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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Bourbon

New Arrival of the Week: Kentucky Owl the Wiseman 

We’re kicking off a new week with a deliciously spicy premium bourbon from America’s whiskey heartland. It’s the Wiseman from Kentucky Owl! Bourbon is a funny old thing. All that…

We’re kicking off a new week with a deliciously spicy premium bourbon from America’s whiskey heartland. It’s the Wiseman from Kentucky Owl!

Bourbon is a funny old thing. All that rich history of distilling dating back to America’s foundation as a country, and the arrival of Scots and Irish settlers. And yet most American whiskey brands are comparatively recent because of that little 20th-century interlude called Prohibition.

It’s a bit boring, however, for new brands just to say, we’re making great whiskey because we have a passion for good spirits, so there’s often a colourful 19th-century story to even the most recent of brands. So it is with Kentucky Owl whiskey. 

The Kentucky Owl story

The original brand was founded in 1874 by C.M. Dedman in Bardstown. It continued distilling, according to the website, “until Prohibition became law in 1916. At this point, the government seized some 250,00 gallons of Kentucky Owl, taking it away for safekeeping.” Though according to other sources, Prohibition didn’t come into effect in Kentucky until November 1919 so not sure why the government would be seizing whiskey three years early. Anyway, then there was a fire and all the stock burned. Or did it? There were rumours that the stock was actually pinched by bootleggers. 

But frankly who really cares as it has very little to do with the current brand. It’s like one of those tedious origin stories you get in British gin about someone finding his great-great grandfather’s long-lost recipe in the loft and recreating it with the help of a large contract distiller near London. 

The brand’s revival

In the case of Kentucky Owl, the real story starts in 2014 when the brand was revived by Dixon Dedman, a descendant of the founder. He quickly built up the reputation of Kentucky Owl by sourcing and bottling high-quality whiskeys, both bourbon, and rye, from other distilleries. Such was the aura around the brand that bottles were changing hands on the secondary market for significantly more than RRP. Not bad for a young company with no distillery. 

In 2017, Kentucky Owl was purchased by the Stoli group, which is based in Luxembourg and makes its vodka in Latvia, not Russia. Though there is still a vodka brand called Stolichnaya in Russia but it has nothing to do with Stoli the company.

Kentucky Owl

Finally proof that aliens did indeed build the pyramids

Big plans

Confused? Well, it gets more confusing when you go back to Kentucky Owl. The Stoli Group has big plans for Kentucky Owl which include building a huge pyramid-shaped distillery and brand home in Bardstown. The whole thing looks like something from the cover of a ‘60s sci-fi novel. But despite having a breaking ground ceremony back in 2018, it doesn’t appear that anything is operational and there’s much speculation about whether the distillery will ever open. 

Then in 2021, the company announced that Dixon Dedman was moving on and John Rhea formerly of Four Roses had been signed as master blender. It seems he knows what he’s doing as one thing is clear from sampling the latest release called the Wiseman, Kentucky Owl’s stellar reputation is entirely deserved. According to the press release, it’s a blend of “Kentucky Owl 4-year-old wheat and high-rye bourbons” blended with “5 ½-year and 8 ½-year-old Kentucky-sourced bourbons.” Love those half years. Seeing as the distillery isn’t yet operational, those wheat and high-rye bourbons were distilled for Kentucky Owl by Bardstown Bourbon Co. The source of the older whiskeys is top secret.

How does it taste though?

Anyway, it’s a very classy drop for those who love a big spicy bourbon. In fact, if I tried it blind, I’d probably guess it was a rye whisky. The nose explodes with ginger, cardamom, and Szechuan pepper, with lovely mature tobacco-esque aromatics. On the palate, it’s very dry and crackles with aromatic intensity, and it’s perfectly balanced at 45.4% ABV. 

But don’t take my word for it. This is what John Rhea says: “Kentucky Owl the Wiseman is an artful balance of soft wheat and spicy high-rye that provides a smooth but complex bourbon designed to drink neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail. It leads with a beautiful caramel flavour and aroma followed by notes of allspice, citrus fruit, and a nudge of oak.”   

It’s one I’d probably drink neat but if I had a whole bottle rather than a tiny sample I’d be very curious to try it in a Manhattan and a Boulevardier, especially as it’s a lot more affordable than other Kentucky Owl releases. There’s a full tasting note below. 

So Kentucky Owl Wiseman, it has a confusing and not altogether convincing story, but frankly with bourbon this good, who cares?

Kentucky Owl Wiseman is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy. 

The Kentucky Owl The Wiseman Bourbon On the Rocks

Tasting note for Kentucky Owl the Wiseman

Nose: Ginger, cinnamon and cardamom with coffee and woody tobacco notes.

Palate: Massively aromatic with Szechuan pepper, chillies, black pepper and cardamom. The sweetness is really dialled down with subtle toffee notes.

Finish: Long and fragrant with a menthol note coming through. 

 

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Master of Malt tastes… Four Roses Small Batch Select bourbon

There’s a new addition to the Four Roses core range! As you might expect we were pretty excited when we heard this, even before we tasted it. And of course,…

There’s a new addition to the Four Roses core range! As you might expect we were pretty excited when we heard this, even before we tasted it. And of course, it didn’t disappoint, Four Roses Small Batch Select is truly sensational.

If you’ve only got room for one bottle of American whiskey in your drinks cupboard, then you should look no further than Four Roses Small Batch. It fulfils three roles in one: it’s a bourbon but with a high rye content, so it covers both those bases in cocktails. But it’s interesting enough to sip neat and admire all that complexity. In fact, you’ll struggle to find a better whiskey from anywhere for under £30. Yes, it’s really that good.

Four Roses fermenting

Batches fermenting at Four Roses. No idea of the mashbill or yeast type

Fancy Four Roses

But it’s not the pinnacle of the Four Roses range. Not by a long way. The great Kentucky distillery also produces barrel strength bottlings which are only available in limited quantities and tend to get hoovered up very quickly despite, or maybe because of, the high prices. Now, however, there’s a bottling between the everyday magic of the Small Batch and the rarified limited editions. It’s called Four Roses Small Batch Select and it’s every good as you might expect.

Before we dive in, we’re going to take a look at the unique production methods at Four Roses. Most whiskeys and indeed whiskies are made from a standard mash bill and production methods. The difference between bottlings is in the casks and the length of time ageing. 

But at Four Roses master distiller Brent Elliott has 10 different recipes to play with. There are two mash bills, ‘E’, a high corn recipe (75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley), and ‘B’, a high rye version (60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley). Then he has the choice to ferment with one of five yeast strains which all contribute different flavours: V (light fruit), O (rich fruit), Q (floral), F (herbaceous), and K (spice.) You can read more depth about the Four Roses process here

FOUR ROSES SMALL BATCH SELECT-LIFESTYLE-BOTTLE+GLASSES.jpg RS

Tasting Small Batch Select

Small Batch Select combines six of these recipes: OBSV, OESV, OBSK, OESK, OBSF, and OESF. O means it’s made by Four Roses and S means straight bourbon. So you can see the mash bills are split evenly between high corn and high rye, but with the yeasts the emphasis is very much on the spice with herbal and light fruit supporting. 

And this is born out on tasting as Small Batch Select is spice city. I found it incredibly spicy and dry with much less of the toffee and popcorn you usually get in a bourbon. It’s essentially a bourbon for lovers of rye whiskey. The ABV at 52% is just perfect for sipping neat. You don’t need to dilute it at all. If you are planning to mix, I’d stick 

with simple cocktails like the Old Fashioned. For anything more lavish, I’d go for the standard Small Batch, and save Small Batch Select for long conversations when old friends come over. 

Four Roses Small Batch select is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Tasting note for Four Roses Small Batch Select

Nose: Pumpkin pie, baking spices, dark chocolate, black cherries, cloves, ginger and chilli.

Palate: Dry and super spicy with nutmeg, cinnamon and Szechuan peppers. Hugely aromatic. There are also sweeter notes of caramel, chocolate and peanuts – yes, like an alcoholic snickers bar.

Finish: Dark chocolate, very long and intense. 

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Explore the whisky flavour map

We’re getting out our compasses, unfolding our maps, and donning belted safari suits à la Roger Moore, and exploring the whisky flavour map. This week we’ll be travelling to Ireland,…

We’re getting out our compasses, unfolding our maps, and donning belted safari suits à la Roger Moore, and exploring the whisky flavour map. This week we’ll be travelling to Ireland, Australia, Wales, America, Finland, and Scotland. So buckle up, and let’s get exploring.

When shopping for whisky, it’s easy to go for the same classic blends or single malts. But there’s a wide world of flavour out there which can be a bit intimidating. You don’t want to take a punt on a whisky you don’t like. So to help you, we’re putting together a two-part exploration of the whisky flavour map, visiting countries and regions, explaining the various whisky styles and recommending bottles from each

Right, fasten your seatbelts, all aboard! Let’s explore that whisky flavour map.

Green Spot Dublin Smash with bottle

Ireland – Green Spot Single Pot Still

Single pot still whiskey began in the 19th century when the British government put a tax on malted barley, so Irish distillers to save money began to add unmalted barley to the mashbill. Huge pots still were used like the one you can still see at the Old Midleton Distillery in Cork. But increasingly this powerful pot still spirit was just used in blends rather than seen on its own. By the 1980s, there was only one left, Green Spot, which became a legend. Now single pot still is recognised as Ireland’s great gift to the whiskey world, with newer distillers like Dingle and Teeling making their own versions. If you’ve never tried Green Spot, you are in for a treat. The unmalted barley gives it a creaminess and spice that’s unique, combine that with Green Spot’s trademark apple fruit and you have a truly great whiskey.

Starward Nova cocktails

Australian whisky – Starward Nova Single Malt

You might not know it but Australia has a rich whisky heritage. After all, it was settled by immigrants from Ireland and Scotland. But as far as modern Australian distilling goes, it only dates back to the ‘90s with some pioneering whisky producers in Tasmania. As a young industry, it’s still developing its styles but most producers like Starward in Melbourne make use of the country’s excellent barley, in this case to produce a single malt. And thanks to the wine industry there’s lots of unusual casks about. The result is a whisky that founder Starward David Vitale jokes is more Australian than Scotch whisky is Scottish. The ageing in ex-Pinot Noir, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon gives it a red fruit sweetness combined with notes of honey and toffee to produce a whisky that sits somewhere between an unpeated Scotch single malt and an American whisky in style. 

_116245Penderyn-Rich-Oak

Wales – Penderyn Rich Oak Single Malt 

The modern Welsh whisky industry owes everything to Stephen Davies and the team at Penderyn. He had a dream to bring whisky back to the valleys and managed to make that a reality in 2000. So by craft whiskey standards, It’s been going a long time. Since then the scene has grown with other new producers like Aber Falls. With no heritage to speak of, Penderyn created a uniquely Welsh style of whisky by using a Faraday still – a sort of hybrid pot and column still. This produces an extremely light and fruity style of new make. They released their first whisky in 2004 putting Wales firmly on the whisky map. In fact, it’s been so popular that Penderyn has opened to other distilleries in Llandudno and Swansea. The Penderyn Rich Oak is defined by that light, fruity style aged in sweet ex-bourbon casks and accentuated by some time spent in ex-wine casks.

Bourbon Living Room Set_01

America – Bourbon Tasting Set

Bourbon is America’s most famous style of whisky. It’s what happened when Irish and Scots brought their distilling expertise to a country where different cereals thrived. So rather than use barley, like in the old country, they used what they had to hand, which in Kentucky, Tennessee and other states was maize or corn as the Americans call it. Since then bourbon has been codified so it must be made from at least 51% corn, and the rest made up of rye, malted barley, and/or wheat in varying proportions. It then must be aged in charred new American oak casks. From these parameters, bourbon is a broad church. Most of it comes from Kentucky, but it can be made all over the country. It can be sweet like chocolate or full of spice, it can be young and simple, or long-aged and mellow. To get you started we recommend this bourbon tasting set containing five great drams from Maker’s Mark, Bulleit, FEW, J.W.Kelly and Legent. Get exploring!

Kyro___Malt_ja__illa__

Finland – Kyrö Malt Rye Whisky

Finland is another country with a young whisky industry but like the other Scandinavian nations, they’ve taken to it like ducks to water. Kyrö was founded in 2014 and since then its rye whiskey has become its calling card. This is a style most associated with the US and Canada but there are a few things that make Kyro’s version a different animal altogether. Firstly it’s made from 100% rye, American and Canadian ryes only have to have 51%. This rye comes entirely from Finland. They also use malted rye rather than the unmalted more commonly seen. This means that they don’t need to add enzymes or malted barley to release the sugar from the starch. Fermentation times are long, around six days, so you’re getting loads of flavour. Following distillation, it is aged in a mixture of ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks to deliver a big bold distinctly Finnish take on rye whisky, bottled at a punchy 47.2% ABV. Expect big flavours of dark chocolate, coffee, apricot and black pepper. 

westland-single-sq

America – Westland American Oak Single Malt

There’s so much more to American whiskey than bourbon and rye, the two most famous styles. This huge country also makes single malt whisky, you know like they do in Scotland only different. To start with, Westland takes a craft beer approach using a huge variety of malts including chocolate and Munich malts so you’re getting much bigger sweeter flavours. A brewer’s yeast is also used. Naturally, all the barley comes from the US. Distillation, however, is more traditional with two pot stills, the head distiller Matt Hofmann trained in Scotland after all. He has a wide variety of casks to choose from but this core expression uses only American oak. Crucially, the famously wet Pacific Northwest climate, Westland is based in Seattle, means the whiskeys mature much slower than in the heat of Kentucky, America’s whiskey heartland, to produce a more elegant style. The profile here is all about rich American oak with custard, caramel, butter bread plus tobacco cherries and pears.

Suntory_Toki_Rooftop_101

Japan – Suntory Toki

The Japanese whisky industry is modelled on Scotch, right down to the stills used. Many distilleries even use Scottish malt. So what is it that makes Japanese whisky taste so different? Well, Toki from Suntory was specifically created for making that most Japanese of cocktails, the Highball. It’s a blend of Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita, with the main components being Hakashu single malt and Chita grain whisky. It’s all about fruitiness, sweetness and balance with none of the elements standing out prominently. The result is a subtle whisky with orchard fruits, herb-laden honey and a little mintiness on the nose. While in the mouth there’s green apples with pink grapefruit and then richer notes of toasted almonds, vanilla, white pepper and ginger. It’s an extremely versatile blend and a great introduction to the magic of Japanese whisky

regions-of-scotland-whisky-tasting-set

Scotland – Regions of Scotland Tasting Set

And finally, we’re cheating a bit with our final choice because we’re doing all of Scotland at once. Think of it as a helicopter tour of Scotch whisky in all its amazing diversity. It’s a great taster for those looking to explore further. Our journey begins in the lowlands with the sweet, fruitiness and light smokiness of Ailsa Bay Release 1.2 Sweet Smoke. Then it’s over to Islay for Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old , full of smoke and peat, from an unnamed distillery. It’s a great introduction to this island’s famous whisky. It’s a short hop, weather permitting, to the Isle of Mull to sample the apple and vanilla-edged Tobermory 12 Year Old. The famously fruity and waxy Deanston is next on the list and the tour ends with the richly sherried Speyside Dram of Glenfarclas 10 Year Old, think fruitcake and rum. What a treat for whisky lovers.

I hope you enjoyed our whistle-stop tour of the world of whisky. Go here for more inspiration. Next week we’ll be looking at various whiskies through the prism of flavour. See you then.

 

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MoM Loves: Rabbit Hole whiskey

Kaveh Zamanian fell in love with a Kentucky native and then its bourbon. Then he went down the rabbit hole and came out the other side with an ambitious and…

Kaveh Zamanian fell in love with a Kentucky native and then its bourbon. Then he went down the rabbit hole and came out the other side with an ambitious and innovative brand. Here’s the story of Rabbit Hole whiskey.

Paid partnership

After emigrating from Iran as a child, Kaveh Zamanian grew up in LA and lived in New York and Chicago, working as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst for over 20 years. In Chicago, he met his future wife, Heather, a fourth-generation Louisvillian who introduced him to bourbon. From there, an obsession started. One Zamanian described as going down a “rabbit hole”, and a course was set for him which would lead him to found his own whiskey brand.

Beginning his journey around fifteen years ago, Zamanian decided there was no better way to learn how to make Kentucky bourbon than with some of its most respected distillers. “Back then there wasn’t as much excitement as there is now so it was easier to get access to veterans like Larry Ebersole, who was the master distiller at Seagram’s for 25 years, and former Four Roses master distiller Jim Routledge,” Zamanian says. “I was reading the right books, taking the right courses and talking to the right distilleries, learning from soup to nuts what goes into the art and science of making whiskey”. 

From there was able to start developing his very own recipes, informed by a desire to contribute to American whiskey in a way that’s unique. “I realised after the Civil War in the first golden age of bourbon that there were about 2,000 distilleries in Kentucky with a variety of expressions,” Zamanian explains. “I wanted to position Rabbit Hole to be one of the new renaissance of producers who wanted to create something different. The idea was that no two expressions could be the same and the whiskeys should give you a tasting experience that covers a broad range of notes and flavours”.

Rabbit Hole whiskey

The man himself

A glass castle of a distillery

It was in 2012 that Zamanian officially founded Rabbit Hole, before he had a distillery to call home. In the meantime, he found a producer that would make his recipes for him while working hand-in-hand with an architect to design and oversee the building of his own site in the heart of Louisville. By 2016, the first bottle of Rabbit Hole whiskey was released. 

The distillery itself opened in May 2018 in the heart of NuLu, the city’s creative district. It’s a shiny behemoth of a place, a glass and steel structure that allows for a fully immersive experience of sights, sounds, smells that lays the whiskey-making process out before visitors. A top-floor bar, The Overlook, serves cocktails with a view of the city. It’s what you’d think a modern distillery would look like. No matter what you’re level of engagement with whiskey is, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped out of the rabbit hole and into wonderland.

But it’s a commitment to transparency that will engage whiskey nerds, with even the sensory and quality assurance lab being fully viewable. “Transparency is not a marketing slogan, it’s part of the DNA of Rabbit Hole and the distillery embodies that. And it’s not only beautiful but it really packs a punch from an efficiency and production point of view,” Zamanian says. The capacity allows Rabbit Hole to produce 1.2 million proof gallons (5.5 milion litres at 50% ABV) per year, which equates to 27,000 barrels being filled annually. 

Rabbit Hole whiskey

Rabbit Hole Distillery

The Rabbit Hole way of making whiskey

The process of creating Rabbit Hole begins by selecting one of the five different recipes Zamanian devised. He is also working on a handful of finishing projects and experiments in rye and single malt. But it’s bourbon that really get him going. 

“I’m a big fan of malting grains, it’s an art in itself. They’re all spices on the spice rack that are able to elevate the core ingredient. As you need 51% corn in your mashbill, that leaves 49% of innovation,” Zamanian explains. “But most bourbon on the market is made from only a handful of recipes. There’s so much room for creativity and allows a whiskey maker to spread their wings and make unique expressions. We make all kinds of fun expressions that shine through their natural flavour”.

In July 2021, Rabbit Hole completed construction on three 8,000-gallon fermentation tanks which, at capacity, boosted production an additional 25%. But all of Rabbit Hole’s are made carefully in small batches with less than 15 barrels per batch. The column still, a 48-foot, 24-inch beauty produced by Vendome Copper & Brass Works, as well as the fermentation tanks and cooker are all in one space which required significant engineering, but ensures that transparency and efficiency Zamanian is so insistent on.

Speaking to the Rabbit Hole founder, it’s clear the only thing he values more than them is making sure his whiskey-making process prioritises quality over cost and volume. Flavour is king here. He puts his liquid in the barrel at 55% ABV (or 110 proof), which provides less yield but preserves more of the flavour, and only uses handmade barrels which are not only charred, but toasted slowly by wood fire, not gas. Everything is then bottled without chill-filtration. “We take no shortcuts to ensure the profiles of the whiskeys are accentuated as organically as possible,” Zamanian summarises.

Rabbit Hole whiskey

No shortcuts here

Looking forward

Making whiskey this way not only means you get a delicious dram at the end, but you attract some serious attention. That’s exactly what Rabbit Hole did and, in 2019, a majority stake was snapped up by Pernod Ricard. The intent was to utilise the drink giant’s distribution network, but maintain Rabbit Hole’s process and Louisville location. Hence why the core whiskeys were rebranded with the intent of honouring Louisville figures along with the life of Zamanian. 

“It’s a wonderful partnership,” he says. “I started the brand with personal and family resources and raised capital with local inventors, who believed in me and got the brand off the ground. But when Pernod came in it made sense. We share the value of conviviality. We have our eyes on national and international growth, sales, and distribution. And they leave us to make the whiskey”.

Now Rabbit Hole has made its way to the UK. “COVID delayed us reaching your shores but it’s a market we’ve had our eyes on for a long time, full of consumers who know and love their whiskey. It’s really exciting,” Zamanian. 

Rabbit Hole whiskey

Anyone for some Rabbit Hole whiskey?

Reviewing Rabbit Hole

It’s exciting for us too, because we love great whiskey at Master of Malt. And that’s exactly what we have here. Below are tasting notes and info on the two expressions we have, but to summarise quickly it’s fair to say that Rabbit Hole is the kind of distillery that gets us worked up. With a commitment to pushing boundaries, being transparent, and making tasty yet affordable whiskey, you’re always going to win us round.

Zamanian says his ultimate goal is to make a range of American whiskeys that are truly unique against a sea of similarity. “We’re leading the pack of the new distilleries since we’ve emerged on the market, with our focus on details, transparency, and production raising the bar. An old graduate tutor of mine used to say ‘just shoot me if I only have one idea’. We are always innovative and creative to make booze that re-imagines what American whiskey can be”.

We think he’s off to a great start, and that this rabbit might just win its race.

Rabbit Hole whiskeys are available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Rabbit Hole whiskey

Rabbit Hole Boxergrail Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Rabbit Hole’s Boxergrail straight rye whiskey combines 95% rye and 5% malted barley to create a bold, rich, and warming expression. The work the brand does on its barrels shows, allowing integration and nuance which are elevated by a luscious mouthfeel. This is a top-notch rye, which features a name inspired by the local boxing community.

Nose: Dark chocolate and toffee, underpinned by robust rye spiciness and a waft of warm sawdust.

Palate: Still plenty of oak and spice to it, well-balanced by vanilla and a hint of cigar box.

Finish: Brown sugar, apple, blackberry, cassia.

Rabbit Hole whiskey

Rabbit Hole Heigold Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

A marvellous high-rye bourbon, this expression has been dubbed Heigold, inspired by a Christian Heigold, a German stonecutter who settled in Louisville prior to 1850 and soon after, carved elaborate symbols of his patriotism on the facade of his now landmark home. It’s a twist on the standard Kentucky high-rye bourbons, made from a mash bill of 70% corn, 25% malted German rye, and 5% malted barley, with the extra malting infusing an array of flavours and a bold 47.5% ABV giving it great weight and depth.

Nose: Warming cinnamon and caramel, with a hint of Jamaican Ginger Cake underneath.

Palate: Thick vanilla pods, dry oak, peppercorn, and more cinnamon bringing spiciness.

Finish: A smidge of citrus appears through the toffee and toasted spices.

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Bourbon innovation

If you think bourbon is a static category, then think again. From cask finishes to heirloom grains, this formerly conservative whiskey is now a hotbed of experimentation. Lauren Eads takes…

If you think bourbon is a static category, then think again. From cask finishes to heirloom grains, this formerly conservative whiskey is now a hotbed of experimentation. Lauren Eads takes a look at the exciting world of bourbon innovation.

The past decade has seen a bourbon boom. Kentucky currently has 10 million barrels of bourbon aging in distillery warehouses, says the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, with the industry setting a new production record in 2020 for the number of barrels filled in a single year – nearly 2.5 million.

WRBE-Bottle-HERO-on-Baccarat-Bar-WEB

Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition is finished in Cognac casks

Bourbon innovation

Much of this growth has been driven by a renaissance in brown spirits, which has also seen the value of bourbon on the secondary market explode, but also growing innovation that has hooked new consumers. There is an urge to push the boundaries, not only among newer craft distillers, but also legacy producers.

Established names had a head start, clearly. Woodford Reserve began cask finishing in the 1990s, releasing the first bourbons finished in Port and Sherry casks, as well as ex-Pinot Noir and Chardonnay barrels. This coincided with an industry wide move toward more premium small batch and single barrel expressions. In 2013 Buffalo Trace launched its Warehouse X, analysing how light, airflow, temperature and humidity affects maturation. Now, craft distillers are catching up, producing exceptional spirits while bringing forth fresh ideas.

“Some whiskey made early on by craft distilleries, especially products aged in small casks, just wasn’t on the same level as the heritage distilleries,” says John Little, founder of Smooth Ambler in West Virginia, which was built on sourcing mature bourbon for its Old Scout label. “Now we’re seeing producers that are closing that gap. Those craft distillers, especially those making American whiskey, are making better whiskey than ever, offering new blends and finishes and pushing the boundaries.”

John Little from Smooth Ambler

John Little nosing out some quality whiskey

Bourbon beyond Kentucky

Pinhook, New Riff and Yellowstone are a few Kentucky-based producers disrupting the status quo, experimenting with vintage variation, blending and barrelling. But while 95% of bourbon is made in Kentucky, not every brand is bound to the Bluegrass state.

FEW Spirits, founded by Paul Hletko in 2011 in Chicago, makes a bold, spicy bourbon that deliberately sits apart from its Kentucky counterparts. “People are less negative about non-Kentucky bourbon – they are getting excited about what we are doing in expanding the flavours of a tightly regulated spirit like bourbon. There’s this rich wide open world that goes beyond six or seven legacy distilleries in Kentucky. I think that’s a good thing, it gives consumers a choice.”

Hletko uses a mash bill that includes 20% rye to add spice, but there’s more to it than that. Most of his flavours are created during fermentation, not in the barrels, which come from Minnesota rather than further south.

“We are fastidious about ferments,” he says. “We use special yeast and control the temperature and ferment to secure the flavours we want. We use the barrel as additional processing to shape and mould the flavour rather than to create it. It’s a brewer’s approach to fermentation that for whatever reason most distilleries don’t use.”

The Smooth Ambler range

The Smooth Ambler range

Whiskey and terroir

For Lisa Wicker (in header), head distiller at Widow Jane in Brooklyn, New York, innovation and craft distilling are inseparable. She uses a “one-of-a-kind” corn trademarked as ‘Baby Jane’ – a cross between Bloody Butcher and Wayside Valley heirloom corns.

“My style of distillation always considers the corn source and type,” says Wicker. “I ‘cook’ Yellow Dent [corn] in a more traditional way of mashing and distilling. With heirloom corn the cooking process is different with temperature and times, working to keep the characteristics of the variety. Because I was a winemaker I believe that fermentations and distillations need to match the profile of the corn or grain, not unlike grape varieties being handled differently.”

Widow Jane’s 10-Year-Old is made from a blend of straight bourbons from distilleries in Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee, produced in five barrel batches and cut with limestone mineral water from the Rosendale Mines of New York.

“It seems so obvious to me that everything that goes into a whiskey influences it. The idea that some believe terroir does not exist in whiskey makes me crazy. Rob Arnold’s book The Terroir of Whiskey is a must read for distiller and consumer alike. Just like the ‘farm to table’ movement, sense of place is part of the final product,” Wicker explained.

The Widow Jane Distillery in Brooklyn

The Widow Jane Distillery in Brooklyn

Cask finishes add another layer of flavour

Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon is famously finished in Port casks. This year it released a limited edition bourbon finished in Madeira casks, while Rebel Yell released a Kentucky Straight Bourbon finished in Cognac casks. Yellowstone unveiled a limited edition blend of seven- and 15-year-old Bourbons with a portion of the liquid finished in ex-Amarone wine casks. Smooth Ambler has finished bourbon in cider and beer barrels, and its Old Scout Rye, separately, in both an ex-Australian Tawny and ex-Port cask.

Flavoured Bourbons are all the rage too. Jim Beam’s Red Stag and Wild Turkey’s American Honey blazed a trail. Both have a bourbon base but are classed as whiskey liqueurs. Knob Creek makes a mean Smoked Maple Kentucky Straight Bourbon, while FEW Spirits brings its Cold Cut Bourbon to bottle strength with cold brew coffee.

Legally, bourbon must be made in the US from at least 51% corn and aged in charred new oak barrels (minimum two years for straight bourbon). No flavourings can be added and it must be bottled at a minimum of 80 proof (40% ABV), having come off the still at a maximum 160 proof (80% ABV).

But is it still bourbon?

According to according to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau’s (TTB) regulations, if a bourbon has been flavoured or finished in a cask other than new charred oak then legally it comes a ‘distilled spirits speciality.’ But the word ‘bourbon’ can still be used on the label so long as it’s accompanied by a “truthful statement” on the cask finish and/or flavouring used, The Distilled Spirits Council of the US (DISCUS) confirmed.

Purists might balk at the idea of a cask-finished bourbon, even more so one flavoured. And while trust in labelling is crucial to maintaining integrity, exploration and innovation is what sparks debate and captures minds. “Consumers like choice and variation,” adds Little. “It’s our job to listen to them and to work to provide products that meet that need. It’s not to be hard-lined bourbon snobs; let’s buck tradition and give the folks something fun and delicious.”

Amen to that.

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A spotlight on… Maker’s Mark

It’s a brand of steady reliability, iconic appearance, and signature taste. But how did Maker’s Mark turn a family recipe based on loaves of bread and a bottle dipped in…

It’s a brand of steady reliability, iconic appearance, and signature taste. But how did Maker’s Mark turn a family recipe based on loaves of bread and a bottle dipped in red wax into a global brand that changed bourbon? We find out.

Imagine you’ve got your hands on the only copy of a 170-year-old family recipe for making bourbon. Do you a) make several copies and create lots of lovely bourbon; b) hide it away in the garden like a mad greedy squirrel so nobody else can ever learn it; or c) burn it to a crisp along with a set of drapes.  

Maker’s Mark founder Bill Samuels Sr. did the latter. Not deliberately of course, but after disaster struck he became a sixth-generation distiller without a mashbill to make bourbon. Which is something of a stumbling block. 

His wife Margie, however, had a clever idea. To save time and money, she suggested they bake loaves of bread with various grain combinations instead of distilling them to find the flavour profile they desired.

It was this process that led to the creation of the Makers Mark mash bill that was first produced in 1954 and is still used today. The eventual recipe was made with a desire to challenge the notion that bourbon was harsh and that people shouldn’t have to learn to love whiskey. 

That’s why Samuels Sr. decided to eschew the traditional choice of rye as part of his mashbill and instead opted for soft red winter wheat. It proved to be one of many flavour-based decisions that ended up setting Maker’s Mark apart.

Maker's Mark

Margie and Bill, the brains behind Maker’s Mark

Making the flavour

The core of the mashbill is 70% corn which is rounded out with Maker’s signature ingredient (16%) as well as malted barley (14%). The brand continues to partner with local, family farms in Loretto, Kentucky to source its grain, including a 60-plus-year relationship with the Mattinglys for corn and the Petersons for wheat. 

A roller mill is still preferred over a hammer mill, it’s a slower more labour-intensive process but the family believes it allows them to be precise with how each grain is processed. An heirloom yeast strain that’s more than 150 years old is still favoured, which ferments in tanks that are original to the old Burks Distillery (which Samuels Sr purchased in 1953 for $35,000). 

Maker’s Mark is also the only Kentucky bourbon distillery with its own water source and watershed, with Kentucky limestone filtering out iron from its water and leaving them with pure calcium- and magnesium-rich water. 

The whiskey is double distilled in Vendome Copper & Brass Works stills that are an exact replica of the original, and the whiskey is aged to taste, not time. Generally, however, Maker’s Mark whiskey spends six to seven years inside number-three char virgin American white oak barrels that are seasoned outdoors for nine months by the cooperage, a lengthy process but one preferred for its ability to remove some bitter woody tannins. 

The distillery still rotates its barrels by hand. Each spends a minimum of three hot Kentucky summers in the top of the rackhouse where they are exposed to the greatest temperature variations before every batch is tested to determine where in the warehouse it would be optimal to be hand-rolled next. The whiskey is then filtered and diluted to a considerable 45% ABV. For four days in February 2013 this strength was reduced, presumably to save money, but the backlash was so strong that Maker’s reversed its decision. 

Maker's Mark

The Maker’s Mark bottle is among the most distinctive

Margie Samuels: making her mark

While the name Bill Samuels might be the one people associate with Makers Mark the most, the shape of the bottle, look of the label and even the name itself are all thanks to Margie Samuels, the first woman associated with a distillery to become a Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Famer. 

She was a shrewd marketer who ensured no two bottles were exactly alike. “Margie was smart enough to know that the whiskey had to look the part too and that it needed a home as good as the whiskey itself,” says Nicole Sykes, brand ambassador for Maker’s Mark. “I don’t think she knew what she had created at the time. Marketing wasn’t her background, neither was whiskey making. But she had such an enormous impact”.

Her mark was certainly considerable. The distinctive bottle shape and red wax was inspired by her collection of 19th-century cognac bottles and she hand-dipped the first bottle in the family deep-fat-frier herself. The labels are another of her ideas, and are still cut on a hand-operated, 1935 Chandler & Price printing press, while Margie came up with the name after being inspired by the ‘maker’s marks’ that pewter whitesmiths put on their best work. 

Her own mark features a star for Star Hill Farm, the Bardstown farm where the family resided, an ‘S’ for Samuels, and the Roman numeral IV to symbolize her husband’s status as a fourth-generation distiller. It was later discovered that Bill Samuels Snr. was actually a sixth-generation distiller (the first in the family to make whiskey was Robert Samuels in 1783), but the mark has stuck. 

It’s often said at the distillery that, while the whiskey Bill made kept people coming back, it was Margie that was the reason most folks bought their first bottle of Maker’s Mark. “I still notice the bottle if I’m watching a tv show or a film because it’s so eye-catching. It’s genius,” Sykes says.

Margie, who of course had the idea to bake the mashbills into loaves of bread, was also a pioneer of bourbon tourism. “For every dollar her husband made, she demanded a dollar back to make the distillery a real home for the bourbon,” Sykes explains. “She really created a sense of community in the bourbon world. Without her the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and to be frank premium bourbon, wouldn’t be where it is today”.

Maker's Mark

The Maker’s Mark distillery

A family tradition

Over the years a number of brands have owned Maker’s Mark, beginning with Hiram Walker & Sons in 1981 and then Allied Domecq in 1987 before it eventually ended up with its current owners Beam Suntory in 2014. 

But the running of the distillery has remained in family hands, with Bill Samuels Jr. taking his father’s legacy as far as April 2011 when his own son Rob Samuels took over. He’s been around the distillery since the ripe old age of nine and has worked at virtually every position in the distillery. 

This family link means you don’t see “loads of crazy things coming out of the distillery,” as Skyes puts it, because Maker’s Mark is a “family tradition”. She continues, “it’s easy to communicate what the brand is all about because we’re still doing the same rituals as we did in the 1950s, despite the growth of bourbon around us. We’re still staying true to hand rotating the barrels, hand-dipping the bottles, using the roller mill. There’s an old joke at the distillery that goes, ‘If we could make it any faster, we wouldn’t.'” 

Many similar-size brands have flocked to the trendy world of endless flavours, RTDs, and experimental casks, but Maker’s Mark has remained relatively steady for a brand of its size. Maker’s Mark 46 was the first new major product in 60 years, and even then the original recipe is used. The extra dimension comes from inserting seared French oak staves into the barrels.

The distillery launched a single barrel lineup in 1997 and over the years has had some cask strength editions, as well as a few limited-edition releases with signature labels. The only time it truly departed the Maker’s style, however, was its Mint Julep Liqueur.

Keeping the family tradition intact, Maker’s Mark has retained its position as one of the go-to choices for many a bourbon lover thanks to its reasonable pricing, consistent profile, and genuinely iconic look. It’s no mean feat to make a difference while sticking to your guns, but by doing just that Maker’s Mark has changed bourbon, being at the forefront of its premiumisation, pioneering marketing, and tourism while retaining its signature style.

Maybe we should all start burning the family recipes and popping bread in the oven…

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Top ten bottles from independent distilleries

This week we’re celebrating the small fish, the mavericks, the start-ups and the long-established family businesses of the drinks industry. From single malt whisky to craft gin, here are our…

This week we’re celebrating the small fish, the mavericks, the start-ups and the long-established family businesses of the drinks industry. From single malt whisky to craft gin, here are our top ten bottles from independent distilleries.

It’s not easy being an indie in a drinks industry dominated by giants like Diageo, Pernod Ricard or Beam Suntory. These behemoths have marketing budgets bigger than some countries. How do you compete with that? Then there’s always the possibility that one of the big boys will make you an offer you can’t refuse. Pernod Ricard, in particular, seems to be constantly snapping up craft gin distilleries.

Yet, we’re glad that so many independent distillers are not only surviving but thriving. They are able to react more quickly than the giants, be more individual, or just do things as they’ve always done without having to worry about shareholders.

An independent could be a hungry start-up bursting with innovation, or a family business that’s been honing its craft for generations. Either way, you’re getting something a bit different when you go independent. So, we’ve rounded up some of our favourites from the world of whisky, gin, rum, Cognac and Tequila. Let’s raise a glass to the small fish of the drinks industry!

Top ten bottles from independent distilleries

edradour-10-year-old-whisky

Edradour 10 Year Old 

Edradour is one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries and at the heart of the range, this 10 year old Eastern Highlander is a highly distinctive single malt, a decidedly rum-like dram with a thick mouthfeel. The distillery’s methods of production remain virtually unchanged in the last 150 years, and we can see why. If it ain’t broke and all that. This single malt’s decade of ageing was spent in a combination of Oloroso sherry and bourbon casks. This is one sherry monster and we love it.

drumshanbo-single-pot-still-inaugural-release-whiskey

Drumshanbo Single Pot Still

The single malt still is Ireland’s great gift to the whiskey world. Until recently, if you wanted some of that creamy magic, there was only one game in town, Irish Distillers. Now though, independent distillers are beginning to release spirits like this splendid one from Drumshanbo. The mash bill is a mixture of malted and unmalted barley with 5% Barra oats. It’s triple distilled before being matured in a combination of Kentucky bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks, making for a glorious balance of cream and spice.

Wilderness Trail Bourbon

Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon

Many small American whiskey brands buy in spirits from larger distillers. Wilderness Trail, however, did things the hard way when the founders Shane Baker and Pat Heist (great name) built their own distillery at Danville, Kentucky in 2013. This Single Barrel release is made from a mash bill of 64% corn, 24% wheat and 12% malted barley, aged in toasted and charred barrels. It’s also bottled in bond, meaning that, as laid out in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, it must be aged between five and six years and bottled under the supervision of the U.S. Government at 100 proof, or 50% ABV in British English.

Hayman's London Dry Gin & Tonic

Hayman’s London Dry Gin

The Hayman family are descended from James Burrough, the founder of Beefeater Gin. They have been distilling for five generations but it’s only in recent years that the family name has appeared on bottles. These days, their gin is produced in Balham in South London (following the Hayman’s base of operations moving from Essex in 2018), only four miles from where the company was founded by Burroughs. This classic London Dry Gin is produced to a family recipe which is over 150 years old but the company also makes innovative products like the fiendishly clever Small Gin.

Masons-Gin

Masons Dry Yorkshire Gin

Mason’s is back from the brink. In April 2019, the distillery burnt to the ground in a freak fire. It was utterly destroyed. But founders Catherine and Carl Mason did not give up. They had their gin made at another distillery before rebuilding and reopening in 2020 (read more about the story here). Their distinctive London Dry Gin uses Harrogate spring water along with juniper, a proportion of which is from their own bushes, and a combination of secret botanicals including citrus, fennel and cardamom. Produced in small batches, each bottle has hand written batch and bottle numbers.

Botanivore Gin

St. George Botanivore Gin 

As you might be able to tell from our visit in 2019, we’re pretty keen on everything from California distilling pioneers St. George. The team makes whiskey, vodka, various types of gin, liqueurs, eaux-de-vie and more. But we can only pick one thing so we’ve gone for the Botanivore Gin. It’s made with 19 different botanicals, including angelica root, bay laurel, coriander, Seville orange peel, star anise and juniper berries, among others. It’s like a greenhouse in a bottle.  This would make a superb Martini with just a splash of vermouth and a green olive.

O Reizinho Rum

O Reizinho 3 Year Old (That Boutique-y Rum Company) 

This has proved a hit with customers and staff alike. It’s a rum from the Portuguese island of Madeira, located off the coast of West Africa, made by O Reizinho and bottled by our very own That Boutique-y Rum Company. The distillery uses fresh sugar cane rather than molasses so expect lots of vegetal funkiness with green banana, olive and red chilli, tamed somewhat by three years in oak barrels bringing toffee, vanilla and peanuts to the party. And what a party it is! This is now the second batch; only 1936 50cl bottles were filled at 52.6% ABV. 

Scratch Patience Rum

Scratch Patience Rum

British rum, distilled in Hertfordshire by one man spirits maverick Doug Miller. Read more about him here. A great deal of patience has gone into this one. The rum is double distilled, spending time in whisky casks between distillations, before further maturation in ex-bourbon and new oak casks. Finally, the matured rums are blended for perfect balance and bottled in small batches. Wonderful stuff, expect flavours of toffee and butter fudge, tropical hints of banana with rich, oaky vanilla, combined with dried fruits and soft wood spice prickle. It just goes to show that patience does pay off!

Frapin 1270

Frapin 1270 Cognac 

Whereas most Cognac is made from bought-in grapes, wine or eau-de-vie, Frapin only uses fruit from the family’s estates in the Grand Champagne region. They ferment and distill everything themselves too. After distillation, 1270 was matured for six months in new oak barrels and then moved to older casks for extended ageing. The name is something of a tribute to the long history of Frapin. A refined and fruity Cognac that was created by Frapin to work as an aperitif, served over ice, or as a base for cocktails. 

Tequila Fortaleza

Fortaleza Tequila Reposado 

The brand Fortaleza was launched comparatively recently, back in 2005, but Guillermo Sauza’s family have been making Tequila for five generations. Apparently his ancestor, Don Cenobio, was the first person to export “mezcal de tequila” to the United States, shorten the name to simply ‘Tequila’, use steam to cook the agave rather than an earthen pit, and specify blue agave as the best to use. Quite a legacy! This reposado bottling spends a short time in ex-bourbon barrels where it takes on popcorn, caramel and wood spice to go alongside those fruity, herbal agave flavours. 

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Ten bottles to transport you

It looks like most of us won’t be travelling very far in the near future because of that ongoing pandemic thing. But never fear, you can still travel through the…

It looks like most of us won’t be travelling very far in the near future because of that ongoing pandemic thing. But never fear, you can still travel through the magic of booze. From dry sherry to pungent cachaça, here are ten bottles to transport you to faraway lands. 

Nobody wants to go on holiday at the moment because it means that you might have to spend two weeks in quarantine stuck in a Travelodge at Gatwick airport. A bit like Alan Partridge, but less funny.

But it’s not all bad. There’s so much to see and do in Britain, from the mountains of Scotland to the sandy beaches of Kent. The summer holidays should be boom time for the country’s hospitality industry, which let’s face it, could do with the business. Next week, we’ll be looking at some of this country’s top boozy destinations.

And don’t forget that you can always take a holiday in a glass. Sip a Negroni in the sunshine, close your eyes and you could be in Rome. A glass of chilled sherry and some high quality ham, and you could be in a bar in Jerez. Who needs aeroplane travel when you’ve got next day delivery? 

Here are ten bottles to transport you to your favourite country

The Nightcap

Portugal: Taylor’s Chip Dry White Port

There’s no better place to watch the sun go down over Porto than on the terrace of the Yeatman Hotel, especially with a White Port & Tonic in your hands. This week on the blog, Lucy Britner looked at all the great things you can do with white Port, but you can’t beat an old classic. With its rich fruity and nutty taste, Taylor’s Chip Dry goes brilliantly with tonic, just make sure you use plenty of ice and add a sprig of rosemary and a slice of orange.

Tio Pepe Fino En Rama

Spain: Tio Pepe Sherry En Rama

Every year Gonzalez Byass releases a small quantity of Tio Pepe En Rama. This is dry Fino sherry pretty much as it tastes straight out of the barrel in Jerez, bottled with minimal filtering. It’s always a treat but this year’s release is absolute dynamite. It walks a bold line between big flavours of apples and hazelnuts, and the elegance that you’d expect from Tio Pepe. Just add some olives and cheese, and you’re in Andalucia. 

These delightful cocktails will transport you to your favourite holiday destination

Italy: Select Aperitivo

Aperol and Campari might be better known, but you can’t beat a drop of Select Aperitivo when you want some Italian magic. Select is the choice of Venetians, it’s been made in the city since the 1920s. The flavour profile is bitter and grown-up but a bit more delicate than Campari. We love drinking it in a Bicicletta – a mixture of ice, white wine and fizzy water. It’s the perfect lazing in the sun kind of drink.

Mijenta Tequila

Mexico: Mijenta Tequila Blanca

Well, we had to put a Tequila in there somewhere, we’re agave mad here at Master of Malt. We were particularly taken with this recently-launched brand. It’s made by Maestra Tequilera, Ana Maria Romero, and it’s a tasty drop laden with flavours of green olives, cinnamon spice and a delicious creamy texture. It does good, too, with some of the proceeds going to various charities in Mexico. Try it in a Blood Orange Margarita

Ricard Pastis

France: Ricard Pastis

Now this one is likely to be controversial because some people hate, really hate, the taste of aniseed. But for those who don’t, nothing is more evocative of the south of France than Ricard Pastis. Drink it slowly with ice and a jug of water on the side, and before you know it you’ll be contemplating buying a beret and one of those blue jackets that old French farmers wear, and whiling away the evening playing boule and discussing politics.  

Plantation XO

Barbados: Plantation XO rum

This has proved itself a favourite among Master of Malt customers over the years. It’s a well-aged Barbados rum from spirits master Alexandre Gabriel. It spends its first few years in ex-bourbon barrels in the Caribbean before being shipped to France for secondary maturation in Cognac casks. It’s then sweetened before bottling to make a mixing rum par excellence. We love it in a Mai Tai.

caipirinha Ableha Cachaca

Brazil: Abelha Cachaça

Brazil’s national drink, the Caipirinha, calls for cachaça, which is made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses to produce a pungent, grassy spirit that’s a bit like a rhum agricole. Much of the production is industrial but there are some smaller high quality producers like Abelha using organic sugar cane for something with a bit more character. 

Woodford Reserve Bourbon

America: Woodford Reserve bourbon

If you’re into cocktails, then you need at least one bottle of American whiskey in your drinks cabinet to make Manhattans, Old Fashioneds et al. Woodford Reserve is a great all-rounder. Unlike most bourbons it’s distilled in a pot rather than a column still. It also contains a high percentage of rye, 18%, with 72% corn and 10% malted barley, giving it a spicy, smooth and dry taste.

Inverroche Cocktail

South Africa: Inverroche Classic Gin

Many drinks claim to be a certain country in a bottle but Inveroche is literally South Africa in a bottle. It’s made by mother and son duo Lorna and Rohan Scott who use native South African plants called fynbos as botanicals to give you a gin that is infused with the taste of the Cape. This is the classic version, a dry gin, that makes a killer Martini, or a delicious Bramble.

Ming River

China: Ming River Sichuan Baijiu

If you really want to experience a different culture in a glass, there’s no better spirit than baijiu. It is one of the world’s most distinctive spirits, from the raw materials, sorghum, rice, millet and others, and production techniques involving fermentation over weeks and complex distillation methods. Some types can be a bit much for European taste buds, but Ming River produces a baijiu that is accessible and cocktail friendly.

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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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Top ten whiskeys for BBQs

Today, we’re rounding up some of our favourite bottles from the US of A. They’re perfect to enjoy while eating outdoors, in cocktails on their own. Here are our top…

Today, we’re rounding up some of our favourite bottles from the US of A. They’re perfect to enjoy while eating outdoors, in cocktails on their own. Here are our top ten whiskeys for BBQs.

America is a booze superpower. The country’s influence on what we drink is vast. Without America, there would be no Manhattan, no Old Fashioned, no cocktails at all. The very word ‘cocktail’ is almost certainly an American invention.

And to make these quintessentially American concoctions, you need American whiskeys like rye or bourbon. So as Americans gear up to celebrate their Independence Day by doing baffling things like throwing tea in the river (they do do this, don’t they?) and watching their own peculiar type of football, we picked our favourite whiskeys from across the pond. 

So, let’s raise a glass and say cheers, and thank you for all the great whiskey

Top ten whiskeys for BBQs

Peaky Blinder Bourbon

Peaky Blinder Bourbon

Those crazy cats at Peaky Blinders (nothing to do with the hit TV series, nothing at all) have branched out from Irish whiskey into bourbon country. This is a sweet simple whiskey with plenty of big flavours of vanilla, toffee and buttered popcorn. If the sun comes out this 4 July, we’ll be drinking it in a Lynchbourg Lemonade – a mixture of bourbon, triple sec and, yes, you’ve guessed it, lemonade.

american-eagle-4-year-old-whiskey

American Eagle 4 Year Old 

This tasty bourbon is the work of American Eagle, distilled from a mash bill of 84% corn, so you can be sure there’s buttery notes galore in here. The whiskey has been matured in American oak barrels for four years, and was treated to charcoal-mellow filtration before it was bottled at 40% ABV. Superb sipped neat, but also great for mixing. Bourbon Sour, anyone?

Whisky - Charcoal & - Closeup

Charcoal & Cornmeal & Rickhouses & a Decade 10 Year Old

Bourbon matures quickly in the heat of Kentucky, so it’s unusual to find bottles with age statements, so we were delighted when our colleagues at Atoms Labs managed to get their hands on this liquid. From an undisclosed distillery, this is loaded with flavours of peanut brittle, liquorice, cooked apple and more spices than you can shake a stick at. This is a great one just to sip neat and appreciate all that age. 

Michters Whiskey

Michter’s US*1 Straight Rye

A straight rye whiskey from the Michter’s Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Every bottle of their excellent rye comes from a single barrel, highlighting the quality of their craft. It’s loaded with big spicy flavours like cumin, cinnamon and ginger balanced with a brown sugar sweetness. No wonder it’s such a huge hit with bartenders, this is a cocktail whiskey par excellence. We like it best in a Sazerac. 

Angel's Envy

Angel’s Envy

Angel’s Envy is the brainchild of former Brown Forman master distiller Lincoln Henderson and his son Wes. The idea was to take Henderson’s years of experience in bourbon, and shake up the category a little. So, they have taken a leaf out of the Scotch whisky handbook and got into cask finishes, in this case Port which brings a big helping of red fruit and dark chocolate to the bourbon party. Fancy bottle, too. 

Stateside Whiskey

Stateside Heaven Hill 11 Year Old 2009 (cask 152735 Heroes & Heretics)

The folks at Heroes & Heretics know how to sniff out a great whiskey, and this one they’ve bottled exclusively for Master of Malt. It was distilled back in 2009 at the great Heaven Hill in Kentucky. After 11 years ageing (old for a bourbon), they bottled it at a generous 51% ABV, without any chill-filtration or additional colourings, for a rich, powerful experience. 

Wilderness TRail range

Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon

This Single Barrel release from Wilderness Trail is made from a mash bill of 64% corn, 24% wheat and 12% malted barley, aged in toasted and charred barrels. It’s also bottled in bond, meaning that, as laid out in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, it must be aged between five and six years and bottled under the supervision of the U.S. Government at 100 proof, or 50% ABV in British English.

Balcones-Day-Single malt

Balcones Texas Single Malt (cask 17581)

And now for something completely different. This is a single malt whiskey, no corn or rye in sight, but it’s a single malt from the place where everything is bigger. Yes, it’s from Texas, yeh haw! So it’s going to be a bit different from something from Scotland or Japan. It’s also bottled at a mighty 61.1% ABV. Expect massive flavours of toasted oak, Demerara sugar, orange liqueur, roast chestnuts and fried banana. 

new-riff-straight-bourbon-whiskey

New Riff Straight Bourbon

A Kentucky Straight Bourbon from the ever-wonderful New Riff. There’s a fairly generous amount of rye in the mash bill, 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley, so expect a good helping of spice alongside the sweeter, buttery notes. It’s aged in toasted and charred new oak barrels before bottling at 50% ABV. Perfect for when you can’t decide between rye and bourbon.

whistlepig-12-year-old-oloroso-cask-old-world-master-of-malt-whiskey

WhistlePig 12 Year Old Oloroso Cask

Another Master of Malt exclusive and another unusually old American whiskey. This is from WhistlePig, the masters of rye whiskey and unusual cask ageing. This 12-year-old bottling was finished in Oloroso sherry casks before bottling at 43% ABV. You get all the spice you want in a rye but it’s been joined by mature notes of dried fruit, leather and tobacco. Simple cocktails like an Old Fashioned suit this best. 

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