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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Speyside Whisky

2019 Diageo Special Releases masterclass videos

Earlier this year when the sun was shining, we spent a very jolly day tasting through the 2019 Diageo Special Releases with brand ambassadors TJ Littlejohn and Colin Dunn, with…

Earlier this year when the sun was shining, we spent a very jolly day tasting through the 2019 Diageo Special Releases with brand ambassadors TJ Littlejohn and Colin Dunn, with the MoM film crew there to record everything for posterity.

The arrival of the Diageo Special Releases is one of the highlights of the whisky lover’s calendar. Every year we are knocked out by this series of rare and unusual single malts (and sometimes grains) from some of Scotland’s greatest distilleries. We think this year’s crop, titled ‘Rare by Nature’ and bottled at cask strength, tasted superb, but we have to admit that they tasted even better in the company of a couple of Diageo’s finest brand ambassadors. Newcomer TJ and veteran Colin Dunn have their own unique way of talking about whisky, and both really brought these expressions to life.

Diageo Special Releases 2019

The full line-up of the Diageo Special Releases 2019

 

Without any further ado, here are our 2019 Diageo Special Releases videos:

Cardhu 14 Years Old:

Cragganmore 12 Years Old:

Dalwhinnie 30 Years Old:

Lagavulin 8 Years Old:

Mortlach 26 Years Old:

Pittyvaich 29 Years Old:

The Singleton of Glen Ord 18 Years Old:

Talisker 15 Years Old:

 

 

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The Nightcap 22 November

This week on the Nightcap: The Macallan turns its distillery into a festive wonderland, register to vote and you’ll get a free drink, and stop worrying about your hangover: you’re…

This week on the Nightcap: The Macallan turns its distillery into a festive wonderland, register to vote and you’ll get a free drink, and stop worrying about your hangover: you’re only making it worse. 

We don’t know about you, but we’ve spent most of this week scavenging for firewood around the Master of Malt warehouse. At the first sign of a broken pallet out came the kindling vultures to squabble over scraps of pine and medium-density fibreboard to be hoarded and turned into life-giving heat later in the day. What a life! This is just a roundabout way of saying that it’s been properly cold this week. But it’s also the perfect weather to curl up by the fire with a dram of something rich and smooth, and revel in this week’s Nightcap. 

The blog went competition crazy this week with a chance to win tickets to see singer songwriter Jarrod Dickenson with Balcones whisky and with #WhiskySanta is giving away a bottle of Hennessy Paradis worth nearly £1,000. In non-competition news, our Jess tried The World Whisky Blend from That Boutique-y Whisky Company, and went to Seville to discover the Royal Salute 29 Year Old Pedro Ximénez. Meanwhile, Annie got acquainted with Dutch spirit genever, and spent five minutes with Dr Kirstie McCallum, the new head of whisky creation at Glen Moray. Adam tried a bourbon with a Japanese twist courtesy of Beam Suntory, and, clearly in a Kentucky frame of mind, spoke to Jackie Zykan, master taster for Old Forester. Kristy peered into her crystal ball to look at rum’s future with Lucy Cottrell from Dead Man’s Fingers; and Henry brought us news on the revival of Rosebank distillery and cooked up a hot cider cocktail to keep the cold out. 

That’s the week that was. On with The Nightcap!

Macallan60old

Some very rare Macallans like those in the Vietnamese collection

Whisky collection smashes record with £10m valuation

How much is your whisky collection worth? A few hundred quid? Maybe into the thousands? This week, Guinness World Records confirmed a Vietnamese collector was the delighted owner of the most valuable whisky collection in the world – weighing in at a mighty £10,770,635! The haul belongs to Mr Viet Nguyen Dinh Tuan of Ho Chi Minh City, and it was valued by the team at Rare Whisky 101. They reckon the figure could top £13,032,468, when you add on the 21% buyers’ premium if it was sold through a UK auctioneer. The collection features 535 bottles, including the only known complete Macallan Fine & Rare set, complete with three 1926 bottlings. Only forty were ever released! There are also 12 bottles of the oldest and most expensive Bowmore ever released (it fetched £300,000 at auction recently), and one of only 24 bottles of the 1919 vintage Springbank. Phew. Mr Viet has been building his collection for over 20 years. “For me, whisky collecting has been my life’s passion,” he says. “Every spare I moment I get, I’m searching auction sites and trading websites to find famous and rare whiskies from around the world. Clearly this requires a lot of patience and no shortage of tenacity, but I’m proud of my efforts. As for my collection, I have no intention of selling any of it. Not one bottle. In fact, I’ll continue to hunt for more old and rare bottles and add to and enrich it.” Wowzers!

Warehouse X Experiment 2 Barrels resize

“Careful Jed, it’s one of those experiential casks!”

Buffalo Trace Distillery completes second Warehouse X experiment

Cask ageing is still a perplexing business, but the team at the Buffalo Trace Distillery is attempting to break the process down using the specially-designed and mysteriously-monikered Warehouse X. The second experiment at the facility, which began in 2016, has just been completed. It focused on how temperature affects the ageing process. The warehouse’s four chambers were used to determine how barrel activity correlates with temperature changes, keeping two chambers constant and varying the other two chambers and leaving the breezeway unchanged. Buffalo Trace tracked temperature fluctuations, monitored barrel pressures and collected a total of 9.1 million data points. As a result, the distillery was able to confirm how temperature affects pressure, colour and flavour over a period of three years. After leaving Warehouse X, the barrels were rolled into a traditional warehouse to continue ageing, as was done with the first experiment. Built in 2013, Warehouse X was created to study the many variables that affect the bourbon maturation process, and Buffalo Trace is now almost a third of the way through a 20-year project to monitor numerous atmospheric elements, including natural light, temperature, humidity and air flow. The first experiment, which ended in 2016, focused on natural light. The next two-year experiment will begin soon to expand on the most recent findings, focusing on how temperature swings affect whiskey activity in the barrel. We’re intrigued to see what they find.

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

The Balvenie unveils final DCS Compendium instalment

In brilliant but bittersweet news, Chapter Five of The Balvenie DCS Compendium has been unveiled. Why bittersweet? Because it’s the last of the series, so for one final time we all have the opportunity to gaze longingly at five unique and intriguing single-cask Balvenie expressions that none of us will ever taste. Titled ‘Malt Master’s Indulgence’, the rare vintages were selected by David C. Stewart MBE (hence DCS) for their significance to his career. Aged between 16 and 56 years, the selection includes The Balvenie’s oldest-ever bottling, the fragrant and sweet 1962 expression taken from a European oak oloroso hogshead, which commemorates Stewart’s very first year at the distillery. The longest-serving malt master in the whisky industry, who started the role back in 1974, commented on Chapter Five: “It takes a good deal of time to understand how each cask differs and how whisky maturation is affected by various wood types. You need confidence to select casks and know which are likely to achieve greatness. Working for a family company, I’ve been lucky enough to have been given the freedom to make stock decisions based on my preference and vision, with the free rein to pick casks and hold on to whisky, not always knowing what I’m going to do with it, for no other reason than thinking one day it will be extraordinary. For me, this is indulgence in its truest form.” As with past Chapters, Chapter Five is presented in a handcrafted, individually-numbered frame, with just 50 sets available worldwide. It also features The Balvenie DCS Compendium book depicting rare archive imagery from the distillery, along with information on each of the five chapters, which documents Stewart’s thought process in curating the Compendium. The Balvenie is also planning a series of celebratory events throughout 2020 to mark the completion of the project.

£2500 and you have to bottle it yourself.

Bottle your own 40-year-old at Aberfeldy Distillery

Heading up to the charming Aberfeldy Distillery? You can now hand-bottle the delightful Aberfeldy 40 Years Old! Directly from the cask. In the warehouse. Yes, that’s the oldest whisky the Highland whisky-makers have released to date. If that doesn’t get you excited, nothing will. In total, three single cask editions will be launched, all of which were first filled on 22nd August 1978 and matured in American oak, ex-bourbon hogsheads. “To find one cask at this venerable age, is extraordinary but to find three, is exceptional. Just think of the four decades of history these casks have slumbered through,” said malt master Stephanie Macleod. “The single cask is something that we at Aberfeldy bottle rarely – to have the honour of filling your very own bottle of our oldest and most exclusive whisky yet, is a truly special opportunity. The golden hallmarks of the distillery are evident; beautifully-balanced, elegant and well-mannered with peerless texture, perfectly expressed by these 40-year-old bottlings.” The whisky will be on sale for £2,500 a bottle, exclusively from the Aberfeldy Distillery.

Just some of the mouth-watering rums drunk on World Foursquare Day at Trailer Happiness in London

Barbados distillery honoured with inaugural World Foursquare Day

Rum lovers of London descended on Trailer Happiness in Notting Hill last Sunday (17 November) for the inaugural World Foursquare Day. The day was the idea of Facebook group Foursquare Rum Appreciation Society to celebrate the much-loved Barbados distillery. According to Foursquare brand ambassador Peter Holland, they chose 17 November because it “was the day that Foursquare Distillery and Heritage Park was officially opened by Sir David Seale [father of the owner, Richard], and the Prime Minister of Barbados Mr. Owen S. Arthur in 1996.” Holland organised the London event; there were rum cocktails, bottles from Holland’s own collection (including the ultra-rare Foursquare Triptych), and even a surprise appearance from the Seales themselves. There was also a well-attended event in Milton Keynes. Holland told us: “Next year, I think we will look to grow the event, and, perhaps in conjunction with the UK importers, see if we can get a few more bars involved across the UK. Increase the celebration, but try not to make it crass and commercial.” So put 17 November 2020 in your diary now.

Annabel Meikle, one of the judges at the Spirit of Speyside Awards

Top whiskies shortlisted for Spirit of Speyside Awards

Awards and whisky go together like bread and butter, and Speyside is about to get its fair share! Eight Speyside single malts have been shortlisted as finalists in the international Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards. The initial judging process took place earlier this month in the heart of Speyside (well, where else could it be?), where a panel of leading whisky experts carried out a blind tasting of 41 entries. A tough job, but somebody’s got to do it. However, it’s not the experts who get the final say. The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards are the only industry awards in the world to give consumers the final vote. Over the next six months, the two finalists in each category will be put forward for judging by whisky drinkers all over the place, from the UK and Europe to India and Canada. Spanning four categories, this year’s finalists are Aberlour 10 Year Old and Cardhu 12 Year Old, Benromach 15 Year Old and Glenallachie 15 Year Old, Glenfiddich Grand Cru 23 Year Old and Glenfarclas 25 Year Old, and finally Tamnavulin Sherry Cask Edition and Cardhu Amber Rock. “It was almost impossible to pick just two finalists in each Awards category this year – the standard of whisky produced here in Speyside by our local craftsmen and women is truly exceptional,” said James Campbell, Chairman at The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. “We’re very much looking forward to opening up the judging to consumers over the next six months before celebrating the winners at what we believe is the finest whisky festival in the world.” You’ll have to wait a few months for the results, as the category winners will be announced at the opening of the 2020 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival in late April.

Fairy lights from Robert Dyas at The Macallan

The Macallan Distillery goes festive

The team at the Macallan are pulling out all the stops to turn the award-winning distillery into a festive wonderland this Christmas. As you’d expect from such a luxury brand, this will be a little more lavish than neon Santas, plastic holly, and M&S mince pies. Instead, the decorations have been inspired by the character of the single malt with golden acorns, dried berries and a palette of sienna, gold, copper and black, colours traditionally associated with The Macallan”, no less. At the centre will be a “towering” 15 ft Christmas tree. But that’s not all. There will also be a special Christmas menu in the restaurant, seasonal Macallan cocktails like the Speyside Flip and the Clootie to be sipped, and a special after-hours dinner on Thursday 5 December. Stuart Cassells, general manager, commented: “We are incredibly proud of the success our new distillery experience has enjoyed since opening 18 months ago. But we want to be more than a fantastic visitor attraction. Our ambition is to become a key Speyside destination, a place where people from the local community and further afield want to return to again and again. We’re extremely excited about the exclusive experiences we are offering, from unique gifting options to our new brasserie and bar menus. We hope to attract visitors old and new and look forward to providing a warm welcome to The Macallan Estate this festive season.” Sounds magnificent, though we’d have been just as happy with M&S mince pies as long as there was some Macallan to wash them down with. Don’t tell #WhiskySanta…

Remember kids, don’t drink and vote

Free drink if you register to vote

Here’s a good way to combat voter apathy (and we are being asked to vote a lot more than normal). A free drink when you vote. Brilliant! Why did no one think of this before? Well, of course they did. In elections past, unscrupulous politicians would ply the electorate with booze to get them to vote the ‘right’ way. But this new initiative from the Lollipop group of venues around London, is not trying to corrupt, just get people to vote. Simply turn up at a Lollipop bar, like Journey on the King’s Road or Dear Sunny in Hackney, prove that you have registered to vote before 26 November (the closing date), and a free drink will be yours (full details and list of venues here).  Founder Seb Lyall had this to say: “We know how important it is for people of all ages and backgrounds to get out there and vote on December 12. These elections will have a significant impact on our industry and we want as wide a group of voices to be heard as possible.” Make sure, however, that you vote sober, or you never know who we might end up with.

We could be saying, ‘goodbye Joe to baijiu” (sorry)

Are we heading for a baijiu shortage?

Kweichow Moutai is one of the biggest baijiu brands on the planet – and this week, at its overseas distributors conference, the company suggested that the Chinese spirit is gaining such a following internationally that stock shortages are becoming a reality for the first time. “It’s one of the most significant changes we have seen in overseas markets since Moutai rebounded in the domestic market in 2016,” said Moutai Group chairman and party committee secretary Li Baofang. Baijiu is the most consumed spirit category in the world, although the vast, vast majority is drunk in China. This looks to be slowly shifting though – and from 2017-18, we saw a 650% uptick in sales here at MoM Towers, albeit from a teeny base. Keep an eye out for more baijiu in 2020 – if international supply can keep up with demand!

Don’t worry, be happy

And Finally… Worrying about your hangover ‘makes it worse’

We’re all about responsible drinking here at MoM Towers. Remember – sip, don’t gulp! But sometimes, a little overindulgence can happen. And new research from the University of Salford this week appears to confirm something we’ve had a little inkling about: worrying about a hangover makes it worse. It’s all linked to whether someone is likely to “catastrophise pain” or not. What’s that, we asked. Apparently it’s when you worry too much about the threat of pain, which makes you feel like you can’t manage it, and then dwell on how much something hurts. 86 people ages from 18 to 46 were quizzed about a recent time they’d had a drink (more gulping than sipping. Just don’t). The results showed a “significant relationship” between all that catastrophising and the severity of the hangover. Turns out there are actual dehydrated-related symptoms, but also stress-related ones, too – and the stress ones were more likely to get on that catastrophising. “These findings suggest the importance of cognitive coping strategies in how people experience hangovers after drinking alcohol,” said lead researcher, Sam Royle. “This may have implications in understanding behavioural responses to hangovers, and also for addiction research.” Good work, Sam. But the best way to avoid that hangover? Keep the booze consumption sensible in the first place! 

And with that in mind… Happy weekend, folks!

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Discover the Robbie Dhu Spring water source at Glenfiddich!

Earlier this year we joined the European Bartender School (EBS) for a good nose around Glenfiddich Distillery. First stop? That all-important water source… Water is a critical Scotch whisky ingredient…

Earlier this year we joined the European Bartender School (EBS) for a good nose around Glenfiddich Distillery. First stop? That all-important water source…

Water is a critical Scotch whisky ingredient – along with malted barley and yeast. We joined the European Bartender School’s Scotch Whisky Expedition to check out Glenfiddich Distillery for a week of whisky-making and learning, starting with that all-important water source. For Glenfiddich, it’s the Robbie Dhu Spring. Lorna Woodcock, environmental chemist for Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie Distillery, showed us around!

Fancy joining the next EBS Scotch Whisky Expedition? Check out the educator’s website to secure your place!

Glenfiddich Distillery at night.

The Glenfiddich Distillery looking all lovely by night

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The Balvenie Stories launches with three special whiskies

Three key figures at the classic Speyside distillery have each created a whisky to celebrate human tales of endeavour, craft and surprise. These are their stories. We love a great Scotch…

Three key figures at the classic Speyside distillery have each created a whisky to celebrate human tales of endeavour, craft and surprise. These are their stories.

We love a great Scotch whisky. We also love a good story. So it’s always a pleasure to witness when the two are combined. That’s the case with The Balvenie Stories, a range of three expressions made to bring tales from the distillery’s illustrious history to life.

The selection includes The Sweet Toast of American Oak, a whisky Kelsey McKechnie matured in Kentucky virgin oak to make a fruitier Balvenie, a story of a new apprentice malt master innovating and making her mark. The Week of Peat and A Day of Dark Barley, meanwhile, are two expressions that tell the stories behind two classic whiskies you may have enjoyed before, from former distillery manager Ian Millar’s introduction of Speyside peat or malt master David Stewart MBE using dark roasted malted barley.

The Balvenie Stories

Three tales of character written in whisky: The Balvenie Stories

As well as new liquid to enjoy, The Balvenie has also provided whisky enthusiasts with a chance to experience these tales outside the glass. Specially-recorded audio conversations and guided whisky tasting content will be available via an NFC-enabled neck tag, that people connect to using their smartphones, as well as in podcast format.

An accompanying book ‘Pursuit – The Balvenie Stories Collection’, a collection of short tales by acclaimed writers from around the world was edited by award-winning author and journalist Alex Preston, will also be published in the autumn by Canongate. The notion of storytelling informs the design of The Balvenie Stories packaging too. Each tale is represented on the whisky’s tube and label in bespoke illustrations from British artist and printmaker Andy Lovell.

David Stewart MBE summarised: “Stories are the lifeblood of The Balvenie distillery. They make up the fabric of who we are and what we do. The Balvenie Stories collection tells these tales in liquid form, giving whisky drinkers across the globe a special glimpse into the unique and very human nature of how we produce our whisky. Each expression in the collection reflects this by telling its own story via first-hand accounts and recollections of the many people involved.”

But that’s enough storytime, let’s take a look at these three expressions:

The Balvenie Stories

The Sweet Toast of American Oak

The Sweet Toast of American Oak

What’s the story?:

A whisky conceived to demonstrate what happens when ancient techniques and fresh ideas are blended. Appropriately, this was recently-appointed apprentice malt master Kelsey McKechnie’s experiment. The 12-year-old whisky was matured in twice-toasted virgin white American oak casks from Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky to produce an even fruitier, sweeter tasting Balvenie that was bottled at 43% ABV.

Producer Tasting Notes:

Nose: Lusciously malty with some sweet fudge, followed by citrussy and oak vanilla aromas with layers of spicy oak notes of ginger and cinnamon.

Palate: Candied orange and lemon peel, vanilla toffee and butterscotch, layers of blossom honey, some melted brown sugar and oak spices at the end.

Finish: Rich and malty with gentle waves of oak vanilla and subtle spices.

The Balvenie Stories

The Week of Peat

The Week of Peat

What’s the story?:

As you might have guessed already, The Week of Peat is an evolution of The Balvenie Peat Week Aged 14 Year Old, which was launched back in 2017 to add a touch of smoke to the Speysider’s selection. This expression remembers when Stewart and former distillery manager Ian Millar trialled drying barley with peat for the first time after a week’s gap in the distillery’s production schedule provided an opportunity back in 2002. The resulting dram, which was bottled at 48.3% ABV, has all the hallmarks of a classic Balvenie expression with an extra layer of delicate smokiness.

Producer Tasting Notes:

Nose: Gentle sweet peat smoke, lighter floral notes and delicate butterscotch honey

Palate: Velvety and round to taste with the peat smoke balancing citrus flavours, oaky vanilla and blossom honey

Finish: Gentle smoke with a lingering and creamy vanilla sweetness.

The Balvenie Stories

A Day of Dark Barley

A Day of Dark Barley

What’s the story?:

A 26-year-old dram, A Day of Dark Barley is the oldest expression in the range and is another familiar face. An edition of this whisky was released in 2006 as the Balvenie 14 Year Old Roasted Malt. However, casks were retained for extra maturation and the result is a sublime aged Balvenie that was bottled at 47.8% ABV. The story here references Stewart’s and The Balvenie distillery team experiment with a heavily roasted dark barley back in 1992 and celebrates two Balvenie legends, mashman Brian Webster and maltman Robbie Gormley.

Producer Tasting Notes:

Nose: Big malty notes, soft brown sugar, vanilla toffee, blossom honey and a mild oaky spiciness.

Palate: Syrupy with a toffee sweetness, some citrussy notes of tangy orange peel, followed by oak vanilla and a touch of cinnamon and ginger spices at the end.

Finish: Enduring gentle waves of vanilla and oak spices.

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Mortlach video masterclass with malt whisky brand ambassador TJ

Last month we spent an evening at Diageo’s London HQ with Edinburgh bartender and malt whisky brand ambassador TJ learning about why they call Mortlach the Beast of Dufftown. And…

Last month we spent an evening at Diageo’s London HQ with Edinburgh bartender and malt whisky brand ambassador TJ learning about why they call Mortlach the Beast of Dufftown. And we’ve got the videos to prove it.

Mortlach is a Speyside legend famed for its powerful whiskies that are capable of great ageing (the distillery recently released a 47 year old). Its unique character is down to a peculiar distillation technique known as ‘The Way’ invented by Alexander Cowie who built the distillery in 1823. We won’t go into too much detail about how it works but you can read more about it here. In this technique, the wash is distilled not once, not twice, not even three times a lady, but 2.81 times. So precise!

You can see it for yourself if you enter our Mortlach competition, where you can win a VIP trip to the distillery featuring a private tour, tastings, two nights at The Craigellachie Hotel and more. There’s also currrently 10% off Mortlach 12 Year Old, 16 Year Old and 20 Year Old, so everyone’s a winner!

Mortlach 12 Year Old in all its glory

To talk us through the core range, we were lucky enough to have one of Diageo’s newest and shiniest brand ambassadors TJ. An Edinburgh native, TJ cut his teeth working in some of the city’s best bars before being snapped up to spread the malt whisky gospel.

Drams at the ready, let’s masterclass!

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

 

The 12 Year Old is Mortlach’s bestselling expression offering all that trademark meatiness at an everyday price.

 

One step up in the range and a move up the complexity scale is the 16 Year Old.

 

And finally the biggest beast in the Mortlach core range, it’s the mighty 20 Year Old!

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Win a VIP trip to Mortlach Distillery

WIN the trip of a lifetime to Speyside and the Mortlach Distillery! Enjoy a VIP private tour, tastings, two nights at The Craigellachie Hotel and more! Everyone’s a winner –…

There are few Scotch whisky fans who wouldn’t jump at a chance to see inside the wonderful Mortlach Distillery. It’s one of Scotland’s finest distilleries and is well known across the globe for its unusual and unique distillation process known as ‘The Way’ and the spirit this produces, which is affectionately known as ‘The Beast of Dufftown’ for its bold, muscular and robust character. It’s such a shame it’s not usually open to the public. Somebody really should team up with the creators of those distinctive drams to offer an incredible VIP trip for one lucky person and their plus-one.

Somebody did. Us. Yes, that’s right people. We’ve launched another fantastic MoM competition and we’re taking one fortunate human being and their chosen human companion to Mortlach Distillery!

VIP trip to Mortlach Distillery

Mortlach distils its whisky 2.81 times in a process unique to the distillery

“What do I win?! What do I win?! What do I win?!”

It’s quite the prize. The winner of this competition will earn a VIP visit to Mortlach Distillery, including a private tour and tasting for themselves and a lucky plus one (they’ll certainly owe you one after this). We’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that this is particularly special because Mortlach is not usually open to the public so this is a rare opportunity for Scotch whisky fans to see an iconic distillery like few people have before!

If that wasn’t enough, you’ll also be treated to tours of Speyside cooperage and Cardhu Distillery, two nights’ accommodation in the Craigellachie Hotel (UK travel and food included) and you’ll even receive a bottle of the sensational Mortlach 20 Year Old.

Any Scotch whisky fan reading this will be aware of what an incredible opportunity this is. A VIP trip. To visit not one, but two classic Speyside distilleries. One rarely seen by the public. Open to explore for your pleasure. Plus food. And Flights. And food. And a bottle of delicious Scotch. Also free food. All this is just one competition? Applying is a must.

VIP trip to Mortlach Distillery

This beauty could be yours if you win.

“I’m in. How do I enter?”

I’m glad you asked. You will be automatically entered into the competition if you purchase a 70cl bottle of Mortlach 12 Year Old, 16 Year Old or 20 Year Old from 16 May to 16 June 2019 (For the nitty gritty details, see the competition terms below.) You can buy as many bottles as you want, and just in time for Father’s Day too!

Plus, for the length of the competition, we’ve reduced the price on each bottle of 12 Year Old, 16 Year Old and 20 Year Old by 10%! So even if you don’t win, you still win. What a world.

Good luck, all!

MoM Mortlach 2019 Competition open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 16 May to 16 June 2019. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Travel only provided from a UK location. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. Entry also available with no purchase. See full T&Cs for details.

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Celebrating Speyside!

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival kicks off next Wednesday, but even if you don’t have a ticket you can still enjoy the spoils of the historic region. Speyside is…

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival kicks off next Wednesday, but even if you don’t have a ticket you can still enjoy the spoils of the historic region.

Speyside is home to some of the best distilleries in all of Scotland and to some of our favourite drams. From Glenfiddich, Macallan, Glenlivet and more, the region boasts some of the industry’s biggest names as well as a variety of styles – not just the classic honeyed and sherried single malts (though it does have plenty of those, and they are mightily marvellous, of course).

With The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival on the horizon, it seemed only right that we took the time to celebrate the most prolific whisky-producing region in Scotland with a selection of some of its most magnificent whiskies. Enjoy!

The Macallan 12 Year Old Sherry Oak

Macallan produces some of the most revered, sought-after Scotch whiskies in the world that can sell for eye-watering sums. The Macallan 12 Year Old Sherry Oak might not grab the headlines like some its older, rarer drams, but it’s one of the most impressive bottlings around in its age group and makes for a perfect introduction into what has become the modern Macallan style.

What does it taste like?:

Sultanas, fresh apple blossom, tropical fruits, golden syrup, hot pastries, barley sugar, marmalade and a solid oaked notes.

Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask

A terrifically tasty and well-rounded single malt from The Balvenie, the distillery perhaps best known for its use of secondary maturation (or finishing). This bottling was initially aged in traditional oak casks before it was finished in casks which previously held a select blend of Caribbean rums chosen by malt master David C. Stewart MBE, imparting additional notes of toffee, spice and dried fruit.

What does it taste like?:

Tropical fruits, creamy toffee, sweet vanilla, apples, baking spice and mangoes.

Scallywag

Scallywag from Douglas Laing is a blended malt made from a host of whiskies sourced from some of Speyside’s finest, including Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes, many of which were matured in Spanish sherry butts. Some bourbon cask whisky is also in the blend for balance, making this a go-to expression for many Scotch whisky lovers. Also lovers of dapper little Fox Terriers. It’s wearing a monocle for goodness sake!

What does it taste like?:

Icing sugar, sultanas, candied ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, oak spice, nutmeg and cereal.

Tomintoul Tlàth

Tlàth (pronounced “Tlah”) means gentle or mellow in Gaelic, which gives you a clue as to what to expect from this non-age statement whisky which was matured in ex-bourbon barrels. The Speyside distiller’s Scotch is often described as ‘the gentle dram’ and this expression boasts plenty of distillery character and makes for a perfect introduction into all things Tomintoul.

What does it taste like?:

Sweet toffee, toasted vanilla, shortbread citrus peel, hints of mint leaf, lively white pepper and some oak-driven spiciness.

Mortlach 12 Year Old

The Mortlach distillery is known for its robust, muscular malts which proves a delightful reminder that Speyside is as varied as it is spectacular. Its 12-year-old expression, drawn from bourbon and sherry casks, features the subtitle The Wee Witchie, which comes from the name of the tiny still that distils a portion of the whisky.

What does it taste like?:

Warming oak, damson, soft raisins, toasted almond, cinder toffee and heavy barley with some lingering citrus oils cutting through.

Tamdhu 10 Year Old

Since its return to the Scotch whisky scene, Tamdhu has established a principle of ageing all of its whisky exclusively in Oloroso sherry seasoned oak casks. That distinctive, well-sherried profile, and the fact that it’s rather lovely, makes Tamdhu 10 Year Old the perfect go-to dram for those who desire a classic sherried Speysider.

What does it taste like?:

Dried orange peel, red wine, pecan, soft red fruit, brown sugar, chocolate-covered Brazil nut, crystallised ginger, cacao, spicy clove and raspberry jam.

Speyside 26 Year Old (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

That Boutique-y Whisky Company independently bottled this 26-year-old single malt from the Speyside distillery in the Speyside region. Imagine celebrating The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival with a dram of Speyside Scotch from a distillery actually named Speyside. That’s commitment, people. Oh, and it’s a seriously delicious whisky, in case you were wondering.

What does it taste like?:

Lemon peel, chocolate, oily barley, honey, strawberry jam, clove, ginger and apple strudel, topped with brown sugar and cinnamon.

Glenfarclas 25 Year Old

Last, but certainly not least, is a classic of the genre. You say Speyside and many will immediately think of this long-time family-owned distillery and its magnificent 25-year-old single malt. Glenfarclas 25 Year Old, which spent its entire maturation period in 100% Oloroso sherry casks, is a refined, complex and delicately peated dram that’s sure not to disappoint.

What does it taste like?:

Sherry and creamy barley, hints of gingerbread and nutty chocolate, oak rich, smoke and cocoa.

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First taste of Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection

We were given a very special personal tasting with master distiller Alan Winchester ahead of the release of Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection Vintage 1967, the distillery’s new $25,000 expression….

We were given a very special personal tasting with master distiller Alan Winchester ahead of the release of Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection Vintage 1967, the distillery’s new $25,000 expression.

The Glenlivet was still in family hands when the youngest component in this 50 year old whisky was distilled in 1967. It was run by the great Captain Bill Smith Grant, descendent of distillery founder George Smith. In those days the stills would have been direct-fired by coal, and yet, according to the current master blender, Alan Winchester, the spirit has the same character today.

Alan Winchester, Glenlivet

Alan Winchester with very old cask

We met in the Punch Room at the London Edition Hotel along with Bethan Gray, the noted furniture designer, who has created a spectacular box for this very special Glenlivet. It’s inspired by the distillery, the landscape and her father, who was raised in the Cairngorms. It features stained maple wood inlaid with copper representing the charred casks and the stills, and mother of pearl, a nod to the freshwater mussels in the Spey. The whisky is housed in a hand-blown bottle by Brodie Nairn. It’s a work of such extraordinary craftsmanship that I didn’t dare touch it.

I felt the same about the contents; I was reluctant to risk spilling a precious drop (only 150 bottles have been filled) until Winchester picked his glass first and began describing it to me: “The whisky started life in European oak but spent most of its life in Amerian oak casks, it was then taken out and put in a refill ex-bourbon hogshead, that‘s why there’s still so much distillery character,” he said.

On the nose I could see what he meant. It was dominated by sweet peachy fruit followed by notes of apricot jam and toffee. On the palate there’s dark chocolate and orange peel. It’s very smooth despite the high alcohol. The finish has toffee, coconut, and “banoffee pie”, according to Winchester.

He went on to say, “at 48% ABV, it’s kept a lot of strength in maturation, and retained lots of Glenlivet flavours. It’s full of sweetness and has not been dominated by European oak”. Adding water brought out aromatic floral notes and spices like cardamom. Winchester put it more poetically: “it’s like heather after a shower of rain, everything is fragrant.” He reckoned the release is “in keeping with the fruity floral Glenlivet style. This is how it was produced a few generations ago and this is how we are producing it today, they were right and we’ve followed them. Good news!”

Glenlivet

Ah! the smell of heather after rain

Winchester is a native of Morayshire. His father had a farm that supplied barley for Glenfarclas and indeed, that is where Winchester got his start in whisky. He moved to Glenlivet in 1979 and became master distiller a short 40 years later in 2009. It’s an immense responsibility. “Glenlivet is the holder of the Speyside style,” Winchester said, “and it’s been handed over to me. You can change everything if you like but you must make sure the whisky doesn’t change.” When this whisky was distilled two generations back, the master distiller was Bob Arthur. It was a more formal time, “you called the manager Mister, it’s all Christian names now,” he said, with perhaps a tinge of regret.

After a period with Seagram, the distillery was bought by Pernod Ricard in 2000. Production at Glenlivet has been ramped up in recent years. “Glenlivet has been expanded three times in my career, the last two I was heavily involved in,” Winchester told me. “This has given us more capacity to meet the demands of anticipated growth”. But, he said, “though it’s a large distillery we speak about things in terms of craft.”

This Glenlivet 50 Year Old Winchester Collection Vintage 1967 (which will be released later in spring at $25,000 per bottle!) is part of the Winchester Collection of rare whiskies named, of course, after the master distiller himself, who is due to retire soon. I asked Winchester about retirement but he corrected me: “semi-retirement.” He was cagey about who was lined up to replace him (“there’s a few folk being groomed to take over, I hope they’re jostling for position”). He seems reluctant to leave (and who can blame him?), but soon the responsibility for this famous name will be in someone else’s hands.

 

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Train your nose with The Balvenie’s Alwynne Gwilt

Do you love whisky but struggle to put what you taste and smell into words? Then read on, as we have some tips from Miss Whisky herself Alwynne Gwilt on…

Do you love whisky but struggle to put what you taste and smell into words? Then read on, as we have some tips from Miss Whisky herself Alwynne Gwilt on how to get the most out of your olfactory system.

It was a tasting at Milroy’s of Soho in 2011 that changed Alwynne Gwilt’s life forever. Originally from Canada, she was not a whisky drinker but that fateful evening she fell in love with the spirit, and, rather as Peter Parker became Spider Man thanks to a bite from a radioactive spider, Gwilt was transformed into. . . Miss Whisky! She set up her own website that same year and began to immerse herself (not literally, of course) in whisky full time. Since then, she has written for numerous newspapers and magazines, appeared on TV and radio, and won awards including International Whisky Ambassador of the Year at the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, She now works as a brand ambassador for William Grant, representing The Balvenie.

Alwynne Gwilt

Alwynne Gwilt in the still room at The Balvenie

We caught up with Gwilt at The Wigmore, a bar in London, for a nasal tune-up. Her view is that we don’t make full use of our sense of smell because we are so visually-oriented. But we do actually have a fine nasal system from our hunting and gathering days which just needs to be used properly. “Humans have become generally quite lazy when it comes to the nose, but our noses would have been a thing. Before we were cooking meat and we were processing food, we would have been much more aware of the wider environment around us and using our nose to help keep us safe,” she said. “Now our eyesight has taken over but the ability of the nose to learn things and to understand aroma is just as great as it always has been.”

Smells helps us remember things, Gwilt explained. “Your aroma receptors are close to the amygdala and the hippocampus, which is where you start thinking about emotion and memory. So, more than sight, more than sound, when you smell an aroma and you categorise that in your head, you’re much more likely to remember that moment, that time, that place.” What a piece of work your nose is! Now here are some tips on how to use it better:

Free your mind, and your nose will follow

Even people who’ve been drinking whisky for years can be extremely reticent about trying to describe smells. Gwilt explained to me:  “I can stand up there as someone who’s been drinking whisky for years and go, ‘I get aromas of raisins and chocolate’, and someone might look at you like you’re absolutely nuts because they’re like, ‘well it just smells like whisky!’.” So, don’t be embarrassed; try to put what you smell into words, and remember there are no right or wrong answers. A great way to do this, according to Gwilt, is to try to become aware of the smells around you when you’re out walking.

Alwynne Gwilt Balvenie

Building her flavour vocabulary

Build your aroma vocabulary

“Aroma is based hugely around vocabulary, “ Gwilt told me. “Just like we learn language, your brain does the same thing when it’s learning different aromas. If I were to say to you ‘this smells like curry leaves’, for instance, and you’ve never smelled a fresh curry leaf, then that’s not in your vocabulary. So you have to experience an aroma before you can then process it, understand it and recognise it in another scenario.” A great way to build that flavour vocabulary when you’re smelling whisky is to pretend you are in a supermarket, she said. “Imagine you’re walking through the fruit aisle and you’re picking out your fruit, and then you’re walking through the veg aisle. And then in each section, as you smell the whisky you think to yourself, ‘visualise it’. Say, ‘is this an orange, is this an apple, is this a banana, is this a carrot?’. Start going through those things individually, and if you go ‘no, no, no, I smell something sweet’, then go to the baking aisle. Is it a baked good? Is it a pastry? Or is it a Haribo?’. A lot of people will say, ‘I get sweet, I get spicy, I get smoke’, and it’s about continuously breaking everything down.”

Smell with your mouth open

You will look a bit like a goldfish but this really helps. “When you first start smelling whiskies, keep your mouth open, because that helps to circulate things,” Gwilt explained. “If you keep your mouth open, it helps to circulate the air, stopping you from just getting the alcohol.” We smell in two ways, she continued: direct olfaction (right up your nose), and retronasal olfaction (the back of the nose through the mouth).  If your mouth isn’t open, you’re not getting the full effect.

Hold it in your mouth  

You’ve seen wine tasters do it: swilling it around their mouths and making weird sucking noises. Well, it all helps get the flavour out. “A huge amount of what you taste is actually aroma; it’s the nose doing its job. It is not your taste buds,” she continued. “So when you go to taste a whisky, always hold it on your palate for ten or 15 seconds. That gives enough time for your brain to register what’s happening and start to pick out some of those aromas.”

Alwynne Gwilt at the Balvenie

Gwilt with this year’s must have accessory, the malt shovel

And finally, just to prove how hard it is to put smells into words without practise, Gwilt gave me a little test. I had to smell three essences which commonly crop up in whisky vocabulary.

The first was anise, which I correctly identified immediately. The second was coffee, which I guessed as roasted nuts. And finally, Gwilt gave me something to smell which initially smelt of vanilla, at least to me, and then of lemons. Apparently it was actually blackcurrant leaf. D’oh! C-, must try harder.  

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Whisky Advent 2018 Day #13: Cardhu Gold Reserve

The thirteenth might be unlucky for some – but not if you’re following Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar! Continuing with the theme, there’s another delectable whisky hidden away…

The thirteenth might be unlucky for some – but not if you’re following Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar! Continuing with the theme, there’s another delectable whisky hidden away behind today’s window…

Phew! After all the smoke of yesterday’s Kilchoman, you’d think it might be time to chill those taste buds out. Not so. While it doesn’t pack a peaty punch, today’s dram is a much-loved expression, bursting with Speyside charm and all-round honeyed, fruity, luscious loveliness. The whisky in question?

It’s Cardhu Gold Reserve!

Cardhu is a key component in blended Scotch behemoth Johnnie Walker, and in recent times hasn’t been all that active on releasing its own single malts. This was partly due to being a victim of its own success – back in the early 2000s, so much single malt from the distillery was being consumed by our thirsty neighbours in continental Europe that demand put pressure on Johnnie Walker supplies! A period of confusion followed when Cardhu became what’s today recognised as a blended malt (with single malt liquid from multiple distilleries), but that’s all been and gone. Today, Cardhu has a core range of age statements in its portfolio and this tasty little number, Cardhu Gold Reserve, is a no-age statement expression celebrated for its smooth grassiness and honeyed fruit richness.

Enough from us. We caught up with Ewan Gunn, Diageo’s global whisky ambassador, to get the Cardhu particulars in full.

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