Terroir-tastic Port Charlotte, the rarest of Cognac, a snippet of Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, whisky cake… It’s a bumper edition of What we loved this week!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! As you might expect the blog had something of an Irish theme this week. We began the week with a single grain whiskey from a mysterious distillery called Beautiful Fruit before looking at the best whiskeys to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. For most people, this day means a pint of the black stuff, maybe with a Jameson chaser but we are nothing if not adventurous here on the Master of Malt blog, so instead we’ll be drinking one or maybe all of these Irish-themed cocktails. Responsibly, natch. Then Adam came to the rescue with an explanation of why people say slàinte, and helped out with the pronunciation too. Thanks, Adam! He also tasted Auchentoshan 18 Year Old, because you asked him to, by voting on our Instagram stories. You have the power to decide what our Whisky of the Week is. Use that power wisely.

Right, here’s what we loved this week:

A bottle of Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2014

Terroir-tastic Port Charlotte? We need to run some more tests…

What Henry loved this week
Taste that terroir with Port Charlotte

Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2014 has just landed at Master of Malt. Port Charlotte is the peated expression from Bruichladdich and this version is made entirely from barley sourced from eight farms on Islay, hence the name. It was distilled in 2014 and aged in 84% first-fill bourbon casks, 8% in second-fill virgin oak and 8% in second-fill Bordeaux wine casks, and bottled at a nice punchy 50% ABV. Peating levels are 40 ppm. So what’s it like? Well, it’s a young whisky, so you’re not going to get a long-aged richness but it really is a lovely dram. Initially, there’s sea spray, wood smoke and vanilla, but time brings out fruit and a distinct herbal note. But what’s most noticeable is an unctuous creamy cereal quality which suggests the quality of the raw materials. Could I taste the terroir? It would be really interesting to try it side-by-side against the standard Port Charlotte of a similar age.  

An amontillado finish from Glen Moray, or is it?

Glen Moray in Speyside is a little oasis of value in an ocean of rising whisky prices. Apologies for the mixed metaphor. It’s well worth reading Jake’s appreciation of this unflashy distillery. The ordinary range is good but I think the Warehouse 1 releases are particularly exciting. These are always limited edition cask strength whiskies with unconventional (though not wacky finishes) which offer a lot of interest for the money. Last night I tasted the Glen Moray Warehouse 1 2013 Amontillado Finish which arrived at MoM recently. You don’t often see amontillado casks in whisky mainly, I think, because this type of sherry tends to be expensive and in demand. You can have a young oloroso or a PX but an amontillado is a fino that has aged until the flor (protective layer of yeast) has died, so you don’t really get young versions suitable for seasoning. But wait… the press release says it’s a “dark sherry from the Montilla region in Spain”. So could this be one of those fake sherry casks we keep hearing so much about? It turns out that it’s actually a reference to the word amontillado meaning ‘in the style of Montilla’. Phew! Glad we cleared that one up. The cask finish gives a quite different taste to what you might expect in a sherry finish like dates, molasses, walnuts etc. Instead, this crackles with flavours like ginger, honeycomb, butterscotch and vanilla, with a little tannic bite. It comes in at 57.5% ABV with only 1248 bottles available. 

A bottle of Ferrand Légendaire Cognac

Just one of the remarkable Cognac’s Adam tried this week: Ferrand Légendaire

What Adam loved this week
All of the buffalo (trace)

It’s not often you get to enjoy the company of Sazerac’s master blender, Drew Manville, amidst the splendour of JW Steakhouse restaurant at The Marriott Grosvenor Hotel complete with its delightful Old Fashioned Trolley. But last week I got just that opportunity to dine, taste, and learn from a true master of their craft. Manville walked us through classics including Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare 10 Year Old, Sazerac Rye, William Larue Weller 12 Year Old, and, most excitingly, the 2021 release of William Larue Weller from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. The legendary wheated-recipe bourbon was distilled in the winter of 2009 and aged in Warehouses C, D, K, L and Q before being bottled at 62.6% ABV. I truly understand the fuss. It’s somehow huge and yet subtle at the same time, with bolder notes of crème brûlée, cherry, and chocolate being underpinned by delicate hints of garden herbs, cheesecake base (or is that the JW’s famous cheesecake recipe lodging in my brain?), nutmeg, and vanilla cream. It’s a real treat to not only have access to whiskey of that standard but to do so in the presence of somebody so knowledgeable. And someone who is so gracious with it, too. I’ll be raising a glass of something inevitably inferior to Drew and the team at the JW tonight.

A show of force from Cognac

The annual Cognac Show in London means great producers in one location and lots of brandy to try. I can’t speak to everything that I tried and talked about here, but I will run you through some ridiculous liquid highlights. The real big hitters.

Starting with A.E. Dor No.6 Grande Champagne Cognac, which is made with eaux-de-vie aged for at least 25 years (but the average age is 35 years). It’s a richly rewarding Cognac with aromatic spice, thick dollops of vanilla custard, and an unctuous fruitiness that will make your heart sing. Cognac Leyrat Glory Extra was another showstopper, a single estate Cognac featuring eaux-de-vie that’s at least 35 years old. Initially, there’s lots of vanilla and toffee and spice and you just worry the cask has done a little too much but then all this stone fruit and rancio explodes into view and leads to a generous, luxurious finish that was probably the best I experienced in the show. Frapin Extra Grande Champagne Cognac was another masterpiece, one of those drinks I kept thinking about long after I tasted it because my tongue didn’t seem to want to give up on that array of deeply stewed fruit and subtle spice.

On a particularly indulgent Friday afternoon there was also Ferrand Légendaire Cognac to try, a Cognac that very much lives up to its name with remarkable finesse and an endless cycle of enjoyable flavours: plums, dark chocolate, baking spice, rancio, sandalwood, tobacco… The Hermitage stand was outrageous too, as you would expect, with the Indiana Jones of Cognac himself, David Baker, only too happy to explain all. Hermitage 2008 Grande Champagne Cognac was described as everything he wanted from Cognac at that age. It’s hard to disagree. This is what light, refined, Cognac is all about. 

Of course, it wasn’t just Cognac. For Armagnac fans, there was plenty to enjoy including the bargain of beautiful proportions: Darroze Grands Assemblages 40 Year Old Bas-Armagnac, not even a £150 of dried fruit and nutty goodness that demonstrates how Armagnac’s oilier, muscular nature lends itself to long ageing. For those cuckoo for Calvados, I thought Roger Groult Vénérable was a showstopper, the secret being maturation in a knackered old cask which preserves the apple character beautifully and made the spirit rich in notes of tarte tatin, gingerbread, and a welcome hint of smoke. 

If you’re into your brandies, then you’ll be delighted to know that April will be a feast of all things French and more here at MoM Towers. Keep your eyes peeled.

A cocktail at Oriole Bar

Oriole Bar is back, baby!

What Jess loved this week
Icelandic moss wine & tomato cocktail, anyone?

While the well-loved and highly-acclaimed bar Oriole no longer has a permanent home after being forced to close at the tail-end of 2022, the good news is it now has a three-month pop-up at the mezzanine in The Hoxton, Southwark. Its opening menu is like nothing I’d ever seen before, taking inspiration from the migration patterns and habitats of its avian namesake. In layman’s terms, that means each cocktail is inspired by flavours from across the world, taking us from Iceland to Canada, Korea, Mexico, and beyond. 

A standout for me was a cocktail called Svart Strand, made with Finlandia vodka, Icelandic moss wine, hibiscus mead, clarified heritage tomato, and lemon juice. I love savoury flavours and this intrigued me, but I queried about just how savoury it was. Our wonderful (and honest) server told me that another woman across the room had ordered this drink, taken a sip, screwed her face up, and proclaimed it tasted like seawater. So, naturally, I ordered it, because I like a challenge. And thank God I did, because this cocktail is about as far from seawater as it gets. With a hefty umami hit at the forefront, there’s also a bright grassiness to it, with a honeyed, floral sweetness (from the mead, I assume) making sure it doesn’t become… well, like taking a gulp from the ocean. It was refreshing in every sense of the word, and I can only imagine how much more delicious it’ll taste when the weather gets slightly warmer. With live jazz throughout the evening, make sure you pop in and say hi to the wonderful team and migrate your way through the menu before Oriole spreads its wings and flies off elsewhere.

What Alex loved this week
Whisky white chocolate, malt caramel & honey cake at Big Jo

I’ve usually steered clear of alcohol-flavoured food (I blame early introductions to rum raisin ice cream, terrible stuff), but that’s all been changing after a recent trip to Big Jo, sibling to Jolene – the North Londoner’s neighbourhood favourite restaurant-bakery series. The whisky was there adding a gentle warmth to the white chocolate buttercream, which sat happily between a decadent truffle and a fluffy cloud. Malty caramel, and dark, caramelised honey sponge sealed the deal. Attempts to get the recipe are underway, and I want to see if a whisky with a smoky profile would work too.