee Edition whisky. No biggie, right? The whisky itself is inspired by seven brooches from the Queen’s seven decades on the throne, the designs of which have been engraved on seven different decanters and box designs, with a colour palette a nod to her famous wardrobe. The well-aged blend is crafted from seven different distilleries too, a few of them now silent, such as Caperdonich, Lochside, and Inverleven, finished for over two years in ex-tawny Port casks (a wine served during a Coronation Banquet in 1953). Of course, a whisky of this calibre is housed in a hand-blown Dartington crystal decanter, of which there are only 147, each retailing at $20,000 USD (around £16,000). Master blender Sandy Hyslop said: “It is an honour to have had a role to play in this piece of history; a task that has allowed us to release a prestigious whisky that also acts as a precious collector’s item for whisky lovers to cherish.” A whisky for a supremely special occasion – if anyone ever cracks a bottle of it open, that is.
Diageo’s third Prima & Ultima series to feature Port Ellen and Brora
The third iteration of the Prima & Ultima series of single malts is here as Diageo has opened registration for the bottlings, which are drawn from casks that are the first or last of their kind. It includes bottles from both Port Ellen and Brora, a first for Prima & Ultima, but an appropriate inclusion as the eight bottlings were chosen by Dr Craig Wilson, who played a key role in the restoration of the Brora spirit and oversees new releases from Port Ellen. He says he selected the last ever Port Ellen 1980 cask as it’s the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and Her Majesty visited the distillery’s maltings back then. The Brora bottling is taken from the last ever 1981 cask, so it’s also extremely rare, while the range will feature a 1987 vintage of The Singleton of Glen Ord, the first and only one to be released from the brand’s remaining casks. Other additions to the line include a bottle from the last Talisker casks from 1984, a 28-year-old Lagavulin, the oldest casks of Cragganmore in the reserves, and the debut appearance from Royal Lochnagar and Mannachmore. Whisky collectors can register their interest online until 30 June at www.theprimaandultimacollection.com.
Ireland aims to have world’s most sustainable whiskey distilleries
A new roadmap set out by the Irish Whiskey Association is aiming to make Irish distilleries the most sustainable in the world. The strategy supported by state agencies Enterprise Ireland and Invest NI has outlined the following as its key targets: to reduce water usage and deliver accredited water stewardship training for distilleries; to buy more grain from Irish farmers, including the purchase of over 100,000t of Irish barley and malt annually; to convert over 350,000 tonnes of waste and by-products like spent grain/pot ale into high-quality animal feed every year, per annum. The roadmap also commits to strengthening Irish whiskey’s place in the circular economy, as well as proposing a signature project to support innovation on energy efficiency within the industry and outlining support for tree planting in partnership with Trees on the Land. “We are committed to minimising the life-cycle environmental impact of our production practices and our supply chains while maximising our support for Irish farming and local suppliers”, summarises William Lavelle, director of the Irish Whiskey Association. “This is not just an environmental strategy. The roadmap also addresses the importance of economic and social sustainability,” he added.
Peaky Blinders gets official whiskey from Bushmills
Even more Irish whiskey news: Peaky Blinders gets an official whiskey. Yes, there is already another brand that has cashed in on the success of the TV show, but just to be extra confusing, Bushmills has announced a collaboration with the team behind Peaky Blinders, Endemol Shine North American and Caryn Mandabach Productions, to release a limited edition Bushmills Prohibition Recipe Whisky. It corresponds with the show’s sixth and final season, which hits Netflix today. The whiskey harkens back to a style common around the 1920s, with master distiller Colum Egan blending three whiskies that were aged in ex-bourbon casks for three, four, and five years. The result is a powerful 46% ABV expression that, according to Bushmills, “bursts with flavours of rye bread, orange marmalade, almonds, and cinnamon.” The bottle design is also a recreation of the bottles used in the Peaky Blinders-era, complete with a cork lid and noticeably blue-tinted glass. The labels are also marked ‘By Order of the Shelby Company’ and feature a sketch of Tommy Shelby in his signature cap. His own words, “whiskey is good proofing water, it tells you who’s real and who isn’t”, are also printed on the back of the bottle.
Scapegrace plans to develop largest distillery in New Zealand
The New Zealand whisky category is slowly but surely gaining a foothold thanks to the likes of Cardrona, but a new plan from Scapegrace Distilling Company is about to take things up a notch. The award-winning producer has announced the arrival of a new £13m distillery, the largest in New Zealand, which will make vodka, gin, and single malt whisky. Located on Lake Dunstan on the South Island in Central Otago, the distillery will eventually produce the entirety of its current portfolio, with plans to expand into other products further down the line. The prominent 36-hectare property will boast views of the historic Bendigo mountains and include facilities to entertain visitors. The first building is already under construction and will contain the new Scapegrace head office, bottling hall, warehouse and the first barrel room which is due to be open in August 2022. Each barrel room holds almost 2000 casks of whisky with an additional three barrel rooms planned over the coming years, while the second building which contains the state-of-the-art distillery will open in October 2023. If you’re not familiar with Scapegrace, which was founded almost 10 years ago by brothers-in-law Daniel Mclaughlin and Mark Neal along with Richard Bourke, with the kind of output this site is planning, you will soon enough.
World’s 50 Best Bars goes to Barcelona
The annual list of The World’s 50 Best Bars will be unveiled at a live awards ceremony on 4 October in Barcelona this year. That means the most-respected global bars ranking leaves London for the first time in its 13-year history and instead heads for what would be a sunnier setting. Since its 2009 inception, the ceremony has united the global bar community in recognition of the best bars in the world in England’s capital. “London has been a fantastic home for us but, as we come out of the pandemic, we are excited to have the opportunity to shine a spotlight on other great cocktail cities, starting with Barcelona, which has three outstanding venues on the 2021 list,” says Mark Sansom, content director for The World’s 50 Best Bars. There’s also a few new awards on the cards, including the Michter’s Art of Hospitality, given to the bar where 50 Best members received the single best hospitality experience, and the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender, voted for by the bartenders who will name one peer who has done more to further the craft of bartending than any other. In addition to celebrating the 1-50 List, the ceremony will also unveil the winner of the inaugural 50 Best Bars The Blend Scholarship. It’s sure to be a knockout ceremony, and if they would like anyone from Master of Malt to attend we will endeavour to make the journey. We’re very committed to our art.
And finally… The Act to launch a singing gin trolley
The recently opened Notting Hill bar, The Act is launching a brand new Singing Gin Trolley to celebrate the nation’s favourite spirit on World Gin Day this year. Across the weekend of the 11 and 12 June, guests at The Act will be offered a vast selection of gins and mixers to create endless G&T combinations, served up throughout the evening by an all-singing, all-dancing waiter who will arrive at the table serenading guests with Judy Garland’s Trolley Song and other theatrical numbers. The Singing Gin Trolley is only one part of the non-stop programme of live entertainment and cocktails which runs seven nights a week. Guests can expect performances from The Act’s own team, as well as appearances from stars of the West End stage discover their new favourite combination in celebration of World Gin Day, while enjoying live performances of the best crowd-pleasers. It sounds great, although we are a little disappointed that the trolley doesn’t actually come alive and sing. Is that expecting too much?