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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Single Malt Whisky

Ultra-rare Brora Triptych released as distillery reopens this May 

To celebrate the forthcoming opening of the revived Brora distillery, Diageo will be releasing three historic whiskies called Brora Triptych from this legendary name. Interested? Of course you are! The…

To celebrate the forthcoming opening of the revived Brora distillery, Diageo will be releasing three historic whiskies called Brora Triptych from this legendary name. Interested? Of course you are!

The whisky world pricked up its collective ears when it heard that Diageo was rebuilding the cult Brora and Port Ellen distilleries back in 2017. We’ve eagerly followed the progress since on the blog and this May, a year later than originally planned, Brora will once again be operational for the first time since 1983. Release the party poppers!

Brora Distillery

Brora is reborn! We can’t wait to visit

As you might expect, Diageo is celebrating in style with the launch of three extremely fancy bottlings, called Brora Triptych, which will be available mid-May to coincide with the opening of the distillery. Only 300 are available. The trio consists of:

Elusive Legacy 

At 48-years-old this is the oldest public release from Brora made up of casks from 1972. Very little whisky was produced at this time so this is doubly rare. The tasting note describes it as: “Warm chestnut in colour, there is a delicate aroma which blends wood spice with hints of peach tarte tatin, amidst a powerful rich maltiness”. Bottled at 42.8% ABV

Age of Peat 

A 43-year old-smoky expression made up of whiskies distilled in 1977. It represents a time between 1972 and 1980 when Brora switched to heavily-peated whiskies to meet soaring demand from blends. It’s described as: “Intensely deep and golden, this expression is elegant on the nose with creamy vanilla invigorated by freshly-cut green apples and hints of beeswax, before a long, sweet finish of peat -fired smokiness.” Bottled at 48.6% ABV.

Timeless Original 

A 38-year-old from 1982, the last full year of production, when Brora had returned to its traditional lightly-peated style. The tasting note says: “Glowing yellow gold in hue, sherberty lemon peel, and a touch of fresh green grass dance on the nose.” Bottled at 47.5% ABV.

Brora Triptych

Brora Triptych, note fancy packaging

Master blender Dr Craig Wilson commented: “These are some of our very last precious relics from a Brora of bygone age. Each one represents a moment in time at the distillery and tasting these superb whiskies is to be part of a special moment in history. When selecting the casks for these rare bottlings, we wanted to celebrate  those distinct characteristics that define Brora, and those that we seek to uphold as we begin a new chapter in its story.”

The distillery reopens in May

The three will be sold as a trio in some seriously fancy packaging with an equally hefty price tag of £30,000, and they’re only 50cl bottles. But that does include an invite to visit the distillery when it reopens and be shown around by master blender and Brora native Stewart Bowman who was heavily involved in the distillery rebirth. 

Stewart Bowman

Looking every inch the Scottish country gent, it’s Stewart Bowman

He comments: “The stories of Brora are woven into my own history and I am honoured to soon be able to share these stories with others. My father was an ‘old hand’ at the distillery, and I grew up in the village with the top of the distillery’s bell-tower visible from our kitchen window. In the years after Brora’s closure, I remember my father showing me the old cask ledgers and the records of those final casks distilled in 1983 and asking if Brora would return one day. It fills me with great pride that 38 years after the doors of Brora closed, more casks will now be filled, and we will be able to welcome people once again to this special place. It is our commitment that we will do justice to the Brora of old and hope to welcome visitors to our restored home as soon as that is possible. In the Brora Triptych, we aimed to celebrate the great whisky styles of the past for which Brora is known.”

We will be reporting (virtually, sadly) from the reopening of Brora in mid-May, and there will be further news coming on when and where you can get hold of these extremely rare whiskies. 

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Master of Malt tastes: Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series

This week we’re revelling in a gloriously aged single malt from an Islay exemplar. Say hello to Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series! It’s a truth universally acknowledged that…

This week we’re revelling in a gloriously aged single malt from an Islay exemplar. Say hello to Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series!

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the mail is a highlight of any given lockdown day. Last week, a truly intriguing parcel arrived. I’d put my name down for a Bowmore Twitter Tasting (keep your eyes peeled this Thursday evening!), but what I held in my hands was a whole host of deliciousness from the Islay distillery all bundled up in one box. One jewel that especially stood out? Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series.

The biggest challenge was keeping the news, the sample and its tastiness quiet until today. And then saving some of the liquid for Thursday’s tasting. Damn you, embargo! TL;DR: this whisky is gorgeous, and I can’t quite believe I get to taste it.

Bowmore ditillery from the air

The beautiful Bowmore Distillery

After all this promise and hyperbole, what actually is it? Bowmore is one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries with a recorded heritage stretching back to 1779. And it’s become something of an Islay icon; its signature balance of tropical fruit, approachable smoke, and a coastal influence has won it fans all over the world. The team at the distillery often talk about how its Warehouse No.1, which sits right against the glimmering expanse of sea known as Loch Indaal, is one of the longest standing maturation warehouses. With the distillery’s storied history such a key theme, it makes sense to group together a range of much older expressions under one banner, and here we have a new expression in the Timeless Series. 

Pleasingly, we get quite a lot of detail about this bottling. The single malt comprises liquid that spent 15 years in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (although at this point we don’t know exactly what type of sherry). Then it was transferred into first-fill Oloroso butts for the remaining 12 years – and this shines through via the gorgeous heap of dried fruit and almond on the nose. It’s then been bottled at cask strength – here that means 52.7% ABV. There are 3,000 bottles available globally, and we’ve got some here at MoM Towers! (Though it may have sold out by the time you read this. In which case, sorry!) At £1,500 a bottle it’s not cheap, but it really is something wonderful. (There’s also a 31yo travel retail exclusive, but you’ll have to keep an eye on Twitter on Thursday evening for more on that!).

The longer you age a whisky, the trickier it can be to achieve that balance between spirit and cask. As Ron Welsh, Bowmore’s master blender puts it: “With Bowmore Timeless Series, the key is the careful selection of the right casks, at the right time.  This enables us to determine when the spirit has reached its peak, or if it should be left longer to develop its character further. This careful balance is vital to ensuring we allow the character of our whiskies to be optimised and can, therefore, promise exceptional flavour delivery.”

Bowmore’s also teamed up with French film director and artist Thomas Vanz to create an audiovisual digital immersion to support the launch of Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series. You can check it out here at bowmore-experience.com!

Tasting Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series

Bowmore 27 Timeless Series and its fancy box

Bowmore 27 Timeless Series and its fancy box

Crucial stuff now: what does it actually taste like? Here are my thoughts:

Appearance: Deep amber 

Nose: Opens with oodles of raisins, sultanas and prunes all wrapped up in marzipan. Then comes the gentle beach bonfire smoke, balanced out with cinnamon and toffee apple vibes. There’s a reminder of the traditional Bowmore tropical fruit too, a suggestion of mango and papaya. Then the smoke gets a smidge more medicinal with time. 

Palate: Hugely mouth-filling, pretty viscous, gently warming. The dried fruit cake elements continue, and they’re joined by just-crushed coffee bean, honey, and cigar smoke elements. Old leather, orange oil, proper vanilla pod, and black cherry come through, too.

Finish: It’s all about that cigar-bonfire hybrid smoke, cracked black pepper, and is reminiscent of seaweed. It’s long and just keeps developing on the palate. 

Overall: Gloriously complex and like smoking the most decadent cigar on a seriously sumptuous sofa in a library filled with dusty books. 

And if that’s not enough, it comes in a really rather fancy sand timer-shaped box. Complete with an actual sand timer. It’s set for three minutes, which is apparently how long you should savour the nose for. I say sit with it for as long as you can. It’s really rather lovely, and getting to taste it has been an enormous luxury, and a true highlight in these monotonous lockdown times. 

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Master of Malt tastes… Masthouse Single Malt Whisky

Something very special has just arrived at MoM towers, the inaugural single malt whisky from the Copper Rivet distillery in Chatham. It’s called Masthouse and we were lucky enough to…

Something very special has just arrived at MoM towers, the inaugural single malt whisky from the Copper Rivet distillery in Chatham. It’s called Masthouse and we were lucky enough to be allowed a little taste. Here’s what we thought…

We visited the Copper Rivet distillery back in 2018 and were extremely impressed by the embryonic whiskies we tried. The quality of the new make was obvious as was knowledge, commitment and sheer enthusiasm of head distiller Abhi Banik. You wouldn’t even have to try his products to know that they were top notch. Though of course we did. The distillery has been selling a young aged malt spirit called Son of Gun as an aperitif for a couple of years alongside Dockyard Gin but now we’re very pleased to announce the arrival of the main course, Masthouse Single Malt Whisky. It’s not Kent’s first single malt, that honour goes to a release from Anno Distillers in Marden earlier this year, but it is the first to be made in any great quantity.

Abhi Banek (right) with his booze-making equipment

Copper Rivet opened in 2016, it is owned by the Russell family and housed in a beautiful Italianate former pump house in Chatham Docks. The team are mad on provenance and transparency so they have come up with their own version of the SWA rules called the Invicta charter. It’s quite long, you can read the whole thing here, but the main points are that grains have to come from within 50 miles of the distillery, all operations after malting but including fermentation must take place under one roof and it includes a system for labelling whisky that is clear to the consumer stating the grains and type of still used. Co-founder Stephen Russell explained: “This is our declaration of the high standards we apply to making whisky so that our customers can trust and appreciate the spirit. Every bottle clearly details the grain variety we use, the name of the field in which the grain was grown and the barrel numbers from which the spirit was taken.”

The charter is not something the Copper Rivet team expects other people to sign up to though it does outline a possible future for regulating the English whisky. Russell explained, however, that he wanted to keep the flexibility enjoyed by this young industry: “Among the most significant differences between Scotch and English whisky is that England’s whisky distillers are not bound to using only certain types of casks and stills. So we have a big opportunity to be creative and innovative in the way we bring flavour through.” The distillery has produced a video featuring Banek explaining things further.

So let’s get onto Masthouse, the inaugural single malt whisky. It’s a single harvest, 2016, single estate spirit; all the barley was grown on the Isle of Sheppey, about 15 miles from the distillery. The variety used is Belgravia. It’s malted off-site, then at the mashing stage, Banek wants a very clear wort. “A clear wort makes a fruitier spirit. With a cloudy wort you get lots of nutty flavours which I don’t want,” he told us when we visited. For fermentation, “we use two different yeasts, and use half the quantity you’re supposed to use so that we have a slow fermentation.” The wash was pot-distilled and matured in ex-bourbon and virgin American white oak barrels before bottling at 45% ABV with no filtering. There’s a full tasting note below but what is immediately apparent is the delightful fruitiness of that new make. It’s youthful but in no way overpowered by the wood. In fact, there is already quite a bit of complexity. As Russell put it: “With Masthouse whisky we aim to go over the top in our quest to produce a fascinating and elegant whisky which competes with the best from around the world on flavour and quality.” I think they have achieved their aim.

When we visited back in 2018, we also tasted some aged column malt and grain spirits of extremely high quality. These will be released within the next 12-24 months. At some point, when there is more aged stock we hope there might be a blended whisky and the Invicta charter does allow for the release of whiskies blended from more than one distillery, which is really exciting. 

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Apple and peachy fruit with cereal notes like malt and oats, with vanilla, cinnamon, marzipan, and a lift of lemon peel.

Palate: Creamy, with a full cereal texture, some peppery alcohol, you can feel the ABV. Smooth and round with porridge, chocolate digestive biscuits and that citrus peel note again.  

Finish: Vanilla comes through strongly with oatcakes and custard. 

Overall: Young but by no means raw or uncomplex. It’s smooth as hell and packed with flavour.

Copper Rivet Masthouse is available from Master of Malt while stocks last.

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Whisky Advent 2020 Day #4: Darkness 8 Year Old

Time to wind down the week with another delicious dram as we open door number four of the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar. Today, we have a delightfully…

Time to wind down the week with another delicious dram as we open door number four of the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar. Today, we have a delightfully sherried single malt…

We’re a sixth of the way through our calendar already! As always, the first week of advent is whizzing by. Today we have Darkness, a delicious sherried single malt and not the guys we hear every year blaring through the radio at a rather high pitch… Anyway, back to the whisky,  Darkness seems an apt inclusion this time of year, as daylight continues to lose ground as we head toward the winter solstice, and of course, Christmas, because this whisky boasts such an array of warming festive flavours. 

For those of you familiar with Darkness you may remember that it began life as a range of quality limited edition whiskies. Darkness 8 Year Old builds upon this quality, delivering a fantastically dark coloured, unapologetic sherried single malt, which, best of all, is a permanent expression. That rich sherry character is the result of octave sherry casks, which as their name suggests are an eighth of the size of a regular-sized cask.

We spoke to Darkness’ brand manager Jen Ghosh so she could explain more. 

Master of Malt: Where does the name Darkness come from? 

Jen Ghosh: The connotation of a whisky’s colour is a well-versed conversation. For some whiskies, darkness can be deceptive (thanks to the SWA sanctioned use of e150 caramel colouring) whilst truth can be found in the darkness of others. Our Darkness is a high definition sherried single malt; it’s non-chill filtered and a deep, rich, dark natural colour that is truly worthy of its name. 

MoM: Tell us why Darkness focuses on Octave Sherry casks. 

JG: Darkness has a long history, an obsession almost, of experimentation with octave cask maturation. Maturing in these smaller vessels meant more wood contact but also more evaporation and losses but we discovered the resulting intensity of flavour a fair trade-off for sacrificing 8% to the angel’s share. We believe there’s an unrivalled depth and richness to savour here that can only be achieved by the alchemy of oxygen and oak that occurs in the octave cask.

MoM: Darkness used to be limited edition, will we see those types of bottles again? 

JG: Yes, you can see them right now on Master of Malt. We’ve just released a new collection of limited editions. Some, like our two Ardbegs (one 14, one 24 year old) or our delicious youthful surprise Benriach 6-year-old, were instant sellouts. Every limited release has been carefully selected and achieved all we expected and hoped with the intense period of octave maturation.

MoM: What does 2021 hold for Darkness?

JG: We’ll be bringing drinkers on our maturation journey with us through unique tasting experiences, exploring the richness and depth of flavour that only the octave cask can provide. You can expect more limited editions, we’ve been giving our signature octave cask maturation to some delicious single malts – from the return of our sold-out-success Benriach and new bottlings on the horizon with an Irish single malt, Dalmore and more.

MoM: What’s your favourite Christmas song?

JG: Shakin’ Stevens is ageing well – Merry Christmas Everyone!

MoM: Santa or Father Christmas? 

JG: Father Christmas brings cosy nights by the fire. Santa screams mess and mayhem. It will depend on how Christmas Eve goes!

Whisky Advent 2020 Day #4: Darkness 8 Year Old

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Candied orange peels, chocolate peanuts, cooking spice warmth and some dried cherry.

Palate: Amaretti biscuits, subtly toasty hints, powerful raisin and prune, just a touch of earthy oak lingers.

Finish: Slightly oily with a hint of smoke, though chocolatey hints persist.

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Master of Malt tastes… Glenfarclas 60 year old single cask

We got to have a taste of one of the most impressive and exciting whisky releases of the year. A 60-year-old single cask whisky from Glenfarclas Distillery. It’s every bit…

We got to have a taste of one of the most impressive and exciting whisky releases of the year. A 60-year-old single cask whisky from Glenfarclas Distillery. It’s every bit as good as it sounds. And we’re getting some.

The year 1959 did not start well for Glenfarclas. At 2 am on New Year’s Day workers at the distillery discovered that the stillman had forgotten to open a valve on the wash still. You see, he’d overindulged a tad in the festivities, and that error had catastrophic consequences. When the valve was finally opened, the heat and volume of liquid broke the spirit safe, and boiling alcohol escaped everywhere. 

Fire hoses stopped the alcohol igniting, thankfully, but most of the wash had to be replaced. The insurance company suggested that perhaps closing over the Christmas period in the future, before presumably asking themselves why they’d ever taken on a booze factory as a client. Glenfarclas took the advice and 1959 was the last time the Speysiders distilled and filled on Christmas Day. 

While 1959 didn’t kick-off in the finest of fashions, it was a record production year for Glenfarclas. A new farm steading was completed that summer and work began on a new stillhouse to increase the number of stills from two to four, effectively doubling production by 1961. Before that was completed, one particular batch of whisky was distilled and placed in a first-fill oloroso sherry hogshead on the 2nd of June 1959. It remained there in the brand’s dunnage warehouse until November 2019, when it was bottled at 40.9% ABV.

Glenfarclas 60 Year Old

Behold, Glenfarclas 60 Year Old!

That whisky is the Glenfarclas 60 Year Old I sampled on Friday in the presence of sales director George Grant and production manager Callum Fraser, who hosted a virtual tasting from Warehouse 1 at the distillery. Just 105 precious bottles of this UK exclusive (until it’s inevitably flipped all over the world) have been made available, although, as Grant pointed out, we’re “bloody lucky to get 105”. Each one is made from hand-blown Glencairn Crystal and the gift boxes are produced by NEJ Stevenson, so it’s got all the luxury trimmings you’d expect for a whisky of this age.

Expectation is part of the territory when you release a whisky that’s been aged for six decades. First comes the excitement. I had to check I hadn’t accidentally started daydreaming when I got the invitation through to this tasting. This is whisky from the last cask left from 1959, for goodness sake. Then comes the intrigue. What happens to Glenfarclas distillate after all that time in the cask? Has the cask overwhelmed the spirit or created something truly special? 

Usually, you’d also expect a dram to show how the production process changed over sixty years. With Glenfarclas, however, there’s less to learn, because it has a well-established reputation for doing things differently. It has been owned by the Grant family since 1865, with over six generations handling the reins, making it one of the few independent family firms left. It heats its stills using direct fire as it has always done, believing that it adds weight to the distillate, and works with just one cooper in Jerez, Miguel Martin, to source its ex-Oloroso butts and hogsheads, all made from European oak. The whisky is stored in traditional dunnage warehouses and is only ever released at natural colour, often with an age statement and little in the way of marketing.

Glenfarclas 60 Year Old

Glenfarclas is known for its no-nonsense approach and commitment to sherry casks

All this means that Glenfarclas fans know what to expect when they indulge in the brand’s whisky: elegant, refined and sherry-tastic tipples. When it came to this tasting, I was of a similar mind.

Happily, I wasn’t disappointed. This is a stonking good whisky. It’s got all of the presence, weight and complexity you’d expect for a dram this age, but with a delightful vibrancy. The cask oozes noble, sherried goodness throughout and there’s still plenty of hallmark Glenfarclas characteristics to savour. I could have spent a fortnight just nosing it. It’s a real shame to think there will be bottles of this not opened in the name of flipping and collecting. It deserves to be shared and savoured.

It’s on its way to MoM Towers so keep an eye out on the New Arrivals page. However, as you’ve probably guessed, a whisky of this status has a price tag to match, close £20,000. You might have to live vicariously through the tasting note with this one…

Glenfarclas 60 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: Initially there’s Dundee cake, marmalade spread on soda bread, dark chocolate and dusty leather-bound books with a hint of sweet peat in the backdrop. Heaps of dried fruit as well as nectarines, blackcurrant coulis and apricot jam emerge, then thick molasses, drying Oloroso elements, sweet tobacco, clove, spent matches and warm gingerbread. 

Palate: Through a spark of woody tannins, some heathery smoke and a sight earthy funk comes some umami flavours of cured game, rancio, cigar ash and dried herbs which compliment citrus notes – lime peel and more marmalade – as well as red apples, Medjool dates, sour berries and an array of stewed black fruits. There’s an oily nuttiness present throughout along with ginger root, vintage cola, liquefied liquorice, bitter chocolate and a hint of Madeira cake.

Finish: Drying and bittersweet with tart dark fruit, marzipan, Earl Grey tea, menthol tobacco and just a hint of gingernut biscuits.

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Master of Malt Tastes… Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt

It’s been a long wait, but Israel’s first single malt whisky from Milk & Honey has finally arrived. Does it live up to expectations? We find out. When I asked Milk & Honey’s…

It’s been a long wait, but Israel’s first single malt whisky from Milk & Honey has finally arrived. Does it live up to expectations? We find out.

When I asked Milk & Honey’s distiller Tomer Goren how he felt about launching Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt, the Israeli distillery’s first whisky, his response was exactly what you imagine. “It feels great, we have waited for a long time and it is great to finally be able to taste, share and talk about our whisky. We are very proud of our initial outcome and for sure climb higher mountains in the future”. 

It’s a proud moment for any distillery. Launching your first whisky is like watching your child leave for the first day of school. You’re excited and anxious in equal measure, desperate for everything to go well. However, this day could have come much sooner for Milk & Honey. Before it was founded, there were no whisky distilleries in Israel. That means no regulation or rules anything like what, say Scotch whisky, has to follow.

The brand, however, resisted naming any of its releases ‘whisky’ until now, opting to name its previous expression ‘Young Single Malt Aged Spirit’ instead. “We try to make the best quality single malt whisky we can and want it to sit alongside with other international brands, so we decided to follow the Scotch Whisky Regulations,” Goren explains. “It is a big challenge to be the pioneer of the industry in Israel with no knowledge or regulation to follow. So, even though the hot and humid climate causes fast maturation, we still waited at least three years before calling our expression whisky”.

Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt

Introducing: Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt

The climate (winter doesn’t dip below 16°C, summer highs can top 40°C and humidity is in the 50-90% range) poses quite the challenge. The extent of the angel’s share and the risk of the cask influence being too extreme means long maturation is pretty much out of the question for Milk & Honey. As such, most of the whiskies in Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt are 3-4 years old.

Maturation took place in ex-bourbon casks (about 75% of the whisky), shaved, toasted and re-charred red wine-seasoned STR casks (about 20%) and virgin oak casks (less than 5%). “The ex-bourbon casks that bring vanilla sweetness, caramel and honey and our special red-wine STR casks that bring spiciness and fruitiness and a lot of colour. There is also a touch of virgin oak that gives the whisky depth and oaky notes,” Goren explained.

We’re not going into the production process or history of Milk & Honey here, because we’ve already said pretty much everything there is to be said about the distillery. Both Henry and Kristy reached the same conclusion: Milk & Honey is a promising, intriguing and experimental distillery. Tasting the brand’s first single malt, you’d expect to taste a whisky that reflects this approach. We’re sampling the result of an extreme climate, which isn’t just affected by heat but also the location of the casks (some are matured on the shores of the Dead Sea) and witnessing how this impacts the new-make, which Kristy described as being “surprisingly soft, bursting with pear, apple and green grain notes”. We’re also tasting an unadulterated whisky, which was bottled without chill-filtration at 46% ABV.

Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt

Milk & Honey is Israel’s first and biggest whisky distillery

We’re also tasting history. Which makes this all rather exciting. While we love that there is a vast array on whisky to enjoy in the present day, the consequence of this is that there is a fair amount of spirit being created using similar production processes in similar conditions and matured in similar barrels. This is not one of those drams.

Goren says that stylistically, the brand wanted its first release to be a “whisky for everyone, something well-balanced and welcoming”. It’s certainly gone down well in the arena of award shows, picking up a multitude of medals already. While Goren says it’s great to get recognition, he remarks that it is just as good to get feedback from people in the industry and from worldwide consumers. “It is easy to fall in love with what you do, so it is better to get outside recognition to see that you are on the right track”. 

Which brings us nicely on to the review of Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt. It’s a very pleasant sipper. There’s a lot going on, with distillery and cask character in abundance. I recommend you give it a little time to breathe and you’ll be rewarded with an array of flavour. It does lack some integration, harnessing that swift maturation speed is going to be an on-going process, but it’s a drinkable, distinctive dram and a strong foundation to build on. I poured a couple more drams after I’d finished my tasting, which is always a good sign. I also realised I’d written down ‘honey’ as a description a couple of times, which is very pleasing. Here’s the full tasting note:

Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt

Milk & Honey Classic Single Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: There are aromas of caramel flapjacks, dark chocolate, lemon shortbread and vanilla initially, with notes of summer flowers, orange zest and Manuka honey drizzled on porridge in support. Some really interesting fruity notes add depth – predominantly gooseberries, melon and drying red grape skins – among hints of marzipan and a little nutmeg.

Palate: Oak and spice make much more of an impact on the palate, with barrel char, polished wood, black pepper and prickles of cinnamon and clove making their mark. It’s less integrated than the nose but full of interesting and enjoyable flavours: red apple, creamy barley, Werther’s Originals and milk chocolate then beeswax, salty and sweet popcorn, red berries. 

Finish: Some of the spice remains but the finish is a little sweeter, with hints of vanilla, boiled orange sweets and a bit of honey and almond granola.

Milk and Honey Classic Single Malt is available from Master of Malt

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How your taxes help small distillers

Ever fancied investing in a small distillery? Well, you might not realise it but you already have. Through various regional development funds, taxpayers’ money has been pouring into the drinks…

Ever fancied investing in a small distillery? Well, you might not realise it but you already have. Through various regional development funds, taxpayers’ money has been pouring into the drinks sector. Ian Buxton takes a closer look at what we are getting for our hard-earned cash.

Do you, in economic terms, favour more of a New Keynesian approach to government expenditure or do you lean towards Ayn Rand’s Objectivist view? Or, to put this in terms more immediately relevant to a drinks blog, do you believe that new distillery start-ups should be funded with taxpayers’ (i.e. yours and mine) money? Perhaps you’ve never thought about it, or perhaps you didn’t know but across the UK many of the new boutique distilleries that have been springing up in recent years have benefited from the largesse of our public sector. 

There are, of course, any number of ways of financing a distillery project. The promoters may be in the fortunate position of having all the necessary capital themselves in which case there’s no need for outside finance. Or they could seek angel investors, or borrow from a bank or other lender, or turn to crowdfunding. That’s been an increasingly popular route: from Burleigh’s Gin to Salcombe Distilling; Cotswolds to Glen Wyvis and Nc’nean to Sliabh Liag examples abound of enterprising entrepreneurs tapping a worldwide and growing community of drinks enthusiasts willing to back new distilling projects. And not just for small beer – some of these projects have raised over £1m from their backers, most of them hoping for a Sipsmith-style payday sometime in the future when the nascent brand attracts the greedy attention of an industry giant seeking some craft credibility.

Nc’nean distillery – you helped pay for this

But there’s another route open to the ambitious promoters of a new business, particularly in Scotland or some of England and Wales’ less prosperous areas. Here the secret is to find the relevant local economic development agency and plead your case for support. Their backing could come in the form of equity (i.e. a share of the business) or more probably a soft loan, outright grant or support for specialist consultants to help develop your business. There’s quite a lot of free money out there if you know where to look and if you don’t, an army of consultants are all too willing to help.

Unlike a venture capitalist, such an agency is not risking its own money. On the contrary, the business enterprise network is funded by the public purse; that’s to say from the taxes, on both income and consumption, which you (hopefully) have been paying, more or less willingly. Most, of course, pays for the schools, hospitals, roads, welfare system, defence and so on that we all rely on but a modest percentage finds its way to the enterprise agency network and a smaller part of that builds distilleries.

So what is the case that they can make for the cash? It’s hardly a capacity argument. The UK has more than adequate production volumes to make all the gin and whisky we need and it would be hard to argue a strategic requirement for making spirits – they’re hardly a coronavirus vaccine, tempting though the thought might be.

No, the magic words that unlock the loot appear to be job creation, tourism or exports – or, better still, a combination of all three. As their name suggests, development agencies are seeking to promote economic regeneration in their local area. Thus the boom in craft spirits and distillery tourism is seen as a lever to create sustainable businesses that attract visitors, creating employment for local people who spend their new wages locally, thus creating more employment in the immediate area. It’s a classic Keynsian multiplier effect and considerable numbers of new distilleries have benefited.

Holyrood Distillery manager Jack Mayo peers into a still

To take a few examples at random, Scottish Enterprise has put funding of various types into Isle of Harris Distillers, Nc’nean, The Clydeside Distillery, Holyrood Distillery and a number of others. The recently opened Annandale Distillery was helped to get off the ground with financial assistance from Historic Scotland and the Scottish Government through a Regional Selective Assistance grant and later enjoyed additional support from Interface, another agency funded by the public sector. As a leading Scottish accountancy practice Johnston Carmichael puts it, the “Scottish Government [is] very supportive, [via] Scotland Food & Drink [and] Scottish Enterprise Investor Ready assistance with business planning costs and other costs”. Their professional recommendation: “Max out on free money!” [That’s an actual quote from Johnston Carmichael.]

But the support doesn’t stop at Hadrian’s Wall. Situated in the Peak District National Park the tiny Forest Distillery were backed by Cheshire East Council’s Economic Development Service and went on to collect two separate double-gold medals at the San Francisco Spirit Awards. And from England’s south coast another example: a beneficiary of the Isle of Wight Rural Fund, HMS Victory Navy Strength Gin recently collected the ‘Best in Category International Navy Strength Gin’ accolade in the American Distilling Institute’s Spirit Competition.

However, it can be tough surviving in the global drinks industry and prospering is even more demanding. So, as it’s our money they’re handing out, let’s hope our civil servants are backing winners. Regardless of where you might place yourself on the political spectrum we can all drink to that!

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Jim Swan: a legacy of style

With the arrival (and swift departure) of the much-anticipated first single malt from Nc’nean, we thought it a good idea to look at the legacy of the man who consulted…

With the arrival (and swift departure) of the much-anticipated first single malt from Nc’nean, we thought it a good idea to look at the legacy of the man who consulted for the distillery before his death in 2017, Jim Swan. Ian Buxton looks back at one of the most influential people in modern whisky and ask whether there is such a thing as a Jim Swan style.

As many readers will know Dr Jim Swan, hailed as ‘the Einstein of whisky’ and arguably one of the most important figures in distilling engineering and design since J.A. Nettleton (author of The Manufacture of Whisky and Plain Spirit, published in 1913 and probably the single most influential technical book on whisky ever published, in case you didn’t know), died in February 2017. He’s far from forgotten, though, and with a number of the whiskies he was involved in creating now coming to the market, I thought it timely to look at his legacy and ask if there is such a thing as a Jim Swan style. First, though, a brief reminder of his exceptional career.

Starting in 1974 with the forerunners of today’s Scotch Whisky Research Institute he collaborated closely with more than twenty Scotch whisky distilleries. It was a unique ‘apprenticeship’ and introduction to the industry which is probably unrivalled and, during this period, working with Sheila Burtles, Paul Rickards and George Shortreed (the latter two both highly-regarded blenders), he developed the original flavour wheel. If he had done nothing else, he would be remembered for this alone.

In 1993, he became an owner-partner in R.R. Tatlock and Thomson, the well-known technical consultancy and, in 2002, branched out on his own to offer his services to spirit producers worldwide. And he was in high demand.  From Scotland to Taiwan, Israel to Latin America, he criss-crossed the globe trouble-shooting, advising new distilleries and cooperages (he was, above all, an expert on every aspect of wood) and serving on leading competition judging panels.  His clients – those that can be mentioned, because the work was often commercially sensitive – are a roll-call of the most distinguished companies across the spirits industry.

Dr Jim Swan (right) with Ian Cheung from Kavalan in Taiwan

But where Jim Swan will be particularly remembered is in his work over the past twenty years for new world and craft distilleries, notably Kavalan. Shortly before he moved on from that company I asked their then master distiller Ian Chang to assess Jim’s influence. “We will all be forever grateful and in awe of him” he said, adding that: “He drove the creation of a second wave, a New World in the world of whisky. He pushed the frontiers of whisky production right across the world. He opened up an industry that many people thought was untouchable and he innovated and adapted and created new philosophies. He used his decades of research and his sharp mind and flexible thinking in each project and in this way, he has deepened and enriched the entire world’s knowledge, understanding and appreciation of whisky.”

Others happily agreed. According to Cotswolds‘ head of production Nick Franchino “Jim will be viewed as someone who helped change the public perception of whisky and how to make it. His pioneering production methodology enables distilleries to greatly reduce the number of years it takes to create a wonderful whisky, allowing new and exciting distilleries to enter the industry and create a wider choice of high quality whiskies.” As to a style, Franchino had this to say: “His methodology was to create a fruit forward, clean spirit and so there will be that similarity between distilleries that he worked with. However, we all have different stills and local conditions for production and maturation, so there will be welcome variations between us all too.”

From Canada’s Victoria Caledonian Distillery, founder and whisky maker Graeme Macaloney paid generous tribute to Swan, crediting him with “creating a cadre of non-Scotch single malt producers who are making single malts in the traditional Scotch style which are as good as or even better than most single malt Scotches. In the long term, I hope this will lead those Scotch distilleries who make an acceptable but not stellar single malt to realise they will need to ‘up their game’ if they wish to contribute to Scotch’s domination of the global single malt market.”

Milk & Honey

Casks maturing at another Jim Swan-influenced distillery, Milk & Honey in Israel

While Anthony Wills at Kilchoman agrees that a Swan style can be discerned, he made a further important point: “Jim liked up-front fruit character with the new make and as far as I’m aware all the new distilleries he worked with had this character. This allowed for the whisky to mature relatively quickly if put into good quality wood.”

Now, Jim Swan was an acknowledged authority on cask selection. We were both involved in the early evaluation of the mature stock at Glenglassaugh when this changed hands and I vividly recall him assessing this as “undoubtedly gold medal winning”. Entered for the 2009 IWSC awards the whiskies we tasted that day collected the top trophies for both 30 and 40 Year Old single malt and the special IWSC 40th anniversary trophy – remarkable achievements for a then largely-forgotten distillery and a small testimony to Jim’s unerring nose for quality.

His early work on wood chemistry helped unravel how different parts of the oak tree contribute to flavour. In particular, he was a pioneer and advocate of STR (shaved, toasted and recharred) red wine casks seen at many of his consulting clients, such as Kilchoman, Annandale, Kingsbarns, Nc’nean, Cotswolds, Penderyn, Kavalan and Israel’s Milk & Honey

Lindores Abbey Distillery

Swan’s final job, Lindores Abbey distillery

Graeme Macaloney describes it as having “a style of its own whereby the heat-treated red-wine-saturated cask sweetens the wine through a natural caramelisation process yielding variously caramel, toffee, butter-scotch or other similarly related notes”. The innovative use of a previously under-exploited cask type was a trademark Swan innovation and undoubtedly something that he will be associated with long into the future.

Jim Swan’s final project was with Lindores where, fittingly, the records of Scotch whisky distilling begin. Co-founder Andrew McKenzie Smith remembers him thus: “his in-depth knowledge of maturation, his massive success with Kavalan (and others) will be long remembered as will his modesty in an industry not overly populated by modest, shy and retiring people.” He went one to say: “He was a genuinely nice man, a gentleman indeed,” and Graeme Macaloney remembers “an inspiration and amazing coach when it comes to making great whiskies, and a true gentleman and scholar, yet very humble.” What finer legacy might anyone wish for?

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New Arrival of the Week: Highland Park Cask Strength

There’s never been a cask strength Highland Park in the core range… until now. As a load of 63.3% ABV Orkney single malt arrives at MoM towers, we caught up…

There’s never been a cask strength Highland Park in the core range… until now. As a load of 63.3% ABV Orkney single malt arrives at MoM towers, we caught up with brand ambassador Martin Markvardsen to find out more.

Martin Markvardsen has had an interesting journey into whisky. He was in the Danish Navy when he was bitten by the whisky bug and decided that he had to move to Scotland to learn more: “The only way I could learn more about whisky was actually to take some time off from the navy and then I went over to Scotland to work at different distilleries.” He eventually left the navy, managed World of Whiskies in Copenhagen Airport and then took over the whisky bar at the legendary The Craigellachie Hotel up in Speyside.  By this time he was already a massive Highland Park fan: “When I was working at Craigellachie Hotel, it was probably the only bar in Scotland that had the same ‘malt of the month’ for four or five months because that was the Highland Park 18 and I loved it!”

Martin Markvardsen, bet the Scots are glad he didn’t turn up 1200 years ago

Someone at the Edrington Group noticed Markvardsen’s enthusiasm and 15 years ago he became a brand ambassador for Highland Park. It makes perfect sense for a Dane to get the job because the Orkney Islands, the home of Highland Park, have such a strong Nordic culture, as he explained: “I think it was very easy for me to fit into the role about being the face of Highland Park, being a Dane, and having the natural Viking soul as we talk about at Highland Park. But also I think it was probably easier for me to understand the culture in Orkney than most other people.” 

The distillery is firmly rooted in the islands’ culture and landscape as Markvardsen explained: “We are one of the last remaining distilleries in Scotland still to do the floor malting. The climate up there when we do the maltings, the humidity and these kinds of things have an effect on the barley. The Orkney peat from Hobbister, where we get our peat from, is nowhere else to be found in Scotland at the same quality and the same content in the peat. We tried many, many years ago to use peat from the mainland but it didn’t really work for us. It changed the flavour in the whisky.” 

The climate also affects the maturation of the whisky according to Markvardsen: “When you look at the climate on Orkney compared to the rest of Scotland, we never have very, very low temperatures, like frost or snow but we definitely don’t have warm summers either, like they can have in Speyside and so on. That makes a difference in the maturation as well, very slow and very paced maturation.”

The distillery at dusk

Then we came on to the reason for our phone call, the new cask strength expression: “It’s something we wanted to do for a long time and we had a few cask strengths on the market in the past but we’ve never had cask strength in our core range,” Markvardsen explained. “The strength might change from batch to batch but the first batch that will come out now is 63.3% ABV and it’s an absolute cracker. It’s a non-aged statement but if you know the spirits of Gordon Motion, our master whisky maker, we know that it’s not a young whisky, it’s full flavour. I’m actually sitting here with a sample in front of me and it’s amazing how it develops after a few minutes in the glass”.

It’s aged predominately in American oak, a mixture of sherry and refill casks. Markvardsen told us: “It’s extremely easy to drink and even at full strength, which I’m probably not allowed to say, it’s extremely gentle to the palate and I would say the American oak sherry casks that we’ve used here will give it this fruitiness and smoothness that that Highland Park is known for. It’s definitely not a heavy sherry product.”

Talking to Markvardsen, you can see why Highland Park snapped him up, his enthusiasm is infectious. He finished up by saying what he loves most about this new cask strength bottling: “Here we can give people a choice to enjoy the whisky exactly the way they want. If they want to have a huge kick with the high alcohol, we will let them do that. And for a lot of people that never made it to Orkney, this is the closest they can get to come in and take a sample from the cask.” A whisky that transports, just what we need in these peculiar times. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Wafts of sweet peat and brown sugar simmering in a pan, with jammy sultana and buttered crumpet in the background.

Palate: Ginger, nutmeg, heather honey, apricot and orange oil. Continued smoke builds, introducing earthy spices later on.

Finish: Warming peppery notes and a lingering hint of caramelised nuts.

Highland Park Cask Strength is available from Master of Malt

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Five minutes with… Dr Nick Savage at Bladnoch Distillery

When it comes to Scotch whisky staying power, Bladnoch has it by the bucket load. The Lowland distillery has a whopping 203 years of near-continuous operation under its belt, – and…

When it comes to Scotch whisky staying power, Bladnoch has it by the bucket load. The Lowland distillery has a whopping 203 years of near-continuous operation under its belt, – and you better believe it’s primed and ready for 200 more. As the ink dries on a new distribution partnership with S.E.A Spirits, we took five with Dr Nick Savage, master distiller at Scotland’s most southerly whisky distillery…

Bladnoch distillery was founded in 1817 by the McClelland brothers, who were among the first in Scotland to acquire a license to make Scotch whisky. Some 198 years later – and around five years after it had been mothballed – the site was bought Australian entrepreneur David Prior, who set about returning the distillery to its former glory.

A little over a year later, in late 2016, Bladnoch Distillery officially relaunched, introducing three brand new expressions created from existing stocks by then-master distiller Ian MacMillan: a NAS dram named Samsara, along with 15-year-old Adela and 25-year-old Talia (now available as both a 26 and 27-year-old whisky). They were soon followed by contemporary blended bottling, Pure Scot.

After a mammoth re-fit that saw Bladnoch fitted with a five-tonne mash tun, six Douglas Fir wooden washbacks, two 12,500-litre capacity pot stills and two 9,500-litre spirit stills – enabling an annual distilling capacity of 1.5 million litres – the distillery celebrated its 200th anniversary year by restarting production. Liquid ran off the stills at Bladnoch once more.

In mid 2019, Bladnoch’s state-of-the-art visitor centre was opened by the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay – a.k.a Prince Charles and Camilla – joined by Dr Nick Savage, as he stepped away from his role as master distiller at The Macallan to join the team. With year one under his belt, we caught up with Dr Savage to find out what’s been happening at the distillery…

Dr Nick Savage in the blending room

Master of Malt: Cheers for chatting with us, Nick! Could you tell us a little bit about how you started out in the whisky industry?

Nick Savage: I did a PhD in mechanical engineering out in Melbourne in Australia, came back and lived in Sheffield looking for factory work. I was looking for something I’d enjoy. If you enjoy it, you’ll take an interest in it, and if you’re interested, everything else takes care of itself. There was an advert for optimising whisky casks and God bless all my friends, they all like whisky and they said, ‘You’ve got to try that’ – just for the perks, I can imagine. It was with Diageo, they were looking for a mechanical engineer to look at trying to reduce Angel’s share, the lifecycle of casks, how thin you can make them, and also the general design. We got a couple of patents out of that in the end. It wasn’t necessarily that I went to study to be a master distiller or anything involved in whisky – it was much more across technical skills. And then you’re immersed in the industry, the people who surround you and your customers, so to speak, they bring you in. My first manager was Jim Beveridge at Johnnie Walker. You end up on sensory panels, and you start off by nosing, and it evolves from there. You learn from the people around you. And then it was more about covering off as many parts of the industry as I possibly could, I guess. Which is how I ended up here. 

MoM: You joined Bladnoch in July 2019. Could you talk about the decision to leave one of the world’s most popular Scotch whisky producers for a recently-regenerated historical distillery?

NS: That decision wasn’t taken lightly, as you can imagine. If it had been a new build distillery then it wouldn’t have even been a question. But this came with opportunity, it’s got all the credentials to be a successful luxury single malt – 200 years’ history, stock, a beautiful estate, a great team and great brands. It had all the building blocks of a successful brand, which was one criteria. The second criteria I looked at was, ‘How am I going to do the role?’. I’ve been in Diageo, Grants, Edrington, I’ve operated with the big brands and the big corporates. This was an opportunity for me to stretch myself in a much more entrepreneurial world, higher pace, completely different challenges, and be part of a brand in its infancy rather than at its maturity. It’s a completely different environment to the one I’d been in for the last 10, 15 years. So, it had all the building blocks, and it was the next challenge for me. That’s what drew me to it. And it’s going to be a hell of a journey. 

Bladnoch 10 year old, snazzy packaging

MoM: Have you put your stamp on production in any way, or are you focused on getting into the swing of things and planning ahead for the future? 

NS: Both are key for this type of role. You inherit the stocks, so I’ve gone through each cask. We know where some of the golden nuggets are, and we know where some of the more regular releases will be – the 11 year old, the 14 year old, these are some of the regular releases that are coming out. We’re also able to look at single casks, where we showcase some of the absolute gems and anomalies in the stocks. So, understanding the stocks is one thing. And then also setting the stocks up, that future planning that you spoke about. I’m not going to be in this chair forever, someone’s going to sit in it after me. [Bladnoch] is 200 years old, and it’s going to do another 200 years, no issues. And it’s about what sort of treasure chest you lay down for the future. You’ve got to make sure you hand it over in a better position than you found it, to use a cliché. From a production perspective, getting it much more fine-tuned, more consistent in regards to the operating processes, and working with the team on that. That was the easy bit, being a brand new distillery there’s not much more you can do with it. It’s more about, ‘How can we do something different in the future, two or three years from now? What are the levers in production that we can pull?’. We’ve gone from two thirds capacity to full capacity running over the last few months. That’s a great testament to the team and to the direction of travel of the business, 24/7 production is no mean feat. And to lead the team on that during my first year is a great feather in my cap, so to speak.

MoM: What else has been going on at the distillery that you can tell us about?

NS: Well, the visitor centre opened last year – we had a great plan for this year and then Covid hit, but we managed to reopen in early August, and it’s been brilliant, the demand has been there. All tours are fully booked. It’s great to see people back on the site and enjoying the estate and learning about our whiskies. In amongst all that, we launched products – the 11 year old, the 14 year old,  we launched single casks. That type of stuff takes years in a big corporate, and we’ve done it in the last six months. One of the reasons I moved to a smaller company is that it’s much more flexible and can move a lot faster, and for me, we’re leveraging that asset. We know we can’t do big volume, we can’t do millions of cases. But what we can be is flexible and decisive. We can be honest about our brands and provide that integrity around the stories. We’ve managed to do that regardless of coronavirus, and it’s a great achievement for the team. To put it in the context of the industry, something like less than 10% of [Scotch] distilleries remained in production. We never actually turned off, we reduced for three weeks purely to give an opportunity to our employees [to adjust]. If you want to go on furlough for a three week period, we will offer that. Nothing’s held against anybody and nothing’s praised – it was a very odd time and we appreciated that. As soon as everybody came back, we pretty much went 24/7. And during a time where [so few] distilleries were operational, that’s a massive achievement. 

Bladnoch Distillery, 200 years and still going strong

MoM: What sets Bladnoch apart from other Scotch whisky producers in terms of the resources and equipment you use?

NS: When David purchased the distillery in 2015 it was mothballed and pretty much needed rebuilding inside, so all the kit is new. However, that doesn’t mean it’s all new technology. We have got some screens, but there’s no production room where the computers sort things out, it’s very much done by hand and by eye in a craftsman’s way. Our washbacks are wooden, there’s no stainless steel, no cooling in there. When David embarked on this [project], he was adamant about [inkeeping with] the traditional way of doing things. Buying new equipment doesn’t mean we have to have the latest technology. The water comes straight from Dumfries Hills, it doesn’t necessarily impact the flavour although I do think it’s important that we engage with our local environment as much as we possibly can. For example, we own a portion of the Bladnoch River, and it’s up to us to protect that, working with people like CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science) and the Fisheries Trust. We use that water source, therefore we should be accountable for it.

MoM: Bladnoch’s new make has varied a far bit over its long history. How would you describe the distillery character now?

NS: The flavour and profile are very similar to where it was before mothballed, though it’s slightly fruitier than it was. It’s got that classic Lowland floral grassy note in the background. You’ve got this sweet malty style body, is how I describe it, almost like a biscuit-y note. On top of that, there’s this light, fruity, almost pear drop-style note. So you’ve got pear drops at the top, a big cereal body, and then a subtle grassy floral note just in the background. That allows us to be quite flexible in our cask lay down. We fill 95% first-fill barrels, only because it gives us flexibility for when casks over-perform – you don’t want them too woody, you want a second-fill there. We probably fill in the region of about 40% sherry, whether it’s Oloroso, PX or so forth, and another 40% would be first-fill bourbon. The light, fruity style with a hint of grassiness in the new make allows us to have that as a base by which we can showcase these different cask types and therefore produce different products. An 11 year old is different to a 14 year old – it’s not just an additional three years, it’s a different cask type and style. Whereas if we were very heavily peated, for example, everything is very heavily peated and it’s slightly more difficult to produce different products from one single malt distillery. That excellent new make gives us a really good base to showcase the different casks in the stocks. 

Dr Nick Savage in the stillhouse

MoM: Great stuff. Before you go, could you tell us what you’re working towards over the coming months?

NS: Ironically we’re on our peated campaign for 2020. We’ve got about three weeks of peated, so the distillery is smelling lovely at the minute, even more so than normal. In terms of releases, the 14 year old has absolutely flown, that’s a brand new release and we’ll be doing more in January, I believe. We’ll launch year two of our single cask programme in early 2021. Year one was 2020, we ring-fenced 25 casks in the stocks to be released as single casks, given their unique characters, at a rate of five per year. There are a couple more aged products coming in the same time period – I can’t say too much more on those, but they will showcase a few of our cask types at some higher ages than the 14. We’re also working on a distillery exclusive, which will be a five-year series and should be starting in October or November time. Every year a limited amount of bottles will be released primarily or exclusively through the distillery. Given Coronavirus we might release some on our e-commerce site, as we’re appreciative that not everyone can get to the distillery, but going forward, we’d like to invite everyone to the distillery to collect their bottle.

Try the Bladnoch range at Master of Malt.

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