fbpx
Created by potrace 1.12, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2015

We're just loading our login box for you, hang on!

Master of Malt Blog

Tag: whiskey

The joy of distillery pets

From man’s best friend to an ostentation of peafowl, many distilleries are home to more than just the people behind the brands. Today, we talk tail feathers, snooze spots and…

From man’s best friend to an ostentation of peafowl, many distilleries are home to more than just the people behind the brands. Today, we talk tail feathers, snooze spots and botanical snacks with the proud owners of several distillery pets

Once upon a time, distilleries would employ mousers fearless, often semi-feral cats with the job of keeping the mice out of the barley. These days, all kinds of creatures can be found sleeping by warm stills, entertaining visitors or patrolling the grounds. Some even have their own Instagram accounts. MoM found five distillers willing to share the stories of their four-legged or feathered friends.

Darcy from the Cambridge Distillery, England

You could say that Darcy is the brains behind the entire operation: it was walks with her owners, (Cambridge Distillery founders) William and Lucy Lowe, through Grantchester Meadows that sparked the idea for the business. “There wouldn’t be a Cambridge Distillery without Darcy,” explains Will. “We made the decision to start making gin whilst out on a walk with her and it was out on a walk that we discovered the amazing array of botanicals that surround us, which inspired us to create the world’s first truly seasonal gin. Everything went from there.”

Darcy the black lab even has her favourite botanicals, including nettles, apple and pear blossom, blackberries and blackcurrants. She can usually be found overseeing operations by following the sunny spots around the distillery and then cooling off with a swim in the river Cam, which flows behind the site. It really is a dog’s life. 

Chicken from FEW Spirits, Chicago, Illinois

Don’t be fooled by the name, chicken is a dog. Though he is also a bit of a chicken: “He is a very good boy but he hates the noise and smells at the distillery,” says FEW founder and Chicken’s human, Paul Hletko. “It’s a very scary place for him and he just wants to sit in my lap when he’s there.” Chicken enjoys hanging out with his brother, Elvis, and naturally the pair have their own Insta – @chicken_and_elvis (chicken is the foreground above, Elvis behind).

The big question is how did the family end up with a dog called Chicken? “I have three kids, two wanted a dog. One wanted a chicken. She’s still mad and thinks she got ripped off,” explains Hletko. Elvis’s name choice was a bit more conventional – he came home when Hlekto’s oldest child was in a big Elvis Presley phase. “My wife and I wanted Egbert (or Egg, for short) to answer the ‘chicken/egg which came first’ question forever, but we lost to the kids.

“Elvis is also a very good boy.” MoM wonders how often he leaves the building…

Ginny from Manifest Distilling, Jacksonville, Florida 

Ginny the cat walked into the distillery right off the street. “She hid in our ‘high-proof room’ for the first couple days before she realised that we were her friends,” says general manager Jim Webb. 

It wasn’t a great start for Manifest’s new feline friend – she needed a trip to the vet to get her jabs as well as get rid of what Webb describes as “FLEAS FROM HELLFIRE”. They also discovered she had a broken leg, right at the knee, that couldn’t be fixed. Luckily, it healed on its own and restored Ginny with the majesty and mischief of a good distillery cat: “She can climb and jump and set off the motion detector alarm at all hours of the evening and early morning,” says Webb.

In less unusual times, Ginny’s favourite job was to go on tours and meow to get all sorts of attention from new people. Now, though, tours are on hold so Webb and the team have a new full-time job, paying Ginny attention. “She likes finding confined places to nap and currently is in our front-of-house stock closet snuggled up in a case of plastic shot glasses (safely wrapped for their future shooter’s protection),” says Webb. 

Ginny’s also on the ‘gram: @manifesting_ginny

Otis from Badachro Distillery, Scotland

Otis, the long-haired Weimaraner, joined the Badachro menagerie just before lockdown. “We already have two Labradors, Ellis, our old lady (13) and Timo (10) who were only mildly amused – to be honest, we think Ellis wanted to give him back straight away, but Timo quite enjoys having a little brother to go out for walks with,” says Badachro co-founder Vanessa Quinn.

Izzy the cat “tolerates” Otis, while the chickens are having to take a temporary break from being free range and the ponies believe him to be crazy. “One of the highlights of Otis’s life at the distillery are the delivery drivers and the posties, always prepared with a dog biscuit. They are more than welcome and he will let us know when they come up the drive,” says Quinn.

As lockdown life eases, visitors have started to return to the distillery and many are keen to meet Otis, who has become a hit on the Badachro Insta (@badachrodistillery).

Otis is nearly six months old now and Quinn says he might be trained as a gun dog, though he hasn’t yet decided what he wants to be when he grows up.

Rowan from Lux Row Distillers, Bardstown, Kentucky

Most distilleries have cats or dogs. Rowan, however, is a peacock. In fact, Lux Row inherited a handful of peacocks from the property’s former owners, the Ballard family. When the distillery opened in 2018, the folk at Lux Row say there were about half a dozen birds. “Now we’ve got at least 17 four new babies this year.”

While most are tricky to tell apart, Rowan boasts the longest tail feathers and so the ambassadors named him after a prominent historical Bardstown figure, who also gives his name to the road on which the distillery is located. Handy. Rowan enjoys strutting his stuff for the visitors and allows himself to be photographed after all, every side is his best side.

“No other distillery on the Bourbon Trail (that we know of) has such unique animals,” the team at Lux says. Mr Ballard still comes to feed the peacocks two or three times a week, but every now and then they may snack on some spilled leftover grain.

No Comments on The joy of distillery pets

New Arrival of the Week: Killowen 10 year old Txakolina Acacia whiskey

This week we’re drinking a blended whiskey put together by one of Ireland’s newest and smallest distilleries, and aged in Basque wines casks. Very unconventional! Brendan Carty is an architect…

This week we’re drinking a blended whiskey put together by one of Ireland’s newest and smallest distilleries, and aged in Basque wines casks. Very unconventional!

Brendan Carty is an architect by profession but he got the idea to start his own distillery from visiting small producers in Australia, particularly in Tasmania. “I tried two year old whisky from Belgrove and it was as good as 21 year old Redbreast,” he said. When he returned to Northern Ireland in 2017, he set about making his dream a reality.

He acquired a derelict stables at Killowen near a megalithic tomb in County Down and fitted it with ultra-traditional equipment: two direct-fired stills, a 1,000 litre wash still called Christoir and an 800 litre spirit still called Broc (after the Irish for badger), and worm tub condensers. This set-up, unique to Ireland, “creates an amazing flavour, another layer of complexity,” according to Carty. He began filling casks a year and half ago, the aim is to create a traditional single pot still whiskey. Although Carty’s view of what is traditional doesn’t chime with those formulated by the Irish Whiskey Association, so he won’t be able to call it as such. His mash bill consists of about 30% oats, rye and wheat, the Geographical Indication (GI) only allows for 5%, 30% unmalted barley and 40% malted barley. According to Carty, the 5% came at the instigation of Midleton which at the time the rules were created was the only distillery making single malt still whiskeys like Redbreast and Green Spot. In the past, the non-barley component was much higher. Furthermore, Killowen uses peated malt (GI rules do not allow for the word peated to be on the label of single pot stills releases) and only distills twice. According to Carty in the past: “Irish whiskey was more double than triple-distilled and more often peated than not. To turn our back on that heritage is absurd.”

Brendan Carty with Christoir and Broc

His whiskey comes of age in a year and a half, we’re sure it’s going to be well worth trying. Meanwhile, there are various gins and a poitin to try. The latter, made with an unpeated single pot still mash bill, he’s particularly proud of, describing it as “full of flavour, you get the influence of the direct flame, the Maillard reaction, giving an oiliness and full body.” He has also released some blended whiskies as part of the Bonder Experimental Series and as you might imagine these are proudly unconventional right down to his transparency about sourcing liquids. 

As per IWA rules, he’s not allowed to say which distilleries go into the blend so instead he says where the distilleries are located. The whiskey we’re looking at this week consists of Irish single malt and grain whiskeys, matured separately in bourbon casks, before being blended and aged in a sherry barrel, then married with a bourbon-aged Irish single malt in a Spanish wine cask. The grain came from County Louth so we can assume it’s from Cooley and the malt from County Antrim so it doesn’t take Hercule Poirot to work out that it’s from Bushmills Distillery. Carty told us that he did try to buy some from Midleton but it “doesn’t sell whiskey to small producers.”

Some of the Killowen range

The Spanish wine cask used is not straightforward either. It formerly held Txakolina. Pronounced something like ‘chakolina’, this is a very dry, slightly sparkling wine, not dissimilar to a vinho verde, that comes from the Basque country. It’s just the thing to drink with mountains of seafood. But that’s not the end of the craziness, because the ends of the wine barrel were swapped for virgin wood Acacia. This is one of the areas where the IWA is relaxed giving producers the kind of freedom when it comes to cask that would cause the SWA to have kittens. Finally, it was bottled with a 10 year old age statement at cask strength, 55.4% ABV, with no chill-filtering. In fact, according to Carty, no filtering of any kind. Only 490 50cl bottles have been filled.  

There are other whiskeys in the series including one finished in an old Islay cask and a Tequila barrel bottling. So, lots of exciting things going on at Killowen. We are expecting great things from the first whiskey distilled in-house.

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Sweet white fruit, with peach, nectarine and grape, with ripe pear, citrus peel and subtle oak spice.

Palate: More fresh pear accompanied by greener notes now, with dried kitchen herbs, oaky vanilla and dried apricot.

Finish: Hints of lychee, grapefruit and more ripe stone fruit, with more wood spice returning on a lengthy finish.

Killowen 10 year old Txakolina Acacia whiskey is now available from Master of Malt

No Comments on New Arrival of the Week: Killowen 10 year old Txakolina Acacia whiskey

Five minutes with… John Little from Smooth Ambler

Almost by accident, John Little built a business around his ability to sniff out great mature whiskey for his award-winning Old Scout brand. But what happened when other people got…

Almost by accident, John Little built a business around his ability to sniff out great mature whiskey for his award-winning Old Scout brand. But what happened when other people got in on the act and those sources dried up? We find out. . . .

John Little never intended to go into the whiskey business. He ran a number of ventures in West Virginia with his father-in-law Tag Galyean before founding Smooth Ambler in 2009 to make craft gin and vodka. But when they came across casks of quality mature bourbon that nobody else wanted, they saw an opportunity. According to Little: “A lot of people start businesses and they start sourcing and they create a brand, and if it goes really well maybe they build a distillery. Ours was the opposite story”. The result was Old Scout, a range of sourced mature whiskeys. They quickly built a reputation, winning awards and selling in unexpectedly large quantities. But success brought its own problems as good mature whiskey became harder and harder to source, and the Old Scout brand nearly disappeared. In 2016, Pernod Ricard took a majority stake in the company, with Little staying on as CEO. Since then the company has stabilised, producing a range of whiskeys from bought-in new make and spirits distilled by the team at Smooth Ambler. We talked to Little to find out more. . .

John Little nosing out some quality whiskey

Master of Malt: How are things in West Virginia?

John Little: They’re pretty good. Well, as well as can be expected during this crazy craziness. We’re still bottling but mashing and distillation has switched over to bottling hand sanitiser. So right now we’ve committed to 19,000 bottles of hand sanitiser so we’re getting those out. We’ve taken the crew that was doing mashing and distillation over to hand sanitiser.

MoM: When did you set up your distillery?

JL: We had the idea in 2008, my father-in-law and I were in a separate business together. We were trying to showcase what we love about living here in West Virginia: clean water, clean air, really wonderful people. It’s a cheap place to buy land so putting some sort of facility here was great. We’re an eight hour drive from 70% of the US population because we’re so close to all these big cities. We looked at making clothes and doing a customer service centre and making furniture. One day my father-in-law saw an article in Time magazine that talked about the growth of the distilling business. Ten days later there was a conference in Louisville Kentucky and that kind of set us on a path to where we are today. 

MoM: Were both of you keen whiskey drinkers before?

JL: At the time I was drinking a lot of vodka and some red wine and that was pretty much it at the time, and a little bit of whiskey. Our original business we started off was making vodka and gin. All those craft folks, everybody was trying to figure out how to do the shortest amount of time without any sort of profitability! With vodka and gin you can make it today and sell it tomorrow. When we first started we were making vodka and gin and making whisky whenever we had time; whisky wasn’t the focus. We did that for a while and then realised that vodka sells for one of two reasons: it’s either priced very well or marketed very well and ours was neither.

Smooth Ambler warehouses in West Virginia

MoM: How did you get into buying casks of mature whiskey? 

JL: In 2010 we realised that we needed another still to be efficient. We went to buy a still in Kentucky and I met Richard Wolf. He is a broker, he sells barrels for a living. At the time, late 2010/ early 2011, the bourbon business was much different than it is right now. There was bulk inventory available from probably six or seven different places. And we tasted through some of that. I think the tenth or eleventh sample that we tried was this high-rye mash bill from MGP [Midwest Grain Products of Indiana]. As soon as I nosed it I thought ‘yeah, this is what I’m looking for’.

MoM: Where did the name Old Scout come from?

JL: Everything up until that time had been about grain-to-glass. Then I found this juice and I called one of our distributors and I said ‘We have this chance to buy some bourbon that is really good and it’s affordable and we’re going to do different than what some other people have done, which is to say that they made it, we’re going to tell people that we didn’t make it’. That’s where the name ‘Old Scout’ came from, we’re going to say that we scouted this out. I said ‘can you sell it?’ and he said ‘yeah, I think so’ and so we bought 40 barrels. And then we bought 80 barrels. And then we bought 120 barrels. And then my partner said ‘I’ve seen enough, let’s buy all of them that we can!’  

MoM: How important is it to be honest about where your whiskey comes from?

JL: I want to make sure that we’re being open and honest in running our business, whether it’s about this or anything. That’s the way we try to live our lives and certainly that’s the way we’re going to run the business. I remember we won World’s Best Single Barrel in 2016 [at the World Whiskies Awards] with a single barrel of MGP and people were upset because we didn’t make it. A reporter, Mark Gillespie, asked me about it and I said ‘look, let’s be honest, MGP did the heavy lifting, I just made it available’. We have never lied about it, we have always told people the truth.

Inside one of the warehouses

MoM: And now that the American whisky boom has happened is it harder to get these whiskies or are they just a lot more expensive?

JL: Well, both! The ability to be able to buy whisky from other people, that went away quickly, in two years, maybe from 2011 to 2013. There just wasn’t stuff out there, people saw what was happening so fast. Investors were buying barrels and trying to flip ‘em. And that’s really what screwed us, right? Well, a lot of things. We made a lot of mistakes early on right, we just didn’t know. Like we bought a bunch of whisky, at one point in time we had about 3,800 barrels, early on. We were tiny our first still was 175 gallons and we had a little bitty business and we have 3,800 barrels and I thought ‘God, this is going to take a lifetime to sell!’ Turned out it took about three or four years! Our business was booming Old Scout was just going crazy and the plant was expanding and we were adding people and it was enabling us to do all sorts of other things. We kept thinking there were some deals out there, or strategic partnerships that we were going to make that would give us access to more whiskey. They never really materialised. 

MoM: How did this shortage affect the business?

JL: The ability to buy those barrels had gone away. We grew that business explosively from 2011 to 2016, and in 2016 we stopped selling Old Scout Ten, Old Scout Rye and Old Scout Bourbon. We took our three biggest sellers off the market because we just didn’t have the inventory. In 2014, we started buying whisky from MGP but instead of buying it in an aged format we bought it as new-made contract. That whisky that we bought is now just coming available for us at the end of last year. When we first started sourcing Old Scout it was all five years old. Then we went for three years without selling it. From 2016-19 we didn’t have any Old Scout except for a little bit of American Whiskey. And then just last September we bought out some more Old Scout (Revenant) Five Years Old. 

MoM: Have you noticed any difference between the stuff that you were buying in ready-aged and the stuff that you’ve aged yourself?

JL: No, I can’t taste any difference. When we started selling Old Scout it was five years old, the same age as what we’re selling it right now. The problem is that it aged up. So it was five years old and then it was six years old and then it was seven years old. Well then at the end, when we stopped selling it, some of that whisky was eight, nine, ten years old. We changed it from ‘Five’ to ‘Six’ to ‘Seven’ but by the time we got to ‘Seven’ we were big and we had a lot of distribution so we didn’t want to change it to an ‘Eight year Old’ and we’d have some Seven and some Eight so we just understated the age. We were putting eight, nine, ten year old juice in a seven year old bottle. So if you drank Old Scout in 2016, or whatever was leftover from 2016-17 you were drinking an eight, nine or ten year old product. And if you taste that aside the Old Scout that we’re putting out you say ‘well, it’s good but it’s as good’ because it’s a five year old whisky compared to an eight or nine year old whisky. That’s one of the issues that we have but with Old Scout I didn’t really see a way around it right, unless we waited another four years which is something that we just couldn’t do.  

The Smooth Ambler range

MoM: Have you been distilling your own whisky as well and maturing it alongside Old Scout?

JL: Yeah, we do it for Big Level, which is 100% house-made. We think of our business now in three ways: the stuff we make, Big Level and some other products that aren’t even out yet; the things that we don’t, which is Old Scout; and then in 2013/14 we created a brand called Contradiction, and it’s a blend of things that we make and things that we don’t. That’s where the name came from. We used to primarily make a wheated bourbon, that’s what Big Level is. It’s about a third of what we make and two-thirds sourced. So a wheated bourbon mixed with a bourbon made from rye. 

MoM: How has it been working with Pernod Ricard?

JL: There have been some growing pains, mostly from figuring out how a small brands fits in among the big brands. But they have made us a better business, that makes better whiskey, is safer, and more efficient. And they are as much like family as any corporate business can be. We’re proud of our relationship with them.

MoM: And do you still do a vodka or was that left behind?

JL: We stopped selling vodka in 2015-16, and stopped selling gin in 2017. If you go into a store and you have ten minutes of their time, and you only have three things to show them, what do you show ‘em? You show them the three biggest sellers and they were always whisky. So gin was sort of forgotten about. But our gin was delicious and we still have people all the time begging us to make it again. Our response is always ‘well if you had been buying a whole lot more back in the day we wouldn’t have stopped making it!’ 

MoM: How has the EU/US trade tariffs affected your business?

JL: We’ve had to change our prices on everything, in order to be competitive in the EU and UK. Trade wars, as far as I can tell, are bad for everybody. But you know, I love the market there. London is one of my favourite cities to go to. The best bars in London just also happen to be some of the best bars in the world.

MoM: What are your favourite ways to drink your whiskey?

JL: I’m pretty simple, at home I’ll make bourbon and ginger ale. In a bar I’m going to be pretty basic too. I’ll probably drink it in an Old Fashioned. One of my favourites is a drink called the Brown Derby. A mixture of bourbon, grapefruit and honey, it’s named after a Los Angeles diner that was shaped like a hat, a brown derby [take a look at the picture on Wikipedia].  

Smooth Ambler whiskeys are available from Master of Malt.

 

No Comments on Five minutes with… John Little from Smooth Ambler

Top 5 drinks songs

The true perfect pairing to a delicious drink? A catchy song about said drink! Here’s our top five boozy tunes. We’ve chosen our top five drinks-related films, books and TV…

The true perfect pairing to a delicious drink? A catchy song about said drink! Here’s our top five boozy tunes.

We’ve chosen our top five drinks-related films, books and TV shows, so it was only a matter of time before we moved on to…. Music! The plethora of songs written about the plethora of boozes means it was a pretty big choice, but we managed to whittle it down to five. Let us know in the comments or on social which ones you would have included. We know one way to beat the quarantine blues; grab a drink, whack on these tracks and have a boogie.

Behold, the quarantunes!

As always, these may not always feature the most responsible booze consumption. Let’s keep it in the songs!

Whiskey in the Jar – Thin Lizzy

An iconic Irish folk song that’s been covered more times than you can shake a stick at, but Thin Lizzy’s version has perhaps been the most influential (bar The Dubliners’ 15 years prior). The Irish rock band took the traditional ballad and added a bit of oomph. Pour yourself your favourite dram and settle down for a good ol’ listening session, tale of an outlaw highwayman from the comforts of your sofa.

Gin & Juice – Snoop Dogg

We’re taking it back to the ‘90s with this one, Snoop D-O-double-G knew what was up before the gin boom in his debut album. Oh, and he’s not just sipping on any old juniper goodness, he even specifies Seagram’s gin and Tanqueray! This song is in no way stuck in the past, in May 2018, Snoop Dogg even set the world record for the largest Gin and Juice at 500 litres! Needless to say, don’t try that at home… 

Red Red Wine – UB40

The ultimate song to sway around your kitchen to with a glass of said red wine in your hand, this is a true classic from UB40, even though the original was recorded by Neil Diamond. Who knew? Well, not even UB40 it turns out. When they recorded the song they thought that the writing credit ‘N Diamond’ was a Jamaican artist called Negus Diamond. That’s enough history, time to sit back, relax and enjoy the grooves. Even if you think that red wine isn’t for you, this is sure to convince you to give it another try!

Tequila – The Champs

Can you believe that this awesome little tune has been around since 1958?! Who doesn’t want to dance when this song comes on? Go on, get your Margarita and have a little quarantine boogie. Maybe even go all out and make a dance routine, it’s that kind of jig (though perhaps put your drink down for that one). Plus, it’s an easy one to learn the lyrics to… Tequila!

While it’s not the best quality, here is an absolutely stellar video of the band playing the song live on Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show in May 1958.

Champagne Supernova – Oasis

Anyway, here’s… Champagne Supernova! Love or hate Oasis, whatever you feel about the Gallagher brothers, Champagne Supernova is the anthem of a generation (just behind Wonderwall, obviously). One for when you’re feeling a little fancy, pour yourself a glass of the fizzy stuff (we’re sure Prosecco would do as well) and contemplate whether the brothers will get back together. Or whether they should. Oasis may be gone, but Champagne Supernova is forever.

1 Comment on Top 5 drinks songs

New Arrival of the Week: Boondocks 11 Year Old Cask Strength whiskey

This week we’re highlighting an American whiskey that’s very close to a bourbon in style but with one crucial difference, created by former Woodford Reserve supremo Dave Scheurich. Whisky distillers…

This week we’re highlighting an American whiskey that’s very close to a bourbon in style but with one crucial difference, created by former Woodford Reserve supremo Dave Scheurich.

Whisky distillers are like master criminals, no, not in terms of morals, well, some of them are, but that’s another story. What they have in common is that both announce their retirements, only to be lured out by one final job. Think of Jim McEwan who retired from Bruichladdich in 2015 only to be made an offer he couldn’t refuse by the Hunter Laing mob when they were setting up a new distillery on Islay, Ardnahoe

Then there’s Dave Scheurich, who retired from Brown-Forman in 2010 after over 21 years at the bourbon giant.  He was instrumental in setting up the Woodford Reserve brand and making it one of the most admired whiskeys in America. Before that he had stints with Wild Turkey, and 14 years man and boy at Seagram, the now-defunct Canadian giant who dominated the international spirits business before collapsing in 2000. In 2012 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Whiskey Advocate magazine. After that sort of career, most of us would be happy to take up fishing and long-winded anecdotes, but not Scheurich.

In 2016, it was announced that he had teamed up with the Royal Wine Company (a New York-based business that specialises in kosher wine) to create a new American whiskey brand, Boondocks. The name is inspired by a slightly-pejorative word used by fancy city types for the countryside. What we might call it ‘the back of beyond’. 

The aim was to create fine American whiskeys that were a bit different from the bourbon norm. Despite its corn-heavy mash bill (80% corn with the rest rye and malted barley), our New Arrival can’t be called bourbon because it’s not put in new oak casks. Instead like much Scotch, it’s aged in used casks. It’s also significantly older than most American whiskeys, which to be sold as such in the EU only have to be three years old (and can be much younger in the home market). This is also bottled at cask strength, 63.5% ABV, something that will appeal to aficionados. There’s also a 47.5% ABV version as well as an 8 year old bourbon.

With a name like Boondocks, you’d probably imagine it’s made in a tiny distillery in the woods, miles from the nearest town of any size, that hasn’t changed much since prohibition was repealed and staffed mainly by men called Jedediah. Sadly, nothing so romantic as the brand doesn’t have its own distillery and buys in its whiskey. Nothing wrong with that, lots of brands in whiskey, especially in the US and Ireland, don’t make their own spirit, it’s just not such a good story.

Still what matters most is what’s in the glass. And it’s good, really good, with a depth of flavour you don’t often find in American whiskeys. Previous releases have won awards like a Gold Medal at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition 2016 and Best of Category in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2016. It’s a great sipper either with a splash of water, with ice or I can’t think of a better whiskey for an Old Fashioned. Drink it slowly, let the ice dilute the high strength and see how it changes.

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Strong coffee with just a splash of milk, rich cherry sweetness and a subtly floral hint.

Palate: Toasted almonds and spicy rye, underneath layers of brown sugar and cookie dough.

Finish: Lingering buttery corn and stem ginger.

Boondocks Cask Strength 11 Year Old American Whiskey is available from Master of Malt.

 

No Comments on New Arrival of the Week: Boondocks 11 Year Old Cask Strength whiskey

Drink books of the year 2019

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by…

Whether you’re a wine buff, a whisky aficionado or a lager lout, this year’s crop of drink books has something for everyone. We pick our favourites to curl up by the fire with this Christmas. 

Well, it’s been a bumper year for drink books. There’s new offerings from old pros like Jancis Robinson and Tristan Stephenson, as well as debuts from Felix Nash and Eddie Ludlow. In fact, it was such a good year that we had trouble narrowing the list down so apologies if your favourite is missing. 

All of them will make great gifts for the drink lover in your life. And we can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays than with a roaring fire, a dram/ glass/ pint of something delicious and one of these books, and that includes watching Casablanca on Christmas Day with a belly full of Port and Stilton. 

A Brief History of Lager Mark Dredge

Lager is so ubiquitous, it’s the beer the world drinks, that it’s hard to imagine how 200 years ago it was a Bavarian speciality. At that time, beer in the rest of Europe was essentially ale. But slowly lager spread and along the way mutated from a sweet, brown beer to the crisp golden brew we know today. It’s a great story told with a real sense of fun by award-winning beer writer and TV regular Mark Dredge. 

Sample line: “Lederer kept contact with Sedlmayr and Dreher, and there’s a wonderful photo taken in 1939 of the three of them all wearing top hats and overcoats, each with a thick moustache, and all holding hands.”

The Curious Bartender’s Whiskey Road Trip Tristan Stephenson

Tristan Stephenson aka the Curious Bartender is the author of many excellent cocktails books. In this latest outing, he takes a journey across America sampling whiskeys from 44 distilleries both large and small including some real MoM favourites like Balcones 44, St George, and Michter’s  nice work if you can get it.

Sample line: “Tuthilltown is home to a huge cat call Bourbon (there another cat called Rye that we didn’t get to meet.”

Fine Cider Felix Nash 

You probably haven’t realised it yet but we are living through a golden age of cider. It hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet, but all over England, Wales and the cider-producing world (which is much bigger than you think), producers are waking up to the potential of apple-based goodness. Felix Nash, a cider merchant, has written a heartfelt, in-depth hymn to his favourite fruit and drink.

Sample line: “I wouldn’t be able to tell you about all the apples used to make cider or the pears used to make perry, and no one could. It’s not simply that so many varieties exist in the world, but that they can very localised”.

Sherry: Maligned, Misunderstood, Magnificent! Ben Howkins

We’ve written a fair bit on the blog about how much we like sherry, so this was a book after our own hearts. Written by a man with more experience in the wine trade that he would like to admit, this is a love letter to one of the world’s great wines. Reading this, you can almost smell the bodegas of Jerez. Warning, it’s almost impossible to read this book without developing a serious sherry habit. 

Sample line: “Olorosos are the wines that will emulate rugby players, rather than ballet dancers.”

Spirited: How to create easy, fun drinks at home Signe Johansen

You might know Johansen (the lady in the header) as Scandilicious, evangelist for all things Scandinavian and delicious. Originally from Norway, now living in London, she’s just as good on drinks as food. This book makes a great introduction to cocktails, tips for non-alcoholic drinks and all round guide to stress free non-nerdy entertaining. 

Sample line: “Life is too short to worry about what anoraks and bores think so now I happily enjoy whichever drinks I’m in the mood for.”

The Whisky Dictionary Ian Wisniewski

Someone who is certainly a bit of an anorak but never a bore is Ian Wisniewski. He’s the one on distillery tours who will always be asking more questions than anyone else. We know as we’ve been round a few with him and we always learn a lot. This book, which we have already found an invaluable reference guide, is a testament to that insatiable curiosity. 

Sample line: “Do enzymes ever get the applause they deserve? Rarely. If ever. It’s time to make up for that with a standing ovation.”

Whisky Tasting Course  Eddie Ludlow

Like many of the best people in the drinks business, Ludlow began his career at Oddbins. Since then he’s become an expert at opening up the often confusing world of whisky. In this book, Ludlow breaks it down into easily digestible segments, explains why whiskies taste as they do, and talks the reader through the most common styles of whisky such as single pot still Irish, small batch bourbon and Islay single malt. Before you know it, you’ll be saying “bonfires on the beach” or muttering “mmm, Jamaica cake” like an old pro.

Sample line: “Your mouth and tongue are actually quite inefficient at detecting all but the most basic flavours.”

The World of Whisky – Neil Ridley, Gavin D. Smith and David Wishart

Lavishly-produced guide to the every-expanding world of whisky by three of the best writers in the business. And you do really need three to cover what is now such an enormous topic. Inevitably the majority of the book is on Scotland with a page devoted to each malt distillery, but the Irish, US and Japan sections are also impressive.

Sample line: “Would even the most discerning of palate be able to detect a differences made using barley grown in Mr McTavish’s bottom field and the one, over yonder hill, behind the tree and the babbling burn?”

The World Atlas of Gin Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley

Another book part-written by Neil Ridley! How does it do it? We suspect that he has actually cloned himself to spread the workload. There’s a lot of gin out there and it’s expanding all the time, meaning that this book can only be a snapshot of what’s available but you know with these two that everything in here is going to be worth drinking. Also extra points for not being afraid to put in the big names, like Beefeater, rather than going for hipster obscurity points.

Sample line: “France has embraced the gin revolution with a charismatic style and charm of its own.”

The World Atlas of Wine Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson

This is the 8th edition of an all time classic book, first published in the 1970s and updated every few years. Originally just written by Johnson, Robinson joined the team in 2003. It’s hard to think of a better looking book with its lavish photos and intricate maps of the world’s greatest wine regions. The words are pretty nifty too as you’d expect from (probably) the world’s top two wine writers. 

Sample line: “For centuries, Hungary has had the most distinctive food and wine culture, the most varied grape varieties, and the most refined wine laws and customs of any country east of Germany.”

No Comments on Drink books of the year 2019

New Arrival of the Week: Michter’s US*1 Sour Mash Toasted Barrel Finish

This week we’re drinking a Kentucky whiskey with an unusual twist, it’s been aged in barrels that are toasted rather than charred! What’s all that about? Michter’s whiskey has something…

This week we’re drinking a Kentucky whiskey with an unusual twist, it’s been aged in barrels that are toasted rather than charred! What’s all that about?

Michter’s whiskey has something of a convoluted history. It was originally founded in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania in 1753 by John Shenk who began distilling rye. He was a Mennonite, a religious sect like the Amish, think beards without moustaches, putting up wooden houses quickly and strictly no motor cars. Especially in 1753.

This was pre-independence when the 13 original colonies of British America were still part of the mother country. During the War of Independence, George Washington is said to have purchased Shenk’s whiskey for his troops to keep their morale up. It seems to have worked as the rebellious colonists won the war and thus the United States of America was born.

Shenk’s distillery was bought by Abraham Bomberger in the 1860s and became known as Bomberger’s. Then in the 1950s, the name was changed again by the distillery’s then owner Lou Forman by combining the names of his sons Michael and Peter: ta da, Michter’s!  Pennsylvania was once famous for its rye whiskey but by the 1980s rye as a category was dying and the venerable old distillery closed in 1989. It’s now a National Historic Landmark but sadly in a state of severe dilapidation. Ominously, according to Wikipedia: “The distillery closed in 1989 and may have since been demolished.” 

Happily the brand was revived by a company called Chatham Imports. There’s been some legal argie bargie over the name Bomberger’s since but we won’t go into that now.  The Michter’s magic now happens at the Fort Nelson distillery (see image in header) in the heart of bourbon country Louisville, Kentucky under the watchful eyes of master distillery Dan McKee and head of maturation Andrea Wilson. Last year it opened a visitor centre on the famous Whiskey Row. 

The standard rye whiskey is a benchmark, particularly popular with bartenders, while there are all kinds of bourbons and whiskeys produced too. Which brings us on to this week’s New Arrival. Because of its unusual grain bill, it can’t be categorised as either a rye or a bourbon (which would have to be at least 51% rye or corn respectively.) In the sour mash process a portion of the last ferment is added to the next to get things going rather like with sourdough bread, only better because you end up with whiskey. This is produced as with the standard Sour Mash but then it undergoes secondary maturation in, according to Michter’s: “a second custom made barrel. This second barrel is assembled from 18-month air-dried wood and then toasted but not charred.” It’s bottled at a nice punchy 43% ABV and only produced in limited quantities. You’ll probably want to sip this neat to appreciate those fancy casks but you can also channel your inner Mennonite with an Old Fashioned

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Golden Grahams, orange peel, soft oaky smoke and a hint of menthol.

Palate: Honey on toast, salted butter, vanilla pod earthiness and white pepper heat.

Finish: Cinnamon, floral grains and another waft of smoke.

Michter’s US*1 Sour Mash Toasted Barrel Finish is now available from Master of Malt.

 

No Comments on New Arrival of the Week: Michter’s US*1 Sour Mash Toasted Barrel Finish

Cocktail of the Week: Spiced Hot Apple Punch

Brrrrr, it’s freezing! At least it is around MoM HQ. So this week we thought we’d make something to warm you up, a hot Spiced Apple Punch spiked with some…

Brrrrr, it’s freezing! At least it is around MoM HQ. So this week we thought we’d make something to warm you up, a hot Spiced Apple Punch spiked with some WhistlePig Rye. If that won’t keep out the cold, then you need a new coat.

Hands up who likes mulled wine? I mean really likes mulled wine. Yes, when made properly it can be a fine thing but it’s usually much too sweet, made with terrible wine and over-boiled so that it loses its alcohol and the spices have turned bitter. Not very nice. Hot cider is much more my cup of tea. Partly because if someone is serving you a mulled cider, it is usually a sign that they have put some thought into it.

My wife, who is American, introduced me to the joys of hot cider. It’s something of a holiday season tradition over there. Beginning with Halloween and taking in Thanksgiving and going up until Christmas, in the colder states there will always be hot cider on offer. But it’s not exactly what it sounds like because in the US cider means apple juice, if you want proper cider you have to ask for hard cider. The recipe my wife makes involves taking lots of apple juice, good quality cloudy stuff, and mulling it gently with lots of spices, fruit juice, etc, and then adding alcohol in the form of bourbon or rum at the end. She also adds butter which sounds a bit mad but it gives the cider a lovely creamy quality. 

What’s more fun though, is to use proper honest-to-god English cider. The stuff that contains real booze and then spike it at the end for added merriment. The big question is what cider to use. It’s sad but true that cider in this country is often a pale imitation of the real thing. To be legally called cider you only need to have 35% apple content, the rest can be sugar, water and flavourings. And that 35% can be concentrate made from apples grown anywhere. You’ll be very lucky if your cider contains any English fruit. Of the widely available brands, Old Rosie from Westons, Dunkertons and Orchard Pig are all good. If you’re lucky enough to live in a cider producing part of the country like the West Country or Kent, visit your local ciderist. And please avoid flavoured ciders which are essentially alcopops.

Whistlepig-Autumn-JustinDeSouza-1

Couple of these will keep the cold out

The recipe below is an approximation. It will depend on how sweet your cider is. The most important thing is don’t boil it or it will become bitter and lose alcohol. And finally don’t forget the pièce de résistance, a good slug of Whistlepig 10 Year Old Rye Whiskey. 

It’s time to get mulling. Here’s what you need:

3 litres of good quality cider

150ml (or more) WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye
Juice of 3 lemons
Juice of 3 oranges
1 tablespoon of orange zest
½ tablespoon of lemon zest
1 tablespoon of sugar
6 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 knob of butter

Put all the ingredients except the whiskey and the butter in a large saucepan. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Do not boil. Taste, it might need some more sugar. Leave to infuse for as long as you can. Gently reheat. Add the butter and the whisky. Serve in Toddy or wine glasses, garnish with an orange slice and a cinnamon stick to use as a stirrer.

 

No Comments on Cocktail of the Week: Spiced Hot Apple Punch

Kinahan’s Kasc Project

Resurrecting an historic spirit is no mean feat, particularly one revered for its pioneering and unconventional approach, but take it from us, the folks behind Irish whiskey brand Kinahan’s are relishing…

Resurrecting an historic spirit is no mean feat, particularly one revered for its pioneering and unconventional approach, but take it from us, the folks behind Irish whiskey brand Kinahan’s are relishing the task. We chat with Lewis Johnstone, global sales and marketing officer, as their most daring bottling to date, The Kasc Project, hits shelves…

“I think we’ve gatecrashed the party a little bit,” Johnstone says of Kinahan’s re-entry into the burgeoning Irish whiskey category. “If you ask some of the smaller privately-owned whiskeys who have been quite happily trotting along the last few years, they would probably say ‘where the hell did they come from?’. But we didn’t gatecrash it with the same kind of whiskey. We gatecrashed it with something a little bit different, and that is really our pathway to the future.”

If it’s proof you’re after, look no further than their first-of-its-kind creation, The Kasc Project. The unusual bottling sees a blend of malt and grain whiskeys aged in handmade hybrid casks made of five different wood varieties – Portuguese, American, French, and Hungarian oak, and chestnut – each selected for the flavours they impart into the whiskey. But then, Kinahan’s is no stranger to experimenting with wood. 

Kinahan's Kask

Krazy Kinahan’s Kasc

The brand first appeared in 1779 as a family-run operation, explains Johnstone, almost entirely exporting its creations to the US. “We were the first whiskey to start experimenting with wood types and use wood as a maturation device rather than just transportation, which is what everybody else was doing,” he says. The Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in particular took a liking to the liquid and insisted all casks were to be marked with L.L. – a practice acknowledged today across Kinahan’s Heritage Collection.

He wasn’t the only fan. The brand was also the whiskey du jour of esteemed bartender Jerry Thomas, who referenced Kinahan’s in his various cocktail tomes alongside Jamesons. Unfortunately, even Thomas’ backing was not quite enough to protect the brand once Prohibition reared its sobering head. Since 98% of its exports were US-based at the time, Kinahan’s would be resigned to the history books for the best part of a century. Fast-forward to now, and the team, led by distiller Quinzil du Plessis, have harnessed the renegade attitude of the whiskey-makers who came before them to bring the brand back to life. 

“We have arguably the biggest selection of different barrel types than anybody in the business, certainly in Ireland and maybe even beyond that, because that’s who we are and that’s what we do,” says Johnstone. “When we restarted the Kinahan’s project, we had stock in a variety of warehouses all over Ireland, and the first thing Zac [Oganian, managing director] had to do was to find it all and make an audit of everything, what he could use, what he couldn’t.”

They pooled their stash into three third party warehouses and Quinzil set about altering the barrels to confuddle prying eyes and disguise the product inside. “He writes about 20 letters and numbers across the top of the barrel and only half a dozen of those letters or numbers might mean something, and only to him,” says Johnstone. 

Kinahan's

Kinahan’s, goes beautifully with a fine pair of trews

As of next week, the team will start the process of moving each and every cask to a brand new purpose-built Kinahan’s warehouse, away from curious noses. “Now Quinzil can go absolutely nuts without tiptoeing around, because we use some quite significant characters’ warehouses,” he continues. “They’re always looking over our shoulder to see what we’re up to and trying to discover what’s inside the barrel.”

And with whiskeys as curiously compelling as The Kasc Project, there’s little wonder. Currently, the wider range comprises Kinahan’s Single Malt 10 and Kinahan’s Small Batch, which Johnstone refers to as “our nod to the past”, as well as an annual single cask bottling that goes by The Special Release Project. Armagnac and amarone barrels are just two of the casks the team is experimenting with.

As for a distillery – well, Kinahan’s does own one, the Birr Distillery, established in the 1820s in the centre of the Republic of Ireland. Whether the team will fire up the stills remains to be seen, but for now, they’re pretty content making waves with wood. “At the moment we acquire whiskey from two or three distillers of note and then we bring [the casks] in and do what we want to be famous for – making great whiskey with our wood expertise,” says Johnstone. “Others might be doing it differently, but for us, a distillery isn’t critical to that end game.”

No Comments on Kinahan’s Kasc Project

Small distillers are the real losers in the EU/ US trade dispute

If you think the trade dispute between the Trump administration and the European Union has hit you hard, wait until you hear how craft distillers in the US have been…

If you think the trade dispute between the Trump administration and the European Union has hit you hard, wait until you hear how craft distillers in the US have been affected. Industry expert Ian Buxton looks into the rights and wrongs, winners and losers in the battle of the tariffs. 

Now I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the price of some American whiskeys has been going up. And some craft whiskeys which we hear about on this side of the Pond seem unduly hard to find. What’s going on? 

It’s all Donald Trump’s fault. Well, the Donald would blame someone else, of course, and he’s been quick to point the finger at Airbus Industries and the European Union. But he may have a point.

Just over a year or so ago the World Trade Organisation (WTO – an acronym you’ll hear a lot more frequently if the UK does indeed finally execute a no-deal Brexit) determined that EU aid to Airbus constituted an illegal subsidy that disadvantaged Boeing, its main competitor.  So, seeking to Make America Great Again and punish the EU, President Trump imposed stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminium.

Rather than backing down, the EU retaliated with its own new tariffs, including a stinging 25% rate on American whiskies. As some cynical commentators observed, this may not have been unrelated to the fact that much US distilling takes place in the Southern states that tend to vote Republican.  Politics, eh – it’s a dirty game.

As a result, prices have risen and major European importers have cut back their orders. In fact, for the 12 months to July, US whiskey exports to the EU fell by a massive $160m as around one-fifth of the sales just dried up. The folks at Brown-Forman, who make around 60% of the US whiskey we drink, have been especially hard hit. We’re talking about Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester and Early Times – all fine products and justly popular. In their most recent financial results, Brown-Forman reckon they’ve lost around $125m in sales. Even for an industry giant that’s got to hurt. 

This dispute has been grumbling along for nearly 15 years but, under Trump, the American response has been increasingly robust. In fact, reports suggest his administration is preparing to slap tariffs of up to 100% on $1.8 billion worth of European spirits and wine, with potentially dire consequences for Scotch whisky and British gin (never mind Cognac; the French can look after themselves!)  The US distilling industry trade body DISCUS is urging restraint, fearing tit-for-tat European retaliation. “American whiskeys have become collateral damage,” said Chris Swonger, DISCUS’ head honcho.

major fire at Jim Beam

The big boys will probably be ok

Brown-Forman is big and profitable, it’ll get over it. It’s a rather larger problem for small craft distillers who add such variety to the scene, especially when they’ve invested in new bottles and packaging. Well, according to Mountain Laurel’s owner Herman Mihalich (they make Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania Rye, but his European distributor has stopped ordering) “we went from a marginally profitable business to breaking even.” Prior to the new tariffs, Europe accounted for around 10% of his sales but these dried up almost overnight.

That feels bad enough, but consider the plight of Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. in Virginia, who have thousands of unfilled bottles just waiting for their tasty rye whiskey. What’s the problem: just fill ‘em up and sell them in your own backyard, you say. Well, there’s the rub – they can’t. Owner Scott Harris was all geared up for a European sales drive and, just ahead of the tariff spat, invested in 70cl bottles for Europe.  Sadly, they’re useless in the USA where the law says spirits must be sold in 75cl containers The difference is only the size of a mini but means a mountain of expensive glass that he can’t use.

As he told the Reuters news agency: “We had one distributor we signed a deal with. He just stopped returning our phone calls. We’ve been trying very hard to get into the UK and France, and we can’t get any distributor to talk to us right now.”

Well, as the poet would have it,
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

For you and me all this means little more than not getting our favourite craft bourbon or rye this Christmas, or having to pay more. For employees of US distilleries affected by this trade war, it could get worse – DISCUS are warning of thousands of job losses if the dispute continues. But I have a plan. As I note in the recently-released latest edition of my 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die, Canadian whiskies are a steal. You can thank me later.

No Comments on Small distillers are the real losers in the EU/ US trade dispute

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