fbpx
Created by potrace 1.12, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2015

We're just loading our login box for you, hang on!

Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Single Malt Whisky

Missing in action? The forgotten blends

When was the last time you read about Label 5 Scotch whisky? Or William Peel? Or Teacher’s? Ian Buxton looks at the blends that still bring in the money, if…

When was the last time you read about Label 5 Scotch whisky? Or William Peel? Or Teacher’s? Ian Buxton looks at the blends that still bring in the money, if not the column inches. 

Imagine if you will that you live in a fine country house. It’s well-appointed with many delightful rooms, a range of useful outbuildings and extensive grounds. All in all, it’s perfectly agreeable. What’s more, thanks to your aunt’s endowment and some shrewd investments, there’s a steady flow of income to keep the whole place running. The problem is that the old girl’s more than slightly batty so you have to keep her out of the public’s curious view. It’s the classic problem of the mad aunt in the attic and I’ve been thinking about her quite a lot recently. That’s because I’ve been drinking some blended Scotch whiskies and, for an article I’m writing, trying to get the distillers to talk about them. To summarise: they don’t have a lot to say.

Now my email in-box overflows on a daily basis with news of different single malts.  A constant stream of eager PR agencies and their clients vie for your attention with ever more exotic, expensive and esoteric releases of rare single malts. Often they’re limited to a few hundred bottles and, all too frequently, with a price tag running into four figures.

Dewar's White Label

They don’t make adverts like this any more.

They do, of course, provide easy copy for whisky magazines and bloggers and the proud brand manager is more than happy to see the column inches that result. They don’t, however, really mean terribly much in the grand scheme of things – while they’re the glamorous Spitfire pilots of whisky, the blends (the crews from Bomber Command if you want to keep this rather tenuous analogy going) do the grunt work.  They still account for more than 90% of all the Scotch sold around the world and without them, as I never tire of reminding folk, quite a number of single malt distilleries would have shut years ago.

The volumes of some of these brands are quite remarkable.  You know about Johnnie Walker, of course, and probably realise that blends such as Ballantine’s, Grant’s and Chivas Regal still sell impressive quantities (for the record, they each move considerably more than 4 million cases annually – that’s a lot of hooch).  But what about Passport, Buchanan’s, White Horse or Sir Edward’s? Well, any one of those sells more than 1½ million cases, leaving even the best-selling single malt gasping in their wake. 

In fact, brands that have been more or less forgotten on the UK retail scene such as VAT 69 and even Teacher’s still comfortably break the 1 million club barrier. And the ‘value’ brands that grace French supermarket shelves can clock up some remarkable numbers. Label 5 for example, which you’d be forgiven for not calling to mind, is a powerhouse performer selling close to 3 million cases.  Even more remarkably, the William Peel brand does even better.

So what’s the problem?  Why don’t we hear more about these whiskies? Well, some of it is pure snobbery – especially in the UK and US markets, blends are rather looked down on (not least, it has to be said by whisky writers and bloggers). The rot started with one of my personal whisky heroes, the author Aeneas MacDonald, who back in 1930 with his marvellous polemic Whisky (still in print, incidentally, and still well worth reading) chastised blended whisky drinkers as “the swillers, the drinkers-to-get-drunk who have not organs of taste and smell in them but only gauges of alcoholic content, the boozers, the ‘let’s-have-a-spot’ and ‘make it a quick one’ gentry and all the rest who dwell in a darkness”. Other writers have followed his lead.

Dr Jim Beveridge

Softly-spoken and unassuming, Dr Jim Beveridge from Johnnie Walker

Then there’s the undeniable fact that selling lots and lots of the same whisky day after day makes for rather less compelling copy than a stream of new releases.  There’s only so often that story can be written.

But there are stories to tell about blends and blending, even if blenders by inclination seem to be quite a modest breed, preferring the quiet sanctuary of their blending room to the stage at a large public whisky event. To their credit, Diageo did try some years ago to bring blending to the fore, holding a series of educational seminars for trade and media and releasing late in 2012 an elegant and erudite little pamphlet on The Art of Blending.

What’s more, their signature Johnnie Walker blend has proved adept at stealing malt whisky’s PR clothing. For proof, look no further than the recently released John Walker Last Cask.  There are just 330 bottles available worldwide (that’s if the Chinese leave us any, as it’s released there first) at approximately £2,500 each. 

So come on whisky marketers!  Let’s hear it for the engines of whisky’s success!  Let’s hear it for the mad aunt in the attic!

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

No Comments on Missing in action? The forgotten blends

The Nightcap: 9 August

Artificial tongues that can taste whisky? Vodka made from Chernobyl rye? The gin boom is still going?! These aren’t tales from 2054 – these stories all appear in this week’s…

Artificial tongues that can taste whisky? Vodka made from Chernobyl rye? The gin boom is still going?! These aren’t tales from 2054 these stories all appear in this week’s Nightcap!

Behind the scenes sneak peek at how The Nightcap comes together right here: sometimes this intro is written after the all the stories have been finished. Having a look at all the futuristic stuff in this edition of The Nightcap, you might think that time travel is real and MoM Towers has slipped through a dimensional rift and ended up in the year 2054. Stranded and working purely on instinct, we notice on the future calendar it’s a Friday, so we write up a new edition of The Nightcap, regaling the masses with tales of artificial tongues that can taste whisky and spirits made from crops in Chernobyl stories that these future folk see as perfectly normal, but to our minds are wildly out of this world. But it’s not. It’s today and stuff is just becoming more impressive by the day!

So, good people of 2019, what’s been happening on the MoM Blog? Henry kicked off the week with a gem of a rum from the Diamond Distillery for New Arrival of the Week, made a Pink Lady for Cocktail of the Week and spoke to Peter Lynch from WhistlePig about an oloroso-finished rye exclusive to MoM. Annie chatted to Bimber’s founder Dariusz Plazewski about where people can go wrong (and right) when starting a craft distillery, and then asked a very important question to us all: how do you make alcohol-free beer delicious? Guest columnist Nate Brown has opinions about drinks industry folk who RSVP for events then don’t turn up.

We also launched a new competition where you could win a trip down to Deven to visit Salcombe Distilling Co.! Take a look, pick up a bottle of excellent gin, and cross your fingers!

And now, the news of the future today!

Cardhu

How Cardhu will look when it’s been refurbished

Johnnie Walker gets the green light for Cardhu redevelopment

The final piece in the jigsaw is now in place. That jigsaw being Diageo’s £150m plan for whisky tourism in Scotland based around four key distilleries. As we have reported previously, developments at Glenkinchie, Caol Ila, Clynelish, and a Johnnie Walker HQ in Edinburgh have all been granted planning permission. Now it’s the turn of Cardhu in Speyside. This was the first distillery acquired by Johnnie Walker in 1893 and since then has been a key component in the blend. David Cutter, chairman of Diageo in Scotland, said: “Together these locations will create a unique Johnnie Walker tour of Scotland, encouraging visitors to the capital city to also travel to the country’s extraordinary rural communities.” Laura Sharp, brand home manager at Cardhu, added: “This announcement is very exciting and we want to thank Moray Council and all our neighbours for their continued support.” We love it when a plan comes together.

That’s what an artificial tongue looks like

Boffins baffle counterfeiters with artificial whisky-tasting tongue

Who can forget the story from 2017 when a Chinese businessman spent $10,000 on a glass of Macallan that turned out to be fake? Well, such occurrences might be a thing of the past thanks to a team of Scottish engineers from the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde. A paper titled ‘Whisky tasting using a bimetallic nanoplasmonic tongue’ published this week in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Nanoscale describes a metal ‘tongue’ that can be used to analyse whisky. The ‘taste buds’ are made up of gold and aluminium in a checkerboard pattern. It identifies whiskies from the statistical analysis of minute differences in how the metals absorb light. The device was tested on a series of single malts – Glenfiddich, Glen Marnoch and Laphroaig – and was able to tell the difference between them, as well as different expressions of the same malt with greater than 99% accuracy. The paper’s lead author, Dr Alasdair Clark (above), of the University of Glasgow’s School of Engineering, said:  “We call this an artificial tongue because it acts similarly to a human tongue – like us, it can’t identify the individual chemicals which make coffee taste different to apple juice but it can easily tell the difference between these complex chemical mixtures. In addition to its obvious potential for use in identifying counterfeit alcohols, it could be used in food safety testing, quality control, security – really any area where a portable, reusable method of tasting would be useful.” So next time you’re splashing out on the Macallan, don’t forget your artificial tongue. 

Clouded Leopard Gin bottle

This is gin, it’s still very popular in Britain

Gin still booming according to the WSTA 

There have been articles recently in the Spectator and the Financial Times saying that the gin boom is over, but figures just released by the WSTA seem to contradict this. As a trade body, the WSTA has an interest in bolstering the industry but nevertheless the stats make interesting reading. Retail sales up to March 2019 were up 43% by value on the previous year, worth nearly £1 billion. The off-trade is up 56% by volume on last year’s sales with nearly 6 billion bottles sold between March 2018 and 2019. Combining domestic and export sales, the British gin market is worth over £3 billion. WSTA chief executive Miles Beale commented: “It’s been another phenomenal 12 months for gin and, despite recent reports suggesting the gin bubble may have burst, our numbers suggest the exact opposite. Gin’s continued domestic popularity, and the growth in the spirits category overall, has no doubt been helped by the decision to freeze duty on spirits in the last Budget. We need further supportive action from the Government as we approach Budget time once more. Looking at the popularity of British gin overseas is also cause for celebration. £350 million, or around 46% of all British gin exports head to the EU, and so it is imperative that the Government works with the European Union to secure trade that is as seamless in the future as it is now.” What could possibly go wrong?

Firestone & Robertson TX whiskey, now just a tiny bit Frencher

Pernod Ricard bets on American whiskey with Firestone & Robertson buy

French drinks group Pernod Ricard, which owns the likes of Beefeater Gin, Absolut Vodka, The Glenlivet Scotch and Jameson Irish Whiskey, this week bolstered its presence in American whiskey by snapping up Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. The Texas-based producer makes TX-branded whiskey and bourbon, and the deal includes its Whiskey Ranch distillery too. “This is an exciting day for all of us at Firestone & Robertson,” said Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson, who co-founded the business. “Building our company and producing award-winning whiskeys has been a truly remarkable experience. We are so proud of our team, and grateful to the many people that supported our efforts over the years. It is an extraordinary opportunity to partner with Pernod Ricard, and we are confident this relationship will accelerate the growth of our brands while preserving our roots and shared core values.” Pernod chairman and CEO, Alexandre Ricard, said the (undisclosed) transaction was a “very promising venture” that “strengthens our portfolio and footprint in the United States”. If it means more tasty American whiskey to go round, we’re all for it. 

You can swap a tin of beans for one of these!

The Alchemist tackles food poverty with cocktail exchange

Foodbank use is soaring in the UK (charity the Trussell Trust recently reported a 19% increase in food supplies it’s donated in the last year). Loads of us are both donating to and accessing our local food banks (there’s a list on the Trussell Trust’s site), so when news reached us that UK bar group The Alchemist is encouraging people to bring supplies in return for a cocktail, we whooped and cheered. On 29 August, any customers who bring non-perishable donations (unopened and in date; tinned, dried and packaged foods) into one of the bars with them will get vodka-based serve The Colour Changing One for free! All collections will be donated to local food banks. “These are truly fantastic local charities tackling food poverty across the UK, which is an issue we’re particularly passionate about at The Alchemist,” said Hannah Plumb, head of restaurants at The Alchemist. “This activity is a fun and engaging way to encourage customers to donate to their local food banks, who are in need of donations now more than ever.” You can find The Alchemist in Birmingham, Cardiff, Chester, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Oxford. You know what to do on 29 August!

Bruichladdich's Bere Barley

Bruichladdich’s bere barley

Bruichladdich reinforces barley focus with Exploration Series trilogy

Remember earlier this year when we checked out Bruichladdich’s trial barley plots? Well, the Islay distillery’s long-running focus on the grain has continued with new flavour-focused expressions, which will form a Barley Exploration series. Its focus on barley has become a bit of a USP for the distillery, which works with different local producers, and is currently trialling up to 60 different varieties. There are also plans to open its own maltings by 2023. So what does this new range look like? First up, Bruichladdich The Organic 2010 was distilled in 2010 (obvs) and made using barley from Mid Coul Farms harvested in 2009. It was matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks for at least eight years, and was bottled sans chill-filtration or caramel colouring at 50% ABV. Bruichladdich Bere Barley, made from Orkney-grown Bere, a variety considered “obsolete” by many distillers, was likewise distilled in 2010 and bottled at 50% ABV just as it is. Rounding off the trio is Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2011, made from Islay-grown barley, which spent 75% of its six-year maturation life in American ex-bourbon casks, and 25% on European ex-wine casks. “We want to support people who grow for flavour, those champions of heritage and natural crops,” said Bruichladdich head distiller, Adam Hannett. “By partnering with them we can find new and forgotten flavours, reconnecting our whisky with its vital raw ingredients.” Sounds great to us! 

Doesn’t it look jolly in Fentimans’ Secret Spritz Garden?

Fentimans kicks off Secret Spritz Garden

If The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was one of your favourite books as a child, AND you now like refreshing summer sippers, then we have news. The Venn circles have officially crossed, courtesy of tonic brand Fentimans. Tucked away behind ivy-covered walls, away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Farringdon is (for the next three weeks, anyway) a little oasis of tranquility, aromatic plants, and a Spritz menu of dreams! The garden itself is overflowing with trailing greenery, herbs, and a 200-year-old olive tree, while Fentimans has added a lemon-filled fountain, highly-Instagrammable swing seat and the all-important bar into the mix. The menu (developed with the likes of Lillet and Martini Fiero) was created by Dino Koletsas (from The Langham, Bourne & Hollingsworth and Callooh Callay) and showcases the wonder of low- and no-alcohol cocktails, including the Rose Spritz, made with Fentimans Rose, lemonade, Martini Prosecco and fresh strawberries; and the Valencian Spritz, with Fentimans Valencian Orange Tonic Water, with Belsazar White Vermouth and peach liqueur. Head on down (you might even find yourself in a free guided workshop, from the Art of the Aperitivo to watercolour classes) Wednesday to Saturday up until 29 August to enjoy!

Aecorn range

Aecorn, a range of non-alcoholic aperitifs, has just been launched by Seedlip

Diageo acquires majority stake in Seedlip

In a move that will surprise no one, it was announced this week that Diageo has taken a majority stake (mmm, majority steak) in alcohol-free ‘spirit’ manufacture Seedlip. The brand was launched by Ben Branson in 2015 and created a new category of non-alcoholic drinks flavoured, packaged, and priced to rival premium gin. Distill Ventures, Diageo’s venture capital arm, took a minority investment in June 2016. Since then, Seedlip has gone global: it’s sold in top bars and restaurants in 25 countries, and comes in three varieties. It has also inspired legions of imitators such as Ceder’s from Pernod Ricard. Earlier this year, Seedlip launched Aecorn, a range of non-alcoholic vermouth-style aperitifs. We have been informed that Branson will still be involved with business. He commented: “We want to change the way the world drinks and today’s news is another big step forward to achieving this. Distill Ventures’ and Diageo’s shared belief in our vision has enabled us to build a business that’s ready for scale and I’m excited to continue working with Diageo to lead this movement.” John Kennedy from Diageo said: “Seedlip is a game-changing brand in one of the most exciting categories in our industry. Ben is an outstanding entrepreneur and has created a brand that has truly raised the bar for the category. We’re thrilled to continue working with him to grow what we believe will be a global drinks giant of the future.” And Shilen Pate from Distill Ventures added: “Supporting the vision of founders is what Distill Ventures was set up to do, and we’re proud of the impact Ben has had on our industry in such a short period of time.” With all that Diageo cash behind it, expect Seedlip’s upward trajectory to continue. 

GlenDronach

Mouth-watering malts

The GlenDronach’s new Cask Bottling releases will have whisky lovers salivating 

Prepare yourselves, The GlenDronach has just announced the seventeenth batch of its Cask Bottling series! It contains whisky drawn from fourteen casks ranging from the years 1990 to 2007, all of which have been selected by none other than master blender, Dr Rachel Barrie. What to expect? Each Highland expression has been bottled from a single cask from a selection of the distillery’s signature Pedro Ximénez and oloroso sherry casks alongside two Port pipes. Particularly special is a bottling from a rare vintage 1995 cask, one of the last remaining casks from that year still at the distillery. “The batch seventeen cask selection truly celebrates The GlenDronach house style; robust, elegant, fruity and full-bodied,” said Barrie. “Each cask individually explores the sophistication, powerful intricacy and rich layers of Spanish sherry cask maturation found in every GlenDronach expression; from layers of crème brûlée, treacle toffee and over-ripe banana in 1990 […] to toasted pain au raisin and butterscotch simmering beneath the surface in 2007.” Is your mouth watering as well? Then keep your eyes peeled for your favourite online retailer (us, duh) over the next few weeks.

Atomik Vodka

Don’t worry, it isn’t radioactive

And Finally… anyone fancy a Chernobyl Martini?

We’re no strangers to far-out spirits at Master of Malt, after all, we sell a gin distilled using botanicals that have been into space, but a new spirit might be the strangest thing yet. It’s called Atomik Vodka and it’s distilled using rye and water from the contaminated area around Chernobyl, site of the world’s worst nuclear energy disaster in 1986. Just this week, London bar Swift on Old Compton Street made the very first Atomik Martini with it. But before you start calling for Soho to be cordoned off, and send in the men in yellow suits, this vodka, despite its name, isn’t radioactive. The man behind it, Professor Jim Smith from the University of Portsmouth, told the BBC that though the rye was “slightly contaminated”, distillation has removed any impurities, and radioactivity levels are “below their limit of detection.” Only one bottle has been made so far but the Chernobyl Spirit Company, consisting of Smith, Ukrainain scientist Dr Gennady Laptev and others, plans to make 500 bottles per year. The team still has some legal hoops to jump through before production can start but when it does, 75% of the profits will go to help people in the region. Smith commented: “I think this is the most important bottle of spirits in the world because it could help the economic recovery of communities living in and around the abandoned areas. Many thousands of people are still living in the Zone of Obligatory Resettlement where new investment and use of agricultural land is still forbidden.” Sounds very worthwhile and, according to Sam Armeye, the vodka tastes good too. Atomik Martinis all round!

No Comments on The Nightcap: 9 August

The do’s and don’ts of opening a craft distillery

After three long years, London-based Bimber Distillery is (almost) ready to share its inaugural English single malt whisky with the world. As the team readies to release Bimber London Single…

After three long years, London-based Bimber Distillery is (almost) ready to share its inaugural English single malt whisky with the world. As the team readies to release Bimber London Single Malt this coming September, we speak to founder Dariusz Plazewski to find out what he’s learned over the last three years…

“Whisky has always been my passion,” enthuses Plazewski, a third generation distiller. “It was always my dream to open a distillery, and London really is the place to start the journey. English whisky as a category isn’t that strong yet, so there was the chance to create a bit of history.”

History, indeed, is in the making. Bimber’s first casks were laid down on the 26 May 2016, and right now, Plazewski and his team are diligently tasting their way through more than 550 barrels of single malt – among the first produced in London for more than a century – assessing the flavour and quality of each, before blending, vatting, and, eventually, bottling their liquid towards the end of August.

Dariusz Plazewski

Third generation distiller Dariusz Plazewski

The whisky’s DNA? Light, accessible, fruity new-make, shaped through the elements of Bimber’s exacting production process: seven-day fermentation, hand-made American oak washbacks, designer yeast strains, bespoke copper pot stills designed to maximise copper contact and a carefully-considered distillate cutting strategy.

The first release, limited to 1,000 bottles, has been busy maturing in first-fill Pedro Ximénez sherry casks, while the follow-up 5,000-bottle run has been aged in re-charred casks toasted in Bimber’s own on-site cooperage. We can hardly wait. But wait we must.

Amid the demands of a frankly life-changing month ahead, Plazewski took time out of his schedule to reflect on the last three years and share some distillery do’s and don’ts – interesting reading for aspiring brand owners and curious imbibers alike. Here’s what he had to say…

Do: Focus on building strong relationships

His grandfather distilled moonshine* in communist-era Poland, so as a third generation distiller, Plazewski already knew what he wanted to achieve when it came to the final liquid. The biggest challenge, he says, was identifying the right farmer to source barley from, and pinpoint the ultimate floor maltings for the task at hand. “Those are the two aspects we can’t do in our distillery,” he says, “we have to source those from someone else, so it was important to have a really good relationship with those partners.” And forge relationships he has. Bimber sources two-row barley varieties, Concerto and Laureate, from a single farm in Hampshire called Fordham & Allen – located around an hour’s drive from London – and partnered with Britain’s oldest maltster, Warminster Maltings, which has dedicated an entire malting floor to the distillery.

Do: Be self-sufficient where possible

“Nothing was easy,” says Plazewski. “Every step was quite challenging. However, I knew what I wanted to achieve and I just followed my instinct [about choosing] the right partners and the right equipment and the way we want to produce.” A background in engineering meant Plazewski was equipped with the skillset to design and build much of the distillery equipment himself with the help of his team. “That was the easiest and quickest part because I didn’t have to rely on anyone else,” he says. “The distillery was running in a short amount of time.”

Casks maturing at Bimber

Don’t just sit around waiting for these beauties to mature

Don’t: Rush the process

Let’s face it, no one makes whisky to earn a quick buck – it’s an investment that requires time, money, and above all, patience, in abundance. “Be patient and release when [the liquid] is ready,” says Plazewski. “Don’t rush. We’re waiting until September but ultimately we’ll release it when we think it’s good. The most rewarding thing is that people really like our product. That’s the most important thing for me.” After all, if you’ve been waiting three years for your pride and joy to mature, you can probably stand to wait another month or two.

Do: Use the time wisely

As tempting as it surely was to wile away the three-year whisky maturation period on a hammock in Hawaii, waiting for new make to come of age doesn’t pay the bills, unfortunately. Plus, by distilling on behalf of smaller brands, you’ll put your own spirits on the map. “We used the spare time to produce high quality gin, vodka and rum,” says Plazewski. “We’re a market service, and we made our name with that product.” So long as you’re churning out great liquid, your reputation will precede you.

*Fun fact: Bimber means moonshine in Polish.

No Comments on The do’s and don’ts of opening a craft distillery

Drinks billionaires – keeping it in the family

Today Ian Buxton takes a closer look at some of the illustrious families of the drinks industry such as the Haigs, Bacardis and Ricards, and reveals which great brands are…

Today Ian Buxton takes a closer look at some of the illustrious families of the drinks industry such as the Haigs, Bacardis and Ricards, and reveals which great brands are still in family hands.

Do you ever wonder who might raise a glass to you when you, to coin a phrase, raise a glass yourself? It’s an intriguing question. After all, drinks companies are fond of maintaining the façade of family owners. Think Bulleit Bourbon – it’s actually a Diageo brand (which arguably was mainly developed under Seagram’s) but a very high profile is maintained by Tom Bulleit and, until recently, his daughter Hollis. They’re speaking via their lawyers now. The story behind their acrimonious break-up is a rather unfortunate one and perhaps for another day, but sadly illustrative of the potential problems lurking in any family.

The Nightcap Drinks billionaires

Bulleit bourbon, a family business?

But back to Diageo. In its Scotch portfolio we’ll also find the Johnnie Walker, Buchanan’s and Haig brands. Now, once upon a time, there were real-life actual people answering to Walker, Buchanan and Haig who owned the distilleries that made these products – but no longer.

Today Diageo is a publicly-quoted company. That means you can buy a share in the business and be a part-owner. Actually, if you have any kind of a pension plan (whether through your employer or direct) you probably already own a share in some shares. Diageo is one of the UK’s largest and most successful businesses, and most well-balanced pension portfolios will have a holding in the company.  To declare an interest, I certainly do (I checked), and I’m very happy with its recent performance.

Many large industries have evolved in this way. But the drinks trade is something of a curiosity as a number of important brands remain in the hands of the descendants of the founding family.  Though some, like the Walkers, Buchanans and Haigs have long since cashed in, other companies remain determinedly independent and make great play of the long-term planning required in the spirits business. This, they suggest, means the industry is well suited to family ownership rather than being driven by the short-term demands of the financial community.

Some of the smaller examples are well known. Glenfarclas, for example, is happy to stress the fact that the distillery has remained in the Grant family since 1865 with chairman John Grant and son George directly and actively involved in every aspect. Grant Snr even lives on site, and you can’t get more hands-on than that.

Whisky Advent 2018 Day #18 Drinks billionaires

George Grant from Glenfarclas

Glenfiddich too is a family concern so, along with the various brands they own – think Balvenie, Hendrick’s Gin, Tullamore D.E.W. and Sailor Jerry rum among others – the forty-odd descendants of the founder William Grant thank you for every bottle you buy.  Oddly, though, while the public face of the company is largely represented by the Gordon branch (Peter Gordon and Grant Gordon in recent years) the major shareholder is believed to be the intensely private Benedicta Chamberlain. If her reputed 29.9% of the business is anywhere close to accurate, she’s comfortably in the billionaire class. Think of that next time you pour a dram of the world’s best-selling single malt.

As you’d expect, the family take the whole business very seriously. So much so in fact that Peter Gordon has even published a book on the subject. Family Spirit: Stories and Insights From Leading Family-Owned Enterprises looks at the strategies of eleven other family-owned businesses, though mainly not in the drinks industry. One of the companies he might have studied is Bacardi.  Yes, every drop of Dewar’s or Aberfeldy single malt or William Lawson’s (a million case-plus blended Scotch you’ve probably never heard of) adds a few coppers to the eponymous descendants of Don Facundo Bacardi.  A Bacardi and Coke puts a smile on their face, as does your call for Grey Goose, Martini, St-Germain or Patrón tequila.

Alexandre Ricard Drinks billionaires

Alexandre Ricard

Now the Bacardi family is very disciplined, borrowing if necessary to fund its acquisitions (over US$2 billion in 2004 for Grey Goose, then reputedly the largest purchase price in spirits business history for a single brand, and now a cool $5.1 billion for Patrón), but the equity isn’t sold. Much the same story could be told about Suntory Holdings, still controlled by the Saji and Torii families.

Elsewhere, public listing to raise capital hasn’t entirely removed family control as the tight grip of the founding dynasties at Davide Campari SpA, Brown-Forman and Rémy Cointreau SA clearly demonstrates. The Ricard family still retain 16% of the giant Pernod Ricard operation. It’s no coincidence that one Alexandre Ricard is both chairman and CEO, even if activist US investors Elliott Management are pushing to shake things up.

So, the reality and scale of family control is something to ponder as you part with your hard-earned cash. As you raise their brands to your lips, the question can’t be avoided: ‘what are the drinks billionaires sipping tonight?’

No Comments on Drinks billionaires – keeping it in the family

Was Glenfiddich really the first ever single malt whisky?

An email making bold claims about Glenfiddich arrived at Master of Malt HQ last week. We had our doubts about its veracity so we turned it over to whisky writer…

An email making bold claims about Glenfiddich arrived at Master of Malt HQ last week. We had our doubts about its veracity so we turned it over to whisky writer and industry veteran Ian Buxton for his take. And here it is!

In what I laughingly refer to as my line of ‘work’ I’m exposed to a fair amount of nonsense from over-exuberant PR agencies (one day, I must offer you a selection of their better howlers).  Mostly this can be put down to inexperience or an excess of enthusiasm but this week my inbox positively glowed with some nuclear-weapons-grade spinmeistering from Glenfiddich’s agency Porter NovelliBack in 1969, they would have you know, “Glenfiddich was changing the world of whisky as we know [it, sic], launching the first ever SINGLE MALT WHISKY – they were all blends before the summer of ’69!” (their bold face and block caps).

Well, that got my attention, as did the claim that Glenfiddich opened the world’s first ever distillery visitor centre (I hope you’ve noticed the bold face and block capitals, by the way).  Let’s deal with that first: distilleries have been welcoming visitors since the 19th Century as Alfred Barnard would testify and, while they may not have had purpose-built facilities, Tobermory was actively welcoming visitors from the early 1920s (look closely at the bottom two lines on the door).  Glenfarclas opened their doors at much the same time as Glenfiddich – so closely in fact that they could hardly be accused of ‘copying’ their Speyside rivals. As so often, two people independently had the same great idea at much the same time, though it was hardly revolutionary. These, in fact, are mere striplings: the Palais Bénédictine was opened in 1888, beating Glenfiddich by a mere 81 years, and as Scotch whisky began life in the 15th Century at Lindores Abbey we can be sure that the hospitable monks were welcoming medieval visitors more than 500 years ago.  

Tobermory

Tobermory has been welcoming visitors for a long time

So that’s a pretty daft claim that ill becomes a brand with a great track record of innovation but one that we could probably ignore if it hadn’t been offered with the remarkable assertion that all Scotch was blended prior to 1969.  Really? Who knew? 

Where to start?  Well, Macallan’s then Chairman George Harbinson, was able to assure his presumably happy shareholders in 1963 that “the sale of Macallan in bottle is gaining momentum with a steadily increasing demand for the over 15 year old from the south of England”. Or perhaps with Professor George Saintsbury who in his hugely-influential Notes on a Cellar Book (1920, but still in print), disparages grain whisky as “only good for blending” and points the reader to Glendronach, Clynelish (now known as Brora) and Smith’s Glenlivet as single whiskies of note.  His admirer Aeneas MacDonald in his Whisky (1930, but also still in print) devotes the whole of his book – a genuine first, by the way – to singing the praises of single malt.

But for writers in the early part of the twentieth century to be championing single malt it had to have been around for some time.  Well, of course it was: blending greatly boosted Scotch whisky’s fortunes from the late 19th century at the expense of single malt but it never went away.  Connoisseurs such as Saintsbury, MacDonald and Sir Robert Bruce Lockhart (Scotch, published 1951) make that abundantly clear. Earlier writers too, sang its praises.  I call to the witness stand Robert Louis Stevenson who in his poem The Scotsman’s Return from Abroad apostrophises Talisker, Isla or Glenlivet as one of his three “king o’ drinks”. And that, of course, brings us to Glenlivet of which Sir Walter Scott was to write “it is the only liquor fit for a gentleman to drink in the morning”.

Bowmore advert

Advert for Bowmore whisky from before 1969

Now, Chivas Brothers’ The Glenlivet may have dropped its claim that it was “the single malt that started it all” but the Glenlivet name was highly prized.  Did not King George IV on his famous Brigadoon-style visit to Scotland in August 1822 demand a glass of Glenlivet whisky, then technically illegal and most certainly not blended? So valuable was the Glenlivet name that in 1884 J. G. Smith had to go to law to obtain the sole right to use the definite article in marketing his whisky as The Glenlivet.  As soon as Prohibition was repealed in 1933 his successors were exporting to the USA with such success that just twenty years later some 27 other brands had applied Glenlivet as a suffix to their drams. But even before Prohibition certain Islay whiskies, notably Laphroaig and Bowmore were well known in North America.  Bowmore were even advertising in Canada in the late nineteenth century. Need I go on – well, just one more example.  Royal Brackla was advertising its whisky and the Royal Warrant it received from King William IV in the 1830s.

Oh, and just for Porter Novelli’s benefit, Glenfiddich was being sold in Scotland well before the Second World War and Glenfiddich Pure Malt dates from 1903 at least.  How do I know – well, I found this picture on their website! Perhaps the PR team should take a look!  

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

Glenfiddich

Glenfiddich malt whisky bottle c. 1903-1908

9 Comments on Was Glenfiddich really the first ever single malt whisky?

Chivas Brothers reveals its Secret Speyside single malts

Spanning fifteen rare single malt Scotch whiskies aged between 18 and 30 years old, The Secret Speyside Collection focuses on four distilleries: the ‘vanished’ Caperdonich, ‘pioneering’ Longmorn, ‘landmark’ Glen Keith…

Spanning fifteen rare single malt Scotch whiskies aged between 18 and 30 years old, The Secret Speyside Collection focuses on four distilleries: the ‘vanished’ Caperdonich, ‘pioneering’ Longmorn, ‘landmark’ Glen Keith and ‘remote’ Braes of Glenlivet to demonstrate the breadth of flavour and character across the region’s distilleries. We got the low-down on Chivas Brothers’ biggest ever single malt drop…

“The reason Speyside is the number one whisky-producing region in Scotland is because people have been distilling there for generations, for the most part legally,” says Alex Robertson, head of heritage and education at Chivas Brothers, addressing a crowd at Soho hangout The Painting Rooms, where scenes for nearby theatre-land were historically painted; an apt choice given Chivas Brothers’ penchant for storytelling drams with a real sense of place.

“There’s also an abundance of natural resources and the ideal climate for producing the finest and rarest Scotch whiskies,” he continues. “But there’s a fourth element that became apparent to me very soon when I joined 12 years ago, and that was people – there’s even people with 20, 30, 40 years experience in Scotch whisky, they have spent their entire lives in Scotch whisky and each and every one of them has played a part in the whiskies [in The Secret Speyside Collection].”

Caperdonich Distillery

Caperdonich Distillery, closed in 2002 and was demolished in 2011

Master distiller Alan Winchester, whose career in Scotch whisky spans more than 40 years – with over three decades distilling experience in Speyside – lives in Dufftown, the heart of the whisky-making region. To him, Speyside is “simply, home”. “It’s great to get out and lose yourself in the mountains,” he says. “Speyside is very rural, it’s the middle of nowhere, though I’ve always said that we’re the centre of the universe and everything else radiates from that. We have a great pride in the distilleries we work in, with lots of rivalry – but it’s good-natured rivalry.”

The local community is immensely proud to be a part of the Speyside whisky region’s global footprint, he continues. “It’s a way of life in that sense, absolutely,” says Winchester. “The guys and girls that make these whiskies come back from their holidays and say, ‘We saw a bottle of Aberlour on the shelf in this remote part of the world’. We’ve all got that pride.”

Without further adieu, here’s The Secret Speyside Collection in full, complete with distillery geekery, bottle details and tasting notes supplied by Chivas Brothers. The Collection will be exclusively available in Global Travel for a year before ‘selected markets’ get their mitts on it come summer 2020. Bask in its beauty!

Caperdonich 25 Year Old Peated

Caperdonich 25 Year Old Peated

Caperdonich Distillery

If you’re lucky (or wealthy) enough to get your smackers around one of these drams, be sure to sip and savour. The folks at Chivas reckon this collection contains the only available single malts from this distillery. “Just fire up the stills and churn out some more!”, you cry. Well, they can’t, since the entire building was torn down back in 2011, hence the ‘vanished’ moniker. There will be six whiskies released from Caperdonich in total; three being peated (not the norm for a Speyside, as you know) and the remaining three unpeated. FYI, the peated 25 year old and non-peated 30 year old will hit shelves in October this year.

Caperdonich 18 Year Old Peated
Tell me more? Matured in American oak barrels and bottled at 48% ABV

How does it taste? Smoky bonfire comes together with the classic sweet and fruity Speyside style. This rare and robust Single Malt is subtly layered with initial aromas of peat, followed by a taste of apple and brown sugar, gentle ginger and warming orange.

What’s the damage? RRP US$130

Caperdonich 21 Year Old Peated
Tell me more? Matured in American oak barrels and bottled at 48% ABV

How does it taste? This is a layered and complex malt: gentle peat and bonfire embers come together with warm cedar and mandarin orange. Long and smoky, the finish leaves a subtle taste of liquorice and herbal tea leaves.

What’s the damage? RRP US$290

Caperdonich 25 Year Old Peated
Tell me more? Matured in oak hogsheads at cask strength

How does it taste? This smoky and fruity malt engulfs the senses: rich notes of peat smoke are brilliantly balanced by green apple and sweet pear, with bonfire aromas and a hint of salt leading into a long and smooth finish.
What’s the damage? RRP US$550

Caperdonich 21 Year Old Unpeated
Tell me more? Matured in first fill American oak barrels and bottled at 48% ABV

How does it taste? This fruity and sweet malt brings together zesty orange, poached pear and rich vanilla, with floral herbs for a long and smooth finish.

What’s the damage? RRP US$250

Caperdonich 25 Year Old Unpeated
Tell me more? Matured in American oak barrels and bottled at 48% ABV

How does it taste? This warming, rich malt combines complex flavours of juicy blackcurrant, sweet pear and creamy milk chocolate. A touch of cinnamon spice leads to a long and succulent finish.

What’s the damage? RRP US$480

Caperdonich 30 Year Old Unpeated
Tell me more? Matured in first fill American Oak barrels and bottled at cask strength

How does it taste? Flavours of soft fruit and fresh pineapple meet sweet honey. This is the ultimate malt from the lost distillery: well-balanced with gentle, warming spices and an incredibly long, smooth finish.

What’s the damage? RRP USRRP $990

Longmorn 18 Year Old

Longmorn 18 Year Old

Longmorn Distillery

Make no mistake, Longmorn was something of a futuristic wonderland when founder John Duff – the Steve Jobs of Scotch whisky history, if you will – designed the distillery back in 1894. Built on the site of an old chapel, ‘pioneering’ Longmorn is one of only a handful of distilleries that has its wash stills in one room and rather ornate-looking spirit stills in another; Duff even built a railway station next door so whisky-making would be more efficient. Its whiskies are a favourite among connoisseurs and there’s no question the three in this collection, bottled at 18, 23 and 25 years old, will go down an absolute treat.

Longmorn 18 Year Old
Tell me more? Matured in American oak barrels and hogsheads and bottled at 48% ABV

How does it taste? Incredibly smooth with notes of mango and creamy toffee, complemented by flavours of ripe juicy pear and a touch of oak. The finish is incredibly sweet and long.

What’s the damage? RRP US$100

Longmorn 23 Year Old
Tell me more? Matured in American oak barrels and hogsheads and bottled at 48% ABV

How does it taste? Incredibly sweet with creamy milk chocolate and fruity pear flavours mixed with lemon curd and a touch of ginger. The finish is voluptuous with a warming spice.

What’s the damage? RRP US$290

Longmorn 25 Year Old
Tell me more? Matured in American oak barrels, hogsheads and butts. Bottled at cask strength, 52.2% ABV

How does it taste? Incredibly sweet with a touch of cinnamon followed by notes of red apple, mandarin orange and rich sultanas. Dry in character, the finish is long and smooth.

What’s the damage? RRP US$450

Glen Keith 25 Year Old

Glen Keith 25 Year Old

Glen Keith Distillery

Bona-fide Speyside history here, since Glen Keith was the region’s very first 20th century distillery. Set on the banks of the River Isla in the ruins of an old mill, the distillery’s pot stills are taller than average, resulting in a slinky-smooth dram. Whiskies from this ‘landmark’ distillery are described as ‘a complex, intensely smooth example of the classic Speyside style, bursting with juicy summer fruit notes’. The bottlings below are the distillery’s first age statement releases this century. Lovely stuff.

Glen Keith 21 Year Old
Tell me more? Matured in specially selected oak barrels and butts and bottled at 43% ABV

How does it taste? A perfect balance of fruit and sweetness. Soft peach and tropical pineapple, with a toasted almond finish.

What’s the damage? RRP US$180

Glen Keith 25 Year Old
Tell me more? Matured in first fill American oak barrels and bottled at 43% ABV

How does it taste? A perfect balance of sweetness and mellow spice. Orange and ginger marmalade with tangy gooseberry jam and vanilla custard.

What’s the damage? RRP US$380

Glen Keith 28 Year Old
Tell me more? Matured in first fill American oak barrels and bottled at 43% ABV

How does it taste? A perfect balance of sweet fruit and soft spice. Sweet orange, apricot and vanilla fudge with a touch of homemade gingerbread.

What’s the damage? RRP US$500

Braes of Glenlivet 30 Year Old

Braes of Glenlivet 30 Year Old

Braes of Glenlivet Distillery

Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to the very first bottlings from the ‘remote’ Braes of Glenlivet, one of the highest distilleries in Speyside. These cracking drams are shaped by the Scottish elements – they say when snow falls on Speyside, it falls on the Braes of Glenlivet first – using water sourced from Preenie Well, found two miles deep in the Braes hills. Despite the weather forecast, these whiskies are smooth, balanced, and packed with tropical fruits. Climate change, eh?

Braes of Glenlivet 25 Year Old
Tell me more? Matured in first fill American oak barrels and bottled at 43% ABV

How does it taste? Sweet notes on the nose with aromas of orange marmalade and ripe melon. Fruity flavours on the palate with apricot intermingled with sweet coconut and complemented by a long, spicy dry finish.

What’s the damage? RRP US$400

Braes of Glenlivet 27 Year Old
Tell me more? Matured in first fill American oak barrels and bottled at 43% ABV

How does it taste? Intense fruity notes on the nose with aromas of red apple and cinnamon. Sweet and creamy on the palate with hints of ripe banana and butterscotch leading to a long and velvety finish.

What’s the damage? RRP US$450

Braes of Glenlivet 30 Year Old 30 year old (cask strength, 50.3% ABV)
Tell me more? Matured in American oak barrels and hogsheads. Bottled at cask strength, 50.3% ABV

How does it taste? Tropical notes on the nose with aromas of mango and root ginger. Fruity flavours intensifying on the palate with juicy orange, blackberry jam and marzipan coming through, resulting in a long-lasting, sweet finish.

What’s the damage? RRP US$600

Braes of Glenlivet

Braes of Glenlivet, looks chilly

2 Comments on Chivas Brothers reveals its Secret Speyside single malts

Meet Scotland’s new make innovators

If you’re a new whisky distillery, what do you do to bring in a little cash while you wait for the spirit to mature? Make gin? Boring! Nate Brown looks…

If you’re a new whisky distillery, what do you do to bring in a little cash while you wait for the spirit to mature? Make gin? Boring! Nate Brown looks at two producers doing something a bit different. 

The economics of opening a whisky distillery are not for the faint-hearted. Years of planning, design, construction, commissioning of stills, bottling contracts and a hundred other factors are to be tackled even before the long wait for maturity begins. As it is, a cool £10m should cover the initial phases of the build for a good-sized operation. With perhaps as long as ten years of waiting on the cards before you can start to see any money coming the other way. Don’t expect your bank manager to do anything other than cackle in your face whilst bashing the under desk alarm. Mix into this the depth of competition and the unpredictability of future markets and you enter a kingdom of risk where few individuals dare tread. 

Ncn'ean Distillery

A watched cask never matures

So it’s no wonder then, that once the ground has been broken, walls erected and spirit has flown that distilleries explore any and all options at off-setting the huge cash deficit. You could, of course, release a gin, but please don’t. The world does not need another cynically-conceived on-the-bandwagon bottling. Gin fatigue, ironically, is alive and well.

If you really want to do something other than twiddling your thumbs and wait (which I strongly recommend), there is always the opportunity to play with the alcohol you are producing in-house. Indeed, it is the new-make spirit that makes a distillery unique, the casks used are pretty much ubiquitous. Just don’t expect to make any money. 

To be frank, it’s a darn shame that nobody just drinks new make. It’s a trillion times better than boring vodka (and I do mean the boring variety, not all vodkas are created equal). I know this because some new make spirits are already on the market, quietly gathering dust on shelves. Which begs the question, just what can be done with new make spirit? Here are two distilleries leading the way.

Lindores Abbey Distillery

Lindores Abbey Distillery in Fife

Lindores Abbey the infusers 

Does the name sound familiar? Good on you, my little geek. Lindores Abbey is mentioned in the first written reference to whisky (well, almost it’s written as Aqua Vitae) in Scotland (we know the Irish got there first). Appropriately then, Lindores Abbey has released an Aqua Vitae made from its new make spirit and infused with botanicals according to an ancient recipe (or close enough). 

The AV seems like a no-brainer. Although, as anyone in the sales and marketing side of the industry will be quick to point out, the ROI (Return on Investment) here is dubious. But we’re not here to make money, folks! No, no, this is an exercise in brand-building. 

As the man tasked with the education of the bartender community, brand ambassador Murray Stephenson plans to straddle both gin and rum drinkers by using AV as the hero spirit in classic cocktails, rather than as a modifier. It stands up in Espresso Martinis, Mai Tais, and Negronis, and all manner of tiki serves, should wish to don a grass kilt and pretend you’re more Bob Marley than Bobby Burns. Each to their own, I say. I’ll have mine in a highball. 

Ncn'ean Distillery 5

The stills at Ncn’ean Distillery

Ncn’ean the progressives

The folks at (the extremely unpronounceable) Ncn’ean do something similar. Again we have foraged local botanicals, only this time it’s distilled rather than infused. Yes, I know this sounds like a gin, but it really isn’t. There’s no juniper for a start. 

In fact, there is nothing gin-like in the new make from Ncn’ean; it’s really all about the rich, malty, stone fruit character of the spirit. Well, almost nothing. Yes, the signature serve is with tonic (and bitters). Yes, the bottle looks like a gin. Yes, some of the botanicals in the mix are locally foraged. But this is not gin. Nor is this terroir. This is a reflection of local provenance. There’s the key difference.

Ncn’ean distill the new make but its distilled with botanicals off-site. There’s no point in installing an expensive new still for a spirit that right now has a limited application. Ncn’ean, much like Lindores, isn’t balancing its while-we-wait-please-give-us-a-tiny-bit-of-cash releases on a pedestal of bullshit about apparent standalone integrity. 

I hope more newcomers pay attention to Ncn’ean’s (are we sure that word isn’t Elvish?) and Lindores’ models. What works here is the integrity. Goodness knows we could do with a tonne more of that in this game: we make fools of our guests when we are made of fools of by the marketers. Most of what makes a distillery unique is the new make, let’s celebrate it, even if we don’t drink it. After all, as any good brand engineer will tell you, if you’re not making money, make friends. 

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

1 Comment on Meet Scotland’s new make innovators

Take a Global Distillery Tour with Lonely Planet

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

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

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

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

Kilchoman Feis Ile

The beautiful stills at Kilchoman on Islay

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

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

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

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

MoM: What was the first distillery you ever visited?

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

Teeling Dublin

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

MoM: Do you have a favourite distillery?

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

MoM: What was the smallest distillery you visited?

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

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

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

Starward

Starward distillery in Melbourne

MoM: Will the gin boom ever end?

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

MoM: Do you have a favourite spirit?

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

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

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

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

Domaine de Tourelles in Lebanon, distillers of Arak Brun

No Comments on Take a Global Distillery Tour with Lonely Planet

5 tips for pairing whisky with food

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

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

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

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

Ghillie Başan

Ghillie Başan!

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

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

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

gravadlax

Gravadlax + whisky = delicious

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

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

  1. Consider the key whisky regions

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

  1. Highlight background flavours

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

  1. Experiment with cooking techniques

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

  1. Don’t forget texture

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

No Comments on 5 tips for pairing whisky with food

Talisker video masterclass with malt whisky ambassador TJ

One of only two whisky distilleries on the Isle of Skye, Talisker, has a loyal following. In this masterclass malt whisky brand ambassador TJ shows us how to get the…

One of only two whisky distilleries on the Isle of Skye, Talisker, has a loyal following. In this masterclass malt whisky brand ambassador TJ shows us how to get the most out of its distinctive smoky salty taste.

The rugged maritime setting of coastal Skye is echoed in the taste of Talisker whisky.

One sip of the 10 Year Old expression, and you can smell the sea air and almost hear the squawk of seagulls. It’s one of Scotland’s best-loved and most distinctive single malts. If you’re lucky enough to visit the distillery, you mustn’t miss out on the nearby shack selling fresh and smoked seafood caught in the surrounding waters. A dram of Talisker and a Scottish oyster is a match made in heaven. But you don’t have to drink it neat, Talisker is also delicious in cocktails, hot and cold. 

Talisker Campfire Hot Chocolate

Talisker Campfire Hot Chocolate

To tell us more about Talisker, its affinity with seafood and how to use it in cocktails, we were lucky enough to spend some time with TJ. A former Edinburgh bartender, TJ now works as a malt whisky ambassador for Diageo, spreading the word about the joys of Scotch whisky.

Got your Talisker ready? Take it away TJ!

Here TJ tells us a little about himself and his journey from behind the bar to Diageo whisky brand ambassador.

In this video TJ shows how well Talisker 10 goes with raw oysters.

Talisker Campfire is the ultimate hot chocolate drink.

Talisker Port Ruighe also tastes amazing with seafood.

 

No Comments on Talisker video masterclass with malt whisky ambassador TJ

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search