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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Islay Whisky

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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Burns Night poetry competition – we have a winner!

The results of our third Burns Night poetry competition are in! We are delighted to announce the winner of two Islay malts and a Glencairn tasting glass. Read on for…

The results of our third Burns Night poetry competition are in! We are delighted to announce the winner of two Islay malts and a Glencairn tasting glass. Read on for some top quality words…

We were meant to announce the winner of our Burns Night poetry competition on Burns Night itself, Monday 25 January, but we were so inundated with entries of such a high standard that it took a bit longer to come to a decision. But finally, after much discussion, we are delighted to announce that the winner is……

Lee Porterfield! 

The judges were impressed with his amusing take on toasting the Bard. It works particularly well when read aloud and we can see it becoming something of a Burns Night classic. So thank you Mr Porterfield! You win a bottle each of Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Islay single malt and Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Cask Strength Islay single malt from our friends at Atom Labs, plus a Glencairn tasting glass to sip them out of.  And here’s the poem:

Rabbie Burns Toast 

Rabbie Burns the toast.
He burns the tatties as well,
There ne’er was a clumsier man
Than Rabbie Burns hi’sel

Rabbie Burns the toast.
He forgot tae turn it o’er,
It’s a blackened on the one side,
And there’s melted butter all o’er.

Rabbie burns the toast.
He’s scorched it all tae hell,
Distracted by yon po-yums
That dinnae ring a bell!

Rabbie, man, what have ye done?
Ye’ve wasted all the lard,
This kind ay thing cannae stand
Even if you are “the Bard”.

Ye had one job, Rabbie,
Tae make the toast for me,
Instead ye’ve wrote a poyum
For everyone to see!

I guess I can forgive ye,
You really are the most
Making all the country proud:
“Tae Rabbie Burns, a toast!”

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire

And here’s what you’ve won!

As we said, the standard was extremely high this year and it was a difficult choice so we’ve also picked five runners up who will all receive drams. They are: Andrew Douglas, Emma Whiteman, Dave Cox, Alex Ball and Glen Sewell. You can read their entries below.

We want to say a big thank you to everyone who entered. This year there were so many funny entries, some of them extremely rude. We had great fun judging the contest. It cheered us right up. In fact, someone in-house had the idea of publishing a Master of Malt Burns Night poetry book. Watch this space! Now here are those runners-up, in no particular order:

Sipping memories
Of camping with my father
When his boots caught fire

Andrew Douglas

———————

I am home schooling
My kids are aged eight and six
I require whisky

Emma Whiteman

———————

Now here begins a relationship between poetry and whisky,
A competition entry that will always be a risk, see
when you start talking about the water of life,
you may oft end up conversing about a Scottish poets life. 

But not everyone will understand the words that he wrote,
A “Wee tim’rous beastie” could easily be a stoat.
“The best laid schemes Gang aft a-gley”
can leave us pondering ‘what’s that you say?’

One one things for certain – his love for his terroir
So much so that folk come from near and a-far
To breath in the air, albeit quite brisk, he
draws people in, where they can sample the whisky.

Burns’ ink reacts to paper like whisky inside a cask,
Both interactions with wood leaving impressions that last.
His words cause confusion, adrenalin and pain,
Like high whiskybase scores on Haig Club Single Grain.

Like Burns’ poetry, whisky is art,
years of perfecting with head and with heart,
A journey that starts with indeterminate end,
And distillers wondering what SWA rules they can bend.

But one things for certain this liquid will stay
That’s something that 2020 cant take away
Like Burns’ poetry, whisky will always stand strong
with a delightful palate, and a finish that’s long.

Dave Cox

———————

Of drams and drizzle:

Pile through the door, quick get it shut!
Peel off your coats, dodge the shaking black mutt.
O’er to the cabinet, a bottle, some glasses,
and turn to the fire to warm your numbed arses.
Oot there the wind shrieks, the glens fall to gloom,
in here the cork squeaks, your rising perfume.
The rain sweeps the mountains, the streams they do swell,
of fruit cakes and seaweed, all troubles you quell.
Inky black shorelines, fierce seas without master,
the tinkling of crystal, soft light and bright laughter.
N’er mind the damp wool, chilled bone and sinew,
your heat it pervades, sets the soul anew.
You grow sage o’er eons, as mountains do too,
and of a joint genesis – lo’, who knew?
For your warmth it hides your true nature from me –
after all you are born of dark peat and wild sea.

Alex Ball

———————

Aye, whisky wid cure the covid,
But then, Rabbie wid say that ye ken
He, best of all the poet’s knew
Whisky fires the heart o menThe amber nectar shines the eye
Can melt the ire o beast
Ane glass o it is held
To be grander than a feastIf ony, men o politics
Wid huddle roond a glass
Then all the strife in a the world
Wid vanish and wid passIf all the sodjers laid aside their arms
And drank a health instead
There,d be no wars nor civil strife
And name Maer bombs tae dreadSae whisky, heres guid health tae ye
Lang may your glory shine
Ye may not cure the covid
But you’re better than all wine.

Glenn Sewell

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Burns Night poetry competition – win Islay single malts

It’s type to sharpen your pencils because our great Burns Night poetry competition is back by popular demand. You could win two delicious bottles of Islay single malt, plus a…

It’s type to sharpen your pencils because our great Burns Night poetry competition is back by popular demand. You could win two delicious bottles of Islay single malt, plus a Glencairn glass.

UPDATE: We’ve been inundated with entries and will announce the winner ASAP once each work of poetic genius has been subject to due consideration.

For the third year running we are calling on Master of Malt customers to flex their poetry muscles for a chance to win whisky. When we launched the competition back in 2019, we thought maybe we’d get 10 entries. Instead we got many times that and the quality was surprisingly high. Just take a look at the winning entries from 2019 and 2020.

This year Burns Night, Monday 25 January, is going to be a little different for all of us. But we can still eat haggis and neeps, drink some whisky and, most importantly, celebrate the words of the Bard himself, Robert Burns: “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!” Great stuff, we love a bit of Burns at Master of Malt. To help you on your way, we are giving away: a bottle each of Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Islay single malt and Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Cask Strength Islay single malt from our friends at Atom Labs, plus a Glencairn tasting glass to sip them out of. 

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire

All you have to do is compose a poem about whisky. We had some Ossian-esque epics last year so we’re limiting entries to 25 lines. All poems must be in English or Scots. Apart from those rules, let your imagination run wild: you can write a haiku, a sonnet or maybe something experimental a la E.E. Cummings. Poems will be judged by the discerning team here at Master of Malt. There’s at least one second class English degree from a redbrick university among us, so we know what we’re doing. Before you set pen to paper, we’ll offer you a couple of tips: try to be amusing, if we have to read 50 poems, we are going to remember the ones that made us laugh; if you can’t make us laugh, make us cry; please don’t rhyme ‘whisky’ with ‘frisky’, it’s an automatic disqualification.

The 2021 MoM Burns Night poetry competition is open to entrants 18 years and over with postage to UK addresses only. Entries accepted from 12:00 GMT on 13 January to 23:59 GMT 21 January 2021. Full T&Cs are below, but to enter simply email us at [email protected], or comment on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or below with your poem by 21 January. The winner will be announced on Burns Night, 25 January.

Good luck and may the muse be with you. 

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Five minutes with… David Turner, Bowmore

He grew up on Islay, worked at the distillery for over 30 years, and is partial to a spot of whisky collecting. Who better to spend five minutes with than…

He grew up on Islay, worked at the distillery for over 30 years, and is partial to a spot of whisky collecting. Who better to spend five minutes with than David Turner, Bowmore distillery manager?

What has a delectable mix of history, peat, and a fabulous seaside outlook? Islay’s Bowmore distillery! We take five minutes (well, more like 20) to have a chat over the phone with distillery manager David Turner. Why not pour a dram, sit back and enjoy?

MoM: Bowmore is a truly historic distillery. What sets it apart from other producers? 

David Turner: I think the location sets us apart. We’re on Islay, right in the middle of the Island. Islay is well-known for the peated whiskies. The north is very lightly peated, the south is very heavily peated, and we’re in between. We sit between on peating level, and geography. We call ourselves the perfectly balanced Islay whisky.

David Turner Bowmore

David Turner in the stillhouse at Bowmore

MoM: Tell us about your career at Bowmore. You’ve done almost every job at the distillery over the years!

DT: I came here when I was 16 years old, straight from school, on 4 June 1990. I started in the warehouses, and I worked there until April 1992. When I was 18 years old I went on shifts in the malt barns, and I covered the stillhouse as a relief operator as well until April 2000. And from the malt barns I went to the mash house for 3, 4 years. Then I moved to the stillhouse in 2006, permanently, and became head distiller in 2007. Eddie [MacAffer, the former Bowmore distillery manager] was here as distillery manager; he did the visitor centre, tourism side. On 1 August 2016 I became the distillery manager. I like both production, and visitor-facing sides, to be fair. I like hands on. The malt barns are really special. For Bowmore, that’s where the tropical fruit notes come from. But I like speaking to visitors too, and travelling around the world. 

MoM: You recently added Bowmore 30 Year Old to the core line-up. Why was it released, and what’s it like?!

DT: We’ve got good aged stocks dating back to 1970 maturing in our warehouses, so we’ve always looked at the single malt side, we’ve got aged stock. It’s an annual release, and we do have the stock for a release of that age every year. It’s 45.3% ABV, distilled in 1989, with sherry hogsheads and bourbon barrels in it. The number of bottles will vary from year to year, just depends on what casks are used and how many. It’ll be what the casks yield, to be honest. 

MoM: Bowmore recently started rolling out its The Art of Time campaign. What does time, and the luxury of it, mean to you, and what does it mean in whisky-making?

DT: Well it really is about the art of time. We’ve got our own malt barn. It takes a wee bit longer to produce, our own spirit – other distilleries will buy in the commercial malt. We don’t rush things, and we leave the whisky to mature for as long as we need to and keep an eye on it. And it speaks to the ageing stocks we’ve got. And, of course, we’re the oldest on Islay, and the second oldest distillery in Scotland. We just see ourselves as caretakers of time. We do what the generation before us has done, and you just hope the next generation will do what we do. 

Bowmore

The heart of Bowmore, the stills

MoM: What’s coming up for Bowmore in 2021? Are there any cask experiments, distillery developments, or anything else you can share?

DT: Well, honestly, with the Covid situation… We’ll have distillery exclusives next year. We’ve also got the DB5 getting released at the end of Q1 2021, the 1964 31 year old. There are only 25 bottles going on sale. Beyond that, we need to see what the situation is. We’ve not got expansion plans just now. We’re a single malt specialist. We work 24/7, but we aren’t pushed. We’ve still got room to increase production for future growth in sales. And we have been putting extra stock down. We’ve got a lot of good stuff to come. 

MoM: 2020’s been quite the year! There have been lots of negatives, but also lots of opportunities to share drams and chat in the virtual space. What have been highlights for you?

DT: I think it’s been doing the online tastings. We’ve probably reached… I don’t know how many people! I probably do three weeks at shows throughout the year. I haven’t lost out of time engaged with consumers. I’ve been doing online virtual tastings and chats with people. It opens it up for the future as well – stuff we weren’t doing in the past. We know we can do things virtually now. It works really well. People have video on their laptops, iPads, it’s really good. 

MoM: You grew up on Islay. How does it feel to be managing such an iconic Islay distillery

DT: Yeah, it’s pretty amazing to be fair. It’s amazing to see how many people from around the world appreciate Bowmore. We’re on a small island off the west coast of Scotland. It’s amazing to see people from all around the world and that they know us. I didn’t think I’d ever do this job.  

Bowmore’s magnificent sherry-soaked 15 year old expression

MoM: Peated whisky continues to grow in popularity. Why do you think it holds such appeal?

DT: I think drinking whisky is part of a journey. Many years ago, people started drinking blends and moving on to single malts. People are educated to start drinking a Lowland, Highland, Speyside, then Islay. I think it’s part of the journey. But peated whisky can be totally accessible, for all genders as well. Some people’s palates prefer sweeter bourbon, some people who’ve never drunk whisky before like Bowmore 15 Year Old with the sherry influence. Every palate is different. 

MoM: Tell us a little bit about your life outside whisky. What excites and inspires you?

DT: I like to travel on holiday, I like to play golf, I like to walk on the beach on the weekends, I like to drink and collect old whisky. Distillery exclusives are good, small numbers. And, most importantly, it’s good if you get the opportunity to try it; the quality matters as well. 

MoM: What dram will be in your tasting glass this Christmas?

DT: I’m going to have a Bowmore 15 Year Old. I think it’s perfect – the sherry gives off the rich Christmas cake flavours, the dark caramel toffee. It’s a good winter dram, a good Christmas dram, and great value for money as well. 

Enter our Laphroaig and Bowmore competition to win a VIP trip to Islay here until 31 December 2020.

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The Nightcap: 11 December

The promise of returning whisky festivals, new distilleries and fewer tariffs already had us in a good mood this week, then we heard about the Islay KitKat and a piñata…

The promise of returning whisky festivals, new distilleries and fewer tariffs already had us in a good mood this week, then we heard about the Islay KitKat and a piñata bar… It’s The Nightcap!

There was inevitability going into Christmas it would be a bit different this year. The only thing for it was to embrace the change and not let it get us down. Virtual parties are in the diary, Christmas jumpers have been encouraged and an office Spotify playlist has done the rounds (I swear Domonic The Donkey is on there about 15 times, guys. I’ve started brushing my teeth to the rhythm of it ffs). It turns out all you need to make the most of the season is some festive spirit and a strong broadband connection. Who knew? #WhiskySanta, probably. That guy is always on the money.

Which is something you’ll have noticed if you kept tabs on the MoM blog this week, which certainly made us get all giddy when that omniscient, bearded and jolliest of fellows revealed two more sublime Super Wishes. I mean, c’mon, who wouldn’t want the chance to get their hands on a bottle of Balvenie 40 Year Old or Tobermory 42 Year Old?  The festive fun continued as we opened windows #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10 and #11 on our Whisky Advent Calendar before Adam put together a round-up of our favourite festive spirits ( look out for Christmas pudding spiced rum and a Brussels sprouts vodka).

Elsewhere, we showed off our swanky Black Bowmore DB5 1964 video, introduced you to a new kind of drinks company and managed to get the low-down on one of Scotland’s most iconic whisky producers. Henry, meanwhile, welcomed a delightful rum from an underappreciated distillery and made a classic cocktail with a reimagined old brand of Cognac, Adam recommended some of the best bargain American whiskeys on the market and Annie discussed what collective action is required to help eradicate sexism in the whisky industry.

The Nightcap

This is exactly the kind of news we all need right now. Fingers crossed it goes ahead!

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival to return in 2021

News that almost seems too good to be true came from The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival this week, which announced it will be back in 2021, irl! The 21st edition of the six-day festival is tipped to return from 28 April to 3 May 2021 and the organisers have assured us that it will be adaptive to any COVID-19 measures. Lord knows all of us whisky lovers could do with a chance to celebrate our favourite tipple in good company and we’ll never turn down an opportunity to taste our way around this world-famous whisky-making region. Those who do attend (assuming this does go ahead, fingers crossed) will witness nearly 140 business members come together to be part of the biggest festival of its kind in the world. “We are very excited about being back in business for 2021. The positive news about the coronavirus vaccines has given everyone a boost and it’s great to see some light starting to emerge from what has been a long and very dark tunnel for everyone,” says James Campbell, festival chairman. “Even if social distancing is still in place in late April I am confident they will come up with solutions to provide numerous brilliant events and we look forward to giving a very warm Speyside welcome to all of our new and returning UK and international guests in 2021.” The full programme of events will be listed on www.spiritofspeyside.com and will be available for preview on Wednesday 24th February 2021, while tickets will go on sale online on Monday 1st March 2021. We sincerely hope that we’ll see you there… in real life! It’s almost too exciting.

The Nightcap

The Offerman-Lagavulin love story is showing no signs of slowing down and we’re here for it

Nick Offerman stars in new Lagavulin video

Actor and whisky lover Nick Offerman, you might remember him from such films as The Lego Movie and The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, returns for another Lagavulin: My Tales of Whisky‘ video. Called ‘A Dram Good Holiday’, it features Offerman enjoying some Lagavulin 8 year old while attempting to be a modern Youtube celebrity. “After many a holiday spent sipping Lagavulin by a blazing Yule Log, I have this year determined to venture into the world of the modern-day internet media tube,” he explained. “Well, I saw it. I can’t say I fully understand it, nor do I want to, so I will now return to my usual holiday plans and sip the wondrous elixir that is Lagavulin single malt Scotch whisky as intended.” Advice that we can all get behind this Christmas. You can watch Nick star in the festive clip here.

The Nightcap

We just want to see both whisky industries thrive. Is that too much to ask? It’s Christmas!

When the whisky levy breaks? UK suspends US tariffs

One story that caught our eye this week was the news that the UK intends to drop tariffs against the US over subsidies for aerospace firms, in a bid to reach a post-Brexit trade deal with Washington. Why is this of this interest to the drinks industry? Because the move could open the way for a punitive tariff on whisky to be removed. In November, the EU imposed tariffs on $4bn of US goods in the Boeing row, but these will be suspended in the UK from 1 January when the current post-Brexit transition period ends. One of the hopes of this strategy is that leads to a reciprocal move from the US to alleviate the damaging duties on goods like single malt Scotch whisky. The Scotch Whisky Association estimates the industry has lost £30 million a month on sales, and over £400m in total, thanks to the measures, so you can understand why chief executive Karen Betts described the announcement on Tuesday as “an encouraging step”. She went on to say: “It shows the UK government’s determination to de-escalate the damaging transatlantic trade disputes that have seen Scotch whisky exports to the US fall by over 30% in the past year”. Let’s hope sense prevails and our industry, which has faced a difficult enough year as it is, receives some respite here.

The Nightcap

No this isn’t an April fool.

Islay cask Kit Kat anyone?

In a week of funny stories, this one might just take the biscuit, or rather the chocolate-covered wafer snack. We have just learned about the arrival of a whisky cask-aged Kit Kat. And not just any cask but one that held Islay whisky. Chocolate and smoke, an interesting combination. It’s a product of the experimental division of Kit Kat Japan which in the past has come up with unusual versions made with matcha tea, soy sauce and sake. The chap in charge of this latest experiment is pastry chef Yasumasa Takagi. Rather than fill a barrel full of Kit Kats, which would just be silly, Takagi and his team took Ghanaian cacao nibs and aged them in the Islay barrels which were rotated once a week to ensure the chocolate became imbued with all that smoky goodness. Despite being made in Britain, this experimental Kit Kat is only available, for a very reasonable ¥300 (£2.16), in selected retailers over there including Kit Kat boutiques in Tokyo. Imagine, whole shops devoted to Kit Kats. Are we allowed to fly to Japan yet?

The Nightcap

The Walking Man is doing his bit to ensure his path is greener

Johnnie Walker gifts a million trees

Earlier this year we reported on Diageo’s sustainability initiatives and it seems the drinks giants are intent on putting things in motion sooner rather than later. This week the company outlined its vision to plant one million trees across the four corners of Scotland before 2025, as part of an ongoing commitment from Johnnie Walker to reduce its carbon footprint and restore the natural resources it uses when creating its Scotch whiskies. “A million trees we are planting with our partners across Scotland will create wonderful biodiverse woodlands that are havens for wildlife and accessible for people to visit and enjoy in the years and decades to come,” Ewan Andrew, Diageo’s chief sustainability officer, explained. To date, 389,000 of the one million trees have been planted near two of distilleries in the Scottish Highlands which, over the lifetime of this project, are anticipated to absorb over 69,000 tonnes of C02 – the equivalent of taking 10,500 flights around the world. At Ballygowan, near Oban distillery, native birch, oak, wild cherry, willow and hazel trees were planted, including a new tree dedicated to every one of Diageo’s 28,000 employees, while at Allt Ruadh, near Glen Ord distillery, Johnnie Walker has joined forces with Trees for Life to plant ancient and native trees to serve as a wildlife corridor and increase habitat availability for species including black grouse, crossbills and red squirrels. It’s exactly the kind of Christmas gift we like to see from major players within the industry, so kudos guys. For more info on Diageo 2030’s sustainability commitments click here.

The Nightcap

Ashley Lloyd, retail operations manager at Halewood Artisanal Spirits, is clearly as thrilled as we are!

Halewood opens £1m Peaky Blinder distillery

The good news keeps on coming this week as Halewood Artisanal Spirits has announced that its phenomenally popular Peaky Blinder brand’s new home is open. The new £1 million distillery is based in Birmingham, on the same site as Sadler’s brewery, home of the infamous gang from the hit show. The new facility is already producing Peaky Blinder Spiced Dry Gin and Black Spiced Rum in four ‘state-of-the-art’ Arnold Holstein stills, which got a makeover in August this year, to emphasise the provenance of the brand. A different character from the late 19th and early 20th-century Peaky Blinders gang and other gangs feature on the bottles, with authentic mug shots from police archives to boot. “After months of planning, we’re very pleased to share our plans for the Sadler’s site in Lye,” commented James Stocker, marketing director, Halewood Artisanal Spirits. “As we’ve continued to see strong sales for our Peaky Blinder spirits via our e-commerce channels, both in the UK and globally, this felt like the perfect time to bring production back to their rightful home”. Halewood has also revealed that we can expect to see the first spirits from the new distillery by the end of 2020 and, as we reported earlier in the year, plans are also in place to develop a distillery to produce Peaky Blinder Irish whiskey. Things are certainly looking bright for the brand. Now would be a good time to end with a quote from the show, but I haven’t seen it, so those of you who have can insert your own topical joke here.

The Nightcap

It’s a fitting end to a brilliant series

Gordon & MacPhail’s 125th Anniversary series concludes in style

Regular readers of The Nightcap will remember that we’ve covered the launch of a particularly special series of Scotch whiskies put together to commemorate 125 years of Gordon & MacPhail. Now, the much-anticipated final whisky in the collection has been revealed: The Gordon & MacPhail 1975 Glencraig! The last of the four extremely rare and unique whiskies was distilled in Lomond Stills, which operated within Speyside’s Glenburgie Distillery before production ceased after just 23 years. The whisky, which was matured in a single refill American hogshead for 44 years, was laid down on Thursday 30 October 1975 and bottled on Thursday 28 May 2020 at 54.2% ABV, with an outturn of just 110 bottles. It’s said to possess notes of honey, coconut, rich nectarines, white pepper, lime, cocoa beans and carry some floral and herbal elements. The majority of the Glencraig whisky was destined for blended malts, so this is a truly rare treat and, like the other expressions in the series, it was sourced from the last remaining casks from lost or closed distilleries matured within Gordon & MacPhail’s warehouse  “While it’s bittersweet to share the last remaining drops of these ultra-rare whiskies, they embody a fitting tribute to 125 years spent in pursuit of perfection,” Stephen Rankin, a fourth-generation member of Gordon & MacPhail’s owning family and the company’s Director of Prestige, said. “These four releases provide a personal legacy for all who have worked at Gordon & MacPhail over the decades culminating in these exquisite and unique drams found nowhere else.”

The Nightcap

Half this week’s stories could have been our And Finally… but just look at wonderful madness of this thing!

And finally… Jose Cuervo creates world’s first piñata bar

Global Tequila giant, Jose Cuervo, has unveiled the world’s first piñata bar and it’s going to one lucky fan. The one-of-a-kind creation has been designed in festive colours and comes complete with a shelf of Jose Cuervo Especial Gold, bartender’s essentials, mixers, garnishes and a variety of Jose Cuervo tequilas and flavoured fillings inside. Given that lots of you will have played the home mixologist this year, the bar should come in handy for dispensing delicious Tequila cocktails for the friends and family you’ll be spending the season with. Margaritas are on you, future winner! And the fun doesn’t stop there because, it’s piñata bar so to get your hands on the goodies inside, you have to indulge in a bit of creative destruction. Yes, you get to take out all the frustrations of 2020 by smashing it up, responsibly of course. So, if you’re over 18 years old and based in the UK you can enter the competition by following the Jose Cuervo UK Instagram page and tagging a friend who they’d enjoy a festive cocktail with. So, what are you waiting for? Get entering, and have a smashing weekend (sorry!)

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Introducing Black Bowmore DB5 1964

We spoke to  brand ambassador David Miles about the the first offering of a series of collaborations between two great British brands, Aston Martin and Bowmore. It’s the Black Bowmore DB5…

We spoke to  brand ambassador David Miles about the the first offering of a series of collaborations between two great British brands, Aston Martin and Bowmore. It’s the Black Bowmore DB5 1964!

This amazing whisky was inspired by the famous silver Aston Martin DB 5 driven by the late Sean Connery in arguably the best Bond film ever, Goldfinger. It was distilled in 1964 and aged for 31 years in sherry casks. Only 27 bottles of this super desirable Islay whisky have been filled. To find out more, we spoke with Bowmore brand ambassador David Miles.

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Whisky Advent 2020 Day #10: Green Isle

Opening door number ten of the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar takes you on a journey across the flavours of Scotch whisky with a blend called Green Isle.  …

Opening door number ten of the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar takes you on a journey across the flavours of Scotch whisky with a blend called Green Isle.  

Day ten already?! There’s only two weeks to go! By now the panic should be setting in. You promised yourself “I’m going to be really organised this year” but you’ve eaten more mince pies than you have bought presents… But enough about that, time to find out what’s behind door number 10!

Open today’s door and you will find something special from the Character of Islay Company. Called Green Isle, it’s a blend of Islay and Speyside malts with Lowland grain whiskies. While Islay may be synonymous with ferociously peaty flavour, the Lowland and Speyside influence give Green Isle a delightfully sweet, and fruity quality that pairs with the subtle smokiness coming from the Islay malt. This really is a journey through Scotch whisky. It also makes the perfect dram for anyone who is Islay curious but not quite ready to take on the peated big hitters. It’s absolutely delicious neat, or in a Highball.

Like other whiskies from the Character of Islay Whisky Company, there’s hidden meaning in the name Green Isle. We had a few ideas, but we thought we’d ask Sam Simmons for the full story… 

Master of Malt: Tell me about the make-up of Green Isle?

Sam Simmons: Green Isle is a blended Scotch whisky with an Islay heart, but it’s so much more than the iodine, brine and peat the island is typically associated with. It does, I hope, capture the full range of Islay whisky; the numerous styles produced by the island’s distilleries and the very experience of being there: the food, the weather, the people. Green Isle is blended in the tradition of the great blends of old that used Islay in their flavour make-up, such as White Horse, Islay Mist, Johnnie Walker, and hopes both to invite new drinkers to Islay and to satiate the palates of the Islay-initated.

If you’re an Islay lover or just Islay curious, you’ll love Green Isle

MoM: We’ve seen Aerolite Lyndsay already, how does Green Isle fit into the Character of Islay range? 

SS: We like to think of it as an approach to Islay, like taking the CalMac ferry or even flying in on Logan Air, it’s an approach to Islay for those who are turned off by what they’ve heard of Islay (peaty, medicinal, etc.). Green Isle is sweet, smooth and smoky. For those who may fear the heavy, sometimes medicinal smokiness so commonly associated with Islay whiskies, Green Isle is instead a representation of what in reality is a much more complex and wide flavour profile offered by the distilleries of Islay. For those who know and love Islay, it has an aroma that conjures up everything we love about Islay, the sea, the damp, the wellies, the sweet memories of new friendships and old companions, and that whiff of peat that is always in the air.   

MoM: Any hidden meaning in the name ‘Green Isle’? 

SS: The name was inspired by Neil Gunn’s 1944 Green Isle of the Great Deep, a Scottish parable told fully in dialect that takes its protagonists to a parallel Highland universe called the Green Isle. Green Isle is a sweet, smooth and smoky dram that speaks to the glory days of blending when Scotch took on the world, before anyone outside Scotland really knew what Islay was. When it was still a mystery to most. Green Isle hopes to entice the new drinker into this previously unknown universe, and provide transport for the experienced drinker who longs for it. 

MoM: Any more plans for blends from Character of Islay?

SS: There are currently no plans for more blended whiskies inside the Character of Islay range, but as a lover of the history and art of blended scotch, you never know…

MoM: What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received? 

SS: Hanukkah, innit. Though I did marry into the best Christmas I could find. So perhaps Norwegian Christmas is the best gift I could have asked for…

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Softly toasted barley, warming oak, honey glazed apples and cut grass.

Palate: Vanilla pod earthiness builds on the palate, paired with coastal peat, pear drops and crushed peppercorns.

Finish: Lingering wafts of dry smoke and buttery biscuits.

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Five minutes… with John Campbell from Laphroaig

Laphroaig is one of Scotland’s most iconic whisky producers. We catch up with distillery manager John Campbell to chat still quirks, iconic figures from the past, and that all-important Christmas…

Laphroaig is one of Scotland’s most iconic whisky producers. We catch up with distillery manager John Campbell to chat still quirks, iconic figures from the past, and that all-important Christmas dram!

It’s a classic Islay producer with one of the most distinct palates in whisky. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that Laphroaig holds a very special place in the collective whisky consciousness. We catch up with John Campbell, the brand’s long-serving distillery manager, and get a renewed taste for the mega-peated dram. 

John Campbell contemplating a dram

Master of Malt: Laphroaig is such a distinct, expressive single malt. Can you describe the distillery character for us in your own words? 

John Campbell: It’s a very traditional operating process at Laphroaig, so this impacts the flavours we produce. The floor maltings add a lovely peatiness that’s unique to Laphroaig. Our distillation also helps define the flavours, with the longest foreshot run in the industry before we collect the spirit, with the two different sizes of stills in the second distillation running at different speeds. This in turn provides two different flavours which are married together continuously. We also mature on Islay too, which provides a different flavour profile as the climate here is different to mainland Scotland. We are right beside the sea so the air is different and the temperature profile is different, so it matures differently. These key processes help to give Laphroaig the character it has.

MoM: Opinions Welcome is back! The new campaign asks people to taste Laphroaig for the first time. What was the first Laphroaig you tried, and what were your initial thoughts? 

JC: Well, my initial thoughts were not repeatable! As a 24 year old, I just wondered how and why it tasted this way. That is the exact moment we want to embrace with our consumers. It’s never really a moment you forget! And so many people have great first-time Laphroaig stories, so we want to share these.

MOM: You’ve recently released the next instalment in the Ian Hunter range. Tell us a bit about Ian Hunter, and why he’s so important to Laphroaig. 

JC: Ian Hunter is so important as he believed and delivered on what he thought Laphroaig could be. He had a plan, and took Laphroaig from being the smallest producer on the island to the biggest. He re-invested all the profits in the infrastructure that is still here to this day. He understood that the recipe needed to improve, so he searched for the casks to mature his spirit in. Ian is the person that set up the site in most of the ways we run to this day. His legacy still lies before every visitor to the distillery over 100 years later.

The still house at Laphroaig

MoM: Another iconic figure you’ve celebrated with a bottling is Bessie Williamson. Tell us about her!

JC: Yes! Laphroaig was lucky enough to not only have one amazing person lead us in the 20th century, but two, and back to back! Bessie took over from Ian in the 1950s and built on the success of the previous generation. Bessie was hugely influential, both within Laphroaig and Islay, but also across the wider Scotch whisky industry. She travelled the Americas as the Scotch Whisky Association’s ambassador in the 1960s, just as single malt started to come to the fore. On Islay, she understood the importance of social and environmental impact long before her time. She was an amazingly generous person with the team, but you also a great leader. You understood when you stepped over the line!

MoM: What’s coming up for Laphroaig in 2021? Are there any cask experiments, distillery developments, or anything else you can share?

JC: We have some new things coming next year, yes. We will have the new Cairdeas for 2021, which I think folks will love, and cask strength 10 and 25 year old releases. We also will have a different slant on the 10 Year Old for our Friends of Laphroaig [the distillery’s members’ club] to see. It will be fully oloroso sherry-matured, so I’m excited to see what our consumers think of this.

MoM: 2020’s been quite the year! There have been lots of negatives, but also lots of opportunities to share drams and chat in the virtual space. What have been highlights for you?

JC: It sure has been a year! It’s been very tough for us all in so many ways. It’s amazing to think we are having discussions about changing our society; that’s never easy, but amazing. The internet can be a place from time to time too, and the positive side of this has been a bonus. I have tried to understand this more and more, and support better and better, as the year has progressed.  I think the support within, and for, consumers from the industry on the virtual platforms has been amazing. We have all supported each other, stepped up our game, and it’s been very entertaining.

The classic 10 year old expression

MoM: You grew up on Islay. How does it feel to be managing such an iconic Islay distillery?

JC: Yeah, I sure did! It’s pretty cool to be managing the distillery that is the island’s biggest single malt. It’s not something you take for granted. It doesn’t weigh heavy; it’s more of a privilege.

MoM: Peated whisky continues to grow in popularity. Why do you think it holds such appeal?

JC: It’s just so tasty! It just offers a depth of flavour that people really enjoy.

MoM: Tell us a little bit about your life outside whisky. What excites and inspires you?

JC: I like to travel, play golf, visit art galleries, attend live events from sport to opera, meet friends and enjoy good food and good drinks. If I can do all the above in the same day, even better.

MoM: What dram will be in your tasting glass this Christmas?

JC: There will be Laphroaig 10 for sure, as it’s my favourite Laphroaig. But there will also be a good Champagne, and a new red wine to try. And I would like to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Introducing Atom Labs…

Today we welcome the arrival of a new kind of drinks company, one that puts innovation at the core of everything it does. It functions as a laboratory for brilliant…

Today we welcome the arrival of a new kind of drinks company, one that puts innovation at the core of everything it does. It functions as a laboratory for brilliant boozy ideas so it’s fittingly called… Atom Labs!

Master of Malt, home of all things good and boozy, has a sister company called Atom Brands, which makes all kinds of exciting drinks that have become firm favourites with our customers. Just consider the Darkness range of whiskies and Bathtub Gin. The team loves innovation so much that it has just set up a new arm of the business devoted to experimentation. Meet Atom Labs! Think of that bit in The Simpsons where Bart visits Mad magazine in New York and has a glimpse at all the zaniness inside, that’s what a normal day at work is like at Atom Labs.

A hot Jaffa Cake Gin cocktail, garnished with an actual Jaffa Cake

There’s a whole team beavering away, creating exciting new products and strange new flavours, but the public faces are Rosie Milsom, in charge of new product development, and Laura Carl, who looks after marketing. Carl explained the big idea: “It’s an innovation section, where we dream up the crazy, amazing things that we want to try out and then we can push them out to see if they actually work.” Atom Labs has been going since January and has already scored a number of successes, not least with the runaway success of Jaffa Cake Gin. Carl elaborated on  the thinking behind that one: “We saw the interest in orange gin over the summer months and we thought: ‘We want to make an orange gin, but how can we make ourselves different? Where else is there a gap in the market?’ And we started to think about chocolate orange, and then somebody came up with the idea of Jaffa cakes. So we included Jaffa Cakes in the actual distillation process.” Another bakery-based success is Project #173 Gingerbread Rum. “I’ve just been in the warehouse bottling a thousand more bottles just now!” said Carl. There’s also a Bourbon Bourbon, a bourbon flavoured with Bourbon biscuits. 

Atoms Labs is an actual laboratory where boozy experimentation can take place. There is a vacuum still where weird and wonderful flavours can be added to spirits to create things like Central Galactic Rum which tastes like the centre of the galaxy. No, really. It’s totally sciencey. Atom Labs also functions as an independent bottler, looking for tasty liquid to market in interesting ways such as Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire, a 10 year old Islay whisky, or Black & Gold, an 11 year old Tennessee bourbon.

“We are looking at market trends and we’re listening to what people actually want. The whole thought behind it is like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, if you can dream it, we can make it,” said Carl. These experimental products are then tested on the Master of Malt website. “If there was an automatic interest without any marketing, and if people then picked up on that product, we’d go: ‘OK, right, so this is actually something people want, so now let’s make more of it and now let’s put some marketing behind it and make it into a proper product’.” 

Burnt Ends is a super smoky whiskey inspired by American BBQ

Head of NPD Rosie Milsom commented: “The thing I find the most exciting is the speed at which we can move. A product is generally ideated and up for sale within a six-week period.” It’s a very different approach compared with how products are usually launched in the drinks world. Carl explained: “Most companies create the brand around the product that they want before they even put the product out, they get the marketing campaign sorted. We do it the opposite way round which allows us to focus on the liquid and the product that we’re putting out rather than a brand story.” According to Carl, with Atom Labs, the customer is king because if a product doesn’t capture people’s imaginations, then it won’t be continued. There’s also a Facebook page incoming, where people will be able to share their thoughts.

So, that’s Atom Labs. Be prepared for more crazy, innovative and always delicious products appearing on Master of Malt every week. Some of them, inevitably, won’t work, and that’s ok because it’s all about finding out what people want. Others, however, could be the next Jaffa Cake Gin.

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Win an incredible VIP Trip to Bowmore and Laphroaig!

All of our competitions have great prizes, but this one should really excite whisky fans. Two legendary Islay distilleries await.  If you ever have the chance to put smiles on…

All of our competitions have great prizes, but this one should really excite whisky fans. Two legendary Islay distilleries await. 

If you ever have the chance to put smiles on people’s faces, you should take it. This year, of all years, doing just that feels particularly important, so we decided to team up with our pals at Edrington Beam Suntory and put together something seriously special for all our lovely readers.

It’s a competition. Now, all of our competitions are cool, but we have a feeling this one will really excite you. Because it could see you heading to two of the most fantastic and famous distilleries on planet earth. It just happens, in this case, they’re both located on the same island. Islay. Are you shaking with excitement already? Good, you should be. Because you’re a few clicks away from potentially packing a bag to visit Bowmore Distillery and Laphroaig Distillery

VIP Trip to Bowmore and Laphroaig

Ever wanted a dram of Islay whisky on the island itself? Now’s your chance!

You’re probably trying to dance around the room while hyperventilating at this point, so we’re going to outline exactly what you win nice and simple for you: First, you and your chosen travel buddy will get flown out to Scotland. There you will enjoy complimentary accommodation for two nights, as well as dinner. Plus, tours of both Bowmore and Laphroaig distillery and the beautiful island of Islay. Oh, and Edrington-Beam Suntory is also going to throw in some merchandise (for more info see the competition terms below). 

May we assume you’d like to enter? Lovely, here’s how you do it: just buy a bottle from the following range. It’s that simple. Take a look here at the full list of eligible expressions (once again, for any more info the T&Cs are your friend).

The lovely Laphroaigs:

The beautiful Bowmores:

VIP Trip to Bowmore and Laphroaig

Simply pick up one of these beauties and you’re in it to win it!

It’s the perfect set-up. If you win, you get a VIP trip to Islay. And if you don’t, you’ve still got some delicious Islay whisky to enjoy. There’s no reason not to enter! So go on, put your name in your hat. You never know whose name will be drawn… Good luck!

MoM Bowmore and Laphroaig VIP Trip Competition 2020 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 12:00:01 GMT on 1 December 2020 until 23:59:59 GMT on 31 December 2020. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Date and travel restrictions apply. Postal route available. See full T&Cs for details. 

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