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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Micil Distillery

The Nightcap: 19 March

Islay’s first dedicated rum distillery, a troll-inspired beer and more all await you in this week’s edition of The Nightcap: 19 March edition. Get stuck in. Tomorrow it’s officially Spring™….

Islay’s first dedicated rum distillery, a troll-inspired beer and more all await you in this week’s edition of The Nightcap: 19 March edition. Get stuck in.

Tomorrow it’s officially Spring™. According to the internet, anyway. And when is it ever inaccurate? Usually at this time of year we’d be looking forward to things: the brighter weather; Bank Holidays; Easter and the mountain of chocolate that comes with it. But it’s hard not to look back this year. It’s been a whole 12 months since the UK went into lockdown. The sun has completed 365 keepy-ups with the earth (science isn’t our strong suit) since the first MoM virtual quiz. A lot has changed since then. Even The Nightcap. But it’s still full of fun stories, cool pictures and interesting tidbits. Go and check it out if you don’t believe us. It’s right there. Just scroll down.

We were all a little Irish this week on the MoM blog. Our St Patrick’s Day celebrations were filled with delicious Irish whiskey and plenty of cocktails. Elsewhere, we did our best Soft Cell impression by saying hello to Pour & Sip and waving goodbye to Dram Club. Ian Buxton returned to investigate the merits of mizunara oak. Then Lucy demonstrated how to point and click like a pro. New Ardbeg distillery manager Colin Gordon also stopped by for a chat. And we enjoyed some bargain brandies, a first spiced variant from a rum giant and a fruity twist on a whisky classic.

But there’s still more boozy stories to enjoy ahead, so let’s crack on. It’s The Nightcap: 19 March!

The Nightcap 19 March edition is here!

Big changes are coming to Glen Garioch Distillery

Beam Suntory invests £6 million in Glen Garioch

Things are changing at Glen Garioch thanks to a huge investment by its owners Beam Suntory. The drinks giant is pumping £6 million into renovations. Cutting-edge technology is on the way. As is the return of some traditional production processes. Which isn’t as counter-intuitive as it sounds. The brand will alter its wash still to heat it with direct fire. But, to do that it will use a state-of-the-art, efficient and safe method. It will even reduce the distillery’s carbon footprint by around 15%. Glen Garioch will also soon home to floor maltings. The expectation is that the work, which began last year, will be completed later this year. Distillery manager Kwanele Mdluli says the team have “deep expertise and passion” for traditional distillation and malting methods. François Bazini, Beam Suntory’s managing director Scotch, Gin & Irish, added: “Our whisky has always been made with extraordinary care, and by reinvigorating its distillery and tapping into the brand’s rich history, we’ll be able to build on the quality and complexity that Glen Garioch is already known for. Although we’re looking to the past for inspiration – we’re opening the next chapter in Glen Garioch’s future”.

The Nightcap 19 March edition is here!

Islay might be known for its whisky, but the island could soon have its first-ever dedicated craft rum distillery.

Islay welcomes first dedicated rum distillery

There’s a new distillery on the way for Islay, but it won’t be making whisky. Instead, the Queen of the Hebrides will be getting its first dedicated rum distillery. Islay Spirits, a subsidiary of independent bottlers the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, has partnered with an Islay startup called The High Road Rum Company to bring the project to life. The project received planning permission in January 2020. The brand has secured a site, the former Hastie’s Lemonade Factory and Dunn’s Depot in Port Ellen. Following some refurbishment, we can expect to see rum flowing from the stills in autumn of this year. If you love a bit of geeky detail, you’ll be interested to know that a pot and twin retort still has been ordered. Ben Inglis, of The High Road Rum Company, will take charge. Excitingly, it sounds like he’ll be making good use of a rum recipe he’s been developing for several years. Andrew Crook, managing director of the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, says the project is an opportunity to put some investment back into the “the spiritual home of our company” and that he hopes the local community will “enjoy seeing a business emerge and develop over the years”. Just to be clear, this is Islay’s first dedicated rum distillery. We know that the Laggan Bay Brewery & Distillery promised to create Islay’s first rum back in 2019. This new project, however, is different. Because it won’t be making any beer or whisky. Just rum. Lots of lovely rum. Cool? Don’t make this like that time we wrote about Mexican whisky

The Nightcap 19 March edition is here!

One of the events invites you to join Stewart Buchanan to discover ‘Benriach’s World of Flavour’

Spirit of Speyside unveils schedule

Tickets for The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival are now on sale! Now in its 21st year, the four-day festival’s (29 April – 2 May 2021) programme features over 60 events. All of which are, of course, online. But there’s still a host of things to do. Festival-goers can speed network with other whisky lovers. Or check out their favourite brands in the exhibition centre. Or even catch up with friends old and new in the social lounge on the virtual platform. Programme highlights include Would I Lie to You?, which pits the likes of Dennis Malcolm, George Grant, Gemma Paterson and whisky writer Blair Bowman against each other to battle it out to become the best storytellers in Speyside. Then there’s Musical Drams, in which special guests including Charles MacLean, Dave Broom and Becky Paskin aim to bring their chosen whisky to life by matching a dram from Speyside to a piece of music. To grab your tickets and learn more, head to the Spirit of Speyside website.

The Nightcap 19 March edition is here!

Soon whiskey will join this line-up

Micil distils first Galway whiskey in over a century

Galway’s only operational distillery has revealed that it is producing the Irish city’s first whiskey in over a century. Micil Distillery’s founders Pádraic and Jimín Ó Griallais marked St Patrick’s Day by announcing that it is following in the footsteps of Micil Mac Chearra, their great-great-great-grandfather who began distilling spirits on a hillside in South Connemara over 170 years ago. In an interview with Pádraic back in January 2020, he revealed that whiskey was on the way. Just a year later casks were full of Micil new make. The process draws on the family’s distilling knowledge. This means historic mash bills, as well as Connemara terroir & provenance. The spirit is made with peated Irish barley, which was malted using Connemara turf from the family farm in Inverin. While the new whiskey matures, Micil will launch two independently-bottled Irish whiskeys finished in its own casks this summer. Congratulations guys, we look forward to tasting the whiskey. Until then, you can always enjoy its poitín and gin, while further information on the news, as well as the history of whiskey and distillation, can be found in this excellent post by WhiskeyTalk2U.

The Nightcap 19 March edition is here!

Bottles of booze brands produced by Pernod Ricard will updated by the end of the year

Pernod Ricard prioritises age-restriction labelling 

Pernod Ricard is stepping up its commitments to responsible consumption. Notably by ramping up efforts to add age-restriction labelling to all bottles produced by the group’s brands this year. The initial target was to implement the measures by 2024. This means the drinks giant is more than three years ahead of schedule. It’s one of more than 150 initiatives currently being developed. One saw Pernod Ricard take advantage of the lockdown period to accelerate training. More than 80% of employees have taken in-house digital training courses on the risks of excessive or inappropriate consumption and responsible drinking guidelines. Elsewhere, a digital version of the responsible party initiative Pernod Ricard coordinates with ERASMUS (Erasmus Student Network) was a hit. More than 6 million people, primarily isolated and at-risk students watched ‘Sharing Good Vibes’. It’s not always glamorous, but it’s important work. And it’s good to see a leader in the industry pressing ahead with its commitments.

The Nightcap 19 March edition is here!

Here’s to 40 years of Glencairn!

Glencairn celebrates 40 years of innovative glassware

The company behind the world’s favourite whisky tasting glass is celebrating its 40th anniversary. With a dram or two from a certain special glass, we imagine. Glencairn Crystal Studio and founder Raymond Davidson have been making innovative glassware since 1981. And it’s still in family hands. Initially, the business focused on decanters before the creation of the famous Glencairn Glass in 2001. Davidson senior commented: “When I started it was my ambition to create the most innovative, creative and impressive crystal decanters. I couldn’t be prouder of everyone at Glencairn and what we have achieved together in the last forty years. Though we have grown to a team of over 70 staff now, our family values and customer relationships are still at the core of everything we do and we continue to lead the world in creating ground-breaking design and developing unique techniques that delight our customers.” His son and new product development director Scott Davidson added: “Last year was an important year for us with the 20th anniversary of our iconic Glencairn Glass for whisky, however this is also a momentous year for us as we pay homage to 40 years of Glencairn Crystal.” The celebrations will take place later in the year with the opening of new expanded premises in East Kilbride, Glasgow.

The Nightcap 19 March edition is here!

The whisky boom just got boomier at Annandale Distillery

VCL Vintners “disrupts the market” with exclusive Annandale Distillery deal

The whisky investment world just got interesting. Lowland distillers Annandale has signed an exclusive five deal with VCL Vintners, a London-based firm of cask brokers. The distillery will offer half of its output, around 276,000 litres of pure alcohol, to VCL for sale to investors. As we’ve reported before, the market for casks has been heating up recently. But this move gives VCL an impressive slice of the whisky cake. Especially from a prestigious award-winning distillery like Annandale. Benjamin Lancaster, director of VCL Vintners, says: “Now that we have secured a consistent supply, our clients can benefit from casks with a high-grade premium product. And an even higher potential for return on investment. VCL Vintners intends to disrupt the market and revolutionise the way whisky investors access this high performing, capital growth alternative asset”. He also reveals plans are in place to work with other distilleries on the same basis in the future. David Thomson, owner of Annandale Distillery adds that VCL Vintners were the most “impressive and businesslike” investment house to approach them. “We only make one grade of whisky, so our customers can be assured of its quality. We’re very pleased to have the expert support of VCL Vintners to communicate the quality of our cask whisky. We’re very hopeful that the next five years of this partnership will bring a lot of success”. It’s certainly a bold move by VCL. It looks like the boom is getting boomier. 

The Nightcap 19 March edition is here!

Come and join The Drinks Community! Everyone will think you’re really cool if you do…

Join The Drinks Community!

A new initiative from industry charity The Drinks Trust goes live this week. It’s called the Drinks Community and it’s a platform for professionals to network, learn and share information. Something particularly important at the moment with the hospitality industry still in lockdown turmoil. Already over 700 people have signed up. Chief executive, Ross Carter commented: “The Drinks Community will be the voice of drinks people, from the point of production to the point of sale. Together, we will create, curate and share the most relevant and exciting resources that will help grow careers and connect more people across our vibrant industry. We will offer the services and opportunities that will help our people become more skilled, ultimately making our sector stronger, smarter, more connected, more resilient and more diverse.” There are different levels of membership from free to £5 and £10 monthly donations. It sounds like such a worthwhile initiative both while the industry gets back on its feet and for the future. So, what are you waiting for? Join up now!

The Nightcap 19 March edition is here!

We can get behind this kind of response

And finally… American brewery releases troll-inspired beer

Whoever said the customer is always right, clearly doesn’t read reviews on Amazon or TripAdvisor. Unreasonable and unpleasant customers are, sadly, all too common. One American brewery is fighting back, however, the only way it knows how. By making beer. WSLS reports that Beale’s Brewery’s latest release is made in response to someone who refused to wear a mask in the taproom in line with Covid restrictions and later sent an email saying: “Your manager is b**** and your beer tastes like hot old orange juice.” We’re not sure what asterisked word is, perhaps some crazy Appalachian swear word like ‘badgerass.’ Whatever it is, it’s not very nice at all. Head brewer Bryson Foutz says: “The sad thing is it’s expected, but the only thing we can do is snap back.” Beale’s response is an American porter called “Your manager is b*****”. It even has a photo of the manager, the magnificently-named Brittany Canterbury, looking very pleasant and not at all like a badgerass. We can’t comment on the flavour. But we expect it won’t taste like hot old orange juice, or badgerass.

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Micil Distillery wants you to give poitín a chance

We recently visited the Micil Distillery, the first distillery in Galway in over 100 years to talk to its founder Pádraic Ó Griallais about the potential of poitín and more……

We recently visited the Micil Distillery, the first distillery in Galway in over 100 years to talk to its founder Pádraic Ó Griallais about the potential of poitín and more…

I’m a fan of poitín. Maybe it’s the patriot in me. Maybe it’s the historian. It could just be that I love really good booze. It can be hard to find somebody as passionate about the spirit as I am. In Pádraic Ó Griallais, I’ve more than met my match.

Poitín has been distilled for over six generations by his family. The story began in 1848 with Micil Mac Chearra in Connemara, home to the largest Gaeltacht (a primarily Irish-speaking region) in the country. For over 170 years his ancestors have continued to make the spirit in the traditional manner using his secret recipe, predominantly illicitly. That was until 2015, when Ó Griallais gave up his teaching career to turn his legacy into a premium brand and bring back legal distillation to Galway after a century. 

Ó Griallais was motivated to start Micil Distillery as he felt there was a terrible void in the poitín category for real authenticity. “There was plenty of ‘paddywackery‘, but I felt it was time to tell an authentic story,” says Ó Griallais. “I come from a family of poitín distillers. The methods have been handed down from generation to generation. My grandfather, Jimmi Chearra (an old picture of him was chosen as the brand’s logo,), taught me everything I know about the craft and heritage. I wanted to spread that appreciation. It was a very touching moment for him to see that Micil’s recipe, Micil’s heritage and his own heritage is now on the open market and it’s being continued. The legacy has been brought into a totally different light”. 

Micil Distillery

Micil Distillery founder Pádraic Ó Griallais

It’s worth remembering the light that was cast on his family’s craft for many years was very different. Jimmi was fined as a younger man when he was caught in possession of malt. His story that he was only using it to brew beer was viewed rather dimly by the local police. If a poitín still, much like the one that sits in the middle of Micil Distillery, was found it would be confiscated and destroyed. Making poitín was a dangerous act of defiance for the people who distilled it, a hidden preservation of community and Irish identity. Ó Griallais talks about this troubled history passionately, pausing to flash a quick mischievous grin before he tells me a story that sums up that spirit of rebellion.

“Probably the most infamous poitín story was about the confiscation of a local still. The owners weren’t known by the local authorities or police but the still was brought to the police station to be destroyed. Nobody could have predicted what happened next,” says Ó Griallais. “That night the station was broken into and the still was taken back. Despite a big investigation, the still was never found and the culprits were never brought to ‘justice’ if you want to use that kind of terminology. We’re not believers of any kind of hearsay or old wives tales, but some people say that the still exists today. Of course, nobody knows for sure.” Ó Griallais then says if I do happen to see it around, I should let him know, before allowing himself once more wry smile and adding, “But you know what? Sometimes it’s amazing what can be right underneath your nose”.

Things are much less controversial for Ó Griallais, who uses the original 170-year-old family recipe in every bottle of Micil Poitín, which combines 100% Irish malted barley and a local Connemara botanical called bogbean. “It’s amazing that we’re still able to use bogbean in our family poitín. It’s a local wild botanical that’s been used since the year 1324 by monks for medicinal purposes and it’s one of the things that really makes Micil’s poitín stand out,” he says. The words hand-crafted and small scale are tossed around a lot these days, but Micil Distillery is genuinely a modest enterprise overseen by Ó Griallais and his brother. Together, they distil approximately 60 bottles of poitín a day. The bottling, labelling and packaging all happen in-house. “We didn’t want the craft to go out of the process and have it become too industrial. It’s romantic, I suppose, and very close to what would have been done throughout the generations”. 

Micil Distillery

The old family still has a remarkable history

For the brand’s Heritage Poitín, Micil brings into play a raw material that is often considered Scottish in the world of booze: peat. “There was no other fully Irish peated spirit on the market when we launched it, so it’s unique, but it’s also something we’ve been doing for generations. We always made peated spirit as well as unpeated in Ireland,” says Ó Griallais. “We found a farmer in County Meath that peated his malt, so we gave him the turf that we harvest ourselves from Connemara. It’s a true expression of what poitín from Connemara would smell and taste like, which is milder than Islay whisky”.

Not everything Micil does is traditional, as evidenced by the creation of its Irish Gin, but Ó Griallais was keen to ensure that it retained the same sense of identity and provenance. His gin was created to showcase the botanicals, the flowers and the herbs available throughout Connemara in a different form to poitín. It’s an approach that bodes well for his upcoming whiskey. “Poitín is always going to be our founding category, so our whiskey will be modelled our poitín process. There will be innovation in terms of the type of whiskey that we do, from the use of grains to the styles. We’re not going to purely make single malt or your typical triple-distilled pot still style. There’s likely to be a variety,” Ó Griallais says.

While Ó Griallais is comfortable engaging with different categories, poitín will always be at the heart of Micil Distillery. It’s not an easy sell, however. One of the reasons why it’s important for Ó Griallais to tell an authentic story of poitín distillation is because it’s such a misunderstood and maligned spirit. “I was brought up making it and recognising the difference between high quality versus mediocrity. Unfortunately, the latter has been the experience of a lot of people in Ireland which means often they have no real appreciation of any of the nuances in the category or what high quality means,” says Ó Griallais. 

Micil Distillery

Poitín has a long and complex history and Ó Griallais believes in its potential to have a big future

A lot of Ó Griallais’ time is spent dispelling myths about poitín, such as the idea that the sole raw material used to create the spirit traditionally was potato. “In reality, for most of poitín-making’s history it has been a grain spirit and the predominant grain would have been barley. Other grains would have been used with the barley, of course, like oats, wheat and rye,” says Ó Griallais. Then there’s the most damaging and pervasive notion about poitín, a classic criticism that will be known to anybody in Ireland: it’s is a coarse spirit with a dangerously high alcoholic strength. “Poitín is like any other spirit, if it’s made poorly and without due care and attention you are going to get an inferior product,” says Ó Griallais. “It’s the same with historic gin, a lot of amateur or inexperienced people made it with a focus on just on making something alcoholic, there was no care for quality. We had a different take and a different story to tell”.

No amount of misinformation and ignorance can rob the spirit of its tradition, provenance and identity, however, Ó Griallais believes it has potential. He points to the success of Tequila, a spirit category that has previously suffered from its fair share of ignorance, in recent times as an example poitín could follow. “Tequila historically didn’t have the reputation that it does today. But people are now more educated about the category. They have a perception now that it is made with high-quality ingredients, with traditional processes and made lovingly and traditionally in a specific region,” says Ó Griallais. “We want to show people the huge potential and the huge enjoyment that’s available with this spirit. The ambition going forward is we want to drive the poitín category on”.

As you begin a new year there’s an urge to broaden your horizons and grow. Exploring the world of booze and finding a new go-to spirit is as good a way of doing that as any, in my book. Micil Distillery wants you to give poitín a chance. Maybe you should. And that’s not the patriot in me, or the historian talking. That’s the love of really good booze.

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