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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Ardbeg

The Nightcap: 2 July

UFOs, gold beer cans, and a bourbon heist – they are all in our weekly round-up of the news from the world of booze. It’s the Nightcap: 2 July edition!…

UFOs, gold beer cans, and a bourbon heist – they are all in our weekly round-up of the news from the world of booze. It’s the Nightcap: 2 July edition!

What is going on with the weather? Sorry, we should be more specific, what is going on with the British weather? Readers in Burkina Faso or Wirra Wirra will probably have their own takes on the local weather. Earlier this week at MoM Towers at a secret location just off the A26 in Tonbridge, we had our slippers on and were seriously considering building a fire out of old pallets. Luckily we’ve got plenty of booze so when we get the shivers, we get the Chivas, if you know what we mean. And then today, the sun’s out and we’re lounging around in muscle vests sipping Tio Pepe. Anyway, whether it’s hot, cold or indifferent where you are, pour yourself a weather-appropriate drink, put your feet up and enjoy our weekly round-up of booze news. It’s the Nightcap: 2 July edition! 

On the blog this week

We had a fun-packed blog this week: Lucy Britner looked at big booze companies hoovering up smaller brands for pots of cash; talking of cash, Ian Buxton cast a sceptical eye over some extremely old whisky releases; while Millie Milliken went completely bananas. Our New Arrival was a new rum brand, Saint Benevolence, making a difference to the people of Haiti, while Henry claimed to have invented our Cocktail of the Week, the Blood Orange Margarita. But that’s not all – Jess visited Quaglino’s, we got in the spirit of the 4th of July with some delicious American whiskies, and even launched a competition that could see you head to Islay as a guest of Kilchoman. Pretty fun-packed, eh?

Meanwhile over on the Clubhouse App this week we’re talking all things low-and-no alcohol while enjoying the usual Nightcap goodness with guests Kristy Sherry, Camille Vidal, and Claire Warner. Be sure to join us if you’re on the app.

Now on with the Nightcap!

Glenglassaugh releases 50 year old “coastal treasure”

Look, it’s by the coast. It’s coastal treasure!

Glenglassaugh releases 50-year-old “coastal treasure” 

Well, it seems to be the season for very old Scotch whisky. Hot on the heels of Dufftown’s 54-year-old release and Gordon & MacPhail 80 year old Glenlivet, comes a venerable bottling from Glenglassaugh. It’s a 50-year-old from this fascinating little distillery that was silent from 1986 to 2008. The whisky comes from a single Pedro Ximénez sherry cask and only 264 bottles have been filled at 40.1% ABV. Looks like they caught that cask in the nick of time, if they’d left it another couple of years, it would no longer be legally classed as whisky. The PR company is really going for the maritime angle with this one describing it as a “coastal treasure” with lots of stuff about North Sea air and even a reference to Dr Rachel Barrie learning to surf near the distillery as a child. There’s a video about it here. The master blender herself commented on the flavour: “Offering a deep and seductive sweetness, the 50 Year Old’s flavour profile ranges from caramelised pear to soft exotic cherries; almond and refined oak beautifully intertwine to present a symphony of tropical notes on a gentle ocean breeze with rolling waves of flavour, which intensify and evolve with each sip.” But don’t take her word for it, the judges at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition were impressed too, awarding it a double gold. And our whisky sage Ian Buxton, who was involved with the distillery’s revival, thinks that these old Glenglassaughs are usually superb (full story to come.) All this for £5,500, or roughly six times cheaper than the 54 year old Singleton of Dufftown. Bargain!

Foursquare Shibboleth

Foursquare Shibboleth – not likely to hang about

Foursquare’s latest limited release rum, Shibboleth, is here! 

We always get a bit hot and bothered by a new Exceptional Cask Selection from Foursquare. The Barbados distillery’s core range is pretty tasty, but when the team pulls all the stops out, the effect is sensational. And MoM customers clearly agree because these often bafflingly-named (‘Empery’?, ‘Détente??’) rums don’t hang about. In fact, by the time you read this, the latest may well be gone. It’s called Shibboleth, and for once the name makes a bit of sense. You’ll certainly recognise that someone is in your tribe if they profess a love of Foursquare rum. It’s a 16-year-old blend of column and pot still spirits, aged in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at 56% ABV with none of that filtering, colouring or sweetening. Just pure Barbados goodness. And blimey it is good. We were sent a little sample by Foursquare’s Peter Holland, and we spent a good ten minutes just smelling it. The aroma is heady with toffee, buttered popcorn, and banana bread with cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and refreshing menthol notes. Taking a sip, it carries it’s alcohol beautifully, exploding in the mouth with black pepper, tropical fruit, fudge and chocolate. The finish is extremely long. Shibboleth goes live today, but as we said, it may already be gone. It’s gone

Pappy van Winkle bourbon

Pappy van Winkle bourbon – tempted?

Bourbon crime documentary ‘Heist’ coming to Netflix soon

There’s a new whiskey documentary coming. Don’t worry, it’s not called The Golden Mist or something, featuring Jim McEwan and Dave Broom wandering around Islay. This is a whiskey film with an ‘e’, and melds two of America’s greatest exports, bourbon and organised crime. It’s part of a new true crime series starting 14 July on Netflix called Heist. Two programmes will be devoted to the theft of some seriously expensive Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon. Dubbed ‘Pappygate’ by the US press, it took place in 2013 when Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger, a Buffalo Trace employee, stole rare whiskeys valued at $26,000 from the distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. It took until 2015 before he was finally apprehended by Sheriff Pat Melton. Cutsinger was sentenced to 15 years, though only served 90 days. The story is further complicated by Cutsinger claiming in this article that although he had stolen barrels of bourbon from the distillery, he did not steal the rare bottles of Pappy Van Winkle. The documentary includes interviews with both Cutsinger and Melton. Director Nick Drew commented: “We all worked together and said, ‘let’s make this a roller coaster ride. Let’s make every beat of it live and sing and match the other stories.’ It was a fun challenge… We leaned into a sort of Coen Brothers, slightly absurd vibe….” It sounds like it’s going to be unmissable for fans of bourbon and crime capers.

Beavertown UFO

Keep watching the sky

Beavertown Brewery teams up with UFO expert for World UFO Day ‘Ask Me Anything’

We don’t know about you, but World UFO Day (2 July) has been in our diaries for months – and it’s finally here! Thought beer would have no place during World UFO Day? Think again, folks. With its zany, out-of-this-world illustrations (Gamma Ray American Pale Ale being a prime example), Beavertown Brewery clearly has an affinity with outer space, too. Today at 4pm, you can catch Nick Dwyer, Beavertown’s creative director and illustrator, and self-confessed space-obsessive, chatting to UFO expert (also known as a ufologist – we want that job title!) Nick Pope on Instagram Live (@BeavertownBeer). The event was appropriately named ‘Nick on Nick, Ask Me Anything’. You don’t have to be called Nick to join, but a zest for beer and the extraterrestrial would probably be handy. Pope isn’t just any ol’ ufologist – he was the former head of UFO investigation at the Ministry of Defence, no less. So gather your thoughts, grab a can of your favourite Beavertown beer, and get ready to question everything you thought you knew. The truth is out there.

St James Bar London

Spot the unicorn cordial

St James Bar launches ‘Imagination’ cocktail menu 

When we last visited St James Bar at Sofitel St James in January 2020, life was very different. We tried the (then new) Passport cocktail menu, which was created unironically, back when our passports hadn’t been gathering dust for nearly 18 months. Anyway, that’s enough dwelling on the past – now it’s out with the old and in with the new for the zazzy London bar, because later this month it’s launching a brand new cocktail menu: Imagination. The talented team used molecular techniques and sustainable processes to create this one, looking to challenge our senses and drive into our olfactory bulb with these new drinks. Inspiration has been drawn from impressionism, dragons, Iron Man comics, and even Elton John lyrics, while big words like spherication, carbonation, and foaming are all processes being used. But we’re not scientists, we’re cocktail lovers, so let’s get to the good stuff. We’re rather intrigued by the serve named ‘Van Gogh’, a combination of Tanqueray No.Ten, yuzu butter, Italicus, white Port, effervescence, husk ash, and something called unicorn cordial. In keeping with the times, sustainability is also a big consideration for the bar, which is using lemon husks in multiple ways and even producing its own honey from hives located at the top of the hotel. We’ll see you there on 29 July to find out how these unicorns are making their own cordial… 

Ardbeg 8 Committee release.png RS

Join the Committee and you can join the discussion

Join the Ardbeg Committee to taste latest 8-year-old sherry cask release

Sound the smoky whisky klaxon! There’s a new Ardbeg on the loose this week. It’s an eight-year-old bottling dubbed ‘For Discussion.’ Master distiller Dr Bill Lumsden explained: “I like to think of it as the ‘alternative universe’ version of Ardbeg Ten Years Old. An aged ex-sherry whisky is new territory for us, so naturally, we want some thoughts! We’re sharing this with the Committee’s experienced palates to help us find that smoky sweet spot. With notes of bold peat smoke, creosote, charcoal and salted caramel, it’s more than guaranteed to provoke discussion among those privileged enough to taste it.” It’s bottled at 50.8% ABV, costs £57 and is only available to members of the Committee – a global organisation of Ardbeg nuts. So if you love Ardbeg, and you’re not a member, what are you thinking? It’s free to join. Distillery manager Colin Gordon will host a live tasting for members on 30 July 2021. He urged: “We look forward to hearing their thoughts on our latest expression.  And, to anybody not already part of the family, we invite you to join the Ardbeg Committee… and join in the conversation!” 

Beavertown Gold Can

Probably not worth £15,000

And finally… all that glitters is not gold for Brewdog

Spare a thought for the PR department at Brewdog who have been working overtime recently. First there was the letter from disgruntled former employees and the resultant media frenzy. Now, just when they were beginning to stop twitching every time the phone rings, another story hits the news. The brewer had hidden 10 special cans in cases of beer for lucky customers. Each can was said to be worth £15,000 and came with £10,000 worth of Brewdog shares. Pretty tasty, eh? The problem is that someone at Brewdog said on social media that the cans were “solid gold” but when one winner, Adam Dean from Shrewsbury, took his to a jeweller to be valued, it turned out the can was actual gold-plated brass and only worth £500. Though the brewer has apologised to one unhappy winner, Mark Craig, it is still claiming that though the can isn’t solid gold, it is still worth £15,000 adding that the value: “somewhat detached from the cost of materials”. Looks like it’s going to be another week of late nights for the Brewdog comms team. 

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How to mix BBQ and booze for Father’s Day

If your dad has moved beyond the classic cremated sausage (black on the outside, raw in the middle) and supermarket lager combo, this is the blog post for you. And…

If your dad has moved beyond the classic cremated sausage (black on the outside, raw in the middle) and supermarket lager combo, this is the blog post for you. And him. So here are our tips on putting together BBQ and booze this Father’s Day.

Beer and a burger are about as perfect a match as Kylie and Jason. But the world of the barbecue offers a range of ingredients and flavours, opening up a whole load of drinks opportunities. From marinating meats with a splash of whisk(e)y to pepping up tomato sides with a slug of vodka, barbecues and booze are brilliant bedfellows.

Cooking with alcohol

Let’s take a closer look at how to put the booze on or in the food:

“We love adding a small quantity of alcohol into a barbecue marinade or glaze,” say Aaron & Susannah Rickard, authors of the newly published book Cooking with Alcohol. “The volatile alcohol molecules will gradually evaporate from the warm food as you eat, and this evaporation carries the vibrant, fresh aromas to your nose – fragrance is a big part of how our brains perceive flavour, so the addition of alcohol can literally make it seem more delicious.”

Well, there’s the science. The Rickards tend to use dark spirits when barbecuing with alcohol – they look for booze that can stand up to the strong, smoky flavours without adding too much liquid. “Dark rum, bourbon and even Jägermeister are all great options,” they recommend.

Cornish sustainability expert and development chef James Strawbridge from Strawbridge Kitchen agrees. He recently worked with online farm shop 44 Foods to create National BBQ Week ideas and he says using whisky in marinades helps to build a robust depth of flavour.

“It works wonderfully with the following spices and herbs: clove, mustard, rosemary, allspice, smoked sea salt, soy sauces, cinnamon and orange zest,” he explains. “Bourbon with its vanilla, spiced caramel notes is excellent with maple syrup for a smoky glaze brushed onto sticky ribs or with pulled pork.”

Buffalo Trace and butcher Jonny Farrell

Jonny Farrell demonstrates the thrill of the grill

BBQ and bourbon

Speaking of bourbon, Buffalo Trace has gone big on Father’s Day this year, with a competition for people to nominate a strong father figure for a chance to win a bourbon and barbecue experience. The brand has teamed up with renowned butcher Jonny Farrell, who has given MoM a top tip for the grill.

“If you’re outside and have a decent space around you – no covers and walls nearby – you can always use a little Buffalo Trace to flambé your steaks,” he says. “Just as they’re about to finish, carefully pour a shot over the coals and watch the flames lick the meat!”

Farrell explains that not only does this look “seriously cool”, but it also adds a little extra flavour.

Peat smoke and fire

Away from bourbon and back on this side of the pond, Strawbridge is a fan of peaty Scotch, which he says works “wonderfully well with BBQ beef short ribs or smoked beetroot to enhance the woody notes”.

The folks at Ardbeg are also unsurprisingly big on smoke – and smoking meat. They have once again joined forces with DJ BBQ to bring “big, smoky flavours to backyard barbecues”. The DJ’s big hit has to be 18-hour whisky smoked pulled pork, a recipe that features half a bottle of Ardbeg.

If that’s not enough Ardbeg, you could also make the Hot or Cold Apple Cider drinks pairing – a heady mix of Ardbeg Wee Beastie, cider and ginger (recipe below).

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

Ardbeg Wee Beastie, smokin’!

Beyond meat

But if red meat or big peat are not your bag, Cornish chef Strawbridge has a dish for that, too. “Irish whiskey is the drink to use with a little orange zest on lobster tails or to flambé wood roasted scallops in their shells,” he explains. “It’s lighter, complex and can be paired with seafood or poultry.”

Cooking with Alcohol authors the Rickards also have some tips beyond the meaty main. To pep up side dishes, they reckon stirring in a little alcohol can add a bright, fresh flavour.

“The zesty, herbal notes of gin will enhance a coleslaw beautifully, while just a teaspoon of vodka in a spicy tomato sauce adds a lovely zing,” they say. “And to finish your meal, marinade large pieces of pineapple or peach together with a little brown sugar, lime juice and spiced rum, before tossing them on the barbecue. The sugars in the fruit will caramelise over the heat to create a deliciously sticky sauce with incredible depth of flavour.”

Whatever you’re barbecuing this Father’s Day, there’s a drink for that.

Hot or Cold Apple Cider

Ingredients

50ml Ardbeg Wee Beastie
50ml apple cider
50ml ginger beer
25ml freshly squeezed lime juice
Demerara vanilla sugar to taste

Decide whether you would like to make cocktails individually or as part of a batch. Add the ingredients together and stir well. Heat the mixture on a BBQ (depending on your preference) and serve with a ladle or use a hot poker to heat individual serves (careful now!) Garnish with a cinnamon quill, a star anise and a mini toffee apple

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 9: Ardbeg

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 9: Ardbeg time! For the ninth day we travel to the mighty Ardbeg to see what the team has planned while Lucy…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 9: Ardbeg time! For the ninth day we travel to the mighty Ardbeg to see what the team has planned while Lucy Britner shares her own painful memories of the distillery.

We’re so near the end of the Master of Malt Islay festival 2021. This is the last day on the island itself before we head to Jura and from there back to MoM Towers at a secret location in Kent. We’ve got a treat today, as we’re going to Ardbeg, home of some of the most individual and fiercely-loved whiskies in Scotland. 

Before we hand over to Lucy Britner for her memories of Ardbeg and the Islay half marathon, we’re going to take a look at what kind of online shenanigans the team has planned for Ardbeg Day. But before that, check out our very own Jake Mountain talking to now-retired distillery manager Mickey Heads from Feis Ile 2019 and don’t forget to listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify 

What’s going on today?

As you might expect, Ardbeg is doing things a bit differently with what’s described as a “Fantasy Island Map” that you can navigate around to discover whisky-based treasure. “Simply click where you want to travel to, pour yourself an Ardbeg, and enjoy uncovering the myth behind this year’s malt – Ardbeg Scorch,” it says. It’s a bit hard to explain so we recommend going to the special page to find out more. 

What’s the festival exclusive?

Ardbeg Scorch, of course! This will be released in time for Ardbeg Day on 5 June. That’s today! Naturally, Ardbeg Committee members get first dibs. The name comes from a dragon that apparently lives in Dunnage Warehouse no. 3. The limited release whisky is aged in heavily-charred ex-bourbon casks and bottled with no age statement at 46% ABV. Dr Bill Lumsden described it as “a fire-breathing beast of a dram!” The tasting note is quite something: “A long and heroic finale, with a subtle tarry aftertaste. A finish that will drag on, well into its happily ever after.” Blimey! 

Colin Gordon, Ardbeg’s new distillery manager, said: “This year will be my first Ardbeg Day ever: a baptism of fire! It’s a shame we Ardbeggians can’t enjoy it together in person, but the online event is shaping up to be tremendous fun. With a whole virtual world to explore, including fantasy inns, campfire tales, medieval feasts and live tastings, there’s plenty for people to be excited about this year.” 

The brave runners of the Islay half marathon (credit: Phil Williams)

The brave runners of the Islay half marathon. Lucy Britner is 132

Tales from Islay: The Ardbeg half Marathon

This is the story of how Lucy Britner came to be wearing the former Ardbeg distillery manager’s socks. It’s also a story of friendship, loss and an ill-advised ceilidh.

The mile marker said ‘7’. I was over halfway in the half marathon that I’d only half trained for. Horizontal rain turned to hail and then back to sunshine, and I could no longer see any of the other drinks journalists that were also taking part in the Ardbeg Islay half. We were all doing the race in memory of one of our peers, Alan Lodge, who had died of a brain haemorrhage shortly before his 30th birthday. 

Ardbeg had always been Alan’s favourite dram, and he would mention it frequently and passionately. And so here I was, plodding along a country road, trying to avoid grain trucks as they sped past. The rain kept coming and with it, every emotion I had. Of course, I was sad to be thinking about Alan but then moments later, laughing out loud at what he would’ve made of this motley crew of booze hacks running 13.1 miles. 

I suspect I looked genuinely deranged. More so, perhaps, because mile seven was going on forever. And ever. I knew I couldn’t give up because I was alone in the middle of nowhere – and as I was fighting a feeling of despair, finally a mile marker came into view. It was mile 10. It turned out the others had blown away.

The finest illustration of just how lonely the run was, is Phill Williams’ brilliant picture of booze journo Richard Siddle. We called it the ‘never-ending road’ – and I genuinely don’t know how he’s smiling in the picture. Well, actually I do… Richard, or ‘the chief’ as he is known, ran the race on a cocktail of painkillers, owing to a bad back. He told me later that he’d been listening to Kylie and even enjoyed a blissful few miles where she had been running along beside him. Maybe that’s how to run a half marathon…

Celidh, Islay half marathon. Credit: Phil Williams

Never do this after a half marathon

The end of the road

The race started and ended in Bowmore and as I approached the finish, I could see familiar faces, already wearing medals and spurring me on for the final few paces.  A stranger shouted ‘C’mon, Lucy’ and for a second, I thought I was some kind of new local celebrity, but then I remembered my name was printed on the back of my top. Still, it gave me a boost for those last steps, especially as to meet the 13.1-mile requirement, you had to sort of run beyond a natural finishing point and round a little corner, away from the bustling main drag of Bowmore.

So, we finished. We ate snacks on Bowmore beach and patted each other on the back. The competitive ones among us talked times and tactics, showed each other app readings and compared running notes.

But I had something else on my mind. I’m a big believer in rewarding myself after any kind of exercise, so my thoughts naturally turned to what I could eat and drink after running that far. And so, just a couple of hours later, I was sipping from a can of lager in the village hall, awaiting my turn to be flung around the dance floor at the ceilidh. The hall was packed with locals and runners, and no one showed any of that ‘school disco’ fear. Indeed, we clapped and danced for hours and hours.

This, it turns out, was a huge mistake.

The next morning, my blisters had blisters and no amount of plasters would let me put on yesterday’s trainers. For some reason, I had taken flipflops to Scotland, which was a blessed relief until I got to the Ardbeg distillery.

We were hosted by the wonderful Mickey Heads, who was the distillery manager at the time – and if  my memory serves, we got to try many drams, including a limited-edition Ardbeg from 1973, as well as Alligator, Corryvreckan and Galileo. (Soz, Alan, you would’ve loved this.)

Mickey heads Credit: Phil Williams

Mickey Heads to the rescue with a fresh pair of socks

You can’t hike to a water source in flip flops

After a tour of the distillery, Heads announced we were going to hike to Ardbeg’s water source, Loch Uigeadail, for a picnic. Now, it’s not that far – about 1.5 miles – but there’s always a danger of ticks and the like, so my flip flops quickly became a bone of contention. There was no chance the trainers were going back on and soon a pair of wellies appeared, and then Mickey handed over a fresh pair of socks. From his own sock drawer. What a legend.

And so we walked (slowly) and lazed by the loch, eating, drinking, chatting.

In hindsight, the Ardbeg half was a wonderful way to see a chunk of Islay. And I’d do it again, just with better trainers.

And so, for this year’s virtual Fèis Ìle, I raise a glass of Ardbeg to you, Alan. Gone, but never forgotten. 

Photos of Islay half marathon courtesy of Phil Williams.

 

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The Nightcap: 23 April

On this week’s Nightcap there’s new Ardbeg and Talisker to drool over, the ‘world’s first Tequila board game’ and a man pouring a pint of lager over his head. Its…

On this week’s Nightcap there’s new Ardbeg and Talisker to drool over, the ‘world’s first Tequila board game’ and a man pouring a pint of lager over his head. Its all in The Nightcap: 23 April edition.

Happy St George’s Day, everyone! We hope you’re having something delicious and English to celebrate, whether it’s whisky, gin, rum, sparkling wine, or whatever takes your fancy. Personally, we’re very much enjoying The Oxford Artisan Distillery’s first rye whisky. Sadly, there’s very little of it about, so you’ll have to enter our latest lottery for a chance to buy a bottle. But you don’t have to slay any dragons to get involved. So that’s something. 

Elsewhere, the MoM blog was the place to be if you love Japanese booze as we uncovered the philosophy of Suntory and recommended seven of the finest Japanese whiskies available now. Australian whisky was also on our mind as we unveiled That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s new series of delightful expressions, as was the role of the Scotch Whisky Association and the news that Elixir Distillers snapped up Georgie Crawford in a surprise transfer from Diageo. The forgotten Prairie Oyster, Glen Scotia’s special Campbeltown Festival release, Canaïma’s cause-led gin and the simple but sublime Cuba Libre also caught our attention in a packed week.

But we’re not done yet. It’s The Nightcap: 23 April issue!

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

The fearsome fire-breathing limited edition will be arriving at MoM Towers soon…

Fearsome fire-breathing Ardbeg Scorch unveiled for Feis Ile

Fèis Ìle might not be taking place IRL, but the distilleries are still doing plenty to keep the fans spending money. Sorry, happy. We’ve just heard the news that Ardbeg will be releasing a limited edition in time for Ardbeg day on 5 June. It’s called Ardbeg Scorch based on a dragon that apparently lives in Dunnage Warehouse no. 3. No this isn’t a St. George’s Day fool, the team really is releasing this whisky (though the dragon thing sounds unlikely, imagine the health and safety implications with all that flammable whisky.) It’s aged in heavily-charred ex-bourbon casks and bottled with no age statement at 46% ABV. Dr Bill Lumsden described it as “a fire-breathing beast of a dram!” The tasting note is quite something: “A long and heroic finale, with a subtle tarry aftertaste. A finish that will drag on, well into its happily ever after.” Blimey! Colin Gordon, Ardbeg’s new distillery manager, said: “This year will be my first Ardbeg Day ever: a baptism of fire! It’s a shame we Ardbeggians can’t enjoy it together in person, but the online event is shaping up to be tremendous fun. With a whole virtual world to explore, including fantasy inns, campfire tales, medieval feasts and live tastings, there’s plenty for people to be excited about this year.” Sounds fun! Ardbeg Scorch will be available from 27 May for £100 from your favourite online retailer. And it’s been a busy week for Dr Bill and team as they also unveiled X by Glenmorangie, a whisky that’s “made to mix.” Full feature on this mixable malt coming soon…

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

A remarkable liquid with a story that’s… well, it’s a story alright.

Talisker releases its oldest expression to date: 43 year old Xpedition Oak

In what might be the most convoluted bit of coopering ever, the latest release from Talisker called Xpedition Oak The Atlantic Challenge was finished in casks containing staves that sailed across the Atlantic. James Aiken took the unusual cargo on his yacht, the Oaken Yarn, for a 3,264 journey following the route of the rowers in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge from La Gomera in Spain to Antigua. The staves were then sent back to Scotland and made up into barrels which were used to finish a 43-year-old Talisker in. We’re not quite sure why. Still, 1805 bottles were filled at 49.7% ABV and should cost you around £3500. Bottle number one will be auctioned to raise money for conservation charity Parley for the Oceans. Brand ambassador Ewan Gunn commented: “This whisky is a sublime single malt that captures the pinnacle of the key aromas of Talisker – spice, sweetness, waxy and creamy, with a sense of the sea salt spray the morning after a storm. The four decades of maturation have given a full flavour, yet a softness to this bold dram resulting in a rounded and elegant experience.” We were given a little sample and can only agree with Gunn, that Talisker DNA just shines through even after 43 years with an incredible lingering creamy sweetness. What a treat, though what effect the Atlantic voyage has on the flavour is not obvious to us.

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

Arnett is moving on to exciting new pastures

Former Jack Daniel’s master distiller to found $20m distillery

When Jeff Arnett left his role at the world’s biggest American whiskey brand back in September 2020, I think it was pretty clear to all of us that he was going to put his experience to good use. This week, the former master distiller of Jack Daniel’s revealed he’ll do just that at a new distillery being built in Tennessee. Following a US$20 million investment, Arnett’s Company Distilling project will open a 4,000 sq ft site with a tasting room and restaurant in Townsend, Tennessee in autumn 2021. It will be followed by the opening of a multi-functional ‘family-friendly’ facility in Springbrook Farm in Alcoa, Tennessee in 2022, which shows you how serious this plan is. The latter 20,000 sq ft site will eventually be home to the main distillery and manufacturing operations and will also include a tasting room, restaurant, brewery, and retail store with outdoor activities and entertainment hosted in 31 acres of space. There will be live music and games such as corn hole and pickleball (we have no idea what these but are guessing they are something Cletus from the Simpsons would play). Arnett is not the only significant figure in American whiskey at the centre of this project. It’s collaboration with Kris Tatum, former president of the Tennessee Distillers Guild; Heath Clark, founder of Tennessee-based H Clark Distillery; construction management professional Corey Clayton; and Clayton Homes CEO Kevin Clayton. Arnett is understandably excited about the project. He commented: “For years now, we’ve had this spirit in the back of our minds. It’s straight bourbon whiskey finished with maple wood to produce a sip like no other. It’s hard to believe it’s finally real. And it’s better than we ever imagined.” And there pickleball too!

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

It was quite the return to the world of in-person events for us this week

Bowmore and The Savoy team up to open Solas

This week did something truly amazing. We went to a bar for an event. Frankly, we’d have bit your hand off for an evening at Moe’s Tavern but we got to enjoy some a little more sophisticated at The Savoy. The London landmark was celebrating the launch of Solas (which means light, joy and comfort in Scottish Gaelic), an pop-up outdoor dining space in the historic Savoy Court that takes advantage of this age of outdoor hospitality. It’s a collaboration with Bowmore, which helped put together quite the menu. There’s an array of sublime cocktails that we got to taste as well as a raw seafood bar (mmmmm, raw seafood bar) that serves oyster selections, lobster rolls, gravadlax and scallop ceviche. The venue is a feast for the eyes too, but as you might imagine, it was the cocktails that really sold it for us. Standouts include the Pursuit For Perfection, a light, refreshing and elegant combination of Haku Vodka, peach, rosebud cordial and Champagne and Timeless, a rich, deep and complex mix of Bowmore 15 Year Old, Chezakette Bianco, Averna, Angostura, aquavit and sugar. It’s a truly impressive experience, to be honest. It looks great, the cocktails were delicious and the food? Well, Gordon Ramsey was there and he seemed perfectly happy. Solas is now open seven days a week until 21 June 2021 and I’d imagine reserving ASAP would be a good idea. 

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

The distillery has always had sustainability at the core of its business

Flor de Caña Rum to plant one million trees by 2025

With it being Earth Day yesterday, many brands have put the PR machines into overdrive in order to shout about how environmentally friendly they are. There are a few that aren’t simply greenwashing however, like Flor de Caña. It’s a sustainably-produced rum distilled with 100% renewable energy that’s carbon neutral and Fair Trade certified. It also has its own reforestation program, which has led to the planting of nearly 750,000 trees since 2005. Now it’s ramping up those efforts by pledging to plant more than one million trees by 2025. By partnering with One Tree Planted, its global campaign aims to raise awareness on the importance of reforestation and inspire consumers, bartenders and the general public to donate through the One Tree Planted platform. This guarantees that one tree will be planted for every dollar received. In turn, Flor de Caña will then match all donations received in order to have a greater impact. The global campaign, titled ‘Together for a Greener Future’, will also see the launch of several events with retailers, bars, restaurants and on social media (#TogetherForAGreenerFuture) to engage eco-conscious consumers. “Trees are essential for biodiversity and a healthy climate, so it’s great to work with a brand so committed to making a positive impact for reforestation and sustainability overall,” said Diana Chaplin, canopy director at One Tree Planted. Keep up the good work, guys!

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

Congratulations Mark!

Mark McClintock is Diageo World Class GB Bartender of the Year

Congratulations to Mark McClintock who fought off stiff competition to be crowned last night as Diageo World Class GB Bartender of the Year. The test consisted of two challenges. The first dubbed ‘Alive with Freshness’ used Tanqueray No. Ten and was judged solely on flavour and balance. The second was more complicated and involved contestants designing a dream whisky bar along with two cocktails, one made with Talisker and one with Johnnie Walker Black Label. World Class ambassador Jo Last praised McClintock’s “impeccable skills and hospitality throughout both challenges”.The judging panel was led by Pippa Guys who commented: “Mark has demonstrated a consistently high quality of drinks, knowledge, and personality ever since he stepped into the World Class programme.” McClintock himself said: “I am genuinely shocked and so honoured to go on and represent GB on the global stage”. In addition to the glory of going to the final 4-8 July (virtually), McClintock wins a 12-month contract with Global Bartending, WSET Level 3 spirits course, a personalised Cocktail Kingdom kit, and photoshoot. We wish him the best of luck for the final.

The Nightcap: 23 April edition

Loser has to sing The Champs – Tequila on karaoke.

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo with Cazcabel’s ‘world’s first Tequila board game’

Last week we heard about Jose Cuervo’s plans to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, now Cazcabel has revealed how it will mark the event. The brand has launched the ‘world’s first Tequila board game’, La Lotería. A hand-illustrated version of the Mexican classic bingo-style game, the aim is to be the first to match all the pictures on the sheet, La Tabla, with those called out by the host from the deck of cards. Each La Lotería game, comes in a magnetic box complete with a deck of cards, eight reusable La Tabla sheets and pens, a rule sheet, and a Spanish translation guide. Cazcabel Tequila is also hosting a Mexican Fiesta two-hour virtual event filled with tequila cocktails and La Lotería at 6:30 pm on Thursday 6th May. It will be hosted by the brand’s global brand ambassador Nate Sorby, with tickets available via Design My Night for £25 per person. It also sounds great, but to be honest the idea of mixing up some Margaritas whilst playing a Tequila board game sounds hard to beat. You can pick one up from the brand’s website and grab your Cazcabel Tequila here

And finally… man celebrates end of lockdown by pouring a pint over his head

Here in England, we’ve unable to contain our excitement that the pubs are opening again so we can have a delicious pint of beer in the garden. But not as excited as one St Helens man who was so overcome with emotion at the thought of that first pint, that rather than drink it, he poured it over his head. 45-year-old Charlie Richards commented: “My mate was just doing a video showing everyone there really enjoying the day and it went onto me, and well I got a bit excited and ended up rubbing the beer on my face before pouring it over my head for a few laughs. I didn’t think too much of it really, but my mate posted it on Facebook and now it’s gone everywhere.” So this St. George’s Day, we raise a glass to a true Englishman. Cheers Charlie!

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Five minutes with… Colin Gordon, distillery manager at Ardbeg

We spoke to the new Ardbeg distillery manager, Colin Gordon, about being a whisky romantic, the future of the category, and what the distillery and its new stillhouse have in…

We spoke to the new Ardbeg distillery manager, Colin Gordon, about being a whisky romantic, the future of the category, and what the distillery and its new stillhouse have in store for visitors when it reopens. Oh, and a mosh pit restaurant…

Arbeg means ‘small promontory’ in Scots Gaelic, but you’d have to work hard not to spot it perched proudly off the south coast of Islay. The distillery has been producing whisky originally for blends but now bottled as single malts for over 200 years (on and off). The range goes from the youthful Wee Beastie 5 year old, to its newly released 25 year old. Its long-running distillery manager Michael ‘Mickey’ Heads stepped down from his 13-year tenure in late 2020 and now, Colin Gordon (who has held the similar roles at neighbouring Port Ellen Maltings and Lagavulin Distillery) holds the keys to the growing site. So, what has he got in store for us?

Colin Gordon from Ardbeg

It’s Colin Gordon from Ardbeg!

Master of Malt: How have the first few months of running Ardbeg been since you started in October 2020?

Colin Gordon: It’s been brilliant! I already knew the site quite well just from already being on Islay and there is always a buzz here. There’s a close-knit team [about 30 people in the summer] which has been great since coming in – it doesn’t feel like I’ve only been here a few months. It’s been really busy and although Covid has brought its challenges, we’ve been making some fine new make spirits.

MoM: What made you make the move from Lagavulin to Ardbeg?

CG: It’s funny, I really wouldn’t have moved for many jobs to be honest. I already knew quite a few people who worked for Glenmorangie, so when the role came up myself and my family were really settled on Islay and we want to stay here. The Ardbeg brand is alive and well, it is such a funky brand, there’s a great team where you’re really involved and I just felt like it was the right opportunity.

MoM: What was your relationship with Ardbeg before you began the job?

CG: Islay is a close-knit place. Where I used to work in Port Ellen is probably the only place in the world where you get told how your malt is going when you’re standing in the queue buying a loaf of bread. I’d already dealt with Mickey quite closely, so I knew quite a lot about Ardbeg, and it was always a great place to visit and get lunch at the cafe. During Islay Fèis Ìle, the last day is always at Ardbeg, and it was always a really great mix between locals and visitors. Of course it’s also a great whisky – Ardbeg as a liquid is a grand dram.

Ardbeg Distillery on Islay

Ardbeg looking all dark and moody

MoM: What’s the best thing about running a distillery?

CG: I love whisky. It’s funny because there are so many people who work in the industry who don’t love it, but I genuinely do, and single malt especially, so I love what we’re doing day to day. Distilleries are so intertwined with the place as well and we’ve still got people working here related to people who worked here before them and as the 21st distillery manager, you’ve just got to come in and keep that going because we have passionate fans all over the world. No day is the same, and Islay often has unique challenges. As an industry though, we collaborate: I think that’s stronger on Islay – it’s like you’re one brand.

MoM: What does it take to be a distillery manager?

CG: I would say you need to be quite calm under pressure because things do go wrong and you will always have challenges, from poorer crop for your malt to process issues, day-to-day managing, customs – you know, all that good stuff. You need to be passionate about what you do and be open to change and innovation which is huge at Ardbeg: you need that mindset. Distillation and making whisky or new make spirit is a process we’ve been doing for a long time, so you need to try things and have an open mind for that. You’ve got to like people too because ultimately you’re a people manager.

MoM: Did Mickey Heads give you any advice on taking over?

CG: Mickey and I didn’t have a long handover because of Covid and everything was delayed. Mickey finished on 1 October which was pretty much the day I started. We went for a walk around the site and in a very calm manner he said: “This is a great site. Use the team and you’ll be absolutely fine.” He didn’t give me anything too worrying, but he did recommend a few things he’d like to see done. 

Ardbeg distillery (Credit: Phil Wilkinson)

Ardbeg distillery (Credit: Phil Wilkinson)

MoM: Are there any changes you’re looking to implement?

CG: I think the biggest thing for us is really around volume as the demand continues to grow. We have built a new stillhouse and doubled up with two wash stills and two spirit stills. We will hopefully finish at the end of this month and that will be key to help us maintain the brand. Everything [from the original stills] has been replicated, so they’re identical and we need to make sure they run the same, and the spirit we’re running off is the best quality. There will be other bits and pieces, too. 

MoM: What are the nuances of the Ardbeg distillery that are different to what you’ve experienced before?

CG: We’re still quite manual in a lot of respects. A lot of the places I’ve worked before have been automated, but I’m a bit of a whisky romantic at heart so I like that the mash is still very manual. The operators are the sequence, with valves being opened by hand, so that’s one of the biggest differences. We’ve still got a lot of people interacting with the process.

MoM: What do you think will be the challenges for whisky distilleries in Islay in the coming years?

CG: I think there are a number of things that will pose challenges. There are a number of distilleries on Islay that will hit a spate of retirements and we need to make sure we have the right people coming through. There is a fine balance in rural Scotland (and rural UK) in that we need to make sure we keep our young population so that we have the next generation working here. That is a real issue – we need to make sure we have the right people to grow. Long term, it’s all about sustainability. The Scotch Whisky Association has set ambitious targets and we support that 100% as a business. They are good challenges.

MoM: What’s on the horizon for Ardbeg in 2021?

CG: Nothing but exciting times. In terms of the distillery side, we have the new stillhouse and there are some more exciting bottlings and special releases. The visitor centre also plays a large role and when we can welcome people back, one of the things we’ve looked at since Covid is our restaurant. It’s one of the great things people loved here, it was like organised chaos (like a mosh pit sometimes), so we’re looking at how we can develop that and restructure nicely so we have an outdoor eatery. It will be like a big American-style trailer with smoked foods and we’re really looking at what we can do with that. We’re a brand that doesn’t sit still.

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Brendan McCarron to leave Glenmorangie for Distell

Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stocks at The Glenmorangie Company, has announced he will leave the role to take up the mantle of master distiller at Distell.  Pretty huge…

Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stocks at The Glenmorangie Company, has announced he will leave the role to take up the mantle of master distiller at Distell

Pretty huge news emerged on Instagram yesterday as Brendan McCarron revealed that his time with The Glenmorangie Company is drawing to a close after seven years. The former head of maturing whisky stocks will be moving to Distell to become the brand’s new master distiller, where he’ll work with its considerable Scotch whisky cohort. This includes Bunnahabhain, Tobermory and Deanston distilleries as well as Black Bottle whisky.

It’s a striking revelation as it appeared that he would be the natural successor to Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation and because he’s enjoyed so much success with the brand. Both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg Distillery have released all kinds of wonderful new expressions over the years under the duo’s stewardship. We’ve also heard that the news came as a surprise to Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMH), the owner of The Glenmorangie Company.

In a post on his personal Instagram account, McCarron commented “So I have a bit of news. I’ve just accepted an offer to be the master distiller for Distell. I’m going to work with the team responsible for Bunnahabhain, Tobermory and Deanston distilleries as well as blends such as Black Bottle and my first time working on gin too”. McCarron added that he is “beyond excited to get started”, and has been enjoying his “research“ recently, in particular tasting Tobermory 12 Year Old. He signed off by stating that he was very sad to leave the Glenmorangie company after “7 great years”, but that he can’t wait to get started in the new role.

Brendan McCarron has announced he will take up the mantle of master distiller at Distell. 

McCarron is one of the most respected whisky producers in the industry

We reached out to McCarron and he informed us that he’ll likely start working in his new role next month. He’s based near Deanston and will split his time between there, Tobermory and, of course, Islay, as well as Distell’s new multi-million-pound blending and disgorging centre in East Kilbride. “I am becoming like a proper west coast distiller,” McCarron remarked to us. He also says the role he’s taking will mean more time working in distilleries. “One thing I do miss is production, the hiss and singing of the stills as the steam goes through them. There’s an energy to production which I haven’t had in this role which has been nosing, blending and travelling. I’ve always missed the connection to the distilleries. So this ticks every box. I’ll be directly in charge of production.”

Ultimately, the allure of the new gig and what it entails is what has sold McCarron. “I’ve done stuff I wouldn’t have imagined being a working-class boy from Coatbridge, I’ve drunk Krug in five-star hotels, drunk amazing whiskies with incredible people in China, Russia and various parts of the States. And got to work on incredible whiskies. But it’s been seven years. Bill’s still got lots that he wants to achieve. I could continue to work under Bill but I love the idea of Distell saying, here’s what we want to do, here’s what our plans are, here are our liquids,” he explains. “I’ve always loved Deanston, Bunnahabhain and Tobermory. It was the distilleries, the liquids, and seeing the investment that’s going into the company. All this appealed to me. My boss, Julian Patton, told me about his plans, how much he believed in the whiskies. And I do too. Being the master distiller of three distilleries you love, it’s hard to say no.”

McCarron was also keen to thank everyone for the response he’s had, commenting. “My phone was dead this morning, I had so many missed calls and messages that it drained the battery. There have been lots of lovely messages coming in.” He also said that Bill is sad to see him go, but is excited for him too, saying that it’s “an amazing role but they are lucky to have you”. McCarron added that he “didn’t anticipate me leaving. I didn’t anticipate me leaving. But, when a role like this appears, you can feel the energy in the company. It’s impossible to say no.”

Brendan McCarron has announced he will take up the mantle of master distiller at Distell. 

McCarron will split his time across the distilleries he’ll work with, which will include trips to his beloved Islay

Before working for The Glenmorangie Company, McCarron had managed Oban Distillery, was the group manager of Lagavulin, Caol Ila, and Port Ellen Maltings on Islay, and helped to design Roseisle Distillery – the first distillery to be built in Speyside for 30 years. His new employer Distell is a South African-based producer and marketer of spirits, wines, ciders and ready-to-drink products (RTDs). The company was formed in 2000 by the merger of Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW) and Distillers Corporation. In 2013, Distell purchased the Scotch whisky business of Burn Stewart Distillers from CL Financial for £160m and took on its impressive portfolio, which includes the aforementioned distillery giants as well as brands like Black Bottle and Scottish Leader

We wish him all the best and can’t wait to see what he does at Distell. Slainte, Brendan!

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Say cheese, with whisky

From rich crumbly blues with peated Islays to Parmigiano-Reggiano with a cask strength Highlander, the world of Scotch whisky and cheese pairing is rich and (ful)filling. Lucy Britner talks match…

From rich crumbly blues with peated Islays to Parmigiano-Reggiano with a cask strength Highlander, the world of Scotch whisky and cheese pairing is rich and (ful)filling. Lucy Britner talks match pointers and favourite combinations with a handful of whisky experts 

A great whisky and cheese pairing is one of life’s little pleasures. And let’s face it, we could all do with a few of those at the moment.

The rules of cheese and whisky pairing

Like many food and drink pairings, there are a few basic rules to observe when it comes to getting your dram and your dairy to dance. Of course, once you have observed them, you can enjoy breaking those rules or making up new ones of your own.

Gordon Dundas, international brand ambassador at Ian Macleod Distillers, says the old adage of looking for a complement or a contrast is the first port of call. Matthew Cordiner, global brand ambassador for Bacardi’s single malts concurs and demonstrates both a complement and a contrast in his pairings (below).

Beyond that, Dundas says “peat level, cask maturation and alcohol strength are the three things you should be looking out for” when choosing a cheese. 

He says stronger whiskies generally have a more robust mouthfeel, meaning hard cheeses are usually a good match, whereas peated whiskies need big flavours, such as blue cheeses.

In Islay, Jackie Thomson, Ardbeg Distillery visitor centre manager, says pairing cheese and whisky is a “win-win challenge, as the fat of the cheese balances the strength of the alcohol”. 

Thomson says there are a few other things that can cement a match: “It is important to find a ‘bridge’ – a fruit, a spice, a nut, a type of bread or biscuit – which will facilitate the marriage between the solid and the liquid.”

Cheese dreams: Top picks from our experts
Ardbeg and cheese tasting

Ardbeg and cheese, these are two of our favourite things

Jackie Thomson, Ardbeg Distillery visitor centre manager

Ardbeg Uigeadail, 54,2% ABV, with blue Stilton

Thomson suggests serving the two with a salad of green leaves, chopped walnuts, dressing with orange juice and zest and olive oil.

“The tanginess of the blue cheese meets the smoky profile of the whisky. The walnut and orange are an echo to the sherried maturation of Uigeadail – this is a truly flavoursome matching.”

Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5 year old, 47.4% ABV, with a Taleggio

To be enjoyed with an olive or bacon focaccia.

“Taleggio is a smear-ripened Italian cheese with a strong flavour and a creamy texture. The rind is washed during the ageing process and is edible,” Thomson explains. “It reveals some fruity and buttery notes and a slight acidity in the finish. There is an interesting combination of flavours with the meaty character of the whisky and the soft texture of the cheese tames the whisky’s spicy outburst at mid-palate.”

Aberfeldy and Craigellachie with cheese 2

Cheese and whisky gang thegither

Matthew Cordiner, global brand ambassador for Bacardi’s single malts

Cordiner keeps things local with his selection of cheeses from Edinburgh’s I.J. Mellis.

Aberfeldy 12 year old, 40% ABV, with Hebridean Blue

“The sharp, salty notes of the Hebridean Blue worked well with the honeyed sweet notes of the Aberfeldy giving a rich, rounded and creamy mouthfeel overall.”

Craigellachie 13 year old, 46% ABV, with Auld Reekie – a smoked cows’ cheese from Aberdeenshire

“Unlike the Aberfeldy which was more of a reverse pairing, the Craigellachie and Auld Reekie was a perfectly complementary pairing, with the creamy tropical fruit notes and wisp of bonfire smoke from the whisky working beautifully alongside the creamy and smoky taste of the cheese, which is itself smoked in Aberdeenshire over old whisky barrels.”

Sandy McIntyre and Gordon Dundas

Sandy McIntyre and Gordon Dundas

Gordon Dundas, international brand ambassador at Ian Macleod Distillers

Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch 8, 59.2% ABV, with aged Parmigiano-Reggiano

“A harder, flavoursome cheese, like an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, will really cut through that high strength. The whisky is matured in both sherry and bourbon casks, so it’s not overtly rich, more fruity although strong and intense. As a result, it contrasts the strong crystal style of the cheese but balances out flavour-wise, giving a long combined finish.”

Glengoyne 12 year old, 43% ABV, with Brie

“For a lighter, bourbon-influenced whisky, such as Glengoyne 12 year old, you want something that complements. Brie is light and creamy and will appear sweeter with the vanilla and calm the zestiness of the whisky.”

 

Ian Logan, international brand ambassador, Chivas Brothers

Glenlivet XXV, 43% ABV, with Camembert and chutney

“This was a creation of John Williams at The Ritz. With the XXV being finished in first-fill Oloroso casks for a couple of years, we managed to get a cheese that complemented perfectly. The chutney was made up of raisins, almonds, spices, apricots, dates and with the sweetness of the coconut, it couldn’t be a better match for those sherry casks. It was served with rye bread on the side for a little extra spice. A wonderful memory of a wonderful evening at The Ritz.”

Glenlivet 15 year old French Oak Reserve, 40% ABV, with Parmigiano-Reggiano

“Those new French oak casks are bringing heaps of sweetness and spice to the game, lots of lactones and vanilla from the Tronçais oak. Often as Parmigiano gets older, there is more spice to be found and that was the perfect foil for the sweetness of the casks and a complement to the spice from the wood. This match was proposed by Martine Nouet.”

GlenDronach-Reviva

The mighty Revival, great with cheese

And here’s one of my own

GlenDronach 15 year old Revival, 46% ABV, with vintage cheddar 

“It is customary in my house to enjoy Christmas cake with a slice of mature cheddar. For this reason, I’d go for something like GlenDronach 15 year old Revival, which is matured in Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez casks, paired with a crumbly mature cheddar cheese. The tang of the cheddar is the perfect match for rich, dried-fruity whiskies and the GlenDronach also has some great caramelised walnut flavours that work well with the rich and bold flavour of the cheese. Extra points for older cheddars with crystals, for extra mouthfeel.”

The beauty of whisky and cheese pairing is that you can go totally bonkers and spend a fortune on artisan cheeses and rare whiskies – or you can go totally Tesco and do it all on a more modest budget. There are perfect partners for every dram and no doubt there’s even a match for the DairyLea Dunker. 

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Our most-read posts of 2020!

It’s the time of the year to look back to see what you the reader was most interested in on the blog. Spoiler alert: it was mainly whisky. With 2020…

It’s the time of the year to look back to see what you the reader was most interested in on the blog. Spoiler alert: it was mainly whisky.

With 2020 almost over, and thank heavens for that, we decided to look back at what posts garnered the most amount of interest. So, we fired up our old analytics computing device – it’s very similar to the machine used by Turin traffic management in classic caper flick The Italian Job. Yes, we could just use Google or WordPress analytics, but where would be the fun in that? We just love watching those old reels of magnetic tape roll, listen to the random bleeps, and then after a couple of hours, it spews the answers out on computer paper with a satisfying whirring noise. 

What was interesting about this year’s results compared with 2019, is how cocktails have invaded the top ten. Because we couldn’t go out, 2020 was the year the home bar really took off. Right, in ascending order of popularity, here’s what you were most interested in this year: 

boulevardier

10 – Cocktail of the Week: The Boulevardier 

Searches for cocktails went through the roof in 2020 as seemingly everybody tried their hand at home bartending. We were delighted to see one of favourites in the top ten (above).

9 – Out of Africa, Procera gin 

The quest to make the world’s best gin in Kenya clearly caught your imagination. It helps that the gin really is superb. 

8 – New Arrival of the Week: Bombay Bramble 

No surprise here, take one of the world’s biggest gin brands, add a modern classic cocktail and people are going to be interested. 

7 – Cocktail of the Week: Dark ‘n’ Stormy 

It was 40 years ago this year that Gosling’s rum in Bermuda took the bold step of trademarking the island’s drink, the Dark ‘n’ Stormy.

6 – Hurry… popular Nikka whiskies to be discontinued 

News that two Japanese favourites including an age statement 12 year old would be disappearing really had people reaching for their wallets. 

5 – Diageo Special Releases 2020 

It’s always one of the biggest events in the whisky calendar for us, and clearly for you too. We were not surprised to see this one in the top ten.

4 – Macallan unveils Red Collection 

Macallan is a contender for the world’s most famous distillery, so when it unveils a collection including a 78 year old expression, people will sit up and take notice. 

3 – Master of Malt tastes… Glenmorangie a Taste of Cake 

This was great fun and a delicious dram, a Glenmorangie finished in sweet Tokaji casks to give it a cakey taste plus some great pics of Dr Bill Lumsden covered in icing (see header).

2 – Ardbeg releases its first ever beer 

More fun from the LVMH stable as Adam tries a beer brewed by the Islay distillery. Well, they do a thing or two about brewing as well as distilling.  

And the most read post of 2020 was. . .

1 – Master of Malt tastes. . . Ardbeg Blaaack 

Another great dram and funny story from Ardbeg, with a bottling inspired by the sheep of New Zealand and aged in Pinot Noir casks. Delicious!

The Nightcap

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Top ten: Scotch whiskies under £50

From smoky single malts to the ultimate Highball blend, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get some seriously good Scotch whisky. Here are ten of our…

From smoky single malts to the ultimate Highball blend, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get some seriously good Scotch whisky. Here are ten of our favourites.

We love whisky at Master of Malt. Which means that everyone in the office has strong opinions on the subject so it was tricky to narrow this list down to just ten bottles. People are going to be upset that we didn’t include their favourite drams, especially Talisker 10, Laphroaig 10 or Bowmore 12. But we thought it would be a good idea to include alongside the old favourites some lesser-known whiskies as well as expressions that are so well-known you probably don’t notice them anymore. So without further ado, delay or general beating around the bush. Here are (some of) our favourite Scotch whiskies under £50. Tell us in the comments or on social why we should have included your dram of choice.

ardbeg-uigeadail-whisky

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Well, we had a bit of a discussion that got quite heated about which Ardbeg to include. The Ten would have been the obvious choice but instead we’ve gone with the spectacular Uigeadail ( pronounced “Oog-a-dal”) that melds the smoky lime-scented Ardbeg character with sweet sherry casks. And how!

What does it taste like?

There’s plenty of peat and smoke but it’s all wrapped up in muscovado sugar, honey and espresso coffee. Rich and pungent, Uigeadail is quite an experience.

arran-10-year-old-whisky

Arran 10 Year Old

This distillery was founded by former Chivas MD Harold Currie, the first on the isle of Arran on the West Coast since 1837. It might be the entry level whisky but this ten year old aged entirely in bourbon casks tastes pretty special, showing off the fruity, floral distillery character.

What does it taste like: 

Nutty and biscuity with fresh apple and lemon fruit plus floral summer hedgerow and honey notes. It’s packed full of character and really over delivers for the money.

balblair-12-year-old-whisky

Balblair 12 Year Old

Last year Balblair switched from vintage releases to a suitably impressive new range of age statements expressions. This is the baby of the bunch, aged in ex-bourbon and double-fired American oak casks, and it’s superb.

What does it taste like? 

The soft mango and peach distillery character really shines through, supported by spicy cedar and nutmeg, honey and barley. A great introduction to a great distillery. 

compass-box-spice-tree-whisky

Compass Box Spice Tree 

Originally made with oak staves which attracted the ire of the SWA, Spice Tree is now aged in especially-made casks with new French oak heads. It’s a stunning blend of Highland malts with the French oak adding masses of spice, hence the name. 

What does it taste like? 

Dried apricots, vanilla, cinnamon and toffee with pungent tobacco, cloves and pepper, it’s not called Spice Tree for nothing. Long, complex and totally harmonious. 

glenfarclas-10-year-old-whisky

Glenfarclas 10 Year Old

Glenfarclas is one of the very few family-owned distilleries in Scotland. That combined with its excellent sherry-soaked Speyside drams is why it is one of the the country’s best-loved distilleries. 

What does it taste like? 

On the nose there’s honey, toffee and Oloroso sherry. While the palate is full of baking spices with fruitcake, apples, nuts and even a little smoke.

glenmorangie-10-year-old-the-original-whisky

Glenmorangie 10 Year Old

We love the whole Glenmorangie range but it’s the 10 Year Old Original we keep coming back to. Entirely aged in ex-bourbon casks, it’s smooth, sweet and fruity but deceptively complex. No drinks cupboard should be without a bottle. 

What does it taste like? 

Full of lemons, nectarines and apples with vanilla, digestive biscuits and gentle baking spices. And honey! Lots and lots of honey. 

j-and-b-rare-whisky

J&B Rare 

J&B Rare is one of those whiskies so ubiquitous, you probably don’t even notice it behind the bar. Which is a shame because this is probably the ultimate Highball whisky. Just blend with soda, ice and maybe a dash of orange bitters for a refreshing pre-dinner drink. One sip and you’ll never go back to G&Ts.

What does it taste like? 

Yes, it’s light but there’s depth here too with appley fruit joined by richer notes of malt, cedar, vanilla and walnut with a lift of orange zest. Perfect with soda.

johnnie-walker-green-label-15-year-old-whisky

Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 Year Old

Well, we had to include something from Johnnie Walker. But rather than the Red or Black, we’ve gone with Green Label, a spectacular 15 year old all malt blend that combines whiskies from around Scotland. One to offer to people who say they only drink single malts.

What does it taste like? 

This is packed full of dark chocolate, oak spice, malty cereal notes, and coffee and walnut cake. An after-dinner whisky, if there ever was one. 

kilkerran-12-year-old-whisky

Kilkerran 12 Year Old

In 2004, Springbank reopened Glengyle distillery taking the number of working distilleries in Campbeltown to three. But Glen Scotia owns the Glengyle brand which is why this whisky is called Kilkerran. The quality is exceptional for the money and this expression has become something of a cult. 

What does it taste like? 

It melds citrus, cherries and orange peel with creamy vanilla, honey and butterscotch, with a saline note running through it. If you love the oily Springbank style, then you’ll adore this.

seaweed-and-aeons-and-digging-and-fire-10-year-old-whisky

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old

An Islay single malt from an undisclosed distillery. The name makes sense as soon as you take a sip, it’s a smoky peaty Islay malt with 25% aged Oloroso sherry cask. This has proved an extremely popular malt with MoM customers.

What does it taste like? 

Does exactly what it says on the bottle: there’s woodsmoke, seaweed and charred meat combined with sweet sherry notes, red apple and vanilla. 

4 Comments on Top ten: Scotch whiskies under £50

New Arrival of the Week: Ardbeg Wee Beastie

It was a long time coming, but Ardbeg Wee Beastie has finally hit the shelves at MoM Towers. We had a taste to let you know what to expect. Last…

It was a long time coming, but Ardbeg Wee Beastie has finally hit the shelves at MoM Towers. We had a taste to let you know what to expect.

Last year we welcomed the arrival of the eldest expression in Ardbeg core range, Traigh Bhan 19 Year Old. Now the pendulum has swung the other way, with the youngest age statement bottling to joining the ranks. Ardbeg Wee Beastie was matured for just five short years in a combination of ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks before it was bottled at 47.4% ABV.

The distillery says it set out to create the “rawest, smokiest Ardbeg ever”, with much of the marketing labelling it a “monster of a dram” while the recently retired distillery manager Mickey Heads described it as a “ferociously good wee nip”.

Which is all very exciting, because we do love a young, raw and bold Islay bottling here at MoM Towers. But we don’t often get the chance to indulge in this fancy, because lower age statements tend to be saved for some new brands rushing out something immediately sellable or the occasional independent bottling. Bigger brands and distilleries have only recently begun to issue releases as young as 5-years-old. 

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

The ‘Monster of a Dram’ is here just in time for Halloween

The Wee Beastie – a bold release?

Perspectives on age are changing and people are becoming more open-minded about what makes a great whisky. Further education is still required, however. Among the average consumer, there’s still some work to do in challenging the notion that well-aged single malts reign supreme. There’s plenty to love about blends, grain whisky and drams on the youthful side of the spectrum.

So, it’s great to see that notable distilleries have been waking up to the potential of young whisky in recent years. If Wee Beastie continues to receive the acclaim it has so far and retains its high demand, it could open the floodgates. Although a word of caution: nobody wants rushed booze. Making whisky that young which also tastes good requires a fine balance of cask management and outstanding distillate. But I’ve noticed that Islay and other islands have a knack for getting this right. 

Talisker has arguably stolen the spotlight in two of Diageo’s most recent Special Releases, with a pair of 8-year-olds in 2018 and 2020 that were absolutely sublime, Bruichladdich has received plenty of plaudits for Port Charlotte and Octomore bottlings under 10 years matured and Ardbeg fans will remember the distillery has its own share of success in this area with the highly collectable Ardbeg Very Young, Still Young and Almost There expressions from the early 2000s. 

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

Wee Beastie is the youngest age statement whisky in Ardbeg’s range (credit: Rose from @fromwhereidram)

Ardbeg Wee Beastie Whisky Tasting Notes & Review

In the case of Wee Beastie, it was interesting to read one of Heads’s comments in the press release, that bottling a younger whisky means they were able to get “as close to the still as possible”. He’s teasing that we can expect a display of distillery character here, which is exciting, but one thing to note is that Ardbeg does things a little differently. On the Lyne arm of the spirit still at Ardbeg there is a purifier, an apparatus no other Islay distillery uses, which is designed to capture heavier compounds and feed them back down into the main pot of the still to add extra reflux. This should make for a lighter spirit with ample fruitiness that means the young whisky has character.

It’s also intriguing that Ardbeg’s director of whisky creation, Dr Bill Lumsden, said that the casks chosen for Wee Beastie’s creation makes it “ideal for enjoying neat or as the mouth-watering main ingredient in a powerfully smoky cocktail.” Which demonstrates another approach from Ardbeg inspired by modern trends: to embrace whisky in cocktails. I’m sure this will make a beautiful Sour or Penicillin, but, as you might expect, the distillery has suggested its own signature serve, the Bloody Rob Roy, the recipe for which you’ll find under the tasting note (it’s lovely). 

When you’re not having fun playing mixologist and you want to sample Ardbeg Wee Beastie neat, then I hope you find it as pleasing as I did. Expect plenty of the complex meaty, peaty, coastal, citrusy goodness you want from Ardbeg. However, I’m not sure I’d describe this as particularly beastly. It’s more like Shortie, the distillery’s resident dog, in that it’s familiar, charming and lots of fun. This may pose some issues for those who want a dram to blow their head off, but don’t dismiss it too readily. The sherry elements add a welcome contrast to the outstanding 10 Year Old, the freshness of the fruity notes are delicious and the I love the nose, it’s smoky and musty and like standing by a seaside bonfire.

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

Ardbeg Wee Beastie Tasting Notes:

Nose: There’s sea spray, rock pools, smoked malt and damp bonfire wood initially which waves of sweet and slightly vegetal smoke powers through. Hints of brown sugar, pear drops, a little vanilla and cooked apple add sweetness among notes of spare ribs, lemon sherbet, black pepper and wood shavings. 

Palate: I was expecting a punchier hit but actually the palate is very pleasantly sweet and salty. Citrus oils and orchard fruits are present along with an unmistakable dark berry tartness which is joined by plenty of damp peat and dry wood smoke. Adding depth there’s pepper steak, creosote and then some touches of clove and liquorice. In the back-end, there’s a juicy sweetness from lychee and peaches as well as just a touch of salted caramel.

Finish: The finish is exceptionally long and oily. It’s a bit like sucking on a lemon sherbet and taking a great big whiff of some freshly cut peat, to be honest. While standing on a beach. Lovely.

Suggested serve: The Bloody Rob Roy. Combine 50ml of Ardbeg Wee Beastie, 20ml of sweet vermouth, two dashes of Angostura Bitters in a mixing glass and stir for dilution. Strain into a coupe glass, garnish with an orange twist and a Maraschino Cherry and serve.

1 Comment on New Arrival of the Week: Ardbeg Wee Beastie

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