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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Speyside Whisky

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.

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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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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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