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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Cask Strength

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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Glenfarclas 105 Day Celebrations!

It’s the 105th day of the year, and we’re celebrating Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength with our friends at Glenfarclas. Get a free 20cl Glenfarclas 105 with your order when you…

  • It’s the 105th day of the year, and we’re celebrating Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength with our friends at Glenfarclas.
  • Get a free 20cl Glenfarclas 105 with your order when you purchase any full bottle* of any spirit, liqueur or wine today!
  • We’re also reducing the price on a gamut of Glenfarclas bottles by 10.5% for the whole day!
  • If you take a look at your calendar and you’re incredibly adept at maths, you’ll likely be able to quickly ascertain that today – April 15th – is the 105th day of the year! What better excuse to celebrate the smashing Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength in all its well-Sherried, full-bodied, lip-smacking glory with our friends from this family owned and run distillery. In fact, we’d quite like you to join in with the celebrations too, so…

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    It’s 105 Day! Get Free Shipping plus Win Signed Bottles of Glenfarclas 105!

    It’s the 14th April 2016 and that means just one thing… it’s the 105th day of the year! So why not celebrate with the fabulous 105 Cask Strength from our…

    Glenfarclas 105 Day

    It’s the 14th April 2016 and that means just one thing… it’s the 105th day of the year! So why not celebrate with the fabulous 105 Cask Strength from our good friends at Glenfarclas, we hear you ask? Well that’s jolly well what we’ve gone and done!

    We have 16x bottles of Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength signed by George Grant to give away, here’s how you can get involved today-only:

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    Kininvie Special Release To Mark Distillery’s 25th Anniversary

    Almost exactly a year after we told you about Kininvie single malt’s UK launch (along with some information on the distillery and too many 12 Monkeys references), we have some…

    Kininvie Special Release

    Almost exactly a year after we told you about Kininvie single malt’s UK launch (along with some information on the distillery and too many 12 Monkeys references), we have some news of further releases for you.

    Celebrating the 25th anniversary at the weekend, three casks that were filled on day one, quarter of a century ago, were selected by Brian Kinsman. Three casks for three markets: the UK, Europe and Taiwan. Collectively named “Special Release #1” or “the first drops”, three unique single cask, cask strength Kininvie bottlings are planned for release between November 2015 and February 2016. This continues the theme of keeping the distillery’s single malt output limited and ‘special’, however we don’t yet know whether these will be in the half-sized 35cl bottles. We’ll keep you posted.

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    William Grant Launches Glenfiddich Gallery

    Well this one’s been teed up perfectly really following last week’s post on The Glenlivet, and specifically how they’re catching the Glenfiddich in terms of sales whilst placing emphasise on…

    Glenfiddich Gallery

    Well this one’s been teed up perfectly really following last week’s post on The Glenlivet, and specifically how they’re catching the Glenfiddich in terms of sales whilst placing emphasise on their recent and historical innovation. So Glenfiddich, your move it seems. And here it is: Glenfiddich Gallery, a bespoke online whisky service where you can discover cask strength malts that match your personal tastes and also design the bespoke packaging your whisky will come in!

    Whilst there is a certain award-winning online retailer that’s provided the opportunity to personalise both the labels and the liquid of your whisky for some time now *ahem*, this is an incredibly exciting step for a leading single malt brand to take.

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    The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso

    The Glenlivet is one of most popular single malts in the world, selling around 11 million bottles a year (they’re second only to Glenfiddich in terms of overall sales) and…

    The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso

    The Glenlivet is one of most popular single malts in the world, selling around 11 million bottles a year (they’re second only to Glenfiddich in terms of overall sales) and is owned by Chivas Brothers (i.e. Pernod Ricard). It is perhaps because of these facts that Nàdurra was such a welcome addition back in 2006 – here was a very big player willing to extoll the virtues of bottling speyside whisky at cask strength without using chill filtration, or adding caramel (Nàdurra being the Gaelic for ‘natural’). It was also (and still is) matured exclusively in first-fill Bourbon barrels, with the batch number displayed on the bottle. The fact that it was/is a great whisky helped too, of course.

    Fast forward to 2014 and The Glenlivet are giving the Nàdurra range a bit of a shake up with new permanent editions. Why only release a bourbon cask edition when they’re filling spirit into other cask types? And so, last night, I came to be in front of a glass of The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso, matured exclusively in first-fill Oloroso Sherry casks from Jerez. This first batch is bottled at 48% and will be available exclusively in travel retail (just as the first ever Nàdurra was back in 2005), but the real cask strength deal should be available around September/October time. Suffice to say we’ll be stocking it as soon as we can! Excluding the Rare Single Cask Editions (which were second-fill), this will be the first exclusively Sherry cask matured Glenlivet “in living memory”. And it’s a Nàdurra. If you’re thinking “that’s pretty fucking cool” right about now, then you, Sir, are correct.

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    Macallan to replace 10, 12, and 15 year old core range with no-age statement single malt whiskies

    Have you ever heard the phrase, “It gets better with age”? Well, to this Macallan says, “Age ain’t nothin’ but a number” as they announce a new range of single…

    Have you ever heard the phrase, “It gets better with age”? Well, to this Macallan says, “Age ain’t nothin’ but a number” as they announce a new range of single malt Scotch whiskies to replace the well-known Macallan Fine Oak and Macallan Sherry Oak ranges that consumers have come to know. Their intent? To release three no-age statement expressions over the next calendar year.

    This is bad news for people who believe age statement indicates quality and justifies price. But it could be great news for people who know that just because a whisky is old doesn’t make it good—or even mature.

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    Feis Ile 2012, Day 6

    Thursday was Jura Day. It started far too early for any of our liking, and lack of sleep is beginning to play heavily on people’s sanity; that and the midges….

    Thursday was Jura Day. It started far too early for any of our liking, and lack of sleep is beginning to play heavily on people’s sanity; that and the midges.

    We left in a hurry to catch the ferry at 8.30am, at the other side of the Island. You know, over there.

    It is not a long journey. In fact we reached Jura in about 4 and-a-half minutes, the malt mobile rolling off the boat and onto the rugged shore.Force of habit made us reach for the sat nav, to aid us in our navigation of the Island’s one, single track road. We were going the right way.

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    Tasting Highland Park Thor

    Thursday/Thorsday last week was the day the Runes foretold, their arrival marked by the noise of the door buzzer as the DHL man arrived – just like the days of…

    Thursday/Thorsday last week was the day the Runes foretold, their arrival marked by the noise of the door buzzer as the DHL man arrived – just like the days of yore. They spoke of the coming of something that would require valour, and bravery (check and check), though sadly due to “the way of things”, the Runes didn’t arrive daily as a lead up to Thorsday. One arrived on Tuesday, the rest, on Wednesday. It was still quite dramatic though (let’s just say it didn’t Rune the surprise), even if they did come in either a fake felt pouch or a mauve mesh-bag-thing that a small girl would keep her jewellery in.

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    Bourbon vs Sherry

    The two most popular choices for whisky ageing – sherry casks and bourbon barrels – offer a totally different style of single malt and here at Master of Malt, we…

    Sherry vs Bourbon

    The two most popular choices for whisky ageing – sherry casks and bourbon barrels – offer a totally different style of single malt and here at Master of Malt, we love both in equal measure. Just like with children, it’s wrong to have a favourite (unless one child is a maths-whiz-head-boy-sports-star-type, and the other is one of those miserable kids that dyes his hair black and combs it over his face, whilst complaining constantly about how “unfair it all is”).

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