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Tag: New Arrival of the Week

New Arrival of the Week: Tomatin 2009 (Gordon & MacPhail)

Tomatin single malts deserve to be better known. So, we’re shining our New Arrival spotlight on a 2009 special bottling from this Highland distillery by Gordon & MacPhail of Elgin….

Tomatin single malts deserve to be better known. So, we’re shining our New Arrival spotlight on a 2009 special bottling from this Highland distillery by Gordon & MacPhail of Elgin.

Poor Tomatin came in for a bit of beating recently. Not only did the Highland distillery lose a court case against the Tomatin Trading Company over its plan to build a multi-million-pound hotel and food/retail village in the town of Tomatin claiming that the development’s name infringed on the distillery’s trademark but the judge Lady Wolffe stated that the distillery is “not well-known even to the average consumer of Scotch whisky.” Ouch!

Tomatin Distillery

Don’t you forget about me

Only known by aficionados

It got worse, the lawsuit continued: “It is not known by a significant part of the general whisky-drinking public, which is the relevant market. The evidence has established that the reputation of the pursuer’s ‘Tomatin’ brand has not extended beyond the limited class of consumer (‘the aficionado’) of the pursuer’s products.”

So in short, you really have to know your whisky to have heard of Tomatin, and not get it confused with Tomintoul or even Tormore, which are both in Speyside. This is a shame as Tomatin’s single malts are usually excellent. The 14-year-old finished in Port casks is something of a classic bottling among the cognoscenti, just check out all those positive comments on the Master of Malt site. And its very obscurity means that it offers better value than some of its more illustrious rivals.  

The distillery has had a chequered history. It was founded in 1897 about 15 miles south of Inverness. It’s in the Highland region though just on the edge of Speyside. Tomatin means in Gaelic: ‘hill of the juniper bushes’, so it seems like a missed marketing opportunity that the distillery doesn’t market its own gin.

Whisky loch

Originally it had just two stills but its owners added to it over the years so by 1974 it was the largest malt whisky distillery in Scotland with 23 stills and a capacity of 13 million litres of pure alcohol per year. It was terrible timing to get so big with the whisky loch filling up. The resulting bust when it came was terrible for the industry, DCL closed such famous names as Brora and Port Ellen while Tomatin went into liquidation in 1985. It was rescued by one of its Japanese customers, drinks group Takara Shuzo Co who still own it to this day. Tomatin was the first Scotch whisky distillery to be bought by a company from Japan.

The distillery generally produces unpeated whisky though some peated is also made. It’s known for its sweet, fruity whisky. Around 80% of its production goes into blends including the Antiquary range of premium whiskies (which are named after a novel by Walter Scott) which Tomatin bought in 1996. This is perhaps why it’s not so well known.

Our New Arrival is an independent bottling from Elgin legends Gordon & MacPhail as part of its ‘Discovery’ series. It was distilled in 2009 and bottled earlier this year at 43% ABV after being wholly matured in ex-bourbon casks. The sweet American oak really complements the orchard and stone fruit flavours of Tomatin. In short, a bottling that demonstrates why Tomatin deserves to be better known. Are you listening, Lady Wolff?


Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Rich, floral honey and sweet orchard fruits, gentle toasted oak, and silky vanilla.

Palate: Fragrant fruit continues alongside orchard blossom and soft-skinned peaches, creamy vanilla pokes through with a whiff of green oak.

Finish: Sweet, floral fruit, malty caramel with a herbal hint and dash of pepper on the end.

Tomatin 2009 (bottled 2021) – Discovery (Gordon & Macphail) is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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New Arrival of the Week: Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2013

Our New Arrival, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2013, shows how even at the biggest producer in Champagne, there’s room to do something a bit different. We talk to chef de…

Our New Arrival, Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2013, shows how even at the biggest producer in Champagne, there’s room to do something a bit different. We talk to chef de cave Benoît Gouez to find out more.

There can be few brands as ubiquitous as Moët & Chandon. Almost every off-licence, supermarket or wine merchant in the world will stock it. Production is around 30 million bottles annually. To put that in perspective, that is about double the entire production of England in 2018, which was a bumper crop.

It’s ‘Moe wet’, actually

As such there’s a certain amount of snobbery around the brand. I remember this from my days working in a wine merchant. We’d recommend anything but Moët, and we’d laugh at customers who pronounced the ‘t’ sound. Well, we were wrong about the pronunciation  – it’s not ‘Moe way’, it’s ‘Moe wet.’ Like a lot of Champagne houses such Bollinger, Charles Heidsieck and Krug, the Moët family were of German origin, which explains the pronunciation and the umlaut.

But were we wrong about the wine? There was a perception in the trade 15/20 years ago that Moët NV wasn’t quite as good as it could be. It was a little green and oversweet. Well, those days are well and truly over. According to Benoît Gouez, chef de cave who we spoke with on Zoom recently, Moët has raised the percentage of mature reserve wines in the non-vintage and at the same time reduced dosage, the amount of sugar added post bottle fermentation, from 13-14g per litre in 1998, to just 7g today.

Today’s Brut Imperial is a far cry from the Moët of old; it’s still lean but with racy lemony fruit and rich biscuity finish. I’d say it’s one of the best from the big brands. With the non-vintage, Gouez’s job is to maintain a consistent style, but “with vintage we start from scratch, one is rational, one is more emotional, more personal decision. We’re not looking for consistency.” The firm has only made 75 vintages in its long history.

A challenging vintage

He certainly had his work cut out with 2013. He described it as “unusually cold, one of the coldest of the last 30 years”. It was the first harvest in October since 1991 and he was worried about rot and “we had no idea what we could expect in terms of aromas.” Despite worries, they had a good size crop with, importantly, high sugar levels but also unusually high acidity. Gouez saw it as the perfect opportunity to make a “style of vintage we had from the ‘60s to the middle of the ‘80s,” before the climate warmed.

Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2013_Beauty shot vertical

It’s autumnal, innit

With vintage wines, “I’m looking for charisma, individuality, looking for something a bit different,” he explained, which is just what he got from the 2013. The blend was made up of 41% Chardonnay, 38% Pinot Noir and 21% Meunier. He described the resulting wine as “autumnal, energetic and chiselled. We don’t have apricot and peach, or ripe citrus. It’s all about apples with white autumnal fruit.” He went on to say that it has: “very classic balance, fine for maturity.”

It’s certainly different to the opulent 2012. Just as Gouez said, it’s lean with green apple and still very very young. Gouez described it as having a “reductive profile with no oxidative character; the ageing hasn’t really started yet.” But there’s plenty of nutty and biscuity notes on the finish and a grapefruit flavour that develops with time. It’s not a wine to throw back at parties, rather something to be sipped slowly with shellfish. Or put away for a couple of years to mature. 

This Grand Vintage 2013 shows that even with a company as big as Moët et Chandon, there is room to create something a little bit individual. 

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Strong appley notes on the nose, spiced cooked apple.

Palate: Lean with sharp green apple, lean but ripe, mouth-watering acidity. With time it fills out bringing in grapefruit.

Finish: Biscuity and long.

Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2013 is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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New Arrival of the Week: Compass Box Orchard House

Our New Arrival this week is Orchard House, the newest core offering from Compass Box and the first to be made with whiskies entirely laid down by the bottler/blender. We…

Our New Arrival this week is Orchard House, the newest core offering from Compass Box and the first to be made with whiskies entirely laid down by the bottler/blender. We tasted it with founder John Glaser, and found out how it earned its name.

It’s as idyllic as a Zoom tasting could be – held on the autumnal equinox, and John Glaser is sitting in what was to be the last of the summer (or is it autumn?) sun in his garden, chatting us through a momentous new release for Compass Box called Orchard House. 

Whisky Exploder

Glaser likens what he’s doing to the Song Exploder podcast, where each episode a musician takes apart their song, and piece by piece, tells the story of how it was made. He wants to create Whisky Exploder, and get whisky-makers to take you through the inception and creation of a whisky – you heard it here first. This won’t surprise those of you who are already familiar with Compass Box however, as it’s long been a champion for transparency within the whisky industry. 

The origins of Orchard House began in 2018, when Oak Cross, a long-standing blended malt, was going to lose one of its key ingredients due to stock issues. Glaser and fellow whiskymaker James Saxon couldn’t lay down the whiskies in time to create an exact replacement for Oak Cross. “It’s not trying to be Oak Cross,” Glaser is quick to note, but it was in trying to replicate Oak Cross that Orchard House was born. Eventually, the team gave up on trying to get a replacement, and instead ran with the fruity spirits they were finding along the way.

Compass Box Orchard House

Orchard House, appropriately surrounded by orchard fruit

It’s all about distillery character

Orchard House is a “spirit-forward, fruity style” with the vanilla pastry cream, light oak character that you get from American oak allowing each spirit’s distillery character to evolve over time, too. New oak maturation and sherry bombs are all over the place now, Glaser notes, but he believes that distillery character ought to be at the forefront of the flavour profile. 90% of the whisky is matured in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels, which allow exactly that.

It’s a big step for Compass Box because Orchard House is the first release from the bottler to be wholly made with whiskies that were laid down and entirely matured by Glaser and the team. The core is made up of “perfumed, what the industry calls waxy” Clynelish and fruity Linkwood. Benrinnes comes in as a hefty support, “adding a bit of weight”. There’s also a decent percentage from a distillery in the town of Aberlour – he’s not allowed to say exactly which distillery, but it’s completely sherried, and described by Glaser as ‘meaty’, so you can probably work it out. There’s also a minimal amount (just 2%) of Caol Ila bringing a smoky depth to an otherwise very bright, fresh spirit. 

Compass Box Orchard House label

Orchard House, ready for a close up

We can see this being a brilliant whisky to introduce people to the spirit, as it’s approachable while still packing in a lot of flavour – though that’s not to say seasoned sippers won’t enjoy it too. Unsurprisingly, given its orchard-forward flavour profile, it’s apparently a wonder with cheese.

In classic Compass Box style, the label is something to behold. It was inspired by the work of a pair of Californian artists who go by the name Fallen Fruit, and is a pretty accurate visual representation of what you can expect from the whisky within the bottle. Stranger & Stranger created the finished packaging, a firm that Compass Box has been collaborating with for around 13 years now. 

This marks the start of an exciting future for Compass Box. Glaser is thinking long term into the next 10 and 15 years, laying down whiskies with future core products in mind – Orchard House is just the beginning!

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Fresh green and red apples almost hit you in the face, living up to its name. Underneath there’s notes of grainy pear skin, bright lychee, and a faint hint of aromatic smoke.

Palate: Sweet and bright. Tart apple is balanced by pineapple, golden syrup, buttery pastry, with that subtle peat smoke appearing underneath. 

Finish: Creamier on the finish, with vanilla buttercream and fresh fruit lingering.

You can buy a bottle of Compass Box Orchard House here.

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New Arrival of the Week: Glengoyne 15 Year Old – Old Particular

It’s Master of Malt week here at Master of Malt. Which means many interesting exclusive spirits to be had. Such as our New Arrival: Glengoyne 15 Year Old – Old…

It’s Master of Malt week here at Master of Malt. Which means many interesting exclusive spirits to be had. Such as our New Arrival: Glengoyne 15 Year Old – Old Particular, a single cask bottled by Douglas Laing. And did we mention that it’s only available from MoM?

Looking back through 10 years of Master of Malt blog posts – yes we have been blogging that long – I’ve noticed that we haven’t written much about Glengoyne. Whenever it’s sister distillery Tamdhu does anything, we’re all over it, but Glengoyne just doesn’t seem to get the love. Until now…

Glengoyne Distillery launches new whisky and revamped look

Master distiller Robbie Hughes at Glengoyne Distillery

A Master of Malt exclusive

Yes, this week we’ve got one hell of a Glengoyne for you. It was distilled in 2005, and comes from a single refill hogshead bottled without colouring or chill-filtration at 58.4% ABV by the good people at Douglas Laing. 242 bottles have been filled and they are only available from Master of Malt.

Glengoyne is one of the closest distilleries to Glasgow, located not far from the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. It’s also generally considered one of the prettiest distilleries in Scotland so it’s well worth a day trip if you’re spending a few days in the city. Legal distilling began there in 1833 when it was known as Burnfoot distillery. In 1879 it was bought by the Lang Brothers who changed the name to Glen Guin – meaning valley of the wild geese. In 1965 it was bought by Robertson & Baxter, a forerunner of Macallan owner the Edrington Group. Then in 2003, it was acquired by Ian MacLeod distillers who also own Tamdhu, as well as Edinburgh Gin and brands such as Smokehead and Sheep Dip. The current master distiller Robbie Hughes has been with the distillery since 2003.

A light fruity style

Glengoyne’s water comes from nearby Loch Carron. It makes a distinctive light, fruity and floral whisky – a world away from the meaty sherry bombs at its sister distillery Tamdhu. The still set-up consists of one wash and two spirit stills with level lyne arms, designed to create lots of reflux to create that characteristic fruity new make. The distillery practises both long and short ferments, and always with unpeated barley.

In a quirk of geography, distillation takes place in the Highlands whereas maturation takes place south of the Highland line, in the Lowlands. So, it’s both a Highland and a Lowland whisky. 

Traditionally, Glengoyne was used in blends such as Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark but it’s also a highly-regarded single malt. The 12-year-old Glengoyne is something of a classic for lovers of fruity light single malts. If you love the Glengoyne style, then you’re going to love this exclusive bottling from Douglas Laing. And we promise in future to write more about this distinctive distillery.

Glengoyne 15 Year Old 2005 (cask 14639) – Old Particular (Douglas Laing) is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

Glen Goyne Old Particular

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Sticky toffee pudding, lemon meringue pie, and a hint of buttered brown bread.

Palate: Tangy marmalade, cassia, malted milk biscuits, caramelised nuts, and honey.

Finish: A touch of woody spice and nutmeg, while more orange notes linger on the finish.

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New Arrival of the Week: North British 13 year old (Murray McDavid)

Today we’re shining a spotlight on a neglected though vital part of the Scotch whisky, grain whisky with a special single grain release from the North British distillery finished in…

Today we’re shining a spotlight on a neglected though vital part of the Scotch whisky, grain whisky with a special single grain release from the North British distillery finished in Port casks and bottled by Murray McDavid.

Grain whisky was, until very recently, the dutiful sister when compared to the film star that is malt whisky. While single malt became internationally famous, with books, films, articles and clubs devoted to it, grain whisky just quietly got on with providing the backbone for the Scotch whisky industry. 

It doesn’t help that grain whiskies distilleries look like oil refineries and they are sited in the Central Belt – Scotland’s industrial heart. In contrast, malt distilleries are picturesque, set in dramatic landscapes like the Isle of Skye or Speyside. But also, let’s be honest here, new make produced from wheat or maize (corn) in continuous stills up to around 94.8% ABV doesn’t have the character of malt spirit.

Time for grain to shine

And yet, according to Dean Jode from independent bottler Murray McDavid, it’s time for grain whiskies to have their “time on the red carpet.” Grain might be lighter in flavour than malt whisky but what it does have is texture and an amazing affinity with oak. Think of the flavours in Compass Box’s Hedonism, a blend of Port Dundas, Strathclyde and North British grain whiskies.

This release in 2000 did much to change people’s perceptions of what grain can do. Furthermore, whisky lovers began taking an interest in long-aged stock from ghost distilleries like the Caledonian in Edinburgh, closed in 1988, or Port Dundas, shuttered in 2011. In 2015, the Diageo Special Releases contained an opulent 1974 single grain from the Cally. With time, grain whisky can do magical things. 

The North British distillery

The North British distillery, pretty it ain’t

The North British

This week’s whisky was bottled by Murray McDavid and comes from the North British Distillery in Edinburgh, which until the opening of the Holyrood distillery, was the only whisky distillery in Scotland’s capital city. It was founded as a joint venture in 1885 by some of the biggest names in Scotch whisky, Andrew Usher, William Sanderson, James Watson and John Crabbie, to challenge the monopoly the Distillers Company Ltd. had over the supply of grain. The distillery is now jointly owned by Diageo and Edrington, and the whisky goes into blends such as the Famous Grouse and Johnnie Walker.

But it wasn’t until 2018 that the first independent single grain bottlings appeared from this whisky powerhouse. Now Jode thinks that whisky lovers are so much more open to new flavours, styles and countries, that they appreciate grain whisky for what it is. It also helps that it’s often much less expensive than malt whisky (not the Diageo Cally Special Release though, which was released at £750 a bottle!)


“Historically single grain hasn’t been finished with the same respect as single malt,” Jode said. Murray McDavid is changing this. Its 2007 North British release was finished for 1.5 years in four 225 litre French oak barriques sourced from a tawny Port producer Caves de Murca. Before that, it spent 11.5 years in four refill bourbon hogsheads. 1375 bottles have been filled at 50% ABV with no chill filtering or colour added. 

Jode described it as a “gamechanger in terms of what people can find in grain.” It’s very different to the sumptuous long-aged grains that have so far led the category. He said it was “young, bold and brash” and “aggressively-matured in first-fill Port casks.” I think that’s the first time I’ve seen a whisky described as “aggressively-matured.” 

Murray McDavid has been innovative since it was founded in 1996 by Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin, and Gordon Wright. In 2000, they purchased and revived Bruichladdich to great acclaim. Then in 2021, the firm sold Bruichladdich to Remy Cointreau before the following year being bought out by Aceo, a whisky bonding, bottling and brokerage firm. Operations moved to Coleburn, a closed distillery near Elgin. Jode has been with the firm since 2015 and he’s bringing malt-style cask finishes to the single grain, blended malt and blended Scotch categories. You can see the range here.

But back to that North British 2007. It’s a great sipping whisky either neat or on ice but like most grains, it’s a superb mixer too. Mix it in a Rob Roy with a good Italian vermouth to bring out those red fruit notes, and you’ll see why grain whisky is finally having its film star moment. 

North British 13 year old

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Buttery oak, raspberries, vanilla, toasted oats, and sugared cereal.

Palate: Mouth-coating creamy, with whiffs of lemon posset. Gently herbal, grassy notes balance juicy chocolate raisins, mocha and butterscotch.

Finish: Floral melon and citrus zest combine with boozy sultanas and warming oak spice.

North British 13 year old 2007 (Murray McDavid) is available from Master of Malt. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Deanston 12 Year Old 2008 Oloroso Cask 

We’re toasting a glorious new week here at Master of Malt with a limited edition Oloroso cask Deanston 12 year old. But that’s not all. Not by a long way….

We’re toasting a glorious new week here at Master of Malt with a limited edition Oloroso cask Deanston 12 year old. But that’s not all. Not by a long way. Alongside it, Distell has released three other limited editions from Bunnahabhain, Tobermory and Ledaig. Yes it’s bonus week!

Earlier this month we joined some of the team from Distell for one of those online tastings that have become fashionable of late. On the call were master blender Julieann Fernandez, master distiller Brendan McCarron and travel writer Robin McKelvie, who has just made a film about the three Scotch whisky distilleries in the Distell stable: Tobermory, Bunnahabhain and Deanston.

Deanston distillery

Deanston distillery is housed in a former mill

Not faceless whisky factories

McKelvie spoke passionately about his film. He said that the distilleries are not “faceless whisky factories”, they mean something to the local community. The real stars are the distillery workers who during the height of the pandemic were frustrated that they could not share the love of whisky with visitors. You can watch the film here

Julieann Fernandez commented on the film: “To be able to tell the stories behind each distillery and showcase the team who have worked so hard behind the scenes to keep our whisky flowing, is a real honour for us. These film clips pay tribute to these teams and our distillery homelands”.

This was Brendan McCarron’s first public engagement since his surprise move from Glenmorangie earlier this year. He described himself as the “new boy ” and seemed to be enjoying his new job thoroughly. The only problem is he’s spending too much money on whisky especially Ledaig, the peated expression from Tobermory: “my wife banned me from bringing anymore in.”

As well as enjoying McKelvie’s film, we were there to try four limited edition whiskies from the three distilleries. They range from the classic to the slightly off-the-wall, but all are worth trying especially as none is overpriced. Fernandez commented: “We’re incredibly excited to share these four wonderful, limited-edition whiskies with fans around the world, each with their own defining characteristics and flavour profiles.”

Here’s what we tried:

Distell Limited Editions

Deanston 12 year old Oloroso cask

This was distilled in 2008 before filling into an American oak Oloroso cask. McCarron is clearly a massive fan of his local distillery located near Stirling in the central belt of Scotland. “It has a waxy texture which is impossible to copy. You can try but you won’t succeed”, he said, “it has a robustness about it which suits the high ABV.” It’s bottled at 52.7% ABV.

This has an amazingly fruity nose with sweet orange notes, bitter orange peel and that classic Deanston waxy flavour. The palate is an explosion in the mouth of dried fruits, waxy notes (naturally), cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and honey with aromatic wood notes. McCarron described it as having a bitter cherry note like an old Chianti. It’s a big sweet dram but that spiciness balances the sweetness nicely.

Bunnahabhain Aonadh 10 year old

This is a daring whisky from Islay’s famous unpeated distillery. It’s aged in sherry casks but with a Port finish. Does sherry go with Port? McCarron commented: “It shouldn’t work but it does” and praised how the Port and sherry were harmonised. Fernandez explained how it was a matter of mixing a range of Port finishes together some at four, five or six years in the Port casks, “finding the right length of time in cask.” It’s bottled at 56.2% ABV.

So does it work? The nose is massive, lots of wood, caramel, cloves and cardamom with distinct varnish notes. It’s certainly distinctive. The palate is much more classic with sweet toffee balanced by a salty dryness and then in comes a massive wave of nuts, walnuts, brazil nuts and chestnuts. It’s like Xmas day on Islay. One that tastes far more harmonious than it smells. One to discuss at your whisky group!

Tobermory 17 year old Oloroso cask

We’ve been fortunate enough to try a lot of long-aged sherry cask malts from Tobermory recently and this is a classic example. It was distilled in 2004 at the Isle of Mull distillery and aged in Oloroso sherry casks. Nothing strange going on here. According to Fernandez, Tobermory has a light new make so you have to be careful not to swamp it in sherry. It’s bottled at 55.9% ABV.

This is a lovely dram for fans of sherry cask whisky. The nose is sweet with malt, toffee and dark chocolate, a dash of water brings out orange, orange peel and for one taster a little lime. I loved the sweet nuttiness on the palate, like roasted walnuts and coconut, with a thick full texture like creamy toffee. A load of spice comes in towards the end and it finishes dry to prepare you for another sip. Another great old sherried Tobermory.

Ledaig 22 year old PX cask

Distilled in 1999, this was fully matured in a Pedro Ximénez cask before bottling at 55.6% ABV. Ledaig is the peated version of Tobermory but it’s very much not a “peat monster” according to McCarron.

At first the main smell is the wine, floral like a muscat with dried fruit, then comes the wood smoke and bacon-flavoured crisps. The mouth is all about the balance of sweet grapey notes with cigar smoke, bonfire and roasted nuts. This is a very special dram. You can see why McCarron is spending so much money on Ledaig.

All in all some seriously distinctive and impressive drams from the Distell stable. 

They are available to buy from Master of Malt. Click on links above to buy.

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New Arrival of the Week: TBWC Home Nations Series

Normally for this slot we highlight one product. This week, however, we’ve got a whole raft of exciting new whiskies (and some rum) from Britain and Ireland bottled exclusively for That…

Normally for this slot we highlight one product. This week, however, we’ve got a whole raft of exciting new whiskies (and some rum) from Britain and Ireland bottled exclusively for That Boutique-y Whisky Company. It’s TBWC Home Nations Series! 

It’s fair to say that there’s a lot of whisky talent in Britain and Ireland. Obviously Scotland and Ireland are world leaders, both vying for the position as the first place whisky (or whiskey) was made. Quick aside, why don’t the Scots, the Irish, and the Americans just sit down and just agree on a spelling for ‘whisky’ so we don’t have to use tortured constructions like whisk(e)y? This has gone on too long.

Anyway! It’s not just in the old countries, England and Wales now have serious strength in depth when it comes to whisky with the English Whisky Company in Norfolk turning 15 this year and Penderyn in the Brecon Beacons turning 21 in September. These pioneers have been joined by a legion of innovative distilleries making bold, distinctive whiskies.

British & Irish Lions, but with booze

So to celebrate all this talent, That Boutique-y Whisky Company is releasing the Home Nations Series. The idea of the ‘home nations’ is inspired by rugby where England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales put aside their rivalries to play together as the British & Irish Lions, usually with magnificent effect.

Lineup- Home Nations TBWC/ TBRC

The whiskies include a six year old Penderyn from Wales, a cask strength three year old from Scotland’s Nc’Nean Distillery, and a very special 29 year old Irish single malt from an undisclosed distillery (though you can probably guess which it is.)

Meanwhile, team England fields a 12 year old from the English Whisky Company in Norfolk, a 7 year old from Adnams in Suffolk, a 3 year old single grain from the Oxford Artisan Distillery, and a 3 year old from the Cotswolds Distillery. Meanwhile we have two nearly whiskies from Circumstance in Bristol and White Peak in Derbyshire

There’s rum too!

But that’s not all! The Home Nations series includes three rums: a 17 month rum from Ninefold in Scotland, an 18 month rum from Greensand from Kent ,and a 2 year old from J. Gow on Orkney! Plus a selection of rare single malt Scotch whiskies bottled exclusively for That Boutique-y Whisky Company – see the full range here.

I’ve pulled out three that I particularly liked below. These are largely single barrels and bottled at cask strength or high ABV. All come in 50cl bottles. Numbers are extremely limited so hurry, catch the home nations while you can.

Circumstance TBWC

Circumstance 40 Days Old Batch 1

Type: Wheat spirit

Cask types: Matured in a drum with charred English oak spindles

ABV: 59.8% 

We visited this distillery a couple of years ago and were amazed by the innovations going on with yeasts, fermentation times and, most of all, ageing. This shows how you can get masses of flavour into a young spirit without it tasting over-worked. Extremely clever.

Nose: Super sweet, chocolate digestives and ginger nuts. It’s like a party in the biscuit aisle at Sainsbury’s!

Palate: Sweet toffee and chocolate and then spicy. Really really spicy with black pepper, chilli and bitter minty notes – like Fernet Branca. Some massive spicy wood action happening here.  

Finish: Spices go on and on, seriously intense!

English Whisky Co B3

English Whisky Company 12 Year Old Batch 3

Type: Single malt

Cask: first-fill bourbon

ABV: 63.4%

Wow! This is a mighty dram. This English whisky pioneer just keeps getting better and better. Can you imagine how excited we are to try a 15, an 18 or even a 21 from this distillery?

Nose: Toffee, chocolate, dried fruit, vanilla and creamy cereal notes, water brings out sweeter notes and peachy fruit.

Palate: Big spice, wood tannin, dark chocolate, savoury, and bitter coffee with a full texture like chestnuts. Water brings out aromatic tobacco notes, and with time a distinct apricot taste emerges. 

Finish: Layered and very complex, that apricot note goes on for a good ten minutes.  

Penderyn TBWC

Penderyn 6 Year Old Batch 1

Type: Single malt

ABV: 50% 

Cask type: This is from a single STR red wine hogshead.

Distilled in Penderyn’s unique Faraday still – like a cross between a pot and a column (read more about it here). It’s been a while since I’ve had Penderyn, this bottling shows how beautiful it is at a higher strength. 

Nose: Sweet cereal notes with apples, caramel, butter and toffee.  

Palate: Creamy marzipan texture, there’s a gentle sweetness with baking spices like cinnamon and creamy patisserie notes with orchard fruit. Lovely balance, no water needed here.

Finish: Gentle sweetness and spice. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Sollasa

Forget lager or white wine, a new aperitif called Sollasa promises to be the perfect match with Indian food. We put it through its paces. One of the great questions…

Forget lager or white wine, a new aperitif called Sollasa promises to be the perfect match with Indian food. We put it through its paces.

One of the great questions of our time is: what do you drink with Indian food? You’ll often read that certain wines cope well with spicy flavours such as off-dry floral whites like Gewurztraminer or spicy reds like Australian Shiraz. It’s well worth reading Guardian columnist Fiona Beckett whose website is a great source for tricky food and wine combinations. And yet when it comes to spicy food most of us reach for pure refreshment in the form of lager including various ‘Indian’ lagers which are usually brewed in Bedford or somewhere like that.

Vishal Patel and his brother-in-law Sajag Patel, Sollasa

Vishal Patel and his brother-in-law Sajag Patel

Characterful food needs characterful drink

Vishal Patel and his brother-in-law Sajag Patel are the duo behind a new Indian-inspired aperitif called Sollasa. He told me that while British tastes in Indian food had become increasingly sophisticated with premiumisation and a growing awareness of the many regional cuisines, what we drink has not moved with the times. “Drinks are stuck in the ‘80s with pints of Cobra and Kingfisher,” he said, “surely there must be something better than a pint of lager?”

Some Indian chefs are sticking with beer but realise that highly-spiced food works better with characterful beers. The head chef at Quilon in London, Sriram Aylur, is a huge British ale fan and offers old years of Fuller’s 8.5% ABV Vintage Ale – a strong London ale that improves with time in the bottle. In fact, so strong is the affinity of Indian food with English beer styles, that someone should open a pub that serves samosas, pakoras, and bhajis instead of sausage rolls, pork pies and beer. It would make a killing. 

Spirits with food

India, however, has much more of a spirits-led food and drink culture. Indeed, it’s the largest whisky market in the world, and we’ve learned that whisky Highballs can be a great match with Indian food. So the Patel duo thought it would be more authentically Indian to have a spirit-based drink to answer this perennial question.

Sajag Patel’s background is in marketing whereas Vishal Patel works for Distill Ventures – Diageo’s venture capital arm – but Sollasa is an independent side project.

It’s a grain-based spirit flavoured with coriander, cardamom, orange, lime, lychee, mint, basil and sea salt weighing in at 20% ABV. The name comes from the Manasollasa, a 12th-century Sanskrit text thought to be one of the first Indian recipe books. 

According to the website they “worked with leading chefs, mixologists and food scientists to develop the perfect partner.” Work began in December 2020 and by June the product had been perfected and was ready to hit the shelves.

Originally, the plan was to launch it in more upmarket Indian restaurants, but with the trade is still finding its feet. Patel was aware that a brand new drink would be low on most restaurateurs priority list. Nevertheless, he told me that they had great feedback and was confident that it would soon lead to listings. At the moment the priority is for online retailers like Master of Malt.

Sollasa and tonic

Sollasa and tonic, lovely with spicy food

Sollasa, ice and tonic

The simplest way to drink it is with tonic water to create a refreshing drink that’s lower in alcohol than wine. There’s also a range of cocktails that you can make with it on the company’s website. Vishal said “Sollasa truly compliments food but doesn’t overpower it. We wanted it to have a bit of bite and when mixed with tonic about 5% ABV, about the same as beer but less gassy.” 

I tried it mixed with ordinary Fever Tree tonic, lots of ice and a slice of orange. It tasted delicious and worked brilliantly with my wife’s wonderful and totally inauthentic chicken curry. So next time you’re cooking Indian food, forget cold lager, try Sollasa.  

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Zesty notes of sweet orange and zesty lime balance more floral, perfumed notes of lychee. Sweet, fragrant garden herbs lead wonderfully into soft wafts of aromatic spices and a subtle touch of salinity, reminiscent of fragrant Indian cooking and spice shops.

Sollasa is available now from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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New Arrival of the Week… Dingle Single Malt

Dingle Distillery’s first core whiskey, Dingle Single Malt, has finally arrived at MoM Towers and we’re so excited we decided to write lots of words about it. “This has been…

Dingle Distillery’s first core whiskey, Dingle Single Malt, has finally arrived at MoM Towers and we’re so excited we decided to write lots of words about it.

“This has been the most nervous I’ve been about a release I would say! In my previous history working in Scotch whisky, you were adding extensions to the existing lines. But with Dingle, it’s a coming-of-age dram that’s putting our marker down on who we are. People have been waiting to see what direction we’d go in. It’s a big step for the distillery and for me. This is not just another whiskey on the shelf, it’s a statement”. 

Graham Coull has spent more than 25 years in whisky. He joined William Grant & Sons as bottling manager in 1994, before becoming distillation manager for the Glenfiddich, Balvenie, and Kininvie distilleries. Most notably, he spent 14 years as distillery manager and master distiller of Speyside distillery Glen Moray. Since 2019 he’s been the master distiller for Dingle Distillery. So the release of the brand’s first permanent whiskey is a big moment for him. Particularly as anticipation was high. 

Fans of gin will know Dingle as the creator of a Dry Gin named the World’s Best Gin at the 2019 World Gin Awards, but it’s what the Kerry-based brand has brought to the table in Irish whiskey that’s truly revealed its potential. By putting together one of the most popular and acclaimed ranges of small-batch spirits, the distillery demonstrated an ability to craft its own winning whiskies using manual distillation and an impressive wood programme with quality first-fill ex-bourbon, Pedro Ximénez, Oloroso, and Port casks.

Dingle Single Malt

You can finally get your hands on Dingle Single Malt!

Standing out from the crowd

So folks have been eagerly waiting for the first core release from Dingle. Particularly as Dingle Single Malt represents a continuation of its policy of being one of the few Irish distilleries to produce expressions made entirely with its own spirit. Coull attributes the lack of third-party-bottlings to the background of the directors, who previously created their own brewery and pub business doing everything from start to finish, as well as the gin’s success generating enough capital and accolades to enable them to stay on track. 

“We’re proud that’s part of our ethos,” says Coull about the approach. “It keeps things simple which is good because Irish whiskey is a bit confusing at the moment. Our spirit is never out in the marketplace being produced or presented in a different way. Like it or lump it, what’s in our bottles is what Dingle is”.

Whiskey purists also appreciate the rarity of trying spirit made from a manual distillation process. It’s rare to see such a lack of automation, particularly in a new distillery, and speaks to a romantic ideal of what craft whiskey should be about. “I’ve been in the whisky industry since 1994 and it reminds me of then, and it’s probably even more basic than that!” Coull says.

“Everything is hand and eye coordinated. There’s no intervention with any real technology. So you’re listening to the sounds, reacting to the smells, and using your eyes for the distillation cuts. We even do the old-fashioned water test at the beginning of distillation which most places have phased out. It’s definitely not a perfect science, but it’s nice to have that hands-on approach because if you have too much automation, you can lose touch with what you’re doing and you don’t pick out the subtleties of any changes”. 

As well as the manual mashing, Dingle Distillery makes use of wooden fermentation vessels that feed into the three bespoke copper pot stills, a 5,000-litre wash still and two progressively smaller spirit stills designed by John C. McDougall. These ensure maximum copper contact so a bolder character is retained even after the classic Irish triple distillation, which typically makes a lighter, clean spirit. “We get this oily, earthy element and a creamy mouthfeel to our new-make this way, as well as a rich, fruity profile that we retain by taking a very final small spirit cut in the very final spirit stills,” Coull explains. 

Dingle Single Malt

Say hello to Graham Coull!

The Dingle way of doing things

The distillery has always made a point of explaining its production process as one of quality over quantity, and that Dingle Whiskey is a product of its environment. Localised well water is used for dilution. The climate for maturation is singular, because Dingle itself is a pretty unique place. “It’s very difficult to prove or disprove whether much comes from the climate and the water,” Coull admits. “But we know Dingle has got a mild, damp environment that’s great for maturing whiskey. The spirit matures all year round. What I’m used to in Scotland is it probably stopping in October and starting again in March because the temperatures dip so low. I always say ‘if the grass is growing, the whiskey’s maturing’, and grass pretty much grows all year round in Dingle!”

Aside from the manual distillation of its own spirit, Dingle is also known for using excellent, first-fill casks. It’s a pricey, bold choice but, when done right, it pays off. Not least by becoming a USP in a crowded market. “We have to look to the future. There’s 30 to 35 other distilleries coming in behind us,” explains Coull. “We’re not the biggest. We’re not the most efficient. So having great casks has always been critical. That’s not to say that we won’t refill casks, but I’ll keep them in the background for older Dingles”. 

He says the key to ensuring the quality is consistent is only dealing with tried and trusted cask brokers he knows from years of sourcing casks and building relationships. This not only means he can ensure the standard of the wood and spirit it previously held is high, but the way the casks are handled between the source and the distillery is proper. If they’re not freshly emptied and shipped quickly, you can ruin a cask quite quickly, Coull says.

Dingle Single Malt

Dingle is carving out an impressive space for itself in the competitive world of Irish whiskey

A bright future

It’s this considered and honest approach that brought Coull to Dingle in the first place. Nabbing someone with his CV was a coup for the young distillery, but once he saw the quality that had been laid down and an opportunity to make his mark and build a brand from the ground-up he couldn’t resist. Coull says family ownership also makes a big difference, as they tend to take longer-term views with their distilleries. “It’s their baby and they will see it through”. 

The family’s commitment has been demonstrated by the promise of a multi-million-euro upgrade to Dingle Distillery that will create at least 60 jobs, improve the visitor experience, and eventually double the capacity of the facility, which was originally a sawmill. “If anybody’s ever visited the distillery they’ll know it’s purely a shed with distillation equipment and a few transport containers inside, which become the shop and the bar area. It’s probably had its day so it is time to invest. It’s not going to be a designer distillery by any means, it will still have that rustic edge, but we’re aiming for something that will be fit for visitors too”.

Looking forward, Coull says the batch releases won’t stop just because Dingle now has its own permanent single malt. Every year around 10-15,000 bottles of something new will arrive, with some interesting wood finishes and single casks tipped, as well as 100% bourbon-matured bottling that will present the clearest picture of Dingle’s distillery character. Some Irish peated whiskey is also on the way in the next three or four years and Coull promises it will appeal to fans of the category as it will not be a subtle ‘Irish peat’ by any means.

Dingle Single Malt

We heartily recommend a drop of Dingle. Lucky you can get here now!

Dingle Single Malt review:

But, before we get to all of that we’ve got our New Arrival to enjoy. So, here’s the skinny. The whiskey is about six-to-seven years old. It was triple distilled and then matured in Pedro Ximénez sherry (61%) and ex-bourbon (39%) first-fill casks before being bottled without chill-filtration. There were 50,000 bottles produced in the first run, so this is not something only collectors can get their hands on, and there’s been a big aesthetic change to a more eye-catching packaging. It’s worth mentioning that at just over £50, the price point is lower than the previous batch releases and is very competitive, which means this is a whisky that you can drink and buy again. So far, we’re ticking some good boxes.

The most important thing remains what’s inside the tasting glass, however, and I’m delighted to say I love it. It’s a tremendously assured first addition to the core range, a whisky with all the poise, elegance, and moreish qualities of a go-to dram. You would guess it’s a good 10-12 years old considering how intensely beautiful and full-bodied the sherry and bourbon notes popping up all over the place are, as well as the first-class integration, particularly as PX can overwhelm. But this didn’t at all. It’s a testament to taking your time and doing things right. 

You can purchase Dingle Single Malt from Master of Malt (that’s us!) now.

Dingle Single Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: A creamy, mellow, and supple mix of vanilla, posh dark chocolate, sherried dried fruit, and the prickling of aromatic spice from anise, clove, and nutmeg. Throughout there’s toffee, homemade apple pie, toasted almonds, and lime zest with hints of mint and marzipan.

Palate: More of that indulgent caramel, vanilla, and chocolatey goodness (this time orange chocolate) with raisins, espresso, apricots, and some black pepper in support. There’s also some hints of rhubarb crumble, black fruit, red wine, and black tea as well as acacia honey, leather, and brown sugar underneath.

Finish: Rhubarb and Custard boiled sweets, sticky toffee pudding, a little more lime, and dried fruit.

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New Arrival of the Week: Seven Hills Tokaj Gin

We’ve got something a little unusual this week: a gin from Hungary which is flavoured with grapes normally used to make one of the world’s great sweet wines. It’s Seven…

We’ve got something a little unusual this week: a gin from Hungary which is flavoured with grapes normally used to make one of the world’s great sweet wines. It’s Seven Hills Tokaj Gin!

Central Europe has a long and proud tradition of small-scale distillation. All over the old Austro-Hungarian empire, farmers turn the bounty of autumn into brandies and liqueurs, just as we do with jams and chutneys. 

The skills are there so it was only a matter of time before someone applied their distillation knowledge to a drink that’s still the spirit du jour: gin. Which is exactly what they have done at the Seven Hills distillery.

Istill at Seven Hills in Hungary

Istill at Seven Hills

Tradition and innovation

It was founded in 2020 by Dénes Mészáros-Komáromy and it’s fair to say that their inaugural release, Seven Hill Tokaj Gin, has been a triumph. This year it won best contemporary gin at the World Gin Awards, a gold medal at the London Spirit Competition and a master gong at the Spirits Business Gin Masters awards in 2020.

The distillery is located in Tokaj by the Bodrog river. This region might traditionally be a spirits heartland but the set up at Seven Hills (not to be confused with Italian distillery VII Hills) mixes the traditional with the ultra-modern.

At the centre of the distillery is an Istill, a fully-automated distillation robot designed by Dutchman Dr Edwin van Eijk aka Odin. Fittingly, the idea for it came to him following a visit to Hungary, his wife is Hungarian. He tried numerous domestic brandies, most were pretty rough but one was sublime. The problem was the distiller could not explain how he made his so well. It was all anecdotal, no science.

So, Odin set about creating a still from scratch where every aspect of the process would be controlled and measured by computer.The result was the Istill – you can read the full story about it here.

Tokaji, Hungary’s legendary wine

As well as fruit brandies, this part of Hungary is also famous for it’s sweet wine: Tokaji. This is made from grapes that have been affected with botrytis aka noble rot, a fungus that dries grapes out and concentrates the sugar. It’s used to make the famous sweet wines of Sauternes in Bordeaux but for centuries Hungary’s wines were considered as fine, if not finer.

Tokaji was one of many wines known as vinum regnum, rex Vinorum, the king of wines, the wine of kings. But in this case, it was true. The Czar of Russia kept detachments of soldiers in Hungary purely to bring the latest vintage safely back to St Petersburg. 

It’s made using a unique technique where the ultra-sweet grapes are made into a sugary paste known as aszu which is then added to a fully-fermented dry (ie. not sweet) wine which causes it to re-ferment. Wines are graded by puttonyos – buckets of aszu added. 

The reputation of Tokaji collapsed after the Second World War. A wine made using painstaking techniques and requiring only the finest grapes, didn’t take well to collectivisation. But since the end of communism, producers both domestic and with foreign investment have reinvigorated the region. Tokaji is once again one of the world’s finest wines. As with most sweet wines, it’s underpriced considering the quality and the amount of work that goes into making it. Try this example if you want to know what all the fuss is about. 

Seven Hills Tokaj Gin

All photos courtesy of Seven Hills

A gin with a sense of place

The two principal grape varieties used are Furmint and Harslevelu, which is translated as Linden Leaf. The latter is used by Seven Hills Distillery to flavour its gin. Other botanicals used include a mixture of the native and the more far-flung such as juniper, coriander seed, forest pine bud, cubeb, elderflower, orris root, pink grapefruit, blackcurrant, and local honey. 

Truly this is a gin with a strong sense of place. Mészáros-Komáromy said: “We put together modern technology, traditions and the special microclimate of the Tokaj wine region, resulting in spirits that are unique and unrepeatable anywhere in the world.”

There’s also a Tokaji barrel-aged gin in the pipeline. Exciting. But that’s not all. The team has been quietly laying down both malt and rye whiskies which should be coming on to the market in 2023. Very exciting! 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Softly earthy with piney juniper and leafy herbs, before a bright flash of elderflower and lemon develop, shortly followed by a hint of blackcurrant leaf and peppercorn.

Seven Hills Tokaj Gin is available from Master of Malt. Click here to buy.

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