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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Bourbon

Top ten: Independent spirits brands

Today, we’re striking a blow for independence with ten delicious bottlings from brands that aren’t part of big drinks companies. So, from a Maryland-style rye whiskey to single estate vodka,…

Today, we’re striking a blow for independence with ten delicious bottlings from brands that aren’t part of big drinks companies. So, from a Maryland-style rye whiskey to single estate vodka, here are some of the best independent spirits brands out there.

Most big booze brands are owned by huge multinational companies like Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Not that that’s a bad thing. We love Johnnie Walker Black Label and Beefeater, distilled by Desmond Payne in south London, is one of our go-to gins. But without a thriving independent scene, our drinks cabinet would be a lot less exciting. 

Happily, thanks to some pioneering distilleries such as Sipsmith, now part of Beam Suntory, there are now countless new brands turning out high quality, delicious and idiosyncratic boozes for all your drinking pleasure. From pungent mezcal to world-spanning Japanese blends, here are ten of the best independent spirits brands money can buy.

sagamore-spirit-signature-rye-whiskey

Sagamore Spirit Signature Rye

Much of the explosion in whiskey labels comes from independent bottlers who buy and blend spirits to create something a bit different. This is one case in point being a Maryland-style of rye which is sweeter than normal. It’s blended from two whiskeys sourced from Indiana, brought down to bottling strength with limestone-filtered water from Sagamore Farm.

How do I drink it?

Those sweet milky coffee and pistachio ice cream flavours are just crying out for an Old Fashioned

portobello-road-no-171-gin

Portobello Road No. 171 Gin

Portobello Road Gin is distilled on the actual Portobello Road in west London. It was founded by top bartender Jake Burger and Paul Lane in 2011. Alongside the distillery, the building called, naturally, The Distillery, houses two bars, a hotel and the Ginstitute where you can learn to make your own gin. Or if that sounds like too much work you could just buy this bottle.

How do I drink it?

With its elegant traditional flavours, this is great in all manner of ginny cocktails like the summery Gin Cup.

hatozaki-blended-whisky

Hatozaki Blended Whisky

If you’re a whisky fan, you probably read the recent news about the changing legislation for Japanese whisky which now excludes certain big names from the category. One company that has always been open about using imported spirits in its blends is Hatozaki. This mixes Japanese and imported whiskies and is aged in a mixture of sherry, bourbon and mizunara oak.

How do I drink it?

With those sweet flavours of honey, stone fruit and nutty cereals, this is a great one to put in a Whisky Highball with soda water and plenty of ice.

casa-noble-blanco-tequila

Casa Noble Blanco

The Casa Noble range of 100% agave Tequilas have proved quite a hit with Master of Malt customers. Agave spirits are a huge growth area as drinkers move away from the lime and salt image of yesteryear to bottles that major on flavour.  This is packed full of earthy, roasted agave notes on the nose and palate.

How do I drink it?

We’re very partial to a Sweet Orange Margarita which involves making the standard version but adding an extra part of fresh orange juice and serving it on the rocks with a splash of soda water.

new-riff-straight-bourbon-whiskey

New Riff Straight Bourbon

Those who like a spicier style of bourbon will love this. It’s distilled by New Riff distillery of Kentucky with a mash bill of 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley. Then it’s aged in toasted and charred new oak barrels before bottling at a useful 50% ABV to accentuate all those big spicy flavours.

How do I drink it?

High rye strength bourbons like this one are perfect in a Manhattan. And may we recommend the Hotel Starlino vermouth rosso which is aged in bourbon casks?

east-london-liquor-co-louder-gin

East London Liquor Co. Louder Gin

The East London Liquor Co. (ELLC) is one of our favourite small distillers. Founded in Bow in 2015, it produces a big range of spirits including gin, vodka and whisky, as well as rums imported from the Caribbean. As you might guess from the name, this gin packs a flavour punch with oily juniper bolstered by lavender, fennel, lemon peel and more.

How do I drink it?

Some gins get lost in the flavour soup that is the Negroni but Louder can make itself heard above the noise of Campari and vermouth.

quiquiriqui-tobala-mezcal

QuiQuiRiQui Tobalá Mezcal

Ok, so the name is a bit of a challenge. Apparently, it’s what Mexican cockerells say instead of ‘cock-a-doodle-do.’ But it’s worth getting past the pronunciation to enjoy this delicious mezcal. It’s produced from wild Tobalá aged between 10 and 15 years of age in strictly limited quantities to ensure sustainability. 

How to drink it?

With it’s complex flavours of coconut, tangy pineapple, mint and butter, we think it’s best just sipped neat. But it’s also fabulous in place of gin in a Negroni.

merlet-creme-de-mure-liqueur

Merlet Crème de Mure

Every drinks cabinet should have a bottle of this in it. It’s made by Merlet in France from fresh blackberries steeped in neutral alcohol and sweetened.  This firm produces a great range of fruit liqueurs like creme de cassis, poire William and apricot brandy all made in the traditional way from fresh fruit. 

How do I drink it?

Well, the classic cocktail for Creme Merlet Crème de Mure is the Bramble but it’s also great in place of cassis in a Kir Royale. 

ramsbury-vodka

Ramsbury Vodka

We were so impressed with Ramsbury when we visited a couple of years back. It’s a distillery and brewery set in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside that only uses grains from the surrounding Ramsbury Estate. Each bottle tells you the provenance and variety of the wheat used and the quality really shows when you taste this creamy spicy vodka. 

How do I drink it?

This makes the best Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, we’ve ever had. Serving it ice cold brings out that gorgeous creamy texture. 

colonel-foxs-london-dry-gin

Colonel Fox’s London Dry Gin

This is named after a war hero called Lieutenant Colonel Fox. Apparently, it’s based on his 1859 recipe that was recently rediscovered. We tend to roll our eyes a bit when we hear stories like this. There are a lot of them in the gin world. But there’s now denying the quality of this gin. That old Fox knew what he was doing.

How do I drink it?

People who like gin with plenty of flavour will lap this up. We think it’s perfect in a G&T but it’s a great all rounder, especially as it’s very reasonably priced.

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New Arrival of the Week: FEW Immortal Rye

Just landed at MoM Towers, a new expression from Illinois’s finest, FEW Spirits. Called FEW Immortal Rye, it combines whiskey with tea. To learn more, we talk to founder and…

Just landed at MoM Towers, a new expression from Illinois’s finest, FEW Spirits. Called FEW Immortal Rye, it combines whiskey with tea. To learn more, we talk to founder and distiller Paul Hletko.

Whiskey lovers are getting increasingly adventurous in their tastes. A few years ago, the idea of whiskey blended with tea might have raised a few eyebrows but nowadays drinkers are receptive to innovative combinations. As long, of course, that they taste good. 

We few, we happy few

We’re pretty confident that the team at FEW Spirits know what they’re doing. The distillery was founded in 2011 by Paul Hletko. His family were originally from the country now known as Czechia and owned a brewery before the second world war so the drinks business runs in his veins.

According to the website, FEW was inspired by “the golden age of pre-prohibition whiskey.” The name is a little in-joke as it’s the initials of Frances Elizabeth Willard, one of the architects of prohibition. Proudly based in Evanston not far from Chicago, the labels bear images of the city’s 1893 World Fair. 

FEW Spirits produces gin as well as different types of whiskey including rye and bourbon. It’s a grain-to-glass operation meaning that Hletko produces his own neutral grain alcohol to rectify into gin. This is something that very few gin distilleries do. The equipment consists of a German hybrid pot/ column still which is used to make high ABV spirit for gin production and lower ABV for whiskey plus a separate still for distilling the botanicals into gin. 

Completing the picture is the famous distillery dog called, confusingly, chicken.

Stills at FEW Spirits in Illinois

The still set-up at FEW Spirts in Illinois

More tea, vicar?

The base of this week’s New Arrival is FEW’s punchy rye made with 70% rye with 20% corn and 10% malted barley. Hletko takes the cask strength spirit and then reduces it to 46.5% ABV by adding tea.

We asked him where this idea came from: “The idea started with playing with coffee (rather than tea) and we tried coffee a couple different ways, and liked them,” he said “but we LOVED the results when we just cut barrel strength bourbon to bottle strength with cold brew coffee.  That is now our Cold Cut Bourbon and that ended up winning the Best Flavoured Whiskey in the World award from the World Whiskies Awards. We continued thinking and playing with other liquids in the same way, and played with several different teas, and extraction techniques.”

You’ll be pleased to hear that getting the tea flavour into whiskey doesn’t involve any tea bags. Instead they use a fancy variety of Chinese oolong tea called 8 Immortals. He explained how the process worked: “We cold-extract the 8 Immortals tea. It allows us to use a much slower steep than a hot extraction, and we get to focus the resulting flavors on the sweet and fruity flavors of the tea itself. We still do get some tannic notes as well, which is nice, but the cold extraction keeps some of those tannins balanced with the tannic effect of the wood on the whiskey.”

The end result is a spicy rye whiskey charged with flavours of dried orange peel, poached pear, cardamom, cloves, and aromatic cedar with a nutty finish. It’s delicious sipped neat over ice or in an Old Fashioned. He also recommends drinking it in a Highball with a dash of cherry juice. 

Few Immortal Rye

Few Immortal Rye is great in a Highball

10 years of delicious spirits

Last year was all about weathering the Covid storm, and it sounds like FEW has been lucky in this regard. “None of our team members have been sick, none of their family members, seriously sick. I think we’re pretty lucky,” he said, “Business wise, we are doing great and are continuing to grow. But I’m especially excited that we are all healthy.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the distillery and they have big plans. We’re excited about a couple of bottles that we expect to release over the next year or two, including a 10 year anniversary release,”he said, “as well as a rock band collaboration that is super fun.”

Sounds super fun, indeed. We can’t wait to hear more.

FEW Immortal Rye is available from Master of Malt.

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IWD 2021 interview: Lisa Roper Wicker, head distiller at Widow Jane

Career discussions often focus on those just starting out. But what if you want to get into whisky (or whiskey!) a bit later on? Lisa Roper Wicker, Widow Jane president…

Career discussions often focus on those just starting out. But what if you want to get into whisky (or whiskey!) a bit later on? Lisa Roper Wicker, Widow Jane president and head distiller tells us her story.

On a recent video call a friend was lamenting not enjoying her job. “It’s too late for me!” she cried. “Why didn’t I realise what I wanted to do in my twenties?” Another chimed in: “We see all these 30 Under 30 lists. I want the stories of people who found their calling later in their career.” It was serendipity most glorious when the following week, I found myself chatting with Lisa Roper Wicker, president and head distiller at Widow Jane Distillery

Her screen is set up in the distillery itself, a site in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Stroll just a few moments from the door and you’ll be at the waterfront, looking across to the Statue of Liberty. The brand has small-batch blending at its heart (think five barrels at a time), and, now in its ninth year, combines sourced bourbon and rye with its own liquid. There’s a focus on heirloom grains, too, and its unusual proofing water which comes from a limestone mine in Rosendale, Upstate New York. As we talk, there are the sounds of production in the background and I can just about glimpse some barrels. It’s almost like being back in a distillery; all that’s needed is the aroma of production to permeate through the screen. 

The Widow Jane Distillery in Brooklyn

The Widow Jane Distillery in Brooklyn

A varied career

“When I was growing up, I never knew what I wanted to do,” she opens. Initial focuses included pursuing careers in journalism, then law. “If someone told me I would have been a whiskey distiller in the second part of my life, I never would have believed them.”

Wicker spent a number of years moving around the country with her husband and young family before setting up a costume design enterprise. Her first foray into drinks was working as a farm hand during the harvest at a vineyard. She quickly fell in love with the production side, and embarked on eight years of winemaking study.

“There weren’t any sacrifices but there were certainly trade-offs,” she says, when I ask about juggling work, study and family. “It’s not a sacrifice if you love it.”

Wicker then moved to Kentucky to build a winery, and it was there that distilling caught her eye. She learned to distil at Limestone Branch, before joining Starlight Distillery, and then launched a consulting business, Saints & Monsters. An early client was Samson & Surrey, which owns FEW Spirits and Brenne among others, plus Widow Jane. She held the position as director of distilling across the entire portfolio, before honing in on the Brooklyn distillery with its corn growing, distilling and blending programme two years ago.  “I’m so grateful that I didn’t have it overlap too much with raising my kids, because it really has been an obsession!” she laughs.

Lisa Roper Wicker from Widow Jane

Lisa Roper Wicker from Widow Jane blending at the distillery

Whiskey career pathways

“I’m not unusual coming to it a little bit later in life,” she says. “There’s not a lot of us, but it’s also not unusual.” She says when talking to women in their twenties and thirties, it’s about stressing the myriad pathways available to them. “Whatever you study, whether it’s marketing or HR or chemistry or food science, culinary skills, there’s a pathway to whiskey through all of it.” Plus, there’s the career change option: “I get that from young women a lot. Like, oh my gosh, I get to change my mind?” The answer is yes!

To highlight the space women can move into at very senior levels, she recalls a panel she sat on a couple of years back. “I was with Pam Heilmann, she was just retiring as the master distiller for Michter’s, and with Joyce Nethery of Jeptha Creed. It was so interesting how many jobs we’d all had before we got into whiskey.” All in the same age group, they’d previously held roles like school teachers, designers, engineers. With eight children between them, they’d also managed to “patch together” roles to ensure they had the flexibility needed to balance family. 

Wicker is also keen to shout out women who demonstrate the significant progression opportunities in the industry. “Like Jane Bowie at Maker’s Mark,” she says. “For years, she was in the UK as the brand advocate. She came back to Kentucky, and went back to work within the distillery. Now she’s the director of maturation for Maker’s Mark.” Responsibilities include the Maker’s Mark 46 programme. “It’s a pretty amazing progression, and we see this a lot in whiskey.”

Casks at Widow Jane Distillery

Barrels are funny things, you never know what you’re going to get

For the love of whiskey blending

Right now whisky is a dynamic sector with lots going on. “I love that it’s not stagnant. I love that there’s so much opportunity.” The increasingly positive standings of both blending and sourcing liquid are particular sources of excitement for her. “I think it’s because whiskey used to be vatted and not necessarily blended. They were just ‘let’s take all these barrels and dump them together’. Blended whiskey got a very bad reputation.” Thankfully times have changed. “Then it was just about elevating really good whiskey!” Sourcing too is starting to be better understood. “Now you can get the good barrels and it means you’re high up on the list and working with the best brokers and the best whiskey houses.” She explains. “I love seeing blending coming into its own.” 

Wicker’s responsibilities at Widow Jane are wide-ranging. She oversees the heirloom corn project (for two years, the largest of its kind in the whole of the US), distilling itself, barrel sourcing (including likes of maple casks), and blending. All while splitting her time between Brooklyn and her home in Bardstown, Kentucky. 

“The barrel game is a game!” She laughs as the blending conversation picks up again. Each one will behave differently. She sources both fully- and part-matured stock, and looking after them can be tricky. “The largest lot I purchased was several years ago and it wasn’t drinking as old as an age statement,” she recalls. “We moved those barrels and now they have taken off and are where they need to be. But it was crazy.”

There’s one delight that comes from whiskey making that will never change, and that’s seeing her creations on-shelf in a store. “I’ll never get over the thrill of that. You don’t tell people who you are or what you do. You just go in and you pat your bottles and buy one.” Even better if there’s product from previous ventures there, too.

Widow Jane 10 year old whiskey

Widow Jane 10 year old whiskey

An optimistic future for women in whiskey

As we say our goodbyes, I recall an earlier part of the conversation where I asked Wicker about what needs to change for more women and underrepresented groups to be aware of the opportunities whiskey can offer. “I think getting more and more women in front of tastings where they realise I am somebody’s grandmother and I love what I do and I’m passionate about it and I won’t ever retire. My mentor, he’s 75 and he still picks and chooses his projects, right? More than anything it’s about setting the example that the business is flexible, it’s definitely something that someone can pursue as a career and stay in it forever.”

There can be a sense that we’ve somehow ‘missed the boat’ if we’ve not kicked off our dream careers by 25. If you’re a woman, that pressure could be compounded by a desire to start a family. In male-dominated industries, this can feel like even more of a weight. Wicker is proof that it’s not only possible to switch it up, but you can excel too. This evening, I’m raising a glass of Widow Jane to Lisa Roper Wicker, the women like her, and all the women who could be about to join our wonderful whiskey industry.

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IWD 2021 interview: Nicole Sykes from Maker’s Mark

Kicking off our coverage for International Women’s Day 2021, Millie Milliken talks to Nicole Sykes, who has worked in some of the UK’s most revered bars. Now, she takes on…

Kicking off our coverage for International Women’s Day 2021, Millie Milliken talks to Nicole Sykes, who has worked in some of the UK’s most revered bars. Now, she takes on the challenge of representing one of Kentucky’s most famous bourbons, Maker’s Mark.

Nicole Sykes was aware of whisky from a very young age. Having spent many of her childhood summers with her grandparents in her hometown of Lanark, Scotland, she was surrounded by people who were proud of their Scotch whisky heritage.

Fast-forward a couple of decades and Sykes, as of January 2021, is the UK Diplomat for Maker’s Mark. It’s her first role brand-side, having spent her career so far behind the bar of some of the UK’s best-known cocktail bars: from Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms, to London’s Lyaness and most recently east London’s Satan’s Whiskers as its general manager.

And while Sykes has enjoyed success in both Tequila and rum competitions (Patron Perfectionists and Bacardi Legacy), it seems whisky has ultimately stolen her heart. “When I got into bartending, bourbon, Scotch, any kind of whisky was my spirit of choice,” she tells me. “I started bartending during the gin boom, so consumers weren’t asking about it as much and I think that really drove my love for it.”

Nicole Sykes Patron Perfectionist winner

Nicole Sykes, Patron Perfectionist

Time to represent

So, what does being the Maker’s Mark UK Diplomat involve? “Sharing the unique, handcrafted story of Maker’s Mark with bartenders and bourbon enthusiasts, being the face of the brand, and supporting people and bartenders through education,” she said.

That story starts in Loretto, Kentucky, 1953, when Bill Samuels Sr recreated a 170-year-old family recipe, creating his own pioneering mash bill (via the method of baking several loaves of bread with different grains) and swapping the traditional rye for Maker’s trademark red winter wheat grain. The bottle shape and design are the work of Margie Samuels. The first woman to be inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, she was responsible for the name, the recognisable rectangular-bottomed bottle and the signature red-wax seal.

It’s this story, the liquid and Maker’s Marks ethos of working (a lot by hand) that drew Sykes away from the bar. “The decision [to leave Satan’s Whiskers] was based solely on it being Maker’s Mark,” she explains. “It’s a brand I’ve followed and loved in my career and something kind of sparked inside of me… I wanted to continue the work that Amanda has done.”

Maker's Mark label

Each Maker’s Mark bottle is labelled by hand

Women in whisky

Amanda being Amanda Humphrey, who held the position prior to Sykes, before moving to Kentucky to take on the brand’s education and drinks program. It’s encouraging to see the position remain in the hands of a woman – the whisky category continues to grapple with its representation of women, something that has begun to be reported on more widely this side of the pond.

It’s a reflection of our times: The Guardian reported in 2020 that women in the UK now drink 40 million more glasses of whisky a year than in 2010. More female distillers are rising through the ranks too, but the industry still has a way to go to shake off the ‘boys club’ image.

Thankfully, Sykes hasn’t come up against any stigma in her whisky journey so far. “I haven’t had to think about it. We’ve had a really good response and there is a really good representation of women working for EBS [Edrington-Beam Suntory, the brand’s UK importer] and for Maker’s Mark as a company – having their support has been great.”

When it comes to other women championing the industry she cites Georgie Bell (now hat Bacardi and serial whisky ambassador) and Becky Paskin (IWSC Spirits Communicator of the Year) who co-founded the Our Whisky initiative to challenge whisky’s perception as a man’s drink back in 2018. She also vividly recalls meeting EBS’ Terri Botherston and Lucy Morton for the first time when she was bartending. “They were the first women who had ever hosted a whisky tasting for me” – they clearly left an impression.

Nicole Sykes, Maker's Mark bourbon

You need excellent balance to be a bartender

Liquid dreams

When I speak to Sykes, she’s only been in the job for five weeks but she admits that she’s already fallen for the people that surround the whisky industry. She describes a real sense of community, especially in bourbon, from distillery to distillery, something she finds refreshing to see.

She should have also spent her first two weeks of induction at the Star Hill Farm distillery in Kentucky – having never been to an American distillery, once Covid allows, she’ll be on the first plane over.

Until then however, she’s having fun playing with her new toy: “With my classic cocktail background I love putting Maker’s Mark into those kinds of drinks, especially bourbon Espresso Martinis.’ She also likes to bake with it – her bourbon butter pancakes recipe on Instagram brought a tear to my eye.

She’s looking forward to bringing the passion that emanates out of 3350 Burks Spring Road, Loretto, Kentucky, to the people of the UK: “I can’t wait to continue to proudly share the great liquid, the genuine story behind the brand and the passion of the people behind it. It’s in their veins – they grew up with it and are so passionate about it.” Perhaps Loretto and Lanark have more in common than meets the eye.

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The Nightcap: 5 March

It’s Friday and that means there’s Nightcapping to do. It’s been another week full of fascinating booze-soaked stories. Here’s our pick of some of the best. A week has been…

It’s Friday and that means there’s Nightcapping to do. It’s been another week full of fascinating booze-soaked stories. Here’s our pick of some of the best.

A week has been and gone since the last edition of The Nightcap, which means that we needed to grab our press hats (you know the trilbys with the little white placards that have the word ‘press’ printed on them?) and scour the world of booze for suitably interesting stories. This was a piece of cake, frankly. So much was happening! Which is both good for us, and for you too! Because that means there are all kinds of interesting new tales for you to enjoy. So, grab a dram, take a seat and read on… It’s the Nightcap: 5 March edition.

This week on the MoM blog we reported on two exciting news stories, the first being the welcome relief of US tariffs on Scotch whisky being suspended and the other the announcement that there are big changes taking place at Glenmorangie and Distell. We then thought we’d help you out by recommending how to make the most of the upcoming picnics that everyone is planning, which might be improved even further with some of our outstanding new beers. Or perhaps an exquisite bottle of bubbly. Or maybe even a simple and delicious gin-based cocktail. It could be the greatest picnic of all time. Elsewhere, Lucy got her geek on and told us what the deal with worm tubs is, Adam looked at a certain drinks giant in a new light and Millie’s love letter to one of London’s finest bars had us itching to get back out on the town. For now, we’ll settle for some light reading. Let’s take a look at what’s been happening this week…

It's another terrific week on The Nightcap!

What the distillery could look like.

Bimber confirms plans for a Scotch distillery

We found ourselves adding another new name to our list of new distilleries we’re very excited about this week after Bimber revealed that it will open a sister Scotch whisky distillery. The proposal, which is currently being reviewed by Moray Council, will see an existing farm in Dunphail, south of Forres, converted into a 200,000 LA capacity distillery. The new site will have a visitor centre, blending rooms, dunnage warehouses and a floor malting facility, as well as a traditional kiln designed to process 100% of the distillery’s locally sourced barley. Sustainable production methods, energy efficiency and water conservation will be central to the as-yet-untitled distillery, with plastic-free packaging and ingredients being sourced as locally as possible and systems to be implemented that will reduce water use. The team also intends to create a new forest on the grounds of the distillery with a tree being planted for every cask purchased. We love what we’re hearing so far, to be honest, and can’t wait to taste the full-bodied, fruit-forward spirit that the brand plans to create in both unpeated and peated styles. Dariusz Plazewski, founder and director at Bimber Distillery, says the vision for Dunphail is to craft an “exceptional, world-class spirit born of the techniques of the past – but with its focus firmly on the future.” Plazewski also commented the planned project will be distinctive from and run separately to Bimber and revealed his team are also aiming to expand the production capacity at the London-based distillery by exploring potential sites in the capital for relocation. As for the proposed distillery at Dunphail, we can expect distillation to commence at the site in 2022 pending planning consent and construction. 

It's another terrific week on The Nightcap!

Congratulations, Deirdre!

Midleton appoints Deirdre O’Carroll as blender 

Irish Distillers has strengthened its blending team this week with the addition of Deirdre O’Carroll. Working with master blender Billy Leighton in Midleton Distillery, Co. Cork, The Irish drinks giants has said O’Carroll will be responsible for the management of stock, including cask profile and age profile, as well as laying down deliciousness for future generations. But her primary role will be the “development of new and existing blends, marrying together specific and intricate flavours and aromas, ultimately, creating a palette of tastes that make up Irish Distillers’ portfolio of Irish whiskeys”. O’Carroll has an impressive background, holding a degree in food science and technology from University College, Cork and a diploma in distilling from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. She joined Irish Distillers in 2012 as part of the first year of the Jameson Engineering Programme. Her roles have included taking part in commissioning of the new pot stills in the Garden Stillhouse and the new columns in the Midleton Distillery expansion project, and helping oversee the filling and emptying of the 1.7 million casks maturing at Midleton. Leighton commended O’Carroll by saying she’s “a shining example of what success looks like” for rising through the company ranks and credited her as an invaluable member of the team. The new blender herself said she was looking forward to channelling her knowledge and experience into the role, while learning from Leighton and the team. And we look forward to tasting the whiskey they make together. Slainte, Deirdre!   

It's another terrific week on The Nightcap!

We tried the new expression and we like!

Fettercairn releases new range

It might not be one of Scotland’s best-known distilleries, but Fettercairn is very popular among whisky fans for its terrific spirit and we were all delighted to see it launch its core range back in 2018. Now a new series is on the way which will show the brand flexing its maturation muscles, bottling whiskies from a variety of casks housed within the distillery’s 14 dunnage warehouses. Whisky maker Gregg Glass created the project as a means to research how each warehouse makes its own unique mark on the Fettercairn spirit, which is why each expression is named after the warehouse that helped to shape it. We got to taste the first bottling, Fettercairn Warehouse No2 Batch No. 001, last week in the company of distillery manager Stewart Walker and brand specialist Andrew Lennie. Head brewer Bruce Aitken even created a bespoke flavour pairing of homemade tropical fruit chutney (which was cracking) and digestive biscuits. It’s matured in an array of American and European oak casks, including ex-bourbon, sherry and port pipes, but despite the diversity, we found the integration was on point and created a wonderful nutty, spicy and chocolatey profile that still retained plenty of those funky tropical fruits we know and love from Fettercairn. It’s a delightful dram and we look forward to seeing how the whisky evolves over the series.

It's another terrific week on The Nightcap!

Well, it makes a change from Tequila, Jamie Foxx is investing in bourbon

Jamie Foxx buys Brown Sugar Bourbon

Another week, another celeb enters the booze biz. This time it is actor and musician Jamie Foxx, who now counts Brown Sugar Bourbon as part of his portfolio. While the flavoured whiskey brand was founded in 2016, Foxx’s ownership is being viewed as being something of a kickstart for the American-made spirit. The company says Foxx will lead them in “a new creative direction”, expanding brand awareness, redesigning bottles and to help position Brown Sugar “as a fun, celebratory liquor ideal for making memories and toasting to good times.” It seems that Foxx’s role won’t be ceremonial with the bourbon brand as he’s even tipped to help develop future releases. Sean M. Penn (not that one), CEO of BSB Spirits says the company is fortunate that Foxx was introduced to our brand at one of his legendary parties and that he has no doubt that he will lead BSB to new heights. “We can think of no better creative force than Jamie, and we look forward to watching him introduce BSB to the world,” he comments. “Owning a brand that brings sweet life to the party has always been a goal and with BSB we’re making it happen,” Foxx added. “Before the quarantine, I watched bottles of BSB disappear at all my celebrations and knew this was a brand I wanted to bring into the spotlight. Anyone who tries BSB is going to love it just like I do.”

Dictador Lalique bottle

It’s fancy bottle city on the Nightcap this week

Lalique partners with Dictador for first rum decanter

Budge over, whisky. Squeeze up, Cognac. There’s a new fancypants spirit on the scene: aged rum. Aficionados have known about rum’s luxe qualities for some time now, but a development this week seems to have cemented the category’s place in the upper echelons of spirits perception. A unique decanter of Dictador Generations En Lalique sold at auction for a whopping £30,000. And the bottling (decatering?) wasn’t just one of the most expensive rums ever sold – its creation, Dictador became the first rum ever to find its way into a Lalique decanter. This first one was auctioned in a lot that also included personal letters from master blender Hernan Parra and Lalique’s creative director Marc Larminaux, a print of the bottle’s original digital rendering signed by the designer, an invitation to Dictador Art Masters in Cartagena for two, and a signed print by a local artist, with proceeds going to the Art Masters charity. We tuned in to a launch this week (via Zoom, obvs) to find out more. Larminaux explained that there were only 300 decanters, each handmade and therefore one-off pieces, produced (they retail at £14,000). He described being inspired by the colours and vibrancy of Dictator’s native Cartagena and the Caribbean Sea, which give the decanters the unusual mottled shape. Parra said choosing the rum for the decanter was a “very difficult job!”. He eventually settled on a blend of 1976 rums aged in both American oak and Port casks – and his father, Dario, was involved too. It’s the first time the duo has teamed up for an expression. Congratulations to Dictador – and welcome to the big leagues, rum! 

It's another terrific week on The Nightcap!

It’s got nothing to do with the car manufacturer. Got it?

Ferrari is the new sparkling wine of Formula 1

In a move that’s likely to cause no end of confusion, the new sparkling wine of Formula 1 is called… Ferrari. Yes, the same name as the red fast Italian cars that feature in the series though there is no link between the two companies. In fact, Ferrari wines long predate the car manufacturer and has been making high-quality fizz in Trento in Northern Italy since 1906. It’s the start of a three-year relationship between the brand and FIA, the sport’s governing body. Stefano Domenicali (above left), president and CEO of Formula 1, commented: “Celebrating success is in both our DNA and having Ferrari Trento at the heart of the sport’s most iconic celebratory moment makes them such a natural partner for us.” While president CEO of the family-owned wine company Matteo Lunelli (above right) added: “It’s an achievement because it demonstrates the renown and the appeal that Ferrari Trento wines enjoy internationally.” This is big news for Ferrari. Up until now the huge bottles of fizz wasted by the top three drivers at the end of the race had always come from Champagne. Now they come from Trento in Italy, so don’t call it Champagne or you will get an angry letter from the Champagne Bureau’s army of lawyers. 

It's another terrific week on The Nightcap!

We hardly knew ye…

Foursquare’s Redoubtable new rum is was here

The team at Foursquare really do have a knack for coming up with unexpected names for their limited edition Bajan rums. There was a Criterion, a Nobiliary, and last year’s Cold War-themed Detente. You can read about the series here. Now there’s a rum that sounds like it has come straight of the pages of Patrick O’ Brian, Redoutable. It should have an HMS in front of it. This is the 15th release in Foursquare’s Exceptional Cask Series. It’s a blend of two 14-year-old rums, one aged in ex-bourbon casks, the other in first-fill ex-Madeira casks. Only 12,000 bottles have been filled at 61% ABV with no chill filtering, colour, and sweetening. Nothing to detract from all that rummy goodness. We were sent a little sample and as usual with these limited edition Foursquare releases, we were knocked out by the quality. There’s dried fruit, dark chocolate and honey sweetness to it with the most amazing cardamom and menthol aromatic blast running through the whole thing. We loved how it evolves in the glass with just a drop of water. So hats off to Richard Seale and the Foursquare team for another amazing limited edition rum. Sadly, as I was typing these words, all our bottles sold out so you’ll have to order something else from this distillery. 

It's another terrific week on The Nightcap!

Rishi Sunak “gets it”, according to Beale.

Drinks industry reacts to alcohol duty freeze

Following this week’s budget by the chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak, the big question on everyone’s lips was, ‘how will the WSTA respond?’ The cry went up across the drinks industry, ‘what does Beale think?’ Well, the wait is over. This is the comment from WSTA CEO Mr Miles Beale: “The decision to freeze wine and spirit duty comes as a huge relief for British businesses, pubs, restaurants and its suppliers following the crushing – and continuing – closure of the hospitality sector, for months on end, during the pandemic. Chancellor Rishi Sunak seems to ‘get it’. He understands that supporting our industry will allow it to recover, rebuild, create jobs and – in time – replenish revenues to the Treasury.  He has also shown he is in touch with men and women from all walks of life who want to enjoy their chosen tipple without getting stung by further tax hikes. We will all raise a glass to the Chancellor tonight – and look forward to more permanent support for the sector following the review of alcohol taxation.” According to WSTA calculations, this means a saving of £100 million assuming the increase would be in line with inflation at 1.4%. But let’s not forget that alcohol taxes in the UK are some of the highest in the world with £2.23 plus VAT at 20% going to the taxman.

 

It's another terrific week on The Nightcap!

Anyone else think this looks like Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas?

Frank Gehry Hennessy Cognac to be auctioned for charity

Another week, another ridiculously-packaged Cognac goes under the hammer. This time it’s the turn of Hennessy with a Masterpiece XO in a special decanter designed by Frank Gehry. You might know him as the architect behind the concert hall in The Simpson’s that is later turned into a prison. The decanter was apparently inspired by the river Charente and it’s made from bronze plated with 24 carat gold with Gehry’s signature crumpled up piece of paper design in metal. Hennessy is also throwing in the mold used to create the decanter into the bargain. The auction takes place on 13 March at Sotheby’s in New York and celebrates 150 years since the launch of Hennessy’s first XO Cognac. It’s expected to go for between $15-30,000. Find out more here. Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s spirits specialist, said: “It is a pleasure to offer this lot from the world’s biggest Cognac producer for charity. This bottle blends 150 years of Hennessy’s history and expertise with the creativity of Frank Gehry’s designs. The fact that this exclusive offer includes not just the commemorative decanter but also the mould used by Gehry to create his vision makes this a piece of design history. We are pleased that proceeds from the sale will go to benefit the Asian American Business Development Centre, which Hennessy is working with as part of their Unfinished Business initiative.” This project was launched by Hennessy last year to help small businesses struggling with the effects of Covid. So it’s great that all this ostentation is being used to do some good.

It's another terrific week on The Nightcap!

We’ll only buy one or two. Hundred. Might pick up some of that beer, too.

And finally… Cadbury creates Creme Egg beer

With Easter coming up at the beginning of next month you might have started thinking about which chocolatey treat you’ll help yourself to this year. But if you’re in the mood for something a bit different, Goose Island Brewery and Cadbury might have the thing for you. A beer that tastes like a Creme Egg. The only question we have is, what took them so long? The limited-edition stout, which has been named the ‘Golden Goo-Beer-Lee’ to commemorate 50 years of the Creme Egg, has gone on sale this week as a pre-Easter special. Ingredients including milk sugar, cacao nibs, and vanilla beans have been used to give it its flavour, with Goose Island’s master brewer Andrew Walton saying the brand wanted to “big up the chocolate and creaminess of the beer while keeping it super drinkable.” He also reveals that the brewery has ensured the “tasty flavours of the stout complement the iconic Cadbury Creme Egg,” while brand manager of Cadbury Creme Egg (what an amazing job that must be) Raphael Capitani added that this launch would lift “EATertainment to a whole new level”. Which doesn’t land with quite the same aplomb as ‘Goo-Beer-Lee’. We will, however, raise a glass and some chocolate to five delicious decades of Cadbury Creme Egg. Because they are boss. Cheers!

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Going against the grain

As you’re reading this blog, we assume you’ve drunk whisky made from barley and corn, and probably had some things made from wheat and rye too. But these aren’t the…

As you’re reading this blog, we assume you’ve drunk whisky made from barley and corn, and probably had some things made from wheat and rye too. But these aren’t the only cereals: what about oats, millet or sorghum? And what on earth is triticale? Ian Buxton investigates. 

What’s whisky made from? Easy: barley, corn, rye and wheat. Custom, practice and legislation have led to the global dominance of these four cereals, and with the many wonderful whiskies that are created from them, we don’t need to look any further.

Well, apparently, we do and a new generation of distillers are asking, ‘what about oats, millet or sorghum?’ Some go even further. Take, for example, Australia’s tiny Adelaide Hills distillery where founder and head distiller Sacha La Forgia explores local varieties such as wattleseed and weeping grass. With his Native Grains releases, he’s aiming to start a debate around diversity, sustainability and the preservation of indigenous species requiring fewer inputs to flourish in their native environment.

Sacha La Forgia from the Adelaide Hills Distillery

Sacha La Forgia from the Adelaide Hills Distillery

La Forgia is part of a global movement that seeks to challenge orthodoxy and offer enthusiast consumers new taste horizons. While in Scotland a limited number of barley varieties have come to dominate production, distillers such as Bruichladdich have looked to whisky’s history to revive the hard-to-grow heritage strain known as bere (see header pic).

Going further into the records, field-to-bottle distillers Ardbikie, located in the fertile farmlands of Scotland’s east coast, have determined that rye was used in making Scotch whisky well into the 19th century. Though enjoying a revival in the USA, Ardbikie’s Highland Rye can proudly claim to be unique in Scotland.

But with the craft distilling movement most fully developed in the USA, it’s here we turn for some more radical experiments.  A number of distillers have released heritage corn varieties, first brought to us by Balcones with their Baby Blue Corn Whisky, amongst them Jeptha Creed Distillery (Shelbyville, KY) with their Bloody Butcher and Charleston, SC High Wire Distilling’s Jimmy Red. For a distinctive take on heritage corn, though, look no further than Mexico’s Abasolo with their use of non-GMO cacahuazintle corn and the 4,000-year-old nixtamalization cooking process (see article here).

Abasolo Mexican Corn whisky

The unique strain of corn that’s the basis for the flavour of Abasolo whisky

The Corsair Distillery in Nashville has pioneered a number of different grains, including quinoa from South America. For something even more off the wall from Corsair, known for its buccaneering approach, just try its Red absinthe: it’s not fairy juice! However, back to quinoa. It’s demanding to work with because of the small size of the grains and their bitter seed coating but almost because of the perversity of that challenge it attracted the attention of Australia’s Whippersnapper distillery who use a Western Australian variety for its earthy and peppery notes.

A vital food source across Africa, sorghum has also found its way into the repertoire of smaller distillers, possibly because of its appeal to the gluten intolerant. As well as High Wire Distilling, Sorghum whiskies include expressions from Still 360 in Saint Louis; Madison, WI’s Old Sugar Distillery and Jersey Artisan Distilling, NJ.

Virtually all of the distillers mentioned are small in scale and unlikely ever to break into the mass market.  But major players have flirted with the alternative grain option, most notably the limited run Jim Beam Harvest Bourbon collection released in 2014 and 2015. The whiskies included Whole Rolled Oat, Soft Red Wheat, Brown Rice and Triticale (a rye/wheat cross also distilled by Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, WA). Oats, in particular, represented a radical approach for such a large distiller but the collection appears to have been a one-off, with any remaining supplies ironically now more sought after for investment than drinking.

But the drive to experiment cannot be denied and I anticipate unorthodox grains from craft distillers to trend in 2021 and beyond.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Vieux Carré

One of a handful of classic cocktails with a traceable backstory, the Vieux Carré dates back to the 1930s, when it was named after an area of New Orleans known…

One of a handful of classic cocktails with a traceable backstory, the Vieux Carré dates back to the 1930s, when it was named after an area of New Orleans known today as the French Quarter. Anna Sebastian, bar manager at the Artesian Bar in London’s Langham Hotel, talks us through this full-flavoured, widely underappreciated serve…

“The Vieux Carré is a fantastic drink, almost a combination of a Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Sazerac,” says Sebastian. “It has always been one of those drinks, in my opinion, that has been underrated.” Combining rye whiskey, Cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and two different types of bitters, the Vieux Carré certainly packs a punch – but it’s also light and refreshing enough to cut through the humidity of a typical New Orleans day, she says.

Unlike practically every other historic tipple you can think of, the Vieux Carré (pronounced voo car-ray – the name is French, the pronunciation is Creole) is one of those rare cocktails with a timestamp. Translated as ‘old square’ or ‘old quarter’, which then referred to the French Quarter, the drink was created by Walter Bergeron at the Hotel Monteleone, and appeared in print for the first time in Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em back in 1938. 

Vieux Carre

The French Quarter or Vieux Carré in New Orleans

Calling for ½ teaspoon Benedictine, 1 dash Peychaud bitters, 1 dash Angostura bitters, ⅓ jigger rye whiskey, ⅓ Cognac brandy, and ⅓ jigger Italian vermouth, the method reads as follows: ‘The Benedictine is used as a base and also for sweetening the cocktail. Dash on the bitters, then add the rye, brandy, and vermouth. Put several lumps of ice in the barglass. Stir. Twist a slice of lemon peel over the mixture. Drop in a slice of pineapple and cherry if you wish and serve in mixing glass.’

‘This is the cocktail that Walter Bergeron, head bartender of the Hotel Monteleone cocktail lounge, takes special pride in mixing,’ the author of the book, Stanley Clisby Arthur, wrote beneath the recipe. ‘He originated it, he says, to do honour to the famed Vieux Carré, that part of New Orleans where the antique shops and the iron lace balconies give sightseers a glimpse into the romance of another day.’

The hotel is still standing today, now owned by the fifth generation of the Monteleone family. A decade after Bergeron invented the cocktail, Hotel Monteleone opened the Carousel Bar & Lounge – an elaborate slow-spinning cocktail bar fitted with a dazzling carousel top. It’s the only revolving bar in the Big Easy, and turns at a rate of one revolution 15 minutes. There, the Vieux Carré is the star of the menu, made with Sazerac Rye Whiskey and Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac.

Even though rye and Cognac are of equal measure in the recipe, the bold, spiced profile of the whiskey takes precedence. Much like rye whiskey, the Vieux Carré was once hugely popular and gradually faded into obscurity as the decades rolled past. And like the beloved rye style, it’s now enjoying a slow resurgence. There’s no shortage of rye whiskey bottlings to choose from today, and this cocktail is the perfect way to road-test their mixing potential. “The perfect Vieux Carré, as always, stems back to having quality ingredients,” says Sebastian. “I always say go with the best that you can buy, as it really will have an impact on your drink.”

Vieux Carre

Voila! Un Vieux Carré

The rye will meet a host of really punchy, robust spirits in the Vieux Carré, so thoughtful assembly is required. “The key is to balance the ingredients, as they are all very strong flavours and components,” she says. “The vermouth, being the slightly weaker part of the drink, needs to be big and ballsy. The Benedictine needs to be used sparingly, otherwise it will take over the drink and make it… well, un-drinkable.” Using a discarded lemon twist as a garnish “leaves a beautiful aroma from the oils without the peel infusing the liquid as you drink it,” Sebastian adds.

Once you’ve nailed the original, why not shake things up with some spirited substitutes? Changing the rye for a bourbon gives the drink a slightly warmer, less dry profile to it, says Sebastian. “Another great option is reducing the rye to 15ml and adding 15ml of Calvados, which gives it a more approachable taste and fresh apple notes,” she says. Alternatively, try using a blend of vermouths – a sweet and a dry in equal parts – to make the cocktail a little lighter and brighter, or “add a dash of absinthe to bring all the flavours together”.

But first, here’s how to make the original:

30ml Michter’s Rye Whiskey
30ml Remy Martin 1738
20ml Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino
5ml Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud bitters
Discarded lemon twist 

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lemon twist. 

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It’s goodbye from #WhiskySanta

Well, it’s time for #WhiskySanta to disappear for another year after a bumper Christmas. But before he puts his feet up, he has one more thing to say… Ho ho…

Well, it’s time for #WhiskySanta to disappear for another year after a bumper Christmas. But before he puts his feet up, he has one more thing to say…

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

Well, it’s been a funny old year, funny peculiar, that is, but luckily all the strangeness didn’t affect my ability to spread cheer this season. With a little help from my chums at Master of Malt, I’ve given away over £250,000-worth of boozy goodness, and eaten my bodyweight many times over in mince pies. I do love Christmas!

But now, like the boot cut jean, it’s over, and it’s time for me to say goodbye. Before I go, however, I want to take a moment to remember some of those amazing bottles I gave away including the snappily-titled Port Ellen 35 Year Old 1983 (Release No.11535) – The Stories of Wind & Wave (The Character of Islay Whisky Company), a Glenfarclas 1958 Family Cask, Balvenie’s magnificent 40 Year Old, Tamnavulin 48 Year Old 1970, or, all the way from the US of A, Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition. Extraordinary, even if I do say so myself!

Those were just some of the big ‘uns. I also gave away tens of thousands of gifts large and small to lucky Master of Malt customers who placed orders. Some of you even received your orders completely free!

But all good things must come to an end and, to be honest, despite being a supernatural, omniscient being, I need a rest too. It’s not easy dispensing boozy cheer and writing amusing blog posts while keeping my enormous beard immaculately groomed. In January, I’m just going to put my feet up and put some time into that screenplay I’ve been working on: it’s about a supernatural, heavily-bearded being… Stop! I can’t say anymore, as I don’t want anyone to pinch this clearly entirely original movie premise… 

Merry Christmas and happy New Year, one and all!

#WhiskySanta

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23 distillers share their Christmas wish lists

The production teams at our favourite distilleries have bestowed the gift of delicious booze upon us all year long. But what are they wishing for this Christmas? We asked 23…

The production teams at our favourite distilleries have bestowed the gift of delicious booze upon us all year long. But what are they wishing for this Christmas? We asked 23 distillers across the globe to share their festive wish lists. Here’s what they told us…

Hands up if you’d love to work in a distillery? The idea of playing mad scientist with spirits all day certainly sounds like fun to us. And while we can’t speak for their day-to-day reality, from the outside looking in, the folks behind our top tipples are living the dream. Which begs the question: in the season of gift-giving, what could they possibly want for Christmas?

Rather than ponder aimlessly, we put the question to distillers of all disciplines. Whether it’s crystal wine glasses, a special bottle of booze, three days off over new year, a homemade custard tart, or peace to all mankind, we probed spirits-makers from across the globe for their deepest festive desires and recorded their revelations. 

1. Ms. Lesley Gracie, master distiller, Hendrick’s Gin

“As always my Christmas list has pets on it – my husband is always a definite ‘no’, but my daughter has bought me hamsters in the past. A few years ago I asked for a pet rat but husband was not to be swayed and even said that it was either a rat or him – he could at least have made it a tough decision! As for this year’s Christmas wish list… It’s any pet I can persuade him to let me have!”

2. David Stewart MBE, malt master, The Balvenie

“I’d like the Monopoly Ayr Edition which has my football team, Ayr United, featured on one of the squares and where I was born.”

3. Christopher Hayman, master distiller, Hayman’s Gin

“This Christmas I’ll be asking for two things: an aeroplane ticket because I’m desperate to be able to travel again, and a life with more real people and less Zoom calls!”

4. Simon Hewitt, distiller, Nc’nean Distillery

“On my wish list this year is Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Flavour. I am inspired by him as a chef – in my opinion he is one of the best in the world. I’ve visited his restaurants in London and they are the best I’ve ever been to. He is also an amazing human – he has a degree in philosophy and when you hear him speak on topics other than food he is very inspiring.”

5. Elizabeth McCall, assistant master distiller, Woodford Reserve

“This Christmas I am asking for a set of large rocks glasses. We have some nice rocks glasses at home which are pretty and get the job done but they are on the smaller side. What I would like is a set of large rocks glasses with a thick glass bottom for a nice weight and giving me plenty of room for my ice and bourbon. One of my favourite ‘cocktails’, which isn’t really a cocktail is the ‘evolving cocktail’, Woodford Reserve on ice. As the ice melts different flavour notes are highlighted – it’s the perfect way to sip and savour a long drink of Woodford Reserve.” 

6. Tom Hills, head distiller, East London Liquor Company

“I’ve asked Father Christmas for a new head torch to aid in the search deep in our cluttered cellar for a long-lost bottle of expensive white burgundy that my housemates swear they didn’t drink whilst drunk, although suspicions remain. Beyond that I’d like a new woolly hat which is a more cost-effective option than ever actually turning our heating on, and a comprehensive support package for the incredible UK hospitality industry from the government, who so far seem hellbent on inflicting irreparable damage on the sector and fail to realise the unparalleled importance of our irreplaceable venues and the teams running them.” 

7. Chris Garden, head distiller, Hepple Spirits Company

“I’m very much looking forward to my traditional Christmas Eve glass of Blossa, a Swedish mulled wine, in front of the fire with my wife while we wrap the kids presents.”

8. Gregg Glass, whisky maker, Whyte & Mackay

“As with many people this year, the greatest gift more than ever is about spending time with family and friends, whether in person or virtually. The one thing that’s on my Santa list this year is a particular book on forestry – I can’t wait to enjoy a spot of festive reading with a special dram. At this time of the year, I usually treat myself to opening a nice bottle of Port and this year will be a lovely Graham’s Quinta Dos Malvedos. I’ll also be mixing things up with Whisky Amaro created by Edinburgh-based Sweetdrams, a truly unique flavour experience – festive mince pies and cocktail creation, here I come!”

9. Mike Melrose, distiller, Dà Mhìle

“After this busy time of year, the ideal Christmas gift for me would be the entirety of January to spend working on R&D. Turning my dreams into tasty reality, at my own relaxing pace with my headphones in. If there was a way I could do it in my slippers too, it’d be perfect.”

10. Chris Molyneaux, master distiller, Daffy’s Gin 

“It’s been a hugely busy and exciting winter for us here at Daffy’s HQ and a couple of weeks off over the Christmas hols will be pure bliss. We are so lucky that our distillery is located in the midst of some of the most beautiful mountains of Scotland, and with the snow now having arrived, we’ve all been dying to get into the hills and ski. So that’s the gift I want the most this Christmas – a massive dump of snow to get out there and make lots of first tracks in!”

11. Michael Henry, master blender, Loch Lomond Whiskies

“I am asking for a bottle of Blue Spot Irish Whiskey. I always have a whisky with my dad when I’m home, with coronavirus restrictions this year I won’t make it back to Northern Ireland from Scotland for Christmas. It will have to wait a while for me to open it as I’ll be keeping it for the next time I can go home to see my parents.”

12. Conor Hyde, master blender, Hyde Irish Whiskey

“I would like a fancy Oji Japanese style cold coffee dripper! Without hurting the integrity of the original whiskey, this dripper creates amazing whiskey coffee infusions. You cold brew the coffee in the cold-dripper using Irish whiskey instead of water. The whiskey slowly filters through the coffee filter over six to nine hours, trapping the coffee flavour and aromatic compounds, to make a mind blowing Irish coffee base.”

13. Ben Weetman, head distiller, 58 Gin

“This year, top of my Christmas list is a new pair of glasses and a really nice fresh hot shave – COVID-safe of course! 2020 has been the distillery’s busiest year yet and the constant cleaning of stills and being ‘in the thick’ of it has taken its toll on my specs. So that’s the practical present and the real ‘treat’ gift would be the hot shave for a bit of Ben time!”

14. David Fitt, head distiller, The English Whisky Company

“My wife Sarah and I always give money to charity at this time of year so I would like (for my peace of mind as a human being) to know a child somewhere in the world benefited from us giving some money. We usually give to UNICEF. We are privileged to live in a society that can provide – a lot can’t. I am looking forward to a couple of days off after a very busy, strange year, spending time with my wife, daughters and maybe other family members and enjoying a drink over the festive period.”

Ewan George, Warehouse Manager, BenRiach Distillery, Aberdeenshire

15. Ewan George, spirits logistics and warehouse manager, The GlenDronach, Glenglassaugh and Benriach distilleries

“Don’t know if Santa will be able to deliver, but from the letter I posted… one, health and happiness for my family, also the workers and families of the company over the festive period. Two, not having to wake up on Christmas Day before sunrise. Three, a bottle from all three of our Scotch brands so I can choose what goes on the table at Christmas – albeit I’ll be the only one enjoying it! – four, snow on Christmas Day with someone else walking the dog! And five, a fresh start to 2021 with a brighter year ahead for all!” 

16. Paul ‘Archie’ Archard, co-founder, Black Cow Vodka

“This Christmas I’m wishing for a set of Sophie Conran Champagne coupes. Perfect for serving our Black Cow Christmas Spirit Champagne cocktail with a twist of orange zest – yum! I’d also love one of our gold-plated cocktail shakers, made by Yukiwa in Japan. Christmas is a time for indulgence, so I want to serve my cocktails in style.”

17. Michael Duncan, stillhouse operator, The GlenAllachie Distillery

“On my Christmas list this year will be some homemade Scottish tablet from the Visitor Centre team who do their best to keep us sweet!”

Stauning whisky

18. Alex Munch, co-founder, Stauning Whisky

“A Spanish Chair made by Danish designer Børge Mogensen is the perfect place for sipping a glass of Stauning Rye, and what I would put at the top of my wish list. Along with the perfect cocktail bar set to make a delicious Manhattan cocktail – with Stauning Rye, of course!”

19. Alex Thomas, master blender, The Sexton Single Malt Irish Whiskey

“I have two passions in life that I just can’t resist: whiskey and shoes. I will definitely be hoping that Santa drops both into my Christmas stocking this year. I promise I will share the whiskey with my friends and family if I am lucky enough to receive any. After all, that’s what whiskey is for – making memories with our friends and family and toasting the year that is ending and welcoming the one that is just beginning.”

20. Aare Ormus, distiller, Junimperium Distillery

“The best Christmas gift ever is to have all children and grandchildren back at home and spend the holiday-time together. I hope that we can enjoy our lovely traditional Christmas family dinner together this year despite all the problems and worries of the world.  It is also nice to get some little liquid gifts that can be consumed at Christmas time. For this Christmas I wish for friends and partners to keep their promises and have peace of mind. Merry Christmas to you all, and good health!”

21. Simon Rucker, co-founder, Nine Elms

“I would love to receive something delicious to nibble with Nine Elms No.18 over Christmas: a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, a leg of Iberico ham or a selection of paul.a.young fine chocolates – the 75% Papua New Guinea dark chocolate bar is a firm favourite! But the present I’d love most is to see the hospitality trade – particularly my favourite neighbourhood restaurants, The Canton Arms and Maremma [in south London] – making it through this difficult period and coming out fighting in the New Year.”

22. Iain McAlister, distillery manager and master distiller, Glen Scotia

“On the first day of Christmas Glen Scotia sent to me… a bottle of Sherry Double Cask – also available in a shop near to thee!”

23. Nelson Hernandez, maestro ronero at Diplomático 

“2020 has been a complicated and challenging year on many levels which has given me the opportunity to reflect deeply on what was really important in life. For this reason, my true wish this year is for all of us to be in good health and in the company of our families and loved ones.”

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New Arrival of the Week: Blinking Owl Four Grain Bourbon

This is our last New Arrival of 2020 and we’ve chosen something suitably special: Blinking Owl bourbon which is made from four grains, corn, rye, wheat and malted barley, all…

This is our last New Arrival of 2020 and we’ve chosen something suitably special: Blinking Owl bourbon which is made from four grains, corn, rye, wheat and malted barley, all grown within the great state of California.

The Blinking Owl distillery has only been going since 2016 but it already has a cupboard full of awards. At this year’s American Whiskey Masters in London put on by the Spirits Business magazine, it took home a silver medal for its bourbon and a gold for its rye. Based in Santa Ana in Orange County, not far from Los Angeles, the distillery was started by husband and wife team Brian and Robin Christenson and it’s named after a now defunct local bar which had an owl sign that would blink. 

As with quite a few whiskey producers, there’s the obligatory story about illicit distilling in the family’s past. In this case Brian Christenson’s great-grandfather, Fred P. Armbrust. According to the website: “He would covertly provide his local farmers with his ‘good spirits’. Brian’s dream is to carry on Fred’s passion by providing ‘good spirits’ to our very own neighborhood, legally, of course!” Born in 1888, Armbrust lived until the 1970s but stopped distilling soon after World War Two.

It’s actress and creative muse wizard owl Kirsten Vangness

Before founding Blinking Owl, the first legal distillery in Orange County since prohibition, Brian was an artist with his own gallery in Laguna Beach while Robin was a pelvic floor therapist. Her business, which she sold to start the distillery, was called Womanology and she had a blog called The Hoo-Hoo Whisperer. Could this story be any more Californian? Well, yes in fact it can because there is a third investor in the business, actress Kirsten Vangsness, who you might know from the television show Criminal Minds. Her job title is listed on the website as ‘creative muse wizard owl’. Of course it is.

All this woo woo would be amusing, if the team weren’t deadly serious about the quality of its spirits. The head distiller (and ‘owl spiritual leader’, natch), is Ryan Friesen formerly of Journeyman Distillery in Michigan, who worked an internship with Japanese whisky guru Ichiro Akuto at Chichibu distillery. So he knows what he’s doing.

Not only are the founders and the ethos very Californian but so are the raw materials. As of February 2018, everything used is organic and grown by Californian farms, with the high quality of the local water making a big contribution. As the website puts it: “We are locavores, grain nerds, and control freaks so we decided to actually make our booze the long way: from grain rather than pre-made spirit. We mill it, mash it, ferment it, distill it, and, in the case of whiskey, barrel age it.” As well as the bourbon and the rye, Blinking Owl also produces vodka, gin, aquavit and others

We’ve decided to highlight the bourbon because it’s unusual in using four cereals, corn, wheat, malted barley and rye. It’s aged in new white oak American casks, and bottled at 45% ABV. Our very own cocktail expert Jess Williamson is a fan, you can read her tasting notes below.  She recommends just treating it simply, drink either neat or in an Old Fashioned. We think it’s a suitable impressive last New Arrival of the year. What strange one it’s been. Let’s hope 2021 is better and you never know, Britain and American might even have come to an agreement over whisky/ whiskey tariffs.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Earthy vanilla pod leads into barrel char, with subtle caramel, milk chocolate and a scattering of pine needles.

Palate: A dusting of cocoa and honeyed cereals, with just a hint of freshly baked brioche and a spoonful of homemade jam.

Finish: Just a tingle of drying spice lingers alongside a drizzle of runny honey.

Blinking Owl Four Grain Bourbon is available from Master of Malt.

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