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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: New Arrival of the Week

New Arrival of the Week: Blinking Owl Four Grain Bourbon

This is our last New Arrival of 2020 and we’ve chosen something suitably special: Blinking Owl bourbon which is made from four grains, corn, rye, wheat and malted barley, all…

This is our last New Arrival of 2020 and we’ve chosen something suitably special: Blinking Owl bourbon which is made from four grains, corn, rye, wheat and malted barley, all grown within the great state of California.

The Blinking Owl distillery has only been going since 2016 but it already has a cupboard full of awards. At this year’s American Whiskey Masters in London put on by the Spirits Business magazine, it took home a silver medal for its bourbon and a gold for its rye. Based in Santa Ana in Orange County, not far from Los Angeles, the distillery was started by husband and wife team Brian and Robin Christenson and it’s named after a now defunct local bar which had an owl sign that would blink. 

As with quite a few whiskey producers, there’s the obligatory story about illicit distilling in the family’s past. In this case Brian Christenson’s great-grandfather, Fred P. Armbrust. According to the website: “He would covertly provide his local farmers with his ‘good spirits’. Brian’s dream is to carry on Fred’s passion by providing ‘good spirits’ to our very own neighborhood, legally, of course!” Born in 1888, Armbrust lived until the 1970s but stopped distilling soon after World War Two.

It’s actress and creative muse wizard owl Kirsten Vangness

Before founding Blinking Owl, the first legal distillery in Orange County since prohibition, Brian was an artist with his own gallery in Laguna Beach while Robin was a pelvic floor therapist. Her business, which she sold to start the distillery, was called Womanology and she had a blog called The Hoo-Hoo Whisperer. Could this story be any more Californian? Well, yes in fact it can because there is a third investor in the business, actress Kirsten Vangsness, who you might know from the television show Criminal Minds. Her job title is listed on the website as ‘creative muse wizard owl’. Of course it is.

All this woo woo would be amusing, if the team weren’t deadly serious about the quality of its spirits. The head distiller (and ‘owl spiritual leader’, natch), is Ryan Friesen formerly of Journeyman Distillery in Michigan, who worked an internship with Japanese whisky guru Ichiro Akuto at Chichibu distillery. So he knows what he’s doing.

Not only are the founders and the ethos very Californian but so are the raw materials. As of February 2018, everything used is organic and grown by Californian farms, with the high quality of the local water making a big contribution. As the website puts it: “We are locavores, grain nerds, and control freaks so we decided to actually make our booze the long way: from grain rather than pre-made spirit. We mill it, mash it, ferment it, distill it, and, in the case of whiskey, barrel age it.” As well as the bourbon and the rye, Blinking Owl also produces vodka, gin, aquavit and others

We’ve decided to highlight the bourbon because it’s unusual in using four cereals, corn, wheat, malted barley and rye. It’s aged in new white oak American casks, and bottled at 45% ABV. Our very own cocktail expert Jess Williamson is a fan, you can read her tasting notes below.  She recommends just treating it simply, drink either neat or in an Old Fashioned. We think it’s a suitable impressive last New Arrival of the year. What strange one it’s been. Let’s hope 2021 is better and you never know, Britain and American might even have come to an agreement over whisky/ whiskey tariffs.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Earthy vanilla pod leads into barrel char, with subtle caramel, milk chocolate and a scattering of pine needles.

Palate: A dusting of cocoa and honeyed cereals, with just a hint of freshly baked brioche and a spoonful of homemade jam.

Finish: Just a tingle of drying spice lingers alongside a drizzle of runny honey.

Blinking Owl Four Grain Bourbon is available from Master of Malt.

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Meet MoM’s Own! Your drinks cabinet essentials made simple

Stocking up on the basics? Looking for a wallet-friendly way to cover all booze bases? We can help with MoM’s Own, our quartet of tastiness – London Dry Gin, Rum,…

Stocking up on the basics? Looking for a wallet-friendly way to cover all booze bases? We can help with MoM’s Own, our quartet of tastiness – London Dry Gin, Rum, Vodka, and, of course, Blended Scotch Whisky! 

The perfect cheese selection pack. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The stylish capsule wardrobe. Right across life, grouping things together is very pleasing. Especially when they help make your life easier or bring you immense joy (hello, cheeseboard. ‘Tis almost the season after all!). It seemed high time that we got in on the act of arranging things together, this time in the drinks world. So, give a fabulously warm welcome to MoM’s Own, your new go-to for all things spirits!

Spanning Blended Scotch Whisky, London Dry Gin, Rum, and Vodka, MoM’s Own is our vision of drinks simplicity. You want a constantly stocked up drinks cabinet with all manner of cocktail options. You need it to be delicious. You also don’t want it to break the bank. So we teamed up with our pals at Atom Labs to craft the first of four bottlings that do just that!

We chose MoM’s Own to tick as many boxes as possible. It’s your go-to, easy peasy selection whatever you fancy drinking. It’s also got hosting wrapped up (ready for when we can have dinner parties again..!). Whether it’s for yourself or someone else, we reckon these four expressions will have you well on your way to a useful, versatile and – vitally important! –  delicious drinks cabinet. 

MoM’s Own Blended Scotch, 42% ABV 

Looking for a tasty sipper that you could also mix (if the fancy took you), that’s delectable enough to be a treat but affordable to share with friends? Say hello to MoM’s Own Blended Scotch! It’s made with peated Islay single malt blended with a soft, buttery single grain, so you’ve got enough weight and complexity to delight your palate, while being decidedly accessible. Also useful if you’re introducing your pals to the world of whisky.

MoM’s Own London Dry Gin, 40% ABV

Hands up, juniper fans! This one’s for you. We love classic London dry gins, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. All we’ve done to a classic recipe is cold-distil citrus peels for a fabulously refreshing and slightly elevated sipper. We’re a fan of it in G&Ts, Martinis and Negronis alike – oh, and it’s an absolute bargain, too.

MoM’s Own Rum, 40% ABV

Dark rum is having more than just a moment – we’ve collectively got a taste for the stuff that’s delightfully delish and exactingly blended. And that’s what you’ve got right here with MoM’s Own Rum! There’s unaged and aged Caribbean liquid, plus higher ester stuff blended in. Wonderful liquid indeed! 

MoM’s Own Vodka, 40% ABV

Great vodka is essential for any drinks cabinet (how could you indulge in that weekend Bloody Mary without it?), so we knew we needed a top-quality option in the line-up. This one’s made with both wheat and molasses as a base, so it’s soft and smooth, with a gentle mouthfeel. Equally good with soda, other mixers, and in things like Moscow Mules

We reckon that’s a pretty good line-up to kick things off. Between those four bottlings, you’ve got almost all drinking occasions covered – and a whole bunch of classic cocktails, too. But we’re not done there! We’ll release more MoM’s Own products as trends develop and we spot a need. If you’re after something specific, let us know. We might just make it for you!

Enjoy the line-up!

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New Arrival of the Week: New Yarmouth 2005 River Mumma

Today we’re toasting the start of a new week with a very rare single pot still Jamaican from a distillery that even some rum aficionados have never heard of, New…

Today we’re toasting the start of a new week with a very rare single pot still Jamaican from a distillery that even some rum aficionados have never heard of, New Yarmouth.

Can you name a Jamaican distillery? The one that would get the highest score (and therefore lose) on Pointless is Appleton Estate. Not only does it produce superb rum, but what it does produce is marketed under its own well-promoted brand name with a highly-recognisable master blender in Joy Spence. After that, it becomes a bit harder as most distilleries in Jamaica produce rum of all different types to go into blends that might contain products of more than one country. It’s only recently that these single distillery rums have become highly-prized and bottled separately like single malt whisky. The next best known is probably Hampden Estate, which now bottles under its own brand name. Then there’s Clarendon and Long Pond, revered among rum lovers when independently bottled but without any brand presence outside of serious rum geeks. 

Right at the bottom of this name-recognition ranking, the one that would win at Pointless, must surely be New Yarmouth. No, not a resort in Suffolk but a distillery in Clarendon Parish to the west of Kingston. It deserves to be better known as it’s the home of that Jamaican icon, J. Wray & Nephew overproof rum, and is in the same stable as Appleton, under the Campari umbrella. If you can imagine a vast stable under a giant umbrella. Mixing my metaphors a bit there. Anyway, New Yarmouth produces both pot and column still rums, J. Wray & Nephew is an unaged blend of the two. It also produces aged rums for blends. Which brings us on to this New Arrival of the Week.

It’s 100% pot still, distilled in June 2005 and poured into ex-bourbon barrels. It spent just under seven years ageing in Jamaica before in May 2012 being shipped to England in cask, and then to Denmark in December 2017 before bottling in October 2020. Only 255 bottles were filled. It’s usually said that one year in Jamaica is worth three in Scotland, so having spent nearly seven years on the island with a further eight in Europe, this is a very well-aged rum.

What you’ll notice as soon as you open the bottle is the extraordinarily high level of ester. These are the flavoursome compounds created mainly during fermentation but also formed by distillation and ageing. The best-known ones are ethyl propionate (smells like pineapple), ethyl acetate (nail polish), amyl acetate (bananas) and ethyl butyrate (more pineapple). Esters are measured in ppm (parts per million); J. Wray & Nephew, quite a funky rum, has a ppm of around 200. Anything above 500 ppm is considered seriously intense; this New Yarmouth has 1300. 1300! That’s funky as hell. Rum nerds will be interested to know that the marque, a designation showing the style of rum for blenders, is a NYE/ WM, the second highest ester count produced by the distillery. Rums of this intensity are what’s known as continental flavour. I remember someone from rum bottler Velier explaining that they were originally produced to get around the high duty on importing spirits into Germany. You would only need a tiny amount of continental flavour rum to provide character to German neutral spirits. 

Vidya New Yarmouth

The snazzy label is by Aaron Godwin-Lamptey

They weren’t really designed to be drunk on their own. And yet, they are magnificent creatures, if not for the faint-hearted. This one is bottled by a British company that specialises in rare rums called Vidya, which apparently comes from a Sanskrit word meaning clarity, knowledge and learning. What this has to do with rum, we have no idea. The rum’s name makes a bit more sense. In Jamaican legend, the River Mumma was a mermaid-like creature who guarded the river and would lure people to their doom. You have been warned! The striking label is by British artist Aaron Godwin-Lamptey.

All great stuff, but it’s the contents of the bottle that we think you’ll be most interested in (see tasting note below). It’s bottled at cask strength too, 61.5% ABV, so it’s big in every sense of the word. We think this is one of the most exciting New Arrivals we’ve had all year.

Tasting note from the hep cats at Vidya

Nose: Fruity and typically funky Jamaican nose with banana, coconut, strawberries and notes of varnish.

Palate: Spicy oak and vanilla accompany the fruit discovered on the nose. Mint, coconut, raisins. 

Overall: Funky, medicinal, fresh and fruity.

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New Arrival of the Week: Dos Hombres Mezcal

This week Dos Hombres Mezcal has found its way to MoM Towers. You might know the founders of the brand. It’s the stars of Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. No,…

This week Dos Hombres Mezcal has found its way to MoM Towers. You might know the founders of the brand. It’s the stars of Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. No, really.

Back in 2016 two friends in a New York bar shared a conversation about life and what kind of project they should embark upon together. They decided to found a booze brand, settling on mezcal as their spirit of choice. Not an unusual story in our industry, only those two friends were Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul, the stars of one of the finest pieces of television ever broadcast: Breaking Bad. 

Cranston explained in an Instagram post. “We had the time of our lives while shooting Breaking Bad and truly built a very special bond. Knowing that we couldn’t share the screen for quite a while – our thoughts turned to a new project,” he said. “The younger one looked at his drink and said, you know what we should do? A really special mezcal. The older one said, you mean the liquor with a worm at the bottom? Nah, that was just some bullshit gimmick, I mean real, artisanal mezcal made by hand in Mexico.” 

The idea took hold and the duo started travelling to Oaxaca together to see if they could find the kind of spirit they had in mind. In a remote section of Oaxaca in a tiny village called San Luis del Rio they did just that and met its creator seventh-generation mezcalero Gregorio Velasco, who is most notable for making Piedre Almas. In another Instagram post, Cranston said that “Gregorio isn’t just a beautiful human being, he’s our maestro. Without Gregorio’s artistry and passion for perfection, our mezcal doesn’t exist. That’s not hype. All we did was find him and his brilliant spirit in the hills of Oaxaca”. Thus, Dos Hombres was born.

Dos Hombres Mezcal

Cranston and Paul found their ideal spirit on a dirt road in a remote part of Oaxaca

Velasco makes mezcal in a traditional way, harvesting his espadin agave after at least six years and cooking it in underground pit ovens for four days. Once the agave is transferred to an above-ground pit, it’s milled by a donkey-drawn ‘tahona’ (essentially a big stone wheel which breaks down the agave into a mash). The mash is fermented in wooden tubs for 7-10 days with mountain spring water where it becomes ‘tepache’, which is then loaded into copper pot stills and double-distilled over the course of two days.  

The production process behind Dos Hombres isn’t just in-keeping with the heritage of the spirit, but it’s also made in a manner that prioritises sustainable agriculture, a pressing concern for the mezcal industry. Velasco only uses natural fertilizers available in the Oaxaca region, including the agave waste from distillation (bagazo). After harvest, the soil is maintained intact for three-to-four years before agave is planted again. Dos Hombres also plans to build a cooling system to exclusively treat water used to cool our copper stills so this may be repurposed. Nice work, fellas.

Now, it’s understandable to take a sceptical view of celebrity-backed boozes; there are an awful lot of them. But to their credit, Cranston and Paul seem genuine about their passion and have gone about their business admirably so far. “We love all things mezcal. Love the process and the community behind this beautiful spirit,” Paul explained when the brand launched in July 2019.

Dos Hombres Mezcal

The guys have done good, we’re fans of Dos Hombres Mezcal and look forward to what comes next

Plus, their status and social media reach has the potential to draw some deserved attention to this still underappreciated spirit. We’ve already seen the effect that charismatic, humorous and engaging characters can have thanks to the likes of Ryan Reynolds and George Clooney, who have both sold their brands (Aviation Gin and Casamigos, respectively) to Diageo for big bucks. 

Fame doesn’t make the liquid inside the bottle taste any better, however, which is ultimately the most important thing. It would appear that Cranston and Paul have little to worry about in this regard, though. Dos Hombres stormed the awards circuit in this first year, being named Mezcal of the Year in New York International Spirits Competition 2020, taking home a gold medal in the London Spirits Competition 2020 and also receiving 96 points, the highest rating a Mezcal has ever received in Cigar & Spirits Magazine’s nearly ten years of rating spirits. 

Awards are one thing, but the most important question remains: does it live up to our high standards? (stop laughing). M’colleague Henry had a try, and described it as such: “It’s a delightfully easy-going Mezcal, great for sipping and mixing. It’s really the perfect mezcal for people like me who don’t like the whole burning tyre thing you get in some.” Sounds wonderful. He also put together this terrific tasting note and we’ve included some suggested serves so you can really get stuck in and enjoy it. Right now the only Dos Hombres expression available is made with espadin agave, but a tobala mezcal is en route and expected to land in 2021, so be sure to keep an eye out for that.

Dos Hombres Mezcal

Dos Hombres Mezcal Tasting Note:

Nose: Toasty rather than pungently smoky, like a wood fire, vegetal green olive and lime notes.

Palate: Super smooth and creamy, lovely mouthfeel with tangy citrus notes, and lingering smoke and black pepper.

Finish: Subtle smoke with that creamy mouthfeel persisting.

Suggested Serve: The Dos Hombres recipe page has plenty of interestingly and wonderfully named cocktails, such as the Cranstonian, a combination of Dos Hombres Mezcal, cranberry juice, Aperol and fresh lime juice, or Naked & Famous which swaps the lime juice for lemon juice and the Aperol for Chartreuse Yellow and the Mango Jalapeño, which sounds right up my street and features the little spicy delights alongside lime juice and mango puree.

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New Arrival of the Week: Springbank 17 YO Madeira

Today we’re toasting the arrival of a limited edition Madeira cask whisky from a distillery that still does things the old ways, Springbank in Campbelltown. Hurry, it’s not going to…

Today we’re toasting the arrival of a limited edition Madeira cask whisky from a distillery that still does things the old ways, Springbank in Campbelltown. Hurry, it’s not going to be around for long.

You can tell that they do things a little differently at Springbank from the marketing bumf. There’s no fancy fonts, or guff about ‘lovingly hand-selected’ and ‘hand-signed’ casks. Instead you have something that would have looked a bit dated in 1981.

Production is similarly traditional. Everything, malting, distilling, maturation and bottling, takes place at the distillery. Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland still doing this. But that’s not the end of the anachronisms: the stills are direct-fired, with oil. There’s something called a rummager inside to remove burnt bits. Springbank has its own unique distillation process with three stills. It’s a bit hard to explain so I’m going to quote from The World of Whisky book: 

“The low wines, foreshots and feints are re-distilled with the next batch of low wines in an intermediate still before final distillation occurs in the spirit still.”

The unique still set-up at Springbank

So, the spirit is distilled 2.5 times. The wash and the spirit stills use shell and tube condensers while the intermediate still uses a worm tub.We scarcely need to say that there’s no chill-filtration or colouring used. The final unusual thing about Springbank is it has been in the hands of the same family since it was founded 1828. The current chairman of the distillery Hedley Wright is great grandson of founder John Mitchell. 

At one point, Campbeltown, on a peninsula next to the isle of Arran across the water from Glasgow, was home to a staggering 34 distilleries. For much of the 19th century, it was Scotland’s whisky powerhouse, famous for its heavy oily spirit which was much in demand for blends. Things began to go wrong with the advent of the railways which saw better-connected distilleries further north, Speyside basically, stealing a slice of the whisky pie. But there were other problems: the Campbelltown style was ill-suited to lighter blends that became fashionable, Prohibition struck a blow, and there are stories about unscrupulous distillers simply making bad whisky and ruining the town’s reputation. By the 1930s there was only one functioning distillery in town.

Springbank suffered too. It stopped distilling in 1926 only to reopen in 1933. It then shut down for nearly ten years in 1979 as the Scotch whisky industry fell into another trough, and when distillation resumed, it was with only a limited production. Of course, things are very different now, Sprinbank is one of the most sought-after whiskies in the world, with old bottling attracting big money on the auction market. 

Casks outside the distillery

Things were going so well that in 2004, Springbank reopened Glengyle distillery taking the number of working distilleries in Campbeltown to three, the final one being Glen Scotia. Just to confuse matters, Glen Scotia owns the Glengyle brand so new releases from Glengyle distillery have been released under the Kilkerran name. The 12 year old is well with trying if you want some of the Springbank style at a bargain price.

Springbank itself produces three different brands: Longrow, which is heavily peated and distilled twice, Hazelburn which is unpeated and triple distilled as well as the classic lightly-peated Springbank. This week’s new arrival is a limited edition of this classic style. 

Only 9200 bottles have been produced. It was aged in rum and bourbon casks for 14 years, before spending three years in Madeira casks, a total of 17 years, before being bottled in October 2020 at 47.8% ABV. That classic Springbank fullness mingles beautifully with the sweet nuttiness from the Madeira wine. It’s sure to sell out quickly but if you’re not one of the lucky ones, there are other Springbank and Campbeltown whiskies on the site.

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Big rich flavours with ginger cake, toffee, grapefruit rind and strawberry jam coming through strongly with underlying saline and smoky notes.

Palate: Spicy black pepper and briny peat leads with sweet notes of caramelised ginger, salted caramel and fennel coming through, and a thick oily feel in the mouth.

Finish: Long, peat character mingles with walnuts.

Overall: Beautifully-balanced dram combining all those classic oily briny Springbank notes with sweet jam, toffee and nuts from the Madeira cask.

Springbank 17 year old Madeira wood is now sold out. 

Springbank Madeira

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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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