The promise of returning whisky festivals, new distilleries and fewer tariffs already had us in a good mood this week, then we heard about the Islay KitKat and a piñata bar… It’s The Nightcap!
There was inevitability going into Christmas it would be a bit different this year. The only thing for it was to embrace the change and not let it get us down. Virtual parties are in the diary, Christmas jumpers have been encouraged and an office Spotify playlist has done the rounds (I swear Domonic The Donkey is on there about 15 times, guys. I’ve started brushing my teeth to the rhythm of it ffs). It turns out all you need to make the most of the season is some festive spirit and a strong broadband connection. Who knew? #WhiskySanta, probably. That guy is always on the money.
Which is something you’ll have noticed if you kept tabs on the MoM blog this week, which certainly made us get all giddy when that omniscient, bearded and jolliest of fellows revealed two more sublime Super Wishes. I mean, c’mon, who wouldn’t want the chance to get their hands on a bottle of Balvenie 40 Year Old or Tobermory 42 Year Old? The festive fun continued as we opened windows #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10 and #11 on our Whisky Advent Calendar before Adam put together a round-up of our favourite festive spirits ( look out for Christmas pudding spiced rum and a Brussels sprouts vodka).
Elsewhere, we showed off our swanky Black Bowmore DB5 1964 video, introduced you to a new kind of drinks company and managed to get the low-down on one of Scotland’s most iconic whisky producers. Henry, meanwhile, welcomed a delightful rum from an underappreciated distillery and made a classic cocktail with a reimagined old brand of Cognac, Adam recommended some of the best bargain American whiskeys on the market and Annie discussed what collective action is required to help eradicate sexism in the whisky industry.
Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival to return in 2021
News that almost seems too good to be true came from The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival this week, which announced it will be back in 2021, irl! The 21st edition of the six-day festival is tipped to return from 28 April to 3 May 2021 and the organisers have assured us that it will be adaptive to any COVID-19 measures. Lord knows all of us whisky lovers could do with a chance to celebrate our favourite tipple in good company and we’ll never turn down an opportunity to taste our way around this world-famous whisky-making region. Those who do attend (assuming this does go ahead, fingers crossed) will witness nearly 140 business members come together to be part of the biggest festival of its kind in the world. “We are very excited about being back in business for 2021. The positive news about the coronavirus vaccines has given everyone a boost and it’s great to see some light starting to emerge from what has been a long and very dark tunnel for everyone,” says James Campbell, festival chairman. “Even if social distancing is still in place in late April I am confident they will come up with solutions to provide numerous brilliant events and we look forward to giving a very warm Speyside welcome to all of our new and returning UK and international guests in 2021.” The full programme of events will be listed on www.spiritofspeyside.com and will be available for preview on Wednesday 24th February 2021, while tickets will go on sale online on Monday 1st March 2021. We sincerely hope that we’ll see you there… in real life! It’s almost too exciting.
Nick Offerman stars in new Lagavulin video
Actor and whisky lover Nick Offerman, you might remember him from such films as The Lego Movie and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, returns for another ‘Lagavulin: My Tales of Whisky‘ video. Called ‘A Dram Good Holiday’, it features Offerman enjoying some Lagavulin 8 year old while attempting to be a modern Youtube celebrity. “After many a holiday spent sipping Lagavulin by a blazing Yule Log, I have this year determined to venture into the world of the modern-day internet media tube,” he explained. “Well, I saw it. I can’t say I fully understand it, nor do I want to, so I will now return to my usual holiday plans and sip the wondrous elixir that is Lagavulin single malt Scotch whisky as intended.” Advice that we can all get behind this Christmas. You can watch Nick star in the festive clip here.
When the whisky levy breaks? UK suspends US tariffs
One story that caught our eye this week was the news that the UK intends to drop tariffs against the US over subsidies for aerospace firms, in a bid to reach a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington. Why is this of this interest to the drinks industry? Because the move could open the way for a punitive tariff on whisky to be removed. In November, the EU imposed tariffs on $4bn of US goods in the Boeing row, but these will be suspended in the UK from 1 January when the current post-Brexit transition period ends. One of the hopes of this strategy is that leads to a reciprocal move from the US to alleviate the damaging duties on goods like single malt Scotch whisky. The Scotch Whisky Association estimates the industry has lost £30 million a month on sales, and over £400m in total, thanks to the measures, so you can understand why chief executive Karen Betts described the announcement on Tuesday as “an encouraging step”. She went on to say: “It shows the UK government’s determination to de-escalate the damaging transatlantic trade disputes that have seen Scotch whisky exports to the US fall by over 30% in the past year”. Let’s hope sense prevails and our industry, which has faced a difficult enough year as it is, receives some respite here.
Islay cask Kit Kat anyone?
In a week of funny stories, this one might just take the biscuit, or rather the chocolate-covered wafer snack. We have just learned about the arrival of a whisky cask-aged Kit Kat. And not just any cask but one that held Islay whisky. Chocolate and smoke, an interesting combination. It’s a product of the experimental division of Kit Kat Japan which in the past has come up with unusual versions made with matcha tea, soy sauce and sake. The chap in charge of this latest experiment is pastry chef Yasumasa Takagi. Rather than fill a barrel full of Kit Kats, which would just be silly, Takagi and his team took Ghanaian cacao nibs and aged them in the Islay barrels which were rotated once a week to ensure the chocolate became imbued with all that smoky goodness. Despite being made in Britain, this experimental Kit Kat is only available, for a very reasonable ¥300 (£2.16), in selected retailers over there including Kit Kat boutiques in Tokyo. Imagine, whole shops devoted to Kit Kats. Are we allowed to fly to Japan yet?
Johnnie Walker gifts a million trees
Earlier this year we reported on Diageo’s sustainability initiatives and it seems the drinks giants are intent on putting things in motion sooner rather than later. This week the company outlined its vision to plant one million trees across the four corners of Scotland before 2025, as part of an ongoing commitment from Johnnie Walker to reduce its carbon footprint and restore the natural resources it uses when creating its Scotch whiskies. “A million trees we are planting with our partners across Scotland will create wonderful biodiverse woodlands that are havens for wildlife and accessible for people to visit and enjoy in the years and decades to come,” Ewan Andrew, Diageo’s chief sustainability officer, explained. To date, 389,000 of the one million trees have been planted near two of distilleries in the Scottish Highlands which, over the lifetime of this project, are anticipated to absorb over 69,000 tonnes of C02 – the equivalent of taking 10,500 flights around the world. At Ballygowan, near Oban distillery, native birch, oak, wild cherry, willow and hazel trees were planted, including a new tree dedicated to every one of Diageo’s 28,000 employees, while at Allt Ruadh, near Glen Ord distillery, Johnnie Walker has joined forces with Trees for Life to plant ancient and native trees to serve as a wildlife corridor and increase habitat availability for species including black grouse, crossbills and red squirrels. It’s exactly the kind of Christmas gift we like to see from major players within the industry, so kudos guys. For more info on Diageo 2030’s sustainability commitments click here.
Halewood opens £1m Peaky Blinder distillery
The good news keeps on coming this week as Halewood Artisanal Spirits has announced that its phenomenally popular Peaky Blinder brand’s new home is open. The new £1 million distillery is based in Birmingham, on the same site as Sadler’s brewery, home of the infamous gang from the hit show. The new facility is already producing Peaky Blinder Spiced Dry Gin and Black Spiced Rum in four ‘state-of-the-art’ Arnold Holstein stills, which got a makeover in August this year, to emphasise the provenance of the brand. A different character from the late 19th and early 20th-century Peaky Blinders gang and other gangs feature on the bottles, with authentic mug shots from police archives to boot. “After months of planning, we’re very pleased to share our plans for the Sadler’s site in Lye,” commented James Stocker, marketing director, Halewood Artisanal Spirits. “As we’ve continued to see strong sales for our Peaky Blinder spirits via our e-commerce channels, both in the UK and globally, this felt like the perfect time to bring production back to their rightful home”. Halewood has also revealed that we can expect to see the first spirits from the new distillery by the end of 2020 and, as we reported earlier in the year, plans are also in place to develop a distillery to produce Peaky Blinder Irish whiskey. Things are certainly looking bright for the brand. Now would be a good time to end with a quote from the show, but I haven’t seen it, so those of you who have can insert your own topical joke here.
Gordon & MacPhail’s 125th Anniversary series concludes in style
Regular readers of The Nightcap will remember that we’ve covered the launch of a particularly special series of Scotch whiskies put together to commemorate 125 years of Gordon & MacPhail. Now, the much-anticipated final whisky in the collection has been revealed: The Gordon & MacPhail 1975 Glencraig! The last of the four extremely rare and unique whiskies was distilled in Lomond Stills, which operated within Speyside’s Glenburgie Distillery before production ceased after just 23 years. The whisky, which was matured in a single refill American hogshead for 44 years, was laid down on Thursday 30 October 1975 and bottled on Thursday 28 May 2020 at 54.2% ABV, with an outturn of just 110 bottles. It’s said to possess notes of honey, coconut, rich nectarines, white pepper, lime, cocoa beans and carry some floral and herbal elements. The majority of the Glencraig whisky was destined for blended malts, so this is a truly rare treat and, like the other expressions in the series, it was sourced from the last remaining casks from lost or closed distilleries matured within Gordon & MacPhail’s warehouse “While it’s bittersweet to share the last remaining drops of these ultra-rare whiskies, they embody a fitting tribute to 125 years spent in pursuit of perfection,” Stephen Rankin, a fourth-generation member of Gordon & MacPhail’s owning family and the company’s Director of Prestige, said. “These four releases provide a personal legacy for all who have worked at Gordon & MacPhail over the decades culminating in these exquisite and unique drams found nowhere else.”
And finally… Jose Cuervo creates world’s first piñata bar
Global Tequila giant, Jose Cuervo, has unveiled the world’s first piñata bar and it’s going to one lucky fan. The one-of-a-kind creation has been designed in festive colours and comes complete with a shelf of Jose Cuervo Especial Gold, bartender’s essentials, mixers, garnishes and a variety of Jose Cuervo tequilas and flavoured fillings inside. Given that lots of you will have played the home mixologist this year, the bar should come in handy for dispensing delicious Tequila cocktails for the friends and family you’ll be spending the season with. Margaritas are on you, future winner! And the fun doesn’t stop there because, it’s piñata bar so to get your hands on the goodies inside, you have to indulge in a bit of creative destruction. Yes, you get to take out all the frustrations of 2020 by smashing it up, responsibly of course. So, if you’re over 18 years old and based in the UK you can enter the competition by following the Jose Cuervo UK Instagram page and tagging a friend who they’d enjoy a festive cocktail with. So, what are you waiting for? Get entering, and have a smashing weekend (sorry!)