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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cask Aged

Rock of ages: can maturation be fast forwarded?

This week Ian Buxton applies his boozy magnifying glass on maturation and asks if it can ever be manipulated or accelerated to produce a quality spirit. I found myself recently…

This week Ian Buxton applies his boozy magnifying glass on maturation and asks if it can ever be manipulated or accelerated to produce a quality spirit.

I found myself recently considering the question of ageing.  Probably because it was my birthday (yes, fine, thanks for asking) but it did bring a few things into focus. For example, will the challenge of accelerated maturation in spirits ever be fully cracked – and, if so, will the consumer accept it? Speeding up the ageing process in spirits (unlike in writers, where it seems to accelerate naturally) has long been something of the Holy Grail for some drinks companies. 

After all, if you could manufacture the same taste profile from a six-month-old spirit as one that has spent ten years waiting in cask there would be undoubted benefits. Just think of the saving in casks and warehouses. Imagine the additional profits. Why you might even be able to offer lower retail prices (now things are getting fanciful).

But people have been trying for over a hundred years or more. Shortly before the Tullymet distillery in Perthshire was closed in 1911, the owners John Dewar & Sons, then independent and family-owned, engaged “an eminent analytical chemist” to experiment with artificial maturation. It was reported that “he brought elaborate appliances from London and with our permission and the sanction of the Excise he toiled week after week with his alembics and retorts”. 

can maturation be fast forwarded

We employ various techniques already to enhance barrel maturation, but can we accelerate the process?

However, the trials ended in failure: though the boffin “brought his sample in triumph” to Dewar’s Perth HQ the company found it “nothing but an anaemic and emasculated fluid, with a taste resembling Chinese samshoo”. Perhaps they should have stuck at it, as today baijiu distiller Kweichow Moutai is the world’s most valuable drinks company, far exceeding the stock market worth of Diageo. 

More recently, there have been other efforts.  In the USA, hip bourbon distillers Hudson trailed blasting rap music at selected casks to promote ‘sonic ageing’, the theory being that vibration increases the wood/spirit interaction. In July 2008 it was reported that Diageo was wrapping casks in plastic film. A spokesman responded drily that “At this stage, the technologies under trial are not proven and we are continuing our research.”  Since then, whatever they were up to (and reports vary) it evidently didn’t work or demonstrated what it was they wanted to show. Either way, the trials have been quietly dropped.

Elsewhere, distillers have experimented with the freeze distillation of spirit, though this appears to have been more about getting very old casks that had fallen below 40% ABV, and thus couldn’t be sold as Scotch whisky, back up to a legal strength. The value that might have been recovered is extraordinary given today’s price of really old whisky but whether or not this perfectly scientifically-sound technique would have met the SWA’s ‘traditional production methods’ standard might have been an interesting debate. 

can maturation be fast forwarded

Bourbon distillers Hudson previously experimented with ‘sonic ageing’

Over in California, the folks at the Lost Spirits ‘skunkworks’ in Los Angeles has employed its THEA One Reactor (Targeted Hyper-Esterification Ageing) to create remarkable peated whiskies and navy-style rums. I’ve tasted these and in my book 101 Rums to Try Before You Die concluded that “though logic tells you that six days in a Star Trek-style ‘reactor’ cannot possibly deliver the flavours of traditional ageing, your nose and palate tell you otherwise”.  So, good then.

 

‘which they suggest may be compared to a leading’

Now yet another group are addressing this timeless challenge with what they are terming ‘accelerated beverage maturation technology’. The little-known and curiously anonymous NobleAB has produced samples of a ‘peated Speyside’, which the company perhaps optimistically suggests can be compared to a leading 10 years old Islay single malt, and a Lowland and an Indian Spirit, all oak matured with its ‘unique’ process. This its describes as “a substantial amount of wood science with specially prepared oaks for targeted maturation”. 

I know little more. Though there is a domain name for NobleAB dating from August 2017 there is no active web site and the CEO’s business card does not carry a physical address.  He’s one Stefan Laux. According to his LinkedIn profile, he spent some seven years with Rémy Cointreau leaving in 2004 (long before they acquired the Bruichladdich and Westland distilleries, and many years after they had sold Glenturret). Subsequently, Laux has moved quickly through a bewildering number of posts: we find him variously in Italy, Poland (in several roles), Tunisia, the USA, Switzerland and Hungary.

can maturation be fast forwarded

We want to know what you think – can maturation be sped up?

It’s all very mystifying. Will this prove a crock of gold, or a crock of something less pleasant?  Some samples have reached me by a strange and circuitous route and I may return to this topic if I have news. But I’m interested in your views – feel free to comment below with your thoughts on fast-forwarded whisky.

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Behold, the World Gin Awards 2020 winners!

It’s official: the World Gin Awards are out! Now you can grab yourself a bottle, make yourself a Gin & Tonic, settle down and tell yourself that you’re drinking the…

It’s official: the World Gin Awards are out! Now you can grab yourself a bottle, make yourself a Gin & Tonic, settle down and tell yourself that you’re drinking the world’s best gin. Now that’s something to brag about. From aged expressions to best Old Tom, we’ve rounded up the best of the best right here. 

world gin awards

It may be easy to see awards as vacuous and unimportant, but with numerous rounds of blind tasting, Gin Magazine’s World Gin Awards is sure to single out spirits that are truly outstanding and worthy of your time as well as your taste buds. Gin-thusiasts, read on!

world gin awards

Drinks by the Dram World Gin Awards Winners 2020 Tasting Set

Want to taste the winners without committing to an entire bottle? Drinks by the Dram has gone and created a handy tasting set boasting five 30cl drams of award-winning gin from this year’s World Gin Awards! You’ll find Bathtub Gin, Lubuski Aged Gin, Marylebone Orange & Geranium Gin, Hayman’s Spiced Sloe Gin and Sky Wave Gin, all in one nifty box. Who says convenience can’t be delicious too?

https://www.instagram.com/shreddy/?hl=en

 

World’s Best Matured Gin: Lubuski Aged Gin

Poland’s Lubuski distillery secured World’s Best Matured Gin this year with its Aged Gin! A combination of oak and chestnut casks gives this one silky caramel alongside green oak notes. One to test twists of classic cocktails with, we reckon.

world gin awards

World’s Best Old Tom Gin (Sweden Country Winner): Hernö Old Tom Gin

Sweden’s Country Winner here, with the wonderful Hernö just continuing to scoop up awards! With the same base botanicals as Hernö Dry Gin, though with a dialled up amount of meadowsweet, honey and sugar are also added post distillation for that hallmark Old Tom sweetness.

world gin awards

World’s Best Flavoured Gin: Marylebone Orange & Geranium Gin

It turns out that geraniums aren’t just for the garden thanks to Marylebone Orange & Geranium Gin, the work of London’s Pleasure Gardens Distilling Co.! As you’d expect, it’s all about the floral and citrus notes in this one.

Get a head start on Father's Day!

World’s Best Compound Gin: Bathtub Gin

Don’t be fooled by the bootlegger name, Bathtub Gin is a far cry from the Prohibition spirits of old. From England’s very own Ableforth’s comes this year’s World’s Best Compound Gin, named for the 1920s Prohibition method of infusing botanicals in a bathtub. The highly aromatic gin sees the infusion of six botanicals through cold compounding resulting in a rich, viscous mouthfeel boasting orange citrus, fragrant spices and a good core of juniper. 

world gin awards

World’s Best Sloe Gin: Hayman’s Spiced Sloe Gin

How to make sloe gin even more warming? Give it a good kick of spice! The wonderful Hayman’s steeped its own Sloe Gin in sloe fruit flowers and a whole host of seasonal spices to create this Spiced Sloe Gin, which will do rather well as a fruity evening sipper. 

world gin awards

World’s Best Contemporary Gin (Japan Country Winner): Ki No Tea Gin

From the city’s first dedicated gin distillery comes the Kyoto Distillery’s Ki No Tea Gin! Japan’s Country Winner, it was the second release from the distillery and the tasty result of a partnership with local tea grower and blender Hori-Shichimeien. Tencha and Gyokuro teas are among the botanicals used, so it’s full of floral tea notes alongside prominent juniper.

world gin awards

World’s Best London Dry Gin (Australia Country Winner): Manly Spirits Co Australian Dry Gin

If you want to sip on a taste of Australia’s east coast, Australia’s Manly Spirits Co. has bottled up just that with its Australian Dry Gin, Australia’s Country Winner this year. It’s jam-packed full of sustainably foraged Australian botanicals such as sea lettuce, finger lime and mountain pepperberry. A refreshing, savoury and peppery affair, this one.

world gin awards

World’s Best Navy Gin (America Country Winner): Conniption Navy Strength Gin

We journey to Durham, North Carolina for America’s Country Winner in the World’s Best Navy Gin category, with the spicy and sweet Conniption Navy Strength Gin! Juniper, cardamom and rosemary are vapour infused in a pot still, while citrus and fig are vacuum distilled at room temperature before being blended together and bottled up at 57% ABV.

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Durham Gin: masters of the cask

We talk beards, barrels and botanicals with Jon Chadwick at the Durham Distillery, the firm that makes (some of) the best cask-aged gin in England. Mixing gin with oak takes…

We talk beards, barrels and botanicals with Jon Chadwick at the Durham Distillery, the firm that makes (some of) the best cask-aged gin in England.

Mixing gin with oak takes skill and patience. Jon Chadwick, founder of the Durham Distillery, has some strong views on companies that don’t do it very well: “You’ve got a lot of cask-aged gins who’ve only been in the cask for a month or two and there’s caramel added to up the colour.” he told us. He went on to describe one, more in sorrow than anger, “the worst thing I saw for a cask-aged gin was an industrial bulk container (IBC) full of gin. They got the barrel, dismantled it and dropped the wooden staves into the IBC, so that the gin was physically in contact with the wood. They hadn’t put the gin into a barrel, they put a barrel into the gin! They left it there for about six weeks, added a bit of caramel and then bottled that as a cask-aged gin and knocked it out at about £45 a bottle.”

Durham distillery

At the Durham Distillery, they put the gin in the cask, not the other way round

There are no such shortcuts at the Durham Distillery though, oddly enough, it was a not particularly good oaked gin that inspired him in the first place. “I first drank a cask-aged gin in Boston five or six years ago and I’ve got to tell you, it wasn’t great.” Following a career in the civil service, he was taking a break exploring American micro-distilleries on the East Coast while his wife worked at MIT in Boston. The seed of an idea was planted. “The original concept was to take the same sort of business model that Bully Boys had done in Boston. It works well in college towns, next to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, or Brown, for example,” he told us. Being from the north east, Chadwick went for Durham: “Durham is like the Harvard or Yale of England,” he said, “big university, very posh, very old, striped scarves, you know, rowers on the river, things like that.”

The distillery, however, isn’t quite so Brideshead Revisited. The firm has just moved to a new premises: “It’s nearly 6000 square feet in central Durham City, about 250 yards down from the cathedral” said Chadwick. “I’m sure you’ve got an image in your head of some historic building [see photo in header]. In fact, it’s almost entirely underground and it’s a former McDonalds.” But it’s an improvement on the last space which was two miles out of the city. 

The team has been distilling for six years now and began putting gin (the standard dry gin) in cask just over four years ago, a single bourbon barrel where it remained for around nine months. “We released our first batch about four years ago, it was literally only about 500 or 600 bottles and it went in a blink of an eye,” he said. And so it became an annual thing. Each release since has been different. “We like the idea that people might buy a bottle every year and follow the journey as it develops just as with whisky,” Chadwick said. The current batch is made up of three barrels: “We used two second-fill Jack Daniel’s barrels and a first-fill oloroso sherry cask,” Chadwick said. “And the batch that went into the sherry cask was in for about eight or nine months, but the second-fill Jack Daniels we left in for about 18 months, because it was second-fill. And then we blended them at the end.”

Jess Tomlinson, head distiller and not a beard in sight

The taste is quite wonderful with toasty nutty notes from the barrel and an amazing body and finish. The oak never dominates or masks the botanicals. It’s really very impressive. Chadwick gives all the credit to distiller Jess Tomlinson. “We’ve got a distiller who’s got an exceptionally good palate,” he said. She’s only 30 and has a masters in distilling from Heriot-Watt. “It’s just very different for this industry to have somebody heading up this kind of thing who isn’t a bloke with a beard. The craft spirits industry is still dominated by men with beards,” he added. 

Chadwick and Tomlinson are clearly buying great quality casks and they have another advantage over competitors: Lanchester Wines is on their doorstep. “The largest category A bonded warehouse in Western Europe. They bottle more wine than Chianti!” said Chadwick. So they can keep their gin without having to pay duty on it and only need to sell it when it’s ready. 

With this mastery of casks, the obvious next step is whisky: “The gin market is very saturated right now and there’s far too much sugary, fruity flavoured gins which we don’t particularly like. The time is right for us to kind of move into making whisky,” said Chadwick. 

The gin still

It’s all being done steadily and slowly: “We’re a sensible commercial business growing organically, we’re not a multi-millionaire who is building a whisky distillery and is just going to hire a guy who’s going do it all for them and bill them for 2.5 million quid.” So rather than beating a path to Forsyths, he’s having the stills build in Slovenia. “We’re going to keep our current gin still and we’re going to add two big whisky stills, six fermenters and a big mash tun” Chadwick told us. The wash still will be 1000 litres so still quite small by Scottish standards. The gin still is a  400 litre Hoga with a gin basket run by a Fulton steam boiler. 

The equipment is yet to arrive so whisky is a long way off. Fortunately, there’s the cask-aged gin to drink while you wait, a drop that really bridges the gin and whisky categories. How does Chadwick have his? “Either I drink it neat over ice, it’s smooth enough that you can get away with drinking it that way,” he told us, “Or I’ve got some sherry cask-aged vermouth and some Rioja barrel-aged vermouth. An aged vermouth with the cask-aged gin in a Martini I mean that’s about as good as it gets.” Having tried a Durham cask/ Noilly Prat Martini, I can vouch for that.

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Elephant Gin adds cask-aged variant to its cracking range!

Fanatical about oak-aged spirits? Fond of elephants? Combine your enthusiasm for these two otherwise completely unrelated interests with limited edition Elephant Aged Gin! They’re a brilliant bunch, those Elephant Gin…

Fanatical about oak-aged spirits? Fond of elephants? Combine your enthusiasm for these two otherwise completely unrelated interests with limited edition Elephant Aged Gin!

They’re a brilliant bunch, those Elephant Gin folks. You might already be familiar with the brand – since 2013 the team has been boosting conservation efforts for Africa’s favourite gentle giants with sales of the excellent core expression Elephant London Dry Gin, made using 14 botanicals including buchu, baobab and African wormwood.

Clearly not laurel-resters, the team soon added Elephant Sloe Gin and Elephant Strength to the mix, and has recently been busy tinkering about with different distillates and oak species to craft their latest concoction, Elephant Aged Gin.

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Eight extraordinary wine cask finished whiskies!

While wine cask finishing is a relatively new phenomenon in the grand scheme of whisky history, it’s one that has changed the taste of our drams for good. Step away…

While wine cask finishing is a relatively new phenomenon in the grand scheme of whisky history, it’s one that has changed the taste of our drams for good. Step away from the sherry bombs – we’re shining a light on eight progressive wine cask finished whiskies…

Wine cask finishing: Where the worlds of wine and whisky collide in (mostly) joyous harmony. Over the last few decades, producers have been whipping out their world maps and exploring traditional grape-touting territories as they seek to round off their tasty, tasty whisky in a curious cask. And let’s be honest, it’s all rather exciting isn’t it?

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Master of Cocktails – The Penultimate Paragraph

Right then all – we all ready for a cocktail? Time for #MasterofCocktails… Today’s drink is a creation based around this bad boy. It’s Bathtub Gin aged in an ex-Ardbeg…

Master of Cocktails Penultimate Paragraph

Right then all – we all ready for a cocktail? Time for #MasterofCocktails

Today’s drink is a creation based around this bad boy. It’s Bathtub Gin aged in an ex-Ardbeg cask. This batch is all sold out (I did tell you all to buy it…), but there’s a new batch available from the second-fill. Why, here it is.

So – this week’s #MasterofCocktails is going to be a variation on the Last Word cocktail. One of my all time favourites.

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Master of Cocktails – Cask-Aged Martinez

Right then – time for this week’s #MasterofCocktails, where we will be making a Cask-Aged Martinez. Now this week’s drink is going to take probably 2 minutes to prepare, as…

Master of Cocktails Cask Aged Martinez

Right then – time for this week’s #MasterofCocktails, where we will be making a Cask-Aged Martinez. Now this week’s drink is going to take probably 2 minutes to prepare, as we’ve done all the prep. already. Clever us. If you’ve not done your homework yet or need a bit of a refresher on what you’ll been needing in your cask (available here), have a look at the Prep. Blog Post I made early last week for the recipe.

Once you’re up to speed, we can begin. Go on. I can wait… Ready? Lovely.

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Master of Cocktails Prep. – Cask-Aged Martinez

Right then folks, you’ve had a day to assemble the bottles we’ll be needing for the prep for the upcoming #MasterofCocktails – This is really the ‘Christmas Panacea’ you’ve been…

Master of Cocktails Christmas Panacea

Right then folks, you’ve had a day to assemble the bottles we’ll be needing for the prep for the upcoming #MasterofCocktails – This is really the ‘Christmas Panacea’ you’ve been dreaming of.

If you’re anything like me, there’ll be a seemingly endless procession of loved-ones throughout the Christmas period and ‘another Baileys’ only works so far. So – we’re going to make ourselves a cask of Martinez. Because, well, you know… Stir, strain and serve rocks.

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The Affinity Cocktail & Handmade Cocktail Company 2014 Releases

Cocktails galore! Not just on the blog though – these ones below will come right to your door. Not only are we bringing you Bramble Bar’s signature Affinity Cocktail as…

The Affinity Cocktail

Cocktails galore! Not just on the blog though – these ones below will come right to your door. Not only are we bringing you Bramble Bar’s signature Affinity Cocktail as of today, but we also recently launched the 2014 vintage releases from The Handmade Cocktail Company. The latter including new additions as well as totally re-specced versions that have been improved significantly with even finer ingredients (no mean feat). These are exciting, tasty times, my friends.

First things first – Bramble Bar in Edinburgh. It’s awesome. For a while now they’ve been creating barrel-aged and bottle-aged Affinity Cocktails, which they serve at the bar in individual bottles for you to pour out yourself. (They’re pre-chilled and don’t require dilution.) We’re rather partial to a couple whenever we visit – it’s a perfect mix of Speyside single malt whisky and top quality vermouths (technically a red quinquina and a dry vermouth).

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Gin, Sin & 5 Soaking Barrels!

On 16th March five top London bartenders faced off in a fantastic cask-aged gin cocktail competition, which may also have been the best named event of all time! Maverick Drinks…

Gin, Sin & 5 Soaking Barrels

On 16th March five top London bartenders faced off in a fantastic cask-aged gin cocktail competition, which may also have been the best named event of all time!

Maverick Drinks had armed each bartender with a different gin that had been aged or rested in casks, all from their awesome portfolio. Following a preview tasting where this fascinating crossover category was discussed, it was time for the #ginsin main event held at Megaro Bar. The winner would be chosen by 7 ‘tasters’ (they’re the fun version of judges) and would subsequently win the opportunity to create their very own cask-aged gin, which will have their name and even their face on it if they really want. (The latter, it was said at the time, may actually depend on who wins…) There should also soon be a Gin, Sin & 5 Soaking Barrels Tasting Set from Drinks by the Dram we hear, so you’ll be able to sample all of these eminently mixable aged gins for yourself…

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