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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Glenfarclas

The Nightcap: 26 June

The Nightcap is filled to the brim with all kinds of boozy news in a week that saw the UK government announce the return of pubs, bars and restaurants!  My…

The Nightcap is filled to the brim with all kinds of boozy news in a week that saw the UK government announce the return of pubs, bars and restaurants! 

My word, it was properly hot in Kent this week. The kind of heat that makes you think we need to rip up our infrastructure and immediately start installing air conditioning in all buildings, and making it law for gardens to have some kind of pool facility. Given that’s not likely to happen, we’re going to have to make do with what we have. We can always grab a suitably summery drink with plenty of ice, find some shade, and enjoy another delightful round-up of all things booze. Sounds lovely. 

On the MoM blog this week, Ian Buxton returned to tell a pretty remarkable story (it’s got whisky publicity stunts, Christo and Dewar’s World of Whisky. What else could you possibly want?), then Kristy made some delightfully simple Scotch cocktails with Stephen Martin from Whyte & Mackay. MoM Towers received some very special deliveries of whisky in the last few days, so naturally, we decided to write about them. The third Whiskymaker’s Reserve from the Lakes Distillery arrived, and Jess was on hand to talk us through the brand’s process; a delightful single cask release from John Crabbie & Co became our New Arrival of the Week; and Henry got the lowdown on what he described as being some of the most eagerly-anticipated expressions ever, Waterford’s Single Farm Origin whisky. If that wasn’t enough, Annie did an outstanding deep dive into the delights of yeast, the unsung hero of distillation, before compiling an easy guide to help you master blender cocktails. We then enjoyed the ultimate DIY cocktail as Adam talked to Alexander Gabriel to hear about how he made a craft gin way back in the 90s.

We’d also like to say thank you to all who entered last week’s virtual pub quiz, where so many of you were in sparkling form. There can only be one winner, though, and that accolade goes to Robbie Ingram, who now has a delightful £25 MoM gift voucher to put to good use! You can check out the answers to last Friday’s quiz below, and the final edition of MoM pub quiz will be on our blog from 5pm as always. That’s right. It’s the last one. Get entering! 

The Nightcap

We can’t wait to see this sweet sight again…

Pubs, bars and restaurants to open on 4th July

It’s the news this industry has been waiting for: the hospitality industry is back, baby! Well, sort of. The government has announced this week that the Covid-19 lockdown is set to be relaxed in England, and the 2-metre social distancing rule eased to the so-called ‘1 metre-plus’. This will allow a number of venues to reopen, including bars, pubs, and restaurants. But there are conditions, naturally. Places can open providing they follow safety guidelines, such as limiting table service indoors, minimising the contact between staff and customers, and keeping contact details of customers to help with contact tracing. People will be encouraged to use ‘mitigation’, such as face coverings and not sitting face-to-face when within 2m of each other. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that all these steps were “reversible” should there be spikes in coronavirus cases, while in Scotland and Wales the 2m rule will remain in place for the moment. Speaking on the developments, Nightcap homie and chief executive of the WSTA Miles Beale said that the opening up of our pubs, bars and restaurants comes as a huge relief to the businesses, and that it’s right that the move comes with caution. “This welcome news does not mean that the hospitality sector and their suppliers are no longer in need of Government support,” he said. “Recovery from the loss of trade over the last few months will mean that some businesses will not be able to open immediately or fully and others will take years to get themselves back on an even keel.” If you are going to head to a bar, pub, and/or restaurant on the 4th of July or after, please be safe, and enjoy!

The Nightcap

The brilliant initiative will hopefully lessen the impact of Covid-19 on the hospitality industry

Diageo launches £80m recovery fund for bars and pubs

In more good news for the hospitality sector, Diageo has announced a new global programme called Raising the Bar, which aims to help pubs and bars welcome customers back and recover following the Covid-19 pandemic. Through Raising the Bar, Diageo will provide £80 million ($100 million) to support the recovery of major hospitality centres such as New York, London, Sao Paulo, Shanghai, Delhi and more. The two-year programme, which is available from July 2020, was designed following a global survey of bar owners to identify what they need to reopen after lockdown. Top priorities included hygiene measures, digital support and practical equipment to transform how their outlets will work. In the UK, for example, Diageo will provide initial funding for ‘hygiene kits’ with high-quality permanent sanitiser dispenser units, medical-grade hand sanitiser, and a range of personal protection equipment (such as masks and gloves). Other support includes help setting up online reservations and cashless systems, plus mobile bars and outdoor equipment. If bar owners want to register their interest, they can do so via www.diageobaracademy.com globally and www.mydiageo.com in the UK and Ireland. Regular updates on best-practice training and resources are provided, and you can participate in global surveys to share insights. Ivan Menezes, Diageo chief executive, said the company is also calling on governments around the world to provide long-term recovery packages. “These businesses play an essential role in bringing people together to socialise and celebrate – something that we have all missed so much during this terrible crisis – and sustain hundreds of millions of jobs, which provide a first foot on the employment ladder for young people.” Bravo, Diageo!

The Nightcap

Meet Katherine Condon, distiller at Midleton Distillery!

Midleton Distillery appoints Katherine Condon 

Following the news that Irish Distillers has swapped in Kevin O’Gorman for outgoing master distiller Brian Nation, the Pernod Ricard-owned company has revealed another new addition to the distillation team. We’d like to say a big MoM Towers hello (it’s basically a usual hello but we’re holding a dram and we’ve paused Withnail and I) to Katherine Condon, who is now a distiller at Midleton Distillery in Co. Cork! Condon joined Irish Distillers back in 2014 as part of the Graduate Distiller Programme, and has since worked as a distiller at the Midleton Micro Distillery, Irish Distillers’ hub for innovation and experimentation. She’s also served as a process technologist and production supervisor at the main distillery, where she has been involved in innovations such as the Method and Madness range. She also picked up The Worshipful Company of Distillers award in 2018, and another gong in 2019 for outstanding achievement from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. Condon also holds a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Process and Chemical Engineering from University College Cork, and a Diploma in Distilling from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. “I am honoured to be appointed as distiller,” she said. “This role represents a time-honoured craft, and it has been a privilege to learn about the art and science of distilling from icons of world whiskey like Brian Nation and Kevin O’Gorman.” She continued: “I look forward to using the wisdom and experience I have inherited to continue their legacy of quality while driving innovation as I continue my career in Midleton. I am incredibly excited about the future of Irish whiskey and the role I can play in it.” Gorman himself added: “Katherine has consistently demonstrated a passion and exceptional skill set for the art of distillation. Her inquisitive nature and constant pursuit of excellence has made her one of the rising stars of world distilling.” High praise indeed!

The Nightcap

Liana is described as ‘the world’s first interactive, at-home cocktail experience’

Liana Cocktail Company brings bartenders into your home 

Lockdown has been especially hard for the hospitality and retail but we’ve been so impressed by how businesses have adapted, there’s a tattoo parlour near me that turned into a fruit and veg shop, and is doing a roaring trade. Another feelgood story is that of drinks agency The Liana Collection. Director David Wood told us: “In mid-May, our entire revenue stream disappeared and the business we worked so hard to build over the last two and a half years was under real threat, to the point where I had a pretty emotional chat with the team informing them that I’d have to be letting people go on 1 July.” Instead, they rallied round and came up with a plan. The result is the Liana Cocktail Company, which launched last week. Wood describes it as “the world’s first interactive, at-home cocktail experience”. The way it works is this: the company will send you everything you need to make a delicious Manhattan, Negroni or something else, and then a bartender will show you how to make it perfectly at home through the magic of the internet, smartphones, satellites and stuff. So modern. Go here for more information. 

The Nightcap

Cheers to you, Colin!

We raise a dram to Colin Scott as he retires from Chivas Regal

We sipped on something of a bittersweet dram on Tuesday evening when we joined a celebration in honour of highly regarded Chivas Regal master blender, Colin Scott. He’s retiring from the blended Scotch brand after a whopping 47 years of service! Alongside other drinks writers and journalists, we chatted, heard stories from Scott’s career, and generally honoured the man who created Chivas Regal 18 Year Old. With that very expression in the tasting glasses, of course! Alex Robertson, head of heritage and education at Chivas Brothers, hosted the session (which took place via Zoom – in-person gatherings are still off), who not only drew attention to Scott’s blending achievements but his role as a pioneer of global brand advocacy, too. “Whenever you talk to blenders, behind it all, there’s a great passion,” Scott said, looking back over his career. On advice he would have given to a younger version of himself, he noted: “you can’t shortcut your road through blending”. He continued: “There’s a road to travel, and you have to get that encyclopaedic knowledge.” And we loved his take on casks management: “We’re the guardians of the past, present, and future.” And looking to the future, he leaves Chivas Regal in the wonderfully capable hands of Sandy Hyslop, already master blender at the likes of Ballantine’s and The Glenlivet.  We’ll for sure be raising a glass to both this weekend!

The Nightcap

James MacTaggart, Andy Bell, and the unique blended malt

Isle of Arran Distillers devise unique blended malt

Isle of Arran Distillers has revealed plans to create a blended malt in a pretty unique way. The plan is to fill casks with new make spirit from both of its distilleries, Lagg and Lochranza. ‘Project North & South’, as it’s been dubbed, is particularly interesting for two reasons. One, the independent Scotch whisky company is in the rare position of owning a Lowland and a Highland distillery both based on one island off the west coast of Scotland, Lochranza Distillery in the north and Lagg Distillery in the south. Two, these distilleries produce very distinct spirits and, while they share some island DNA, one of the spirits is heavily-peated and the other is unpeated. It’s a great way to get the stills up and firing again, as both distilleries underwent a period of closure starting in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  When the distilleries began production again on 11th May, the first runs of new spirit from each distillery were vatted together and filled into bourbon barrels, sherry hogsheads and sherry butts at Lochranza Distillery. “This is a first for Isle of Arran. We are aware of blended malts where the whisky from one distillery is married with that of another, or blended whiskies created by mixing grain with malt whisky, however, this is the first time that we know of malt whisky from two sister distilleries being blended at the spirit stage,” said director of operations and production for Lagg and Lochranza Distilleries, James MacTaggart. Isle of Arran sales manager, Andy Bell added: “I am proud to have played a part in creating this truly unique blend, and will follow with interest as these casks mature. The experimentation at the heart of this process speaks to the truly independent nature of our company.” We look forward to seeing the results!

The Nightcap

Is this the swankiest series of single malt whiskies we’ve ever seen? It might just be.

And finally… Fancy a sapphire with your whisky?

Speyside Scotch whisky distillery Glenfarclas has wrapped up its mega-fancy Glenfarclas Pagoda Series with something the world never knew it needed – an intricate sapphire-encrusted decanter. (It’s also filled with 63-year-old single malt from the distillery, just in case you were wondering.) It rounds off the line-up which also includes a Ruby design released earlier this year with 62-year-old contents. What’s staggering is that to make this new limited-edition vessel, 11,000 sapphires were ordered. Only those that matched in size, and in dark blue made the cut, with 36 of them adorning the age statement in each bottle. There are two editions (one with solid silver accents, the other with gold plating). Could these be the glitziest decanters ever? “It has been an absolute joy to work on this project as it has given us the chance to incorporate valuable gemstones into our decanters for the first time,” said Scott Davidson, Glencairn’s new product development director. “Each and every decanter created is a truly unique work of art to honour the quality of the whisky inside.” The Sapphire editions start at £23,783 ex-VAT – a sizeable investment, even for all those sapphires.

The Nightcap

Pub Quiz Answers

1) Tokaji wine is produced in which country?

Answer: Hungary

2) Nightcap regular Miles Beale is the face of which British trade body?

Answer: WSTA

3) Which spirit is used as a base for the Bee’s Knees cocktail?

Answer: Gin

4) Bain’s Whisky is distilled in which country?

Answer: South Africa

5) Which New York bar was named the no.1 in the world by The World’s 50 Best Bars in 2019?

Answer: Dante

6) Arbikie Distillery’s carbon-negative gin was made from which vegetable?

Answer: Peas

7) Towser the cat killed nearly 30,000 mice over a 24-year period at which Scotch whisky distillery?

Answer: Glenturret

8) Katharine Hepburn and Princess Margaret shared a love of which Scotch whisky brand?

Answer: The Famous Grouse

9) Which early member of the Royal Society is credited with the invention of the strong glass wine bottle?

Answer: Kenelm Digby

10) From which island does Commandaria wine come from?

Answer: Cyprus

 

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Sip on some superb Speysiders!

Sad about the cancellation of the Spirit of Speyside Festival? We’ve got just the thing to lift your spirits: a whole bunch of delicious whiskies from that very region! We…

Sad about the cancellation of the Spirit of Speyside Festival? We’ve got just the thing to lift your spirits: a whole bunch of delicious whiskies from that very region!

We were all disappointed to find out the Spirit of Speyside Festival had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The event welcomes a huge number of visitors from across the globe each year to enjoy over 700 whisky-themed activities in a celebration of the biggest whisky-producing region in Scotland. But we can still champion Speyside and its huge variety of delicious whiskies by helping ourselves to a bottling from one of its many distilleries. We’ve done our bit by narrowing down your considerable choice. This selection features a wide range of some of the finest expressions from the region so you can get your hands on some delicious Speysiders with ease. Enjoy!

Speyside #2 25 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)     

We begin our round-up with a delightful mystery. We know is that this a 25-year-old single malt from a Speyside distillery and that it was bottled by the wonderful folk over at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. We also know that’s it’s from a different distillery in the region to Speyside #1, which only increases the intrigue. What we can confirm, however, is that it’s very, very tasty.

What does it taste like?

Estery malt, candied fruit, nutty almond oil, barley sugars, a hint of Turkish delight, ginger, cinnamon, lemon citrus, white oak, praline, hazelnut, cedar, honey, dried apricot,  gingerbread, dark caramel, vanilla essence and maybe even a hint of rancio.

Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 63      

Aberlour is one of those distilleries that has a passionate following who look forward to every release, in particular the excellent A’Bunadh batches. Well known for being made of whiskies with intense and complex profiles that are matured in Spanish oloroso sherry butts and bottled at cask strength and the 63rd edition is no exception. The series is incredibly popular and its expressions always end up selling out so you’ll want to get your hands on this one sooner rather than later.

What does it taste like?

Buttered malt loaf, sherried peels, spearmint, Christmas cake, dark chocolate mousse, cinnamon, white pepper, dried fruit and sugared almonds.

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask     

There are few distilleries that boast a range as consistently excellent and intriguing as The Balvenie, who demonstrated how to put ex-rum casks to good use with this tasty expression. The single malt Speysider was initially aged in traditional oak casks before it was finished in casks which previously held Caribbean rum, imparting some extra sweetness and warmth.

What does it taste like?

Tropical fruits, namely passion fruit, sweet vanilla, apples, mangoes, orange and creamy toffee.

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old        

Those who love sherried whisky love Glenfarclas whisky, and for good reason. The independent and family-owned distillery is well known for producing some spectacular sherry bombs and its 15-year-old expression maybe the standout from its impressive core range.  A fabulously complex and rich Scotch, Glenfarclas 15 Year Old is bottled at 46% ABV simply because this was the strength that George Grant’s grandfather preferred it at. 

What does it taste like?

Intense, powerful sherry, rancio, orange peel, walnuts, dates and peppermint.

Cardhu Gold Reserve      

A sweet, mellow and easy-drinking expression from one the region’s oldest distilleries, Cardhu Gold Reserve is an impressive no-age-statement release that represents seriously good value for money. It’s a whisky that’s delightful when mixed and we can tell you from experience that it makes a very good Hot Toddy.

What does it taste like?

Honeyed tinned stone fruits, toffees, strawberry, red apple, ginger and biscuity oak.

Master of Malt 10 Year Old Speyside Whisky Liqueur        

Something a bit different to conclude our list is a whisky liqueur that’s excellent over ice with a healthy helping of fresh orange peel, but more than good enough to drink neat. Our very own Speyside Whisky Liqueur was made exclusively using 10-year-old single malt whisky from one of Speyside’s most famous distilleries that was previously matured in sherry casks to give it that classic Speyside style. We emphasised this flavour by adding a host of tasty ingredients such as cinnamon, two different kinds of orange peel and cloves. Delicious.

What does it taste like?

Dried, aromatic fruit, nutmeg, cinnamon, anise, Angostura bitters, cola, peppermint, dark chocolate, dried ginger, crème brûlée, blood oranges, mint humbugs, sweet malty cereal and vanilla.

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Get some new and trending tipples!

Looking for what’s hot, new and next in the world of delicious drinks? Then we’ve got what you’re looking for. How do you like the sound of getting your hands…

Looking for what’s hot, new and next in the world of delicious drinks? Then we’ve got what you’re looking for.

How do you like the sound of getting your hands on the most exciting bottles on the shelves at MoM Towers? Hot-off-the-press fresh whiskies. In-demand gins and rums. Trending Tequilas. Everybody hates being out of the loop and we all love tasty things. That’s why we’ve created this selection of spirits to keep you up to date with the latest and greatest in the world of booze no matter if you’re self-isolating or in lockdown.

 

Get some new and trending tipples!

Jaffa Cake Gin

Jaffa Cake Gin is distilled with oranges, fresh orange peel and cocoa powder. Oh yeah, and jaffa cakes. Proper jaffa cakes. Full moon, half-moon, total eclipse. Jaffa cakes. Do you actually need any more information? The label claims it will make the best Negroni mankind has ever seen and I don’t doubt it for one single minute. 

What does it taste like?

Zingy orange (marmalade-esque), rich and earthy chocolate, vanilla-rich cake, a touch of almondy-goodness and a solid backbone of juniper. Also, Jaffa Cakes! 

Get some new and trending tipples!

Wormtub 

You don’t see too many worm tubs these days. Which is a shame. A lot of distilleries have opted to use efficient, easier to maintain condensers, but the muscular, complex profile it gives whisky is delicious. It’s that distinctive character that Wormtub whisky celebrates by blending together single malts made exclusively in distilleries still using traditional worm tubs. This is one for those who like their whisky to be full, rich and robust.

What does it taste like?

Sherry, leather, dates, cocoa, caramel, walnuts, wood-spice, fresh garden mint, ripe strawberries, candied cherry fudge and a wisp of smoke.

Get some new and trending tipples!

Dead Man’s Fingers Pineapple Rum 

Add the sweet, sour and tropical notes of pineapple to an already delicious rum and what have you got? Doubly tasty rum. That’s what. The folks over at Dead Man’s Fingers created this fun and fruity concoction using roasted and candied pineapple. It’s incredibly refreshing, particularly when paired with lemonade, lots of ice, a wedge of lime and a bunch of fresh mint.

What does it taste like?

Bright and almost tangy at first with fresh pineapple and ginger, followed by homemade caramel, nutmeg, cassia and mango.

Get some new and trending tipples!

Regions of Scotland Whisky Tasting Set 

It’s basically impossible to narrow down what the best thing about Scotch is, but the incredible range of different styles of whisky produced across all of its distinctive regions might just be it. This tasting set by Drinks by the Dram champions these regions with five 30ml samples from the peaty, smoky Islay; to the fruity, malty Highlands; the soft, floral Lowlands; and the honeyed, often Sherried Speyside and more!

What does it taste like?

Please don’t eat the box.

Get some new and trending tipples!

Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old – The Character of Islay Whisky Company

There’s plenty of mystery around Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old but one thing’s for sure, it’s bloody delicious. It was recently awarded the title of Islay Single Malt 12 Years and Under at the World Whiskies Awards 2020 for good reason. This Islay single malt from The Character of Islay Whisky Company was sourced from an undisclosed distillery on the island, but what we do know is that it was aged for 10 years in a mixture of bourbon barrels and Spanish oak sherry quarter casks. Plus the name is a fun anagram you can work out in your spare self-isolation time. 

What does it taste like?

Maritime peat, iodine, honey sweetness, paprika, salted caramel, old bookshelves, mint dark chocolate, espresso, new leather, soy sauce, liquorice allsorts, bonfire smoke and toffee penny, with a pinch of salt.

Get some new and trending tipples!

Glenfarclas 25 Year Old

Glenfarclas 25 Year Old is just an absolute classic and whisky this good never goes out of fashion. The single malt Scotch whisky, which was matured 100% Oloroso sherry casks and bottled at 43% ABV, is probably the ultimate example of the kind of delightful sherried goodness that the Speyside distillery specialises in.

What does it taste like?

Classic Sherry notes, creamy barley, hints of gingerbread, nutty chocolate, smoke and a touch of menthol.

Get some new and trending tipples!

Beavertown Neck Oil Bundle (6 Pack)

Stocking up on good beer while in lockdown is a must and if you’re looking for a sublime session IPA then you won’t do better than Beavertown’s ever-popular Neck Oil beer. This bargain bundle will save you 10% versus buying them individually.

What does it taste like?

Light and crisp but full of flavour – citrusy and hoppy, slightly floral, very moreish.

 

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Whisky Advent 2019 #20: Glenfarclas 15 Year Old

Behind the door #20 of the Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar lies a classic 15 year old Speyside single malt aged in sherry casks. Yum! Earlier this year…

Behind the door #20 of the Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar lies a classic 15 year old Speyside single malt aged in sherry casks. Yum!

Earlier this year we attended a masterclass with George Grant from Glenfarclas where he talked us through five years of The Last Casks releases of rare whiskies. Well, masterclass isn’t quite the right word. What you’re not going to get from Grant is the slick brand ambassador act: on-brand, on-message and lots of well-honed schtick. Instead, we were treated to jokes, rambling anecdotes about peculiar goings on in a Las Vegas hotel and a startling admission that one bottle in the line-up just wasn’t very good. Everyone had a great time. It helped, of course, that the whiskies (even that particular one) were so good.

Grant can get away with being a bit unconventional because his family owns the distillery and have done since 1865 when George Grant bought the place. As Grant said to the group, it’s a very easy story to remember as pretty much everyone is called George Grant. He is the sixth generation Grant in the business.  There is no corporate hierarchy, no shareholders, and no mission statement. The distillery is a similar experience: it’s not glitzy and polished, the equipment neither particularly old nor brand new. The whiskies are matured in oloroso casks, the stills are direct-fired, a rarity now, and look at those labels, they’ve never been near a brand consultant.

George Grant - Glenfarclas

George Grant with faithful hound

The 15 Year Old lurking behind door number 20 offers much of the sherried goodness of the Last Casks but at a very reasonable price, especially when compared with a certain other Speyside distillery famous for its sherry casks. To tell us more, we spoke to George Grant himself:

Master of Malt: In what ways does being family-owned enable you to do things a little bit differently at Glenfarclas?

George Grant: Being family owned means we can react to things much quicker, can change direction, be a bit more adaptive.

MoM: You spend quite a bit of time on the road spreading the word about Glenfarclas. What’s your favourite place to visit and why?

GG: My favourite place to visit is home and my own bed. Because I sleep much better. I love watching those TV commercials about getting a new mattress and we are supposed to change them every 10 years. My mattress easily will last 30 years then.

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old – sherry heaven

MoM: What has been your highlights of 2019 at Glenfarclas?

GG: Highlight must be the Glenfarclas Trunk, contain 50 x 200ml bottles of Glenfarclas every year from 1954 to 2003

MoM: What does the future have in store for the wide world of whisky?

GG: Continued enjoyment, education of future generations to enjoy such a wonderful spirit.

MoM: Which Glenfarclas will you be drinking at Christmas and why?

GG: Mmm, which ever one Master of Malt send me for answering your questions.1959 Glenfarclas, was the last year we distilled on Christmas day.

 

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#WhiskySanta’s Glenfarclas 50 Year Old Decanter Super Wish

It’s been an exciting year of #WhiskySanta, but he’s got one last Super Wish up his immaculately cuffed sleeve – and it’s a real showstopper! Well, I’ve certainly been a busy Blitzen,…

It’s been an exciting year of #WhiskySanta, but he’s got one last Super Wish up his immaculately cuffed sleeve – and it’s a real showstopper!

Well, I’ve certainly been a busy Blitzen, haven’t I? I’ve been giving out gifts to Master of Malt customers at the checkout, and I’m not really looking to slow down until the middle of next week (I’ve got something I’m contractually obliged to do that Tuesday night, you know…), so that means you shouldn’t slow down on doing wishes either! That being said, it is time for my very last Super Wish of 2019. However, never fear, because I’ve got my hands on something absolutely incredible indeed…

This week’s Super Wish is for a single malt whisky that has matured for half a century! Or 50 years, if you prefer your units of time to be more plentiful but smaller. It was distilled by a magnificent family-owned distillery in Speyside. It slumbered in Spanish oak sherry casks. It’s just awesome. That enough preamble for you? Good, because I’m extraordinarily excited to say that the Super Wish this week is for a bottle of Glenfarclas 50 Year Old!

Oh yes, chums. For the final Super Wish of 2019, I’ve managed to get my mitts on a bottle of Glenfarclas 50 Year Old Decanter, worth a massive £12,000! Oodles of years maturing in sherry casks has given this one a spectacularly rich, complex and decadent flavour profile – the sort of thing any whisky fan would be astonished to find wrapped up underneath the Christmas tree.

You should know the score with Super Wishes by now, but in case you don’t, let’s go over it one last time, eh? If you fancy being in with a chance to get this bottle, you’ll want to wish for it! Head on over to the Glenfarclas 50 Year Old Decanter page and slam dunk that zazzy red button that says “Wish” on it. Using magic, a box will pop up with a  pre-populated Twitter or Facebook post. Hit publish and ta-da – you’ve gone and wished! You can also wish over on that fancy Instagram, just ensure you use the #WhiskySanta hashtag, otherwise my elves won’t be able to see it.

There’s that button!

You’ve got until the end of Thursday to make your wish for this breathtaking bottle, so ensure that you do that! In the meantime, I’ll continue granting all sorts of delicious wishes across the social medias, and handing out gifts to Master of Malt customers! I’ve got to keep busy, y’know, otherwise I’ll get bored and end up helping myself to whatever the MoM folks have put in the fridge. They put their names on all the food in there so I know who to thank after I gobble it up. Very kind of them.

UPDATE: My final Super Wish of 2019 has been granted – I do hope you enjoy deliciously old Glenfarclas, Catriona McCaw!

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Ronnie Lee – the man who mends mills

This week Ian Buxton celebrates a true whisky hero, a Welshman without whom Scotland’s distilleries would literally grind to a halt. What about those malt mills, eh? They’re just about…

This week Ian Buxton celebrates a true whisky hero, a Welshman without whom Scotland’s distilleries would literally grind to a halt.

What about those malt mills, eh? They’re just about the first thing you see on any distillery tour but, once you’ve heard the guide’s regulation story about their age and how they outlived the company who made them, you move on.  

It’s a shame. Painted, usually, in that distinctive shade of dark red, sturdy, planted four-square in the mill room, ready to receive another load of malt, these quiet occupants of an unobtrusive corner of the distillery just do their job in a modest and under-stated way.  A malt mill would never shout or draw attention to itself you feel, happy to do an honest day’s work and then await the next consignment to be turned into grist.

But if you take a second, harder look you might see a simple plaque discreetly fixed to the side with the legend RONNIE LEE, MILLWRIGHT and a telephone number.  One day I couldn’t bear it any longer; I was puzzled and intrigued; I had to ask: “Who is this bloke Ronnie Lee?” 

R. Boby

Plate from an old Boby mill

“I have no idea,” was my host’s honest, if unhelpful reply (but then he was a marketing type). I began asking production folks – real whisky people. To a man, they smiled.  “Ronnie Lee,” they said. “You must know Ronnie Lee.” Embarrassingly, I didn’t and the more I learned the worse I felt. So, I set to tracking him down because everyone told me that, though he wasn’t their employee, Ronnie Lee was a vital part of their team. From Diageo to Kilchoman, Chivas Brothers to Rosebank, he keeps the mills running. Without his unique service those antique rollers might seize up and fail, whisky could not be produced – indeed, a great national disaster would befall Scotland.

So I called the number and found myself on an industrial unit alongside a chicken farm in Chepstow – about as far from the glamorous world of luxury seen in whisky’s current imagery as may be imagined. This is where old-school engineer Ronnie and his two sons are based and where the world comes when a mill – possibly more than one hundred years old – needs some TLC. 

These fine pieces of machinery, be they the familiar Porteus design or that of their less well-known rival Boby, were built to last.  Their solid construction and simple, yet well-proven design has stood the test of time and, entirely fortuitously, speak to our present-day concerns about sustainability and the responsible use of resources.

A beautifully-restored Porteus

A beautifully-restored Porteus mill

But how long can they continue to run? The answer may well surprise you. I was certainly taken aback when Ronnie proudly shared with me his latest project: the restoration of a Boby mill, found in an Australian brewery and saved from scrap, that he believes was manufactured around 1855-60.

It may well be the oldest surviving example of a malt mill anywhere in the world and, following 80-100 hours of skilled and experienced cleaning and restoration, it will certainly work again and looks good for another 150 years of service (though, strictly speaking, non-commercial use as it lacks the anti-explosion guard fitted to later models).  Perhaps it will become a display piece, tribute to some far-sighted Victorian engineers as Robert Boby Ltd of Bury St Edmunds.

And how has it happened that Ronnie has found himself in this highly specialised niche? He grew up near his present Chepstow home and, after school, was apprenticed to the motor trade, quickly passing through a dozen or more jobs before embracing self-employment.  Back in 1995 he was contracting to Buhler, a Swiss mill manufacturer, installing their larger systems in flour mills (there aren’t many in distilleries, though you can see a mighty example at Glenfarclas). 

Ronnie Lee with an old Boby mill

The man himself with an old Boby mill

By this time, Boby was being closed down and the old Porteus company was owned by Briggs of Burton (a name you’ll find on mashtuns and other larger pieces of brewery and distillery equipment). But the heyday of the Porteus mill was the 1960s and by 1972/73 manufacturing had ceased. Maintenance and spare parts became more and more of a problem and eventually Briggs were unable to support what was by now, for them, an obsolete product. 

Ronnie was able to acquire the original Boby plans and drawings (he could build you one from scratch) and armed with these and Porteus’ withdrawal from the market, it was natural for him to step into this gap. His affinity with old machinery and his ability to coax new life from their aging cogs and gears has ensured his unique place in whisky. So, in a world which lauds distillery managers as rock stars, spare a thought and raise a glass to Ronnie Lee, the man who mends the mills and a true whisky hero.

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Vintage Cognac masterclass with Eric Forget from Hine

Where you age spirits can make a huge difference to the finished product. To learn more, we spent a morning with Eric Forget from Hine, trying vintage Cognacs, some matured…

Where you age spirits can make a huge difference to the finished product. To learn more, we spent a morning with Eric Forget from Hine, trying vintage Cognacs, some matured in the warmth of France, others in cold grey England. Yeah, it’s a tough life.

The results are in from the Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac (BNIC): while global Cognac sales are doing very nicely thank you, the shocking news is that Europeans and, more particularly, the British just aren’t drinking enough of the stuff. What are you playing at? It wasn’t always this way, Cognac as we know it was largely created for the British market, often by British and Irish merchants. Perhaps the most British of all the Cognac houses is Hine, which was founded in the 18th century by a Dorset lad called Thomas Hine.

Until recently, a descendant, Bernard Hine, was still involved with the company (now part of French drinks group EDV SAS) but he has stepped down due to ill health.  Hine still specialises in a peculiarly British style of Cognac called early-landed. This dates back to when brandy was shipped in cask to Bristol and connoisseurs noticed how it aged differently to the French-matured product. Hine now matures these special Cognacs at Glenfarclas in Scotland (in its most humid warehouse) which then have to be shipped back to France for bottling (damned bureaucracy). Earlier this year, we were fortunate enough to meet with Eric Forget, cellarmaster at the company since 1999, for a comparative tasting of Bristol-aged versus Jarnac-aged Cognacs, as well as the core range.

Eric Forget

Eric Forget deciding whether it’s good enough to be a vintage Cognac

Hine is famous for its pale, elegant style. Forget explained the philosophy: “everything is finesse, delicacy and fruitiness, no harshness or bitterness.” There’s a lot less wood influence, to achieve this, he doesn’t use Limousin oak which he thinks has aggressive tannins, “we use Normandy, Limoges or Paris oak, northern oak trees have a finer grain and less tannin.” 

Forget doesn’t want the wood to mask the fruit: “We want to keep terroir, floral flavours, and maintain balance for all products.” The fruit comes only from the Champagne region. Hine owns 120 hectares in Grande Champagne, “we are vine growers. We also purchase from other growers and distillers, the same people every year,” Forget told us. The company never buys in aged Cognac. Hine distills on the lees: “lees means you can age for a long time, they give it body,” he explained. 

99% of grapes in Hine Cognacs are Ugni Blanc. Forget is sceptical about other grape varieties: “the rest forget it, very susceptible to rot”. But he’s not averse to experimentation. New crosses with some American genes are being developed which have some of the character of Folle Blanche (one of the old pre-phylloxera Cognac grapes) but with more resistance.  According to Forget: “we might see something in seven to eight years. Cognac changes in time, if well-managed, why not? We are not conservative. There are lots of young people in industry. I am the only old person at Hine.” 

Hine HQ in Jarnac

Perhaps to butter us up a little, he praised the British taste in Cognac, where delicacy is prized. He was less complimentary about the American and Chinese markets: “They believe dark Cognac is better, big mistake!” Hine produces a brandy called Homage to Thomas Hine ; named after the company’s founder, it’s a tribute to the lighter style that was popular in 18th and 19th century Britain. “VSOPs are meant to be pale, 200 years ago Cognac was paler,” Forget told us. Homage is a blend of early-landed Cognac, “to give it finesse” and other lighter brandies. 

Homage is a blend, but Hine’s speciality is its vintage products. “Vintages are easy, just select the best and there’s nothing to do”, Forget joked. The differences between the Jarnac-aged brandies and the Bristol-aged products is marked; in 1984 Forget was pleased with the early-landed but “the Jarnac-aged one was not so good, so I blended it.” He gave us the 1983s to taste, the French one was peachy and floral whereas the English one was angular with flavours of gooseberries and English hedgerow flowers.

In 2015 Hine launched a completely new product called Bonneuil, which not only came from a single vintage, but a single vineyard in Grand Champagne. Such a thing was almost unheard of in Cognac. The idea was to sell it with less age so that it expresses the terroir more than the effects of ageing. The first vintage was the 2005, we tried the deliciously fruity 2008. In it’s delicacy and fragrance, Bonneuil might be the quintessential Hine product. 

Hine Homage, note not too dark colour

The company doesn’t produce vintages every year, only in special years, “like d’Yquem” said Forget, referring to the legendary Sauternes château. He decides after five years whether the brandy is good enough for vintage, “otherwise we blend it,” he said. As part of the commitment to delicacy, vintages are only kept in wood for around 20 years before being transferred to glass demi-johns. And Hine use zero boise in any products and no caramel in the vintage or Homage.

Forget talked us through the range with a twinkle in his eye and an honesty rare in the often over-hyped world of booze. He’s not averse to criticising Hine’s own products: he wasn’t so keen on the opulent 1975 we tried, the vintage was too high in sugar apparently and the style is not typically Hine (I rather liked it). The early-landed 1975 in contrast is lean and citric. He’s also candid about the trend for vintage Scotch whisky: “vintages for Scotch are just marketing. It’s nonsense.”

Hine’s number one market is now China but, according to Forget, “China is very difficult because they keep changing the rules.” This is followed by America, Russia and then the UK. Mainland Europe isn’t doing so well. Compared with whisky, demand for rare Cognacs isn’t so strong. This comparative lack of interest, however, means that beyond a few bling-tastic bottlings, Cognac is seriously undervalued. So it might be time to have a look, or don’t because it means there’s more for us.

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Top picks for sherried whisky fans

Here’s a round-up of some our favourite sherry-matured expressions, either aged or finished in casks which previously held the delightful Spanish fortified wine. It’s hard to resist a good sherry…

Here’s a round-up of some our favourite sherry-matured expressions, either aged or finished in casks which previously held the delightful Spanish fortified wine.

It’s hard to resist a good sherry bomb. The indulgent, fruity and rich drams are a perfect reminder as to why sherry casks have played a massive part in the Scottish whisky industry for well over 200 years. The style is very popular here at MoM Towers and we know there are many of you booze lovers out there who are equally partial to the sweet, spice and everything nice profile of a well-sherried spirit, particularly as we approach autumn. That’s why we’ve gathered quite the selection of sublime sherried treats here for you to enjoy, from peated Scotch, American rye whiskey and even a Venezuelan rum…

Redbreast 12 Year Old

A classic single pot still Irish whiskey, Redbreast 12 Year Old was made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley, triple distilled and matured in a combination of bourbon seasoned American oak barrels and Oloroso sherry seasoned Spanish oak butts. It can’t stop winning awards and stealing our hearts.

What does it taste like?:

Nutty, rich and oily, with notes of citrus peels, ginger, linseed, melon, marzipan, dried fruits, custard and a hint of Sherry.

Bowmore 15 Year Old

For those who desire a rich and complex sherried single malt Scotch whisky with a hearty helping of peat shouldn’t look past Bowmore 15 Year Old. It was matured first in bourbon barrels before it spent its final three years spent in Oloroso sherry casks.

What does it taste like?:

Dark and punchy, with Corinth raisins, baking spices, mochaccino, sweet dates, woody, pine oil, creamy toffee and malt.

Scallywag

From the fantastic Douglas Laing, this blended malt was made entirely from Speyside whiskies, including Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes, with spirit matured in Spanish sherry butts and bourbon casks. It was bottled without chill-filtration or additional colouring at 46% ABV.

What does it taste like?:

Icing sugar, sultanas, candied ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, sherry, nutmeg and cereal.

James E. Pepper 3 Year Old – Oloroso Cask Finish (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

Something a bit different, a young rye whiskey from James E. Pepper that was independently bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Three different batches were released in the series with each whiskey finished in different types of cask, one an Ale Cask, one Pedro Ximénez and this expression was finished in Oloroso casks. James E. Pepper owner Amir Peay also features on the label, which is pretty neat.

What does it taste like?:

Red cola cubes, sticky toffee pudding made with dates, blood orange rind, creamy vanilla, dusty oak spice, rich dark chocolate, chewy rye notes, red fruit and aromatic warmth from clove and cinnamon.

Glenfarclas 105

Anybody who enjoys Scotch whisky will know that you can always rely on Glenfarclas for a delightfully sherried dram. From one of Scotland’s few family-run distilleries, Glenfarclas 105 was bottled at a cask strength 60% ABV after it was matured for 8-10 years in a combination of both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon barrels. It’s superb value for money and captures everything great about Glenfarclas.

What does it taste like?:

Honey on toast, a touch of smoky coffee, almond, praline, hazelnut, dried peels, Armagnac, a hint of rancio and spicy and peppery oak.

Smögen 5 Year Old 2013 Sherry Project 2:2

We do really enjoy Swedish single malts from the Smögen distillery, and the expressions from the Sherry Project series are no exception. This bottling is Sherry Project 2:2, which was matured in first-fill sherry quarter casks, which are smaller than your run-of-the-mill casks, which allows for more surface area for interaction between the wood and whisky.

What does it taste like?:

Honey-glazed ham, dark chocolate truffle, malt loaf, Sherried sweetness, meaty peat, fudge dotted with raisins, burnt ends and a hint of orange oil freshness.

Mortlach 20 Year Old

The elder statesman of the Mortlach range, Mortlach 20 Year Old is an elegant presentation of what The Beast of Dufftown is all about. The sherry casks this beauty was matured in offers the perfect balance the robust, bold and uncompromising character of the whisky. This single malt is dubbed ‘Cowie’s Blue Seal’ in tribute to one of the original Mortlach bottlings dating back to 1909.

What does it taste like?:

Roast chestnuts, sweet tobacco, dense chocolate, meaty malt, clove, brandy butter, chewy dates, orange peel, mature oak, Christmas spice, cooked summer berries and red berry richness.

Diplomático Single Vintage 2005

A bit of a curveball to end our round-up, we’ve got a sherry-tastic rum. This expression of Diplomático Single Vintage was distilled from the harvest from 2005 before it was aged in bourbon barrels for about 12 years which was blended by the cellar master and then finished in old oloroso sherry casks for a year.

What does it taste like?:

Roasted orchard fruit, soft oak, strawberry and balsamic, espresso, cassia and star anise.

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Five minutes with… Pip Hills, founder of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

When Philip ‘Pip’ Hills bought with three of his friends a sherry quarter cask from a certain Speyside distillery filled with 10-year-old liquid, little did he know it would mark…

When Philip ‘Pip’ Hills bought with three of his friends a sherry quarter cask from a certain Speyside distillery filled with 10-year-old liquid, little did he know it would mark the beginning of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Today, the Edinburgh-based bottler boasts more than 26,000 members across international branches spanning Austria to Australia. We take five with member #001…

“At the beginning of the eighties I discovered malt whisky,” Hills recalls over the phone. “To be precise, I discovered Glenfarclas.” This Speyside gem would go on to be the first of more than 138 whisky distilleries in Scotland and beyond to have its liquid bottled under The Scotch Malt Whisky Society name. A feat made even more remarkable when you consider the ill-health of the Scotch whisky in the early eighties, a period that saw many producers close their distillery doors, never to reopen. How did his fledgling idea flourish in such a trying climate?

“If you add one thing to another, it’s an arithmetic progression,” outlines Hills. “If you double it each time, it’s a geometrical progression, which leads to an exponential curve. If you produce a really good whisky and I give a bottle of it to somebody, and that person has lots of friends – as most whisky drinkers do – if they love it, they’ll give out drams. So out of one bottle, you may have 50 or more converts to that particular whisky. You don’t have to be an arithmetical genius to figure out that the curve of increase just rockets. It becomes almost vertical.”

That, Hill says, is precisely what happened with his syndicate. “Our friends told their friends, who told their friends, who then wanted to join, so we doubled in size. Then, all the friends of friends told their friends, who all thought it was wonderful. Eventually the time came where I said to the syndicate, ‘look, I’m fed up procuring whisky for all your mates. Why don’t we do this commercially?”

Pip Hills, outside The Vaults, with a 1937 Lagonda, the car he used to transport the first-ever cask of SMWS whisky

Prior to the Society, Hills “never had anything that could remotely be considered a career”. A keen mountaineer in his teenage years – until a climbing accident that almost killed him – Hills spent seven years studying philosophy, working as a docker, a truck driver, and other industrial jobs during the holidays. He “bought a pinstripe suit and became a respectful civil servant” working for the Inland Revenue, where he stayed “for the best part of five years, just to show that I was in earnest”.

From there, Hills set up a tax accountancy firm – “it wasn’t a high-flying tax evasion for rich people sort-of-thing,” he clarifies, “but helping my poor freelance mates get out of some of their troubles” – and even helped to raise £7.5 million to bid for the Scottish Television franchise with friends. “We didn’t get it, which was a relief, because I hadn’t really any interest in television but it was a good idea conceived over drinks in the Traverse Theatre bar one night,” he says.

With The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Hills had found his calling. But those early days were not without challenges. “The whisky industry didn’t understand what we were doing,” he explains. “And from what they did understand, they didn’t like it much.” Barring a select few, distillers and brands were initially “very, very cagey”, not least because of the industry battle against people making a quick buck by ‘passing off’ imitation whiskies with the use of similar labels.

Trademark laws meant Hills couldn’t add distillery names to Society bottlings – something he turned to an advantage by numbering each distillery instead. “Since the first one we had was Glenfarclas, we made that number one, and we put a point after the number which indicates the consecutive cask bottled,” he says. “Nobody could take out legal action against us, because we weren’t passing anything off. And if you said in a newsletter, ‘if you go down the A96 past Aberlour and take the second road on the left for about three miles, you might just come to a distillery from which this whisky came’, no court would say that was a trademark infringement.”

Just some of the incredible SMWS range

Navigating legalities in this way proved to be an excellent marketing tactic – people liked the feeling of being in-the-know. Not that there was any real difficulty bringing whisky drinkers on board. “If somebody liked whisky, you say to them, ‘well, why don’t you try this?’, and let them taste it,” says Hills. “It was like starting a really good religion. All you had to do was show people the whisky and they would say, ‘God, you’re right!’, and they’d join.”

Hills adopted a policy that still sticks to this day, in which the Society doesn’t pay for advertising. “I’d always said, ‘if this thing is as good as I think it is, we won’t need to advertise’,” he explains. “However after we’d bought The Vaults [in Leith] and established ourselves, I thought, ‘maybe we ought to reach the wider public’.” He flew to London armed with a suitcase containing five whiskies for a meeting with “famously ferocious” wine writer Jancis Robinson, who went on to write a feature for The Sunday Times Magazine

“The whole thing just exploded,” Hills recalls. “After that I did lots of press – a middle page spread in The Sunday Express, a full page in The Wall Street Journal… David Mamet came over from the US. I took him down to the Society and showed him a few drams and he wrote five pages in Playboy. All that cost me was about £10 worth of whisky. And it went on like that for years.”

While Hills stepped away from the Society in 1995, he’s “absolutely delighted” to see how the company has evolved. “I hadn’t really been back until about a year ago,” he says. “The Society personnel and bar staff are bright and enthusiastic and it’s great, I love it.” Indeed, much may have changed in the decades since the Society was established, but one thing remains constant: Hill’s whisky preferences. “I’m sitting here with a glass of Glenfarclas in front of me,” he tells me, when I ask if his tastes have changed over the years. “Perfectly lovely whisky.” 

 

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Drinks billionaires – keeping it in the family

Today Ian Buxton takes a closer look at some of the illustrious families of the drinks industry such as the Haigs, Bacardis and Ricards, and reveals which great brands are…

Today Ian Buxton takes a closer look at some of the illustrious families of the drinks industry such as the Haigs, Bacardis and Ricards, and reveals which great brands are still in family hands.

Do you ever wonder who might raise a glass to you when you, to coin a phrase, raise a glass yourself? It’s an intriguing question. After all, drinks companies are fond of maintaining the façade of family owners. Think Bulleit Bourbon – it’s actually a Diageo brand (which arguably was mainly developed under Seagram’s) but a very high profile is maintained by Tom Bulleit and, until recently, his daughter Hollis. They’re speaking via their lawyers now. The story behind their acrimonious break-up is a rather unfortunate one and perhaps for another day, but sadly illustrative of the potential problems lurking in any family.

The Nightcap Drinks billionaires

Bulleit bourbon, a family business?

But back to Diageo. In its Scotch portfolio we’ll also find the Johnnie Walker, Buchanan’s and Haig brands. Now, once upon a time, there were real-life actual people answering to Walker, Buchanan and Haig who owned the distilleries that made these products – but no longer.

Today Diageo is a publicly-quoted company. That means you can buy a share in the business and be a part-owner. Actually, if you have any kind of a pension plan (whether through your employer or direct) you probably already own a share in some shares. Diageo is one of the UK’s largest and most successful businesses, and most well-balanced pension portfolios will have a holding in the company.  To declare an interest, I certainly do (I checked), and I’m very happy with its recent performance.

Many large industries have evolved in this way. But the drinks trade is something of a curiosity as a number of important brands remain in the hands of the descendants of the founding family.  Though some, like the Walkers, Buchanans and Haigs have long since cashed in, other companies remain determinedly independent and make great play of the long-term planning required in the spirits business. This, they suggest, means the industry is well suited to family ownership rather than being driven by the short-term demands of the financial community.

Some of the smaller examples are well known. Glenfarclas, for example, is happy to stress the fact that the distillery has remained in the Grant family since 1865 with chairman John Grant and son George directly and actively involved in every aspect. Grant Snr even lives on site, and you can’t get more hands-on than that.

Whisky Advent 2018 Day #18 Drinks billionaires

George Grant from Glenfarclas

Glenfiddich too is a family concern so, along with the various brands they own – think Balvenie, Hendrick’s Gin, Tullamore D.E.W. and Sailor Jerry rum among others – the forty-odd descendants of the founder William Grant thank you for every bottle you buy.  Oddly, though, while the public face of the company is largely represented by the Gordon branch (Peter Gordon and Grant Gordon in recent years) the major shareholder is believed to be the intensely private Benedicta Chamberlain. If her reputed 29.9% of the business is anywhere close to accurate, she’s comfortably in the billionaire class. Think of that next time you pour a dram of the world’s best-selling single malt.

As you’d expect, the family take the whole business very seriously. So much so in fact that Peter Gordon has even published a book on the subject. Family Spirit: Stories and Insights From Leading Family-Owned Enterprises looks at the strategies of eleven other family-owned businesses, though mainly not in the drinks industry. One of the companies he might have studied is Bacardi.  Yes, every drop of Dewar’s or Aberfeldy single malt or William Lawson’s (a million case-plus blended Scotch you’ve probably never heard of) adds a few coppers to the eponymous descendants of Don Facundo Bacardi.  A Bacardi and Coke puts a smile on their face, as does your call for Grey Goose, Martini, St-Germain or Patrón tequila.

Alexandre Ricard Drinks billionaires

Alexandre Ricard

Now the Bacardi family is very disciplined, borrowing if necessary to fund its acquisitions (over US$2 billion in 2004 for Grey Goose, then reputedly the largest purchase price in spirits business history for a single brand, and now a cool $5.1 billion for Patrón), but the equity isn’t sold. Much the same story could be told about Suntory Holdings, still controlled by the Saji and Torii families.

Elsewhere, public listing to raise capital hasn’t entirely removed family control as the tight grip of the founding dynasties at Davide Campari SpA, Brown-Forman and Rémy Cointreau SA clearly demonstrates. The Ricard family still retain 16% of the giant Pernod Ricard operation. It’s no coincidence that one Alexandre Ricard is both chairman and CEO, even if activist US investors Elliott Management are pushing to shake things up.

So, the reality and scale of family control is something to ponder as you part with your hard-earned cash. As you raise their brands to your lips, the question can’t be avoided: ‘what are the drinks billionaires sipping tonight?’

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