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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cask Aged

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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Master of Cocktails – The Improved (New) Holland Gin Cocktail

Right then chaps, this week’s #MasterofCocktails recipe is The Improved (New) Holland Gin Cocktail. Despite what you may be thinking, this is one that whisky fans will really enjoy. We’re…

Master of Cocktails Improved New Holland Gin Cocktail

Right then chaps, this week’s #MasterofCocktails recipe is The Improved (New) Holland Gin Cocktail. Despite what you may be thinking, this is one that whisky fans will really enjoy. We’re using some top notch American ingredients here too, including the New York Distilling Company’s fantastic Chief Gowanus New-Netherland Gin as well as some Cask-Aged Whisky Bitters.

Brooklyn, you see, used to be a Dutch colony. Yep. And this gin we’re using is a Holland gin (i.e. a genever), and it was made to a 19 century American recipe with the help of David Wondrich, using the New York Distilling Company’s unaged, double-distilled rye whiskey. Moreover, it’s bloody fantastic.

 

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Master of Cocktails – The Last Word

Following on from The Negroni and The Scottish Gold Rush, we’re now entering Master of Cocktails’ third week – how time flies! Each week you can follow along on Sunday…

Master of Cocktails The Last Word Cocktail

Following on from The Negroni and The Scottish Gold Rush, we’re now entering Master of Cocktails’ third week – how time flies!

Each week you can follow along on Sunday evenings via twitter (#MasterofCocktails) and, in fact, from now on we’ll be letting you know what you’ll need for the following week, making it even easier.

(You can find next week’s ingredients at the bottom of this blog post.)

Last night, we made one of my all-time favourites cocktails: The Last Word. These are just awesome. If you haven’t ever tried one then, frankly, we feel sorry for you. Fortunately, you can remedy this terrible state of affairs by following the simple instructions below…

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