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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Islay Whisky

Fèis Ìle 2019: Day Three, Caol Ila and Islay Ales

A double dose of fun and games on the Isle! On the third day of Fèis Ìle we joined the craic at Caol Ila before chilling out with a refreshing…

A double dose of fun and games on the Isle! On the third day of Fèis Ìle we joined the craic at Caol Ila before chilling out with a refreshing pint at the Islay Ales Open Day. Great stuff all round!

We always try to bring you an authentic view of Fèis Ìle here on the blog. So, in the interests of full disclosure, we did not have an early night and hit the hay after we hit ‘publish’ yesterday evening. Adventure awaited. We scoffed our dinner down and headed out to experience the Islay nightlife! Our Laura headed into the evening in Bowmore, while Kenny, Jake and I headed all the way out to Portnahaven for a Rhythm & Booze Project pub gig. Don’t think the fun stops once the distillery gates close! We had a dead nice time, a particular highlight being percussion extraordinaire Paul’s washboard solo, before the guest horn section took centre stage for a battle. Team MoM could not control their feet.

Caol Ila Feis Ile

Rocking out with the Rhythm & Booze Project

After a bougie few days at The Machrie (we know, swish) Monday, AKA Fèis Ìle Day Three, saw Team MoM up sticks for pastures new. Don’t worry, it was planned – there was no epic catastrophe; in fact, we entirely recommend Islay’s luxe golf hotel. But before we could check into our new Port Charlotte home, we had a whole load of fun and games to attend to and not one but two distillery days: up north for Caol Ila, and then back to Bridgend for the Islay Ales Open Day!

Our advance party (oh haaiii, Kenny and Laura) headed off early to get the car with all the film kit down and back up the winding road to Caol Ila before the shuttle buses started their worthy work ferrying Fèis-goers to and fro. The rest of us followed shortly afterwards, making use of the handy field car park at the top of the hill. That was where we encountered our first surprise of the day – car park drams! The distillery team had brekkie measures of Caol Ila 12 ready to go for the bus queue. Huzzah and hurrah! And double huzzah, because there were even closed measures for designated drivers (AKA the Des) like me. MEGA!

Caol Ila Feis Ile

Car park drams!

Drams down, on the bus we went (intrigued by the journey down the hill? Check out the timelapse on our Instagram story. It’s worth it for that view. Caol Islay surely ranks highly in the distillery surroundings charts) and we arrived at the distillery in fine spirits, ready for the day ahead. After a brief mooch around, we decided to go in search of Pierrick Guillaume, Caol Ila distillery manager, our video victim interview subject for the day. We popped into the distillery office on our travels, discovering Georgie Crawford hard at work. Georgie is set to lead the team at the revived Port Ellen Distillery, an incredibly exciting new role. But there wasn’t much opportunity to gossip about that as someone else made her presence felt: adorable [unofficial] distillery cat, Sushi! She demanded lots of fuss and head scritches, before plonking herself down on non-cat person Georgie’s lap. We rate her sass highly.

Caol Ila Feis Ile

The gorgeous Sushi

After meeting and falling for Sushi, we found Pierrick! We also found a room with a glorious view – a little lounge space above the office (i.e. Sushi’s domain) overlooking the incredible Sound of Islay and on to the dramatically craggy Paps of Jura. The sun wasn’t quite shining, but the light was still bright enough to require all kinds of jolly japes from Kenny to get the shot. But persevere he did! We had a great chat with Pierrick, putting a whole bunch of your questions to him. And we got to taste the distillery bottling, a 58.4% ABV 22 year old which has spent time in sherry-treated freshly-charred American oak hogsheads. It costs £130 and there are just 3,000 bottles. What’s it like? Check it out the vid right here!

I cunningly got one of the team to enjoy my takeaway 12 Year Old Caol Ila from the car park so I could replace it with the festival release in my dram carrier – needless to say I am VERY excited to settle down properly with it later on once the Des duties are complete!

But that’s not all. Pierrick revealed (well, he first let the Sushi out of the bag on Instagram at the weekend) that there was a second Fèis Ìle bottling! Behold: a 180-bottle outturn, 55.3% ABV 28 year old, filled on 24 May by his own fair hand. Exciting stuff! Here’s a snap off of his Instagram (check out @pierrickatcaolila and give him a follow!). People had even been camping overnight to get their mitts on it.  

Caol Ila Feis Ile

Behold the secret festival bottling!

Post-interview we cracked out the drams and t-shirts, and had lovely chats with a whole bunch of you. Big shout outs to our Friends From Falkirk (not an official name) who shared some delectable Glen Keith with the team, and Connas off of The Whisky Lounge who found this old gem from somewhere!

Caol Ila Feis Ile

One of our new Friends from Falkirk with the mega-old MoM bottling!

The Caol Ila Open Day isn’t the largest of the week, but Fèis-goers are clearly a super-creative bunch. The drams were flowing, but instead of simply gathering up used cups, a group formed this incredible sculpture! Forget a sandcastle, I declare this a whisky citadel!

Caol Ila Feis Ile

Would the real king of the castle please stand up?

Then there was the dancing. We all know it’s not a distillery day at Fèis Ile without music, and we were especially impressed by a group of women who cracked out their synchronised dance routines before lunch. Props to you all! If you made the whisky citadel or can lay claim to dancing, do make yourself known on social or in the comments below!

Caol Ila Feis Ile

Dramming is on

Other highlights included a lively and loud coopering demo area (spoiler alert: it’s HARD), and, of course, the dram bar. Caol Ila was on point when it came to getting whisky to the good people! The cocktails were on too: we especially enjoyed the Banana Old Fashioned. Yum.

Bring on the Islay Ales!

After all that indulgence by the sea it was time to head back in land for a little bit of R&R. Which is what the Islay Ales Open Day feels like! Set in Islay Square, it’s a village fête-beer festival hybrid with music, pizza and crafts all spilling out in the space surrounding the brewery. We were welcomed by a very dapper pug, complete with bow tie. He definitely takes the title of dog of the day!

Across the square, we bumped into the team from Lussa Gin, a distillery on the neighbouring island of Jura. But never fear, whisky fans. Even among all the beer and gin, malt could be found. Just ask the Whisky Boys – we spotted Flatnöse and Bårelegs and Rona’s Cask among the super-relaxed mêlée. Winning!

Music makes the Islay Ales Open Day go round

Time for a quick stroll around the neighbouring Islay House Gardens (foxgloves, beekeeping, a garden kitchen and all-round enchantment behind a mysterious-looking wall) and we were away to check out our new abode! We’re now right by the waterfront in Port Charlotte. It’s feels most serene.

What’s on the agenda tomorrow? Laphroaig! See you there!

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Fèis Ìle 2019: Day Two, Bruichladdich

It’s party time on Islay! Fèis Ìle Day Two typically sees the entire island descend on Bruichladdich for a music-filled, dram-fuelled shindig. And 2019’s festival stayed true to form! “It’s…

It’s party time on Islay! Fèis Ìle Day Two typically sees the entire island descend on Bruichladdich for a music-filled, dram-fuelled shindig. And 2019’s festival stayed true to form!

“It’s always sunny on Bruichladdich Day.” It’s a saying often heard on Islay. And when we first set off this morning, windscreen wipers essential, it seemed this was going to be the anomalous year. We parked up early, all ready for Kenny, our filmmaker, to get set up, and the drizzle was ON (luckily for the hordes of festival release-seekers lining up down the street, there was no return to the deluge of Lagavulin Day).

First up: the Octomore Event Horizon masterclass with head distiller, Adam Hannett! We wandered up to Warehouse 12, located round the back of the distillery, and we were in for a right treat. We knew in advance that this year’s Fèis Ìle release was an Octomore, and, in fact, the whole day was largely Octomore-themed. What we didn’t know was that the distillery bottling was the oldest liquid ever released from the brand, and we certainly didn’t anticipate the other treats that were in store!

The masterclass drams. DELISH.

The Bruichladdich day masterclass has proved so popular that this year places were allocated via ballot. As you arrived, you were funnelled through a dark corridor filled with really rather ethereal sounds. Kind of fitting then that the audio setting the scene, a recording of the sounds actual stars make, was supplied by NASA (yes, off of the space agency)!

There were 250 other whisky geeks packed into the cathedral-like warehouse. Among us was none other than Valérie Chapoulaud-Floquet, CEO of Bruichladdich’s parent company, Rémy Cointreau! No pressure on Hannett, then..! The tasting was also streamed around the world on the distillery’s social channels. Do check out the Bruichladdich YouTube page if you fancy getting the full shebang!

He introduced the six cask-strength, natural colour drams for the session (practically breakfast) but declined to say much about two of them. Interest was certainly piqued at this point! Dram one, according to Hannett, was “too young, too peaty, too strong” – it was a tongue-in-cheek statement designed to provoke a response. We tasted the five year old expression, peated to 107 parts per million (ppm) and bottled at 59.8% ABV. I think it’s safe to say he got his response – one that confirmed that whisky can be seriously tasty at any age, ABV or ppm count.

Bruichladdich Feis Ile

Adam doing his thing

Dram 2 was similar to dram one – except it had been left to mature for another eight years, making it 13 years old. It had spent time in both ex-bourbon and ex-sweet wine casks, and was rich and oily, yet simultaneously confectionery-led with a subdued smoke element. It was peated to 167ppm and bottled at 57.5% ABV, proving the point that what you do with the liquid post production has a huge impact on how easily perceived peat is. Dram 3 was peated to a whopping 309.1ppm – the peatiest Octomore, and indeed Scotch single malt, ever. Distilled in 2011 and matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-red wine casks, the 60.7% ABV liquid was as complex as it was bewildering. Despite the hefty malt specification, the smoke was barely there on the nose; instead it was like a syrupy cinnamon bun. It did arrive on the palate, but it was much more relaxed than expected. Even the ABV contributed a textural prickle, rather than an all-out alcohol frazzle. What is this Octomore alchemy?!

The next dram was fully matured in virgin French heavily toasted oak for a smidge over three years – and again it proved confounding. Despite its youth, it was rich and rounded (the only thing to let slip its age was that rubbery bounce often found in younger spirits). And, despite the ppm measure only reaching a fraction of dram 3 at 88, it was a bit of a peat monster. “It challenges the convention” of three year old whisky, Hannett said. He is not wrong.

The final two drams were, for me, the absolute highlight. Dram 5 was the festival bottling! We collared Hannett himself for a chat about it afterwards – you can watch it all right here:

Then. Wow. What can be said about dram six?! “It’s a Black Art style of Octomore,” Hannett explained, meaning the cask type is kept largely under wraps. What he did disclose is that the youngest spirit was distilled in 2011, and, because of the range of casks its drawn from, the ppm measure is “impossible to calculate”. Here’s the fun bit: not only was it seriously delicious and really quite elegant (all coffee, toffee, vanilla notes, with apple pie, milk chocolate and cinnamon doughnuts, the 59.5% expression has a “backbone” from one of the only two Octomore casks filled in 2002. For that reason, it’s never going to be released. It’s magic though, and it was an honour to get to taste it.

Bruichladdich Feis Ile

Sunshine of Bruichladdich

Guess what? We emerged from the masterclass and the sun was shining! We descended to the main Bruichladdich yard with haste! The bands were on, there was all kinds of food (including both vegan and gluten-free options!) and, of course, the drams were flowing. Punters could go and check out the dram tent, with an array of complimentary options from across the Bruichladdich portfolio. Or, head up through the yard to the Botanist Cocktail Tent. The flower-filled space had garnish-your-own B*&T options and an enormous cocktail bar with whisky as well as gin serves (we highly recommend the Laddie Tea Time, made with Classic Laddie, lemon balm, Verveine tea, sorrel, and ginger. Yum). Opposite in the Malt Bar was almost the full Bruichladdich portfolio available to buy by the dram, plus an enormous range of Islay Ales – the perfect refresher after all that Octomore! (There was a whole host of local wares for sale in the Islay Arts & Crafts space, too. Ideal for gifts!) Speaking of gifts, we had our freebies for you lots too. We’re at every distillery open day this week giving away drams of our exclusive All Islay Blended Malt and matching t-shirts. Because everyone wants to co-ord with their drink. Come and find us to bag yours!

Cocktails! The Laddie Tea Time and a Bee the Botanist

It wouldn’t be Bruichladdich Open Day without a stellar music line up, and this year did not disappoint. Skerryvore kicked things off, before Trail West took to the stage. And then our Rhythm and Booze Project pals rounded things off once more! The whole yard was grooving. Add in the sunshine and that array of boozes, and there was nowhere else on the island to be! And as well as giving folks the best time, Bruichladdich also did its part for the local Port Charlotte primary school. A bunch of incredible bottles (and a clootie dumpling) were auctioned off to raise funds for the school, Marie Curie Cancer Care, and other brilliant causes. Great stuff, folks!

We were, of course, also on dog look-out once again. From a parade of very fancy poodles to the waggiest and fluffiest of mutts, and even an actual doge(!) the quality of hound was once again high. Bravo, whisky-loving poochie parents!

We even rounded off the day with a motoring feat**, Turns out, Kenny, our filmmaker, is not a one-trick pony. Not only can he shoot, cut, stitch together and the like, he’s also a car manoeuvring fiend. We all know parking is tight at distillery days, but he managed to wiggle the car out of the tiniest of spots. Well done, sir!

*The Botanist, obvs.

** No bollards were harmed in the making of this blog post.

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Fèis Ìle 2019: Day One, Lagavulin

It’s the first official day of Fèis Ìle 2019, so we did the only appropriate thing: headed south to Lagavulin to kick off the celebrations in some significant style! After…

It’s the first official day of Fèis Ìle 2019, so we did the only appropriate thing: headed south to Lagavulin to kick off the celebrations in some significant style!

After a day of sunshine yesterday (Bruichladdich, Port Ellen and Islay House looked amazing in the brightness), Saturday dawned murky and drizzly, with midges lurking about ominously. Grey, low visibility… typically Islay, perhaps, and the rain is certainly needed. Distilleries across the island are struggling with production due to low water levels. We* embraced the ‘greater good’ mentality, loaded up the car in full waterproofs, and jetted off back to Lagavulin for the first official distillery day of Fèis Ìle 2019!

Feis Ile Lagavulin

Whisky has arrived!

I say ‘back’ because after we hit ‘publish’ on Day 0’s post, we headed to the distillery for an absolute treat: a tasting of the full Game of Thrones single malt collection in the Malt Mill! Donald Colville, Ewan Gunn and newest ambassador recruit TJ talked the packed hall through the whole shebang, finishing on the House Lannister & Lagavulin 9 Year Old – I know whisky always tastes better where it was made, but this one truly was delectable! We rounded off the night with an array of Lagavulin-based cocktails; a dream way to round off Day Zero!

Feis Ile Lagavulin

Make way for the SMWS Tour of Islay!

But back to today! We parked up, grabbed the camera kit from the car (more on that shortly!) and made our way over to Lagavulin. But we didn’t get far because behold! The Scotch Malt Whisky Society peloton came through, fresh from starting their Tour of Islay challenge from Ardbeg. Lagavulin was stop number two. Thankfully they seemed fresh-legged and full of energy – we sent them off on their (not yet) merry way with a stash of our All Islay drams!

Lagavulin Feis Ile

All you need is Rhythm and Booze!

After waving the SMWS team off, the Ardview Inn pipe band arrived! Processing round the distillery, they kept the hordes Lagaqueuelin-ing for the official Fèis Ìle bottling (a 19 year old – more on that shortly) entertained. We then headed down into the yard. It was only 10:30 but the crowds had already gathered! Team Lagavulin was more than prepared for the soggy weather and were armed with free ponchos, so people could party and dram in the rain without a care in the world. Good job too – the bands, including The Rhythm and Booze Project, had everyone up on their feet.

Feis Ile Lagavulin

TJ wowing the crowd

Well – it was partly the blues, and definitely partly the drams. Lagavulin super-generously had free pours of its core range on offer. Plus an incredibly exciting 10 year old expression, not set to launch in the UK for another six months! Keep your eyes peeled – it’s a good one.

Feis Ile Lagavulin

PONCHO! (And Jake)

Adjacent to the dram hall was the cocktail bar – there was a major focus on mixed drinks this year, and rightfully so. Lagavulin is a great dram for mixing (we’ll send you to TJ if you even mutter the world ‘sacrilege’!) and the results were delicious. Ali Reynolds (off of Diageo Reserve and World Class) and the team cooked up some classics old and new, including the Smokey Cokey Floaty (with Lagavulin 16, complete with ice cream and a cherry!) and the really rather refreshing Queen of Islay, made with the 2017 Jazz Festival edition, ginger, hibiscus and soda. Yum. It was genuinely exciting to see cocktails properly take front and centre at a whisky festival – which they truly were in the (free!) cocktail sessions throughout the day, hosted by TJ and the legendary Colin Dunn!

Feis Ile Lagavulin

Our Laura with the Lagavulin Piña Colada and Queen of Islay!

It wasn’t all about the boozes, though – there was an epic selection of food available, including a number of delectable vegan options, much to our surprise and delight. Round of applause, Lagavulin! There were also free, reusable metal flasks given out along with loads of water stations, a welcome addition to various distillery open days in recent years. Responsible (sip, don’t gulp, folks!) and great for the environment (no plastic!).

We escaped from the melee to grab some time with Colin Gordon, Lagavulin’s distillery manager. You sent your questions for him on social, and we put a whole load to him! Keep your eyes peeled for the results. But also! He gave us a guided tasting through the 2019 Fèis Ìle bottling – a delectable 19-year-old expression. And we’ve got the footage with everything you need to know – and you can see it RIGHT HERE!

Aside from the brilliant crowd and the tip-top whisky, there was another major highlight. All the excellent doggos! Not put off by the rain, the hounds were out in force. A distillery really is an ace place to go if you want to make friends with a poochie!

Feis Ile Lagavulin

Gorgeous poochies!

Bravo, Lagavulin, and thanks for an epic day. We’re off for a hearty dinner and to dream of drams. Next stop tomorrow: Bruichladdich Open Day!

 

*An apology. In our blog yesterday, I neglected to introduce you to the 2019 MoM Fèis Ìle dream team! We are a five-strong band of whisky enthusiasts and media geeks, with the mission to bring all the fun of the Fèis to social, the blog and through the medium of video. We have Kenny, our film-maker, Dan, our social media manager, Jake and Laura from our campaign team and me, Kristy, our editor. If you see us out and about on Islay, come and say hi (and bag some whisky swag!).

 

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The Nightcap: 24 May

Powers, plastic straws and pineapples – plus a few things that don’t begin with ‘P’. It’s all here in yet another edition of The Nightcap! Today is Friday, and many…

Powers, plastic straws and pineapples – plus a few things that don’t begin with ‘P’. It’s all here in yet another edition of The Nightcap!

Today is Friday, and many of us will be heading into the final Bank Holiday weekend for a few months. There’s one at a seemingly random time in August, but the smattering of three day weekends throughout April and May occur in such a cluster that we almost become used to it. We must not become complacent! We must approach this three day weekend with the same vim and vigour as we did previous ones! Oh, and also we should start it as we do other weekends (extended ones or otherwise), with The Nightcap! Obviously.

In a week in which we announced that we’re going to Fèis Ìle 2019, we also launched two new competitions, one to win the entire Game of Thrones whisky range and the other to win a VIP trip to Bombay Sapphire’s distillery. Nate Brown then extolled the virtues of sherry, Jess took a look at Diageo’s new Italian gin, Villa Ascenti and Annie explored where to imbibe in Bowie’s old haunt, Berlin and who the up-and-comers of alcohol-free are. Adam enjoyed the latest chapter in Balvenie’s story, then picked Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition to be his New Arrival of the Week, for obvious reasons, while Henry enjoyed Redbreast’s new expression, video masterclasses from Mortlach and Johnnie Walker and even manged to find time to make the Grand Sour his Cocktail of the Week. Phew…

Now, on with the news!

Nightcap

Our PR manager Mariella Salerno holds up our shiny new prize!

MoM named DB Awards Online Retailer of the Year!

It was celebration station on Tuesday afternoon at the DB Awards, hosted by the team over at trade magazine The Drinks Business. We were delighted to pick up the Online Retailer of the Year award! The ceremony took place as part of the London Wine Fair, so we got to join the jubilations early, enjoying some really rather marvellous tipples from across the world. They said loads of nice things about us, and we picked up a shiny trophy. Oh, and #WhiskySanta got a highly commended nod too, for his excellent work spreading festive spirit far and wide through the social realm. Cheers, Team DB – you made our week!

Nightcap

Look everyone, it’s Kent’s first single malt whisky!

Kent’s first single malt whisky is here

Kent is something of a booze hotspot with its hop gardens and breweries, orchards and cideries, vineyards and gin distilleries, and of course, it’s the home of a certain online retailer. Now the Garden of England has its first single malt. The whisky is a collaboration between Andy Reason and Norman Lewis of the Anno Distillery in Marden (who make a fine gin) and the Westerham Brewery. The mash was made with English barley and fermented with two strains of yeast comes from the brewery. It was then double distilled in a tiny 300-litre copper pot still named, appropriately enough, Patience. The spirit came off at 63.5% ABV into an ex-bourbon cask that previously held a Speyside single malt. After ageing, the resulting whisky was bottled at 40% ABV. Norman Lewis said of the partnership: “It’s been a wonderful experience working with Robert Wicks from Westerham Brewery. Our combined expertise has come together seamlessly and resulted in something which we’re extremely proud of. We hope those who are lucky enough to taste this limited-edition whisky enjoy savouring it as much as we enjoyed making it.” It’s such a limited edition that customers are being limited to three bottles (at £120 each) and it’s available directly from the distillery and Westerham Brewery. Hurry, while stocks last.

Nightcap

They might seem delightful, but they need to go.

England moves to ban plastic straws and stirrers

Great news, folks! The government this week confirmed it will ban plastic straws and stirrers in England (and plastic cotton buds, but less relevant to us) from April 2020. There are some sensible exemptions for those with medical needs or a disability (pubs and bars will still be able to give them out on request), but we can wave goodbye for good to unnecessary plastic in our drinks. The move follows a government consultation which found 80% back a ban on straws, and 90% on stirrers. About time, too. Apparently, we use 4.7 billion plastic straws and 316 million plastic stirrers each year in England alone! And yes, alternatives are available (we sipped through some fancy bamboo ones recently), but the government reckons a whopping 95% of straws are still plastic. Boo. Even more boo: it’s thought there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the world’s oceans, and that every year one million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals die from eating or getting trapped in plastic. This ban can’t come soon enough.

Nightcap

Introducing: Scarabus Islay Single Malt

Hunter Laing releases Scarabus Islay Single Malt at Fèis Ìle

Peat heads of the world, unite! A new release from Hunter Laing & Co. is always exciting news, especially when it’s an Islay single malt like Scarabus. Appropriately, the whisky is being released at this year’s Fèis Ìle. If you’re down that way then you’re in luck, because the very first drams will be poured (and tasted) throughout the festival at Hunter Laing’s newly-opened distillery on the island, Ardnahoe. Scarabus means ‘rocky place’ in Nordic, and the whisky is named after a mystical area of Islay, complete with equally mystical golden packaging. “We’re extremely proud of the Scarabus whisky and the Fèis Ìle Festival is the perfect place to release the first bottling”, said Stewart Laing, Managing Director. “We aimed to produce an expression that showcases a traditional Islay whisky style, and the unmistakable Islay smoke matches wonderfully with the rich, sweeter notes that linger on the finish.” If you’re not down Islay-way, fear not, as Scarabus will soon be available in the UK and beyond. Keep an eye on our social channels for updates.

Nightcap

Hit the books spirit nerds, we’ve got a new challenge up ahead!

WSET Level 3 Award in Spirits is live!

Great news, spirits geeks! There’s a new qualification in town, and it’s the toughest one yet. Developed in response to our collective (and global) thirst for all things spirits and subsequent desire to know all about them, the Level 3 Award builds on the Level 2 course (Team MoM highly recommends) but digs down into greater production detail while covering new spirits categories, like baijiu. It’s a much tougher assessment process, too, with a blind tasting exam as well as multiple choice and short-answer question paper. In all, candidates will need to put in at least 84 hours of graft. We’re excited! “The spirits industry has been crying out for a more advanced qualification in spirits,” said course developer Nick King. “Candidate numbers for WSET spirits qualifications (Levels 1 and 2) have grown significantly in the last 10 years (from 540 in 2009 to 6600 in 2019) and are now taught in 33 countries worldwide reflecting growing global demand. We are delighted to now be able to offer the industry a Level 3 Spirits qualification that develops candidates’ knowledge and understanding of the category in great depth and also builds their tasting skills, teaching them to identify the structural and aromatic elements that make up a spirit and to make a compelling quality assessment.” The first UK courses get under way in October!

Nightcap

All the delights of Powers Irish Whiskey with none of the effort? We’re in.

Powers Irish Whiskey’s first ever bottled cocktail

If stirring and, ugh, waiting aren’t for you, Powers Irish Whiskey has your back because the brand has just unveiled its first-ever pre-mixed cocktail, Powers Old Fashioned! Pow! The cocktail sees a combination of the classic Powers Gold Label, sugar syrup and bitter herbs flavouring. The recommended serve is, of course, over ice with a twist of orange peel – well, how else could you garnish an Old Fashioned? The bottle boasts a whole new look, with sleek modern packaging which you’d be hard-pressed to recognise as Powers. “A careful balance of the rich history of Powers with an eye on the future, we are confident that the refreshing ritual of ‘Ice, Pour, Twist’ will appeal to whiskey fans and the cocktail curious alike who are looking for simple and convenient ways to create new Irish whiskey experiences at home or in their local pub”, says Brendan Buckley at Irish Distillers. The cocktail will be launching in Ireland from the end of May, and if it finds success then hopefully we can expect to see it much further afield. Old Fashioneds all around!

Nightcap

Counting oysters by hand, that’s commitment to conservation

Glenmorangie & partners plan to return native oysters to Europe’s seas

Oyster-loving folk, gather round. In historic marine-related news, a landmark Native Oyster Restoration Alliance (NORA) conference on reef restoration was held in Edinburgh this week. It was hosted by The Glenmorangie Company and its partners, including Heriot-Watt University, bringing together conservationists, administrators and oyster producers from across Europe to develop a ‘blueprint’ for native oyster reef restoration. Oysters were overfished to the point of extinction in the 1800s, and it turns out oyster reefs are among the most endangered marine habitats on Earth. The restoration is going to be done through the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (rather aptly abbreviated to DEEP), which was established in 2014 and has already returned 20,000 native oysters to the Dornoch Firth in the Scottish Highlands. The aim? To increase this population of 20,000 to four million (!) by 2025, and in turn the reef will become self-sustaining. “We are incredibly proud to be pioneering DEEP’s vital environmental work with our partners, not only protecting but enhancing Glenmorangie Distillery’s environment for future generations,” says Glenmorangie President and CEO Tom Moradpour. It looks like the world really is our oyster.

Nightcap

Happy Anniversary guys!

The Coral Room celebrates its first anniversary

We got our party shoes on this week and headed up to London to join The Coral Room’s first-anniversary bash! The sleekly cosy cocktail bar is part of The Bloomsbury Hotel, but very much comes with its own character, look and feel. And on Wednesday, that feel was celebration! There was cake, a confetti cannon, and even a sneak peek at the new cocktail menu, which includes such deliciousness as the May Day Spritz, made with Tanqueray, Italicus, orange blossom and honey bitters, and English sparkling wine; and the Drinking in Newquay, with Cîroc, Crème de menthe, Blue Curaçao and Belsazar Riesling Supreme. There was even a Rinomato Sorbet, too! Very festive. Do pop in raise a cocktail to the team – congrats to everyone at The Coral Room!

Licor 43 lays down cocktail and coffee challenge

There’s nothing more on-trend than putting coffee and cocktails together. So, it’s appropriate that Licor 43 has just announced the opening of the UK round of its Bartenders & Baristas Challenge 2019. Now in its third year, this competition lays down the gauntlet to both bartenders and baristas to create serves with coffee and Licor 43 (the details of how to enter are here). Winners will go to a grand final in Gran Canaria this autumn. UK brand manager Charlotte Oswald said: “There is a natural marriage of aromas and flavours between Licor 43 and coffee and we’ve been communicating this with our Carajillo 43 signature serve. We are often amazed at the creativity, knowledge and passion from contestants and this really went up a level with the introduction of the coffee element last year – bartenders who were very well-versed in all things spirits were finding a whole new world of cocktail creation. We can’t wait to see what they come up with this year!” Licor 43, a blend of spices and citrus fruits, is something of a cult drink in Spain. There’s now a special Liquor 43 Baristo made with coffee beans from the Canary Islands which the company has produced a film about (above). So, what are you waiting for bartenders and baristas, get experimenting!

Nightcap

Happy International Pineapple Day, folks!

And finally. . . shake your maracas cos it’s International Pineapple Day!

From the Piña Colada to Carmen Miranda, we all know that the pineapple is the most exotic of all the fruits. No wonder it has a special day devoted to it: 1 June is International Pineapple Day! To help things go with a swing, That Boutique-y Gin Company is putting on a Pineapple Gin Parlour pop-up at 15 Bateman Street, in Soho, London on 1-2 June. There will be masterclasses and food historian Tasha Marks on hand to explain the history of the king of fruit. In the 18th century pineapples were high-value status symbols: having a pineapple was the Regency equivalent of a Ferrari parked outside your house. The neighbours would say ‘oooh, get her, who does she think she is with that pineapple, Lord Byron?’ Thankfully, drinks at the pop-up will be rather more affordable. Simply say the code word ‘mule’ and your Pineapple Mule will cost you nothing at all. Isn’t the modern world brilliant?

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Watch out, Islay – Team MoM is Fèis Ìle-bound!

It’s that time of year again, folks – and we’re buzzing. Fèis Ìle is just around the corner, we’re going to Islay for the frivolities, and here’s how you can…

It’s that time of year again, folks – and we’re buzzing. Fèis Ìle is just around the corner, we’re going to Islay for the frivolities, and here’s how you can join in!

Ah, Islay. It really is a whisky-lover’s paradise. We returned to the Isle after a significant hiatus last year, and we loved it so much we bounced right back. In fact, two of our number are already on the road!

The best part? Whether you’re on the island for Fèis Ìle or not, we really, really want to make you part of the action. Why? Because whisky is way more fun when it’s shared. How?! Read on, friend!

Firstly, whether or not you’ll be at Fèis Ìle is irrelevant for this. We’ve got access to the island’s most exciting distillers, ambassadors, ops managers, blenders and more. We’re going to be quizzing them every single day. But we want YOU to ask the questions. That’s right! If you’ve ever dreamed of putting one of your Islay heroes on the spot, drop us a line. We’re videoing the whole shebang, and will give you a shout-out, too. Want in? Send us your questions on social or leave a comment below!

There’s more! Regardless of whether you’re on the Isle or not, you can still experience it all through the medium of taste with our fancy MoM-exclusive All-Islay – Islay Blended Malt bottling! Apparently we’re not allowed to say much, but I will just put the emphasis on its name: ALL-Islay. And it’s ALL been made possible thanks to our pals over at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Oh, and it’s bloody lovely, too. It’s available right over here!

Feis Ile

Mouthwatering stuff

That’s all great, you may say, but what else is going on?

Boo. I’m not going

In the first instance, fret not. We’ve got your back! We’re going to be reporting every dram, tasting, tour, masterclass, adventure, dog (there were loads of excellent hounds last year) and more on our social channels, especially Instagram Stories. So follow with haste! (It’s @masterofmalt, FYI). There will, of course, be action over on Twitter and Facebook, too.

Want more? Good, because that’s just the start. You can also expect daily bulletins right here on the blog, plus video interviews, and more. MUCH more convenient than that epic journey.

Feis Ile

The whisky awaits…

I’m at Fèis Ìle!

Ace! See you there, pal! Seriously, we’re gearing up for a right fun knees up. We’ve got drams of our very own aforementioned All-Islay – Islay Blended Malt bottling, released with our friends over at That Boutique-y Whisky Company, to nab. We’ve got some pretty nifty MoM Islay 2019 t-shirts to give away, too. Want to get your mitts on the swag? We’ll be at every distillery day; come find us! We’re keen in selfies too, so why not snap yourself in your shiny new shirt and tag us in your post?

Phew! That’s it for now. We’ve got packing to do. Well, except for the bonkers duo of Dan and Jake who are literally driving all the way to Islay from MoM Towers in Kent… Godspeed, chaps.

All that’s left to say is stay tuned for all the fun of the Fèis right here on the blog and @masterofmalt on social!

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New Arrival of the Week: Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition

Selfies and Scotch Whisky are the focus of our New Arrival of the Week. Oh, and a little event called Fèis Ìle… As we’re sure you’re all well aware, Fèis…

Selfies and Scotch Whisky are the focus of our New Arrival of the Week. Oh, and a little event called Fèis Ìle…

As we’re sure you’re all well aware, Fèis Ìle 2019 begins on Friday (whoop!). With it comes all kinds of merriment and festivities. But the excitement of the event isn’t contained to the isle of Islay, oh no. Whisky fans all around the world know that Islay’s finest like to mark the occasion with limited edition releases. Whether it’s Bruichladdich with Octomore’s oldest bottling, Event Horizon, or Laphroaig releasing the Càirdeas 2019 edition, there’s lots of liquid loveliness to get your teeth  into each year.

Which brings us on to our New Arrival of the Week, Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition. Making his annual appearance courtesy of independent Scotch whisky bottlers and blenders Douglas Laing. In 2018, Big Peat was released with a sheet of stickers that could be used to customise the presentation tube, but for 2019 Douglas Laing took the idea of personalisation to a whole new level. Using people’s actual faces, over 400 of them. It doesn’t get more personal than that.

Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition

Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition, in all its glory

Through an online competition, the brand was able to select a lucky few to feature on Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition, who will now be able to tell their friends excitedly that they’ve taken a selfie that actually matters. Cara Laing, director of whisky and third generation in the family-owned business, said it was to “pay homage to his friends the world over”, and Big Peat has many of those. The feisty Ileach fisherman has built quite a following over the last decad e.

Speaking of which, Big Peat isn’t just celebrating another wonderful Fèis Ìle in 2019, but also his 10th anniversary in existence. Douglas Laing has big plans for Peat’s birthday including a special 10 year old whisky release, and an online tasting hosted on Big Peat’s Facebook profile during the Feis Ile Festival: selected members of the community will be invited to join a virtual masterclass and enjoy samples of the classic Big Peat, Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition, the 10 Years Old Limited Edition and the oldest ever bottling released to date, the 26 Years Old Platinum Edition. ! According to Cara Laing, all this excitement “will ensure our big Islay pal celebrates in style all over the world”.

Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition

One familiar face and lots of delightful new ones!

Big Peat was made to be “the ultimate taste of Islay”, as Cara Laing put it, so you can expect much the same from this latest Fèis Ìle expression. Created from a blend of single malts from Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and Port Ellen, Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition was bottled without chill-filtration or any additional colouring, as always, at 48% ABV.

So, does it deliver the usual goods? In a word, yes. The most striking aspect of Big Peat Fèis Ìle 2019 Edition is its coastal character, which is expressed through notes of sea-washed pebbles and an enjoyable seaweed salinity. Those who are here for a fair share of peat and meat will be pleased, while plenty of ripe citrus keeps it fresh. The overall impression is that the combination of shoreline serenity, tart fruit and muscular notes means there’s a hearty dose of pure Big Peat pleasure in every mouthful. Hurrah!

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The Nightcap: 17 May

It’s Friday, and around these parts, that means one thing – it’s time for another edition of The Nightcap! Imagine the scenario – last Friday evening, you felt a bit…

It’s Friday, and around these parts, that means one thing – it’s time for another edition of The Nightcap!

Imagine the scenario – last Friday evening, you felt a bit tired. You yawned, looking at your watch or at a clock on the wall or at your phone – it doesn’t really matter where you look to find out the time. All that matters is that it was time to go to sleep. However, instead of sleeping in a bed, you decided to go to sleep under a rock. For a week. Imagine that. Now, if you have been under a rock since last week, you’ll want to know what’s happened during said week, and we’ve got all the booze news right here in The Nightcap for you! Wow, that was a pretty far fetched introduction, even for us.

On the blog this week Henry kicked things off on World Cocktail Day (on a Monday, of all days!) with our Cocktail of the Week, The Pornstar Martini, then talked Venezualan rum with The Diplomático Distillery. Guest writer Nate Brown made a passionate plea for bars to prioritise all customers, Annie explored the new range from Sweden’s High Coast Distillery and Kristy indulged our love of Japanese spirits with our New Arrival of the Week, Haku Vodka. Adam meanwhile helped you prep for Fèis Ìle 2019 in the only way we know how, before he and Camden’s Croque Monsieur celebrated absinthe. Oh, and we’ve also launched another incredible competition, where you could win a VIP trip to Mortlach Distillery!

Now, on with the news!

The Nightcap

A classic of the genre returns!

Classic Islay whisky book reissued

One of the best whisky books of the last 20 years was Peat Smoke and Fire by Andrew Jefford which was published in 2004. Jefford, best known as a wine writer, applied a lyrical touch in this hymn to Islay’s culture, history and whiskies which were at the time relatively unknown except by the cognoscenti. Back then, you could pick up a bottle of Port Ellen, for example, for around £100 as opposed to the thousands you’d pay today. Oh, to have saved a few then! Fast forward 15 years and the island is booming with two new distilleries since the book was published, Kilchoman and Ardnahoe, and Fèis Ìle, the island’s annual festival, becoming an international tourist event. So, it’s a good time to republish this classic book now under the slightly less evocative title of Whisky Island, with a forward by Dave Broom. It’s a must read for peatheads everywhere.

The Nightcap

Who wouldn’t want a garden full of gin botanicals?

Kyrö brings first Finnish garden to Chelsea Flower Show

The Chelsea Flower Show and Kyrö Distillery have joined forces, with the distillery bringing the first ever Finnish garden to the ‘Space to Grow’ class! The brains behind this stunning show belong to Finnish landscape designer, horticulturist and environmental biologist Taina Suonio. The garden is inspired by Kyrö’s delicious Napue Gin, with plants native to the Finnish meadows and woodlands, while the display will also stress the importance of pollinators with a butterfly garden. “Taina has done excellent work in creating a garden that reflects the Finnish countryside and the botanicals we use to make our gin”, says Kyrö’s Managing Director Miika Lipiäinen. “Out of all of the raw materials presented in the garden, we could actually distil a gin.” Maybe we’ll take our still along to the show…

The Nightcap

Introducing: Ardbeg Drum!

Ardbeg Day and Ardbeg Drum

Look past the busy bank holiday weekend to 1 June, because that’s Ardbeg Day! This year’s celebration ‘Drum Roll Please…’ is taking place in London’s Regent’s Park. What to expect? A fantastic afternoon marrying the best of Islay and Caribbean flavours, games and influences, from steel bands to ceilidh dances, Ardbeg whisky to Caribbean food. Ardbeggians are also encouraged to arrive on the day in Caribbean-meets-Islay finery, and we can’t wait to see how that turns out! All this to celebrate the limited edition Ardbeg Day release, Ardbeg Drum, and you can be sure there’ll be a tasting of that peaty treat at the celebration. This expression is pretty special because for the first time Ardbeg has finished the single malt in rum casks from the Americas. If you say ‘Ardbeg Drum’ really fast, it sort of sounds like ‘Ardbeg rum’… Coincidence?

The Nightcap

Don’t fear the spirits…

Beefeater Gin and The London Dungeon: Partners in crime

In a somewhat unlikely partnership, Beefeater and The London Dungeons have teamed up to present Dungeon LATES. Kicking off on 24 May, these nights are said to be darker, scarier, and definitely more alcoholic, so it goes without saying they’re adult-only. Guests can sip while they’re scared, and in between screams it looks like they’ll be drinking Beefeater Blood Orange. After a tour of the dungeons, you’re then treated to a cocktail with said gin, which will have been wholeheartedly deserved. We’re sure their choice of tipple was no coincidence. Now blood orange takes on a whole different tone.

The Nightcap

Prince Charles was guest of honour at the annual Fortnum & Mason awards

Prince Charles rocks the Fortnum & Mason awards

As we have outlined before on the Nightcap, where there’s fine booze, you are often likely to find Prince Charles. First, it was the distillery visits, and then on Thursday afternoon, he was guest of honour at the annual Fortnum & Mason awards. The awards celebrate the best in food and drink writing, photography and broadcasting in Britain. But he wasn’t just there to knock back the Champagne with Chris Evans and Claudia Winkleman, Prince Charles was presented with a special award for his services to the sustainable food industry. Other winners included Nina Caplan winning Debut Drink Book award for The Wandering Vine; Mary Berry won Personality of the Year; Marina O’ Loughlin from The Sunday Times won restaurant writer of the year; Nadiya Hussein was a popular winner of TV Programme of the Year for her ‘Asian Odyssey’. And finally, we are delighted that Alice Lascelles from the Financial Times won the most important award of all, Drinks Writer of the Year. Everyone partied responsibly long into the night.

The Nightcap

Scenic views, delicious whisky and plenty of local culture will be on show

The first ever Hebridean Whisky Festival begins next week

We hope you’ve kept your diary clear between the 21st and 25th May 2019, because that’s when the first-ever Hebridean Whisky Festival begins! A celebration of the four distilleries along the Hebridean Whisky Trail, the festival will feature free tours, tastings, music, casks and special events at Talisker, Torabhaig, The Isle of Raasay Distillery, Harris distilleries and the Aros Centre, Portree. Proceedings kick off with two days on Skye at Torabhaig Distillery on Tuesday 21st May followed by events at Talisker on Wednesday 22nd. Then it’s across the water to the Isle of Raasay Distillery on Thursday 23rd May 2019, where whisky pilgrims will witness the launch of the exclusive new warehouse and enjoy whisky and chocolate tours. The self-guided whisky trail route up will then lead festival-goers to Isle of Harris Distillery on Friday 24th May. Meanwhile, in Portree, the Aros Centre will showcase the distilleries at a special Hebridean Whisky Festival tasting stand for the duration of the festival. The finale is the ‘Big Day at Slig’, where the four distilleries will come together at the Sligachan Hotel on Saturday 25th May for a day of whisky tastings, Hebridean Whisky cocktails, distillery vehicles, cask displays, craft ales and a visit from the Isle of Skye pipe band. These events are free entry and the choice is yours whether you want to experience part of the festival or follow the full trail over five days by land or sea. We’re sure those who are attending will have a smashing time!

The Nightcap

It’s been a good week for the folks at Winchester Distillery!

Winchester Distillery smashes first crowdfunding target by over 200%

As Winchester Distillery acknowledged its fifth years anniversary this week the English gin brand it quickly found out there was cause for further celebration as the distillery’s crowdfunding campaign had already reached over £240,000 from 94 investors, exceeding its first 30 day target by over 200%. The need for external investment was first made public in April 2019 by Winchester Distillery as it announced plans to increase the production of its premium spirits, install a brewhouse, further develop its whisky & rum, increase marketing activity, pursue export opportunities and open an onsite gift shop. To date, the £375,000 for 8.1% equity campaign has been in ‘private mode’ on Crowdcube, which means it was open only to followers of Winchester Distillery, and the target during this time was to reach 20% of the overall amount. However, at the time of writing, 65% of the funding has been achieved. There’s still a month to go, during which time the Winchester Distillery pitch will go public on the Crowdcube website. Founder Paul Bowler commented: “The news this morning that our supporters have pledged almost a quarter of a million pounds, plus the overwhelming amount of support we’ve received over the last month, has been the best fifth birthday present for Winchester Distillery. We’re really excited that our Crowdcube campaign will be open to all later this week and that we’re another step closer to being able to proceed with our expansion plans.” For more information about Winchester Distillery’s crowdfunding campaign and how to invest from just £10, (rewards are available from £20) then visit http://crowdcube.com/winchesterdistillery.

The Nightcap

Anyone doing lifts to Manchester?

Lucky Manchester diner given £4500 bottle of Bordeaux by mistake

On Thursday night a customer at Hawksmoor in Manchester got rather more than they bargained for when instead of a bottle of bottle of Château Pichon Longueville Contesse de Lalande worth £260, they were accidentally given a bottle of one of the world’s greatest wines, Château Le Pin 2001. The restaurant lists this cult wine from Pomerol at £4500 a bottle! The restaurant tweeted on Friday morning: “To the customer who accidentally got given a bottle of Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001, which is £4500 on our menu, last night – hope you enjoyed your evening! To the member of staff who accidentally gave it away, chin up! One-off mistakes happen and we love you anyway”. The customers in question then tried to order another bottle, but it was the only one in the restaurant. What we want to know is, when will this member of staff be working again? There will be queues around the block.

The Nightcap

The Pineapple Daiquiri Slushie, our stand-out serve from the event

Jerk & Beyond Festival

We were lucky enough to head down to Limin’ to grab a sneak peek of the wonderful treats that are going to be on offer at rum and food festival, Jerk & Beyond! Created by Sham Mahabir, a native Trinidadian-turned-Londoner, the late May bank holiday weekend will see Old Spitalfields’ Limin’ bar showcasing the diversity of Caribbean food for three days. Mahabir founded Limin’ and has partnered up with Plantation Rum for the festival, with cocktails including Rumgria (we’re sure you can guess what combo that is), Mai Tai, Limin’s (in)famous Rum Punch and, perhaps our favourite, a Pineapple Daiquiri Slushie, made with Plantation Pineapple Stiggins’ Fancy. These were accompanied by some delectable Caribbean canapés, including traditional Trinidad street food. Limin’ is an abbreviated version of ‘liming’, a Trinidad expression for ‘hanging out’, which is exactly what this whole-family-friendly festival is encouraging. Surrounded by music, delicious food, fabulous cocktails and even two daily Plantation rum masterclasses, what more could you want?

The Nightcap

This actually happened. And we really want one.

And finally… Lambrini doughnut launched for National Doughnut Week

Doughnuts and Lambrini, you say? That’s right, in honour of National Doughnut Week (11-19 May), Shrewsbury’s Planet Doughnut has launched a new Lambrini doughnut! Freshly cooked, it’s frosted and filled with Lambrini, dusted with edible gold, sprinkled with more gold and finally crowned with a doughnut tiara (where can we get one of those?). Though this launch happens to coincide with Lambrini’s new release, this isn’t merely frivolous fun, oh no. The bakery will donate a portion of each doughnut sold (we assume the money from the doughnut, not the baked good itself) to The Children’s Trust. In case you’ve missed it, National Doughnut Week has been running for 28 years after its launch in 1991, and last year it raised a smashing £33,679. Time to get your Lambrini hats on and contribute to a deliciously good cause.

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Get ready for Fèis Ìle 2019!

Looking forward to Fèis Ìle 2019? Can’t get a ticket? Whatever your situation, our selection of some of Islay’s most sublime Scotch means that all can indulge and enjoy! The…

Looking forward to Fèis Ìle 2019? Can’t get a ticket? Whatever your situation, our selection of some of Islay’s most sublime Scotch means that all can indulge and enjoy!

The Islay Festival of Music and Malt approaches. The highlight of the whisky calendar. Probably the reason we even still bother putting up with May as a month (that and all the bank holidays, come to think of it.)

A hive of whisky-based geekdom awaits. From official distillery days to delightful drams, celebrity dogs and all manner of ridiculously wonderful people, Fèis Ìle really has got everything, and 2019 promises more of the same. If you’re one of the lucky attendees this year, then be sure to keep your eyes peeled, as members of the MoM team will be on Islay for Fèis Ìle 2019!

However, if you’re not able to make the trip this year, then don’t panic. Not only will there be all kinds of content, video footage and social posts from the week to come from MoM, but you’ve still got an opportunity to get your hands on plenty of Islay whisky – like this lovely lot that we rounded up, for example. So go on then, get stuck in and enjoy!

All Islay – Islay Blended Malt (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

This brilliant blended malt was created by us! That’s right, this year we decided to team up with That Boutique-y Whisky Company to celebrate our trip to Fèis Ìle 2019, and what better way to that than with whisky sourced exclusively from Islay distilleries? The “All Islay” name is something of a giveaway as to which distilleries contributed to this blend, as are those yellow markers on the label that appear to mark with the locations of every distillery on Islay releasing whisky today, including one iconic closed one…

What does it taste like?:

Buttered crumpets, coal fires, cut grass, some waxy peels, peat smoke richness, cooked apple, apricot, floral heather, peppery heat, damp oak and just a hint of leather.

Lagavulin 16 Year Old

If deliciously rich, intriguing and complex whiskies are your kind of thing, then Lagavulin 16 Year Old may be the dram for you. The pungent, peated and beloved expression is often held up as a benchmark of an Islay dram, for good reason. Oh, and if you’re on Islay, then be sure to order a Smokey Cokey (winner of Best Fèis Ìle Cocktail from last year’s awards). It might sound crazy to some, but you’ll just have to trust us.

What does it taste like?:

Lapsang Souchong tea, very concentrated smoke, iodine, sweet spices, mature Sherry, creamy vanilla, fruity sweetness, powerful peat, figs, dates and oak.

Ardbeg An Oa

An Oa became the first addition to Ardbeg’s core range in over a decade when it was introduced in 2017 to provide a more mellow, sweet and approachable dram to the distinctive distillery’s selection. Fans need not worry, however. An Oa (pronounced ‘an oh’ and named after the Mull of Oa) has still got plenty of that characteristic Ardbeg style we’ve all come to know and love.

What does it taste like?:

Butterscotch, fennel seed, tobacco leaf, Honey Nut Clusters, Everton mint, flourless orange cake, cigars, golden syrup flapjacks, sweet black tea, chocolate limes, smoky treacle and a little peanut brittle.

Port Charlotte 10 Year Old

A heavy-hitting, peaty powerhouse of a dram, Port Charlotte 10 Year Old has become a go-to for fans who desire a smoky Scotch. Introduced as the flagship Port Charlotte expression by Bruichladdich in 2018, this 10-year-old single malt was peated to 40ppm and drawn from a combination of casks including first-fill American whiskey, second-fill American whiskey and second-fill French wine casks.

What does it taste like?:

Salted caramel brownie, flamed orange peel, seaweed, oak-y smoke, salty sea air, Custard Cream biscuits, white grape, ginger snaps, rye toast and drying peat smokiness.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2019 Release

Every spring we look forward to Kilchoman’s annual Loch Gorm single malt release, and it’s safe to say the 2019 edition is another belter from what was Islay’s youngest distillery. This year, Kilchomah has drawn spirit from 20 oloroso sherry butts, resulting in big helpings of sweet and dark notes that blend well with its peat smoke core.

What does it taste like?:

Spicy smoke, sherried peels, cinnamon cookies, dried fruit, salted butter, grilled citrus fruits, jammy damson and lingering dark chocolate bitterness.

Caol Ila 18 Year Old

Caol Ila 18 Year Old is a refined, balanced and delightful Islay single malt that doesn’t pack an overpowering peaty punch and makes for one of our favourite aperitifs. It was matured in a mixture of refill casks so the impact of the wood is tempered which allows all of that distillery and Island character to shine.

What does it taste like?:

Well-integrated oily oak, peat smoke, vegetal, herbal notes, gentle smoke and creamy malt.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

An interesting and superb value bottling from Laphroaig Distillery, this whisky was aged for around five years before being finished in a quarter cask for several months, hence the name. Since its release in 2004, Laphroaig Quarter Cask has built a considerable and loyal following for its remarkably complex and punchy profile.

What does it taste like?:

Toffee, nuttiness, hickory, bicarbonate of soda, rum and raisin ice cream, fiery chilli heat, TCP, sweet cereals, custard, cigar smoke and a touch of cola syrup.

Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old

The entry-level Bunnahabhain bottling is the perfect expression for those who want an outstanding, approachable Islay single malt without the trademark peat. In fact, it’s one of the least peated whiskeys produced on the island with just 3 ppm of peat (Ardbeg expressions tend to be peated to 55 ppm, by comparison). Instead Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old is a gentle, sweet and exceptionally pleasing dram that’s received plenty of plaudits over the years and its fair share of fans.

What does it taste like?:

Seaweed, sherry, almonds, juicy sultanas, mochaccino, herbal and with a balanced salty tang.

Bowmore 18 Year Old

If you want to know what the wonderful Bowmore Distillery is all about, then the sublime Bowmore 18 Year Old will prove well worth your time. An ever-popular dram, this well-structured whisky boasts an impressive harmony of sweet and savoury flavours from dark fruits to classic Islay smoke.

What does it taste like?:

Stewing fruit, plum jam, Seville marmalade, summer blossom, dark peat, hints of damp wood and very soft smoke.

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Port Ellen rebirth moves one step closer

Diageo has reached a new milestone in its bid to bring back Port Ellen, the iconic Islay distillery that has been silent since 1983. Hurrah! We don’t know about you,…

Diageo has reached a new milestone in its bid to bring back Port Ellen, the iconic Islay distillery that has been silent since 1983. Hurrah!

We don’t know about you, but any news about the return of famous ‘silent distilleries’ reopening gets us pretty excited. So it’s fair to say that ever since Diageo announced a £35 million investment programme to bring back Port Ellen and Brora distillery* back in October 2017, we’ve been all ears at MoM Towers waiting for updates. And we’ve got one, just as Fèis Ìle 2019 approaches. They do know how to spoil us on Islay, don’t they?

Diageo has revealed this week that Argyll & Bute Council has received detailed planning application following community engagement and pre-application consultation with key stakeholders, setting out proposals that will see Port Ellen reopened more than 35 years after its sad closure.

 

So, what can we expect from the revived Islay legend? Well, Diageo’s plan is for Port Ellen to utilise both traditional and innovative approaches to distilling under one roof, with two pairs of copper pot stills and two separate distillation regimes.

Primary distillation will take place in two stills that exactly replicate the Port Ellen originals, with the aim to recreate the original spirit character of the distillery that has made its single malt Scotch whisky among the most sought-after in the world.

The distillers at Port Ellen will also have the freedom to experiment with new whisky styles, however, thanks to the second, smaller pair of stills which will produce alternative spirit characters. It’s a best of both worlds situation, and we’re very much in favour of it. Port Ellen experimental bottlings? C’mon, people!

The second pair of stills will also pay homage to the former owner of the distillery, John Ramsay, who led Port Ellen in its formative years. Ramsay is credited with establishing its reputation as an innovative distillery in the 19th century, pioneering techniques and equipment that would become mainstays of the industry.

Port Ellen Distillery

A sketch image of what Port Ellen could look like

Distillation will take place in a combination of modern and heritage buildings, although following its most recent closure in 1983, very few of the original structures remain. What will be present is the original kiln building, with its classic pagoda roofs, and the traditional sea-front warehouses. Both will be restored as integral parts of the revived distillery, while a beautiful new stillhouse will be created to house distillation.

Georgie Crawford, the master distiller leading the Port Ellen project, commented on the news: ‘This is another hugely significant milestone on our journey to bring Port Ellen Distillery back to life. This is no ordinary distillery project, we are bringing a true whisky legend back to life and we believe our plans do justice to the iconic status of Port Ellen and will capture the imagination of whisky fans from all over the world.”

Let’s all hope the plans are approved, we want more Port Ellen!

*Both of which closed in 1983, which is also when M*A*S*H ended. Tough year.

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Ardnahoe: A closer look at Islay’s newest distillery

A new Scotch whisky distillery is always an exciting development, but there’s something extra-special about a new one on Islay. So, when Hunter Laing invited us to visit Ardnahoe, how…

A new Scotch whisky distillery is always an exciting development, but there’s something extra-special about a new one on Islay. So, when Hunter Laing invited us to visit Ardnahoe, how could we refuse?

Just getting onto Islay proved tricky for many invited to the opening of Ardnahoe Distillery. Gusts of 70 mph meant that all the ferries were cancelled. Luckily, the plucky folk at Logan Air weren’t deterred, and the tiny propeller aircraft I was aboard touched down safely on the island. During the journey from the airport to the distillery, the driver pointed out the scorched smoking landscape. Dry weather, high winds and perhaps someone’s carelessness with a cigarette had set off wild fires the night before. The air smelt like an Islay whisky.

Hunter Laing

We are family: from left, Scott, Stewart and Andrew Laing

Ardnahoe is located in the north of the island, facing Jura and near Port Askaig. “We think it’s the most perfect location from a scenic point of view for a whisky,” Andrew Laing from Hunter Laing told me. It’s a family business run by Stewart Laing and his two sons, Andrew and Scott. The company, which bottles whisky and rum, has been going in its present form since 2013, though the Laing family has been in the whisky business much longer. Stewart Laing is clearly very proud of his sons: “They are the real driving force developing the profitability of the company,” he said.

A distillery of their own was the inevitable next step. “We looked at a couple of options to buy distilleries, but it became apparent that for reasons of cost and for reasons of finding the right project, that we really needed to build one rather than to buy one,” Andrew explained. “ If you’re building a distillery, from our point of view, the only place to build one was Islay.” The Laing family has history on the island. “On my grandmother’s side, on my dad’s side, we have a family connection to Islay going back to the 1700s. More recently my father studied whisky making at Bruichladdich in 1966,” he continued.

Work began on the distillery (the first new one on Islay since Kilchoman opened in 2005) in 2016 and was completed last year. It hasn’t been all plain sailing, though. Stewart Laing mentioned some neighbours who had been less than supportive when they were seeking planning permission. Andrew was more diplomatic: “there was some opposition at the planning stage, which is fair enough.”

Worm tub condensers at Ardnahoe distillery

Look at those worm tubs!

The Ardnahoe set-up is sure to get whisky fans hot under the collar. It has Oregon pine fermenters, two lantern shaped pot stills (a 13,000 litre wash still and an 11,000 litre spirit still), the longest lyne arm in Scotland (or so they tell me), and worm tub condensers. “That slower condensing that we get from the worm tubs and the fact that we’ve got more copper contact in vapour form gives us a wee bit more character, texture and complexity,” Andrew explained. We thought even if it makes one percent difference to the whisky, it’s worth the extra expenditure.”

The distillery manager, Fraser Hughes, gave me some new make to try. It’s a complex dram, smoky as you’d expect (it’s made from malt peated to between 40 and 45 PPM from Port Ellen Maltings) but with tropical fruit and earthy cereal notes. Hughes described it as “dynamic but not dirty or in your face” and went on to say “it will be better in a few weeks when you have more foreshots and feints in the system.” According to Andrew Laing, that fruitiness comes partly from a long slow fermentation, around 72 hours.

Jim McEwan, who consulted on the project, joked that finding the cut point in the spirit was a difficult as giving birth. The Laings are clearly delighted to have worked with McEwan and vice versa. “To be honest, he didn’t take very much persuasion to come out of retirement for this project,” Andrew Laing said.”He was very excited and who can blame him! To build a new distillery on Islay!”

The official opening was in April, but the distillery has been filling casks since 2018. “Last year we did an inaugural first year production offer of just over 400 casks, and it was oversubscribed. We sold them all,” Andrew said. These first casks are sitting in the distillery warehouse (though most of the production will be matured on the mainland). He told me these will be split between “about 70% first-fill bourbon barrels; then about 20 or 25% first fill ex-oloroso hogsheads and some butts. And we’ve got some other wines casks, such as Port, Madeira, Muscat, Rioja, and some rum.” As a rum bottler, there’s a decent supply of used rum casks.

Ardnahoe Distillery Still Room

Still room with its beautiful view

It’s a great-looking distillery, modern but fits beautifully into its natural setting. “We made sure first of all that from the experience point of view, it’s a welcoming place and an enjoyable place to visit,” Andrew Laing explained. “It’s very bright, very airy, a comfortable place to spend some time.” He added that whisky tourism is growing “in a big way”. The team is gearing up for Fèis Ìle (24 May – 1 June) with a screening of a new whisky documentary, The Water of Life, featuring Jim McEwan.There will also be some premium Kinship whiskies bottled for the festival and available only from the distillery. “It brings a fair penny in,” joked Stewart Laing.

One of the advantages that Ardnahoe has over other new distilleries is that its owner, Hunter Laing, is a spirits bottler.  Even without its own mature whisky, there are lots of exclusive things to try. Not just whiskies from all over Scotland (including a special local blend called Islay Journey, which you can bottle from the cask yourself), but rum from around the Caribbean under the Kill Devil label. After expressing an interest, Andrew was soon opening bottles from Hampden in Jamaica and Diamond in Guyana, and enthusing about a blended rum that is in the pipeline. We were having so much fun that part of me hoped that the weather would get worse and my flight would be cancelled. Stranded at a distillery on Islay, isn’t that every whisky lover’s dream?

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