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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: New Arrival of the Week

New Arrival of the Week: Husk Pure Cane

Our New Arrival of the Week is something a bit different. Say hello to Husk Pure Cane, an unaged Australian Agricole made on a family-owned farm distillery. It was a…

Our New Arrival of the Week is something a bit different. Say hello to Husk Pure Cane, an unaged Australian Agricole made on a family-owned farm distillery.

It was a family holiday to the French Caribbean that sparked Paul Messenger’s love of Agricole rum and prompted him to build Australia’s first and only Agricole distillery, Husk. Located on the family farm nestled in the green caldera on the north bank of the Tweed River at Tumbulgum, a town in northern New South Wales, Australia, the distillery is run by Messenger and his wife Mandy, plus daughters Harriet, Edwina and Claudia. It’s probably best known for producing Ink Gin.

The majority of the output from the distillery, which was completed in 2019 after a long and difficult construction complicated by the most devastating flood in 100 years as an aftermath of cyclone Debbie, is Agricole rum. This includes Husk Spiced Bam Bam, a three-to-four-year-old Agricole rum flavoured with wattleseed and native ginger, both which grow wild on the farm. It’s recipe also includes mandarin, orange peel, cinnamon quills, vanilla beans and a sprinkle of sea salt. The line-up also features Husk Triple Oak, a premium sipping Agricole rum that was matured in ex-Port, ex-bourbon and new American oak.  

Husk Pure Cane

The Messenger family at their farm and distillery

The brand’s signature product, however, is Husk Cane Rum, which the family describes as being “the most pure expression of our region”. It can only be made from freshly crushed cane juice, so its production is restricted to the harvest season from August to November. Once harvested, the sugar cane is transported to a mini sugar mill designed and built specifically to make rum. Here it is immediately crushed and transferred to the fermentation tanks for inoculation. “We are farmers first, distillers second. This means we make rum from the finest quality, freshly crushed cane juice grown on our farm,” says Messenger, who continues to oversee the distilling and every aspect of the distillery. “Drawing inspiration from the traditional, our production methods were designed to complement our provenance and local cane varieties and to suit the Australian palate.”

Fermentation starts with a special strain of yeast which is propagated onsite over 48 hours prior to pitching. To best control fermentation, closed, jacketed beer fermenters are employed, as well as an intelligent cooling system that maintains the temperature of the brew at 32-34˚C. The brew is fermented for 100 hours, quite a long time, and produces a fruity, nutty wash that is then distilled in a 6,000-litre Scottish Forsyth still which arrived on the farm back in 2018. It was built in Rothes, Scotland to the brand’s specifications that were drawn up over six years of experimenting, travelling, tasting and learning. At the time of writing, it’s the only Forsyth still to venture into the Antipodes. Husk Distillers even went so far as to build its own dephlegmator (a device that sits at the stop of the still to encourage more reflux) to allow more control over the production process, which is led by Quentin Brival. The head distiller and production manager, Brival hails from French Martinique, the home of Agricole rum, and serves as Husk’s fountain of knowledge of all things Agricole. 

Husk Pure Cane

Head distiller Quentin Brival in the sugar cane fields

Husk practices a sustainable approach to production that the family has termed ‘full circle distilling’. This essentially means most of the waste made at the distillery gets put back into the farm. Around 30 cattle on-site eat the stillage, spent botanicals, cane tops and the high-protein yeast left behind after distilling. The family are also the caretakers of 12 hectares of remnant Gondwana rainforest, which is at the rear of the farm. Any leftover bagasse (what is left behind after the sugar cane is juiced) that the cattle can’t eat is used as mulch for the rainforest regeneration plantings dotted across the property, or used as a compost base. 

Husk Pure Cane was bottled at 40% ABV without any chill-filtration or added flavourings or colouring. What you will see on the back of each bottle, however, is the specific cane variety used and the harvest year as seasonal variations are reflected clearly in this style of unaged Agricoles. Fans of provenance and terroir will appreciate this. It has exactly the kind of profile you want from a good Agricole rum: it’s vibrant, grassy and fresh, and makes for a good introduction to this beautiful and unique style if you’re not familiar.

Husk Pure Cane

Husk Pure Cane

“When you taste our rum, you will discover a body and character unlike traditional molasses rums. This sparkling, crystal-clear liquid exhibits an unparalleled freshness with herbal and floral aromas, light and fruity with sweet sugar cane and citrus notes and a well-balanced, pastry finish – a world away from many one-dimensional, almost vodka-like molasses-based white rums,” Messenger says. 

If the taste of an Agricole rum is a little overwhelming to you initially, then you’ll be pleased to know that Pure Cane was designed to be mixed. Some simple, refreshing serves you can try are classic rum cocktails like a Mojito or Daiquiri, while the traditional Brazilian Caipirinha or classic Caribbean Ti Punch are also good options. Otherwise, you can keep things simple and mix with your Husk Pure Cane with soda water and a squeeze of lime. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Yoichi Apple Brandy Cask

Just landed at MoM, a Japanese single malt whisky from Yoichi distillery part-aged in an apple brandy cask. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the marriage of Nikka’s founder Masataka…

Just landed at MoM, a Japanese single malt whisky from Yoichi distillery part-aged in an apple brandy cask. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of the marriage of Nikka’s founder Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan, and pays tribute to the early days of the company. To find out more, read on…

At Yoichi, the distillery workers  still use a technique that has long since disappeared in Scotland: coal-fired stills. They are very hard to manage, it’s a skilled job feeding the flames and a moment’s negligence can burn the still. Gas is much more controllable which is why it’s taken over in Scotch whisky. But the team at Yoichi think it’s worth it, producing rich roasty flavours in the new make.

The happy couple: Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan

The distillery was built in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru. It’s on the island of Hokkaido. Damp and cold, apparently it reminded him of Campbeltown where he had worked at Hazelburn and lived with his Scottish wife Rita. Though the winters are very cold, summers are hot so casks mature very differently to the more steady climate of Scotland. Hokkaido is also rich in fresh water and peat (though the onsite maltings are no longer used and Yoichi buys in most of  its malt from Scotland). At first the distillery had only one still which was used for both wash and spirit but it expanded in 1966 and now has six. A much more modern distillery at Miyagikyo, in the north eastern part of Japan’s main island Honshu, was set up in 1969. A wide variety of whiskies are made here in pot and continuous stills including a Coffey malt whisky, something that would not be allowed in Scotland. 

It’s not just the coal-fired stills, Yoichi is traditional in other ways. Ferments, usually with a brewers yeast, are long, up to five days and the distillery uses worm tub condensers. These combined with steeply-sloping lyne arms on the stills, resulting in less copper contact, create a heavy oily spirit. The classic Yoichi taste combines the heavy and smoky with a fruity lift. In common with most Japanese distilleries, a wide variety of spirits are made in the one distillery by playing with the wort (it’s usually clear but they do make occasional batches with cloudy), yeasts, peat, cut points etc. And that’s before you get onto the wide variety of oak at the blender’s command.

Our new arrival celebrates the 100th anniversary, on 8 January 1920, of the marriage between Masataka Taketsuru and Rita Cowan which did more than join two people together but linked Japan and Scotland together in shared love of whisky. Originally he worked for Suntory on his return for Japan. When he set up on his own in 1934, his main business wasn’t just whisky. Hokkaido is famous for its apples and so he also made fruit juice. In fact the original name of  the company was Dai Nippon Kaju: the Great Japanese Juice Company, which was later abbreviated in the 1950s to Nikka.

So this new release also pays homage to the early days of Nikka by being part-aged in a cask that formerly held apple brandy. The primary ageing took place largely in new American oak plus some ex-sherry casks. Like all Yoichi releases, it’s a blend of different styles produced at this one distillery. It’s bottled at 47% and released with no age statement. It’s a fitting tribute to the marriage that founded Japanese whisky.

But that’s not all, in addition to this special Yoichi (click here to buy), Nikka has also released a special apple brandy cask single malt from Miyagikyo and, naturally, it’s also available (here) from Master of Malt. 

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Baked apples initially and then the peat comes in strongly with wood fires, Havana cigars and salty seaside notes. It’s rich and full-flavoured.

Palate: Deliciously fruity, apple pie and pears, with smoky lingering in the background, grassy and aromatic notes come in. The texture is oily and full.

Finish: Citrus fruits combine with dates and other dried fruits with spicy liquorice, vanilla, roasted nuts and toasted brioche. Long and harmonious.

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New Arrival of the Week: Killowen 10 year old Txakolina Acacia whiskey

This week we’re drinking a blended whiskey put together by one of Ireland’s newest and smallest distilleries, and aged in Basque wines casks. Very unconventional! Brendan Carty is an architect…

This week we’re drinking a blended whiskey put together by one of Ireland’s newest and smallest distilleries, and aged in Basque wines casks. Very unconventional!

Brendan Carty is an architect by profession but he got the idea to start his own distillery from visiting small producers in Australia, particularly in Tasmania. “I tried two year old whisky from Belgrove and it was as good as 21 year old Redbreast,” he said. When he returned to Northern Ireland in 2017, he set about making his dream a reality.

He acquired a derelict stables at Killowen near a megalithic tomb in County Down and fitted it with ultra-traditional equipment: two direct-fired stills, a 1,000 litre wash still called Christoir and an 800 litre spirit still called Broc (after the Irish for badger), and worm tub condensers. This set-up, unique to Ireland, “creates an amazing flavour, another layer of complexity,” according to Carty. He began filling casks a year and half ago, the aim is to create a traditional single pot still whiskey. Although Carty’s view of what is traditional doesn’t chime with those formulated by the Irish Whiskey Association, so he won’t be able to call it as such. His mash bill consists of about 30% oats, rye and wheat, the Geographical Indication (GI) only allows for 5%, 30% unmalted barley and 40% malted barley. According to Carty, the 5% came at the instigation of Midleton which at the time the rules were created was the only distillery making single malt still whiskeys like Redbreast and Green Spot. In the past, the non-barley component was much higher. Furthermore, Killowen uses peated malt (GI rules do not allow for the word peated to be on the label of single pot stills releases) and only distills twice. According to Carty in the past: “Irish whiskey was more double than triple-distilled and more often peated than not. To turn our back on that heritage is absurd.”

Brendan Carty with Christoir and Broc

His whiskey comes of age in a year and a half, we’re sure it’s going to be well worth trying. Meanwhile, there are various gins and a poitin to try. The latter, made with an unpeated single pot still mash bill, he’s particularly proud of, describing it as “full of flavour, you get the influence of the direct flame, the Maillard reaction, giving an oiliness and full body.” He has also released some blended whiskies as part of the Bonder Experimental Series and as you might imagine these are proudly unconventional right down to his transparency about sourcing liquids. 

As per IWA rules, he’s not allowed to say which distilleries go into the blend so instead he says where the distilleries are located. The whiskey we’re looking at this week consists of Irish single malt and grain whiskeys, matured separately in bourbon casks, before being blended and aged in a sherry barrel, then married with a bourbon-aged Irish single malt in a Spanish wine cask. The grain came from County Louth so we can assume it’s from Cooley and the malt from County Antrim so it doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to work out that it’s from Bushmills Distillery. Carty told us that he did try to buy some from Midleton but it “doesn’t sell whiskey to small producers.”

Some of the Killowen range

The Spanish wine cask used is not straightforward either. It formerly held Txakolina. Pronounced something like ‘chakolina’, this is a very dry, slightly sparkling wine, not dissimilar to a vinho verde, that comes from the Basque country. It’s just the thing to drink with mountains of seafood. But that’s not the end of the craziness, because the ends of the wine barrel were swapped for virgin wood Acacia. This is one of the areas where the IWA is relaxed giving producers the kind of freedom when it comes to cask that would cause the SWA to have kittens. Finally, it was bottled with a 10 year old age statement at cask strength, 55.4% ABV, with no chill-filtering. In fact, according to Carty, no filtering of any kind. Only 490 50cl bottles have been filled.  

There are other whiskeys in the series including one finished in an old Islay cask and a Tequila barrel bottling. So, lots of exciting things going on at Killowen. We are expecting great things from the first whiskey distilled in-house.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Sweet white fruit, with peach, nectarine and grape, with ripe pear, citrus peel and subtle oak spice.

Palate: More fresh pear accompanied by greener notes now, with dried kitchen herbs, oaky vanilla and dried apricot.

Finish: Hints of lychee, grapefruit and more ripe stone fruit, with more wood spice returning on a lengthy finish.

Killowen 10 year old Txakolina Acacia whiskey is now available from Master of Malt

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New Arrival of the Week: Plantation Fiji 2005

Today, we’re looking at a brand of rum, Plantation, that announced last week it is in the process of changing its name because of the word’s unsavoury connotations. We’re shining…

Today, we’re looking at a brand of rum, Plantation, that announced last week it is in the process of changing its name because of the word’s unsavoury connotations. We’re shining the spotlight on two particularly interesting bottlings, one from Fiji and the other from Jamaica. 

Before telling you about the rums that have just arrived at MoM HQ, we’re going to start with the news that Plantation is in the process of changing its name. “As the dialogue on racial equality continues globally, we understand the hurtful connotation the word plantation can evoke to some people, especially in its association with much graver images and dark realities of the past,” says the brand’s founder Alexandre Gabriel. “We look to grow in our understanding of these difficult issues and while we don’t currently have all the details of what our brand name evolution will involve, we want to let everyone know that we are working to make fitting changes.” We will let you know as soon as we learn more.

When you think of rum, your mind probably goes to Caribbean and Latin America, but sugar cane spirits are made all over the world. According to Alexandre Gabriel from Plantation rum (as the brand is still called for the time being), sugar cane which is native to Asia would have been planted in Fiji long before it was brought to the Caribbean. The country is made up of over 300 islands which together have a landmass about twice the size of Jamaica and produce about 160,000 tonnes of sugar annually. The variety planted, which Gabriel calls ‘noble cane’, was wiped out by disease in the Caribbean in the late 19th century but still thrives in Fiji.  

It’s hard to say how long rum has been made in Fiji though. Gabriel thinks it dates back a long time: “You cannot help human beings from making booze, it’s been happening throughout the world. It’s a rule that’s never been broken.” He has found evidence of distilling from the early 1800s but thinks it goes back further. 

The distillery that our New Arrival of the Week comes from, however, is more recent. It was built about 50 years ago by the Fijian government at Lautake on Viti Levu, the largest island (which is roughly the same size as Jamaica) to process molasses from the nearby plantations. In 1980, it was bought by a private consortium, the Rum Co. of Fiji

One of the pot stills at the Rum Co. of Fiji

As well as using exclusively Fijian sugar cane, Gabriel said: “The yeast you use, how you ferment, how you distill, how you handle it is as important as your raw material. The sense of terroir in a holistic way including the local know-how that perpetuates itself from that one generation to the other.” He then filled us in on production methods: “The Rum Co. of Fiji uses both wild yeast and cultured yeast, depending on what they’re trying to achieve.” Fermentation of the molasses takes around five days depending on the batch. The distillery has two pot stills, both adapted with double retorts to produce rum by John Dore & Sons, and an old column Canadian column still which produces spirit a little over 80% ABV. Gabriel describes the country’s style as combining some of the weight and intensity of Jamaica with the elegance and balance of Barbados. 

The team at the distillery are all Fijian except head distiller Liam Costello. An Australian, his background is in wine but he married a Fijian woman and moved to the island: “And fell in love not only with a wonderful Fijian woman, but also with the country and became the master distiller at the distillery,” said Gabriel. 

Today, the distillery produces two brands Ratu and Bounty (not to be confused with the brand of the same name from St. Lucia) as well as selling bulk rum. Which is where Gabriel stepped in. He explains: “I met Liam five or six years ago, I knew about his rums and I really liked them. I said one day: ‘I think we should do something together’ and he says ‘yes’. So we kept on communicating until one day he called me and he says: ‘You know I sold some of the bulk here and there and I was very often disappointed with what they did with my rum.’”

Gabriel & Costello, a great double act

So Gabriel and Costello hatched a plan to bottle some spirits that will show off the Fijian style to the full. There’s a popular blend but Plantation also bottles some special vintage offerings. The latest batch of which comes only from the column still. According to Gabriel, even with just the column, you still get that intensity but, as he puts it “in a very elegant way.”

The rum was aged for 14 years in Fiji in ex-bourbon barrels before being shipped in cask to France: “The interaction with the wood and the elements is incredible,” he said. This is how rum was shipped in the old days, and Gabriel thinks it really makes a difference and this is apparent not just in taste but through analysis with gas chromatography.  “I can show you a chromatography before and after you’ve shipped the rum,” he said, “the ester elements, the fruit elements are totally boosted, you have wood extractions that’s 10% more, just during that journey.”  Once in France, it is transferred to old Cognac casks and aged a further year. It’s bottled at 50.2% ABV with 4 grams per litre of sugar added. The result is something that is elegant and fruity with notes of toffee, mint, apples and crème brûlée with spicy ginger and cinnamon. A gorgeous luxurious rum that pays tribute to a rum tradition that deserves to be better known.

But today’s excitement doesn’t stop there: in addition to this exclusive Fijian rarity, we’ve got something very special from Jamaica. It’s a rum from Clarendon distillery distilled in 2003. It’s a high classic high ester style (422 g/hl)  known as a Monymusk Wedderburn (a designation created in the 19th century by rum blenders) produced from a two week ferment followed by distillation in a Vendome pot still. It’s aged for 16 years in Jamaica in American oak before spending a year in Cognac. It’s bottled unsweetened at 49.5% ABV. “I do a dosage depending on what I’m trying to showcase,” Gabriel said, “Here I wanted to really bring forward this rustic, in a good way, feel”. As you would hope, it’s packed full of high ester goodness like overripe banana and pineapple melded with chocolate and spice cask flavours. 

So there we have it: two utterly different, unique Plantation rums.

Plantation Fiji 2005 and Jamaica 2003 are now available from Master of Malt.

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New Arrival of the Week: Crabbie 25 Year Old 1994

Today we’re celebrating a single cask release from John Crabbie & Co. Normally this independent bottler keeps the source of its whisky secret but in this case we are allowed…

Today we’re celebrating a single cask release from John Crabbie & Co. Normally this independent bottler keeps the source of its whisky secret but in this case we are allowed to reveal which island distillery it comes from. . . . 

John Crabbie was one of the great pioneers of blended whisky like John Walker and Arthur Bell. Crabbie, who lived from 1806 to 1891, owned a grocery and tea-blending business in Edinburgh, but moved into the whisky trade when phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Cognac leading to demand for an alternative from English drinkers. He acquired casks and started bottling whiskys from more than 70 distilleries around Scotland. With his friend Andrew Usher, he began blending whisky to create a consistent product. This led to him purchasing a brewery in Leith where he set up his own distillery producing not just whisky but also gin and liqueurs including a famous ginger wine. Later the two of them, along with William Sanderson (of VAT 69 fame), would set up the mighty North British grain distillery.

The North British is still going strong but until very recently the Crabbie name was only known for ginger wine, all that whisky heritage was largely forgotten. In 2007, Halewood, the company behind Whitley Neill gin as well as the Aber Falls Distillery, City of London Distillery, Liverpool Gin Distillery, and the Bristol & Bath Rum Distillery, acquired Crabbie. Production of Crabbie’s ginger wine moved to Liverpool, shock horror! But Halewood has not neglected Crabbie’s Scottish roots. Far from it, in December 2018 the company opened Crabbie & Co, Edinburgh’s first single malt distillery in over 100 years. Whisky, of course, takes a long time, so Crabbie has been building a reputation with some award-winning single malts releases from mysterious distilleries. 

The latest release, however, Crabbie is proud to announce is from Tobermory, a popular distillery at Master of Malt and not only for its excellent whiskies. This particular one was distilled in 1994 and aged in an ex-sherry hogshead and then bottled without chill filtering or the addition of colour at 46.2% ABV. John Kennedy, head of sales for Scotland, commented: “Crabbie 1994 Island Single Malt is one of our most carefully planned releases to date. We’d had cask samples from distilleries all across Scotland and it was a difficult choice, but this sherry cask from Tobermory was absolutely stand out with its nose of sweet macerated dates, fruit cake, warming spice and its orange marmalade and rich dark chocolate finish. It will most certainly appeal to those who take their whisky seriously.”

We take our whisky very seriously here and were suitably impressed. Despite the all sherry cask ageing, it’s not what you’d think of as a ‘sherry bomb’. The nose is aromatic, minty even, followed by sweet toffee, coffee and dark chocolate notes. In the mouth, it’s fruity and fresh, with cedar, black pepper and muscovado sugar on the finish. All round, it’s an elegant drop. It’s also a very limited edition with only 247 bottles available for all of the UK market. We think it’s a great tribute to a giant of Scotch whisky who deserves to be much better known.

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Brandy butter and fruitcake, with a hint of menthol sneaking through.

Palate: Soft on the palate, with sultana, chocolate mousse and malt loaf. A slow build of clove and caraway warmth.

Finish: Tiffin, chocolate peanuts and some fresh mango fruitiness.

Crabbie 25 Year Old 1994 is available now from Master of Malt.

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New Arrival of the Week: Bunnahabhain 15 Year Old 2003 Amontillado Cask Finish

This week’s New Arrival from Bunnahabhain was originally a distillery-only expression but we’ve snaffled the lot so it’s now available only from Master of Malt. But probably not for long….

This week’s New Arrival from Bunnahabhain was originally a distillery-only expression but we’ve snaffled the lot so it’s now available only from Master of Malt. But probably not for long.

The gap left by the cancellation of Fèis Ìle left a huge hole in the life of many whisky lovers. Islay fans are a particularly fanatical bunch and the Covid crisis has meant that this year most won’t get their yearly island fix which also means that they won’t be able to buy certain releases that are only available from distillery doors. Well, our buyers have seen an opportunity by bringing Islay to you in the form of this former distillery-only release from Bunnahabhain which is now only available from Master of Malt.

It’s a 15 year old release that was distilled in February 2003 and filled into refill hogsheads. Then in 2016 it was transferred into amontillado hogsheads for a further two years ageing before it was bottled at cask strength, 57.4% ABV.  1710 bottles have been produced. The flavour is rich with dried fruit and chocolate without a trace of smoke. It’s very different from the typical Islay dram.

You might not be able to go to Bunnahabhain, but we can bring a little bit of Bunnahabhain to you

Bunnahabhain is something of an anomaly on the island in producing mainly unpeated for its single malt. This didn’t used to be the case. The distillery was built between 1881 and 1883 by the Islay Distillery Company. The name means ‘Mouth of the river’ in Gaelic; the river in question being the Margadale. According to Moss & Hume in The Making of Scotch Whisky, when it was built it was the largest distillery on the island with a capacity to produce 200,000 gallons (900,000 litres approximately) a year of highly-flavoured whisky for blending. Its owners merged in 1887 with Glenrothes to become Highland Distilleries Ltd. 

In 1963, production was doubled but the style changed with the closure of its maltings. From now on malt came unpeated from the mainland. Most of this new lighter Bunnahabhain went into Cutty Sark blended whisky. In 1999, Highland Distilleries was acquired by the Edrington Group which then sold Bunnahbhin to Burn Stewart Distillers in 2003. Bunnahabhain new owners kept the light style for the single malt but also used the distillery to make heavily peated malt for the Black Bottle blended whisky. Burn Stewart in turn was bought by South African spirits conglomerate Distill in 2014. It can be hard to keep up with who owns what in Scotch whisky.

The set-up consists of two large onion-shaped wash stills and two smaller pear-shaped spirits stills. Washbacks are traditional Oregon pine. Production now stands at 2.5 million litres a year. A little peated single malt is released under the Mòine label but ours is in the classic post-1963 Bunnahabhain style. Very nice it is too though perhaps not for real Islay headbangers. 

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Toasty oak and caramelised nuts, with dusty cocoa, earthy vanilla pod and jammy berries.

Palate: Plump raisin and melted dark chocolate, with mocha, dark treacle and oily nuts alongside forest berries.

Finish: Chocolate-covered raisins linger.

Bunnahabhain 15 Year Old 2003 Amontillado Cask Finish is only available from Master of Malt.

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New Arrival of the Week: Bathtub Gin 2020

The new arrival siren is sounding so that must mean we’ve got some new deliciousness to discuss. This week it’s a Master of Malt exclusive that we’ll donate £20.20 for every…

The new arrival siren is sounding so that must mean we’ve got some new deliciousness to discuss. This week it’s a Master of Malt exclusive that we’ll donate £20.20 for every bottle sold to help those affected by Covid-19. How delightful.

When the good folks at Bathtub Gin see an opportunity to help, help they do. It’s also useful that they really like creating new and delicious things. The result of both these facts in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis is Bathtub Gin 2020 – a new limited-run Bathtub Gin expression that raises vital funds for those in the hospitality industry badly affected by the pandemic. 

So what is Bathtub Gin 2020, and how exactly does it help? The new bottling gets its name for three reasons. One, it’s 2020 (obviously). Secondly, the usual ten-botanical Bathtub Gin recipe has been bolstered by another ten to make 20! Speedy maths. And last, but very clearly and obviously not least, for every bottle sold we’re donating £20.20 to help people in the hospitality industry affected by Covid-19. That’s a triple whammy of 20-based goodness right there.

Bathtub Gin 2020

£20.20 from the sale of every bottle will go to help those affected by Covid-19

And what does it actually taste like? Is it just like a supercharged Bathtub Gin? Yes and no. The second you lift your tasting glass to your nose, it’s different and distinct. It’s a great deal more complex (as you’d expect from the bolstered botanical list), but it’s genuinely different, too. The ‘regular’ Bathtub Gin starts its life as a distilled gin, and then the usual characters of juniper, orange peel, coriander, cassia, cloves and cardamom are all infused into it for an average of seven days. The new additions include dried yuzu peel, cubeb berries, camomile, silver needle tea, allspice and black pepper. The result is a distinct departure – but the family resemblance is for sure there. 

Bathtub Gin 2020 is rich, oily and inviting, with all those tasty baking spice notes enticing you in for a second sniff. On the palate, it’s distinctly Bathtub – all the usual citrus notes you get from the usual infusion, plus entirely new flavours and textures. It remains smooth and mouth-filling, but there’s some extra vibrancy from the yuzu, an intriguing forestry-floral vibe from the tea, and a delightful peppery warmth cutting through all that oiliness from the juniper. It’s a tasty little number, indeed.

And what to do with it? Gins of this intensity and vibrancy can make or break a cocktail. We reckon the oiliness will stand up well in a Negroni, and at the smidge higher 45.3%, it would absolutely sing in a G&T (just keep the tonic neutral, you don’t want to shout over all those wonderful botanical flavours). We also think Bathtub Gin 2020 would be a dreamy component in a Hanky Panky, with the sweet vermouth and Fernet-Branca beautifully balancing those sweet spices for something with a delectable punch indeed.

Bathtub Gin 2020

We recommend you enjoy it with a neutral tonic, or in a swish Hanky Panky

Hanky Panky recipe:

45ml Bathtub Gin 2020
45ml sweet vermouth
2 dashes Fernet-Branca
An orange twist to garnish

This is a super simple one – pop it all into a mixing glass with a good helping of ice and stir. Then just strain into a chilled glass and pop the orange twist on top. Voilà!

Last but not least, this isn’t just a new gin for gin’s sake. Bathtub Gin 2020 was created to help continue to raise funds for hospitality workers affected by the Covid-19 crisis. As we all know, restaurants, bars and clubs will remain affected for a very long time – challenges are myriad, from working out financially viable ways to reopen while maintaining social distancing, to opening up new platforms to sell drinks either outside or by mail order. And this is not a small problem – more than 3.2 million people are employed in the hospitality sector in the UK, according to UKHospitality. The industry has rallied round, and this is another way you can help. For every bottle of Bathtub Gin 2020 sold, £20.20 will be donated to a group of charities, including Hospitality Action, that helps those worst hit by the impact of Covid-19. Drink good stuff and do good stuff all in one!

Bathtub Gin 2020 tasting note:

Nose: Rich baking spices and black peppercorns combine with the earthy juniper for a luxuriously warming nose. Aromatic citrus peels add a vibrancy, while a fragrant tea note contributes further complexity. 

Palate: The juniper is immediately apparent and imparts a wonderfully oily texture. On the mid-palate, the nutmeg and liquorice turn into old-school cola cube sweeties, and there’s a lush berry component, too. The sweet spices give a pleasingly warming prickle around the side of the tongue.

Finish: Long and luscious, with those rich spices rolling on and on.

Overall: An incredibly complex, expressive gin. Give it a go lengthened with a neutral tonic, or in a Hanky Panky.

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New Arrival of the Week: Salcombe Whitestrand Rum

It’s another rum-heavy week here on the Master of Malt blog. To kick things off we have a special botanical rum distilled in Devon from the people who brought you…

It’s another rum-heavy week here on the Master of Malt blog. To kick things off we have a special botanical rum distilled in Devon from the people who brought you the award-winning Salcombe Gin. 

Salcombe Distillery was founded by Angus Lugsdin and his friend Howard Davies in 2014. Lugsdin’s background was in oil and gas exploration, but he was inspired by childhood holidays in Salcombe on the south Devon coast to set up a distillery there. They began distilling gin in 2016. “We set out with the aim to create one of the world’s best London Dry Gins,” Lugsdin told me. The result was Start Point, named after a local landmark. 

It’s fair to say they have been rather successful. Lugsdin told me, “in our first full year we won double gold at San Francisco, gold at the World Gin Awards and one of the highest ever recorded scores at the Beverage Tasting Institute in the US, with 96 out of 100.” Start Point has been followed by some interesting barrel-aged versions including collaborations with Bodegas Tradicion in Jerez and a sloe gin aged in casks from Niepoort in Portugal. Last year saw a bit of a departure with the release of limited edition gold rum which was aged in ex-bourbon barrels for around six months. 

And now there’s a new rum, inspired by the Salcombe Fruiters, boats that in the 19th century brought produce to England from warmer climates including sugar, molasses and finished rum. It’s called Whitestrand after an area of Salcombe where the ferry boats and harbour master are located. Also, said Lugsdin, “it sounds quite Caribbean.” 

To make its white rum, Salcombe uses a mixture of molasses and unrefined sugar, fermented with a blend of yeasts. You need special yeasts to get such a high sugar mixture fermenting. According to Lugsdin: “we are working with a lot of different yeasts, some for rum, some champagne and some beer, to find the right combination.” Fermentation lasts around 4-5 days depending on the weather. 

This is then distilled twice in a 60 litre copper pot still. During the second distillation a selection of botanicals are added. Lugsdin told me that they use whole spices not essences including fresh lime, coconut and long pepper to bring out the banana bread and apricot flavours of the spirit. It’s bottled at 42.4% ABV. Finally and unusually, there’s no sugar added at the end. The idea is to create something refreshing and elegant not a heavy, sweet spiced rum. Lugsdin recommended mixing it with ginger ale and lime to make a so-called ‘Light and Stormy’ (do you see what they did there?) Or try it in a Mojito (see below).

Whitestrand is made in small batches and will, unlike the limited edition gold rum, be part of the Salcombe core range. But there’s also some neat rum ageing in the barrel. In addition to bourbon casks, Lugsdin told me that they have some interesting barrels sourced from wineries. From Salcombe’s track record with barrel finishes, these are likely to be from some extremely interesting producers. The team is currently experimenting with finishes and there should be something to try at the end of the summer. Watch this space. 

Whitestrand Mojito

50ml Salcombe Whitestrand Rum
2 teaspoons of caster sugar
Mint leaves
Fresh limes
Soda water

In a Highball glass, muddle four wedges of lime, four mint leaves and two teaspoons of caster sugar. Add one large measure of Salcombe Whitestrand rum and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Fill the Highball glass with ice, top up with soda water and gently stir.

Salcombe Whitestrand Rum is available to buy now from Master of Malt.

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New Arrival of the Week: Dunderhead Rum

There’s a bit of a rum theme this week at Master of Malt. No particular reason, we just love the stuff. We’re particularly excited about a bottle that has just…

There’s a bit of a rum theme this week at Master of Malt. No particular reason, we just love the stuff. We’re particularly excited about a bottle that has just arrived in our warehouse: it’s funkier than Fela Kuti, fruitier than a tube of Fruit Pastilles and riper than a prize-winning pineapple, it’s Dunderhead rum!

There’s no mistaking high ester Jamaican rum. That smell: pineapples, bananas, fruit so ripe it’s almost rotten. So wrong and yet so perfectly right. That’s what you get with Dunderhead rum. It’s a blend of rums from around the Caribbean but it gets its name from its most noticeable component country, Jamaica. 

Dunder is the leftovers in the pot after distillation. In most rum producing countries, these would be used a fertiliser. Not so in Jamaica, it goes into so-called dunder pits. Essentially holes in the ground full of rotting fermented molasses. Mmmmmmm, rotting fermented molasses! You hear rumours that sometimes animals* wander into these pits and die, all adding to the funk. This might sound revolting but all the bacteria working away creates esters. Esters are volatile compounds produced by fermentation; they include ethyl butyrate, which smells of pineapple and ethyl acetate, which smells of nail varnish. 

This dunder is used to add complexity to fermentations with fresh molasses. It might sound bizarre but it’s not unique to Jamaica. Similar things happen in bourbon with sour mash and in the production of baijiu. In Scotland, many distilleries keep their old pine fermenters in order to encourage the build up of bacteria that create interesting flavours. The Jamaicans just take it really far. Fermentations take place over many days with natural yeasts, all good for creating those magical flavours.

Modern multi-column distillation would remove most of these flavours so high ester rums tend to be made with shorter old school columns or traditional pot stills. Distilleries such as Long Pond and Hampden are famous for producing this style of rum, though Appleton Estate, probably Jamaica’s most famous distillery, produces a much cleaner spirit and doesn’t use dunder. These rums are delicious drunk young for the full pineapple and banana effect but also certain esters are formed during the ageing process giving you balsamic and Madeira-like flavours. Extremely high ester rums can be so strongly flavoured as to be almost undrinkable on their own but they are highly prized for blending. A special class of rums known as ‘continental flavour’ are produced with off-the-scale esters and used in minuscule quantities to create rums in Germany. You sometimes see this bottled on their own and they make an amazing experience. Be warned, a little goes a long way. 

Can you spot the esters?

So that’s dunder and now back to Dunderhead. This uses some of that Jamaican magic blended with other rums from around the Caribbean before bottling at 42% ABV. Look closely at the label and you’ll see that the jewels around the neck of the skull make up ester compounds: ethyl propionate (smells like pineapple), ethyl acetate (nail polish), amyl acetate (bananas) and ethyl butyrate (more pineapple). Very educational. The taste is approachable but you’ll still feel the thunder of dunder. Expect flavours of banana, pineapple, orange zest and honey. Then there’s sweet toffee, brown sugar and molasses with a grassy green banana flavour.  

How should you drink it? Well, this is a mixing rum par excellence, those bold high ester notes can compete against anything. Try it mixed  with ginger ale or Coca-Cola, or in a Mai Tai. We spoke with Peter Holland from the Floating Rum Shack and he reckoned it would be good in Trader Vic’s Grog:

2 parts Dunderhead rum
1 part lime juice
1 part fresh pineapple juice
1 part passion fruit syrup
Dash of Angostura bitters

Shake all the ingredients with lots of crushed ice. Pour, ice and all, into an Old Fashioned glass and garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint.

Dunderhead rum is available now from Master of Malt.

*These are just rumours. No animals were harmed in the production of Dunderhead rum.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Carpano Botanic Bitter

This week we’re getting all steamed up about a bitter bottling from top vermouth producer Carpano. Negroni anyone? With the bar scene temporarily out of action, more and more of…

This week we’re getting all steamed up about a bitter bottling from top vermouth producer Carpano. Negroni anyone?

With the bar scene temporarily out of action, more and more of us are turning to the joys of the home bar. When coming up with the basic kit you need, most suggestions are generic, a gin such as. . . , a decent rye, a good blended Scotch, but there’s one item that is always ordered by brand, Campari. No drinks cabinet is complete without a bottle of the red stuff for emergency Negronis

Nothing has managed to unseat Campari as the ubiquitous bitter. It’s not as if there aren’t competitors, there’s a whole world of Italian bitter drinks out there like Cynar or Amaro Montenegro but though they are delicious in their own way, they are so different from Campari that they aren’t direct rivals. You might have an exotic amaro in your arsenal but you probably also have a bottle of Campari. But recently there have been attempts to unseat the king: in 2017 the might of Martini launched the delicious Speciale Riserva Bitter, and now here’s a new contender from another vermouth producer, Carpano.

Carpano is probably best known for its high end Antica Formula vermouth  (bartender joke: antique formula, modern price, ho ho ho!) The company was founded in 1786 in Turin by Antonio Benedetto Carpano. Wikipedia somewhat fancifully claims that he invented vermouth but he was certainly a pioneer of the vermouth di Torino style. At the time Turin was part of the territory of the Dukes of Savoy that included not only Piedmont and Sardinia but also Nice and Savoy, now in France. Which explains why Turin and Chambery, home of Dolin, are the twin powerhouses of vermouth. Both cities were once in the same country.

The company is now owned by a drinks group that really understands bitterness, Fratelli Branca Distillerie, producer of Fernet Branca, so you’d expect the Botanic Bitters to impress. Nicola Olianas, Branca’s global ambassador commented: “Carpano Botanic Bitter adds further breadth to the Carpano range, with a unique recipe that combines the Carpano tradition with a contemporary complexity. With cocktail sales set for further strong growth in the UK, Carpano Botanic Bitter meets the need for continued innovation at the premium end of the market.”

The colour aims it squarely at Campari but it tastes different. Ten natural botanicals are used in the production process including saffron, sandal, fresh green orange peel, bitter orange peel, cinchona, rhubarb, zedoria, gentian, myrrh and wormwood. The bitterness is balanced out with 150g of sugar per litre, which is significantly less than its rivals which come in closer to 300g per litre. This means that Carpano Botanic Bitters has a freshness and lightness about it. No wonder that it’s already proved a hit with bartenders. In London both Balans and the Happiness Forgets have got behind it. When lockdown is over, it’s one you will increasingly see on the back bar. 

Carpano Negroni, keeping it in the family

Along with Antica Formula and a range of more affordable vermouths, Carpano is also the company behind Punt e Mes, the powerfully bitter vermouth, so it makes sense that they recommend using it alongside Botanical Bitter and Brooklyn Gin to make a signature Carpano Negroni. The other recommendations are an Americano (40ml Botanic Bitter, 20ml Carpano Antica formula, topped with tonic water though I reckon soda would be nicer) and an Irish Boulevardier made with equal proportions of Botanic Bitter, Antica Formula and Paddy Irish whiskey

With its vibrant bitter flavours and lower sugar levels, it’s one that we’re really looking forward to playing around with. It should make those lockdown days fly by. 

Carpano Botanic Bitter is available now from Master of Malt.

 

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