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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Johnnie Walker

The Nightcap: 25 March

At last, an end to the UK/ US tariff saga looks to be in sight, a giant wine barrel hotel, and cake-inspired cocktails hidden behind a fridge door. All in…

At last, an end to the UK/ US tariff saga looks to be in sight, a giant wine barrel hotel, and cake-inspired cocktails hidden behind a fridge door. All in one place. It’s The Nightcap: 25 March edition!

British Summer Time officially begins on Sunday, and it’s a day when those of us in the UK (and many other countries around the world) will also say thank to our mothers – yes it’s Mother’s Day! That makes it a double celebration. That means we’ll have to figure out a way to get two party hats on our heads while not looking ridiculous. We’ll report back on our progress, in the meantime, enjoy the Nightcap.

But first, as usual, a quick round-up of all the fantastic writing that featured on our blog this week. We were delighted to publish Ian Buxton’s moving tribute to whisky and beer writer Michael Jackson and Lauren Eads’ fascinating look into the evolving world of distillery architecture. Elsewhere, there were juniper wood cask-aged gins, Brandy Alexanders, and spirits perfect for Mother’s Day to enjoy, while Henry also found time to take you into the world of Lucas Bols and the Pulteney distillery

Which all sets us up for this week’s round-up. It’s The Nightcap: 25 March edition!

The Nightcap: 25 March

It’s about time sense prevailed.

Tariffs finally lifted between US and UK

Great news in the on-going tariff saga as the UK is set to remove its 25% tariffs on US whiskey imports in June. The two countries resolved their ongoing trade spat over steel and aluminum imports following two months of talk, and the new measures will come into effect on 1 June, when the US will replace the 25% tariffs on steel with a new quota system. It’s a welcome relief, with the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) reporting that American whiskey exports to the EU had plunged 37% between 2018-20, down from $702 million to $440 million, while the latest stats show that US whiskey exports to the UK – the fourth-largest market for American whiskeys – fell by 42% since the tariffs were imposed,  down from $150 million in 2018 to $88 million 2021. “With the removal of the UK’s debilitating retaliatory tariffs on American Whiskey exports, US distillers are ready to fire up the stills and resume sharing the special taste, heritage, and quality of America’s native spirit with our UK consumers,” DISCUS’s president and CEO Chris Swonger said. Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA and Nightcap legend, also welcomed the news, saying it would provide great encouragement to UK spirits importers, a significant boost to the UK hospitality industry as it recovers from the pandemic, and greater investment opportunities in the UK spirits industry by the US. The only problem we can see is the removal not taking place until June. Why the wait?  

The Nightcap: 25 March

It’s a great whisky supporting a great cause

Johnnie Walker announces Equal Measures partnership

Johnnie Walker has announced a year-long partnership with Equal Measures, a charity committed to greater equality in the drinks industry. Kicking it off in style, the pair hosted the first-ever Community Day in Hacha, Brixton on Monday 21 March, the first of a series of events. The aim of the day was to celebrate the achievements of the current (and future) students of the Equal Measures Education and Mentorship programmes, and make a few Johnnie Walker Highballs in the process. The competition challenged local young adults considering careers in the hospitality sector to create a Highball that embodied the atmosphere and energy of Brixton – Johnnie Walker global ambassador Tim Philipps Johansson was on-hand to give students an understanding of the liquid and brand. Each entrant to the competition is given a cash fund to purchase ingredients for their creation from the local market, in turn supporting businesses from the local area, while the winners will also be given vouchers for Hacha Bar and other local restaurants. This is the start of monthly Community Days at Hacha, focusing on food pairing masterclasses to panel discussions and management coaching. “We are grateful for the support of major player, Johnnie Walker, to help lift the first of these Community Days off the ground,” founder of Equal Measures and owner of Hacha, Deano Moncrieff commented. “Equal Measures is founded to support anyone who feels marginalised and faces entry barriers into the wider world of hospitality. Our intention is to create a regular, open for all, series of events where we can celebrate the local community.” Sounds like a hoot, and all for a wonderful cause.

The Nightcap: 25 March

Lots of lovely Aberlour.

Chivas Brothers brings home complete Aberlour A’bunadh collection

This week Chivas Brothers unveiled its line-up of in-person events at Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, taking place from 27 April to 2 May 2022. This year’s celebrations are going to be special for Chivas Brothers for two main reasons. Firstly, it’s offering festival-goers the first-ever opportunity to taste a flight of the rarest and finest whiskies from the Aberlour A’bunadh (“Original”) collection, which was recently brought home to Aberlour after being acquired through whisky broker Mark Littler LTD. In fact, it’s the only known and (more importantly) available series outside of the Chivas Brothers archive. The first tasting session will take place on Thursday 27 April, after which the full Aberlour A’bunadh collection will then be made available for special tastings at Aberlour distillery until it’s gone, so we can imagine it’ll be rather popular. On a more melancholy note, this year’s festival also marks Alan Winchester’s last, as The Glenlivet master distiller prepares to move to pastures new, continuing his 45-year Scotch whisky career. Fans can make the most of it during ‘An audience with Alan Winchester’ event, held at The Glenlivet Distillery on 29 April. Graeme Cruickshank, Aberlour master distiller, commented: “This year’s festival is extra special for us, as we finally get to share the only known full Aberlour A’bunadh collection for Scotch fans to taste and we raise a toast to the man-of-the-hour, Alan Winchester, and his impressive career.”

Tanqueray teams up with Bridgerton

Netflix series Bridgerton is back, with the second season premiering today, and to mark the occasion, gin brand Tanqueray has partnered with the series to launch a video campaign featuring Joe Jonas. In the clip above, the musician learns how to become a Bridgerton family member, acting alongside Jonathan Bailey, who plays Anthony Bridgerton, and comedian Phoebe Robinson, who is a self-confessed  Bridgerton ‘superfan’. It’s all part of the Make it T-time campaign, which promises exclusive prizes and limited edition cocktail kits for fans, and seeks to revive the Regency Era ritual of teatime with a modern twist, which basically means having a Tanqueray gin cocktail. Experiences that fans can win as part of the campaign include The Queen’s Ball experience, which entails a trip to New York City, an appointment with a stylist, a Tanqueray T-time happy hour, plus access to a Bridgerton-themed ball. There’s also a Bridgerton watch party, which will involve a Regency-era-themed T-time cocktail experience, hosted in a hotel suite or viewing location, with 10 friends. Finally, a Regency-era live oil painting, whereby 10 friends will be invited to a hotel suite, with a stylist on-hand to dress guests and finishing with an artist painting the scene. 

The Nightcap: 25 March

Now that’s luxury

Who wants to stay in a giant wine barrel in Portugal?

If you’re an oenophile, then you’re likely to look to include some wine-based adventures in your holidays, perhaps going to famous vineyard locations or visiting restaurants with great wine lists. But what if we told you that you could spend your break inside a giant wine barrel decked out with all manner of luxury amenities inside? No, really. The Quinta da Pacheca estate in Douro which makes both table wines and Port, has converted 10 outsized wine barrels into luxurious hotel rooms. The pinewood barrels are replicas of the actual barrels used in the winemaking process at this 280-year-old estate, and are dotted throughout the vineyard to place guests among nature and the vines. The estate also creates its own jams and olive oils alongside its wines, and there’s options to enhance the experience with dinner and more. But your basic wine barrel package will set you back roughly €400 per night… That’s a lot of Port.

The Nightcap: 25 March

If you like cakes and cocktails, then you know where to go

Cake-inspired cocktail bar hidden behind a fridge opens

Anyone for a Pick ‘n’ Mix Punch? Or a BakewellTini? Perhaps a Lemon Meringue Pie cocktail? All of these, and more, are available at one of London’s most intriguing new bar openings. The folks at The Big London Bake East, which offers a fun competitive baking experience, have launched The Pantry Bar, a luxury, cake-inspired bar opposite Haggerston Station, hidden behind a fridge door. The bar is open to all, so you don’t have to compete to enjoy the cake-themed serves or marvel at the unique decor, featuring hanging whisk lights, candy jar lamps, giant faux cupcakes. Very Instagrammable, if you care about that sort of thing. There’s also a drinks terrace and lawn, from which you can play spectator to the baking sessions to see what all the fuss is about. So, if you like cake, and a drinks after work or on the weekend, then this is the place for you. Which is surely everyone, isn’t it?

The Nightcap: 25 March

What is he thinking?! Only the technology can tell!

And finally… can your facial expressions reveal how you feel about a beer?

You will never believe it. But ground-breaking research by Japanese scientists has shown that we make different facial expressions depending on whether we like the taste of a beer or not. The incredible discovery was made by using facial expression technology to scan the faces of participants on tasting the beer to gauge their reactions. They found two fascinating responses: the first expression is the ‘lip suck’, where the lips are drawn inwards as if to say ‘mmmm’ in reaction to liking the beer, the experts claim. Meanwhile, the ‘lip press’, where the lips are pressed down on top of one another, is thought to occur when a person really did not like the taste of the beer. A total of 151 Japanese beer consumers were recruited for the study, and asked to try three different beer samples by the four scientists at Brewing Science Laboratories, a research lab belonging to brewing giant Asahi. Supposedly the brand thinks this research into how consumers respond to different beers could be vital for the brewer’s further development. “Relying solely on explicit liking could lead to a misunderstanding of consumers’ real intentions, ultimately resulting in the failure of a new product after its launch on the market,” the team says in its paper. “Analysing facial expressions as an implicit measurement may provide a better understanding of consumers’ preferences at a subconscious level by capturing their objective responses to products after tasting.”

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Royal Warrants: the history of Scotch whisky and monarchy

With the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations coming up later this year, Ian Buxton looks at Royal Warrants and the long interlinked history between Scotch whisky and monarchy.  Did you raise…

With the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Celebrations coming up later this year, Ian Buxton looks at Royal Warrants and the long interlinked history between Scotch whisky and monarchy. 

Did you raise a glass of something very special last Sunday evening, 6 February. Something regal? Something with a Royal Warrant, perhaps? It would have been appropriate, because the date marked an occasion that will probably never occur ever again as Her Majesty The Queen became the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee, marking 70 years of service to the people of the United Kingdom, the Realms and the Commonwealth.

So what to celebrate with?

My thoughts turned at once to Johnnie Walker Platinum Label – only to realise that Diageo dropped the Platinum tag in March 2017 with a renewed focus on age statements. Platinum is now ‘Aged 18 Years’, which seemed to lack the appropriate gravitas.

Never mind, I thought. As Walker proudly carries Her Majesty’s Royal Warrant I went in search of the Walker Diamond Jubilee bottle. Strangely though, I couldn’t find this £100,000 whisky anywhere – I must have finished it back in 2012. On to their King George V 80th Anniversary bottling which curiously was also absent from my cellars. Johnnie Walker Black Label it would have to be. Or wait, there are always single malts one can turn to in this hour of need.

george-iv-scotland-equipt-for-a-northern-visit

George IV visit to Scotland was immortalised by cartoonist Charles Williams

Not one but two Royal Warrants

Royal Brackla, for example, the first distillery ever to carry a British Royal Warrant and, to this day, the only one with two. King William IV patronised this Highland distillery back in 1833 and, on her accession to the throne, the warrant was renewed by Victoria, despite Brackla’s then owner the irascible Captain William Fraser being fined on several occasions for ignoring demands for excise duty due on his whisky. Fraser was immortalised in whisky history in Reminiscences of a Gauger by Joseph Pacy as high-handed and imperious in manner but, as Pacy himself was a self-confessed stickler for detail and something of a martinet the portrait may not have been entirely fair.

Today owned by John Dewar & Sons (Bacardi) much of the production remains reserved for blending but the single malt has been relaunched and is more widely available than in the past.

No doubt happier relations were enjoyed with Lochnagar, conveniently located close to the Royal family’s Balmoral estate. Victoria and her Prince Consort Albert famously visited in September 1848 after which the distillery was astutely renamed Royal Lochnagar. The Warrant was renewed by both Edward VII and George V but despite His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, (or the Duke of Rothesay as he is correctly styled when in Scotland) visiting the distillery on three occasions, most recently in 2018, it eventually had lapsed. Until December last year that is, when Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth was pleased to grant a new warrant – the fifth in total held by Diageo.

Royal Salute - Royal Warrant

Royal Salute, the clue is in the name

Regal blends

What of blends other than Johnnie Walker? Chivas Brothers bring us Royal Salute, a super-premium blend first created by the renowned Charles Julian (a blending celebrity before they all became rock stars). It was launched as a 21 Year Old in June 1953 to mark Elizabeth’s accession to the throne and the brand has subsequently released further expressions to mark royal events, most notably Royal Salute 50 Year Old for Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. The Royal Warrant was renewed in 2017.

Prior to that, Chivas’ then owner Sam Bronfman had created Crown Royal, a Canadian whisky that remains a best-seller to this day, arranging for supplies to be placed on the train carrying King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the late Queen Mother) on their 1939 visit to Canada. Today, of course, the brand is owned by Diageo and the royal link remains no more than a historical association and marketing hook though it was something of a media sensation at its original release.

Similarly Chivas Regal. Despite the apparent link, it remains – as the label declares – merely the ‘Prince of Whiskies’ rather than something with a full royal endorsement.

Tommy Dewar Highball

Dewar’s, the Jubilee Spirit

The most consistently awarded whisky is…

Possibly the most consistently awarded whisky is Dewar’s which received its first award from Queen Victoria in 1893. After Queen Victoria’s death and the accession of King Edward VII, John Dewar & Sons’ Royal Warrant was renewed as it has been by every British monarch since. Today every bottle carries the Queen’s coat of arms on the front label, marking an enviable continuous association.

Royal associations have long proved safe, enduring and popular with the marketing community. So it’s strange that – so far – no brand has announced a special edition for this remarkable Platinum Jubilee. Perhaps they are reserving an announcement for the specially extended bank holiday weekend from 2-5 June…. but whatever the industry’s plans (or lack of them) that’s certainly a time to break out something very, very special.

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Visiting the revamped Cardhu Distillery

Diageo’s ‘Four Corners of Scotland’ grand plan for whisky tourism is very nearly complete. We visited the Speyside outpost, Cardhu, to see how the team had got on revamping the…

Diageo’s ‘Four Corners of Scotland’ grand plan for whisky tourism is very nearly complete. We visited the Speyside outpost, Cardhu, to see how the team had got on revamping the visitor experience, and whether it makes our list of must-see distilleries. 

Cardhu has everything you could hope for in a Scotch whisky distillery: a hidden location down a narrow winding road, and then nestled beneath a hill, a perfect stone distillery with its twin pagodas poking above the trees. There’s even a herd of impossibly picturesque Highland cows out the front.

Cardhu cows

From left, Shakira, Beyoncé, Helen Cumming and Johnnie Walker

Shakira and Beyoncé 

According to Fiona Hunter-Wood, a recent addition to Diageo’s marketing team, rather than have normal Highland cow names like Angus or Lorna, they’re named Beyonce and Shakira. She knew them well having attempted a few days before to corral them for a photoshoot. I bet she didn’t expect that when she decided to swap a high-flying fashion job in London for the whisky industry..

We were there to check out how Diageo’s multi-million pound investment in whisky tourism was going, the so-called ‘Four Corners of Scotland’. We’ve already visited the Johnnie Walker brand home in Edinburgh and the stunningly revamped Glenkinchie. Now it’s Cardhu’s turn.

We were shown round by one of the regular guides, Natasha. She’s been with the distillery for four years now and her father was in whisky so she knows her stuff. We were given the standard tour, though we were the only people on it. 

Resilient women

As usual with the new Diageo tours, we were assured that “there’s no right way or wrong way” to enjoy whisky. I really want to see someone testing this mantra to the limit by pouring whisky into their ear or trying to set it on fire.

Then we went into a darkened cinema, where we watched an animated film telling the story of Cardhu which is something of a gift to the marketing people. The theme was ‘resilient women’ such as Helen Cumming who, during Cardhu’s illicit years, would raise a red flag to warn neighbouring distillers when an excise man was about. She was succeeded by her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, who took over the distillery when husband Lewis Cumming died. 

Unlike at Glenkinchie, there’s a strong Johnnie Walker connection, too. John Walker & Sons bought the distillery from the Cumming family in 1893. The characters in the story all appeared as silhouettes which gave the cartoon a spooky quality which may or may not have been intentional. Ghostly figures from the past coming back to life. Woooohhhhhh!

Olfactory overload

Just as with Glenkinchie and Princess Street tours, the emphasis was on flavour. We sniffed various pots, and asked to say what we thought they smelled of. There was one that smelled of freshly cut grass and another of apple crumble. And, of course, there is no right or wrong answer! Though, you’d probably get some funny looks if you said the grassy one smelt of chicken soup. Anyway, I digress, this part of the tour is a great way of learning to talk unashamedly about flavour and primes your nose for the tasting at the end.

Before looking at the distillery set-up, our guide explained the production process beginning with the barley and talking about malting, mashing and fermenting using various diagrams and models. Which was fun though parts of it, I found a little hard to follow.

The stills at Cardhu

The stills at Cardhu

The Cardhu set-up

Natasha came into her own, however, when we looked around the equipment where her experience and knowledge really showed. The set-up of the distillery begins with a Porteus mill. The team uses lightly peated barley. Fermentation takes place in eight Douglas fir washbacks over 80 hours, quite long for Scotch whisky. There are six stills, three spirit and three wash, all slim and tall so lots of copper contact. The lyne arm slopes upwards creating more reflux and there’s a shell and tube condenser. The aim throughout the process is to create a light fruity new make. The distillery produces around 3.4 million litres of whisky a year.

Before moving on to the tasting we sniffed some old casks, including a Caol Ila in a red wine cask and an old Cameronbridge grain which we were told was “the glue that binds the blend together”. It’s another good way to get your olfactory system going before diving into some whiskies. 

Cardhu tasting room

Aspirational swanky kitchen!

Aspirational tasting room

Tasting took place in a room that looks like an aspirational kitchen complete with white tiles and copper pans. It was as if the designers were told to create something that was as far away from the gentleman’s club feel previously associated with Scotch whisky. And their answer was: swanky Notting Hill kitchen showroom!

Again, Nastaha’s enthusiasm and love for Cardhu was apparent during the tasting. Those smells from the beginning just came roaring back. There’s full tasting notes below – Cardhu isn’t perhaps the distillery that gets whisky fans all hot and bothered, but the whiskies were all superb. The 12 year with it’s apple sweetness is really a textbook fruity single malt, while the NAS Amber Rock was like a riot going on in a peach orchard. So much fun.

It was a shame to see such a great space completely empty on our visit but as Scotland, hopefully, follows England out of Covid restrictions, then visitor numbers should increase. The standard Cardhu tour is very much aimed at whisky beginners but there’s enough to surprise even a jaded old drinks hack like me. And it helps that the whisky at the end was so good.

Our Four Corners odyssey will be back with Clynelish next and, when it opens, Caol Ila.

Cardhu cask strength

Tastings notes:
Cardhu 12 Year Old

Bottled at 40% ABV.

Nose: Green apple, cut grass, vanilla, and a note like apple crumble (I smelt this earlier from the atomiser) plus a touch of funky cider vinegar

Palate: Apple, vanilla, touch of chilli, toffee, mellow and creamy

Finish: Creamy, round and complete.

Cardhu Amber Rock 

NAS whisky aged in charred casks, 40% ABV.

Nose: It smells so sweet: orange peel, nutmeg and cinnamon,

Palate: Super creamy, peaches, apples and apricots. This is lovely.

Finish: That stone fruit note just goes on and on.

Cardhu Distillery Exclusive 48% ABV

Aged in bourbon, re-charred bourbon and California wine casks.

Nose: Red fruit and caramel, burnt caramel, cinnamon and vanilla.

Palate: Very spicy, creamy smooth, toffee, hedonistic, chocolate oranges, cloves.

Finish: Nutty and spicy.  

Cardhu fill your own single cask

11 year old, ex-bourbon and bottled at 56.3% ABV

Nose: Toffee and spice on the nose.

Palate: Super punchy with black and Szechuan pepper, but also creamy and fruity.

Finish: Punchy spice persists joined by notes of toffee and vanilla. 

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Don’t overlook blended whisky

Love good quality Scotch but don’t want to spend too much on a bottle? Well, don’t overlook blended whisky, says Ian Buxton. From the big boys like Johnnie Walker and…

Love good quality Scotch but don’t want to spend too much on a bottle? Well, don’t overlook blended whisky, says Ian Buxton. From the big boys like Johnnie Walker and Dewar’s to scrappy upstarts like Blaze, quality has never been higher. 

I can’t say I feel all that sorry for whisky sales folk, but there is a small place in my heart for those trying to sell blended whiskies, especially in the UK. It can’t be much fun.

Though blends still make up almost nine out of every ten bottles of Scotch whisky sold around the world there can be no doubting the significance of single malts in the UK. They certainly dominate the conversation amongst whisky fans and receive arguably more than their fair share of the distillers’ marketing budgets and retailer’s shelves.

But while that makes the selling of blends all the harder, conversely it turns out that there are some relative bargains to be found lurking in plain sight, especially amongst premium blends. By that, I don’t mean ultra-expensive one-off releases such as Johnnie Walker’s recent Masters of Flavour 48 Years Old (a snip at £20,000) but those styles – often around 12 years old – that are just one jump up from the basic blend. They’re frequently both remarkably tasty and remarkably affordable as the different blenders seem to compete keenly around this point and deliver value with great flavour.

Stephanie Macleod, master blender at Dewar's

Stephanie Macleod, master blender at Dewar’s

You can find the perfect blend

For exhibit one consider Cutty Sark, once a popular call in UK and US cocktail bars for its light, bright flavour and great mixability. That still works well, and the recent change of ownership to France’s La Martiniquaise has seen the blend back on song but consider this – for a couple of quid you can trade up to the fuller flavour and markedly higher strength (50% ABV) of Cutty Sark Prohibition. It’s a lot more bang for your buck. Moreover, having recently tasted an advance sample, I can say with confidence that the new Cutty Sark 12 year old, soon to arrive in the UK, is a distinct step up from the standard bottle.

Or consider Dewar’s. If you can find them the Double Double range shows off the blending expertise of Stephanie Macleod that has brought her the acclaim of her peers (she has been awarded the title Master Blender of the Year a remarkable three years running by the International Whisky Competition). But her skills and Dewar’s deep stocks also show well in the 12 and 15 Years Old expressions. For the price of a couple of nips you can trade up from the regular style to the 12 Year Old and, frankly, you should.

Johnnie Walker highball collection

Buckers was bowled over by Black Label

Keep walking

I could and do say the same for Johnnie Walker. It’s not the best-selling Scotch whisky in the world for nothing but, in the froth surrounding single malts, it’s easy to forget just how good it is. And, if I’m not mistaken, how much better it has got in recent years. I had formed the view that I didn’t really care for the Johnnie Walker Black 12 Year Old version on the grounds that it was somewhat harsh and smoky. Well, it might have been once, but returning recently to taste the brand after some years I was bowled over by the balance, subtlety and complexity that it delivers – and all with change from thirty quid.

If none of these appeal then the only answer is to have a go yourself. The Master of Malt Blend Your Own Whisky option allows you to create your very own blend, altering the composition of the various components to your hearts’ content in the sure and certain knowledge that your blend will be bespoke and in all probability completely unique.

Blaze Scotch whisky

New kid on the block, Blaze Scotch whisky

Don’t overlook blended whisky

It might even be life-changing. Like 19 year old Diarmaid McCann from Inverkip (it’s on the Clyde just down the river from Gourock) you could go into business. Determined to take on the giants of the industry, he’s created his own blend Blaze Scotch Whisky which he markets via social media, especially TikTok. Emboldened by the sale of 250 bottles he’s dropped out of Edinburgh University with the ambition to create a blended malt brand “without the pretension or traditionalism of the industry that can unleash the full potential of each spirit” and, he claims, over the next decade “take on the titans of the spirits industry”.

Believing that social media marketing is in its infancy and aiming to create personal relationships with every buyer he poses the question “While everyone else focuses on how their bottle looks on the store shelf, we ask how does this look on Amazon? How does this come across on the TikTok FYP? Well, God loves a trier, so they say. According to his website, Blaze is “blended for cocktails, enjoyed by all mixed, [and] fantastic neat for the aficionados.” Best of all it’s £30 and there’s a guarantee of enjoyment or your money back. What could possibly go wrong?

And, at least, unlike some of the industry it sounds like he’s having fun.

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Master of flavour: Jim Beveridge seals his legacy

Last week we headed to Johnnie Walker’s impressive Princes Street attraction to enjoy the final Masters series bottling and salute master blender Dr. Jim Beveridge OBE who is retiring, leaving…

Last week we headed to Johnnie Walker’s impressive Princes Street attraction to enjoy the final Masters series bottling and salute master blender Dr. Jim Beveridge OBE who is retiring, leaving an industry that’s now in a better place. 

The pandemic hasn’t really slowed down the Striding Man. It’s been all change at Johnnie Walker in recent times, opening its flagship Princes Street visitor attraction in Edinburgh this year and transforming the company’s 12 distillery visitor experiences around Scotland as part of a £150 million investment programme. One unwelcome development, however, was the announcement that master blender Dr. Jim Beveridge OBE would be retiring on New Year’s Day.

Only the sixth person in the company’s long history to hold the position (John Walker himself was the first), his role was to oversee innovation and preserve liquid quality at the world’s largest Scotch whisky brand. Beveridge began as an an analytical chemist in 1979 and he credits United Distillers (later Diageo) for the comprehensive education he received. He arrived at a time when the firm was investing in the science and technology of whisky‐making which helped established many of today’s common blending practices. 

After 40 years in the business, in October 2019, Dr. Beveridge was presented with his OBE medal by the Queen during an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle, in recognition of his remarkable career. I like to think Her Majesty remarked on how apt his name is. Regretfully I didn’t ask him when I was lucky enough to pick his brain on a visit to Princes Street last week for the launch of Masters of Flavour and a celebration of his legacy.

Jim Beveridge

The man of the hour

The quiet innovator

If you’re not as familiar with the man, then you’ll certainly be familiar with the whisky. Over the years Dr. Beveridge has been responsible for the creation and/or management of Red Label, Black Label, Double Black, Green Label, Aged 18 Years and, a highlight for him, Blue LabelIt’s impressive how much he’s been able to push the brand forward, giving the legacy that looms over him. When you work with Johnnie Walker, if you mess up you don’t just let down the paying customer, but a couple of hundred years of history. No pressure there. Now factor in the unbelievable task of blending whisky of significant age. In Masters of Flavour, which we’ll go into greater detail on in a moment, every whisky is at least 48 years old. Imagine getting that blend wrong? For Dr. Beveridge, he’s typically calm in his response, saying he sees the privilege in working with whisky of great age and enjoys feeling the presence of those who came before.

It’s not the most glamorous part of the job, but something he’ll leave to his successor is a responsible framework for stock management. He says that at any one time, the blending team has hundreds of ongoing experiments. The scale of the brand means working with a vast range of distillates varying in age statement, style, and cost, which he has to juggle for the core range and new innovations. For Dr. Beveridge, the issue of stock management has a simple solution: whatever you do, flavour comes first. 

Jim Beveridge

Dr. Beveridge passes the torch onto Emma Walker

The master’s legacy

This approach might explain why Dr. Beveridge has been able to keep pace with change without simply giving into trends. A restless pioneer who was never bothered by age statements or insisted on how his blends should be consumed, what excites him is the chemistry and technology that provides a framework for flavour. 

In keeping with Johnnie Walker’s history as a popular brand, Beveridge has a knack for making whisky for people who aren’t typical whisky fans. What stood out most at Princes Street, however, was the way everyone associated with the brand spoke about him. In fact, ask almost anyone in this industry about Dr. Beveridge and they’ll light up, regarding him as a driving force behind the reevaluation of the reputation of blends and crediting him for some of whisky’s most popular, enduring and important bottlings.

Yet despite all this, he remains the most modest of men. At the event, he thanked the writers in attendance for how we’ve helped shaped whisky (you’re welcome) and demonstrates how he’s willing to listen to consumers and whisky lovers for direction. He was also consistent in the homage he paid to the facilities, resources and, most importantly, the people he has around him. There are 14 members in the blending team, with incoming master blender Emma Walker among those who have benefited from his trusting, hands-off mentoring and lessons in quality control, consistency and innovation. You don’t need to ask him what his legacy is as far as whisky goes, the spirit speaks for itself. But I got the sense that what he’s most proud of are the people who will carry Johnnie Walker forward in his image.

Jim Beveridge

Johnnie Walker Masters of Flavour

Usually when you retire you get a gift, but Dr. Beveridge has been kind enough to leave us with a parting gift instead, the third and final whisky in the Johnnie Walker Masters series. Masters of Flavour is another extremely rare Scotch created by Beveridge in collaboration with distillation master Douglas Murray, cask master James Carson, and malt master Donna Anderson to make something that celebrates four of the main whisky-making processes: malting, distilling, maturation and blending. 

Every whisky in Johnnie Walker Masters Of Flavour was aged for at least 48 years, with spirit being drawn from ghost distilleries of Glyn Albyn, Port Dundas, Brora (now back) and Glenury Royal, as well as Cameronbridge, Blair Athol, and Dalwhinnie. It was bottled at an ABV of 41.8% and it will set you back 20,000 of your finest British pounds. I won’t say it’s worth it, because I can’t even begin to conceive of spending that kind of money on anything (although if you do have the kind of walking around money, we will be getting some), but it is outstanding. 

There’s a delightful aged grain sweetness at the core with rich malty qualities and abundance of bright tropical fruit offering tremendous contrast. It’s so vibrant for a dram of its age and develops beautifully, with a matrix of flavours ebbing and flowing over time. Overall, it’s an exercise of exceptional balance. Master of Balance would be as good as a title. As it would for Jim. Cheers to you. Here’s a tasting note:

Nose: Ripe tropical fruit, subtle fireplace smoke and musky oak combine with an underlying grain sweetness (Scotch tablet, foam banana and creamy vanilla). There’s also touches of darker fruits, marmalade on wholemeal toast, sea air and old books.

Palate: Rich and oily with exotic fruit and vanilla custard taking centre stage again, with stewed orchard fruit, butterscotch, an underlying herbaceousness, a little star anise, and warming oak in the backdrop.

Finish: A little ginger, black pepper, molasses, and mango.

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The Nightcap: 26 November

This week’s Nightcap is wall-to-wall amazing Scotch from the likes of Glenfiddich, Johnnie Walker, Lagavulin and more. Plus a whiskey barrel Christmas tree and chilli bacon vodka… Do you know…

This week’s Nightcap is wall-to-wall amazing Scotch from the likes of Glenfiddich, Johnnie Walker, Lagavulin and more. Plus a whiskey barrel Christmas tree and chilli bacon vodka…

Do you know what today is? The day when it really hits home how close Christmas is. December, and Advent with it, is next week. This time next month it will be over. We have officially entered the season to be jolly. But you don’t need to panic and suddenly force yourself to feel the Christmas spirit. It’s Friday, relax and take in a nice bundle of stories from the world of booze first.

Other stories we covered this week include our guide to Black Friday 2021, word on Aston Martin and Bowmore’s latest collaboration, the reforming of Delamain Pale and Dry XO, and shining a spotlight on Brandy de Jerez. We also stirred up a seasonal drink inspired by the ancient Druids rounded up our top 10 Christmas drinks, and found out what #WhiskySanta’s latest Super Wish is.

The Nightcap: 26 November edition!

The Nightcap: 26 November

The first of our amazing whiskies this week

Glenfiddich auctions 42-year-old Scotch whisky

Glenfiddich and Goodwood are teaming up for a pretty special whisky release, which we’re lucky enough to taste. Just three decanters of a 42-year-old Glenfiddich have been released to be auctioned by Bonhams to raise funds for Race Against Dementia at 11:00 on 7 December 2021. The whisky is taken from cask #11136 from Warehouse 8, which is a refill American oak hogshead barrel that has been maturing since 13 April 1979. It’s a celebration of Goodwood’s historic whisky connection, which can be traced back to 1836 when a chance inheritance handed Gordon Castle and its estate to the fifth Duke of Richmond, who was alarmed by his tenant’s illicit distilling and used political influence and commercial nous to ensure distilling became legal; paving the way for  William Grant to build the Glenfiddich Distillery. Each decanter is paired with a VIP experience at a renowned Goodwood motorsport event and a photograph taken and signed by renowned Formula 1 photographer Rainer Schlegelmilch as well as motor racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart OBE.  Master distiller Brian Kinsman says about the dram that cask #11136 is “a stunning example of Glenfiddich, with an oaky, sweet and long-lasting taste. It has reached a perfection that few casks will ever achieve and is the ideal whisky to celebrate our long-standing relationship with Goodwood.” Each liquid is contained in a hand-blown crystal decanter by renowned French crystal maker Baccarat, and Bonhams have given a low estimate for each lot of £6,500. It’s a great cause and we can confirm the whisky is worthy of the plaudits. Its elegance and balance are astounding. We do hope whoever buys it actually drinks it.

The Nightcap: 26 November

Master of Flavours is made up of whiskies aged for at least 48 years from distilleries like Brora and Glenury Royal.

Johnnie Walker ends series in style with Master of Flavour

In one of his final releases before he retires at the end of the year, Johnnie Walker master blender Jim Beveridge has put together the final edition of the cracking Masters range. Johnnie Walker Masters Of Flavour has an ABV of 41.8% and was made with whiskies aged for at least 48 years from ghost distilleries like Glyn Albyn, Port Dundas, Brora, and Glenury Royal, which was balanced together with whisky from Cameronbridge, Blair Athol, and Dalwhinnie. No wonder there’s only 288 bottles priced at £20,000. To create the special release, Beveridge teamed up with previous collaborators Donna Anderson, malt master, James Carson, cask master, and Douglas Murray, distillation master, to pay tribute to the skill of whisky-making. It’s the third and final whisky in the Johnnie Walker Masters series, which includes Ruby Reserve, a celebration of Jim Beveridge’s 30 years working in whisky, and the John Walker Masters’ Edition, a whisky crafted using Scotch aged for a minimum of 50 years from distilleries that were operational during the lifetime of Johnnie Walker founder John Walker. Much like both of them, Masters of Flavour is presented in a Baccarat crystal decanter within a bespoke oak cabinet. Although, it has to be said it does look like a bottle of Haig Club made especially for the Green Goblin. Still, we imagine the whisky itself is outstanding, and excitingly we’ll have a chance to find that out soon…

The Nightcap: 26 November

The new mezcal cask Islay Jazz Festival bottling is sure to get whisky fans chattering

Lagavulin new Jazz Festival bottling is aged in mezcal casks!

The world does slowly seem to be getting back to normal but sadly this year’s Islay Jazz Festival will once again be online only this year. But never fear because sponsor Lagavulin’s annual festival bottling is happening and you can drink it IRL. It’s one that fans won’t want to miss because after initial maturation in refill bourbon casks it then spends an unspecified time in American oak barrels that previously held mezcal! Highly unusual. It’s bottled at a cask strength of 54.8% with a 13-year-old age statement, and will cost you £160. Distillery manager Pierrick Guillaume described it as “The first Lagavulin to be finished in mezcal casks with a distinctive and unusual flavour profile is sure to intrigue and excite Lagavulin fans and beyond.” “Distinctive and unusual” is just right. You probably wouldn’t guess that it had been aged in ex-mezcal casks, but it is hugely spicy and meaty with a strong lingering saline seaweedy finish. There’s also creamy toffee and vanilla lurking beneath stopping it all from getting too much. It’s a fascinating, highly complex dram, that’s sure to get whisky fans chattering. At the moment it’s a distillery-only release but we will let you know if we can get hold of a bottle or two.   

The Nightcap: 26 November

We tried this $30,000 51-year-old whisky. It’s pretty tasty.

Royal Salute releases $30k 51-year-old limited edition

We’ve had some packaging on whisky samples at Master of Malt but still, the arrival of Royal Salute 51 Year Old managed to cause a stir at the office. The 50ml sample came in a solid wooden box wrapped in gold (not real gold, sadly) chains with a combination padlock. It’s the second release in Royal Salute’s ‘Time Series Collection’ made up of casks filled before 1970 including some from ghost distilleries. Only 101 crystal decanters are available. Master blender Sandy Hyslop described it as “an undeniably special expression that blends exceptional style with high-aged whisky. Crafting a Scotch of that age requires intense care and attention to ensure the cask characteristics are perfectly absorbed without being overpowering, and the moment I tested the final blend will stay with me forever; the masterful role that time has played over a minimum of five decades of slow maturation really blew me away. This release is a one-of-a-kind expression, and I am honoured to contribute to the legacy that the outstanding Royal Salute Time Series Collection is making in the world of rare and collectable whisky.” There’s no doubt that it’s a special drop of quite jaw-dropping complexity. On the nose, there’s toffee, peaches, dark chocolate, cinnamon and cardamom with a distinct waxy note like you find in Brora (could this be one of the ghost distilleries in the blend?). The palate is spicy and lively with menthol, manuka honey, Jamaica cake, and a lingering waxy texture. We feel lucky to have had a wee taste especially as at $30,000 a pop we are very unlikely to ever taste it again. Well, we suppose that explains the packaging. 

The Nightcap: 26 November

It’s a masterclass from Ian worth seeing

Ian Burrell takes Equiano on UK rum tour

Global rum ambassador and co-founder of The Equiano Rum Co Ian Burrell is taking to the road this winter with A Tale of Two Rum Islands, a fascinating presentation of the rum-producing histories of Barbados and Mauritius. The event also gives guests the opportunity to taste Equiano Original and Equiano Light and learn the story behind its name, honouring the legacy of African-born writer, entrepreneur, abolitionist and freedom fighter Olaudah Equiano, as well as learn about the brand’s philanthropic endeavours. The session concludes with a Q&A, a rare chance to get geeky with one of the industry’s leading authorities. Burrell’s first UK tour in five years kicked off in London on 22 November, and we attended and had a blast. He then headed to Brighton (23 November) and will visit Nottingham (30 November) and Manchester (1 December) next, before continuing the tour in January 2022 in Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Oxford, and Birmingham. We highly recommend it. Equiano is also marking International Day for the Abolition of Slavery (2 December) by teaming up with London bar Duchess of Dalston (from the team behind Callooh Callay) to create an exclusive cocktail and raise money for Anti-Slavery International

The Nightcap: 26 November

No need to panic yet but we do want to see some progress here

Wine and spirits firms warn of Christmas alcohol shortage in UK

There’s no need to panic but… a group of 48 wine and spirits companies have told transport secretary Grant Shapps that Britain will suffer a Christmas alcohol shortage unless the government does more to address the lack of HGV drivers. Businesses including Pernod Ricard, Moët Hennessy, and the Wine Society raised concerns over rising costs and supply chain “chaos”, raising the risk that supermarkets will run dry and festive deliveries arrive late. Members of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), which coordinated the letter, reported that importing products is taking five times longer than a year ago and that small businesses are struggling to compete as delivery firms have had to raise HGV drivers’ wages. Unpredictable arrival times are also resulting in goods being either not ready or are left waiting for collection. The call is for Shapps to extend a temporary visa scheme for HGV drivers, which expires in February 2022, to a year, and for the government to smooth congested freight routes from ports, as well as providing regular updates on how many HGV driver licences are being processed by the DVLA. “Government needs to be doing all it can to ensure British business is not operating with one hand tied behind its back over the festive season and beyond,” Miles Beale, the WSTA chief executive, summarised. Let’s hope the resolution is forthcoming, and if you do need any booze for Christmas, we might have an idea of where to get some….

The Nightcap: 26 November

Want to serve draught pints at home right in time for Christmas? Now you can

Guinness launches £750 home beer tap

Guinness is launching a limited-edition at-home tap to serve draught pints right in time for Christmas. Following the successful rollout of the technology in pubs, bars and restaurants across the UK earlier this year, the system should help you attain a better pint in your own home, although we all know how hard it is to get Guinness right regardless. The new technology is thankfully simple. Just pop a Guinness Microdraft into the pint puller, and the technology itself guides the user on how to conduct the perfect two-part pour. “Guinness Microdraft enables people to enjoy a beautiful looking and delicious tasting Draught Guinness on tap in a completely new setting for the first time ever,” said head of Guinness GB, Neil Shah. “Whether it’s to pour the perfect drink at a festive gathering, a Christmas gift for a friend or family member, or simply to enjoy an iconic drink of the black stuff at home with loved ones, Guinness Microdraft is sure to be a hit among beer lovers.” The Guinness Microdraft Bar Tap will be available to purchase for £750 from 6 December and arrives with four Guinness Microdraft cans and two Guinness pint glasses.

The Nightcap: 26 November

Should we be doing more to enjoy the vast array of different wines available?

The most popular wines in the UK revealed

A new survey, which looked at the preferences in wine varieties of adults of drinking age has revealed the top 10 most popular wines in the UK. Winemaking simulator game Hundred Days, which allows players to “embark on a journey of winemaking,” found the favourite varieties, although there’s not much in the way of surprises. Coming in first place is Pinot Grigio, then Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Merlot and Rosé rounded up the top five, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Malbec, and Rioja having to settle for places in the top 10. “Britain is one of the largest importers of wine, taking in over $4 billion worth of crates, bags and bottles in 2020. Yet, our research shows that the nation is largely shying away from expanding their wine repertoire and are stuck in a wine rut – making the same purchases over and over again,” says Yves Hohler, lead designer and co-founder of Broken Arm Games. Typically, they feel their game can make a difference by showcasing the vast array of different wines available. Of course, you could save yourself the effort and just click here

The Nightcap: 26 November

The Christmas tree from 150 repurposed Irish whiskey barrels

Hinch Distillery makes barrel Christmas tree

Getting truly into the festive spirit is Hinch Distillery, which has unveiled a 24ft Christmas tree made from up-cycled whiskey barrels. Topped off with sparkling lights and a big bow, the one-of-a-kind ‘tree’ was made from 150 repurposed Hinch Irish whiskey barrels and took 48 painstaking hours to do. It took a team of eight under the helm of Co Down decoration installer to create the structure, which pays homage to the whiskey distilling process at Hinch, including a globe made from strips that hold the barrels in place. After Christmas, the plan will be to repurpose it for furnishings including chairs and plant pots to make it a year-round installation. Hinch Distillery, which will celebrate its one year anniversary this month, lies between Belfast and Ballynahinch on the Carryduff Road and is nestled in the grounds of the beautiful Killaney Estate, so if you want to see it for yourself, you know where to go. Be sure if you’re interested to see The Whiskey Barrel Christmas Tree light switch-on, which we imagine will be quite a sight. The distillery, which has not yet got its own whiskey, has also bottled a 12-year-old Amarone Cask Finish expression. But that’s just not as impressive as a big barrel tree, is it?

The Nightcap: 26 November

Ever tried Chilli Bacon Vodka before? Now you can. Huzzah.

And finally… Baller launches chilli bacon vodka 

The ‘And finally…’ section of The Nightcap has featured many a mad product before, from the strangest of gins to the most confusing of creations. This week we’ve got a chilli bacon vodka to cast a suspicious eye on, straight from London-based distillery Doghouse. The creators of Baller Vodka, which claims to be the capital’s only vodka made from scratch, dreamt up the new flavour to “disrupt the category” thanks to its “first-of-its-kind” chilli and bacon combination. It’s produced using the brand’s wheat vodka as a base, with Mexican-grown Habanero chillies and a secret ingredient, which apparently isn’t actual bacon, to give it a bacon sweet smokiness. Could be vegan then. Not that I’d imagine that’s the target market. The distillery says to enjoy Baller Chilli Bacon Vodka with dry ginger ale and a squeeze of lime juice, or in a Bloody Mary cocktail – which in fairness I can see working. Mostly this will be bought by people needing a joke present or something to shot on stag-dos you’d think. And more power to them. We are, after all, the folks behind this monstrosity

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How Scotch whisky opened up

Ian Buxton returns to take a look at how Scotch whisky opened up. He remembers a time when master distillers were unknown and unreachable, and whisky production was a secret…

Ian Buxton returns to take a look at how Scotch whisky opened up. He remembers a time when master distillers were unknown and unreachable, and whisky production was a secret kept by each distillery. Now the industry is much more open, accessible and diverse. Here’s how it happened. 

You probably noticed the recent announcement that, at the end of a distinguished career of more than forty years, Johnnie Walker master blender Dr. Jim Beveridge OBE is to retire soon and will be succeeded by a Dr. Emma Walker [no relation, Ed.].

Whisky stepped out of the shadows

Dr. Emma Walker is succeeding the legendary Dr. Jim Beveridge OBE

The illustrious women of Scotch whisky

This news has been extensively covered (rightly) so I won’t elaborate here other than to offer congratulations. Dr. Walker joins the many other highly capable women changing the face of the whisky industry. In the blending rooms alone we can count Maureen Robinson, also at Diageo, Rachel Barrie (BenRiach etc.) and Stephanie Macleod at Dewar’s among others – and that’s before mentioning the women in senior executive roles in finance, marketing and other key positions. Just a decade or so ago this would have been quite exceptional and widely remarked upon; today we take it for granted.

It suddenly struck me that this was just one of the very many changes that I can recount after my near-forty years in whisky. For an industry all too frequently thought of as resistant to change and overly traditional in its ways, I can reflect on changes that seem quite radical and profound. Never mind lady master distillers and blenders, the whole role and visibility of this once mysterious character has been transformed. Previously shadowy but powerful figures, they were invisible to the outside world – and hidden even from many of their colleagues. I started work in the mid-1980s for a well-respected firm of Glasgow blenders, now part of Edrington, in a middle management marketing role.

The marketer who asked to meet the blender!

One day, shortly after joining, I expressed a wish to meet The Blender (for so he – and it was always going to be a ‘he’ in those days – was styled and spoken of) and learn more about what he actually did and how this linked to marketing. Consternation! The Blender would be busy. The Blender could not be disturbed from his sacred work. The Blender did not concern himself with matters such as marketing and, if impertinent young marketing folks knew what was good for them, they did not enter his inner sanctum.

In actual fact, he turned out to be Paul Rickards (remembered today for his contribution to the development of the tasting wheel) and, once he recovered from the shock of talking to me, proved affable, engaging and very open to sharing his knowledge. He wasn’t terrifying at all and would probably have fitted right into today’s world where distillery managers and distillers are rock stars, highly visible on promotional world tours, presenting at whisky shows, signing bottles and posing for selfies. One wonders, on occasion, just how much blending and distilling they manage to fit into their busy week.

It’s about transparency, something that the industry has embraced to an astounding degree. Take visitor centres, or ‘brand homes’ as they are increasingly styled. Once, really not so long ago, distilleries were closed and secretive places. Believe it or not, it was quite normal for colleagues outside a production role to have to seek permission in advance to visit distillery or bottling facilities and expect to be questioned on the purpose of the trip.

Whisky stepped out of the shadows

Johnnie Walker Princes Street Experience demonstrates how public access to whisky is changing

How Scotch whisky opened up

The first visitor centres date from the late 1960s when both Glenfarclas and Glenfiddich had some limited – very limited by today’s standards – facilities for the public. However, with a few exceptions, in general the idea was firmly resisted by the rest of the industry for a further twenty years or so. Notably, the DCL (forerunner of Diageo) gave long consideration to the concept of building a small model distillery, codenamed the Bothy Still, which would open to the public thus avoiding the trouble and expense of visitors to their ‘real’ distilleries. In the event that plan was abandoned in favour of a modest exhibition above the public toilet block in a layby off the A9 by Kingussie (today it’s the privately-run Ralia Café and a great place for a short break on the tedious drive north).

Compare that attitude to the reputed £150m Diageo have just spent on the Johnnie Walker Princes Street Experience and its four satellite distillery centres. Public access to distilleries is now the norm and those that maintain a closed door policy a fast-diminishing minority.  They are frequently critical to the economics of many new boutique ‘craft’ operations where visitors are welcomed with open arms (and a ringing till).

Greater transparency

Alongside this transparency there has been a greater willingness to share details of production, blend make-up, cask regimes and so on that would have been unthinkable even ten years ago. While some brands continue to resist, a new generation of more open-minded industry leaders have recognized that today’s well informed, media savvy and curious consumers cannot be fobbed off with PR platitudes, misty faux-heritage anecdotes and a few sepia-tinted photos of Victorian gents with resplendent facial hair and curious hats.

Distillers such as Waterford and Sweden’s Gotland provide astonishing amounts of information on their websites for all to see. Sometimes the detail can be overwhelming but the evidence seems to be that the more a brand shares the more the consumer (or some of them at least) will happily absorb and then come back for more. The distillers of my youth would require many a long and liquid lunch to overcome their apoplexy at such heretical disclosures.

So, many changes, though arguably more could and should be done. Notably, the whisky industry in the UK remains predominantly white and middle class, albeit with an improved and improving male/female balance, while ethnic minorities remain a rarity, certainly at any level of management. However, take some comfort from these few thoughts based on a lifetime’s observations. Don’t believe the historically ill-informed Jeremiahs who suggest that this is a stuffy and unduly conservative industry – hopefully this brief survey belies that view and provides hope for a better future.

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The Nightcap: 5 November

Remember, remember, the 5 November – because it’s when another tremendous edition of The Nightcap arrives! This week there’s Johnnie Walker, Bunnahabhain, Captain Morgan, and a story that really takes…

Remember, remember, the 5 November – because it’s when another tremendous edition of The Nightcap arrives! This week there’s Johnnie Walker, Bunnahabhain, Captain Morgan, and a story that really takes the piss…

He’s here! Yes, earlier than ever, and with a record £500k+ worth of boozy goodies to give away, this week we welcomed the return of our favourite supernatural being: #WhiskySanta! The benevolent beardo has kindly reminded you all how to make the most of this comeback on our blog, so be sure to have a read and then get those wishes in! 

That wasn’t the only way to get your hands on tremendous treats this week, however, as we launched two of our most impressive competitions yet with our 30 Days of Bunnahabhain giveaway and the chance to win a year’s supply of Tomatin whisky! Elsewhere, Henry looked at one of Scotland’s smallest and prettiest distilleries, got us ready for Old Fashioned Week and reported on Diageo’s plan to build a $75 million whisky distillery in China. Adam, meanwhile, went to gin school and enjoyed a singular sundowner, and there was still room to squeeze a helpful gift guide into the mix. 

So, we hope you’re ready for the cherry on top of the cake, it’s The Nightcap: 5 November edition!

The Nightcap: 5 November

It’s a bottle that raises a number of interesting questions, like when can taste it already?

Johnnie Walker creates a high rye whisky

Johnnie Walker has more news, everyone. Seriously. Even more news. I hope the PRs it works with get good holiday allowance, because their fingers must be red-raw from writing press releases. Anyway, this one is actually very interesting, because the brand has announced Johnnie Walker High Rye this week, its first high rye profile whisky. Described as continuing the JW tradition of “pushing the boundaries for what a Scotch whisky can do,” by outgoing master blender Jim Beveridge, the whisky has a mash bill of 60% rye aged which was matured in American oak barrels. According to the press release, the malt components come from Cardhu, Glenkinchie, and Caol Ila which are “blended with rye and grain whiskies distilled at the Cameronbridge and Teaninich”. This begs the question, is Teaninich, a single malt distillery, now producing pot still rye whiskey? We asked Diageo for clarification, no comment yet, but we did speak to a former insider who told us: “Teaninich doesn’t surprise me. They have had a hammer mill and mash filter there for many years, and that might well have made it a much better place to try and make a rye whisky at scale. Rye of course isn’t like distilling malt, the mash filter probably made it a lot easier to get the extraction they needed rather than a mash-tun.” Interesting! But back to High Rye, sadly we won’t get the opportunity to try it in Manhattan any time soon as it’s currently US only with a RRP of $34.99. Let’s hope it makes it back home to Britain sometime soon. 

The Nightcap: 5 November

We just know you’re excited about this. Good thing it will be here soon…

Bunnahabhain launches cask strength 12-year-old

Bunnahabhain has announced a new whisky that should really excite fans of the Islay distillery. A cask-strength 12 Year Old inspired by tastings in the distillery’s ‘Warehouse 9’, where visitors have been enjoying drams straight from the cask. Now fans from all over the world will be able to recreate this experience at home with the new 55.1% ABV whisky. The undiluted celebration of the distillery’s hugely popular Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old is set to be an annual release to celebrate the distillery’s spirit’s character. “When people embark on a journey to Islay and try our whiskies straight from the cask, it creates so much joy. But we understand that not everyone is able to make the trip,” says Brendan McCarron, Bunnahabhain’s master distiller. “With this annual Cask Strength 12 Year Old Cask release, we can give people around the world the chance to experience it themselves.” The brand describes the spirit as being “robust and complex”, which are the stock descriptors of a lot of cask strength whisky, to be honest, and also promise the dram will deliver unpeated, oily notes of dried fruits, cereal, caramel, and vanilla. We’d recommend you try it neat first but at that strength a few drops of water wouldn’t do any harm to encourage more floral aromas. If this is making you very excited to try the new release, then you’ll be pleased to know that Bunnahabhain’s 2021 edition Cask Strength 12-Year-Old will be available from MoM Towers very soon…

The Nightcap: 5 November

We all just want to enjoy great bourbon in peace, is that too much to ask?

EU drops US whiskey tariff

The spirits industry has welcomed a new trade agreement between the US and the European Union (EU) that marks the end of the damaging tariff on American whiskey. A certain amount of EU-produced steel and aluminium is allowed to enter the US without tariffs, though the duties on these products will technically remain in place and, in return, the EU will drop its retaliatory tariffs on American whiskey and other goods, effective from 1 January 2022. The next month, the governments agreed to a five-year suspension on tariffs for products such as vodka and Cognac. American whiskey was not covered in the deal. The UK, which has implemented similar duties on American whiskey, has yet to lift its tariffs and Martha Dalton, co-founder of the Bourbon Alliance, said the UK government needs to focus on reaching a similar resolution. “When the UK left the Customs Union, we were promised the freedom to establish an independent trade policy – the time has come to realise the opportunities of Brexit and to cut the tariff for good,” she said. Sounds good to us. And then we can stop running tariff stories.

The Nightcap: 5 November

Nc’nean is one of Scotch whisky’s most sustainable distilleries

Scotch whisky halves greenhouse gas emissions

In light of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), we’re all thinking about our environmental responsibilities, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) is no different. The good news is its latest data shows the Scotch whisky industry reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 53% between 2008 and 2020. In 2018 alone, greenhouse gas emissions were cut by 34% and the SWA also found that 39% of energy in the Scotch industry came from the use of non-fossil fuels in 2020, up from 3% in 2008. In 2018, the result was 28%, which actually beats the target industry set of 20% for 2020. Earlier this year, the SWA revealed its new sustainability strategy, which included the goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2040, while it also became the UK’s first food and drink trade association, to be recognised as a partner of the United Nations Race to Zero initiative in September. As part of its green strategy, the SWA is also aiming for all new product packaging used by the Scotch industry to be reusable, recyclable, and compostable by 2025. Karen Betts, outgoing chief executive of the SWA, said says the trade association is determined to reach the 2040 net-zero target across the whole industry, “not least as the future of one of Scotland’s most historic and successful industries depends on it, as do the people we employ and the communities in which we are based”. She added the next decade is a decisive one with Scotch whisky distillers redoubling collaborative efforts not only to reverse the impacts of climate change, “but to ensure that our industry makes an overall positive impact on the environment around us.”

The Nightcap: 5 November

Expect this to sell like hot cakes. Filled with apple.

Captain Morgan launches Apple Spirit Drink

Captain Morgan is introducing a brand-new flavoured spirit, Captain Morgan Sliced Apple this autumn, which is set to be fully rolled out in spring 2022. The launch, which will be supported with over £1m of marketing investment in its first year, follows the successful launch of Captain Morgan Tiki in March 2020. With 87% of spirits volume growth over the last 10 years coming from flavours, as well as Captain Morgan being the number one driver of growth in rum-based flavour innovations, Captain Morgan Sliced Apple Spirit Drink is well-positioned for success with lemonade, simply neat over ice or as a hot toddy serve for those colder days. “We know that consumers are still keen to explore new flavours within spirits,” says Samantha Newby, category director, Captain Morgan GB comments. “The launch of Captain Morgan Sliced Apple provides an opportunity to truly disrupt the category with great tasting spirit options whilst widening the reach of Captain Morgan to a broader group of people, moments and occasions.”

The Nightcap: 5 November

Tequila is becoming increasingly dapper, isn’t it?

Ultra rare DOBEL 50 series continues in style

For Day of the Dead (which was on Monday) Maestro Dobel launched the second edition from its rare, limited edition Dobel 50 series. It’s an Extra Añejo Tequila made with single estate agave, and aged in American and French white oak barrels before being finished in Sauternes casks by eleventh generation master blender Juan Domingo “Dobel’ Beckmann. Maestro Dobel 50 1969 follows the 1967 edition and was inspired by the year of the moon landing, Woodstock, and President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz opened the first native factory for Mexican banknotes. But we should make clear, it isn’t the year the Tequila was distilled. Maestro Dobel 50 1969 was bottled at 40% ABV and comes in the typical stylish decanter and presentation box you imagine for a Tequila that has just 40 bottles and retails for £895. Our marketing campaigns manager Zak Newmarch attended the launch, where the Tequila was paired with a dish of pork pibil and mushroom tacos, and found the bottle to be thoroughly enjoyable with a herbal, almost Fernet-esque nose, which builds into a palate of rich oak and sweet liquorice. He felt the Tequila had a digestif feel that could be enjoyed after dinner with a cigar. It’s interesting to see how much the Tequila world is changing, bottles like this that make for an alternative to whisky or brandy are becoming more commonplace and there’s a price tag to match. 

The Nightcap: 5 November

Does the Cotswolds Distillery ever miss?

Cotswolds releases bourbon single cask malt

We love a limited edition release from the Cotswolds distillery. In the past, the English whisky pioneer has produced various sherry and other cask releases but now it has gone back to basics with its latest creation. It’s entirely aged in sweet ex-bourbon casks to create the smoothest single malt you can imagine, even at 59.1% ABV. Imagine custard prepared by David Niven and Roger Moore, both wearing matching velvet smoking jackets, and you’re nearly there. It’s made from Cotswold barley, fermented using two yeasts for 90 hours before double distillation, before ageing in first-fill American oak bourbon barrels for the full term. No STR here. No siree Bob! Founder, Dan Szor, explained, “We always planned to launch a Bourbon Cask Single Malt ever since 2014 when we founded the distillery. It’s been a while in the making but it’s definitely been worth the wait. Our house style is to produce spirits with big flavours and by using first-fill ex-bourbon casks, which arrive at the distillery with their staves soaked in bourbon whisky, we ensure a full and rich flavour for this wonderful cask strength expression.” A bottle will set you back £64.95 and it’s only available from the distillery.

The Nightcap: 5 November

If anyone’s going to get this right, it’s the lads from Homeboy

Homeboy unveils The Bottle Cocktail Shop

Specialists in Irish hospitality Homeboy shop have opened an online store dedicated solely to pre-bottled cocktails. Adding a new string to their bow, founders Aaron Wall, Ciarán Smith, and Conor Bartley are known for their bar sites in Islington, which opened in 2018, and a second outlet in Nine Elms that debuted in April. Now the team is selling alcoholic and non-alcoholic iterations of ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails made by Smith and Wall for retail and hospitality outlets. The main focus of the new shop will be nine original-recipe bottled cocktails and the branded bottled drinks, while five classic and four ‘inspired’ serves will rotate annually. The plan is to eventually team up with ‘world-class, international cocktail bars’, to bottle the signature serves of bars including Little Red Door in Paris and Two Schmucks in Barcelona. Local craft beers will also feature alongside a selection of wines, spirits, mixers, hard seltzers, and bitters, while customizable, bespoke cocktails and labels are available for weddings, social gatherings, and gifting. Best of all, there’s complimentary nationwide delivery to customers when they sign up for a monthly cocktail subscription.

The Nightcap: 5 November

An exciting and reasonably priced range will always get our attention

Mossburn Distillers launches Caisteal Chamuis whisky

Mossburn Distillers, who you may know as the folks that own the lovely Torabhaig Distillery, is launching a new range of whiskies called ‘Caisteal Chamuis’. Named after the mysterious medieval ruin which lies on the headland of the eastern flank of Knock Bay, on the Isle of Skye, the series is kicking off with two expressions. The first is Caisteal Chamuis Blended Malt Scotch Whisky, made up of whisky from Skye, Orkney, and Islay that was blended together and finished in first-fill bourbon casks, before being bottled at 46% ABV without colouring or chill-filtration. It’s said to be a whisky to unlock the door to the world of peated whiskies and at £39 it’s incredible value for a dram of its profile. The other is Caisteal Chamuis 12 Year Old Blended Malt Scotch Whisky which also features whisky from Islay and Orkney aged for an initial 12 years before being finished in custom-made fresh Oloroso sherry butts. At £49, you have to say it’s another reasonable price tag for an exciting-sounding whisky. Good thing they’re both on their way to MoM Towers…

The Nightcap: 5 November

Someone is taking the piss here. We’ve heard of an illicit stash, but an illicit slash?

And finally…. Just having a wee dram? 

In one of the most bizarre stories we’ve had on the blog, we learned from The Times this week that a William Grant employee Kerry Wilson has been granted £11,264.76 for unfair dismissal. His employer found a wet patch and a can of urine deodoriser by some barrels where Wilson had recently been spotted at Girvan grain distillery, and sacked him for “gross misconduct.” Wilson in his defence claimed that he was a keen ornithologist and had been following a robin rather than taking a leak. You can read the full case here. Judge Ian McPherson expressed his doubts about Wilson’s explanation, perhaps by stroking his chin as if he had a gigantic beard and saying “Jimmy Hill”, but stated that Grant’s hadn’t proved that Wilson produced the puddle. It’s one of those stories that leaves you scratching your head in bafflement. Why did William Grant sack an employee of 31 years for allegedly taking a pee, why did Wilson not use the lavatory, and who has the forethought to buy urine deodoriser before going for an illicit slash? And just what the hell is urine deodoriser, anyway? 

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The Nightcap: 29 October

The Budget promises big changes for the drinks industry, the world’s first ‘sonic seasoning’ playlist is made and a cask of whisky sells for over £1.6million. It’s all in this…

The Budget promises big changes for the drinks industry, the world’s first ‘sonic seasoning’ playlist is made and a cask of whisky sells for over £1.6million. It’s all in this week’s Nightcap!

Happy Halloween(ish), everyone! It’s the first one we’ve been able to celebrate properly in what feels like forever, so we hope you’ve got something fun planned, whether it’s a costume-filled party or a night in with some sweet treats. Nothing too scary. Good thing the only spirits you’ll find here are delicious and boozy. It’s The Nightcap: 29 October edition!

Those of you who are getting your Christmas lists in order will be delighted to know we launched our Christmas Gift Finder. We also let you know how to win big with Jack Daniel’s, how to enjoy Bonfire Night with some great company and fireside drams, and how to get your hands on our latest MoM exclusive: a Teaninich 11 Year Old 2010 finished in a sherry cask and bottled by James Eadie. Elsewhere on the blog, we made a kümmelised gin sour, gave you a mezcal 101, and made a case for fun drinks, while Adam looked into the story of one of the great bourbon brands and demonstrated why you absolutely can mix Islay whisky.  

The Nightcap: 29 October

The Budget will have a big effect on booze

Rishi Sunak outlines radical overhaul of alcohol duty

In his autumn Budget announcement this week chancellor Rishi Sunak revealed a major transformation of the current “outdated” alcohol duty system, in which drinks with stronger ABVs will be taxed at higher rates. “It will help end the era of cheap, high-strength drinks which can harm public health and enable problem drinking,” Sunak said. The price of a pint in the pub was slashed by 3p, and a planned increase in duty on spirits such as Scotch whisky, wine, cider and beer was cancelled. Consumers can also expect to pay less for rosé, fruit ciders, liqueurs, lower strength beers, and wines under the new tax system. The hospitality sector even received relief in the form of a 50% business rates discount worth almost £1.7bn Scrapping the planned tax hike on spirits was a move welcomed by distillers, while The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) characterised the wine and spirits duty freeze as a “much-needed break” for British businesses. Port and Madeira, however, will be particularly hard hit, with typical bottles of 20% strength port likely to see increases of over £1 in their tax, while Nightcap legend and WSTA chief executive Miles Beale was one of many sceptical voices on the revamped alcohol duty scheme, which he said “does not make the regime fairer” – particularly for spirits. “We are mystified by a proposal that embeds unfairness between products meaning that beer will be taxed between 8p-19p per unit, wine increases to 26p per unit and spirits remains at 29p per unit,” he concluded. The new measure will not come into effect until February 2023, and with staff and energy costs rising, we can’t imagine drinkers should expect to be paying less for a pint anytime soon.

The Nightcap: 29 October

The Angels Share by Trevor Jones, which serves as proof of authenticity

Macallan whisky cask sells for over £1.6million

If you’ve had any concerns that the whisky cask investment market has been going a bit bananas of late, then you might just wince at the results of a recent digital auction.  London based brokerage firm VCL Vintners sold a Macallan ’91 whisky cask for a record-breaking £1.69million this week. The last re-gauge of the cask put the ABV at 51.1%, with 600 bottles expected to be remaining, and has been housed at the distillery since it was filled on June 3, 1991. The previous world record for a whisky cask sold at auction was another Macallan cask, which went for £416,208 in August 2021 at Bonhams Hong Kong. The cask was represented in NFT (non-fungible tokens, representations of ownership digital or physical that cannot be copied) art by Trevor Jones as proof of authenticity for the overseas buyer. The piece, titled The Angel’s Share, references the natural evaporation of the whisky. Commenting on why VCL Vintners opted for an NFT artwork to sell the cask, director Stuart Thom said it gave the new owner “a 21st century way to connect with their whisky”. He explains that, instead of a photo which is for verification purposes more than anything, “the way Trevor is using new technologies to engage fresh audiences with traditional artforms fits exactly what VCL Vintners and Metacask are wanting to achieve for the whisky investment industry”. It’s all a bit concerning, to be honest, given whisky’s history of busting pretty drastically after a big boom. Still, why learn from the past when you can make £1.6m?

The Nightcap: 29 October

Glengoyne Distillery commissioned the troubling study

Climate change report on Scotch whisky makes for grim reading

Ahead of COP 26 in Scotland, a study commissioned by Glengoyne has revealed we shouldn’t take a good dram for granted. The report from climate researchers from University College London says that projected temperature increases and changes in rainfall patterns threaten distillery production over the next fifty years, with the volume and quality of spring barley in Scotland being drastically affected. It takes 800,000 tonnes annually to support Scotch production and a reduction in yield, as seen in 2018, could cost the industry up to £27million a year. Flavour and consistency could also be affected as production methods like fermentation are developed to suit the temperate climate of the area, while warmer air and water temperatures could also lead to inefficient cooling in traditional distilleries. With projection for a decline in summer rainfall of up to 18% and a 2.0 ̊C annual rise in temperature by 2080, it’s not a pretty picture. The report is clear: planning is essential to protect our whisky. Climate change professor at UCL Mark Maslin says this needs to come from government support, investment, and infrastructure and that being in “net-zero emissions as soon as possible” is essential. Glengoyne for its part was the first Scottish distillery to adopt a wetlands facility for liquid waste in 2011, and is releasing The Wetlands Single Cask Release, as part of its collaboration with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), which also began that year. A portion of proceeds from the sale of the whisky will be given to the WWT to back its climate emergency work.

The Nightcap: 29 October

Oxford University experimental psychologist Charles Spence

Black Bottle creates world’s first ‘sonic seasoning’ playlist

Black Bottle Whisky has teamed up with Oxford University experimental psychologist, Charles Spence to create an interesting new way to taste whisky. It’s the ‘world’s first’ collection of audio tracks that alter and heighten sensory perceptions when drinking whisky, available on AlchemySeries.co.uk to mark the launch of Black Bottle’s Limited Edition Alchemy Series. Made up of Island Smoke and Double Cask, both are non-chill filtered and bottled at 46.3% ABV, and have already scooped a ‘Master’ award at this year’s Scotch Whisky Masters. An experiment to combine ‘sonic seasoning and real-world sounds’ to change the way we taste, the collab tasked Spence to work alongside master distiller Brendan McCarron to create a collection of audio tracks specifically to alter and heighten sensory perceptions when drinking whisky. McCarron says the experience gives whisky drinkers a truly personal experience and having attended a tasting ourselves, we agree. We also learned a few things: a) The new Black Bottle Double Cask and Black Bottle Island Smoke are both outrageously good value and are very tasty; b) We know absolutely nothing about whisky; c) sonic seasoning really does work. We highly recommend you give it a try. Pour some whisky, pop the playlist on and prepare to be amazed.

The Nightcap: 29 October

The brand’s inaugural cookbook has Christmas present written all over it

Guinness is releasing its first official cookbook

Guinness has always had a long association with food, whether it’s been as a drink pairing or as an ingredient to add depth and richness. But the Irish beer brand has never launched its own official cookbook – until now. The Official Guinness Cookbook, written by Irish food and drink journalist Caroline Hennessey, is an attempt by the brand to bring the ingredient out “from under the radar” and into more of our kitchens. Hennessy, a graduate of the Ballymaloe Cookery School, has put together a host of dishes including braised short ribs, traditional Guinness soda bread, and indulgent chocolate potato cake. Along with recipes containing the beers themselves and those designed specifically to pair with the brewer’s stouts, ales, and lagers, there are also dishes lifted directly from the food menu served at Dublin Guinness Storehouse, which has been feeding visitors its famous Guinness Burger, and Guinness chocolate mousse for years. A handful of cocktail recipes incorporating Guinness are also included in a collection said to be perfect for ‘anyone who wants to bring the taste and comfort of an Irish pub home.” Containing more than 70 recipes, the Irish brand’s fully-sanctioned book has launched in the US this week, but there will be pre-orders available for a December UK release. Sounds like Guinness fans will all be getting the same Christmas present!

The Nightcap: 29 October

The London Gin Club is back!

MoM visits the revived London Gin Club

Fans of all things juniper will be delighted to know that The London Gin Club has been brought back to life. After a two year closure, the Soho institution has returned to the historic Great Chapel Street, which housed bars as far back as 1785, so it was a no-brainer of a location for the club’s resurrectors, the London’s Inception Group. We got to visit this week and we’re quite charmed by the venue. It’s an intimate space littered with references to gin and Soho’s history and boasts an impressive back bar of over 100 gins. If you want something flavoured, something classic, or even something you won’t find anywhere else, like the missed Tanqueray Old Tom, then this is the place to be. G&Ts are an obvious staple of the menu but there’s also a 10 strong gin-based cocktail menu featuring new creations as well as long-standing classics. We tried two, a beautifully composed White House Negroni made with Bombay Sapphire gin, St-Germain Elderflower Liqueur, verjus and Franklin & Sons elderflower tonic water with cucumber, as well as a delightful drink called Garden Square, which paired makrut lime-infused Bombay Sapphire gin with Muyu Jasmine Verte liqueur, cloudy apple juice, lavender syrup and fresh lime juice. The drinks were delicious and it’s great to see a celebration of the spirit the capital is so associated with back in the groove. Cheers!

The Nightcap: 29 October

The limited-edition bottle sports a number of Money Heist references

Johnnie Walker teams up with Netflix for new bottle

People love a good crossover these days so there will be plenty of people trying to get their hands on a new limited edition bottle design for Johnnie Walker Red Label, made in collaboration with Netflix. Inspired by the streaming service’s series Money Heist, or La Casa de Papel, which tells the story of two large-scale bank robberies, the label will mark the finale, which will premiere on Netflix on 3 December 2021. Johnnie Walker’s special bottle design will appeal to fans of the series, with a label depicting several of the show’s characters and props alongside Johnnie Walker’s signature Striding Man branding. Eagle-eyed whisky lovers will also notice a few ‘hidden messages’, including the last words of one of the show’s main characters, that are revealed by placing the bottle under a UV light. “Like many fans around the globe, we’ve been gripped by the action unfolding from the fictional underworld of La Casa de Papel,” commented Julie Branham, Johnnie Walker’s global marketing director. “We’re delighted to be marking the climax of this series through this limited edition design. I’ll be watching the story unfold with a glass of Johnnie Walker in hand and a keepsake bottle to have forever.” It won’t be easy getting your hands on this one, however. For a start, just 150,000 bottles of Johnnie Walker Red Label La Casa De Papel Limited Edition Design will be released on 1 November, plus it’s only in select markets in Southern Europe and Latin America. Despite the fact the whisky sits at 40% ABV and retails for €13.49, you’ll probably see this one doing the rounds on auction markets in no time.

The Nightcap: 29 October

Miss your favourite Tequila coffee liqueur? It’s VIVIR to the rescue

VIVIR Tequila to the rescue with Café VS launch

Remember but two short weeks ago when it was revealed that the beloved Patron XO Cafe was being axed? All of us here in the UK (and at Master of Malt) were up in arms about it. But all hope is not lost – VIVIR to the rescue! Founded in 2019 (find out all about its inception in our blog post here), alongside its three core Tequilas, the brand has now announced that it’s plugging the coffee liqueur-shaped gap in the market with its own VIVIR Café VS. They swear it’s complete luck, as this toasty bottling has been in the pipeline for over two years. It’s made using VIVIR Blanco, and is naturally flavoured with locally-sourced Mexican coffee beans, as well as being sweetened with Piloncillo sugar, a raw form of pure cane sugar that is commonly used in Mexican cooking. We took it upon ourselves to taste it on behalf of the nation this week, and truly, it’s delicious. All that roasty, toasty, coffee bitterness is bolstered by red fruit, fresh agave, and very subtle woody sweetness, and we even detected an intriguing hint of Frazzles somewhere underneath. Needless to say, it’s quite spectacular in an Espresso Martini, but we also tried it in a coffee- and Tequila-based twist on a Negroni. It’s selling for £27, and will be arriving at MoM Towers very soon… 

The Nightcap: 29 October

“Here comes the bride… wait, where is she?”

And finally… Want to get hitched in a Busch Light-themed wedding dress?

It’s every little girl’s dream to wear a Busch Light-themed wedding dress down the aisle on their big day, right? Well, it must be somebody’s, because the beer brand has teamed up with Dave’s Bridal to launch its own wedding formal wear, including a Busch Light-themed wedding dress. It costs US$789, which is about £575 and so cheaper than the average wedding gown, and comes in a tasteful (ahem) camouflaged design. Naturally, it was inspired by Busch Light’s Camo cans, available now as a limited edition. It sounds like the kind of advertisement you’d see on The Simpsons, but this is all very real, we’re afraid. Let’s just say a little prayer right now for the groom who buys their bride one of these thinking it will go down well. 

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New master blender at Johnnie Walker as Dr Jim Beveridge OBE retires

Johnnie Walker has a new master blender. Yep, after more than 40 years at Diageo, we’re saying a fond farewell to Dr Jim Beveridge OBE, and saying hello to Dr…

Johnnie Walker has a new master blender. Yep, after more than 40 years at Diageo, we’re saying a fond farewell to Dr Jim Beveridge OBE, and saying hello to Dr Emma Walker!

Remember the name Dr Emma Walker, because she’s about to become the new master blender for Johnnie Walker. And no, she isn’t related to the Walker family, it’s just a lovely coincidence. 

Walker is set to take over the reins from the legendary Dr Jim Beveridge OBE, who is retiring at the end of the year after more than 40 years at Diageo, 20 of which he spent as master blender.

Only a small, select group of people have held the role of master blender for Johnnie Walker (including founder John Walker himself) over the last two centuries or so, and Walker holds the distinction of being the first woman to take the coveted position. 

Johnnie Walker master blender

Say hello to your new master blender: Dr Emma Walker

The good doctor

She joined Diageo 13 years ago, and the drinks giant commented in a press release that she has gained “extensive knowledge and experience of Scotch production and innovation” working in fermentation, distillation, and maturation to develop an understanding of every stage of the whisky-making process to become “a highly respected blender”.

She also worked extensively on Johnnie Walker for the last six years, with innovations including the Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare series and Jane Walker by Johnnie Walker, and has spent several years working with Beveridge to develop an encyclopaedic understanding and knowledge of whisky. Now Walker will lead the 12-strong team of expert whisky makers to blend the various whiskies that make the numerous Johnnie Walker variants, which are sold in more than 180 countries around the world.

“I am honoured to take on the title of master blender of Johnnie Walker, and at an exciting time for the brand as we embark on the next step of our journey looking ahead to the next 200 years,” Walker says. “I love experimenting and innovating with flavour and we’ll be working hard to not only continue to deliver the unrivalled quality that we are renowned for but also introducing blends to appeal to a new generation of Scotch whisky fans.”

Johnnie Walker master blender

Dr Jim Beveridge OBE, a true legend of the whisky industry

A legend moves on

She adds that she has learnt “so much over my career working with Jim,” and that his “knowledge and generosity of spirit is unsurpassed in the world of whisky.” Across his impressive four-decade career in whisky, Beveridge has been responsible for some of the world’s most popular and acclaimed Scotch whisky blends including Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

He started out as an analytical chemist 42 years ago at Johnnie Walker, and has since gone on to become one of the most highly respected figures in the industry, renowned for his tireless work, expertise, and dedication to develop flavours that are still popular today. In 2019, he was awarded an OBE by Her Majesty the Queen for his services to the Scotch whisky industry. 

“It is with pleasure and confidence that I pass on this privilege to Emma. I know she will do a wonderful job as she possesses the knowledge, expertise, and dedication to make an amazing master blender,” Beveridge says. “On a personal level I am delighted for her, and I know that her wonderfully infectious personality, which made working with her so enjoyable, will bring something exciting and different to the team and, indeed, to the wider Scotch industry.”

Johnnie Walker master blender

The passing of the torch dram

Walker will officially hold the title of master blender from 1 January 2022, while Beveridge will remain with the business until the end of the year. We wish them both the best of luck, and offer our congratulations to Dr Walker and our sincere thanks to Dr Beveridge for all his remarkable contributions. We’ll raise a dram to him tonight.

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