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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: New Arrival of the Week

New Arrival of the Week: The English – Heavily Smoked

A new week means a new arrival. Today we’re shining a spotlight on The English – Heavily Smoked which as its name suggests is a heavily smoked whisky from the…

A new week means a new arrival. Today we’re shining a spotlight on The English – Heavily Smoked which as its name suggests is a heavily smoked whisky from the English Whisky Company in Norfolk.

There’s always something going on at St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk, home of the English Whisky Company. Alongside the core range of single malts and interesting grain whiskies, the distillery produces regular limited editions.

In recent years, distiller David Fitt and the team have released triple-distilled whiskies, virgin oak single malts, and various single cask releases. There’s never a dull moment.

The English - Virgin Oak Cask

The St George’s Distillery in sunny Norfolk

English whisky, Scottish connection

This latest release, The English – Heavily Smoked 2010, is a nod to the distillery’s heritage as the first distiller was Iain Henderson from Laphroaig. A man who knows more than a little about peat and whisky.

There were more than a few eyebrows raised when Henderson took the job at St. George’s Distillery in 2006. At the time, the idea of English whisky seemed like a joke. But the founder, Norfolk farmer James Nelstrop, was determined. He’d always dreamed of making whisky and the raw materials were right on his doorstep in the form of seemingly endless fields of shimmering barley.

The family handily owned a building company as well as being farmers, so did all the work themselves. Work began in January 2006 and by December, the first barrels were filled. Then in 2009, St. George’s Distillery, later rebranded as the English Whisky Company to differentiate it from another St. George’s Distillery, released its first whisky. There were queues for miles to get hold of a bottle and the story made the international news.

Sadly, James Nelstrop died in 2014, but the distillery is safely in the hands of his son Andrew and his wife Katy, who looks after the marketing side of the business. 

Initially, the team stuck with a classic Scottish single malt blueprint. Not only did they have a Scottish distiller but all the stills came from Forsyths of Rothes. There’s a wash still of 2750 litres and a spirit of 1800. There’s plenty of reflux from the bulge above the base of the spirit still, and the shell and tube condensers.The aim was to produce a classic Lowland-style malt, light and fruity. 

David Fitt from The English Whisky Company (photographed by Tom Bunning)

Innovative releases

But under David Fitt, an ex-brewer who learned his art from Henderson, they have branched out with some innovative releases under The Norfolk label including a rye and malted barley whisky, and a malted/unmalted barley Irish single pot still-style whisky. Andrew is full of praise for his distiller: “David has extraordinary taste buds. He has a deep understanding of how different barleys behave. Look at what he does with different cereals in the Farmer’s which is made with crystal malt, oats, wheat and rye.” 

This latest limited edition, The English – Heavily Smoked, then, is something of a return to tradition. But if you’re expecting a Laphroaig-style smoky whisky, you will be in for a surprise. The barley might be heavily peated (to 65 PPM compared with Laphroaig’s 45 PPM) but the resulting spirit has the classic English Whisky Company fruitiness. Even with the peated spirit, the cut is taken early so that, as Fitt puts it, “you lose heavy iodine notes and just get bonfire. What’s the point of replicating Laphroaig?” It was distilled in 2010, aged largely in ex-bourbon casks, and bottled this year at 46% ABV. Only 1,776 bottles of this 11-year-old single malt have been filled.

In the days before Covid, St. George’s Distillery was one of Norfolk’s top tourist attractions, attracting over 80,000 visitors a year. There’s a great restaurant on site and a shop that stocks not only their whisky but probably the best selection from around the world in East Anglia. We’re delighted to hear that it’s once again open to visitors.

For those who won’t be visiting in the near future, you can take a video tour with Master of Malt or just pick up a bottle and experience the magic of English whisky. 

The English - Heavily Smoked

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Meaty malt with hints of cured ham and vegetal peat. A little touch of yellow plum sweetness develops underneath.

Palate: Roasted barley, salted butter on toast, cinnamon, granola, bonfires, and flaked almonds.

Finish: Black pepper and red chilli flake, with a slow fade of caramel.

The English – Heavily Smoked 2010 is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy. 

 

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New Arrival of the Week: The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

Ever enjoyed a blend of rum and whisky before? I hadn’t either. Until I tried our new arrival this week: The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows. What prompted this curious creation?…

Ever enjoyed a blend of rum and whisky before? I hadn’t either. Until I tried our new arrival this week: The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows. What prompted this curious creation? Read on to find out.

We’re welcoming a new spirit drink this week. Which is a pretty rubbish descriptor by our book. There’s got to be something more compelling than ‘spirit drink’, right? We might as well call these expressions ‘vaguely familiar booze’ or ‘legal, but without category strong stuff’.

But then, sometimes a drink appears before you, and no appropriate monikers spring to mind. Take our new arrival from the folks at The Drinks Lab. The first in a series called ‘‘The Drinks Lab: Out of Hours Spirit Experiments’, the aptly named Strange Bedfellows brings together two different spirits inside one bottle. Scotch whisky and rum

So, yeah. What the hell do you call that? Whum? Risky? I’ll say. Purists will presumably be screaming at the screen and calling it madness. Sheer lunacy. And sacrilege besides. But plenty of you will also be intrigued and wondering if this concoction is just mad enough to work.

The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

Is it a rum? Is it a whisky? No! It’s a… spirit drink. I guess.

A divisive coming together

First, let’s get to grips with exactly what we’re dealing with here. The whisky in question is a single cask, no.652 we’re told, which was sourced from the Highlands (not surprising the distillery didn’t put its name to this, although they rarely do in fairness). The whisky is said to be light and creamy with notes of orange zest and fudge. Eighteen different samples of rum were made to match with the whisky and the winner was a dark ruby rum with a base of raspberries and cinnamon. The split is 60% rum, 40% whisky.

The guys at The Drinks Lab are obviously aware that this will divide opinion. You could argue that’s the point of this, given the press release contains a quote explaining that the team “now wait with bated breath as they know that many whisky fans will see the blending of a single cask of single malt with this unique dark rum as sacrilege”. The marketing bumf also says that the brand encourages “those curious individuals to try this first test”. And you don’t have to ask me twice.

More spirit experiments are tipped to follow this year, and beyond. The founders of The Drinks Lab, entrepreneurs Craig Strachan and Hannah Fisher, have been working away on a variety of crazy boozy imaginings ever since 2017 when they created a consultancy and innovation facility designed to assist those wanting to launch drink brands. 

The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

This is just the first experiment. More will follow…

If you want something done right, do it yourself… 

It was inspired by the problems the duo had in launching their own projects. Those stories of folks chatting about distillation dreams in a bar and then putting in some elbow grease to make it happen tend to undermine just how hard it is to build a brand. Challenges are around every corner, mostly capital. And even if you want to outsource some of the hard work, then you have to contend with running into issues over batch sizes, poor client service, lack of knowledge, and more. 

Strachan and Fisher set about establishing a model that would help budding booze makers go from concept to shelf in as little as three months. This entails an ‘all under one roof’ service including recipe development, branding, trial production, small batch bottling, and commercial guidance. The plan worked. The Scottish-based business now employs 12 people in Port Glasgow and has a client list made up of entrepreneurs as well as large global drink companies including the likes of Diageo, TATA, and Fever-Tree.

By day, The Drinks Lab team spends its time making spirits, non-alcoholic alternatives, mixers, adult soft drinks, CBD, and Hard Seltzers. At night, however, it’s a different story. That’s when Strachan and Fisher get busy developing their own curious creations. And we’re about to see the results. Well, of the first experiment anyway. 

The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

The Strange Sour

What to make of Strange Bedfellows

As an experiment, Strange Bedfellows has plenty of curiosity and is sure to raise eyebrows and provoke a reaction. But truth be told, the liquid in the glass doesn’t taste as controversial or divisive as it sounds. The first thing you’ll notice in Strange Bedfellows is the rum, unmistakable with its bright tropical fruit notes, aromatic spice, and some of that tell-tale raspberry sourness. The whisky’s creamy vanilla, toffee, and orange peel notes aren’t far behind. It’s a competent blend and there’s no doubt the two spirits aren’t at war with each other in the glass, but it’s not a seamless affair and throughout it’s a little rough around the edges.

Strange Bedfellows is ultimately a perfectly palatable drink. This is slightly underwhelming if you were expecting flavour fireworks or something so gross you wouldn’t use it as a disinfectant. This is good news for those who want to see more experimentation and freedom in booze creation. It’s is a worthy first attempt and I, for one, am looking to seeing what’s next. Be sure to have a little play with it too. I think it mixes quite well in Highball-style serves (coke, ginger ale and soda water all work well enough).

You should, of course, try it neat first. But if you’re feeling bold then you can have a go at the Strange Sour, the bespoke serve The Drinks Lab has made for its first launch. The idea was to create something that would enhance the rum’s raspberry elements and compliment the whisky’s creamy notes, while vanilla syrup was favoured to match the aromatic cinnamon flavour. Here’s how to make it:

The Strange Sour:

2 ounces of The Drinks Lab Strange Bedfellows

3/4 ounce lemon juice, freshly squeezed

1/2 ounce vanilla syrup

1/2 ounce egg white (or your finest vegan alternative)

1-2 Dashes of Aromatic Bitters

Add Strange Bedfellows, lemon juice, vanilla syrup, and egg white to a shaker and dry shake for 30 seconds without ice. Add ice and shake again until well chilled and strain into a short glass. Garnish with a dehydrated lemon slice.

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New Arrival of the Week: Glenmorangie X

Glenmorangie has just released a brand new single malt specifically designed for cocktail use. It’s called Glenmorangie X, and we put it through its paces behind the (home) bar. Makers…

Glenmorangie has just released a brand new single malt specifically designed for cocktail use. It’s called Glenmorangie X, and we put it through its paces behind the (home) bar.

Makers of single malts nowadays will trip over themselves to show how cocktail friendly their products are. They’re trying to give Scotch whisky a fresh urban down-with-the kids image in contrast to the tweed, spaniels and slippers marketing of yore. Though, on a cold winter night, don’t those three things sound very appealing?

The Nightcap

Groovy new image

Single malt cocktails

There’s no doubt that single malts can be great in cocktails. Recently, I had a Espresso Martini at Boisdale restaurant in Belgravia made with Ardbeg Uigeadail that was pretty much unbeatable. 

But, I wonder, how many people spending £50 or more on a bottle of single malt are going to mix it. It would be interesting to read some market research on this but I’d wager that at least 90% of malts are still sipped reverentially with some water on the side, and perhaps some tweed, spaniels and slippers.

When people do make cocktails with Scotch, most people will reach for a blend, which is a problem for a whisky company that wants to tap into the cocktail market, like Glenmorangie. It’s already got the hip new image, now it just needs a mixable whisky. 

The company used to market a wonderful blend called the Bailie Nicol Jarvie which contained a high malt percentage, around 60%. I remember it being the whisky of choice for the impecunious connoisseur when I worked in Oddbins in the late ‘90s. 

Sadly, it was discontinued in 2014 though there were rumours of a revival in 2016, which came to nothing. Glenmorangie’s head of whisky creation Dr Bill Lumsden told me a few years ago that he was very fond of the blend and would love to revive it, but at the moment Glenmornagie could not spare the stock. 

Glenmorangie X

A mixable Glenmorangie

Now, however, the company has whisky that might be able to fill that BNJ-sized hole. It’s a NAS single malt called Glenmorangie X, and it’s specifically designed for mixing. 

Dr Bill explained: “X by Glenmorangie came from our dream of creating even more flavour possibilities, with a single malt that’s made to mix. Consulting with top bartenders, we crafted this sweeter, richer single malt for all those enjoying mixing at home.”

The PR team sent me a little sample to play around this and really enjoyed it. It’s light, sweet and fruity with flavours of peach, honey. vanilla and orange. In fact, it’s very much the 10 year old’s baby brother with similar flavours but without the depth or complexity, and with a little youthful spirityness. In short, perfect for mixing.

I was planning to give it a thorough road test in an Old Fashioned, Rob Roy etc. but it was only a little sample so I ended up just drinking it with soda, orange bitters and a slice of orange in a Highball. A test it passed with flying colours. GM also sent me a delightful batched cocktail called Glenmorangie X Grapefruit.

I have one reservation, however, the price. It’s only £5 less expensive than the 10 year old. From experience, I know that the 10 is a good mixer too but it’s also got the complexity to sip on its own. If I was spending around £30 on a Glenmorangie, I know which one I’d take home. Also, it’s bottled at 40% ABV and when mixing a little more alcohol would stop it getting lost when diluting. 

But, if you’re running a bar and getting through cases of the stuff, then £5 will make a huge difference. And that is, ultimately, who Glenmorangie X is aimed at; it should be a huge hit with the pros. 

For us home bartenders, though, please bring back the BNJ, Dr Bill!

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Honeyed malt with underlying lemon and apple, plus a touch of nutmeg bringing oaky warmth.

Palate: Lots of vanilla and apricot notes, with more apple coming along too. A hint of flaked almond later on.

Finish: The honeyed orchard fruit theme continues on the finish, with a pinch of peppercorn.

Glenmorangie X is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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New Arrival of the Week: The Lakes Miramar

This week’s New Arrival is a MoM exclusive: a limited-edition single malt from The Lakes Distillery in England that is part-matured in Port casks. It’s called The Lakes Miramar! We’ve…

This week’s New Arrival is a MoM exclusive: a limited-edition single malt from The Lakes Distillery in England that is part-matured in Port casks. It’s called The Lakes Miramar!

We’ve long been fans of The Lakes Distillery in Cumbria here at Master of Malt. We’ve visited, made films, eaten at the great on-site restaurant and, most of all, enjoyed the excellent whisky coming out of this most gorgeously-situated English distillery.

Despite being founded as recently as 2011, the distillery has some solid whisky heritage. Co-founder Paul Currie was involved with setting up the Isle of Arran Distillery. Then in 2016, The Lakes announced a big signing, Dhavall Gandhi, who swapped the might and majesty of Macallan, for a small operation that had yet to release its own whisky.

whisky lakes distillery

Dhavall Gandhi doing that thing with his glass that whisky pros do

For the love of sherry casks

Gandhi brought a love and knowledge of sherry casks on the journey down south. They have since become a key part of the distillery’s style. But he also gets to let his hair down a bit experimenting with different ageing regimes under the Whiskeymaker’s Edition banner. 

So, when we were offered an exclusive English whisky just for Master of Malt, we jumped at the chance. This limited edition single malt is part-matured in Port casks and called ‘Miramar’, meaning ‘seaview’. It sounds much more glamorous in Portuguese conjuring up images of Lisbon rather than a bungalow in Birchington-on-Sea.

But before we take a look at Miramar, it’s worth going into The Lakes production process because it’s a bit unusual. Gandhi starts with the basic building blocks of Scotch whisky, and then makes them really complicated. 

Broccoli and marshmallows

It all starts with the yeast. He uses three types: a traditional Scotch yeast, a French yeast, and a heritage yeast. As Gandhi puts it: “each yeast behaves like a child faced with a plate of broccoli and marshmallows. Given the choice, it will gorge on the sugariest treats first, until they, and it, are spent. That is why we activate each strain of yeast independently, on different days of the week, to ensure the most aggressive yeast doesn’t eat all of the ‘marshmallows’, leaving only the ‘broccoli’ for the weakest. We want each of the yeasts to interact with all of the fermentable sugars, to give the best possible character and flavour.”

So each fermentation with each yeast takes place separately producing three different washes. Each yeast brings something different to the party, the heritage yeast in particular creating waxy notes. Each fermentation takes 96 hours, double the time of most Scotch whiskies. Unusually, the washes go through malolactic fermentation where the sharp malic acid is turned into creamy lactic acid.

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery

Keeping it complicated

Things get even more complicated on the distillation side because Gandhi creates two different new make spirits from each wash. One lot goes through a copper condenser and, as we all know, more copper contact equals a lighter spirit. The other goes through a stainless steel condenser which means more heavier compounds are kept. The spirit comes off the stills at around 67% ABV and it’s diluted down to 58% ABV. The three different yeast strains are blended before going into casks, with the different weights of new makes aged apart.

As you might have guessed by now, Gandhi has a bewildering choice of casks to choose from. As an ex-Macallan man, you know that he’s going to be pretty keen on sherry. Not just Oloroso but Fino, Cream, and PX, from American and European oak. He uses both 500-litre butts and 250-litre hogsheads. They are the basis of The Lakes’ style. He told us ahead of the distillery’s first single malt releases: “If you like sherry bombs you are going to like the initial releases of Lakes Distillery!” 

Around 80-90% of the casks used are ex-sherry. But it’s not all about the sherry. There are bourbon casks, naturally. Gandhi can also play around with Moscatel, red wine casks, Port, and even orange wine casks – that’s a special kind of wine made from oranges popular in Southern Spain.

The Lakes Miramar Highball (1)

Makes a cracking Highball

The Lakes Miramar

It’s those Port pipes, however, that are the inspiration for this week’s New Arrival. The whisky is part-matured in these giant 600-litre casks. It’s blended with bourbon-matured whisky so you get vanilla, coconut, and tropical fruit that you get from ex-bourbon casks, with red fruit and plums you get from maturation in a Port pipe.

Miramar is bottled at a punchy 54% ABV with no chill-filtering. It’s a delightful fun drop, happy sipped neat, as most of us do with single malt, but also a great mixer. That high ABV makes it a cocktail whisky par excellence. We love it in a simple Highball but The Lakes has come up with some more elaborate cocktails such as the Spritz recipe below. There’s also a suitably romantic label (below), designed by an artist called Tom Clohosy Cole, inspired by Lisbon. It’s almost as good a summer holiday in Portugal. 

Miramar Spritz

45ml of The Lakes Miramar whisky
10ml of Taylor’s Chip Dry white port
10ml of Aperol
100ml of green tea kombucha.

Fill a Highball glass with ice, add the first four ingredients, stir and top with kombucha. Garnish with a sprig of thyme and dried apricot.

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Dried cherry, brandy snaps, fresh peaches, a waft of sea air and a touch of buttery malt.

Palate: Salted caramel tart, red plums, softly toasted barley, cinnamon, orange oil, still subtly coastal.

Finish: Lingering hints honey and stewed fruits last on the finish.

Only 600 individually-numbered bottles of The Lakes Miramar have been filled. They are available exclusively from Master of Malt, one bottle per customer. It is now sold out

The Lakes Miramar label

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New Arrival of the Week: Reverend Hubert Garden Gin Liqueur

We have a Master of Malt exclusive, a special gin liqueur, perfect for summer sipping. To tell us more, we speak to one of the people behind Reverend Hubert Garden…

We have a Master of Malt exclusive, a special gin liqueur, perfect for summer sipping. To tell us more, we speak to one of the people behind Reverend Hubert Garden Gin Liqueur, drinks personality extraordinaire Joe Wadsack.

One of the few consolations of lockdown was watching Joe Wadsack’s Drink Coach videos on YouTube. There’s no editing or fancy production values. Just Wadsack, sitting down, sipping, and talking. It helps that the wine he talks about is always interesting but what really matters is Wadsack’s personality, knowledge, and sheer exuberance. I’d happily watch him talk about Seedlip.

Joe is more than just a wine man, he’s also deeply into his spirits. So much so that he has collaborated with Thomas Lester on a spirits brand called the Reverend Hubert. Two years ago, they launched a winter liqueur, which we made New Arrival of the Week, and now there’s a Garden Gin Liqueur, exclusive to Master of Malt. It’s perfect for loading up with fruit, and lemonade, or tonic water, and sitting back and soaking up the sun. Should it ever return.

Gerard Basset taught me to play table tennis

Before we take a closer look at this new summer bottling, I asked Wadsack about his wonderfully varied career. He was steeped in food and drink culture from an early age. His mother is Swedish and his father came over from Germany to England to work in the hospitality business in 1966 – “not the best time for a German to arrive,” he joked.

Wadsack senior worked for Trusthouse Forte hotels around the country, before opening a proto-gastro pub in Hampshire called The Three Lions. At one point, he employed legendary sommelier Gerard Basset. “Gerard Basset taught me to play table tennis,” Wadsack said. There’s not many people who can make that boast.

In his holidays, Wadsack would work in the family pub, regaling customers with his knowledge and enthusiasm for food and wine. A planned career as a pilot in the RAF didn’t work out. “I learned a lot about the world which horrified me,” he said. “Also I was too tall to be a fighter pilot which someone should have noticed before.” So Wadsack bowed to the inevitable and followed his love of wine by studying for a postgraduate degree at the University of Bordeaux despite only having O-level French. 

Following this, he worked for Oddbins wine merchants in its ‘90s heyday, before a job in the wine department at Sainsbury’s led to him becoming a buyer at Waitrose. His career stalled, however, when “Waitrose made the reckless decision that senior buyers had to be a Master of Wine,” he said.  Studying for this notoriously hard exam, only one in 400 pass, according to Wadsack, did not suit someone who describes himself as having “massive ADHD.”

Joe Wadsack

It’s only Joe Wadsack!

The whirlwind of wine

So with “a six-month-old child and another on the way”, as he put it, Wadsack left the job for life at Waitrose and found his true calling on television. He is one of TV’s genuine naturals, as ebullient and amusing on-screen as he is in real life. Wadsack is always performing which makes him such wonderful if sometimes exhausting company. Victoria Moore in the Daily Telegraph described him as “the whirlwind of wine.” “I love live TV, I’m a massive show-off. I did stand-up at university,” he said. In his varied career, he’s worked with Rick Stein, done Saturday Kitchen and the BBC Food & Drink programme with Tom Kerridge.

At the London Wine Show, Wadsack does a popular slot called Challenge Joe’s Nose where punters would bring mystery bottles for him to identify. Which invariably he did. 

During Lockdown, Wadsack started the Drinks Coach. He’s now delighted to be out and about again. “I’ve reconnected more with bars and pubs. They are social catalysts, people leave their ego at the door, and can talk and connect over food and drink.” 

This love and knowledge of cocktails and spirits shows in the enthusiasm with which he talks about the Reverend Hubert range. Wadsack was introduced to Thomas Lester, the inventor, and the two got on like a house on fire. Wadsack’s knowledge of the drinks industry was vital in getting it off the ground. 

Rev Hubert Garden cocktail

Rhubarb Kryptonite

This new summer version, Reverend Hubert Garden Gin Liqueur, Wadsack describes as a “logical replacement to Pimm’s.” The recipe starts with a premium gin made to their specifications “heavy on coriander and liquorice – it tastes weird on its own.” It’s then steeped with Slovak plums, cranberry, pomegranate, and rhubarb. Rather than using fresh rhubarb, the flavour is too volatile, they make a concentrated distillate which Wadsack describes as “Kryptonite, you have to wear gloves when working with it.” A little goes a long way. All the colours and flavours are natural, and it’s bottled at 20% ABV.

Once the recipe was perfected, Wadsack and Lester handed it over to Ed Wood at Wood Bros distillery in the Cotswolds who he described as “very safe pair hands. He knows the science.”

Wadsack recommends drinking Reverend Hubert Garden Gin Liqueur with Hibiscus Tonic water from Merchant Heart, topped with soda water and a sprig of mint. Or serving it with ginger ale, an extra shot of gin garnished with mint and borage. But he’s also been having a lot of fun experimenting with it in cocktails. It makes a cracking Bourbon Smash and a sublime Bramble: “If Dick Bradsell were still alive, he would have used it instead of creme de mure” he said.

So what’s next for Wadsack? He’d like to expand the Rev Hubert brand into non-alcoholic things, like gravadlax, salmon cured with gin. But he’d really like to fly again. “I miss the flying terribly gets under your skin in a way sex does. I look outside even on an overcast day like today, I’d love to fly in that.”

Reverend Hubert Garden Gin Liqueur is available exclusively from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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New Arrival of the Week: Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama

Today, we’re dreaming of Spain while sipping the latest release of a very special dry sherry called Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama. Just add gordal olives and you could be in…

Today, we’re dreaming of Spain while sipping the latest release of a very special dry sherry called Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama. Just add gordal olives and you could be in Andalusia. 

As we still can’t easily travel abroad, my wife and I often talk wistfully of where we’d like to be rather than sitting in our garden in Kent. Usually, it’s outside a bar in Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the south of Spain, sipping chilled Manzanilla sherry and eating tortillitas de camarones – addictive fritters made from tiny shrimp.

Well, we can’t eat tortillitas de camarones, mainly because we don’t know where we would get the camarones from but we can drink sherry and eat Spanish snacks. We should probably buy shares in Brindisa the amount we’re spending on chorizo, manchego and, best of all, chunky gordal olives. Naturally, there’s always a bottle of sherry in the fridge. Or should be if someone hasn’t drunk it. Tristan Stephenson, the Curious Bartender, touched on this when we spoke to him recently:

“I tend to have a bottle of sherry in the fridge anyway, well, actually that’s a lie, it tends to get drunk and then I don’t have one! But I always say I have one… I always want to have one, in the fridge”. 

It seems we’re not the only ones. Last year sherry sales were unusually strong which one producer put down to the holiday at home syndrome. If you’re missing Spain, then there’s no better palliative than sherry and tapas.

Fermin Hidalgo from Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana

Fermin Hidalgo from Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana

What is en rama sherry?

If I close my eyes with the sun shining and a chilled glass of Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama in my hand, I could almost be back on a magical spring holiday we took in Sanlucar a few years ago. 

Magical at least for the grown-ups, our daughter did get a bit bored during the five hour visit to Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana in the company of Fermin Hidalgo. Sherry tastes even better when drunk straight from the barrel via a venencia, a cup on a stick which you have to learn how to use if you want to be taken seriously in the sherry region.

For a long time, this unfiltered, straight-from-the barrel taste was only available to visitors but in the past 20 years, sherry producers have started bottling wines ‘en rama’. The word ‘rama’ literally means ‘branch’ or ‘on the vine’ which translates roughly as ‘in its natural state’.

It’s become an annual tradition, much-anticipated by wine lovers. The cellar master at bodegas like Hidalgo or Gonzalez Byass in Jerez (Tio Pepe’s 201 en rama release is available here), pick out a few exceptional casks. These are then bottled with only a very light filtering. Each annual release is different and the wines change in bottle. Drink them young for maximum freshness or keep them to gain nutty complexity.

En Rama 2021 with glass

Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama – just add some olives and you can pretend you’re in Andalusia

La Gitana

‘La Gitana’ means ‘the gypsy’ and it’s the bestselling Manzanilla sherry in the world. A Manzanilla is a type of Fino which is made only in Sanlúcar de Barrameda where the salty sea air imparts a saline-tang to the sherry. Or so it seems. Anyway, this part of the sherry region is famous for the freshness and sheer drinkability of its wines.

A Manzanilla is a dry wine, very lightly fortified to 15% ABV and aged under flor, a layer of yeast, that keeps it protected from the oxygen. It’s blended in a solera before bottling (learn more about sherry here). At Bodegas Hidalgo, they only use Palomino grapes from their own vineyards and ferment using wild yeasts. 

The standard bottling is excellent but the ‘en rama’ is something else: nuttier and more complex but all the time with that fresh saline tang. Some years, it’s incredibly rich, but this year, it’s particularly refreshing and delicious. It can both be enjoyed in a carefree party mood, or sipped slowly, lost in concentration.

The more I drink fine dry sherries like this, the more I think that they have more in common with white Burgundy than the sticky brown concoctions that many still associate with sherry.

Don’t get me wrong, I like the sticky brown concoctions, they’re especially good for sweetening cocktails, but a Manzanilla en rama is a very different proposition. If you’re new to sherry, chill the wine and serve with some olives and almonds. The first glass might taste a bit odd if you’re used to very fruity wines like Sauvignon Blanc but by the second, I promise you’ll be hooked.

There’s really no easier way to travel to Spain this summer.

Tasting note:

Nose: Green apple, bready with floral and saline notes like smelling the sea.

Palate: Intense freshness, fruit like lemons and a Cox’s apples, salty and then creamy.

Finish: Pure almonds. Very long. 

Manzanilla La Gitana En Rama is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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New Arrival of the Week: Timorous Beastie: Meet the Beast

Today a fearsome whisky has arrived at Master of Malt. It’s a blended malt from Douglas Laing, a special ex-bourbon cask 54.9% ABV monster called Timorous Beastie: Meet The Beast….

Today a fearsome whisky has arrived at Master of Malt. It’s a blended malt from Douglas Laing, a special ex-bourbon cask 54.9% ABV monster called Timorous Beastie: Meet The Beast.

If you don’t think there’s an art to blending whisky, have a go at it yourself. Mix different whiskies together and you can very quickly end up with something that’s more dog’s dinner than Copper Dog. I know because I’ve done it.

When blends go wrong

Many people involved in the drinks business keep a running blend going made up of samples. There’s now a term for this, infinity bottles, but for most of us, it’s just a way to keep the house tidy. The other choice is either to drink the whole sample, which for buyers who have to taste dozens a day would be dangerous. Or the house begins to fill up with tiny little bottles, and wives, daughters, husbands, parents, or housemates start to complain. 

So into the vat they go though obviously we don’t do this with samples of 1977 Brora. Those we drink. 

Currently, I have two whisky blends on the go: a Scotch (and Scotch-style) blend, and an Irish. The latter is currently tasting fabulous. Sadly, I ruined the Scotch blend by adding a particular sample of single malt. Tasted neat, it had a very pleasant and distinctive lavender note but it did something unholy when mixed with smoke. It’s a complete disaster. I really need some sweet grain to smooth the whole thing out. 

Anyway, all this preamble is just to say that blending whisky is not easy. Blenders not only have to make something delicious and harmonious but do it at a certain price in large batches with an ever changing cast of whisky because no two casks are the same.

Imagine doing it on the scale of Jim Beveridge and team at Johnnie Walker. The mind boggles. Even doing things on a smaller scale, like Douglas Laing does with its blends, requires a superb palate, an eye for details, and access to high quality whisky.

Timorous Beastie: Meet the Beast

Unchain the beast!

A mighty mouse

This Glasgow-based business has been producing independent bottlings and in-house blends for over 70 years. It was founded by Fred Douglas Laing in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. His son Fred Hamilton Laing joined the business in 1972 and now his daughter Cara Laing has the title of director of whisky while her husband Chris Leggat is the CEO.

The blends are particularly interesting and show a mastery of melding something harmonious out of distinctive single malts. There a smoky island blend called Big Peat, Scallywag a sherry-led Speyside vatting containing Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes, and Timorous Beastie, a blended malt made entirely of Highland whiskies from distilleries such as Dalmore, Glen Garioch, Glengoyne and others.

The name is, of course, inspired by Robert Burns’s poem, To a Mouse: “Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie, O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!”. A little in-joke as there’s nothing mouse-like about this mighty dram. 

But now there’s an even mightier mouse on the loose about the house. Called Timorous Beastie: Meet the Beast, it’s a limited edition (only 3600 bottles have been filled) matured exclusively in ex-bourbon barrels and bottled at a mighty 54.9% ABV. 

The result is crammed full of fruit, oak and spice. We’re fortunate to get our hands on a few bottles. Whatever you do, don’t tip it into your infinity bottle. Leave the blending to the masters. 

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Red apples, slightly toasted barley, pain au chocolat, walnuts, mahogany.

Palate: Cinnamon and nutmeg, followed by pancakes with maple syrup, spun sugar, anise, and cedar.

Finish: A touch of oaky spice lingers on the finish, balanced by sweet popcorn.

Timorous Beastie: Meet the Beast is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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New Arrival of the Week: Capreolus Perry Pear 2019 

We’re toasting the first day of  June with a very special vintage English pear brandy from the Cotswolds, made by someone who brings a whole new level of artistry to…

We’re toasting the first day of  June with a very special vintage English pear brandy from the Cotswolds, made by someone who brings a whole new level of artistry to distilling, Barney Wilczak. It’s called Capreolus Perry Pear 2019.

Central and Eastern Europe has a strong tradition of fruit brandies. German, Hungary, Slovakia and into Asia with Armenia are full of small scale distillers beavering away in the autumn, turning that season’s fruit into strong spirits. Meanwhile in Britain we make jams and chutneys. Not quite so much fun.

Distillation became industrialised

Why this might be is complicated. England used to have a strong tradition of making cider and pear brandies in the 17th and 18th centuries but this died out as regulations on distilling became increasingly stringent and the business became commercialised. Witness how this affected distillation in Scotland: Highland whisky went from an often illegal cottage industry to big business between 1823 and 1897.

Combine that with industrialisation and urbanisation, and Britain’s population was by far the most detached from the land in Europe. Whereas countries like France have maintained a strong peasant, in the best sense of the word, tradition, Britain’s countryside was given over to large scale farming while the people moved to cities.

If they wanted spirits, they could buy Gordon’s gin or Johnnie Walker, rather than old man Johnson’s moonshine. Interestingly, the British and Irish home-grown distilling tradition survived in America, illegally. 

Capreolus-Distillery-Garden-Swift-Eau-de-Vie-Barney-Wilczak-Distillery-still-802835

Barney Wilczak in action

Fruit brandy revival

But there’s something going on in the British countryside. The pioneer here was Julian Temperley, a cider maker, who began distilling apples in 1989 and now produces a highly-lauded range of aged cider brandies in Somerset. The success of Sipsmith opened doors too. It helped overturn centuries of domination by the big boys by petitioning for and eventually obtaining a licence to make gin in small batches. 

Now there are quite a few distillers making apple and other fruit eaux-de-vie all over the country, like Greensand Ridge in Kent. None though has garnered such praise as a professional photographer working away near Cirencester in the Cotswolds. His name is Barney Wilczak and his company is called Capreolus, the Latin name for roe deer. Like some other brandy producers, he does make a gin, the superb Garden Swift Gin, but his real focus is his fruit brandies

Based in an old greenhouse with a garage for storage, Wilczak is entirely self-taught using a couple of pot stills imported from Czechia. Here he makes a range of brandies all from local-grown seasonal fruit such as pears, raspberries and, of course, apples. He only uses the best fruit is used and production runs are measured in the low hundreds of bottles. His brandies are incredibly in demand from Michelin-starred restaurants and upmarket wine merchants. 

Ian Buxton, in an article about Wilczak on this site described them like this: “They are incredibly demanding and expensive to produce. His pursuit of absolute purity of taste borders on the obsessive.”

Capreolus-Distillery-Garden-Swift-perry-pear-Eau-de-Vie-- RS

Made only from the finest perry pears

Capreolus Perry Pear 2019

Take the 2019 Perry Pear brandy we are highlighting this week, for example. It’s made from pears that would traditionally have been used to make perry – a fiercely individual type of pear cider. Perry trees don’t produce a lot of fruit and demand for perry is not high, so many are neglected or have been pulled up to make way for more profitable crops. The website states:

“Most of the varieties we work with are bred within 30 miles of the distillery and carry with them the incredible complexity which is much more akin to the wild pear than any relation to the dessert pears we are used to.”

Wilczak gets these pears from two nearby farms. After picking, he washes and grades the fruit, and discards anything that isn’t up to scratch. Wilczak is looking for pure fruit flavours, not funky farmhouse tastes. Then he presses the fruit and ferments it very slowly using wild yeasts, all the time building up flavour, before double distillation in some pot stills. He only made 248 bottles from this vintage.

Just a little glass will make the perfect digestif to linger over, savouring the fruit complexity. And then there’s a whole world of English fruit brandies to explore.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Crisp and crunchy fresh wild pears, hints of boozy perry cider, floral spice, and vanilla with a lingering woody orchard character.

Capreolus Perry Pear 2019 is available from Master of Malt. Click here. Image is of previous vintage but the one available is 2019.

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New Arrival of the Week: Domaine Dupont 12 Year Old Calvados

Just this week a load of delicious apple brandies has just landed at MoM towers, fresh off the boat from Normandy. So we’re shining our New Arrival spotlight on one…

Just this week a load of delicious apple brandies has just landed at MoM towers, fresh off the boat from Normandy. So we’re shining our New Arrival spotlight on one in particular: Domaine Dupont 12 year old Calvados.

We were having one of our regular discussions at MoM towers, over brandy and cigars naturally, about which was the most civilised time to have a drink. Some proposed the traditional cocktail hour between 5 and 7 o’ clock. Yes, we are aware that that is two hours. There were votes for the 12 noon pre-lunch aperitif as the most agreeable drink of the day while others put in a spirited defence of the nightcap, especially as that’s the name of our weekly news round-up. 

A little digestif? Don’t mind if I do

But in the end, we all had to agree that there’s no better drink than a digestif. A little nip of alcohol at the end of the meal, to aid digestion (perhaps), conversation (definitely) and to signal that the meal is over but the evening has only just begun.

It’s a great excuse to get out that fine bottle that you’ve been keeping for special occasions. Most places have a specific drink for just this purpose like grappa in Italy or fruit brandies in central Europe but it’s the French who probably do the digestif better than anyone. Even the word is French. There’s Cognac from Charente region, Armagnac from Gascony, and then from Normandy there’s the mighty Calvados.

Apples growing at Domaine Dupont in Calvados

Apples growing at Domaine Dupont in Calvados

The perfect time to drink Calvados

This superb apple brandy has been undergoing something of a renaissance in recent years. It’s certainly been flying out the door at Master of Malt. Old producers have been revitalised and new ones are springing up bringing a more modern aesthetic to what can be seen as a very traditional category. There are even maverick producers like Christian Drouin going outside the appellation contrôlée and doing crazy things like ageing in Japanese whisky casks.

Some of the newer brands like Avellen are aimed squarely at the cocktail market, to make such delicious drinks as the Diamondback or the Corpse Reviver No.1, but today’s New Arrival, Domaine Dupont 12 Year Old Calvados, is very much an after dinner sipper. Though you could make some pretty extravagant cocktails out of it, if you were feeling fancy. 

Domaine Dupont, a family affair

The estate is owned by the Dupont family and dates back to 1887. Originally Jules Dupont worked as a tenant farmer on the estate when it was called La Vigannerie, before buying it outright. It remained in the family ever since, and is currently run by the brother and sister duo of Jérôme Dupont and Anne-Pamy Dupont.

The 74 acre estate is located in the Pays d’Auge region of Normandy and grows 13 kinds of special cider apples.  The family makes all kinds of boozy appley things (see the full range here) including cider, Calvados, pommeau (a mixture of Calvados and apple juice rather like Pineau des Charentes in Cognac). They even make a very tasty Calvados cream liqueur – yes, a bit like Bailey’s.

Cider which is destined for Calvados will be aged on the lees for six months (dead yeast cells which provide richness and texture) before being double-distilled. Our New Arrival is then aged for 12 years in toasted French oak barrels, a quarter of which are new, before bottling at 42% ABV. In our Norman shipment, we’ve also got some vintage Calvados from 1975 and ‘77, a 30 year old and a magnificent Pomme Captive. Which Francophones will be able to work out contains an actual apple – wouldn’t that look splendid on the table?

But back to the 12 year old. It’s the kind of bottle that after a long meal with old friends, when they are making taxi noises, you produce with a gleam in your eye, and suddenly the night is young. The only problem is that nobody will want to leave.

Domaine Dupont 12 year old Calvados

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Coffee, apple and vanilla.

Palate: Rounded, with well developed fruit bitterness and layers of complexity.

Finish: Long. A finish that evolves with each new contemplative sip.

Domaine Dupont 12 Year Old Calvados is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy. 

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New Arrival of the Week: La Dama del Abrigo Rojo 2018

This week we’re cracking open a delicious bottle of Argentine red made with a grape variety from Piedmont in Northern Italy and named after a mysterious woman in red, La…

This week we’re cracking open a delicious bottle of Argentine red made with a grape variety from Piedmont in Northern Italy and named after a mysterious woman in red, La Dama del Abrigo Rojo.

If you’re playing wine word association, a game we often play at Master of Malt, honestly the days just fly by, say the word ‘Argentina’ and there’s a very good chance that the reply will be ‘Malbec.’ It’s a grape that’s actually from south west France, it used to be a major component in Bordeaux, but it is so at home in Argentina that you would think that it was from there. After Malbec, in a game of word association, you’ll probably get Cabernet and then Merlot. You’ll have to play for a long time before you get to Nebbiolo, the Italian grape behind our New Arrival, La Dama Del Abrigo Rojo.

La Dama del Abrigo Rojo Nebbiolo 2018

Argentina’s Italian heritage 

Which is strange because Argentina is a very Italian country. There is a saying: “Argentines are Italians who speak Spanish who think they are British.” Argentina’s traditional Anglophilia may have been dented in recent years but it’s still there in the country’s love of sports like rugby and polo. You can’t, however, help noticing the country’s Italian influence. The way people speak Spanish sounds like Italian. There’s an area in Buenos Aires called Palermo. Along with New York, Argentina was one of the top destinations for Italian immigrants in the 19th century. It’s estimated that 60% of the country’s population has some form of Italian heritage.

Despite this, the grapes that came to dominate were those brought by immigrants from south west France. But there’s much more to this huge country than Malbec et al. 

Eduardo Soler La Dama del Abrigo Rojo Nebbiolo 2018

Wine maker Eduardo Soler

Sacred spring

Ver Sacrum, meaning sacred spring, is a group of maverick winemakers who grow grapes in three regions of Mendoza: Los Chacayes (Uco Valley), Barrancas (Maipú), and Cruz de Piedra (Maipú). They describe themselves as “team Grenachista“. Their aim is to resurrect the Mediterranean varieties such as Grenache, which used to be common but were pushed aside in favour of Bordeaux varieties. In addition to Grenache, they also grow Mourvèdre, Roussanne, Marsanne, Syrah, Mencía, and Carignan, plus two northern Italian varieties, Teroldego and Nebbiolo.

This last grape is a real rarity. There’s only 49 hectares of it in the country. But then again there’s not much Nebbiolo outside its home in Piedmont where it makes famous wines such as Barbaresco and Barolo. Though there are some increasingly successful versions in Australia, it’s not a grape, unlike Cabernet, that travels well.

With its pale colour and sometimes fierce tannins, Nebbiolo is a world away from the sort of plush dark wines that Argentina is famous for. But then again Ver Sacrum does things a little differently. They use only natural yeasts, they also do very light extractions meaning the skins are in contact with the fermenting wine for much less time than is normal in Argentina. So the tannins in La Dama Del Abrigo Rojo are gentler than you might expect with Nebbiolo. Oh and the name means ’The Lady in the Red Cape’, and there she is on the label above looking all stylish and Argentine.

It’s likely to be nothing like any other Argentine red you’ve ever had. The importer described it like this: “The nose is a beguiling swirl of rose petals, meat and red fruits. The palate has a purity and directness of flavour that confounds as much as it delights. There is a distinct touch of genius / madness at play here.” And the label is gorgeous too. What more could you want?

La Dama del Abrigo Rojo Nebbiolo 2018 is available from Master of Malt.

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