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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Islay Whisky

Don’t be afraid to mix your Islay whisky

Think you can’t mix Islay whisky? Think again. It’s a great cocktail ingredient and makes the most amazing Highballs. We all love a good myth, don’t we? Personally, I always…

Think you can’t mix Islay whisky? Think again. It’s a great cocktail ingredient and makes the most amazing Highballs.

We all love a good myth, don’t we? Personally, I always couldn’t get enough of the Ancient Greek tales of heroes fighting monsters of all shapes and sizes. It’s hard sometimes to come to terms with the fact that the world isn’t that magical. 

But there are just myths that need debunking. No matter how much we want it to be true that thunder and lightning strike because Thor is having a hissy fit. Or that Nessie truly roams the depths of that Loch. We do have to face reality. But then, myth-busting doesn’t always have to be about exposing fanciful tales to the harsh light of logic. It can be fun too. 

Take the idea that good whisky should never be adulterated in any way. Perhaps the notion that single malts are for sipping only has been drilled into you since drinking age. Or you swear by the commandment: ‘Thou shalt not mix age-statement expressions’. Above all else, you never mix Islay whisky. It’s sacred. Untouchable. Perfect just the way it is. 

mix Islay whisky

Islay whisky is delicious neat, we all know this. But don’t knock it mixed either

Mix it up

As Islay whisky superfans ourselves, we’re not ones to underestimate its charms. But the idea that all the whisky some people consume is drunk neat, or maybe with a dash of water, is just quite sad to us. Because we don’t agree that Islay whisky can’t be mixed. We say it’s a myth. And one we’re happy to challenge.

Thankfully, so are a growing number of whisky lovers. It’s becoming increasingly common to attend an event full of some of whisky’s finest and see them champion the humble medley of barley, yeast, water and wood as the base in a number of tasty serves. Brand homes now come equipped with bars filled with ingredients to pair the distillery’s whisky. After all, to make a quality cocktail you need to start with quality ingredients. 

And surely Islay whisky is just that. A dram robust and characterful enough to stand up and be noticeable in any serve, with the potential to enhance the other elements around it. From the Penicillin to the Smoky Cokey, there’s no shortage of delicious drinks that make fine use of Islay’s greatest export.

mix Islay whisky

Lots of brands like The Glenlivet are embracing whisky as a cocktail ingredient

The Highball solution

If you’re not sure where to start, then we highly recommend the Highball. Partly because it’s so darn simple. Take a glass. Slug in your whisky. Add ice. Top it up with your chosen mixer. Give it a stir. Voilà. Try and mess that up. Particularly as you can tailor your whisky to your taste. Want classic Islay like Aerolite Lyndsay? Go for it. Some spice and fruit for something sherried? It’s yours. Just a hint of smoke from a blend like Johnnie Walker Black Label? Right away. 

But it’s also just got everything going for it. Firstly, you’re not masking the character of the whisky. You’re lengthening it. The minerality accentuates the salinity. The dilution ramps up the smokiness. It’s the Highball heightening effect. I’m pretty sure scientists have studied it. Or maybe that was a hen-do I met in that bar. Regardless, the Highballs we enjoyed together were delicious for the above reasons.

My favourite part about making Islay whisky-based Highballs, however, is the doors you can open. Of course, you should enjoy whisky the way you want, but putting single malt on a pedestal has its drawbacks. Whisky cocktails are a great way of showing the sceptics how tremendous this spirit is. The people who say “I had Jack Daniel’s once as a teenager and didn’t like it, so now I don’t like whisky” are just primed to be turned onto the joys of great whisky.

mix Islay whisky

Get making those Highballs!

Bust the myth and share the love

And Islay whisky is, more often than not, great whisky. But it can be challenging on its own at first. There’s no harm in showing people a different way into whisky. Surely we ultimately want to encourage people to join in this magnificent world of flavour and fun? Not be the overbearing bouncers at the door of deliciousness. 

Pop it in a long, refreshing serve and they’ll soon be saying how much they enjoy it. They might even look at you in astonishment when you tell them what the base ingredient is. “But I don’t even like whisky!”. Oh, but you do. You just hadn’t tasted it in the right context yet. You’re welcome. 

Bust the myth. Say it proudly. Islay whisky can be mixed. Single malt Scotch can be mixed. There’s no arguing with great taste. Now somebody grab that soda and I’ll start looking at how much it costs to rent a boat on Loch Ness. I reckon she’s knocking about, you know. This world is full of magic.

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Fantastic fireside drams perfect for Bonfire Night

Make 5 November go off with a bang with these brilliant boozes for Bonfire Night! Bonfire Night is on the horizon which means firework displays, autumnal food, and a night…

Make 5 November go off with a bang with these brilliant boozes for Bonfire Night!

Bonfire Night is on the horizon which means firework displays, autumnal food, and a night of trying to calm your dog who presumably thinks the world is ending. For lovers of spirits, it’s the perfect excuse to pick up some warming whisky and share it with friends by the fireside, enjoying a night swapping stories and drams. 

If you want to make this Bonfire Night a truly memorable one, then be sure to join us for a live stream on our Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube on 3 November where we’ll be inviting Dr Whisky himself, Sam Simmons to talk Aerolite Lyndsay, Atom Brand’s marketing product owner Laura Carl to discuss Charcoal…, Bruichladdich ambassador Abi Clephane to showcase Octomore, while Claire Tesh, Berry Bros. & Rudd brands manager, will present Islay – The Classic Range, and Diageo brand ambassador Colin Dunn will enjoy some Lagavulin 16.

So, if you fancy an evening spent in the company of drinks experts talking about their ultimate fireside spirits, warming cocktails, and sharing a favourite story from their time in the drinks industry, be sure to join us. Oh, and that’s not all. Some lucky viewers of the live stream will even be chosen at random to receive some free fireside spirits!

To get you in the mood, we’ve put together this ideal selection of predominantly smoky favourites to enjoy by the fire. Enjoy!

fireside drams Bonfire Night

Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old 

This single malt from an undisclosed source on Islay has an absolutely beautiful smoky, sweet and maritime profile that means it works both as an approachable introduction to Scotland’s most distinctive collection of distilleries as well as a sure-fire favourite among peated whisky fans.

fireside drams Bonfire Night

Gelston’s Blended

A blended Irish whiskey made from a combination of triple distilled Irish malted barley and grain matured entirely in bourbon casks. Think grain sweetness, fresh fruit, and buttery cask influence, all for exceptional value. Should pair perfectly with ginger ale if you’d like a long drink on the night.

Charcoal & Cornmeal & Rickhouses & a Decade 10 Year Old

A 10-year-old bourbon isn’t exactly common, so savour them when they come around. This beauty represents phenomenal value and a superbly descriptive name. It’s one of those ‘does what it says on the tin’ drams. And it does it in style.

fireside drams Bonfire Night

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley – The Classic Laddie

The signature bottling from one of our favourite distilleries, The Classic Laddie is made with 100% unpeated Scottish barley and matured in ex-bourbon casks, allowing all the wonderful Bruichladdich DNA to shine and make one genuinely original and distinct flavour profile.

fireside drams Bonfire Night

Berry Bros. & Rudd Islay – The Classic Range

Part of the new ‘The Classic Range’, from Berry Bros. & Rudd, the Classic Islay Malt was made from a super blend of casks sourced from some of Islay’s most regarded distilleries by spirits buyer Doug McIvor. What he’s made here is a whisky with lots of classic Islay sea and smoke flavours, but with great balance and complexity throughout.

fireside drams Bonfire Night

Lagavulin 16 Year Old

When you’re on the lookout for a smoky single malt whisky for sippin’ on Bonfire Night, there are just certain names that come to mind. One of them is the legendary Lagavulin 16 Year Old, a rich, rewarding whisky with a character so classic it could share the stage with Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny. 

fireside drams Bonfire Night

Octomore 12.2 5 Year Old 

This right here is the Octomore 12.5 release, and it’s one a peaty treat here. Sitting at a robust 129.7PPM, the intense peat in this one is balanced by the bold sweetness of first-fill Sauternes wine casks which makes for a fascinating juxtaposition and one truly tasty dram.

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The Nightcap: 8 October

A new Islay distillery, Diageo splurging half a billion dollars on Tequila, and Gary Barlow launching his own wine are just some of the intriguing news stories that made a…

A new Islay distillery, Diageo splurging half a billion dollars on Tequila, and Gary Barlow launching his own wine are just some of the intriguing news stories that made a bumper Nightcap this week.

Right. What the hell are we wearing for Halloween this year then, folks? You’d think having the first real spooky time party in two years would mean we’d have all kinds of ideas. But, the reality is very different. How about we strike a deal, you suggest some cracking outfits, and we’ll give you another delightful dollop of Friday Nightcap goodness. Are we square? We’ll assume it’s a yes and deliver our end of the bargain. Here it is.

This week on the MoM blog, Henry tasted the Diageo Special Releases 2021, picked out ten Scotch whiskies perfect for autumn, celebrated the 100th anniversary of The Sidecar, and heard why Mezcal Amores is on a mission to persuade customers to try agave spirits neat. Elsewhere, Jess tasted new Compass Box whisky with John Glaser, while Adam we got the reaction to Bunnahabhain becoming our first MoM Whisky Icon champion, picked out some of the most entertaining events to see during London Cocktail Week 2021, made some non-boozy cocktails perfect for Sober October, and got the story behind The Spirit of Manchester Distillery. Another corker of a week.

But, it’s not over yet. Here is The Nightcap: 8 October edition!

The Nightcap: 8 October

You’d think Islay would be full of distilleries already, but people keep finding space

Islay to get new sustainable Scotch whisky distillery

A proposal for a new low-carbon whisky distillery on Islay is in the pipeline. IIi Distillery will be located at Gearach Farm near Port Charlotte and is named after an old name for Islay. The brainchild of landowner Bertram Nesselrode and farmer Scott McLellan, they plan to ensure the site is powered with renewable energy, with a hydrogen plant, solar panels, battery storage, and wind turbine, ensuring the venture is not only green, but almost off-grid. The cylindrical distillery, which will also have a separate warehouse, a grain store, a visitor centre, and plenty of parking, is their attempt to help to ensure that Islay’s whisky legacy “can continue well into the future,” as revealed in their proposal to Argyll & Bute Council. “The vision for the site is bold and different; not just another distillery on Islay, but an Islay-native project, serving and benefiting the local community with jobs, sustainability, and growth,” their application explained. “Physically, the built form of the distillery will also represent a point of difference: it will respect the built vernacular of the island and complement the natural form of its spectacular surroundings”. The proposal is awaiting feedback from the council and will go through by 14 October. Once approved, construction will begin next summer.

The Nightcap: 8 October

The Glenlivet has a pretty remarkable history

Illicit whisky site discovered in Glenlivet dig

Archaeologists have discovered the floor of an illicit whisky distillery that dates back to the 19th century in a recent dig at the former site of The Glenlivet Distillery. The newly discovered site is where Glenlivet’s founder, George Smith, made whisky in 1824 in Upper Drumin, about half a mile from the current distillery. Fragments of bottle glass and ceramics believed to have been used in whisky production were also uncovered. Mr. Smith became the first illicit producer to get his licence, and Glenlivet was one of Scotland’s first whisky distilleries to become licensed after the 1823 Excise Act. Derek Alexander, the National Trust for Scotland’s head of archaeology, has a long association with the location and conducted a survey of the distillery remains in the 1990s and said that “returning to this place after nearly 25 years to finally uncover the remains of this special place is really inspiring,” adding that what’s really interesting is that “this is where the illicit production of whisky and the transition towards larger-scale industrial production meet; a formative part of the whisky industry becoming one of Scotland’s biggest and most successful”. The site where the dig is being carried out as part of the Pioneering Spirit project – a partnership between conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland and The Glenlivet – is marked by an inscribed monument marking its role in whisky history. Investigations at the site began on 4 October and will run until 9 October.

The Nightcap: 8 October

Trying… to… resist… making… Take That… wine… puns…

Gary Barlow launches his own wine range 

Music man Gary Barlow has introduced his own range of organic wines, imaginatively called ‘Gary Barlow Organic’, fulfilling what has apparently been his dream “for as long as he can remember”. He spent the past two years collaborating with the Benchmark Drinks, who have also made wines with Kylie Minogue and Ian Botham. The wines are said to be “carefully crafted and developed” by the man himself. Which must have been taxing. The packaging features a piano key design, for reasons completely oblivious to us. The wines themselves come from Castilla in Spain and are produced by Peninsula Wines which is run by two masters of wine Andreas Kubach and Sam Harrop, who are known for their sustainability and approach to making wine with as little intervention as possible. So far the range consists Gary Barlow Organic RED made a juicy unoaked wine made with Tempranillo and Syrah, and The Gary Barlow Organic WHITE a refreshing blend of Viura and Verdejo. We are sorry to report that there is as yet no Jason Orange wine. Both are available online at garybarlowwines.com from 9 October. So have a little patience. 

The Nightcap: 8 October

Diageo has big agave-based plans

Diageo to spend half a billion dollars on Tequila plant

Drinks giant Diageo revealed this week it’s about to step up its Tequila-based efforts by investing half a billion dollars in the spirit (that sentence  reads best if you do a Dr. Evil impression). Work on a $500m Tequila distillery in Jalisco will begin this year in the town of La Barca, with the company saying it would support Diageo’s 10-year sustainability plan by incorporating environment-friendly technologies, and would create around 1,000 jobs. The move was motivated by the rapid growth in US Tequila consumption. Apparently Covid-19 lockdown led to a surge in online buying and the making of summer cocktails at home. Álvaro Cárdenas, president of the company’s Latin America and Caribbean operations, commented that its Tequila sales had risen 79% in the past financial year.  He also commented that this is “the most significant investment we have made in Latin America and the Caribbean in the past 10 years.” In 2019, the company completed another Tequila facility in Atotonilco El Alto, in the southern state of Guanajuato and spent a big chunk of change adding Tequila Casamigos, a brand created by actor George Clooney and other partners, to its portfolio in 2017. So if Diageo’s movements are anything to go by, the future looks very bright for Tequila.

Brewdog vodka

Coming soon… Brewdog vodka

Brewdog reveals new distillery and spirits

Brewdog is about to launch a new range of spirits that were produced at its new distillery in Ellon, Scotland. The site was built because the original location was not fit for expansion and there were capacity constraints on the whisky and rum side, according to Steven Kersley, head of distillation at Brewdog Distilling, who was quoted in an interview with The Spirits Business. The equipment from the original distillery has been moved to the new site, which will also boast a 10,000-litre triple bubble still that’s three times bigger than the original still. There’s also two 3,000-litre pot stills, one of which will become a full-time spirit still for whisky production, as well as Brewdog’s 19m-tall rectification column. Before, Brewdog could only manage eight to nine casks a week, when demand required 30-35 casks. This move should reset the balance a little and allow innovation. The new site sits next to the Brewdog brewery but will operate as its own standalone distillery. There will be a visitor experience, a gift shop, and a tasting room that will be able to accommodate upwards of 30-40 people, and will look out over the distillery so guests can see the still house. In addition, Brewdog Distilling has created a new range of vodkas: Seven Day Vodka, named as a nod to the seven days it takes Brewdog to make its vodka from scratch. Alongside the original, there’s three flavoured expressions: Passionfruit and Vanilla (which tastes like Um Bongo for grown-ups), Rhubarb and Lemon, and Raspberry and Lime (deliciously refreshing). An RTD range is also in the works. It’s all go at Brewdog at the moment.

The Nightcap: 8 October

One of the finest drops around, by our reckoning

Last Drop releases stunning 100-year-old Pineau des Charentes

We tried one of the most stunning old drinks we’ve ever tasted last week. No, it wasn’t a whisky or Cognac, or even a Port or sherry. It was a Pineau des Charentes. For those who don’t know, this is a blend of unfermented grape juice and Cognac much enjoyed in the Charente region of France. Very tasty it is too, usually, but this special one was over 100 years old. It was discovered and bottled by The Last Drop, the people behind such dazzling spirits as a 1947 Cognac and 1870 Port. The firm is so exclusive that it has only released 22 bottlings in its history. The cask was discovered alongside a barrel of 1925 Grande Champagne Cognac, hidden behind a wall of rubble before the second world war. One sniff and the Last Drop team knew they had something special on their hands. The freshness is quite incredible meaning that despite its incredible complexity and concentration – the balance is just perfect. The nearest comparison would be an old Madeira but really we have never tasted anything like this. Only 382 bottles have been filled and the price considering the quality and rarity is a very reasonable £600. We’re hoping to get some in at Master of Malt later in the year. If you’re looking for something really really special, then this should be on your list.

The Nightcap: 8 October

Tiempo is on its way to Master of Malt now!

Tiempo Tequila launches after six years development

After six years of patience, Tiempo Tequila (meaning ‘time’ in Spanish, fitting), will launch its first batch of Reposado Cristalino Tequila in the UK. Each of the 1,320 limited edition bottles is made from 100% mature blue weber agave, grown and harvested in the Altos and Valley regions of Jalisco by master distiller, Augustin Sanchez Rodriguez to create a liquid that is additive-free, and does not use any chemical intervention. Working alongside a fifth-generation family of distillers, Tiempo is slow-cooked for 48 hours before being fermented using natural yeast for a further 60 hours. It is then twice distilled before spending up to one year aging in American oak whiskey casks. The liquid is then filtered before being housed in recycled glass with sustainably printed and inked labels as well as natural cork and a wooden stopper.  Latin American illustrator Alan Berry Rhys has depicted a surrealist journey through the Mexican jungle on the packaging. Tiempo is working towards ensuring its practices are sustainable by providing living wages for its growing and production team, focusing on sustainable agave farming in the fields, cutting CO2 emissions, reusing agave waste, and packaging with recycled glass and materials wherever possible. And it’s on its way to Master of Malt.

The Nightcap: 8 October

Not whiskey. Or particularly Malaysian. A bit of a swing and a miss, this one

We sample ‘Malaysia’s best whiskey’

We were very excited earlier this year when we received an email entitled: “EXCLUSIVE INVITATION – LAUNCH OF MALAYSIAN BEST WHISKEY.” We’re big world whisky fans but we’ve yet to have anything from Malaysia. We were even more excited when a bottle arrived at MoM Towers. It’s called Timah and on the label it says ‘1871 the legend of Captain Speedy’ and promises to be a ‘Double Peated Blended Whiskey’. It’s made by Winepack corporation who apparently have a “30 years history-making high-quality alcoholic drinks.” We were leafing through the bumf which came with the sample bottle and it states: “Timah’s fine balance of malt and sugarcane molasses imparts a unique peat-infused character.” So sadly this isn’t technically whisky (by EU and British regulations). The bottle says it’s “distilled, blended and bottled in Malaysia” but according to the PR contact, that’s not entirely true. He commented: “The peated whiskey components are imported which is (sic) then blended by our master blender in Malaysia.” He didn’t say exactly where they came from but Ruben from Whisky Notes has information that one of the malts is from Caol Ila. It certainly smells like an Islay, albeit one sniffed across a crowded bar. It’s a bit dilute on the palate but made a refreshing tasty drink with ginger ale and a slice of lime. So if you’re in Malaysia, look out for Timah. But you’re unlikely to ever find it at Master of Malt unless the labeling is changed.

The Nightcap: 8 October

We tried these two Calvados expressions and vouch for how sublime they are

… And delicious Calvados at Coupette

We had a tremendous time at London’s Coupette cocktail bar this week, celebrating the launch of Maison Sassy X Coupette Calvados! It’s fair to say that the two know their apples. Coupette with its famous array of Calvados and its expert bartenders who know exactly when it’s right to rustle up a russet or grab a Granny Smith. Meanwhile, SASSY has grafted to bring the delights of Norman cider to us all, and with deep roots in the orchards of the region, it seems only right for a Calvados to join the ranks! We were treated to a tasting of the two new bottlings, Calvados Fine and Calvados XO (which is aged for six years in rum casks!), and were immensely impressed by both. The Coupette team did not disappoint, with a special cocktail menu for the evening, showcasing the two expressions. Every serve was a stunner, the Pan American Clipper, made with SASSY x Coupette Fine, grenadine, lime, and absinthe was exceptional. We were also blown away by another collab between the two brands. A collab within a collab if you will – a canned, ready-to-drink expression of Coupette’s unofficial signature cocktail Apples, also made with SASSY x Coupette Fine. We’re still wondering if they actually shrunk one of their bar people and hid them inside the can to mix it – it was that tasty.

The Nightcap: 8 October

Lyons will provide the drinks expertise

Will Lyons and Charlie Bigham’s host virtual charity banquet

Award-winning wine writer Will Lyons has teamed up with independent food brand Charlie Bigham’s to co-host its upcoming virtual charity banquet tomorrow, offering drink pairing suggestions across a four-course cook along. Featuring top chefs Thomasina Miers, founder of Wahaca and MasterChef champion; Vivek Singh, founder and executive chef at The Cinnamon Collection; Theo Randall, chef proprietor at Theo Randall at The Intercontinental, and Ping Coombes, MasterChef champion, who will offer their expertise across each course. And you can cook along at home thanks to recipe boxes delivered straight to your door. The aim is to raise £30,000 for pioneering charity Chefs in Schools, allowing 2,400 more children to enjoy delicious and nourishing food at school every day. Tickets went on sale here, and included a £5 donation that Charlie Bigham’s will match. Will Lyons’ pairings will be one to watch for drinks fans, he’s The Sunday Times wine critic, and a winner of both the Glenfiddich and Roederer wine writing awards. We’re a fan of a good cause and if it helps further people’s drinks knowledge in the process then that’s a welcome bonus.

MENTZENDORFF KUMMEL Small

We want to reassure Britain’s golfers that there’s plenty of kümmel to go round

And finally… Don’t panic, there is no kümmel shortage

First, there was last year’s toilet paper shortage, then the recent brawls at petrol stations among people queuing to fill up their cars, now it looks like there will be fisticuffs at golf clubs around the country as there are rumours of a kummel drought. For those who don’t know, kümmel is a caraway-flavoured schnapps that is particularly popular among the vibrant golfing community. But it seems that one of the principal brands, Wolfschmidt, has ceased production. Blog Cookie Jar Golf reported: “In recent weeks, reports have been coming into us from all corners of the U.K. that clubs are unable to secure orders on further stock of Wolfschmidt, amid rumours that the Danish company has ceased production. Despite a lot of phone calls and various efforts to establish contact with the brand, no official statement has been received however we can confirm that future orders on the product are no longer possible.” But there is no need to panic, repeat DO NOT PANIC, Andrew Hawes, MD of rival brand Mentzendorff reassured us. “We’ve been keeping kümmel enthusiasts well-stocked for over 150 years and have no plans to stop any time soon!” he commented. And there’s plenty of stock left at Master of Malt. 

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Win a VIP trip to the Kilchoman Distillery on Islay!

Just when you thought we were done, we’re back again. Once more we’re sending two lucky people to Islay, this time in the company of Kilchoman. In distillery terms, Kilchoman…

Just when you thought we were done, we’re back again. Once more we’re sending two lucky people to Islay, this time in the company of Kilchoman.

In distillery terms, Kilchoman is still something of a new kid on the block. Just 15-and-a-bit years ago it became the first new distillery on Islay for 124 years. But in a short time, it has established a reputation as Islay’s fabulous farm distillery, ensuring the beautiful island on which resides shines through every dram through the use of locally-grown grain malted in their own floor maltings. This is a genuinely small-scale, craft operation that eschews volume and cost in favour of flavour. And if you’ve tasted Kilchoman’s whisky, you’ll know it was worth the effort. 

It’s a distillery that really should be on your bucket list. Luckily, the independent family business has partnered with us to give you a chance to visit and enjoy a number of whisky-based activities to boot. We’re back with another competition and for anyone who loves their Islay whisky, the prize is a dream trip. Let’s break down exactly what you stand to win.

Win a VIP trip to the Kilchoman Distillery on Islay!

Want to head here? Now’s your chance!

What you’ll win

  • Return standard or economy flight travel for 2 people from Glasgow airport to the distillery in Islay, Scotland;
  • Travel from Islay airport to the Kilchoman distillery;
  • Complimentary coffee, complimentary lunch at the visitor centre;
  • Complimentary VIP personal tour;
  • Complimentary warehouse tasting;
  • Complimentary coffee and cake picnic on Machir Bay;
  • Standard accommodation in Islay at the Machrie for 1 night for 2 people (subject to availability and to be arranged by prize provider), including dinner and breakfast;
  • Complimentary round of golf OR spa treatment OR time in the Still House distilling Kilchoman with the team.
Win a VIP trip to the Kilchoman Distillery on Islay!

It’s your chance to see what makes this distillery so special

How to enter

I’m sure most of you know the drill by now, but for anyone new (welcome, by the way, please stay and check out the many other delights of our blog) all you need to do is purchase a bottle of whisky from the Kilchoman range for a chance to win. There’s no limit on how many bottles you can buy and this method of entry comes with the bonus that you win regardless because, even if you don’t find yourself heading to Islay, you still have some delicious Kilchoman whisky to enjoy!

Best of luck to all of you who enter!

Kilchoman Sanaig Loch Gorm

One of these bottles could win you a trip to the distillery!

MoM Kilchoman Competition 2021 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 12:00:01pm 01 July to 23:59 15 July 2021. Date and travel restrictions apply. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Postal route available. See full T&Cs for details. 

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The peculiar allure of smoked drinks

Whisky, salmon, salt, mezcal, paprika – you name it, we’ll put smoke in it. But why do we love the flavours and aromas of smoke in our drinks so much?…

Whisky, salmon, salt, mezcal, paprika – you name it, we’ll put smoke in it. But why do we love the flavours and aromas of smoke in our drinks so much? Millie Milliken asks those in the know, and tries to explain the peculiar allure of smoked drinks.

Most summers of my late teens were spent sitting around a firepit into the early hours, a bowl of Strongbow cider in one hand (we’d run out of cups) and a powerless, useless Nokia in the other. For the weeks that followed everything smelt of smoke. Everything, no matter how much vinegar or baking soda it was bathed in.

Corte Vetusto

Mezcal cooking the traditional way (image courtesy of Corte Vestusto)

While the smell of smoke certainly isn’t for everyone, for myself – and countless Scotch and mezcal drinkers – the addition of smoke aromas and flavours are (if well balanced) a welcome characteristic in a drink. When I ask Deano Moncrieffe, owner of agave bar Hacha in London, whether he thinks smoke is becoming a more popular flavour for customers, his answer is less than vague: “100% yes! We now have many customers coming to a bar and asking for smoky cocktails,” he tells me.

He’s also seen more and more bars using the word ‘smoke’ on their menus to describe a cocktail in the knowledge that “consumers won’t be afraid of the word when they see it”. Smoked Negronis, Smoked Daiquiris and Smoked Old Fashioneds – even Smoky Martinis – have all passed my lips.

Getting lit

Smoke in drinks isn’t anything new. There’s the use of peat in Scotch (particularly from Islay) whisky production which, when burned, produces a range of smoky flavours (or compounds called phenols). Or while the traditional method of cooking agave in pits to make mezcal imparts a smoky flavour ranging from the subtle to the volcanic. But why do we like the smell and taste of smoke so much? And why in our drinks?

In a 2014 article for the Washington Post, ‘Smoke: Why we love it for cooking and eating’, barbecue and grill expert (yes) Jim Shahin traces it all back to our ancestry: “Of the three elements of flavour [taste, physical stimulation and smell], it’s smell that rocks our dawn-of-man world,” he writes. “That’s because the sense is lodged in an ancient part of the brain called the limbic system, which houses emotion and long-term memory. Smells trigger personal memories as well as atavistic, or ancestral, ones. ‘In evolutionary terms, we all started cooking with fire,” Marcia Pelchat, a sensory scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, says. “That smoky smell is a really strong stimulus’.”

When relating this directly to whisky, Charles MacLean in his 2004 book MacLean’s Miscellany of Whisky agrees. “Perhaps the big Islays, the smokiest of all malt whiskies, recollect the whiskies of the past. And perhaps one of the reasons for their current popularity is their ‘authenticity’, their ‘heritage’. An atavistic folk memory, like candles and open fires, Christmas trees and stormy nights.”

Burnt Ends

Burnt Ends – it’s pretty smoky

Let it burn

For Sam Simmons, head of whisky at Atom Brands (Master of Malt’s sister company), seeking out smoke can be something to boast about: “Seeking out smoky whisky is almost like a badge of honour in the [same] way [as] higher ABV, or IBU (International Bitterness Units) in beer or SHU (Scoville Heat Units) in chilli sauces.” One product to come out of Atom Labs in the last year is Burnt Ends, a blended whisky from Scotland and the USA, combining a 4-year-old Tennessee rye whiskey with a heavy sherried 10-year-old Islay whisky. As the name suggests, the liquid conjures plenty of smoke.

Simmons also mentions the other methods Atom uses to get smoke into their whiskies, such as using casks that held peaty whisky to hold unpeated malt to get some of that character. He also notes that in the USA, he knows distillers who infuse raw materials (corn, wheat, rye or malt) with hickory, cherry, apple or other woods to obtain a certain flavour that get carried through mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation. While others infuse the final spirit with smoke from particular woods, aerating or allowing the smoke to flow through the spirit itself. And when it comes to Iceland and Australia, “I know distillers who use dried livestock dung to dry their barley”. Tasty.

When mezcal brand The Lost Explorer came onto the scene in 2020, the agave category was going from strength to strength and bringing more smoke into peoples’ palates. “The Lost Explorer is what I would describe as agave led or agave forward in its flavour and as you progress through the varietals, the smoke aroma changes and develops in different ways,” explains Moncrieffe who acts as the brands ambassador in the UK.

What determines the smoke profile in the three expressions is the cooking time, the amount of volcanic rock and the reclaimed wood used. He describes the Espadin as having “sweet smoke”; the Tobala a “more cigar kind of smoke” and the Salmiana as “more spiced smoke”.

1881 shots

The still at 1881 distillery in Scotland

Smoke on water

It isn’t just whisky and mezcal that can bring the smoke. The Chase Distillery (previously of Tyrells crisps fame) launched an oak-smoked vodka in 2010, designed to use in Bloody Marys while more recently, Scotland’s 1881 Distillery (which opened in 2018) launched its own smoked gin, Rafters. The distillery, which is housed within the Peebles Hydro Hotel takes inspiration from a fire that ripped through the original hotel in 1905.

“We use fresh oak smoked water to achieve a light, savoury smokiness,” says head distiller Dean McDonald of how they created the smoky expression of their original 1881 Gin. “We didn’t want heavy peat smoke-style phenolic flavours that may have overwhelmed the carefully considered balance of our botanicals.”

Achieving that sweet spot of smoke intensity is judged by taste and smell alone, as the smoke intensity in the water can vary. For McDonald the smokiness of the gin brings out the spicier notes while also adding a velvety creaminess, and is an expression that would suit smoke lovers as well as drinkers of dark spirits like rum or whisky.

That whisper of smoke – as opposed to a shout – is something that Simmons finds appealing too: “In blending, a little smoky whisky goes a long way and, in tiny amounts, doesn’t always even register as smoke but as some sort of umami, some memory of Maillard effect – it just adds that yummy yummy.”

Header image courtesy of Kilchoman.

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Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila time! Do you know what Caol Ila means in Gaelic? The sound of Islay. It’s fitting then, that the…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila time! Do you know what Caol Ila means in Gaelic? The sound of Islay. It’s fitting then, that the brand is marking its distillery day with a night of whisky and music. We found out why these two worlds collide so beautifully, what the distillery exclusive bottling to look out for is and what the distillery has planned for today.

What’s going on today: At Caol Ila on 31 May, starting at 7pm on the Caol Ila Facebook page, a night of whisky and music will take place with Glasgow-based actor and musician, Patricia Panther, as guest host. Mairi McGillvary, an Islay-born award-winning Gaelic singer will share some of her latest music and Alasdair Currie, a Gaelic singer, and piper also based in Islay, will join the lineup for a special performance. The evening is complete with a first look at the Caol Ila Fèis Ìle Festival bottling, delicious whisky cocktail recipes, and a specially commissioned contemporary composition from singer-songwriter Beldina Odenyo.

What’s the distillery exclusive to look out for: Caol Ila Fèis Ìle 2021 – 12 Year Old. A bottling matured in refill American Oak casks and finished in high char Moscatel-seasoned casks, there’s just 3,000 of these being released with an ABV of 56.6%, and an RSP of £130 per 70cl. It’s available to purchase at Lagavulin Distillery and online on malts.com from 1 June with a pre-sale for subscribers at 2pm (BST) 31 May. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

It’s Caol Ila day!

Coal Ila: the marriage of music and malts

“I was over in Islay last week recording and it’s a wonderfully noisy place. The wind was blowing. The waves were crashing against the rocks. That’s very much the sound of the island. You expect those natural sounds of the island. But during Fèis something changes in the air, the pubs get busier and it’s really noisy. There are incredible bands and musicians everywhere and the place really comes to life”. 

Diageo brand ambassador, Ervin Trykowski is telling me why Caol Ila chose music as its theme for its distillery day this year. He says Fèis is in essence a music festival as much as it is a whisky one. As much we love our drams, we’re inclined to agree. It’s in the name, for goodness sake. The Islay Festival of Music and Malt. It’s an integral part of the celebration. There’s so much going on, you don’t have to be a whisky drinker to get involved. 

Music and whisky have long been entwined. Think of stars like Frank Sinatra, Keith Richards or ‘Lemmy’ Kilmeister (who was so associated with Jack Daniel’s over the years that an online petition to rename a JD-and-Coke as ‘a Lemmy’ after his death got about 50,000 signatures). While Bob Dylan, Slipknot, and more have entered into the world of booze production. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

Mairi McGillvray grew up surrounded by music and malts

The sound of Islay

Few musicians can be as steeped in whisky lore as Mairi McGillvary, who is performing for Caol Ila tonight. She was born on the island, her dad was a warehouseman at Bunnahabhain for over 30 years and she even worked there as a tour guide. Since a young age, she has been highly involved in Fèis Ìle, as a singer, fiddler, and highland dancer. “I believe that music and whisky are two of Scotland’s most important exports,” McGilvary says. “Whisky has played a huge part in my life. Growing up on Islay, it is all around you. To be able to tie that in with my love for music is a real privilege”. 

We often think of pairings for whisky solely in terms of food. But settings, sounds, and company enhance and change your dram as much as any dish. There’s a whisky for every genre of music. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 4: Caol Ila

Grab a dram and enjoy!

“Everyone’s got their own favourite whiskies and they’ve got their own wonderful taste in music,” Trykowski says. “Music can change your mood, it can change the way you feel about different whiskies, and the whisky can do exactly the same to the music. It’s a partnership that works together in harmony”. 

Perhaps whisky and music go together so well because they share a great many things. Both cannot be crafted without a degree of care, intellect, and technology, but ultimately they’re works of art with ethereal qualities; an ability to transport; to elicit visceral, emotional, and instinctive responses; to make you want to share more moments with the people you love; to make you want to dance, even if it’s painfully obvious to everyone that it’s a terrible, terrible idea. 

So, grab a dram, pop our playlist on and celebrate a festival that brings the two together so brilliantly. Slàinte mhath!

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The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

It’s the Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin! To mark the occasion we’ve got news on the distillery’s activities, an exclusive bottling, and the story of how…

It’s the Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin! To mark the occasion we’ve got news on the distillery’s activities, an exclusive bottling, and the story of how the Smoky Cokey cocktail won over the hearts and minds of the whisky-drinking public.

It’s Day 2 of our Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 and we’re virtually stopping by the legendary Lagavulin. It’s known for its picturesque distillery, celebrity fan base, and an array of intense, rich, and smoky drams that have won numerous accolades over the last two centuries or so. Lagavulin is  a fundamental part of Islay’s whisky heritage and attracts a huge number of visitors each year, not just at festival time. And while we can’t be there in person today, there’s still plenty happening at the distillery…

What’s going on today

Today it’s Lagavulin day and to celebrate from 7pm the Lagavulin Distillery warehouse will play host to an evening of performances by Scottish singers, Joy and Andrew Dunlop and the Niall Kirkpatrick Ceilidh Band. Attendees, who can tune in to the virtual event via the Lagavulin Facebook page, will witness an adventure on Islay’s surrounding sea, a hike around the island showcasing its scenery, and a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of warehouse manager Iain McArthur, as well an exclusive first look at the festival bottling. Speaking of which…

The distillery exclusive to look out for is:

Lagavulin Fèis Ìle 2021 – 13 Year Old. A bottling matured in refill American oak casks and finished in high char Port-seasoned casks, there’s just 6,000 of these being released with an ABV of 54.4% at £160 per 70cl. They’re available to purchase at Lagavulin Distillery and online on malts.com from 1 June with a pre-sale for subscribers at 2pm (BST) 31 May. 

Meanwhile, we’ve got a trio of daily deals to snap up. Lagavulin 16 Year OldLagavulin 8 Year Old, and Lagavulin 2005 ( bottled 2020 ) – Pedro Ximenez Cask Finish Distillers Edition are now all on sale. And while you’re reading be sure to check out our 2019 interview with former distillery manager Colin Gordon and our Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the festival mood!

The Smoky Cokey: an unlikely success

Mixing booze with cola is nothing new. People have long paired rum or Jack Daniel’s with the classic fizzy drink. But a single malt like Lagavulin? 

Yes, we’re looking back at the surprising story of how Smoky Cokey became a fixture of Fèis. For those unfamiliar with it, the Smoky Cokey is essentially a Highball made with Lagavulin (8 or 16 Year Old, dealer’s choice) and cola. Given the whisky’s status as a serious drinker’s dram, a purist’s choice, it’s not a combination that you would ever expect to see. It sounds almost sacrilegious, like the kind of drink that would cause Nick Offerman to stare at you sternly if he saw you order one, reducing you to a blubbering mess begging for forgiveness for your transgression. 

Most people agree that the Smoky Cokey originated from an experiment Dave Broom conducted in his excellent 2014 book, Whisky: The Manual. In a quest to find the perfect mixer for each Scotch, he tried numerous different whiskies with drinks like green tea, soda, and cola, finding the latter paired perfectly with Lagavulin. It was a bold statement and a big deal. One of the most respected whisky writers in the world has just backed the strangest of horses. And people were forced to consider that he may just have a point.

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

You might not think to mix this beauty, but don’t be afraid to experiment!

Colin Dunn: cocktail pioneer

Diageo whisky ambassador Colin Dunn is probably the other figure most associated with the serve. He has been a regular at Feis Ile since 2000, which means he’s had plenty of festivals to prepare for. Every year he looks for something fresh to bring. He’d already begun experimenting with serving Lagavulin with food  and thought that mixing it would be the logical next step. After reading Whisky: The Manual, he had the ideal serve to test this theory.

While at Lagavulin Distillery with guests prior to the festival, Dunn did something of a trial run. He popped 35ml of Lagavulin 16 Year Old in a Martini glass and topped it up with cola he’d allow to turn semi-flat to lose some of the bubbles. He put them on a silver tray, went out to Lagavulin pier, and gave the cocktail to his guests. “The first gentleman said ‘wow, what do you have in this, Punt E Mes?’ That opened my eyes to its potential and how receptive people can be if they don’t know what they’re getting,” recalls Dunn. 

Sensing an opportunity, he enlisted the help of Alessandro Palazzi of Duke’s fame to help create a menu of Lagavulin drinks to demonstrate its mixing potential. “Introducing Lagavulin in cocktails was a big challenge back then. People wanted it neat. Acoustic. But Alessandro and I wanted it to make it electric,” he says. Their menu included a Negroni in which Lagavulin replaced the gin, a smoky Old Fashioned with Tabasco, and a Smoky Cokey, as it came to be known. 

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

One of the first places the drink was served was this pier

It took a while to take off

The reception was good, if a touch slow. When Dunn would go to bars and order the Smoky Cokey, many would insist on serving the cola and Lagavulin separately. But word spread, and in an age where playing with whisky was becoming increasingly popular it soon developed something of a cult following. Over the last few years its reputation has continued to grow and it’s now a common sight at Lagavulin Day. 

Which raises the question, why does it work? Dunn believes that cola’s slight bitterness, minerality, and sweet notes work in harmony with earthy, damp, and muscular whisky. Compared to a traditional whiskey and coke, usually made with bourbon or Jack Daniel’s, Lagavulin adds a layer of complexity and intensity as well as some savoury qualities to balance the sweet vanilla and spice of the soda. It’s an unlikely success and yet it totally makes sense. It’s Daphne and Niles. And like any good marriage, it becomes a thing of its own instead of two other things just plopped together. It’s sacrile-cious, and for every purist that’s outraged by it, there are many new drinkers who adore it. Dunn wouldn’t have it any other way. 

“Scotch is about innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship,” Dunn says. “Distilleries like Lagavulin have been evolving since its creation. Whisky is not supposed to stand still. You simply don’t know if something will work until you’ve tried it. I can tell you now the team who worked at the distillery absolutely loved it, as did some of their parents and grandparents who had worked at the distillery and made Lagavulin decades ago. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for you. It works because thousands of people tell me it works”.

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

Happy Lagavulin Day, folks!

Making whisky accessible

The unlikely duo now represents something of a triumph for broadening horizons and reconsidering the stuffy and backward notions that Scotch whisky, and in particular Islay whisky, can’t be playful and fun. We should celebrate the Smoky Cokey’s ability to make a powerful and occasionally challenging dram accessible to those new to Scotch.

And it’s so delightfully simple. You truly only need Lagavulin and cola to make it. A wedge of lime or orange would work nicely as a garnish, and if you’re a true maverick you can go all out and ice cream to make a Floaty Smoky Cokey. But other than that there’s really no rules. You can use Lagavulin 8 or 16 Year Old, you can play with different premium colas and you can adjust the measurements as you see fit.

Dunn says to experiment and see what works for you. “My suggestion is to get a glass of Lagavulin 16 and then make a Smoky Cokey in another glass. Nose the straight whisky, then nose the cocktail. Take a sip of each, but don’t just swallow, give them a moment to compare the two flavours. Then you can adjust based on what you like”. Personally, I find the below works well.

However you make it, it’s the perfect drink to toast a remarkable distillery. Slàinte mhath!

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 2: Lagavulin

It’s easy, it’s tasty and it’s the perfect way to toast the festival!

How to make a Smokey Cokey

35ml of Lagavulin 8 Year Old or 16 Year Old
A bottle of high quality (or just your favourite) cola
Wedge of lime

Add the Lagavulin to a glass (again, go fancy or as simple as you like) filled with lots of ice and then top with cola. Stir, then add a wedge of lime if desired. Enjoy.

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Welcome to The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 celebration!

The world’s most famous whisky festival is returning in virtual form from 28 May-6 June 2021 and we’ve got plans of our own to mark the occasion. Here’s a rundown…

The world’s most famous whisky festival is returning in virtual form from 28 May-6 June 2021 and we’ve got plans of our own to mark the occasion. Here’s a rundown of what to expect from The MoM Islay Festival celebration.

In previous years we’d currently be packing our bags and bracing ourselves for the awkward journey to the Queen of the Hebrides to spend 10 days in the company of whisky, music and wildlife fans at The Islay Festival of Music and Malt, or Fèis Ìle.

Islay online

For the second year running, however, we’re stuck at home and left with the task of celebrating Islay’s spirit, culture and beauty from afar. But we’re going to champion what we’ve got rather than curse what we’ve lost by putting together ten days of festival-based content for you to enjoy alongside the virtual event itself.

Following the schedule of the festival, we’ll post a new feature on our blog for each distillery. From the origins of the Smoky Cokey to the tales of trains, planes and ferries, we’ll have an original tale for every brand to enrich your festival experience. We’ll also let you know what each brand is up to on its designated day and what distillery exclusives to look out for. 

Alongside this, there will be daily Islay whisky deals as well as cocktail and food recipes to enjoy and even an Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the festival mood while you read. All part of the plan to bring the magic of Islay to you.

Below is a timetable for each distillery day, be sure to add the following dates to your diary. Check out the festival website for a full breakdown of what each distillery will be up to, and bear in mind that event times and links could be subject to change.

So, come and join us on the Master of Malt blog every day with a dram in hand and a song in your heart to toast whisky’s most iconic celebration. Slàinte mhath!

The Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021

Wish we were here

Our Islay schedule

-Day One: Ardnahoe (Friday 28th)
-Day Two: Lagavulin (Saturday 29th)
-Day Three: Bruichladdich (Sunday 30th)
-Day Four: Caol Ila (Monday 31st)
-Day Five: Laphroaig (Tuesday 1st)
-Day Six: Bowmore (Wednesday 2nd)
-Day Seven: Kilchoman (Thursday 3rd)
-Day Eight: Bunnahabhain (Friday 4th)
-Day Nine: Ardbeg (Saturday 5th)
-Day Ten: Jura (Sunday 6th)

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Top ten: Peated whisky under £50

Few spirits have a cult following like peated whisky. If you’re particularly taken by smokier spirits or you’re in the mood for something different there will be a bottle for…

Few spirits have a cult following like peated whisky. If you’re particularly taken by smokier spirits or you’re in the mood for something different there will be a bottle for you on this list.

Considering peat is a dark, partially decayed organic matter formed in the wetlands, you’d be forgiven for thinking it wouldn’t create the most appetising of flavours. But you’d be wrong. 

It takes thousands of years for this flammable substance to form and over that time it acquires an array of flavour and complexity. And every time you dry barley with peat in a kiln during the whisky-making process, it infuses with the grain, bringing all that goodness to the eventual spirit.

Peat can be divisive, but like all good acquired tastes, once you get an appetite for it you’ll want it more and more. That’s why distilleries famous for smoky single malts like Bruichladdich, Lagavulin and Laphroaig develop such a devoted cult following.

Depending on where and how the whiskies are made, peated malts encompass a whole range of smoky flavours, the best-known of which come from IslayNow, however, there are producers across Scotland, as well as in Ireland, England, Scandinavia, Japan, America and more.

But we can’t fit them all into one blog. Heck, there’s at least 10 we could have included from just Islay itself. So what we have here is a wide range of smoky treats, from the mellow and aromatic to the full-bodied and fierce. Remember, everyone likes peated whiskey. There are just some folks who haven’t tried the right one yet… 

Our pick of bargain peated whisky

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Cask Strength (Batch 02)

No messing about here. To kick things off we’re going straight for the spectacular with a single malt Scotch whisky bottled at cask strength, a hefty 56% ABV. Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire took the brakes of its flagship 10-year-old expression and the result is all those smoky, sherried and fruity notes are ramped up a notch. Think of it like Mario turning into Super Mario when he gets those mushrooms. Only better. Because it’s delicious whisky.

What does it taste like?

Rockpools and burning turf, mixed with wafts of fresh orchard fruit, salted peanuts, chilli flakes, chocolate digestives and dates.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Ardbeg 10 Year Old 

Ardbeg 10 Year Old is a firm favourite of peated whisky fans because it does a sublime job of showcasing the flavours Islay and the distillery itself are famous for. As well as all that smoke and sea, however, you’ll also taste an array of sweet, citrusy and fruity elements thanks to the depth of the spirit and the balance ex-bourbon casks bring. 

What does it taste like?

A ridge of vanilla and caramel leads to a mountain of peat capped with citrus fruits and circled by clouds of sea spray.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

The Legendary Dark Silkie Irish Whiskey

Don’t be surprised to see more and more delicious smoky spirits coming out of Ireland in the future. The Emerald Isle is home to mountains of peat and distilleries like Sliabh Liag are taking advantage of it with expressions like Dark Silkie. A triple-distilled peated single malt matured in sherry casks, this bottling is then blended with a bourbon-matured single malt, as well as a grain whiskey that rested in virgin oak to make a dram full of subtle smoke, ripe fruit and sweet spices.

What does it taste like?

Salted dark chocolate, oaky vanilla and orchard fruit sweetness veiled by dry smoke, cigar box and spicy oak.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Highland Park 10 Year Old – Viking Scars

Highland Park makes full use of its Orkney home when making its signature whisky, from the mineral-rich springs that provide quality water to the coastline’s salty air which aids maturation. But the most significant contribution is Orkney’s peat. It’s made of heather and sphagnum moss that dates back as much as 9,000 years. Its aromatic, light and slightly sweet profile has a profound and welcome effect on the whisky’s character. Plus, Vikings are pretty cool.

What does it taste like?

Subtle heathery smoke, sherry sweetness, sea salt, crushed black pepper, ginger and waxy orange peel. 

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

High Coast Timmer – Peat Smoke

We’re going further afield now to Sweden, which is no stranger to peaty delights. As well as Mackmyra’s Svensk Rök, you can get your smoky Scandie fill from the High Coast distillery and its Timmer bottlings, which is made up of 100% peated malt. The expression, which takes its name from the Swedish for ‘timber’, spends at least six years in first-fill bourbon barrels and pairs generous bursts of warming smoke with ripe fruit, aromatic spice and some classic bourbon-cask sweetness (think vanilla and caramel etc.).

What does it taste like?

Through grassy, creamy malt there’s tropical fruit, citrus zest and crystallised ginger. Then, milky coffee, crumbly vanilla biscuits and layers of elegant peat smoke.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Caol Ila 12 Year Old 

Another Islay classic that we just can’t get enough of. Caol Ila 12 Year Old has beautifully measured and mellow smokiness that allows all kinds of complex flavours to come together beautifully. Its fresh, coastal and briney elements will transport you to the sea while the fruity, citrus notes add great depth. This is a persistently popular peated whisky for good reason.

What does it taste like?

Rubbed peppermint leaves, damp grass, lemon peels at the harbour, boiled sweets and elegant smoke.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Benromach 10 Year Old

We’re going in a completely different direction here. Because this is one for those who aren’t sure yet that they want the smoke. Benromach only uses a portion of light, sweet peat when it makes it whiskies. That means this is a sweet, fruity and rich dram that has just a hint of smokiness. It’s a great all-rounder that’s fantastic value and serves as a measured introduction into peated whisky.

What does it taste like?

Sweet spices, prune, maple fudge, ground ginger, subtle smoke and dry sherry.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

The English – Smokey

Yes, there is peated whisky in England too. And this tasty treat is one such example. The English – Smokey is from St. George’s distillery, which released the first legal English whisky in over a century in December 2009. The innovative brand has since embraced the smokier things in life. And you can bet this bottle is full of grassy peat, buttery cereal, autumnal spice and rich fruit.

What does it taste like?

Smoked malt, blueberry muffins, cinnamon, buttered bread and stem ginger.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Monkey Shoulder Smokey Monkey 

In need of something smoky for your cocktails? Then this should be perfect. A variant of the excellent and versatile Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt, Smokey Monkey retains all the smooth, creamy, supple elements from the original that make it so good for mixing while adding a soft peaty hint. Add soda or ginger ale for a delightful and distinctive Highball.

What does it taste like?

Honeydew melon, flamed orange peel, a touch of Frazzles, vanilla, Toffee Crisp bars and the last wafts of drying smoke.

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Kilchoman Sanaig 

A deep, dark and rich dram, Kilchoman Sanaig demonstrates how peated whisky can shine when matured in different cask types. This bottle combines the best of bourbon and sherry casks, adding dried fruit, chocolate and spice to its smoky core.

What does it taste like?

Pineapple chunks, toffee, dark chocolate raisins, white grapes and fresh coffee carry the earthy, subtly spicy peat. 

Top ten: peated whisky under £50

Bonus ball: The Character of Islay Whisky Company Tasting Set

Can’t decide on which peated whisky to pick up because they all sound so tasty? Then you can always help yourself to a tasting set. Drinks by the Dram scooped up the Character of Islay Whisky Company’s wonderful range of spirits and popped it in one handy location so you can go on a pleasantly peaty journey without having to break the bank.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Penicillin

This week we turn our attention to one of the great modern cocktails and the ultimate smoky Whisky Sour: the Penicillin cocktail! I’ve been thinking about pineapple on pizza a…

This week we turn our attention to one of the great modern cocktails and the ultimate smoky Whisky Sour: the Penicillin cocktail!

I’ve been thinking about pineapple on pizza a lot recently. Mostly because it seems everybody else has been doing the same. It’s somehow the most divisive culinary conversation of our time (a 2017 YouGov poll found that 29% of people hate the idea. Not dislike it. Hate it.) and its bizarre and brilliant creation continues to amuse.  You see, the controversial pizza style was invented in 1962 in Canada. By a Greek immigrant called Sam Panopoulos. Who was inspired by Americanised versions of Chinese meals such as sweet and sour chicken. So he put a South American fruit on an Italian dish. Which then became to be known as a Hawaiian. What a ridiculous species we are.

This trail of thought made me realise that one of my all-time favourite cocktails, The Penicillin, is also a cross-continental innovation. The Scotch whisky-based serve was invented by an Australian, Sam Ross, in a Manhattan bar, Milk & Honey. While working at the iconic New York bar back in 2005, Ross (now the owner of Attaboy) began riffing on a Gold Rush, which is essentially a Whisky Sour with honey in place of sugar. A recent shipment of Compass Box whisky prompted him to swap bourbon for blended Scotch whisky as the drink’s backbone before he added fresh lemon juice and homemade honey-ginger syrup. What took the drink to the next level, however, was his decision to float some peaty whisky on top.  

What he created was The Penicillin cocktail (a name that’s a nod to medicinal associations ginger, honey, lemon and whisky have), a terrifically smoky Whisky Sour that’s surprisingly easy to make. Which is one of the things I love about it. Ross managed to do something remarkable, create something truly delicious and yet brilliantly simple. It’s what cocktail innovation should be all about. What Ross didn’t realise until later is that he’d also created that rarest of things: a modern classic. The Penicillin cocktail was, for a short time, a New York secret. It wasn’t long, however, before the cocktail started popping up on menus all over and by 2016 cocktail historian Robert Simonson was calling it “the most well-travelled and renowned new cocktail of the 21st century,” in his book A Proper Drink

This week we're making the amazing Penicillin cocktail!

It’s not often you get to see peated whisky shine in a cocktail, but it does here

The secret to the Penicillin cocktail’s success

The Penicillin cocktail’s popularity seems inevitable looking back. It appeared on the scene as pre-Prohibition era serves were making a comeback and whisky cocktails began to cement themselves in drink culture. The profile was delicious and familiar enough to be inviting to those who wouldn’t usually imbibe whisky-based cocktails, but also complex and just strange enough to appeal to those who desired innovation. 

Whatever category you fall in, it’s worth noting that, as with all spirit-forward serves, your Penicillin cocktail is only as going to be good as the whiskies you use to make it. If you want to go truly classic, the Compass Box combo of Great King Street Artist’s Blend and Peat Monster works a treat. Personally, my go-to is the mellow, creamy, sweet, fruity and ever so slightly smoky Black Label, which comes into its own in a Penicillin cocktail. For the peated whisky, you can go for any number of classic Islay bottlings, but the delicately sweet and a measured maritime note of Aerolite Lyndsay brings a classic Islay vibe without going overboard on the smoky elements so I’m using it. Don’t be afraid to play with the ratios of the peaty whisky. If you’re a cautious person, 5ml will be a subtle introduction. On the other end of the scale, 25ml should put some hair on your chest.

In the Difford’s Guide edition of the cocktail (which is excellent. Big-ups), the recipe calls for combining ginger liqueur and honey, which is simpler and less time consuming, but also more expensive than what Ross’ original recipe called for, a homemade honey & ginger syrup. So, I thought it was worth breaking down how you make one of those too. Begin by combining 250ml of honey with the same amount of water and one peeled and sliced piece of ginger root (six inches is about right. Stop laughing) in a small pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, before refrigerating the syrup overnight. Give it one final strain and discard the solids and you’ve got your syrup. Now let’s combine it all together with some Scotch and fresh lemon juice!

This week we're making the amazing Penicillin cocktail!

The Penicillin cocktail

How to make The Penicillin cocktail:

50ml blended whisky (Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old or Compass Box Great King Street – Artist’s Blend)
20ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
20ml honey & ginger syrup
15ml smoky whisky (Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old or Compass Box The Peat Monster)
Candied ginger to garnish

Combine the blended whisky, lemon juice, and honey & ginger syrup into your cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice and give it a good hard shake, then strain into a chilled rocks glass over a large piece of ice. Then, very gently if it’s your first time, pour the smoky whisky slowly over the back of a spoon so it floats delicately on the top of the drink. Garnish with candied ginger on a skewer and enjoy!

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