On The Nightcap: 14 May edition we’re raising a can for our grans, taking a look at some shiny new Welsh whisky developments and looking at the curious case of the Chernobyl apple brandy.
It’s a brave new world, folks. Today we’re going live with our first Master of Malt Clubhouse room at 3 pm. It’s called The Nightcap (because it wasn’t broke, so why fix it?) and we’ll be discussing all of the below and anything else that has caught our eye over the last week. Each week we’ll have special guests joining us to talk about another topic as well. Today it’s our wonderful former editor and now head of spirits at Fine and Rare, Kristiane Sherry and Blair Bowman, drinks writer and founder of World Whisky Day (which is tomorrow). So, if you have the Clubhouse, just search for the Master of Malt club and join us for a fun afternoon of chat.
The MoM blog was as busy as ever this week as we launched a new competition with the fab folk at Zespri kiwis, featured a new contributor in the form of booze sage Richard Legg (who demystifies one of Japan’s lesser-known spirits) and we tackled some big issues such as chill-filtration and how distilleries can become more sustainable. We also celebrated the upcoming World Whisky Day with a range of delicious drams, a new spectacular Talisker release and a weighty cocktail. There was also time to enjoy a refreshing gin Spritz and to run the rule on our favourite bars with a view.
Now, let’s get Nightcapping!
Aber Falls’ first whisky is (nearly) here!
We were fortunate enough to join an online tasting to try the much-anticipated first whisky release from Aber Falls. It’s North Wales’ first whisky in over 100 years. But not only did we get to try the whisky, more on that at the moment, but managing director James Wright was joined by top Welsh chef Ellis Barrie who cooked with Welsh ingredients. There was definitely a Welsh theme to the tasting so you won’t be surprised to learn that Aber Falls’ whisky is made from only Welsh barley. You can read about the whole process here. The first three-year-old release was aged in a combination of European oak first-fill PX casks with some virgin American oak. So far so conventional, but the team are also using some European oak casks that once held orange wine (a liqueur-like beverage made from oranges). The result is a young whisky that’s just packed with flavour. There’s a distinct orange and toffee note on the nose, a full body and it’s bottled at a nice punchy 46% ABV. Excitingly, there’s an all orange wine cask strength whisky on the horizon. Wright said the aim was to “put a bit of love in the glass, so when you try it everybody loves it.” The first release will be coming to Master of Malt soon but we don’t think it’s going to hang about for long as only 2,000 bottles have been filled. Keep watching that New Arrivals page.
Penderyn opens new £5 Million distillery
A big week for Welsh whisky just got even bigger with the news that on Monday Penderyn will open the doors to its new £5 million Lloyds Street distillery in Llandudno, North Wales. The brand is expanding its operation with the opening of the second site, which has plenty of history. It’s housed in the Grade II listed Old Board School built in 1887 and receives natural spring water from a reservoir that once served the Victorian lighthouse on the Great Orme headland. But what whisky fans will be most excited to know is that it will be the first modern Welsh distillery to focus on creating peated single malt whisky. A new Faraday still (unique to Penderyn) has been installed too. The distillery is also a bonus for Wales’ modest whisky tourism scene, which might explain why the project was assisted by a £1.4 million Welsh Government grant from the ‘Tourism Investment Scheme’ and the ‘Food Business Investment scheme’. According to Penderyn Distillery’s CEO, Stephen Davies, while Penderyn has always had a “loyal following in North Wales, with the South separated from the North by mountains and lakes, Penderyn has finally brought the country together”. He added, “By opening in Llandudno, visited by 9.6 million tourists every year, we’re saying ‘Welcome home to Wales and to Penderyn’. Tours of Penderyn’s new distillery in Lloyd Street, Llandudno will commence from the 1st June 2021 and once everything is truly back up and running, expects to invite about 60,000 visitors a year. We’d love to be one of them.
Chivas Brothers faces strike action
A dispute over pay has led workers at Chivas Brothers to vote in favour of industrial action after talks between the unions and the distiller collapsed. The GMB and Unite unions claim Chivas’ parent company, Pernod Ricard, has been unwilling to lift a pay freeze in Scotland while awarding pay rises to its workers in France earlier this year. Strike action could begin before the end of May, unless Chivas came up with an improved offer, with 84.4% of members backing strike action and 92.7% supporting action short of a strike. The situation wasn’t exactly helped by Pernod Ricard announcing promising financial results at the end of April. Scotland union organiser Keir Greenaway said: “Chivas workers across Scotland have kept the profits rolling in throughout this pandemic, but also against the headwinds of Brexit and a tariffs war with the US. They deserve much better than a real-terms pay cut.” The Scotch whisky giant, whose brands include Glenlivet, Ballantine’s and Royal Salute, employs about 1,600 workers in Scotland, including at the Kilmalid bottling hall, Strathclyde Grain Distillery, Glenlivet and maturation sites in Speyside, Clydebank and Ayrshire. Chivas chairman and chief executive Jean-Christophe Coutures the firm is “deeply disappointed” with the move and that the current proposals are “fair”, and recognise the “hard work of our teams whilst responsibly managing our business for the years ahead”. He added the brand is committed to seeking a resolution. Let’s hope a satisfactory solution is found soon.
Rosebank seeking distillery manager
If you’re a fan of Scotch whisky, you’ll almost certainly know Ian Macleod Distillers (IMD). The third-generation family-owned whisky and spirits business owns brands such as Glengoyne, Tamdhu, Edinburgh Gin and Rosebank Distillery, which it bought in 2017, Since then the brand has been working hard on bringing the ‘King of the Lowlands’ back to life. Those plans are clearly accelerating as a job advert inviting people to apply for a new distillery manager was posted recently. The brand is looking for someone with experience, leadership and “an appetite and desire to support bringing personality and a human ‘face’, to our exquisite brand”. In the application, there’s a whole list of ‘key outputs’ and ‘role capabilities’ outlined, including the requirement for a degree level or equivalents such as BSc in Brewing and Distilling. “The distillery manager will be the production leader for our entire Rosebank site, and the success of the production at Rosebank will rest squarely on this person’s shoulders… what an exciting opportunity for an experienced distillery manager to bring back to life this beautiful spirit (well we think so anyway!).” You can apply here if you fancy throwing your hat in the ring, but we’d imagine this will be going to a name we all know.
Raise a can for your gran with Brixton Brewery
The pandemic put a strain on a great many services, as Age UK Lambeth knows all too well. Over lockdown, it saw a 233% growth in demand for its services, from 21,000 people to 70,000 people. To honour the key role the local charity plays and to raise money to help with future endeavours Brixton Brewery has created a new beer. The IPA, Generation Pale Ale, is a celebration of the older people, “who are as likely to enjoy a great night out in a pub with a pint as any young whippersnapper”. All proceeds are going to Age UK’s vital services and the beer has been officially approved by its members. The ingredients were donated to the brewery by Charles Faram Hop Merchants and Simpsons Malt to reduce costs and increase proceeds. The beer name and design feature a shopping trolley/boom box for “kickass grandmas and granddads”, and the campaign champions the many faces (and ages) of beer drinkers. Among them is Peter Beaumont, 68, who was model scouted at 65, and has worked with Vivienne Westwood and Vidur Dindayal, 86, who is aiming to pip Justin Bieber to top spot in the charts. Founder of Brixton Brewery Xochitl Benjamin said: “We wanted to create a beer for everyone, that could bring together people of all ages after a long lockdown, and pay tribute to the generation that has helped make Brixton one of the most diverse, inclusive and friendly communities in the country. Brixton wouldn’t be what it is today without them. Every can sold supports long lives well lived in our community.” To purchase Generation Pale Ale in aid of Age UK Lambeth, visit the Brixton Brewery website or head to their taproom in the heart of Brixton and get ready to raise a can for (or with) your gran!
Beam Suntory and Edrington switch distribution firms
Big trade news came from Edrington and Beam Suntory this week, who have agreed to swap equity stakes in their jointly-owned distribution firms in the UK and Spain. An equity swap is essentially a transaction in which the obligations or debts of a company or individual are exchanged for something of equal value. Like that equity stuff. Lots of lovely, shiny equity. The move means The Macallan owner Edrington will take full ownership of Edrington-Beam Suntory UK, while Beam Suntory will become the owner of Maxxium Spain. The agreement is effective from 2 August 2021, subject to regulatory approval. The new agreement will see Edrington-Beam Suntory UK become Edrington UK Distribution, known as Edrington UK. Which is handy as the previous name was quite a mouthful. The press release reckons the move will allow both firms to “reduce complexity, improve agility, make decisive investments and expand opportunities for employees as both businesses become part of larger international companies”. Which are all good things. Right? This kind of marketing isn’t really our speed, to be honest. We do know that it’s great that when the deal is done Edrington will employ more than 1,200 people in the UK, mainly in Scotland, with 35 workers based in London. Folks who love a bit of trade detail will also note the deal marks the first time that Beam Suntory will have full ownership of its route to market in Spain. Hopefully, all this means we’ll have plenty of new and delicious booze to enjoy. Because that’s what we’re all in it for in the end.
English wine merchant ages wines underwater, for some reason
Last week it was wine aged in space, now it’s wine aged underwater. Is there no end to the craziness of the wine trade? This later venture is from online retailer The English Vine, no prizes for guessing its speciality. The company has sunk 200 bottles of wine including some from Ridgeview, Nyetimber and Chapel Down off the Kent coast. The idea is to see how ageing underwater affects the wines. They called in the help of the Whitstable Oyster Company to help get the gyrating palate of wine out to sea on 23 April. With wine sometimes recovered intact and drinkable from shipwrecks, there’s interest in how a dark, high-pressure environment might change the wines. Neil Walker, founder of The English Vine explained: “We were all inspired by the shipwreck Champagne bottle story and the underwater wine ageing process felt like something we wanted to investigate and really get to the bottom of. Is this a myth, or really something which could work? We can’t wait to get the results in spring 2022, whatever they may be, when we’ll have expert tasters and scientists working together to find out what it’s all about”. Walker is inspired in particular by a haul of Veuve Clicquot that spent 70 years beneath the Baltic before being recovered in 2010. We can’t help thinking, however, that only a year beneath the waves is not going to make a noticeable difference. Still great PR for The English Vine!
Fans across the globe celebrate Spirit of Speyside festival
We think it’s fair to say the virtual Spirit of Speyside Festival which ran from 27 April to 2 May this year was a success. 688 guests from 15 countries from around the world logged into the online event, joining virtual booths hosted by distillery managers, brand ambassadors, and whisky experts to chat with like-minded whisky lovers. The festival saw 2,877 visits to the 20 available booths, with guests using a total of 2,254 emojis and enjoying drams from 836 tasting kits. Of all the events, Benriach’s ‘World of Flavour’ proved to be the top pick of the festival as global brand ambassador Stewart Buchanan led a tasting of the core range and gave views a sneak peek behind the scenes of the new visitor centre in Elgin. Virtual distillery tours were also high on the agenda for visitors, with tours of Benromach and Tamdhu distilleries being the second and third most popular events. “This year’s Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival might have been very different from years gone by, but the distilleries rallied to create one of our most engaging and internationally visited events in our 21-year history,” says James Campbell, chairman of the festival. “With guests from every corner of the globe from Australia to the Philippines, Canada, Germany, Mexico and across the UK, whisky lovers rubbed shoulders with some of the biggest names in the whisky industry”. We also attended a few events and very much enjoyed ourselves. Although we’re certainly still looking forward to being there in person when it runs again from 3-8 November 2021… . In real life! Imagine that.
Whisky Me wows Dragon’s Den
A whisky subscription service looks set for the big time after it secured backing from all three ‘dragons’, Deborah Meaden, Peter Jones and Tej Lalvani, on BBC1’s Dragons’ Den this week. It’s called Whisky Me and it was set up in 2017 by drinks biz stalwarts Thomas Aske (Black Rock and other bars) and Tristan Stephenson (aka the Curious Bartender). When we spoke to Stephenson earlier this year, he said that business has been booming during lockdown so seeking outside investment was the logical next step. Meadon, Jones and Lalvani have taken 15% of the business in return for £75,000 worth of investment. Apparently, this is only the sixth time when all three ‘dragons’ (do we have to keep calling them ‘dragons’?) have come in on the same deal. Meaden praised the boys’ pitch, Peter Jones said he’d “been waiting for a great whisky business”, while Lalvani said that he shared “a passion for whisky with the guys.” So it sounds like a good fit. Stephenson commented: “We are incredibly excited to have three dragons on board. The expertise that Deborah, Peter and Tej bring to Whisky Me will help take the business to the next level, enabling us to further develop our UK market and expand the club internationally.” And Aske added: “We’ve seen a huge shift in the last year towards better drinking at home, which is a natural reaction to many of our favourite bars and pubs being closed. With this investment we can grow Whisky Me further, introducing amazing whisky to a bigger audience of curious drinkers everywhere.” Sounds like we haven’t heard the last of Whisky Me.
Archaeologists find illegal whisky stills
Archaeologists have discovered 30 sites that they believe were used to produce illegal whisky in Aberdeenshire and Wester Ross this week. According to the Evening Express, the illicit stills found at Mar Lodge and Torridon date back to the 19th century and would have produced whisky for smuggling, selling and stocking unlicensed private houses, known as shebeens. Researchers were able to use old accounts of excisemen to help them find the sites which were well-hidden in hills, deep in the countryside. “Landscape is absolutely key to the illicit distilling process – it provides barley and water as ingredients, and peat and timber for fuel, stone and turf to construct bothies,” says Derek Alexander, head archaeologist at the National Trust for Scotland. “But also the more broken-up and rugged the landscape the less easy it is to find where the bothies have been built and where equipment might be stored or hidden.” It’s Alexander’s belief that whole communities were involved with these illegal stills to spread the cost and minimise risks. It is also thought that, while 30 sites have been uncovered, hundreds more exist in those rolling hills. Let’s hope they find them and uncover their ancient secrets!
And finally… Chernobyl brandy seized by authorities
A brandy made from apples grown near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant has been seized by Ukrainian authorities according to the BBC. It’s all a bit mysterious but it seems that it has been held up on its journey to the UK not because of its atomic provenance but for bureaucratic reasons. Professor Jim Smith from the Chernobyl Spirit Company commented: “It seems that they are accusing us of using forged Ukrainian excise stamps, but this doesn’t make sense since the bottles are for the UK market and are clearly labelled with valid UK excise stamps.” This isn’t the first time Prof. Smith has hit the headlines, as we reported on the release of Atomik Vodka back in 2019. According to Smith, it was made from “slightly contaminated” rye but after radioactivity levels are “below their limit of detection.” Chernobyl Spirit Company conducts research into whether the contaminated area about the plant can be used for safe agriculture and helps communities in Ukraine that are still affected by the economic consequences of the 1986 explosion. It seems though, that the team is not finding it easy to sell its atomic spirits. We cannot think why.