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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: New Arrival of the Week

New Arrival of the Week: Ardbeg Wee Beastie

It was a long time coming, but Ardbeg Wee Beastie has finally hit the shelves at MoM Towers. We had a taste to let you know what to expect. Last…

It was a long time coming, but Ardbeg Wee Beastie has finally hit the shelves at MoM Towers. We had a taste to let you know what to expect.

Last year we welcomed the arrival of the eldest expression in Ardbeg core range, Traigh Bhan 19 Year Old. Now the pendulum has swung the other way, with the youngest age statement bottling to joining the ranks. Ardbeg Wee Bestie was matured for just five short years in a combination of ex-bourbon and Oloroso sherry casks before it was bottled at 47.4% ABV.

The distillery says it set out to create the “rawest, smokiest Ardbeg ever”, with much of the marketing labelling it a “monster of a dram” while the recently retired distillery manager Mickey Heads described it as a “ferociously good wee nip”.

Which is all very exciting, because we do love a young, raw and bold Islay bottling here at MoM Towers. But we don’t often get the chance to indulge in this fancy, because lower age statements tend to be saved for some new brands rushing out something sellable or the occasional independent bottling. Bigger brands and distilleries have only recently begun to issue releases as young as 5-years-old. 

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

The ‘Monster of a Dram’ is here just in time for Halloween

Perspectives on age are changing and people are becoming more open-minded about what makes a great whisky. Further education is still required, however. Among the average consumer, there’s still some work to do in challenging the notion that well-aged single malts reign supreme. There’s plenty to love about blends, grain whisky and drams on the youthful side of the spectrum.

So, it’s great to see that notable distilleries have been waking up to the potential of young whisky in recent years. If Wee Beastie continues to receive the acclaim it has so far and retains its high demand, it could open the floodgates. Although a word of caution: nobody wants rushed booze. Making whisky that young which also tastes good requires a fine balance of cask management and outstanding distillate. But I’ve noticed that Islay and other islands have a knack for getting this right. 

Talisker has arguably stolen the spotlight in two of Diageo’s most recent Special Releases, with a pair of 8-year-olds in 2018 and 2020 that were absolutely sublime, Bruichladdich has received plenty of plaudits for Port Charlotte and Octomore bottlings under 10 years matured and Ardbeg fans will remember the distillery has its own share of success in this area with the highly collectable Ardbeg Very Young, Still Young and Almost There expressions from the early 2000s. 

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

Wee Beastie is the youngest age statement whisky in Ardbeg’s range (credit: Rose from @fromwhereidram)

In the case of Wee Beastie, it was interesting to read one of Heads’s comments in the press release, that bottling a younger whisky means they were able to get “as close to the still as possible”. He’s teasing that we can expect a display of distillery character here, which is exciting, but one thing to note is that Ardbeg does things a little differently. On the Lyne arm of the spirit still at Ardbeg there is a purifier, an apparatus no other Islay distillery uses, which is designed to capture heavier compounds and feed them back down into the main pot of the still to add extra reflux. This should make for a lighter spirit with ample fruitiness that means the young whisky has character.

It’s also intriguing that Ardbeg’s director of whisky creation, Dr Bill Lumsden, said that the casks chosen for Wee Beastie’s creation makes it “ideal for enjoying neat or as the mouth-watering main ingredient in a powerfully smoky cocktail.” Which demonstrates another approach from Ardbeg inspired by modern trends: to embrace whisky in cocktails. I’m sure this will make a beautiful Sour or Penicillin, but, as you might expect, the distillery has suggested its own signature serve, the Bloody Rob Roy, the recipe for which you’ll find under the tasting note (it’s lovely). 

When you’re not having fun playing mixologist and you want to sample Ardbeg Wee Beastie neat, then I hope you find it as pleasing as I did. Expect plenty of the complex meaty, peaty, coastal, citrusy goodness you want from Ardbeg. However, I’m not sure I’d describe this as particularly beastly. It’s more like Shortie, the distillery’s resident dog, in that it’s familiar, charming and lots of fun. This may pose some issues for those who want a dram to blow their head off, but don’t dismiss it too readily. The sherry elements add a welcome contrast to the outstanding 10 Year Old, the freshness of the fruity notes are delicious and the I love the nose, it’s smoky and musty and like standing by a seaside bonfire.

Ardbeg Wee Beastie

Ardbeg Wee Beastie Tasting Notes:

Nose: There’s sea spray, rock pools, smoked malt and damp bonfire wood initially which waves of sweet and slightly vegetal smoke powers through. Hints of brown sugar, pear drops, a little vanilla and cooked apple add sweetness among notes of spare ribs, lemon sherbet, black pepper and wood shavings. 

Palate: I was expecting a punchier hit but actually the palate is very pleasantly sweet and salty. Citrus oils and orchard fruits are present along with an unmistakable dark berry tartness which is joined by plenty of damp peat and dry wood smoke. Adding depth there’s pepper steak, creosote and then some touches of clove and liquorice. In the back-end, there’s a juicy sweetness from lychee and peaches as well as just a touch of salted caramel.

Finish: The finish is exceptionally long and oily. It’s a bit like sucking on a lemon sherbet and taking a great big whiff of some freshly cut peat, to be honest. While standing on a beach. Lovely.

Suggested serve: The Bloody Rob Roy. Combine 50ml of Ardbeg Wee Beastie, 20ml of sweet vermouth, two dashes of Angostura Bitters in a mixing glass and stir for dilution. Strain into a coupe glass, garnish with an orange twist and a Maraschino Cherry and serve.

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New Arrival of the Week: Silent Pool Rare Citrus Gin

This week we’re looking at only the second core expression to come from a Surrey-based distillery since it opened in 2014 – it’s the shiny new Rare Citrus Gin from…

This week we’re looking at only the second core expression to come from a Surrey-based distillery since it opened in 2014 – it’s the shiny new Rare Citrus Gin from Silent Pool!

Ian McCulloch and James Shelbourne are the creative minds behind Silent Pool, and like all good stories, it began in a local pub. Here the pair met and, to cut a long story short, with McCulloch in marketing and Shelborne in distribution, they started planning their distilling adventure. One thing both firmly agreed on was that they had to find a site with a good story. 

They found just such a site when they came across a dilapidated farm on the Albury Estate. Here chamomile had taken over the decrepit building that became the first still room, so naturally that went into the gin. Elderflower grows in abundance surrounding the site, so that’s in there too, along with linden, lavender and rose. All the florals are what makes their gin unique. 

Silent Pool Rare Citrus Gin

Silent Pool gin by the Silent Pool!

Then there’s the all-important Silent Pool and the myth from which the distillery gets its name. If you don’t already know, the story goes that a young woodcutter’s daughter was pursued by the evil Prince John, and drowned in the pool in a bid to escape, which is said to have been haunted (and silent) ever since. Most brands begin with happier tales, though this one does ground it in a sense of place!

Eerily beautiful and blue, it is true, the top pool is much quieter than the one below, which is bustling with bird life. I (somewhat cynically) ask Tom Hutchings, head of distillery operations, why the pool is really so quiet. “Because it’s haunted, obviously!” he says. Or could it be because it’s just much colder? We’ll never know. With Silent Pool, the story is the brand. The bottle captures it all, with the colour of the pool, the myth and botanicals all reflected in the packaging.

Silent Pool Rare Citrus Gin

Rare citrus galore

But onto Rare Citrus! Excitingly, this is only the distillery’s second core expression since it opened. The clue is in the name for this one. The team came across a brilliant duo over in Portugal, Jean Paul and Anne, who are citrus fanatics and experts. No, really, they have a smashing 500 different varieties of citrus growing in their garden! Monoculture? Never heard of it.

“Having felt that passion and their craft, we always wanted to do a project with them, so this felt like the perfect opportunity,” Hutchings tells me. They have a library of rare fruit, mainly citrus, and these rare varieties make excellent gin botanicals.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: this is not a flavoured gin. All the botanicals are distilled with as much thought as went into the first bottling. Whacking a load of flavourings in wasn’t going to cut it. The team travelled over to Portugal (back when that was a thing you could do) and harvested the fruit themselves, bringing back 12 fruits and a few varieties of leaves. They eventually narrowed down the selection to four. 

Silent Pool Rare Citrus Gin

So, what are these rare citruses? First up is Buddha’s hand. If you haven’t seen one, I urge you to look it up right now! It gives flavours of pure sherbet and effervescent lemon, all those bright top notes. It’s pith all the way through, but the pith is what gives it its sweetness – unlike most citrus fruit. Then there’s Seville orange bringing those classic grassy, bright bitter notes we know and love from our marmalade. 

Next up is natsudaidai. Yeah, we hadn’t heard of that one before either. Hutchings describes this as a cross between pomelo and mandarin, “but with slightly sweeter grapefruit and orange flavours”. Last but not least there’s hirado buntan, which is a type of pomelo, tasting like a sweeter grapefruit with notes of honey. Apparently it’s one of the best citrus fruits Hutchings has ever tasted “with the perfect balance of sweet and sour”. High praise indeed!

Silent Pool Rare Citrus Gin

If you think Rare Citrus would be ace in a Negroni, you’re right…

Each citrus fruit was separately distilled and then blended together. While they wanted to keep the essence of the original gin, the same botanical base just didn’t work with the citrus additions. Lavender is the only remaining floral, and a few different peppers have been added – Timur pepper (which, despite its name, is actually a variety of citrus), wild forest pepper (used in perfume) and the musky voatsiperifery pepper.

Tasting the gin straight, the citrus is complex but not overwhelming. Juniper is still very much there, along with peppery spice. The citrus is evident though – bitter orange and zesty grapefruit appear throughout, lifted by those sherbet notes and grounded by the woody, musky peppers. 

Being a citrus-forward gin, we immediately started thinking about Negronis. To avoid losing the delicate citrus complexity of the gin, the Silent Pool folks have made their own version, tinkering with the ratios of gin, Campari and vermouth to 2:1:1, topped off with a pink grapefruit garnish. We took it upon ourselves to taste-test it and it was fabulous.

You can grab a bottle of Silent Pool Rare Citrus from MoM now!

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New Arrival of the Week: Ararat Nairi 20 Year Old

Today, we’re tasting one of the world’s great brandies and it’s not from Cognac. No, it’s not from Armagnac either. It’s not from France, or even from Europe. It’s from…

Today, we’re tasting one of the world’s great brandies and it’s not from Cognac. No, it’s not from Armagnac either. It’s not from France, or even from Europe. It’s from Armenia, a country with a proud distilling heritage. 

There’s a very special cask of brandy in the Ararat distillery in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. It’s called the ‘Peace Barrel’. It was distilled in 1994, and will only be opened when there is peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Looking at the news today, it doesn’t look like that’s going to be any time soon as the two countries are once again fighting over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. This is an ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan. The two countries went to war after becoming independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and what followed was an uneasy ceasefire in 1994 with the province still technically part of Azerbaijan but ruled by a breakaway Armenian government.

The Ararat distillery sits high on a hill above the capital. It’s named after the mountain that towers over the city, apparently where Noah landed following the flood. Ararat is the symbol of Armenia but it’s now in neighbouring Turkey. Armenia has been unfortunate in its long history to be surrounded by three huge empires, the Russian, Ottoman and Persian, with bits of its historic homeland often in different countries. ‘Caught between the hammer and the anvil’, as the saying goes. Nevertheless, the Armenians have, despite their tragic history, managed to preserve their language with its own unique alphabet, their culture and their fierce sense of belonging. 

They are particularly proud of their brandy which dates back to 1877 when Nerses Tairyan introduced Cognac-style stills to Armenia. The most celebrated products, however, were produced in Yerevan by a Russian called Nikolay Shustov. One of his brandies won a gold medal, beating its French rivals, at the Paris Expo of 1900. The French were so impressed that they allowed Shustov to call his product ‘Cognac’. This was disallowed following World War II, but Armenian brandy is still known in the Russian-speaking world as konjak. In 1912, Shustov’s product got the official seal of approval from the czar. 

The magnificent Yerevan Brandy Company distillery designed by architect Hovhannes Margaryan

During Soviet times, Armenia was designated as the brandy producer to the USSR. The magnificent Ararat distillery was built in 1953, featuring a communist-neo-classical-meets-Armenian-monastic style dates back to this period. Whereas wine quality suffered greatly under communism, the reputation of Armenian brandy remained high. It functioned as the Johnnie Walker Black Label of the Eastern Bloc. A bottle to the right person could cut through yards of Soviet red tape. 

The economic turmoil following the fall of communism hit the industry hard. As Becky Sue Epstein writes in her book Brandy: “When the USSR disbanded distribution networks disappeared overnight and the market for Armenian brandy collapsed.” War with Azerbaijan can’t have helped. Nowadays, however, the industry is more stable. The two successor companies to Shustov’s are Noy, meaning Noah, and Ararat (aka The Yerevan Brandy Company) which since 1998 has been owned by Pernod Ricard. Once again Russia is the main market, Noy is the official supplier to the Kremlin. But Armenian brandy is big all over Eastern Europe and you see them in airport duty-free in Germany and Austria, sometimes in the most extraordinary packaging; bottles shaped like AK-47s or penises. You can’t imagine Hine doing that!

It’s a shame about the novelty bottles letting the side down because Ararat makes some excellent brandies. They are distilled from indigenous grapes, mainly grown in the Yerevan region but also all over the country. Armenia is something of a viticultural paradise with an array of native grape varieties and the dry mountainous air means it’s easy to grow them without pesticides and fungicides. Try a bottle of Armenian wine, if you ever see one. 

Ararat Nairi 20 Year Old in its extremely tasteful packaging

To make the konyak, the wine is double-distilled, aged in European oak. Ararat has its own on-site cooperage. It’s a huge concern, producing around 5.5 million bottles per year, that’s nearly the entire production of the Armagnac region. The master blender has a huge palette of brandies to make his blends from. They are generally sweetened, the Armenians tend to drink their brandies with dessert. The cheaper ones are very pleasant but once you get to 10 years and above, that is where the excitement starts.

The 10 year old Dvin bottling created by master blender Markar Sedrakyan in the 1930s was apparently enjoyed by Churchill at Yalta in 1945. It’s still made, coming in at 50% ABV, it’s aromatic and fiery with lots of dark chocolate, cedar and wood tannin. It reminds me of a particular full Armagnac. Even better is the 20 year old Nairi expression, which I drank a lot of during late-night chats with Armenian winemaker Zorik Gharibian from Zorah when I visited the country back in 2017.

For my money, Armenia vies with South Africa as the home of the best non-French brandies. They are true luxury products, no wonder the Russians like them so much, and should be much better known over here. And who knows, one day, perhaps, that special barrel will be opened and we can raise a glass to peace.

Ararat Nairi 20 Year Old tasting note:

Colour: Dark copper colour.

Nose: Rich flavours, dark chocolate, tobacco, fresh apricot and some dried fruit.

Palate: Gorgeous fruit here, fresh apricots again with a grassy floral freshness. Some toffee sweetness. 

Finish: Sweet vanilla mingles with aromatic tobacco notes. 

Ararat Nairi 20 year old is now available from Master of Malt.

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New Arrival of the Week: Highland Park Cask Strength

There’s never been a cask strength Highland Park in the core range… until now. As a load of 63.3% ABV Orkney single malt arrives at MoM towers, we caught up…

There’s never been a cask strength Highland Park in the core range… until now. As a load of 63.3% ABV Orkney single malt arrives at MoM towers, we caught up with brand ambassador Martin Markvardsen to find out more.

Martin Markvardsen has had an interesting journey into whisky. He was in the Danish Navy when he was bitten by the whisky bug and decided that he had to move to Scotland to learn more: “The only way I could learn more about whisky was actually to take some time off from the navy and then I went over to Scotland to work at different distilleries.” He eventually left the navy, managed World of Whiskies in Copenhagen Airport and then took over the whisky bar at the legendary The Craigellachie Hotel up in Speyside.  By this time he was already a massive Highland Park fan: “When I was working at Craigellachie Hotel, it was probably the only bar in Scotland that had the same ‘malt of the month’ for four or five months because that was the Highland Park 18 and I loved it!”

Martin Markvardsen, bet the Scots are glad he didn’t turn up 1200 years ago

Someone at the Edrington Group noticed Markvardsen’s enthusiasm and 15 years ago he became a brand ambassador for Highland Park. It makes perfect sense for a Dane to get the job because the Orkney Islands, the home of Highland Park, have such a strong Nordic culture, as he explained: “I think it was very easy for me to fit into the role about being the face of Highland Park, being a Dane, and having the natural Viking soul as we talk about at Highland Park. But also I think it was probably easier for me to understand the culture in Orkney than most other people.” 

The distillery is firmly rooted in the islands’ culture and landscape as Markvardsen explained: “We are one of the last remaining distilleries in Scotland still to do the floor malting. The climate up there when we do the maltings, the humidity and these kinds of things have an effect on the barley. The Orkney peat from Hobbister, where we get our peat from, is nowhere else to be found in Scotland at the same quality and the same content in the peat. We tried many, many years ago to use peat from the mainland but it didn’t really work for us. It changed the flavour in the whisky.” 

The climate also affects the maturation of the whisky according to Markvardsen: “When you look at the climate on Orkney compared to the rest of Scotland, we never have very, very low temperatures, like frost or snow but we definitely don’t have warm summers either, like they can have in Speyside and so on. That makes a difference in the maturation as well, very slow and very paced maturation.”

The distillery at dusk

Then we came on to the reason for our phone call, the new cask strength expression: “It’s something we wanted to do for a long time and we had a few cask strengths on the market in the past but we’ve never had cask strength in our core range,” Markvardsen explained. “The strength might change from batch to batch but the first batch that will come out now is 63.3% ABV and it’s an absolute cracker. It’s a non-aged statement but if you know the spirits of Gordon Motion, our master whisky maker, we know that it’s not a young whisky, it’s full flavour. I’m actually sitting here with a sample in front of me and it’s amazing how it develops after a few minutes in the glass”.

It’s aged predominately in American oak, a mixture of sherry and refill casks. Markvardsen told us: “It’s extremely easy to drink and even at full strength, which I’m probably not allowed to say, it’s extremely gentle to the palate and I would say the American oak sherry casks that we’ve used here will give it this fruitiness and smoothness that that Highland Park is known for. It’s definitely not a heavy sherry product.”

Talking to Markvardsen, you can see why Highland Park snapped him up, his enthusiasm is infectious. He finished up by saying what he loves most about this new cask strength bottling: “Here we can give people a choice to enjoy the whisky exactly the way they want. If they want to have a huge kick with the high alcohol, we will let them do that. And for a lot of people that never made it to Orkney, this is the closest they can get to come in and take a sample from the cask.” A whisky that transports, just what we need in these peculiar times. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Wafts of sweet peat and brown sugar simmering in a pan, with jammy sultana and buttered crumpet in the background.

Palate: Ginger, nutmeg, heather honey, apricot and orange oil. Continued smoke builds, introducing earthy spices later on.

Finish: Warming peppery notes and a lingering hint of caramelised nuts.

Highland Park Cask Strength is available from Master of Malt

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New Arrival of the Week: Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 5)

Tamdhu’s excellent Batch Strength series has another edition. Does it live up to the previous standards? We find out. Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 5) has arrived! There’s something fans of big…

Tamdhu’s excellent Batch Strength series has another edition. Does it live up to the previous standards? We find out. Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 5) has arrived!

There’s something fans of big burly sherry bombs and us here at MoM Towers have in common. We love a bit of Tamdhu. The Speysiders boast an outstanding core range of Scotch whisky that’s matured solely in American or European oak sherry casks which has put the brand firmly on the map as a distillery capable of creating booze the equal of its many famous neighbours over the last decade.

It’s about time too. Tamdhu has spent a fair amount of its history in relative obscurity. Like a number of Scotch whisky distilleries, it’s closed and reopened several times since it was founded in the 19th-century and has spent much of its existence as a functional background player, contributing tasty spirit to blends. The Famous Grouse, J&B Rare and Cutty Sark have all benefited from the whisky the Speyside distillery made, but official bottlings have been rare, save for a few exceptions in the 1970’s and a couple of editions in 2005.

Not that the founders would particularly mind, as creating quality whisky for popular blends was their express purpose. The group of local businessmen who founded Tamdhu in 1897, who was previously involved in classic whiskies such as Johnnie Walker, Dewars and Bulloch Lade, sunk a colossal £20 million into the project, which included the hiring of the famed Charles C Doig to design the distillery (he worked on 56 Scotch whisky distilleries in total including Aberlour, Glenlivet, and Talisker). Despite this investment, Tamdhu quickly found itself in the hands of Highland Distillers, enjoying a quiet, comfortable period of creating whisky until 1927.

Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 5)

Tamdhu single malts are entirely aged in sherry casks

A long period of dormancy followed until 1947 and Tamdhu began to enjoy some post-war success. In 1949, the original floor maltings were modernised to introduce Saladin boxes, a French invention that mechanises the barley turning process, and during the whisky boom of the 1970s, production capacity was tripled with the introduction of four stills in as many years. Once again, the distillery continued to produce whisky without incident or fanfare until April 2010, when it was announced that Tamdhu was to be mothballed by the Edrington Group in 2010. 

Thankfully, the current owners, Ian MacLeod Distillers, saw enough potential in the brand and purchased the distillery in June 2011. New washbacks, warehousing and a visitors centre have been added and production of Tamdhu single malt began once again in May 2013. Now the distillery is best known for its trademark sherry-forward spirit. Every barrel is seasoned for two years with Oloroso sherry of roughly five years of age at its own on-site cooperage. 

Our new arrival, the Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 5) is packed full of that sherried goodness you’d expect and was also bottled, un-chill-filtered, at a hefty 59.8% ABV. It’s got a lot to live up to. Earlier this year, Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 4) enjoyed success at the World Whiskies Awards 2020 finals, The Scotch Whisky Masters and San Francisco World Spirits Competition, scooping all kinds of shiny ‘Gold’ medals. “After a multi-award-winning year for Batch 4, I know Batch 5 will impress everyone who samples it – with its complex richness, deep intensity and long, rewarding finish,” says Sandy McIntyre, Tamdhu distillery manager. “This annual Tamdhu release always goes down well as it is a brilliant showcase of the beautiful colour and flavour derived from our exclusive sherry oak cask maturation process.”

 

Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 5)

 

The consistency at which Tamdhu has continued to produce outstanding whisky for this Batch Strength range is one of the reasons it has established itself as a true hidden gem. You’ll be pleased to know Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 5) lives up to the standard. It’s deep, rich and rewarding. Despite the high strength, it’s remarkably supple and doesn’t require the addition of water. It’s another must-have for those who get weak at the knees at the thought of full-bodied, uncompromising sherry monsters, but if that’s not your thing don’t dismiss it too readily. There’s enough subtlety and balance to make this a solid choice for any whisky fan.

Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 5) Tasting Note:

Nose: Sultanas, dates and blackberry compote provide a rich, thick opening with dark chocolate and Brazil nuts in support. Huckleberry honey and vanilla tablet bring American oak sweetness alongside notes of bread and butter pudding, fresh apricot jam and caramelised ginger. There’s leather-bound books, some sherried funk and spice from clove and cinnamon throughout along with a sprig of mint. 

Palate: More winter spice initially, which bramble fruit, thick treacle and dense fruitcake emerge through. Seville marmalade, occasional pangs of liquorice and chewy, tannic oak add depth among touches of walnut skin bitterness, earthy vanilla and barley sugar. With time comes cedar, cracked black pepper, leather and chocolate ice cream.

Finish: Graciously long and slightly dry, with apple skins, lime, chocolate fudge and fizzy cola bottles.

Tamdhu Batch Strength (Batch 5) is available to purchase from MoM Towers here.

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New Arrival of the Week: The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage

Back in August, we heralded the imminent launch of a rather special whisky from The GlenDronach – a wonderfully well-sherried 29 year old single malt, created by master blender Rachel…

Back in August, we heralded the imminent launch of a rather special whisky from The GlenDronach – a wonderfully well-sherried 29 year old single malt, created by master blender Rachel Barrie to coincide with the upcoming release of The King’s Man. Ahead of the GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage hitting shelves this week, MoM took a moment to sample the liquid. Here’s what we thought…

The folks at The GlenDronach certainly know their way around a sherry cask, and this latest release is no exception. Created in collaboration with the Kingsman film franchise director Matthew Vaughn – and also MARV films and Disney – The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage has been exclusively matured in oloroso casks before a delicious finishing period in Pedro Ximénez casks from Spain. Because, well, why not?

For those unfamiliar with Kingsman, the action-comedy film franchise is centered on a fictional secret service organisation of the same name (it’s also a screenplay of a comic book series, but we digress). Set during world war one, the latest instalment – The King’s Man – delves into the origins of the intelligence agency. While most of the plot details remain under wraps, here’s what we do know: There are tyrants. There are criminal masterminds. They have nefarious plans that involve inciting some kind of war that will wipe out millions. Saving the world is down to one man and his protégé, who must figure out how to stop them in an exhilarating race against the clock.

It’s proper fancy…

A combination of six casks distilled in 1989, the new release is said to be inspired by the oldest bottle of whisky housed at The GlenDronach Distillery – a 29 year-old whisky bottled in 1913, just before the outbreak of the first world war. The story behind it goes like this: three friends bought a bottle each before the war, promising to open them together once they came home. Only one returned. Having never opened his bottle, his family donated it to the distillery, where it’s displayed in remembrance of fallen friends. What a tragic tale.

Master blender Rachel Barrie commented: “This expression is deep in meaning, paying homage to ​fallen friends who bravely fought during WWI, and the depth of character and integrity shared by both The GlenDronach and the Kingsman agency. This is none other than a whisky truly fit for a King’s Man.”

There are just 3,052 bottles available, all labelled, numbered and wax-sealed by hand, and signed by Barrie and Vaughn – who also shared his thoughts on the release. “There is an important line which says, ‘Reputation is what others think of you, character is what you are’,” he said. “Strength of character and dedication to upholding the highest values perfectly encapsulates the true spirit of both the Kingsman agency and The GlenDronach Distillery.”

The packaging is quite smart too

So, what does it taste like? Flavour-wise, Barrie described “smouldering aromas of dark fruits and sherry-soaked walnuts, vintage leather and cedar wood”. On the palate, “dense autumn fruits meld with date, fig and treacle, before rolling into black winter truffle and cocoa”. Throughout the “exceptionally long” finish, she said, you’ll find lingering notes of “blackberry, tobacco leaf and date oil”. 

Sounds rather tasty, doesn’t it? So, without further ado, here’s our take on The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage:

The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage tasting note:

Colour: Pouring the whisky into a glass, you’re instantly struck by how dark it is – almost a mahogany brown. There’s no colouring added, we’re assured. Spending 29 years in Sherry casks is a heavy enough influence on the colour, with no need for any extra ‘assistance’. Ahem.

Nose: Dark brown sugar, cherries, plums and salted caramel with a touch of aniseed. Another whiff and you’ll find raisin, vanilla and a hint of citrus peel.

Palate: Thick waves of juicy dark fruits give way to tart pluminess that evolves into powerful and pronounced dusty oak spice.

Finish: Incredibly rich and long. Rum-soaked raisins, leather and tobacco dryness, rounded off with dates and a touch of clove and cinnamon.

Overall: Sweet and intense. Remarkable how it transforms on the palate. Like Willy Wonka made his Three Course Dinner Chewing Gum in an orchard.

The GlenDronach Kingsman Edition 1989 Vintage is now sold out. That went fast!

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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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New Arrival of the Week: The Epicurean Rivesaltes Finish

This week we’re highlighting the arrival of a new version of the Epicurean, a blend of Lowland malts from independent whisky bottlers Douglas Laing. It’s part-aged in Rivesaltes casks. What…

This week we’re highlighting the arrival of a new version of the Epicurean, a blend of Lowland malts from independent whisky bottlers Douglas Laing. It’s part-aged in Rivesaltes casks. What on earth is Riveslates? Read on, and all will be revealed. 

Fortified wine and whisky go together like Morecambe and Wise, or for younger readers Wallace and Gromit, or for even younger readers Charlie and Lola. Anyway! This liquid symbiosis was probably discovered by accident. Whisky would have been stored in whatever container was easily available and seeing as sherry was arriving in Britain in huge quantities in the 19th century, there were a lot of empty casks to go round. It wasn’t just sherry, other fortified wines and spirits such as rum and Cognac were also shipped in cask, so these would have been used too.

Sherry, Port and Madeira are the big three of fortified wines. But this style of wine is made all over the world particularly in hot climates (adding brandy was a way of preserving wines before refrigeration became the norm while if you add the alcohol while the wine is still fermenting, you can preserve sweetness and the fresh taste of the fruit, something that would be lost in a hot fast fermentation). There’s Marsala from Sicily, liqueur muscats and all kinds of Port and sherry-style wines from Australia (Starward whisky makes good use of such casks) and Vin Doux Naturals from the south of France. 

The epicentre of VDNs, as they are known, is the Roussillon, the part of France that was until the 17th century in Spain; there is a long tradition on both sides of the border of producing fortified wines. The best-known in France are Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes. The first two are reds wines, made mainly from Grenache Noir and fortified during fermentation to create something a little like Port but drier and less sweet. Rivesaltes is made in a similar way but from white grapes, Grenache Blanc, Macabeo and Muscat. After fortification it’s either aged in cask or in glass demijohns that are left out in the sun so that the wine cooks, a bit like Madeira or Noilly Prat vermouth.

These VDNs would have been drunk as aperitifs in France, Belgium and Holland but with the rise of beer, gin and especially Scotch whisky, they fell out of favour in the 1960s. Table wines are now the main business of most producers, but limited amounts of sweet wines are still made. These are either blended in solera or sold as vintage bottlings, some of incredible age. There are people who sniff out rare and exceptional casks and bottle them (check out this 1931 vintage from Chateau Mosse), rather as whisky companies like Douglas Laing do.

Only two casks of this special Epicurean were filled

Which, after a very long preamble, is a neat segue way into this week’s New Arrival. It’s a blend of Lowland malts, aged in, according to Douglas Laing, “traditional” casks, mainly ex-bourbon, we’d guess, before being finished in two Rivesaltes casks. Each cask produced 546 bottles at 48% ABV. The press release states: “In the passionate belief that the cask can give the spirit up to 70% of its flavour, our Limited Edition Wood Series has seen us tirelessly journey the globe, searching for the finest casks in which to finish our Epicurean spirit.” 

The flavours you get in Rivesaltes are not unlike an old Cognac or indeed a sherried whisky: nuts, apricot, pineapple, classic rancio flavours. In fact, the word ‘rancio’ is Catalan, it comes from this part of the world. These casks add a layer of dried fruit intensity to the classic citrus, honey and flowers of the Lowland style. A perfect combination, you might say.

The Epicurean Rivesaltes Cask Edition is available to buy from Master of Malt

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt: 

Nose: Sweetly honeyed with pear drops, oats and dried fruit.

Palate: Fresh oranges and lemons, followed by dried fruits like prunes, dates and apricots, rich chocolate and citrus peel.

Finish: Nut city, hazelnuts and almonds. Long and creamy. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Mad City Rum

This month we’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with a rum that thinks it’s a gin from those booze innovators at Foxhole Spirits. Sound a bit crazy?…

This month we’ve been having a lot of fun playing around with a rum that thinks it’s a gin from those booze innovators at Foxhole Spirits. Sound a bit crazy? Well, it is called Mad City.

One of the biggest trends in spirits in the last few years is the blurring of previously discrete categories. For example, gin starts to take on some of the characteristics of whisky after ageing in bourbon casks. Our new arrival, Mad City, is a flavoured rum, no doubt about that, but its clean bright flavours, which we think will appeal to gin lovers in particular, are a world away from sweet spiced rum

The man behind it is James Oag-Cooper. The company was originally set up in conjunction with Sam Linter from Bolney Estate, one of England’s best vineyards, but  is now independent. The team has form when it comes to this sort of genre-bending. Their first product was the Foxhole Gin made with a grappa-like spirit distilled from leftovers from wine production. This was followed last year by HYKE, another gin which strayed into brandy territory as the base spirit is made from surplus grapes. 

Oag-Cooper explains: “Our goal has always been to prove that using sustainably sourced, surplus materials can create spirits better than those that use grown for, single-purpose materials. With Mad City we’ve been able to apply our skill working with botanicals to rum and demonstrate expertise in a different category. We believe that the style of Mad City, with no sugar added post distillation, puts it in a category all of its own. The result is fine and balanced, absolutely delicious, and thoroughly satisfying to drink. This isn’t a flavoured rum or a spiced rum. It’s Mad City”.

The label is by Bristol-based urban artist, Sled-One. Pretty crazy

The base spirit used to make Mad City is packed with flavour. No wonder, as it includes pot still rums from three distilleries in Jamaica: Worthy Park, Clarendon and Hampden Estate; column still rum from the Diamond distillery in Guyana; pot still from Consuelo Estate in the Dominican Republic and finally some column still spirit from the West Indies distillery in Barbados. All of these are unaged. 

Oag-Cooper told us: “The approach was the same as for HYKE & Foxhole Gin.” It’s about matching the botanicals to flavours in the spirit. He continued: “The development process involved lots of blending of rums and botanicals, but the final production method once we had the exact flavour profile dialled down is just like a gin; we add all of the botanicals together, macerate and distil through an Arnold Holstein hybrid still, before cutting with natural spring water.” The botanical list is long: coffee, coconut, papaya, cherry, lime peel, sweet and bitter orange, rosemary, coriander seed, allspice, cassia bark, green and black cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, cacao nibs, ginger root, tonka bean, molasses, liquorice root, lapsang souchong, cubeb, hibiscus tea, and vetiver root. Phew! It can’t have been easy getting that line up to harmonise especially with such characterful rums.

The coconut, coffee and molasses aside, you would not be surprised to find these botanicals in a gin, and indeed the profile is quite like a gin. The spicing is very subtle and elegantly done, first sip you think it might be gin but hold the front door, there’s no juniper and then there’s pineapple, chocolate and coconut with grassy and citrus notes with warm baking spices. It’s extremely elegant and has a sweetness about it though without any added sugar.

The big question is then how do you drink it? With gin, everyone knows what they are doing, mix it with tonic, make a Martini, stick it in a Negroni. That’s why gin is so loved because it’s so adaptable while always remaining distinctive. But what do you do with this botanical rum? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that it does go with tonic water making a sort of G&T that isn’t a G&T. It’s also great in other classic gin drinks like a Tom Collins or indeed a Martini; the latter worked particularly well-made half and half with dry vermouth. Naturally, it’s right at home in a Mojito or Daiquiri. Mad City suggests adding basil and acacia honey to the latter for “a mad twist on a classic”. They’ve also come up with a Hard Seltzer made with coconut water, fizzy water and orange zest. Very simple and refreshing. And a take on the rum and ginger with a little added Italian vermouth. See here for the full recipes. 

Treat it like a white rum or a gin, and really you can’t go wrong. We’ve been told time and time again that rum is the new gin. Hell, we’ve been saying ourselves more than once. It hasn’t quite happened yet but if there’s any rum that’s doing to tempt the gin drinker, Mad City is it.

Mad City rum is now available from Master of Malt.

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New Arrival of the Week: Bollinger PN VZ15

We’re toasting the start of the week with a brand new Champagne from Bollinger. Don’t worry about the baffling-sounding name, everything will become clear shortly. ‘PN VZ15’, it doesn’t quite…

We’re toasting the start of the week with a brand new Champagne from Bollinger. Don’t worry about the baffling-sounding name, everything will become clear shortly.

‘PN VZ15’, it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Special Cuvée or Grande Année. Can you imagine ordering a glass of PN VZ15 in a restaurant? Well it might sound like a form you fill in when you want to sell your car but it actually provides lots of information about the make-up of this special Bollinger cuvée. We’ll explain shortly.

Champagne is something of an anomaly in wine because for the majority of bottles, the only information you get on the label is the name of the producer plus an indication of how sweet it is, normally brut meaning bone dry. Just take a look at the label for the classic Bollinger Special Cuvée, there’s nothing about a vintage, grape variety, where it was grown etc. Compare that with Burgundy, a region that mostly uses the same grapes as Champagne, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There the label will be increasingly specific depending on the quality level of the wine; from the region, eg. Côte de Nuits, to a village, Gevrey Chambertin, and right at the top, a specific vineyard such as Chambertin-Clos de Bèze. Even the greatest Champagnes, in contrast, will usually just say ‘Champagne’ on the label and will be blended from all over this large and disparate region. 

The idea is that it’s the same consistent quality year in year out. Champagne is great for people who just want excellence without disappearing down the rabbit hole of wine geekery. You don’t need to know anything about wine to order a bottle of Bolly in a restaurant whereas ordering Burgundy and Bordeaux it helps to have a bit of knowledge. But now Champagne producers are waking up to the fact that some of their customers are interested in the story behind the wines.

Increasingly on labels you are seeing names of regions within Champagne and even specific vineyards. As with most French AOCs, producers are not allowed to put the grape varieties on the front (but if you see ‘Blanc de Blancs’, it means it’s all Chardonnay, while ‘Blanc des Noirs’ means it’s made from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier). Which is where the cryptic name of today’s New Arrival of the Week comes from. The PN stands for Pinot Noir. The VZ refers to Verzenay, a commune within Champagne (rather like Pauillac is a commune within Bordeaux) and the 2015 refers to the harvest. So that’s a lot more information already than on a standard Champagne label. 

But this isn’t a vintage wine. Those who want to dig further, can learn that in addition to 2015, it contains about 20% reserve wines mainly from the 2009 and ‘10 vintages from famous red grape communes including Aÿ, Bouzy and Tauxières. The idea is to celebrate Pinot Noir, the backbone of Bollinger’s wines. Of the 178 ha of vineyards owned by Bollinger, 104 ha are planted with Pinot Noir, but along with the super pricey Vieilles Vignes Françaises cuvée (yours for about £650 a bottle if you can find it), this is the only all Pinot Noir offering. Charles-Armand de Belenet, general manager of Champagne Bollinger, commented: “ This cuvée made entirely from Pinot Noir is ingrained in what has become the very essence, the DNA of our House – an inimitable vision of an iconic grape variety and uncompromising efforts to fulfil the mission we started in 1829 as creators of taste.”

It’s the first in what will be an annual series focussing on Bollinger’s Pinot Noir crus. Like all the company’s wines, it’s fermented in oak. Not that it tastes oaky, it just gives the wine a richness. There’s 7g of sugar added post-disgorgement so it tastes completely dry. Not only is it a delicious wine but it’s ideal for those who want to dig a bit deeper into this fascinating region. Practise saying: ‘I’ll have a bottle of  PN VZ15’, or just order it from Master of Malt

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Fig, cherry and orange zest, with a hint of rose jelly sweetness too. Toasted almonds, spring blossom and just a smidge of buttered brioche.

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