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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Blended Scotch

The story behind the Scotch: J&B Rare

J&B Rare is a back bar favourite the world over, it’s sold millions of cases over the years and become part of our cultural history.  But how did a wine…

J&B Rare is a back bar favourite the world over, it’s sold millions of cases over the years and become part of our cultural history.  But how did a wine merchant end up creating such a remarkable whisky brand? Master blender Louise Martin joins us today to tell us the story behind the Scotch.

On St James’s  Street in London, you’ll find wine and spirits merchant, Justerini & Brooks. Established in 1749, for over 270 years it has been supplying tasty booze to its customers and has the proud distinction of being granted a Royal Warrant by every British monarch since King George III in 1761, including Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

J&Beginnings

It wasn’t until the 1930s, however, that Justerini & Brooks signature Scotch, J&B Rare, came into the picture. The man we have to thank for that is Eddie Tatham. He joined Justerini & Brooks as managing director after the First World War and “thrived in the era of the ‘bright young things’,” says master blender Louise Martin. “No party was complete without him. Eddie mingled comfortably with both café society and stars of stage and screen including Fred Astaire, David Niven, and Marlene Dietrich. He had good connections in America including the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts”. 

The relationships Tatham established took him to the States frequently. While there, he noticed there was tremendous potential as Prohibition was drawing to a close. The watered-down swill that was frequently traded throughout this period created a demand for quality blended Scotch. In 1932, J&B Rare was launched for the first time just before Prohibition was repealed, making it perfectly placed to meet that demand.

J&B Rare

J&B Rare has been a fixture of back bars and drinks cabinets since 1932

From wine to whisky

J&B Rare was instantly a hit, particularly in the US. By 1961 Justerini & Brooks had shipped one million cases of whisky for export and that increased to two million cases just eight years later in 1969. Alongside other notable favourites at the time like Cutty Sark, J&B Rare was instrumental in establishing the trend for blends and changing the perception of Scotch in the US after Prohibition. But how was it that a company better known for its extensive fine wine portfolio was able to create such an impressive Scotch whisky? 

Martin says that Tatham recruited right. He brought on board Charlie Julian, who was actually the man responsible for making Cutty Sark for Berry Bros & Rudd in 1923. It was a natural fit. Julian had some previous creating great Scotch for wine experts. “He worked with a wider palate than most master blenders,” Martin says. “Together Tatham and Julian mixed and matched over 32 whiskies to create the first J&B Rare blend. They then perfected the recipe which contained 42 whiskies, 40% of which are malts”. The exact recipe is confidential, but we know that at the heart of the blend is spirit from Knockando, Auchroisk,  Strathmill, and Glen Spey, and that J&B Rare holds the remarkable distinction of retaining that same signature blend of 42 single malt and grain whiskies today.

The profile was inspired by the tastes of the new American drinker. That meant light-looking, light-tasting whisky with a higher proportion of malt whiskies to add character. “Julian ensured that the malts that were used were sufficiently aged to deliver a round, fruity, unique, and distinctive taste, which is delicately balanced by grain whiskies. This gives J&B Rare its distinctive and unexpected character”. Martin also said that the maturation process is flexible to account for taste and that the brand uses American or European oak. “I love the flexibility of selecting the flavour when it is right, not working by a number. The right cask at the right time”.

J&B Rare

A common sight at Hollywood parties, J&B Rare was a pop culture icon

A Hollywood fixture

The secret to J&B Rare’s success, however, is not solely down to what’s inside the bottle. It’s always had an impressive look and that bottle you see today remains virtually unchanged from the 1930s. The striking red and yellow label, and retro design continue to give the whisky standout appeal on the shelves of supermarkets, bars, and retailers. But J&B Rare also became one of those brands that found its way into the limelight via famous fans and notable appearances. Martin explains Tatham’s ability to make excellent contacts in America was a key reason this happened. “J&B Rare had the reputation of being the drink of the influencers and innovators of the day and flourished in America after Prohibition. It was known to be of high quality and from a London wine merchant based in St James’s”. 

It’s a whisky with a significant pop culture history. J&B Rare was something of a fixture in Italian cinema in the 1970s and appears in both John Carpenter’s The Thing and in the novel American Psycho. It scored a lucrative association with the Hollywood Rat Pack of the 1950s and ’60s. Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jnr all drank J&B, and even John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe counted themselves as fans. Martin says that, by the 1960s, J&B Rare had become “a society whisky, with colourful characters making it their whisky of preference including Hollywood greats such as Cary Grant, Rex Harrison and Truman Capote who always ordered a ‘Justerini & Brooks’ by its full name”. 

J&B Rare’s appeal has seemingly always extended to royalty too, as all those warrants demonstrate. Martin says the Duke of Windsor, in particular, was a noted fan. He always travelled with a few cases of J&B Rare in his luggage and would telephone Justerini & Brooks directly to place an order. There was once an amusing mix-up with the girl taking the order, Martin says, as she didn’t recognise his voice. After announcing “Hello, it’s the Duke of Windsor. I’d like to order some J&B Rare”, her response was “I’m afraid we don’t supply public houses directly, Sir.” Martin says that Edward VIII then “graciously explained that he was the actual Duke of Windsor and not a pub of the same name!”

J&B Rare

Whip an Old Fashioned for yourself with one of the world’s most enduring blends

Standing the test of time

Stories behind brands like Famous Grouse and J&B Rare intrigue me because both are so ubiquitous. Anywhere there’s whisky, there they are. It’s a remarkable achievement and it’s one we don’t often recognize. Plenty of blends that were around in the golden age haven’t stood the test of time like the first two whiskies we’ve featured in the story behind the Scotch series. It’s a shame blends like these can still be overlooked by whisky enthusiasts gravitating to the oldest, most rare, and/or expensive bottlings they can get their hands on.

But not only does huge-selling blended whisky still very much power the Scotch industry, but many of them are also responsible for our first moments of whisky fandom. It’s easy to forget that the majority of us began our love affair with this spirit after trying stepping stone blends commonly available in corner shops, supermarkets, and award-winning online retailers (ahem). As we move into the world of single malts, age statements and start to passionately care about things like bottling strength and additional colouring our tastes change. Our palates get treated to a diverse array of whisky. But at no point should we think we’re too good for the backbone blends. And the generation of whisky lovers to come will also need accessible, affordable Scotch to join us in this wonderful world.

For anyone in the market for such a drink, I’ve long been a fan of J&B Rare and think it remains an excellent beginner whisky. It’s light, delicately sweet, and has some really beautiful fruity notes (toffee apples mostly for me). Throughout there’s also a slightly malty, rich note underneath that brings body and depth. It can be a touch immature and brash on the nose, but those rougher edges are easily soothed in an array of cocktails, where this dram really shines. It makes a fantastic Whisky Sour, I love it in Highballs (ginger ale, soda, cola – it all works) and even makes a surprisingly good Mint Julep. To show you how easy it is to enjoy this classic Scotch, I’ve popped a delightfully simple Old Fashioned recipe underneath. You can pretend you’re Frank Sinatra while you imbibe. 

How to make a J&B Old Fashioned

50ml J&B Rare
1 sugar cube
2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Add one sugar cube and the Angostura Bitters to a rocks glass. Crush the sugar cube and add J&B Rare. Add ice cubes and stir, adding more ice as you go along. Garnish with a touch of orange zest and a couple of Maraschino cherries.

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The story behind the Scotch: The Famous Grouse

The Famous Grouse is one of the world’s most popular blends and the best-selling Scotch whisky in Scotland. But how did this creation from a Perth-based grocer end up becoming…

The Famous Grouse is one of the world’s most popular blends and the best-selling Scotch whisky in Scotland. But how did this creation from a Perth-based grocer end up becoming a household name? We find out.

When you interview the founder of a brand you always expect to hear the same story of origin: “we had a chat one night over a drink and decided to give it a go”. So many distilleries, bottlers, and more began this way, with an idea and some Dutch courage. The 19th-century equivalent would appear to be the humble grocer, who began importing wine and spirits at some point and eventually created their own brand which soon took over the world. 

The Famous Grouse is one of the most notable examples. It’s one of the world’s most popular blends and the best-selling Scotch whisky in Scotland. You’ll find it in pretty much anywhere that sells booze, from supermarkets to corner shops and even award-winning online establishments (yes I mean us) and there are very few whisky drinkers who haven’t at least tried it.

Which makes it one of those household names we take for granted. But consistent, versatile, and affordable blends that set a lot of us on a path to whisky appreciation and support the bulk of the industry didn’t just appear out of nowhere. In this new series, we’re interested in the story behind the Scotch (hence the name), so we’ve spoken to Lewis Bright, global brand manager at The Famous Grouse, and current master blender Calum Fraser to find out how this creation of a Perth-based grocer ended up becoming so, errr… famous.

Famous Grouse

The Famous Grouse has come a long way from this Perth-based grocery

A famous history

The story begins in 1807 when a grocer called John Brown moved his business to Atholl Street in Perth. His daughter, Margaret married Matthew Gloag, a name you might know as the one often given as the creator of Famous Grouse. But the tale is a little more complicated than that. 

It was Margaret who took over the family business in 1824 and she was the one who acquired a license to sell wine and spirits (and snuff) in 1831. A little over a decade later Gloag took control and made use of his experience managing the cellar of the sheriff clerk (rather like a magistrate) of Perthshire for more than 30 years. Gloag did good business bringing in the wines from France, Spain, and Portugal to the streets of Perth. So good in fact that when Queen Victoria visited Perth in 1842, Gloag was invited to supply the wines for the royal banquet.

Then came the moment that changed the course of whisky forever, as around 1875 phylloxera began its destructive journey around the vineyards of France. As wine and brandy became scarce, there was a huge demand for Scotch and Irish products and this prompted the company to look at expanding its blended whisky business. William Brown Gloag, who inherited the business after his father’s death in 1860, was critical in improving its presence in this market, becoming one of the original shareholders of the North British distillery in Edinburgh in 1887 in order to secure a supply of grain whisky.

But it wasn’t this Gloag who registered the company’s first blended Scotch brand, but Matthew Gloag III, who took charge in 1896. That year Brig o’Perth was released and shortly after the Grouse Brand followed. Then, in 1905, the limited company of Matthew Gloag & Son was formed and the family came up with a new name for its whisky: The Famous Grouse. Which is much better than just Grouse, isn’t it? Now it’s famous. Can’t argue with that. Matthew’s daughter Philippa actually sketched the first-ever red grouse which became the brand’s iconic label and is fondly known at the company now as the “woman behind the wings”. 

Famous Grouse

Phillipa Gloag’s original grouse design

A famous name

The Famous Grouse was a family-owned blend all the way up until 1970 when chairman, Matthew Frederick Gloag, died and a prohibitive estate duty forced the family to sell. Highland Distillers, which is now part of Edrington, picked it up for a bargain £1.25m, although Matthew Irving Gloag remained as a director.

This presumably wasn’t just sentiment, as the Gloag family clearly had a mind for the whisky business. Highland Distillery had purchased a company with the marketing and distributive power to export 33 million proof gallons to America in 1968. By 1980 Famous Grouse was the highest-selling Scotch in Scotland as well as being the second highest-selling in the United Kingdom and by 1984 it was awarded another Royal Warrant. 

That success doesn’t show any sign of dissipating. Bright says that in December 2019, The Famous Grouse was the top-selling whisky in the UK off-trade, which demonstrates that “demand for our famous whisky remains strong 124 years after it first went to market”. So how do they do it? Well, the branding is obviously incredibly strong. The grouse is a surprisingly adept brand ambassador and many of the company’s advertisements are memorable

Edrington also didn’t sit still with what it inherited, creating new products like the peated Black Grouse in 2006, the grain whisky Snow Grouse in 2008, and a premium offering called the Naked Grouse in 2010, which has just been rebranded to the Naked Malt. It also ramped up the marketing, founding The Famous Grouse Experience at the Glenturret distillery and striking up numerous partnerships, particularly in rugby, where the company has deals in place with Premiership Rugby, The British & Irish Lions, SA Rugby, and Glasgow Warriors.

Famous Grouse

Over 125 years the brand has maintained its success thanks to this reliable, tasty blend

A famous blend

Most importantly, however, is the brand’s ability to maintain a consistent and enjoyable blend. Notable blenders like Gordon Motion, Kirsteen Campbell, and now Fraser have overseen a process that leads to in excess of 40 million bottles being filled per year. The latter says the secret to success is an extremely meticulous approach. Quality control demands reviewing whisky samples at all points of the supply chain.  

This includes the nosing of each batch of new make distillate from the several malt and grain distilleries filled for future blends, the nosing of each cask profile (ex-bourbon barrels or sherry-seasoned hogsheads, for example) prior to filling, and the assessment of mature whisky from each and every cask selected for a batch of The Famous Grouse, totaling over 80,000 checks per year. “We leave no stone unturned to ensure the perfect dram,” Fraser says.

Given that The Famous Grouse is over 125 years old, naturally, some of the malt and grain distilleries that would have been used in the first recipe created by Matthew Gloag are no longer in production. There have also been huge changes in the type of casks available for blending.

Famous Grouse

The charming little fella is still going strong

The Grouse today

Today, the Famous Grouse is made up of whiskies from the Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside, and Island regions of Scotland, which are all individually matured in oak casks for several years prior to blending. The malt and grain distilleries aren’t officially revealed by the brand, but it’s believed that The Macallan and Highland Park are used (both Edrington brands, so it seems likely) with around 65% of the spirit content thought to be made up of grain whisky. For maturation, American and European oak is shaped into casks and sherry-seasoned in Spain prior to being sent to Scotland for filling.

Fraser says the whisky’s “signature smoothness” comes from the aged grain whiskies, which are “delicate and sweet in character, acting as the perfect complement to the numerous characters of the malt whiskies within the blend”. The role the malt whisky element plays is to create body and weight. The malt whiskies, prior to blending with the grain whiskies, are brought together and reduced to a marrying strength of 45.5% ABV before being left to evolve for at least 21 days. Fraser says this allows “further integration, refinement and increases the smoothness of the whiskies ahead of creating The Famous Grouse blend”.

It’s a profile that has made The Famous Grouse a staple of back bars and drinks cabinets. It’s not the most complex spirit and can be a touch raw for strict single malt drinkers, but check our user reviews on the product’s page and you’ll see the same kind of words popping up time and time again. ‘Underrated’. ‘Reliable’. ‘Grouse’. Jokes aside, The Famous Grouse is the kind of product that often serves as people’s introduction to whisky, and it’s a worthy first dram. We all start somewhere and this balanced, tasty, malty blend with plenty of mellow sweetness and a refined mouthfeel makes for a pleasant sipper. Where it really shines for me, however, is in cocktails, specifically Highballs. According to Bright, the best way to enjoy The Famous Grouse whisky is the simple but effective Grouse & Ginger, the recipe for which is below. 

How to make Grouse & Ginger

50ml The Famous Grouse 
150ml ginger ale
Lime wedge 

Method:

Fill the glass with ice, then pour in The Famous Grouse followed by the ginger ale. Garnish with a lime wedge and enjoy!

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Sandy Hyslop talks Royal Salute and the art of blending

As Royal Salute returns in typically extravagant style, we’re joined by the man behind the blend, Sandy Hyslop, director of blending and inventory at Chivas Brothers, to learn why Royal…

As Royal Salute returns in typically extravagant style, we’re joined by the man behind the blend, Sandy Hyslop, director of blending and inventory at Chivas Brothers, to learn why Royal Salute is in a golden age, what the secret to blending well-aged whisky is and why Malbec casks are worth the cost.

Royal Salute is back with another limited edition whisky: the 21-Year-Old Polo Estancia Edition. It’s the brand’s first blend to be fully finished in Argentinian Malbec wine casks, a tribute to Argentina’s love of polo, a sport Royal Salute has a long-standing affinity with. It sponsors more than 15 international tournaments and the whisky even has polo legend Malcolm Borwick’s endorsement. 

But this is a drinks blog, not a lifestyle magazine, so I know you’re much more interested in the whisky itself. And the man to speak to about that is the master blender, Sandy Hyslop. He’s come a long way since he got his start in the whisky industry in 1983 at Stewarts Cream of the Barley. He worked in the sample room as an assistant, a job his dad liked as he was able to study chemistry at Robert Gordon’s in Aberdeen at the same time. Hyslop soon found himself filling in a number of roles in the small company, learning the trade of vatting and bottling as well as working in the warehouse and in the inventory department. 

But blending was always where his heart was. He was soon asked to go to the parent company’s main site in Dumbarton to work with head blender, Jack Goudie. “I was fortunate I’d been able to work right across the whole process so it gave me a broad palate when I started working with the legendary Jack,” Hyslop recalls. “Jack used to give me lots of lessons. He always said ‘it will take you 30 years to build the brand Sandy and it will only take you one bad batch to lose it. If you work to that ethos you’ll never get caught out’. And he’s right”.

Sandy Hyslop Royal Salute

Say hello to Sandy Hyslop!

The guidance obviously paid off. Hyslop has been blending Scotch whisky ever since, working at Allied Distillers from 1994 and then for Pernod Ricard when it took over in 2005. When the French drinks giants came into town, Hyslop was given the reins to oversee the whole Chivas Brothers portfolio, looking after the inventory and even helping with cask purchasing. “I’m very lucky. Cask purchasing is not managed by a procurement department where we’re desperately looking for the best price. It’s the same with the laboratory and technical side. It’s about not just blending the right whiskies but laying the right stock down for the future”. 

Hyslop is loath to point out that by the time distillate he was working on the morning we spoke is used in a Royal Salute blend, he’ll be retired. You can tell he’s genuinely gutted he won’t see these projects through and his enthusiasm for the brand and its history is infectious. Royal Salute was created to mark the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and the 21 gun salute that honoured her. The youngest age a whisky can be in one of its blends is 21-years-old and a total of 14 distilleries, including Strathisla and Longmorn contribute some of its finest stock. “It’s a whisky I always admired,” Hyslop says. 

It’s not hard to see why. The portfolio is something of a blender’s dream. Few get to play with such an array of whisky, including stock that can reach 50+ years old. It’s a risky game, however. Mess it up and you’ve wasted precious liquid worth thousands of pounds. So, how does Hyslop do it? “My team understands long maturations and appreciates different fills of cask. It’s a balancing act learnt over many years. A first-fill cask is not the be-all-and-end-all when you are blending something that’s so old. I desperately don’t want too much oak flavour. I want the distillate character to be able to shine through too. So I am using second-fill casks in the blends to get that balance of flavour right. The rich, sweet, opulent character should be complemented by the lovely, toasted oak-vanilla notes coming from the cask, not completely overpowered with it”.  

Sandy Hyslop Royal Salute

Hyslop thinks more and more people are appreciating the beauty of the blend

Hyslop thinks the category is increasingly making whisky lovers question the notion that the finest drams are all single malts. “I love single malts. They give you the profile of the distillery and four or five real key signature flavours that can be really enjoyable. But many of them won’t have the spread of flavours that a blended whisky does,” Hyslop says. “They’re so multifaceted. Particularly once you play with finishes, adding the influence from different cask types and different distilleries. It’s such a complex offering”. 

Hyslop is kept busy by his art, with something like 42 new product development projects underway now across all the brands at Chivas Brothers. He isn’t overwhelmed by this prospect, however, but invigorated. “I am actively encouraged to go and try new things. I have a ‘license to fail’, to experiment with different casks and techniques. I also have the luxury of a significant inventory, with 365 warehouses all over Scotland. And the joy of nurturing each whisky since the day it was distilled and filled into casks all the way through that maturation journey to come out the other end, to make Royal Salute”. 

This perspective is fueling something of a golden age for Hyslop, who says the brand is constantly pushing the art of blending into new, creative, and ambitious forms. “In recent years we have been really innovative. I think Royal Salute has absolutely found its feet. It’s been quite humble over the years. But now we’re branching out with these one-off magnificent expressions with unique briefs. It’s such great fun, it’s genuinely like a hobby. You can tweak the blend by making it slightly more malt orientated or putting in a lot more of one distillery, and then there’s the luxury of being able to bring in exotic casks”. 

Sandy Hyslop Royal Salute

A golden age for Royal Salute?

The creative juices were obviously flowing for the Polo Estancia. Hyslop air-freighted freshly emptied Malbec casks from Argentina to Scotland (at great expense, he says) and did a trial batch to ensure the process would work. “About 80% of the casks were filled with whisky, then the rest were left empty to see how they handle a transit situation. From that, I was able to gauge the amount of flavour pickup you were getting. We were cautious to make sure we weren’t going to lose a lot of 21-year-old spirit on a crazy plan that wasn’t going to work. Once the whiskies were filled in those Malbec casks I checked them every four weeks to see the variation from cask to cask. That is how particular I am!”

The precision paid off. The 21-Year-Old Polo Estancia Edition retains the signature Royal Salute profile (I think sweet pear and peaches, Hyslop concurs) and it’s got the elegant, supple mouthfeel we’ve come to expect from Royal Salute. The depth and variety are there too, as the Malbec cask finish complements the whisky rather than competes with it. The rich, velvety mouthfeel kept me coming back for more, as did a distinct raspberry note, a bit like homemade raspberry jam. It’s a worthy dram to salute the master blender with.

The Royal Salute 21 Year Old Polo Estancia Edition Tasting Note:

Nose: Lots of ripe raspberry and blueberry initially with jam roly-poly, vanilla ice cream and toffee pennies in support. Warm gingerbread, liquorice, tinned peaches, hazelnut chocolate, rose water, brown sugar and cinnamon.

Palate: Blackberries, dark chocolate and crème brûlée lead with a tremendous variety of rich, fruity notes underneath with charred pineapple, tart cranberry, orange marmalade and Conference pear. Acacia honey, nutmeg, liquorice is present underneath along with sandalwood, treacle toffee, soft woody tannins as well as some old leather and mint.

Finish: Long and sweet with a slightly dry and gingery finish.

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Top ten: Blended Scotch whiskies under £30

Blends are the backbone of the Scotch whisky industry but they don’t always get the love they deserve. So we decided to put together this list of some of our…

Blends are the backbone of the Scotch whisky industry but they don’t always get the love they deserve. So we decided to put together this list of some of our favourite bargain bottles of blended Scotch whisky. There’s something here for all palates.

While some whisky fans will always argue single malts are superior, we’re firm in the belief that you should never underestimate blended Scotch whisky. It’s the category that brought Scotch to the world and today they are still the best selling of all whisky. These marriages of malt and grain whisky continue to fill back bars and liquor cabinets, being celebrated for their ability to taste great neat or in cocktails and mixed drinks.

That’s why we’ve put together this selection of some of the finest blended Scotch whiskies. This isn’t simply a list of the ten biggest names, because we want to give some love to a couple of overlooked or underloved expressions. The fact we’ve had to omit a couple of big names really speaks to what an amazing category this is. Slainte!

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old 

We start with one of the world’s most famous blends. Dating back to 1909, Black Label is one of those bottles that everyone loves: bartenders, consumers, whisky writers. We can all unite and agree that this blend of around 40 whiskies with a distinctive mellow smoky note is deserving of a place in any good drinks collection.

What does it taste like? 

Rich and full with notes of wood smoke, winter spice, sultanas, treacle, hints of white pepper and a little citrus.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Ballantine’s Finest

Another absolute classic. Ballantine’s will tell you that it’s Europe no.1 Scotch whisky and that its recipe has stayed true to the original since 1910. And we’ll tell you that it’s a good thing it did. We love playing around with this blend and its elegant, subtle and sweet profile. Soda water. Cola. Whatever you’re pairing with this beauty, it’s hard to go wrong.

What does it taste like? 

Rich and sweet with crisp barley sugars, toffee, apples, very gentle peat, heather, honey and some floral notes.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Green Isle 

If you’re an Islay whisky fan and are on the lookout for something with a little more smoke and sea, we’ve got just the thing. From the makers of The Character of Islay Whisky Company, Green Isle is a blend with a core of Islay malt alongside some complementary Speyside malt and Lowland grain whiskies. This is an approachable blend that mixes tremendously and would serve as a great introduction to those who would like to explore the smoker side of Scotch.

What does it taste like? 

Softly toasted barley, warming oak, honey glazed apples and cut grass. Then, vanilla pod earthiness, coastal peat, pear drops, dry smoke, buttery biscuits and crushed peppercorns.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Compass Box Great King Street – Artist’s Blend 

Compass Box rarely gets its wrong and the distinctive brand was certainly on the money when it put together this blend. A tribute to the golden age of blends in the 19th century, Great King Street draws on archive recipes while utilising its own cask maturation techniques to create this delightful dram. It has a high single malt content from distilleries including Linkwood and Clynelish as well as a portion of grain whisky from Cameronbridge. And it tastes smashing. Makes a great Penicillin when combined with Peat Monster too… 

What does it taste like?

Sweet, rich and creamy, with lots of cereal notes, vanilla, dried fruits, Christmas spices, lemon, Bakewell tart, rose petals, citrus and buttery apple crumble.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Dewar’s 12 Year Old – The Ancestor

Master blender Alexander Cameron was responsible for Dewar’s first blended whisky in 1903. He was something of a pioneer in the trade, allowing malt and grain spirits to rest for a few months before blending them together. This practice is continued today with The Ancestor, which is essentially a successor to Dewar’s classic ‘Double Aged 12 Year Old’. The name refers to the additional six-month marriage the whisky enjoys in oak after the initial maturation and blending. Dewar’s co-founder Tommy Dewar once said “The only thing you can get in a hurry is trouble!”… and it’s good to see the brand still heeding his advice.

What does it taste like?

Juicy fruit and thick, creamy malt leads. There’s also floral and sweet notes of toasted almond and honey as well as some aniseed spiciness.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Adelphi Blended Scotch Whisky

As an outstanding independent bottler, Adelphi is already adept at taking the best of Scotland and moulding it into something new. It’s a skill that clearly came in handy when making its own blend. It’s made with whisky from its private stock which is kept in a solera system. We don’t quite know the exact composition. But, tasting this blend we think you can detect whiskies from Islay, Speyside and Campbeltown. And they’re all delicious.

What does it taste like?

A pleasing fusion of salty peat, estery fruitiness and rich nuttiness.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Label 5 Classic Black

Label 5 is known for its tremendous value, its core of fruity Speyside malts and for being the creation of a Frenchman, Jean Cayard. He established La Martiniquaise in 1934 and in 1969 turned his hand to Scotch whisky. In 2008 the company bought Glen Moray, who supplies a major component of the blend. Today, it’s mainly sold in France, where it shifts bottles like hotcakes to make it one of the world’s best-selling whiskies. And we think it’s worth you checking out what all the fuss is about.

What does it taste like?

Rather sweet with vanilla, sticky toffee pudding, apples and brown sugar. There’s also hints of ginger and cinnamon as well as a subtle grassy note.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition Blended Scotch Whisky

There once was a ship that put to sea and the name of the ship was the Cutty Sark. The famed 19th-century tea clipper was the inspiration behind this Berry Bros & Rudd. brand, whose classic blend of twenty or so single malt and grain whiskies, most of which are from Speyside, is a firm favourite for many. The Prohibition Edition, however, is a higher strength expression (upped from 40% to 50% ABV) made as a tip of the hat to another nautical legend, Prohibition-era rum-runner Captain William McCoy. Its intriguing story and full-bodied, complex profile mean it stands out from a busy crowd while still being an absolute bargain.

What does it taste like? 

There’s custard notes paired with citrus, pear and fudge cubes, dark chocolate and golden malt. As well as a touch of grassy malt and crushed nuts.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Peg Whisky Blended Scotch Whisky

A wholly overlooked beauty of a blend, more people should know about this expression. An approachable, affordable expression made with malt and grains, Peg Whisky Blended Scotch Whisky can be enjoyed neat and in cocktails and mixed drinks. And if you don’t believe us, just check out those user reviews. 5 star city.

What does it taste like?

Toffee pennies, citrus peels, apricots, peanut brittle, buttered bread, honeycomb, black pepper and a generous helping of malt.

Check out these bargain blended Scotch whiskies!

Hankey Bannister Heritage Blend

A swanky Hankey will always win us over. The brand is so good at making expert blends that pack a pretty punch in the bottle, but not in the wallet. And while we adore the original, we also love the story behind this one. Upon uncovering a rare 1920s bottle, the brand tried to recreate a piece of whisky history. Using the original as a starting point, older and peated malts were then added to match the older flavour profile. It tastes great and is a fascinating window into what Hankey Bannister was like a century ago.

What does it taste like? 

Fresh, fruity and delicately smoky with honeydew melon, ripe grapes, campfire smoke, apple peel, honey and raisins.

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Five minutes with… Rupert Patrick, co-founder of James Eadie

In reviving his ancestor’s eponymous blended Scotch brand, Rupert Patrick didn’t just bring back a forgotten blend of sought-after malts and grain – he uncovered a piece of whisky history. Here,…

In reviving his ancestor’s eponymous blended Scotch brand, Rupert Patrick didn’t just bring back a forgotten blend of sought-after malts and grain – he uncovered a piece of whisky history. Here, Patrick shares the story behind resurrecting his great-great-grandfather’s Trade Mark ‘X’

As many good stories do, this particular tale involves a bottle of Scotch whisky. And not just any old liquid, either. Bottled in 1948 with ‘Special Old Scotch Whisky’ wrapped around the label,  one of the few remaining bottles of James Eadie’s Trade Mark ‘X’ had been given to Rupert Patrick by his uncle, Alastair Eadie – the great-grandson of Scottish brewer and distiller James Eadie, who was born in Perthshire in 1827.

It was a timely gift. After 25 years in the whisky industry, Patrick had recently departed corporate spirits – having worked for drinks giants Macleod Distillers, Beam Suntory and Diageo – to launch trading platform Whisky Invest Direct with an old school friend. Encouraged by Alastair, he’d found time to visit the National Brewery Archive in Burton-on-Trent, the location of James Eadie’s brewery that operated for 90 years.

Alastair Eadie and Rupert Patrick enjoying a dram in the rain, as you do

Dating from 1860 to 1900, the ledgers and records were filled with Eadie’s Scotch whisky blending notes – and plenty more besides – including the original recipe for Trade Mark ‘X’. “When Alastair handed the bottle over, he said, ‘I remember drinking that when I was younger, I didn’t like it very much. It was very peaty and I don’t like peaty whisky’,” Patrick recalls. “Now, I love peaty whisky, and as soon as he said that, I thought, ‘if this has stood the test of time then it could be quite amazing’.”

He called on the expertise of Norman Mathison, the former master blender for Invergordon Distillers. “He’d retired, but he was still doing quality sampling for some of the distillers,” Patrick says. He showed Mathison the list of whiskies James Eadie blended to make Trade Mark ‘X’. “I said, ‘I’ve got a bottle from 1948, have a look at the list and tell me if this could make a really good blend if we revived it’,” Patrick continues. “Norman looked up at me with a beaming smile and said, ‘of course I can – these are some of the best malts and grains anybody’s ever used’.”

Together with a small group of industry types, he and Mathison sampled the historic bottling. This final blend had been bottled in 1948 on the instructions of Patrick’s grandfather, a Scotch connoisseur, who had sold the business to brewing behemoth Bass 15 years prior. “It was the last time they ever bottled James Eadie’s whisky,” he reflects. “I reckon he said, ‘look guys, this is the last hurrah – bottle up the old stuff and really make this a great blend’.”

When they opened the bottle, “the colour was incredibly dark, which gives a good signal of age,” Patrick says. “It wasn’t oxidised, the fill level on the bottle was still good, it had been stored upright. As soon as we nosed it, we all just went, ‘oh my god, that’s good’.” While the original is more sherried than its recreation – “a deeper, richer whisky,” he says – it exhibited the trademark balance between peat and the Speyside whisky that James Eadie had been known for in his heyday.

Satisfied that he was onto something special, Patrick’s next job was to procure casks from the  various Scotch whisky distilleries that made up the original Trade Mark ‘X’ recipe, which include Lagavulin, Aberlour, and Cameronbridge. Trickier than you’d expect, and not just because two – Littlemill and Cambus – have since ceased production. It took a year to obtain the various components that Mathison needed to recreate the blend. 

Despite the challenges, he and co-founder Leon Kuebler were determined they would only use whiskies from distilleries Eadie personally bought from. “We just decided to stick really religiously to what he did,” Patrick explains. “We’ve stuck to the knitting and in Trade Mark ‘X’ created a really balanced, structured all-rounder. It’s such a lovely balance between Speyside, Islay, Lowland and Highland.”

The name – Trade Mark ‘X’ – is in itself a slice of whisky history. The UK Trademark Act was introduced in 1875, and “the first symbol to be trademarked in the UK was Bass’s red triangle,” says Patrick. “Bass was next door to James Eadie in Burton on Trent – as you know they eventually bought his business – so he decided to trademark his own symbol not long after.” Since Eadie’s brewery was based on Cross Street, he and the team decided to trademark an ‘X’ in 1877 – “well ahead of many other Scotch whisky brands,” he says.

James Eadie’s trademarked liquid lives on – not just in this bottling, but across the entire label. “Whenever we do cask finishes, we only use wood that James Eadie used in the 19th century,” Patrick says. “There’s plenty of scope – Marsala casks, Madeira casks, lots of oloroso, PX, palo cortado – so we’re not limited to just a few things.” With such a comprehensive record of recipes to draw from, there’s scope to recreate other blends, too. “There are lots of possibilities,” Patrick says, “but the most important thing is to stay true to the spirit of James Eadie.”

James Eadie Trade Mark X is available from Master of Malt along with a range of single malt bottlings

 

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Meet the maker: Jill Boyd from Compass Box Whisky

Founded by US entrepreneur John Glaser from his kitchen in 2000, Compass Box Whisky is a blending house for the modern era, constantly innovating a range of unusual blended Scotch,…

Founded by US entrepreneur John Glaser from his kitchen in 2000, Compass Box Whisky is a blending house for the modern era, constantly innovating a range of unusual blended Scotch, blended malt and blended grain whiskies. We get to know one of its whisky makers, Jill Boyd, as the brands turns 20 years old…

How time flies, eh? We can barely believe it, but Compass Box Whisky turns 20 this year. Over the last two decades, the indie bottler and blender has transcended its kitchen operation origins and evolved into an office and blending room in Chiswick, London, with its own stocks of maturing whiskies in Scotland. 

John Glaser, looking serious

To mark the milestone, the experimental brand is hosting a series of whisky events in partnership with London bar Bull in a China Shop, so we dropped by for a workshop with whisky maker Jill Boyd. Hailing from the north-east of Scotland, Boyd works on the brand’s blends, purchasing new-make spirit from distilleries and filling it into casks, as well as buying ready-matured barrels. Here, she shares her musings on mismatched pairings, her favourite Old Fashioned, and why ageing whisky is just like baking a cake…

Jill Boyd on… tasting for work

“I’m really lucky,” she says. “It’s one of my favourite things I get to do, just sample and taste and learn. While I get to taste beautiful whiskies, I do get to taste awful whiskies as well. And sometimes casks aren’t bad, they’re just not the right profile. I have a love-hate relationship with sherried whisky, because sometimes it can have a really weird funk to it, almost like a Stilton blue cheese flavour. Sometimes I’m super in the mood for that, and other times I’m like, ‘no, this is not the flavour I’m looking for’.”

Jill Boyd on… batch bottling 

“A batch is usually around 40 to 50 casks and that’s how much we’ll use for the course of most of the year,” she says. “We try and do one vatting every single year, where we blend all the casks together, check that we’re happy with the flavour, and then fill back into the casks that we empty from. After we’ve done that, we sit very content for up to nine months while we slowly bottle over a period of time. It gives the whisky more time to rest, which is nice.”

Jill Boyd on… developing new drams

“In Chiswick, we will make a 200ml prototype on a Friday and leave it till the Monday before we taste it, just to give it a chance to rest,” she says. “Then we’ll taste it maybe two or three weeks later again. I spit when I do whisky tastings in the office, because we’re sampling 100 to 150 whiskies over the course of a week. I drink a lot of water – on days we’re doing a lot of tasting, I can drink six to eight litres.”

The Compass Box range

Jill Boyd on… grain whisky

“Beautifully mature grain whiskies like Hedonism let you understand the nuance of something that’s quite maligned in Scotch whisky,” she says. “Grain is usually seen as a filler whisky because it’s usually in blends. People assume that all blended whiskies are the same, but single malts are considered of their own merits,” she says. “It’s a bit like female superhero movies, which are all apparently ‘rubbish’. But if there’s a bad male superhero movie, people go, ‘well, that was just one bad one’ – that is the single malt equivalent. Grain whiskies are the female superhero origin stories of the whisky world.”

Jill Boyd on… Whisky Sours

“I love them, they are genuinely one of my favourite cocktails,” she says. “I’m also super into New York Sours, which are whisky sours with a red wine float on the top. If you use something really delicate like Oak Cross, which has loads of vanilla and lemon, and then you float a red wine on top of that, it tastes like strawberry Opal Fruits. I love egg white in a cocktail.”

Jill Boyd on…over-oaked casks

“My preference leans to lighter oak flavours, because I like to taste what the distillery’s produced,” she says. “My sweet spot for whiskey is probably from twelve to 25. Outwith that, I find that it’s got to have something else – younger whiskies have got to have the oomph of smoke or a red wine or sherry or Port pipe to really add that background flavour that takes away from the fresh new-make. After 25 years, for me the wood begins to mask all that beautiful whisky character.”

Jill-Boyd-photo-credit-Compass-Box-Whisky

Jill Boyd, hard at work at CB HQ

Jill Boyd on… being flexible

“Blending doesn’t always go the way you plan, and I quite like that,” she says. “Sometimes you’ll put two things together that you don’t think will work, and they are the best. Sometimes you put two incredible things together and they are the worst. When I started with the company, I tasted this beautiful Caol Ila from 1984. We had a cask of 1984 blended grain, and I was like, ‘If I put these together, it’s going to be the best thing in the world, because this grain is incredible and the Caol Ila is immense’. It ended up being one of the most disgusting things anyone had ever tasted in the office. It’s like: I love hot smoked salmon, I also really love vanilla ice cream, but I don’t want to put them together. And that was essentially what I did.”

Jill Boyd on… current projects

“I’m working on a whisky called Burning Desire with James, our assistant blender. We want it to have a smooth, earthy, smoky kind of flavour, more mellow than Pete Monster and a bit more tarry than No-Name Number Two. In a Disney film where someone drinks poison and you can see them slowly changing over time as it works its way down – I want that scene visual, but deliciousness not death. Just like when Snow White bites into that apple, I want someone to bite into it and it just to completely change how they feel about what they’re drinking and have a turnover of flavour.”

Jill Boyd on… timing it right

“The whole purpose of blending is to make something truly exceptional that didn’t exist in the past,” she says. “It’s all about the taste. The worst thing is when you taste a whisky that someone’s been holding onto for a long time, and you realise it’s gone too far. It’s like pricking the center of a cake to make sure it’s baked – you want to make sure you hit that sweet spot where the cake is just baked but not over-baked and it’s the same with casks.”

Jill Boyd on… the ultimate Old Fashioned

“For me, Spice Tree is one of my absolute favourite whiskies to use in cocktails,” she says. “I love it in an Old Fashioned. It’s bold enough to hold its own against Angostura bitters, but it’s delicate enough to taste the sweetness of a brown sugar or a sugar syrup. It really all comes together to make a beautiful, light, sweet, perfect Old Fashioned.”

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The Nightcap: 14 February

It’s 14 February, so you know what that means – it’s time for The Nightcap! Yep, that’s it. Nothing else. People all across the country got out of their beds…

It’s 14 February, so you know what that means – it’s time for The Nightcap! Yep, that’s it. Nothing else.

People all across the country got out of their beds this morning, took a look at their calendars on the wall and said “Oh look, it’s 14 February! That means there’s another edition of The Nightcap today!” As you can clearly tell, this is meant to be a joke. It’s obviously a joke because no one has a physical calendar on the wall anymore. We have phones to remember the date and what’s going on for us. For example, I’m looking at the calendar on my phone for the first time today right now and it’s telling me that it’s a Nightcap day, as well as being Valent… Oh, I have to go to the shop. For no reason. I’ll go after The Nightcap.

Over on the MoM blog this week Ian Buxton championed English fruit brandies with Capreolus Distillery while Annie was particularly inspired this week by a perfume-inspired liqueur and a Bordeaux-inspired cocktail. Adam then tasted a 51-year-old Dalmore single malt (no, really), talked Tequila with VIVIR and made a case for you to explore the world of London dry gin before Henry shone a spotlight on a Cuban rum and Nordic-Aussie gin.

Now, on to the Nightcap!

 

The Nightcap

The two single cask whiskies were distilled the very same year the distillery closed!

Rosebank Distillery returns with two rare single cask expressions

Prepare yourselves, whisky lovers. In huge news, this week the much-loved Rosebank Distillery announced the release of two limited edition, vintage single cask whiskies, distilled the very same year the distillery closed, 1993. Though both cask strength bottlings spent their days in a refill bourbon hogshead, that’s where the similarities end. For Cask Number 433, at 53.3% ABV with a release of 280 bottles, you can expect cranachan and lemon, with gentle floral notes, marzipan, ripe fruit and oak. Contrastingly, Cask Number 625 boasts warm banana loaf, shortbread, chamomile tea, dried herb and citrus, tropical fruit, lime and gentle spice finish, at 50.4% ABV and an outturn of 259 bottles. The most exciting part is, you have a chance to get your hands on the liquid! With only 100 bottles of each expression available, the folks over at Rosebank want to keep things fair, so you can apply for a bottle direct from the website via a ballot process. The ballot launched today (14 February) for Rosebank subscribers, while general release will have to wait until 18 February, and will remain open for two weeks. Whichever expression you go for, a bottle will set you back £2,500. Robbie Hughes, Rosebank distillery manager said: “We are incredibly excited and proud to be releasing our first official bottlings of Rosebank since the distillery’s closure in 1993 – a pivotal milestone for us in bringing back to life this quintessential Lowland malt.” If you manage to get your hands on a bottle (as if that wasn’t lucky enough), you’ll be invited to collect it at a private event in London on 18th March, with the chance to meet Robbie Hughes himself, and even sample the single casks. What a way to get back in the game from the iconic distillery ahead of its long-awaited reopening!

The Nightcap

All hail the Grouse!

Famous Grouse now no. 1 whisky in Britain

Britain has a new champion whisky. The invincible-looking Jack Daniel’s has been unseated from its no. 1 spot and knocked back to no. 2 (though it would be fitting if it was the seventh best-selling brand, think about it). The new winner is a home-grown little blend you may have heard of called. . . the Famous Grouse! The Edrington Group’s flagship blend had a great Christmas in the off-trade with sales over £71m, up 2.6% on the previous year. Whereas its rival from Tennessee dropped by a shocking 9.3%, perhaps a reflection of the so-called Trump tariffs from the US/ EU trade war. Overall the mighty Grouse is bucking the trend for the blended Scotch category which was down 4.1% by value after Christmas (figures are from Nielsen ScanTrack based on off-trade sales for 12 weeks up to 4 January 2020). Mark Riley, managing director at Edrington-Beam Suntory UK commented: “The Famous Grouse for years has been the UK’s favourite whisky and driving force behind the blended Scotch category, so we are delighted to have reclaimed our number one spot in the UK’s largest spirits category. It’s fantastic to see a Scotch back in the top spot.” The Grouse is back!

The Nightcap

The ongoing EU/US trade war isn’t doing wonders for the American whiskey business

Tariffs cause US spirits exports to drop 27% to EU 

That’s right, we bring you more bad tariff news, folks. According to figures just released by Distilled Spirits Council of the US (Discus), the ongoing EU/US trade war is hitting the American whiskey business hard. In 2019, global exports of American whiskey fell by 16%, to $996 million. What’s more, American whiskey exports to the EU plummeted a whopping 27%, falling to $514m. This crash also comes after years of strong growth in the market. Discus president and CEO Chris Swonger noted that, “while it was another strong year for US spirits sales, the tariffs imposed by the European Union are causing a significant slump in American whiskey exports.” It’s easy to see this when we look at export declines for American whiskey in specific EU countries, with the UK falling 32.7%, France 19.9%, Germany 18.2% and Spain 43.8%. Swonger continued, “if this trade dispute is not resolved soon, we will more than likely be reporting a similar drag on the US spirits sector, jeopardising American jobs and our record of solid growth in the US market.” Politicians, sort it out!

The Nightcap

Better than tap? The jury’s out. At least they were. Then they said it was better.

Larkfire Wild Water triumphs in whisky taste test

This week Master of Malt was invited to the launch of a new water which is meant to be enjoyed with whisky called Larkfire at Boisdale of Belgravia in London. It’s the softest water imaginable as it is collected from Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The local rock, Lewisian gneiss, is incredibly hard and insoluble meaning that the water doesn’t pick up any minerals. It’s about as pure as water can be. The company was so confident in its purity that it put on a little test. A panel of drinks people, experts, journalists and someone from Master of Malt tried a selection of whiskies supplied by LVMH: Ardbeg 10 Year Old, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Glenmorangie 10 Year Old and Glenmorangie Lasanta with two types of water. One row was Larkfire and the other was Belgravia’s finest tap water. But which was which? There was much sipping, gurgling, swallowing and pontificating, it was totally scientific. Then it was time to hand in our papers. After a slap-up Scottish lunch of haggis and venison, the results were revealed: 14 votes for Larkfire wild water; 7 votes for Belgravia tap. So Larkfire the clear winner. Sadly, Master of Malt’s reputation was in tatters as our representative preferred the tap water.

The Nightcap

Congratulations guys!

Family-run pub named the best in the country for the second time

The Bell Inn in Aldworth, Berkshire, which has been run by the same family for 250 years, has been crowned the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Pub of the Year. The Bell Inn previously won the award in 1990 when it was run by current landlord Hugh Macaulay’s parents. “Since my grandfather retired nothing has changed about the pub at all, I think that might be one of the things that impressed,” says Macaulay, who added that it was “a wonderful thing to be recognised for driving quality year after year” at the Grade-II listed hostelry. Macaulay also attributed the success to the fact The Bell Inn is a free house, meaning it is not owned by a particular brewery and it is free to sell a variety of beers. “The judges were impressed with how a stranger entering the pub was treated like a regular straight away,” said Pub of the Year competition organiser Ben Wilkinson. “It’s clear that the local customers use the pub as a community centre as well as a place to drink, and the warm welcome and knowledgeable staff made us feel right at home. Nothing can beat the combination of good beer, great food and a warm, heritage pub”. Each year volunteers from more than 200 CAMRA branches select their Pub of the Year, before a winner is chosen in each region and they are whittled down to three runners-up and one winner. Runner-ups to the award, which has been running since 1988, include the Swan With Two Necks in Pendleton, Lancashire, the George and Dragon in Hudswell, North Yorkshire, and the Red Lion in Preston, Hertfordshire. Congratulations to everyone at The Bell Inn!

The Nightcap

Cognac and hip-hop – a combination that never fails

Courvoisier and Pusha-T partner to open US pop-up

The Maison Courvoisier activation, an immersive experience that “pays homage to the brand’s château in France”, is set to open in Chicago this weekend. Those who visit the event will be able to sample the latest offerings from Courvoisier, while experiencing live performances, interactive art galleries, fashion exhibits and a capsule collection from fashion designer, Rhuigi Villaseñor, and contemporary artist, Al-Baseer Holly. Oh, and also the first instalment of Maison Courvoisier was curated by multi-platinum rapper Pusha-T. “Beyond music, I am passionate about fashion and art, so I’m proud to collaborate with Courvoisier to highlight two of my favourite creators,” he said. “I’ve been a fan of Rhuigi and Al-Baseer for years, and I’m excited to be able to highlight their success through Maison Courvoisier.” This is the first in the series of activations taking place throughout 2020 at US cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Houston and Philadelphia. The next experience is planned for New York Fashion Week in September. “We’re excited to open the doors to Maison Courvoisier, as it brings our château in France and portfolio of award-winning liquid to our fans in a modern and interactive way,” said Stephanie Kang, senior marketing director for Courvoisier. “The event also embodies our core value that success is best shared and allows us to give these creative innovators the opportunity to honour their favourite artisans and their work.”

The Nightcap

Happy birthday, Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Happy 21st birthday, Kentucky Bourbon Trail!

In the words of Charli XCX, we do occasionally want to go back to 1999. It was a good year! Toy Story II, Britney Spears, the millennium bug fear… what a time to be alive. It was also the year the Kentucky Distillers’ Association kicked off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and for that we are truly grateful. And we shall celebrate its 21st birthday in fine form! The timetable of festivities was announced this week, getting underway with an 18-stop pop-up party tour in May and culminating in September with a closing do at the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center at Whiskey Row’s Frazier History Museum in Louisville. A whole bunch of distilleries are participating, including Bulleit, Evan Williams, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Woodford Reserve, and more. “We invite everyone to come out and celebrate with us.” said Adam Johnson, senior director of the KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences. “This is a momentous occasion and we wouldn’t be here without the millions of devoted fans who have made the pilgrimage to the various KBT destinations and the birthplace of bourbon.” And in 2019, the number of visits stood at almost two million – that’s a significant number of whiskey pilgrims. Happy birthday, Kentucky Bourbon Trail – we’ll be raising many glasses to you this year!

 

Tullamore D.E.W. debuts new short film in Beauty of Blend campaign 

Tullamore D.E.W.’s ‘Beauty of Blend’ campaign, which began in 2017, continues with a new short film! Ever wondered what motivates people to craft the perfect blend? Well, the world’s second largest Irish whiskey is giving us an insight into the answer, and in short, it’s to bring people together (we assume delicious liquid is also a byproduct of this). Beauty of Blend was shot by the acclaimed director Valentin Petit, enlisting the help of up and coming MCs and poets such as Genesis Elijah, a UK-based spoken word artist, asking them to express their own interpretation of the power of blend. The film shows a single bottle of Tullamore D.E.W. being passed between people throughout different places and cultures, to demonstrate the “connective thread that exists in us”. Very heartwarming indeed. “Tullamore D.E.W. is on a mission to encourage the world to blend. What is true of our whiskey, we are a blend of three types of different Irish whiskeys, we also believe is true of humanity,” global brand director, Chin Ru Foo said. “When we blend with other people and ideas, then we become richer as individuals and in turn, the world becomes a wiser, richer and more open place”. If you happen to be passing through Times Square, you’ll find it there on a giant billboard (is there any other kind in New York?), though seeing as it’s the 21st century, the internet is your first port of call if you’re elsewhere.

The Nightcap

Jameson sales have hit a new high

Jameson whiskey hits 8 million cases sold in 2019

The Jameson juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down. Figures just released by Irish Distillers shows that it sold 4.6 million cases of Jameson in the last six months of 2019 taking total sales for the year up to 8 million. Over the Christmas period, the company sold an astonishing 940,000 cases in one month. Sales are up 9% on the previous year. Growth in the last 25 years has been rapid: 1996 was the first year the company sold more than a million cases a year, by 2010 it was triple that. The US market dominates, as you might expect, taking 2 million cases of Jameson in 2019 but there’s growth across the board: UK up 10%, Germany up 34%, and Canda up 13%. The emerging markets are rocking too with China up 76%, India up 37% and Nigeria up a massive 185% (probably from quite a low base, it has to be said.) It’s not only Jameson though, Irish Distillers reports that Redbreast sales grew by 24% and visitor numbers are booming at Bow Street in Dublin and Midleton in Cork. It will be interesting to see what 2020 will bring.

The Nightcap

It’s a 75-minute journey through a century of cocktails. Fingers crossed the flux capacitor can handle it.

And finally. . . Are you telling me you built a time machine. . . out of a bar?

Think of the great time machines from popular culture like the DeLorean in the Back to the Future films, the time machine in HG Wells’ The Time Machine or, greatest of all, the phone box from Bill and Ted’s adventures. All great time machines, no doubt, all useful for messing with the space-time continuum but one thing was missing from all of them: booze. Everything is better with a drink in your hand, right*? Well, at the Timeless Bar in East London, this has been remedied. The team will be firing up their very own Cocktail Time Machine on the day that comes but once every four years, 29 February (that’s a Saturday.) The experience has been created by Funicular, creators of amazing immersive experiences, and consists of a 75-minute journey through a century of cocktails (see video here for a flavour of what to expect) from the Hanky Panky in the 1920s to the Appletini in the ‘00s. Food will be provided by Masterchef finalist Louisa Ellis. To travel on the Cocktail Time Machine, you need to book. All sounds enormous fun as long as you don’t get stuck in the 70s with nothing to drink but Tequila Sunrises. 

*Disclaimer: many things such as driving a car, operating heavy machinery, flying an aeroplane or delivering babies should be done sober.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Bobby Burns

It’s Burns Night on Saturday, so we’re making a cocktail named after the bard himself using a blended Scotch that you might not have tried before.  First of all, we…

It’s Burns Night on Saturday, so we’re making a cocktail named after the bard himself using a blended Scotch that you might not have tried before. 

First of all, we have to say that Robert Burns never got to try the cocktail named after him. He died in 1796, before the word ‘cocktail’ was even coined. According to Simon Difford, the first mention of the Bobby Burns cocktail is in Harry Craddock’s 1930 Savoy Cocktail Book. It’s a variation on the Rob Roy, a cocktail named after Scotland’s second most famous writer, Irvine Welsh. No, sorry Walter Scottt. The Rob Roy, a Manhattan made with Scotch in place of bourbon or rye, was named after a musical version of Scott’s novel that ran in late 19th century New York.

Craddock’s Bobby Burns calls for half Scotch whisky and half Italian vermouth with three dashes of Benedictine. Very nice it is too, but also very sweet and rather overpowers the whisky. It’s much better made with two parts whisky to one part vermouth. Other recipes call for different additions: some people use absinthe or absinthe-substitute ie. pastis; David A. Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks recommends using Drambuie which has the benefit of making an already very Scottish drink even more Scottish. 

‘You want to get that seen to’

The big question is, what kind of whisky to use? Scotch can be difficult in cocktails, especially the smoky varieties, but I think I may have found the perfect blend for mixing. It’s called Hankey Bannister. An odd name, it sounds like the sort of thing an Aberdonian builder might say when looking round your old house. You can imagine him sucking his teeth and saying, “it’s going to be expensive, you’ve got a hankey bannister.” But like Cutty Sark and J&B, it was actually created by a London firm of wine and spirits merchants, which was founded in 1757 by Beaumont Hankey and Hugh Bannister.

Despite having a low profile, at least in this country, it has in its long life picked up some illustrious fans including such famous booze enthusiasts as Evelyn Waugh and Winston Churchill. The brand is now in the safe hands of Inver House which owns Pulteney, Balblair, Speyburn and Knockdhu distilleries. There’s certainly some quality spirits in Hankey Bannister – it’s fruity, with flavours of toffee and vanilla with a voluptuous mouthfeel. It tastes like there’s some well-matured grains in with the malt. In short, it’s just the sort of blend that isn’t either going to dominate or get swamped in a cocktail. Best of all, it’s not expensive either. 

Bobby Burns

It’s the Bobby Burns!

Now we’ve found our perfect whisky, back to the Bobby Burns. After some experimentation, I found that just a dash of pastis made it spicy without overpowering it with aniseed, while if you’re using Drambuie add a little more, a teaspoon full, to give it a herbal sweetness. Both are delicious. The final question is what to garnish it with: a strip of lemon or orange peel would be nice but a maraschino cherry is even better.

So, there we have the Bobby Burns, not a lot to do with the great bard, but a delicious cocktail nonetheless. Here are the ingredients:

50ml Hankey Bannister whisky
25ml Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino vermouth
A dash of Ricard pastis, or more to taste (or a teaspoon of Drambuie)

Add all the ingredients to an ice-filled shaker, stir well and strain into a coupe or Nick & Nora. Garnish with a maraschino cherry. 

 

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Missing in action? The forgotten blends

When was the last time you read about Label 5 Scotch whisky? Or William Peel? Or Teacher’s? Ian Buxton looks at the blends that still bring in the money, if…

When was the last time you read about Label 5 Scotch whisky? Or William Peel? Or Teacher’s? Ian Buxton looks at the blends that still bring in the money, if not the column inches. 

Imagine if you will that you live in a fine country house. It’s well-appointed with many delightful rooms, a range of useful outbuildings and extensive grounds. All in all, it’s perfectly agreeable. What’s more, thanks to your aunt’s endowment and some shrewd investments, there’s a steady flow of income to keep the whole place running. The problem is that the old girl’s more than slightly batty so you have to keep her out of the public’s curious view. It’s the classic problem of the mad aunt in the attic and I’ve been thinking about her quite a lot recently. That’s because I’ve been drinking some blended Scotch whiskies and, for an article I’m writing, trying to get the distillers to talk about them. To summarise: they don’t have a lot to say.

Now my email in-box overflows on a daily basis with news of different single malts.  A constant stream of eager PR agencies and their clients vie for your attention with ever more exotic, expensive and esoteric releases of rare single malts. Often they’re limited to a few hundred bottles and, all too frequently, with a price tag running into four figures.

Dewar's White Label

They don’t make adverts like this any more.

They do, of course, provide easy copy for whisky magazines and bloggers and the proud brand manager is more than happy to see the column inches that result. They don’t, however, really mean terribly much in the grand scheme of things – while they’re the glamorous Spitfire pilots of whisky, the blends (the crews from Bomber Command if you want to keep this rather tenuous analogy going) do the grunt work.  They still account for more than 90% of all the Scotch sold around the world and without them, as I never tire of reminding folk, quite a number of single malt distilleries would have shut years ago.

The volumes of some of these brands are quite remarkable.  You know about Johnnie Walker, of course, and probably realise that blends such as Ballantine’s, Grant’s and Chivas Regal still sell impressive quantities (for the record, they each move considerably more than 4 million cases annually – that’s a lot of hooch).  But what about Passport, Buchanan’s, White Horse or Sir Edward’s? Well, any one of those sells more than 1½ million cases, leaving even the best-selling single malt gasping in their wake. 

In fact, brands that have been more or less forgotten on the UK retail scene such as VAT 69 and even Teacher’s still comfortably break the 1 million club barrier. And the ‘value’ brands that grace French supermarket shelves can clock up some remarkable numbers. Label 5 for example, which you’d be forgiven for not calling to mind, is a powerhouse performer selling close to 3 million cases.  Even more remarkably, the William Peel brand does even better.

So what’s the problem?  Why don’t we hear more about these whiskies? Well, some of it is pure snobbery – especially in the UK and US markets, blends are rather looked down on (not least, it has to be said by whisky writers and bloggers). The rot started with one of my personal whisky heroes, the author Aeneas MacDonald, who back in 1930 with his marvellous polemic Whisky (still in print, incidentally, and still well worth reading) chastised blended whisky drinkers as “the swillers, the drinkers-to-get-drunk who have not organs of taste and smell in them but only gauges of alcoholic content, the boozers, the ‘let’s-have-a-spot’ and ‘make it a quick one’ gentry and all the rest who dwell in a darkness”. Other writers have followed his lead.

Dr Jim Beveridge

Softly-spoken and unassuming, Dr Jim Beveridge from Johnnie Walker

Then there’s the undeniable fact that selling lots and lots of the same whisky day after day makes for rather less compelling copy than a stream of new releases.  There’s only so often that story can be written.

But there are stories to tell about blends and blending, even if blenders by inclination seem to be quite a modest breed, preferring the quiet sanctuary of their blending room to the stage at a large public whisky event. To their credit, Diageo did try some years ago to bring blending to the fore, holding a series of educational seminars for trade and media and releasing late in 2012 an elegant and erudite little pamphlet on The Art of Blending.

What’s more, their signature Johnnie Walker blend has proved adept at stealing malt whisky’s PR clothing. For proof, look no further than the recently released John Walker Last Cask.  There are just 330 bottles available worldwide (that’s if the Chinese leave us any, as it’s released there first) at approximately £2,500 each. 

So come on whisky marketers!  Let’s hear it for the engines of whisky’s success!  Let’s hear it for the mad aunt in the attic!

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

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New Arrival of the Week: Compass Box No Name No 2

Today we have a smoky blended malt so special that it doesn’t even have a name! It could only be a release from those crazy cats at Compass Box. Until…

Today we have a smoky blended malt so special that it doesn’t even have a name! It could only be a release from those crazy cats at Compass Box.

Until recently, the components of most blended whiskies were a closely-guarded secret. It was all about the brand, one didn’t want to confuse the customer with too much information. But this is changing: just look at Johnnie Walker’s new Black Label Origins, a series of blends based around regions and distilleries. Part of the credit for this opening up has to go to Compass Box.

This small scale blender was founded in 2000 by John Glaser, an American who had previously worked with Johnnie Walker. Since then his company has won Whisky Magazine’s Innovator of the Year prize six times by pushing the boundaries of what is possible or even legal with Scotch whisky. You know you’re doing something right when you get into trouble with both the EU and the SWA.

John Glaser Compass Box

‘You can find the perfect blend’, John Glaser

The company buys a mixture of aged stock, and new make spirit which is then aged. To spice things up, Glaser and his team also acquire casks of ready-aged blends which are genuine mysteries, not even the people selling them know what they were made up of. Whereas some blends might contain more than 40 component parts, Compass Box bottlings tend to be much simpler. 

The company tries to be as transparent as possible but in the past they have run up against EU regulations that forbid whisky producers from advertising the age of the component parts. You’re only allowed to state the age of the youngest part. And with the Spice Tree blend they incurred the displeasure of the SWA because it used new French oak staves placed within the cask. Compass Box managed to get around the regulations by fitting new oak ends to an old cask. 

But this was nothing compared with Affinity released earlier this year which indulged in some cross-category canoodling by blending whisky with Calvados. And it worked beautifully. Compass Box products look striking too, with packaging by Stranger & Stranger, and names inspired by art and literature, or sometimes no name at all! Which brings us on to our New Product of the Week. 

The first No Name was a limited edition released in 2017 and so-called because no name could do justice to the smoky character of the whisky. Or perhaps Compass Box just ran out of ideas. Now the follow-up is here, No Name No 2! It’s a blend of  Caol Ila aged in sherry casks, Talisker aged in charred hogsheads, some Clynelish and then a mysterious element, a blend of Highland malts finished in new French oak. It’s bottled at 48.9% ABV. So what does all this add up to? Pretty much everything we have ever tried from Compass Box has been delicious and this is no exception. It’s a combination of the smoky and salty with the custard, clove spices, and both dried fruit and fresh fruit like apples and cherries, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. See full tasting note below. Now all it needs is a name.

No Name No 2, nice label

Tasting notes from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Lots of smoky peat with some salty saline notes, vanilla and custard with cloves, sweet floral notes and orange peel.

Palate: Really creamy, crème brûlée, with bonfire smoke, black pepper and salt, all the time with fresh apples and dried apricots.

Finish: Lingering wood smoke with red cherries and a touch of tannin. 

 

 

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