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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Rye Whiskey

Drink books of the year 2019

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by…

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by the fire with this Christmas. 

Well, it’s been a bumper year for drink books. There’s new offerings from old pros like Jancis Robinson and Tristan Stephenson, as well as debuts from Felix Nash and Eddie Ludlow. In fact, it was such a good year that we had trouble narrowing the list down so apologies if your favourite is missing. 

All of them will make great gifts for the drink lover in your life. And we can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays than with a roaring fire, a dram/ glass/ pint of something delicious and one of these books, and that includes watching Casablanca on Christmas Day with a belly full of Port and Stilton. 

A Brief History of Lager Mark Dredge

Lager is so ubiquitous, it’s the beer the world drinks, that it’s hard to imagine how 200 years ago it was a Bavarian speciality. At that time, beer in the rest of Europe was essentially ale. But slowly lager spread and along the way mutated from a sweet, brown beer to the crisp golden brew we know today. It’s a great story told with a real sense of fun by award-winning beer writer and TV regular Mark Dredge. 

Sample line: “Lederer kept contact with Sedlmayr and Dreher, and there’s a wonderful photo taken in 1939 of the three of them all wearing top hats and overcoats, each with a thick moustache, and all holding hands.”

The Curious Bartender’s Whiskey Road Trip Tristan Stephenson

Tristan Stephenson aka the Curious Bartender is the author of many excellent cocktails books. In this latest outing, he takes a journey across America sampling whiskeys from 44 distilleries both large and small including some real MoM favourites like Balcones 44, St George, and Michter’s  nice work if you can get it.

Sample line: “Tuthilltown is home to a huge cat call Bourbon (there another cat called Rye that we didn’t get to meet.”

Fine Cider Felix Nash 

You probably haven’t realised it yet but we are living through a golden age of cider. It hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet, but all over England, Wales and the cider-producing world (which is much bigger than you think), producers are waking up to the potential of apple-based goodness. Felix Nash, a cider merchant, has written a heartfelt, in-depth hymn to his favourite fruit and drink.

Sample line: “I wouldn’t be able to tell you about all the apples used to make cider or the pears used to make perry, and no one could. It’s not simply that so many varieties exist in the world, but that they can very localised”.

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! Ben Howkins

We’ve written a fair bit on the blog about how much we like sherry, so this was a book after our own hearts. Written by a man with more experience in the wine trade that he would like to admit, this is a love letter to one of the world’s great wines. Reading this, you can almost smell the bodegas of Jerez. Warning, it’s almost impossible to read this book without developing a serious sherry habit. 

Sample line: “Olorosos are the wines that will emulate rugby players, rather than ballet dancers.”

Spirited: How to create easy, fun drinks at home Signe Johansen

You might know Johansen (the lady in the header) as Scandilicious, evangelist for all things Scandinavian and delicious. Originally from Norway, now living in London, she’s just as good on drinks as food. This book makes a great introduction to cocktails, tips for non-alcoholic drinks and all round guide to stress free non-nerdy entertaining. 

Sample line: “Life is too short to worry about what anoraks and bores think so now I happily enjoy whichever drinks I’m in the mood for.”

The Whisky Dictionary Ian Wisniewski

Someone who is certainly a bit of an anorak but never a bore is Ian Wisniewski. He’s the one on distillery tours who will always be asking more questions than anyone else. We know as we’ve been round a few with him and we always learn a lot. This book, which we have already found an invaluable reference guide, is a testament to that insatiable curiosity. 

Sample line: “Do enzymes ever get the applause they deserve? Rarely. If ever. It’s time to make up for that with a standing ovation.”

Whisky Tasting Course  Eddie Ludlow

Like many of the best people in the drinks business, Ludlow began his career at Oddbins. Since then he’s become an expert at opening up the often confusing world of whisky. In this book, Ludlow breaks it down into easily digestible segments, explains why whiskies taste as they do, and talks the reader through the most common styles of whisky such as single pot still Irish, small batch bourbon and Islay single malt. Before you know it, you’ll be saying “bonfires on the beach” or muttering “mmm, Jamaica cake” like an old pro.

Sample line: “Your mouth and tongue are actually quite inefficient at detecting all but the most basic flavours.”

The World of Whisky – Neil Ridley, Gavin D. Smith and David Wishart

Lavishly-produced guide to the every-expanding world of whisky by three of the best writers in the business. And you do really need three to cover what is now such an enormous topic. Inevitably the majority of the book is on Scotland with a page devoted to each malt distillery, but the Irish, US and Japan sections are also impressive.

Sample line: “Would even the most discerning of palate be able to detect a differences made using barley grown in Mr McTavish’s bottom field and the one, over yonder hill, behind the tree and the babbling burn?”

The World Atlas of Gin Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

Another book part-written by Neil Ridley! How does it do it? We suspect that he has actually cloned himself to spread the workload. There’s a lot of gin out there and it’s expanding all the time, meaning that this book can only be a snapshot of what’s available but you know with these two that everything in here is going to be worth drinking. Also extra points for not being afraid to put in the big names, like Beefeater, rather than going for hipster obscurity points.

Sample line: “France has embraced the gin revolution with a charismatic style and charm of its own.”

The World Atlas of Wine Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson

This is the 8th edition of an all time classic book, first published in the 1970s and updated every few years. Originally just written by Johnson, Robinson joined the team in 2003. It’s hard to think of a better looking book with its lavish photos and intricate maps of the world’s greatest wine regions. The words are pretty nifty too as you’d expect from (probably) the world’s top two wine writers. 

Sample line: “For centuries, Hungary has had the most distinctive food and wine culture, the most varied grape varieties, and the most refined wine laws and customs of any country east of Germany.”

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New Arrival of the Week: Michter’s US*1 Sour Mash Toasted Barrel Finish

This week we’re drinking a Kentucky whiskey with an unusual twist, it’s been aged in barrels that are toasted rather than charred! What’s all that about? Michter’s whiskey has something…

This week we’re drinking a Kentucky whiskey with an unusual twist, it’s been aged in barrels that are toasted rather than charred! What’s all that about?

Michter’s whiskey has something of a convoluted history. It was originally founded in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania in 1753 by John Shenk who began distilling rye. He was a Mennonite, a religious sect like the Amish, think beards without moustaches, putting up wooden houses quickly and strictly no motor cars. Especially in 1753.

This was pre-independence when the 13 original colonies of British America were still part of the mother country. During the War of Independence, George Washington is said to have purchased Shenk’s whiskey for his troops to keep their morale up. It seems to have worked as the rebellious colonists won the war and thus the United States of America was born.

Shenk’s distillery was bought by Abraham Bomberger in the 1860s and became known as Bomberger’s. Then in the 1950s, the name was changed again by the distillery’s then owner Lou Forman by combining the names of his sons Michael and Peter: ta da, Michter’s!  Pennsylvania was once famous for its rye whiskey but by the 1980s rye as a category was dying and the venerable old distillery closed in 1989. It’s now a National Historic Landmark but sadly in a state of severe dilapidation. Ominously, according to Wikipedia: “The distillery closed in 1989 and may have since been demolished.” 

Happily the brand was revived by a company called Chatham Imports. There’s been some legal argie bargie over the name Bomberger’s since but we won’t go into that now.  The Michter’s magic now happens at the Fort Nelson distillery (see image in header) in the heart of bourbon country Louisville, Kentucky under the watchful eyes of master distillery Dan McKee and head of maturation Andrea Wilson. Last year it opened a visitor centre on the famous Whiskey Row. 

The standard rye whiskey is a benchmark, particularly popular with bartenders, while there are all kinds of bourbons and whiskeys produced too. Which brings us on to this week’s New Arrival. Because of its unusual grain bill, it can’t be categorised as either a rye or a bourbon (which would have to be at least 51% rye or corn respectively.) In the sour mash process a portion of the last ferment is added to the next to get things going rather like with sourdough bread, only better because you end up with whiskey. This is produced as with the standard Sour Mash but then it undergoes secondary maturation in, according to Michter’s: “a second custom made barrel. This second barrel is assembled from 18-month air-dried wood and then toasted but not charred.” It’s bottled at a nice punchy 43% ABV and only produced in limited quantities. You’ll probably want to sip this neat to appreciate those fancy casks but you can also channel your inner Mennonite with an Old Fashioned

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Golden Grahams, orange peel, soft oaky smoke and a hint of menthol.

Palate: Honey on toast, salted butter, vanilla pod earthiness and white pepper heat.

Finish: Cinnamon, floral grains and another waft of smoke.

Michter’s US*1 Sour Mash Toasted Barrel Finish is now available from Master of Malt.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: Spiced Hot Apple Punch

Brrrrr, it’s freezing! At least it is around MoM HQ. So this week we thought we’d make something to warm you up, a hot Spiced Apple Punch spiked with some…

Brrrrr, it’s freezing! At least it is around MoM HQ. So this week we thought we’d make something to warm you up, a hot Spiced Apple Punch spiked with some WhistlePig Rye. If that won’t keep out the cold, then you need a new coat.

Hands up who likes mulled wine? I mean really likes mulled wine. Yes, when made properly it can be a fine thing but it’s usually much too sweet, made with terrible wine and over-boiled so that it loses its alcohol and the spices have turned bitter. Not very nice. Hot cider is much more my cup of tea. Partly because if someone is serving you a mulled cider, it is usually a sign that they have put some thought into it.

My wife, who is American, introduced me to the joys of hot cider. It’s something of a holiday season tradition over there. Beginning with Halloween and taking in Thanksgiving and going up until Christmas, in the colder states there will always be hot cider on offer. But it’s not exactly what it sounds like because in the US cider means apple juice, if you want proper cider you have to ask for hard cider. The recipe my wife makes involves taking lots of apple juice, good quality cloudy stuff, and mulling it gently with lots of spices, fruit juice, etc, and then adding alcohol in the form of bourbon or rum at the end. She also adds butter which sounds a bit mad but it gives the cider a lovely creamy quality. 

What’s more fun though, is to use proper honest-to-god English cider. The stuff that contains real booze and then spike it at the end for added merriment. The big question is what cider to use. It’s sad but true that cider in this country is often a pale imitation of the real thing. To be legally called cider you only need to have 35% apple content, the rest can be sugar, water and flavourings. And that 35% can be concentrate made from apples grown anywhere. You’ll be very lucky if your cider contains any English fruit. Of the widely available brands, Old Rosie from Westons, Dunkertons and Orchard Pig are all good. If you’re lucky enough to live in a cider producing part of the country like the West Country or Kent, visit your local ciderist. And please avoid flavoured ciders which are essentially alcopops.

Whistlepig-Autumn-JustinDeSouza-1

Couple of these will keep the cold out

The recipe below is an approximation. It will depend on how sweet your cider is. The most important thing is don’t boil it or it will become bitter and lose alcohol. And finally don’t forget the pièce de résistance, a good slug of Whistlepig 10 Year Old Rye Whiskey. 

It’s time to get mulling. Here’s what you need:

3 litres of good quality cider

150ml (or more) WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye
Juice of 3 lemons
Juice of 3 oranges
1 tablespoon of orange zest
½ tablespoon of lemon zest
1 tablespoon of sugar
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 knob of butter

Put all the ingredients except the whiskey and the butter in a large saucepan. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Do not boil. Taste, it might need some more sugar. Leave to infuse for as long as you can. Gently reheat. Add the butter and the whisky. Serve in Toddy or wine glasses, garnish with an orange slice and a cinnamon stick to use as a stirrer.

 

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Five minutes with… Jackie Zykan, master taster for Old Forester

Jackie Zykan has what sounds like one of the world’s best jobs, master taster for Kentucky bourbon firm Old Forester. But what exactly is a master taster? Does she just…

Jackie Zykan has what sounds like one of the world’s best jobs, master taster for Kentucky bourbon firm Old Forester. But what exactly is a master taster? Does she just spend all her time tasting whiskey and mixing up Old Fashioneds? We spent some time with her to find out more.

Jackie Zykan, by her own admission, fell into her role at Old Forester. She previously worked as a beverage director for a company in Louisville, Kentucky. Before that, she bartended her way through a chemistry and biology degree, picking up every side gig going and becoming familiar with local bourbon brands. When Old Forester expressed an interest to bring her on board, Zykan said it was a no-brainer. We were delighted to have some times with her to learn about her experiences behind the bar, he thoughts on the industry in general and just what it takes to be a master taster. Here’s what she had to say:

Old Forester

Say hello to Jackie Zykan!

MoM: Can you explain your role as master taster and what your day to day looks like? 

JZ: It’s a hybridisation between global marketing and production. Some days I am in a warehouse, some days I’m at the distillery, some days I’m in our corporate office, some days I’m in a plane heading to see people and do presentations. There’s an education side of it, a new product development side, quality control, drink strategy, it all falls onto my lap. It touches every single angle of Old Forester. There is not a single day that is the same, that is for sure. 

MoM: I understand you also handle cocktail strategy and the single barrel programme, can you talk about those aspects of the role as well? 

JZ: We have a line of cocktail provisions from Old Forester and that was my project, those are my children! It’s very, very important, not every single person looking to get into whiskey is going to be a purist. Cocktails are a fantastic way to introduce people to the spirit in a way that’s familiar to them. Then for the single barrel programme, I oversee the inventory. I keep a nice diverse pool because not everybody’s after the same kind of barrel and that’s kind of the beauty of a single barrel, that they’re all different.

Old Forester

The Old Forester Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky

MoM: Talking about your role in product development, can you give us an idea of what it’s like to create a new product?

JZ: You look at your portfolio and you say “What is it that we don’t have that we could have?” “What would be fun to do?” “‘What’s going to help to tell the story of this brand?” We innovate in a historically relevant way. The Whiskey Row series is a great example of that, where every expression is geared towards telling a pertinent year of the Old Forester history. It’s not about what kind of shock value we get out of a new product or how weird can we make it, it’s always about making a quality balanced product. The process is long, by the time you see a bottle on the shelf we have been talking about it for probably seven years in the office! That’s probably a much longer process then people realise. We’re always thinking of what is coming next for sure.

MoM: Can you give us a brief background on the distillery? 

JZ: Old Forester as a brand was started in 1870 by George Garvin Brown, who saw an opportunity to make things a little bit different and a little bit safer for the general consumer. Back then buying whiskey meant filling up whatever vessel you had from a barrel at a retailer. You weren’t going in and buying a bottle off of a shelf. In the late 1800s here, in America, the whiskey was known as a pharmaceutical. There was a lot of doctors that heard their patients complain that what they’re being prescribed made them sicker or was too inconsistent. This was the Wild West of whiskey production which predated modern-day bourbon regulations. George sees this opportunity to ensure consistency by blending. Old Forester was actually the first bourbon that was blended from multiple distilleries together. Then, to ensure the quality you seal it in a glass bottle so no one can mess with it. With a barrel you can refill it with anything and spread and stretch profits and no one is going to know. That made Old Forester the first bottled bourbon, and it was the first to be sold exclusively in a sealed glass vessel. That changed everything. We’ve been running ever since, all through prohibition, consistently under Kentucky permit number three. It was around before, during and after prohibition and it’s the longest-running family-owned brand of bourbon. It’s definitely a product of Louisville, Kentucky. Our whiskey is made start to finish completely in Louisville, from mashing, fermentation, distillation, maturation, bottling, mostly consumption. We think of it as ‘the hometown bourbon of bourbon’s hometown’.

Old Forester

Old Forester back in ye olden days

MoM: You returned home to 119 Main Street recently, that must have such a huge moment for you guys

JZ: Oh absolutely, it’s a very exciting moment to be able to literally come home as a brand into the same space you started in. We’ve modernised and we’ve kept up with all the trends of the alcohol industry, but the one thing we’ve never forgotten is where we started and it was always quality and consistency foremost. To be able to come back into that same space, you really are sticking true to the roots of a brand that was started by a man who just had a vision of doing things the right way. It’s so meaningful.

MoM: Do you find that it can be a little difficult to innovate when you’ve got this name and history to live up to? 

JZ: Think of it this way, Old Forester came out as a brand in a different way. We really revolutionised how quality was ensured for the industry, so we think of our innovation in all sorts of different ways. It’s not about just doing a different finishing on this product, you want to innovate in a manner that’s going to impact the entire industry. Through sustainability measures. Through packaging. Our history isn’t weighing us down and limiting us because we’ve always been a brand of firsts, and they haven’t always been to do with the actual liquid. It’s a very, very respected company in the industry and there is a good reason for that. We’ve led the way in the pursuit of making sure that everything is very credible and always done with quality and transparency.

Old Forester

Zykan believes that Old Forester has led the way in making its production process credible and transparent

MoM: How would you describe the character of the new make and the distillery character in the spirit from Old Forester?

JZ: What you’re getting from the new make is a really good display of the grain attributes. The mash bill for all Old Forester bourbon is the same: it’s 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley. That new-make distillate that’s being pulled off the still has a rye backbone coming through for it, so it’s got a nice rye spice to it, but there’s a lot of really good fruit notes that come through and a lot of that is driven by the proprietary yeast strain that we use for Old Forester. You’re gonna get a lot of apple, you’re gonna get a lot of citrus, everybody finds banana in there. We do a quality check on our distillate as soon as it comes off of the still to make sure that it’s always coming out the same and that it’s right on point. If what goes into the barrel isn’t good, what comes out isn’t good.

MoM: Tell us about the creation of your rye whiskey and why it was so exciting.

JZ: It was the first time we’ve ever offered a different mash bill for Old Forester when we released that rye whiskey in February of 2019. The recipe for it is based on a historic recipe from a product that used to be made at the Brown Forman Distillery back in 1940, so it’s a 65% rye, 20% malted barley and 15% corn. That malted barley is giving us a lot of floral and fruit notes to a rye whiskey which usually you just sort of think of as being spiced, or in my mind I always think of it as being incredibly savoury. But this is incredibly balanced because you’re taking a heavier malt mash bill and putting it into a brand new charred oak barrel to create a completely different experience. I honestly think we have one of the most unique ryes in the category.

Old Forester

The mash bill for all Old Forester bourbon is the same: it’s 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley.

MoM: You’ve said that bartenders have been responsible for some of the resurgence in whiskey’s popularity, how?

JZ: In rye specifically, a lot of the interest in rye came back through the craft cocktail resurgence. People were using these classic cocktails as templates and rye whiskey was getting called for quite a bit, especially with recipes that were developed during prohibition because it was available. The demand was always for something that was a little bit higher proof and that wasn’t going to break the bank and crash your entire cocktail programme. That’s the reason our rye is 100 proof and the price it is, because we recognised that that’s what was driving the interest in it in the first place.  In general, the craft cocktail scene has been huge for a lot of distilled spirits, from the explosion of gin brands on the market to the resurgence of some sort of esoteric stuff that a lot of people haven’t paid attention to in a really long time, like cachaça, bitters etc. The craft cocktail movement has changed the perspective that you’ll ruin a distilled spirit if you throw it into a cocktail. It’s opening a gateway for people to experience in a way that’s familiar to them. Long live the cocktail!

MoM: How did being a bartender affect your approach now and inform the job you do now?

JZ: When working behind a bar you’re seeing it from a totally different angle. Price affects things, for sure, but you also realise how important the right packaging and things being ergonomically feasible for fast service is. This definitely affects conversations we have at Old Forester. It helps you gain a different perspective and it certainly helps you develop your palate. I didn’t necessarily recreationally drink when I was a bartender but you learn to balance and you get to learn a lot of flavour profiles. That has really helped me as far as articulating flavour notes that are in our whiskey, for sure.

Old Forester

Zykan’s role as master taster entails more than product development

MoM: What industry trends have caught your eye? 

JZ: The biggest one that we’ve seen is honestly the lower-to-no alcohol trend. It can be hard for me to answer this question because my role is a global role, so the trend in the UK is different than the trend in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but lower alcohol and being more health-conscious and mindful is definitely not going to go anywhere anytime soon. There’s also a massive trend with the bourbon boom of losing this purist mentality and that’s fantastic. Whiskey as a category can be quite intimidating. For a very long time it was sort of put up on this pedestal and it was as if you could only appreciate it in its pure form. Which isn’t the case, whatsoever. You don’t ruin whiskey by putting it in a cocktail. You make your cocktail better by using a good whiskey as opposed to a bad whiskey. This isn’t the early 1900s anymore, you’re not trying to cover up swill liquor with sugar and such. You’ve got more quality and more regulated products out there and it’s a very exciting time to be able to mix things around a bit. We need that shift to make it a much more approachable category for everybody all over the place.

MoM: Next year is Old Forester’s 150th anniversary. I presume you guys are already working on some stuff to mark the occasion? 

JZ: Oh you know that we have, for many, many years! We’re excited to finally get it out there and in the hands of the people who love this brand so much. So yes, you’ll be seeing some special stuff coming out next year. It’s going to be a big year for us.

MoM: What’s your go-to bottle of Old Forester and then your go-to cocktail? 

JZ: Our 1910 Expression is really having a moment, I am absolutely in love with that one. As far as cocktails go, it is a harder question to answer. What I drink the most of is the 100 proof signature and it’s always in an Old Fashioned. I’m an Old Fashioned die hard!

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Five minutes with… Alex Wolpert, founder of East London Liquor Company  

East London Liquor Company has graced our shelves with a trifecta of fascinating new whisky releases, including the distillery’s very first single malt – cause for celebration if ever we’ve…

East London Liquor Company has graced our shelves with a trifecta of fascinating new whisky releases, including the distillery’s very first single malt – cause for celebration if ever we’ve heard one. As we blow up the balloons and scatter the confetti, founder Alex Wolpert talks us through the tasty trio…

Those already familiar with East London Liquor Company’s spirits-making philosophy will know they don’t do things by halves. These are the people who, when presented with the opportunity to release the city’s first distilled whisky in more than 100 years, released a London rye made in a combination of pot and column stills and matured in three different cask types. Whether it’s ageing gin in Moscatel casks or distilling 100% English-grown Chardonnay brandy, we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Wolpert and his team.

The east London-based distillery has just launched three new whiskies, each as compelling as the last. The first, East London Single Malt Whisky, is double pot-distilled and matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and rye casks from California’s Sonoma Distilling Company and ex-bourbon casks from Kentucky for a minimum of three years. Bottled at 47% ABV, given tasting notes include ‘peanut butter, bitter almond and biscuits, developing into a vegetal finish of green tomatoes and light tar, with a delicate and slightly oily mouthfeel’. 

Alex Wolpert looking happy in his distillery, and with good reason

There’s also a fresh batch of London Rye, matured first for a year in virgin oak before being rested in ex-Sonoma and Kentucky Bourbon casks for two years, with six months’ maturation in an ex-peated cask before it was finished in ex-Pedro Ximénez. Another 47% beauty, this bottling boasts ‘a big, umami hit of leather, peat, bouillon, porridge and peanut butter on the palate, with a chewy mouthfeel, wrapping up with notes of candied ginger and light tar to finish’. 

The third and final release goes by the name of ELx Sonoma, a blended whisky made in collaboration with Sonoma’s owner and whisky maker Adam Spiegel. Bottled at 45.5% ABV, the liquid contains London Rye whiskies aged in a variety of casks (including ex-peated, Pedro Ximénez and oloroso casks, as well as ELLC’s own barrel-aged gin barrels) along with Spiegel’s own blend of Sonoma bourbons. Here, spice and fruit lead on the palate, with notes of black peppercorn, dried apricots, candied cherries, corn silk and oatmeal.

Thirsty for more details, we called ELLC’s Wolpert for a chinwag. Here’s what he had to say…

Master of Malt: You’ve just released three brand new expressions, including your very first single malt whisky. Talk us through that project…

Alex Wolpert: From our point of view, it’s always been about experimentation – we never set out specifically to make single malt. Our London Rye last year was about, ‘how can we celebrate rye as a grain? How can we get that into a whisky that showcases us as a distillery? How do we find our character as a whisky producer?’. And at the same time we were – and are still – experimenting with single malt, so Andy Mooney, who is responsible for our whisky production, has really taken this approach to its limits. You’ve got extra pale malted barley, double pot distilled and matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and rye casks. We talk about it being a balance between nutty bitterness, a sweet, fragrant note, and then a vegetalness which really makes it incredibly moreish. It’s really special. But obviously I’m completely biased. 

The three new whiskies. We can’t wait (but we’ll have to because they’re not here yet)

MoM: It’s been a year since you launched London Rye. How was it received by drinks aficionados? What do the barrel finishes in the new bottling bring to the spirit?

AW: It went better than we could ever have dreamt. We allocated a couple of bottles to 40 of our key accounts, I hand-delivered the London accounts on the Friday and by the Monday most of them were out. It was really rewarding to see that not only were people prepared to take the juice and try it, but actually people came to the venues, asked for it by name and it sold. The whole production team were really very happy and it gave everyone a big spring in their step in terms of how we progress and what we work on. The new bottling feels like a development of what we did last year and it’s really tasty – that peated note adds to the fruity flavours of the Pedro Ximénez in such an incredible way.

MoM: You guys have collaborated with Sonoma Distilling Company in the past – could you talk about your relationship with them and the creative process behind ELx Sonoma?

AW: We’ve been importing Adam’s rye, bourbon and wheated whiskey for almost four years now. I never set out to have an import arm, I guess it was driven by finding amazing liquid, and his stuff is truly exceptional. Earlier this year I was out in California, I guess I had a bit of our liquid with me, he had a little bit of his and we just thought, why not see what might happen? In the end we made a few different samples, developing it and having conversations about ABV and blending. To end up with a liquid on this level was slightly unexpected, it’s amazing. What I love is that it proves we’re in pursuit of great liquid. If Adam’s high-rye bourbon adds something to what we’re doing, then why shouldn’t we bring them together? There’s a danger in any category that people have tunnel-vision, so it’s lovely to break that up and say, ‘We want to elevate rye – what better way to do that than to work with other great rye producers?’. Plus, Adam’s a lovely guy and we get along well, so any excuse to sit down with him and drink whisky is always gratefully received.

East London Liquor Company founder, Alex Wolpert, with distillery team

Team East London Liquor Company with founder Alex Wolpert second from right

MoM: When you first opened the distillery, your aim was to “produce spirits that are accessible in flavour and price, while being of the highest quality”. So far, are you happy that you’ve achieved what you set out to do?

AW: Absolutely, yes. Nothing leaves the building without us collectively saying, ‘This is really good’.  And for every new release, there’s so much in the background that isn’t ready or doesn’t quite work. So much work goes into finessing every release and making sure it’s of that standard. At the same time, sometimes you have these moments of panic where you think you’re in a big echo chamber – you release something, like our Grape Scott, where you think, ‘Will people like this? Does this work?’. And then you get great feedback and it acts as a sense check. So I’m really excited to hear what people think about these whiskies. Democratising good booze is always going to be at the forefront of what we do, it really informs how we develop and grow as a business, so that’s always going to be what we come back to.

MoM: ELLC’s momentum is super inspiring – what’s the distillery’s next goal?

AW: I feel immensely privileged, we’ve come so far and the team is a real testament to that. We’ve got such an incredible team who make it happen – without amazing product, we’re nothing. I guess our next goal is getting more whisky out and growing our gin footprint. We don’t call ourselves craft, but in an environment where ‘craft’ is perceived as justifying a £35 price tag for a bottle of gin, we want to get more of our £21.50 gin into people’s cupboards so they realise that price tag doesn’t equate to quality. We’re not shy about experimenting, so there will be some new releases on the horizon. It might be a bit unfair to say that without saying what will come, but when we think they’re ready, they’ll get airtime. We’re not standing still, and we’re not shy of pushing the envelope and developing what we do. 

These fabulous whiskies should be arriving at the end of October, keep an eye on our new arrivals page.

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New Arrival of the Week: East London Liquor Company Bacchus to the Future Grape Scott Part 1

There are three things we love at Master of Malt more than anything else: high quality spirits, bad puns and Back to the Future, so when a product arrived called…

There are three things we love at Master of Malt more than anything else: high quality spirits, bad puns and Back to the Future, so when a product arrived called Bacchus to the Future Grape Scott Part 1, how could we resist?

Today’s puntastic New Arrival is a collaboration between the East London Liquor Company and Renegade Wines. The ELLC will need no introduction to regular readers of this blog but to irregular readers (you know who you are), here’s a bit of background: the distillery was founded in 2014 by Alex Wolpert at Bow Wharf, East London’s first distillery in over 100 years. Last year Wolpert financed his expansion plans with a successful crowd-funding initiative, raising £1.5m. The company makes a range of gins, vodkas and last year released a highly-regarded London rye that has got bartenders all hot under the collar. There are also some more experimental things including a chestnut wood-aged whisky and rum barrel-aged gin but this latest product, an English grappa-style spirit, is perhaps the most unusual thing to come out of this stable. 

East London Liquor Company founder, Alex Wolpert, with distillery team

Team ELLC with founder Alex Wolpert second from right

ELLC’s partner in crime is Renegade Wines, a urban winery based in nearby Bethnal Green founded in 2017 by Warwick Smith and New Zealand winemaker Josh Hammond. No, they don’t have a vineyard in an allotment off Roman Road, instead the pair buy in grapes from all over Europe, have them shipped to London and, using the magic of fermentation, turn them into wine. As well as exotic continental grapes, Renegade also uses honest-to-god Herefordshire-grown Bacchus (hence the name). This grape variety, originally developed in Germany, has found a home in the English countryside and makes some of the country’s best still wines.

After making their delicious wines, there’s lots of stuff leftover called pomace, mainly grape skins and bits of stalk. So what to do with it? Well, it can be used as fertiliser or to feed cattle, but it’s more fun to make it into more booze. Actually, Grape Scott Part 1 isn’t the first winery/ distillery mash-up in England. Hyke Gin, a recent New Arrival of the Week, uses grape leftovers as a botanical, and very nice it is too. Bacchus to the Future Grape Scott Part 1, however, is as far as we can tell the very first English pomace brandy, known in Italy as grappa and France as marc.

You’ve probably had grappa on holiday in Italy. Just the thing after a long meal, it can be rather fiery. Which is why it loves a bit of ageing to mellow it out a bit. ELLC ages its Bacchus brandy in old red wine casks which add richness and colour, but also softens it. Bottled at 47 .1% ABV, the result is punchy and distinctive, like an Italian grappa, but with the edges smoothed off. It makes a great digestif to finish off those long East London lunches, but we think it might do interesting things in a cocktail. Bacchus Boulevardier has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it?

 

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A postcard from Kyrö Distillery

Isokyrö might be tiny town, but it’s inspired one of Finland’s fastest-growing and best-known gin and whisky brands. We go back to nature with the Kyrö Distillery team. . ….

Isokyrö might be tiny town, but it’s inspired one of Finland’s fastest-growing and best-known gin and whisky brands. We go back to nature with the Kyrö Distillery team. . .

There’s something about the light in Finland. One of the most Northerly countries in Europe, the land reaches more than 1,100km north to south, from the depths of the Arctic Circle through densely-forested, gently undulating, river-carved hills and stretched-out plains, to the relative hustle of Helsinki in the south. Arrive during winter and you’ll be greeted by a haunting, pervasive dusk, even at noonday. In the summer, the sun extends its rays from 4am to the early hours. The light itself is a protagonist, telling a story and reflecting the general mood of the nation. It might be vibrant jubilance, a celebration of the luminescence itself, the land, the energy. Or it might be the need to head indoors for cosy comforts and bolt out the gloom of the day. 

When I visited Isokyrö, home of Kyrö Distillery, not far from the city of Vaasa, the light – and the mood – was vivid. It was in the middle of a heatwave, and the River Kyrö was glistening in the sun. Even the trees surrounding the train station had a luminosity about them. Or it could have been the Gin Long Drinks on the train. Regardless, come high summer Finland comes alive, even in a town of 4,500 people like Isokyrö. 

The light!

Kyrö is a brand with a near cult-like following. Its fans hail from across the world, gin and whisky lovers alike. When five whisky-loving friends started construction on the project in 2014, the ambition was to make delicious products with rye as a base. Fast-forward to today, and the distillery, a former dairy, has seen multiple expansion projects. The latest round, due for completion in October, will see capacity soar from 85,000 to 350,000  litres per annum. Most of this is dedicated to whisky production; the four-year expansion representing around 10 million investment. Not bad for an idea dreamed up in a sauna.

“Let’s say the initial inspiration came from rye whisky,” says Miika Lipiäinen, Kyrö CEO. He was one of the five (alongside Mikko Koskinen, Kalle Valkonen, Jouni Ritola and Miko Heinilä) to come up with the concept that would reshape the country’s spirits landscape. Rye is everything in Finland, he explained. It adds a sense of place, a distinct flavour, and is readily available. “We don’t need pesticides because most of the central European or Western European pests wouldn’t survive this climate,” he says matter of factly as we sit down for a tasting inside the distillery’s dedicated bar. It’s a space that’s part of both the visitor centre and the local community, hosting all kinds of events and gatherings – and even as the brand grows, this locale is at the heart. 

The Nordics and nature

We’d arrived in Isokyrö the previous afternoon, fresh off the train from Helsinki. A train network can tell you a lot about a country, and this rings especially true in Finland. The service was efficient and prompt, elegantly and ergonomically designed for ease of movement. The carriages themselves were sleek; charging points were there for those who needed, there was more than enough seating. Understatedly effective, and polished with it – yes. But there’s also a dedicated bar carriage where people chatted, laughed, made the most of their journeys. The Finns love the simple pleasure of a relaxed good time. The word ‘kalsarikännit’, or the anglicised ‘päntsdrunk’, exists for a reason (yes, drinking at home, on your own, in your undies is considered self-care).

Kyro Distillery

Kyrö Distillery is housed in a former cheese factory

Lipiäinen travelled up on the train with us, holding court in the bar carriage. As soon as we arrived, he was quick to point out the forests. Not that you could miss the dense trees that line the arrow-straight roads, the only gaps being flat, arable fields no doubt growing that all-important rye. Almost every Finn seems to feel an affinity with nature – from foraging to fishing, hiking to camping, the great outdoors is a serious pastime. And it’s one that informs the Kyrö philosophy as much as the rye base. 

“The original idea was that we need to combine two worlds; we need to combine the world of super-premium but in a Nordic way of being very unassuming, and ‘we don’t rub it in people’s faces’,” Lipiäinen explained. The other was, alongside the rye, “to use the other stuff we have in nature”. 

Arriving at Kyrö, this hybrid is immediately apparent. We’re welcomed into the distillery cottage, a beautifully-furnished (in Nordic-style chic of course, with bespoke wallpaper), cosy space, filled to the brim with nods to both Finland and the natural world. Plants, wood, light – and the inevitable sauna next door (did you know that there are two million saunas in Finland to share between five million people?). There to greet us is the perennially smiling Anniina Kumara, Kyrö’s event manager, who is preparing a feast for us in the kitchen. It immediately feels like coming home.

A convivial evening follows; Kyrö Gin Long Drinks flow, as do Napue G&Ts. Conversation is easy. Lipiäinen and UK brand ambassador George Krastev are effervescent. Suddenly it’s late; you wouldn’t know because even though it’s well after midnight the light lives on in the sky. Time for bed – there’s foraging, followed by a forest breakfast, to come in the morning. 

Foraging for botanicals at Kyro

Foraging for botanicals

Rye rye

“It was not supposed to happen, but we’re the biggest gin in Finland,” Lipiäinen says. “Not from craft gins, but all the gins. It’s very perverse!” he seems in disbelief. We’re back in the tasting room at the distillery. We’ve looked round production, met the team, and given them our foraging haul from the forest to work their magic with. Martta Ruohomaa, resident botanical expert, steered us away from anything too risky as we scavenged our way between the trees. Think: cloudberry, lingonberry, moss, raspberry leaf. The forest was generous to us.  Before long, King Stone Gin, our own limited-run creation, named after a legendary rock in the Kyrö River, is in production. While it does its thing, we take a seat and make our way through the core Kyrö range. 

“We’ve sort of jumped a category here in the sense that we started picking up wine drinkers and champagne drinkers and beer and cider drinkers,” Lipiäinen says, attributing the brand’s massive growth to its far-reaching appeal. “It got a bit out of hand.”

It’s easy to see why. The Kyrö vibe is infectious, it’s no surprise the team has drawn people into spirits from other categories. The brand is strong, the people behind it have a fervent passion for what they’re doing and why. And the production story is a compelling one, too. On the gin side, it’s all hand-foraged, local botanicals. There’s unaged gin, Napue, and cask-aged Koskue (“gin for when the weather sucks”, the advertising campaign quips. I can confirm it’s also delicious in the sunshine). But rye whisky was the first love, the passion that fuelled its ambition, and it’s just about to come into a season all of its own at Kyrö. 

Whisky maturing at Kyro

Whisky maturing at Kyrö

“We’re following the same idea as we had with the gins,” Lipiäinen explained, referencing the focus on raw materials and the six-day fermentation process. “We can leave the cut really long and leave it oily, leave it thick and preserve everything that the rye has to give us,” He continues. “So wholegrain rye, 100% malted, no enzymes, no grain mixed in and only rye.” 

We’ve seen a handful of limited-run whisky releases from the distillery, mostly matured in 200-litre casks, either virgin oak or ex-bourbon. But it’s a fine balance to strike between keeping that rye character, that sense of place, and the cask influence. “The ex-bourbon gives some really great notes but I really don’t want to go down that banana route at all,” Lipiäinen details, as we taste through some samples. 

“The profile we’re going for is big, bold, spicy. So it’s going to be very different from your bourbon, I don’t hate but I don’t have a lot of time or respect for the ryes which are essentially bourbon just, 51% rye and then the rest is really sweetcorn and then a bit of malted barley. It really needs to display what rye has to offer.”

From the samples we taste, the juggling act is paying off. Kyrö Single Malt Rye Whisky Batch 4 is especially successful, building a sense of impatience for when the new plant is up and running, and there will be far more Kyrö rye whisky to go around. 

You’re never far away from a wooden hot tub in Finland

We wrap up the tasting and head back to the cottage. A wooden hot tub has just arrived on a trailer, parked up next to the sauna. Logs are ready to fire up the wood burner to heat it. As we get set, the evening sun glimmers on the Kyrö River. It’s not long before we’re all jumping in off the little wooden jetty, plunging from the unseasonably warm sunshine into the snowmelt water, running back up the bank and into the sauna. Rinse, repeat. I’m told it’s the traditional way to pass the Isokyrö summer evenings. It’s exhilarating.  The Kyrö Gin Long Drinks are back, the sun casts long shadows, we laugh. Is there anywhere quite like this season in Finland? “Rye rye!” someone shouts, meaning ‘bottoms up’. Forget gin for when the weather’s bad; it’s just possible that Team Kyrö has bottled the very essence of summer.  

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Cocktail of the Week: The Whisky Sour

Sunday 25 August is National Whiskey Sour Day over in America. So, in honour of this auspicious occasion we’re looking at how to make the perfect Whisky Sour. Eagle-eyed readers…

Sunday 25 August is National Whiskey Sour Day over in America. So, in honour of this auspicious occasion we’re looking at how to make the perfect Whisky Sour. Eagle-eyed readers will note the missing ‘e’, that’s because we are using an English rye from Adnams. Good gravy!

Brewing towns like Southwold in Suffolk, home of Adnams, are wonderful places, the air alive with the smell of fermentation. Drive around Speyside, and you catch the same smell, yeasts working away to create alcohol. What whisky distillers call wash is just unhopped beer. Why then do beer and whisky production so rarely happen side by side?

In England it turns out there’s a very good reason for this, an old law dating back to the 19th century states that it is illegal for a brewery and a distillery to operate on the same site. So when Jonathan Adnams from the brewing family wanted to move into distilling, things turned out to be a bit more complicated than he had originally anticipated. He had the premises, but would he be allowed to open a distillery next to the brewery? Eventually, in 2010, he was granted a distiller’s licence and work could begin.

Adnams Copper House Distillery_1

The Copper House distillery with Southwold’s famous lighthouse visible through the window

Now the company produces a range of spirits at the Copper House Distillery including gin, vodka and some whiskies. The same yeast is used to make Adnams’ ales and the washes that will be distilled. Which brings us onto Adnams Rye Malt Whisky. This is made from rye grown on Jonathan Adnams’ own farm in Reydon, just outside Southwold. In fact the town’s name means rye (rey) hill (don) in Old English. How perfect is that? 

We tend to think of rye as a typically North American grain but it grows all over Britain and was used in the 19th century to produce grain whisky for Scotch. Now we are seeing a revival in its fortunes in the old country with St. George’s in Norfolk, the East London Liquor Company, and Arbikie in Scotland, not to mention Kyrö in Finland all turning out excellent rye-heavy whiskies. 

Adnams Rye Malt Whisky is made from a mixture of 75% malted rye and 25% malted barley, aged for at least five years in new French oak casks and bottled at 47%. The marriage of a high rye mash bill and high alcohol with virgin French oak means the spice levels are off the scale. American whiskey fans are going to love it. It’s good neat but those pungent flavours cry out for a little sweetness which means that it is a great mixing whisky (it’s particularly good in a Boulevardier). 

The classic cocktails of the golden age – the Manhattan, the Brooklyn and the Old Fashioned – would originally have been made with rye, not bourbon (though not an English rye of course). And then there’s the sour, that most versatile of cocktails: any spirit, be it gin, pisco, Grand Marnier or what have you can go into a sour. What is a Daiquiri but a rum sour? And indeed what is a Mai Tai (coming soon to Cocktail of the Week) but a souped-up Daiquiri? It all comes back to the sour. Get the balance between strong, sour and sweet right and the Sour is tremendously satisfying.

Adnams Rye Malt Whisky Sour cocktail

An English twist on an American classic

This recipe is a little unusual as rather than sugar syrup, it uses marmalade and maple syrup to sweeten it, like a sort of Canadian/British mash-up. We’re using an egg white to give it texture and fizz but feel free to leave it out.

So without further ado, here’s a Suffolk take on an American classic, the Whisky Sour:

50ml Adnams Rye Malt
25ml lemon juice
2 tsp orange marmalade
2 tsp maple syrup
1 egg white

Add all the ingredients to the shaker and dry shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Fill with ice and shake hard again, then double strain into a chilled tumbler and garnish with a piece of orange zest.

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5 minutes with. . .  Dr. Don Livermore from Hiram Walker

We don’t talk enough about Canadian whisky on the MoM blog. To remedy this, we spoke with the master blender at Hiram Walker, Dr. Don Livermore, on Canadian distilling history,…

We don’t talk enough about Canadian whisky on the MoM blog. To remedy this, we spoke with the master blender at Hiram Walker, Dr. Don Livermore, on Canadian distilling history, some cask finishes that went wrong and why Canada is the most creative place in the world to make whisky.

Look back through old cocktail books (I have lots of them) and they always say that there are four major whisky producing countries: Scotland, Ireland, America and Canada. This blog covers the first three extensively – it seems that not a day goes by without exciting news from the American, Irish and, especially, Scottish industries. And that’s not all, recently we have run features on distilleries in Sweden, Australia and Israel. But what about poor neglected Canada?

It’s not like Canada doesn’t have the heritage. It’s been producing whisky since the 19th century. Canada has the numbers too. According to these figures, it produces around 189m litres of whisky a year, less than the Scots (700m) and the Americans (333m), but far outstripping the Irish (63m). That’s a lot of whisky. Until recently, most of it was used to make mega-blends like Canadian Club and Crown Royal; some of it went into American brands. But the world is waking up to the treasures that lie north of the 49th parallel, whiskies with character like Pike Creek, Lot 40 and Wiser’s 18 Year Old.  So, to tell us more about this under-the-radar giant of whisky, we talk to master blender at Hiram Walker, Don Livermore. And don’t forget, there’s no ‘e’ in Canadian whisky. 

Don Livermore

The doc (centre) in action

Master of Malt: How long have you been working in whisky for?

Don Livermore: I started 23 years ago. My background is microbiology so the distillery here, which I work at, the Hiram Walker Distillery, in Windsor Ontario, hired me as their microbiologist in the quality control laboratory. The company has been fantastic to me. They spent their investment on me and they sent me to school where I did my Masters of Science at Heriot Watt. I finished that in 2004 and then I finished my PhD in 2012 at Heriot Watt as well. Along the way they promoted me in different jobs in and around the distillery, and today I’m the master blender for Hiram Walker. 

MoM: If people asked you, ‘what makes Canadian whisky different from American whisky’, what would you say?’

DL: Canadian whisky, I always like to say this, it’s the most innovative, creative, adaptable style of whisky there is. All we have to be is fermented, aged and distilled in Canada. Aged in a wooden barrel, less than 700 litres for a minimum of three years. And a minimum of 40% alcohol, and first it’s got to come from grain, like any whisky category. And that’s about it, so they give us a lot of latitude, on what we can do with Canadian whisky. They don’t tell me how to distill it so we here have the ability to just column distill it, like a bourbon. Or we can also pot distill it like you’d see in the single malt batches. So we do have those capabilities here, they don’t tell us barrel types either. I mean we can use new wood, we can use used wood, we can finish in wine barrels, or whatever. The latitude is pretty wide open and that leads to creativity. To be honest with you, I wouldn’t want be a blender anywhere else. Now, traditionally Canadian whisky is lighter, if you go back early days in Canadian whisky, in the early 1800s, we would have been just a moonshine-style whisky. It would have been done just by pot stills or single pot distillations. But along the way, Canadian distilleries started double-distilling through two column stills. So they were making like grain whisky, that’s what’s Scotch would call it, we call it ‘base whisky’ but it’s similar. Our whisky ended up being very light because that’s what people wanted but at the same time, the way we would make our whisky was we would separate our ingredients so we would make double-distilled grain whisky from corn. But they’d also single distill or pot distill rye whiskies and then they would blend that in as their flavour type of ingredient we used to call them ‘flavouring whiskies’. So that’s traditionally how we are made because rye is really the grain that traditionally grows in the Canadian climate. The moniker in Canada is usually ‘give me a rye and Coke’ or ‘a rye and ginger’ and it’s understood as a Canadian. It means ‘Canadian whisky and coke’. Ryes are ingredients, just like Irish whiskey will use barley for their flavouring ingredients. 

Hiram Waker

The giant Hiram Walker distillery at Windsor, Ontario

MoM: Do you have a view of these aged Canadian flavouring whiskies being sold south of the border and being bottled under American labels?

DL:  I don’t have any issues with that. I think in the whisky industry, we’ve been buying and selling and trading barrels with each other for 300 years and I don’t see it as any issue for me, blending whiskies and buying ingredients to go into our whiskies. I think to be upfront in what you’re doing, for the consumer, is important. We’ve been doing it for 300 years. You could probably point at the Scotch industry they buy barrels from one another and make their blends right? There’s a rich history between Canada and the United States of selling and buying whisky. 

MoM: Does Canada have as long a whisky heritage as the States? 

DL: From what I’ve read about Jim Beam, Jack Daniel and some of the old whisky barons from the United States, I think they probably started a little bit before Canada. You see those date from the late 1700s, but you start seeing the distilleries in Canada mid-1800s. So we’re probably about 25-50 years behind. Canada was settled later and our population is a little less. Most people will say ‘what made Canadian whisky is the American prohibition in 1920-1933’ and that really isn’t true. What actually grew the Canadian whisky category was the American Civil War from 1861-1865. So you’ll see a lot of the Canadian distilleries have their inception dates around the late 1850s. Because if you think about it, the American North was fighting the American South right? And if they’re going to war with one another, they’re shutting their distilleries down. And who took advantage of that situation was the Canadian distillers. 

Inside Hiram Walker distillery

Inside Hiram Walker distillery

MoM: When did the revival of drinking strongly-flavoured rye whiskies start?

DL: We launched Lot 40 in Canada and the US in 1998, originally, and it failed. It had a little bit of a following but at that time you were starting to see the single malt Scotch craze take off and it was just about timing and what consumers were looking for. I give this analogy, I’m older, I’m in my forties, I grew up on a meat and potato diet I’m from the country in Canada and I think a lighter style of whiskies was what suited our palettes. My kids today are growing up on sushi and you’re seeing a lot of diversity within Canada and the United States as well. And they’re experiencing foods from around the world that are very rich and very spicy. A lot of flavour to it. And I think that’s what has happened I think people’s diets have changed and I think in the year 2019 we are starting to see rye whisky as big, bold, spicy and that’s what people are looking for. Similarly, I think peated Scotches, they’re taking off as well.  

MoM: I just wanted to ask you about cask finishes because I know you do some interesting things with Pike Creek. What are we likely to see in terms of innovative finishes from you?

DL: We actually had an innovation summit with our marketing department about a month ago. And there’s a pipeline of things I’m working on with finishing and various types of woods or wine barrels, or spirit barrels. I think you’re going to see some things come out of Canada in the next one to five years that are going to be exceptional. I’m already very excited about it. I mean, I think this is a rebirth of Canadian whisky and excitement to our category. I’m already seeing some of the other Canadian whisky competitors I work with are doing it as well, so I mean, we’ve done some French oak finishing, we did some Hungarian oak finishing, and there’s some wine barrels I’m playing with. We don’t have a release yet but the Pike Creek 21 year, that’s going to be released this fall will be finished in an oloroso sherry cask. I haven’t heard of anybody using oloroso sherry casks in Canada before. There has been failures here, I’ll be quite honest with you, I’ve played with finishing in some beer barrels, that didn’t work out too well. I finished some in some Tequila barrels which I’m unsure about. I think it would be a very niche market. If I’m not playing and looking at different things, I’m not doing my job.

Hiram Walker

Whisky maturing with little labels to remind workers that it is flammable. Safety first!

MoM: What other things are you playing with apart from barrels?

DL: Grain is another one. It’s reading the consumer. I think it’s very important for master blenders to get out from behind their desk or their laboratory. Go to these whisky festivals, talk to the consumers and understand what they’re looking for. And I’ve come to realise that consumers today understand and get a barrel. I think the barrel-finishing thing is the exciting thing today but the other thing is, what’s tomorrow? I think the next thing that consumers are going to be asking about is grain. They’re already asking about rye, I think the next evolution is variety of rye. We started putting away a very specific variety of rye that is very spicy. We’re actually asking our growers to plant a specific variety. My dream some day is yeast! Because I told you my background is microbiology but yeast probably makes more flavour in your whisky than any other thing that we add to it. You can do lots around brewing. Yeast has a huge impact. I got the actual original yeast strains from the whisky barons of Canada in a dried state. They’re in in little test tubes. From 1930 and I can crack them open and they can grow. But if I’d sat in the corner barstool at your local pub and talked about yeast and whisky, I don’t think your consumer will care. But I think some day they will. I just think it’s about timing and when consumers get more and more savvy, I can see it happening at some point. Some day I’m going to crack those vials and make a brand of whisky out of it, but not yet!

MoM: Which of your whiskies that you blend is your ‘end of the day’ favourite when you get back from work?

DL: It’s a brand that is no longer made to be honest with you. It’s a brand called Wiser’s Legacy. But I’ll tell you this, Wiser’s Legacy is basically two thirds Wiser’s 18 year and one third Lot 40, so I can blend it myself! I love doing that at whisky festivals and people ask me ‘what’s your favourite whisky?’ ‘here, I’ll blend it for you!’ so I take those two brands and blend them together. Again, that’s my sweet spot for the rye level. I do adore the 100% rye whiskies but I do like blending and I like a certain level, just like putting salt on your French fries, there’s a level that you want.

MoM: And then finally, do you have a favourite whisky cocktail?

DL: I like Manhattans made with Lot 40. I think the 100% rye balance is nice with a sweet vermouth. I do get specific about it: it’s hard to find but I like my Manhattan made with rhubarb bitters.

 

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5 minutes with. . . Peter Lynch from WhistlePig

We talk to the master blender at WhistlePig about a very special oloroso cask whiskey exclusive to MoM, a cocktail so secret that we can’t diverge the ingredients and how…

We talk to the master blender at WhistlePig about a very special oloroso cask whiskey exclusive to MoM, a cocktail so secret that we can’t diverge the ingredients and how nobody can fill Dave Pickerell’s enormous shoes.

The drinks world lost one of its greats last year when Dave Pickerell from WhistlePig died at the age of 62. Pickerell set up WhistlePig in 2009 and was instrumental in the revival of the original American style of whiskey – rye. We feel very fortunate to have met and tasted with him last year when he was over in London. Pickerell has left behind quite a legacy in WhistlePig, not least in the form of barrels and barrels of delicious maturing rye whiskey.

The buyers here at Master of Malt persuaded WhistlePig to sell us one of these barrels: an exclusive oloroso butt of 12 year old whiskey, which has been bottled recently and is on sale now. To tell us a bit more about it, we managed to get some time with master blender Peter Lynch.

Whistle-Pig-landscape

Behold! The WhistlePig 12 Year Old oloroso cask finish, exclusive to MoM

Master of Malt: Hello! What can you tell us about this oloroso-finished rye whiskey?

Peter Lynch: It’s one of my favourite projects that I’ve been working on. It’s an extension of our 12 Year Old Old World, aged in Port, Madeira and sauternes casks. We took that one step further and at the moment we’re trialling 15-20 different finishing casks which could range from a specific wood or, on the other side of things, a couple of different olorosos from different soleras. Last summer you guys purchased an old oloroso sherry butt [around 550 litres] that had been in a solera for 10-15 years. As it didn’t see that much life in there it has kept keep those sweeter, fruitier, more vibrant notes with a little less of that rancio character, and some oak extracts too. When it comes to finishing barrels with American whiskey, I’m worried about extracting the fresh oak component. Because the way these casks are heat-treated for wine, less aggressively than for whiskey, I’m at risk of pulling all these tannin and other compounds, which isn’t a worry for the winemaker. These sherry butts are about three times the size of a regular cask, so we were able to let it sit for longer, so it finishes for about two months. Typically with regular barrels we would finish for two to four weeks. It has sweet fruity notes but it’s very much a rye whiskey. You’ll see that with all our whiskeys, we are trying to push the boundaries but we’re not trying to turn it into something different. We’re just adding a top note. 

MoM: How long have you been working with WhistlePig for?

PL: I started with them back in 2015. I started as a distiller. I then moved into distilling and blending in about 2016.

MoM: How did you get into distilling?

PL: I had been a home brewer for a while. A love of whiskey has been instilled in me for quite a few years. I was working on sales and retail side of things and got to know spirits quite well. Then I saw an ad on Craigslist, of all places, for the position at WhistlePig.

MoM: Did you learn on the job then?

PL: Effectively speaking, yes, plus all the resources you can find in books and online publications. I was learning everyday. I have spent quite a bit of money on whiskey throughout my life but the amount I have spent on literature pertaining to whiskey and spirits dwarfs that. One of the things about building a distillery is there will always be growing pains, no matter what. A great way to learn is when things break down, you learn how to fix them. Whether it’s new machinery having issues or different yeast strains giving you trouble, you learn as you go. When it comes to something like premium rye whiskey, you are almost, if not quite making it up as you go, we’re defining this category. We’re trying to set the stage here quite deliberately, so all eyes are on us. 

Peter Lynch WhistlePig

Peter Lynch helping himself to some whiskey

MoM: What’s it been like trying to fill Dave Pickerell’s enormous shoes?

PL: I’m not trying to fill the shoes because they are very big shoes. People wonder what the line of succession is. They think, ‘oh my God, Dave’s gone, there’s a void’ but in reality that’s because people see Dave, they’ve met Dave, Dave had a huge personality, but they don’t see the everyday people on the farm, the warehouse guys who are grabbing the actual barrels, the distillers trouble-shooting on a day-to-day basis. We have a team who work on new products. It’s not something that we ever thought we had to prepare for, of course, but at the same time, we’ve got the infrastructure in place. But we definitely don’t have that kind of larger-than-life personality anymore. They’re definitely going to be tough shoes to fill. 

MoM: Which other distilleries do you think are doing interesting things with whiskey?

PL: That’s a tough one. I could give you 50 examples. People like Balcones or Corsair, pushing the boundaries with grains that we wouldn’t think of as whiskey grains. Balcones using different corn varieties: who cared ten years ago that 99% of bourbon whiskey was made from the same corn variety? If we change that one simple ingredient which is making up the bulk of that whiskey, you can get a totally different flavour profile. Balcones corn-forward whiskeys are going to be earthier than you might imagine, spicier with more herbaceous notes. That idea of terroir, and speaking of terroir, look at my buddies over in New York at Hillrock. They’re breaking it down even further, and focusing on different fields. They distill and mature it all in the same way, how is it going to taste in four years time? 

MoM: And finally, do you have a favourite rye cocktail?

I have a favourite cocktail but if I told it to you you would a) laugh in my face b) the person who told it to me would kill me for revealing the secret. It’s a two ingredient cocktail that has Farm Stock Crop 001 and another ingredient that I can’t tell you but it’s a very silly ingredient. Because it’s summer, I’m grabbing a highball right now. Nice and refreshing, it brings out a lots of different notes in the whiskey. If you try a highball with Whistlepig 10 Year Old or 12 Year Old or 15 Year Old, if you put them side by side you will notice incredible differences. It’s really the perfect summer drink. 

Thank you Peter! And we promise we won’t divulge the secret cocktail recipe only to say that it is surprising, and delicious too.

 

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