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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Johnnie Walker

Missing in action? The forgotten blends

When was the last time you read about Label 5 Scotch whisky? Or William Peel? Or Teacher’s? Ian Buxton looks at the blends that still bring in the money, if…

When was the last time you read about Label 5 Scotch whisky? Or William Peel? Or Teacher’s? Ian Buxton looks at the blends that still bring in the money, if not the column inches. 

Imagine if you will that you live in a fine country house. It’s well-appointed with many delightful rooms, a range of useful outbuildings and extensive grounds. All in all, it’s perfectly agreeable. What’s more, thanks to your aunt’s endowment and some shrewd investments, there’s a steady flow of income to keep the whole place running. The problem is that the old girl’s more than slightly batty so you have to keep her out of the public’s curious view. It’s the classic problem of the mad aunt in the attic and I’ve been thinking about her quite a lot recently. That’s because I’ve been drinking some blended Scotch whiskies and, for an article I’m writing, trying to get the distillers to talk about them. To summarise: they don’t have a lot to say.

Now my email in-box overflows on a daily basis with news of different single malts.  A constant stream of eager PR agencies and their clients vie for your attention with ever more exotic, expensive and esoteric releases of rare single malts. Often they’re limited to a few hundred bottles and, all too frequently, with a price tag running into four figures.

Dewar's White Label

They don’t make adverts like this any more.

They do, of course, provide easy copy for whisky magazines and bloggers and the proud brand manager is more than happy to see the column inches that result. They don’t, however, really mean terribly much in the grand scheme of things – while they’re the glamorous Spitfire pilots of whisky, the blends (the crews from Bomber Command if you want to keep this rather tenuous analogy going) do the grunt work.  They still account for more than 90% of all the Scotch sold around the world and without them, as I never tire of reminding folk, quite a number of single malt distilleries would have shut years ago.

The volumes of some of these brands are quite remarkable.  You know about Johnnie Walker, of course, and probably realise that blends such as Ballantine’s, Grant’s and Chivas Regal still sell impressive quantities (for the record, they each move considerably more than 4 million cases annually – that’s a lot of hooch).  But what about Passport, Buchanan’s, White Horse or Sir Edward’s? Well, any one of those sells more than 1½ million cases, leaving even the best-selling single malt gasping in their wake. 

In fact, brands that have been more or less forgotten on the UK retail scene such as VAT 69 and even Teacher’s still comfortably break the 1 million club barrier. And the ‘value’ brands that grace French supermarket shelves can clock up some remarkable numbers. Label 5 for example, which you’d be forgiven for not calling to mind, is a powerhouse performer selling close to 3 million cases.  Even more remarkably, the William Peel brand does even better.

So what’s the problem?  Why don’t we hear more about these whiskies? Well, some of it is pure snobbery – especially in the UK and US markets, blends are rather looked down on (not least, it has to be said by whisky writers and bloggers). The rot started with one of my personal whisky heroes, the author Aeneas MacDonald, who back in 1930 with his marvellous polemic Whisky (still in print, incidentally, and still well worth reading) chastised blended whisky drinkers as “the swillers, the drinkers-to-get-drunk who have not organs of taste and smell in them but only gauges of alcoholic content, the boozers, the ‘let’s-have-a-spot’ and ‘make it a quick one’ gentry and all the rest who dwell in a darkness”. Other writers have followed his lead.

Dr Jim Beveridge

Softly-spoken and unassuming, Dr Jim Beveridge from Johnnie Walker

Then there’s the undeniable fact that selling lots and lots of the same whisky day after day makes for rather less compelling copy than a stream of new releases.  There’s only so often that story can be written.

But there are stories to tell about blends and blending, even if blenders by inclination seem to be quite a modest breed, preferring the quiet sanctuary of their blending room to the stage at a large public whisky event. To their credit, Diageo did try some years ago to bring blending to the fore, holding a series of educational seminars for trade and media and releasing late in 2012 an elegant and erudite little pamphlet on The Art of Blending.

What’s more, their signature Johnnie Walker blend has proved adept at stealing malt whisky’s PR clothing. For proof, look no further than the recently released John Walker Last Cask.  There are just 330 bottles available worldwide (that’s if the Chinese leave us any, as it’s released there first) at approximately £2,500 each. 

So come on whisky marketers!  Let’s hear it for the engines of whisky’s success!  Let’s hear it for the mad aunt in the attic!

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

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The Nightcap: 9 August

Artificial tongues that can taste whisky? Vodka made from Chernobyl rye? The gin boom is still going?! These aren’t tales from 2054 – these stories all appear in this week’s…

Artificial tongues that can taste whisky? Vodka made from Chernobyl rye? The gin boom is still going?! These aren’t tales from 2054 these stories all appear in this week’s Nightcap!

Behind the scenes sneak peek at how The Nightcap comes together right here: sometimes this intro is written after the all the stories have been finished. Having a look at all the futuristic stuff in this edition of The Nightcap, you might think that time travel is real and MoM Towers has slipped through a dimensional rift and ended up in the year 2054. Stranded and working purely on instinct, we notice on the future calendar it’s a Friday, so we write up a new edition of The Nightcap, regaling the masses with tales of artificial tongues that can taste whisky and spirits made from crops in Chernobyl stories that these future folk see as perfectly normal, but to our minds are wildly out of this world. But it’s not. It’s today and stuff is just becoming more impressive by the day!

So, good people of 2019, what’s been happening on the MoM Blog? Henry kicked off the week with a gem of a rum from the Diamond Distillery for New Arrival of the Week, made a Pink Lady for Cocktail of the Week and spoke to Peter Lynch from WhistlePig about an oloroso-finished rye exclusive to MoM. Annie chatted to Bimber’s founder Dariusz Plazewski about where people can go wrong (and right) when starting a craft distillery, and then asked a very important question to us all: how do you make alcohol-free beer delicious? Guest columnist Nate Brown has opinions about drinks industry folk who RSVP for events then don’t turn up.

We also launched a new competition where you could win a trip down to Deven to visit Salcombe Distilling Co.! Take a look, pick up a bottle of excellent gin, and cross your fingers!

And now, the news of the future today!

Cardhu

How Cardhu will look when it’s been refurbished

Johnnie Walker gets the green light for Cardhu redevelopment

The final piece in the jigsaw is now in place. That jigsaw being Diageo’s £150m plan for whisky tourism in Scotland based around four key distilleries. As we have reported previously, developments at Glenkinchie, Caol Ila, Clynelish, and a Johnnie Walker HQ in Edinburgh have all been granted planning permission. Now it’s the turn of Cardhu in Speyside. This was the first distillery acquired by Johnnie Walker in 1893 and since then has been a key component in the blend. David Cutter, chairman of Diageo in Scotland, said: “Together these locations will create a unique Johnnie Walker tour of Scotland, encouraging visitors to the capital city to also travel to the country’s extraordinary rural communities.” Laura Sharp, brand home manager at Cardhu, added: “This announcement is very exciting and we want to thank Moray Council and all our neighbours for their continued support.” We love it when a plan comes together.

That’s what an artificial tongue looks like

Boffins baffle counterfeiters with artificial whisky-tasting tongue

Who can forget the story from 2017 when a Chinese businessman spent $10,000 on a glass of Macallan that turned out to be fake? Well, such occurrences might be a thing of the past thanks to a team of Scottish engineers from the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde. A paper titled ‘Whisky tasting using a bimetallic nanoplasmonic tongue’ published this week in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Nanoscale describes a metal ‘tongue’ that can be used to analyse whisky. The ‘taste buds’ are made up of gold and aluminium in a checkerboard pattern. It identifies whiskies from the statistical analysis of minute differences in how the metals absorb light. The device was tested on a series of single malts – Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch and Laphroaig – and was able to tell the difference between them, as well as different expressions of the same malt with greater than 99% accuracy. The paper’s lead author, Dr Alasdair Clark (above), of the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering, said:  “We call this an artificial tongue because it acts similarly to a human tongue – like us, it can’t identify the individual chemicals which make coffee taste different to apple juice but it can easily tell the difference between these complex chemical mixtures. In addition to its obvious potential for use in identifying counterfeit alcohols, it could be used in food safety testing, quality control, security – really any area where a portable, reusable method of tasting would be useful.” So next time you’re splashing out on the Macallan, don’t forget your artificial tongue. 

Clouded Leopard Gin bottle

This is gin, it’s still very popular in Britain

Gin still booming according to the WSTA 

There have been articles recently in the Spectator and the Financial Times saying that the gin boom is over, but figures just released by the WSTA seem to contradict this. As a trade body, the WSTA has an interest in bolstering the industry but nevertheless the stats make interesting reading. Retail sales up to March 2019 were up 43% by value on the previous year, worth nearly £1 billion. The off-trade is up 56% by volume on last year’s sales with nearly 6 billion bottles sold between March 2018 and 2019. Combining domestic and export sales, the British gin market is worth over £3 billion. WSTA chief executive Miles Beale commented: “It’s been another phenomenal 12 months for gin and, despite recent reports suggesting the gin bubble may have burst, our numbers suggest the exact opposite. Gin’s continued domestic popularity, and the growth in the spirits category overall, has no doubt been helped by the decision to freeze duty on spirits in the last Budget. We need further supportive action from the Government as we approach Budget time once more. Looking at the popularity of British gin overseas is also cause for celebration. £350 million, or around 46% of all British gin exports head to the EU, and so it is imperative that the Government works with the European Union to secure trade that is as seamless in the future as it is now.” What could possibly go wrong?

Firestone & Robertson TX whiskey, now just a tiny bit Frencher

Pernod Ricard bets on American whiskey with Firestone & Robertson buy

French drinks group Pernod Ricard, which owns the likes of Beefeater Gin, Absolut Vodka, The Glenlivet Scotch and Jameson Irish Whiskey, this week bolstered its presence in American whiskey by snapping up Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. The Texas-based producer makes TX-branded whiskey and bourbon, and the deal includes its Whiskey Ranch distillery too. “This is an exciting day for all of us at Firestone & Robertson,” said Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson, who co-founded the business. “Building our company and producing award-winning whiskeys has been a truly remarkable experience. We are so proud of our team, and grateful to the many people that supported our efforts over the years. It is an extraordinary opportunity to partner with Pernod Ricard, and we are confident this relationship will accelerate the growth of our brands while preserving our roots and shared core values.” Pernod chairman and CEO, Alexandre Ricard, said the (undisclosed) transaction was a “very promising venture” that “strengthens our portfolio and footprint in the United States”. If it means more tasty American whiskey to go round, we’re all for it. 

You can swap a tin of beans for one of these!

The Alchemist tackles food poverty with cocktail exchange

Foodbank use is soaring in the UK (charity the Trussell Trust recently reported a 19% increase in food supplies it’s donated in the last year). Loads of us are both donating to and accessing our local food banks (there’s a list on the Trussell Trust’s site), so when news reached us that UK bar group The Alchemist is encouraging people to bring supplies in return for a cocktail, we whooped and cheered. On 29 August, any customers who bring non-perishable donations (unopened and in date; tinned, dried and packaged foods) into one of the bars with them will get vodka-based serve The Colour Changing One for free! All collections will be donated to local food banks. “These are truly fantastic local charities tackling food poverty across the UK, which is an issue we’re particularly passionate about at The Alchemist,” said Hannah Plumb, head of restaurants at The Alchemist. “This activity is a fun and engaging way to encourage customers to donate to their local food banks, who are in need of donations now more than ever.” You can find The Alchemist in Birmingham, Cardiff, Chester, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Oxford. You know what to do on 29 August!

Bruichladdich's Bere Barley

Bruichladdich’s bere barley

Bruichladdich reinforces barley focus with Exploration Series trilogy

Remember earlier this year when we checked out Bruichladdich’s trial barley plots? Well, the Islay distillery’s long-running focus on the grain has continued with new flavour-focused expressions, which will form a Barley Exploration series. Its focus on barley has become a bit of a USP for the distillery, which works with different local producers, and is currently trialling up to 60 different varieties. There are also plans to open its own maltings by 2023. So what does this new range look like? First up, Bruichladdich The Organic 2010 was distilled in 2010 (obvs) and made using barley from Mid Coul Farms harvested in 2009. It was matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks for at least eight years, and was bottled sans chill-filtration or caramel colouring at 50% ABV. Bruichladdich Bere Barley, made from Orkney-grown Bere, a variety considered “obsolete” by many distillers, was likewise distilled in 2010 and bottled at 50% ABV just as it is. Rounding off the trio is Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2011, made from Islay-grown barley, which spent 75% of its six-year maturation life in American ex-bourbon casks, and 25% on European ex-wine casks. “We want to support people who grow for flavour, those champions of heritage and natural crops,” said Bruichladdich head distiller, Adam Hannett. “By partnering with them we can find new and forgotten flavours, reconnecting our whisky with its vital raw ingredients.” Sounds great to us! 

Doesn’t it look jolly in Fentimans’ Secret Spritz Garden?

Fentimans kicks off Secret Spritz Garden

If The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was one of your favourite books as a child, AND you now like refreshing summer sippers, then we have news. The Venn circles have officially crossed, courtesy of tonic brand Fentimans. Tucked away behind ivy-covered walls, away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Farringdon is (for the next three weeks, anyway) a little oasis of tranquility, aromatic plants, and a Spritz menu of dreams! The garden itself is overflowing with trailing greenery, herbs, and a 200-year-old olive tree, while Fentimans has added a lemon-filled fountain, highly-Instagrammable swing seat and the all-important bar into the mix. The menu (developed with the likes of Lillet and Martini Fiero) was created by Dino Koletsas (from The Langham, Bourne & Hollingsworth and Callooh Callay) and showcases the wonder of low- and no-alcohol cocktails, including the Rose Spritz, made with Fentimans Rose, lemonade, Martini Prosecco and fresh strawberries; and the Valencian Spritz, with Fentimans Valencian Orange Tonic Water, with Belsazar White Vermouth and peach liqueur. Head on down (you might even find yourself in a free guided workshop, from the Art of the Aperitivo to watercolour classes) Wednesday to Saturday up until 29 August to enjoy!

Aecorn range

Aecorn, a range of non-alcoholic aperitifs, has just been launched by Seedlip

Diageo acquires majority stake in Seedlip

In a move that will surprise no one, it was announced this week that Diageo has taken a majority stake (mmm, majority steak) in alcohol-free ‘spirit’ manufacture Seedlip. The brand was launched by Ben Branson in 2015 and created a new category of non-alcoholic drinks flavoured, packaged, and priced to rival premium gin. Distill Ventures, Diageo’s venture capital arm, took a minority investment in June 2016. Since then, Seedlip has gone global: it’s sold in top bars and restaurants in 25 countries, and comes in three varieties. It has also inspired legions of imitators such as Ceder’s from Pernod Ricard. Earlier this year, Seedlip launched Aecorn, a range of non-alcoholic vermouth-style aperitifs. We have been informed that Branson will still be involved with business. He commented: “We want to change the way the world drinks and today’s news is another big step forward to achieving this. Distill Ventures’ and Diageo’s shared belief in our vision has enabled us to build a business that’s ready for scale and I’m excited to continue working with Diageo to lead this movement.” John Kennedy from Diageo said: “Seedlip is a game-changing brand in one of the most exciting categories in our industry. Ben is an outstanding entrepreneur and has created a brand that has truly raised the bar for the category. We’re thrilled to continue working with him to grow what we believe will be a global drinks giant of the future.” And Shilen Pate from Distill Ventures added: “Supporting the vision of founders is what Distill Ventures was set up to do, and we’re proud of the impact Ben has had on our industry in such a short period of time.” With all that Diageo cash behind it, expect Seedlip’s upward trajectory to continue. 

GlenDronach

Mouth-watering malts

The GlenDronach’s new Cask Bottling releases will have whisky lovers salivating 

Prepare yourselves, The GlenDronach has just announced the seventeenth batch of its Cask Bottling series! It contains whisky drawn from fourteen casks ranging from the years 1990 to 2007, all of which have been selected by none other than master blender, Dr Rachel Barrie. What to expect? Each Highland expression has been bottled from a single cask from a selection of the distillery’s signature Pedro Ximénez and oloroso sherry casks alongside two Port pipes. Particularly special is a bottling from a rare vintage 1995 cask, one of the last remaining casks from that year still at the distillery. “The batch seventeen cask selection truly celebrates The GlenDronach house style; robust, elegant, fruity and full-bodied,” said Barrie. “Each cask individually explores the sophistication, powerful intricacy and rich layers of Spanish sherry cask maturation found in every GlenDronach expression; from layers of crème brûlée, treacle toffee and over-ripe banana in 1990 […] to toasted pain au raisin and butterscotch simmering beneath the surface in 2007.” Is your mouth watering as well? Then keep your eyes peeled for your favourite online retailer (us, duh) over the next few weeks.

Atomik Vodka

Don’t worry, it isn’t radioactive

And Finally… anyone fancy a Chernobyl Martini?

We’re no strangers to far-out spirits at Master of Malt, after all, we sell a gin distilled using botanicals that have been into space, but a new spirit might be the strangest thing yet. It’s called Atomik Vodka and it’s distilled using rye and water from the contaminated area around Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear energy disaster in 1986. Just this week, London bar Swift on Old Compton Street made the very first Atomik Martini with it. But before you start calling for Soho to be cordoned off, and send in the men in yellow suits, this vodka, despite its name, isn’t radioactive. The man behind it, Professor Jim Smith from the University of Portsmouth, told the BBC that though the rye was “slightly contaminated”, distillation has removed any impurities, and radioactivity levels are “below their limit of detection.” Only one bottle has been made so far but the Chernobyl Spirit Company, consisting of Smith, Ukrainain scientist Dr Gennady Laptev and others, plans to make 500 bottles per year. The team still has some legal hoops to jump through before production can start but when it does, 75% of the profits will go to help people in the region. Smith commented: “I think this is the most important bottle of spirits in the world because it could help the economic recovery of communities living in and around the abandoned areas. Many thousands of people are still living in the Zone of Obligatory Resettlement where new investment and use of agricultural land is still forbidden.” Sounds very worthwhile and, according to Sam Armeye, the vodka tastes good too. Atomik Martinis all round!

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Drinks billionaires – keeping it in the family

Today Ian Buxton takes a closer look at some of the illustrious families of the drinks industry such as the Haigs, Bacardis and Ricards, and reveals which great brands are…

Today Ian Buxton takes a closer look at some of the illustrious families of the drinks industry such as the Haigs, Bacardis and Ricards, and reveals which great brands are still in family hands.

Do you ever wonder who might raise a glass to you when you, to coin a phrase, raise a glass yourself? It’s an intriguing question. After all, drinks companies are fond of maintaining the façade of family owners. Think Bulleit Bourbon – it’s actually a Diageo brand (which arguably was mainly developed under Seagram’s) but a very high profile is maintained by Tom Bulleit and, until recently, his daughter Hollis. They’re speaking via their lawyers now. The story behind their acrimonious break-up is a rather unfortunate one and perhaps for another day, but sadly illustrative of the potential problems lurking in any family.

The Nightcap Drinks billionaires

Bulleit bourbon, a family business?

But back to Diageo. In its Scotch portfolio we’ll also find the Johnnie Walker, Buchanan’s and Haig brands. Now, once upon a time, there were real-life actual people answering to Walker, Buchanan and Haig who owned the distilleries that made these products – but no longer.

Today Diageo is a publicly-quoted company. That means you can buy a share in the business and be a part-owner. Actually, if you have any kind of a pension plan (whether through your employer or direct) you probably already own a share in some shares. Diageo is one of the UK’s largest and most successful businesses, and most well-balanced pension portfolios will have a holding in the company.  To declare an interest, I certainly do (I checked), and I’m very happy with its recent performance.

Many large industries have evolved in this way. But the drinks trade is something of a curiosity as a number of important brands remain in the hands of the descendants of the founding family.  Though some, like the Walkers, Buchanans and Haigs have long since cashed in, other companies remain determinedly independent and make great play of the long-term planning required in the spirits business. This, they suggest, means the industry is well suited to family ownership rather than being driven by the short-term demands of the financial community.

Some of the smaller examples are well known. Glenfarclas, for example, is happy to stress the fact that the distillery has remained in the Grant family since 1865 with chairman John Grant and son George directly and actively involved in every aspect. Grant Snr even lives on site, and you can’t get more hands-on than that.

Whisky Advent 2018 Day #18 Drinks billionaires

George Grant from Glenfarclas

Glenfiddich too is a family concern so, along with the various brands they own – think Balvenie, Hendrick’s Gin, Tullamore D.E.W. and Sailor Jerry rum among others – the forty-odd descendants of the founder William Grant thank you for every bottle you buy.  Oddly, though, while the public face of the company is largely represented by the Gordon branch (Peter Gordon and Grant Gordon in recent years) the major shareholder is believed to be the intensely private Benedicta Chamberlain. If her reputed 29.9% of the business is anywhere close to accurate, she’s comfortably in the billionaire class. Think of that next time you pour a dram of the world’s best-selling single malt.

As you’d expect, the family take the whole business very seriously. So much so in fact that Peter Gordon has even published a book on the subject. Family Spirit: Stories and Insights From Leading Family-Owned Enterprises looks at the strategies of eleven other family-owned businesses, though mainly not in the drinks industry. One of the companies he might have studied is Bacardi.  Yes, every drop of Dewar’s or Aberfeldy single malt or William Lawson’s (a million case-plus blended Scotch you’ve probably never heard of) adds a few coppers to the eponymous descendants of Don Facundo Bacardi.  A Bacardi and Coke puts a smile on their face, as does your call for Grey Goose, Martini, St-Germain or Patrón tequila.

Alexandre Ricard Drinks billionaires

Alexandre Ricard

Now the Bacardi family is very disciplined, borrowing if necessary to fund its acquisitions (over US$2 billion in 2004 for Grey Goose, then reputedly the largest purchase price in spirits business history for a single brand, and now a cool $5.1 billion for Patrón), but the equity isn’t sold. Much the same story could be told about Suntory Holdings, still controlled by the Saji and Torii families.

Elsewhere, public listing to raise capital hasn’t entirely removed family control as the tight grip of the founding dynasties at Davide Campari SpA, Brown-Forman and Rémy Cointreau SA clearly demonstrates. The Ricard family still retain 16% of the giant Pernod Ricard operation. It’s no coincidence that one Alexandre Ricard is both chairman and CEO, even if activist US investors Elliott Management are pushing to shake things up.

So, the reality and scale of family control is something to ponder as you part with your hard-earned cash. As you raise their brands to your lips, the question can’t be avoided: ‘what are the drinks billionaires sipping tonight?’

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New Arrival of the Week: Compass Box No Name No 2

Today we have a smoky blended malt so special that it doesn’t even have a name! It could only be a release from those crazy cats at Compass Box. Until…

Today we have a smoky blended malt so special that it doesn’t even have a name! It could only be a release from those crazy cats at Compass Box.

Until recently, the components of most blended whiskies were a closely-guarded secret. It was all about the brand, one didn’t want to confuse the customer with too much information. But this is changing: just look at Johnnie Walker’s new Black Label Origins, a series of blends based around regions and distilleries. Part of the credit for this opening up has to go to Compass Box.

This small scale blender was founded in 2000 by John Glaser, an American who had previously worked with Johnnie Walker. Since then his company has won Whisky Magazine’s Innovator of the Year prize six times by pushing the boundaries of what is possible or even legal with Scotch whisky. You know you’re doing something right when you get into trouble with both the EU and the SWA.

John Glaser Compass Box

‘You can find the perfect blend’, John Glaser

The company buys a mixture of aged stock, and new make spirit which is then aged. To spice things up, Glaser and his team also acquire casks of ready-aged blends which are genuine mysteries, not even the people selling them know what they were made up of. Whereas some blends might contain more than 40 component parts, Compass Box bottlings tend to be much simpler. 

The company tries to be as transparent as possible but in the past they have run up against EU regulations that forbid whisky producers from advertising the age of the component parts. You’re only allowed to state the age of the youngest part. And with the Spice Tree blend they incurred the displeasure of the SWA because it used new French oak staves placed within the cask. Compass Box managed to get around the regulations by fitting new oak ends to an old cask. 

But this was nothing compared with Affinity released earlier this year which indulged in some cross-category canoodling by blending whisky with Calvados. And it worked beautifully. Compass Box products look striking too, with packaging by Stranger & Stranger, and names inspired by art and literature, or sometimes no name at all! Which brings us on to our New Product of the Week. 

The first No Name was a limited edition released in 2017 and so-called because no name could do justice to the smoky character of the whisky. Or perhaps Compass Box just ran out of ideas. Now the follow-up is here, No Name No 2! It’s a blend of  Caol Ila aged in sherry casks, Talisker aged in charred hogsheads, some Clynelish and then a mysterious element, a blend of Highland malts finished in new French oak. It’s bottled at 48.9% ABV. So what does all this add up to? Pretty much everything we have ever tried from Compass Box has been delicious and this is no exception. It’s a combination of the smoky and salty with the custard, clove spices, and both dried fruit and fresh fruit like apples and cherries, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. See full tasting note below. Now all it needs is a name.

No Name No 2, nice label

Tasting notes from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Lots of smoky peat with some salty saline notes, vanilla and custard with cloves, sweet floral notes and orange peel.

Palate: Really creamy, crème brûlée, with bonfire smoke, black pepper and salt, all the time with fresh apples and dried apricots.

Finish: Lingering wood smoke with red cherries and a touch of tannin. 

 

 

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The Nightcap: 12 July

It’s Friday which means it’s time for the news. This week we’ve go a celeb booze special with Jon Bon Jovi, Breaking Bad, Charlie Sheen and cocktails named after your…

It’s Friday which means it’s time for the news. This week we’ve go a celeb booze special with Jon Bon Jovi, Breaking Bad, Charlie Sheen and cocktails named after your favourite Tory politicians. Plus two Johnnie Walker stories. Double trouble.

As the country gets steamier, the need for high quality refreshment increases. So, we hope you’ve prepared a suitably delicious drink to accompany this week’s Nightcap. Without wishing to blow our own trumpets, there’s some particularly interesting, amusing and surprising stories, so do read to the end. Maybe make yourself another drink. But first, let’s have a recap of the week on the blog:

We announced the winner of our Spirit of America competition! Elsewhere, Ian Buxton was on hand to ask some questions over a recent claim by Glenfiddich Distillery, while Annie enjoyed some British apple brandy and looked at the science behind the dreaded hangover. Meanwhile, Adam reported back from a a sobering Imbibe 2019, then talked the Sexton Single Malt whiskey with its creator Alex Thomas before kicking off our Rum Month coverage by picking a bold, spicy rum as our New Arrival of the Week! Henry then made the delightfully refreshing Slingshot his Cocktail of the Week.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

The snappily-titled Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Glenury Royal will be available soon

New Johnnie Walker Ghost & Rare release revealed

The third release in Johnnie Walker’s  Blue Label Ghost & Rare series highlighting lost distilleries is here (well, nearly, you’ll have to wait until October to get your hands on it). This latest edition celebrates Glenury Royal, a distillery that was founded in 1825, by Captain Robert Barclay (for some reason there are a lot of Captains in Scotch whisky history), but closed in 1985. It’s not the only lost distillery in the blend, there’s Cambus, a grain distillery that closed in 1993, and Pittyvaich, a Speyside malt distillery that was demolished in 2003, too and five non-ghostly distilleries, Glen Elgin, Inchgower, Glenlossie, Cameronbridge and Glenkinchie. Master blender Jim Beveridge said: “We have waited patiently for that moment when we turn our thoughts to this exceptionally rare whisky, carefully watching over our maturing casks until the time was right to explore its uniquely indulgent character”. Some single malt purists might think it a crime to blend such rare whiskies but having tried a little sample, we have to disagree; it’s absolutely sumptuous with layers of dark chocolate, dried apricot, orange peel and fudge. All this for £275 for a 70cl bottle.

Bendict Ainsworth

Benny Ainsworth at the head of the table declaiming a little Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to Santenay? 

Wine and food matching is old hat and putting drink with music so last year; the latest thing is booze and poetry. Coin Events and Shelved Wine are putting on a series of events called ‘Shakespeare and Wine’ which unsurprisingly consists of someone reading Shakespeare while you drink specially-chosen wine. Not just anyone though, at each event the lines will be declaimed by a trained actor alongside wines chosen by a top sommelier, for example Valentino Minotti from the Hakkasan Restaurant and Benny Ainsworth (who you will be pleased to know, has played the Dane.) The creator of the series of events Adam Burak said: ““We recognised with disappointment that all the wine tasting experiences are almost the same. They have their essential elements and sophisticated art, but we were eager to give more. We aimed to explore a brand new multi-sensory experience. ‘Shakespeare and Wine’ is a joyful conversation between actor, sommelier, and the guests about love, wine, passion, and poetry.” The evenings start in August and will take place twice a month in a variety of “secret locations” around London. Oooh mysterious! Perhaps after Shakespeare, the company could turn its attention to other poets such as Burns: “my love is like a red red rosé ” has a certain ring to it.

Breaking Bad

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad

Celebrity agave rush with Charlie Sheen and Breaking Bad 

Move over Chris Noth and Clooney and co, there’s a new Tequila player in town – and it is none other than celebrity bad boy Charlie Sheen. The tee-total actor surprised us all when he announced he’d taken a stake in Don Sueños and joined the team as co-owner. Founded in 2017, the brand offers a range of Tequilas, all made from Blue Weber agave. Sheen joins Kumiko Zimmerman as co-owner.“As a native of Japan, where fine spirits are quite popular, I’m well aware of what goes into making a superior product, as well as the importance of having a strong team to promote the brand and tell our story.” she said.  “We believe Charlie will be a great addition to team Don Sueños.” said Zimmerman. Sheen himself added: “When the company reached out to me with an opportunity to get involved with their organisation, I was instantly interested and excited, as, in the past, Don Sueños’ Tequila Blanco was one of my favorite sipping spirits due to its superior taste and quality. While I am proud of my sobriety for over 19 months now and am firmly committed to living a clean and sober lifestyle, I chose to become a part owner of Don Sueños because I know their tequila is of the highest quality. I’m excited to be able to work with Kumiko and the team to help Don Sueños continue to grow and to bring awareness, both to its outstanding products and to the charitable organisations it supports.” There we go. But that’s not the only celebrity agave story this week, as we have just learned the Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad have launched their own brand of mezcal called Dos Hombres. Those Hollywood types sure do love Mexican spirits.

Look how tall the Cambridge agave flower is!

Cambridge agave plant flowers for the first time in 57 years

Forget Mexico, nowadays if you want to go and see a flowering agave you only have to travel as far as Cambridge! Cambridge University Botanic Garden has been nurturing an agave plant since 1962, and it began flowering on 19 June. The flower is already three feet tall, growing 12cm in just 24 hours at one point last week, and is showing no signs of stopping. Wild agave can grow up to six feet tall when flowering. The folks tending the plant are even planning to take out the top glass panels from the greenhouse. Its growth rate is literally through the roof! The bad news is once the plant has flowered it will die, though horticulturalists over in Cambridge reckon it could be another month before it fully blooms. Of course the real question is, can we make mezcal from it? Nobody can be sure exactly what species it is until it flowers, they believe it may be the Agave heteracantha species, but alas, the garden did confirm that this particular agave can’t be used to produce any tasty spirits. Even so, that’s one impressive plant.

Macallans

Rare Macallans go under the hammer tonight!

Rare Macallans go under the hammer

Starting from 5pm today a bumper quantity of rare whiskies will be up for auction on the Just Whisky website. This includes a 72 year old Macallan in a Lalique crystal decanter that was released to celebrate the opening of the company’s new distillery last year. Other notable Macallans include the aptly-named ‘The New Range Rover’ which was bottled in the 1990s to commemorate the launch of a new Range Rover; a 50 year old 1949 in a Caithness Glass Millennium decanter; the 1948 Select Reserve and a 52 Year Old, which recently went for £58,000 on Just Whisky, a record for the company. Graham Crane, director at Just Whisky, said: “Every now and then an auction line-up comes along that has collectors and aficionados on the edge of their seats with excitement. This is one of those times. We are delighted to offer such high quality lots in July’s auction and includes some incredibly rare bottles which you won’t find at retail or in the resale market for years. The price for Macallan has gone through the roof with demand resulting in new, age statement releases being sold for tens of thousands of pounds more than the original retail price and non age statement selling for up to 800% more that the retail price within a month.” The auction runs until Sunday 21st July. Better start collecting those pennies now.

The Clean Vic

A Seedlip cocktail

An alcohol free pub, whatever next?

In a move that is sure to have booze traditionalists muttering into their real ale, a new pub has been announced that will sell no or low alcohol drinks, and nothing else. On the 24 and 25 July the Old Crown in Holborn, London will only be serving drinks containing less than 0.5% ABV. It’s a takeover by Sainsbury’s who are calling it the ‘Clean Vic’, geddit?, and will be serving drinks by Seedlip, and the world’s first alcoholic ‘whiskey’ Celtic Soul. Anne Cooper, buyer at Sainsbury’s, said: “We’re seeing a really exciting spike in the no and low alcohol category, which has been growing since 2001. From speaking to customers, we know there is still some uncertainty about what these no and low alcohol products taste like and how they are made. So, our specially curated workshops in the Clean Vic will help customers learn more about these drinks, providing key tasting notes given by the experts.” So put on your most sensible trousers and get down to Holborn this July. You know it makes sense.

Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi and son enjoying some rosé

Jon Bon Rosé launches in the UK

Top soft metaller Jon Bon Jovi’s pink wine produced in collaboration with his son Jesse Bongiovi and Gérard Bertrand launches in the UK this week. And for some unfathomable reason it’s not called Jon Bon Rosé nor is it called Bed of  Rosés (after the band’s 1993 power ballad). Instead it’s been named Hampton Water, apparently that was Jesse Bongiovi’s idea, after the Hamptons where rich New Yorkers go on holiday. So the name is a bit rubbish but the wine, as you might expect from one of France’s top winemaker’s is excellent. It’s a blend of Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre from the Languedoc and has already picked up some rave reviews in the States. MoM were given some to try and we give the contents a big thumbs up. Though someone should tell the Bongiovi family what a Hampton is in Cockney rhyming slang so Hampton Water sounds a bit like. . .  oh, never mind. You can work it out for yourself.

Johnnie Walker highball collection

Serving suggestion

Are Highballs the future? Johnnie Walker thinks so

Refreshing, easy-sipping and oh-so delicious – the Highball is certainly a versatile serve. And now Diageo’s blended Scotch behemoth Johnnie Walker is hoping to ‘elevate’ the drink through a new global campaign. “The popularity of the whisky highball is soaring right now – and it’s easy to see why,” said John Williams, Johnnie Walker global brand director. “It’s where the ease and refreshing taste of a cool beer meets the colourful, visceral world of cocktails. And for those who think they ‘won’t like whisky’ it’s a real game-changer.” So what is the brand going to be doing in its quest for Highball domination? There’s a focus on mixing the whisky with five key flavours: peach, lemon, green tea, elderflower and ginger, in the Johnnie Walker Highball Collection. It’s designed to appeal to non-Scotch drinkers, but, to be fair, they all sound pretty good to us, too. Expect to see loads of ads across, digital activity and experiential goings on, alongside in-bar and in-store activations. And if you live in a “trendsetting neighbourhood”, to quote the release, you’ll be first in line to see the campaign. “We’ve celebrated the highball at Johnnie Walker for the last few years, but with the trend for longer drinks on the rise, it feels like now is the right time to really explode the amazing possibilities which this category can offer,” Williams added. Highball, anyone?

The winning bidder Rogan Chester with his prize

Gin created at the top of Mount Snowdon becomes one of the UK’s most expensive

The award-winning Aber Falls Distillery has made history this week with the first gin to be distilled at the top of Mount Snowdon after it was sold at a charity auction for a staggering £1,085 (which, fittingly, is the same height in metres as Mount Snowdon). The sale has made it one of the UK’s most expensive gins, and given that of the three bottles made there was only bottle made available for the public, it is also one of the rarest gins in the world. The first distillery of its kind in North Wales for more than 100 years produced the bottle of Summit Gin: Mountaineers Cut using botanicals picked from the side of Mount Snowdon, which had to be specially approved by the local government given the area’s protected status. “It’s not my usual thing to spend this much money on a rare bottle of alcohol but I was fortunate to have a little win on the Grand National and was looking for an investment,” said the winning bidder, Rogan Chester, a 29-year-old man from Porthmadog. “To be the owner of the most expensive bottle of Welsh gin, and one of the most expensive in the UK is a surreal feeling, but I’m a proud Welshmen and hopefully it will be worth a bit more in the future.” Congratulation to Mr. Chester, who we are not even remotely jealous of. Nope. Not at all. Not one bit. Nada.

Dark'n Tory

This is a Dark N’ Tory, looks rather nice actually

And finally, Dark n’ Tory anyone? 

For those who like a little satire in their drink, the Blue Boar Bar at the Conrad London St. James’ is offering cocktails inspired (that’s not quite the right word, is it?) by the Conservative party. The menu will be launched on Thursday 18 July with a special evening with cartoonist David Lewis in the house to do caricatures of guests. Customers at the bar, a well-known politicos hangout, will be able to choose between a Maygarita, a Boris on the Rocks and a Dark n’ Tory. Hurry, they won’t be around for long. The cocktails that is, what did you think we meant?

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Cocktail of the Week: The Slingshot

This week’s drink is a refreshing little number that utilises a special coffee liqueur from New Zealand. It’s called the Slingshot!  Slingshot is a catchy name: it sounds like a…

This week’s drink is a refreshing little number that utilises a special coffee liqueur from New Zealand. It’s called the Slingshot! 

Slingshot is a catchy name: it sounds like a cocktail from the golden age but actually the term still seems to be up for grabs. The only reference I could find to a cocktail of that name was from Esquire where the author had coined it for a drink that was somewhere between a Sling (a mixture of spirit and water usually made with lemon and sweetened with sugar) and a shot, a small measure to be knocked back (you knew that though).

This week’s cocktail is nothing like that. It’s a long drink made with a variety of ingredients including Quick Brown Fox Coffee Liqueur. Coffee in cocktails is having a bit of a moment as baristas and bartenders swap ideas. As Nate Brown pointed out recently, the word barista just means bartender in Italian. The man behind Quick Brown Fox is a New Zealander called Arjun Haszard. He was living in a town called Dunedin on the South Island, and found himself unemployed and at a loose end. His mother stepped in, as mothers do, and told him to stop moping and suggested he make a brandy liqueur with the feijoas, a local fruit. It makes a change from, ‘help your father in the garden’.

Quick Brown Fox

Quick Brown Foxes coming off the production line

From there he moved on to coffee. “I had a realisation that coffee liqueur didn’t taste like coffee, so I wanted to create a liqueur using real coffee with nothing artificial added”, he said. “This task was harder than I’d originally thought but I had time on my hands and I’d curiously obsessed with the goal. A year and a half later I’d developed a coffee liqueur from cold extracted Fair Trade Organic coffee with a dash of cinnamon to give a velvety mouthfeel and moreish finish.” He uses a blend of beans from Colombia, Sumatra and Papua New Guinea, and gives them a darker roast than espresso, and “the highest quality neutral spirit we can get which is derived from Australian wheat”, he said. Oh, and that peculiar name? Haszard filled me: “Quick Brown Fox is named after the Pangram (a sentence that contains every letter), because that sentence, like Quick Brown, Fox is the root of conversation.” Makes sense, sort of. 

Slingshot

The Slingshot in all its coffee-ish glory

As its less sweet than some coffee liqueurs, Quick Brown Fox is good neat as well as in cocktails like the Espresso Martini and, of course, the Slingshot. Today’s cocktail was created specifically for Quick Brown Fox by another New Zealander, Mikey Ball, who worked at Dandelyan in London before returning home. “I asked him to create a sophisticated cocktail that could go beyond an Espresso Martini. In an Espresso Martini you tend to be shot to the moon with the caffeine and can only really have one (unless you’re 20 years old). I wanted a drink that would be tall and refreshing yet still complex… so you could drink more than one in a night”, Haszard said. 

Sounds good. Let’s give it a go. Here’s what you’ll need:

40ml Quick Brown Fox coffee liqueur
20ml Johnnie Walker Black Label (or any good quality blended Scotch)
20ml lemon juice
10ml Giffard crème de mure
7.5ml orgeat syrup
40ml ginger ale

Add all the ingredients except the ginger ale to an ice-filled shaker. Shake hard and double-strain into an ice-filled highball glass, top up with ginger ale, stir and garnish with a twist of lemon and a blackberry.

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A first taste of Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin

Last week we met some of the blending team at Johnnie Walker to try four very special iterations of Black Label inspired by four key Scotch whisky regions: Johnnie Walker…

Last week we met some of the blending team at Johnnie Walker to try four very special iterations of Black Label inspired by four key Scotch whisky regions: Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin.

Blender George Harper described the four elements in Johnnie Walker Black Label as “smoke, fresh fruit, rich fruit and creamy vanilla. No one flavour can dominate.” But with four new blends, his brief was to do the opposite. “The idea was to pull it apart, focus on one element, and accentuate the regions,” Harper said. Master blender Jim Beveridge described it as an “amazing brief to be given”. 

Diageo, as we have reported, is putting £150m into Johnnie Walker tourism with a new HQ under construction in Edinburgh, and upgraded facilities at four distilleries, Caol Ila, Clynelish, Glenkinchie and Cardhu, that will carry the flag for their region. 18 months ago, Harper, who created the successful White Walker release earlier this year, was given the task of creating four new whiskies to represent these four corners of Scotland. 

And so, how could we refuse when we were invited up to Edinburgh for a tasting and discussion with Harper, Jim Beveridge, brand ambassador Tom Jones as well as the managers of Caol Ila and Cardhu, Pierrick Guillaume and Andrew Millsopp? These new, limited edition whiskies span three blended malts and a Lowland malt/grain blend, and bridge the gap between traditional multi-region blends and single malts. According to Harper, the hardest one to get right was the Highland because of the sheer variety of styles in the region. Beveridge said, “you’ve done a great job, George!” And he really has. The other blends were more straightforward: the Speyside was based around Cardhu, and the Islay Caol Ila; whereas the Lowland was a mix of Glenkinchie and Cameronbridge. 

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin

Cocktail hour!

Jim Beveridge said that they are “aimed at Johnnie Walker drinkers and people wanting to know more about Scotch. More and more people are interested in flavour, they are increasingly very open-minded. Knowledge is the new currency.” Whereas in the past, Beveridge continued, “blends tended to be secretive. Now the story is opening up more.” Guillaume told me that many visitors to his distillery have no idea that they have already drunk Caol Ila, in Black Label.

The Origin series encourages traffic between blend and malt customers, but the team at Diageo also sees them as breaking down barriers in other ways. These are meant to be as happy mixed in cocktails as in dram form. To prove the point, we tried them in a series of cocktails made by bartender Joey Medrington: the Islay in a Highball with Fever Tree orange and ginger; the Highland in a Rob Roy made with PX sherry, the Lowland in an Old Fashioned with honey syrup, and the Speyside in another long drink with elderflower and soda water. I was particularly taken with the Islay Highball, but there’s no doubt that the Lowland with its creamy profile is particularly cocktail-friendly.

All four whiskies are 12 years old and bottled at 42% ABV. They are great tasting whiskies, and a testament not only to the skill of the blenders at Johnnie Walker but the amazing palates they have to play with. But the best thing about them is the price: they will sit just above standard Black Label. We expect them to be very popular. 

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Islay 12 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Islay 12 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Islay 12 Year Old 

Blend of Islay malts with Caol Ila as the base, some Lagavulin in here too.

Aged in refill casks. 

Nose: Iodine, toffee, orange, you’d swear there was some sherry here though apparently there isn’t. 

Palate: In the mouth it’s peppery with dried fruit, fresh red fruits and honey, with the smoke lingering but not dominating. Meaty and full.

Finish: Smoke and a little toffee.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Highland 12 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Highland 12 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Highland 12 Year Old

A blend of Highland malts including Clynelish. 

Mainly aged in European oak ex-sherry casks.

Nose: Fruit cake nose, marmalade and fresh wine notes, takes on some tobacco with time.

Palate: Very fruity, both dried and fresh fruit, winey tang to it like a Cognac.

Finish: Marzipan and dried apricot.  

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Lowland 12 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Lowland 12 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Lowland 12 Year Old

Blend of malt from Glenkinchie and grain from Cameronbridge.

Aged in ex-bourbon casks. 

Nose: Light on the nose, some floral and toffee notes.

Palate: What a treat on the palate though: creamy vanilla, toffee, butterscotch, very smooth and sweet, then some wood spiciness with pepper and even a little chilli. Rich and round.

Finish: Vanilla, quite short. 

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Speyside 12 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Speyside 12 Year Old

Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Speyside 12 Year Old

Blend of Speyside malts with Cardhu providing the base. 

Aged in refill casks and ex-bourbon.

Nose: The smell is all about fresh fruit, apples and pears, with a spiced apple pie quality.

Palate: Vibrant and fruity on the palate, more orchard fruit, with some toffee and cloves.

Finish: Warm spices, cinnamon, cloves and lingering apples.

The Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Series will be available in travel retail later this month, with an RRP of £35 / $46 USD for a 1L bottle. We’re hoping they’ll be available to us next year, but, of course, if they arrive at MoM Towers sooner than that we’ll let you know!

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The winner of our Game of Thrones Youtube competition is…

To celebrate the official end of Game of Thrones we gave you the chance to win some rather incredible whisky, and all it required was some quality time on YouTube….

To celebrate the official end of Game of Thrones we gave you the chance to win some rather incredible whisky, and all it required was some quality time on YouTube. Fates have been decided, and the winner has now been revealed. Here are the details:

Our exciting competition was announced back in May, when Game of Thrones was still a thing and the finale hadn’t caused one million people to petition to reshoot it. But, what’s done is done. There was, however, another incredible adventure that gripped many of you, and that was Master of Malt’s very own Contest for the Captain’s Chair, set in the mysterious realm of space on the Interstelleros spaceship. 

The incredible prize for completing this adventure was the entire Game of Thrones whisky range!

Game of Thrones whisky

Who will be lucky enough to take home all of these delicious whiskies?

 

What does that include, you ask? Oh, only nine bottles of extremely popular whisky with each representing a Westeros house, including House Targaryen’s Cardhu, House Tyrrell’s Clynelish, House Stark’s Dalwhinnie, House Lannister’s Lagavulin, the Night’s Watch’s Oban, House Baratheon’s Royal Lochnagar, House Tully’s Singleton of Glendullan and House Greyjoy’s Talisker single malts, with a cheeky bottle of White Walker blended Scotch thrown in for good measure. Can’t forget the Night King now, can we?

But best of all, you were in charge of our heroes. We trusted you with the fate of the Interstelleros spaceship crew, who faced teleports, space lizards, betrayal and even space whisky. It was quite the ride. But alas, all good things must come to an end, and the time has come to announce the lucky winner.

The winner is…

Terry Burns from Twinbrook, Belfast! 

Congratulations Terry. In the words of Tyrion Lannister, may you drink and know things. An enormous thank you to everyone who played Contest for the Captain’s Chair, we hope it helped fill a certain medieval fantasy shaped-hole!

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Whisky and honours

Today Ian Buxton toasts Dr Jim Beveridge from Johnnie Walker who has just received an OBE and looks into the occasionally murky world of whisky and honours. As you may…

Today Ian Buxton toasts Dr Jim Beveridge from Johnnie Walker who has just received an OBE and looks into the occasionally murky world of whisky and honours.

As you may have read recently, Dr Jim Beveridge, master blender for Johnnie Walker has been appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the latest Queen’s Honours list.  It couldn’t happen to a nicer or more modest chap – and he joins an exclusive group of whisky notables. In 2016 David Stewart, the long-serving malt Master at the Balvenie, was awarded the MBE while his opposite number at Glen Grant, Dennis Malcolm received an OBE – one rung up the awards ladder.  More recently, Nigel Mills, co-founder and chairman of The Lakes Distillery was appointed a CBE (a couple of steps up the awards hierarchy) while, at the same time, David Gosnell of Bushmills received the OBE.

Dr Jim Beveridge

Dr Jim himself!

So I expect by now you’re wondering, what are these awards, who else in whisky has received one and, most interesting of all, how are they decided?  There is no particular mystery about the British awards system. The aim is to recognise people who have made achievements in public life, or committed themselves to serving and helping Britain: “they’ll usually have made life better for other people or be outstanding at what they do.” as it says on the www.gov.uk/honoursThere’s nothing obscure about that and, other than the staunch republicans among us, we can probably agree that it is appropriate to recognise exceptional achievement or national service.  But who decides and how do they know who is worthy?

Though these are the Queen’s Awards, it’s not actually Her Majesty who decides. Specialist committees, comprising senior civil servants along with people who are independent of government, recommend awards to a main committee who then forward them to the Prime Minister’s office and then to the Queen. If you know someone particularly deserving, you can nominate them on the website. 

This system was introduced by John Major as Prime Minister but previously the basis for an award was, at best, opaque and, at worst, corrupt. There may have been some skulduggery surrounding the so-called ‘Whisky Barons’ of the 1920s ennobled by Prime Minister David Lloyd George, most notably the creation of Lord Woolavington (formerly James Buchanan). It is said that he paid handsomely for his peerage – allegedly, the sum of £50,000, or about £2m today – but signed the cheque with his new title and dated it for one day after the announcement was due, to ensure that the wily Lloyd George would honour the new honour!  But rest assured Messrs Beveridge, Stewart and Malcolm haven’t written any dodgy cheques! Their awards are strictly on merit.

Jim Beveridge

Dr Jim in action

Though there have been some involved with whisky production who have received gongs, like Ronald Martin from United Distillers (1931-2005, awarded OBE in 1991) or Professor Geoffrey Palmer from Heriot Watt University who received an OBE in 2003, the most senior awards, including knighthoods tend to come from the commercial side of the business.  Examples include Sir Anthony Tennant (1930 – 2011), knighted in 1992 for his work at IDV and at Guinness following the ignominious departure of Ernest Saunders, and Sir George Bull, knighted 1998, having been one of the principal architects of the then-largest merger in UK corporate history with the union of Grand Metropolitan with Guinness to create Diageo. A more recent business knight is Sir Ian Good, chairman of the Edrington Group from 1994 to 2013.  He was knighted in 2008. Interestingly, his predecessor John Macphail (1923-2004) received the lesser award of CBE, despite his obituary describing him as “one of the most inspirational and influential figures in the Scotch whisky industry”.

So here’s to all the distinguished individuals mentioned here, and all the others that I should have saluted but have omitted. Let’s raise a glass to their contribution to whisky, along with the hope that the new generation of distinguished whisky women will shortly have their special place in history.  

Who will be the first women in whisky to be honoured?  I leave it to you to speculate…..

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

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The Nightcap: 31 May

It might have been our final short week until August, but the barrage of booze news didn’t let up – it’s The Nightcap! This week for us, and we’re sure…

It might have been our final short week until August, but the barrage of booze news didn’t let up – it’s The Nightcap!

This week for us, and we’re sure for many of you, was Fèis Ìle week. A seven-day extravaganza of delicious Islay-based booze, bands and banter. You’ve probably noticed on the blog this week Kristy and co. enjoying the spoils of another fantastic Fèis Ìle, from an action-packed ‘Day 0’, to all sorts of wonderful adventures with Lagavulin, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila and Islay Ales, Laphroaig, Bowmore and Ardnahoe and Kilchoman. And there’s still more to come!

Elsewhere on the blog we announced the winner of our Cotswolds Distillery competition! Adam then reported on the new Macallan whisky that has entered the world, before enjoying the fourth batch of Dingle single malt, our New Arrival of the Week, and finding time to celebrate Ableforth’s eighth birthday. Meanwhile, Annie talked Ketel One vodka and Henry made The Long Sloe Summer his Cocktail of the Week. Ian Buxton also asked some big questions in his guest column inspired by The Macallan Archival Series.

Now, onto the news!

The Nightcap

Introducing: Whyte & Mackay Light

Whyte & Mackay Light launches low-ABV ‘spirit drink’

Yes, you read that correctly. This is not new whisky from Whyte & Mackay. Instead, this is a spirit drink, created in an attempt to appeal to new consumers in a reaction to the growing popularity of lower ABV drinks. It’s a trend we’ve certainly noticed here at MoM Towers, so it’s little surprise to see more and more drink producers embrace it. The new product, Whyte & Mackay Light, was bottled at 21.5% ABV, which means that it cannot be legally labelled as whisky, which has a minimum ABV requirement of 40%. Hence the term ‘spirit drink’ being used in this case. “We’re continually looking at trends in drinks and listening to our consumers across the UK, which is why we’re delighted to announce the launch of Whyte & Mackay Light,” said Ruairi Perry, head of brand at Whyte & Mackay. “It’s a different product, built with the same younger, lighter consumer in mind. We see a different type of drinking occasion emerging – and Whyte & Mackay Light has been developed to satisfy that occasion.” Whyte & Mackay Light will launch in early June, and is expected to set you back £12.

The Nightcap

The fabulous Craft Cocktails range!

That Boutique-y Gin Company launches ready-to-drink Craft Cocktails

That Boutique-y Gin Company has launched a new canned range of craft cocktails made using the brand’s delicious gins mixed with a host of interesting ingredients. Craft Cocktails, which will be available this summer, will also come in keg form so the on-trade can take advantage of the growing opportunities found within draught cocktails. An initial wave of five variants will be released, including Moonshot Gin and Citrus Tonic, Spit-Roasted Pineapple Gin Mule, Cherry Gin and Craft Cola, Strawberry & Balsamico Gin Fizz and Squeezed Yuzu Gin Collins. The Boutique-y team has briefed that it will embrace an approach to the category akin to craft brewing and so expect the range to continuously evolve with future variants, one off batches, collaborations and seasonal lines in the pipeline. “We want more people to have access to interesting drinks in more places. We know that drinkers are looking for increasingly exciting and sophisticated flavour combinations, and that putting these in cans or on draught will allow both retailers and bars to satisfy the demands of convenience and ease of service without compromising on flavour,” TBGC’s Selina Raggett explains. “For the cans, we’ve embraced the true Boutique-y style at its boldest, moving away from the traditional gin in a tin look and feel. That Boutique-y Gin Company is well known for pushing the boundaries with exciting releases and new flavours, and the Craft Cocktails will continue this ethos. We’re already working on an exciting wave of new releases!” While the Craft Cocktails range has launched with gin, we will also get to see That Boutique-y Whisky Company and That Boutique-y Rum Company get a chance to shine in a ready-to-drink format in the future.

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The future is here. And it’s boozy

Grey Goose launches world’s first sub-zero draught cocktail tap system

Grey Goose has its pioneering boots on this week, it seems. The vodka producers have responded to the current trend for ‘tapped’ and ‘draught’ cocktails by creating the world’s first sub-zero draught tap system. In a move designed to put premium vodka at the forefront of innovation within the drinks industry, Grey Goose has attempted to come up with an innovative solution to revolutionise cocktail culture with a system that can provide consistently delicious cocktails for any occasion. The draught cocktail tap system was designed to allow for a variety of drinks to be served with quickly and with ease to exacting standards, all at sub-zero temperatures. It can be charged with nitrogen to add a rich and creamy texture to your Espresso Martini, for example. “We began with the desire to be able to create innovative drink serves in a way that has never been seen or done before,” commented Marc Plumridge, the European programming director at Bacardi who drove the development of the draught tap system. “The cutting edge technology used delivers spectacular cocktails, dispensed at speed, all housed within a transparent casing – allowing individuals to have a full view of the technology at work.” To launch this new technology, Grey Goose has invited consumers to see the system in action at The 12th Knot rooftop bar on London’s Southbank from Friday 31st May – 2nd June.

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Limited edition private cask bottlings could be yours…

Bimber Distillery debuts founder’s club

This week, London’s Bimber Distillery announced that it’s formed its very own Founders’ Club, and they’re taking applications now! Very swanky. This means that it will release a limited number of private casks for members to purchase. All of this is in celebration of the distillery’s first whisky casks finally reaching their third birthday. If you sign up, you can expect your first exclusive cask strength single malt in December this year. Among other treats, members will also be able to purchase their own 30 litre cask (for the meagre price of £895), filled with either Bimber’s peated or non-peated new make spirit, which after maturing at the distillery for three years, will eventually set them up nicely with around 49 bottles of whisky. The club aims to bring together people who “want to be part of a distillery whose mission is to produce true handcrafted whisky”, says sales director Farid Shawish. “Our members will always be welcome for a chat, and their input will play an important part in shaping the future of Bimber Distillery.” Membership will set you back £395.

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Miles Beale, CEO of the WSTA

WSTA claims the drinks industry is ‘vulnerable’ to no-deal Brexit

Following the announcement that Theresa May will step down as UK prime minister on 7 June, with no replacement named, The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has warned that the industry “remains vulnerable to a disastrous no-deal scenario”. The latest Brexit deal was overwhelmingly rejected in the House of Commons three times in the weeks running up to the original scheduled exit date at the end of March. Miles Beale, CEO of the WSTA, has branded May’s Brexit approach as “neither clearly defined nor successful”, adding that “as a result we remain vulnerable to a disastrous ‘no-deal’ scenario. A change of leadership neither provides our industry with the answers it needs, nor change the WSTA’s long stated position – which is for the government to deliver an outcome that allows this industry to continue international trade in its products without delays, barriers or additional costs.” Beale also commented that a no-deal scenario “has never been categorically taken off the table” and that it is “imperative that a new leader confirms that the UK will not leave without a deal and moves quickly to find a solution”. As a result of the current situation, Beale has claimed that nearly 80% of the trade body’s members had made preparations for the original exit date of 29 March and will have to prepare again ahead of the new Brexit date on 31 October. He said: “It’s difficult for businesses to determine the exact cost of Brexit contingency planning, including stockpiling and other measures, but we have heard estimates ranging from £20,000 to £5 million.”

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Maison Brillet, a family vineyard in the heart of the Cognac region

Rémy Cointreau to buy Maison de Cognac JR Brillet

French drinks group Rémy Cointreau has announced this week that it has entered into negotiations to purchase Maison de Cognac JR Brillet from the Brillet family. While financial terms have not been disclosed, it is understood that the deal would also include part of the Brillet family’s vineyard estate which is located in the village of Graves-Saint-Armant and has a history which dates back to the 17th century. Rémy Cointreau’s interest in Maison JR Brillet is motivated by the chance to “integrate spirits with genuine development potential into its portfolio” and increase its inventory of eaux-de-vie and vineyards “of the highest quality”. The signing of the deal, which is subject to administrative procedures, is expected to take place in autumn 2019. The news comes off the back of positive full-year sales that Rémy Cointreau posted last month which showed a growth of 7.8% in 2018/19, driven by a double-digit gain for its Cognac portfolio, with the Rémy Martin Cognac brand proving to be the standout.

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The new Plymouth Gin bottling, which we enjoyed a delightful tasting session!

Plymouth Gin launches special edition craft gin from 177-year-old recipe

There are so many new gins emerging all the time it can be difficult for a drinks producer to stand out amongst the crowd. Plymouth Gin may well have just done that, however, with Mr King’s 1842 Recipe, the first special edition in a series of craft gins made to celebrate the spirit of exploration. It was distilled using a recipe found deep within the vaults at the Plymouth Black Friars distillery (the oldest gin distillery in England) that dates back to 1842. That was 177 years ago, people. Master distiller Sean Harrison has reimagined the recipe to create a new product and thanks to the technological advancements in gin production today, he was able to replicate the distillation process that was attempted in 1842, with even more precision. Mr King’s 1842 Recipe was made with just two ingredients – orris root and handpicked juniper from a single harvest day in the mountains of Frontignano, Italy, after Plymouth uncovered the original sales record that linked the purchase of juniper to the renowned Italian region over 170 years ago. Due to the hyper-local sourcing of the ingredients, this one of a kind gin cannot be reproduced. “Mr King’s 1842 Recipe is a truly one-off craft gin that we will never be able to recreate again. Even if we were to visit the same Italian hillside next year, the climate and harvest conditions would affect the juniper resulting in a different taste profile,” Harrison explained. “At a time when other brands are using many different botanicals throughout the distillation process, Mr King’s 1842 Recipe focuses on just two and the result is something very special.” We went to a tasting of this delightful drink and can confirm that it’s as delicious as it sounds!

These tariffs are not good news for the booze industry

US tariffs impact agave-based spirits and EU booze

In concerning news this week, US president Donald Trump announced plans to impose a 5% tariff on all imported goods from Mexico from 10 June, including Tequila and Mezcal, in response to what was termed the “illegal migration crisis” at the US-Mexico border. Trump was quoted in a statement posted on the White House website saying he was “invoking the authorities granted to me by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act” in order to “address the emergency at the southern border”. The US president has also warned that if the ‘crisis’ persists, tariffs will be raised to 10% on July 1, 2019, 15% on 1 August, 20% on 1 September and 25% on 1 October if the US is still not satisfied that Mexico has taken the action it requests. This follows news from just yesterday, which revealed that trade bodies in the US have called for the removal of EU spirits from proposed retaliatory tariffs from the States in response to an ongoing dispute with the World Trade Organization (WTO). The US has been embroiled in a “long-standing” spat with the WTO over civil aircraft subsidies and, on 8 April, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) revealed a draft list of EU products that could be hit by retaliatory tariffs which included alcohol. Trade groups representing the alcohol industry in the US, including the Distilled Spirits Council, have made it clear they oppose such tariffs, however, commenting that they “strongly oppose the inclusion of beverage alcohol production” and that they are “gravely concerned that this escalation would compound the negative impact of the tariffs on a sector that is already feeling the damaging impact resulting from unrelated trade disputes.” The groups, which include alcohol suppliers, wholesalers, importers and retailers, have quoted industry analysis which warns the proposed retaliatory tariffs could affect almost US$6.8 billion worth of imports and could result in a loss of between 6,600 and 45,800 US jobs. Hopefully we’ll have better news on these matters in the future.

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The Johnnie & Ginger, a light and summery treat

Johnnie Walker celebrates National BBQ Week with Berber & Q

Johnnie Walker and East London BBQ restaurant Berber & Q have teamed up to create a new cocktail for National BBQ Week (it’s a thing, a very important thing). The limited edition Johnnie & Ginger, made by barbecue pioneer and Berber & Q founder Josh Katz, was designed to complement al fresco dining, summer sunshine and BBQ food, particularly Berber’s Joojeh Chicken Kebab, as Katz explains, “the smokiness of the charred chicken is offset by the smooth whisky and is given a spicy lift by the inclusion of ginger ale.” The light and summery Johnnie & Ginger cocktail is available at Berber & Q Grill House from 27th May – 2nd June and priced at £9. Katz describes it as “a taste experience and the perfect start to a barbecue.” But don’t fear if you don’t manage to get a table at Berber & Q, the Johnnie & Ginger cocktail is easily recreated at home. All you need to do is mix 50ml of Johnnie Walker Black, 15ml of lime juice, 35ml of pressed Granny Smith apple juice and a little pinch of Zaatar, which you’ll shake with one ice cube for no longer than 5 seconds. Then place the mix in a highball glass filled with ice and top with 35ml of ginger ale. Garnish with a dehydrated apple wheel and mint sprig, and there you have it!

The whisky takes its name from Lake Samilpo

And finally… North Korea launches its own whisky

Reports have emerged this week that suggest that North Korea has distilled its own brand of whisky and plans to launch it at the end of this year. According to the South Korean Hankook Ilbo newspaper, this would be the first time the country has produced whisky, although it’s worth noting that it has not been mentioned yet in North Korea’s own media. The source of the story is the Young Pioneer Tours tourism company, based in China, which specialises in visits to North Korea and other places that “your mother would rather you stay away from”. The tour operator claims to have laid its hands on a couple of bottles of the elusive spirit and described Samilpo’s design as “closely resembling” that of Johnnie Walker, a “well-recognised whisky in North Korea”. According to Pioneer Tours, Samilpo, which takes its name from the lake near Mount Kumgang, will launch three expressions: a ‘40% ABV black label edition, a 42% ABV red label edition and a 45 edition which has not been bottled yet. It is not known what types of grain that goes into the spirit, or how old it is. It has also been reported that the owner of Samilpo hopes to export the whisky to other countries once North Korea’s ‘political situation’ improves. You’re not likely to get your hands on some anytime soon, for those who might have been intrigued.

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