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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Single Malt Whisky

Take a VR tour of Wolfburn Distillery!

Thanks to wonders of VR technology, you can now tour the wonderful Wolfburn Distillery from the comfort of your own home! Just because you’re self-isolating or on lockdown, it doesn’t mean…

Thanks to wonders of VR technology, you can now tour the wonderful Wolfburn Distillery from the comfort of your own home!

Just because you’re self-isolating or on lockdown, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a good distillery tour. How is this possible? Thanks to the power of VR, of course. In this series we’re going to take you around some of the finest distilleries across England, Wales and Scotland from the comfort of your own home. This week we see what it’s like inside Scotland’s most northerly mainland distillery. Enjoy!

The current Wolfburn Distillery was founded in 2013 in Thurso, the most northerly town on the British mainland. It’s just 350 metres from the site of the original Wolfburn distillery, which dates back to 1821 and closed its doors back in 1860. The burn from which the distillery took its name remains the water source to this day. Both peated and unpeated whisky is produced at Wolfburn in two Forsyths copper pot stills, a 5,500-litre wash still and 3,600-litre boil ball spirit still. Fermentation times range from 70-92 hours in the four stainless steel washbacks and the distillery has a single 1.1-tonne semi-lauter mash tun, while the whisky is matured in ex-bourbon hogsheads, quarter casks and ex-oloroso sherry butts. Despite being a relative newcomer, the distillery is already building quite a reputation for its light, sweet and complex whiskies.

a VR tour of Wolfburn Distillery

 If Wolfburn seems like your kind of distillery, then I’d recommend you help yourself to a bottle of Wolfburn Northland Single Malt (above), the first single malt released by the distillery back in March 2016. Some of the whisky was matured in quarter casks that previously held peated whisky from Islay, but this is no Islay imitation. It’s very much got its own character. Best of all, we’ll deliver straight to your doorstep, so if you’re self-isolating or on lockdown, then we’ve got your back. No, wait, that’s not the best part of this. If you order now, you can save a whopping £7 on this bottling! There’s also 10% off Langskip, Morven and Aurora. 

Wolfburn Northland Single Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: Orchard fruits, apple pie, a fresh maltiness, almonds, magnolia and a suggestion of smoke.

Palate: Honey Nut Clusters breakfast cereal, sweet spices, chocolate croissant, more honey towards the end, and a subtle earthy peatiness.

Finish: Long and fresh, with even more rich honey notes

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New Arrival of the Week: Glen Elgin 2007 (Douglas Laing)

You don’t hear about Glen Elgin as a single malt very often, mainly because 95% of its production goes into blends. So, we thought it’s time to celebrate this little…

You don’t hear about Glen Elgin as a single malt very often, mainly because 95% of its production goes into blends. So, we thought it’s time to celebrate this little workhorse of a distillery by shining the MoM torch on a Douglas Laing single cask bottling.

There’s under-the-radar distilleries and then there’s Glen Elgin. Despite its name, it’s about five miles outside the town of Elgin, in a little hamlet called Fogwatt. Actually hamlet isn’t quite the right word as there’s very little there apart from some houses and the distillery. Motoring down the A941 towards Rothes, you’ll pass famous distilleries like BenRiach and Longmorn, but you wouldn’t even know that Glen Elgin was there. That’s a shame because it’s an elegant little distillery in a beautiful setting.

Glen Elgin, it’s actually much prettier from across the water. Still lovely wormtubs, eh?

The buildings were designed by Charles Doig who worked on some of Scotland’s greatest distilleries like Macallan, Glenlivet, Talisker and Mortlach. It’s best known, if is known at all, for being the last distillery to be built in Speyside for 60 years. Work began in 1898 just as Pattison’s Whisky went bankrupt. The company, it transpired, had been committing fraud, passing off cheap spirit as finest Glenlivet, and owed money all over the industry. The resulting scandal nearly collapsed the Scotch whisky business. So, not great timing! Glen Elgin finally opened in 1900 and immediately ran into financial difficulties. But after this uncertain start, it’s had a tranquil last 90 years, bought in 1930 by Distillers Company LImited, forerunners of Diageo, and has remained there ever since. 

The distillery’s rural situation was due to the proximity of Loch Millbuies which provides the water for distillation. For all you fans of technical details, here is a little extract from the excellent recently-published World of Whisky Book by Ridley, Smith & Wishart:

“Glen Elgin was rebuilt in 1964, with a new mash house and still house, and steam heating replaced the coal-fired boilers in 1970. It uses unpeated barley and operates a stainless steel, Steinecker full-lauter mash tun, nine larch washbacks  and six onion-shaped stills.” The fermentation is long and precise to yield a clear wort, and the stills are run slowly to encourage catalysis and produce a lighter, fruity spirit despite being condensed in traditional copper worm condensers.”

 The capacity is 1.8 million litres of pure alcohol per year but you don’t see it very often as a single malt because 95% of production goes into blends like White Horse (there’s a blend you don’t see very often in the UK, sadly) and Bell’s. Charlie Maclean described it like this: “A superb whisky that deserves to be better known. Ranked as ‘top class’ by blenders.” The 12 Year Old expression has a certain following in Japan and Italy, but it’s not one that Diageo puts any marketing muscle behind. There’s no visitor centre. 

Glen Elgin Douglas Laing

You do, however, sometimes see rare bottling from Gordon & MacPhail, That Boutique-y Whisky Company and, as here, by Douglas Laing, a company which, I am sure, needs no introduction to Master of Malt customers. This week’s New Arrival is part of the family firm’s Old Particular series of rare bottlings. It was distilled in 2007 and spent 12 years in single refill hogshead (cask number 13778, to be precise) before being bottled in January of this year. 338 bottles produced at 48.4 % ABV with no chill filtering. So, if you fancy something a little bit unusual, it’s worth taking a punt on this hidden distillery. 

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Toasted teacakes, clove and ginger. Some blackberry sweetness lingering.

Palate: Slightly peppery and warming with barley and honey. Waxy citrus peels plus a touch of juicy apple.

Finish: Malty chocolate, vanilla pod and stem ginger once again.

Glen Elgin 12 Year Old 2007 (cask 13778) – Old Particular (Douglas Laing) is available to buy here

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It’s Indian whisky, my friend

Indian whisky brands sell a staggering amount on their home turf but much of what is sold as ‘whisky’ wouldn’t be recognised as such in the EU or America. But…

Indian whisky brands sell a staggering amount on their home turf but much of what is sold as ‘whisky’ wouldn’t be recognised as such in the EU or America. But now this distilling giant is producing single malts to take on the world. Ian Buxton takes a closer look at the biggest whisky market of all.

What’s the best-selling whisky in the world? You’d probably guess Johnnie Walker, or perhaps Jack Daniel’s. You’d be wrong. In fact, it’s Officer’s Choice, which outsells Walker roughly two to one. Diageo’s global behemoth is also outpaced by a number of other little-known brands such as McDowell’s No. 1, Imperial Blue and Royal Stag.

Of course, ‘little-known’ is quite incorrect.  As befits their staggering sales – Officer’s Choice alone sells over 32 million cases annually – they are very well known indeed in their home market, which just happens to be India, the world’s largest whisky market. Even the tenth biggest seller, Bagpiper, accounts for some 6 million cases which would make it easily the world’s third largest selling Scotch. It’s not as it happens, though you might think the name and packaging just a trifle confusing.

For years, most of us outside India have tended to look down on Indian whisky, if we thought about it at all. Quite a number of the cheaper brands are distilled from molasses, which makes them rum in the eyes of EU and US regulators, hence the fact that they never appear on our shelves. The better Indian whiskies, however, are distilled from grain and frequently blended with a proportion of real Scotch. Scots distillers aren’t above shipping bulk whiskies to India for local bottling with Indian-made spirit, it’s just that they don’t make much noise about it.

The inability of the huge Indian distilling industry to sell most of its products in the EU has long been a source of friction and partly accounts for India’s significant tariff barriers on imported Scotch (up to 150% with additional regulations at individual state level). However, in recent years the more innovative Indian distillers have been producing single malt whiskies that meet EU legislation in full and, from a slow start, have been gaining sales here.

Ashok Chokalingam from Amrut in action

One of the pioneers was Amrut Distilleries, based in Bangalore who first launched in the UK in August 2004 in Glasgow. Since then they have collected both awards and appreciative fans who look to Amrut for both flavour and value.  Because of the rapid maturation of Indian whiskies and their willingness to experiment with finishes there has been a steady stream of releases and there is more to come. “We have released three different versions of Greedy Angels 10 Years Old last year and a single grain (first ever single grain whisky from India and one more first from India),” master distiller and head of international sales, Ashok Chokalingam told me. “In 2020 we are planning to release a number of exciting single casks for a number of countries, mainly for Europe and America. Also one more first of its kind is planned from India by May 2020,” he added intriguingly.

Amrut have progressively moved up-market: the 2019 Greedy Angels release commands a near-£700 price tag, albeit at 55% ABV. Stocks are very limited but such is the demand that a price hitherto unimaginable for whisky from the sub-continent can be sustained. Similarly, the Paul John range from John Distilleries of Goa also includes a number of interesting variants at £100+ prices.

Nor have rivals been idle. Rampur, based in the foothills of the Himalayas and one of India’s oldest distilleries, currently offers its Select single malt expression with a Double Cask and PX sherry finish variant due to follow shortly. Well informed critics tell me that Double Cask is an excellent product. “Rather nice” is how one understated Scots distiller described it; which, take it from me, is praise indeed. But then, this is a serious distilling operation – the company’s 8PM blend is one of India’s top ten whiskies, with annual volumes estimated to exceed 7 million cases.

Rampur Double Cask, “rather nice”

No surprise then, that Rampur has been looking at the lucrative European markets with interest and employing Scottish expertise to provide the essential skills. The legendary Dr Jim Swan was involved in their early single malt production and, more recently, former Diageo master distiller Charlie Smith (once of Talisker and latterly responsible for getting Ballindalloch up and running) has been working to install new distilling plant with a production potential approaching 2 million litres of spirit annually.

The new distillery will be capable of producing two distinct spirit types (think Roseisle) and is to be supported by new warehousing facilities with sophisticated humidity control to combat the estimated 12% angel’s share. These are substantial investments and indicative of the serious long-term thinking behind this project and the company’s commitment to quality.

Perhaps then, it’s time to rethink our attitude to Indian whisky.

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.


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Five minutes. . . with Kerri Watt

We talk to Scottish singer Kerri Watt ahead of her gig at Glengoyne Distillery on 20 March about music, meeting your heroes and the best ever song about whisky.  Whisky…

We talk to Scottish singer Kerri Watt ahead of her gig at Glengoyne Distillery on 20 March about music, meeting your heroes and the best ever song about whisky. 

Whisky and music have a long history together. Dave Broom’s recent film, The Amber Light, is as much about his love of music as it is about whisky. Continuing in this grand tradition is Glasgow-born singer-songwriter Kerri Watt. She shot to fame with her single ‘Long Way Home’ which was all over the radio in 2015. Since then she has played Glastonbury, opened for Coldplay, and played with legendary Latin smoothie Julio Iglesias at the Royal Albert Hall. Her latest track is the excellent ‘Kissing Fools’.

On Friday 20 March she will be playing a special gig at the Glengoyne Distillery near Glasgow aptly-called ‘The Spirit of the Song’ (tickets available here).  It will be a special all female line-up with Liv Dawn (runner up of the BBC Scottish Songwriter Award) and Beth Keeping (founder of movement ‘Write Like A Girl’). When we discovered what an enormous whisky fan she is, we jumped at the chance to talk to her: 

Master of Malt: How did this event at Glengoyne come about? 

Kerri Watt: I had the idea after touring round Scotland last year. There was such incredible history and things to discover during the day but most of the little towns went quiet at night. I thought it would be so cool if there was something happening in the evenings. Some of the distilleries I visited had great entertaining spaces where you’d start off the tour. It got me thinking they could be perfect for a small intimate gig. I think music and whisky often go hand in hand and when I started floating the idea to a few people they thought it was great! Ultimately, I’d like to take ‘The Spirit of Song’ on a tour of Scotland hitting as many distilleries as possible. But I thought Glengoyne was a good place to start. When I approached them, they loved the idea! I’m so excited it’s finally happening.

MoM: Can you remember the dram that made you fall in love with whisky?

KW: I think it was Laphroaig when I was 25. Definitely a late starter, but I used to really not get the fascination. I met my partner in 2015, and every time he’d have a whisky in the evening, he’d go through the ritual of offering me one. I eventually gave in and the rest is history. I love that it’s something we can enjoy together especially when we’re travelling. He’s English so it’s been so much fun visiting places like Laphroaig since we moved up to Scotland together.

Anyone for tennis?

MoM: What’s your favourite everyday whisky?

KW: The Balvenie Doublewood 12 Year Old. It’s accessible and affordable no matter where I am, which makes it great for an everyday whisky.

MoM: And what’s your dream dram?

KW: Hmm tough one! Anything rare that I might otherwise not get to taste. But if I had to name one that I’ve had my eye on, it would be Dalmore Constellation 1973.

MoM: Do you have a favourite distillery that you have visited?

KW: Last year, I had some American friends come to visit, so I took advantage of a holiday in my own country and took them to Islay. It’s crazy because I grew up here, but it really was such an adventure driving down to Kennacraig and getting the ferry across. We visited Laphroaig, Bowmore and Lagavulin. It was amazing to walk through the whole process. The guides are so knowledgeable and passionate about whisky and many of them have been associated with the distilleries for generations. Despite growing up five minutes down the road, I’d never actually visited Glengoyne until recently. My uncle was a tour guide there for years, so that has to be my favourite! They also sell incredible Glengoyne whisky-infused tablet which is to die for. If you haven’t been to Scotland you might not be familiar with tablet it’s much like fudge but less soft and a bit grainier.

MoM: How important are whisky and music in Scottish culture?

KW: Stories of music and whisky are woven into the fabric of our history and both have been enjoyed on Scottish soil for generations. It’s the reason so many people from around the world come to visit us. So many cultures can relate to enjoying music while sharing a drink and Scotland is one of the best places to do it!

MoM: What’s your favourite song about whisky?

KW: There are so many! Especially if you’re into country music like me. But when Chris Stapleton’s album ‘Traveller’ came out in 2015, ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ was the track that made me fall in love with him. If you’ve never heard the song, check it out. Or even better, look up the duet he did of it with Justin Timberlake at the Country Music Awards a few years ago… amazing!

MoM: What did you miss most about Scotland when you were in California?

KW: Well I definitely missed my family. We’re really close so moving to the other side of the world at 16 years old was definitely a bit of a shock. But they came to visit and Skype had just come about around that time. Although i’d never complain about the sunshine, at times i did miss the rain! I’m big into hiking and you can’t wait for a sunny day here in Glasgow, so I’m used to braving the stormy skies for some exercise. There’s no feeling like it!

MoM: And what do you miss most about California?

KW: So many things. The people for a start. I think the sunshine just puts people in a good mood. Everybody was so friendly where I lived a little beach community called Dana Point in Southern California. I miss that you could get up at 5am to go down and watch the surfers catch the first waves (no I wasn’t one of them!) The tacos, the frozen yoghurt and the sunsets. 

MoM: Who is the biggest influence on you musically?

KW: Sheryl Crow. I loved her growing up and she has stood the test of time. 30 years in the business and she’s still a total rockstar. Amazing lyrics, incredible stage presence and she’s just the definition of cool. After being a superfan much of my life, I finally saw her play live a few years ago and was totally blown away and very inspired. Her classic songs from the 90’s still regularly feature on my playlists and I always play her ‘C’mon, C’mon’ album on a roadtrip.

MoM: Do you ever get nervous playing with or meeting your musical heroes?

KW: Luckily, most of them are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met so I’ve always felt welcomed. Chris Martin must be the biggest super star I’ve rubbed shoulders with backstage he was really kind! And getting to share the stage with Keith Urban last year was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. His stage presence is second to none. Funnily enough, I was at a music event recently and got talking to this American guy. About half way through our conversation it clicked with me that he’s the dude who co-wrote all of Sheryl Crow’s biggest hits! Suddenly he was a totally different person to me and admittedly I did feel a bit star struck but I had to tell him I was a fan.

MoM: Finally, do you have a favourite whisky cocktail and if so what is it?

KW: You can never go wrong with an Old Fashioned. It’s a timeless classic that’s relatively simple and I love it with Woodford Reserve after coming off stage. But I’m always up for trying exciting new brands!


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Kilchoman’s new stillhouse and visitor centre are open

Islay’s eighth distillery Kilchoman has doubled its production capacity with a new stillhouse extension that opened this week. We managed to grab a quick chat with founder Anthony Wills about…

Islay’s eighth distillery Kilchoman has doubled its production capacity with a new stillhouse extension that opened this week. We managed to grab a quick chat with founder Anthony Wills about the effect the improvements will have, how he replicated the Kilchoman character and why legacy is key.

On Friday 21st February, family, friends, colleagues and local businesses gathered at Kilchoman Distillery on Islay to celebrate the opening of its new stillhouse and visitor centre. Unfortunately, terrible weather meant that we couldn’t be there in person, but over 150 guests did manage to witness the new developments, which began in 2018 with the completion of a new malt floor and kiln. These founder Anthony Wills says have allowed the distillery to malt twice as much of its own barley. “We’ve gone from four-tonne batches instead of two. In future, this will allow us to share more of our flagship expression, Kilchoman 100% Islay”.

The £6 million project entailed creating a new stillhouse by extending out from the gable end of the original. It contains two new stills, a new mash tun and six additional stainless steel washbacks which doubles the capacity to 480,000 litres of pure alcohol annually, though the distillery has not yet decided what production level it will settle at.

Kilchoman Distillery new stillhouse

The new stillhouse in all its glory

The new stillhouse had become a necessity in recent times due to the continued increase in demand for Kilchoman. Without an increase in capacity, Wills says, Kilchoman would be heading towards a situation where its whisky would be sold purely on allocation. “We wanted to continue building on the success of the last 15 years without the risk of running out of whisky. I’m a great believer that if you are standing still in business you are going backwards,” he explains. “With my three sons very much part of the business, I wanted to make sure we had enough Kilchoman single malt to share with consumers around the world. In the first 10 years, we had proved that Kilchoman had a following and I didn’t want to be in the position of allocating our single malt going forward”.  

The investment amounts to almost an entirely new distillery in itself, however, Kilchoman was keen that the new equipment was a mirror image of the original stillhouse to ensure that signature Kilchoman character and strong island provenance was retained. “I spoke to Jim Swan before he sadly died and he was adamant that the only way not to compromise on the character and style of our new spirit was to build a replica of what we had before,” says Wills. “So we set about copying all the production equipment we started with in 2005. Two more stills, a mash tun and six new washbacks. This was the only way we were going to get exactly the same spirit character.”

One particularly exciting aspect of this development for nerdy whisky fans (our people) is that the new equipment will allow more experimentation during the malting and peating phases. “With the new production up and running we have started experimenting with sowing different barley varieties on the farm, processing unpeated, lightly-peated and heavily-peated malt, using different yeast varieties, different spirit cut points and isolating the spirit from each different run,” Wills explains. “We are excited to see how it affects the character of the spirit and I’m especially interested in the way different yeast varieties affect the character of the spirit”.

Kilchoman Distillery new stillhouse

Founder Anthony Wills at the opening of the new stillhouse and visitor centre

Two more bonded warehouses have also been built to allow greater room for cask maturation. The distillery has had to rely on using space in predominantly dunnage warehouses owned by Bruichladdich, Bowmore and Port Ellen, but Wills confirms that Kilchoman will continue to build more warehousing as demand dictates, commenting “I want to mature all our stock on Islay. This is important to our USP”.

The final phase of the current expansion project has been the completion of a new open-plan visitor centre that encompasses a shop area selling whisky and branded goods, glass windowed tasting rooms, a bar to enjoy your drams around a log burning stove and a café. In 2019 Kilchoman Distillery welcomed some 30,000 visitors and each year this number is rising, which is why Wills felt it was important for the distillery to have space to accommodate the increasing number of people making the trip. ““We needed to create a better experience for our visitors so we decided to build a purpose-built building behind the café,” he says. “We are very happy with the end result as we’ve managed to retain many of the original features of the stables. The new visitor centre will be open 7 days a week from the end of March so make sure to come and visit us soon!”

The developments couldn’t have come at a better time as far as Wills is concerned. “He believes the future of whisky and especially Islay malt is very positive. The category is still seeing growth and we are confident this will continue,” Wills says. “However, the recently implemented tariffs in the USA and coronavirus will present its challenges. I’m delighted we launched Kilchoman 15 years ago when very few new distilleries were being opened. The challenges are much greater for all the distilleries around the world that have recently started.

Kilchoman Distillery new stillhouse

Guests enjoyed the new visitor centre at the opening event

Wills had mentioned in the press release that these changes came at a time when he thought he might take a step back. It’s notable that these developments have taken place as his sons take on a greater role and the family presence increases. “The big thing for myself and my wife was about leaving a legacy for my sons to take to the next level. I believe family-run businesses have more of a connection with their customer base and I would like to see Kilchoman growing as a family business well into the future,” Wills explains. “Kilchoman was always about growing a business and leaving a legacy to my three sons to take on when I eventually step back….that isn’t happening anytime soon!”

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Master of Malt tastes. . . Ardbeg Blaaack

Today we had an advance sniff of a special limited edition Ardbeg (that’s available later this year) inspired by the enormous number of sheep in New Zealand so it’s aged…

Today we had an advance sniff of a special limited edition Ardbeg (that’s available later this year) inspired by the enormous number of sheep in New Zealand so it’s aged in Pinot Noir casks. How bizarre! 

Some distilleries have fan clubs. Arbeg has the Ardbeg Committee which was founded in 2000 and now has 120,000 members in 140 countries around the world. It functions as a testing board for new expressions as well as a highly engaged organisation with members who attend tastings, give feedback, visit the distillery and generally spread the word. Last year when we spoke with Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stocks for the Glenmorangie Company, he said: “the purpose of the Ardbeg Committee is to make sure that the distillery never closes its doors again. It’s had a complicated turbulent history, opening and closing its doors. It’s the Committee that will keep the doors open way into the future.”  

Brendan McCarron Ardbeg

Brendan McCarron. always on brand

To celebrate 20 years of the Committee, Ardbeg is launching a new limited edition expression. It’s inspired by the country that’s about as far away from Scotland as its possible to get, a country where there’s seven sheep for every one person: New Zealand. And what else is New Zealand famous for? Rugby! Yes, but also wine. So this latest limited edition is finished in Pinot Noir casks. It’s called Ardbeg Blaaack in honour of all those sheep though why didn’t they call it Ardbeg All Blaaaack and get the rugby in there too? Missing a trick there Ardbeg. 

Mickey Heads, Ardbeg distillery manager, said: “In every corner, of every far-flung place, you’ll find an Ardbeg Committee member. For 20 years they’ve been proudly demonstrating their black-sheep behaviour. Ardbeg Blaaack is the best possible way to pay tribute to our tearaway fans who, like us, are shorn to be wild!” 

McCarron wouldn’t share the exact cask make-up of this new expression when we contacted him, only to say that the core is aged in Pinot Noir casks for a good long time. This isn’t no short dip. Dr Bill Lumsden, Ardbeg director of whisky creation, commented: “Ardbeg Blaaack knits together velvety summer fruit pudding and bitter cherry, with a deeper edge of soot and Ardbeg’s hallmark smoke. It’s the perfect dram for toasting our legendary committee.” 

That’s the Committee edition. Fancy!

Two versions have been made, a Committee version bottled at 50.7% ABV, and a general public one at 46% ABV. Both will retail for around £94. Initially it will only be available from 3 March for Committee Members (there is still time to join before this date). Everyone else will have to wait until Ardbeg Day, 30 May, when it will be launched at Fèis Ìle and available from Master of Malt. So, you’ll have to wait to taste it, we’re afraid. But lucky us, we were given a tiny wee sample to taste, so here to tantalise you is what we thought:

Ardbeg Blaaack Tasting Note:

Nose: You can really smell the cask influence. The first thing that comes off are dark cherries with some peachy notes underneath followed by classic Ardbeg aromas of smoked meat and old fireplaces. A splash of water brings out cedar and some volcanic notes.

Palate: Fiery and spicy initially, then those cherries again with limes lurking underneath with wood smoke underlying it all.

Finish: Lick of dark chocolate, single espresso and wafts and wafts of wood smoke. 



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New Arrival of the Week: Bruichladdich 28 Year Old

This week’s New Arrival is a single cask Bruichladdich bottled by Hunter Laing and filled in the early ‘90s when the future of the distillery looked far from certain.  Islay…

This week’s New Arrival is a single cask Bruichladdich bottled by Hunter Laing and filled in the early ‘90s when the future of the distillery looked far from certain. 

Islay had a rough time in the ‘80s and ‘90s. A downturn in the Scotch whisky industry meant that there wasn’t such a demand for malts, especially such distinct ones. Port Ellen closed 1983 and was partly demolished. Others escaped a similar fate only by a whisker, distilleries like Ardbeg and the one we’re looking at today, Bruichladdich.

The distillery dates back to 1881 when it was founded by three brothers: Robert, William and John Harvey. It was a purpose-built distillery, state of the art for the time. As is the way with Scotch whisky distilleries, except Glenfarclas, it changed hands a number of times before settling down with Invergordon Distillers (now part of Whyte & Mackay) from the 1960s until the ‘90s. Bruichladdich was largely used in blends. At some point in the ‘60s peat was abandoned and the maltings fired by coal instead. So, unlike its neighbours, most Bruichladdich is unpeated. It’s not your typical Islay single malt.


The Bruichladdich Distillery today

After some uncertain years, the distillery finally closed in 1994 and was mothballed. That may have been it but a London wine merchant called Mark Reynier was an enormous fan, selling quantities through his business and was heartbroken at his favourite distillery’s closure. As you do, he decided that he was going to buy it. After being rebuffed by the distillery’s owners for many years, he put together a consortium who finally managed to purchase Bruichladdich in 2000. He had two strokes of luck in bringing the name back from the dead. Firstly, the distillery was largely intact and was able to get the original equipment, including a 19th-century cast-iron mash tun, six Oregon pine washbacks and four swan-necked stills, working again. Secondly, Islay whisky hero Jim McEwan was retiring from Bowmore at about the same time and rather than settle into a life of golf and Saga holidays, was looking for a new challenge. It was the start of a beautiful friendship. McEwan’s role in the Bruichladdich revival is portrayed in the film The Golden Dram.

Bruichladdich began working again in 2001 and since then has become famous for doing things a little bit differently. The packaging to start with, you’ll find no tartan or Monarchs of the Glen here. The team has stayed true to the elegant Bruichladdich style with unpeated whisky but they also make the heavily-peated Port Charlotte and the oh-my-god-it’s-so-peaty Octomore (named after a local spring). There’s also an excellent Botanist gin made using a Lomond still which appeared in 2010. All the whiskies are created from Scottish barley and there have been releases made with a rare archaic cereal called bere. If you want to talk about terroir in whisky, it’s a good place to start.

Talking of terroir, Reynier’s latest venture is the Waterford Distillery in Ireland making true single estate whiskey, as well as Renegade rum looking to do a similar thing on the island of Grenada. Bruichladdich was bought by Remy Cointreau in 2012 but seems to have kept what made the distillery special. 

One for your whisky library.

But all this in the future when our New Arrival was distilled. In 1991, it was filled into a refill hogshead (cask number 16883 to be exact) and there it lay for 28 years before being bottled (at cask strength 50.7% ABV with no chill filtering) by Hunter Laing, the Glasgow-based independent bottler who last year moved into distilling with Ardnahoe on Islay. This expression is part of its ‘First Editions’ range, about which the company said: 

“As the name may suggest, each cask is carefully selected to evoke the qualities of a rare literary volume – those of character and collectability. Colour-coding on the labels denotes the particular regions the whiskies themselves are from and each bottle is individually numbered and presented in a gift tube. A ‘First Editions’ bottling without doubt makes a valuable addition to anyone’s whisky library.”

But don’t just leave it on the shelf in your whisky library, you can also drink it. Only 295 bottles have been filled. It’s a slice of history that’s unlikely to hang around. 

Tasting note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Grassy malt with honeyed cereal, sea breeze and melted butter.

Palate: Spicier than the nose suggests, with cinnamon, nutmeg and toasted oak. Lots of apricot, pear and apple following on.

Finish: Layers of toffee, oat, lemon and black pepper.

Bruichladdich 28 Year Old 1991 (cask 16883) – The First Editions (Hunter Laing) is available now.





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Master of Malt tastes… The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

The Dalmore has launched a 51 Year Old expression and we were lucky enough to be one of the first to taste it. No, really. Here’s what we thought. Any…

The Dalmore has launched a 51 Year Old expression and we were lucky enough to be one of the first to taste it. No, really. Here’s what we thought.

Any Scotch whisky lover will tell you The Dalmore is no stranger to extravagant expressions. Bottlings such as The Dalmore L’Anima Aged 49 Years, The Dalmore 60 Year Old and The Dalmore 45 Year Old have cemented this reputation. It’s not surprising then that the Highland distillery’s first major release of 2020 is a whisky fit to join this illustrious list: The Dalmore Aged 51 Years. 

A launch event to taste and talk all about it took place at the Hotel Café Royal in Piccadilly, London this week, where master distiller Richard Paterson was on dapper and dandy form as usual to present his latest source of pride. It was all very exciting, as I’m sure you don’t need telling. This would be my only opportunity to sample The Dalmore Aged 51 Years as only 51 bottles (neat) will go on sale and the pleasure of its company in the future would set me back £55,000. As you would expect for a whisky of this type, there’s a glossy hand-crafted presentation case (black sycamore wood, don’t you know) which houses the crystal decanter and stopper. But, in the immortal words of Shania Twain, that don’t impress me much. Even if the 12-point ‘Royal’ stag is looking particularly resplendent in sterling silver.

The whisky itself is far more compelling. Bottled at a natural cask strength of 40% ABV and presented without any additional colouring, it was initially matured in ex-bourbon casks before it was distributed between Port Colheita 1938 casks, Matusalem sherry casks and first-fill bourbon casks. The spirit was then reunited in bourbon barrels for a final flourish. The press release notes that this demonstrates “how deeply The Dalmore treasures the sanctity of the cask”. 

The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

The Dalmore’s Richard Paterson with his latest source of pride

The official quote from Paterson in the marketing bumf drove this point home further. “The Dalmore 51 Year Old is a noble single malt of rare profundity and it has been my pleasure to closely follow its maturation over five decades. I am always looking towards the future and I carefully consider how each distillation will evolve, moving our spirits to new wood to transform their conclusion. The Dalmore 51 Year Old is a fine example of this.” At the event Paterson reiterated this, explaining that long maturation and cask innovation has been part of The Dalmore DNA since the Mackenzie brothers owned the distillery.

The fact that The Dalmore’s stringent wood policy across its thousands of casks and the guiding principle that the ‘cask is king’ took centre stage was particularly interesting. The classic issue with whisky matured for this long is that the profile becomes too woody. As I made my way to the event the question of how you successfully mature a whisky for 51 years was on my mind. In this case, Paterson clearly feels the answer lay in utilising multiple casks. He made a point early on at the event to say that by “using the right cask you rejuvenate the whisky, then it goes over like silk”.

In a presentation before dinner, Paterson told stories about the distillery and its history, but it wasn’t long before casks became the focus of the conversation. Paterson describes the maturation process of The Dalmore Aged 51 Years like a journey, one that begins in ex-bourbon casks that “provide the base of the whisky and allows it to settle down”. He then explained that in order to make something special he used Port Colheita 1938 casks for four years. “This took that American white oak and gave it body and character with those plummy notes you get with this style of the Port wine”. The spirit was then added to exclusive 30-year-old Matusalem sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass for five years, which Paterson explains was to bring notes of “old English marmalade, grapes, sultanas and Christmas cake. This, mixed together with that Port wine, comes together in a perfect assemblage”. 

The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

The Dalmore distillery

We were then invited to taste The Dalmore Aged 51 Years, I didn’t need telling twice. I was conscious that your perception of a whisky can be influenced by the setting, so I took a portion of my designated glass away to taste at home in order to compare and contrast my thoughts. You’ll be pleased to know what across both sets of notes, there’s hardly a mention of woodiness. Instead, my two separate tasting notes both concluded that this was a complex dram. In fact, I thought The Dalmore Aged 51 Years was utterly sublime.

The vibrancy of the fruit is striking, as is the heaps of flavour despite the low strength. It’s chock-full of Dalmore distillery character and each cask plays its part without every truly veering into dangerously tannic territory. Paterson described it as a whisky “that deserves every splendour, it’s something very different and something unique”. I’d add that it’s very, very delicious. For more detail, the customary MoM tasting note is below.


The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

The Dalmore Aged 51 Years

The Dalmore Aged 51 Years Tasting Note:

Nose: Homemade blackberry compote, lime marmalade, roasted espresso beans and a litany of dried fruit – dates, figs and sultanas – drenched in spiced molasses lead. Elements of dusty oak furniture, soft toffee pennies and vanilla cream develop among touches of golden tobacco, chocolate orange, Turkish delight and diced almonds. As the nose progresses notes of Conference pears, stewed plums and rich dark chocolate make their mark as lemon meringue, Bakewell tart (with the cherry), honey roasted peanuts and Bassett Allsorts emerge in the backdrop. 

Palate: A faint rasp of woody tannins quickly make way for bold notes of sticky Jamaican ginger cake, stewed dried fruits, Madagascan vanilla and Manuka honey spread liberally on wholemeal toast. A tart hint of Morello cherry compliments the sweeter elements of damson plums, muscovado sugar, thick-cut orange marmalade and syrup sponge. A dash of festive cinnamon emerges in the mid-palate among complex notes of roasted pineapple, balsamic vinegar, liquorice lace, cacao, earthy red chilli and a hint of cinder toffee.

Finish: Long, resinous and full of dark fruits. There’s also a hint of floral perfume and soft caramel notes.

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Benriach: painting with whisky

While there are many parallels between the worlds of whisky-making and art, the two rarely meet in a literal, visual sense. And perhaps for good reason. Is it even possible…

While there are many parallels between the worlds of whisky-making and art, the two rarely meet in a literal, visual sense. And perhaps for good reason. Is it even possible to portray the essence of a whisky on canvas? MoM went to BenRiach’s ‘tasting by painting notes’ masterclass to find out…

Last summer, Scottish single malt BenRiach approached landscape artist Ellis O’Connor with a pretty unique challenge: create three pieces of art inspired by the three distinct cask types – bourbon cask, sherry and virgin oak – that make up BenRiach 10 Year Old. Being an oil painting maestro, O’Connor finessed the task; combining the “woodiness and drama” of the Scottish Highlands – BenRiach’s home – with the tasting notes and colours associated with each cask, as well as the colour palette found in the liquid. 

Bourbon cask

The Bourbon cask painting (obviously)

“I start the blank canvas with [a layer of] dried kelp and dried seaweed,” the artist, who hails from the Outer Hebridean Island of North Uis, explains. “There’s a lot of it where I live and it goes into a really lovely texture. For the bourbon cask, I worked a lot with the different notes – there’s a warm vanilla note in that cask that I really like, which you can see in the yellow colours coming through. It’s quite subtle, I didn’t want them to be too intense. It’s the mix of the dark drama of the Highlands with the palate shining through in the hues.”

The sherry cask painting (clearly)

Compare that to the sherry cask, which O’Connor found to be “a lot darker and spicier, with raisin and hazelnut notes, which I really liked. That one has a lot more red, almost ginger colours shining through. Again, they’re all quite subtle, but that’s how the whisky comes across – with lots of little notes that you can taste later on.”


The virgin oak painting (naturally)

This was the lightest, O’Connor says, with sweet, vanilla notes – almost like candy floss at times. Each painting is made up of four layers of oil paint, which allows her to bring through so many different hues. “The art is quite abstract, you can see lots of different things in it, and I’m passionate about that as an artist,” O’Connor says. “That’s what art is meant to be about.”

And the same can very much be said for whisky. Primarily, because our sense of smell is so personal. “We’ve all got a different olfactory epithelium – the 10 cm2 at the top of your nose – so we have different sensitivities,” explains  Dr Rachel Barrie, master blender at BenRiach. “My vanilla might be your coconut. Or, you know, my date might be your apricot.”

And so many other variables can impact the liquid – the cask it was aged in, the mood you’re in, etc – that there can be no ‘right’ way of enjoying it. “If you add a few drops of water, it will make a change,” says Dr Barrie. “Like the ever-changing nature of painting and layering, by adding water to the whisky, you are going to disrupt the composition in some way. Some aromas will leap out and some will hide away.”

Your surroundings make a difference, too. “The environmental influence is fascinating,” she continues. “When I go to Jerez, I actually find more of the sherry character in BenRiach 10 when I’m nosing it. When I go to Taiwan, it’s pineapple cake. It’s incredible. Whisky is arguably the most sensorial experience you can get in terms of the diversity of aromas and tastes.” 

Whisky + painting = fun

Then, there’s the link between aroma, memory, and emotion. “Our sense of smell is the most underused sense, but it has the strongest connection to our limbic system,” Dr Barrie adds. “It goes straight to the primitive part of your brain that is gut instinct. That’s the journey that you go on when you smell or taste any food or beverage.”

Crikey. There’s a lot going on. How the hell does she manage to cut through the noise and make whisky? “You have to know the spirit inside out – to really appreciate the spirit off the still first and foremost, and understand how that’s going to work in different cask types” Dr Barrie explains. “What are its different facets? For BenRiach it has a wonderful balance of fruit and malt.” From there, she says, it’s like painting, because you are relying on your senses and instinct to create. 

“I’m a scientist more than an artist, but I would say ‘the science is the art is the idea’,” she continues. “Science is a way of deeply understanding the character and how a liquid the whisky comes to be. It’s understanding the influence of the mineral-rich water in the springs beneath BenRiach. It’s understanding the influence of the atmosphere and the unique geography of the landscape. But it’s also exploring and creating with the paint pots that are the casks. In that way, I’m painting with flavour rather than with colour.”

After sampling each cask type for ourselves, the paintbrush was passed to MoM. We consulted our tasting notes. We sipped BenRiach 10. We even stared blankly into space for a short while. And 45 minutes later, this is the result. 

My effort, I call it WTF

Oh dear. In our defence, it looked far better after a few drams. Ignore the fact it’s garbage for a moment, if you can, and consider the bigger picture (pun intended). It’s about taking unique and personal sensory data – in this instance, taste and smell – and transforming it into something tangible. And that’s what art is. So, to answer our initial question: Is it possible to portray the essence of a whisky on canvas? Yes, very much so. With art, like with whisky-making, some people are more talented than others. But ultimately, it’s all subjective. 

Even so, we’ll stick with the day job.


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Greenwashing in Scotch whisky

We hear a lot about environmental concerns and sustainability from the Scotch whisky industry these days. But is there real substance behind the marketing? Ian Buxton investigates… I watched a…

We hear a lot about environmental concerns and sustainability from the Scotch whisky industry these days. But is there real substance behind the marketing? Ian Buxton investigates…

I watched a nice little video recently. It features Doug Allan, a wildlife cameraman particularly noted for his work on Blue Planet, talking about his relationship with the sea. It runs alongside another short film about some rather earnest Californians who make ‘sustainable surfboards’. Both form part of Old Pulteney’s Rise with the Tide campaign on the brand’s website, where it tells us, rather sententiously I felt, that its story “is inseparable from the sea”, and that it embraces “the sea’s immense power… to do something remarkable.”

I rather like Old Pulteney and enjoyed the feel-good videos, without thinking about them very deeply.  After all, who these days doesn’t want to appear concerned about the environment in general and oceans in particular?  We’ve all seen the disturbing images of oceanic pollution and watched distressing footage of birds, animals and fish caught up or killed by plastic waste.  We all want to do something.

Kudos then, to the films with their stated aim. “Our latest film series is all about sharing these stories,” the website assures us, “so people can take inspiration from them. To get out there, embrace that opportunity and do something remarkable.”  

So, I wondered, what remarkable thing is Pulteney doing? I posed a series of questions to the brand, expecting to hear about wave power generating the distillery’s electricity, reductions in effluent and waste, work with local environmental campaigners – something, anything related to these worthy messages. To summarise the answer: there’s nothing in particular.  Turns out this is a brand awareness campaign attempting to highlight Old Pulteney’s claim to be ‘The Maritime Malt’.

Now we could discuss the highly-vexed and contentious question of saltiness in the taste of whisky, but I’m not going down that particular rabbit hole. Or we could enquire what it is, precisely, that makes Old Pulteney notably different from other distilleries located on our coastline (Talisker’s marketing is uncannily similar). But there’s a bigger issue – and that’s the question of ‘greenwashing’ in marketing.

Sustainable Surf x Old Pulteney - Rise With The Tide

The Ecoboard boys enjoying a dram

Greenwashing: “a form of marketing spin in which green PR (green values) and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organisation’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly and therefore ‘better’” (thanks, Wikipedia for that cogent summary). I’d say that aligning your brand with cuddly Doug Allan and the manufacturers of ECOBOARDS™ without actually doing anything is a classic example. Incidentally, the surf video was shot on location in California – each person from the brand who flew to Los Angeles generated 2.63 tonnes of additional CO² (or around three times that if they were fortunate enough to be flying business class, which would wipe out the CO² saving of more than 200 ECOBOARDS™).

In fairness, I don’t think anyone at Old Pulteney really thought about this in terribly great depth. They seemed genuinely surprised by my questions so what I think we have here is a bit of fluffy PR with no real substance.

It’s a shame though, and the disappointment is made worse by the fact that some brands are doing this well. Take Glenmorangie, for example, and its DEEP sponsorship, which we covered back in May last year. It is helping the regeneration of the oyster beds in the Dornoch Firth, which will improve the local marine environment and may, in time, form the basis of a sustainable high-value fishery. Who wouldn’t enjoy half a dozen native oysters washed down with some Glenmo’?  I know I’d be available for that media trip!


The oyster beds in the Dornoch Firth

Chivas Brothers, justifiably proud of the reduced energy footprint at Dalmunach, is the  lead sponsor of VIBES, the Scottish Environment Business Awards. “We believe sustainable business should be at the core of any enterprise that takes a long-term approach and expects their product to have a purpose and role in society,” says Ronald Daalmans, environmental sustainability manager for Chivas Brothers. Past award winners include Diageo for its work on environmental protection on the Leven site.

Not so very long ago, Dewar’s adopted lightweight bottles for its blends and installed a biomass boiler at Aberfeldy distillery, which was projected to deliver a phenomenal 90 percent reduction in the brand’s carbon footprint on the site. In 2018, Chivas Brothers barred plastic straws and stirrers from all its events in over 100 countries, and campaigned on Twitter to raise funds for the Marine Conservation Society. 

And so on… there’s no shortage of whisky brands stepping up to meet the environmental challenges in distilling.  So, greenwashing marketers should take care. Today’s consumers are alert to empty claims and not shy in calling out offenders, with the consequent backlash far outweighing any early wins for brand image.

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.

After Ian Buxton filed this article, he received a short statement from Old Pulteney:

The Rise With The Tide campaign was developed to tell the story of The Maritime Malt in a new way, giving more insight into how our coastal hometown of Wick has depended on its relationship with the sea for hundreds of years.

Our content series shares personal life stories which mirror our brand narrative. Our first partners (Doug Allan in the UK and Sustainable Surf in the US) were selected for their lifetime of work with the sea, and their craft depending on the same patience that’s required to make a really great whisky. This is just the beginning, with the next phase of the campaign set to reveal more about the $20,000 investment we’ve made with Sustainable Surf to back their projects designed to protect the sea. This is being finalised now and will run this year – we’re looking forward to revealing more on this in the coming months.

Being a responsible member of the community is a value that Pulteney distillery has held for decades. Working in partnership with Ignis, Pulteney has supported a district heating scheme which supplies over 200 homes with renewable energy and utilises the biomass boiler’s steam to reduce the distillery’s greenhouse gas emissions. In recent years, we updated the secondary packaging of our whisky to ensure the design was fully recyclable. Projects such as these continue our ongoing commitment to, where possible, put in place sustainable measures.”

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