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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Islay Whisky

New Arrival of the Week: Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (COIWC)

Today we’re welcoming a series of exciting bottlings at MoM from that mecca for whisky lovers, the Jewel of the Hebrides itself, Islay, including releases from Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Octomore…

Today we’re welcoming a series of exciting bottlings at MoM from that mecca for whisky lovers, the Jewel of the Hebrides itself, Islay, including releases from Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Octomore and, rarest of all, Port Ellen. The collection is called The Stories of Wind and Wave and it’s brought to you from the aptly-named Character of Islay Whisky Company.

It can be quite an adventure getting to Islay. Many times Master of Malt team members have tried to reach the island only to be thwarted by adverse weather conditions. And should you be lucky enough to have your flight from Glasgow cleared for take off, the wind-blown descent into the island’s airport on the tiny propeller plane can be terrifying for the uninitiated. Or there’s the joy of a two hour crossing on a CalMac ferry through rough seas. The fun doesn’t stop when you arrive down either, on a visit last year to visit Islay’s newest distillery, Ardnahoe, the air was thick with the scent of burnt heather. A combination of high winds, dry weather, and, probably, a stray cigarette end had set much of the south of the island on fire. The air smelt just like Islay whisky. 

For whisky lovers, this very inaccessibility is part of the magic of the island. You have to really want to visit. And the lure is, of course, the extraordinary concentration of distilleries all with their own unique character and the way the whiskies taste of their location, salt, peat smoke and seaweed. There are other peated whiskies from Scotland, but it’s the ones from Islay that get all the attention. 

Laphroaig John Campbell

Laphroaig on a rare sunny day

Those names, Ardbeg, Bowmore, and Laproaig, are music to whisky enthusiasts. And aiming to bottle some of that music, if such a thing were even possible, is a batch of rare malts that has just landed at MoM towers. It’s from our friends at the Character of Islay Whisky Company which previously released whiskies from anonymous distilleries on the island, but for this batch has revealed where they came from. Which is nice of them. The series is called the Stories of Wind and the Wave and includes bottlings from Bowmore, Laproaig and Ardbeg (see below). Plus still to come some Octomore and something tres fancy from Port Ellen.

The one we’re highlighting today is from Laphroaig, the most medicinal of all the Islay whiskies. It gets its distinctive character from only using Islay peat. The distillery has a traditional floor maltings and makes about 25% of its requirements using local Machrie moss peat which cold smokes the barley. The rest of the malt comes from the nearby Port Ellen maltings. Islay peat is largely made from seaweed which is where that love-it-or-hate-it salty iodine flavour comes from. The reason it tastes of the sea is because it comes from the sea, albeit a long time ago. This smokiness is accentuated by taking a late cut, so you get more of that peat smoke. 

The classic expression for lovers of medicinal malts is the 10 year old. But the longer you keep Laphroaig, the less smoky it becomes and the more tropical fruits start to appear. Release No.11693 was distilled in 2004 and aged for 15 years in a refill bourbon cask so you’re not getting that much wood influence. It’s bottled at 50.2% ABV. All that smoky character is still there but it’s been joined by stone fruit and quince (see below for full tastings notes). It’s a great dram to launch a series of rare and unusual whiskies that Islay fans will not want to miss. They’re the next best thing to a visit to the island itself.

Here is the full range of Stories of Wind and Wave whiskies currently available from Master of Malt:

Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11694)

Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11693)

Bowmore 18 Year Old 2001 (Release No.11715)

Bowmore 18 Year Old 2001 (Release No.11714) 

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11698) 

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11699)

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11697)

Ardbeg 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11673)

Tasting note for the Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11693) from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Waxy peels, peppermint leaf and smoky black tea with a touch of baked earth to it.

Palate: Sweet smoke with savoury hints of salted butter and cedar underneath, plus stone fruit developing later on.

Finish: Polished oak, a touch of ash and continuing fruity elements.

 

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Come and join us for Scotch & Sofa!

** MISSED OUT ON SCOTCH & SOFA?** Don’t panic! You can still snap up a set and taste along with the action by clicking right here. Pining for whisky festivals?…

** MISSED OUT ON SCOTCH & SOFA?** Don’t panic! You can still snap up a set and taste along with the action by clicking right here.

Pining for whisky festivals? Us too. But fear not! Join us on Saturday 5 September for the ultimate virtual whisky festival: it’s Scotch & Sofa!

Nothing beats the vibe of a whisky festival. Old friends, new faces, and oodles of new drams to be discovered (responsibly of course!). One of the (many, let’s say) downsides to the current, ahem, unusual situation is the lack of whisky festivals. But never fear. We’re here to save that aspect of summer with Scotch & Sofa!

We’ve teamed up with our friends at Diageo to bring you the ultimate virtual whisky festival. We’ve put together a full-day fiesta of all things whisky. Get set for eight sessions, filled to the brim with delicious drams and ace folks, streaming live on Facebook. You’ll even be able to nab a tasting set to really immerse yourself in all things festival.

Charge the tasting glasses!

Pour a dram and tune in

Yes! From 12pm on Saturday 5 September, we’ve got an action-packed programme of tastings, chats and general fun and frivolity, and you’ll be able to join from the comfort of your sofa. 

Each 45-minute session will see a group of experts explore a theme, with three different samples specially picked for the occasion. Seven of the eight sessions have a specially curated tasting set too – snap one up and you’ll be all set to take part! But you’ll need to be quick; there’s only a limited number of each available. 

Missed out? Never fear! Just check out our Facebook page, and you’ll be able to follow all the fun of the festival. Pour one of your favourite drams and join in the chat anyway. Everyone is welcome!

Scotch & Sofa

It’s the ultimate virtual whisky festival. Get set for Scotch and Sofa!

The all-important programme

So what has Scotch & Sofa got in store? Here’s how the day is shaping up. 

Scotch & Sofa

12pm: Ghost & Rare Distilleries

And we kick off proceedings with something really special indeed! TJ Littlejohn, malt whisky ambassador, Colin Dunn, whisky ambassador, and Ewan Gunn, global whisky master, join our editor, Kristiane Sherry, to taste through Johnnie Walker Blue Label – Ghost & Rare Glenury Royal, Johnnie Walker Blue Label – Ghost & Rare Port Ellen and Caol Ila Unpeated 15 Year Old from the 2018 Special Release collection. Exceptional stuff all round. 

Nab a tasting set here.

Scotch & Sofa

1pm: Campfire at Skye

Can’t travel this summer? No problem! We’re taking a trip to the stunning Isle of Skye through the medium of our tasting glasses, and a Talisker exploration. Join Jason Clark, Talisker brand ambassador, Diane Farrell, distillery manager, and our very own campaigns manager, Laura Carl, as they indulge in and discuss Talisker 10 Year Old, Talisker 18 Year Old, and Talisker Port Ruighe.

Get your tasty ticket to Skye here.

Scotch & Sofa

2pm: Boat Trip to Islay

The island-hopping continues! This time, TJ, Colin Dunn, Pierrick Guillaume, Caol Ila distillery manager, and Henry Jeffreys, our features editor, check out the spoils of two great Islay distilleries: Lagavulin and Caol Ila. The line-up features Lagavulin 16 Year Old, the wonderful Lagavulin 8 Year Old, and Caol Ila Unpeated 15 Year Old from Special Release 2018. 

All aboard with the Boat Trip to Islay tasting sets here!

Scotch & Sofa

3pm: Johnnie Walker Deconstructed 

Partial to a drop of Johnnie Walker? Intrigued by how the constituent parts of a blend come together for the finished product? Wonder no more! Ali Reynolds, luxury Reserve brand ambassador, Tom Jones, global Scotch whisky ambassador, Emma Walker, Johnnie Walker master blender, and our editor Kristiane Sherry delve behind the scenes and into the secrets of Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old, through Cardhu 12 Year Old and Caol Ila 12 Year Old!

Grab your component parts with a tasting set right here.

Scotch & Sofa

4pm: The Ultimate Johnnie Walker Tasting Experience

If you enjoy the finer whiskies in life, then this trio of tantalizing blends will be right up your street. Join Ali Reynolds, Georgie Crawford, Port Ellen distillery manager, Jim Beveridge, Johnnie Walker master blender, and Kristiane Sherry as they jump right into some of the most decadent bottlings to be found under the Johnnie Walker name. Drams include The John Walker King George V, The John Walker, and Johnnie Walker Blue Label!

You can find the ultimate tasting set here!

Scotch & Sofa

5pm: Before & After: Lower proof serves and small plates

We reckon we’ll be up for a bit of a snack by this point, so it’s perfect timing for Lauren Mote, Diageo’s global cocktailian, and Mark Moriarty, global gastronomer, to take over! They’ll be celebrating the spirit of Scotland in digestif and aperitif form, with accompanying small plates. Featured whiskies include Talisker and Johnnie Walker Gold! Prepare to be inspired. 

Scotch & Sofa

6pm: Mixing Whisky: Highballs

What’s easy peasy, extra delicious, and all-round extraordinary? The great whisky Highball! Don’t believe us? Then tune in to see TJ, Ervin Trykowski, global Scotch whisky ambassador for The Singleton, Ali Reynolds and Laura Carl celebrate and generally revel in the finest of whisky serves (we’re not biased at all…). Whiskies include Talisker Skye, Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old, and Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Year Old. Delightful!

Grab your Highball whisky set right here!

Scotch & Sofa

7pm: Speyside Flora and Fauna

We wrap up the Scotch & Sofa festivities with a session devoted to the love of Speyside, and a dip into the delicious Flora and Fauna series. TJ, Colin Dunn, Jason Clark and Henry Jeffreys will sip and savour Benrinnes 15 Year Old, Dailuaine 16 Year Old, and Linkwood 12 Year Old, while reminiscing about the magic of Speyside. Come join in!

Pick up a tasting set here.

Phew! What a day. Grab a tasting set (or two), ready the glassware, charge the laptop, and join us on 5 September over at Master of Malt’s Facebook. We can’t wait to see you!

 

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The Nightcap: 24 July

Well, another week bites the dust. It’s time to put your feet up, pour yourself a drink and immerse yourself in some fresh booze news. This week, Ardbeg brings you the…

Well, another week bites the dust. It’s time to put your feet up, pour yourself a drink and immerse yourself in some fresh booze news. This week, Ardbeg brings you the thrill of the grill, Glen Moray unveils some single cask expressions, and Jose Cuervo debuts an automatic Tequila button.

Greetings, weary traveller. You have stumbled upon an everlasting tome of knowledge, one that is reborn anew once a week, refreshed, revitalised, brimming with new information. This rejuvenating opus tells tales of people who use the elements to create deliciousness where the once was none. These descriptions sound like myths and legends, but they are in fact true reports. What could this regularly regenerating work be?! Well, weary traveller, it’s The Nightcap!

We kicked off the week with an irresistible competition to win some sustainable booze from our neighbours at Greensand Ridge Distillery. Henry highlighted a rare single grain bottling from the now-demolished Port Dundas in Glasgow, before shaking up some sherry and cassis with Alex Williams from the Great Scotland Yard Hotel for our Cocktail of the Week. On Tuesday, we welcomed a new writer to our blog, Lucy Britner, who looked at pre-mixed cocktails. Welcome Lucy! Annie had a busy week, she spoke to a company looking at distillation from a molecular point of view, and interviewed Ron Welsh master blender and strategic inventory manager for distilleries including Bowmore, Laphroaig and Auchentoshan. Finally, Adam got all excited about cocktail bundles, and who can blame him? That was the week, now on with the news!

Ardbeg and DJ BBQ team up for online grill sessions

This summer you can experience the thrill of the grill online as Ardbeg teams up with diffident TV cook DJ BBQ for the Ardbeg Smoke Sessions. DJ BBQ (aka Christian Stevenson) will be hosting a series of online classes showing whisky lovers how to up their grill game as well as making delicious smoky drinks using Ardbeg 10, An Oa and Wee Beastie. Joining him will be everyone’s favourite head of maturing whisky stocks, Brendan McCarron, aka DJ PPM. Mr BBQ commented: “My smoky barbeque recipes share so many characteristics with the flavours of Ardbeg whisky, and they complement each other perfectly. The laws of wood, heat and smoke are so important to barbecue and single malt alike, and once mastered, you’ll become a barbeque boss! The taste of braided beef fillet alongside an Ardbeg 10 Old Fashioned is just awesome, and a sip of hot Wee Beastie punch with a slow smoked pork shoulder is unrivalled!” The series launched on 21 July on Ardbeg’s social channels (you can watch the first episode here), and there will be a special Instagram Live event on Friday 24 July (tonight!) at 8pm BST. Furthermore, things will be happening in the real world too, as you can order DJ BBQ’s Maple and Bacon Old Fashioned via Mothership on the Drinks At Home platform. Looks smoking!

Lovely wine cask whiskies are just a phone call away

Glen Moray releases three wine cask whiskies

She’s been at it again. Dr Kirstie McCallum has clearly been having a whale of a time in the warehouses of Glen Moray since she joined the distillery as head of whisky creation in 2019. Earlier this year, it was a 2006 Madeira cask, and now there are three new single casks Distillery Editions available: a 2004 Chenin Blanc, a 2003 Chardonnay, and a 2004 Burgundy. All have been fully matured in wine casks and bottled at cask strength. The team at Master of Malt was given a wee taste, and not only did we love these distinctive whiskies, we were impressed with the very reasonable pricing, £85 a bottle. They would normally be available only from the distillery which reopened last week. But if you can’t make it, you might still be able to get your hands on a bottle. Just give them a ring. Visitor centre manager Iain Allan commented: “Buying a bottle of Glen Moray from our annual Distillery Edition is as much about the experience of a visit to the distillery as it is about buying a wonderful new whisky. For the many people who would normally make the trip and take away one of these special bottles, we wanted to find a way to make the range available but avoid making it just a basic transaction over email or the internet. Everyone working at the distillery enjoys nothing more than talking about whisky with fellow enthusiasts, answering questions and sharing behind the scenes stories of how Glen Moray is made.” So dial Glen Moray for a nice blether about whisky. 

Totally fabulous, darling

Harrods opens luxurious basement Baccarat Bar 

News just in: swanky basement bar has just opened in Harrods. Though wouldn’t it be more newsworthy if a dingy pub opened in the Knightsbridge department store instead, offering £2 a pint Wednesdays and wall-to-wall football? Anyway, Harrods went for the more obvious swanky option: the new venue has been created in partnership with Baccarat, the crystal glass maker. It’s called… The Baccarat Bar! With social distancing in place, there’s room for 23 guests only, so it’s pretty exclusive. The totally fabulous interior, a symphony in glass and marble, was created by Fabled Studio and is inspired by Baccarat’s creations. The menu, put together by bar manager Cameron Attfield, is no slouch either, with 16 signature drinks made using state of the art techniques. He commented: “We have approached the drinks in a unique manner, with the design of the bar and its playful yet exquisite elegance and form setting the tone of our menu, but then applying multiple flavour extraction techniques, including fermentation, vacuum distillation, ultrasonic homogenisation and carbonation to make it a reality.” Each drink comes in its own special glass. You can probably guess the manufacturer.

Al fresco drinking will be all the rage this summer

It’s going to be the summer of the garden party, says Bacardi

Top drinks company Bacardi commissioned a survey of Britain’s plans for summer drinking, and you won’t be surprised to learn that it involves being outside… a lot. Out of a survey group of 1,000, 39% said that they will be socialising outdoors more than last year. You’d think, though, that it would be more like 100%. Much of this al fresco frolicking will be taking place at home, with 71% planning on attending or hosting a garden party, and 44% preferring their own gardens to outdoor spaces at venues. So some way to go before Britain’s pub-going returns to normal. But 59% did say that an outdoor space would entice them back to a pub or restaurant with socially-distanced tables (57%), hand sanitiser at the bar (53%), and contactless payments (52%) all cited as important. And what will we be drinking this summer according to the survey? Happily for rum giant Bacardi, the answer seemed to be rum-based cocktails with the most popular being the Mojito and Piña Colada (both picked by 24%). Let’s hope the weather holds up.

Safe and snazzy: Boë Gin’s masks

Boë Gin gives away face masks as coverings become law in the UK

If you’re reading this in the UK you’ll know that as of today, it’s a legal requirement to wear a face covering in enclosed public spaces, including shops, banks, and public transport hubs. There are a number of options, from the surgical to the homemade, if you’re one of the craftier among us. But if, like us, you’d rather someone else puts the leg work in, then look no further than Boë Gin! The Scottish producer is giving away snazzy reusable face coverings to bartenders and hospitality workers around the country. The purple masks feature a floral pattern inspired by the brand’s violet gin, and can be washed and reused. “We hope these face masks can help people look great and stay safe at the same time,” said Andrew Richardson, Boë director. “The stylish masks are designed to be worn regardless of the occasion – whether that’s a trip to the shops or working behind a bar making some of our delicious signature cocktails. As always, we encourage everyone to stay safe – even while they are enjoying themselves.” Taken by the masks? Head to the Boë site and to see how you can get your mitts on your own! 

Aberlour is one of four Chivas Brothers distilleries welcoming visitors back

The Glenlivet, Aberlour, Scapa and Strathisla get set to reopen

Wonderful news reaches us! And it will be especially welcome if you’re planning on a spot of Scotch whisky tourism this summer. Chivas Brothers has announced it will reopen four of its Scotch brand homes as lockdown eases in the UK! The Glenlivet, Aberlour and Scapa will throw open their (highly sanitised) doors on 29 July, with Strathisla allowing visitors back in from 7 August. Pre-booking online is essential, your temperature will be zapped on arrival, social distancing measures will be strictly enforced, and you should bring your own face mask (although there will be supplies on-hand if you forget yours. But face coverings are the new normal, people. Get with the times.). “After four challenging months, we’re delighted to be able to reopen the doors to our brand homes to give visitors the chance to safely enjoy our whiskies and the beautiful surroundings in Speyside and Orkney,” said Gordon Buist, Chivas Brothers production director. We have had substantial best-in-class Safe System of Work processes in place across all of our operational sites over the last few months, and we have been working closely with our local Speyside and Orkney communities to enable us to take significant steps in implementing these strict social distancing and sanitation measures in our visitor centres as well, ensuring we’re able to welcome visitors safely, protect our colleagues and neighbours, and support Scottish tourism. Whether a discerning drinker or discovering drams for the first time, the team and I look forward to welcoming visitors safely back to our homes to uncover more about our rich Scotch heritage.” We can’t wait to get back inside a distillery – just no sharing drams, obvs.

Avallen Calvados

Avallen’s on a £250k crowd-funding drive

Calvados brand Avallen kicks off Seedrs crowdfunding drive

Every so often, the chance to own a little bit of a booze brand comes along. If you’ve fancied yourself as the next Cameron Diaz or Post Malone but without the singing, we have news for you. As of this week, Calvados brand Avallen is looking for investors! The sustainability-focused brand launched in spring 2019 and it’s notched up more than 1,000 case sales since launch. The brand’s philosophy is all about creating planet-positive drinks that taste delicious – and now we can be part of it, too. Avallen’s founders are looking to raise £250,000 through crowdfunding platform Seedrs, with the funds put towards hiring sales and marketing directors, and securing carbon-neutral certification. Fancy splashing out? Head over to Seedrs and check it out!

Certainly presses our buttons

And finally… press a button for Jose Cuervo Tequila

The best thing about being rich is being able to press a button and get exactly what you want. Who hasn’t dreamed of being Mr Burns from The Simpsons who, at the touch of a button, can summon a team of top lawyers, a flight of winged monkeys, or drop his enemies down into a bottomless pit? No? Just us? Well, top Tequila brand Jose Cuervo is about to make someone’s button-based dreams come true, though sadly it doesn’t involve bottomless pits or winged monkeys. Just in time for National Tequila Day on Friday 24 July (as in, today!), the company is launching a competition to win a ‘Push for Tequila’ button. One lucky person will win a button and a year’s supply of Tequila (one bottle per month). Simply press the button, and a bottle of Tequila will be sent to you to enjoy with your friends (responsibly, natch). You can enter via Jose Cuervo’s UK Instagram @josecuervouk and Facebook pages. Good luck!

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New Arrival of the Week: Bunnahabhain 15 Year Old 2003 Amontillado Cask Finish

This week’s New Arrival from Bunnahabhain was originally a distillery-only expression but we’ve snaffled the lot so it’s now available only from Master of Malt. But probably not for long….

This week’s New Arrival from Bunnahabhain was originally a distillery-only expression but we’ve snaffled the lot so it’s now available only from Master of Malt. But probably not for long.

The gap left by the cancellation of Fèis Ìle left a huge hole in the life of many whisky lovers. Islay fans are a particularly fanatical bunch and the Covid crisis has meant that this year most won’t get their yearly island fix which also means that they won’t be able to buy certain releases that are only available from distillery doors. Well, our buyers have seen an opportunity by bringing Islay to you in the form of this former distillery-only release from Bunnahabhain which is now only available from Master of Malt.

It’s a 15 year old release that was distilled in February 2003 and filled into refill hogsheads. Then in 2016 it was transferred into amontillado hogsheads for a further two years ageing before it was bottled at cask strength, 57.4% ABV.  1710 bottles have been produced. The flavour is rich with dried fruit and chocolate without a trace of smoke. It’s very different from the typical Islay dram.

You might not be able to go to Bunnahabhain, but we can bring a little bit of Bunnahabhain to you

Bunnahabhain is something of an anomaly on the island in producing mainly unpeated for its single malt. This didn’t used to be the case. The distillery was built between 1881 and 1883 by the Islay Distillery Company. The name means ‘Mouth of the river’ in Gaelic; the river in question being the Margadale. According to Moss & Hume in The Making of Scotch Whisky, when it was built it was the largest distillery on the island with a capacity to produce 200,000 gallons (900,000 litres approximately) a year of highly-flavoured whisky for blending. Its owners merged in 1887 with Glenrothes to become Highland Distilleries Ltd. 

In 1963, production was doubled but the style changed with the closure of its maltings. From now on malt came unpeated from the mainland. Most of this new lighter Bunnahabhain went into Cutty Sark blended whisky. In 1999, Highland Distilleries was acquired by the Edrington Group which then sold Bunnahbhin to Burn Stewart Distillers in 2003. Bunnahabhain new owners kept the light style for the single malt but also used the distillery to make heavily peated malt for the Black Bottle blended whisky. Burn Stewart in turn was bought by South African spirits conglomerate Distill in 2014. It can be hard to keep up with who owns what in Scotch whisky.

The set-up consists of two large onion-shaped wash stills and two smaller pear-shaped spirits stills. Washbacks are traditional Oregon pine. Production now stands at 2.5 million litres a year. A little peated single malt is released under the Mòine label but ours is in the classic post-1963 Bunnahabhain style. Very nice it is too though perhaps not for real Islay headbangers. 

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Toasty oak and caramelised nuts, with dusty cocoa, earthy vanilla pod and jammy berries.

Palate: Plump raisin and melted dark chocolate, with mocha, dark treacle and oily nuts alongside forest berries.

Finish: Chocolate-covered raisins linger.

Bunnahabhain 15 Year Old 2003 Amontillado Cask Finish is only available from Master of Malt.

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Join our Islay celebrations on Instagram Live!

Just because we won’t be heading to Islay this year, doesn’t mean we can’t keep the festival spirit alive! Thanks to the magic of Instagram Live we’ve organised a series of…

Just because we won’t be heading to Islay this year, doesn’t mean we can’t keep the festival spirit alive! Thanks to the magic of Instagram Live we’ve organised a series of interviews with the island’s distilleries that features tastings, chats and Q&As.

This is usually the time of year where we would pack our travel bags, camera kit and 10-litre bottles of midge insect repellent to head north to the beautiful Scottish island of Islay to revel in one of the highlights, if not the highlight of the whisky calendar. The week-and-a-bit from 22-30 May was sure to provide all the whisky-dipped merriment you could shake Dave Worthington’s pipe at.

But we have no intention of letting this period pass by without some recognition of an island that is home to some of Scotch whisky’s finest distilleries. Which is why we’ve put together the next best thing. Through the wonderful medium of Instagram Live, we’ve created our own virtual festival by teaming up with the island’s distilleries (and the fab folk at Jura, of course). We’ve put together a programme of tastings, chats and Q&As with your questions, comments and tasting notes to keep the Islay spirit alive and your tasting glass full from the comfort of your own home.

We thoroughly hope you enjoy our virtual Islay celebration. The schedule for the Instagram Live shows is listed below, complete with accompanying dram. Don’t forget, you can always embrace the Islay spirit whenever you like with Drinks by the Dram’s Islay Whisky Tasting Set! Why not order one for you and a pal and set up your own Zoom tasting?

Fèis Ìle on Instagram Live

Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old

Day One

Who’s joining us? The Character of Islay Whisky Company and its head of whisky, Sam Simmons for a tasting. What a way to kick off proceedings!

What whisky will we be tasting? Aerolite Lyndsay 10 Year Old, Green Isle, Grace Île and Fiona Macleod.

When is it? Friday 22 May at 7:30pm

Fèis Ìle on Instagram Live

Lagavulin will be joining us on day two

Day Two

Who’s joining us? Lagavulin and its distillery manager Colin Gordon for an evening dram and a chat. Grab a tasting glass and get your questions ready for Colin!

What whisky will we be tasting? Lagavulin 8Lagavulin 16.

When is it? Saturday 23 May at 8:30pm.

Fèis Ìle on Instagram Live

Head distiller Adam Hannett will join us for a tasting and Q&A

Day Three

Who’s joining us? Bruichladdich and its head distiller Adam Hannett for a tasting and Q&A. Bruichladdich also has its own Laddie Lock-In, while its ballot system to decide who can get their hands on its alternative festival bottling, Port Charlotte 16, has now concluded.

What whisky will we be tasting? The Classic Laddie.

When is it? Sunday 24 May at 6pm.

Fèis Ìle on Instagram Live

Caol Ila Distillery, as seen from the skies.

Day Four

Who’s joining us? Caol Ila and its distillery manager for an evening dram and a chat with Pierrick Guillaume.

What whisky will we be tasting? Caol Ila 12.

When is it? Monday 25 May at 8:15pm. 

Fèis Ìle on Instagram Live

We’ll be spending lunchtime with Laphroaig

Day Five

Who’s joining us? Laphroaig for a lunchtime taste and learn session with distillery manager John Campbell. It will also be hosting its own celebration, #LaphroaigLive from 18:15pm.

What whisky will we be tasting? Laphroaig 10.

When is it? Tuesday 26 May at 1pm. 

Fèis Ìle on Instagram Live

The beautiful Bowmore Distillery who will join us on day six

Day Six

Who’s joining us? Bowmore for another lunchtime Live, with time with distillery manager, David Turner. We’ll have a chat about all things whisky, so ready your questions!

What whisky will we be tasting? Bowmore 12.

When is it? Wednesday 27 May at 1pm.

Fèis Ìle on Instagram Live

Kilchoman founder Anthony Wills will stop by to kick-off our Thursday with a bang

Day Seven

Who’s joining us? Kilchoman and its founder Anthony Wills will be kicking off the day with us. The distillery also has quite the online festival Programme, complete with live tastings and a distillery tour.

What whisky will we be tasting? Kilchoman Machir Bay, Loch Gorm 2020, the new Am Burach, 100% Islay 9th Edition, and the official Festival Bottling!

When is it? Thursday 28 May at 10.30am.

Fèis Ìle on Instagram Live

Bunnahabhain Toiteach a Dhà

Day Eight

Who’s joining us? Bunnahabhain and its global brand director, Derek Scott, who will host a tasting with a very delicious dram, usually distillery-exclusive dram (it will also host its own 8pm tasting, ‘Fèis at home‘). 

What whisky will we be tasting? Bunnahabhain Toiteach a Dhà, Bunnahabhain 25-Year-Old, and the very exciting Bunnahabhain 2003 Amontillado Finish, which is usually only available from the distillery.

When is it? Friday 29 May at 5pm.

Fèis Ìle on Instagram Live

The scenic Jura Distillery makes delicious and subtle smoky whisky

Who’s joining us? Jura and Whyte & Mackay’s Gregg Glass, who will be online with us for an evening tasting. 

What whisky will we be tasting? Jura 10 Year Old.

When is it? Friday 29 May evening.

Fèis Ìle on Instagram Live

The stunning Ardbeg Distillery at night

Day Nine

Who’s joining us? Ardbeg and Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stocks for Ardbeg (and sister distillery Glenmorangie) ,for an Ardbeg Day tasting. You can also join the distillery at 7pm on Facebook for its first-ever online Ardbeg Day!

What whisky will we be tasting? Ardbeg 10An Oa and Blaaack. 

When is it? Saturday 30 May at 3pm.

 

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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.

 

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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! 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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The Nightcap: 28th February

This week on The Nightcap, you can look forward to stories about brand new whiskies, brand new distilleries and… thievery! There’s a leap day tomorrow, which is always a bit…

This week on The Nightcap, you can look forward to stories about brand new whiskies, brand new distilleries and… thievery!

There’s a leap day tomorrow, which is always a bit interesting. Do you use it to delay things you have no intention of doing by saying “I’ll do it next February 29th!”, knowing full well that it won’t happen for another four years? Do you dread it because it adds another day to February, thus making the warm light of spring seem that much further away? Do you completely forget about it and find it disorientating expecting March but waking up in February again then start believing you’re trapped in a time loop? However you enjoy your leap day, go into it knowing what happened this week in the world of booze by tucking into this edition of The Nightcap!

On the blog this week we launched our Merser & Co. Double Barrel Rum competition as Ian Buxton returned to look into the explosive history of distillery fires. Adam then announced the news that Kilchoman Distillery has opened its new stillhouse and visitor centre before inviting you to broaden your horizons through a delightful selection of world whiskies, before Henry tasted the new special limited edition Ardbeg Blaaack and a single cask Bruichladdich bottled by Hunter Laing for our New Arrival of the Week. Annie, meanwhile, enjoyed a Mediterranean take on a classic for our Cocktail of the Week, the world’s first African-Caribbean rum and then got the low-down on peat from a selection of whisky experts.

But there’s still so much more boozy goodness to enjoy. To The Nightcap!

The Nightcap

Look, it’s the first whiskey from Waterford Distillery: 1st Cuvée: Pilgrimage!

Waterford Distillery launches its first whisky 

Waterford Distillery has announced the release of its first whisky since it began distillation in 2015. 1st Cuvée: Pilgrimage is the hugely-anticipated launch from the famously terroir-driven producer and is a limited-edition commemorative bottling created by head distiller Ned Gahan. The distillery says Gahan has “brought together each of the 36 farms we distilled in our first year, each one location, captured in spirit, a unique Waterford distillate. Together, they make a mind-bogglingly complex and multi-layered single malt – the determined goal of this intriguing journey – a pioneering concept for the whisky industry”. There are just 1,500 numbered bottles of 1st Cuvée: Pilgrimage, which was bottled at 50% ABV and has a retail value of €150. However, getting your hands on it won’t be easy. 1,000 of these bottles have been labelled “I Was There” and will be available to the public, strictly limited to one per individual, at a distillery open day on Saturday 25th April. Waterford Distillery stressed in the press release that the bottles must be collected in person and that it is only for those who “make the pilgrimage”. To provide a festival atmosphere (among all the strict rules and regulations), local food suppliers, brewers and musicians will be in attendance. Tickets for the open day can be bought on Eventbrite right here.

The Nightcap

The brand home will feature drinks and food made using locally-sourced ingredients.

The Kyoto Distillery opens ‘The House of KI NO BI’

The Kyoto Distillery has a new brand home, ‘The House of KI NO BI’, which will officially open on Saturday 28 March in the centre of the historic city. The renovated traditional ‘machiya’ townhouse was built more than a 100 years ago as a timber mill and the Japanese gin brand has retained the original interiors including earthen walls, beams and roof tiles to preserve its heritage. Just as with the distillery’s gins, local materials were used wherever possible, including bespoke handmade furniture by local workshop In Wood and traditional fabrics from the revered textile company, Hosoo, based in Nishijin, Kyoto’s kimono-making area. The interior design was completed by Douglas Kakuda Croll, son of two of the founders and a graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL London. The house is open to visitors and will serve classic cocktails and local drinks such as Kyoto Brewing Company beers and wines from the Amanohashidate Winery in the north of Kyoto Prefecture, while the food menu will focus on botanical-inspired dishes made with locally-sourced ingredients. Exclusive items will be available at the Omise no Ma (shop), the exhibition space, Tenji no Ma will showcase information about the history of gin and the botanicals used by the Kyoto Distillery, whilst botanical deconstruction and gin blending seminars will be available at Konwa no Ma (meaning Harmony). Kyoto Distillery’s range of gins, including its classic Ki No Bi Gin, is available here

The Nightcap

The extraordinary Karuizawa 52 Year Old Cask #5627 Zodiac Rat 1960

The Oldest Macallan and Karuizawa ever bottled lead Sotheby’s wines & spirits sales

Sotheby’s upcoming wines and spirits sales on the 18 March is sure to draw headlines as the pre-sale estimate is between £842,420 – 1.6 million worth of rare drink across 87 lots. The Finest & Rarest Spirits selection features some standouts, including the oldest Macallan and Karuizawa expressions ever bottled. The highly sought-after Karuizawa 52 Year Old Cask #5627 Zodiac Rat 1960, is arguably the most coveted bottle from the legendary closed distillery and in 2018, a bottle of this Japanese single malt broke the record for the most expensive bottle of Japanese whisky ever sold at auction, superseded several months later by a rare bottle of Yamazaki 50 Year Old 1st Edition. Macallan whiskies, as always, will draw longing looks from buyers with a range that includes an independently bottled 48 Year Old, an unbroken vertical of The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection (six crystal decanters ranging from 50 to 65 years old) and the 72 Year Old Genesis Decanter, the oldest whisky to be released from this exemplary distillery. Another highlight is an array of old Gordon & MacPhail releases from previous decades with vintages stretching back to the 1930s, which were consigned to Sotheby’s directly from the Urquhart family. “We are delighted to present such a strong selection of bottles consigned directly from producers as well as from private collections to begin our 2020 sales in London. Among the most exciting bottles in this sale are the Gordon & MacPhail Private Decanters, all of which are numbered 1 of their respective outturn. This is the first time that any number 1 decanter from G&M has been offered for sale rather than kept within the Urquhart Family archives,” says Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s spirits specialist. “Offering these alongside such iconic bottles as Karuizawa 52 Year old from Cask #5627 and so many Macallan in Lalique decanters showcases the strength of current demand for the very best in the world of whisky.”

The Nightcap

Have you got what it takes to become the ‘Highballer’ of the Year 2020?

Spirited Union announces ‘The Highballer of the Year Twenty Twenty’ competition

Spirited Union has announced that it will kick-off its first Highballer cocktail competition in March to “find the next innovative expression in botanical rum” and the perfect bartender to become the Highballer of the Year 2020. The ‘world’s first’ botanical rum distillery will task entrants initially with creating a unique Highball recipe using its current range of drinks between 1st – 30 March. Those who make it through to the second round will then be sent a sample pack of five single-origin rums and the competitors must choose a rum that they feel best works with their botanical rum concept while also presenting an idea to help Spirited Union further reduce its carbon footprint. The chosen finalists will be invited to Amsterdam for a three-day competition from 5 – 7 June to distil their own rum recipe in the Spirited Union Distillery. The winning expression will then be launched as Spirited Union’s 2020 Limited Edition Rum which will go on sale throughout Europe. The winner will also help “shape the brand’s ongoing ideas and future distillery plans, alongside the opportunity to consult on new launches in their home country”. If you’re interested in entering or want more information, just click here.

The Nightcap

Dr Stravinsky, one of the two brilliant bars that will curate a delightful cocktail menu

Barcelona comes to Soho in two exciting pop-ups 

Barcelona, renowned for crazy architecture, delicious tapas and, of course, its awesome bar scene. It’s home to Paradiso and Dr Stravinsky, two of the world’s best bars (ranked #20 and #25 in the World’s Best Bars, respectively), and now both establishments are touching down in London for the week with two specially curated cocktail menus! What’s even better is that you can find both pop-ups in the same place, Wardour Street in Soho. Running from Tuesday 3 to Friday 6 March at 100 Wardour Street, the wild and wonderful Paradiso, known for its theatrical nature (in its home city, you’ll find it in a speakeasy hidden behind a fridge door) will be bringing its colourful, boundary-pushing serves. A serve that caught our eye was Caribe Italiano, described as a “Daiquiri with an Italian soul and a tropical touch,” marrying Guatemalan rum macerated with banana and Parmesan, coconut water shrub, fresh raspberry and rocket. Consider our interest piqued. Next door in The Den (at 98 Wardour Street), a bar channelling the intimacy of an old drawing-room, you’ll find Dr Stravinsky from Thursday 5 to Sunday 8 March. With the original bar reminiscent of a 19th-century laboratory and many of the cocktail components made in-house, you can imagine the exciting alchemy the team will bring to London. We’re looking forward to trying Truffle Rosita, an umami-forward serve boasting Blanco Tequila redistilled in truffle, Campari, red and dry vermouth and a Parmesan sheet (looks like Parmesan is all the rage is Barca!) If classic cocktails just aren’t doing it for you anymore, then prepare to have your expectations dazzled over in Soho next week!

Posh Spice’s husband enjoying a drop of Haig Club

Haig Club Clubman made ‘official whisky’ of David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF

David Beckham has brought together his love of football and whisky by partnering Haig Club Clubman and Major League Soccer’s newest club. Beckham not only co-owns Haig Club, with drinks giant Diageo, but he’s also one of the founders of Inter Miami, who he co-created once he retired from playing using his option that was put in contract that allowed him to purchase an expansion team at a price of $25 million when he joined the league with LA Galaxy in 2007. Fittingly, Haig Club and Inter Miami CF will officially kick off their partnership on the 14th March when Inter Miami takes on LA Galaxy at its Fort Lauderdale stadium. Cocktails will then be on sale to fans over the age of 21 at the stadium throughout the football season. Haig Club is made at Cameronbridge Distillery in Fife, and matured in ex-bourbon casks to create a light, sweet and versatile profile that’s ideal for mixing. “I’m so excited that Haig Club is launching in Miami. Miami is like a second home for me, it’s a city that has welcomed me with open arms – the energy and the people are all amazing,” says David Beckham. “Launching Inter Miami CF this year is a really proud moment for me and to have Haig Club be a part of that is really special. I can’t wait to see people enjoying Haig Club in Miami”. 

Is Rajbir Singh about to hit his brother Sukhinder in this photo? 

Plans submitted for new distillery on Islay

Islay’s tenth distillery moved a step closer this week as Elixir Distillers submitted its plans (see photo in header) to Argyll & Bute council. The proposed site will include a floor malting, room for 16 washbacks and four sets of pot stills with a capacity to produce one million litres of pure alcohol per year. According to the press release: “The distillery will feature smaller stills, a mixture of modern and traditional yeasts, and longer fermentation times. Modern technologies around distillation and heat reclaim techniques will be used to maximise flavour and energy efficiency and minimise the impact on the environment”. It will be geared up to innovation with a separate still specifically used to create experimental batches. The people behind Elixir Distillers are Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh who will be well-known to drinks fans as founders of The Whisky Exchange and Speciality Drinks. Sukhinder Singh commented: “I wanted to build a distillery on Islay because I have always loved the island, its people and its whiskies. I’ve been a regular visitor to the island for over 25 years and must have tasted close to 3000 different Islay whisky bottlings! From a liquid point of view, we are determined to produce the greatest spirit possible. We want to create something that inspires the people of Islay and our customers and enhances the reputation of Islay as a source of some of the world’s greatest whiskies. Our hope is that our distillery becomes an integral part of the island community, and one of our key priorities is to work collaboratively with the local community to ensure everyone benefits.” Concrete plans to achieve this include eight houses for staff, a charitable fund to help the community and representation from locals in the decision-making process. We’ll let you know how the plans progress. 

The Nightcap

Fentimans wants you to nominate women who have made a difference

Fentimans Launches ‘She Is Fearless’ International Women’s Day Campaign

Do you work in the drinks industry? Do you work with awesome women who you think should be recognised? The wonderful Fentimans has launched a rather marvellous International Women’s Day campaign, dubbed ‘She Is Fearless’! Running throughout the whole of March, the botanical drinks brand is encouraging anyone in the drinks industry (male or female) to nominate women who have individually contributed to making a difference in the world of drinks and hospitality, from all roles including suppliers and bartenders to brand ambassadors and back of house staff. The name of the award (while obviously celebrating badass women) was taken from the Fentimans logo, the Fentiman’s family (and notably female) dog, called Fearless. All nominees will be graced with a Fentimans ‘She is Fearless’ award at their place of work. Follow this link to nominate a fearless woman you work with! 

Jean-Christophe Coutures

Chivas CEO Jean-Christophe Coutures looks casual

Carbon neutral distillery within two years, promises Chivas Brothers 

This week Jean-Christophe Coutures, CEO of Chivas Brothers unveiled some bold sustainability initiatives. These include the building of the first carbon-neutral distillery within two years, to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses by 20%, ensure all packaging is sustainably-sourced by 2022, make point of sale ‘eco-friendly and finally the slightly less concrete-sounding “roll out sustainable events around the world.” The environmental pledge came with the release of the group’s six-monthly performance which shows net sales up by 4%. Of the group’s big brands, Ballantine’s was up by 5%, Royal Salute by 17% and Glenlivet by 15%, whereas Chivas Regal itself was 2% down in the last six months. Most major markets were growing slowly with the US the standout up 17%, the odd one out was Global Travel Retail which was down by 2%. Let’s see if Chivas can maintain its growth, sustainably, of course.  

Hofbrauhaus

The scene of the crime

And finally. . . American woman returns stolen stein after 55 years

We reported last year that at the Oktoberfest there were 96,912 attempted glass thefts prevented by stewards. But even the most stereotypical efficient teutonic guard will miss a glass or two. Once such lapse happened back in 1965 when American tourist Celeste Sweeney was at the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. Speaking to German news agency DPA, she told how she slipped the stein under her coat and smuggled it back to her home in Maryland. Hardly the crime of the century, but it seems that Sweeney has regretted it ever since as recently she spent over $100 sending it back with a note reading: “I took this beer stein from your establishment in the summer of 1965 when I was young, reckless and inconsiderate. I am sorry I did not get it back to you sooner. Hopefully it arrives in one piece.” Wolfgang Sperger from the beer hall was so impressed that he has sent her a replacement mug along with tokens she can exchange for beer. So all’s well that ends well. Now maybe I should do something about that Stella glass that mysteriously appeared in my cupboard one morning in 2006. 

 

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Everything you wanted to know about peat

It’s been a smoky week on the blog with news of the expansion at Kilchoman and a new release from Ardbeg. Therefore, we thought it would be a good idea to take…

It’s been a smoky week on the blog with news of the expansion at Kilchoman and a new release from Ardbeg. Therefore, we thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look at the ingredient that gives them their unmistakable flavour. So, here’s every question you’ve ever wanted to ask about peat, answered by whisky experts…

Ah, heavily-peated whisky. The great divider. The Marmite of the spirits world, if you will. For every die-hard Islay aficionado with a penchant for eye-wateringly medicinal, TCP-esque drams, there’s a bourbon connoisseur who wouldn’t clean their boots with the stuff. Such is life, and such is whisky.

Whatever your personal preference, you’re likely to have a few burning (ha) questions about the peat, specifically the mechanics involved in flavouring whisky with it. So, to quench your thirst for knowledge, we approached a selection of whisky experts to get the 4-1-1 on what is, essentially, thousands of years’ worth of decaying vegetation. Behold!

The floor malting at Benriach

Where does peat come from?

Peat is formed in cold wetlands from partly decomposed vegetation – shrubs, heather, bog myrtle, forests – over thousands of years, explains Dr. Rachel Barrie, master distiller at BenRiach Distillery. It tends to be found close to the coast, “having formed when seas flooded the landscape, trapping the vegetation,” she explains. “Cellulose, lignin and other plant components decompose slowly over a seriously long time, due to the lack of oxygen being trapped underwater.” Grass, wood and moss break down in the peat, making it a very good fuel, as well as a source of smoky aromatics. Peat is found all over the world, “but is especially prevalent in the Northern hemisphere in places like Canada, Siberia and in particular Ireland and Scotland,” adds Cameron Ewen, bar manager and senior whisky ambassador in Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel.

Does peat exhibit terroir?

Peat exhibits the ‘terroir’ of the plant material trapped and compressed under swampy wetland, decomposing over thousands of years, says Dr Barrie. “As well as plant material, it’s influenced by the water that flooded the land,” she continues. As such, the peat found in the north east of Scotland differs to peat found on Islay, due to the higher proportion of forests and less wetlands. Not only do the Western Isles feel the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, says Ewen, but the peat on Islay also has a higher proportion of seaweed. By contrast, “northern peat tends to be more floral with decomposing heather and gorse playing important roles in this peat,” he explains. “This will usually give the whisky a drier smoky character more akin to a bonfire. The peat dug from mainland Scotland is composed mostly of leaves, grasses and woods. This usually lends a very soft smoke to the whisky often due to the amount of peat being used.”

Peat cut in the Scottish Highlands

How is peat harvested?

Traditionally, peat has been dug by hand, says Anthony Wills, founder and managing director of Islay’s Kilchoman Distillery, with machines introduced more recently as demand has increased. First, the top layer of turf would be peeled away, and then a trench anywhere from 0.5 metres to 2 metres deep would be dug, says Ewen. “Peat was then cut out of this trench and stacked in the fields to dry,” he says, usually for about six months until it became brittle. “This peat is then used in traditional kilns – oven-like structures capable of holding tonnes of damp barley – and the peat is burned to produce an aromatic smoke that dries the barley and gives the final whisky its distinct quality,” Ewen adds.

How and when are ‘phenols’ released?

The phenols are released when the peat fire is burning and the smoke impregnates the moist barley grains lying on a floor above the fire, Wills explains. The phenol level is measured in parts per millions of phenols (PPM). How long the fire is lit determines the level of PPM in the final malt. “In the old days peat was used to dry the malt down to 5% moisture, but the result was a very peaty, salty, phenolic whisky that wasn’t very refined,” says Wills. “Peating levels have now been refined by distillers, and peat is only used at the first stage and then switched to a warm air drying system.” As those who have tasted Bowmore and Laphroaig liquids side-by-side, each distillery usually has a preferred peating level they require for their malt. However, this measurement is not entirely accurate by the time the whisky is bottled, because the PPM reduces over the course of the whisky-making process, Ewan explains. “At every stage some of the phenols are lost – this is most noticeable in the distillation and maturation phase,’ he says. During maturation, “some of the phenols are absorbed or evaporate off”, while other notes mellow out over time.

Kilchoman Islay

Burning peat at Kilchoman

Where does the peat burning tradition originate?

Historically the practice of using peat in whisky started through necessity, says Ewan. “Many distilleries were in remote parts of the country and as such, it was often impractical and not financially economic for distillers to use coal or oil in whisky production,” he explains. Peat had been used for centuries to heat bothies and blackhouses – traditional farmhouses – and this led to the practice being adopted by Scottish distillers. Those based further inland tended to use a mixture of coal, anthracite and peat, adds Dr Barrie, though the exact composition would have varied according to location, geography and terroir. That all changed in the 1970s, when natural gas was discovered in the North Sea and a boom of commercial barley maltings were built in the north and east. “With the readily available supply of natural gas, the larger commercial maltings rapidly became the most efficient, cleanest and scaled-up way to malt the barley,” she explains. “Without natural gas on Islay, peat continued to be the dominant source of fuel.”

In what other ways are distilleries using peat to flavour their spirits?

You don’t necessarily need peated barley to give your spirit a smoky taste. In fact, if you’re Daniel Szor, founder and CEO of England’s Cotswolds Distillery, you need only obtain an empty cask. “Our production director Nick and I went to visit our friends at Penderyn and were fascinated by one of their whiskies, which had been aged in a ex-Laphroaig quarter cask,” he explains. “As soon as we returned to the distillery, we ordered one from Speyside Cooperage and filled it with our unpeated new-make Cotswolds spirit.” After a year, says Szor, they were smitten. “ The cask provided just the right amount of phenols without overwhelming our delicate spirit, and the slight smokiness married perfectly with our rich and fruity Cotswolds spirit,” he says. 

 

 

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Kilchoman’s new stillhouse and visitor centre are open

Islay’s eighth distillery Kilchoman has doubled its production capacity with a new stillhouse extension that opened this week. We managed to grab a quick chat with founder Anthony Wills about…

Islay’s eighth distillery Kilchoman has doubled its production capacity with a new stillhouse extension that opened this week. We managed to grab a quick chat with founder Anthony Wills about the effect the improvements will have, how he replicated the Kilchoman character and why legacy is key.

On Friday 21st February, family, friends, colleagues and local businesses gathered at Kilchoman Distillery on Islay to celebrate the opening of its new stillhouse and visitor centre. Unfortunately, terrible weather meant that we couldn’t be there in person, but over 150 guests did manage to witness the new developments, which began in 2018 with the completion of a new malt floor and kiln. These founder Anthony Wills says have allowed the distillery to malt twice as much of its own barley. “We’ve gone from four-tonne batches instead of two. In future, this will allow us to share more of our flagship expression, Kilchoman 100% Islay”.

The £6 million project entailed creating a new stillhouse by extending out from the gable end of the original. It contains two new stills, a new mash tun and six additional stainless steel washbacks which doubles the capacity to 480,000 litres of pure alcohol annually, though the distillery has not yet decided what production level it will settle at.

Kilchoman Distillery new stillhouse

The new stillhouse in all its glory

The new stillhouse had become a necessity in recent times due to the continued increase in demand for Kilchoman. Without an increase in capacity, Wills says, Kilchoman would be heading towards a situation where its whisky would be sold purely on allocation. “We wanted to continue building on the success of the last 15 years without the risk of running out of whisky. I’m a great believer that if you are standing still in business you are going backwards,” he explains. “With my three sons very much part of the business, I wanted to make sure we had enough Kilchoman single malt to share with consumers around the world. In the first 10 years, we had proved that Kilchoman had a following and I didn’t want to be in the position of allocating our single malt going forward”.  

The investment amounts to almost an entirely new distillery in itself, however, Kilchoman was keen that the new equipment was a mirror image of the original stillhouse to ensure that signature Kilchoman character and strong island provenance was retained. “I spoke to Jim Swan before he sadly died and he was adamant that the only way not to compromise on the character and style of our new spirit was to build a replica of what we had before,” says Wills. “So we set about copying all the production equipment we started with in 2005. Two more stills, a mash tun and six new washbacks. This was the only way we were going to get exactly the same spirit character.”

One particularly exciting aspect of this development for nerdy whisky fans (our people) is that the new equipment will allow more experimentation during the malting and peating phases. “With the new production up and running we have started experimenting with sowing different barley varieties on the farm, processing unpeated, lightly-peated and heavily-peated malt, using different yeast varieties, different spirit cut points and isolating the spirit from each different run,” Wills explains. “We are excited to see how it affects the character of the spirit and I’m especially interested in the way different yeast varieties affect the character of the spirit”.

Kilchoman Distillery new stillhouse

Founder Anthony Wills at the opening of the new stillhouse and visitor centre

Two more bonded warehouses have also been built to allow greater room for cask maturation. The distillery has had to rely on using space in predominantly dunnage warehouses owned by Bruichladdich, Bowmore and Port Ellen, but Wills confirms that Kilchoman will continue to build more warehousing as demand dictates, commenting “I want to mature all our stock on Islay. This is important to our USP”.

The final phase of the current expansion project has been the completion of a new open-plan visitor centre that encompasses a shop area selling whisky and branded goods, glass windowed tasting rooms, a bar to enjoy your drams around a log burning stove and a café. In 2019 Kilchoman Distillery welcomed some 30,000 visitors and each year this number is rising, which is why Wills felt it was important for the distillery to have space to accommodate the increasing number of people making the trip. ““We needed to create a better experience for our visitors so we decided to build a purpose-built building behind the café,” he says. “We are very happy with the end result as we’ve managed to retain many of the original features of the stables. The new visitor centre will be open 7 days a week from the end of March so make sure to come and visit us soon!”

The developments couldn’t have come at a better time as far as Wills is concerned. “He believes the future of whisky and especially Islay malt is very positive. The category is still seeing growth and we are confident this will continue,” Wills says. “However, the recently implemented tariffs in the USA and coronavirus will present its challenges. I’m delighted we launched Kilchoman 15 years ago when very few new distilleries were being opened. The challenges are much greater for all the distilleries around the world that have recently started.

Kilchoman Distillery new stillhouse

Guests enjoyed the new visitor centre at the opening event

Wills had mentioned in the press release that these changes came at a time when he thought he might take a step back. It’s notable that these developments have taken place as his sons take on a greater role and the family presence increases. “The big thing for myself and my wife was about leaving a legacy for my sons to take to the next level. I believe family-run businesses have more of a connection with their customer base and I would like to see Kilchoman growing as a family business well into the future,” Wills explains. “Kilchoman was always about growing a business and leaving a legacy to my three sons to take on when I eventually step back….that isn’t happening anytime soon!”

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Master of Malt tastes. . . Ardbeg Blaaack

Today we had an advance sniff of a special limited edition Ardbeg inspired by the enormous number of sheep in New Zealand so it’s aged in Pinot Noir casks. How…

Today we had an advance sniff of a special limited edition Ardbeg inspired by the enormous number of sheep in New Zealand so it’s aged in Pinot Noir casks. How bizarre! 

Some distilleries have fan clubs. Ardbeg has the Ardbeg Committee which was founded in 2000 and now has 120,000 members in 140 countries around the world. It functions as a testing board for new expressions as well as a highly engaged organisation with members who attend tastings, give feedback, visit the distillery and generally spread the word. Last year when we spoke with Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stocks for the Glenmorangie Company, he said: “the purpose of the Ardbeg Committee is to make sure that the distillery never closes its doors again. It’s had a complicated turbulent history, opening and closing its doors. It’s the Committee that will keep the doors open way into the future.”  

Brendan McCarron Ardbeg

Brendan McCarron. always on brand

To celebrate 20 years of the Committee, Ardbeg is launching a new limited-edition expression. It’s inspired by the country that’s about as far away from Scotland as it’s possible to get, a country where there’s seven sheep for every one person: New Zealand. And what else is New Zealand famous for? Rugby! Yes, but also wine. So this latest limited edition is finished in Pinot Noir casks. It’s called Ardbeg Blaaack in honour of all those sheep though why didn’t they call it Ardbeg All Blaaaack and get the rugby in there too? Missing a trick there Ardbeg. 

Mickey Heads, Ardbeg distillery manager, said: “In every corner, of every far-flung place, you’ll find an Ardbeg Committee member. For 20 years they’ve been proudly demonstrating their black-sheep behaviour. Ardbeg Blaaack is the best possible way to pay tribute to our tearaway fans who, like us, are shorn to be wild!” 

McCarron wouldn’t share the exact cask make-up of this new expression when we contacted him, only to say that the core is aged in Pinot Noir casks for a good long time. This isn’t no short dip. Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg director of whisky creation, commented: “Ardbeg Blaaack knits together velvety summer fruit pudding and bitter cherry, with a deeper edge of soot and Ardbeg’s hallmark smoke. It’s the perfect dram for toasting our legendary committee.” 

That’s the Committee edition. Fancy!

Two versions have been made, a Committee version bottled at 50.7% ABV, and a general public one at 46% ABV. Both will retail for around £94. Initially, it will only be available from 3 March for Committee Members (there is still time to join before this date). Everyone else will have to wait until Ardbeg Day, 30 May, when it will be launched at Fèis Ìle and available from Master of Malt. So, you’ll have to wait to taste it, we’re afraid (UPDATE: Ardbeg Blaaack is now available here!). But lucky us, we were given a tiny wee sample to taste, so here to tantalise you is what we thought:

Ardbeg Blaaack Tasting Note:

Nose: You can really smell the cask influence. The first thing that comes off are dark cherries with some peachy notes underneath followed by classic Ardbeg aromas of smoked meat and old fireplaces. A splash of water brings out cedar and some volcanic notes.

Palate: Fiery and spicy initially, then those cherries again with limes lurking underneath with wood smoke underlying it all.

Finish: Lick of dark chocolate, single espresso and wafts and wafts of wood smoke. 

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