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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Speyside Whisky

New Arrival of the Week: Aberlour 14 Year Old Double Cask

This week we’re taking the edge off Blue Monday, apparently the saddest day of the year, with a rich tasty dram from Speyside part-matured in sherry casks. It’s the Aberlour…

This week we’re taking the edge off Blue Monday, apparently the saddest day of the year, with a rich tasty dram from Speyside part-matured in sherry casks. It’s the Aberlour 14 Year Old Double Cask!

Aberlour means “mouth of the chattering burn” in Gaelic. The town is situated near Craigellachie on the river Spey and it’s world famous for being the home of Walkers shortbread. But this isn’t the Master of Biscuit blog, it’s Master of Malt so we’re far more interested in the town’s whisky. Though we do love a bit of shortbread at 4pm with our tea. It’s just so buttery!

Aberlour Distillery

Aberlour Distillery looking lovely in the sunshine

Aberlour Distillery was founded in 1879 by local bigwig James Fleming using the soft water from St. Drostan’s Well. Fleming wasn’t just a businessman but also a local politician and philanthropist, and one of his most notable acts was to bequeath funds for a footbridge over the dangerous fast-moving river to replace the ferry service. The magnificent suspension footbridge was finished in 1902 and still stands to this day. But this isn’t the Master of Civil Engineering blog either so we will return to his distillery.

The original building was partly destroyed by fire in 1898 and rebuilt by top distillery architect Charles Doig of Elgin, who you may know from his work with Balblair, Pulteney, Speyburn and many others. Despite the 1960s and ‘70s extensions it’s still a lovely looking place, nestled by the river, especially on a sunny day, and well worth visiting when such things are allowed again.

Capacity was doubled in the 1970s and there are now six stainless steel washbacks, and four oil-fired pot stills with shell and tube condensers producing a medium weight spirit. Aberlour can produce about 3.9 millions litres of pure alcohol per year. It has been in the hands of Pernod Ricard since 1974. With this pedigree, you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s particularly popular in France. 

Aberlour’s most famous expression is probably the mighty cask strength a’ bunadh (meaning the origin in Gaelic.) It’s entirely matured in Oloroso sherry casks and Ian Buxton in his 101 Whiskies book says: “If you like traditional Macallan or Glenfarclas, then you’re going to love this.”

Aberlour 14YO

A bottle of Aberlour 14 Year Old next to babbling burn

Our New Arrival is something of a chip off the old block and has already picked up gongs including a double gold medal at the International Wine and Spirits Competition 2020, and a gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge 2020. It’s a 14 year whisky matured first in bourbon and then Oloroso sherry casks. It’s a big luxurious sweet-natured loveable sort of dram. Delicious and comforting sipped neat, it has a sweetness and smoothness that would lend itself to simple cocktails like an Old Fashioned or a particularly decadent Rob Roy. Though, look away malt whisky purists, the distillery’s marketing team suggests using it in a Bramble! Scandalous, but also delicious. 

Here’s how to make one:

50ml Aberlour 14 Year Old
25ml lemon juice
¾ tablespoon sugar syrup
¾ tablespoon Giffard Crème de Mure

Shake the Aberlour, lemon juice and sugar syrup in a shaker with ice. Strain into a rocks glass filled with crushed ice. Drizzle over the crème de mure and garnish with a bramble and a lemon slice. 

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Big aromatics on this one with cloves, cardamom and camphor, and then comes a wave of sweeter notes like toffee, milk chocolate and orange rind.  

Palate: Full texture, round and creamy, with sweet dark cherries, fudge, and mocha coffee with a refreshing minty breeze. 

Finish: Quite long with lingering honey and wood spice.

Aberlour 14 Year Old Double Cask is now available from Master of Malt.

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Top ten: Scotch whiskies under £50

From smoky single malts to the ultimate Highball blend, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get some seriously good Scotch whisky. Here are ten of our…

From smoky single malts to the ultimate Highball blend, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get some seriously good Scotch whisky. Here are ten of our favourites.

We love whisky at Master of Malt. Which means that everyone in the office has strong opinions on the subject so it was tricky to narrow this list down to just ten bottles. People are going to be upset that we didn’t include their favourite drams, especially Talisker 10, Laphroaig 10 or Bowmore 12. But we thought it would be a good idea to include alongside the old favourites some lesser-known whiskies as well as expressions that are so well-known you probably don’t notice them anymore. So without further ado, delay or general beating around the bush. Here are (some of) our favourite Scotch whiskies under £50. Tell us in the comments or on social why we should have included your dram of choice.

ardbeg-uigeadail-whisky

Ardbeg Uigeadail

Well, we had a bit of a discussion that got quite heated about which Ardbeg to include. The Ten would have been the obvious choice but instead we’ve gone with the spectacular Uigeadail ( pronounced “Oog-a-dal”) that melds the smoky lime-scented Ardbeg character with sweet sherry casks. And how!

What does it taste like?

There’s plenty of peat and smoke but it’s all wrapped up in muscovado sugar, honey and espresso coffee. Rich and pungent, Uigeadail is quite an experience.

arran-10-year-old-whisky

Arran 10 Year Old

This distillery was founded by former Chivas MD Harold Currie, the first on the isle of Arran on the West Coast since 1837. It might be the entry level whisky but this ten year old aged entirely in bourbon casks tastes pretty special, showing off the fruity, floral distillery character.

What does it taste like: 

Nutty and biscuity with fresh apple and lemon fruit plus floral summer hedgerow and honey notes. It’s packed full of character and really over delivers for the money.

balblair-12-year-old-whisky

Balblair 12 Year Old

Last year Balblair switched from vintage releases to a suitably impressive new range of age statements expressions. This is the baby of the bunch, aged in ex-bourbon and double-fired American oak casks, and it’s superb.

What does it taste like? 

The soft mango and peach distillery character really shines through, supported by spicy cedar and nutmeg, honey and barley. A great introduction to a great distillery. 

compass-box-spice-tree-whisky

Compass Box Spice Tree 

Originally made with oak staves which attracted the ire of the SWA, Spice Tree is now aged in especially-made casks with new French oak heads. It’s a stunning blend of Highland malts with the French oak adding masses of spice, hence the name. 

What does it taste like? 

Dried apricots, vanilla, cinnamon and toffee with pungent tobacco, cloves and pepper, it’s not called Spice Tree for nothing. Long, complex and totally harmonious. 

glenfarclas-10-year-old-whisky

Glenfarclas 10 Year Old

Glenfarclas is one of the very few family-owned distilleries in Scotland. That combined with its excellent sherry-soaked Speyside drams is why it is one of the the country’s best-loved distilleries. 

What does it taste like? 

On the nose there’s honey, toffee and Oloroso sherry. While the palate is full of baking spices with fruitcake, apples, nuts and even a little smoke.

glenmorangie-10-year-old-the-original-whisky

Glenmorangie 10 Year Old

We love the whole Glenmorangie range but it’s the 10 Year Old Original we keep coming back to. Entirely aged in ex-bourbon casks, it’s smooth, sweet and fruity but deceptively complex. No drinks cupboard should be without a bottle. 

What does it taste like? 

Full of lemons, nectarines and apples with vanilla, digestive biscuits and gentle baking spices. And honey! Lots and lots of honey. 

j-and-b-rare-whisky

J&B Rare 

J&B Rare is one of those whiskies so ubiquitous, you probably don’t even notice it behind the bar. Which is a shame because this is probably the ultimate Highball whisky. Just blend with soda, ice and maybe a dash of orange bitters for a refreshing pre-dinner drink. One sip and you’ll never go back to G&Ts.

What does it taste like? 

Yes, it’s light but there’s depth here too with appley fruit joined by richer notes of malt, cedar, vanilla and walnut with a lift of orange zest. Perfect with soda.

johnnie-walker-green-label-15-year-old-whisky

Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 Year Old

Well, we had to include something from Johnnie Walker. But rather than the Red or Black, we’ve gone with Green Label, a spectacular 15 year old all malt blend that combines whiskies from around Scotland. One to offer to people who say they only drink single malts.

What does it taste like? 

This is packed full of dark chocolate, oak spice, malty cereal notes, and coffee and walnut cake. An after-dinner whisky, if there ever was one. 

kilkerran-12-year-old-whisky

Kilkerran 12 Year Old

In 2004, Springbank reopened Glengyle distillery taking the number of working distilleries in Campbeltown to three. But Glen Scotia owns the Glengyle brand which is why this whisky is called Kilkerran. The quality is exceptional for the money and this expression has become something of a cult. 

What does it taste like? 

It melds citrus, cherries and orange peel with creamy vanilla, honey and butterscotch, with a saline note running through it. If you love the oily Springbank style, then you’ll adore this.

seaweed-and-aeons-and-digging-and-fire-10-year-old-whisky

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old

An Islay single malt from an undisclosed distillery. The name makes sense as soon as you take a sip, it’s a smoky peaty Islay malt with 25% aged Oloroso sherry cask. This has proved an extremely popular malt with MoM customers.

What does it taste like? 

Does exactly what it says on the bottle: there’s woodsmoke, seaweed and charred meat combined with sweet sherry notes, red apple and vanilla. 

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Master of Malt tastes… Glenfarclas 60 year old single cask

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

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

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

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

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

Glenfarclas 60 Year Old

Behold, Glenfarclas 60 Year Old!

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

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

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

Glenfarclas 60 Year Old

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

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

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

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

Glenfarclas 60 Year Old Tasting Note:

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

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

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

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A world of flavour: Behind Benriach’s new look

Speyside Scotch whisky distillery Benriach has undergone something of a makeover, with a refreshed core range and revamped presentation. We chat to Dr. Rachel Barrie, Benriach master blender, to get…

Speyside Scotch whisky distillery Benriach has undergone something of a makeover, with a refreshed core range and revamped presentation. We chat to Dr. Rachel Barrie, Benriach master blender, to get the inside scoop.

Paid partnership

Benriach is a distillery with a storied history. It dates back to 1898 when it was founded towards the north of Speyside by a chap called John Duff. Over the following decades, and like many distilleries, it faced periods of closure and changed hands multiple times. Since 2016, Benriach has been part of the Brown-Forman’s family, marking the Jack Daniel’s- and Woodford Reserve-maker’s first foray into the world of Scotch. At the time, the deal made the whisky headlines. But now, with its new look, a refocusing on flavour, and a compelling narrative around innovative cask combinations, Benriach is making waves all on its own.

Dr. Rachel Barrie has developed the range

“I’ve been with the company three-and-a-half years now, and I’ve really got to know all of the whiskies,” said Dr. Rachel Barrie, Benriach’s master blender. We’re speaking on the day of the relaunch. The line-up has been unveiled to the world, and drinks social media is in a chatter about the news. And it’s been a while in the works. Even within six months of taking on whisky development at Benriach, Dr. Barrie said she was thinking ‘what’s next?’.

“I had thousands of casks,” she said, outlining the process. “I’ve described it like discovering all these paint pots; it’s like painting with flavour.”

She mentioned she’d always admired Benriach from afar. “I’ve always loved the balance of the fruit and the malt,” and this balance is at the heart of the new core range. 

So what have we got in the line-up? Dr. Barrie took it back to Benriach’s Speyside home (Did you know it gets 40 more days of sunshine a year than anywhere else in Scotland?” She quipped.). A key source of inspiration was the 1994 Benriach 10 Year Old expression, the first bottling that really cemented the distillery as a brand in its own right. It’s balance, body and mouthfeel underpin the philosophy behind each new expression.

All about the cask: the new core range lines up

At the heart of it all, there’s The Original Ten, The Smoky Ten, The Original Twelve, and The Smoky Twelve, all bottled at natural colour. Two fundamentals thread through the quartet: production (essentially peated versus unpeated), and the cask make-up. These are all a blend of three different cask maturations. Move higher up the range to The Twenty One, The Twenty Five and The Thirty, and you’ll find four different cask types. The entire line-up was crafted to offer accessibility to whisky newcomers, and established enthusiasts alike. And the clear positioning does just that.  

When it comes to the malt specification itself, it’s useful to look at the calendar. Each September is devoted to ‘smoke season’, where malt processed to 55ppm using local Highland peat prior to distillation tracks its way through the distillery. Then malting season (yes, Benriach has its own malting floor), takes place each spring. There will be dedicated Smoke Season and Malting Season limited editions to come in due course, too. 

“My job was to create this perfect world of flavour, a journey of taste, many different layers all perfectly integrated,” Dr Barrie continues. “There’s a rainbow of flavour as the spirit comes off the still, which you can then amplify with casks.” 

And why such an overt focus on smoke? “It’s such a sweet smoke with Benriach, it opens the door to new consumers,” she explained. “Just saying ‘peated’ is too simple, it’s a different character.” 

The core quartet

In the tasting glass first is The Original Ten. “It’s like sunshine on Speyside,” Dr. Barrie described it. “A fruit orchard, ripening peaches, a patisserie.” Interestingly, while it’s barely perceptible, there is still a wisp of that Benriach smoke running through. “It’s less than 5ppm,” she said, adding that it adds more of a depth, a textural quality, rather than contributing flavour as such. Going into the Original Ten is liquid from bourbon barrels and sherry casks, plus virgin oak. “It’s got layers of perfect balance,” she continued. 

Benriach is embracing its smokier side

Next up was The Smoky Ten with an intriguing cask mix indeed: bourbon barrels, toasted virgin oak, and Jamaican rum casks. She confirmed the latter previously held high-ester, pot still liquid. “It amplifies the esterification that happens with the maturation,” she got technical for a moment. “It brings out the vanilla, coconut, lactones, the sweetness.” The result? “Exotic fruits charred on a barbeque.” Delicious!

The Twelve is a “new to world” expression, Dr. Barrie continued. “Everything changes with maturation. You’re going to have more oxidation, and therefore more of those top notes.” She reckoned the esterification reaches a “sweet spot” at this age for Benriach. Plus the addition of Port pipes to the bourbon and sherry make-up “lifts and lengthens”, with a “dark chocolate note on the end”.   

Rounding off the four at the heart of the range is The Smoky Twelve. “This is unexpected in its cask combination,” Dr. Barrie said, referencing the bourbon, sherry and sweet Marsala cask recipe. “It’s a collision of the rugged side of Benriach with the sweet side,” she added. “Plus, I love Italian food, I love Sicily. You can see how I was drawn to this.”

An experimental approach

It’s true that there are some unusual cask combinations across the four expressions we explored. How does that come about, and will there be more experimentation to come?

“There’s like a ‘eureka!’ moment with all of the whiskies,” she detailed. “It’s a constant quest. You have all the casks, you blend, you go back and think, ‘imagine…’. Eventually to get to the point where you’re, 80%, 90% there, and then you raise the bar even further.”

Announced alongside the new range was an intention to release esoteric limited editions in the future. Are there any experiments or cask types she’d like to play with yet but hasn’t?

“Oh, there’s so much experimentation,” she said, referencing what’s going on in American whiskey with mashbills and developments within wine. “And within our group [Brown-Forman], there are so many different types of spirit… Tequila with Herradura. Now, that would be interesting. Never say never!”

The range takes on the character of the distillery and the surrounding Speyside region

Other ongoing projects include working with the R&D team at Brown-Forman’s Louisville HQ to investigate the impact of different types of oak on flavour, another area of interest. It makes the whisky lover incredibly excited to see what might come next from Benriach as part of this new programme. 

“There’s plenty to try, and then different combinations to try!” There’s an energy to her statement that makes you long for a sneak peek around her blending lab, just to see what’s there. There’s lots to taste in the new range, and there’s certainly deliciousness to come. Dr. Barrie best sums it up: “There’s an everlasting world of flavour.” 

Benriach’s new-look line-up

The Original Ten, 43% ABV

Bourbon, sherry and virgin oak casks with a trace smoke level for orchard fruit, honeyed malt and marmalade on toast notes. 

The Smoky Ten, 46% ABV

Bourbon barrels, virgin oak and Jamaican rum casks combine for smoky sweetness with barbecued fruit notes. 

The Twelve, 46% ABV

Sherry rich maturation and layers of dark berry fruit encapture the flavours of Benriach in the autumn.

The Smoky Twelve, 46% ABV

Made with an unusual combination of bourbon, sherry and sweet Marsala casks for a rich smoky sweetness with dark chocolate, almond and charred orange notes. 

Plus coming soon, three older bottlings which we were given a sneak preview of:

The Twenty One, 46%

Bourbon, sherry, virgin oak and red wine cask liquids with elegant smoke. Lashings of orchard fruit, pinewood and honey smoke. 

The Twenty Five, 46% ABV

Sherry, bourbon, virgin oak and Madeira wine casks combine for an intensely rich mouthfeel with baked fruit, cinnamon spice and caramelised smoke. 

The Thirty, 46% ABV

The oldest peated Speyside ever bottled. Sherry, bourbon, virgin oak and Port casks result in chocolate raisin, smoked walnut and cinnamon cocoa notes. 

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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.

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Sip on some superb Speysiders!

Sad about the cancellation of the Spirit of Speyside Festival? We’ve got just the thing to lift your spirits: a whole bunch of delicious whiskies from that very region! We…

Sad about the cancellation of the Spirit of Speyside Festival? We’ve got just the thing to lift your spirits: a whole bunch of delicious whiskies from that very region!

We were all disappointed to find out the Spirit of Speyside Festival had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The event welcomes a huge number of visitors from across the globe each year to enjoy over 700 whisky-themed activities in a celebration of the biggest whisky-producing region in Scotland. But we can still champion Speyside and its huge variety of delicious whiskies by helping ourselves to a bottling from one of its many distilleries. We’ve done our bit by narrowing down your considerable choice. This selection features a wide range of some of the finest expressions from the region so you can get your hands on some delicious Speysiders with ease. Enjoy!

Speyside #2 25 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)     

We begin our round-up with a delightful mystery. We know is that this a 25-year-old single malt from a Speyside distillery and that it was bottled by the wonderful folk over at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. We also know that’s it’s from a different distillery in the region to Speyside #1, which only increases the intrigue. What we can confirm, however, is that it’s very, very tasty.

What does it taste like?

Estery malt, candied fruit, nutty almond oil, barley sugars, a hint of Turkish delight, ginger, cinnamon, lemon citrus, white oak, praline, hazelnut, cedar, honey, dried apricot,  gingerbread, dark caramel, vanilla essence and maybe even a hint of rancio.

Aberlour A’Bunadh Batch 63      

Aberlour is one of those distilleries that has a passionate following who look forward to every release, in particular the excellent A’Bunadh batches. Well known for being made of whiskies with intense and complex profiles that are matured in Spanish oloroso sherry butts and bottled at cask strength and the 63rd edition is no exception. The series is incredibly popular and its expressions always end up selling out so you’ll want to get your hands on this one sooner rather than later.

What does it taste like?

Buttered malt loaf, sherried peels, spearmint, Christmas cake, dark chocolate mousse, cinnamon, white pepper, dried fruit and sugared almonds.

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask     

There are few distilleries that boast a range as consistently excellent and intriguing as The Balvenie, who demonstrated how to put ex-rum casks to good use with this tasty expression. The single malt Speysider was initially aged in traditional oak casks before it was finished in casks which previously held Caribbean rum, imparting some extra sweetness and warmth.

What does it taste like?

Tropical fruits, namely passion fruit, sweet vanilla, apples, mangoes, orange and creamy toffee.

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old        

Those who love sherried whisky love Glenfarclas whisky, and for good reason. The independent and family-owned distillery is well known for producing some spectacular sherry bombs and its 15-year-old expression maybe the standout from its impressive core range.  A fabulously complex and rich Scotch, Glenfarclas 15 Year Old is bottled at 46% ABV simply because this was the strength that George Grant’s grandfather preferred it at. 

What does it taste like?

Intense, powerful sherry, rancio, orange peel, walnuts, dates and peppermint.

Cardhu Gold Reserve      

A sweet, mellow and easy-drinking expression from one the region’s oldest distilleries, Cardhu Gold Reserve is an impressive no-age-statement release that represents seriously good value for money. It’s a whisky that’s delightful when mixed and we can tell you from experience that it makes a very good Hot Toddy.

What does it taste like?

Honeyed tinned stone fruits, toffees, strawberry, red apple, ginger and biscuity oak.

Master of Malt 10 Year Old Speyside Whisky Liqueur        

Something a bit different to conclude our list is a whisky liqueur that’s excellent over ice with a healthy helping of fresh orange peel, but more than good enough to drink neat. Our very own Speyside Whisky Liqueur was made exclusively using 10-year-old single malt whisky from one of Speyside’s most famous distilleries that was previously matured in sherry casks to give it that classic Speyside style. We emphasised this flavour by adding a host of tasty ingredients such as cinnamon, two different kinds of orange peel and cloves. Delicious.

What does it taste like?

Dried, aromatic fruit, nutmeg, cinnamon, anise, Angostura bitters, cola, peppermint, dark chocolate, dried ginger, crème brûlée, blood oranges, mint humbugs, sweet malty cereal and vanilla.

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Take a VR tour of BenRiach Distillery with MoM!

See how BenRiach makes its delicious Speyside whisky thanks to this virtual reality tour of the distillery. Just because you’re self-isolating or on lockdown, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy…

See how BenRiach makes its delicious Speyside whisky thanks to this virtual reality tour of the distillery.

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 take a look around a distillery that was closed for over 60 years but thankfully survived. Enjoy!

If you know a little of the history of BenRiach, then you’ll know we’re lucky that it still exists. Because of the Pattison crash  which wrecked the Scotch whisky industry, it was mothballed just two years after being built by John Duff in 1898 (though the floor malting remained operational).  It remained closed for over six decades. Most distilleries closed for that long don’t survive. Thankfully, in 1965 Glenlivet Distillers Ltd reopened and subsequently rebuilt the distillery. By 1972 it even began the production of peated malt. Seagrams then purchased the distillery in 1978 and added two more stills and in 1994 released BenRiach as a single malt brand in its own right. BenRiach then encountered another turbulent period, beginning with the closure of its floor maltings in 1999 after 101 years of uninterrupted operation. In 2001, Pernod Ricard took over BenRiach, Allt A’Bhainne, Braeval and Caperdonich but all four distilleries were subsequently mothballed a year later. Just when it seemed poor BenRiach couldn’t catch a break, an independent consortium led by Billy Walker acquired the distillery in 2004. They launched a new range, restored the malting floor in 2012 and sold the distillery to Brown-Forman in 2016. BenRiach is now in rude health and makes plenty of excellent sweet, nutty and fruity whisky to enjoy. 

VR tour of BenRiach Distillery

One of the best core expressions in the business, BenRiach 10 Year Old is the perfect way to introduce yourself to the distillery. But we’re not recommending you indulge yourself with a bottle of BenRiach 10 Year Old. We’re going one better. We suggest the BenRiach 10 Year Old Gift Pack with 2x Glasses, because it’s a hell of a steal and you can never have enough branded tasting glasses.

BenRiach 10 Year Old tasting note:

Nose: Citrus-forward, with gingerbread and cinnamon in support.

Palate: Fried banana, brown sugar, powerful barley notes driving it all along.

Finish: Lasting hints of peppery malt and vanilla custard

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Take a VR tour of Craigellachie Distillery with MoM!

Go behind the scenes at one of Speyside’s most intriguing distilleries thanks to VR technology. Welcome to Craigellachie Distillery! Just because you’re self-isolating or on lockdown, it doesn’t mean you…

Go behind the scenes at one of Speyside’s most intriguing distilleries thanks to VR technology. Welcome to Craigellachie Distillery!

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 visit one of Scotch whisky’s most intriguing distilleries. Enjoy!

It used to be a rather rare sight to see an official bottling of Craigellachie single malt. Since it was built in 1891, Craigellachie has primarily been used for Dewar’s blended whisky. The distillery, which was designed by the legendary Charles Doig, has two wash and spirit stills and still utilises worm tubs, which are increasingly rare in Scotch whisky. They contain a smaller amount of copper than more modern condensers which helps promote the distinctive Craigellachie character, as does its preference for long fermentation. Bacardi now operates the distillery, along with Royal Brackla, Aberfeldy, Aultmore, and Macduff, and has released a core range of expressions, which means there’s now plenty of sulphurous, muscular and fruity whiskies to enjoy.

VR tour of Craigellachie Distillery

Craigellachie 13 Year Old is the perfect introduction to the delights of the distillery. One of the three official Craigellachie bottlings released in 2014, this 13-year-old single malt Scotch whisky handsomely shows off the bold, robust character of the distillery’s output.

Craigellachie 13 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: Apple orchards in bloom, slightly meaty, burnt popcorn, treacle tart.

Palate: Oily malt arrives first, followed by BBQ pineapple and summer berries. Pine nuts and almonds.

Finish: A very soft hint of sulphur hides behind biscuit and apple 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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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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