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Tag: Master of Malt tastes

Master of Malt tastes… Mossburn Vintage Cask releases

Look at what has just landed at MoM towers: a haul of single cask whiskies from independent bottler Mossburn including a Springbank from 1999. Be quick, these Mossburn Vintage Cask…

Look at what has just landed at MoM towers: a haul of single cask whiskies from independent bottler Mossburn including a Springbank from 1999. Be quick, these Mossburn Vintage Cask releases aren’t likely to have around for long.

Last year was a milestone for Mossburn Distillers as its distillery on Skye, Torabhaig,  released its inaugural single malt whisky – to great acclaim and huge demand. There’s more to come as the company has a grain plant at Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders called the Reivers Distillery which at some point in the near future will be releasing a rye-based spirit.

That’s not all! The Jedburgh HQ is also home to the company’s warehouses, where Mossburn functions as an independent bottler releasing a range of rare single malts as well as blended whiskies including the Caisteal Chamuis, which came out earlier this year. The firm is owned by a publicity-shy billionaire called Dr Frederik Paulsen. According to Ian Buxton in a recent article, “Mossburn, Mamont Vodka, Mozart Liqueur, Torabhaig, Kaikyo, a number of wineries and multiple drinks distributors all around the globe are part of his sprawling empire.”

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky

Torabhaig, the Isle of Skye’s newest distillery

Back to the whisky

But back to the whisky. We’re very excited about a series of single cask bottlings which will be landing at Master of Malt shortly from Mossburn’s Vintage Casks range. These include rare old releases from Jura and Springbank as well as younger single malts with interesting cask finishes from Auchroisk, Craigellachie, and Macduff. 

Company director and whisky maker Neil Macleod Mathieson explained: “As independent bottlers, we have the opportunity to scout out the most interesting casks that can provide an alternative perspective on a distillery’s character. At its heart, Mossburn has a concept we like to refer to as ‘the spirit of intrigue’, a phrase which we feel sums up our team as much as it does the whiskies we make. We aim to reward drinkers’ curiosity with thought-provoking whiskies that will allow whisky enthusiasts to continue on their journey of discovery.”

So there we go. Here’s what has just landed:


Springbank 1999 22 Year Old SOLD OUT

Bottling strength: 54.7% ABV

Nose: Delicate wood smoke with stewed fruit and baked apple with a little lemon, baking spices, leather and aromatic tobacco and camphor wood notes. Hugely complex and enticing.

Palate: It delivers on the palate too with sweet fruitcake, black pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, tobacco, and hints of wood smoke all wrapped up in a full oily texture.

Finish: Very long with lingering smoke and spices. 

Jura Packshot

Jura 1993 28 Year Old 

Bottling strength: 48.2%ABV

Nose: Waxy notes with mature cheddar rind, vanilla, toffee and cooked apple.

Palate: Big spices here with aniseed to the fore. Wow, it sounds like someone has dropped some ouzo in here by mistake. Also pepper, chilli and orchard fruit with a creamy texture.

Finish: Sweet toffee, liquorice and hazelnuts. 


No.28 Craigellachie 2007 13 Year Old Oloroso finish

Bottling strength: 46% ABV

Nose: Sulphurous and a little wood smoke with waxy apple skin, vanilla and saline notes.

Palate: Fiery chilli peppers, black pepper, gorgeous full creamy texture.

Finish: Leather, a little smoke and lemon rind.

29 Macduff Packshot

No.29 Macduff 2007 14 Year Old Ruby Port finish

Bottling strength: 56.4% ABV

Nose: Toffee and dried fruit with fresh stone fruit, peaches and cherries, plus some darker notes like old cellars, damp leather and tobacco. Magnificent!

Palate: Super peppery with Szechuan pepper and cloves balanced by sweet toffee and apple notes and creamy full texture.

Finish: Burnt caramel and spice. 

30 Auchroisk Packshot

No.30 Auchroisk 2007 14 Years Old Bordeaux Red Wine finish 

Bottling strength: 46% ABV

Nose: Smoky nose with sweet vanilla, milk chocolate, and cinnamon.

Palate: Another one with prominent aniseed among other spices. Very light and fresh.

Finish: The smoke comes back in again.

So something for everyone in these latest releases from Mossburn Distillers, with my tips being the Springbank if you’re feeling flush (and quick), and the Macduff for those on a more everyday budget. These are strictly limited edition single malts so may sell out very swiftly.

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Master of Malt tastes… Four Roses Small Batch Select bourbon

There’s a new addition to the Four Roses core range! As you might expect we were pretty excited when we heard this, even before we tasted it. And of course,…

There’s a new addition to the Four Roses core range! As you might expect we were pretty excited when we heard this, even before we tasted it. And of course, it didn’t disappoint, Four Roses Small Batch Select is truly sensational.

If you’ve only got room for one bottle of American whiskey in your drinks cupboard, then you should look no further than Four Roses Small Batch. It fulfils three roles in one: it’s a bourbon but with a high rye content, so it covers both those bases in cocktails. But it’s interesting enough to sip neat and admire all that complexity. In fact, you’ll struggle to find a better whiskey from anywhere for under £30. Yes, it’s really that good.

Four Roses fermenting

Batches fermenting at Four Roses. No idea of the mashbill or yeast type

Fancy Four Roses

But it’s not the pinnacle of the Four Roses range. Not by a long way. The great Kentucky distillery also produces barrel strength bottlings which are only available in limited quantities and tend to get hoovered up very quickly despite, or maybe because of, the high prices. Now, however, there’s a bottling between the everyday magic of the Small Batch and the rarified limited editions. It’s called Four Roses Small Batch Select and it’s every good as you might expect.

Before we dive in, we’re going to take a look at the unique production methods at Four Roses. Most whiskeys and indeed whiskies are made from a standard mash bill and production methods. The difference between bottlings is in the casks and the length of time ageing. 

But at Four Roses master distiller Brent Elliott has 10 different recipes to play with. There are two mash bills, ‘E’, a high corn recipe (75% corn, 20% rye, 5% malted barley), and ‘B’, a high rye version (60% corn, 35% rye, 5% malted barley). Then he has the choice to ferment with one of five yeast strains which all contribute different flavours: V (light fruit), O (rich fruit), Q (floral), F (herbaceous), and K (spice.) You can read more depth about the Four Roses process here


Tasting Small Batch Select

Small Batch Select combines six of these recipes: OBSV, OESV, OBSK, OESK, OBSF, and OESF. O means it’s made by Four Roses and S means straight bourbon. So you can see the mash bills are split evenly between high corn and high rye, but with the yeasts the emphasis is very much on the spice with herbal and light fruit supporting. 

And this is born out on tasting as Small Batch Select is spice city. I found it incredibly spicy and dry with much less of the toffee and popcorn you usually get in a bourbon. It’s essentially a bourbon for lovers of rye whiskey. The ABV at 52% is just perfect for sipping neat. You don’t need to dilute it at all. If you are planning to mix, I’d stick 

with simple cocktails like the Old Fashioned. For anything more lavish, I’d go for the standard Small Batch, and save Small Batch Select for long conversations when old friends come over. 

Four Roses Small Batch select is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Tasting note for Four Roses Small Batch Select

Nose: Pumpkin pie, baking spices, dark chocolate, black cherries, cloves, ginger and chilli.

Palate: Dry and super spicy with nutmeg, cinnamon and Szechuan peppers. Hugely aromatic. There are also sweeter notes of caramel, chocolate and peanuts – yes, like an alcoholic snickers bar.

Finish: Dark chocolate, very long and intense. 

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Master of Malt tastes… Crabbie Chain Pier single malt

The long-awaited revival of John Crabbie & Co is finally here with the first Edinburgh-distilled single malt in nearly 100 years. We sat down with the team for a taste…

The long-awaited revival of John Crabbie & Co is finally here with the first Edinburgh-distilled single malt in nearly 100 years. We sat down with the team for a taste of Crabbie Chain Pier, which will be landing with Master of Malt shortly.

It’s fair to say that we’ve been waiting for a taste of Crabbie Chain Pier single malt for some time. We first reported on the revival of this great name in Scotch whisky in 2018. We’ve tried various independent bottlings under the Crabbie name and even visited the distillery last year. But still no Edinburgh single malt.

Crabbie recap

Now, at last, the wait is over. But before we dive in, a quick recap on the John Crabbie story. According to master blender Kirstie McCallum his name was “synonymous with whisky, most people don’t know that.” Crabbie was one of the pioneers of blended whisky like John Walker and, like Walker, owned a grocery and tea-blending business. Eventually, he set up his own distillery in Leith producing whisky and also gin and the famous ginger wine that still bears his name. He was also one of the founders of the mighty North British grain distillery.

Following his death, the Crabbie name was passed around until it was only known for ginger wine. In 2007, Halewood acquired the brand. This is the company behind a vast array of interesting spirits including Aber Falls, the first single malt from North Wales.


Crabbie’s new Bonnington distillery

The Crabbie revival

Work began on a new Crabbie’s distillery in Leith in 2018 but there were delays in this Bonnington site, so the team set up the Chain Pier experimental distillery in nearby Granton.

According to head distillery James Lockhart, it was “almost like a homebrew set-up.” He fermented for between 40-72 hours and when distilling “we only cut the middle portion” and didn’t use the feints or foreshots.” It’s “pure middle cut spirit.” The first barrels were filled in 2019 with 39 in total filled.

This distillery has now been dismantled now that the Bonnington site in Leith is up and running. According to Lockhart, at the old site, they did all the experiments with temperature, yeast etc. to “create the spirit we wanted.” Marketing director James Stocker elaborated: “The Chain Pier distillery was operational for just a year (between 2018 and 19), yet it gave our team a great opportunity to continue John Crabbie’s legacy of innovation – handcrafting unique distillations and trialling everything from malt types to custom casks”.

This first release is the second cask filled. It’s a virgin American oak cask with a no. 3 char. Master blender Kirstie McCallum said “we didn’t do anything apart from put it into a bottle. It’s the taste of whisky as it came out of the cask.” It’s bottled at cask strength, 57% ABV and 234 bottles have been filled.

Tasting Crabbie Chain Pier single malt

The big question is, is it any good? There’s a full tasting note below for those who like such things. In brief, however, the thing that struck me is that despite its youth, it’s almost exactly three years old, it’s smooth and not at all raw. As you’d expect, the virgin oak cask imparts a lot of big flavours but without smothering the spirit. It’s a bold sweet drop but there’s plenty of peachy fruit and a few drops of water reveal a surprising elegance. All in all, an extremely impressive debut that promises much for the future. Well done to McCallum and the team.

So what will they release next? According to McCallum “we have another 35 casks to play with”, including sherry and Australian shiraz casks, “so you will see something soon.” We can’t wait. 

Crabbie Chain Pier single malt will be available soon from Master of Malt. RRP £65. Keep watching the New Arrivals page. 

crabbies_chain_pier bottle.jpg RS

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Lots of cereal, malted barley, and oats, with vanilla, burnt toffee, wood spice, and orchard fruit. There’s no alcohol burn despite the high ABV. Water brings our marzipan, peaches, and a touch of tobacco. 

Palate; Lots of spicy chilli, black pepper, and sweet caramel notes. It’s a thick round dram. Water brings out peaches and a waxy texture.

Finish: Toffee and dark chocolate, spicy

Overall: It’s a big bold young whisky but manages to have plenty of fruit and not be raw or spirity at all.

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Master of Malt tastes… Ron Abuelo 

Ron Abuelo in Panama makes delicious high-quality long-aged rums. We sat down with their brand ambassador Cristóbal Srokowski to learn more about a Latin American rum brand with a rich…

Ron Abuelo in Panama makes delicious high-quality long-aged rums. We sat down with their brand ambassador Cristóbal Srokowski to learn more about a Latin American rum brand with a rich history.  

Abuelo means grandfather in Spanish. It’s named after José Varela Blanco who came to Panama from Galicia in Spain in 1908. Every bottle bears this date though the family only began distilling in the 1930s and the rum named in his honour was launched in the 1950s. 

It remained, however, very much a local thing until recently, as brand ambassador Cristóbal Srokowski explained. About 20 years ago, the Varela family business began exporting to the US and other Latin American countries, and then to Europe. So despite being a grandfather in Panama, Abuelo is more like a young buck in Britain.

Rum can be a luxury

El Abuelo himself is quoted as saying: “Rum has found its position in the world, rum can be a luxury”, so it was appropriate that we met in the oligarch’s wine merchant of choice, Hedonism in Mayfair. The team wants to position Abuelo with the finest drinks in the world, rather than against other rums. Is that confidence justified?

Before we dived into the tasting we enjoyed a glorious cocktail called, appropriately enough, the Glorious Cocktail. It was made by Srokowski, who’s originally from Poland, was educated in Barcelona and planned to be a historian. The lure of the bar proved too much, however. Following a stint at Harry’s Bar in Barcelona where he picked up a love for rum, he joined Ron Abuelo. He has been with the company for so long that he described himself as an “adopted son of the family.” He’s not just a brand ambassador but also involved with new product development. 

Harvesting sugarcane at Ron Abuelo

Harvesting sugarcane at Ron Abuelo

Making Ron Abuelo

He explained a little bit about the production process. Five different varieties of sugarcane go into the rum which all comes from its 1600 hectare estate near the town of Pesé. Much of it is hand-harvested. Unusually for Latin American rum, both molasses and pure sugarcane juice are used with an 80/20 split between the former and the latter. The two different types of sugar are fermented, distilled and aged separately. Abuelo uses a special in-house yeast derived from pineapple. Fermentation takes place over about 48 hours to produce a 7-8% low wine.

Distillation is done in a 12.5m column still to produce a new make of around 78-84% ABV, low compared with many Latin American rums. This preserves a lot of congeners, 250mg per 100ml, so you get a new make with plenty of flavour. 

The two types of distillate are then aged for two years in ex-bourbon casks separately before blending together. The family has casks dating back to 1978, according to Srokowski, only Appleton in Jamaica and Demerara in Guyana have older casks. This means that Abuelo has a lot of mature rum to play around with, largely from ex-bourbon barrels but they do have other casks including sherry, Cognac and others which are used for finishing.

As with Port and sherry, Abuelo’s age statements are averages not minimum so for example the XV contains rums between eight and 43 years old. It’s aged for an average of 14 years and then finished for a further one year. All Abuelo’s rums are blended from different casks except the Centaria which is aged in a solera. 

Casks at Ron Abuela

That’s a whole lot of rum

Sweets for my sweet

Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of Ron Abuelo’s Panamanian rum. All of them have a characteristic grassy/ minty freshness that apparently comes from that pure sugarcane element. There is a definite sweetness to them which suggests added sugar. I asked about this and Srokowski replied, a little defensively, that they are sweetened as Cognac is. 

Here’s a link to a site that has done tests to ascertain exactly how much sugar has been added to rum brands. Though it is from 2015, before EU laws came in decreeing that rum could not contain more than 20g of added sugar, so it’s not up to date but does give you some idea of how much sugar might be added.

Having got that out of the way, I should say I have no problem with sugar added to rums. I just have to ask, and the Ron Abuelo range is delicious with the sweetness generally really well balanced. But part of me can’t help thinking how amazing it would be if Ron Abuelo followed Diplomatico’s lead and bottled some unsweetened limited edition expressions. Perhaps Srokowski with his NPD hat on could look into it.

Ron Abuela Centuria

Ron Abuela Centuria

Tasting Ron Abuelo

Ron Abuelo 12 Year Old

Matured entirely in ex-bourbon casks with an average age of 12 years and bottled at 40% ABV

Nose: Orange peel, vanilla, toffee, molasses and a hint of mint.

Palate: Toffee, muscovado sugar, vanilla, orangey floral notes. 

Finish: Sweet caramel, not at all cloying though not particularly long.

Overall: A great value rum for sipping or mixing in simple cocktails like an Old Fashioned or the Glorious below. Smooth with lots of flavour and the sweetness is really well balanced. 

Ron Abuelo XII – Two Casks

This is aged in a mixture of ex-bourbon and re-toasted American oak casks, and bottled at 40% ABV. 12 years is the average age

Nose: Tobacco, menthol notes, toffee and dark chocolate, a little smokiness.

Palate: Spicy and peppery with lots of aromatic smoky tobacco flavours plus dark chocolate and manuka honey. 

Finish: Quite a bit of sweetness, and the finish is quite short. 

Overall: Very enjoyable, richly flavoured if a bit young and sweet.

Ron Abuelo XV – Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish

A blend of ex-bourbon casks with an average of 14 years. It then spends one year in ex-Oloroso sherry casks. It’s bottled at 40% ABV.

Nose: Dried fruit, raisins and dates on the nose, orange peel and massive aromatics – tobacco, menthol and some grassy notes.

Palate: Tastes quite dry on the palate though there is some added sugar, I think. Citrus and dried fruit and then nuts galore. Walnuts! Brazil nuts! and a touch of honey.

Finish: Very long and nutty. 

Overall: Like a better class of Brandy de Jerez. Classy. This would be great sipped neat with a cigar. 

Ron Abuelo Centuria

Aged in a solera system containing over 7,000 casks and contains rums up to 43 years old with a 30-year-old average. 

Nose: Fruity nose, peaches, muscovado sugar, prunes and raisins, smells rich and dark.

Palate: Lovely fruit on the palate, peaches and apricots, toasted walnuts, woody. Quite a bit of added sugar here, I think.

Finish: Rich, complex, long and sweet.

Overall: I think the sweetness would make it quite a great Port substitute.

How to make a Glorious cocktail

Recipe for Glorious Cocktail:

40ml Ron Abuelo 12 year old rum
20ml lime juice
15ml sugar syrup
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
Fresh mint leaves
Champagne to top up

Shake all the ingredients except Champagne with ice, strain into a flute and top up with chilled Champagne.

Click here to see the full Ron Abuelo range at Master of Malt.

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GlenDronach launches £20,000 50 year old whisky

We were delighted to sit down with master blender Dr Rachel Barrie and taste through some bottles from one of our favourite distilleries including a very special £20,000 GlenDronach Aged…

We were delighted to sit down with master blender Dr Rachel Barrie and taste through some bottles from one of our favourite distilleries including a very special £20,000 GlenDronach Aged 50 Years, the distillery’s oldest ever release.

Last year there was something of a furore among whisky fans when it was discovered that the words “‘non-chill-filtered’ had been removed from GlenDronach’s packaging.” Ralfy, the great whisky Youtuber, spoke out about this on his channel, and later followed up after the distillery’s PR team had got in touch.

High emotions

It’s worth watching both posts, and reading our article on chill filtering to see what all the fuss is about. What is apparent, however, is that the high emotions show the sheer love amongst the whisky community for GlenDronach’s single malts. Ralfy himself commented that on the evidence of the 15 and 18 year old expressions, GlenDronach was “frontrunning contender” for the crown of “best single malt in Scotland.” 

So when we were invited to an online event to taste through the GlenDronach range culminating in a tiny sample of the soon-to-be-released GlenDronach Aged 50 Years, you could say we were pretty keen. And yes, we will be getting some in, keep an eye on our New Arrivals page. The other expressions, you can just buy now.

The event included master blender Rachel Barrie (below), distillery manager Alan Mcconnochie and was hosted by FT drinks columnist Alice Lascelles, and beamed live from GlenDronach via the medium of modern satellite communications. Lascelles, who had spent the day at the distillery, commented on the unusual wine-like smell from the washbacks. According to Barrie, this “richness of dark fruit” is the GlenDronach signature along with European oak Oloroso and PX sherry casks.

Dry Rachel Barrie - GlenDronach

Look at the colour on that!

Before we got onto the GlenDronach Age 50 Years, we tried some of the core range:

GlenDronach 12 Year Old Original

This is aged in a combination of Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez casks. According to Barrie “this is the whisky that I spend most time on.” Each batch is made from around 65 casks with PX the majority. It’s bottled at 43% ABV and all natural colour. 

Nose: Butterscotch and toffee, peach and cherry, great fruit.

Palate: Lovely fruitiness here, that dark cherry note really comes through. Despite the high PX quotient, it’s not a sherry bomb. There’s a creamy, full texture, toffee, orange peel, 

Finish: Toffee and almond. Lovely dram.

GlenDronach 18 Year Old Allardice

The GlenDronach 18 year old Allardice is named after the distillery’s founder, James Allardice. It is matured completely in Oloroso sherry casks and bottled at 46% ABV. According to the distillery manager, Alan Mcconnachie, this is his favourite. 

Nose: Very rich, fruitcake, orange, dried apricot,  and spice, you can smell the casks. Plus there is ginger, toffee, and fudge with those cherry and peach notes coming through. Great nose. 

Palate: Dry, much drier than 12 year old, some wood tannin, tobacco, slightly bitter nutty edge, with chocolate and an almost Bordeaux-esque fruitiness. 

Finish: Brazil nuts, blackcurrants and dark chocolate. 

GlenDronach 50 years old

Remember there is no right or wrong way to drink this. Try it in an Old Fashioned, or with coke

GlenDronach Aged 50 Years

This was distilled in 1971 using direct-fired casks, the distillery switched to steam in 2006. It’s made up of two casks, a PX and an Oloroso, aged in GlenDronach’s dunnage warehouse. According to Barrie, they would have been filled for blends with no plan to keep them for longer than 10-12 years. Alcohol at 43.8% ABV was “dangerously close to not being classed as whisky” Barrie said. It’s the oldest expression ever released by the distillery as Barrie explained: 

“The GlenDronach Aged 50 Years is the most prestigious expression of what this timeless, richly-sherried Highland single malt Scotch whisky has to offer. It has been a privilege to be the final custodian of our oldest expression to date, passed down through generations. The result is a hand-crafted Highland single malt that tells a story of rare dedication, of which The GlenDronach Aged 50 Years is the rarest of them all.”

Tasting GlenDronach Aged 50 Years

So what did we think? Well, it’s quite an experience. The colour is something to behold, like a treacle. It looks more like a very old sherry than a whisky. The smell is incredible, and the taste is pretty uncompromising, dry and almost salty, again like a very old dry sherry. It’s very different to some other old whiskies we have tried like the Singleton of Dufftown 39 Year Old which was finished in first-fill casks. This, in contrast, is a no holds barred uncompromising very old single malt. Here’s the full tasting note:

Nose: Smells old, think ancient warehouses and damp wood. Then there’s balsamic notes, like a really old tawny Port, dark chocolate, touch of marzipan and waxy notes, 

Palate: So dry and intense, uncompromisingly dry. It’s a whisky you can feel as much as taste. Then come the nuts plus vanilla, creme brulee, and bitter dark chocolate. Very very complex. With time, sweeter notes start to appear. You do really get that dark cherry note strongly. 

Finish: Burnt toffee, dark chocolate and that cherry note persisting. 

As I said, it’s quite an experience.

Only 198 bottles have been filled and RRP is £20,000. We will be getting stock in so sign up to our mailing list and keep an eye on our New Arrivals page.


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Master of Malt tastes… Lepanto Brandy de Jerez

Today we’re taking a closer look at a drink that’s massive in Spain but barely known in Britain, it’s Brandy de Jerez. To tell us more we sat down with…

Today we’re taking a closer look at a drink that’s massive in Spain but barely known in Britain, it’s Brandy de Jerez. To tell us more we sat down with Victoria Jupe from Lepanto, which is made by sherry giant Gonzalez Byass.

If you’re a brandy lover, your first port of call is probably Cognac, followed by Armagnac. But fine grape brandies are made outside France, in Armenia, South Africa, and Spain, particularly in the sherry region. Brandy de Jerez is a massive industry producing something like 20 million bottles per year. For comparison, Armagnac produces around three million.

An discovered classic

But it’s pretty much unknown in Britain except by those who pick up a taste for it when on holiday. Most of it is consumed in Spain with some going to Latin America, Germany and the US. 

All the major sherry companies produce Brandy de Jerez like Sanchez Romate with Cardenal Mendoza or Carlos I from Osborne but in my opinion the best of the major brands is Lepanto from Gonzalez Byass. The company has been distilling since 1844 when Cognac-style stills from France were installed in Jerez. There’s a record the following year of two barrels being sent to a Mr James White in Dublin. They must have been quite young spirits. 

Lepanto pot stills at Gonzalez Byass

Cognac-style pot stills at Gonzalez Byass

The production process

Nowadays, most Brandy de Jerez is made from Airen grapes grown in La Mancha, and then distilled and aged in the city of Jerez. Only Lepanto still uses Palomino Fino grapes that are grown within the sherry triangle.

The grapes are harvested from the Jerez Superior region in August and September. They have to be vinified and stored without the use of sulphur, a preservative, which would be accentuated in the distillation process. Between October and June, the wine is turned into brandy in six distillation runs. Gonzalez Byass has remained faithful to the classic pot stills where the wine is double-distilled. 

The eau-de-vie is diluted to 60% before going into casks. These are made from American oak, and are a mixture of new and sherry casks. Whereas some ‘sherry casks’ used in the whisky industry are seasoned using wines that would never be sold commercially because they are too young, Gonzalez Byass clearly has access to casks that once held some serious sherries to age its Lepanto brandies. 

The standard Lepanto spends a minimum of 12 years in American oak butts that previously held Tio Pepe Fino. Whereas the two other expressions spend an extra three years in PX and Oloroso casks respectively. According to Victoria Jupe from Gonazlez Byass, the casks lose about 4% per year which really adds up after 15 years.

lepanto brandy de jerez

Lepanto, worth trying neat

Tasting Lepanto

Though the taste of Lepanto is heavily influenced by sherry casks, you do get a lot of fresh fruit and floral notes coming through from the eau-de-vie. These are not sherry bombs, but fine brandies for sipping. Most other Brandy de Jerez brands have caramel and/or sweet sherry added post-distillation, but not Lepanto.

I must say I was bowled over by these brandies. They are simply gorgeous. I’ve had a lot of syrupy Brandy de Jerez in the past and whereas such drinks can be fun, and are great for mixing, Lepantos are clearly a big step up in elegance. 

Victoria Jupe said that they are not : “Generally not used for cocktails, our recommendation is to enjoy it for what it is and let the flavours do the talking.” Having said this, I made a superb Harvard, like a Manhattan but with brandy, with the standard Lepanto bottling combined with some delicious sherry vermouth. And with the PX, I’m thinking cigars and dark chocolate. Mmmmm!

Tasting notes for Lepanto Brandy de Jerez


Lepanto Solera Gran Reserva Brandy de Jerez

Nose: Toffee, citrus fruit and orange peel, dried apricots.

Palate:  Packed with orangey notes, orange peel and blossom. Dry, elegant and super smooth.

Finish: Bittersweet dark chocolate and a little toffee. 


Lepanto Solera Gran Reserva Brandy de Jerez – Pedro Ximénez Cask Matured

Nose: Very rich and sweet smelling with raisins, dates, orange peel, molasses and walnuts.

Palate: Initially sweet with lots of PX character, but then dry and fragrant followed by layers of roast walnuts and dried fruit. Many drinks claim to be Christmas in a glass, but this might be it. It’s heady and luxurious without being overblown.

Finish: Very long, alternating sweet and dry. 


Lepanto Solera Gran Reserva Brandy de Jerez – Oloroso Cask Matured 

Nose:  Salted caramel, molasses and Brazil nuts.

Palate:  Dry and fragrant on the palate,  orange blossom, dried fruit and nuts. It has the richness of the PX but drier and more elegant.

Finish: Very long and floral with lingering roasted nuts. 



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Master of Malt tastes… That Boutique-y Rum Co. Wine Cask series

Tomorrow we’ve got a whole bunch of brilliantly Boutique-y releases, both whisky and rum that are uniquely finished in a variety of wine casks. Today we’re going to preview the…

Tomorrow we’ve got a whole bunch of brilliantly Boutique-y releases, both whisky and rum that are uniquely finished in a variety of wine casks. Today we’re going to preview the wonderful rums with help from the man himself, Peter Holland.

Mark it in your diary folks, tomorrow is a big day. Because we’ve got all kinds of delightful booze landing here. Both That Boutique-y Whisky and That Boutique-y Rum Co. are releasing a collection of small-batch spirits that share a common theme: wine casks have been used, for finishing, or full maturation. 

That Boutique-y Rum’s Wine Cask series

The whisky

Today we’re giving more of a spotlight to the rum, but it would be wrong not to talk about the whisky at all. This series is a collection of ten whiskies from Scandinavia, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and more, featuring four brand new distilleries to Boutique-y including its first first-ever Canadian and Italian whiskies, complete with labels from the pen of Emily Chappell. There’s also the usual array of kick-ass Scotch single malts, as well as a single grain from a closed distillery. 

And every single one features a wine cask in its maturation process, including Sauternes, Pinot Noir, Marsala and Oloroso sherry. Boutique-y Dave, or Dave Worthington if you want to get all official, told us that this was inspired by whisky’s long history of utilizing wine casks. 

Highlights include the brand’s second batch from France’s first whisky distillery, Armorik, which was matured in a Sauternes wine cask, a three malt mash bill whisky from Puni in Italy aged in an ex-bourbon barrel and finished in a Pinot Noir Cask, the first Boutique-y Teerenpeli release from Finland with full maturation in a Spanish ex-Oloroso sherry cask, and a drink that technically can’t be called whisky (it was matured outside of Canada but distilled there, nice and confusing), but is in effect the first corn whisky produced in Canada to be given the Boutique-y treatment. It’s a 5 Year Old corn whisky that was finished in ex-Oloroso casks.

The rum

As for the rum, the four-strong selection hails from across the Caribbean and Europe, including That Boutique-y Rum’s first-ever Dutch rum. Peter Holland tells us that, with every release, he hopes to push the corners of the Rum map out a little further to “bring something new to our loyal fanbase, attract new followers, and challenge some conventions for the sheer bloody-minded pleasure of it”. 

He adds that the Wine Cask series is perfectly suited to the season, and offers the perfect balance of being “really very approachable and attractive to the relatively inexperienced, and yet still offering a geeky angle for the experienced rummies out there”. He continues: “Excited doesn’t quite cover it, and I really can’t wait to get these rums in front of folks. Regrettably, the only issue will be grabbing one while we can as they are sure to sell out fast.” 

The first of the new series is another addition to the Secret Distillery line, this time a deliciously-easy-drinking Dominican Republic rum, the first bottling from the country. There’s also a Foursquare Sauternes Cask and, if you’re of a mind to explore, a fabulously fruity Engenho Novo da Madeira Amarone Cask as well as a phenomenal Pedro Ximénez Cask matured rum from Zuidam Distillery named the Flying Dutchman. Let’s get to know them a bit better.

That Boutique-y Rum’s Wine Cask series

Secret Distillery #5, 7 Year Old – Batch 1

The Dominican Republic is regarded for its lighter distilled style rums, the flavours of which are characterised by time in oak cask, and then blended for complexity. This single cask release was distilled from a multi-column set up using molasses and spent five years maturing in the DR, before being moved to the UK, and transferred into ex-Madeira wine cask for a further two years. 

Stylistically you should expect a lot of cask driven flavours with dark fruit (blackcurrant), plenty of zestiness and balance as well as a chewy texture. This one is ideal for anyone just getting into cask strength rums, it’s a more comfortable, approachable profile compared to some of the ‘heavy’ Boutique-y releases, and is a safe bet for gifting. Particularly as more seasoned rum drinkers will enjoy the interesting Madeira cask finish.

The label: Created by Grace J Ward, the label depicts a glorious day in the Dominican Republic, with the classic white sand and the beautiful blue Caribbean sea twinkling in the bright sunshine. Former Boutique-y brand manager Jennifer Meredith is present, enjoying a glass of rum and admiring the view. Which appears to include a humpback whale…

Tasting Note:

Nose: A complex array of liquorice, lots of coconut, vanilla, ripe peach, bright zesty lemon, dried stone fruits dates, raisins and sultanas. Cane sugar, and gentle notes of cacao. A touch of dried grass.

Palate: A creamy mouthfeel, with a tart raspberry lead that reveals molasses, and vanilla custard.

Finish: Lots of dates and raisins, along with a sweet anise vibe. A warming finish. Lip Smacking, astringent, but not too long.

That Boutique-y Rum’s Wine Cask series

Foursquare Distillery, 10 Year Old – Batch 4

This is the fourth batch from the consistently award-winning Foursquare Distillery in Barbados. Going by the Gargano Classification (as the distillery does), this is a single blended rum, meaning it’s a blend of pot still and column still marques produced at the distillery. It was aged initially for five years in ex-Jack Daniel’s casks before being shipped to the UK for a further five years in ex- Sauternes cask, a sweet wine from Bordeaux. 

To date, Foursquare Distillery hasn’t bottled a production release that features this cask type. Regardless, it’s still In the style of expressions that have gone before and comes with a well-known point of origin, meaning it’s collectable as well as damn-well-drinkable. It’s unmistakably delicious and works across a broad selection of Rum drinkers.

The label: This is one that is a real game of spot the hidden reference to all the distillery labels produced there. Picturing a beach scene in Barbados, there’s Macaws, a certain doctor is in the house and an ominous-looking cave that looks like it might lead to the underworld. The batch four label also appears to include some new headwear. Whatever can that mean?

Tasting Note: 

Nose: All the coconut on the nose, ice cream, raisins and sultanas. Lots of fruit, green apple, a touch of tamarind, guava, and peach. Basically a big slice of cheesecake. An unshakable vibe of cough medicine.

Palate: Sweet onto the palate. Ripe pear, salted caramel, lots of lovely jammy notes, cheesecake.

Finish: All sorts of sultanas, and tart gooseberry, green note, leads into a long dry, astringent tannic finish.

That Boutique-y Rum’s Wine Cask series

Engenho Novo da Madeira, 3 Year Old – Batch 1

The third Madeira Rum producer to join the Boutique-y family. Engenho Novo da Madeira are one of the big three producers on the island (the others being Engenhos do Norte and Sociedade dos Engenhos da Calheta), and the newest in that they broke ground on the distillery in 2006. 

The company was founded by a descendant of William Hinton, a famous sugar producer in the late 19th, early 20th century on the island. The facility is modern with exceptionally efficient sugarcane crushing equipment, but the beautiful 15-16 plate copper still on which they produce the amazing Agrícola da Madeira is over a hundred years old.

It makes an amazing characterful Agricole-style rum, which has been wholly matured in an ex-Amarone cask, a rich, dry Italian red wine that enhances the naturally fruity notes of the new-make. This is one for the explorers, as Madeira is one of the rum world’s best-kept secrets. On a personal note for Peter, this release means he’s bottled three of the four regular rum producers on the island, and has a step closer to his personal goal of bottling the clean sweep!

The label: Mr William Hinton (and his dog), feature in this montage of scenes that trace rum production in Madeira from field to cask. Starting with sugarcane crops to the commonplace sight during harvesting season and then it’s to the Engenho (distillery) for milling, fermentation, distillation and finally on to the ageing house, where racks of casks patiently while away the years.

Tasting Note: 

Nose: Bright and complex. Ripe, sweet cherries, plums, and mango. Vanilla ice cream, candied orange and lemon. A perfumed note of rose petals.

Palate: A fruity, creamy nose packed full of maple syrup, and vanilla custard.

Finish: Long and lasting. All manner of dark chocolate, prunes are tart and tangy. It’s all red grape skins and black tea.

That Boutique-y Rum’s Wine Cask series

The Flying Dutchman Rum, 4 Year Old – Batch 1

Not only the first rum release from The Netherlands for Boutique-y Rum, but it’s first from mainland Europe in general. And it’s quite the introduction. The outstanding Zuidam Distillery has already supplied Boutique-y Whisky and now is bringing its hallmark attention to detail throughout production, authentic techniques, and (obviously) delicious booze to the rum side of things.

This rum starts with imported molasses (sugarcane doesn’t grow in The Netherlands, but they would if they could), which goes through long fermentation utilising multiple yeast strains before being double distilled in its fabulous pot stills. Maturation occurs for four years at the source using an ex-Pedro Ximénez cask and is bottled with The Flying Dutchman name, which is consistent with the own-label rums released from the distillery.

Peter is particularly excited by this one, describing it as “not like any PX cask rum you’ll ever taste” and being a release that “really knocks back the bullsh*t marketing surrounding the suspicious added-sugar sweetness of a number of PX cask mainstream brands”. 

The label: Patrick van Zuidam stars in full Willy Wonka garb and an eyepatch among a roiling sea of fermenting molasses underneath a nightmarish sky. A member of the crew hands him his telescope, as he always has one eye on the future. A pitched battle appears to be won by the crew of the Howard Pyle as the nearest ship to them has been holed, and is slipping below the waves, with the inept, cowardly Captain clinging to the mast. Another ship has turned tail and is making off like a bat out of hell. Despite appearances, we can’t be far from The Netherlands, as that must be a windmill in the background?

Tasting Note: 

Nose: All the Army and Navy sweets and fruitcake as the spices collide with this one. Lots of cinnamon, fresh ginger, and cardamom, with a touch of white pepper. Orange peel, roasted pineapple and a little rhubarb. Salted caramel.

Palate: Ginger, mango, sweet-jammy, sweet rose floral notes. A touch of fennel.

Finish: Roasted pineapple, lots more cinnamon, baking spices and plenty of grip.

The Wine Cask series will be going live on Friday 19 November. Check the New Arrivals page.

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Master of Malt tastes… Johnnie Walker Blue Label

On the blog today we’re climbing towards the top of the Johnnie Walker tree with a tasting of the super fancy Blue Label and the latest edition of Ghost and…

On the blog today we’re climbing towards the top of the Johnnie Walker tree with a tasting of the super fancy Blue Label and the latest edition of Ghost and Rare made with whisky from closed distillery Pittyvaich and other rarities.

According to Nicholas Morgan’s A Long Stride (which if you haven’t bought a copy, can you even consider yourself a whisky fan?) the Blue Label story begins in 1987 when the Distillers Company launched Johnnie Walker Oldest. It quickly became known as Blue Label, for obvious reasons, and was a blend of rare malt and grain whiskies bottled without an age statement with stylishly retro packaging that echoed the 19th century Johnnie Walker bottle. 


Though expensive, or perhaps because it was expensive, it proved an instant hit. According to Morgan by 1997, it was selling 50,000 cases globally. As a known currency throughout the world, it’s perhaps the ultimate gift whisky. You know you’ve done a good job or your in-laws approve when you receive a bottle. This very ubiquity, however, combined with the fact it’s a blend and the lack of age statement means that malt enthusiasts have often turned their noses up at Blue Label.

It’s definitely a subtle drop, a world away from the big flavours of most malts or even Black Label, but one that is worth taking a bit of time with to appreciate the full majesty. What I love about it is you can really taste the quality of those long-aged grain whiskies. They’re the backbone of Blue Label. See the video below for the irrepressible Colin Dunn’s guide to tasting. 

Ghost & Rare Pack and Bottle Square Wire image

Coming soon…


If there’s something a bit heretical to single malt fans of blending very old whiskies, then the Ghost and Rare series launched in 2018, had people spluttering into their quaiches. An annual release, it contained whiskies that were literally irreplaceable because they came from closed distilleries like Brora, Port Ellen and Glenury Royal. Surely, you shouldn’t blend priceless jewels like these?  You have to admire master blender Jim Beveridge’s chutzpah. And they’re fine whiskies too, complex, distinctive, and beautifully balanced. 

The latest edition, coming soon to Master of Malt, is based around Pittyvaich on Speyside which was only in production from 1974 to 1993. Other malts include Mannochmore, Auchroisk, Cragganmore, Strathmill, and Royal Lochnagar, plus grains from two other ghost distilleries, Port Dundas and Carsebridge.

Beveridge commented: “Pittyvaich may only have thrived for a short period, but the whisky laid down by this distillery is something unmistakable. Its distinct autumnal character has always intrigued us and fired our imagination to create something really special that would pay tribute to the whisky makers of this Speyside distillery.”

We tasted it alongside the classic Blue Label which has just been repackaged. Here’s what we thought.

Johnnie Walker Blue Label

Nose: Waxy and fruity with apples and peaches, cinnamon and other baking spices, pastry, and orange peel. Is there a whisper of smoke here too?

Palate: Super creamy with caramel, custard, vanilla, milk chocolate, and peaches. Impeccably balanced with not a harsh edge in sight.

Finish: Long and creamy, honey and heather. Goes away and then comes back again.

Johnnie Walker Ghost and Rare Pittyvaich

Nose: That waxy note again with dried fruit, apricots and raisins, dark chocolate, marzipan, orange blossom, stone fruit, and citrus.

Palate: Really peppery and spicy, black and schezuan pepper, vanilla, toffee, and honey. Unctuous and layered, there are some beautifully aged grain whiskies in here. Plus stone and orchard fruit.

Finish: Finish is all sweetness, fudge with peaches and cream.

Buy Johnnie Walker Blue Label here. The latest Ghost and Rare should be with Master of Malt soon – sign up to our newsletter in the box to the right for updates. 

Now take it away Colin….

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Master of Malt Tastes… Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey is welcoming explorers to broaden their boozy horizons and taste unconventional and experimental spirit. We find out if it’s a journey worth taking. In 2020 a…

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey is welcoming explorers to broaden their boozy horizons and taste unconventional and experimental spirit. We find out if it’s a journey worth taking.

In 2020 a new Irish whiskey brand emerged in an already thriving scene with a plan to stand out from the crowd. The ambition? “To bring new taste profiles to Irish whiskey,” says Cian Quilty, co-founder and managing director of Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey. “It’s renowned for being accessible and approachable, so our idea was to create a range with a lot of personality, whiskey that has a distinctive taste and a bold character”.

The brand would be based out of Limerick, a county with a rich distilling history renowned for its single pot still whiskey, although distillation last took place over a century ago. While there’s something of a local revival mirroring the national one taking place at the moment, Quilty was keen that the identity of the brand wouldn’t solely represent a sense of place. “We didn’t want to call it ‘Limerick whiskey’ or just use a family name. We wanted to tell a story,” says Quilty. “So we looked at the history of the city and came across the Sailor’s Home”.  

Limerick has always been a significant port city, located at the head of the Shannon Estuary, where the river widens before it flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Back in the 1860s, a shelter was built to accommodate the international community of seafarers travelling from Spain, America, and the Caribbean. “We loved what the Sailor’s Home represented, that the city honoured the explorer that way, giving them a home from home. It’s perfect because it’s what we’re about. It’s rooted in the place of Limerick, it’s an Irish experience, but it’s also about the promise of something better, a reward for the brave”.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

You might not know his name, but Dr. Jack Ó’Sé has had a sizeable impact on Irish whiskey

Dr. Jack Ó’Sé: the secret weapon

A nice brand story will only get you so far, however, and an expert whiskey maker was needed to oversee the sourcing, blending, and maturation of what would become Sailor’s Home whiskey. The brand couldn’t have done much better than to recruit the legendary Dr. Jack Ó’Sé. With more than 40 years of experience, he’s done it all. Beginning back in ’79 by producing neutral spirit of Irish cream at Ceimici Teoranta, the veteran’s career has since taken him to the US to commission and design pot stills for Alltech, work on yeast production in Brazil and Serbia, guide Irish newcomers like Pearse Lyons, Achill Distillery, and The Burren Distillery, assist expert coopers such as John Neilly, and become a consultant tutor of whiskey. He has an MBA, BSc in biochemistry, and an MSc in brewing & distilling. In 2020, while in his seventies, he was awarded his Ph.D. in yeast production and fermentation.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t previously heard of this remarkable man, that’s because Dr. Ó’Sé was never at the forefront of the brand. Quilty describes him as the master of understatement. “He’ll tell you he just ‘popped some stills in Pearse Lyons’, and he just ‘distilled award-winning whisky’,” Quilty says. “He has a subtle way of pushing you in the right direction. When we were developing The Journey, we thought at one point we had an award-winning whiskey, but Jack thought it could be stronger. He had the idea of finishing the malt component in rum casks and the result was something that’s like nothing else in Irish whiskey”.

Dr. Ó’Sé was something of a coup for Sailor’s Home and his decision to come aboard vindicates the brand’s vision, particularly as he has a rather infamous nature of deciding whether to work for you within minutes of meeting you. “I have a company but I have no business card and I don’t approach anybody. I have no interest in working with people I don’t like or in projects that don’t intrigue me,” says Dr. Ó’Sé. “For a long time in Irish whiskey it was lacking in experience and expertise, there were too many people who didn’t have a clue. A lot of people would approach me with an idea but no idea of how to fund it or make it work. Cian was different. His ambition and plan were thorough and I liked the guy, so I decided to work with him”.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

Tasting the Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey range

What they created together was a core range comprising of The Journey Irish Whiskey, The Haven Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey, and The Horizon 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey. Inside each nautically named bottling is a triple distilled Irish whiskey presented at 43% ABV to avoid chill-filtration. The packaging has plenty of detail, demonstrating a desire for transparency (a big plus in Irish whiskey that’s sadly still too lacking), as well as beautiful, bright, and distinctive labels. 

Right now, every drop of Sailor’s Home whisky is sourced, distilled, and matured with a wood policy set to the brand’s specification, but the plan is to distill in the future. “We wanted to first launch a brand defined by amazing whiskey and back that into a distillery, rather than the other way round,” says Quilty. “There’s been some good early talks with the owners of the Sailor’s Home to see if we can turn into the actual home of the brand, not just the spiritual one”. 

Two more products are on the way, another rum-cask-finished example (which we believe will be a Martinique rum finish that should be here very soon), as well as a single malt launching next year, so the innovation isn’t stopping anytime soon. We’re very much looking forward to testing them, as it’s safe to say that the current crop of Sailor’s Home whiskies is an encouraging first voyage for the brand.

This is a diverse and intriguing range that features some profiles different from what a lot of people would expect of Irish whiskey. Dr. Ó’Sé has put his experience to good work, using those considerable contacts to source excellent spirit and expertise to pick some interesting cask finishes that elevate each dram. Let’s take a look at each in some more detail. Oh, and don’t forget they’re all available here.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Journey Irish Whiskey

A four-year-old blend of triple distilled whiskey from Great Nothern Distillery, the grain element of The Journey spent most of its life in virgin American oak, giving it a high concentration of oaky, vanilla-led flavours. The malt element of the same age was matured in ex-bourbon casks, before the two were combined and finished in Jamaican rum casks for six months. “Jamaican rum is mainly pot still rum that’s heavy, fruity, and funky, which uses the weird and wonderful dunder pits to amplify this profile. We knew that our bold and bright young spirit would be able to stand up to the heavier style and that was key in achieving the right balance,” Dr. Ó’Sé says.

Nose: Pineapple caramelised with brown sugar, banana bread, and apricot in syrup lead with ground ginger, vanilla custard, and toasted oak in support. There’s some green apple, pear drops, clove, black pepper, and toffee popcorn underneath.

Palate: Spiced, rich, and with plenty of thick rummy sweetness with crème brûlée, apricot jam, molasses, and Christmas spices. There are hints of flamed orange zest, milk chocolate, cinnamon, and sweet tobacco throughout.

Finish: Seville marmalade, salty popcorn, and layers of caramel. 

Overall: It’s a great go-to dram, so rich and rummy and yummy with a profile that should entice those who aren’t yet convinced whiskey is for them. It also mixes beautifully, and with its price point, bartenders will be happy to do so. I’d recommend adding soda or ginger ale for a Highball, while the brand provides an Old Fashioned recipe. 

Serve: The Journey Old Fashioned 

50ml The Journey 

10ml sugar syrup 

2 dashes of Angostura bitters 

Build in a rocks glass with a large cube of ice and stir and garnish with a twist of orange.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Haven Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey 

A triple distilled, single pot still Irish whiskey, The Haven was made with the required mix of malted and unmalted barley. However, 5% of the recipe was spared for some oats, which is quite traditional but sadly not seen much because the technical file for single pot still limits its use. Most of the new make spirit (95%) is matured in ex-bourbon barrels, while the other 5% spent time in Oloroso sherry casks, which Dr. Ó’Sé says was the hardest part to get right as the latter cask can often dominate if not measured correctly.

Nose: Through juicy orchard fruits, lemon peel and fresh oak come classic pot still spice, copper pennies, and a little new leather. Creamy rice pudding, caramel, and vanilla bring depth alongside raisins, dark chocolate, ripe banana, rosemary, and red liquorice laces.

Palate: It’s got a creamy, full, and yet still refined texture with more of that peppery, baking spice you expect from pot still whiskey as well as roasted almonds, blackcurrant lozenges and vanilla. Toasted barley, red apple, and salted caramel are present in the backdrop.

Finish: Liquorice, dried fruit, and ginger snaps. 

Overall: This is a beautiful example of a single pot still, carrying all the bold, spicy, and full-bodied creamy texture you’re looking for. The integration is excellent too, with the sherry casks adding a fresh dimension but not overpowering the spirit, allowing room for the mellow sweetness of the oats and plenty of fruit to shine. This one is best enjoyed neat or in a Manhattan cocktail.  

Serve: The Haven Sweet Manhattan 

60ml The Haven

30ml sweet vermouth  

2.5ml Luxardo Maraschino 

1 dash Angostura bitters 

1 dash Angostura orange bitters 

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a fresh cherry and zest of orange.

Sailor’s Home Irish whiskey

The Horizon 10 Year Old Irish Whiskey 

Here Dr. Ó’Sé has taken some 14-year-old malt and 11-year-old grain whiskeys from Cooley Distillery that were initially matured in ex-bourbon barrels and filled them into Barbados rum casks for a finishing period of 6 months. “The blend was already a special whiskey so wanted to do something different but subtle to it, which is where we arrived at Bajan rum,” Dr. Ó’Sé explains. “They’re virtually all column-still rums which are refined and delicate, so where Jamaican rum would have been overpowering here, the cask we used just rounds the whiskey off. It also fits the theme of the brand nicely”.

Nose: Demerara sugar, vanilla buttercream, and a host of ripe tropical fruits are at the core of this nose, which is so elegant and deep. There’s ripe apples and peaches throughout too as well as sweet oak, cookie dough, and toffee. Nutmeg, burnt lime, orange zest, and some minty/herbal notes add depth in the backdrop.

Palate: A pleasant, velvety mouthfeel with more delicate, creamy, and sweeter notes. Malted honey, banana pudding, gummy bears, and orange peel initially, then cinnamon, vanilla fudge, and rum-soaked oak. All the way through you’ll get a plethora of tropical fruits again, papaya, guava, and melon mostly.

Finish: Butterscotch with makrut lime leaves and polished oak. 

Overall: Rewarding stuff. I like the rummy qualities here a lot as they add just a touch of something different while letting the beautifully creamy, fruity body of the spirit remain in command. The Horizon is just so refined and stately, like a gentle old man with Werther’s Originals in his pocket. No mixing needed here, just pour a dram, give it some time and let it do its thing.

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Master of Malt tastes… Glenmorangie Cognac Cask Finish 13 Year Old

New Glenmorangie whisky is here! And as this swanky single malt was finished in an ex-Cognac cask, we thought we’d have a quick look at why it’s a rare choice…

New Glenmorangie whisky is here! And as this swanky single malt was finished in an ex-Cognac cask, we thought we’d have a quick look at why it’s a rare choice of barrel for whisky makers and review its impact on the dram.

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped the notice of many of you that an intriguing new Glenmorangie release turned up on our site. The snappily-titled Glenmorangie Barrel Select Release 13 Year Old Cognac Cask Finish arrived this week, radiant with its exciting promise of an interesting cask finish you don’t see that much. 

For those who haven’t spotted the clue in the name yet, the Glenmorangie Barrel bla bla bla was initially aged in ex-bourbon casks for over eight years, before being finished in those unusual Cognac casks for a further four years, and then bottled up at 46% ABV.

Glenmorangie is not the first Scotch whisky brand to turn to France’s most famous spirit export for casks. The Glenlivet, Glenfarclas, Chivas, Arran, Douglas Laing, The Balvenie, and more have used Cognac casks in the past. But it’s still not exactly a common choice. At the time of writing, the only other dram available on our site that was matured for any time in an ex-Cognac cask was The Irishman Single Malt Cognac Cask Finish

Glenmorangie Cognac Cask Finish

Cognac casks are not a common sight in Scotch, yet…

Old frenemies

Cognac and Scotch are better known as old rivals than boozy bedfellows for much of their history, vying for the status of go-to brown spirit in Britain, American and globally since the 19th century. The two have gone through the phylloxera crisis, Prohibition, the golden age of cocktails, world wars, various boom-bust cycles, and more in that time. Both vying for the same customers forging something of partisan drinking environment where folks made the choice between being Cognac drinker or a whisky drinker. Oddly in France, whisky is much more popular than Cognac. 

While Scotch sits prettier than Cognac in raw sales these days, the air of competition is gradually subsiding to leave more room for collaboration and coexistence. Both are taking pages from each other’s books now, with Cognac dipping its toes in the world of cask finishes while Scotch increasingly embraces terroir and prestige (or lets face it, bling).

But that hasn’t translated into routine cask trading. For starters, the rules of Cognac prohibit the use of ex-whisky casks. Furthermore, you can’t get casks once filled with Cognac on the scale or for the value you can an ex-bourbon or sherry. Access is improving as many of the biggest drinks companies produce both, like Pernod Ricard (Martell and Chivas Brothers, among others), Beam Suntory (Courvoisier and Laphroaig), and, of course, LVMH (Hennessy and Glenmorangie). But ex-Cognac casks are not exactly a go-to choice yet.

Glenmorangie Cognac Cask Finish

Dr. Bill is experienced at dealing with tricky casks

A tricky customer

Even if you can get your hands on a barrel you are dealing with the prospect of marrying two distinct spirit styles in order to create something greater than the sum of its parts. As such, Cognac is a tough cask to get right and few whisky makers are capable of striking the perfect balance. It’s all too easy to overpower the whisky, particularly when your spirit is light and elegant like Glenmorangie’s.

Naturally, Glenmorangie’s head of whisky creation Dr. Bill Lumsden has done his fair share of experiments with Cognac casks before. But, surprise surprise, he says previous incarnations resulted in Cognac overshadowing the whisky’s character. The remedy was to utilise Cognac casks that had been filled several times, resulting in a more subtle wood influence on the whisky. 

Sometimes it’s the simple solutions that do the trick. Although, we’d imagine there’s a little more to it than that and there was some trial and error involved. Dr. Bill does, of course, have a history of getting cask innovations right, with expressions like Nectar d’Or, Spìos, and the 12 Year Old Malaga Cask Finish demonstrating his expertise. So an ex-Hennessy cask (we presume, because why wouldn’t it be?) was never going to prove beyond him.

Glenmorangie Cognac Cask Finish

Get your hands on the dram now!

The review

That’s assuming, of course, this cask finish does work. This brings us nicely to the review. And it’s safe to say Dr. Bill has succeeded in measuring this right. The lush fruit and refined sweetness that makes up the Glenmorangie DNA comes through but it’s more decedent here without veering into dangerous saccharine or cloying territory. Glenmorangie Barrel Select Release 13 Year Old Cognac Cask Finish makes for a pleasant sipper and for a good alternative for those wanting a change from the classic wine and sherry cask finishes.

Glenmorangie Barrel Select Release 13 Year Old Cognac Cask Finish Tasting Notes:

Nose: Through notes of passion fruit, white grapes, lemon french fancies, and cooked apples there’s soft cedar, fresh leather, vanilla sugar, cassis, orange chocolate, and a hint of flaked almonds atop warm pastries.

Palate: Soft and a little oily, the palate begins with orange boiled sweets and helpings of dried tropical fruit and nectarines in support. Vanilla shortbread, clove, and some well-rounded oaky spice adds depth among hints of marzipan, dark chocolate, caramel, and a slightly earthy tobacco element.

Finish: A little clove and lingering juicy fruit sweetness.

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