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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: The Balvenie

The Nightcap: 17 December

It’s the final Nightcap of the year and we’re signing off with an absolute cracker thanks to stories on new whisky from The Balvenie, a Port ‘speakeasy’, and the best…

It’s the final Nightcap of the year and we’re signing off with an absolute cracker thanks to stories on new whisky from The Balvenie, a Port ‘speakeasy’, and the best home bar we’ve ever seen…

Well folks, that’s it for another year. As next week is Christmas Eve (ahhh) and the week after that is New Year’s Eve (ahhhhhh) we’re afraid this is the final Nightcap of 2021. It’s been an absolute pleasure to spend the last 12 months bringing you the best of boozy news every week and we’ll be back in 2022. In the meantime, please enjoy the last Nightcap of the year, preferably with a dram of something delicious in your hand. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Just because it’s the most wonderful time of the year, that doesn’t mean we’ve slacked off from writing to eat mince pies. There was plenty of goings-on in the world of MoM this week, including a new competition with Atom Labs, a feature from Millie on how agave spirits can be sustainable, and a superbly seasonal Cocktail of the Week. There was also the usual delights of Super Wishes, Advent calendar revelations (twice!), and plenty of delicious whisky, including ten of our favourites by flavour and a new Fettercairn release. We didn’t forget about the festive fizz either, and even managed to squeeze in some time with the wonderful Louise McGuane from J.J Corry and Dr. Jim Beveridge of Johnnie Walker fame.

Phew! Lot’s to enjoy. But there’s more to come. Onto The Nightcap: 17 December edition!

The Nightcap: 17 December

Jay Bradley, co-founder of Whiskey & Wealth Club Limited

Texas authorities investigate whisky investment scheme 

We’ve run a lot on the blog recently about the dangers of whisky investment schemes making outlandish promises. Now, it looks like authorities are taking an interest. The Texas State Securities Board recently announced “an emergency cease and desist order to stop an illegal international whiskey investment scheme.” The scheme in question is the Whiskey & Wealth Club Limited, a business headed up by Jay Bradley with offices in London and Dublin. “We’re alleging that Whiskey & Wealth Club is touting its success in profiting from sales of casks of whiskey that are at least three, five or ten years old,” said Joe Rotunda, TSSB enforcement director. “That’s misleading. The company has not even been incorporated for three years.” And as the TSSB noted, its accounts with Companies House are overdue. Rotunda and team also claim that Whiskey & Wealth Club is deceiving customers in other ways including refusing to show investors the contract until a deposit has been received. It will be interesting to see how this plays out and whether authorities in Britain or Ireland will get involved. Meanwhile, if you’re thinking of investing in whisky, read Ian Buxton’s guide to avoiding scams

The Nightcap: 17 December

A great whisky to end a great series

The Balvenie concludes Tun 1509 series with Batch 8

The Balvenie has launched the eighth and final bottling in the distinguished and much loved Tun 1509 series. The creatively-titled The Balvenie Tun 1509 Batch 8 demonstrates the expertise of malt master David C. Stewart MBE brings to the table in the blending of rare aged stocks. This latest releases is a combination of 18 whiskies from the distillery stocks, married together in the Tun, a large oak marrying vessel that sits proudly in Warehouse 24, which gives the series its name. The liquid is left to marry for three months after a long maturation in ex-bourbon barrels, second-fill sherry butts, refill puncheons and new sherry butts before being bottled without any filtration. “The Tun 1509 series draws to its completion with Batch 8. This Batch is a remarkable marriage of casks which result in a deep and rich Balvenie,” Stewart commented, “To taste we have a rich toffee sweetness, buttery vanilla and a swirl of the house honey style – layering to candied ginger and aromatic spices” Sounds delicious, so good thing we’ve got some.

The Nightcap: 17 December

The architect’s impression of The Cabrach Distillery

Cabrach Trust whisky distillery gets £3.5m funding 

The Cabrach Trust has moved one step closer to building a Scotch whisky distillery in Moray after securing a multi-million-pound investment. The distillery and heritage centre first received planning permission in September 2017 and work was due to begin work on the site in 2018 after securing £310,000 in funding, but those efforts have been boosted by a further £3.5m investment and construction is now expected to start in February 2022. Funding has come from the The Ethos Foundation, the William Grant Foundation and the Vattenfall Clashindarroch Wind Farm Community Fund, while distilling equipment provider Forsyths is also one of the project’s backers and the Bently Foundation gave a significant grant to the scheme in 2021. The site, which is due to be operational by spring 2023, is in the Cabrach area which is said to be one of the birthplaces of the Scotch whisky industry and famed for illicit stills and smuggling. The Cabrach Trust aims to regenerate the area as a sustainable community, restoring a 19th-century steading at the trust’s Inverharroch base and incorporating a renewable energy source. The distillery and traditional dunnage warehouse will occupy two wings of the steading, with the additional two wings used for the heritage centre, community bistro, tasting room and visitor reception. Intriguingly, the trust has also revealed the distillery will use ‘historic methods’ that reflect the production of malt whisky from the 1800s. We can’t wait to see what they make.

The Nightcap: 17 December

Take a journey through the history of the Martini at Henson’s

Henson’s in Soho offers ‘Flights of Fancy’ cocktail menu

Top Soho nightspot Henson’s at the Mimi’s Hotel has a new cocktail menu! It is divided into five sections including Forgotten Classics, Icons Reinvented, and Classico Italiano. There’s even a No-Alcohol section for those doing Dry January, or who just fancy a break from the hard stuff. Bar manager Francesco Delfino commented: “We can’t wait to re-introduce a selection of classic cocktails to our customers old and new. We have always prided ourselves on serving the heroes of modern cocktail culture, with a strong focus on Italian serves and feel this is one of our strongest menus to date.” We, however, were particularly taken with the fifth section, called Flights of Fancy, which features three mini cocktails for £12. The Martini flight, for example, “takes drinkers on a journey from the first documented ‘Marguerite’, an early days Martini, in 1888, through to the first two parts London Dry to one part dry vermouth created in 1906.” So even if you can’t fly, you can still take a flight.

The Nightcap: 17 December

They’re bringing Porto to Marylebone this Christmas.

Port ‘speakeasy’ opens in London

The first of two speakeasy stories this week, we received word that the ‘Rebel Port Club’, a collaboration between Port giants Symington Family Estates and the Chiltern Street Deli in Marylebone, is opening. Sounds edgy! Rob Symington explained the idea behind it: “Port used to have some colourful associations, which were rooted in how and where it was traditionally drunk – particularly in private members’ clubs. Rebel Port Club takes this association and flips it on its head. Our objective is to create a cosy, welcoming and informal space where people can discover the full range of Port styles (ruby, tawny, and white) in both classic serves as well as some more rebellious cocktails. With the rise of UK visitors to Porto, we are seeing a new wave of excitement for Port, as people learn more about the category and return home eager to replicate the serves and pairings from their holidays. We are excited to bring a bit of Portugal to London this Christmas season.” The pop-up will be open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays until 24 December from 5-8.30pm, and then recommence in January. Tickets cost £25 and consist of two Port cocktails, and a glass of vintage and tawny, plus charcuterie, cheese and pastel de nata. So even if it’s not particularly rebellious, it does sound pretty tasty.

The Nightcap: 17 December

Kentucky has been devastated by this tornado

Jim Beam gives $1m to help Kentucky tornado victims

Beam Suntory has made a big pledge recently to provide assistance following the tornado that hit western Kentucky last week, killing more than 80 people. The whiskey giant has responded by donating US$1 million to support organisations providing aid to those affected by the disaster. The donation is spread between the state’s Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, which has been established by governor Andy Beshear, and the American Red Cross’ disaster relief fund. Meanwhile, Beam Suntory is also matching personal donations by its US workers to relief organisations and donating single-barrel bourbons from Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek to a charity auction organised by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA). “While our facilities and teams were spared the worst of this catastrophe, we stand with our neighbours and offer this support on behalf of the more than 1,200 people of Beam Suntory in Kentucky,”  Beam Suntory CEO Albert Baladi says. It’s a great gesture and we hope it has the desired impact for the people of Kentucky.

The Nightcap: 17 December

We heartily recommend you pay them a visit

Karakana opens in Brixton offering fine Indian cuisine and  cocktails 

Ever wanted your London cocktails offerings to contain a little Indian innovation? Well, that’s exactly what you can get at Brixton’s Karakana, a restaurant that opened this month. Styled as an Indian diner and bar, the concept came from Pat and Elly Foster of Satay Bar, Market House and Nanba bar fame, and MasterChef champion Tim Anderson. General manager and 20-year industry veteran Harry Rustan has made a simple but sublime selection of drinks such as The Karakana, a mix of vodka, amaretto, lassi, mango puree and crushed pistachios, the Pina Co-Lassi, which combines rum, coconut cream, lassi and pineapple juice and garnished with a pineapple slice, as well as a Tamarind Whisky Sour which combines whisky, sugar syrup, tamarind and lime juice with an orange and cherry garnish. Co-founders of Brixton Brewery Jez Galaun and Mike Ross even brewed a spiced wheat beer especially for the restaurant. Head chef Khilesh Anand, formerly of the Cinnamon Club, made a menu consisting of tapas-style small plates like lotus blossom onion bhajis and cheese and potato samosas as well as hearty curries and innovative tandoori dishes to life. So if you fancy sipping on creative Indian serves while wolfing down lamb chops, pork ribs and even currywurst, then you know where to head.

The Nightcap: 17 December

@theresapizzaaa wins our vote for best home bar

And finally… woman reveals speakeasy bar behind kitchen cabinet

We’ve heard of a home bar but the set-up one woman can boast in her house is another thing entirely. TikTok user @theresapizzaaa has caused a stir by revealing a huge speakeasy bar hidden underneath her kitchen, with a door sneakily hidden behind a cupboard in the kitchen island. The astonishing underground speakeasy is the same size as her house and boasts racks of wine at the bottom of the staircase, a private cinema room, an old telephone box and fully-stocked bar area. There’s a live band playing in the bar for good measure. @theresapizzaaa actually first posted the footage back in May, but a recent trend to share your ‘most viral’ of the year on the app has led to renewed interest. The original video has racked over 35 million views, while the reposted version is already well over five and a half million views. We’re very happy to verify its awesomeness in person, if @theresapizzaaa fancies sending an invitation our way…

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The art of the cooper

Good quality casks are vital to every single bottle of whisky, making the role of the cooper, the person expertly in their care and creation, absolutely essential. Distillers tend to…

Good quality casks are vital to every single bottle of whisky, making the role of the cooper, the person expertly in their care and creation, absolutely essential. Distillers tend to get the glory, but behind every great distiller is a master cooper.

Coopering is an ancient craft. The earliest clues to its origin begin with an Egyptian wall painting in the tomb of Hesy-Ra, which dates to 2600 BC. It shows a wooden tub made of staves held together with wooden hoops, used to store wheat. But it wasn’t until 350 BC when the Celts and Northern Europeans began making watertight wooden containers that resemble the casks we know today. 

It later became understood that oak was not only the best wood to store a liquid, but that it made a wine (or whisky) taste better. More machines are now used in the cooperage, but every cask remains hand assembled by a cooper, carefully plied into a watertight vessel.

The Balvenie Ian McDonald.jpg RS

Hanging with Mr Cooper, it’s The Balvenie’s Ian McDonald

In charge of one million barrels

Ian McDonald is head cooper at William Grant & Sons, where he oversees one million barrels for The Balvenie and Glenfiddich. He started at the distillery in 1969, drawn to the industry by a love of wood and metalwork.

When McDonald started out, he was one cooper among some 1,000 in Scotland. At that time, barrels used to arrive from America in “shook form” – a barrel knocked down into a bundle of staves and shipped to Scotland to be reassembled. Now most barrels arrive complete. A downturn in whisky production in the late 80s, and at the turn of the millennium, also forced large numbers out of the trade.

Today there are around 300 skilled coopers in Scotland and the art of coopering is going through a “revival”, says McDonald. Whisky is booming and many cooperages are increasing capacity and training. But it’s not easy to become a cooper. A four-year apprenticeship and rigorous trade test is required. Only then can recruits receive the honour of being ‘tarred and feathered’ – covered in gunge and rolled around inside a barrel – making them a fully fledged cooper in the eyes of their colleagues. In October, McDonald advertised for two apprentices at Balvenie and received more than 100 applicants. “There is and has always been people wanting to become coopers,” he said.

L-R Angela Cochrane and Kirsty Olychick are the UK's first coopering apprentices

Angela Cochrane and Kirsty Olychick, Diageo’s first women coopering apprentices

What does a cask do?

A cask is responsible for the maturation of a whisky, with all Scotch aged for at least three years. While there are a lot of elements that make up a whisky’s flavour, some suggest that around 60% of a malt’s flavours and aromas come from the barrel. Every whisky will interact with the wood differently, imparting different characteristics depending on the cask, or casks, used and length of ageing.

Think toast, coffee, cedar or sawdust – powerful, sensory aromas that fill your nostrils and immediately transport you to a barrel room. I get the same sensation when nosing sherry, where the impact of barrel ageing is tangible.

How do you make a cask?

Oak selection is crucial. Why oak? It’s strong, but bendable, tightly grained, so watertight. There are hundreds of species of oak, but the most commonly used are quercus alba (American white oak), quercus robur and quercus petraea (European oak). Others include quercus crispula (Japanese mizunara). Each imparts its own signature.

Wood is first ‘quarter cut’ (against the grain) and kilned or air-dried to ensure 100% moisture evaporation and elimination of any nasties. It is then planed and smoothed into staves and the barrel is raised, held with temporary steel hoops. Staves are steamed, or heated, to allow them to be bent into place.

Before the heads and ends are secured toasting and charring occurs, which can intensify or release another layer of flavour. Toasting is where the cask is slowly heated, penetrating deep inside the wood. It breaks down lignin, which creates vanillin – the source of a whisky’s vanilla notes. A light toast will add some vanilla and nuttiness, with a heavier toast creating richer notes of toffee and caramel. Charring is a secondary process where the inside of a cask is set alight, but it impacts only the surface of the wood. It could be lightly or heavily charred, creating flavours and aromas of smoke, toast and tobacco.

For McDonald, much of his team’s work involves rejuvenating and repairing casks for further use, removing the old surface inside a cask and then re-toasting and charring depending on the distillery’s requirements. “Most of the experiments we do now are ways of improving wood maturation qualities,” he adds. “We try toasting at different temperatures to see what works best and have also experimented in end toasting.”

The cask is then fitted with permanent steel hoops and a bung hole is drilled in the widest stave.

The Balvenie_Dennis McBain, David Stewart, Ian McDonald.jpg RS

It’s a barrel of laughs at the Balvenie (from left Dennis McBain, David Stewart, and Ian McDonald)

Size does matter

The smaller the cask, the more of the liquid will be in contact with the wood, so its impact will be greater. This impact lessens the larger the cask becomes. Common casks, from small to large, include: quarter cask (45-50 litres); American standard barrel (190-200 litres); hogsheads (225-250 litres); barrique (250-300 litres); puncheon (450-500 litres); butt (475-500 litres); Port pipe (550-650 litres); and Madeira drum (600-650 litres).

A word on virgin and first-fill casks. Virgin casks are those that have never matured any liquid ever before. It’s a legal requirement for bourbon to be aged in virgin oak virgin casks. First-fill casks have never aged Scotch before, but may have aged sherry, Port of bourbon, for example. When used to age whisky subsequent times, it becomes a refill cask. Flavour and colour extraction lessens each time a cask is used, with second and third refill casks imparting a progressively lighter character.

The bourbon industry can’t reuse its casks, so first-fill ex-bourbon barrels are routinely shipped to the UK to age Scotch. Bourbon barrels must be charred by law. They are responsible for some of the vanilla, caramel, coconut and toffee aromas present in Scotch.

Cask finishes are a big deal

Most Scotch is aged in ex-bourbon or ex-sherry casks. But distillers will often ‘finish’ a whisky by transferring it to another barrel, previously used to age a different liquid, for a period of time, adding another layer of flavour. Experimentation in this field has grown immensely over the past decade. Some of the most common cask finishes include ex-Madeira, Marsala, Cognac or rum casks. Experimentation with (non-fortified) wine casks is also growing, with ex-Bordeaux, Sauternes and Moscatel barrels becoming popular.

A cask isn’t merely a vessel – it’s crucial to a spirit’s tapestry of flavours and aromas. A distiller might wield the paintbrush, but it’s the cooper who creates the canvas.

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The Nightcap: 1 October

This week’s Nightcap stars Skepta, two MoMers who are in contention to be the IWSC Spirit Communicator for 2022, and some truly rubbish wine. October. It’s October. October 2021. How…

This week’s Nightcap stars Skepta, two MoMers who are in contention to be the IWSC Spirit Communicator for 2022, and some truly rubbish wine.

October. It’s October. October 2021. How is this even possible? Time is making a shambles of us all. Our 2021 to-do lists mock us. Halloween is this month. Christmas is on the horizon. It’s all too much, isn’t it? Well, we’ve got just the tonic. Lots of gin. Just kidding. Although we do have lots of gin, our actual solution is light reading about all the goings-on in the world of booze. It’s called The Nightcap. Here it is.

Things were extra exciting on the blog these last few days because it just so happens to be MoM Week! Amazing, and exclusive to us, Glengoyne, Hermitage Cognac, and more are here and ready to be enjoyed. 

Oh, and we have a 71-year-old Macallan knocking around. Plus, news on Diageo’s Special Releases 2021 as well as some fascinating insights into why whisky can break the bank, how Crabbie’s is restoring a whisky legacy and why St. James Bar is so great. We also made a delicious cocktail called The Brooklyn and reported on the shock news that John Campbell is leaving Laphroaig. All in a week’s work. A MoM week’s work. Do check it out.

We also crowned one distillery as our Whisky Icon. Who was it? Click here to find out. Then click here to see the world’s greatest reaction video.

Now, let’s crack on. It’s the Nightcap: 1 October edition!

The Nightcap: 1 October

Hoorah for Kristy, Millie, and all other nominees!

Two MoMers make the IWSC Spirit Communicator 2022 shortlist!

If you’re aware of the IWSC Spirit Communicator 2022 award (sponsored by Chivas Brothers), you’ll know that it’s a pretty big deal in our industry. The award aims to recognise someone who is making an “exceptional contribution towards promoting spirits to the public”, and “reward those who have succeeded in using an omnichannel approach to communicate their spirits message to their audience”, according to the IWSC. For 2022, applications were at an all-time high, so it’s especially impressive to make the list of nominees, which is just five outstanding candidates. We are delighted to say that on the shortlist for this year’s Spirits Communicator of the Year award are former MoM editor Kristiane Sherry and current MoM contributor Millie Milliken! Ok, so technically Kristy is now head of spirits at Fine & Rare, but she spent part of this year here at MoM Towers so that counts as far we’re concerned (and she still hosts Pour & Sip tastings), while Millie has been writing all kinds of outstanding content for our blog in the last year. The other nominees are the excellent Moa Nilsson, or the ‘Swedish Whisky Girl’ as you probably know her best, the wonderful Felipe Schrieberg of ‘The Rhythm and Booze’ project and Forbes fame, and Billy Abbott from the enemy (just kidding, we love you really Billy). For more information on each nominee, visit here. Congratulations to all of them for making the shortlist, it’s a stellar lineup and any one of the five would be a worthy winner. You will forgive us if we have a couple of people we’re rooting for though…

The Nightcap: 1 October

That bottle is still sealed, my guy.

Havana Club unveils limited-edition rum with grime star Skepta

Havana Club and international music icon Skepta are proud to announce the next chapter of their global collaboration, a limited-edition rum created by the artist himself. The collaboration began in 2019, when Skepta first visited Havana, Cuba, and noticed parallels in Cuban traditions and those of his own West African Yoruba heritage through paths of migration. The first two chapters of the collaboration – a pair of redesigned Havana Club 7 Rum bottles – captured this cultural infusion in their labels, which featured traditional Nigerian symbols. But this is much more swanky. In fact, it’s described as “a truly unique spirit for the next generation of rum drinkers”, which was made as a “celebration of excellence and the cultural links between Cuba and Skepta’s homeland of Nigeria.” It’s also £85. Which is swanky, right? The rapper himself is also said to have been involved in the creation, collaborating with maestro del ron Cubano Asbel Morales, to make Rum of Skepta in a limited-edition batch of just 3,000 bottles. The press shots are a tad goofy, given Skepta appears to be drinking from a sealed bottle (maybe he’s just that good?), but we actually think this could prove very fruitful. If it opens the world of rum to a diverse set of new people, then that’s always welcome. As is the fact that I can do a Super Hans impression to anyone who brings this rum up in conversation and say “the secret ingredient is grime”. 

The Nightcap: 1 October

Some classic podcast posing on show here

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) launches new podcast with Vic Galloway

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) has partnered with Vic Galloway for a special podcast series dedicated to great music and stunning whisky. You might remember they collaborated before, but now they’re taking things to the next level, with the Whisky Talk: Malts & Music podcast series. Along with a tasting pack of five Society single cask malt whiskies, each of Vic’s guests will explore their creative loves, their passion for whisky, and most importantly, how each of the five Society drams has inspired a favourite piece of music. Hosted in the Tasting Room at The Vaults, the Society’s home in Leith, the podcast will feature a whisky-fuelled chat with well-known whisky fans from Scottish cultural life like Norman Blake from Teenage Fanclub, writer Val McDermid, Justin Currie from Del Amitri and Stina Tweeddale of Honeyblood. Whisky Talk: Malts & Music kicks off on Thursday, 7 October with crime writer Ian Rankin, who pairs his Society drams with tunes from John Martyn, James Yorkston, and more. “Good whisky and good music go hand in hand. I had such a great time pairing 12 music genres with the 12 Scotch Malt Whisky Society flavour profiles earlier this year, and that gave us the idea for Whisky Talk: Malts & Music,” says Galloway. “Asking a whisky-loving creative person to match five malts with five pieces of music and chat to our guests about the experience was a huge amount of fun. As the whisky flows, we go off on unexpected tangents about creative work, opinions, and life in general. Join us for a good chinwag and spectacular drams!” Whisky Talk: Malt & Music is on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Stitcher, or you can watch the videos of the conversations on the SMWS YouTube channel.

The Nightcap: 1 October

Congrats to you Nancy!

Santa Teresa 1796 announces first female master blender

News this week from Santa Teresa rum reveals that Nancy Duarte will take over as its new master blender, the first woman to hold this position within the company, and just the fifth altogether in the history of the brand. Holding a Superior Technical degree in food and beverage, specializing in wines and fermented drinks, since 1990 Duarte has held several positions in the production area of Ron Santa Teresa, including the supervision of quality control, development, and formulation of liquids as well as innovations in the productive process and new products for the company portfolio. Couldn’t be more qualified, by the sounds of it. A vital part of her responsibilities has been to supervise the entire production process, from raw materials obtained at the Hacienda Santa Teresa to the finished product, to guarantee the quality and consistency of the blends. Duarte points out that, out of all the areas she is in charge of, the aging stage is one of her great passions because it is where the transformation of alcohol into rum takes place and where the mastery of the rum blender helps create exceptionally aged rums.

The Nightcap: 1 October

Our new favourite cocktail has to be the Espresso Martini made with this

Sipspresso Coffee Gin released for World Coffee Day

Did you know that today, 1 October, is World Coffee Day? We only knew because last night we were at the launch for Sipspresso Coffee Gin at the Artesian Bar in London. We were fortunate enough to chat with Mr. Sipsmith himself, Jared Brown, who seems to have more ideas in 10 minutes than most people have in a lifetime. But his wife seems even more interesting. Apparently, she’s uncovered some startling revelations about the history of gin in England. We can’t say anymore. But back to the point of the evening, Brown commented:  “We crafted Sipspresso Coffee Gin to our exacting standards. We ensured the same level of uncompromising commitment to quality and sustainability in our coffee supplier – Pact Coffee – who work with farmers from three continents to ethically source the finest ingredients for their premium coffee. Layering Pact’s Brazilian and Rwandan ground coffee with cinnamon and fresh vanilla on top of our original London Dry Gin base creates a delightfully rich, warm, and indulgent gin with a smooth and balanced finish.” Naturally, we tried it in Espresso Martinis but even better was the Coffee Negroni served with peach which has to be one of the most delicious things we’re ever tried. So hats off to the Artesian team for such amazing drinks. Sipspresso will be landing at Master of Malt very soon.

The Nightcap: 1 October

Distinguished chef Emily Roux will put together quite a menu

Emily Roux and The Balvenie create immersive dining experience

The Balvenie has come up with a nifty way to celebrate its newest release, 25 Year Old – Rare Marriages, by teaming up with distinguished chef Emily Roux to create a one-off immersive experience. On Friday 8th October, Harvey Nichols in London’s Knightsbridge, will host a gastronomic experience in a forest-like space featuring a six-course menu Roux made to perfectly complement the liquid and tell the story of how the whisky was made. Expect smoked beetroot tartelette, fresh Scottish langoustines tartare, roast venison saddle, and more deliciousness, along with specially concocted Balvenie cocktails and a tasting of The Balvenie Twenty Five. Paper quilling artist, Yulia Brosdskaya has also made a three-dimensional artwork that will be on display at Harvey Nichols as a full window display for the month of October. Tickets are £45.00 and are redeemable against £45.00 off a purchase of The Balvenie Twenty-Five in-store or online at Harvey Nichols.  We also wrote a feature on the 25 Year Old – Rare Marriages if you’d like to get an idea of what to expect.

The Nightcap: 1 October

Want to blend your own whiskey? You know where to go.

The Whiskey Thing at The Distillery Portobello Road

This week we went over to the rainbow streets of Portobello Road to (finally) try The Whiskey Thing, the newest experience from Jake Burger (of Portobello Road Gin) and the team behind The Ginstitute at The Distillery. Over three hours, Burger took us through everything you need to (and could) know about whisk(e)y, with the evening culminating in the chance to blend your own creation and take home the bottle. There’s no actual whisky distilling going on here – rather, Burger has selected 18 whiskies from around the world to showcase all that the spirit has to offer. Beginning with a journey through the production, from fermentation to maturation, it’s a fun and interactive experience. Peat is set alight with a blowtorch, and foam banana sweets are presented to mirror ripe ester-y flavours, as is shortbread to demonstrate the flavours of American oak. A mini crème brûlée is brought out alongside a Mexican corn whisky to amplify those buttery notes – and all of this is before we get to the official tasting! There are 18 whiskies to create your blend from, and we taste nine of them (18 glasses would be a little intimidating, we all agreed). The tasting is blind, and only after we’ve created the blend does Burger reveal what we’ve been sipping. No spoilers here, but ours was a mix of Irish, Indian, Scotch malt, and grain whiskies. All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable, refreshing evening. Huge thanks to the whole team – if you want to brush up on your whisky knowledge and tasting skills, head on down!

The Nightcap: 1 October

Irish whiskey sales were down, but we’re confident they’ll bounce back

Irish whiskey sales slumped in 2020

The Irish Spirits Market Report 2022 from Drinks Ireland is here and it makes sobering reading for the country’s whiskey business. Global sales by value were down by 4% mainly due to Covid and the resulting collapse of global travel retail, the second biggest market for Irish whiskey, and the closure of bars and restaurants. Though whiskey seems more resilient than other categories – overall spirit exports were down 16%. Bryan Fallon, chairman of Drinks Ireland commented: “The report shows that the spirits sector did not escape unscathed from the Covid-19 pandemic. Irish hospitality venues are a vital component to the continued growth and prosperity of Ireland’s spirits and craft spirits sector, allowing companies to engage with consumers, so their closure was very much felt.” To help the country’s industry, Drinks Ireland is calling for a cut in excise tax, Ireland has the third-highest tax on spirits in the EU. Fallon explained: “While 2020 has shown that our sector is resilient and adaptable, this resilience and adaptability will be tested in the post-Covid world, and the government must support our sector’s recovery through an excise cut.”

The Nightcap: 1 October

Thanks to the largesse of William Borrell from Vestal Vodka, it’s here!

Award-winning drinks magazine Tonic celebrates its second issue

Many people talk of starting their own magazine, but husband and wife team Robert Ellison and Benita Finanzio made their dream a reality when they founded Tonic, a magazine devoted to drinks and travel. They got some money together, commissioned some articles and the first issue landed last year… just in time for Covid. It’s been a struggle as Ellison admitted at the launch party for the second issue last night. But at his lowest point when he was thinking of jacking it all in, he got a phone call from someone saying he loved the magazine and wanted to help out financially. It was none other than William Borrell from Vestal Vodka who had a bit of spare cash after selling half his business to Halewood. Not only that but Halewood sponsored the launch at their City of London Distillery. The first issue has proved a triumph: lighting up awards lists up and down the country with contributors, Juliet Rix and Claire Dodd both shortlisted for awards, and Will Hawkes winning a Fortnum & Mason award for best drink writer. Plus the magazine is a finalist in the Travel Media Awards for the Consumer Publication of the Year. All this from a team with a lot of passion but no publishing experience at all. Now there’s a second issue out (go here to buy), and it’s even better. Moral of the story: dare to dream.

The Nightcap: 1 October

Rubbish wine, it’s the future.

And finally… rubbish wine anyone?

We love making use of leftovers here at Master of Malt. Rarely a week goes by when we don’t have bubble & squeak for breakfast but we’re recycling amateurs compared with two Aberdeen students. For a couple of years now, Elliott Martens and Lasse Melgaard have been taking advantage of the amount of perfectly edible food that supermarkets chuck out every day. Dubbing themselves Two Racoons, the pair told the Daily Record that they could “eat like kings” on food that had been binned. Now, they’re taking their Womble-tendencies up a notch with a range of wines made from surplus fruit. Varieties include ‘Strawberry Feels Forever’ and the not-quite-so-catchy ‘Overripe Raspberries Make Good Wine’. It’s worth following them on Instagram @tworaccoonswinery and see the Press & Journal for the full story. These lads have turned more than four tons of unwanted fruit into 10,000 bottles of wine that’s literally rubbish. 

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The Nightcap: 23 July

Dwayne Johnson’s Tequila bus, 70,000 free Pistonhead Beers, and Kraken Rum’s protest ice cream all make an appearance in another cracker of a Nightcap.  Good afternoon folks. We hope you’ve…

Dwayne Johnson’s Tequila bus, 70,000 free Pistonhead Beers, and Kraken Rum’s protest ice cream all make an appearance in another cracker of a Nightcap. 

Good afternoon folks. We hope you’ve all survived the wacky weather and got to enjoy the full return of the hospitality industry. Tomorrow just so happens to be National Tequila Day, so you’ve got even more of an excuse to keep the good times going. You might have noticed that we spent a fair amount of time this week celebrating this event. This is because Tequila is tremendous and we’ll never pass up a chance to chat all about how much we love it. 

This is why we’ve been doing that on the blog the last few days. We put together a competition with El Rayo Tequila, enjoyed a Tommy’s Margarita, welcomed Volcan Tequila and recommended some cracking Tequila cocktails that you may not have tried. Our content wasn’t all agave-based, however. Henry revisited Copper Rivet’s distillery to observe its impressive operation, Ian Buxton was charmed, Millie demonstrated how to make the most of her favourite soft drink, iced tea, and Adam tasted a blend of whisky and rum, before looking at what to expect from the exciting O’Shaughnessy Distillery.  

On the Clubhouse App, meanwhile, we’ve got rum on our minds as we delve into some of the challenges the category faces with guests Peter Holland, Gayle Seale and Philip Everett-Lyons at 3pm. Do join us!

Now on with the Nightcap: 23 July edition!

The Nightcap: 23 July

Dwayne Johnson’s Tequila brand will tour the US in this beauty

National Tequila Day success for Clooney, The Rock, and Kylie Jenner

Ok, last thing on National Tequila Day. Promise. But we couldn’t help but notice there were a lot of stories this week about how the industry is thriving at the moment. Celebrity-backed brands, in particular, are enjoying the spoils of this success. First, Casamigos Tequila revealed it is now a million-case-a-year brand, hitting the sales milestone at the end of 2020. Founders George Clooney and Rande Gerber sold the brand to drinks giant Diageo in 2017 for US$1 billion, but are still involved in what appears to be an incredible investment all-around. The same is true of Kendall Jenner’s 818 Tequila, which has already exceeded the figures forecast for its first two years of business in the two months since its launch in May, according to the company’s president. Celebrity publication Page Six even claimed that stores had sold out of stock within four hours of its first release. Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson meanwhile, is spreading the word about his brand Teremana Tequila with a road trip. The ‘Great American Mana Mobile Road Trip’ will tour across the United States, calling at military bases, firehouses, hospitals, and other locations to show gratitude to the nation’s first responders. The Tequila tour bus will also visit main streets across America to encourage the public to support local businesses while serving Teremana-based cocktails, where allowed, and dishes including brioche French toast with Teremana Tequila-infused maple syrup.

The Nightcap: 23 July

You can expect Ian Burrell to be in top form as usual

RumFest returns with new Spiced Rum Show

We got wonderful news from the folks at London-based RumFest this week: it’s back in non-virtual form! Yes, organisers expect to welcome more than 3,000 actual human people across 15-17 October at the ILEC Conference Centre in west London following 2020’s mostly virtual event. The festival, founded by rum expert Ian Burrell, will host a trade exclusive day on the 15th, providing an opportunity to sample new and rare rums, network and attend educational talks. On the 16th, consumers can then enjoy demonstrations, tastings and talks from distillers and blenders, as well as live music, dancing and food. A line-up of digital events will also be available for those who are not able to attend in person. Finally, on 17 October, the festival will hold its first dedicated Spiced Rum Show. RumFest will once again serve as the culmination of London Rum Week (11-17 October), in which partner bars and restaurants across the city will host consumer events, including special menus, cocktails, pop-ups and supper clubs. The full line-up of events can be found at londonrumweek.com. If you want to pick up tickets for RumFest Live, they are available from rumfest.co.uk for £30, with ‘Golden Tot’ tokens for samples of particularly high-end rums are available to purchase for £5 each. 

The Nightcap: 23 July

The new expression has just arrived here!

The Balvenie unveils new 25-year-old whisky

When The Balvenie releases new whisky, we stand up and take note. The brand and malt master David C. Stewart MBE rarely does things by half measures and the newest expression is no exception. The Balvenie Twenty-Five will form part of the Rare Marriages range, a tribute to Stewart’s dedication to designing and building exceptional flavour through the marriage of rare casks and will join the acclaimed The Balvenie Thirty and The Balvenie Forty within the collection. The Speyside distillery tells us to expect a dram packed with soft autumn fruits, runny honey, crystallised ginger, bold vanilla oak, layers of toasted marshmallow, fresh fruit terrine and cinnamon-infused apple tart, complete with an exceptionally long-lasting sweetness. Stewart says the expression is made from casks that have “stood the important test of time” and that this “special whisky has a distinct profile and experience which we have designed to reveal the wonderful depth of The Balvenie single malt.” You don’t have to take his word for it, however, as we have some. Look. Just click here. Wonderful, isn’t it?

The Nightcap: 23 July

Gregg Glass heads up the innovative initiative

Whyte & Mackay expands its Scottish Oak Programme 

Whyte & Mackay’s exciting Scottish Oak Programme is getting even more love, according to the brand, which will expand its efforts across all its distilleries. The aim is to establish the use of native oak as a quality raw material for the wider spirits industry, starting with Scotch. Spearheaded by master whisky maker Gregg Glass, the programme aims to address some of the historical challenges around working with Scottish oak, such as porosity, quality, consistency of the wood, and cost versus true value. Inspired by his time exploring local sawmills with his Grandfather on the Black Isle, Glass wanted to explore how to harness the local environment and the programme is part of Whyte & Mackay’s commitment to sustainability. The responsible sourcing of Scottish Oak allows full traceability and will create tree planting initiatives in rural and urban communities as well as helping support forest stewardship across Scotland. Glass has been leading this project since he joined Whyte and Mackay in 2016, developing partnerships with organisations like local landowning estates, sawmills and coopers. We’re really looking forward to seeing how it develops from there.

The Nightcap: 23 July

You can be in with a chance of winning a pair of these unique trainers

1800 Tequila launches pop-up with streetwear artist Daniel Cordas

Hand painting artist Daniel Cordas, who counts the likes of Billie Eilish, Travis Scott, and Stormzy as fans, is teaming up with 1800 Tequila for a cool little collaboration next month. A visitor experience will launch at 15 Bateman Street in Soho, London on 14 and 15 August, from 11am to 7pm that will offer those that attend the chance to customise their own trainers from a curated menu of designs while enjoying 1800 Tequila cocktails (that’s cocktails by the brand 1800, not literally 1,800 different serves). Visitors can also collar Tequila educator Oliver Pergl for a tequila masterclass, while limited-edition pieces from merging sustainable streetwear brands will be featured. The main event, however, is the three trainers Cordas will customise ahead of the event with colours inspired by Tequila cocktails. He’ll use bright blue for the Tequila and Tonic, pinky-orange for the Paloma and lemon-lime for the Margarita, each infused with real splashes of 1800 Tequila. These one-of-a-kind trainers will be on display at the event and be awarded to three lucky winners. To be in with the chance to win a hand-painted bottle of 1800 Tequila or Tequila-inspired trainers, keep an eye on 1800’s Instagram page and you’ll soon be able to enter an online ballot.

The Nightcap: 23 July

If you want to try Luxardo’s new expressions, there’s no better place

Luxardo marks 200th anniversary with booze and a bash

Did you know that Luxardo is turning 200 this year? Yes, the legendary Italian booze maker is celebrating a remarkable anniversary in 2021 and, while the brand won’t be able to do all the things it had planned thanks to the pandemic, that doesn’t mean it can’t throw a party or two. One such bash is taking place at Hush bar & restaurant in Mayfair from 5 July until 30 September 2021, offering the public a season of Italian alfresco drinks and food. In absence of a big party, Luxardo will host a sun-kissed Mediterranean experience with a small masterclass tasting of new products, the Luxardo Antico Aperitivo and the limited edition, prestige Luxardo Maraschino Perla Dry Riserva Bicentenario. We had a chance to attend this week and can say from experience that it’s well worth a visit. And don’t pass up a chance to try the Maraschino Perla Dry Riserva Bicentenario. It’s sublime.

The Nightcap: 23 July

It’s a fantastic gesture. Who doesn’t like free beer?

70,000 free Pistonhead Beers offered to grassroots music venues 

As we’re sure you’re all aware, the last 18 months have been devastating for the hospitality and music sectors, with hundreds of venues closing and thousands of live events and festivals being cancelled. It has been brutal but Pistonhead is doing its bit to offer a helping hand. The leading craft beer specialists is throwing its support behind grassroots venues and the reopening on July 19th by giving away 70,000 free cans of Pistonhead Kustom Lager via an online application. With a resale value in excess of £300k, the donation should help grassroots venues to help get cash in the tills, punters at the bar and musicians back performing. Venues can apply for an allocation of this stock through The Pistonhead Foundation right here. I think we can all agree that this is exactly the kind of initiative we need right now, so kudos to you Pistonhead.

The Nightcap: 23 July

Anyone for ice cream?

And finally… Kraken Rum launches protest ice cream

Kraken Rum has something to say. It’s screaming for clean seas and spreading its message with punk rock attitude and rum. And ice cream. No, really. Partnering with marine conservation charity PADI AWARE Foundation, the rum brand’s ‘Ice Clean’ campaign aims to remind millions of staycationing Brits of the impact of litter on the UK’s oceans and beaches. Each ice cream sold will see £1 contributed to the PADI AWARE Foundation, with Kraken promising to match each and every donation helping to support and build the success of the foundation’s Marine Debris Programme. Bursting with tropical flavours, the Kraken-infused ice cream is black, so you know it’s punk rock still. But you can also expect to bite into flavoured 3D-printed edible toppings representing the top polluters in the ocean, including plastic bags, single-use cutlery, milk cartons, plastic bottles, plastic ring-pulls and aluminium cans. It’s basically like consuming a polluted ocean. Only it tastes like rummy ice cream. Hopefully. If you want to get a taste, Kraken will tour the UK across locations including Manchester, Leeds, Brighton and Glasgow, before finishing at music festival All Points East in London. To find out more about The Kraken’s ‘Ice Clean’, visit the brand’s social media pages, while if you want to donate to the PADI AWARE Foundation, head here

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Whisky Advent 2020 Day #9: Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask

Behind today’s little cardboard door of the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar is a fruity Speysider that brings together Scotland and the Caribbean. It’s Balvenie 14 Year Old…

Behind today’s little cardboard door of the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar is a fruity Speysider that brings together Scotland and the Caribbean. It’s Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask!  

You will never again make the choice between rum and whisky with Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask. But this single malt wasn’t just finished in any old rum casks. Oh, no. Balvenie malt master David C. Stewart made his very own blend of West Indian rums, filled it into casks, waited patiently and then finished Balvenie whisky in these delicious rum-seasoned casks after an initial maturation in American oak.  Tropical fruit and toffee awaits…

Who better to grab a moment with than UK brand ambassador Alwynne Gwilt? She’s on hand to have a festive chat with us about cask finishes and Christmassy drams! 

whisky advent 2020 balvenie

Say hello to Alwynne Gwilt!

Master of Malt: What do you think it is about rum casks and Balvenie whisky that works so well together?

Alwynne Gwilt: When you nose a number of aged rums, you’ll note similar aroma characteristics to what you find in whisky: brown sugar, toffee, spice. And our malt master David Stewart MBE is a big fan of rum, so when he noticed those synchronicities he was keen to experiment with how to continue bringing out the best of our whisky, while adding on some nuances to it through the rum-cask finish.

MoM: How do you drink this whisky?

AG: I think Caribbean Cask 14 is my favourite for experimenting with in the range. I like to drink it neat, of course, because it is fruity, sweet, spicy and incredibly well balanced. But I also love it in a Highball in the summertime, and a Caribbean Cask 14 Piña Colada is something else! Absolutely delicious! 

whisky advent 2020 balvenie

The stunning Balvenie distillery!

MoM: What does 2021 have in store for Balvenie?

AG: We are all looking forward to getting back to doing more events and activations – COVID-19 permitting – and we will be continuing the ‘story’ of Stories, as well as hero-ing our dedication to craft in some new and unique ways, so definitely watch this space!

MoM: What’s your favourite type of cask finish? (You don’t have to say rum!)

AG: My favourite type is one which still allows the main DNA of the whisky to shine through – so, for The Balvenie, malty, honeyed sweetness from a long maturation in American oak is key – while just adding a slight hint of something ‘extra’ through a short finish. It should be there to add an extra layer, rather than dominate. So, while I cannot say I have a favourite, this is definitely what I look for in our whisky and others that I try. 

MoM: What will you be drinking on Christmas day?

AG: I recently discovered a dram of Port Wood 21 leftover from a tasting event, so I’ve saved that up for Christmas – after all, it is David Stewart’s favourite! That and some gorgeous South African wine that I’ve been looking forward to opening up after a long year!

whisky advent 2020 balvenie

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Rich with notes of tropical fruits, namely passion fruit, and creamy toffee.

Palate: Sweet vanilla forms a creamy palate with notes of apples and mangoes with a hint of orange in the background.

Finish: The finish lingers with a vanilla focussed character.

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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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The Nightcap: 10 January

The Nightcap has returned for 2020, and with it a fresh batch of boozy news, including an alcohol-free bar, a £1m crowd-funding campaign, and the UK’s ‘highest’ whisky distillery. After…

The Nightcap has returned for 2020, and with it a fresh batch of boozy news, including an alcohol-free bar, a £1m crowd-funding campaign, and the UK’s ‘highest’ whisky distillery.

After a few weeks in a regenerative cocoon made out of Stilton and Yule log, The Nightcap has emerged with wings and those weird bug antlers that are actually eyes, ready to chow down on all the news from the booze world. That was a long-winded way to say that The Nightcap is back after a bit of a Christmas break, but the enthusiasm remains the same. We’re excited to see what drinks news this new year (and new decade) will behold – and it all kicks off… Now!

The blog was still full of fabulous features even throughout the festive period. We announced the winner of our Where’s #WhiskySanta 2019 competition the same week our supernatural, omniscient, festive, heavily-bearded sadly went on his holibobs. We then looked back at 2019: the delightful drinks we enjoyed (bartenders also had their say), the most read posts on our blog and an honest review of our trend predictions, before cracking out the crystal ball and to do it all again for 2020. Not always that seriously.

Our Dry January coverage kicked off at the Small Beer Brew Co., before Fiona Beckett and Claire Warner dropped by for a chat. Annie then explored the world of no-ABV cocktails, embraced #veganuary and the use of plant milk in cocktails and even looked to the future of AI in booze. Elsewhere, Adam enjoyed some warming rums, cast a spotlight on Micil and then Luxardo Distillery, while Jess brushed up on her Armagnac knowledge, and Henry reported on the developments at Port Ellen Distillery. Even among all that content, there was still time for a couple of new arrivals, including Bob Dylan’s own whiskey and a single malt from Yorkshire, as well as a fruity little number for Cocktail of the Week. Oh, and Dram Club returned for 2020.

Phew, talk about blog-mageddon! Now, for the first time in 2020, let’s enjoy the Nightcap!

The Nightcap

The Cat and Fiddle Inn opened in 1813 and is 1,689 ft (515m) above sea level

Funding secured for UK’s ‘highest’ whisky distillery

There’s another new distillery on the way, folks! This one’s got a pretty cool story, too. Take one historic pub, The Cat & Fiddle, situated 1,689ft above sea level in the Peak District. It’s beautiful but didn’t do so well as a pub (the whole driving a long way to it thing wasn’t really working…). It opened in 1813, but ‘reluctantly’ closed its doors in 2015. Business was far from booming. But step in the Forest Distillery team! Eager to expand production, and to find a space for casks to mature, it teamed up with the pub’s Robinson family to kick off a crowdfunder to refurbish and transform the pub into a whisky distillery. An initial crowdfunding exercise raised £55,000, and now the team says it’s well on the way to reaching its eventual £250,000 goal. The site will be renamed The Cat & Fiddle & Weasel, after the adorable motif on the Forest Gin bottle. As well as the pub and distillery, there will also be an onsite shop with takeaway options for picnics and a visitor centre. And the best bit? The Forest Distillery team reckon the new site will be ready to open come August! We’re VERY excited. Wondering the elevation of the current highest whisky distillery in the UK? That title goes to Dalwhinnie, perched at an altitude of 1,164ft. The only way is up!

The Nightcap

The AF Bar features 15 taps of pure draft zero-ABV goodness

BrewDog launches ‘world’s first’ alcohol-free beer bar

Sound the ‘Dry January’ sirens, folks, we’ve got a big one here. BrewDog has launched a bar dedicated to alcohol-free beer. A whole bar. 15 taps of pure draft zero-ABV goodness. Launched this week in Old Street, London, it’s the first time the independent Scottish craft brewer has featured a line-up solely devoted to drinks without alcohol at a bar where visitors will be able to enjoy activities such as Hip Hop Karaoke, Dabbers Bingo, Famous First Words, and more. But, perhaps most excitingly for the thrifty among us, BrewDog will also be running the ‘Drink All You Can Jan’ programme across all its bars, which will offer drinkers unlimited refills of its alcohol-free beers for the entire month. BrewDog previously dipped its toes into low-ABV waters with the release of Nanny State in August 2009, which is now the UK’s best-selling alcohol-free craft beer. It followed that up with an alcohol-free version of the flagship Punk IPA, Punk AF, and two new additions, Wake Up Call, a coffee stout, and Hazy AF, an alcohol-free take on its existing New England IPA, Hazy Jane. BrewDog referenced a UK Beer Market Report from Mintel in 2018 that said that 24% of beer drinkers are choosing more low- or no-alcohol options, and that 28% of beer drinkers are cutting back on consumption because of health concerns, so the brand clearly feels this is a timely initiative. “Drinkers opting for low- or no-alcohol are in danger of compromising on quality, taste and experience. And that’s just the beer – forget about places in which to enjoy it,” said James Watt, who is apparently the ‘captain’ of BrewDog (lame). “We are going to change that. We exist to be a point of difference, and our first BrewDog AF Bar is just that. It is a beacon for anyone in London after an alcohol-free alternative. Alcohol-free does not need to be synonymous with taste-free. ‘Drink all you can Jan’ is our anti-Dry January. Whether you have cut alcohol out or are cutting back, we want to show that alcohol-free doesn’t mean compromising on quality or taste.”

The Nightcap

The new-look Powers range

Powers Irish Whiskey unveils new look

Powers Irish Whiskey has revealed a new bottle design for its range of premium Irish whiskeys, which will debut on core expression Powers Gold Label in the USA from March 2020. The makeover was undertaken to reach a new generation of drinkers to the classic Irish whiskey brand, which is made by Irish Distillers at Midleton Distillery, and follows the launch of Powers Old Fashioned, the brand’s first-ever pre-mixed cocktail and the Powers Quarter initiative, a collaboration between six Dublin bars to tell the story of Powers and its history. The updated design for the bottle shape is inspired by the distinctive pot still silhouette from the brand’s historical home at John’s Lane Distillery and the label is styled on the Powers ‘diamond P’, which was one of the first-ever trademarks registered in Ireland. Each whiskey will also have a different colour label, with Powers Gold Label in red as an homage to the original red Powers diamond marque, Powers Three Swallow in blue as a nod to the bird’s feathers and Powers John’s Lane Release in metallic ink, to reflect the industrial nature of the original distillery established in 1791 on John’s Lane, Dublin. “Powers sense of identity has always focused on the diamond P; that became very clear to me as I worked my way through the historical archive. The diamond P was everywhere; on the casks, stationery, on bills and receipts, emblazoned on everything that left the distillery, and notably on the wonderful Powers mirrors that still hang in Ireland’s pubs today,” says Carol Quinn, archivist at Irish Distillers. “Workers at the old John’s Lane distillery even took to wearing a diamond P pin on their lapel, such was their pride to be part of the Powers family.  For me it’s wonderful to see the diamond P front and centre on this new label, symbolising all the history of this great whiskey since 1791.” Conor McQuaid, chairman and CEO of Irish Distillers, added: “We are excited to introduce this new look to the world and inspire a new generation with the unique history and personality of Powers.”

The Nightcap

The future is bright in the Cotswolds

Cotswolds Distillery raises £1m in crowdfunding campaign

The award-winning Cotswolds Distillery has been feeling the love this week at it delightedly reported that its recent fundraising had already raised £1 million. In early December 2019, the producer of delicious English spirits (we’re big fans of its whisky) launched the campaign through its Angel’s Share 2 fundraising platform in order to “maximise whisky production and continue its brand-building programme”. It’s little surprise that the initiative attracted such interest from investors, as back in 2018 the distillery successfully raised £3m of equity which was subsequently invested in building the brand and senior management team. “We pride ourselves on creating award-winning English whiskies that are enjoyed across the world, and, are always looking for new investors to join us on this journey,” says Dan Szor, founder and CEO of the Cotswolds Distillery. “It is a very exciting time for them to be involved with the company and we’re hoping that this new investment will carry us through the next chapter in the distillery’s evolution and help support us in creating even more delicious whisky!” If you fancy investing yourself, you can do so here before 13 January 2020.  

It’s Alissa!

The Balvenie kicks off Stories tour

Single malt Scotch whisky brand The Balvenie is poised to take its Stories tour of bar takeovers on the road, with stops including London’s Lyaness (Sunday 12 January) and The Artesian (13 January), as well as Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Café (15 January). And there’s an antipodean twist: six of Australia’s leading bartenders are coming along for the ride. Alicia Clarke of Jangling Jack’s in Sydney; Jessica Arnott of Foxtrot Unicorn in Perth; Nicola Dean of Maybe Mae in Adelaide; Kayla Reid of Nick and Norah’s in Melbourne; Chelsea Catherine of The Black Pearl in Melbourne; and, Alissa Gabriel of Mjolner in Sydney will all make drinks using The Sweet Toast of American Oak 12 Year Old. Serves have been based on stories shared with the group of bartenders by Kelsey McKechnie, The Balvenie’s apprentice malt master, and creator of the expression. “I’m thrilled to be welcoming such an incredible cohort of bartenders onto UK shores to share stories and these special drinks with UK consumers,” said Alwynne Gwilt, UK ambassador. “Our new whisky series, The Balvenie Stories, is all about connecting through storytelling and I’ve no doubt this latest event series at these leading bars will give us some great tales to tell as the year goes on!” It’s not just about the booze – 10% of drinks sales from the tour will be donated to charities fighting the devastating bushfires in Australia. So what are you waiting for? If you’re in London or Glasgow, head on down!

The Nightcap

The Impact Fund is a commendable cause

Symington Port launches environmental initiative 

2020 has seen Port producer Symington Family Estates off to a flying start, celebrating some rather impressive milestones with the 200th anniversary of Graham’s Port and the 350th anniversary of Warre’s Port. To celebrate, the Symington family didn’t just throw a massive party and sip on the delicious fruits of their own labour (who wouldn’t?), but created a force for good in the world! The family has created a new Impact Fund with an initial pledge of a whopping €1 million euros. The purpose of the fund? It’s threefold: community wellbeing and health, environmental protection and conservation, and cultural heritage and education, all in the Douro and Greater Porto regions as well as the Alto Alentejo. They’re currently working with Volunteer Emergency Services of the Douro region (they’ve donated 13 ambulances so far) and Bagos d’Ouro, a charity that provides education and opportunities for underprivileged children in the Douro. “We have always sought to run our family business in a way that benefits people – be they our employees or the wider community. We are also committed to protecting the beautiful natural environments where we produce our wines,” said Rupert Symington, CEO of Symington Family Estates. “We have consistently reinvested in the Douro region and have a long history of supporting social initiatives in the areas where we work. The Symington Impact Fund is a way of formalising this commitment and ensuring we support projects which are most aligned with our values and where we can have the maximum positive impact.” What a way to celebrate! 

The Nightcap

George Duboeuf, the man who turned Beaujolais into an international sensation, died this week at 86.

The King of Beaujolais dies at 86

This week the wine world lost one of its greats: George Duboeuf, known as the King of Beaujolais. Duboeuf was a marketing genius who took the annual release of the young wine, generally enjoyed only in local bars, and made it a global news story in the 1970s and ‘80s. On the day the wine was released, always the third Thursday of November, there were races to be the first to bring that year’s vintage back where it was sold with the slogan: ‘Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!’. At a time when in Britain wine was still seen as something elitist, Duboeuf made it unpretentious and fun. He was born in 1933 into a vine-growing family in Burgundy and set up his own merchant business in 1964. It came to dominate the region through its own-label wines, with the pretty flowery labels, and by producing wines for retailers. Dominique Piron, head of Inter Beaujolais, commented: “Through his vision and his work, he gave life, colour, aromas and joy to the wines of Beaujolais. He was a catalyst, taking with him other merchants and other winemakers which made Beaujolais the first vineyard in France to make the headlines in newspapers and televisions, in France and around the world.” He went on to say: “The family business is in good hands with his son, Franck Duboeuf, at the helm and the adventure will continue.” Au revoir, Monsieur Duboeuf, and thank you for all the wine.

The Nightcap

Congratulations to WASE!

English start-up chosen for final of $1m Chivas Venture Fund

A London-based company WASE, which makes wastewater treatment systems, has won the England & Wales heat of this year’s Chivas Ventures. This annual competition run by the Scotch whisky company gives away $1 million to help with worthwhile businesses around the world. So far, Chivas has given away $5 million and, according to its figures, benefited over two million lives. WASE will now compete with 25 other companies in the global final in June. Before that, all 26 competitors will go to London for an intensive three-day training programme with experts and industry professionals. Founder Thomas Fudge commented: “I’m super excited and honoured to be representing England and Wales in The Chivas Venture global finals. Can’t wait to show the rest of the world what WASE has to offer and fight for my spot in the finals. Watch this space!” According to the press release: “WASE develops decentralised wastewater treatment systems that embrace a circular economy to recover energy, nutrients and water in wastewater  providing sanitation and energy in under-served communities.” Sounds very worthwhile. Good luck to WASE for the grand final in June!

The Nightcap

The Calming Coral cocktail

The Coral Room and MEDA kick-off 2020 with CBD-infused zero-alcohol cocktails

The Coral Room is getting its zeitgeist on in 2020 by kicking off the new year with a range of cocktails made by head mixologist Stefan Pohlod that are CBD-infused and non-alcoholic. The core ingredient in each serve is a drink from lifestyle brand MEDA’s range, GLOW, CALM, RECOVER and Espresso Medatini SKUs, which were created by blending of 5-15mg of liposomal CBD (cannabidiol) with synergistic ingredients. The offerings include the Glow Spritz which combines lime juice, cardamom bitter and elderflower syrup, the Calming Coral which features lemon juice, peppermint cordial and strawberry purée, the Recover & Revive which mixes Seedlip grove with grapefruit and lime shrub and the Wake Up Call which sees caramel cream, chilli bitters and coffee tonic paired together. The cocktails are priced at £10 each and the brand claims that they are “the perfect way to detox after the prolonged festive celebrations whilst restoring the balance of both body and mind through the inimitable benefits that CBD has to offer”. Apparently. Essentially they should appeal to anybody partaking in an alcohol-free start to the new year and those who are buzzed about CBD cocktails.

 

And finally…  Tottenham Hotspur and Beavertown launch collaboration beer

Tottenham Hotspur’s ‘Official Craft Beer Supplier’ (I didn’t even know that was a thing. Is this a thing now?) Beavertown has launched a new beer in collaboration with the club just in time for the first home game of 2020. Fans of the club (ok, my dad) have described the development as “much needed”, given the team’s performance so far this season. The beer is called One Of Our Own, a name chosen by Tom Rainsford, a Spurs fan who recently joined Beavertown as marketing director, presumably inspired by the North London side’s chant for star player Harry Kane. A Tottenham fan (again, my dad) has described the timing as “typical”. Jokes aside, One Of Our Own is a significant launch as the classic British IPA was crafted with purely European hops (Callista, Mandarina Bavaria and Barbe Rouge) in the microbrewery operated by Tottenham-based Beavertown inside the Club’s new home – a world-first for any football stadium. The beer is said to have notes of stone fruit and malt-sweetness, matching the flavours thirsty supporters have favoured since the stadium opened last April. “Beavertown’s Neck Oil is already a half-time favourite, and we wanted to add to this by offering something new at the start of 2020,” says Rainsford. “Supporting a club is in your bones, and this beer feels the same. It’s familiar, yet distinct. A satisfying pint that makes you feel at home. We see Spurs as the beating heart of the Tottenham community, a central hub for football fans and residents alike. We both share values of bringing people together, creating revolutionary experiences and even world firsts like our microbrewery inside the stadium.”  One Of Our Own will be sold exclusively at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and will be available at tomorrow’s huge Premier League clash against Liverpool. Will it bring them luck?!

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #19: Balvenie 14 Year Old – The Week of Peat

The Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar features something a little different from a familiar name today… There’s a lot of stress and mayhem that seems to come with…

The Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar features something a little different from a familiar name today…

There’s a lot of stress and mayhem that seems to come with Christmas. But, underneath it all, it really is a very comforting, familiar celebration. The iconography, the food, the soundtrack – it’s pretty much the same year on year. You know exactly where you are with Christmas, and this has its merits. Change can be jarring.

However, change can bring out about new wonderful discoveries, as The Balvenie found out not long ago. The Speyside spirit-makers, renowned for making sublime Scotch whisky filled with those classic honey, vanilla and fruit notes, decided to trail drying its barley with peat for the first time in 2002. Not iodine-heavy, hardcore Islay peat, mind. The Balvenie favoured an earthier, more subtle peaty profile. The result was ruddy delicious. 

Which is good news, because behind window #19 is Balvenie 14 Year Old – The Week of Peat!

As you might have guessed already, The Week of Peat is an evolution of The Balvenie Peat Week Aged 14 Year Old and was launched as part of the Stories range in May 2019. This expression remembers when Stewart and former distillery manager Ian Millar experimentation with the smokier style for the first time after a week’s gap in the distillery’s production schedule provided the opportunity to use peat. 

We caught up with Gemma Paterson, global brand ambassador for The Balvenie, to talk more about this tale and more…

Balvenie 14 Year Old - The Week of Peat

Say hello to Gemma and Ian Miller (more on him coming up…)

So, we understand that this is a whisky with quite a story…

Yes! Back in 2002 our distillery manager at the time was Ian Millar. After having worked in the industry managing distilleries for a number of years already he was very excited to take the helm at Balvenie with our floor maltings (a big toy as he calls them…) and begin a series of experiments at the point of distillation. He went on a bit of a journey around Scotland visiting distilleries and garnering inspiration. This journey led him to Islay where he spent a bit of time thinking about peat. On his return to Balvenie he introduced a peat burner to the kiln (the large black metal burner to the side of the brick kiln for those who have visited us). This allowed the team to segregate the peat from the anthracite and so the peat trials began. There was quite a buzz on site. This was September 2002 and we hadn’t seen thick black peat smoke billowing out of the kiln like that since the 1950s. Everyone came down to check out the peat reek. Mashman Jim told us his wife complained about the peat reek lingering on his clothes at the end of a shift! Here we are now 17 years later and we still have an annual Week of Peat at the distillery. And the team still complain about the peat reek every year! All thanks to Ian’s legacy…

What happens to the profile of Balvenie whisky when it is peated?

We’ve experimented with a few different methods. Malt master David Stewart’s first foray into introducing a peated Balvenie was the 17yo Islay cask released in 2001 using an ex peated Islay hogshead to drive in that peated character, then in 2009 the 17yo peated cask we saw the first experiments using our own peated whisky, again another finish with that whisky having spent the first 17 years in a traditional American oak barrel to then be transferred to a barrel that had been seasoned with 7yo peated Balvenie. We find the profile of Balvenie in the American oak really still shines through – characteristically honeyed, malty and sweet with just a wee wisp of smokiness lingering there. The malt itself was peated to 28ppm but once in the bottle it’s mellowed right down to 5ppm.

Balvenie 14 Year Old - The Week of Peat

It was Ian’s experiment all those years ago that led to this delightful creation.

The Balvenie operates a working floor maltings, what impact does this have on the style of whisky you produce?

Every batch of Balvenie has a small percentage of our homegrown and malted barley blended into the mash bill, paying tribute to the legacy of generations of farmers and maltmen who have nurtured the barley in the fields and tended the malt on the floors from one generation to the next. When it comes to style we have a number of special casks that have been laid down over the years resulting from many experiments originating from the floor maltings. A few of these have been released and a few we will hopefully be able to share in the years to come!

What have been your 2019 highlights at The Balvenie?

What a year! The most exciting thing about 2019 has been the launch of our Stories Range. A year of discovery, working with our craftsmen, listening to their stories and having the opportunity to travel across the world and share them with our whisky community. We recorded podcasts for each of the whiskies, each one taking the listener on the journey of the whisky and meeting with the people who made the dram. So if you want to hear all about this whisky from Ian himself and the team who have nurtured the spirit in cask over the years then I would recommend seeking out the podcast online either via our website or searching your favourite podcasting platform.

What will you be drinking this Christmas?

I’ll be spending Christmas back home on the Isle of Lewis where the days this time of year are short and the nights are long. I’m looking forward to sitting around the table with friends and family and sharing stories with each other until the wee hours. Top of my list for dramming has to be the Balvenie 26 Year Old – A Day of Dark Barley. I also love some eggnog. Maybe I’ll try my hand at making some this year with some Balvenie DoubleWood….

Thank you very much to Gemma for taking the time to join us. Now go and enjoy your dram!

Balvenie 14 Year Old - The Week of Peat

Balvenie 14 Year Old – The Week of Peat

Balvenie 14 Year Old – The Week of Peat Tasting Note:

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.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #1: Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Forget pinch, punch, first of the month – today is all about drams! That’s right, we can finally open our Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and enjoy what’s…

Forget pinch, punch, first of the month – today is all about drams! That’s right, we can finally open our Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and enjoy what’s behind window #1.

The wait is over. Advent is here. 

On the one hand, this is not good news. It’s come around too quickly again. You need to start making your Christmas shopping list (#WhiskySanta might be able to help with that). You need to start mentally preparing yourself to untangle the impossible ball of Christmas lights and awkwardly hoist the old tree down from the attic. It’s also worth working on that inevitable explanation/apology for when your family points out that you were adamant that tree had another year in it. In your heart, you always knew it didn’t. It’s more brown than green.

On the other hand, though, it is good news. Very good news. Brilliant news, in fact. Why? Because we finally get to rip open the first window of our Advent calendars. Because you’re totally rad, you’ve ditched boring old chocolate and got the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar. Which means a delicious Scotch whisky awaits…

What’s behind window number #1?

It’s Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak!

The first dram of this Advent season is part of the recently launched The Balvenie Stories range. As the name suggests, the classic Speyside distillery made this selection to celebrate the tales behind the tipple. The Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak, for example, was created to demonstrate what happens when ancient techniques and fresh ideas are blended, and was apprentice malt master Kelsey McKechnie’s experiment. Matured in twice-toasted virgin white American oak casks from Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky, The Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak was bottled at 43% ABV.

Balvenie 12 Year Old - The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Look – it’s McKechnie (L) and global brand ambassador Gemma Paterson in Kentucky!

Happily, we had the chance to catch up with McKechnie to find out her story.

Master of Malt: Talk us through the creation of your own dram for the Stories range.

Kelsey McKechnie: It was so exciting. Working on something and being able to tell the story right from the very first point of conception, when we had this idea to do something different with virgin American oak barrels, has been great. It’s so exciting, especially when we’ve had the liquid for such a long time and we’ve tasted it a lot. I definitely want it to be more of an opening into people understanding a little bit more about what a malt master does as well. As far as a narrative, for me, it’s an opening for people to talk more about how we actually make the spirit, how we mature it and why finishing times are so important. It sparks a lot of those questions and gives people an answer to the question of what is it you really do in this role.

MoM: What was the profile you were going for? Why virgin American oak barrels?

KMcK: With the virgin American oak barrel, we wanted to give a big flavour boost to the spirit and experiment with how would we go about, in effect, exhausting a virgin American oak barrel and a single finish. We really wanted to ramp up the flavour of the 12-year-old spirit. The fact that we get things like the big toffee and the sweetness and that candy fruit flavour really jumping to the forefront, it’s exactly what we were looking for, so to find it with the virgin American oak is perfect.

Balvenie 12 Year Old - The Sweet Toast of American Oak

The Balvenie Stories Range

MoM: What are your own personal taste notes on your dram?

KMcK: There’s an upfront, syrupy sweetness of toffee and caramel. Off the back of that, once the sweetness passes a little bit, there are notes of spice and citrus coming forward. Then it will leave us with that classic mouthfeel, which we call the ‘marzipan effect’ and the coconut burst that we get with Balvenie.

MoM: How would you describe the Balvenie profile?

Our new-make spirit has a cereal sweetness. As soon as the pure spirit runs off the still, every time we nose the vats, every distillation run, we want cereal sweetness. Almost like a loaf of bread. When the spirit matures, there’s more of richness that comes forward, coconut, marzipan, citrus. These flavours really jump to the forefront with Balvenie. Although we can do a lot of different finishes, we always want to layer them on the true DNA of Balvenie so that these notes always jump out at us. If we were to lose any of that character or the depth of the spirit, we wouldn’t be doing justice to the distillery.

MoM: How has your first year as the Malt Master apprentice gone?

KMcK: Amazing! It’s definitely been a lot of fun. I’ve been really lucky that this has in a lot of ways been my second year because we almost had that little silent year. It’s been fantastic working alongside David, learning all these little nuggets about when the cask-finishing becomes absolutely perfect or how we know when the spirit is just right. It’s been a fantastic year and I’ve learnt so much, I’m having a great time. 

Balvenie 12 Year Old - The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Thank you very much to Kelsey for speaking to us. The only thing left to do is crack open the Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak and kick off this year’s Advent dramming!

Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak Tasting Note:

Nose: Lusciously malty with some sweet fudge, followed by citrusy 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.

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