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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Bourbon

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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Introducing Atom Labs…

Today we welcome the arrival of a new kind of drinks company, one that puts innovation at the core of everything it does. It functions as a laboratory for brilliant…

Today we welcome the arrival of a new kind of drinks company, one that puts innovation at the core of everything it does. It functions as a laboratory for brilliant boozy ideas so it’s fittingly called… Atom Labs!

Master of Malt, home of all things good and boozy, has a sister company called Atom Brands, which makes all kinds of exciting drinks that have become firm favourites with our customers. Just consider the Darkness range of whiskies and Bathtub Gin. The team loves innovation so much that it has just set up a new arm of the business devoted to experimentation. Meet Atom Labs! Think of that bit in The Simpsons where Bart visits Mad magazine in New York and has a glimpse at all the zaniness inside, that’s what a normal day at work is like at Atom Labs.

A hot Jaffa Cake Gin cocktail, garnished with an actual Jaffa Cake

There’s a whole team beavering away, creating exciting new products and strange new flavours, but the public faces are Rosie Milsom, in charge of new product development, and Laura Carl, who looks after marketing. Carl explained the big idea: “It’s an innovation section, where we dream up the crazy, amazing things that we want to try out and then we can push them out to see if they actually work.” Atom Labs has been going since January and has already scored a number of successes, not least with the runaway success of Jaffa Cake Gin. Carl elaborated on  the thinking behind that one: “We saw the interest in orange gin over the summer months and we thought: ‘We want to make an orange gin, but how can we make ourselves different? Where else is there a gap in the market?’ And we started to think about chocolate orange, and then somebody came up with the idea of Jaffa cakes. So we included Jaffa Cakes in the actual distillation process.” Another bakery-based success is Project #173 Gingerbread Rum. “I’ve just been in the warehouse bottling a thousand more bottles just now!” said Carl. There’s also a Bourbon Bourbon, a bourbon flavoured with Bourbon biscuits. 

Atoms Labs is an actual laboratory where boozy experimentation can take place. There is a vacuum still where weird and wonderful flavours can be added to spirits to create things like Central Galactic Rum which tastes like the centre of the galaxy. No, really. It’s totally sciencey. Atom Labs also functions as an independent bottler, looking for tasty liquid to market in interesting ways such as Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire, a 10 year old Islay whisky, or Black & Gold, an 11 year old Tennessee bourbon.

“We are looking at market trends and we’re listening to what people actually want. The whole thought behind it is like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, if you can dream it, we can make it,” said Carl. These experimental products are then tested on the Master of Malt website. “If there was an automatic interest without any marketing, and if people then picked up on that product, we’d go: ‘OK, right, so this is actually something people want, so now let’s make more of it and now let’s put some marketing behind it and make it into a proper product’.” 

Burnt Ends is a super smoky whiskey inspired by American BBQ

Head of NPD Rosie Milsom commented: “The thing I find the most exciting is the speed at which we can move. A product is generally ideated and up for sale within a six-week period.” It’s a very different approach compared with how products are usually launched in the drinks world. Carl explained: “Most companies create the brand around the product that they want before they even put the product out, they get the marketing campaign sorted. We do it the opposite way round which allows us to focus on the liquid and the product that we’re putting out rather than a brand story.” According to Carl, with Atom Labs, the customer is king because if a product doesn’t capture people’s imaginations, then it won’t be continued. There’s also a Facebook page incoming, where people will be able to share their thoughts.

So, that’s Atom Labs. Be prepared for more crazy, innovative and always delicious products appearing on Master of Malt every week. Some of them, inevitably, won’t work, and that’s ok because it’s all about finding out what people want. Others, however, could be the next Jaffa Cake Gin.

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#WhiskySanta’s Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition Super Wish

Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of year: the season of #WhiskySanta’s Super Wishes! This is when Whisky Santa gives away some incredible bottles of whisky, and to kick things…

Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of year: the season of #WhiskySanta’s Super Wishes! This is when Whisky Santa gives away some incredible bottles of whisky, and to kick things off, he’s got something very special indeed. 

Ho, ho ho! Are we feeling Christmassy yet? I’ve been getting in the swing of things polishing my boots, brushing my beard and grooming the reindeers. We’re now all looking spick and span, and ready to deliver boozy goodness and that includes some super fancy Super Wishes!

But there’s yet more good news –  I have even more Super Wishes up my sleeve this year than ever before! ‘But pray tell, what is a Super Wish?’, I hear you cry. Hopefully, you already know that you can wish for any delicious treat on the Master of Malt site, and that I’m granting wishes every single day from now until Christmas Eve! For these additional Super Wishes, I’m giving you a sneak-peek of some extra treats I have in my special sack of pressies…

One lucky person who wishes for the incredible bottle below between now and the end of Sunday will find that their Christmas wish comes true!

So, without further ado, my first Super Wish of the season. I have to say I’m pretty pleased with this one. It’s certainly one of my favourites, and I only drink the very best, I am #WhiskySanta, after all. It’s…

… the fabulous Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition!

This is probably the finest and at £1,500 certainly the most expensive whiskey that Woodford Reserve has ever released. It consists of the classic pot still American oak-aged Woodford Reserve matured for an additional three years in XO Cognac casks. Now I’m thinking about the rich toasted oak dusted with chocolate and cacao notes, creamy vanilla bean and hints of clove and cinnamon spice over a deep layer of dried fruit and citrus peel. Doesn’t it sound amazing! And just when you think it couldn’t get any fancier, it comes in a crystal Baccarat decanter. There’s fancy! Much too good to share with the reindeers.

If you want to get your mittens on Kentucky’s fanciest, then I suggest you visit the Woodford Reserve Baccarat Edition page. Hit the ‘Wish’ button, which will help send you on your way to a pre-populated Twitter or Facebook post. Hit publish and voila! (If Instagram is your platform of choice you can wish there too, just be sure to use the #WhiskySanta hashtag. Or the hard-working people at MoM won’t see it. And if they don’t see it, then it didn’t happen.)

There’s that button!

What better way to spread even more (much-needed) Christmas cheer this year? That’s the thing that gives me the most satisfaction, after all. Well, that and looking really, really, ridiculously good in red and white. Nobody does it better, and don’t you forget it!

That’s all for now. Until Monday… Now, where did I put my portable reindeer polishing kit?

 

#WhiskySanta

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New Arrival of the Week: Black & Gold 11 Year Old Bourbon

Today’s we’re shining our giant New Arrival spotlight on a mysterious long-aged bourbon from Tennessee. We can’t tell you exactly where it came from, but we can tell you that…

Today’s we’re shining our giant New Arrival spotlight on a mysterious long-aged bourbon from Tennessee. We can’t tell you exactly where it came from, but we can tell you that it is delicious. 

It’s not often you see a bourbon with an age statement on the bottle. In fact, to be classed as bourbon in the US, the spirit just has to be made from 51% corn and spend some time in charred new oak casks (there are some other rules but that’s pretty much the basis). But the regulations don’t say how long. So your old timey bourbon could have just spent months ageing rather than years. It’s a bit different with whiskey imported into Europe which due to EU regulations has to be aged for a minimum of three years. To further complicate matters, it’s a bit of grey area whether products sold as bourbon minus the word whiskey have to follow these rules.

All this preamble is to say that your American whiskey is very unlikely to be much much more than three years old. Now that’s not really a problem because whiskeys made from rye and corn do tend to develop delicious flavours at a younger age especially when you factor in the amount of flavour that charred new oak imparts. Combine this with the hot and humid climate you get in the heart of American whiskey country, Kentucky and Tennessee, which leads to much quicker ageing than in the cold of Scotland; the evaporation is quicker but the ABV remains higher.

Age statements are rare. In fact, you have to be quite careful because in hot climates the whiskey might become over mature and woody if left too long. Many distilleries in America have special pockets within their warehouses which are cooler so the whiskey matures more slowly. Which brings us on to this week’s New Arrival. We can’t say much about its origins apart from that fact that it comes from Tennessee, which narrows it down somewhat. It might even come from one of the distilleries mentioned in this article. Even though whiskey from this state isn’t usually sold as bourbon, much of it is legally entitled to be.

Black & Gold, a bourbon worth taking your time over

The casks that go into Black & Gold were tasted by top whiskey sniffer Sam Simmons aka Dr Whisky; he told us: “I flew to Tennessee to select these casks in the warehouse. The phrase ‘hand selected’ is so often used and so rarely true, but in this case it actually happened.” He also revealed that the mashbill is heavy on the corn: 84-8-8 (corn-rye-barley). It spent 10 years slumbering in the heat of Appalachia before taking a slow boat across the Atlantic and finished its ageing in rainy old Britain. The result is something richer, more complex, more savoury than you usually get in a bourbon but it hasn’t dried out at all. You’re starting to get cigars there like an old Speyside malt but here’s still plenty of maple syrup, vanilla and apple pie that will appeal to bourbon lovers. It’s bottled at a nice punchy 45% ABV.

It’s very much not a speed rail bourbon for sloshing into cocktails but, though it’s probably best enjoyed neat, it certainly wouldn’t turn its nose up at a carefully made Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Then sit back and savour all those years of ageing. 

Here’s the full tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Dense vanilla, toasted brown sugar atop apple pie, gingersnaps and cinnamon sticks.

Palate: Caramelised nuts, cask char leading to earthy cigar box and vanilla pod, with a touch of maple syrup hiding in there too.

Finish: Lasting oak and forest floor richness, well-balanced by toffee and chocolate sweetness.

Overall: Everything you could want from a bourbon and more, this expression is simply astonishing.

Black & Gold 11 Year Old Bourbon is available from Master of Malt.

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Top ten: Home bar essentials

As we’re once again going to be spending much more time at home because of lockdown, we thought it would be useful to round-up the essentials bottles you need to…

As we’re once again going to be spending much more time at home because of lockdown, we thought it would be useful to round-up the essentials bottles you need to make great drinks without having to step outside your front door.

We don’t know about you, but we got pretty good at cocktails during lockdown earlier this year. We learned how to make syrups and picked up some tips from the pros. Unfortunately, it seems that it is all happening again just as we thought it was safe to venture out to our favourite bar again. We thought it would be helpful, therefore, to round up some of our favourite bottles.

Just add fresh fruit, soda water, sugar and bitters (Angostura and orange will do), and you’ve got everything you need to make dozens of cocktails. Then all you’ll need is some quality barware, the ultimate home bar book (plug! plug!), and now you can turn your living room into the bar of your dreams. Then dim the lights a bit, put some music on and voila, swanky bar city!

Home bar essentials

Bathtub Gin

Gin is the most important spirit for cocktails. The Martini, the Martinez and the Negroni are all based on gin. We’re huge fans of Bathtub gin because it delivers a great wack of juniper which is what you need but it’s also complex with a great mouthfeel. It’s the consummate mixer but it’s also pretty delicious sipped on its own.

Home bar essentials

Four Roses Small Batch bourbon

After gin, good American whiskey is the next most used spirit in the cocktail repertoire. Most people choose bourbon though many bartenders prefer rye. Small Roses Small Batch solves this conundrum because it has a high rye content giving it masses of spice alongside the sweeter flavour. Also superb value.

Home bar essentials

Dolin Dry vermouth

You’ve got to have dry vermouth and this classic French brand ticks all the boxes for us. It’s delicately flavoured and low in sugar and harmonises beautifully with gin in particular. It’s also extremely handy to have around the kitchen to add a splash to sauces.

Home bar essentials

Martini Speciale Riserva Rubino vermouth

The standard Martini Rosso is a great all-arounder but we think it’s worth spending the extra money on this. It’s much subtler than the standard bottling and unusually is made with red wine from Piedmont giving it a delicious tang. It makes the best Gin & It.

Home bar essentials

Havana Club 3 year old rum

In order to make rum-based classics like the Daiquiri, Mai Tai and Zombie, you’ll need at least two rums in your cupboard. For the white, we’re very taken with Havana Club’s 3 year old. It’s packed full of character but also mixes with pretty much everything. No home bar should be without it.

Home bar essentials

Dunderhead Rum

This is a great dark blended rum made with a good dollop of high ester Jamaican pot still spirit in it. If you love big funky flavours of banana, pineapple and toffee, then this is the rum for you. It’s a superb mixer providing a bass note of funk to a wide variety of cocktails but especially the Mai Tai.

Home bar essentials

Hankey Bannister Scotch whisky

The name might sound like something an Aberdonian builder would say when he’s inspecting your staircase, but this is actually one of the nicest blended Scotch whiskies around. It’s all about sweet honey, heather and toffee flavours making it a great base for cocktails like the Rob Roy or Rusty Nail. 

Home bar essentials

Janneau VSOP Armagnac

In the olden days, it was brandy and not bourbon that was the basis of most cocktails, so if you want to make an old-timey Sazerac, a Brandy Sour or a Vieux Carre, then you’ll need a decent bottle. This Armagnac with its sweet grapey flavours and nutty complexity is a real find and a steal at the price. 

Home bar essentials

Kavka Vodka

Vodka doesn’t have to be boring and tasteless. This delicious little number from Poland is made with rye and wheat and contains a tiny proportion of strongly-flavoured fruit brandies. These give it a depth of flavour rare in this category. Makes one of the best vodka Martinis we have ever had.

Home bar essentials

Campari

And finally, no home bar is complete without a bottle of the red stuff. It’s an essential ingredient in the Negroni and the Americano. It’s delicious with soda water and it’s a great way of perking up a mediocre bottle of white, rose or fizz. All hail the king of the bitter drinks!

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How to get the best out of overproof spirits

From barrel proof bourbon to navy strength gin, it’s hard to know how – and when – to use punchy overproof spirits in cocktails and mixed drinks. Here, we explain the…

From barrel proof bourbon to navy strength gin, it’s hard to know how – and when – to use punchy overproof spirits in cocktails and mixed drinks. Here, we explain the different ways you can incorporate these high-octane sippers into your cocktail repertoire without overpowering your palate (or doing yourself a mischief)…

Before we get into the spirits, let’s tackle the etymology of overproof. The term was coined in the 18th century, when sailors would mix their spirits with gunpowder and light it with a match. If the booze caught alight and burned steadily, it was ‘proof’ the spirit was of adequate strength and hadn’t been watered down. They were often paid partially in alcohol rations, and after all, no one likes being short-changed. 100% proof corresponds to around 57% ABV in new money.

We may no longer feel the need to set our spirits on fire before accepting a booze delivery, to the relief of postmen and women everywhere. But potency pyrotechnics aside, our obsession with ABV remains otherwise unchanged since the 18th century. Whether we’re sipping cask strength Cognac, overproof rum, or navy strength gin – or exploring the emerging no- and low-alcohol category – the potency of booze remains a key talking point among drinkers, distillers and bartenders to this day.

The just-released Highland Park Cask Strength was bottled at a mighty 63.3% ABV

The vast majority of our favourite spirits are diluted with water before they’re bottled, settling somewhere around 40% ABV. This isn’t necessarily a negative – if you have a preference for cask strength Scotch, there’s a solid case for diluting the dram with a touch of water before you drink it – but it does mean boozier bottlings, typically from 50% ABV upwards, are fewer in number. Beyond upping the alcohol content in the bottle, less dilution with water means a greater concentration of esters, fusel oils and other compounds – collectively known as congeners – in the final spirit, which carry through as flavour and complexity.

Not only does a great overproof spirit bring flavour by the bucketload, but it also makes the other flavours in the drink “more concentrated and intense”, says Georgi Radev, owner of London bar Laki Kane. “When you add high-ABV spirit to a cocktail, you are adding more flavour and viscosity to it,” he says. Up to a point, of course. Overproof spirits are notoriously difficult to enjoy neat, and can be extremely challenging to work into short cocktails, “because the high volume alcohol numbs our taste buds, so we can feel only the strength of the alcohol,” he says. “The flavours are there, but we can’t enjoy them.”

However, overproof spirits are perfect for “long drinks with more ingredients using multiple strong syrups,” says Radev, with “Tiki-style tropical cocktails,” being a prime example. For example, the Piña Colada. “Overproof rum makes a perfect Piña Colada,” he says. “The cream balances the high alcohol content. In a normal Piña Colada, the rum is almost undetectable. The main flavours are pineapple and coconut. With overproof rum, it’s a different game.” These kinds of drinks need flavourful spirits to stand out, and they’re one of the few circumstances where such powerful sippers ought to be used as a base.

The Piña Fumada

The Piña Colada tastes even better when made with overproof rum

If you’re set on shorter drinks, though, you don’t necessarily have to steer clear of overproof spirits. You can use such tipples as a modifier by incorporating a little into the body of the recipe, rinsing the glass before you pour, or floating a small amount on top of the finished cocktail. Adding just a few meagre millilitres will turbocharge the flavours in the drink and also add texture, as Radev alluded to earlier when he mentioned viscosity. A higher ABV cuts through citrus and syrups to bring a rich, almost oily mouthfeel to a cocktail that’s near-impossible to replicate with any other ingredient (just ask any lab-weary alcohol-free producer). 

Indeed, the difference a handful of extra ABV percentage points can make, even to the same spirit, is fascinating. “On a trip to Guatemala I was introduced to an aged rum that was 46% ABV, in comparison to its regular counterpart at 40% ABV, and it completely transformed the experience,” says James Shearer, global beverage director for London restaurants Oblix, Zuma and Roka. “In my opinion, a higher ABV is the distiller’s way of perfecting the product for the drinker.”

However, what overproof giveth, poor bar technique taketh away. In exchange for flavour by the bucketload and money-can’t-buy mouthfeel, you have the challenge of adapting your drink to accommodate the extra punchiness. Overproof spirits – especially at the higher end of the ABV spectrum – redefine the character of a cocktail, so it’s not just as simple as subbing your usual gin choice for a Navy strength sipper. You’ll likely need to rethink the proportions of the drink, and potentially your ingredients. For example, if you’re making a Manhattan with barrel proof rye whiskey, choose a robust, powerful vermouth to pair with it and drop the pour size of both.

A Negroni is a great foil for navy strength gin

If you’re stuck for classic recipe recommendations, Shearer recommends balancing navy strength gin in a Negroni, “to bring out the citrus and bitter notes”. Overproof Tequila “can add a slap of flavour to a Zombie,” he says, while high-strength Cognac works well when utilised with overproof rum in a Between the Sheets. Overproof rum shines in a Nuclear Banana Daiquiri or classic Mai Tai, and cask strength whisk(e)y goes down a treat in a Prescription Sazerac.

With a bit of planning, overproof booze is nothing to shy away from, providing you treat it carefully and use a delicate hand. “You need to start working with overproof spirits to get to understand them,” says Radev. “Most people think that overproof is mainly for lighting up cocktails, but it’s so much more than that. Start using it in drinks and you will grow to love it.”

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