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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Peaty Whisky

Master of Malt tastes… whiskies made with different peat varieties

Peat is frequently used as a catch-all term for ‘smoke’, but this essential whisky ingredient is far more nuanced than we give it credit for. Here David Miles, senior whisky…

Peat is frequently used as a catch-all term for ‘smoke’, but this essential whisky ingredient is far more nuanced than we give it credit for. Here David Miles, senior whisky specialist at Edrington-Beam Suntory, talks MoM through three distinctly different drams made with peat sourced from all over Scotland…

The trinity of partly-decomposed vegetation, dank weather, and a layer of rock close to the earth’s surface are the natural phenomena responsible for creating peat – the soil-like deposits that impart a deliciously smoky flavour into our favourite Scotch whiskies. With the country’s weather on the cooler, wetter end of the spectrum, it’s little surprise that Scotland’s many bogs, mires and moors are packed with the stuff.

“Most of the peat used by the whisky industry is somewhere between 1,000 to 6,000 years old,” says Miles. “The vegetation that creates the peat will have an influence on the flavour of the finished whisky. If you go back that far in time on mainland Scotland, it was basically covered by the Caledonian forest. This means mainland peat has a woody quality; it’s decomposed trees and huge bushes.”

David Miles in action resplendent in a burgundy jacket

Jump north to Orkney or head south-west to Islay and the peat has a very different quality indeed. The Orkney Islands are located at a point where two huge weather systems collide, Miles explains. This means the weather is pretty consistent all year round, with little fluctuations in temperature between winter and summer and near-constant rain. Oh, and the wind blows at around 40mph.

“This means nothing grows tall,” says Miles. “There are no trees or big bushes, the only thing that really grows there is heather.” As such, Orkney’s heather-rich peat gives off very different flavours and aromas when burned. And like Orkney, there are very few trees growing and quite a lot of heather on Islay too – but here, seaweed is the largest influence. “It makes up a much bigger part of the rotting vegetation that becomes our peat,” says Miles. 

To demonstrate his point Miles gave us three very different drams that showcase the uniqueness of mainland Scotland, Orkney and Islay peat respectively using their very own floor maltings:

Highland Park Twisted Tattoo 16 Year Old

Every bit of peat burned at Orkney’s Highland Park is sourced from the island’s RSPB-protected Hobbister Moor, resulting in “a very distinctive peat smoke reek” in its whisky, Miles says. “It’s the only whisky in the world that is peated with Orkney peat,” says Miles. “Every expression of Highland Park has this distinctive quality.”

The distillery produces partially-peated whisky – that is, it only peats 20% of the barley it uses; the remaining 80% is unpeated. Being the sister whisky of the Macallan, Highland Park typically ages its whisky in sherry casks. “They’re what give Highland Park a huge amount of its characteristics and flavour,” says Miles. 

This is where Twisted Tattoo deviates from the norm, having spent its first 14 to 15 years of maturation in old bourbon barrels, before being transferred to Rioja casks. “It gives a very different twist to a classic Highland Park,” he continues. “Red berry fruits on the nose; there’s a dryness to this whisky – it doesn’t have that heather honey sweetness we so often associate Highland Park with. 

“It has a lovely warmth to it, and there’s a creaminess to the mouthfeel. That peat note is quite restrained – it usually is with Highland Park anyway – but it’s almost as if the wine cask has smoothed a few more of those notes out of it. [Peat] is one ingredient in the whole recipe here, and not dominant at all in any way.”

Bowmore 15 Year Old

Established in 1779, making it the oldest distillery on Islay, Bowmore produces fully peated whisky. “We peat 20 to 25% of the barley at the distillery ourselves using Islay peat,” says Miles. “The other 75 to 80% comes from the mainland and it peated on the mainland, so that woody influence has more of an impact on the flavour of Bowmore.”

Owing to this heavy mainland peat influence, the distillery’s whiskies aren’t a homage to Islay terroir. “That classic Islay peat reek – medicinal notes, TCP, Iodine – is a result of the seaweed being part of the equation,” says Miles. With Bowmore, because [Islay peat] is only one fifth to a quarter of the peat influence, it’s a background note. It’s a subtlety and a nuance.” As for the briney, salty quality found in Bowmore? It’s a result of its location, he says.

“The distillery is right on the waterfront in the village of Bowmore in Lochindaal,” Miles explains. “Our No.1 vaults, the oldest continuously-working warehouse in a distillery in the world, sits right on the seafront. Of course, not all of our casks and barrels are maturing in there, but a number are. When the wind’s kicking up, the waves are breaking right over the walls of the vault. The air has a briney quality, so with quite a lot of Bowmore you do get a slightly salty note to it.” 

Bowmore 15 is matured for 12 years in bourbon barrels before being transferred to oloroso sherry casks for a further three years. While this approach isn’t unheard of, it’s unusual for the distillery. “Every Bowmore expression is a combination of bourbon barrels and sherry casks, but they mature separately for the whole time period and then get blended together [at the end],” says Miles. 

This process contributes to the unique character of the 15 Year Old, “a glorious expression of what Bowmore can do”, he adds. “It combines the sherry cask richness, the smoke influence, vanilla sweetness from the bourbon barrels – it’s all in there but it’s balanced and held together. It’s not going off like crazy in different directions.”

Laphroaig Lore

The self-confessed love-it-or-hate-it dram of the whisky world, Laphroaig is all about that Islay peat influence. The distillery cold smokes 20 to 25% of its own barley – the remaining 75 to 80% is peated at neighbouring Port Ellen maltings – all using Islay peat. “You do not see a flame in the Laphroaig kiln,” says Miles. “When a flame appears, it’s damped down. That cold smoking process helps to give Laphroaig its very distinctive flavour and aroma.”

When you get past Laphroaig’s initial smokiness, it’s actually quite a delicate whisky in some ways – and this is because of its distillation process. One of its seven stills has a unique size and shape, and this brings a different flavour and quality to the new make distillate. The distillers also take “relatively-speaking, a very late cut”, says Miles. “The peaty smoky flavour in the distillate comes through later on in the distillation process.”

Lore is described by the distillery as ‘the richest expression Laphroaig has ever produced’. Where Laphroaig’s flagship bottlings are very much bourbon barrel-matured, Lore incorporates a variety of casks. “There are sherry butts, sherry hogsheads, puncheons…,” says Miles. “We’re using a much wider range of casks than we would use for anything else, and the sherry cask influence on this is much more noticeable, much stronger than in any other Laphroaig bottling.”

There are also a huge variety of ages in each batch, ranging from six to 23 years old. “Those older casks give us the weight, the gravitas, the dryness, while the younger casks give vibrancy and lightness,” he continues. “On the nose, there’s a very distinctive Laphroaig smokiness but it doesn’t have the bite you’d associate with, say, a 10 Year Old. There’s creaminess first, then you get smoke on the roof of your mouth. You’re almost thinking, ‘where’s the Laphroaig?’ and then bang: there’s the Laphroaig!”

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Everything you wanted to know about peat

It’s been a smoky week on the blog with news of the expansion at Kilchoman and a new release from Ardbeg. Therefore, we thought it would be a good idea to take…

It’s been a smoky week on the blog with news of the expansion at Kilchoman and a new release from Ardbeg. Therefore, we thought it would be a good idea to take a closer look at the ingredient that gives them their unmistakable flavour. So, here’s every question you’ve ever wanted to ask about peat, answered by whisky experts…

Ah, heavily-peated whisky. The great divider. The Marmite of the spirits world, if you will. For every die-hard Islay aficionado with a penchant for eye-wateringly medicinal, TCP-esque drams, there’s a bourbon connoisseur who wouldn’t clean their boots with the stuff. Such is life, and such is whisky.

Whatever your personal preference, you’re likely to have a few burning (ha) questions about the peat, specifically the mechanics involved in flavouring whisky with it. So, to quench your thirst for knowledge, we approached a selection of whisky experts to get the 4-1-1 on what is, essentially, thousands of years’ worth of decaying vegetation. Behold!

The floor malting at Benriach

Where does peat come from?

Peat is formed in cold wetlands from partly decomposed vegetation – shrubs, heather, bog myrtle, forests – over thousands of years, explains Dr. Rachel Barrie, master distiller at BenRiach Distillery. It tends to be found close to the coast, “having formed when seas flooded the landscape, trapping the vegetation,” she explains. “Cellulose, lignin and other plant components decompose slowly over a seriously long time, due to the lack of oxygen being trapped underwater.” Grass, wood and moss break down in the peat, making it a very good fuel, as well as a source of smoky aromatics. Peat is found all over the world, “but is especially prevalent in the Northern hemisphere in places like Canada, Siberia and in particular Ireland and Scotland,” adds Cameron Ewen, bar manager and senior whisky ambassador in Edinburgh’s Balmoral Hotel.

Does peat exhibit terroir?

Peat exhibits the ‘terroir’ of the plant material trapped and compressed under swampy wetland, decomposing over thousands of years, says Dr Barrie. “As well as plant material, it’s influenced by the water that flooded the land,” she continues. As such, the peat found in the north east of Scotland differs to peat found on Islay, due to the higher proportion of forests and less wetlands. Not only do the Western Isles feel the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, says Ewen, but the peat on Islay also has a higher proportion of seaweed. By contrast, “northern peat tends to be more floral with decomposing heather and gorse playing important roles in this peat,” he explains. “This will usually give the whisky a drier smoky character more akin to a bonfire. The peat dug from mainland Scotland is composed mostly of leaves, grasses and woods. This usually lends a very soft smoke to the whisky often due to the amount of peat being used.”

Peat cut in the Scottish Highlands

How is peat harvested?

Traditionally, peat has been dug by hand, says Anthony Wills, founder and managing director of Islay’s Kilchoman Distillery, with machines introduced more recently as demand has increased. First, the top layer of turf would be peeled away, and then a trench anywhere from 0.5 metres to 2 metres deep would be dug, says Ewen. “Peat was then cut out of this trench and stacked in the fields to dry,” he says, usually for about six months until it became brittle. “This peat is then used in traditional kilns – oven-like structures capable of holding tonnes of damp barley – and the peat is burned to produce an aromatic smoke that dries the barley and gives the final whisky its distinct quality,” Ewen adds.

How and when are ‘phenols’ released?

The phenols are released when the peat fire is burning and the smoke impregnates the moist barley grains lying on a floor above the fire, Wills explains. The phenol level is measured in parts per millions of phenols (PPM). How long the fire is lit determines the level of PPM in the final malt. “In the old days peat was used to dry the malt down to 5% moisture, but the result was a very peaty, salty, phenolic whisky that wasn’t very refined,” says Wills. “Peating levels have now been refined by distillers, and peat is only used at the first stage and then switched to a warm air drying system.” As those who have tasted Bowmore and Laphroaig liquids side-by-side, each distillery usually has a preferred peating level they require for their malt. However, this measurement is not entirely accurate by the time the whisky is bottled, because the PPM reduces over the course of the whisky-making process, Ewan explains. “At every stage some of the phenols are lost – this is most noticeable in the distillation and maturation phase,’ he says. During maturation, “some of the phenols are absorbed or evaporate off”, while other notes mellow out over time.

Kilchoman Islay

Burning peat at Kilchoman

Where does the peat burning tradition originate?

Historically the practice of using peat in whisky started through necessity, says Ewan. “Many distilleries were in remote parts of the country and as such, it was often impractical and not financially economic for distillers to use coal or oil in whisky production,” he explains. Peat had been used for centuries to heat bothies and blackhouses – traditional farmhouses – and this led to the practice being adopted by Scottish distillers. Those based further inland tended to use a mixture of coal, anthracite and peat, adds Dr Barrie, though the exact composition would have varied according to location, geography and terroir. That all changed in the 1970s, when natural gas was discovered in the North Sea and a boom of commercial barley maltings were built in the north and east. “With the readily available supply of natural gas, the larger commercial maltings rapidly became the most efficient, cleanest and scaled-up way to malt the barley,” she explains. “Without natural gas on Islay, peat continued to be the dominant source of fuel.”

In what other ways are distilleries using peat to flavour their spirits?

You don’t necessarily need peated barley to give your spirit a smoky taste. In fact, if you’re Daniel Szor, founder and CEO of England’s Cotswolds Distillery, you need only obtain an empty cask. “Our production director Nick and I went to visit our friends at Penderyn and were fascinated by one of their whiskies, which had been aged in a ex-Laphroaig quarter cask,” he explains. “As soon as we returned to the distillery, we ordered one from Speyside Cooperage and filled it with our unpeated new-make Cotswolds spirit.” After a year, says Szor, they were smitten. “ The cask provided just the right amount of phenols without overwhelming our delicate spirit, and the slight smokiness married perfectly with our rich and fruity Cotswolds spirit,” he says. 

 

 

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Superb Fireside Sipping

Celebrate Bonfire Night this year with a selection of booze appropriately bursting with deliciousness. Remember, remember the fifth of November… No, seriously. Check your calendars. It’s approaching fast. Maybe you’re…

Celebrate Bonfire Night this year with a selection of booze appropriately bursting with deliciousness.

Remember, remember the fifth of November… No, seriously. Check your calendars. It’s approaching fast. Maybe you’re planning to watch all things sparkly and spectacular illuminate the sky. Or perhaps you can’t wait to get into your dressing gown and comfy slippers to wrap up warm indoors. Both sound good to us, but whether you’ll be in front of a bonfire or fireplace, we can surely all agree that it’s the perfect time to indulge in some cockle-warming drinks.

For those who need inspiration, we’ve made things nice and easy by selecting this smashing selection of spirits. Expect smoke, spice and everything nice from this round-up of bonfire-themed booze!

Smoked Rosemary Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

Smoked rosemary is an absolute winner in many a cocktail, ask any good bartender. But who wants to bother with the hassle of setting fire to some fresh rosemary themselves? Save the flames for an actual bonfire and instead enjoy this delightful gin from That Boutique-y Gin Company! Sensationally smoky Martinis await…

What does it taste like?:

Well, there’s no doubt that this contains rosemary, as well as plenty of juniper, saline seashore smells, cracked black pepper, lemon, a hint of smoked bacon.

Glenfiddich Experimental Series – Fire & Cane

The Experimental Series has produced some corking expressions, and Fire & Cane is no exception. Malt master Brian Kinsman created this bottling by finishing some of the distillery’s peated single malt for three-months in rum casks from a variety of South American countries. The cask complements the peated profile perfectly and makes this one an ideal fireside sipper.

What does it taste like?:

Billowing soft peat notes, rich sweet toffee, zesty fresh fruit, oak and sweet baked apple.

Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur

Ever had a liqueur made with chile ancho (dried poblano chiles) before? No? Well now is the perfect opportunity to acquaint yourself with the delights of this Mexican liqueur. It was made by macerating chile ancho in neutral cane spirit for half a year, which was then blended with a selection of other ingredients and allowed to rest a little longer for the flavour to marry. An ideal liqueur for those who want to add smoke and spice to their cocktails.

What does it taste like?:

Plenty of woodsmoke and dry, warming spice is complemented by a touch of liquorice.

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin gets its name from its star botanical, gunpowder tea, which is distilled with juniper, angelica, orris, caraway, coriander, meadowsweet, cardamom, fresh grapefruit and star anise as well as vapour infused oriental lemon and lime! Now try and tell me you don’t like the sound of a Gunpowder G&T.

What does it taste like?:

Bright citrus and green tea notes are complemented by the spices.

Smokehead Sherry Bomb

Spice and smoke feature again as a deadly duo in this whisky, made using well-peated single malt from an undisclosed Islay distillery which was then matured in Oloroso sherry casks. Smokehead Sherry Bomb is unashamedly a powerhouse of a dram and every drop of it seems tailor-made to enjoy beside a fire.

What does it taste like?:

Dark chocolate, seaweed, a hint of medicinal peat smoke, BBQ smoke, stem ginger, sherried peels, sea salt, rum-raisin ice cream, red chilli flake, treacle, prunes and clove.

Cut Smoked Rum

Cut Rum range added an extra dimension of flavour to this Jamaican rum by smoking it using oak chips, which not only made it very tasty but also perfectly appropriate for Bonfire Night! This is one you can enjoy both in cocktails or neat.

What does it taste like?:

Struck match, coffee bean bitterness balanced by vanilla.

Black Fire

Liqueurs are extremely popular at the moment, so plenty of you will be looking for a bottling that adds some heat to your Bonfire-themed cocktails. The awesomely named Black Fire was made by combining the flavours of Blanco tequila, coffee and a kick of chilli. As well as cocktails, this is superb when splashed into some good quality coffee.

What does it taste like?:

Chocolate with red chilli mixed in, slightly earthy notes of agave and red pepper, smoky at points.

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Take a Global Distillery Tour with Lonely Planet

We visit a lot of distilleries here at Master of Malt, but not as many as Karyn Noble from Lonely Planet. She has put a book together taking in the…

We visit a lot of distilleries here at Master of Malt, but not as many as Karyn Noble from Lonely Planet. She has put a book together taking in the main spirit-producing countries plus a few places that are a bit more off the beaten track. . .

Whether it’s gin, Tequila, rum or whisky, spirits are booming at the moment, with new distilleries coming on stream the whole time, and old ones opening their doors to visitors. Fine whiskies, are now made in Taiwan, India and Sweden, for example. Distillery tourism is big business, and what better way to get to know a country or a region than by sampling its local spirit and finding out how it is made. But with so many distilleries to choose from, where do you start? Thankfully top Australian travel writer Karyn Noble and the Lonely Planet team have put together Global Distillery Tour, a guide that takes the hard work out of planning a booze-centred trip. From Lebanon to Nicaragua, the book profiles some of the world’s most interesting distilleries as well as containing guides to different spirits, some cocktail recipes and a list of interesting bars to try on your travels. Phew!

We were lucky enough to get some time with Karyn Noble (who wrote most of the entries on Australia, the UK, Ireland and Sweden) to find out a little more about the project…

Kilchoman Feis Ile

The beautiful stills at Kilchoman on Islay

Master of Malt:  Where did the idea for the book come from?

Karyn Noble: Global Distillery Tour is part of a series of books under the Lonely Planet Food sub-brand. It follows on from Global Beer Tour, which we published in 2017 and Global Coffee Tour, released in 2018, which have both been hugely popular. By then the drinkers of spirits and cocktails in the office were getting a little twitchy and so a pretty strong case was made for this book. (We have a separate series about wine called Wine Trails, to preempt that question!)    

MoM: What tips would you offer for people visiting a distillery?

KN: Talk to the people who work there. It really would be a wasted trip to walk in and order a drink or buy a bottle to take home and learn nothing about what you’ll be drinking. The distillers and people who work in distilleries are usually extremely passionate and proud about what they’ve painstakingly made and want to help guide you towards enjoying what you might like best or introduce you to a potentially new favourite drink. Don’t feel intimidated or be afraid to ask questions. Quite often, people visit distilleries because they’re dragged along by someone more obsessed about spirits, so say that up front like: ‘I usually don’t like whisky, I prefer rum, but is there something I should try?’. If you’re willing to be open-minded, many distillers will take on the challenge of trying to convert you.

MoM: What was the first distillery you ever visited?

KN: Memories are a little vague but I think it was somewhere near Edinburgh in 1996 and it was the first time I’d tried a dram. I let someone who said he was a descendant of Robert Louis Stevenson drive me there and he told me I’d be killed if I asked for water with my whisky. Whisky has felt somewhat reckless and romantic ever since.

Teeling Dublin

You can’t visit Teeling in Dublin and not have a drink.

MoM: Do you have a favourite distillery?

KN: Yes! When I went to Four Pillars gin distillery in Australia’s Yarra Valley, I had to remind them (and myself) I was there for research and not for pleasure, as I always visit when I travel to Melbourne. It’s a lovely excuse for a day trip to the country (about 90 minutes’ drive from the city). One of my editors lives nearby and gave me the hot tip when it opened in 2015. It’s well-located in a renowned wine region and you can sit in what feels like a modern interpretation of a barn with a killer cocktail list or a tasting paddle of gins with unique Australian botanicals and a plate of gin cheese and be very happy with life.

MoM: What was the smallest distillery you visited?

KN: It was Hartshorn Distillery in Tasmania in Australia. I got distiller Ryan Hartshorn at a really exciting time. He distils his sheep whey vodka in the basement of his family’s cheese farm (Grandvewe) and it had just won the World’s Best Vodka in 2018 and he was starting to realise he needed to hire people to help him. The winning vodka hadn’t even gone out to subscribers yet, it had only been tasted by Ryan and the judges and had homemade stickers plastered all over it cheekily saying ‘World’s Best, don’t even look at me’. That was one of my favourite interviews.

MoM: Do you think that spirits are going through something of a golden age?

KN: I think spirits are catching up with the food revolution in that drinkers are becoming more interested in the provenance of what they’re drinking. More people are going to bars and asking for brands now rather than generic spirits. Cocktails and (especially Instagrammable) cocktail bars are becoming more popular. I was chatting to a mixologist from the Maldives recently (unfortunately not in the Maldives) and he was saying that he would have liked to offer more whisky cocktails at his bar but women never ordered them, which led him to believe that women don’t like whisky. Maybe this is true for people holidaying in sunny locations, I’m not sure, but I promptly set about educating him about the Old Fashioned renaissance I’ve been seeing in London bars over the last few years.

Starward

Starward distillery in Melbourne

MoM: Will the gin boom ever end?

KN: I agree the gin market is fairly saturated at the moment, which is why a book like Global Distillery Tour is really handy to help direct people towards craft distillers with compelling stories and unique products. One insightful experience I had when researching this project was at Snowdonia Distillery in North Wales where distiller Chris Marshall got me to blind-taste some mass-market gins (he wouldn’t tell me what they were) before and after trying his small-batch Foragers Gin. They were awful, yet it’s all most people know.

MoM: Do you have a favourite spirit?

KN: I do have a soft spot for gin, especially Four Pillars because it’s so delicious, vibrant and pure, but my head has been turned recently by some complex rums and you can’t peat me too much with whisky: I love a smoky whisky.

MoM: And finally, what’s your favourite cocktail?

KN: Tough question but I’m going to go with what we’ve ranked number one in the book’s World’s Best Cocktails List: I love a Negroni like no-one’s business.

Thank you Karyn! You can buy Global Distillery Tour direct from Lonely Planet.

Domaine de Tourelles in Lebanon, distillers of Arak Brun

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5 tips for pairing whisky with food

Whisky has long been overlooked as a food beverage, but Ghillie Başan is on a mission to change that with her latest cookbook, Spirit & Spice. Here, the Cordon Bleu-trained…

Whisky has long been overlooked as a food beverage, but Ghillie Başan is on a mission to change that with her latest cookbook, Spirit & Spice. Here, the Cordon Bleu-trained chef shares five tips for pairing Scottish single malts and blends with your favourite meals…

Typically, when you encounter whisky with food it’s either within a dish – added to a sauce, for instance, or in a pudding – or as part of a distillery tasting, which “tends to be a very easy style of pairing,” Ghillie Başan observes. “People go, ‘there are nutty flavours in there, so we’ll put a walnut out’ – it isn’t really about the depth of flavour and how you can enhance it so that the food and whisky are working together”.

There’s also the M factor. Marketing. Historically, whisky was positioned as an after-dinner drink, she adds, and for a very long time a drink solely for men. “It’s quite a recent thing, this idea of whisky being a drink of conviviality, a drink to enjoy your meal or put into cocktails, a drink for both men and women and a drink to market to young people.”

Ghillie Başan

Ghillie Başan!

Still, the concept of drinking a dram with food remains a little bit ‘out there’ for whisky purists. So what makes the spirit a worthy mealtime pairing? As well as its flavour pairing potential, whisky is exceptionally robust – which means its a great match for dishes from North and West Africa, the Middle East, India, South-east Asia and the Caribbean, where spice is used in abundance.

“Think about when you have a glass of red wine,” says Başan, “it fills your mouth with a kind of full-bodiedness and fruitiness that looking for. But the minute you have spicy food with that, it’s killed, and you’re left with something that ends up a bit more watery in your mouth, all of that full-bodiedness is gone, all of the fruit flavours have gone, because it’s a much more fragile product, it hasn’t had the same type of treatment that whisky’s had.”

In Spirit & Spice (Kitchen Press, £25), Başan unites exotic flavours from around the world with liquid from her own backyard in the Highlands of Scotland. The end goal is to prepare a dish that “does something very similar in your mouth to the whisky, so the two of them are enhancing one another and you end up with this incredible experience within your mouth,” Başan explains. “You’ve got all these flavours either contrasting or complementing one another – it’s a little journey you go on.”

gravadlax

Gravadlax + whisky = delicious

5 tips for pairing whisky with food
  1. Get to know your dram

You can’t match the dish without a flavour reference, so pour yourself a finger and get acquainted. The first step is to nose and taste to identify the key aromas, tastes and textures in the glass. Jot your musings down on paper so you can reference them later – the more detailed, the better.

  1. Consider the key whisky regions

You don’t have to start from scratch each time, suggests Başan – use regional similarities to your advantage. “One could say that there is in Speyside whiskies a general sense of fruitiness and toasted notes, perhaps burnt sugar and honey in some of these whiskies depending on the distillery and maturation,” she says. “You can compare that to something like Islay whiskies, which again are all different but often have a smokiness and saltiness running through – so there are a few things that you can generalise about.”

  1. Highlight background flavours

Don’t just plum for the obvious flavours. Sure, you might think about pairing an Islay dram with something smoked – aubergine, perhaps, or halibut – but by highlighting background flavours you could elevate both the dish and the dram. For example a smoky whisky might also have a hint of pineapple in it, Başan points out. You could combine that with the smoky element of the dish, or take the ingredient in a different direction entirely. The bottom line? Use whisky’s more subtle notes to complement and contrast.

  1. Experiment with cooking techniques

Smoking, curing, pickling, infusing, caramelising, conserving, smoking, barbequing, marinating and fermenting are just some of the ways you can take a specific ingredients and transform the flavour into something unique. Don’t be shy about playing with spices, too, whether roasting, grinding or creating a paste.

  1. Don’t forget texture

You always appreciate food more if it has texture, Başan explains. Take the humble smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. “Made with ordinary bread, it’s all soft and ends up cloying in your mouth, so you don’t get a real sense of appreciation,” she says. Add texture – switch the bread for toasted thin focaccia, or add a few slices of cucumber to give it a crunch – and you’ll enjoy it far more. The same applies to your dram. Is the whisky creamy or silky? Or is it perhaps watery or chewy? Bear that in mind when designing your dish.

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Ardnahoe: A closer look at Islay’s newest distillery

A new Scotch whisky distillery is always an exciting development, but there’s something extra-special about a new one on Islay. So, when Hunter Laing invited us to visit Ardnahoe, how…

A new Scotch whisky distillery is always an exciting development, but there’s something extra-special about a new one on Islay. So, when Hunter Laing invited us to visit Ardnahoe, how could we refuse?

Just getting onto Islay proved tricky for many invited to the opening of Ardnahoe Distillery. Gusts of 70 mph meant that all the ferries were cancelled. Luckily, the plucky folk at Logan Air weren’t deterred, and the tiny propeller aircraft I was aboard touched down safely on the island. During the journey from the airport to the distillery, the driver pointed out the scorched smoking landscape. Dry weather, high winds and perhaps someone’s carelessness with a cigarette had set off wild fires the night before. The air smelt like an Islay whisky.

Hunter Laing

We are family: from left, Scott, Stewart and Andrew Laing

Ardnahoe is located in the north of the island, facing Jura and near Port Askaig. “We think it’s the most perfect location from a scenic point of view for a whisky,” Andrew Laing from Hunter Laing told me. It’s a family business run by Stewart Laing and his two sons, Andrew and Scott. The company, which bottles whisky and rum, has been going in its present form since 2013, though the Laing family has been in the whisky business much longer. Stewart Laing is clearly very proud of his sons: “They are the real driving force developing the profitability of the company,” he said.

A distillery of their own was the inevitable next step. “We looked at a couple of options to buy distilleries, but it became apparent that for reasons of cost and for reasons of finding the right project, that we really needed to build one rather than to buy one,” Andrew explained. “ If you’re building a distillery, from our point of view, the only place to build one was Islay.” The Laing family has history on the island. “On my grandmother’s side, on my dad’s side, we have a family connection to Islay going back to the 1700s. More recently my father studied whisky making at Bruichladdich in 1966,” he continued.

Work began on the distillery (the first new one on Islay since Kilchoman opened in 2005) in 2016 and was completed last year. It hasn’t been all plain sailing, though. Stewart Laing mentioned some neighbours who had been less than supportive when they were seeking planning permission. Andrew was more diplomatic: “there was some opposition at the planning stage, which is fair enough.”

Worm tub condensers at Ardnahoe distillery

Look at those worm tubs!

The Ardnahoe set-up is sure to get whisky fans hot under the collar. It has Oregon pine fermenters, two lantern shaped pot stills (a 13,000 litre wash still and an 11,000 litre spirit still), the longest lyne arm in Scotland (or so they tell me), and worm tub condensers. “That slower condensing that we get from the worm tubs and the fact that we’ve got more copper contact in vapour form gives us a wee bit more character, texture and complexity,” Andrew explained. We thought even if it makes one percent difference to the whisky, it’s worth the extra expenditure.”

The distillery manager, Fraser Hughes, gave me some new make to try. It’s a complex dram, smoky as you’d expect (it’s made from malt peated to between 40 and 45 PPM from Port Ellen Maltings) but with tropical fruit and earthy cereal notes. Hughes described it as “dynamic but not dirty or in your face” and went on to say “it will be better in a few weeks when you have more foreshots and feints in the system.” According to Andrew Laing, that fruitiness comes partly from a long slow fermentation, around 72 hours.

Jim McEwan, who consulted on the project, joked that finding the cut point in the spirit was a difficult as giving birth. The Laings are clearly delighted to have worked with McEwan and vice versa. “To be honest, he didn’t take very much persuasion to come out of retirement for this project,” Andrew Laing said.”He was very excited and who can blame him! To build a new distillery on Islay!”

The official opening was in April, but the distillery has been filling casks since 2018. “Last year we did an inaugural first year production offer of just over 400 casks, and it was oversubscribed. We sold them all,” Andrew said. These first casks are sitting in the distillery warehouse (though most of the production will be matured on the mainland). He told me these will be split between “about 70% first-fill bourbon barrels; then about 20 or 25% first fill ex-oloroso hogsheads and some butts. And we’ve got some other wines casks, such as Port, Madeira, Muscat, Rioja, and some rum.” As a rum bottler, there’s a decent supply of used rum casks.

Ardnahoe Distillery Still Room

Still room with its beautiful view

It’s a great-looking distillery, modern but fits beautifully into its natural setting. “We made sure first of all that from the experience point of view, it’s a welcoming place and an enjoyable place to visit,” Andrew Laing explained. “It’s very bright, very airy, a comfortable place to spend some time.” He added that whisky tourism is growing “in a big way”. The team is gearing up for Fèis Ìle (24 May – 1 June) with a screening of a new whisky documentary, The Water of Life, featuring Jim McEwan.There will also be some premium Kinship whiskies bottled for the festival and available only from the distillery. “It brings a fair penny in,” joked Stewart Laing.

One of the advantages that Ardnahoe has over other new distilleries is that its owner, Hunter Laing, is a spirits bottler.  Even without its own mature whisky, there are lots of exclusive things to try. Not just whiskies from all over Scotland (including a special local blend called Islay Journey, which you can bottle from the cask yourself), but rum from around the Caribbean under the Kill Devil label. After expressing an interest, Andrew was soon opening bottles from Hampden in Jamaica and Diamond in Guyana, and enthusing about a blended rum that is in the pipeline. We were having so much fun that part of me hoped that the weather would get worse and my flight would be cancelled. Stranded at a distillery on Islay, isn’t that every whisky lover’s dream?

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Peat-smoked spirits that aren’t Scotch whisky

Scottish distillers may be the undisputed masters of the peat fire, but there are plenty of plucky distillers across the world making their own smoky creations, and with interesting and…

Scottish distillers may be the undisputed masters of the peat fire, but there are plenty of plucky distillers across the world making their own smoky creations, and with interesting and varied results. MoM invites you to drink outside the box with eight peat-smoked spirits that most definitely aren’t Scotch whisky.

Considering peat is literally a mix of decaying moss, shrubs, grasses, tree roots, dead animals and soil that has become compacted over thousands of years, it can be used to make various boozes pretty damn tasty.

You don’t need to descend on Scotland to source a little peat smoke for your spirits. Indeed, peatlands have been identified in at least 175 countries and make up 3% of the entire world’s land space (that’s 1.5 million square miles, FYI).

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Whisky Advent 2018 Day #22: The Balvenie Peat Week Aged 14 Year Old

Christmas is almost here, which means our Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar countdown is coming to a close. Only something truly delicious will distract us from this sorrow….

Christmas is almost here, which means our Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar countdown is coming to a close. Only something truly delicious will distract us from this sorrow. Luckily we’ve got just that behind window #22!

Last summer (NOT the boiling 2018 one, the one before, when we could actually comprehend something other than the weather) the talk of the whisky town for a good few weeks was the arrival of peated Balvenie! We got incredibly excited, and you can read all the full deets in this blog post right here. But to provide a brief overview, The Balvenie had been distilling wash made from barley peated to 30PPM (parts-per-mission) for one week a year. And Peat Week 14 Year Old was the result!

It marked something of a departure for the classic Speyside distillery known for its honey vanilla sweetness. But don’t be alarmed. The point of Balvenie Peat Week isn’t to pack a full-on smoke punch. For starters, it’s not made with that distinct Islay peat, so there’s less iodine and more earth. Plus, by the time the whisky comes out the bottle it tastes more in the region of 5PPM. The Balvenie Character is still there.

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Peated Balvenie? The Speyside stalwart turns up the smoke

As The Balvenie introduces peaty pair Peat Week and Peated Triple cask, we catch up with Sam Simmons, the distillery’s global brand ambassador, to dig down into the developments… Reel…

As The Balvenie introduces peaty pair Peat Week and Peated Triple cask, we catch up with Sam Simmons, the distillery’s global brand ambassador, to dig down into the developments…

Reel off classic Speyside distilleries and William Grant & Sons’ Balvenie will be near the top of the list. Honeyed with a gamut of stewed fruit and toffee, the brand’s single malts embody the classic Scotch region, the signature profile even shining through the [many] experimental, delicious cask finishes often employed. So imagine our excitement when we learned not one but two peated* Balvenie expressions were set to join the line-up – this was going to be The Balvenie as we’d never tasted it before.

And behold! Just days later we were treated to some samples: Balvenie Peat Week Aged 14 Years (2002 Vintage) and Balvenie Peated Triple Cask Aged 14 Years were in the building in a particularly shiny press pack. Peat Week, matured in 100% American oak casks, will roll out next month (the lucky few are officially the US, UK, Denmark and Sweden), while Peated Triple Cask (first-fill ex-bourbon, refill ex-bourbon and ex-sherry) debuted in travel retail earlier this summer. Both expressions are non-chill filtered and bottled at 48.3% – so far, so intriguing. Both are billed as the results of “experiments” by David Stewart MBE, Balvenie malt master, and Ian Millar, William Grant’s prestige whiskies specialist (and formerly Glenfiddich and Balvenie distillery manager). And after tasting the new liquid (read on for our verdict) we had questions. Lots of questions. It was time to get someone from the distillery on the blower.

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6 New Master of Malt Single Cask Series Bottlings!

We’ve got 6 brand new Master of Malt Single Cask Series bottlings! Independent bottlings are always very exciting, and we’re particularly excited about these ones – because they’re ours! Yes,…

Master of Malt Single Cask Series

We’ve got 6 brand new Master of Malt Single Cask Series bottlings!

Independent bottlings are always very exciting, and we’re particularly excited about these ones – because they’re ours! Yes, we’ve been very busy indeed and bottled 6 new whiskies for our Single Cask Series.

These newest 6 releases include a pair of Aberlours, a very old Bunnahabhain, an Ardbeg, a Speyside and a Benrinnes! Feast your eyes on all of them below!

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