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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: English Whisky

New Arrival of the Week: TBWC Home Nations Series

Normally for this slot we highlight one product. This week, however, we’ve got a whole raft of exciting new whiskies (and some rum) from Britain and Ireland bottled exclusively for That…

Normally for this slot we highlight one product. This week, however, we’ve got a whole raft of exciting new whiskies (and some rum) from Britain and Ireland bottled exclusively for That Boutique-y Whisky Company. It’s TBWC Home Nations Series! 

It’s fair to say that there’s a lot of whisky talent in Britain and Ireland. Obviously Scotland and Ireland are world leaders, both vying for the position as the first place whisky (or whiskey) was made. Quick aside, why don’t the Scots, the Irish, and the Americans just sit down and just agree on a spelling for ‘whisky’ so we don’t have to use tortured constructions like whisk(e)y? This has gone on too long.

Anyway! It’s not just in the old countries, England and Wales now have serious strength in depth when it comes to whisky with the English Whisky Company in Norfolk turning 15 this year and Penderyn in the Brecon Beacons turning 21 in September. These pioneers have been joined by a legion of innovative distilleries making bold, distinctive whiskies.

British & Irish Lions, but with booze

So to celebrate all this talent, That Boutique-y Whisky Company is releasing the Home Nations Series. The idea of the ‘home nations’ is inspired by rugby where England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales put aside their rivalries to play together as the British & Irish Lions, usually with magnificent effect.

Lineup- Home Nations TBWC/ TBRC

The whiskies include a six year old Penderyn from Wales, a cask strength three year old from Scotland’s Nc’Nean Distillery, and a very special 29 year old Irish single malt from an undisclosed distillery (though you can probably guess which it is.)

Meanwhile, team England fields a 12 year old from the English Whisky Company in Norfolk, a 7 year old from Adnams in Suffolk, a 3 year old single grain from the Oxford Artisan Distillery, and a 3 year old from the Cotswolds Distillery. Meanwhile we have two nearly whiskies from Circumstance in Bristol and White Peak in Derbyshire

There’s rum too!

But that’s not all! The Home Nations series includes three rums: a 17 month rum from Ninefold in Scotland, an 18 month rum from Greensand from Kent ,and a 2 year old from J. Gow on Orkney! Plus a selection of rare single malt Scotch whiskies bottled exclusively for That Boutique-y Whisky Company – see the full range here.

I’ve pulled out three that I particularly liked below. These are largely single barrels and bottled at cask strength or high ABV. All come in 50cl bottles. Numbers are extremely limited so hurry, catch the home nations while you can.

Circumstance TBWC

Circumstance 40 Days Old Batch 1

Type: Wheat spirit

Cask types: Matured in a drum with charred English oak spindles

ABV: 59.8% 

We visited this distillery a couple of years ago and were amazed by the innovations going on with yeasts, fermentation times and, most of all, ageing. This shows how you can get masses of flavour into a young spirit without it tasting over-worked. Extremely clever.

Nose: Super sweet, chocolate digestives and ginger nuts. It’s like a party in the biscuit aisle at Sainsbury’s!

Palate: Sweet toffee and chocolate and then spicy. Really really spicy with black pepper, chilli and bitter minty notes – like Fernet Branca. Some massive spicy wood action happening here.  

Finish: Spices go on and on, seriously intense!

English Whisky Co B3

English Whisky Company 12 Year Old Batch 3

Type: Single malt

Cask: first-fill bourbon

ABV: 63.4%

Wow! This is a mighty dram. This English whisky pioneer just keeps getting better and better. Can you imagine how excited we are to try a 15, an 18 or even a 21 from this distillery?

Nose: Toffee, chocolate, dried fruit, vanilla and creamy cereal notes, water brings out sweeter notes and peachy fruit.

Palate: Big spice, wood tannin, dark chocolate, savoury, and bitter coffee with a full texture like chestnuts. Water brings out aromatic tobacco notes, and with time a distinct apricot taste emerges. 

Finish: Layered and very complex, that apricot note goes on for a good ten minutes.  

Penderyn TBWC

Penderyn 6 Year Old Batch 1

Type: Single malt

ABV: 50% 

Cask type: This is from a single STR red wine hogshead.

Distilled in Penderyn’s unique Faraday still – like a cross between a pot and a column (read more about it here). It’s been a while since I’ve had Penderyn, this bottling shows how beautiful it is at a higher strength. 

Nose: Sweet cereal notes with apples, caramel, butter and toffee.  

Palate: Creamy marzipan texture, there’s a gentle sweetness with baking spices like cinnamon and creamy patisserie notes with orchard fruit. Lovely balance, no water needed here.

Finish: Gentle sweetness and spice. 

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Return to the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

We ventured north to the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery for the first time in four years to see how things changed and taste some of the county’s first whisky: Filey…

We ventured north to the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery for the first time in four years to see how things changed and taste some of the county’s first whisky: Filey Bay.

Yorkshire Tea, Tetley Tea, Tetley’s bitter, John Smith’s, Terry’s Chocolate Orange, Rowntree’s., Bassett’s, Henderson’s Relish, and the mighty Marks and Spencer, Yorkshire is the birthplace of some classic food and drinks brands. But there’s one thing God’s own country could never boast about: having its own whisky.

Until now. The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery released its first whisky in 2020. Soon, Cooper King and Whittakers will also join the Yorkshire whisky revolution. But we can recall a time when the trailblazers were young hopefuls themselves.  In 2017, our very own Jake Mountain paid the distillery a visit and so now that there’s actual whisky to taste, we thought it was time for a revisit. 

Unusually, the Spirit of Yorkshire grows all its grain, ferments, distills, and barrel ages on the site, which includes the Wold Top Brewery (founded in 2003) and the 600-acre farm it lives on just a short drive from the distillery. There’s no vodka or gin in sight. This is an English whisky distillery that runs with a simple objective: we’re the first whisky of Yorkshire, so we bloody better get it right.

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

The Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery grows 100% of the barley it distills

Truly grain to glass

It all starts on the fields. Co-founder Tom Mellor has lived on the farm his whole life, while longtime friend and co-founder David Thompson’s area of expertise is crop science. Yorkshire may never have had much whisky to speak of, but it grows a healthy amount of barley. In fact, the Yorkshire Wolds is said to be the largest malting barley growing area in the UK. It seemed logical to grow their own raw material. 

Thompson explained the advantages of this approach: “We have complete control over our raw material: the variety of barley we use, the methods of cultivation. That puts us more in control than the majority of distillers. We have the ability and flexibility of experimenting. The strengths certainly outweigh the weaknesses. As Yorkshire’s first, we don’t have any preconceived ideas of what we should be doing. As a result, we can do what we want with our product as nothing is expected of us”. 

Mellor and Thompson use low-impact farming techniques making soil health and biodiversity a priority. The duo employ a technique called direct drilling, which means rather than discing (sic), ploughing, and then drilling the fields as per the ‘usual’ process, they drill a cover crop straight into the stubble left from the previous harvest. Every time you work the land you release carbon dioxide back into the air; but by keeping the soil undisturbed, that carbon stays in the ground. They’re also advocates of wind power, with two wind turbines providing all the electricity for the farm and brewery when spinning.

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

It’s an impressive stillhouse, boasting size and unique equipment

Distilling with a Yorkshire Twist

Malting, the sole part of the process that the Spirit of Yorkshire distillery doesn’t do on site, is handled by neighbours in Bridlington. Mashing and a long 75-95 hour fermentation takes place at the sister brewery, where intriguingly two strains of distiller’s yeasts are used instead of beer yeast. This was done on the advice of the late Dr. Jim Swan, and the process had the desired result, making a clear wort with fruity esters.

Distillation occurs in stills only dwarfed by the Lakes Distillery in England in terms of size, with a capacity to create 450,000 litres of pure alcohol per year. This isn’t a rinky-dink operation, these guys mean serious business. The stills were built by the always in-demand Forsyth’s, who couldn’t fit Mellor and Thompson in for two years. Was it worth the wait? “Definitely,” Thompson says. “The period of time that we spent looking for other suppliers confirmed that only Forsyth could produce the quality and shape for the consistency we wanted for high-quality production”. Whisky maker Joe Clark takes the cut by tasting it directly from the spirit safe.

The sizable stills aren’t the most exciting aspect of the Spirit of Yorkshire’s distillation process. No, that would be a four-plate copper rectifying still, or ‘The Yorkshire Twist’ as Clark dubbed it. It works by pulling a handle attached to the lyne arm before it feeds into the condenser, which moves the spirit into the column for some hardcore rectification. Spirit comes out of the standard pot still at 70% ABV, while the Yorkshire Twist sends out a hearty 87% ABV new make. This spirit is casked separately and its silky, light profile contrasts the pure pot still’s more full-bodied, unctuous new make. Both are delightfully fruity, supple, and distinctive.

Thompson says the inspiration behind the unique bit of kit was to create a point of difference and to explore the possibility of making a white spirit that the Spirit of Yorkshire could market before the whisky came of age. However, upon using the column, they realised the potential and benefit of creating two very distinct new make spirits. “This gave us flexibility within our product that was unique,” he explains. “As a result, no white spirit was sold as a product. We just concentrate on whisky”. 

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

Ex-bourbon allows the quality new-make to shine, but there are plenty of interesting cask choices here too

The Spirit of Yorkshire matured

When we last came here, the Spirit of Yorkshire had laid down over 300 casks. It’s now on 3,200 casks filled, with the new make going in at 63.5% ABV, diluted using water sourced directly from chalk aquifers.  This ensures that consistency in the water supply.

First fill ex-bourbon remain the predominant cask of choice. “The light and fruity character of our spirit lines up very well with the flavour of bourbon casks,” Thompson explains. “This forms the backbone of our wood policy. We then add layers of flavour through our finishing process using STR wine casks, Moscatel sherry butts, and peated casks. There are also full-term sherry butts and hogsheads which have produced some stunning single cask bottles. We will continue to experiment with the finishing process as new and exciting casks become available”. 

The STR casks are an obvious legacy of Dr. Jim Swan, and while the Spirit of Yorkshire has made plenty of its own strides, they are quick to praise his influence. “Having come into whisky-making with no experience it’s been a steep learning curve. From concept to the commission, Dr. Swan’s input was vital,” Thompson explains. “It’s certainly shaped our future. Losing him when we did, we’ve learned a lot on the job. So today, it’s a mixture of his influence and the results of what we’re doing from the advice he gave”.

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

Filey Bay whisky, the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery’s creation

Defining the Spirit of Yorkshire

One thing Jake  wasn’t able to see four years ago was the complete package. The whisky is called Filey Bay after the beautiful beach near the distillery. While the local gannets that gather on nearby cliffs were made the emblem of the brand. The labels are vibrant and fresh, while the packaging is informative without being too detailed, with neat illustrations outlining the process. The brand set out to make something fresh and different from the start, “not just copying preconceived ideas of what whisky should be,” as Thompson says. “Our design, we feel, encapsulates our ethos”.

Not having any history gives the Spirit of Yorkshire the freedom to define what Yorkshire, and indeed English, whisky is. At the moment, however, Thompson wants to keep things simple by saying there is only one philosophy that guides the distillery: quality.

“In both the ingredients and process, we’re all about making something quality that the majority of people can enjoy. Something for everyone,” he explains. “The world whisky scene, particularly the English whisky, is very exciting to be a part of. It is starting to be taken seriously around the world. As long as we maintain the quality of production, the future is very bright”.

Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery

A snapshot of the Spirit of Yorkshire Distillery’s range

Tasting Filey Bay whisky

So, the big question remains: has the philosophy worked? Does the local barley, Yorkshire Twist and first-fill casks make a difference? Is this Filey Yay or Filay No-Way (sorry)? It’s a resounding yay, in my book. The ripe, fruity new-make shines in the samples I tasted (below). The cask influence is measured beautifully, bringing complementary flavours and complexity without stomping all over the distillery profile (orchard/stone fruits and baked goods). There’s some good body and texture too, with only the occasional flickers of raw alcohol immaturity. I think the Flagship, in particular, will be spectacular between 8-12 years old.

Just because you admire the process, it doesn’t mean you’ll admire the whisky it produces. But, delightfully Filey Bay measures up handsomely, and the pricing isn’t outrageous either. All in all, it was a very pleasant return to the Spirit of Yorkshire. The county might not have any whisky history, but it’s certainly got a very bright future. 

Filey Bay Flagship tasting note:

Nose: Light, sweet and creamy aromas of apricot yogurt, foam bananas, pear drops, and golden barley. Touches of citrus come orange peel, lemon sherbets with salted peanuts, fennel, and dried grass adding a savoury bite. Throughout there’s freshly baked notes of apple crumble with cinnamon, vanilla, and sourdough loaf. At points, it’s so fresh and vibrant there’s almost a cider or shandy quality to the nose.

Palate: The palate’s texture is a little oily but retains that creaminess from the nose with a well-balanced bounty of warming baking spice, orchard fruits, vanilla custard, and marzipan. Porridge with honey, peaches, caramel, and candied orange add depth with black pepper, and anise flicker beneath. 

Finish: Tails away for a while leaving a trail of baked good notes.

Filey Bay Peated tasting note:

Nose: Through grassy peat and woodsmoke comes the characteristic pear drops, lemon peel, and bakery notes (bread & butter pudding this time) with cacao powder, toasted almonds, vanilla, nutmeg, and some salty coastal elements in support.

Palate: Drier than the Flagship thanks to ashy smoke but still you and creamy enough to carry some nice body. Subtle earthy, damp peat is in the backdrop with Hobnob oatiness, vanilla custard, sweet anise, and golden syrup taking centre stage. Nectarines, cooked apples, and marmalade bring some fruitiness with peppery spice mingling underneath. 

Finish: Baking spice, faint whispers of smoke, and honey remain.

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New Arrival of the Week: The English – Heavily Smoked

A new week means a new arrival. Today we’re shining a spotlight on The English – Heavily Smoked which as its name suggests is a heavily smoked whisky from the…

A new week means a new arrival. Today we’re shining a spotlight on The English – Heavily Smoked which as its name suggests is a heavily smoked whisky from the English Whisky Company in Norfolk.

There’s always something going on at St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk, home of the English Whisky Company. Alongside the core range of single malts and interesting grain whiskies, the distillery produces regular limited editions.

In recent years, distiller David Fitt and the team have released triple-distilled whiskies, virgin oak single malts, and various single cask releases. There’s never a dull moment.

The English - Virgin Oak Cask

The St George’s Distillery in sunny Norfolk

English whisky, Scottish connection

This latest release, The English – Heavily Smoked 2010, is a nod to the distillery’s heritage as the first distiller was Iain Henderson from Laphroaig. A man who knows more than a little about peat and whisky.

There were more than a few eyebrows raised when Henderson took the job at St. George’s Distillery in 2006. At the time, the idea of English whisky seemed like a joke. But the founder, Norfolk farmer James Nelstrop, was determined. He’d always dreamed of making whisky and the raw materials were right on his doorstep in the form of seemingly endless fields of shimmering barley.

The family handily owned a building company as well as being farmers, so did all the work themselves. Work began in January 2006 and by December, the first barrels were filled. Then in 2009, St. George’s Distillery, later rebranded as the English Whisky Company to differentiate it from another St. George’s Distillery, released its first whisky. There were queues for miles to get hold of a bottle and the story made the international news.

Sadly, James Nelstrop died in 2014, but the distillery is safely in the hands of his son Andrew and his wife Katy, who looks after the marketing side of the business. 

Initially, the team stuck with a classic Scottish single malt blueprint. Not only did they have a Scottish distiller but all the stills came from Forsyths of Rothes. There’s a wash still of 2750 litres and a spirit of 1800. There’s plenty of reflux from the bulge above the base of the spirit still, and the shell and tube condensers.The aim was to produce a classic Lowland-style malt, light and fruity. 

David Fitt from The English Whisky Company (photographed by Tom Bunning)

Innovative releases

But under David Fitt, an ex-brewer who learned his art from Henderson, they have branched out with some innovative releases under The Norfolk label including a rye and malted barley whisky, and a malted/unmalted barley Irish single pot still-style whisky. Andrew is full of praise for his distiller: “David has extraordinary taste buds. He has a deep understanding of how different barleys behave. Look at what he does with different cereals in the Farmer’s which is made with crystal malt, oats, wheat and rye.” 

This latest limited edition, The English – Heavily Smoked, then, is something of a return to tradition. But if you’re expecting a Laphroaig-style smoky whisky, you will be in for a surprise. The barley might be heavily peated (to 65 PPM compared with Laphroaig’s 45 PPM) but the resulting spirit has the classic English Whisky Company fruitiness. Even with the peated spirit, the cut is taken early so that, as Fitt puts it, “you lose heavy iodine notes and just get bonfire. What’s the point of replicating Laphroaig?” It was distilled in 2010, aged largely in ex-bourbon casks, and bottled this year at 46% ABV. Only 1,776 bottles of this 11-year-old single malt have been filled.

In the days before Covid, St. George’s Distillery was one of Norfolk’s top tourist attractions, attracting over 80,000 visitors a year. There’s a great restaurant on site and a shop that stocks not only their whisky but probably the best selection from around the world in East Anglia. We’re delighted to hear that it’s once again open to visitors.

For those who won’t be visiting in the near future, you can take a video tour with Master of Malt or just pick up a bottle and experience the magic of English whisky. 

The English - Heavily Smoked

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Meaty malt with hints of cured ham and vegetal peat. A little touch of yellow plum sweetness develops underneath.

Palate: Roasted barley, salted butter on toast, cinnamon, granola, bonfires, and flaked almonds.

Finish: Black pepper and red chilli flake, with a slow fade of caramel.

The English – Heavily Smoked 2010 is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy. 

 

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Return to the Copper Rivet Distillery

There’s been so much going on at the Copper Rivet Distillery since we last visited in 2018: the release of a single malt, a column malt and the opening of…

There’s been so much going on at the Copper Rivet Distillery since we last visited in 2018: the release of a single malt, a column malt and the opening of a fancy new restaurant. But that’s not all! There’s a grain whisky coming soon too. We took a trip to Chatham to find out more.

Distilleries often come with spectacular views but on a sunny day, it’s hard to think of a better one than Chatham’s Copper Rivet Distillery and its surroundings. It’s housed in a beautifully restored Victorian Italianate pumping station on the River Medway with boats sailing by, and historic Rochester with its castle and cathedral across the way. 

If it was in Sydney or Porto, there would be hoards of Instagrammers trying to get the perfect shot but because it’s in a rundown bit of Kent, nobody bats an eyelid. 

We visited back in 2018 but since then the team has released two single malts whiskies, a column and a pot still, and opened a restaurant overlooking the river. Plus there were rumours of an exciting new whisky which might be released in time for Christmas. How could we resist another invitation?

Copper Rivet Distillery

They built some beautiful things did the Victorians

Steeped in alcohol 

As distiller Abhi Banik was on holiday we were shown around by his number two, Aaron Fayose, a former engineering student from the University of Greenwich, and Bob Russell from the family who founded the distillery.

The Russell family have been, as Bob put it, “steeped in alcohol since the 1980s.” The business began with a wine bar in Rainham progressed to a group of off-licenses, and then supplying boozy gift packs to supermarkets and department stores.

But they always wanted to create their very own drinks brand. Eventually, after much searching, they found the perfect site for a distillery, the old pumping station in Chatham Dockyard. They needed a building with a high roof as they had to have space for a column to make their own neutral alcohol – something very rare among gin distillers. 

They bought the derelict building in Chatham dockyards in 2015. It was first used to pump water in and out of dry docks, the giant cast iron pump is still in place, and then later as a training venue for the sailors. The town’s economy had for 400 years been built around the ships, and it suffered greatly when the Royal Navy pulled out in 1984.

Much of the dockyard’s infrastructure was left to decay. There was no gas, electricity or water when they were allowed in the pump house in November 2015, and according to Russell, what is now the car park was a quagmire. They managed to get it operational by October 2016, ready for the official opening by Princess Anne in December 2017. It is named the Copper Rivet Distillery as a tribute to the town’s rich shipbuilding heritage. 

The Banik still

Photo of a man taking a photo, with Banik still in the background

The Banik still

The Russell family, Bob and his sons Stephen and Matthew, put their dream in the hands of Abhishek Banik, a young Indian distiller who graduated from and was teaching at Heriot Watt in Edinburgh.

He designed the entire set-up from scratch and it was built using local engineering works. According to Russell, there’s still a lot of skills around from when Chatham was the dockyard to the Navy. 

At Copper Rivet, there’s a single pot still, a 40 plate column still and a very special gin still which recently received a patent. Called a Banik still after its inventor, it can macerate heavier botanicals and infuse lighter botanicals at the same time, while protecting the more delicate ones from the heat source.

Bananas all the way

One entering the still room, the first thing I could smell was a distinct banana note from the wort. It’s a flavour that carries through into Copper Rivet’s final products. 

The gin, vodka and grain whisky are all made from a mixture of 40% wheat, 25% malted barley, 25% barley 10% rye. All the grain comes from one farm on the nearby Isle of Sheppey.

On our last visit, Banik told us that at the mashing stage, the aim is to create a clear wort for a fruitier new make. This is then fermented slowly, over the course of about seven days, using two different yeast strains. In order to make sure it happens slowly, Banik uses about half the normal amount of yeast.

This multi-grain wash then goes through a pot still followed by the column where it comes off as neutral alcohol at 96% ABV. I say neutral but when you taste the spirit diluted in the form of Vela Vodka, there’s no shortage of flavour: that banana note, a creamy mouthfeel and a hit of rye on the finish. Bring on the Baltic snacks! No wonder it won double gold in the San Francisco Spirits Competition.

You can taste the sheer quality of the spirit in Dockyard Gin, a beautifully balanced citrus-led classic dry gin. We also tried a strawberry gin, made by macerating Kentish strawberries in Dockyard for around 10 days – and that’s it. No flavours or colouring. With its subtle yet pronounced taste of fresh strawberries, I can imagine it would work wonders bolstering a Pimm’s and lemonade.

Masthouse whiskies

The two Masthouse whiskies with Bob Russell in the background

Whisky business

Most excitingly, since our last visit, Copper Rivet has released two Masthouse single malt whiskies, a pot still and a column. Both are made from Isle of Sheppey barley, malted at Muntons in East Anglia. The Russell family has issued something called the Invicta charter, a set of rules for how whisky should be made and labelled. 

The main points are that grains have to come from within 50 miles of the distillery, all operations after malting but including fermentation must take place under one roof and it includes a system for labelling whisky that is clear to the consumer stating the grains and type of still used.

The same slow-fermented malted barley wash is the basis for both single malts. Following distillation in a column or pot, they are aged predominantly in ex-bourbon casks with some virgin American oak. The ageing is interesting, with all casks spending one year in the distillery where it gets very hot in the summer, up to 40 degrees Celsius, but goes down to 6 degrees in the winter. So not dissimilar to bourbon ageing. They then send the casks to a temperature-controlled bonded warehouse in Liverpool. So far they have filled around 600 barrels.

Bob Russell told me that an unnamed Scots distiller had said that the three-year-old Masthouse malts had the maturity and balance of eight-year-old Scotch whiskies. 

Tasting Masthouse whiskies

This focus on quality and precision every step of the way has really paid off. You can read what I thought of the pot still malt here in detail. To summarise, I’d say it was about the best young single malt I’ve ever tried: fruity, harmonious, packed with flavour but not overworked, the use of oak is just perfect. Banik has avoided the two pitfalls of young malts: trying to get too much flavour in from different cask types and making the resulting whisky rather hard work, or just creating something pleasant but a bit bland.

Both are bottled at 45% ABV (there is also a cask strength pot still which I didn’t try) but the column tastes noticeably different. There’s less oak on the nose with oaty cereal, spicy rye and lots of fruit such as peaches, and oranges. When you taste it, the body is lighter, you don’t get the rich mouthfeel and it is a little spirity. Perhaps not as harmonious as the pot still but then flavours of toffee and caramel come in at the end, with a long lingering sweet finish. It’ll make a great Highball. 

Coming soon…

Finally, Fayose had a treat for us, a cask sample of the forthcoming single grain whisky. This comes off the column at a lower ABV than the neutral grain, Russell said around 80%, before going into cask. There’s that banana note on the nose, custard, baking spices and tropical fruit with no raw spirit notes. Then in the mouth, it’s spice city with chilli, black pepper and a feel like popping candy on the finish. Masses of character –  this will be a killer mixing whisky. I think bartenders will love it.

Russell also mentioned, tantalisingly, Banik has been over to Jerez to source some sherry casks from a small producer. Nothing has been filled yet but the thought of a sherry cask Masthouse is extremely exciting. I’d love to see a blended whisky when they have enough casks filled. Wouldn’t that be great?

Skate wing at Copper Rivet Distillery

Skate wing at Copper Rivet Distillery, with THAT view behind

Appreciating that view

Following the tasting, Russell took us through to the terrace overlooking the river. During the lockdown, the team turned this part of the distillery into a restaurant and tapas bar called the Pumproom. The original cast iron pump is still there, in the wine store. They’ve hired chef Will Freeman who makes full use of Kent’s great produce. Bob Russell is a big seafood fan.

I had some beautifully-seared scallops served with cured trout, followed by a minute steak with chips. All around, people were enjoying the food, drinks and that incredible view. Chatham becoming a tourist destination? Why not?

The Copper Rivet is available from Master of Malt.

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New Arrival of the Week: The Lakes Miramar

This week’s New Arrival is a MoM exclusive: a limited-edition single malt from The Lakes Distillery in England that is part-matured in Port casks. It’s called The Lakes Miramar! We’ve…

This week’s New Arrival is a MoM exclusive: a limited-edition single malt from The Lakes Distillery in England that is part-matured in Port casks. It’s called The Lakes Miramar!

We’ve long been fans of The Lakes Distillery in Cumbria here at Master of Malt. We’ve visited, made films, eaten at the great on-site restaurant and, most of all, enjoyed the excellent whisky coming out of this most gorgeously-situated English distillery.

Despite being founded as recently as 2011, the distillery has some solid whisky heritage. Co-founder Paul Currie was involved with setting up the Isle of Arran Distillery. Then in 2016, The Lakes announced a big signing, Dhavall Gandhi, who swapped the might and majesty of Macallan, for a small operation that had yet to release its own whisky.

whisky lakes distillery

Dhavall Gandhi doing that thing with his glass that whisky pros do

For the love of sherry casks

Gandhi brought a love and knowledge of sherry casks on the journey down south. They have since become a key part of the distillery’s style. But he also gets to let his hair down a bit experimenting with different ageing regimes under the Whiskeymaker’s Edition banner. 

So, when we were offered an exclusive English whisky just for Master of Malt, we jumped at the chance. This limited edition single malt is part-matured in Port casks and called ‘Miramar’, meaning ‘seaview’. It sounds much more glamorous in Portuguese conjuring up images of Lisbon rather than a bungalow in Birchington-on-Sea.

But before we take a look at Miramar, it’s worth going into The Lakes production process because it’s a bit unusual. Gandhi starts with the basic building blocks of Scotch whisky, and then makes them really complicated. 

Broccoli and marshmallows

It all starts with the yeast. He uses three types: a traditional Scotch yeast, a French yeast, and a heritage yeast. As Gandhi puts it: “each yeast behaves like a child faced with a plate of broccoli and marshmallows. Given the choice, it will gorge on the sugariest treats first, until they, and it, are spent. That is why we activate each strain of yeast independently, on different days of the week, to ensure the most aggressive yeast doesn’t eat all of the ‘marshmallows’, leaving only the ‘broccoli’ for the weakest. We want each of the yeasts to interact with all of the fermentable sugars, to give the best possible character and flavour.”

So each fermentation with each yeast takes place separately producing three different washes. Each yeast brings something different to the party, the heritage yeast in particular creating waxy notes. Each fermentation takes 96 hours, double the time of most Scotch whiskies. Unusually, the washes go through malolactic fermentation where the sharp malic acid is turned into creamy lactic acid.

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery

Keeping it complicated

Things get even more complicated on the distillation side because Gandhi creates two different new make spirits from each wash. One lot goes through a copper condenser and, as we all know, more copper contact equals a lighter spirit. The other goes through a stainless steel condenser which means more heavier compounds are kept. The spirit comes off the stills at around 67% ABV and it’s diluted down to 58% ABV. The three different yeast strains are blended before going into casks, with the different weights of new makes aged apart.

As you might have guessed by now, Gandhi has a bewildering choice of casks to choose from. As an ex-Macallan man, you know that he’s going to be pretty keen on sherry. Not just Oloroso but Fino, Cream, and PX, from American and European oak. He uses both 500-litre butts and 250-litre hogsheads. They are the basis of The Lakes’ style. He told us ahead of the distillery’s first single malt releases: “If you like sherry bombs you are going to like the initial releases of Lakes Distillery!” 

Around 80-90% of the casks used are ex-sherry. But it’s not all about the sherry. There are bourbon casks, naturally. Gandhi can also play around with Moscatel, red wine casks, Port, and even orange wine casks – that’s a special kind of wine made from oranges popular in Southern Spain.

The Lakes Miramar Highball (1)

Makes a cracking Highball

The Lakes Miramar

It’s those Port pipes, however, that are the inspiration for this week’s New Arrival. The whisky is part-matured in these giant 600-litre casks. It’s blended with bourbon-matured whisky so you get vanilla, coconut, and tropical fruit that you get from ex-bourbon casks, with red fruit and plums you get from maturation in a Port pipe.

Miramar is bottled at a punchy 54% ABV with no chill-filtering. It’s a delightful fun drop, happy sipped neat, as most of us do with single malt, but also a great mixer. That high ABV makes it a cocktail whisky par excellence. We love it in a simple Highball but The Lakes has come up with some more elaborate cocktails such as the Spritz recipe below. There’s also a suitably romantic label (below), designed by an artist called Tom Clohosy Cole, inspired by Lisbon. It’s almost as good a summer holiday in Portugal. 

Miramar Spritz

45ml of The Lakes Miramar whisky
10ml of Taylor’s Chip Dry white port
10ml of Aperol
100ml of green tea kombucha.

Fill a Highball glass with ice, add the first four ingredients, stir and top with kombucha. Garnish with a sprig of thyme and dried apricot.

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Dried cherry, brandy snaps, fresh peaches, a waft of sea air and a touch of buttery malt.

Palate: Salted caramel tart, red plums, softly toasted barley, cinnamon, orange oil, still subtly coastal.

Finish: Lingering hints honey and stewed fruits last on the finish.

Only 600 individually-numbered bottles of The Lakes Miramar have been filled. They are available exclusively from Master of Malt, one bottle per customer. It is now sold out

The Lakes Miramar label

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Oxford Rye Whisky is here!

One of the most anticipated releases of the last few years is here. The first rye whisky from the Oxford Artisan Distillery, and we are pleased to say it’s every…

One of the most anticipated releases of the last few years is here. The first rye whisky from the Oxford Artisan Distillery, and we are pleased to say it’s every bit as good we hoped. We talk to master distiller Chico Rosa and tell you how you can get your hands on a bottle of Oxford Rye Whisky.

We’ve been big fans of the Oxford Artisan Distillery since it began distilling in 2017. We love its grain-to-glass ethos, it was certified organic in 2020, emphasis on heritage grains and, of course, the spirits coming out of there like the rye vodka and the rye gin.

But the distillery was really set up to make English whisky and in particular rye, and we’ve hardly been able to contain our impatience as the first batches mature. Now the wait is over, and we finally have some. Is it any good? Reader, it’s every bit as delicious as we hoped. See below for how you can get hold of a bottle.

Chico Rosa

Chico Rosa, not only a great distillery but a great name too

Introducing master distiller Chico Rosa

We were fortunate enough to get a little sample and some time with master distiller Chico Rosa. His family makes wine near Lisbon and he intended to follow in their footsteps but he fell in love with brewing while at college. From there, he did a masters in brewing and distilling at Heriot Watt in Scotland before joining the Oxford Artisan Distillery.

The inaugural rye release is made from a mashbill of 70% rye, 20% wheat and 10% malted barley. The cereals were harvested in 2017 from farms local to the distillery. The rye was co-planted with wheat which improves soil health, biodiversity and yield. 

As thick as porridge

Rosa told us he used an old mill from the 1930s which rolls rather than crushes the grains. Consequently, the resulting mash was so thick that, “we could stand an oar up in it.” It was fermented in Hungarian oak vats for a week: “not too hot or cold, or slow or fast” which builds up lots of fruity flavours, says Rosa. He added: “our mash gets lots of lactic bacteria for a super creamy profile.”

This porridge-like substance is then double-distilled in Nautilus, one of the beautiful copper stills built by the team at South Devon Railway and inspired by steam engines (see below). Rosa told us that “it caramelises around the steam coils in the still” producing flavours of “overbaked sourdough and smoky notes.” It was then aged in new American oak casks for just over three years. He said that they were planning to bottle in December but it wasn’t quite ready. This first batch is a blend of two casks and bottled at 46.3% ABV

Well it is ready now and how! The spiciness is incredible taking in cinnamon, cardamom and chilli. The oak doesn’t dominate and the texture is sweet, nutty and creamy. It’s one of the best ryes we’ve ever had and that includes some really fancy stuff from the home of rye, America. Yes, it’s really that good. We tried it alongside an unaged rye from the 2019 harvest and you can taste the DNA, the same big spices, aromatics and smooth, sweet texture.

Oxford Rye Whisky

It tastes as good as it looks

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Big spices initially cardamom and Sichuan pepper, then cinnamon and cloves with freshly baked bread and dark chocolate.

Palate: Black pepper, chillies and gingernut biscuits, with dark chocolate, toffee, and baking spices and an intense herbal character running through it. The texture is smooth and sweet.

Finish: It’s that aromatic cardamom notes that lingers, and lingers and lingers. That’s one long finish. 

So yes, definitely worth waiting for. We tried it neat but we think it’ll make a killer Manhattan.

Exciting plans for the future

There’s so many exciting things on the horizon: including a 51% corn whisky which Rosa describes as “so chewy, you can chew this liquid, I’ve never tried a bourbon like this.” They work with four local farms to source a variety of cereals including oats and spelt: “we want to express the field in a bottle.” There will be different cask ryes like manzanilla, moscatel, and vintage and tawny Ports. He’s also experimenting with triple distillation. The “steam punk” set-up allows for a lot of variety in the new makes produced. Oh, and there are some single malts maturing too. 

But back to the Oxford Rye.

TOAD_Nautilus 1-medium

The ‘steampunk’ set-up at the distillery. This still is called Nautilus

Yes, yes, but how can I get my hands on a bottle?

As we only have 48 bottles to sell, demand is going to outstrip supply so as we always do in these cases, we’re going to do a lottery for a chance to buy a bottle. Those who’ve seen our previous lotteries will know we do this because we want to be as fair as possible. As always, our sweary and handy post from 2016 will shed some more light on our policy.

As usual, the action will be taking place on the product page. The timeline is below. The bottle will feature the message “I hereby swear not to sell this bottle – but to drink it with my chums. May my taste-buds and olfactory bulb shrivel and die if I should break my word.” For those of you who are lucky enough to get hold of a bottle, we are aiming to send them out from 30 April.

Timeline

When you’re ready to enter, simply head here. Don’t comment on the blog, email us or badger the distillery on social media. It won’t help. Just go to the product page. The lottery runs from Friday 23 April 12:00 to Monday 26 April 13:00 BST.

Good luck!

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New Arrival of the Week: Cotswolds Sherry Cask Single Malt

Just landed at Master of Malt towers: very special sherry-soaked single malt from those pioneers of English whisky, the Cotswolds Distillery. The Cotswolds Distillery released its first single malt back…

Just landed at Master of Malt towers: very special sherry-soaked single malt from those pioneers of English whisky, the Cotswolds Distillery.

The Cotswolds Distillery released its first single malt back in 2017. Not that long ago but a lifetime in the world of English whisky. Since then single malts from Copper Rivet and Anno have both gone on sale, and that’s just in Kent. When the Cotswolds Distillery was founded in 2013, only the English Whisky Co. in Norfolk and Adnams in Suffolk had whisky to sell. Now there’s an English whisky scene.

Daniel Szor, founder of the Cotswolds Distillery

Daniel Szor, founder of the Cotswolds Distillery

Spirit guides

The Cotswolds Distillery was the dream of New York financier Daniel Szor. The aim was to create world class single malt whisky using traditional techniques and Cotswolds barley. 

To help bring some money in, Szor launched a gin, and was somewhat surprised when it became such a hit. He writes in his recently-published book, Spirit Guide, “Since gin can be distilled one day and sold the next, I knew it was likely to help our young whisky distillery’s cash flow problem to a certain extent.” And what a cash flow problem he had, in the book he’s candid about the amount he spent on the distillery, £1.2 million including stills from Forsyths.

When it came to consultancy, Szor also went to the best, the late Jim Swan (you can read a great appreciation of Swan’s legacy by Ian Buxton here). Szor writes: “Jim had a profound understanding of the alchemy that takes place between whisky and wood in a way that no one else has since managed to match.” 

He goes on to explain Swan’s innovative techniques for ageing whisky: “Jim knew the best coopers in the world and, together with one of them, he would take a red wine cask, shave it on the inside, taking off the stained wood to expose that beneath it, which they would then toast over a heat source for half an hour, caramelising the wood, before setting it on fire and creating a charred layer on the inside. The result was a whisky which had the best elements of a fine French brandy, a hearty American bourbon and a delicately-balanced Scottish single malt.” 

Which is a great description of the taste of the standard Cotswolds single malt. This NAS bottling was received warmly on its release and since then has become something of a classic. It’s smooth creamy flavour makes it a great cocktail whisky as well as a good sipper. 

Cotswolds Sherry Cask Single Malt

Cotswolds Sherry Cask Single Malt

Restless creativity

The team of master distiller Nickolas Franchino (recently awarded title of master distiller by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling) and Alice Pearson in charge new product development clearly has a restless creative side judging by the number of limited releases the distillery produces. There are seasonal gins, liqueurs including an amaro and, of course, some special cask single malts. 

Many of these are only available direct from the distillery, so we were very pleased to get some bottles of this latest limited release. As always, it’s made from barley grown within 10 miles of the distillery, and double-distilled. But it’s then matured in a combination of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez-seasoned American and Spanish oak butts and hogsheads and bottled at a punchy 57.1% ABV.

Franchino commented: “I love a sherry cask whisky as it is one of the truly iconic single malt whisky styles. Good sherry casks give rich, fruity, spicy and nutty flavours that marry perfectly with the underlying malt character and are a joy to savour.”

There’s a full tasting note below but we have to say that we absolutely loved this. It’s a mixture of the aromatically spicy, think cardamom, mint and black pepper, with the sweet, rum, raisin, chocolate, toffee and vanilla plus savoury wood tannins and masses of fruit, dark cherries and apples. It manages to be very rich and fresh at the same time and it’s absolutely gorgeous at that high ABV. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Toasted (and slightly burnt) fruitcake, with stewed, spiced apple, brown sugar, and candied ginger.

Palate: Flamed orange peel, fruit and nut dark chocolate, cherry jam, and a touch of vanilla ice cream.

Finish: Black pepper balances heaps of dried berries.

Cotswold Sherry Cask Single Malt is available from Master of Malt, while stocks last. See the whole Cotswolds range here.

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Realising Devon’s whisky potential with Dartmoor Whisky Distillery

A few years ago a group of friends visited Islay to learn all about whisky and asked why no one ever made whisky in Devon. That idea eventually turned into a…

A few years ago a group of friends visited Islay to learn all about whisky and asked why no one ever made whisky in Devon. That idea eventually turned into a brand. This is the story of Dartmoor Whisky Distillery.

If you’re interested in founding a distillery in England, there’s plenty of great places to choose from. But few areas tick quite as many boxes as Devon. While sandy beaches, medieval towns and national parks will appeal to tourists, whisky lovers will note the abundance of high-quality barley, pure spring water and a coastal climate perfect for maturation. Devon native Greg Miller realised all of this back in 2009. He and a group of friends had ventured to Islay to take part in an intensive distillation course at Bruichladdich. The experience made him realise his home county had everything needed to make great whisky. So he teamed up with partner Simon Crow to found the Dartmoor Whisky Distillery.

The first thing they needed was a still. The duo immediately hit a roadblock, however, after visiting Forsyths of Rothes in Scotland only to return with a sizable quote and a potential spot on a two-year waiting list. Old connections and happenstance provided the solution. A lifelong friendship established with a French exchange student as a child caused Miller’s love-affair with France, where he owns a house. While there in the summer of 2014 it occurred to him that there’s an awful lot of distillation going on in Cognac. He wondered if he could find a still down there. 

As luck would have it, there was a tiny advert for one posted on a French agricultural website by Miguel D’Anjou, a third-generation Cognac master distiller. His still was built in 1966 and was in operation until 1994 when the family upgraded to two larger stills and it was mothballed. Miller and Crow were able to purchase and refurbish the still, even establishing a relationship with D’Anjou who ended up teaching the duo a lot about distillation.

The Dartmoor Distillery's unique Cognac still

The Dartmoor Distillery’s unique Cognac still

Making Devonshire drams at Dartmoor Whisky Distillery

While Dartmoor Whisky Distillery is not the first or only whisky distillery to use a Cognac still, it’s certainly rare and there are some significant differences between it and a traditional whisky pot still. The shape of the head on the 1400-litre Alembic still is very bulbous, while the swan neck is very narrow. This creates a very high level of reflux. Crow explains: “Before the vapours get up the swan neck they fold back on themselves an awful lot. Then the swan neck is very narrow so it distils our spirit very slowly, probably about a quarter to a third the speed of a traditional whisky pot still. This creates an incredibly smooth, sweet new make”. Then there’s the central copper ‘wash warmer’ which sits between the still and the condenser. While the first charge of beer wash is distilling, this holds and preheats the next charge, both saving energy and doubling the time that the wash is in contact with copper.

Despite inspiration striking on Islay, it was never Miller and Crow’s intention to make peated whisky. Partly because the local barley traditionally wasn’t peated and Crow says the duo is determined that the whisky is a product of Dartmoor. All of its barley, 50 tonnes a year, is sourced from Preston Farm, which supplies a lot of Devonshire breweries too. The barley is malted at the legendary Warminster Maltings, then it goes to Dartmoor Brewery who make a 9% ABV beer wash. Post distillation that 9% ABV beer is a 70% ABV spirit which is reduced with water down to the barrel strength of 63% ABV. That’s pure Dartmoor spring water sourced from a 200-foot deep borehole up on the moor at Holne that’s been filtered over the course of two centuries through peat, granite and more. 

The first releases are expressions matured in ex-bourbon, ex-Oloroso sherry and ex-Bordeaux red wine casks, which make up the bulk of Dartmoor Whisky Distillery’s wood programme. There are some Port and Madeira casks that are being used to finish some ex-bourbon expressions, however, and Miller’s love of smokier drams means some new make has been popped into ex-Laphroaig casks. The first 50 casks are stored underneath the distillery, but the majority are housed in a local warehouse to make the most of that Dartmoor climate. The plan was to vat whisky from the three primary casks together, but after master distiller Frank McCardy tasted each spirit after a year of ageing he advised Miller and Crow that each expression was too interesting and should stand on their own.

The Dartmoor Distillery

The Dartmoor Distillery

A beautiful building and a bright future

If you’re wondering, yes that it is the Frank McCardy of Springbank and Bushmills Distillery, who brought his 50+ years of experience to Dartmoor. An old friend of Miller and Crow, the Cognac still and integrity of the process was intriguing enough to McCardy to tempt him to lend expertise, despite being in semi-retirement. “We consult him on everything we are doing”, Crow says. With D’Anjou and McHardy guiding them, Miller and Crow currently handle the bulk of the distillation. This year they will be employing a distiller, however, who will have the pleasure of working out of one of England’s most scenic distilleries.

You’ll find Dartmoor Whisky Distillery in the Old Town Hall in Bovey Tracey. It became available when the council moved to a new building. “It would be easier to have a more logistical space with a big modern warehouse. But it’s such a beautiful building. It dates back to the 1860s and for us to be able to give that lovely historic building a new lease of life was great,” Crow says. The striking still sits on a stage while the rest of the hall is a visitors centre complete with a bar. A retail shop is now open and when tourism picks back up, you can bet the Dartmoor Distillery is handily placed to take advantage.

Crow tells us that a gin distilled in another old copper Cognac still, this one from 1890, with some local Dartmoor botanicals is on the way. But for now, we’re most interested in Dartmoor’s three core expressions and tasting them we found plenty of reasons to be optimistic. The Bourbon Cask is delicate, refined and balanced, with plenty of distillery character (sparkling orchard fruit, warm biscuit crumble and a honeyed element) and some solid cask integration. The Bordeaux Cask melds pleasantly with the new make and adds some intriguing elements. But the Sherry Cask is the standout dram so far. Those dense, sweet and rich Oloroso notes mask any immaturity and you can tell the quality of the cask itself is first-rate from how complex its flavours are. All three have had not enough time in their respective casks yet and demonstrate some raw spirit qualities (particularly in the Bourbon Cask). But it’s promising to taste a forming distillery character and to see another emerging producer resisting the urge to overload the oak in an effort to mask its youth.

There’s a lot of potential here. And thanks to the local barley, water, floor maltings, it’s whisky that’s Devon through and through. To grab yourself a bottle head to the Dartmoor Whisky Distillery page.

The Dartmoor Distillery range

The Dartmoor Distillery range

Tasting Dartmoor Whisky Distillery’s whisky

Dartmoor Bourbon Cask Matured Whisky

Nose: There’s a big malty backdrop (almost into beer/shandy territory) to this one which combined with some heat and raw touches reveal its youth. But it also showcases plenty of Dartmoor distillery character, green apples, Rich Tea biscuits and acacia honey in this case. Among those notes, you’ll find heaps of vanilla, as well as Scotch tablet, flour and a little black pepper. With time comes hints of milk chocolate, nectarines, orange blossom and white wine grapes. Then also a faint nutty quality as well as pencil shavings and a hint of strawberries and cream.

Palate: More of that biscuity, malty goodness at the core, alongside toffee, vanilla, baking spices and a little toasted oak as the cask presence makes itself more known. There’s also a little more of that citrus character from lemon zest. Also some dried grass, toasted almond and cacao powder. Throughout there are more honeycomb and crisp green apple flavours. Underneath there’s touches of marshmallow, melon, apricot yoghurt and cream soda to make themselves known.

Finish: A tad dry and carrying some peppery heat, but plenty of honey, fruit and a little gingerbread keeps things pleasant.

Dartmoor Bordeaux Cask Matured Whisky 

Nose: The wine cask makes itself known from the off with a mixed summer berry compote (blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries, redcurrants, strawberries) at the forefront alongside tannic red apple skins, plum, clove and some stony minerality. Notes of Manuka honey, caramel shortbread and a hint of sweet tobacco then develop. With more time comes orange peel, crunchy brown sugar, black peppercorn and cinnamon. There’s also some dried earth, melted chocolate and red chilli heat. Throughout that raw new make threatens to derail things slightly but never gets a firm grip on the nose.

Palate: Kellogg’s Fruit and Fibre, drying wood tannins and red berries lead, with walnut oil, posh dark chocolate and apple chutney in support. Among hints of candied orange there’s crème caramel, gingernuts, black pepper and damsons. Touches of peppermint, tomato puree and flint are present in the backdrop.

Finish: Medium finish with soft nutmeg, red and black Wine Gums and cocoa powder.

Dartmoor Sherry Cask Matured Whisky

Nose: Classic rich and nutty Oloroso goodness kicks things off with Corinth raisins, figs and stewed plums supported by sticky toffee, marmalade, manuka honey and walnut. There’s notes of damp earth, sherry-stained oak and tobacco leaves in the backdrop, as well as brown sugar, caramelised orchard fruit, stem ginger and brandy butter.

Palate: Through treacle, juicy dark fruits and some woody tannins there’s coconut, vanilla pod sweetness and thick caramel. Toasty cereals, sherried spice and the slightest menthol heat add depth. Underneath there’s dark honey, malt extract, rum and raisin ice cream and a little marzipan.

Finish: Some cinnamon and cacao powder keeps more summer berries company.  

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Five minutes with… John McCarthy, head distiller at Adnams

We spoke with head distiller John McCarthy about Adnams’ the grain-to-glass process, being a pioneer British craft distiller and the crucial difference between wash and beer. Oh, and he has…

We spoke with head distiller John McCarthy about Adnams’ the grain-to-glass process, being a pioneer British craft distiller and the crucial difference between wash and beer. Oh, and he has some quite strong views on pink gin.

Created within the Adnams brewery grounds in the picturesque English seaside town of Southwold, the Adnams Copper House Distillery opened in 2010. According to Adnams, it was the first brewery to be legally allowed to install a distillery in the UK. Today, Adnams counts gin, vodka, whisky, cream liqueur and distilled Broadside beer among its spirits. Head distiller John McCarthy has been there since (before) the start so who better to explain the whole thing to us?

Master of Malt: How did you go from an engineer to a head distiller, John?

John McCarthy: I started at Adnams 20 years ago now, in 2001, as an engineer from an electrical background. I came here to look after the electrical stuff that keeps the brewery running. As an engineer, I run projects and a project came along to put a distillery in.

We started talking about it in 2009 and I was deemed the best engineer for the job because I had done some brewing exams. So, I looked into how a distillery works and what you need to do. I did a five-day course in the States, set up by the German stills company, Carl. They were pretty busy in the US at the time, because the craft distillery movement was really taking off. Jonathan Adnams came along with me because it was his idea for the distillery and on the plane home, I asked him who would run it. He said he hadn’t thought about it, so I said, ‘I’ll give it a go’. That was my job interview.

Adnams Copper House Distillery

The lavish stills set-up at the Copper House Distillery

MoM: What was the craft distilling scene in the UK like back then?

JMcC: It was new and exciting. The English Whisky Co. was going, Chase had started. There were very few of us and after that, distilleries were popping up everywhere, within a few years. A lot of people said to me at the time, ‘do you really like all these other distilleries popping up?’ And I thought it was great because the gin category exploded when there was an explosion of gin producers. If there hadn’t been 50 gin distillers, there wouldn’t have been the gin craze. It’s the variety of products that actually caused the craze to happen.

MoM: So, is that what you set out to make first? Gin?

JMcC: Gin first, but Jonathan’s angle, always, is that because we’re a brewer, it’s going to be grain to glass, we’re not going to buy neutral grain spirit. I have used NGS in the past, but only for contract gins, which we make for a couple of different people. We buy NGS for that because the vodka I make to make our gins is quite precious to us, it’s quite labour intensive to make.

MoM: Tell us about the grain to glass process…

With our grain to glass approach, the brewers had to learn to make a distillery wash. There are differences that happen in the brewhouse. When you mix your malted barley or whatever grains you’re using with warm water, you’re getting enzymes to break down the starches into sugars. When you brew beer, you want that to be at a certain temperature so you get a make-up of sugars that are fermentable and non-fermentable, you want long chain sugars like dextrin, because you want sweetness. And you want sugars that are smaller, like maltose and glucose, which will ferment into alcohol. You want alcohol, but you also need to retain some sugars that will not ferment. That’s beer. When you make a distillery wash, you want it all to be fermentable because you can’t distil sugar – you’re just wasting starch.

Barrels at Adnams Copper House Distillery

Wood experimentation in an important part of McCarthy’s job

MoM: Speaking of beer, how’s Spirit of Broadside doing? Have you made spirits from any of the other beer brands?

JMcC: We haven’t. Lots of people love Spirit of Broadside but the problem we have is it’s a hard sell. We basically did it as a stepping stone to making whisky. It helped us to have a brown spirit early on. We’ve still got some, we still make it. The big advantage of having our own shops is we can get people to try it before they buy it.

MoM: Rumour has it you use a pretty interesting yeast strain…

JMcC: Adnams yeast is two different strains, which we’ve had since about 1940. They are called class one and class three and we like to have 50% of each. If we have 50% of class one and class three, we get good, steady, vigorous fermentation – a good performance. We get the right amount of alcohol, everything’s lovely. If it gets out of 50/50, then we get problems: stuck fermentations, cloudy beer, all sorts. The problem we have is class one is a chain-forming yeast – it is very vigorous, and dominant. Class three (you can see the difference under a microscope) is ones and twos [as opposed to chains] and it is not so strong, it tends to get dominated by the other one. So, we have to propagate class three and do regular yeast counts. That’s the yeast we use for everything. And it’s free!

John McCarthy head distiller Adnams

John McCarthy in action at the Adnams Copper House Distillery

MoM: Adnams is also known for its wine business – are you doing anything exciting in the distillery with wine casks?

JMcC: We filled some Port and sherry casks with new make. They’ve been laid down for five years now. We have our three whiskies – our rye, a triple malt and a single malt. The single malt has gone into the sherry and Port casks, which I’m keeping. I’m into the idea that we need to do special releases. I want to do distiller’s choice-type releases, where I’ll just pick a single cask and bottle it. The sherry and Port might go for that.

I did buy some TGS (tight grain selection) barrels. They cost an awful lot of money but the tight grain, apparently, in the fine wine industry, gives a more refined wine, it just takes a lot longer to get there. So, I bought some of those to see what they did with spirits. I’ve got an experiment that’s been going with those for about seven years now. I’ve not even tried it. I will soon.

I’d say over 90% of the barrels I buy have never been used – freshly made and freshly toasted, straight from the cooperage in France. We do fill some ex-bourbon because our single malt is a blend of French oak and ex-bourbon, 66:33. If this distiller’s choice idea kicks off, I will buy some wine barrels to do some finishes in.

We’ve also made one barrel, about eight years ago now, of brandy from locally grown grapes. There’s a vineyard about 14 miles away from here and I bought a couple of thousand litres of wine off them and distilled that into brandy. Suffolk grapes making Suffolk brandy. It is a mix of Seyval Blanc and a bit of Müller-Thurgau.

Adnams Copper House Distillery

Southwold’s famous lighthouse reflected in a still window

MoM: Any other future plans you want to share?

JMcC: I’d like to grow whisky. I think English whisky is going to be a thing. There are around 20 people making whisky in England and Wales. So, it would be nice to get together and become a category. We’ll continue with gin, we’re doing seasonal gins. To come up with another great gin is always a good thing.

MoM: Do you think gin has still got legs?

JMcC: I think it’s on the wane. I don’t think that’s an issue, I think that’s probably a good thing. There are some gins that I don’t agree with – pink gin.  Hold my hands up, I make a pink gin but I try to make a pink gin that still tastes like a gin. There are a lot of gins out there that don’t. You can’t really call them gins but they’ve got gin on the label. I know the WSTA and the Gin Guild are working very hard to get rid of some of those.

MoM: Do you do any alcohol-free spirits?

I have played with it. I thought I ought to find out because someone is one day going to say, ‘John, make an alcohol-free spirit’, and I need to know how to do it. But we did some research and there really isn’t much money in it. It’s not a big category. There’s a lot of shouting about it, though.

MoM: What has been the biggest surprise when it comes to distillery life?

JMcC: How much fun it has been. When you’re an engineer, you just get called to install stuff and fix stuff. Going from that to actually being someone who makes something and gets good feedback for things I’ve made, or a recipe – that’s one of the highlights.

MoM: What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?

JMcC: I’d probably still be an engineer. I’d be fixing someone else’s distillery, on my hands and knees in a puddle.

The Adnams spirits range is available from Master of Malt.

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Master of Malt visits… The Lakes Distillery

Just before lockdown we squeezed in one last trip to the stunning Lakes Distillery – although we didn’t know it was going to be the last. Luckily we captured our…

Just before lockdown we squeezed in one last trip to the stunning Lakes Distillery – although we didn’t know it was going to be the last. Luckily we captured our wonderful time through the magic of video, so you can enjoy it too!

From the glorious landscapes to the wonders of the whisky studio, Lakes whisky maker Dhavall Gandhi showed us all the sites when we made our way up to Cumbria to take a nose around the distillery. If you’ve ever wanted to know more about sherry casks or the burgeoning English whisky category, or both at the same time, then you’re in the right place.

If you like words as well as videos, then you can check out our blog on what we learned at the distillery here!

First up, we chat with Gandhi about how he ended up in the whisky business, having started in the finance industry!

In Part 2 of our interview with Gandhi, we learn more about his unique holistic whisky making process and get an insight into a day in the life of The Lakes whisky maker.

Time for a sneak peek into each of the production processes at The Lakes, including a special insight into the importance of fermentation, with Gandhi as our guide.

Let’s talk all things cask maturation! It’s time to learn about the brilliance of sherry casks and different types of oak.

Blending is a huge part of Gandhi’s process, and here in his shiny whisky studio he explains about how blending whisky is a lot like art.

Tasting time! First up is Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.3, tasted by the whisky maker himself.

Gandhi tastes us through The ONE Signature Blend, taking us through how the Lakes own single malt works alongside Scotch grain and malt whiskies.

Time for some juniper, as Gandhi tastes and talks us through why The Lakes Classic Gin is indeed a classic.

Last, but certainly not least, The Lakes Pink Grapefruit Gin tasted by Gandhi, including his perfect serve.

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