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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Laphroaig

Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 5: Laphroaig

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 5: Laphroaig! Today’s we’re using words like TCP and phenolic as we take a look at one of Islay’s most uncompromising distilleries…

It’s Master of Malt Islay Festival 2021 Day 5: Laphroaig! Today’s we’re using words like TCP and phenolic as we take a look at one of Islay’s most uncompromising distilleries while Millie Milliken will take a look at matching different whiskies with food. 

Located in the south of Islay near Port Ellen, Laphroaig has been making heavily-peated whisky since 1815 when it was founded by Donald and Alexander Johnston. It’s now part of the Beam Suntory group and makes much of its divisive character. People who love Laphroaig, it has fans in high places such as Prince Charles, really love it, while some whisky drinkers can’t stand the stuff. 

Today, we’re taking a look at what’s going on at the distillery today, while Millie Milliken delves into the complicated matter of pairing peaty whiskies with food. They can surprisingly food friendly. As we can’t be there in person, we’ve posted a video we made in 2019 with distillery manager John Campbell. And you can listen to our Islay memories playlist on Spotify to get you in the mood.

What’s going on today

You need to register on here to get the full rundown. There will be four events four events which include two sessions with distillery manager John Campbell, a food and drink masterclass and the unveiling of Laphroaig Cairdeas 2021. Events will take place at 2pm, 4pm, 6:15pm and 11:30pm all Islay time. 

Look for daily deals on Laphroaig on the Master of Malt site.  And now Millie Milliken takes a look at how to pair whisky with food – and even cook with it –  with advice from the experts, though not from anyone at Laphroaig as they didn’t get back to us in time. 

Laphroaig 10 Year Old goes brilliantly with seafood

Laphroaig 10 Year Old goes brilliantly with seafood

Whisky + food: How to pair and cook with whisky

Sweet, savoury; smoky, spicy: whisky comes with plenty of flavours to pair and cook food with. How do the pros do it? We headed into both the bar and the kitchen to find out

Have you heard of luging? No, not the Olympic sport, but in the world of food and drink, it means to use a previously food-filled vessel to consume alcohol. My most recent luging experience was at The Savoy’s pop-up Solas restaurant. In honour of the new art-deco style food offering from the hotel, Bowmore whisky rocked up and was being paired with oysters as a showcase starter.

We began by sipping oyster brine, then the whisky (Bowmore 12yo), we swallowed both, followed by the oyster and finally a rinse of the shell with more whisky. It was revelatory, with the whisky’s smoke, citrus and oily notes working wonders with the medley of Carlingford, Jersey and Maldon bivalve molluscs.

Whisky and food have a long-standing relationship, but where does one start? And with so many flavours to choose from, how do you pick out the ones that make all the difference?

Pairing principles

For Raffaele Di Monaco, bars manager at London’s The Berkley, pairing whisky and food comes with a few simple parameters. “Knowing the flavour profile of the whisky and its provenance is really important and will help you decide… and, of course, tasting is extremely important.”

From there, it’s a case of identifying which foods stand up to what styles of whisky. For example, Di Monaco thinks that peated whiskies can be both sweet and salty, so can be paired with savoury dishes as well as cheese. With drier styles, perhaps something more fatty and meaty. For Islay whiskies though, he thinks their versatility means they work best with seafood (oysters, langoustine, lobster) as well as mature cheeses or pear tarts – even, perhaps, banana bread (Di Monaco has made a banana cocktail with Laphroaig).

Specifically with Laphroaig, Di Monaco has had some great experiences: “I’ve been on Islay a couple of times and I’ve actually had a seafood platter with Laphroaig 10 Year Old, which is an amazing pairing. Its really balanced saltiness and sweetness goes really well with those delicate seafood flavours – it’s one of the best pairings I’ve ever had with Laphroaig.”

Roberta Hall from the Great British Menu

Roberta Hall cooks with whisky, but doesn’t drink it

Hot out the oven

Anyone who watched this year’s Great British Menu will remember two finalists who championed whisky in their competing dishes. One was Irishman Phelim O’Hagan whose main course featured a 100-day whiskey-aged côte de boeuf. The other, however, was Roberta Hall, owner of The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh who made it to the final banquet with her fish dish. It was however, her dessert course (which she lost out on getting to the banquet by one point) that championed whisky, namely Arbeg 10 Year Old, in homage to the invention of penicillin: “The peatiness worked so well for that dessert,” she said of her choice.

Despite not drinking much whisky, as a Scottish chef, it does however pop up regularly in Hall’s kitchen. She mentions the obvious choices – “I’ve worked in lots of places where you have haggis with whisky sauce, and chocolate works fantastically with it – they really balance each other out” – but for Hall, barbecue food and whisky is starting to excite her.

BBQ time

“It’s something I‘m starting to see more of, for sure, as I’ve got a business now which does barbecue food. With Texan style in America, they use a lot of bourbon, so there are definitely whiskies out there that can provide the same flavours.” She suggests going down the glaze or sauce route, adding adding some sweetness to some whisky for a glaze before brushing some meat near the end of cooking and charring it at the end – “you could use a sweeter whisky, maybe something that’s used Caribbean casks.”

But the tried and tested method will, for Hall, always be desserts. She recalls a collaboration with a chef who made a warm chocolate mousse dessert and added a dash of neat Glenfarclas (which had been aged in Sauternes casks for eight years) on top. To be honest, I could make an Olympic sport out of eating that.

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The Nightcap: 16 April

It’s Friday and that means The Nightcap cometh. What has caught our eye from the world of booze this week? Read on to find out what’s in The Nightcap: 16 April…

It’s Friday and that means The Nightcap cometh. What has caught our eye from the world of booze this week? Read on to find out what’s in The Nightcap: 16 April edition.

You may have seen the news already, but this week is a big one here at Master of Malt as we’re saying a tearful goodbye to our wonderful editor, Kristiane Sherry who is moving on to pastures new. This humble blog wouldn’t be what it is today without her contribution and we hope you’ll join us in wishing her all the best in her new role. Thanks for everything, Kristy.

Elsewhere, we launched two different competitions, each one offering you a chance to get your hands on some delicious booze. So, if you’re a fan of Darkness and/or River Rock whisky, be sure to check them out. Adam then cast our MoM-branded spotlight on Black Cow Vodka, Henry spoke to Lady Armagnac herself, Amanda Garnham, Kristy heard from Jake Burger about his new book and how the bar trade will endure and Scott Davidson from Glencairn Crystal spoke to Lucy Britner about 40 years of making exceptional glassware. We also enjoyed new Kilchoman whisky, the El Presidente cocktail and ten delightful drinks from independent distillers

Now, on to the Nightcap!

The Nightcap: 16 April Edition

5/10, it’s the Mitre in Holland Park,

These are London most mediocre pubs

We’re used to listicles outlining people’s favourite venues; we’ve even seen round-ups of worst places, but The Fence Magazine (an extremely funny newish magazine that we’d highly recommend subscribing to) has come up with an entirely new kind of clickbait when this week it published its top 25 most mediocre pubs in London. The thinking behind it was that the capital’s best pubs would be rammed, what with lockdown restrictions easing in England, so here are some places that nobody in their right mind would queue to get into. The list included such legends of mediocrity as the Mitre in Holland Park, “an archetypal non-place”, the Zetland Arms in South Kensington, “the kind of place you end up going to regularly for a few months, never develop feelings about and, occasionally, go again”, and the World’s End in Finsbury Park, “an adequate place to drink a few pints.” It might be because we’ve been deprived of pubs for so long, but the mention of these ordinary boozers made us feel moderately nostalgic. 

The Nightcap: 16 April Edition

This is one for the gin lover in your life

Beefeater celebrates 200 years with snazzy new book

The Beefeater story begins in 1820 when James Burrough began distilling in Chelsea. Since then, the brand that became Beefeater gin has stayed true to its London roots being based since 1958 in Kennington. To celebrate 200 years, Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley, the Ant and Dec of drinks writing, have produced a lavish new book. Murielle Dessenis, global brand director for Beefeater, explained “This book is not a time capsule but a creative visualisation of Beefeater’s history, and its future, told by those who have helped shape it.” We were fortunate enough to see an advance copy and it’s very snazzy indeed as it’s laid out as ‘triptych’ so the book opens up three ways. But it’s much more than a pretty face, the book contains a history of the company, insights from master distiller Desmond Payne MBE and evocative old adverts and photos from Beefeater’s long history. The lads commented: “It is London, this city of contrasts, that has provided the backdrop for Beefeater’s greatest moments and achievements. This was a fantastic project to work on as we were able to take a look at what gin means to the people behind Beefeater and to the location in which it is crafted.” It’s something that no gin lover should be without so you’ll be pleased to know it’s available from the Beefeater shop for £50.

The Nightcap: 16 April Edition

Fining dining comes to Chatham’s historic dockyard

Copper River Distillery in Chatham opens fine dining restaurant

You don’t often hear the words ‘fine dining’ and ‘Chatham’ in the same sentence but all that is about to change as the Copper River distillery has just announced that it will be opening a fancy new restaurant. Called the Pumproom, after the beautiful Italianate building (above) housing the distillery in Chatham’s historic dockyard, it’s first service will take place today, Friday 16 April, with diners distanced on a deck overlooking the historic River Medway. Copper Rivet Distillery’s commercial director, Stephen Russell, explained a little about what to expect: “Outstanding food creations by head chef Will Freeman are complemented by expertly curated wines from Kent and from around the world, as the Russell family has had expertise as wine buyers for over 40 years.” And maitre d’ Dom Schefferlie added: “Our team at the Pumproom will be using seasonal ingredients to maximum effect and, in keeping with the ethos of the distillery, will be taking a keen interest in provenance – using local ingredients wherever possible, be they locally grown-vegetables, locally-reared meat or locally-landed fish such as Rye Bay cod. Both the restaurant and the distillery count food miles and the minimising of waste as key deliverables.” There’s both tapas and more formal dining. We have to say that the menu sounds delicious with the thought of a starter of bone marrow, chicken crackling, smoked eel, cockles, radish & toast really getting our juices going. Sounds worth a visit.

The Nightcap: 16 April Edition

Great Islay whisky and delicious Scottish beer have come together in a joyous union once more

Innis & Gunn launch Islay whisky cask beer with Laphroaig Distillery

Any fan of Scottish brewer Innis & Gunn will know it loves to do a bit of innovation and its new limited-edition beer demonstrates just that. Islay Whisky Cask is a 7.4% amber ale aged in ex-Laphroaig 10 Year Old casks. During its 12-week maturation in barrel, the beer is said to have extracted some hallmark Laphroaig notes of peat smoke and brine, as well as cask influences of vanilla and floral aromas. Combine that with the rich, warming malty flavours from the malted barley and it sounds like something that’s right up our alley. Like when Ardbeg made peaty beer. Dougal Gunn Sharp, founder of Innis & Gunn, says the collaboration is a perfect example of the “quality that can be achieved when you work innovatively with your craft and unite with other complimentary talents”. He also comments that the beer “truly evokes the island that inspires both our brew and the iconic Laphroaig” and that the result is evident “even before you take your first sip, as you open the bottle, you’re welcomed with the distinctly peaty, complex aroma that defines Laphroaig”. Just 3,400 bottles of Islay Whisky Cask have been available to buy in the UK from today via the Innis & Gunn online shop, so you might want to hurry if you want to get your hands on one.

The Nightcap: 16 April Edition

The research project which could inform future barrel experiments.

Buffalo Trace Distillery begins oak research project

This week we learned that two Kentucky giants, Buffalo Trace Distillery and the University of Kentucky, are teaming up to learn more about white oak. This is handy, seeing it’s the wood bourbon is matured in. The two are joining forces on a 15-year research project called the White Oak Initiative. The idea is to ensure the long-term sustainability of America’s white oak by studying the genetic responses of trees from various regions to different white oak forest establishment techniques in a rural field application. The study kicked off with the planting of 1,066 trees on the farm at Buffalo Trace Distillery this week featuring seedlings from 40 different parent trees from Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Dennis Walsh, homeplace manager for Buffalo Trace Distillery, explains further, “We’re excited to partner with University of Kentucky on this project. It’s important that we look towards the future and how we can contribute to the sustainability of the white oak industry. The project will also assess the cost per board foot required to maintain a sustainable supply of new white oak long into the future”. Buffalo Trace is considering adding tours in the future of its farm, which would include education about its participation in the White Oak Initiative. Long term, Buffalo Trace may be able to use some of the oak trees it has planted for future barrel experiments.  

The Nightcap: 16 April Edition

Anyone else hungry?

Jose Cuervo helps you celebrate Cinco de Mayo at home

With the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo coming up (5 May in case your Spanish is a bit rusty), you can expect to see a host of Tequila and mezcal brands marking the event in the next few weeks. For Jose Cuervo, 2021’s festivities will include teaming up with award-winning chef James Cochran to launch the Around the Cluck X Jose Cuervo Cinco de Mayo at-home-kit. Featuring Cochran’s signature Around the Cluck fried chicken, his favourite Sauce Shop condiments, and exclusive Margarita pairings from Jose Cuervo, the restaurant kit looks like ideal way to celebrate at home with loved ones. The Twisted Piña Margarita combines Jose Cuervo Especial Silver Tequila, with pressed pineapple juice, fresh lime juice, coriander, jalapeño and agave nectar with garnishes of cracked black pepper and a fresh lime wheel. Oli Pergl, Tequila educator at Jose Cuervo, says: “Cinco De Mayo is an important date in the Mexican calendar so what better way to celebrate than a partnership between award-winning chef, James Cochran, his restaurant 12.51 and Jose Cuervo Tequila. Delicious food complemented with perfectly paired cocktails will transport you, figuratively not literally, to Tequila Valley… enjoy!” The kits are available to order from this week until the 3rd May at https://www.1251.co.uk/

The Nightcap: 16 April Edition

Is it madness or brilliance?

And finally…. Crisp-flavoured beer??! WTF?!

Crisps are wonderful things. We’re particularly partial to salt & vinegar flavour Chipsticks here at MoM. And beer is brilliant too. These are things we can all agree on. But what about if you put them together? No, not beer-flavoured crisps, that would be too straightforward. We’re talking crisp-flavoured beer. It’s taken an all-Yorkshire partnership of Seabrook’s crisps and Northern Monk brewery to make this unholy creation come true. The idea was first aired on 1 April so was widely thought to be a joke, but they did the old switcheroo and made their joke a reality. There’s two versions: a 5.4% ABV Cheese & Onion lager which is said to have “notes of cheese and onion”, and a 5% Prawn Cocktail Gose “with the tang of prawn cocktail.” Northern Monk founder Russell Bisset commented: “After one of the most challenging periods in recent history, we decided to take this quest into uncharted territory, creating an experience that would make people laugh – or grimace actually – as lockdown lifts.” We’re not going to knock them until we’ve tried them but, let’s face it, they sound horrible. We’ll stick with a pint of Landlord and a packet of salt & vinegar Golden Wonder, thank you very much.

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The winner of our VIP trip to Bowmore and Laphroaig is…

One of our finest competitions to date has come to a close and somebody very lucky is about to find out that they will be heading to both Bowmore and…

One of our finest competitions to date has come to a close and somebody very lucky is about to find out that they will be heading to both Bowmore and Laphroaig distilleries. 

Ok, folks, cast your mind back to 2020. We know we all want to put that awful year behind us, but the reason why we bring it up is actually all kinds of merry and marvellous. You see, back in December, we offered you the chance to win a VIP trip to two iconic Islay distilleries, Bowmore and Laphroaig, including flights for you and a chosen travel buddy to Scotland, accommodation and dinner for two nights and tours of both distilleries and the beautiful island itself. Plus a bundle of merchandise. 

The winner of our VIP trip to Bowmore and Laphroaig is...

Our lucky winners will see all this and more…

Now, of course, 2020 has been and gone, as has our exciting competition. And it’s time to announce the winner of this incredible prize. It’s…

Guy Williams!

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who took part. If you didn’t win, at the very least you got to enjoy something delicious, like Laphroaig 10 Year Old or Bowmore 12 Year Old, which is still pretty great, right?

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Whisky Advent 2020 Day #15: Laphroaig Triple Wood

With less than ten days to go until Christmas, it’s time to open door 15 of the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar, and welcome John Campbell from Laphroaig…

With less than ten days to go until Christmas, it’s time to open door 15 of the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar, and welcome John Campbell from Laphroaig onto the blog. Again. 

Right, getting a bit panicky now. There’s still so much to do before the big day: presents to buy, food to order, and decorations to put up. What if we leave buying the tree too late and they’ve all gone? This nearly happened last year. The only tree left in all of East Kent was enormous, taking up about half the space in our dining room. It was like a very large relative had come to stay. We won’t make that mistake again. Anyway, let’s put all the Christmas stress to one side as it’s time to open the 15th door of our advent calendar. What’s inside?

It’s Laphroaig Triple Wood!

This consists of the classic super peaty medicinal Laphroaig new make which then goes through a triple ageing process. Hence the name! First it is matured in bourbon barrels, then quarter casks before finishing off in European oak Oloroso sherry casks. To tell us more we have a man who is no stranger to this blog. In fact, he’s probably a bit sick of us cos we keep asking him questions when he really wants to get on with his main job of managing the distillery. It could only be the laconic John Campbell!

It’s John Campbell, again

Master of Malt: Can you tell us a bit about Laphroaig Triple Wood and how it is matured?

John Campbell: Laphroaig Triple Wood has a consecutive maturation profile whereby we get new spirit into fresh bourbon cask and mature for ages of 5-11 years. We decant the bourbon barrels and marry the liquid together and then fill into quarter casks and mature for 6-7 months. We then decant the quarter  casks and marry this liquid together and put into Oloroso sherry-seasoned hogsheads for two years. Then it’s ready and so we decant the 7.5-13.5 year old liquid and marry before bottling.

Master of Malt: What makes Laphroaig so special as a distillery?

JC: The location on Islay and the process that we use at the distillery makes Laphroaig unique.

Master of Malt: How has the distillery adapted to the unusual events of this year?

JC: We have completed more online events to engage our consumers in 2020.

Master of Malt: What do you think the world of whisky is going to look like in 2021

JC: Hopefully get to see first-hand what it’s looking like, I miss travelling. Virtual events will be here to stay short term.

Master of Malt: What will you be drinking over the festive period?

JC: I fancy cracking something special open at Christmas to savour the festive period. Maybe an older vintage of Laphroaig 25 year old or maybe a 30 Cairdeas. This year needs to end with something special.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Molasses and oily toffee. Dates, walnuts, notes from the Maker’s Mark barrels (vanilla, toastiness, sweetness etc). We got oodles of butter, zest, cool wood smoke, almond, and passion fruit.

Palate: Dry and medicinal, with exotic spices, perhaps even some turmeric. The palate is surprisingly savoury at first, with what John described as “dry dampness” (taste and it’ll make sense!) – think musty wood sheds and hints of moist autumnal forest floor. The sherry notes are there too, but rather than being the big Christmas pudding flavour one often expects from Oloroso-aged whisky, we are instead treated to a much more restrained iced fruitcake, graced with hints of Laphroaig’s classic smoke.

Finish: Oaked. The mustiness carries into the finish, which lasts for a good while, with oily spices and dried fruit.

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Five minutes… with John Campbell from Laphroaig

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

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

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

John Campbell contemplating a dram

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

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

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

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

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

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

The still house at Laphroaig

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

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

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

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

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

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

The classic 10 year old expression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Win an incredible VIP Trip to Bowmore and Laphroaig!

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

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

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

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

VIP Trip to Bowmore and Laphroaig

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

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

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

The lovely Laphroaigs:

The beautiful Bowmores:

VIP Trip to Bowmore and Laphroaig

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

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

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

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The Nightcap: 30 October

It might be the spookiest time of year, but that can’t stop us from rounding up the latest happenings from the world of booze. It’s The Nightcap! Happy Halloween, folks!…

It might be the spookiest time of year, but that can’t stop us from rounding up the latest happenings from the world of booze. It’s The Nightcap!

Happy Halloween, folks! However you’re choosing to mark it this strangest of years, we hope you’re able to make the most of the sweet treats, pageantry and gothic pomp of it all as safely as possible. And for those who have absolutely no interest in Halloween, we’d like to think you’ve found some alternative entertainment in the form of The Nightcap. It’s filled with all the best kinds of spirits.

This week on the MoM blog some of the finest names in whisky featured, with the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection 2019 and Ardbeg Wee Beastie making their way to MoM Towers (eek!), Chris Morris filling-us-in on all things Woodford Reserve and Nicholas Morgan giving us a glimpse of the story behind the world’s no. 1 Scotch whisky. We also captured our time at The Lakes Distillery on video and spoke to Victoria Eady Butler about her incredible family legacy, but not before we made sure you can indulge in style for Halloween and Bonfire Night, make the most of overproof spirits and imbibe mindfully.

The Nightcap

See the Chase Distillery for yourself with our amazing VR tour!

Diageo acquires Chase Distillery

Spirits giant Diageo loves nothing more than adding brands to its swelling portfolio, so it was little surprise to see that Chase Distillery has become its latest acquisition. The premium British vodka and gin distillery based in Herefordshire was founded by potato farmer William Chase in 2008, after he created and sold upmarket crisp company Tyrrell’s. Unsurprisingly, the distillery’s spirits are made from scratch using British-grown potatoes, as well as apples and botanicals on the Chase Farm, which also employs steam energy to power the distillery thanks to a biomass boiler fueled by apple orchard prunings. The portfolio is made up of seven gins, four vodkas and an elderflower liqueur, including the very popular Chase GB Gin, Pink Grapefruit & Pomelo Gin and Aged Marmalade Vodka. William Chase said the acquisition, which is tipped to close in early 2021, is “inspiring” and that Diageo “believe in the potential of our field to bottle spirits and will build on our mission to develop our sustainable distillery in Herefordshire.” Diageo certainly believes in gin, given that it’s already bought Ryan Reynold’s Aviation Gin and invested in German craft gin maker Rheinland Distillers GmbH this year. As for William Chase, he’s kind of running out of potato-based business ventures. Maybe I can interest him in an experiment I did at age six when I powered a lightbulb with a humble potato. It’s sustainable energy, after all…

The Nightcap

Rum was the drink of choice for many of you, and a fine choice it is!

WSTA figures reveal rum is the drink of lockdown 

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has crowned rum the “drink of lockdown”, as the latest figures show it enjoyed the biggest growth across all spirits during the lockdown. In the three months from April to June 2020, 38% more rum was sold than in the same period in 2019, while total rum sales were worth £119 million in the quarter alone. Rum now places behind only whisky, vodka and gin in value terms. The flavoured & spiced rum category was the biggest mover and shaker, growing 53% by volume between April and June, and outselling white rums over a three month period for the first time. Even though pubs and bars couldn’t open, total alcohol sales in supermarkets and shops are up 8% over 12 months and 35% over the lockdown period. The figures show, however, that the growth in off-trade sales did not off-set the losses seen by the closure of the on-trade – total alcohol sales slumped 20% by volume, showing that, despite all the stories, the British did not booze their way through the lockdown. “Our latest numbers show that rum is lockdown’s champion, as the experimentation Brits liked to enjoy in pubs and bars carried over to their homes. However, this also underlines the importance of on-trade venues as the shop window for new innovations in the spirits category,” explains Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA. “With news just last week of further restrictions being placed on the hospitality sector, the climate for our distillers, many of whom are SMEs and have come to represent such a great British success story of recent years, continues to get tougher”. 

Our favourite feature of the new-look Glenkinchie? The psychedelic Johnnie Walker

Revamped Glenkinchie Distillery reopens

We’ve reported before on Diageo’s £185 million investment in whisky tourism in Scotland. With perhaps not the best timing, it has just been announced that phase one of the plan has been completed and the refurbished Glenkinchie distillery near Edinburgh is once open to the public. The elegant Victorian brick warehouses have been turned into a visitor experience with a landscaped garden and a distinctly psychedelic statue of Johnnie Walker complete with dog. Visitors will be able to purchase a special commemorative release called the first in the Four Corners of Scotland collection, a 16 year old Glenkinchie bottled at 50.6% ABV with just 2,502 available at £150. Barbara Smith, managing director of brand homes (they do love a grand job title at Diageo) commented: “We are acutely aware of the difficult times many people are going through, particularly our colleagues in the tourism and hospitality sector across Scotland. We know there’s a long way to go and a lot of uncertainty ahead. Still, we believe in the resilience of our business and our communities, and we will be doing all we can through our investment to sow the seeds of recovery and future growth.” Distillery manager Ramsay Borthwick added: “Glenkinchie will give people a thrilling first taste of the new visitor experiences we are creating across Scotland. We will be offering people an experience like no other distillery in Scotland at Glenkinchie and that will be followed as we transform Clynelish, Cardhu and Caol Ila over the coming months, and as we build towards the opening of our global Johnnie Walker Princes Street attraction in Edinburgh next summer.” Let’s hope they all open as planned.

The Nightcap

Book Two, ‘Building an Icon’, will be available here soon…

Laphroaig expands the Ian Hunter series

Following the huge success and popularity of Ian Hunter Book One, Laphoraig has launched the second instalment in the Ian Hunter Story, which consists of five annual releases and honours the legacy of the last founding member of the Johnston family to run the distillery. Book Two, which is entitled ‘Building an Icon’ and is limited to just four hundred cases, was matured in sherry casks for 30 years before it was bottled at 48.2% ABV without chill-filtration. Hunter, who joined the distillery in 1908, had a lasting legacy, doubling production and managing to sell Laphroaig to America during Prohibition by leveraging the spirit’s unique character, which meant that it could be sold for medicinal purposes. “You cannot enjoy Laphroaig’s exquisitely smokey and complex liquid, without paying homage to the legendary Ian Hunter,” says John Campbell, Laphroaig distillery manager. “His influence in our whisky production techniques and our iconic brand as a whole is undeniable. The second book in our Ian Hunter Story celebrates his legacy in shaping Laphroaig to what it is today.” The limited-edition whisky will be available from MoM Towers soon…

The Nightcap

It’s been quite the week for impressive expressions!

Gonzalez Byass releases sherry from 1878

Tio Pepe isn’t just the world’s bestselling fino sherry, he was also a real person, a winemaker and uncle of the company’s founder Manuel Maria Gonzalez Anger. Now, Gonzalez Byass has released a wine made by Uncle Joe (for some reason Pepe is the diminutive of José) himself. It’s a very special Pedro Ximinez laid down in 1878 to celebrate the investiture of a new pope, León XIII. It was recently uncovered in the company’s vast cellars (think that last scene in Raiders of the Last Ark) by current head blender Antonio Flores. It comes from a single butt containing, after all these years, only 80 litres of super-sweet wine.  It’s unusual because it was made in the days before sherry was routinely fortified so it comes in at only 9% ABV, yet because of all that sugar, it’s has lasted all these years. Mauricio González Gordon, current chairman and fifth-generation family member, said, “This wine was created in the mid-19th century: a Pedro Ximénez, made before phylloxera arrived in Jerez. We are delighted to be able to release this jewel of a wine as part of our rare Finite Wines Collection, but there will only be 78 bottles for sale – the remaining 20 will be stored in the González family’s bottle archive, El Aljibe.” The price is suitably papal at €1800 a bottle. 

The Nightcap

Once you start thinking of Spocktail ideas, it’s hard to stop. Captain Kirsch, anyone?

And finally. . .  Jim Beam me up, Scotty

If you made a Venn diagram of cocktail lovers and fans of Star Trek (Trekkingtons, we believe they’re called), we wonder how big the overlap between the two categories would be. Well, the people behind a new book called Star Trek Cocktails: A Stellar Compendium clearly think there’s a large market. It’s been put together by cartoonist and writer Glenn Dakin in conjunction with ‘mixology consultants’ Simon Pellet and Adrian Calderbank, and with photos by David Burton and Jess Esposito. It’s full of fairly standard cocktails given a Star Trek twist with names like Ferengi Wallbanger or Guinan Fizz. We’re sure they will go down a treat with hardcore fans but we can’t help feeling that the whole thing is something of a missed opportunity in the punning department. So the team here at Master of Malt had a lot of fun coming up with our own Spocktails (see what we did there?) like Star Trek: the next Gineration, Deep Space Wine or the irresistible Captain Kirsch. Live long and Vesper!

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

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

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

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

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

Laphroaig John Campbell

Laphroaig on a rare sunny day

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

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

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

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

Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11694)

Laphroaig 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11693)

Bowmore 18 Year Old 2001 (Release No.11715)

Bowmore 18 Year Old 2001 (Release No.11714) 

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11698) 

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11699)

Bowmore 16 Year Old 2003 (Release No.11697)

Ardbeg 15 Year Old 2004 (Release No.11673)

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

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

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

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

 

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The Nightcap: 24 July

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

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

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

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

Ardbeg and DJ BBQ team up for online grill sessions

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

Lovely wine cask whiskies are just a phone call away

Glen Moray releases three wine cask whiskies

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

Totally fabulous, darling

Harrods opens luxurious basement Baccarat Bar 

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

Al fresco drinking will be all the rage this summer

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

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

Safe and snazzy: Boë Gin’s masks

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

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

Aberlour is one of four Chivas Brothers distilleries welcoming visitors back

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

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

Avallen Calvados

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

Calvados brand Avallen kicks off Seedrs crowdfunding drive

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

Certainly presses our buttons

And finally… press a button for Jose Cuervo Tequila

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

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Five minutes with… Ron Welsh from Beam Suntory

As master blender and strategic inventory manager for Beam Suntory – which owns Laphroaig, Bowmore, Auchentoshan and others – Ron Welsh has a better idea than most about what you’ll…

As master blender and strategic inventory manager for Beam Suntory – which owns Laphroaig, Bowmore, Auchentoshan and others – Ron Welsh has a better idea than most about what you’ll be drinking in five, 10, and even 20 years time. Here, we discover how he and his team bring the company’s Scotch whisky forecasts to fruition…

You mightn’t have thought about it before, but the whiskies you’ll enjoy over the coming years are more than likely maturing in cask somewhere already. And the whiskies you’ll sip over the next few decades? They’re being distilled right about now. The work that goes into assembling our favourite drams is an intricate operation that relies on complex whisky forecasting, a decade or more in advance. 

As master blender and strategic inventory manager, Welsh is responsible for more than 800,000 individual casks of all ages destined for Laphroaig, Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch, Ardmore, McClelland’s and Teacher’s bottlings. Some casks will go into each brand’s flagship whiskies, while others will make up new expressions that are yet to be conceived. Here, Welsh shares insight into his unique role, lifting the lid on an aspect of whisky production we don’t often think about, but that is a fascinating and crucial one nevertheless. 

Ron Welsh in the tasting room

Master of Malt: Thanks for chatting with us, Ron! First things first, how did you start out in the whisky industry?

Ron Welsh: I’ve been in the industry for 27 and a half years, not long before I get to my 30th which looks set to fly by. It wasn’t an intentional start in the whisky industry, I’d previously had a role in steel making. I moved away from that voluntarily and was looking for a job in production and one of the jobs I applied for happened to be at Strathclyde grain distillery. I got the job and that was my start in whisky. I hadn’t really thought much about the final product – it was a couple of years before I realised what I was producing at the distillery was going to be in a bottle in a few years’ time! 

MoM: Could you share some insight into your role as master blender and strategic inventory manager?

RW: My main priorities are spirit quality, from new make to bottling, and inventory management: Do we have the right amount of stock in the right place to fulfil the forecasts that are coming in? [This means] planning all whisky movement. Moving new make from distilleries to filling stores, new make in cask from the filling stores to the warehouses. My team picks out all the casks for all our expressions that are going into a bottle when [the liquid] becomes mature, set to a recipe that I have laid down. They ensure that we get the casks out of the warehouses and through to the draining facility, so that we’ve got the whisky in vats and ready for bottling when they’re asked for. There’s a lot of stock moving around. We’ve got casks that are over 50 years old, so we’re looking back across 50 years of what we’ve laid down and matured. When we get a forecast, we look at what we’re going to use in the next 20 years, which is part of the inventory that’s already there. It also means looking at what we’re going to produce as new make spirit from each of the distilleries over the next five to 10 years, to give the business an idea of where we might need to expand, where we might need to invest in terms of warehousing. It’s also my role to put together what we require in terms of empty casks for filling, and what we need to purchase each year, and making sure we’ve got suppliers that meet our quality standards. 

MoM: Balancing inventory and planning production requirements for so many global Scotch brands simultaneously is a huge undertaking – how do you plan for the future?

RW: The sales forecast is put together by the commercial and marketing teams – they will dictate which markets we should be trying to invest in and how they see each individual expression growing over the next 10 to 20 years. They’ll send me a sales forecast for 20 years for all our expressions, so all the Laphroaigs – 10 Year Old, PX Cask, Triple Wood, etc. – all the Bowmores, all the Auchentoshans, all the Ardmores, all the Glen Garioch, the McClelland’s, and the Teacher’s, and from that I can then work out how many litres of alcohol we should’ve put in a cask at any given time. So, do we have enough 10 year old for this year’s Laphroaig 10 Year Old? And do we have enough 9 year old for next year’s 10 Year Old? And enough 8 year old for the 10 Year Old in two years’ time? And so on.

Wooden washbacks at Auchentoshan

MoM: What about expressions that haven’t been invented yet, how do you factor for those?

RW: We’re running quite a lot of new products these days and quite a lot of them are limited time offers (LTOs). If you do that every year, you know you’re going to consume some stock, so I put in a provision for LTOs and I’ll work closely with marketing to decide what we’re going to do over the next five to 10 years. We have a very good idea of what expressions we’re going to bring out over the next five years, and I’ve got a good idea of maybe from 5 to 10 years after that as well. What you tend to find is when you bring in a permanent new expression for a brand then you may well lose an expression that you already have, so you just need to ensure you’ve got the right stock to allow you to change from one to the other. 

MoM: There must be whisky coming through now which you helped lay down years ago. How does it feel to see fans of say, Laphroaig or Bowmore, rave about a release that you’ve seen progress from start to finish? 

RW: It’s really nice to see expressions that I have put a lot of work into over the years appreciated. For me, the biggest one would have to be Laphroaig Lore, which Jim Murray recognised as the best non-aged single malt in 2019. That was an eight-year development, just accentuating the peat smoke from Laphroaig to bring it up to another level. Really good. I’ve been in the industry long enough to see my work coming through in terms of inventory management from 10, 15 years ago. Did I do a good job at the time? Have I got the right stock ready to perform a forecast? I haven’t come across anything too bad at the moment!

MoM: Stylistically the new make from each distillery is very different, is there one in particular that feels especially exciting to experiment with?

RW: Well, they’re all really interesting to work with. You look at Laphroaig and you think, ‘oh, it’s such a powerful Islay, what could you do with a Laphroaig that would be exciting?’ but it can take some changes in maturation. Bowmore is just as exciting – it’s got a unique character which I haven’t often seen in terms of the way it changes over the years. It starts off with ripe orchard fruits and then as it gets older and older, that transforms into syrupy tropical fruits. It’s amazing when you’ve got a flight of Bowmore in front of you. Auchentoshan is triple distilled, it can take flavours on really quickly without getting totally lost. Because it’s a city distillery and a bit more edgy – an urban malt as we like to call it – you can do a bit more experimenting with slightly different casks. We’ve just brought out a Sauvignon Blanc-finished Auchentoshan which is lovely. Ardmore’s a really nice whisky as well – we’ve been making some changes at the distillery in terms of new make, and that’s starting to come through. And Glen Garioch – I’ve got a wee soft spot for Glen Garioch. It’s a very small brand and quite boutique. Great things are going to happen for that distillery. 

Whisky maturing at Bowmore

MoM: Do you think we are creating better and more complex malts and blends today than when you first started out?

RW: The industry has more control over how it makes whisky. It’s got better knowledge of how to make good whisky, and I think that those changes over the past 10 to 15 years where you’re controlling your mash, your fermentation, your distillation, are resulting in a more consistent product which is at the best quality that the raw materials can provide. That’s one side of it. The other side is that the type of barley that’s being used has changed over the decades to give a more agronomic yield, so you get more tonnes out of an acre of field, and better distillery yield, so you get more litres of alcohol per tonne you bring in. And that process has, in my opinion, changed the flavour profile of whiskies, and it’s changed it for everybody. Unless you’re still using some of the old varieties, like Golden Promise. So there’s making more consistent whisky that [is at the] best quality for the raw materials, but there’s also a change in the raw materials, which are probably not providing as much flavour as they were before – so it’s up to the distiller in making sure they produce the best flavour out of that malted barley.

MoM: And how about casks – has anything changed in that regard?

RW: The biggest change is probably in the sherry industry. Sherry sales have declined rapidly over the past 30 years, which means that the number of casks coming from sherry bodegas has declined. They’ve been replaced by seasoning houses, which make new casks and season them with whatever style of sherry you want, and for however long you want. That process has resulted in more consistent cask quality.

Bowmore looking all moody and windswept

MoM: So for distillers, it’s almost changed things for the better?

RW: In some instances, yes. When sherry producers put their casks into storage when they weren’t using them, they would often put sulphur candles inside and light them to ensure they didn’t get any fungus growing inside the casks. But those would be the casks that would then come across to Scotland to be filled with new make spirit, and that sulphury note would come through in the final product. Seasoning houses don’t use sulphur candles, so you don’t get that problem. Some of the casks over the past few years have been absolutely exceptional. But then again, if you had a good cask from a sherry bodega that hadn’t been sulphured, it would produce a really good whisky as well. 

MoM: When was the last time you were bowled over by something in the whisky industry?

RW: There’s a couple of different cask types we’ve purchased recently, I can’t divulge what they are, but they knocked my socks off in terms of the quality of spirit that they’re producing. I’m hoping to use some of those casks in a couple of products over the next 12 months. In terms of outside Beam Suntory, Brian Kinsman is producing some really nice single malts at Glenfiddich, the guys at Ardbeg produced a nice Pinot Noir-finish which is interesting. It’s good to look at what other people in the industry are doing.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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