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

Master of Malt tastes… Waterford Single Farm Origin whiskies

These must be some of the most eagerly-anticipated whiskies ever, Waterford’s inaugural releases each made only from barley grown on a specific farm in Ireland. Mark Reynier, ex-Bruichladdich supremo, is…

These must be some of the most eagerly-anticipated whiskies ever, Waterford’s inaugural releases each made only from barley grown on a specific farm in Ireland. Mark Reynier, ex-Bruichladdich supremo, is the man behind it, and he’s got a lot to say.

Mark Reynier is not a man to mince his words: “The whole principle of provenance based on terroir is understood in wine and Cognac, but for some reason when it comes to whisky everybody seems to have had a lobotomy.” Scotch whisky might be made from Irish, Canadian or even, sharp intake of breath, English barley, and, though this might surprise some readers, is considered completely normal in the industry. Received wisdom is that where a barley is grown has a negligible effect on the finished product.

Reynier has a different perspective perhaps because his background is in wine. He spent 20 years in the trade before moving into whisky with the revival of Bruichladdich in 2000. Here he became interested in the raw materials, producing an organic whisky and a release made from bere, an archaic type of barley. But on Islay, there wasn’t the space, infrastructure or climate to conduct a commercial experiment in terroir so he could prove that different bits of land affect the flavour in the end product.

Reynier described terroir as: “the 3D connection between bedrock, subsoil, soil, microclimate, topography, elevation, orientation to the sun, drainage”. Ireland proved the perfect place to realise his dreams. He said: “Climatically it’s much much better to grow barley in and you don’t have geese, autumn gales, the deer, or the other associated issues.” Ireland being further south has milder weather and a longer growing season. He was inspired by the late Duncan McGillivray from Bruichladdich, “he told me the best barley he ever saw came from Ireland,” Reynier said.

Quiet, demure, unopinionated, it’s Mark Reynier!

He looked at various old distilleries around the country, there wasn’t much around, but he stuck gold in 2014 when an ex-Guinness brewery came on the market in Waterford. It was state of the art having only been built in 2004 at the cost of €40 million. “Brewing is two thirds of distilling,” he said, “we just introduced the copper element to shiny stainless steel.” It took one year and a day to convert it into a distillery. The copper element came in the form of two old stills from a now closed lowland Scotch distillery, Inverleven. The high tech equipment proved ideal for the terroir project as it involves processing a huge amount of data: “Diageo equipped distillery with latest date collection material for efficiency and volume which we have repurposed for quality  and analysis,” Reynier said. 

Farms and farmers:

Then it was a question of finding farmers who wanted to be involved. The Waterford team works with 40 farms each year, though they have changed as, according to Reynier, “some wily old farmers either found it too much hassle or weren’t up to scratch. It’s the young farmers really get what we are trying to achieve.” Around 100 farms have been involved in total. The grain from each farm has to be processed separately. Data is collected every step of the way, over 8,000 pieces per farm.

Interestingly, according to Reynier, there is no discernible difference between different varieties of barley. That is because they are “all based on the same parents and selected for disease resistance and yield. Not for flavour”, he said. The team is currently experimenting with early 20th century strains but this is a long term project.

Harvesting, drying and malting:

Waterford has what Reynier calls a ‘cathedral’ located in the heart of the barley-growing area. It contains 40 bins, each one can take 140-50 tonnes of barley. Here the barley is dried to preserve it before it’s off to the maltsters. It’s a huge undertaking, this is not a little craft distillery. 

Waterford uses Boortmalt in nearby Athy. The distillery has its own mini-maltings just for its barley within this larger facility. “Malting is a vastly underrated part of the distilling operation. One that just gets passed over. That’s where the great artistry is, being able to malt barley properly,” he said. Initially, each load of barley was malted in a one size fits all way but that led to some erratic results so each batch is subjected to a mini malting in the lab to ascertain the best way forward. 130 tonnes barley from the field results in around 75 tonnes of malt.  

Ex-Guinness brewery, now the Waterford Distillery

Mashing and fermentation:

Because this is a modern brewery, the equipment is more advanced than you would normally find in a distillery. Instead of a traditional mash tun, there are a series of pneumatic filters which according to Reynier means that you get more flavour out. 

Waterford uses a standard distilling yeast but uses about half of what most distillers use. The next step will be to propagate wild yeasts from certain fields, “that’s the next part of the project”, Reynier said, “but it’s not as interesting as terroir.” The team do a long fermentation of about 120-150 hours using the temperature control to slow it down, a facility that most distilleries don’t have. Reynier said: “not only are we getting more flavours extracted by our mash filter, but we’re also getting purer flavours”. As you would hope, he was on fighting form comparing the Waterford approach to the industry norm: “Distillers see fermentation as a bottleneck that has to be overcome. It is overcome by using a double volume of yeast to obtain a highly volatile, aggressive fermentation that is over in less than 24 hours, sometimes considerably less.” I’m sure many distillery managers would have something to say about that, but the Waterford approach would be uneconomic for most Scotch whisky producers. 

Distillation:

Reynier handed us over to Ned Gahan, who spent 15 years working with Diageo before joining Waterford in 2014. The stills date back to 1974 were designed to create an elegant floral spirit. Waterford uses double distillation as in Scotland and, interestingly, spells ‘whisky’ without the ‘e’. The process is slow with a narrow cut between around 66-75% ABV taken, all in the name of purity. Again, as with the malting and fermentation, the exact cut depends on the barley used. The spirit is not diluted before running into casks. The distillery produces around 1 million litres of pure alcohol per year.

Ned Gahan in action

Wood:

As you might expect, Reynier has some strong views on wood: “Now people say 80% of whisky’s flavour comes from wood, I bloody well hope it doesn’t.” He went on to say: “They [large whisky companies] have corrupted wood into this marketing pseudo thing where every whisky you see now has to be finished, why can’t you just start with the right barrel in the first place, then you don’t need to finish anything at all?!” 

The wood used is top quality, 30% of production costs go on barrels. The team uses a mixture French oak, virgin and first fill from wine producers, American oak, virgin and first fill bourbon, and fortified wine casks which they refer to as VDN (Vin Doux Naturel), not just sherry and Port, but also Banyuls, Maury and Rivesaltes from France. 

Taste that terroir:

From tasting the new make spirit, Reynier noticed different flavours: sandy soil produces more fruit flavours, clay soil more malty, limestone-influenced soil giving more spice. Gas chromatography analysis backs up sensory experimentation, we were told. In September, the University of Cork will publish a paper, which is currently being peer-reviewed, showing how terroir does influence flavour. 

Reynier puts it down to the three ‘t’s: terroir, traceability, transparency: “we believe in real provenance. It’s no use having it and saying you have it you have to be able to prove it.” In the words of the Sultans of Ping, “I like your manifesto, put it to the testo”. It was time to try some new make, both from Olympus barley harvested in 2017.

The first from Meadow Lodge Farm in Galway owned by Brian Kenny. Soil type: loamy drift with limestone. This smelt spicy with notes of liquorice and a saline freshness. In the mouth it’s fresh and peppery with some oaty porridge flavours.

Second sample came from Groveside farm in Wexford owned by John Cousins. Mixture of shale and limestone with some sand and an undulating topography. This smelt vegetal and fruity with green olives, lemon, honey and a malty sweetness. On the palate, it’s sweet and fruity, with lots of malt character. 

They certainly taste different. Rather proving Reynier’s point about where they are grown. And also the quality is obvious, both samples at around 71% ABV were incredibly smooth.

But would the terroir character persist after cask maturation?

Terroir, transparency and traceability

Whisky:

The first two releases are from single farms: 

Produced from barley grown by Ed Harpur in Wexford, right by the ocean at sea level.
Variety: Overture from 2015
Filled 23/06/2026
Bottled: 5/2/2020
ABV: 50%
Spirit aged for 3 years and 7 months
American oak first fill: 35%
American new: 20%
French first fill: 25%
VDN: 20%

Tasting note: Sweet smelling with notes of hay, vanilla, coconut, spicy oak, liquorice and cloves. In the mouth, banana custard with some oak tannins and spice. Initially it seems like oak dominates but apple fruit, elegance and depth come through with time open. Lovely texture.

Waterford Single Farm Origin – Ballykilcavan 1.1

Produced from barley grown by David Walsh-Kemmis in Laois
Variety: Taberna from 2015
Filled 19/04/2016
Bottled 5/2/2020
ABV: 50%
Spirit aged for 3 years and 10 months
American first fill: 45%
French first fill: 37%
VDN: 18%

Tasting note: Wow, this is so different: fruity nose, wine-like, red fruit plus some funky touches of barnyard, and sherry vinegar. Acidity and freshness followed by earthy notes, chestnuts, and baking spices, like mulled wine. Not as elegant as Bannow island, very intriguing. 

They taste so different: The Bannow island initially a bit young but coming back to it, the depth of flavour even at that age is startling. It’s in no way raw or one- dimensional. Ballykilcayan tastes pretty crazy, tasting it you’d think there was a lot more wine cask influence than in Bannow Island. Again, great depth of flavour for how young it is. You’ll notice that the cask regime is not identical because Waterford had yet to acquire any French new oak when the 2015 Ballykilcavan barley was distilled. In future, all single farm expressions will have exactly the same oak treatment. They are both bottled with no colouring or chill filtration at 50% ABV, Reynier recommends a drop of water to bring out complexity.

These are not limited edition whiskeys. 200 barrels of each has been produced Reynier described it as an artisanal method but made to a “sensible commercial volume.” 

The bottles are pretty fancy too

The future:

In 2021, Waterford plans to release what Reynier refers to as a Grand Vin though will probably be called Cuvée. It’s an assembly of the best farms to create something like a Grand Cru Bordeaux or a vintage Port with “layers upon layers of complexity”. Further in the distance will be the Arcadian range made from organic, biodynamic and/ or heritage barley strains.

The Waterford project is fascinating for its sheer ambition and from tasting the new make and these young whiskies, the team are clearly on to something special. When asked about how the big boys would respond, Reynier was characteristically forthright: “In the next three, four or five years expect lots of images of barley, lots of images of farmers, lots of Gladiator-like fields of shimmering barley as they carry on doing exactly as they’ve always done. The word terroir will be abused beyond belief, it will be corrupted to being almost worthless.” 

Waterford Single Farm whiskies are now sold out. We don’t know when we’ll get any more in.

No Comments on Master of Malt tastes… Waterford Single Farm Origin whiskies

And that’s a wrap

There have been some amazing whisky publicity stunts over the years but none quite as audacious as the one Ian Buxton tried to pull off with the artist Christo. Here’s…

There have been some amazing whisky publicity stunts over the years but none quite as audacious as the one Ian Buxton tried to pull off with the artist Christo. Here’s the full story. . .

You may have noticed that the artist Christo died recently. He was 84. His wife and artistic collaborator Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 and thus Christo’s passing marks the end of a remarkable creative duo. They worked together but always under the name of Christo.

You will remember them of course as the guys who wrapped things. Starting in the 1950s with mundane household objects such as chairs and bicycles they graduated to wrapping trees, fences, bridges, monuments, buildings and, on occasion, islands. They wrapped the Pont Neuf in Paris and even the Reichstag (below). 

Imagine getting one of these for Christmas!

They were colourful and sometimes controversial characters. Not everyone cared for their work; there were frequent objections to their planned installations and one lady even died when one of their Umbrellas (1991) was toppled in high winds and struck and killed her.

We didn’t seem to ‘get’ them here in the UK, though after Jeanne-Claude’s death, Christo was able to install his London Mastaba in Hyde Park in 2018. So what’s this got to do with whisky you may be wondering.  Well, if I had been a more persuasive advocate, they might have completed their first UK work in Scotland, nearly twenty years earlier. It’s an unusual story, strange but true.

Prior to this writing lark I worked almost exclusively in consultancy, building on my previous career in marketing. Together with my wife (note the parallel), we established a consultancy business in Edinburgh where we had a number of whisky clients. However, in early 1999 one major client appointed a new president of global brands. This is generally not good news for the incumbent agencies as, determined to make their mark, the newcomer looks to shake things up. Based in the USA, the lady concerned did not appear impressed with anything other than the most fashionable of trendy New York agencies. It was imperative that we come up with a suitably grandiose idea. And fast.

So I proposed that we ask Christo to wrap the client’s main distillery. To bait the hook, I suggested we pay them £1 million, cover all the costs, give them complete creative control and see what they came up with. But I had a cunning plan: to get the client their money back I also proposed a special Hommage à Christo limited edition of wrapped bottles of single malt. 1,000 bottles at £1,500 should do nicely, I reckoned.

How long would it take to wrap a distillery?

Well, the client loved it and I was instructed to go and see Christo immediately and make it happen. Through friends of friends we were put in touch and, in the summer of 1999, I found myself in New York visiting Christo and Jeanne-Claude at their combined store, workshop, gallery, studio and home in an old warehouse in the Meatpacking District (not in those days the most salubrious part of town).   

I was received with great courtesy and we toured the studio, looking at the concept studies for their current project, Over the River. Later abandoned due to local opposition, this envisaged suspending 5.9 miles of fabric panels along a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River between Cañon City and Salida in south-central Colorado. They told me that they needed $5m to fund the project. My hopes rose – compared to a river, wrapping a distillery would be a breeze and surely a million quid would come in handy.

Some whisky was shared, and then some wine, and they agreed to look at the drawings I had brought. Scotland seemed to appeal; the drawings received close and apparently sympathetic attention and some practical issues were discussed. All seemed to be going well.

But then we hit a snag. Quite a big one, as it happens. Rather gravely and, I thought, a little sadly they explained that, on principle, they never ever accepted commissions. There were no exceptions; they were both completely clear that a commission would not be their artistic vision and thus fatally compromised. A little recklessly – both bottles had been well sampled by this stage – I assured them (quite without any authority) that my client would surely want to increase the fee. I mentioned figures, increasingly extravagant figures, but they were unmoved. So I returned, older, wiser and empty handed to my client to report my failure.

And, you’d assume, we lost their business.  Well, no.  Along with my Christo project I’d also proposed building a visitor centre and they loved that idea as well. So Aberfeldy distillery got Dewar’s World of Whisky – but, sadly, neither of us will ever feature in the history of art!

No Comments on And that’s a wrap

New Arrival of the Week: Crabbie 25 Year Old 1994

Today we’re celebrating a single cask release from John Crabbie & Co. Normally this independent bottler keeps the source of its whisky secret but in this case we are allowed…

Today we’re celebrating a single cask release from John Crabbie & Co. Normally this independent bottler keeps the source of its whisky secret but in this case we are allowed to reveal which island distillery it comes from. . . . 

John Crabbie was one of the great pioneers of blended whisky like John Walker and Arthur Bell. Crabbie, who lived from 1806 to 1891, owned a grocery and tea-blending business in Edinburgh, but moved into the whisky trade when phylloxera devastated the vineyards of Cognac leading to demand for an alternative from English drinkers. He acquired casks and started bottling whiskys from more than 70 distilleries around Scotland. With his friend Andrew Usher, he began blending whisky to create a consistent product. This led to him purchasing a brewery in Leith where he set up his own distillery producing not just whisky but also gin and liqueurs including a famous ginger wine. Later the two of them, along with William Sanderson (of VAT 69 fame), would set up the mighty North British grain distillery.

The North British is still going strong but until very recently the Crabbie name was only known for ginger wine, all that whisky heritage was largely forgotten. In 2007, Halewood, the company behind Whitley Neill gin as well as the Aber Falls Distillery, City of London Distillery, Liverpool Gin Distillery, and the Bristol & Bath Rum Distillery, acquired Crabbie. Production of Crabbie’s ginger wine moved to Liverpool, shock horror! But Halewood has not neglected Crabbie’s Scottish roots. Far from it, in December 2018 the company opened Crabbie & Co, Edinburgh’s first single malt distillery in over 100 years. Whisky, of course, takes a long time, so Crabbie has been building a reputation with some award-winning single malts releases from mysterious distilleries. 

The latest release, however, Crabbie is proud to announce is from Tobermory, a popular distillery at Master of Malt and not only for its excellent whiskies. This particular one was distilled in 1994 and aged in an ex-sherry hogshead and then bottled without chill filtering or the addition of colour at 46.2% ABV. John Kennedy, head of sales for Scotland, commented: “Crabbie 1994 Island Single Malt is one of our most carefully planned releases to date. We’d had cask samples from distilleries all across Scotland and it was a difficult choice, but this sherry cask from Tobermory was absolutely stand out with its nose of sweet macerated dates, fruit cake, warming spice and its orange marmalade and rich dark chocolate finish. It will most certainly appeal to those who take their whisky seriously.”

We take our whisky very seriously here and were suitably impressed. Despite the all sherry cask ageing, it’s not what you’d think of as a ‘sherry bomb’. The nose is aromatic, minty even, followed by sweet toffee, coffee and dark chocolate notes. In the mouth, it’s fruity and fresh, with cedar, black pepper and muscovado sugar on the finish. All round, it’s an elegant drop. It’s also a very limited edition with only 247 bottles available for all of the UK market. We think it’s a great tribute to a giant of Scotch whisky who deserves to be much better known.

Tasting notes from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Brandy butter and fruitcake, with a hint of menthol sneaking through.

Palate: Soft on the palate, with sultana, chocolate mousse and malt loaf. A slow build of clove and caraway warmth.

Finish: Tiffin, chocolate peanuts and some fresh mango fruitiness.

Crabbie 25 Year Old 1994 is available now from Master of Malt.

No Comments on New Arrival of the Week: Crabbie 25 Year Old 1994

Master of Malt tastes… Mars Japanese whisky

Today, we’re tasting whiskies from a lesser-known Japanese producer, including a couple that are distinctly affordable. Not something you hear that often when the words ‘Japan’ and ‘whisky’ are put…

Today, we’re tasting whiskies from a lesser-known Japanese producer, including a couple that are distinctly affordable. Not something you hear that often when the words ‘Japan’ and ‘whisky’ are put together. 

It’s well-known that Japanese whisky is based on the Scotch industry, dating back to when Masataka Taketsuru visited Scotland in 1919, and brought distillation and ageing techniques back home. But did you know that much Japanese whisky is based on Scotch a little more literally? 

Yes, it’s something of an open secret that many blended Japanese blended whiskies contain some Scotch. Japanese whisky regulations are almost non-existent, and a whisky can be labelled as Japanese even if it contains foreign-distilled spirits. In the past ten years, demand for Japanese whisky has exploded, and at the same time bulk imports from Scotland (and Canada) have increased dramatically. According to SWA figures, there was a four-fold increase in bulk exports from Scotland to Japan between 2013 and 2018.

Pot stills at Shinshu

Many Japanese blends, even those imported into the EU and USA, contain Scotch. One hears all sorts of rumours but it’s hard to know which producers are involved. One brand, however, is open about its use of Scotch malt in its blends: Mars.

I met with Cristian Cuevas, the UK brand ambassador for Mars before lockdown to taste through the range. The venue was an amazing bar in London by Old Street roundabout called Bull in A China Shop that specialises in Japanese whisky. They have Karuizawa at £55 a glass. According to the owner, Stephen Chan, many people who order it “are collectors who have a bottle at home but have never tried it”. 

Mars has a pretty convoluted history. Its parent company Hombo has been making shochu since the 19th century, as well as that uniquely Japanese style of wine, Koshu. After a few false starts with distilleries around the country, in 1985 it opened a single malt distillery, Mars Shinshu at Miyata in Nagano province just in time for the Japanese whisky crash of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. The distillery closed in 1992, but reopened again in 2011 when the market picked up. It was completely refitted with new stills of the same shape as the old ones, but larger. At 800 metres above sea level, this is the highest distillery in Japan. Some grain whisky is now made here too. 

Tsunuki distillery

In 2016, the company opened a second distillery, Mars Tsunuki, in Kagoshima prefecture. Both distilleries produce unpeated, lightly peated and heavily peated whiskies, and they use mainly ex-bourbon casks with some ex-shochu and Yamanashi wine casks, and mizunara oak as well as various fortified wine barrels. They only operate around half the year in the cooler months. Mars has three warehouses including one at Yakushima in the far south of Japan where it’s extremely hot. The team moves barrels around so that the whisky ages at different rates. 

Because of those closed years, the company has something of an inventory problem with small stocks of very mature whisky, plus younger casks from the post-2011 rebirth. Scotch whisky is used to plug this gap, which it does seamlessly. And no wonder, as raw materials (much Japanese whisky uses imported malted barley from Scotland) and production methods are pretty much identical for Scotch and Japanese whisky. As long as producers are open about it, we’re all for this blending of two great whisky nations. 

Casks maturing at Shinshu

Right, let’s try some whiskies!

Mars Kasei 

This is a special blend created for Le Maison du Whisky in France. The name means ‘Mars’ in Japanese. Sneaky. It’s a mixture of Japanese malt and grain with, according to Teddy Althapé Arhondo from LMDW, some whisky from Scotland. It’s aged in a mixture of new American oak, ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, and bottled at 40% ABV. On the nose there’s a little smokiness with some lavender, honey and green apple. It’s fruity with sweet vanilla on the palate but with that smokiness lingering underneath. Delicious, drinkable and deceptively complex, it might be the ultimate Highball whisky. 

Mars Maltage Cosmo

The name is a clever portmanteau of ‘malt’ and ‘age’. It’s a blend of Japanese malt, approx 80%, and Scotch single malts. A plethora of different cask types are in here: bourbon, Madeira, sherry cask and Port. It’s bottled at 43% ABV. The flavour profile is classic ‘sherry bomb’. There are lots of fruitcake aromas and a distinctive spicy note like cardamom. On the palate, it’s rich and round with orange peel, dark cherry and chocolate. Very long finish. This is a luxurious dram that will appeal to lovers of Tamdhu or Glenfarclas. Cigars at the ready!

Mars Komagatake single malt (2019 release) 

Every year, Mars releases a small batch single malt from Shinshu, combining young casks with mature pre-1992 malts. This gives you a taste of the old Shinshu distillery before it was refurbished (there are also some old single cask bottlings which tend to be very expensive). This 2019 release was aged in bourbon casks, apparently, though it does taste as if there’s some European oak in there. It’s a rich, spicy whisky with ginger, dark cherries, dried apricots and aromatic notes of cedar and tobacco. Lovely mix of sweet and spicy balanced by smoke and fruit. It’s bottled at 48% ABV. Absolutely superb and for a Japanese single malt, good value for money. 

No Comments on Master of Malt tastes… Mars Japanese whisky

What we’re buying for Father’s Day

Today we ask a few people from around the office which bottle they are buying this Father’s Day for their dads. Some of the answers might surprise you… For many…

Today we ask a few people from around the office which bottle they are buying this Father’s Day for their dads. Some of the answers might surprise you…

For many of us this will be the first Father’s Day in years that we won’t be able to raise a glass to our fathers in person because of lockdown restrictions. It’s a particularly difficult time with grandparents unable to see their children and grandchildren, and the pubs are closed! But we don’t want the old man to feel unloved so we will be sending a card and something from Master of Malt such as a nice bottle of wine or two, a single malt whisky, or some unusual gin. What better way to say ‘Happy Father’s Day!’ than with booze. Here’s a selection of what a few people from Master of Malt and the wider Atom family will be buying their fathers.

Stevie Heyes – head of engineering

Fiona Macleod 33 Year Old – The Character of Islay Whisky Company

I’m treating my dad as he is hitting a milestone age later in the year (no more details for fear of meeting an untimely demise when I see him next). He loves Islay whisky, but he’s a frugal chap and wouldn’t dream of buying the Fiona Macleod 33 for himself, so I will. Well you’re only 70 once oops.

Jess Williamson content assistant

Jaffa Cake Gin

Since I introduced my dad to Negronis there’s literally nothing else he’d rather drink (so long as someone else is making them), and I’m yet to find a better gin for the cocktail than Jaffa Cake Gin! It’s super zesty, plus he loves finding new spirits to show his friends, and this is definitely a unique one. Negronis all around this Father’s Day!

Cal MeGuinness – trade service advisor

Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva

It’s safe to say that my dad is not the easiest man to buy for… A copy of ‘A Beginners Guide to Birdwatching has gone unread, and last years ‘World’s Greatest Dad’ mug has turned into a rather nifty pen pot. So this year I’ve decided to go for something a little different and picking up a bottle of Diplomático Reserva Exclusiva rum from Venezuela. It’s full of flavour on it’s own but also makes a rather delicious Rum and Ginger! Surely I can’t go wrong with rum?! 

Charlotte Gorzelak – social media and email assistant 

Caorunn Small Batch Gin

My dad has had a thing for gin ever since my sister introduced it to him seven years ago. Now we have a regularly updated bar shelf which has at least five types of gin. To add to his collection this Father’s Day, I am giving him a delightful Scottish gin made with dandelions, Caorunn Small Batch Gin. We’re going to drink it with a slice of red apple and plenty of ice.

Henry Jeffreys features editor

Father’s Day Whisky Tasting Set

My father likes his single malts but he’s more of a wine drinker. So what better way to broaden his whisky horizons than with the aptly-named Father’s Day Tasting Set. There’s a classic ten year old Islay, a 12 year old Loch Lomond, a small batch bourbon and just to confuse him, a blend of whiskies from around the British isles. 

Adam O’Connell  writer.

Tobermory Gin

My dad remembers drinking the occasional gin and tonic in his youth in Ireland, but for much of his life he’s had two go-to drinks: lager and Guinness. But recently he’s embraced all things botanical again and likes to pair his gin with ginger ale instead of tonic. A savoury gin with plenty of warming citrus and delicate sweetness, like Tobermory’s flagship gin, makes a great base for this cocktail. 

Peter Holland – rum consultant 

Foursquare 12 Year Old 2007 – Exceptional Cask Selection

My father is hardly a drinker, so I am thinking about something you really could spend your time with, a single pour that evolves and takes you on a journey. Foursquare 2007 is one of those spirits that covers a lot of bases. Perfect for those looking to explore cask strength rum; It offers so much without being overtly challenging but will not disappoint the experienced sipper either.

There’s more gift ideas and special offers to be found on our Father’s Day page. 

 

No Comments on What we’re buying for Father’s Day

Win a VIP trip to Tobermory Distillery

Our latest competition offers a whisky-dipped VIP trip to the fabulous Tobermory Distillery, the perfect present for Father’s Day… Among the beautiful colourful houses of Tobermory, you’ll find the Isle…

Our latest competition offers a whisky-dipped VIP trip to the fabulous Tobermory Distillery, the perfect present for Father’s Day…

Among the beautiful colourful houses of Tobermory, you’ll find the Isle of Mull’s only distillery since 1979 and one of the oldest commercial distilleries in Scotland. The wonderful Tobermory Distillery is probably best known for its two delicious and distinctive styles of Scotch whisky: the fruity, non-peated Tobermory and the robust, smoky Ledaig, as well as its recent success with a certain award-winning gin… 

As big whisky fans, we’d all jump at the chance to visit the scenic distillery that sits at the water’s edge of its idyllic Hebridean home. But one lucky person reading this blog and their plus-one will have a chance to do just that. With Father’s Day on the horizon, we think this would make quite the present. Nothing says you love your dear old dad more than a bundle of brilliant booze and a once-in-a-lifetime trip, after all.

VIP trip to Tobermory Distillery

The kind of drinks and view you could be enjoying soon…

“I’m very excited. What exactly do I win? Tell me all the details”.

Well, you win a VIP trip to the Isle of Mull to visit Tobermory Distillery, enjoy the local surroundings and eat and drink all kinds of delicious things. Your transport for the duration of the trip is covered. Your accommodation, likely to be two nights at the Tobermory Hotel (depending on availability), is taken care of. You’ll enjoy lunch and a tour of the local village, as well as dinner for two at £50 per person per night (£200 dinner budget for trip). But best of all, you’ll get a private VIP tour and tasting with either management staff or ambassador and two 70cl bottles of a distillery exclusive Scotch whisky expression. It’s a whisky lover’s dream!

“How do I win?! I want to win!!!”

We’ve made this competition really easy to enter. All you need to do is purchase any qualifying 70cl bottle from the Tobermory distillery range for a chance to win. You can buy as many bottles as you want from the following selection, from the sherry-soaked and sublime, to the peaty and powerful, and even one particularly delicious gin! A selection of expressions from the range also boasts some incredible savings:

You’ll also be entered if you purchase one of the following:

VIP trip to Tobermory Distillery

Buy one of the eligible bottles, including the tasty Ledaig 10 Year Old, and you’re in it to win it!

So, even if you don’t win, you’ll still have a terrific bottle of whisky or gin to call your own. That’s some consolation prize. Best of luck to you all and happy Father’s Day!

MoM Competition 2020 open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 12:00:01pm 29 May to 23:59 23 June 2020. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Shipping restrictions apply. See full T&Cs for details. 

2 Comments on Win a VIP trip to Tobermory Distillery

Lessons in sherry casks with Tamdhu

We take a lesson in the complexities of sherry cask-ageing with one of the very few single malts that is entirely aged in sherry casks, Tamdhu in Speyside. The last…

We take a lesson in the complexities of sherry cask-ageing with one of the very few single malts that is entirely aged in sherry casks, Tamdhu in Speyside.

The last tasting I attended in person before lockdown was with Gordon Dundas, brand ambassador from Tamdhu. We met in a tiny room in London: a few writers, lots of whisky and no social distancing. At the time it was fun and enlightening, looking back, it seems almost miraculous that such a thing was possible.

Tamdhu has to be one of Speyside’s least-known distilleries. Dundas said that he’d never even heard of it before he got the job at Ian McLeod Distillers, the parent company. “Even whisky people don’t know Tamdhu”, Dundas said. “We are not an old distillery,” he continued, “when the distillery opened in 1897, it was the most modern distillery of its time.” Tamdhu nearly disappeared a couple of times: no distillation took place between 1925 to 1947 and then after a period of expansion in the 1970s, it was mothballed by the Edrington Group in 2010. Ian McLeod acquired the distillery in 2011 and production resumed the following year. The company, Scotland’s second largest family-run distillers, now owns three whisky distilleries, Tamdhu, Glengoyne, and the soon to be reborn Rosebank, along with brands such as Smokehead, Sheep Dip and Edinburgh Gin

Sandy McIntyre and Gordon Dundas

The distillery:

At Tamdhu there’s capacity to produce four million litres of pure alcohol per year, 85% of this goes into blends. The rest is put into sherry casks to be sold as a single malt. Despite the rather trendy looking St. Germain-style bottles, introduced in 2013, it’s marketed very much at the single malt lover. There’s no line about demystifying the category or changing whisky’s image. Dundas commented: “We’re after the whisky drinker. We’re not trying to convert people nor are we after the cocktail market.” 

While sister distillery Glengoyne packs in 90,000 visitors per year, Tamdhu doesn’t even have a visitor centre. According to Dunadas it would cost £1million and they would rather spend the money on sherry casks. He also added: “We are not a pretty distillery”. The whole operation is automated. Dundas told us little about the process: “we heat the stills slowly. It’s a very different whisky when stills get too hot. It’s more of a simmer than a boil which gives us lots of reflux. Historically people used to whack the stills on full power.” 

The new make certainly tasted good. We tried it at 66.9% ABV and it showed lots of cereal character and green minty notes. Water brought out a creamy texture. You wouldn’t know it but Tamdhu uses a tiny amount of peated barley because, according to Dundas, that’s what’s always been done.

The casks:

Then we got onto the serious business of sherry casks. The distillery has its own on-site cooperage presided over by an ex-Glenfiddich cooper. The firm has produced a useful 12 minute film called Spain to Speyside (above) to explain how the casks get to Scotland. The team buys from various firms in Spain: Tevasa, Vasyma, and Huberto Domecq (scion of the great Domecq sherry family). Tamdhu uses butts (around 500 litres), puncheons (like a dumpier butt, no giggling at the back!), and Hogsheads (250 litres). These are sent whole to Scotland, not broken down. 

The casks are all seasoned for two years with oloroso sherry of roughly five years of age. This is real sherry, not sherry-style wines that some producers use. The wood soaks up about 35 litres of sherry per year. Dundas said: “The role of sherry is to modify the oak. Colour and flavour come from oak not the sherry. Sometimes it can be hard to tell sherry-infused oak from bourbon oak.” 

Tamdhu uses both American oak (quercus alba) and European oak (quercus rober). The Spanish wine industry has long-used American oak barrels which are much cheaper as you get many more casks per tree. It’s not just in Jerez, traditional Rioja owes its signature taste to long ageing in American oak. The final factor to be considered is whether the casks are first-fill or refill.

Tamdhu cooperage (you probably don’t need a caption here)

 

So when someone says ‘sherry cask’, there are a number of questions we can ask:

-What size is the cask?
-Is it European or American oak?
-What type of sherry was used to season?
-How long was the sherry in the wood for?
-Is the cask refill or first-fill?
-How long was the whisky in the sherry cask for?

It’s complicated. To demonstrate the importance of just one of these factors, European or American oak, we tried two limited edition Tamdhus:

– Representing America was a single cask bottling named in honour of Sandy Mcintyre, distillery manager, winner of best Single Cask at the World Whiskies Awards this year. It was distilled in 2003, bottled in 2019 at 56.2% ABV, and only aged in a first fill American oak sherry butt.

– And in the European corner was the Edinburgh Airport Cask which was distilled in 2006, bottled in 2019 at 58.9% ABV, and only aged in a first fill European oak sherry butt

 

Casks, very important

The American oak one had some of what you might think of as sherry notes on the nose, some dried fruits, but really it was all about fresh fruit with vanilla, crème brûlée, and caramel. Tried blind, I think most people would say something about bourbon casks. The American oak character is really strong. 

Then we tried the European one, the colour is much darker (all Tamdhu expressions are the colour they came out of the cask, unlike some other famous sherry-influenced malts that Dundas mentioned). Now this is what you’d think of as a sherry bomb: dried apricot, tobacco, leather, a smell like getting into a Jensen Interceptor. Then the mouth, it’s all about wood tannins, strong chilli spice, drying leather and maraschino cherries. 

Both are superb sherry-influenced whiskies but only one is what you’d think of as a classic sherried whisky, the European oak version. Those ‘sherry bomb’ notes come not from sherry but from European oak. It makes sense, because those flavours also crop up in old Cognacs. Old Macallan often tastes a lot like Cognac. 

Tamdhu 12 Year Old, a lovely drop

We then tried some of core range bottling that combine the two oak types, different cask types as well as refill and first fill casks: 

– The 12 Year Old leans more to American oak. The nose smells of butter and vanilla with a touch of tobacco then peachy fruit with some strong herbal new make character coming through. It’s creamy and sweet on the palate with some peppery notes.

– The 15 Year Old is matured in around 40% European oak. The nose is so fruity with apricot, pineapple, oranges in syrup, lots of rancio character. On the palate, there’s vanilla, orange peel, demerara sugar with walnuts on the finish.

– Finally, we tried the Batch Strength #4, a limited edition NAS expression bottled at 57.8% ABV.  It’s a real beastie that would appeal to lovers of whiskies like Mortlach. Nose is marmalade, dark chocolate, then the palate is like burnt sugar, thick dark marmalade, dark chocolate and chilli spice. 

My favourite of the day was probably the 15 year old, a graceful melding of European and American oak but everything we tried was spectacularly good. Tamdhu is very quietly, without making too much fuss about it, turning out some of the finest whiskies in Scotland. You should check them out. And now you’ll never use the words ‘sherry cask’ when tasting whisky without thinking carefully again. 

 

1 Comment on Lessons in sherry casks with Tamdhu

New Arrival of the Week: Balvenie Edge of Burnhead Wood 19 year old

This week we’re shining our giant Master of Malt spotlight (think 20th Century Fox logo) on a new release from Balvenie made entirely from estate-grown barley and kilned using local…

This week we’re shining our giant Master of Malt spotlight (think 20th Century Fox logo) on a new release from Balvenie made entirely from estate-grown barley and kilned using local heather. To tell us more we have brand ambassador extraordinaire Alwynne Gwilt.

The Balvenie Stories range was launched last year with three distinctive whiskies:  The Sweet Toast of American Oak 12 year old, A Week of Peat 14 year old and A Day of Dark Barley 26 year old. Each one highlights an aspect of the rich history of the distillery and some of its long-serving personnel. Alwynne Gwilt from the distillery told us: “At The Balvenie, we are lucky to have an incredibly loyal team working at the distillery, many of whom spend decades or entire careers with us. As such, we have a wealth of stories that go along with that because they know what life was like working in the distillery in the 1970s, say, and how it has developed and changed over the subsequent decades.”

Alwynne Gwilt Balvenie

Alwynne Gwilt having fun at The Balvenie

One such lifer is master distiller David Stewart MBE who has been with The Balvenie for 57 years. Gwilt told us: “One of my favourite memories of time spent with David is when we were in his lab nosing samples and I asked him what motivates him to keep coming to work after so many years. And he said: ‘Because, I can always keep learning something new.’ That humbleness, that willingness to be open, is inspiring and I think this whisky with all of its intriguing facets is testament to that ethos.”

It’s called the Edge of Burnhead Wood, after a wood near the distillery. Doesn’t Burnhead Wood sound like the whiskiest wood ever? This expression pays homage to the landscape, the barley and the water of this most beautiful part of Scotland. It’s the first ever Balvenie made entirely from estate-grown barley all malted by hand on Balvenie’s traditional floor malting.

This love of the landscape goes further because, as Gwilt explained: “We put a layer of heather [collected from Burnhead Wood] on top of the coals as it was going through the drying process.” A technique that was done in the past at the distillery. Gwilt elaborated: “Preserving those stories, and those moments in time when we make interesting decisions such as adding heather to the malt during the kilning process on this new release is vital to us not only because it represents the legacy of these individuals but also because it speaks to the human element of whisky making.” Finally, the water used comes from the nearby Conval hills.

It’s David C. Stewart or DCS to his friends

Gwilt then told me a little about the casks used to age the spirit: “In the case of The Edge of Burnhead Wood it has only been matured in American Oak and does not go into a secondary cask for a finish.” It’s a 19 year old whisky bottled at 48.7% ABV. The Edge of Burnhead Wood is a limited release, much like last year’s The Day of Dark Barley, so when it’s gone, it’s got. 

David Stewart commented: “Stories are the lifeblood of The Balvenie Distillery and are deeply embedded in all the work that we do. The story behind The Edge of Burnhead Wood captures the majestic Speyside landscape and the inventive essence of The Balvenie’s loyal and determined craftspeople. In this way, The Edge of Burnhead Wood sums up the spirit of the work carried out at The Balvenie Distillery; The Balvenie remains true to the techniques and stories passed down by its craftsmen from generation to generation, while also looking forward by exploring new techniques, flavours and marriages to develop unique and original Balvenie expressions.”

You can learn more by listening to a specially-produced podcast (available here, on Spotify, and can be accessed by scanning a QR code on the bottle) between Stewart and brand ambassador Gemma Paterson. Gwilt described it as: “the perfect escape for a time like this, when sometimes you just need to curl up, enjoy a whisky, and hear a friendly voice.” 

The Edge of Burnhead Wood 19 year old is available now from Master of Malt.

Tasting note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Dried fruit with a dusting of nutmeg, honey on toast, an oily hint or two of roasted barley balanced by citrus blooms.

Palate: More dried fruit – this time Medjool dates and plump sultanas – followed by aromatic oak warmth, delicate heather honey and sugary shortbread.

Finish: More floral wafts of heather and vanilla blossom, plus a final whisper of candied ginger.

2 Comments on New Arrival of the Week: Balvenie Edge of Burnhead Wood 19 year old

The hidden world of private cask sales part one

Ever fancied your very own cask of Springbank? Well, until quite recently, this is how much single malt whisky was sold. In the first of a two part story, Ian…

Ever fancied your very own cask of Springbank? Well, until quite recently, this is how much single malt whisky was sold. In the first of a two part story, Ian Buxton looks into the often murky past and present of buying private casks from some of Scotland’s best-known distilleries. 

I’ve been thinking for some while about how the Scotch whisky industry sells casks to private individuals. Now you might very reasonably draw the conclusion that I should get out more but, that not being possible for the foreseeable future, I suggest that you pull up a chair, pour yourself a stiff dram and get ready for a long story – a two-parter, in fact. And we begin with a short history lesson (if it helps, think of it as home-schooling for grown-ups).

The purchase of a cask of single malt whisky by an individual is probably as old as the industry itself. Without stepping back terribly far in time – no more than 40 years – it was quite commonplace for a doting parent to purchase a cask of whisky in the name of a newborn child to await the celebration of their majority. The better class of pub and numerous hotels frequently had their own cask, often from their nearest distillery. Syndicates of chums, shooting or fishing friends, might subscribe for a cask to be bottled and enjoyed when out on the hill or riverbank. Companies had their own cask bottled for corporate gifts or to celebrate a significant anniversary or even a major deal.

What treasures lurk behind the white-washed walls of Bowmore?

You could approach the distillery direct or buy via a broker, then a more important part of the industry. When times got hard, distilleries were grateful for the business – Springbank in particular was a consistent seller of private casks. When I first entered the industry in the late 1980s, it was not unusual to visit a warehouse and see a small collection of privately-owned casks, some where all contact had been lost with the owner. These ‘orphan’ casks were just beginning to be a bit of a nuisance. Paperwork had to be maintained, they took up scarce warehouse space and were slowly deteriorating in quality or strength but could not be touched in case the owner or their descendants suddenly appeared. Sometimes a feature could be made of them – some readers may recall the display of orphan casks that once occupied a highly visible corner of Bowmore’s legendary No. 1 Vaults on the shores of Loch Indaal. The guide would point them out – containing allegedly the oldest whisky on the site – but not to be touched or sampled for even the most important VIP guest.  What mysteries they held could only be guessed at, delicious speculation over a later dram.

The trade was then more informal. If not quite conducted on a handshake there were fewer rules. In particular, it was acknowledged that having paid for the cask the owner could do with it whatever he or she wished (provided the tax was paid).  Private bottling was normal and, by and large, thought unexceptional.

From time to time such drams still appear at auction. Here, for example, is a Jura single malt privately bottled for the hotel of the same name that stands opposite the distillery and here is one of the many Springbank bottlings, this to commemorate the decommissioning of HMS Campbeltown. And, finally, just to show that anyone could do this, here’s a Port Charlotte from a cask that I bought in 2002 and bottled through Royal Mile Whiskies (check out the back label if you don’t believe me).

Imagine having one of these!

So despite the protestations of certain distillery’s PR teams and what you may sometimes read, the sale of private casks has been a long-honoured tradition. But it was never, until relatively recently, approached with an overtly commercial eye: the purchase price was typically little more than the distillery’s standard trade filling price with a small margin added for the inconvenience. How do you think it was possible otherwise for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society to begin a modest operation, discretion assured, back in 1983 when they could benefit from the ‘whisky loch‘ of such bitter memory. The distillers were, quietly, glad enough to see them then, as few buyers were interested in older casks. With Scotland awash with whisky, every sale was gratefully received.

But industry consolidation brought hard-eyed accountants to the fore. The profit was not considered worth the paperwork involved and a generation of marketing managers, more astute than their predecessors, began to question the lack of brand control as single malt sales grew in importance and value. One by one, the supply dried up. When, in November 1989, Aberlour distillery ran a national advertising campaign to sell casks there were eyebrows quietly raised at the SWA at the headline, “Invest in a hogshead of Aberlour”. The price of £1,350 (ex duty, VAT and bottling) was considered excessive by many and the very idea of promoting private sales was simply ‘not done’.

So, by 1990, it may have seemed the halcyon days were numbered. The possibility of your own cask moved slowly out of reach as prices rose and availability fell. But, if you’re seriously rich, all is not lost.  Look out for part two next month where I delve into the shadowy world of million pound casks and some very private buyers.

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 The hidden world of private cask sales part one

The search for perfect snack & spirit pairings

If you’ve ever felt uncertain mixing spirits with snacks, you’re not alone. However, through rigorous and very scientific testing methods, we think we’ve uncovered some perfect pairings… Food and drink….

If you’ve ever felt uncertain mixing spirits with snacks, you’re not alone. However, through rigorous and very scientific testing methods, we think we’ve uncovered some perfect pairings…

Food and drink. The phrase rolls off the tongue in such a way that it makes me believe they should rarely be apart. Breakfast deserves orange juice. Tea demands biscuits. They complement each other so carefully that you can almost imagine every type of drink having an invisible string connecting it to its faithful food friend.

But then spirits enter the picture, and the strings end up getting a bit tangled. You can enjoy an excellent spirit with food, I just don’t think I’ve ever quite found a perfect duo. However, I truly think there’s opportunity for greatness when spirits meet snack foods, and so through my Very Important Research, I set out to uncover some impeccable pairs.

First order of business was to assemble a snack selection. I chose eight snack foods that I believed stood a good chance of complementing a spirit – with some caveats. For starters, I’m a vegetarian, which automatically ruled out some snacks – my apologies, pork scratchings aficionados. I’ve also seen the dangers of introducing cutlery to a casual pub setting first hand, so anything involving knives and forks was also not considered. With this in mind, the final snack list was…

The snack ensemble

Crisps – Specifically cheese and onion flavoured crisps. It’s the best readily available flavour of crisp and I am willing to fight my corner on that.

Peanuts – Specifically salted peanuts. Why wouldn’t I want my legumes to be covered in tiny mineral crystals?

Tortilla chips – Specifically salted tortilla chips. I usually want to avoid having my fingers covered in that bright orange dust found on cheesy tortilla chips.

Plantain chips – Specifically salted plantain chips. OK, this time I was limited by the selection at the shop, but probably what I would have chosen anyway.

Popcorn – Specifically salted popcorn. I refuse to acknowledge sweet popcorn.

Olives – Specifically green olives. You might think olives need cutlery, or at least a toothpick, but I don’t. Does this make me a monster? Maybe.

Pretzels – Specifically salted pretzels. Other jazzy flavours are available, but let’s be real. Let’s be really real. If you’re getting pretzels, you’re getting salted pretzels.

Pickled onions – Specifically… Actually, never mind. They’re pickled onions.

Next, a spirit selection was assembled. For this list, I picked out drinks that wouldn’t raise too much of an eyebrow if you were to see them on the back bar of your local drinking establishment. OK, the genever might be a bit surprising, but I really like genever and wanted to see what if there were any good matches. I’ll admit I was playing favourites. To allow for general applications of the findings I won’t be revealing any of the brands, but I aimed to use good examples of the spirit and style. The final list was peated single malt, sherried single malt, bourbon, dark rum, gin, genever and reposado Tequila.

Snacks chosen. Spirits chosen. The science soon followed. These tastings were done over a series of days, and the routine was to sip Spirit A, eat Snack A, assess, take a good glug of water, eat Snack A, sip Spirit A, assess, take a good glug of water, repeat with Snack B, and so on. Tasting the spirits and snacks both ways around seemed important to me when I started, but it only ever really made a difference a handful of times. If a combination tasted bad one way around, nine times out of ten it tasted bad the other way around too. I did get to eat more pickled onions than I would have done otherwise, though. Silver linings.

Well then. Here’s how it all played out.

Peated single malt

Top Snack: Peanuts

Peat and peanuts!

It appears that peanuts and phenols are good friends, as the salted peanuts were the best partner for peated single malt. It ended up tasting like smoky peanut butter, which absolutely should be a thing. I am willing to lose crunchy peanut butter if it means we can have smoky peanut butter instead. The briny intensity of olives stood up well to peaty whisky, and the tangy brightness of pickled onion was enjoyably refreshing when juxtaposed with the smoky single malt. Popcorn is the enemy of smoky whisky – the combo was astringent and unpleasant.

Sherried single malt

Top Snack: Plantain chips

Plantain chips and sherried whisky makes for a fruit-forward combo

The sweet, subtle fruitiness of plantain chips blended brilliantly with the red berry and chocolate notes in sherried single malt, making it the best partner for this whisky. However, the rest of the snacks didn’t really put up much of a fight for the top spot. The cheesy crisps we’re pretty good (after a few seconds – it starts out a bit too sweet, but gets better), and pickled onion is definitely worth a go, though neither were anywhere near great. Tortilla chips and sherried single malt somehow ended up having the consistency and flavour of spent coffee grounds. As you can imagine, not great.

Bourbon

Top Snack: Pickled Onions

Who didn’t see this one coming?

Pickle juice and bourbon is a strange combination that sounds terrible but is the complete opposite. With that knowledge, I will admit that I approached bourbon and pickled onions with an inkling that this would be a winning pair. Reader, I was right about pickled onions and bourbon. They’re such a great team. Popcorn performed well here, as did the tortilla chips, which I think has something to do with their corn content and the corn content of bourbon. The sweetness of plantain chips did not help its cause, with the combination becoming unappealingly marshmallowy. Sadly, olives are just too funky to pair with bourbon very well at all.

Dark rum

Top Snack: Popcorn

I was a big fan of rum and popcorn

Popcorn was the biggest surprise here. I’d say it “really pops”, but that’s the kind of pathetic pun that makes me want to push chairs over instead of do a polite giggle. Anyway, the heaviness of the dark rum along with its powerful fruit notes pair brilliantly with the lightness of the popcorn, as well as feeding into the classic sweet/savoury dynamic. If you really like peanuts, dark rum is a good match, as it somehow manages to bolster and intensify the peanut’s flavour profile. The subtle estery notes of plantain chips blended well with rum, giving it a tasty, tangy kick, too. A strange, acidic bitterness developed when introducing pickled onions to rum, so that combo is to be avoided, I reckon.

Gin

Top snack: Inconclusive

So here’s the thing. I didn’t find a snack that I could confidently say paired perfectly with gin. That isn’t to say one doesn’t exist. This was only a test of eight snacks, I have of course missed great swaths of snack foods, including ones across the globe that I have never had the chance to try (but really want to – if anyone knows where I can get halva in Ireland, give us a shout). I did taste a few good matches, though. To the surprise of no one, olives work well with gin. The creamy, subtle sweetness of plantain chips helped to balance the herbal bitterness, as did the very light toastiness and saltiness of pretzels. Pickled onions were fine, if a little bit too punchy. The best thing to be said about crisps and gin was that it opened up the chance to write something about “crisps and crisp juniper”, but even then it was kind of hard to fit into a sentence naturally. A missed opportunity.

Genever

Top Snack: Peanuts

Got all artsy with the peanut placements

You might think that genever is too similar to gin to yield any different outcomes, and that my personal love of the spirit might influence the results. However, try genever and peanuts and tell me that combo isn’t awesome. I dare you. Spiciness, creaminess, saltiness, a whiff of earthiness and subtle sweetness – it’s all there, and it’s great. Plantain chips are on a similar wavelength to peanuts when paired with genever, except leaning a bit more on the sweetness. Tortilla chips, crisps and popcorn helped the herbaceous elements of genever come through a little brighter, which was cool. Pretzels and genever ended up being a pretty bland combination, while the pickled onion overwhelmed the genever completely, which is a sin in my book.

Reposado Tequila

Top Snack: Olives

My favourite combo of the lot – Tequila and olives

Only one snack and spirit pairing made me swear out loud, and that was olives and Tequila. It’s such a good combo – instantly bright and juicy on the palate, with savoury, oily notes lasting, plus a little hint of funk popping up later on. But that’s not all – both popcorn and pretzels really impressed me with the Tequila too. The big, crunchy salt crystals on the pretzels supercharge the vegetal earthiness of the spirit, and the softly toasty popcorn created an almost bourbon-esque flavour profile with the Tequila. The oniony notes of the crisps made for an enjoyably tangy experience, while the estery elements of the plantain chips were bolstered wonderfully. Tortilla chips performed pretty well, but did get a bit lost underneath the Tequila, while the opposite was the case for pickled onions, which took over the palate once again. Peanuts started out alright, but after a few chews the combination became surprisingly way too sweet.

I recognise that I have written a lot of words about snacks, all of which sort of amounts to a series of yummy/not yummy verdicts. I wouldn’t blame you if you skipped past them in the hopes of there being a graph or something you can refer to and quickly see what snack you should pick up to pair with a tasty bottle you’ve got on your shelf. If you did do that, you’re in luck. Inspired by a colleague’s deep love of charts and graphs, feast your eyes on this incredibly artistic chart that I made. Enjoy.

Artistic, scientific, and very colourful

What did we learn from this? Well, personally I think I have learnt that Tequila may be my favourite spirit to pair with food. It produced the best combo with the olives, and worked well with almost all of the snacks. While I was very excited to see how pickled onion would fare, I found that it wasn’t actually a great match for most of the spirits on the list. I’m honestly not surprised, but I think it’s good to have that confirmed – I’ll stick to eating them straight from the fridge when I accidentally wake up at 2 a.m. I also decided that further research will need to happen to find a good partner for gin. Even with top tier Martini and Gibson garnishes in the running, nothing made me jump out of my chair. Perhaps sweet snacks are the way to go? Only time will tell. On the topic of more testing, I really would love to do this again with different spirit and different snacks. If you reckon there’s a spirit out there that could use a partner, or snacks that deserve investigation – or if you’ve done your own analysis and found your own perfect match – let me know in the comments!

No Comments on The search for perfect snack & spirit pairings

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