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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Rye Whiskey

Top ten: Independent spirits brands

Today, we’re striking a blow for independence with ten delicious bottlings from brands that aren’t part of big drinks companies. So, from a Maryland-style rye whiskey to single estate vodka,…

Today, we’re striking a blow for independence with ten delicious bottlings from brands that aren’t part of big drinks companies. So, from a Maryland-style rye whiskey to single estate vodka, here are some of the best independent spirits brands out there.

Most big booze brands are owned by huge multinational companies like Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Not that that’s a bad thing. We love Johnnie Walker Black Label and Beefeater, distilled by Desmond Payne in south London, is one of our go-to gins. But without a thriving independent scene, our drinks cabinet would be a lot less exciting. 

Happily, thanks to some pioneering distilleries such as Sipsmith, now part of Beam Suntory, there are now countless new brands turning out high quality, delicious and idiosyncratic boozes for all your drinking pleasure. From pungent mezcal to world-spanning Japanese blends, here are ten of the best independent spirits brands money can buy.

sagamore-spirit-signature-rye-whiskey

Sagamore Spirit Signature Rye

Much of the explosion in whiskey labels comes from independent bottlers who buy and blend spirits to create something a bit different. This is one case in point being a Maryland-style of rye which is sweeter than normal. It’s blended from two whiskeys sourced from Indiana, brought down to bottling strength with limestone-filtered water from Sagamore Farm.

How do I drink it?

Those sweet milky coffee and pistachio ice cream flavours are just crying out for an Old Fashioned

portobello-road-no-171-gin

Portobello Road No. 171 Gin

Portobello Road Gin is distilled on the actual Portobello Road in west London. It was founded by top bartender Jake Burger and Paul Lane in 2011. Alongside the distillery, the building called, naturally, The Distillery, houses two bars, a hotel and the Ginstitute where you can learn to make your own gin. Or if that sounds like too much work you could just buy this bottle.

How do I drink it?

With its elegant traditional flavours, this is great in all manner of ginny cocktails like the summery Gin Cup.

hatozaki-blended-whisky

Hatozaki Blended Whisky

If you’re a whisky fan, you probably read the recent news about the changing legislation for Japanese whisky which now excludes certain big names from the category. One company that has always been open about using imported spirits in its blends is Hatozaki. This mixes Japanese and imported whiskies and is aged in a mixture of sherry, bourbon and mizunara oak.

How do I drink it?

With those sweet flavours of honey, stone fruit and nutty cereals, this is a great one to put in a Whisky Highball with soda water and plenty of ice.

casa-noble-blanco-tequila

Casa Noble Blanco

The Casa Noble range of 100% agave Tequilas have proved quite a hit with Master of Malt customers. Agave spirits are a huge growth area as drinkers move away from the lime and salt image of yesteryear to bottles that major on flavour.  This is packed full of earthy, roasted agave notes on the nose and palate.

How do I drink it?

We’re very partial to a Sweet Orange Margarita which involves making the standard version but adding an extra part of fresh orange juice and serving it on the rocks with a splash of soda water.

new-riff-straight-bourbon-whiskey

New Riff Straight Bourbon

Those who like a spicier style of bourbon will love this. It’s distilled by New Riff distillery of Kentucky with a mash bill of 65% corn, 30% rye, and 5% malted barley. Then it’s aged in toasted and charred new oak barrels before bottling at a useful 50% ABV to accentuate all those big spicy flavours.

How do I drink it?

High rye strength bourbons like this one are perfect in a Manhattan. And may we recommend the Hotel Starlino vermouth rosso which is aged in bourbon casks?

east-london-liquor-co-louder-gin

East London Liquor Co. Louder Gin

The East London Liquor Co. (ELLC) is one of our favourite small distillers. Founded in Bow in 2015, it produces a big range of spirits including gin, vodka and whisky, as well as rums imported from the Caribbean. As you might guess from the name, this gin packs a flavour punch with oily juniper bolstered by lavender, fennel, lemon peel and more.

How do I drink it?

Some gins get lost in the flavour soup that is the Negroni but Louder can make itself heard above the noise of Campari and vermouth.

quiquiriqui-tobala-mezcal

QuiQuiRiQui Tobalá Mezcal

Ok, so the name is a bit of a challenge. Apparently, it’s what Mexican cockerells say instead of ‘cock-a-doodle-do.’ But it’s worth getting past the pronunciation to enjoy this delicious mezcal. It’s produced from wild Tobalá aged between 10 and 15 years of age in strictly limited quantities to ensure sustainability. 

How to drink it?

With it’s complex flavours of coconut, tangy pineapple, mint and butter, we think it’s best just sipped neat. But it’s also fabulous in place of gin in a Negroni.

merlet-creme-de-mure-liqueur

Merlet Crème de Mure

Every drinks cabinet should have a bottle of this in it. It’s made by Merlet in France from fresh blackberries steeped in neutral alcohol and sweetened.  This firm produces a great range of fruit liqueurs like creme de cassis, poire William and apricot brandy all made in the traditional way from fresh fruit. 

How do I drink it?

Well, the classic cocktail for Creme Merlet Crème de Mure is the Bramble but it’s also great in place of cassis in a Kir Royale. 

ramsbury-vodka

Ramsbury Vodka

We were so impressed with Ramsbury when we visited a couple of years back. It’s a distillery and brewery set in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside that only uses grains from the surrounding Ramsbury Estate. Each bottle tells you the provenance and variety of the wheat used and the quality really shows when you taste this creamy spicy vodka. 

How do I drink it?

This makes the best Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, we’ve ever had. Serving it ice cold brings out that gorgeous creamy texture. 

colonel-foxs-london-dry-gin

Colonel Fox’s London Dry Gin

This is named after a war hero called Lieutenant Colonel Fox. Apparently, it’s based on his 1859 recipe that was recently rediscovered. We tend to roll our eyes a bit when we hear stories like this. There are a lot of them in the gin world. But there’s now denying the quality of this gin. That old Fox knew what he was doing.

How do I drink it?

People who like gin with plenty of flavour will lap this up. We think it’s perfect in a G&T but it’s a great all rounder, especially as it’s very reasonably priced.

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New Arrival of the Week: FEW Immortal Rye

Just landed at MoM Towers, a new expression from Illinois’s finest, FEW Spirits. Called FEW Immortal Rye, it combines whiskey with tea. To learn more, we talk to founder and…

Just landed at MoM Towers, a new expression from Illinois’s finest, FEW Spirits. Called FEW Immortal Rye, it combines whiskey with tea. To learn more, we talk to founder and distiller Paul Hletko.

Whiskey lovers are getting increasingly adventurous in their tastes. A few years ago, the idea of whiskey blended with tea might have raised a few eyebrows but nowadays drinkers are receptive to innovative combinations. As long, of course, that they taste good. 

We few, we happy few

We’re pretty confident that the team at FEW Spirits know what they’re doing. The distillery was founded in 2011 by Paul Hletko. His family were originally from the country now known as Czechia and owned a brewery before the second world war so the drinks business runs in his veins.

According to the website, FEW was inspired by “the golden age of pre-prohibition whiskey.” The name is a little in-joke as it’s the initials of Frances Elizabeth Willard, one of the architects of prohibition. Proudly based in Evanston not far from Chicago, the labels bear images of the city’s 1893 World Fair. 

FEW Spirits produces gin as well as different types of whiskey including rye and bourbon. It’s a grain-to-glass operation meaning that Hletko produces his own neutral grain alcohol to rectify into gin. This is something that very few gin distilleries do. The equipment consists of a German hybrid pot/ column still which is used to make high ABV spirit for gin production and lower ABV for whiskey plus a separate still for distilling the botanicals into gin. 

Completing the picture is the famous distillery dog called, confusingly, chicken.

Stills at FEW Spirits in Illinois

The still set-up at FEW Spirts in Illinois

More tea, vicar?

The base of this week’s New Arrival is FEW’s punchy rye made with 70% rye with 20% corn and 10% malted barley. Hletko takes the cask strength spirit and then reduces it to 46.5% ABV by adding tea.

We asked him where this idea came from: “The idea started with playing with coffee (rather than tea) and we tried coffee a couple different ways, and liked them,” he said “but we LOVED the results when we just cut barrel strength bourbon to bottle strength with cold brew coffee.  That is now our Cold Cut Bourbon and that ended up winning the Best Flavoured Whiskey in the World award from the World Whiskies Awards. We continued thinking and playing with other liquids in the same way, and played with several different teas, and extraction techniques.”

You’ll be pleased to hear that getting the tea flavour into whiskey doesn’t involve any tea bags. Instead they use a fancy variety of Chinese oolong tea called 8 Immortals. He explained how the process worked: “We cold-extract the 8 Immortals tea. It allows us to use a much slower steep than a hot extraction, and we get to focus the resulting flavors on the sweet and fruity flavors of the tea itself. We still do get some tannic notes as well, which is nice, but the cold extraction keeps some of those tannins balanced with the tannic effect of the wood on the whiskey.”

The end result is a spicy rye whiskey charged with flavours of dried orange peel, poached pear, cardamom, cloves, and aromatic cedar with a nutty finish. It’s delicious sipped neat over ice or in an Old Fashioned. He also recommends drinking it in a Highball with a dash of cherry juice. 

Few Immortal Rye

Few Immortal Rye is great in a Highball

10 years of delicious spirits

Last year was all about weathering the Covid storm, and it sounds like FEW has been lucky in this regard. “None of our team members have been sick, none of their family members, seriously sick. I think we’re pretty lucky,” he said, “Business wise, we are doing great and are continuing to grow. But I’m especially excited that we are all healthy.”

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the distillery and they have big plans. We’re excited about a couple of bottles that we expect to release over the next year or two, including a 10 year anniversary release,”he said, “as well as a rock band collaboration that is super fun.”

Sounds super fun, indeed. We can’t wait to hear more.

FEW Immortal Rye is available from Master of Malt.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Diamondback

This week’s cocktail is a post-Prohibition heavyweight, that plays with rye whiskey, Chartreuse and apple-based spirits. We owe it all to an unassuming, Maryland turtle… it’s the Diamondback. I have…

This week’s cocktail is a post-Prohibition heavyweight, that plays with rye whiskey, Chartreuse and apple-based spirits. We owe it all to an unassuming, Maryland turtle… it’s the Diamondback.

I have quite a few things in common with terrapins: we like to feed on shrimps, crabs, clams and mussels; we are known to hibernate in the winter; and we like to catch raindrops in our mouths. We also share the Diamondback cocktail – for the terrapins, it’s their namesake and for me, well, I just like to drink them.

The diamondback terrapin (so called because of the pattern on its shell) was the inspiration for the Diamondback Lounge at the Lord Baltimore Hotel where the cocktail was invented. This aquatic turtle which thrives in the mangroves and marshes of North America, is Maryland’s official state reptile, and University football fans will recognise the Maryland Terrapins’ jaunty, beshelled mascot with an ‘M’ emblazoned on its proud chest.

Dianondback

This is a Diamondback

The Lord Baltimore Hotel (which still stands today) was one of the tallest structures in Baltimore when it was built in 1928. The Diamondback Lounge no longer exists at the hotel, and the bartender responsible for the eponymous cocktail remains a mystery, but the most well-documented record of the recipe can be found in Ted Saucier’s Bottoms Up, published in 1951.

It calls for 1.5oz (40ml) rye whiskey, 0.75oz (20ml) applejack, and 0.75oz (20ml) yellow Chartreuse, shaken with ice, strained over ice in a rocks glass and garnished with mint. History buffs among you will note the post-Prohibition date on Saucier’s tome – and considering the 100 proof strength of each ingredient, the Diamondback would have been a pretty powerful reintroduction to drinking for the native Baltimorian.

But the contemporary Diamondback comes in a slightly different guise. How has the cocktail changed its geometry for the modern-day drinker?

The great Chartreuse debate

Saucier’s recipe calls for the use of yellow Chartreause, but in 2005, Seattle bartender Murray Stenson put his version of a Diamondback on the Zig Zag Café’s menu, swapping yellow Chartreuse for green. A bold move – with the green variant coming in at an even higher ABV than the original yellow, making this cocktail even more potent. But with the rye whiskey threatening to dominate the flavour profile, the more herbal and pronounced green Chartreuse was perhaps chosen by Stenson to stand up for itself. Fast-forward to 2011 and Jim Meehan adopts the green method too in his landmark PDT Cocktail Book.

Stenson is also responsible for a change in method and serve style. His recipe calls for the three ingredients to be stirred over ice, rather than shaken, strained into a chilled cocktail class and garnished with a cherry. Meehan eschews the cherry but it isn’t rare to see a Diamondback garnished with a lemon peel.

Bottoms Up

Bottoms Up!

Which rye when?

The choice of whiskey is also left up to interpretation. While Saucier’s recipe (and most since) simply call for ‘rye whiskey’, Stenson’s choice of Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 proof (50% ABV) has been adopted by Diamondback fans as their favourite pour. Its notes of dried fruit, spices and caramel are the perfect companion for the herbal green Chartreuse and complements the applejack component (more on that soon).

Interestingly, Meehan reverts to Saucier’s loose prescription of rye whiskey, but raises its measure from 1.5 oz (40ml) to 2 oz (50ml). With that in mind, we can confirm that slightly lighter Woodford Reserve Kentucky Rye or Wild Turkey Straight Rye sit beautifully in a Diamondback. As does Finalnd’s Kyro Distillery’s Malt Rye for something slightly less conventional, but no less delicious.

What on earth is applejack?

Saucier’s recipe calls for the addition of applejack. UK drinkers probably won’t be familiar with this apple brandy spirit. So-called for its production method of ‘jacking’ (freezing fermented cider and then removing the ice) it originated in New Jersey in 1698 and is attributed to the Laird family. During the 19th and 20th centuries, it declined in popularity, but post-Prohibition, The Laird family were granted permission to make it again for ‘medicinal purposes’ and its popularity rose again.

Stenson honoured the Laird family in his reinvention of the Diamondback, citing the use of Laird’s Straight Applejack (Laird’s standard applejack bottling contains neutral alcohol along with apple brandy), while Meehan simply states the use of apple brandy in his recipe. It isn’t uncommon to see the use of Calvados in the place of applejack – spirits in kind, but using different apples. 

Diamondback Cocktail

Diamondback Cocktail, courtesy of the Bar with No Name

And the riffs keep coming. New east London bar from Remy Savage, A Bar With Shapes For A Name, has bottled its version of a Diamondback for delivery. It combines Knobb Creek (at 50% ABV, a nod to the original recipe), cider eau-de-vie (a tribute to applejack), Chartreuse MOF (neither green nor yellow, a diplomatic choice), raspberry eau-de-vie and manuka honey. “This drink from the 1950´s is « big » both aromatically and in terms of ABV,” the team writes on its Instagram post. “We made a few changes to try and soften it up and give it a crisp yet delicate fruity finish.”

My favourite version, below, uses Saucier’s ratios and ingredients but stirred and with an added cherry as per Stenson’s recipe. It’s enough to get me, and the terrapins, out of hibernation.

How to make a Diamondback:

30ml Rittenhouse Straight Rye whiskey
15ml Laird’s Straight Applejack
15ml Yellow Chartreuse

 Stir over ice and strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

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Going against the grain

As you’re reading this blog, we assume you’ve drunk whisky made from barley and corn, and probably had some things made from wheat and rye too. But these aren’t the…

As you’re reading this blog, we assume you’ve drunk whisky made from barley and corn, and probably had some things made from wheat and rye too. But these aren’t the only cereals: what about oats, millet or sorghum? And what on earth is triticale? Ian Buxton investigates. 

What’s whisky made from? Easy: barley, corn, rye and wheat. Custom, practice and legislation have led to the global dominance of these four cereals, and with the many wonderful whiskies that are created from them, we don’t need to look any further.

Well, apparently, we do and a new generation of distillers are asking, ‘what about oats, millet or sorghum?’ Some go even further. Take, for example, Australia’s tiny Adelaide Hills distillery where founder and head distiller Sacha La Forgia explores local varieties such as wattleseed and weeping grass. With his Native Grains releases, he’s aiming to start a debate around diversity, sustainability and the preservation of indigenous species requiring fewer inputs to flourish in their native environment.

Sacha La Forgia from the Adelaide Hills Distillery

Sacha La Forgia from the Adelaide Hills Distillery

La Forgia is part of a global movement that seeks to challenge orthodoxy and offer enthusiast consumers new taste horizons. While in Scotland a limited number of barley varieties have come to dominate production, distillers such as Bruichladdich have looked to whisky’s history to revive the hard-to-grow heritage strain known as bere (see header pic).

Going further into the records, field-to-bottle distillers Ardbikie, located in the fertile farmlands of Scotland’s east coast, have determined that rye was used in making Scotch whisky well into the 19th century. Though enjoying a revival in the USA, Ardbikie’s Highland Rye can proudly claim to be unique in Scotland.

But with the craft distilling movement most fully developed in the USA, it’s here we turn for some more radical experiments.  A number of distillers have released heritage corn varieties, first brought to us by Balcones with their Baby Blue Corn Whisky, amongst them Jeptha Creed Distillery (Shelbyville, KY) with their Bloody Butcher and Charleston, SC High Wire Distilling’s Jimmy Red. For a distinctive take on heritage corn, though, look no further than Mexico’s Abasolo with their use of non-GMO cacahuazintle corn and the 4,000-year-old nixtamalization cooking process (see article here).

Abasolo Mexican Corn whisky

The unique strain of corn that’s the basis for the flavour of Abasolo whisky

The Corsair Distillery in Nashville has pioneered a number of different grains, including quinoa from South America. For something even more off the wall from Corsair, known for its buccaneering approach, just try its Red absinthe: it’s not fairy juice! However, back to quinoa. It’s demanding to work with because of the small size of the grains and their bitter seed coating but almost because of the perversity of that challenge it attracted the attention of Australia’s Whippersnapper distillery who use a Western Australian variety for its earthy and peppery notes.

A vital food source across Africa, sorghum has also found its way into the repertoire of smaller distillers, possibly because of its appeal to the gluten intolerant. As well as High Wire Distilling, Sorghum whiskies include expressions from Still 360 in Saint Louis; Madison, WI’s Old Sugar Distillery and Jersey Artisan Distilling, NJ.

Virtually all of the distillers mentioned are small in scale and unlikely ever to break into the mass market.  But major players have flirted with the alternative grain option, most notably the limited run Jim Beam Harvest Bourbon collection released in 2014 and 2015. The whiskies included Whole Rolled Oat, Soft Red Wheat, Brown Rice and Triticale (a rye/wheat cross also distilled by Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, WA). Oats, in particular, represented a radical approach for such a large distiller but the collection appears to have been a one-off, with any remaining supplies ironically now more sought after for investment than drinking.

But the drive to experiment cannot be denied and I anticipate unorthodox grains from craft distillers to trend in 2021 and beyond.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Vieux Carré

One of a handful of classic cocktails with a traceable backstory, the Vieux Carré dates back to the 1930s, when it was named after an area of New Orleans known…

One of a handful of classic cocktails with a traceable backstory, the Vieux Carré dates back to the 1930s, when it was named after an area of New Orleans known today as the French Quarter. Anna Sebastian, bar manager at the Artesian Bar in London’s Langham Hotel, talks us through this full-flavoured, widely underappreciated serve…

“The Vieux Carré is a fantastic drink, almost a combination of a Manhattan, Old Fashioned and Sazerac,” says Sebastian. “It has always been one of those drinks, in my opinion, that has been underrated.” Combining rye whiskey, Cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and two different types of bitters, the Vieux Carré certainly packs a punch – but it’s also light and refreshing enough to cut through the humidity of a typical New Orleans day, she says.

Unlike practically every other historic tipple you can think of, the Vieux Carré (pronounced voo car-ray – the name is French, the pronunciation is Creole) is one of those rare cocktails with a timestamp. Translated as ‘old square’ or ‘old quarter’, which then referred to the French Quarter, the drink was created by Walter Bergeron at the Hotel Monteleone, and appeared in print for the first time in Famous New Orleans Drinks and How to Mix ‘Em back in 1938. 

Vieux Carre

The French Quarter or Vieux Carré in New Orleans

Calling for ½ teaspoon Benedictine, 1 dash Peychaud bitters, 1 dash Angostura bitters, ⅓ jigger rye whiskey, ⅓ Cognac brandy, and ⅓ jigger Italian vermouth, the method reads as follows: ‘The Benedictine is used as a base and also for sweetening the cocktail. Dash on the bitters, then add the rye, brandy, and vermouth. Put several lumps of ice in the barglass. Stir. Twist a slice of lemon peel over the mixture. Drop in a slice of pineapple and cherry if you wish and serve in mixing glass.’

‘This is the cocktail that Walter Bergeron, head bartender of the Hotel Monteleone cocktail lounge, takes special pride in mixing,’ the author of the book, Stanley Clisby Arthur, wrote beneath the recipe. ‘He originated it, he says, to do honour to the famed Vieux Carré, that part of New Orleans where the antique shops and the iron lace balconies give sightseers a glimpse into the romance of another day.’

The hotel is still standing today, now owned by the fifth generation of the Monteleone family. A decade after Bergeron invented the cocktail, Hotel Monteleone opened the Carousel Bar & Lounge – an elaborate slow-spinning cocktail bar fitted with a dazzling carousel top. It’s the only revolving bar in the Big Easy, and turns at a rate of one revolution 15 minutes. There, the Vieux Carré is the star of the menu, made with Sazerac Rye Whiskey and Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac.

Even though rye and Cognac are of equal measure in the recipe, the bold, spiced profile of the whiskey takes precedence. Much like rye whiskey, the Vieux Carré was once hugely popular and gradually faded into obscurity as the decades rolled past. And like the beloved rye style, it’s now enjoying a slow resurgence. There’s no shortage of rye whiskey bottlings to choose from today, and this cocktail is the perfect way to road-test their mixing potential. “The perfect Vieux Carré, as always, stems back to having quality ingredients,” says Sebastian. “I always say go with the best that you can buy, as it really will have an impact on your drink.”

Vieux Carre

Voila! Un Vieux Carré

The rye will meet a host of really punchy, robust spirits in the Vieux Carré, so thoughtful assembly is required. “The key is to balance the ingredients, as they are all very strong flavours and components,” she says. “The vermouth, being the slightly weaker part of the drink, needs to be big and ballsy. The Benedictine needs to be used sparingly, otherwise it will take over the drink and make it… well, un-drinkable.” Using a discarded lemon twist as a garnish “leaves a beautiful aroma from the oils without the peel infusing the liquid as you drink it,” Sebastian adds.

Once you’ve nailed the original, why not shake things up with some spirited substitutes? Changing the rye for a bourbon gives the drink a slightly warmer, less dry profile to it, says Sebastian. “Another great option is reducing the rye to 15ml and adding 15ml of Calvados, which gives it a more approachable taste and fresh apple notes,” she says. Alternatively, try using a blend of vermouths – a sweet and a dry in equal parts – to make the cocktail a little lighter and brighter, or “add a dash of absinthe to bring all the flavours together”.

But first, here’s how to make the original:

30ml Michter’s Rye Whiskey
30ml Remy Martin 1738
20ml Cocchi Vermouth Di Torino
5ml Benedictine
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud bitters
Discarded lemon twist 

Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with a lemon twist. 

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New Arrival of the Week: Blinking Owl Four Grain Bourbon

This is our last New Arrival of 2020 and we’ve chosen something suitably special: Blinking Owl bourbon which is made from four grains, corn, rye, wheat and malted barley, all…

This is our last New Arrival of 2020 and we’ve chosen something suitably special: Blinking Owl bourbon which is made from four grains, corn, rye, wheat and malted barley, all grown within the great state of California.

The Blinking Owl distillery has only been going since 2016 but it already has a cupboard full of awards. At this year’s American Whiskey Masters in London put on by the Spirits Business magazine, it took home a silver medal for its bourbon and a gold for its rye. Based in Santa Ana in Orange County, not far from Los Angeles, the distillery was started by husband and wife team Brian and Robin Christenson and it’s named after a now defunct local bar which had an owl sign that would blink. 

As with quite a few whiskey producers, there’s the obligatory story about illicit distilling in the family’s past. In this case Brian Christenson’s great-grandfather, Fred P. Armbrust. According to the website: “He would covertly provide his local farmers with his ‘good spirits’. Brian’s dream is to carry on Fred’s passion by providing ‘good spirits’ to our very own neighborhood, legally, of course!” Born in 1888, Armbrust lived until the 1970s but stopped distilling soon after World War Two.

It’s actress and creative muse wizard owl Kirsten Vangness

Before founding Blinking Owl, the first legal distillery in Orange County since prohibition, Brian was an artist with his own gallery in Laguna Beach while Robin was a pelvic floor therapist. Her business, which she sold to start the distillery, was called Womanology and she had a blog called The Hoo-Hoo Whisperer. Could this story be any more Californian? Well, yes in fact it can because there is a third investor in the business, actress Kirsten Vangsness, who you might know from the television show Criminal Minds. Her job title is listed on the website as ‘creative muse wizard owl’. Of course it is.

All this woo woo would be amusing, if the team weren’t deadly serious about the quality of its spirits. The head distiller (and ‘owl spiritual leader’, natch), is Ryan Friesen formerly of Journeyman Distillery in Michigan, who worked an internship with Japanese whisky guru Ichiro Akuto at Chichibu distillery. So he knows what he’s doing.

Not only are the founders and the ethos very Californian but so are the raw materials. As of February 2018, everything used is organic and grown by Californian farms, with the high quality of the local water making a big contribution. As the website puts it: “We are locavores, grain nerds, and control freaks so we decided to actually make our booze the long way: from grain rather than pre-made spirit. We mill it, mash it, ferment it, distill it, and, in the case of whiskey, barrel age it.” As well as the bourbon and the rye, Blinking Owl also produces vodka, gin, aquavit and others

We’ve decided to highlight the bourbon because it’s unusual in using four cereals, corn, wheat, malted barley and rye. It’s aged in new white oak American casks, and bottled at 45% ABV. Our very own cocktail expert Jess Williamson is a fan, you can read her tasting notes below.  She recommends just treating it simply, drink either neat or in an Old Fashioned. We think it’s a suitable impressive last New Arrival of the year. What strange one it’s been. Let’s hope 2021 is better and you never know, Britain and American might even have come to an agreement over whisky/ whiskey tariffs.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Earthy vanilla pod leads into barrel char, with subtle caramel, milk chocolate and a scattering of pine needles.

Palate: A dusting of cocoa and honeyed cereals, with just a hint of freshly baked brioche and a spoonful of homemade jam.

Finish: Just a tingle of drying spice lingers alongside a drizzle of runny honey.

Blinking Owl Four Grain Bourbon is available from Master of Malt.

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Check out these awesome autumn sippers!

Autumn… it’s the time of year when you start to crave delicious, hearty, comforting drinks. Luckily, we’ve got a huge range and we’ve picked some of our favourites. The temperature…

Autumn… it’s the time of year when you start to crave delicious, hearty, comforting drinks. Luckily, we’ve got a huge range and we’ve picked some of our favourites.

The temperature is dropping, the days are becoming shorter and suddenly pumpkins are popping up all over the place like arcade moles ready to be whacked. You know what that means. Autumn has arrived. We’re optimists here at MoM Towers, so we like to celebrate the change in seasons by enjoying a dram or two of the heartiest and tastiest spirits around. We don’t want you to miss out on all the fun though, so we’ve whipped up a selection of drinks just right for cosying up with on cooler days.

 autumn sippers    

Benriach The Smoky Twelve

When Benriach released a new core range this year we were very excited, and rightly so. One of the highlights is this brilliantly peaty 12-year-old whisky created by Dr Rachel Barrie, who matured this Scotch in a combination of bourbon, sherry and Marsala wine casks. Perfect for those chilly evenings.

What does it taste like?

Flamed orange peel, chocolate brownies fresh from the oven, raisins, walnuts, peppercorn, hickory, woody smoke and a hint of clove.

autumn sippers

6 O’Clock Damson Gin

A dark and delicious flavoured gin from the wonderful folks at 6 O’Clock Gin, this beauty was crafted in the traditional way; in small batches, using hand-picked British damsons and a moderate amount of sugar. Lovely stuff, this.

What does it taste like?

Fruity, aromatic and drying. Fragrant spices integrate perfectly with the damsons rightly taking the lead.

autumn sippers

Redbreast 12 Year Old

One of the finest single pot still Irish whiskies ever created, what’s not love about Redbreast 12 Year Old? The rich and rewarding dram was made from malted and unmalted barley, and then matured in a combination of American oak bourbon barrels and Spanish oak Oloroso sherry butts. We can’t get enough of it.

What does it taste like?

Nutty, rich and oily, with notes of dried peels, ginger, linseed, cut fruits, marzipan and a hint of sherry. 

autumn sippers

The Gin Kitchen Ginger Cat Gin

There aren’t many gins that count tonka beans as a signature botanical, but this delightful gin makes us wonder if that’s something on an oversight. This aromatic expression also features cinnamon, orange zest and, of course, ginger as ingredients and comes presented in a rather quaint ceramic bottle with a lovely little cat on it. Paired with tonic or Cointreau and ginger beer if you’re feeling more adventurous.

What does it taste like?

Peppery juniper leads into spicy ginger, with earthy vanilla notes, aromatic cinnamon and a citrus finish.

autumn sippers

Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 Proof Whiskey

Rye whiskey was a giant of the American drinks industry that was devastated by Prohibition, but thankfully things are changing and Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse is one of the leading brands of this welcome rye renaissance. Possessing plenty of that classic spicy, chewy and full-bodied Pennsylvanian rye style, Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 Proof Whiskey is a bartender’s favourite for good reason.

What does it taste like?

Dried fruits, soft spices, cocoa, butterscotch, marmalade, cinnamon and caramel.

autumn sippers

Project #173 Pineapple Rum

For those who immediately think of warming, spicy and fruity rums when someone mentions autumn, then we recommend this terrific Pineapple Rum here from Project #173. Handsomely presented in a bottle adorned with 23 karat gold leaf, you can enjoy this cracking flavour combo neat or in a Rum Old Fashioned, for our money.

What does it taste like?

Citrus, kiwi and the unmistakable funkiness of pineapple, with underlying cinnamon. allspice. toasted brown sugar, upside-down cake and a touch of mint.

autumn sippers

Talisker 18 Year Old

There are few distilleries that can boast a range as good as Talisker and the 18 Year Old bottling is arguably its standout expression. Matured for nearly two decades in casks which previously held bourbon and sherry, this sweet and smoky malt has picked up multiple awards and won the plaudits of critics and fans alike.

What does it taste like?

Thick, rich and full-bodied with notes of spicy, peppery oak, espresso beans, wood smoke, allspice and there is a certain zesty character lurking somewhere.

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Cocktail of the Week: The Boulevardier

Today, we’re taking a stroll down memory lane and looking at the history of the most relaxed cocktail ever, The Boulevardier. It’s a bit like a Negroni, but made with…

Today, we’re taking a stroll down memory lane and looking at the history of the most relaxed cocktail ever, The Boulevardier. It’s a bit like a Negroni, but made with whiskey.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what a great name The Boulevardier is for a drink, conjuring up as it does carefree young men of leisure like you might find in PG Wodehouse stories, ambling around ‘20s Paris, London or New York stopping for a cocktail with only an overbearing aunt or two to worry about.

The cocktail is named after a magazine based in Paris run by an American called Erskine Gwynne in the 1920s and 1930s. A nephew of railway tycoon Alfred Vanderbilt, we can assume that Gwynne was not short of a bob or two. I bet he didn’t have to worry about whether his magazine would have enough adverts in it. 

The cocktail was created for him by Harry MacElhone from Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. A Scot by birth, MacElhone had honed his craft in the US during the golden age of cocktails before leaving because of prohibition to set up his own bar in France. Prohibition was brilliant for unleashing a wave of American-trained bartenders, not all of them were named Harry, on Europe’s bars. So, thank you 18th amendment!

The cocktail appeared in MacElhone’s 1927 book Barflies and Cocktails: Over 300 Cocktail Recipes but despite this, until recently it remained quite obscure. It’s not in quite a few cocktail books I have that were published between the 1930s and the ‘90s. David Embury writing in the 1940s has something called a Boulevard which is a Dry Manhattan with 2-3 dashes of Grand Marnier – so not much like a Boulevardier. Since the great Negroni explosion of 2009/10 bartenders and drinkers have taken an interest in its whiskey-based cousin and it’s now firmly established on every bar menu.

The Boulevardier is not, however, simply a Negroni with the gin swapped for whiskey. It is usually made with a higher percentage of spirit. We’ve gone for 1.5 parts to 1 part vermouth and Campari, but the 2:1:1 ratio is great if you like a strong drink (and if you’re reading this column, we imagine you do.) Most recipes call for bourbon though I think even better is a good spicy rye whiskey like Michter’s.

The first time I ever had a Boulevardier was made by Alessandro Palazzi at Duke’s Bar in London using Grand Old Parr – a blended Scotch that’s very popular in Colombia. And you’re not going to argue with Palazzi when it comes to cocktails. Other things that I find work really well are big spicy Irish whiskeys like Redbreast 12 Year Old, high ester Jamaican rums like Plantation 2003 or a sturdy Armaganc like Château du Tariquet L’Armagnac du Centenaire though you probably don’t want to use a £200 brandy in your cocktails. Or maybe you do. Sometimes, you have to ask yourself, ‘what would Erskine Gwynne do?’

And finally, there’s a whole world of Amari to choose from but we’re sticking with Campari and for vermouth, we’re very taken with Starlino Hotel’s Rosso, aged in bourbon casks, no less.

Right, got your ingredients? It’s time to button up your spats, grab your boater and take a leisurely stroll down the boulevard.

45ml Michter’s US*1 Straight Rye Whiskey
30ml Hotel Starlino vermouth Rosso
30ml Campari 

Fill a tumbler with cubed ice, and add all the ingredients. Stir for 10 seconds and garnish with an orange twist.

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What’s the difference between Canadian and American rye whisk(e)y?

When it comes to North American rye whisk(e)y, the difference between Canadian and American production is more than merely geographical. Here, Allen Katz, co-founder of New York Distilling Company, and…

When it comes to North American rye whisk(e)y, the difference between Canadian and American production is more than merely geographical. Here, Allen Katz, co-founder of New York Distilling Company, and Dave Mitton, global brand ambassador for Lot 40 Rye Whisky, discuss the categorical intricacies that make their rye-centric spirits so unique…

Speaking at the latest Spirited Sessions virtual masterclass, Allen Katz, distiller and co-founder of New York Distilling Company, and Dave Mitton, global brand ambassador for Lot 40 Rye Whisky, took a deep dive into the world of rye, looking at the categorical differences, rise in popularity, and expansion of this North American whisk(e)y style.

Safe to say, we learned a lot. When it comes to discerning the fine details of North American distilling, who better than Katz, who himself created the new Empire Rye category, and Mitton, a key name in the resurgence and popularity of Canadian rye, to walk us through the differences in production style across the Canada-US border.

Naturally, Canadian whisky must be mashed, distilled and aged in Canada, while American rye must be mashed, distilled and aged in the US. And to qualify under Katz’ new Empire Rye designation, the process must be undertaken at a single New York State distillery (New York is nicknamed the Empire State). But there’s far more to these categories than the location of their stills. Looking across mash bill, fermentation, distillation, maturation and blending, here are the key differences between Canadian and American rye whisk(e)y:

rye whiskey

Lot 40’s Dave Mitton knows a thing or two about Canadian rye whisky

Mash bill

To confuse matters slightly, Canadian whisky is often referred to as rye whisky, because historically much of the grain content was rye, but there’s no law requiring distillers to add it. In some bottlings, the corn-to-rye ratio may be as high as 9:1, while others contain up to 100 per cent rye. Either way, ‘Canadian rye whisky’, and ‘rye whisky’ might feature on the label, regardless of whether the liquid actually contains rye.

Canadian whisky traditionally produces 100 per cent mash bills – principally corn and rye, but also wheat or barley. Lot 40 is made entirely from rye, but where other grains are used, they’re all kept separate throughout the process, says Mitton. “All of the corn, rye, wheat and barley are fermented separately, distilled separately, and aged in different types of casks for different amounts of time,” he says. 

By contrast, American rye whiskey has a mash bill of at least 51 per cent rye, with the remainder typically made up of corn and malted barley. Unlike Canadian whisky, the grains are blended in the mash. The rye percentage can vary hugely between distilleries. “Right now, our concerted mash bill is 75 per cent rye, 13 per cent corn, 12 per cent malted barley,” says Katz.

rye whiskey

Allen Katz, co-founder of New York Distilling Company, and expert on American rye whiskey

Fermentation

Not only is rye mash typically much thicker and gooier than other grains, but it’s known to foam up heavily during the fermentation process. To counteract this, Canadian distillers mostly ferment with exogenous (externally-sourced) enzymes. “The rye mash tends to foam due to lack of oil content in the grain,” says Mitton. “We add glucanase enzyme to the fermentation, which spins out the mash. Rye has lots of glucanenes, which is a type of sugar that makes it sticky and glucanase breaks down glucans and reduces the viscosity of the mash.” 

American rye distillers, meanwhile, typically use a mix of exogenous and endogenous (naturally-occurring) enzymes – or, like Katz, simply avoid filling their fermenters to capacity. “If a mash tun is 3,000 litres, we probably don’t feel it much past 2,600, because it will foam up,” he says.

Hiram Waker

The giant Hiram Walker distillery at Windsor, Ontario, home of Lot 40.

Distillation

Canadian whisky encompasses many different distillation styles, the most common being single column distillations, double or triple column distillations, or a combination of column and pot distillations. “Most Canadian whisky is majority corn with a little pinch of rye, and that corn is double column distilled,” Mitton says. “Then you’ll take a once column distilled rye and blend in, usually, less than five per cent.” 

In Canada, the base spirits are typically distilled to between 180 and 190 proof (90 – 95% ABV). This results in fewer congener by-products, making a lighter-tasting new make. Much like bourbon production, American rye whiskey-makers must distil no higher than 160 proof (80% ABV), thus retaining more of the flavour compounds in the distillate. The regulations “don’t say what type of still it has to be,” says Katz, though most use column still and double distillation, and there there are no cut points set out by law.

rye whiskey

In the US a straight rye whiskey like Ragtime must be matured for at least two years

Maturation

Canadian whisky must be aged in small wood barrels (700 litres or less) for a minimum of three years, and this applies to all whiskies used in the final blend. There are no specifications about the type of wood that can be used – different oak varieties such as Hungarian, Canadian, or French; charred or uncharred, ex-bourbon barrels, ex-fortified wine barrels, ex-brandy barrels, etc. – so distillers frequently blend whiskies aged in different types of barrels. 

Across the border, American distillers face stricter rules. For American rye whiskey, the distillate must begin ageing at no more than 125 proof (62.5% ABV), says Katz, and “has to be aged in a charred new oak ‘vessel’. It doesn’t say barrel. I guess you could build a box if you wanted to.” There’s no minimum ageing period, unless you want to call it ‘straight rye whiskey’, which requires a minimum of two years in the barrel – again, no specification on the size. 

For Empire Rye, the distillate must be below 115 proof (57.5% ABV) when it goes into the barrel, mostly due to “a historic stance going back to the 18th-century styles of rye whiskey”, says Katz, but also “to see if there’s some kind of resolute quality amongst Empire rye that perhaps could also be attributed to a lower barrel entry proof.”

rye whiskey

Lot 40 is considered to be the ultimate expression of Canadian rye whisky by many

Blending

Canadian distillers blend various whiskies of different grains, ages and barrel types to produce their desired flavour profile. All liquids are blended after maturation, and usually with liquids from the same distillery i.e. single distillery blends. 

Canadian whisky is also subject to the 9.09% rule, which allows producers to add up to 9.09% non-Canadian whisky into their blend (equivalent to one part non-Canadian whisky for every 10 parts Canadian whisky), so long as the final bottling “possesses the aroma, taste and character generally attributed to Canadian whisky”. This minority component could be fortified wine like sherry or port, or foreign whisky. For example, J.P. Wiser’s Union 52 combined 15 year-old Canadian corn whisky (which made up 96% of the blend) with 52 year-old peated single malt Scotch (equivalent to 4% of the blend). “That’s a great example of where you can have a lot of fun with the 9.09 rule,” says Mitton. 

American distillers, meanwhile, mostly combine whiskeys of different ages that share the same mash bill and barrel type in order to produce a specific flavour profile. Some, like Baltimore’s Sagamore Spirits, blend different mash bills from the same distillery – one high-rye, the other low-rye, sourced from their supplier, Midwest Grain Products of Indiana (MGP) – “and their unique story is that they mix them together,” says Katz. Others might blend different mash bills from different distilleries.

rye whiskey

The New York Distilling Company has been at the centre of the rye resurgence

So, what’s next for rye whisky in the US and in Canada? “I really think regional differentiations are absolutely part of a future story, along with small scale or antique varieties of grain,” says Katz. The head of the rye can vary tremendously in size depending on the variety, “and that’s where a lot of the differentiation of flavours can come,” he continues, “certainly with other influences of fermentation, ageing and size of barrels.”

With so much scope for experimentation, rye whisk(e)y is really only at the beginning of its modern-day resurgence. “I believe there are 279 distilleries in Canada now, which is mind-blowing, and most of them are working on Canadian whiskies,” says Mitton. “In the next, let’s say, three years minimum, you’re going to see some really interesting expressions come out from different parts around the country and different whisky makers.”

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Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to fantastic American whiskey. Let us help narrow down your options. When you’ve got time on your hands it’s the perfect opportunity…

There’s no shortage of choice when it comes to fantastic American whiskey. Let us help narrow down your options.

When you’ve got time on your hands it’s the perfect opportunity to try something new, which is why we’re  giving you a glimpse into what’s happening in the American whiskey scene. In our selection, we’ve got classic brands that have been doing the business for decades and younger distilleries firing up stills ready to make their mark. There’s bottlings that are best savoured by sipping them straight and those that make great whiskey cocktails. We’ve got spicy ryes and smooth bourbons, various mashbills and even a heavy-metal inspired expression. 

But they all have something in common: they’re delicious American whiskeys that we heartily recommend. Enjoy!

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Slipknot No.9 Whiskey

Yes, this is a whiskey that was made in collaboration with heavy metal band Slipknot. In fact, it was actually blended by Slipknot’s very own Shawn “Clown” Crahan (he wears a clown mask when performing), with the help of the lovely folk at Cedar Ridge Distillery. Both the band and distillery hail from Iowa, so fittingly the whiskey was made from Iowa corn as well as a helping of rye. If you’re looking for the perfect pairing then you can’t get more appropriate than Slipknot’s Iowa album!

What does it taste like?:

Honey, toasted cornbread, smoked paprika, toffee apples, chocolate digestives, citrus blossom, cracked black pepper, caraway and fragrant florals.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon 

A delightful Kentucky bourbon that represents fantastic value for money, Woodford Reserve Kentucky Bourbon is ideal for those who enjoy an Old Fashioned. It has a rich, spicy profile that’s partly down to a mash bill that features a high percentage of rye: 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malt.  

What does it taste like?:

Honey, leather, cocoa, a little smoke, toasty oak, vanilla cream, butterscotch, espresso beans, winter spice, cereal sweetness, plenty of rye, ground ginger, almond oil and cereals.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 Proof 

If you haven’t enjoyed the sweet, spicy and distinctive character of rye whiskey, then you should rectify this situation immediately. This award-winning expression, which commemorates Philadelphia’s famous Rittenhouse Square, was produced in the tradition of the classic rye whiskeys that dominated the industry pre-Prohibition and is fantastic in a number of cocktails.

What does it taste like?:

Dried fruits, soft spices, cocoa, butterscotch, orange peel, cinnamon, caramel, chocolate oranges, cassia bark, nutmeg and marmalade.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey 107 Proof

A full-bodied, punchy and powerful bottling from those fab folks over at Smooth Ambler Spirits in Greenbrier County, West Virginia, this is not for the faint-hearted. The fantastic variation of the brand’s classic Old Scout American Whiskey was bottled at 107 proof (or 53.5% ABV for those of us here in the UK). 

What does it taste like?:

Roasted coffee beans, burnt caramel, a good kick of cumin, floral vanilla, fresh ginger, fiery cinnamon, fudge, mango and sponge cake.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Michter’s US*1 Bourbon

A stylish and superb Kentucky bourbon with a mellow, earthy and delicately sweet profile, Mitcher’s US*1 Bourbon is made in small batches typically composed of no more than two dozen barrels. The brand is named after what some believe to be the oldest former distillery in the US, which dates back to 1753.

What does it taste like?:

Caramel, vanilla and fruit notes, alongside a pleasing earthy quality at its core.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Mellow Corn

Arguably the most intriguing bottling in our selection is the delightful Mellow Corn, which is made at the Heaven Hill distillery. Inside that distinctive bright yellow bottle, you’ll find a punchy, gold-coloured American corn whiskey made with a mash bill that’s at least 81% corn, with the rest being a combination of malted barley and rye.

What does it taste like?:

Buttery corn, toffee popcorn, vanilla, brown sugar and a flicker of woody spice.

Awesome whiskeys from across the pond!

Sazerac Straight Rye

An expression named for the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans, birth-place of the famous Sazerac cocktail. While it was originally made with Cognac, the Sazerac is also delicious when it’s made with rye whiskey. Particularly very tasty rye whiskey, like this fine example from the Buffalo Trace distillery.

What does it taste like?:

Sweet spices, stem ginger in syrup, orange zest, freshly ground black pepper, mixed peels, Seville orange marmalade, peanut butter, toffee and barrel char.

 

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