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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: whisky

Decoding your bottle

The world’s biggest booze producers often deploy impressive-sounding phrases like ‘award-winning’ and ‘special edition’ to shift their signature spirits, but what do those terms actually mean? Join us as we…

The world’s biggest booze producers often deploy impressive-sounding phrases like ‘award-winning’ and ‘special edition’ to shift their signature spirits, but what do those terms actually mean? Join us as we harness decades of industry know-how in a bid to shake up spirits marketing and, well, decode the label of your favourite dram…

Ever pondered how those mysterious ‘forgotten casks’ – containing precious whisky worth thousands of pounds – managed to somehow elude the meticulous warehouse inventories of some of the biggest drinks corporations in the world? At the risk of getting blacklisted from every brand-led ‘masterclass’ going, it all sounds a little bit… far-fetched.

With that in mind, we decided to analyse a selection of words and phrases that crop up time and time again in drinks marketing (and, we hold our hands up here, occasionally booze journalism. Ahem) and attempt to decipher what the brands are really saying beneath all that advertising waffle. 

Award-winning

What they say: Don’t just take our word for it, taste our award-winning Tequila for yourself…
What they actually mean: We paid a lot of money to enter a spirits tasting competition and the majority of the judges didn’t hate it

Heritage/tradition

What they say: We’re proud to celebrate 380 years of distilling heritage…
What they actually mean: The original distillery was bought out by our multinational company decades ago. Also, when the anniversary rolls around we will inevitably attempt to make money out of it

Appeal to your senses

What they say: Complex yet elegant, this beach pebble-infused gin will appeal to all your senses…
What they actually mean: We’ve run out of interesting ways to describe how it tastes

So that’s what the new generation of drinkers looks like

New generation of drinkers

What they say: Distilled from barley and recycled credit card receipts, our vodka seeks to attract a new generation of drinkers…
What they actually mean: The liquid is inoffensive and the head of our marketing department wants to target as many people as possible

Progressive/pushing boundaries

What they say: Made with the literal tears of our master blender, our bitcoin-infused whisky pushes the boundaries of innovation
What they actually mean: We’ve noticed smaller distilleries doing something similar and have decided to capitalise on this emerging trend

Shake up

What they say: By sourcing the very finest jambon blanc that France has to offer, we aim to shake up the staid ham-infused rum category…
What they actually mean: We’ve noticed smaller distilleries doing something similar and have decided to capitalise on this emerging trend

Forgotten cask

What they say: One fateful night, our master distiller stumbled across a forgotten cask tucked away in a quiet corner of the warehouse…
What they actually mean: This spirit is relatively old and we’re looking for a reasonable excuse to charge an absolute fortune for it

Reimagined/turned on its head

What they say: To create our London Wet Gin, we took the classic London Dry style and turned it on its head
What they actually mean: We’ve completely ran out of ideas 

Oak barrels

Our master distiller tasted these casks fairly recently 

Resting

What they say: After resting in a barrel for more than 30 years…
What they actually mean: We stored it in a warehouse

Slowly maturing

What they say: Having slowly matured in a barrel until it reached perfection…
What they actually mean: Again, we stored it in a warehouse

Inspired by

What they say: With its flavours of expensive tyres and unadulterated horsepower, Finish Line Vodka is inspired by the Hungarian Grand Prix…
What they actually mean: We invented a plausible backstory in a futile attempt to make the brand stand out

Special edition

What they say: This special edition Day of the Triffids bottling is completed with a free ‘herbicide’ branded flask
What they actually mean: We’ve put our core spirit into slightly different packaging for some reason. Also, here’s some junk you’ll eventually donate to a charity shop

Limited edition

What they say: Just 70,000 bottles of this limited edition whisky have been made available…
What they actually mean: We’re pretending that we haven’t made very much of this so we can up the price and create a buzz around the launch

Mmmm, authentic

Pay homage

What they say: By adding fresh olives to the recipe, we pay homage to Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Poseidon, god of the Sea, who, according to legend, created the mystical tree in ancient Greece
What they actually mean: We needed an excuse to add a random flavour to this otherwise fairly generic spirit

Personally selected/hand selected

What they say: Drawing from our vast archive, our master distiller personally selected these distinctive casks to release to the delight of rum fans across the globe…
What they actually mean: Our master distiller tasted these casks fairly recently 

In partnership with

What they say: We partnered with a world-famous dog walker to produce our new tennis ball-infused gin…
What they actually mean: We paid someone well-known a lot of money to endorse our brand. They may or may not have actually tasted it

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5 minutes with. . .  Dr. Don Livermore from Hiram Walker

We don’t talk enough about Canadian whisky on the MoM blog. To remedy this, we spoke with the master blender at Hiram Walker, Dr. Don Livermore, on Canadian distilling history,…

We don’t talk enough about Canadian whisky on the MoM blog. To remedy this, we spoke with the master blender at Hiram Walker, Dr. Don Livermore, on Canadian distilling history, some cask finishes that went wrong and why Canada is the most creative place in the world to make whisky.

Look back through old cocktail books (I have lots of them) and they always say that there are four major whisky producing countries: Scotland, Ireland, America and Canada. This blog covers the first three extensively – it seems that not a day goes by without exciting news from the American, Irish and, especially, Scottish industries. And that’s not all, recently we have run features on distilleries in Sweden, Australia and Israel. But what about poor neglected Canada?

It’s not like Canada doesn’t have the heritage. It’s been producing whisky since the 19th century. Canada has the numbers too. According to these figures, it produces around 189m litres of whisky a year, less than the Scots (700m) and the Americans (333m), but far outstripping the Irish (63m). That’s a lot of whisky. Until recently, most of it was used to make mega-blends like Canadian Club and Crown Royal; some of it went into American brands. But the world is waking up to the treasures that lie north of the 49th parallel, whiskies with character like Pike Creek, Lot 40 and Wiser’s 18 Year Old.  So, to tell us more about this under-the-radar giant of whisky, we talk to master blender at Hiram Walker, Don Livermore. And don’t forget, there’s no ‘e’ in Canadian whisky. 

Don Livermore

The doc (centre) in action

Master of Malt: How long have you been working in whisky for?

Don Livermore: I started 23 years ago. My background is microbiology so the distillery here, which I work at, the Hiram Walker Distillery, in Windsor Ontario, hired me as their microbiologist in the quality control laboratory. The company has been fantastic to me. They spent their investment on me and they sent me to school where I did my Masters of Science at Heriot Watt. I finished that in 2004 and then I finished my PhD in 2012 at Heriot Watt as well. Along the way they promoted me in different jobs in and around the distillery, and today I’m the master blender for Hiram Walker. 

MoM: If people asked you, ‘what makes Canadian whisky different from American whisky’, what would you say?’

DL: Canadian whisky, I always like to say this, it’s the most innovative, creative, adaptable style of whisky there is. All we have to be is fermented, aged and distilled in Canada. Aged in a wooden barrel, less than 700 litres for a minimum of three years. And a minimum of 40% alcohol, and first it’s got to come from grain, like any whisky category. And that’s about it, so they give us a lot of latitude, on what we can do with Canadian whisky. They don’t tell me how to distill it so we here have the ability to just column distill it, like a bourbon. Or we can also pot distill it like you’d see in the single malt batches. So we do have those capabilities here, they don’t tell us barrel types either. I mean we can use new wood, we can use used wood, we can finish in wine barrels, or whatever. The latitude is pretty wide open and that leads to creativity. To be honest with you, I wouldn’t want be a blender anywhere else. Now, traditionally Canadian whisky is lighter, if you go back early days in Canadian whisky, in the early 1800s, we would have been just a moonshine-style whisky. It would have been done just by pot stills or single pot distillations. But along the way, Canadian distilleries started double-distilling through two column stills. So they were making like grain whisky, that’s what’s Scotch would call it, we call it ‘base whisky’ but it’s similar. Our whisky ended up being very light because that’s what people wanted but at the same time, the way we would make our whisky was we would separate our ingredients so we would make double-distilled grain whisky from corn. But they’d also single distill or pot distill rye whiskies and then they would blend that in as their flavour type of ingredient we used to call them ‘flavouring whiskies’. So that’s traditionally how we are made because rye is really the grain that traditionally grows in the Canadian climate. The moniker in Canada is usually ‘give me a rye and Coke’ or ‘a rye and ginger’ and it’s understood as a Canadian. It means ‘Canadian whisky and coke’. Ryes are ingredients, just like Irish whiskey will use barley for their flavouring ingredients. 

Hiram Waker

The giant Hiram Walker distillery at Windsor, Ontario

MoM: Do you have a view of these aged Canadian flavouring whiskies being sold south of the border and being bottled under American labels?

DL:  I don’t have any issues with that. I think in the whisky industry, we’ve been buying and selling and trading barrels with each other for 300 years and I don’t see it as any issue for me, blending whiskies and buying ingredients to go into our whiskies. I think to be upfront in what you’re doing, for the consumer, is important. We’ve been doing it for 300 years. You could probably point at the Scotch industry they buy barrels from one another and make their blends right? There’s a rich history between Canada and the United States of selling and buying whisky. 

MoM: Does Canada have as long a whisky heritage as the States? 

DL: From what I’ve read about Jim Beam, Jack Daniel and some of the old whisky barons from the United States, I think they probably started a little bit before Canada. You see those date from the late 1700s, but you start seeing the distilleries in Canada mid-1800s. So we’re probably about 25-50 years behind. Canada was settled later and our population is a little less. Most people will say ‘what made Canadian whisky is the American prohibition in 1920-1933’ and that really isn’t true. What actually grew the Canadian whisky category was the American Civil War from 1861-1865. So you’ll see a lot of the Canadian distilleries have their inception dates around the late 1850s. Because if you think about it, the American North was fighting the American South right? And if they’re going to war with one another, they’re shutting their distilleries down. And who took advantage of that situation was the Canadian distillers. 

Inside Hiram Walker distillery

Inside Hiram Walker distillery

MoM: When did the revival of drinking strongly-flavoured rye whiskies start?

DL: We launched Lot 40 in Canada and the US in 1998, originally, and it failed. It had a little bit of a following but at that time you were starting to see the single malt Scotch craze take off and it was just about timing and what consumers were looking for. I give this analogy, I’m older, I’m in my forties, I grew up on a meat and potato diet I’m from the country in Canada and I think a lighter style of whiskies was what suited our palettes. My kids today are growing up on sushi and you’re seeing a lot of diversity within Canada and the United States as well. And they’re experiencing foods from around the world that are very rich and very spicy. A lot of flavour to it. And I think that’s what has happened I think people’s diets have changed and I think in the year 2019 we are starting to see rye whisky as big, bold, spicy and that’s what people are looking for. Similarly, I think peated Scotches, they’re taking off as well.  

MoM: I just wanted to ask you about cask finishes because I know you do some interesting things with Pike Creek. What are we likely to see in terms of innovative finishes from you?

DL: We actually had an innovation summit with our marketing department about a month ago. And there’s a pipeline of things I’m working on with finishing and various types of woods or wine barrels, or spirit barrels. I think you’re going to see some things come out of Canada in the next one to five years that are going to be exceptional. I’m already very excited about it. I mean, I think this is a rebirth of Canadian whisky and excitement to our category. I’m already seeing some of the other Canadian whisky competitors I work with are doing it as well, so I mean, we’ve done some French oak finishing, we did some Hungarian oak finishing, and there’s some wine barrels I’m playing with. We don’t have a release yet but the Pike Creek 21 year, that’s going to be released this fall will be finished in an oloroso sherry cask. I haven’t heard of anybody using oloroso sherry casks in Canada before. There has been failures here, I’ll be quite honest with you, I’ve played with finishing in some beer barrels, that didn’t work out too well. I finished some in some Tequila barrels which I’m unsure about. I think it would be a very niche market. If I’m not playing and looking at different things, I’m not doing my job.

Hiram Walker

Whisky maturing with little labels to remind workers that it is flammable. Safety first!

MoM: What other things are you playing with apart from barrels?

DL: Grain is another one. It’s reading the consumer. I think it’s very important for master blenders to get out from behind their desk or their laboratory. Go to these whisky festivals, talk to the consumers and understand what they’re looking for. And I’ve come to realise that consumers today understand and get a barrel. I think the barrel-finishing thing is the exciting thing today but the other thing is, what’s tomorrow? I think the next thing that consumers are going to be asking about is grain. They’re already asking about rye, I think the next evolution is variety of rye. We started putting away a very specific variety of rye that is very spicy. We’re actually asking our growers to plant a specific variety. My dream some day is yeast! Because I told you my background is microbiology but yeast probably makes more flavour in your whisky than any other thing that we add to it. You can do lots around brewing. Yeast has a huge impact. I got the actual original yeast strains from the whisky barons of Canada in a dried state. They’re in in little test tubes. From 1930 and I can crack them open and they can grow. But if I’d sat in the corner barstool at your local pub and talked about yeast and whisky, I don’t think your consumer will care. But I think some day they will. I just think it’s about timing and when consumers get more and more savvy, I can see it happening at some point. Some day I’m going to crack those vials and make a brand of whisky out of it, but not yet!

MoM: Which of your whiskies that you blend is your ‘end of the day’ favourite when you get back from work?

DL: It’s a brand that is no longer made to be honest with you. It’s a brand called Wiser’s Legacy. But I’ll tell you this, Wiser’s Legacy is basically two thirds Wiser’s 18 year and one third Lot 40, so I can blend it myself! I love doing that at whisky festivals and people ask me ‘what’s your favourite whisky?’ ‘here, I’ll blend it for you!’ so I take those two brands and blend them together. Again, that’s my sweet spot for the rye level. I do adore the 100% rye whiskies but I do like blending and I like a certain level, just like putting salt on your French fries, there’s a level that you want.

MoM: And then finally, do you have a favourite whisky cocktail?

DL: I like Manhattans made with Lot 40. I think the 100% rye balance is nice with a sweet vermouth. I do get specific about it: it’s hard to find but I like my Manhattan made with rhubarb bitters.

 

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RSVP crimes 

Our resident bartender Nate Brown is not impressed with people in the drinks industry who say they are coming to events and then don’t show up. In fact, he’s hopping…

Our resident bartender Nate Brown is not impressed with people in the drinks industry who say they are coming to events and then don’t show up. In fact, he’s hopping mad. . .

Not so long ago I attended an event in Shoreditch. It was a snazzy affair in terms of organisation. Five sets of bartenders from all over the world were shaking up different interpretations of a similar brief, and it was fascinating. 

Each team produced widely different end products: some thought-provoking, some bloody good fun, all delicious. There was music, dancing, canapés, smoke machines, laser lighting, the works. It had just the right amount of glamour and good vibes for an epic, inspiring party. 

But one thing was lacking: guests. The room was sparsely populated. There were a few of the usual suspects, press, bloggers, bartenders associated with the brand, and not even a huge amount of those. Sneakily, I managed a peek at the guest list. It was long. There were dozens and dozens of names all expected to turn up at any point. But as the evening progressed, the numbers dwindled like a wake. Most of those no-doubt-enthusiastic would-be revellers simply didn’t show up. This is an epidemic in our industry. And that’s a terrible thing. 

ELLC

Now this is how a party should look (5th birthday bash for East London Liquor Company)

Firstly, a lot goes into organising and hosting an event. From a brand’s perspective, there’s finding the perfect location, and if that’s bar, then choosing a date that won’t detract from the usual trade will be a challenge. There’s always Monday nights, as almost no bar in London loves Monday’s ghostly trade, but this has to be balanced with when the target demographic actually want to go out. 

Print materials, such as menus, need to be designed and paid for. This will probably mean sourcing logos, typefaces, colour palettes etc. Stock, the currency of the events market, will need to have been requested, justified and shipped. 

As for bars, there are always obstacles. Team members aren’t always receptive to change, and all too often diminishing initiative is the price paid for moving them out of their comfort zone. Drinks have to be written, high volumes of glassware need to be on hand and playlists need tweaking. All this before the dreaded invite list is constructed.

And, after all, it’s worth remembering why these events are happening in the first place. Maybe a brand is launching a new expression. Maybe a master distiller is in town. Maybe the latest vintage is out. It almost doesn’t matter, for all the shapes and sizes a brand event may take, they are almost without exception a celebration. A celebration of achievement, an anniversary, a celebration of the industry, a salute to be honoured and respected.

You got the drinks, but where are the people?

Escapism and experiences are the tools of the hospitality trade. I’ve heard it said that ‘we sell the life of a millionaire, one drink at a time’. This is what good events offer: glamour, celebrations, appreciation. So it is amazing to me that we, as so-called experts of empathy, don’t show up when we say we will. 

I’d go as far as saying that we have developed a culture of false kindness. Of saying ‘Yes, I’ll be there’, without bothering to attend. We click ‘Going’ on Facebook, unaccountably making online promises that the analogue self has no intending of upholding. The attendance rate amongst those that RSVP yes can be 10%.

This false enthusiasm is hypocritical. If we feign enthusiasm, we are hypocrites. We create and offer worlds expecting guests to flock to and embrace, and, importantly, to play their part. And yet, we don’t reciprocate in our turn as role of guest.

I get that hospitality workers have long hours. I get that evenings off are precious. What I don’t get is the easy “yes” when the answer is no. Say you’ll try, say I can’t, say ‘if it suits’, but don’t make false commitments. It affects those who have worked hard to put it on. It goes beyond bad manners. It’s nasty.

So next time your phone pings with a new Facebook event, or an invite enters your mailbox, spare a thought for the organiser. Think twice before hitting yes. I know I’ll be making an effort to attend more celebrations, some to improve my knowledge, some to garner insight, but most to have a blast and celebrate our industry done well. I’ll see you there. Or not.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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Five minutes with… Ervin Trykowski from The Singleton

Scotch whisky is the most versatile spirit in the entire world, says Singleton’s global brand ambassador Ervin Trykowski, but the drinking ritual it’s long been associated with – sipped neat,…

Scotch whisky is the most versatile spirit in the entire world, says Singleton’s global brand ambassador Ervin Trykowski, but the drinking ritual it’s long been associated with sipped neat, with a drop or two of water at best is a barrier for newcomers. It’s high time we stripped away the pompous rules, clichés and tired tropes that keep the category trapped in ‘tradition’ and let the liquid speak for itself…

Dufftown, Glendullan, and Glen Ord: The trio of distilleries you’ll find branded across the various bottles of The Singleton. Look through the history books and you’ll find each has produced single malt for more than 100 years, but rather than dwell on heritage, the folks behind The Singleton are unconventional in their focus on the here and now. 

‘We are proud of our roots,’ they write, ‘but we’re not bound by them. If you take The Singleton with a side of ice cream, then great. Or straight with a bacon brioche, then that’s your call my friend. Do, drink, and eat what you love. The Singleton is simply a whisky to be Unapologetically Enjoyed.’

It’s a refreshing approach to what can be, at times, a remarkably conservative industry. Here, the man at the helm – Ervin Trykowski, The Singleton’s global brand ambassador – urges whisky purists to throw out the rulebook…

the singleton ervin

Introducing The Singleton’s Ervin Trykowski

Master of Malt: Let’s get to grips with the liquid first. What is it about The Singleton that makes it Diageo’s best-selling single malt?

Ervin Trykowski: Primarily the style. The Singleton is a family of three different distilleries and all of them are known for producing an incredibly approachable and easy to enjoy single malt. The distillate at all three very much fits a profile, with green, cut-grass notes, and it matures into this delicious, sweet, fruity, vibrant whisky. In a word, it’s approachability: it’s a super accessible style of spirit that seems to resonate around the world.

MoM: Your marketing is a refreshing departure from the stuffiness of Scotch. What’s the industry’s biggest hurdle with regards to recruiting new whisky fans? 

ET: The clichéd old rules attached to Scotch. It’s always very closed language: You shouldn’t add ice, don’t add water, don’t put it in a cocktail. It’s all ‘don’t, don’t, don’t’. Our biggest hurdle as an industry is that four to 20 years previously we spent a lot of time talking about that classic Scotch ritual, and if you’re new to Scotch whisky, it’s daunting. Walk in a whisky bar anywhere in the world and the first thing they tell you is how many they’ve got – ‘we’ve got 500 whiskies’ – and straight away you’re like, ‘how on earth am I supposed to navigate this category?’. And then the person over the other side of the bar tells you what not to do. It’s not very helpful. Other spirits have been talking about mixing first, getting people on board before maybe explaining the nuances between different gins, for example, but in Scotch whisky we go: ‘go on, drink that’ at 43%. Scotch whisky is the most versatile spirit in the world and we pigeonhole it as one moment, when in reality we should be making it apply to more occasions. Nobody wants to drink a cask strength Scotch on their summer holidays in Marbella at 11 o’ clock in the morning. You want a highball or a cocktail, but in the industry, it’s done as an afterthought. They take you through the vertical tastings – usually the non age statement all the way up to the 18 or 25 year old – and then they say, ‘oh, by the way, this also makes a really good Old Fashioned’. We flip it on its head and start the journey with that, and then introduce them to [the whisky] on the rocks or neat once they understand the flavour in a more approachable way. 

MoM: A cocktail-first approach makes way more sense. Tell us a bit about you, then – what’s your background in booze?

ET: I’m one of the new style of Scotch whisky ambassadors that has come from the on-trade. I started working for Diageo five years ago as a Scotch whisky ambassador in Scotland and for the last three years, I’ve been travelling the world as global Scotch whisky ambassador – working across the portfolio, with my primary focus being The Singleton. I come at Scotch from a very different angle: getting it in front of people who aren’t necessarily traditional Scotch whisky drinkers. With a brand like Singleton, that’s our raison d’etre; that’s what we’re here to do. Plus, getting to travel the world and talk about your national spirit is a bit of a treat for anyone from Scotland. 

MoM: Could you share some of the interesting ways you’ve seen people enjoying Scotch whisky on your travels?

ET: My first trip as a global Scotch whisky ambassador was to Mexico for [annual Diageo cocktail competition] World Class. As part of my role I look after the Scotch whisky for the programme and engaging with the world’s best bartenders is an incredible way to see how different cultures engage with Scotch. On the plane I was looking through the menu and the guy who was serving me recommended Johnnie Walker Black Label and coconut water. It’s not just what you’re drinking with it, though, it’s how you’re drinking it and the occasion you’re drinking it in. A lot of cultures don’t take the mixing thing half as seriously as we do. In Malaysia I led a masterclass in a karaoke restaurant – which was really good fun but also shows that Scotch whisky really fits in different circumstances the world over; it doesn’t just have to be in front of the fire clad in tweed. It’s interesting doing a whisky masterclass in between people murdering Madonna. 

The Singleton Ervin

Trykowski defying tradition and pouring something delicious

MoM: Being free to ‘unapologetically enjoy’ whisky is at the heart of The Singleton’s ethos. Do you think the industry has an attitude problem? And if so, how can it shake it off?

ET: I don’t think there’s an attitude problem, it’s a problem with education and we need to change it as ambassadors. For me, coming from a bar background, it’s really important to engage with the on-trade and educate them on how they are recommending Scotch whisky. A massive amount of people who are starting to get into single malt will try it in a bar, people are eating and drinking out more than ever before, so it’s important to educate bartenders because that’s the first barrier, if you like. People panic, maybe they don’t know about every single malt on their back bar, so all of a sudden they’re regurgitating the same thing they’ve heard from a family member, rather than understanding that people need to be encouraged to try things in new ways. Often the oldest Scotch whisky markets are the worst for it. I go to Manila in the Philippines quite often, and out there the attitude towards single malt is incredible because they started with a blank canvas – they’re very open to it in cocktails and highballs and there’s no preciousness or preconceptions about what they should or shouldn’t do.

MoM: Ditch the rulebook. Got it. With that in mind, what’s an easy-to-make Singleton cocktail serve?

ET: I’ve got just the thing: You get a highball glass, fill it with ice right up to the top and add around 40ml of Singleton. Get yourself a good artisanal, free-range, bespoke, sparkling apple juice – I’d recommend Appletiser – and add about 100ml of that followed by around 50ml of soda water. It’s absolutely dynamite. It’s not big, it’s not clever, and it’s definitely not rocket science, but it plays on the flavours that you’ll already find in The Singleton, those classic Speyside apples and pears.

MoM: Tell us where and when you enjoyed your most memorable dram…

ET: There’s something magical about drinking a whisky at the distillery. One of my favourite places in the world to drink whisky is the Port Ellen lighthouse on Islay, it’s well worth experiencing and made even better if the weather’s crap. When it’s really windy and the waves come crashing over the top it’s amazing. I was lucky enough to be out there with Colin Dunn, one of our whisky ambassadors, who’s a legend – if you could print that it would be great – drinking Port Ellen on the lighthouse looking over the old distillery. That’s pretty magic. Yesterday I was up at Dufftown Distillery and if you walk around the back there’s a wonderful little hill that leads up to some warehousing. It looks over both Dufftown and Mortlach so I had a wee dram with some guests up there yesterday. The short answer is: a Scottish distillery.

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World spirits: fabulous flavours from far off lands

This week, we’re gathering a whole host of delicious spirits from all over the globe, so you can get a taste of far flung lands and intriguing botanicals wherever you…

This week, we’re gathering a whole host of delicious spirits from all over the globe, so you can get a taste of far flung lands and intriguing botanicals wherever you are!

Travelling the world is fun. This is something we generally all agree on. However, quite frankly we just don’t have time to visit each and every continent and try the local boozy delicacies, however much we’d like to. Enter our fabulous compilation of spirits from many lands, including gin, rum and whisk(e)y! We’ve gathered this wonderful selection to tickle your tastebuds and transport you to all corners of the globe, all without leaving the safety of your sofa. Because sofas are nice, and sometimes they have cats on them, and cats are always a good thing. Anyhow, we digress. Onto the spirits!

Angostura 7 Year Old

Where’s it from?

Trinidad and Tobago

What is it?

A classic, tasty molasses-based rum from the Angostura company, produced in a continuous still. The liquid is aged in bourbon barrels for seven years before it’s filtered. The ideal dark rum for whacking into a cocktail, be it a Mai Tai, Daiquiri or even a Rum Old Fashioned! If you fancy it neat, definitely serve this one with a good wedge of juicy orange to balance the richer creamy notes.

What does it taste like?

Bittersweet dark chocolate balanced by cinnamon, burnt caramel, mocha, creamy crème brûlée, vanilla fudge and a hit of spice on the finish.

St Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Where’s it from?

France

What is it?

An iconic elderflower liqueur made with fresh elderflowers hand-harvested only once a year, for a few weeks in the late spring. Each bottle contains around 1,000 elderflower blossoms! The flowers are macerated, and the infusion is then strained and blended with eau-de-vie de vin, water, sugar, and neutral grain spirit. Splash it in a glass of Prosecco for a floral fizzy treat.

What does it taste like?

Sweet and floral notes of elderflower (of course), supported by lychee, tart lemon, a hint of buttery sweetness and a lengthy elderflower-filled finish.

Nikka Whisky From The Barrel

Where’s it from?

Japan

What is it?

An incredibly delicious, award-winning blended whisky from Nikka! It marries single malt and grain whiskies from the Miyagikyo and coastal Yoichi distilleries. The liquid is aged in a massive range of casks, including bourbon barrels, sherry butts and refill hogsheads.

What does it taste like?

Full of chai spice, buttery caramel and vanilla cream, with sweet cereal notes, raspberry, orange peel and drying oak spice alongside a spicy, warming finish.

Basil Hayden’s

Where’s it from?

Kentucky, America

What is it?

Distilled in Clermont, Kentucky, Basil Hayden’s Bourbon really was created by master distiller Basil Hayden himself, all the way back in 1796. He added rye into a traditional corn-based mashbill, and this innovative risk certainly paid off. The sweetness of corn balances brilliantly with the spiciness of rye, making for a brilliant Whiskey Bramble.

What does it taste like?

Fairly light and spicy, with vanilla and honey balanced by pepper and peppermint, with corn and dark berries on the finish.

Le Tribute Gin

Where’s it from?

Barcelona, Spain

What is it?

From the family-run distillery in Vilanova, a tiny fishing village close to Barcelona comes Le Tribute Gin. It’s a tribute (shocker) to the pioneers, processes and the heritage behind the spirit, and is inspired by the distillery’s history. There are seven botanicals, all distilled separately: juniper, lime, kumquat, lemon, pink and green grapefruit, tangerine, cardamom, bitter and sweet oranges and lemons, and the seventh is lemongrass. Wow, that was a lot. All are distilled in wheat spirit except lemongrass, where water is used in place of spirit to maintain freshness. 

What does it taste like?

Citrus and sherbet sweets, with an amalgamation of vibrant and loud fresh fruity notes. Juniper takes something of a backseat, but still plays a major role here.

Konik’s Tail Vodka

Where’s it from?

Poland

What is it?

It’s 20 years in the making and the vision of one man, Pleurat Shabani, who single-handedly harvests and bottles the vodka himself. Inspired by the elusive Polish Konik horses which, if they are spotted, will promise a good harvest (according to Polish superstition). Shabani had plenty of setbacks and harsh nights sleeping rough, but found a sense of purpose after buying a one-way ticket to escape the conflicts back home in Croatia. Determined to create something people would appreciate, he chose three grains to create this delicious vodka, Spelt (the happy grain), Rye (the dancing grain) and wheat (the smiling grain) – suggesting that the aim in life is to laugh, dance and smile.

What does it taste like?

Nutty, with burnt black pepper, spice and a sweet finish.

Lot 40 Rye Whisky

Where’s it from?

Canada

What is it?

A no-age statement rye whisky from Lot 40. The expression is in fact a revival of a whisky from the 1990s, and is named for the plot of land which used to belong to Joshua Booth, grandfather of the now-retired master distiller, Mike Booth, who created the whisky. In the 2000s, the expression was discontinued, but luckily it returned to us! The mashbill is 90% rye and 10% malted rye, so you can be sure this is sufficiently spicy.

What does it taste like?

A gentle floral start builds into all of those warming spicy notes, with black pepper, cardamom and oak spice, followed by roasted coffee bean and brown sugar on a finish of cigar box. 

 

Dancing Sands Dry Gin

Where’s it from?

Takaka, New Zealand

What is it?

This is the flagship gin from the Dancing Sands Distillery! The brainchild of husband and wife duo Ben and Sarah Bonoma, the gin takes eight hand-crushed botanicals, including manuka, almond, cardamom and liquorice, which are vapour infused. After it’s blended with water sourced from the Dancing Sands Spring over in Golden Bay, which the founders refer to as the ninth botanical, the spirit is bottled. The colours on the bottle represent each of the different botanicals. It also just looks amazing. 

What does it taste like?

Juniper straight away, followed by delicately floral manuka, warming cardamom and a subtle hint of chocolate, creamy nuttiness and a spicy peppery finish. 

Westerhall No.10 

Where’s it from?

Grenada, Caribbean

What is it?

Westerhall No.10 is, would you believe it, a 10 year old rum from the Westerhall Estate! We did not see that one coming. The estate is located on what’s called the ‘Spice Isle’ of Grenada, and this is certainly reflected in its flavour profile. If you happen to get your hands on any, try it with fresh coconut juice for a more local serve.

What does it taste like?

Spiced apple, waxy honey and rich maple syrup, creamy oak and fudge. 

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Milk & Honey Distillery: A taste of Tel Aviv

Forget tradition: Tel Aviv’s Milk & Honey Distillery is taking conventional whisky-making and turning it on its head in pursuit of bold flavour and a focus on locality. This is…

Forget tradition: Tel Aviv’s Milk & Honey Distillery is taking conventional whisky-making and turning it on its head in pursuit of bold flavour and a focus on locality. This is what meaningful drinks innovation looks like in 2019.

What makes a whisky a whisky? For purists, there are stringent rules to adhere to, especially if you come from a classical Scotch perspective. For others, it’s all about the flavour, and the innovation that comes from experimentation: grains, cask type, yeast strain. Then, for world whisky especially, there’s a growing consideration: locale. And none of these have to exist in isolation, something that Israel’s Milk & Honey Distillery is setting out to prove.

“There’s no whisky-making in Israel,” an El Al representative forcefully tells me at the airport. I’m about to travel out to Tel Aviv to get a taste for the distillery first-hand. The immediate issue: convincing the national airline that I’m not some kind of security threat. 

“There is!” I respond. “And there’s gin, too. I can’t wait to taste the whole range, actually.”

The Milk & Honey Distillery tasting room

The Milk & Honey Distillery tasting room

He looks at me like I may well be both mad and geographically confused. But he lets me proceed. And that perhaps is the first barrier Milk & Honey faces; Israel is known for many things internationally, good and bad, but spirits production isn’t one of them.

It’s something that a group of whisky-loving entrepreneurs set out to change back in 2012. Considered, thoughtful co-founder Gal Kalkshtein describes himself as a serial entrepreneur. Tomer Goren, a contemplative drinks and chemistry geek, is head distiller. Eitan Attir, CEO, is commercially-minded and collaboration-focused. Dana Baran, marketing vice-president, is glowingly cordial and welcomes us with open arms. Tal Chotiner, a more recent addition to the team as international sales director, is an easy-going beer-lover. Tal Gantz is an infectiously boisterous brand ambassador. The team we meet are all so different, but they share a collective vision: to get the world to fall in love with Tel Aviv whisky.

Milk & Honey Distillery

Tal Chotiner and Tomer Goren showcase an STR cask

“There is just no tradition of distilling in Israel,” Kalkshtein tell us when we meet in the distillery’s sleek visitor centre, complete with bar and highly instragrammable wall art. Yes, there’s wine production that dates back centuries, but whisky and gin production is entirely new. Times are changing though, and while Milk & Honey is the “biggest, largest, most serious” distillery, he says, others are coming online. Production details of course sets M&H apart (more to follow!), but the first thing that piques interest initially is its Tel Aviv location.

The non-stop city

Think ‘Tel Aviv’, and you may well conjure up images of beachfront chill, award-winning bars and beautiful people – the Miami of the Med, if you like. Stark Bauhaus buildings bask in 300 days of sunshine each year; the snaking staircases of Old Jaffa hold millennia-old secrets. By day, the city takes to the beaches, the golden sand peppered with bars, colourful lifeguard huts and volleyball courts. By night, there’s a different energy. Tel Aviv becomes fluorescent; neon signs adorn the walls of sleek cocktail bars, meticulously-presented dishes delight elegant diners in the fanciest of restaurants. But there’s no pretence: there’s as much of an appetite for pitta bread feasts from street food vendors washed down with beer as there is for haute cuisine. 

Milk & Honey Distillery

The steps in Old Jaffa

Tel Aviv has become almost as well-known for its food scene as it is for its laid-back, liberal outlook. The Milk & Honey Distillery largely sits at this intersection, keen to align itself more with the city’s international reputation than that of its native country. 

Tel Aviv beach: The Miami of the Med

“We wanted to go global from the get-go,” Baran explained, over a welcome cocktail at the distillery. And it’s an effective philosophy. Work to convert the former bakery to a distilling space started in 2014, five short years ago. The first “serious” distillation took place in 2015, when the visitor centre opened. Already, 72% of production is destined for export. “The ambition is to get to 90%,” Baran explained. 

Milk & Honey Distillery

The colours of Tel Aviv

Good news for international spirits lovers, then. Even better news: whisky is on the way. “There will be a commercial whisky out at the end of the year,” she confirms.  Expect a founders’ edition, followed by liquid for The Whisky Show. And we should anticipate high demand: more than 12,000 visitors have made the trip to the distillery since April 2016, with 10,000 expected in 2019 alone. 

Rescue still

But, back to that fundamental question: what makes a whisky a whisky? However you approach it, production has to play a part. And for the Milk & Honey team, balancing the traditions of Scotch with the challenges (quirks?) of the Israeli climate its physiography has resulted in some really quite stunning spirits.

After the introduction in the bar space, we embarked on a tour. “We doubled the size of the distillery a year ago,” said Baran as we moved through. The space is substantial but not cavernous, and it’s already pretty full with tanks, stills, casks, the lab, and even a bottling line.

Milk & Honey Distillery

Different casks line up in front of the Milk & Honey lab

“Everything is operated by steam,” said Goren, almost wryly as we walked through the distillery. “There’s no cold spring for us to use.” 

The Israeli climate is perhaps the fourth ingredient in this whisky (alongside malted barley from the UK and peated barley from the Czech Republic, yeast, and of course, the water, which is filtered before use). Winter doesn’t dip below 16°C, while summer highs can top 40°C. Humidity is in the 50-90% range. This isn’t just an environment for rapid ageing, it’s positively breakneck.

Good job, then, that the team set up the distillery under the wise and watchful eye of the late Dr. Jim Swan. His legacy is everywhere, from the still design to the widespread use of STR casks (shaved, toasted and re-charred). Everything is purposefully set up to harness that swift maturation speed, and channel the character into whisky that thrives at a younger age.

Milk & Honey Distillery

Casks in the Tel Aviv sunshine

We start off by the mash tun, which processes 10 one-tonne batches each week. Production stops on Fridays and Saturdays (the resulting whisky will be kosher) with as much as 450 tons of malt processed each year. It’s then on to the Israel-designed one-tonne mash tun, interesting because it operates with two waters, rather than the traditional three.  

Fermentation is perhaps longer than expected, given the climate. The process is allowed to bubble away for up to 72 hours, in four stainless steel tanks. The team uses M yeast (“typical, really”), and the resulting wash is bursting with orchard fruit (we were there during unpeated production). 

The great rescue still!

Distillation is where it really starts to get interesting. The 9,000-litre wash still was literally salvaged from Romania – “like a rescue still!” I remarked – and dates back to the 1980s. The team think it was made in Spain for Spanish brandy-making, but it’s impossible to be certain. The 3,500-litre spirit still came from CARL in Germany. “We want ‘Scottish-style’ single malt,” said Goren. And why did they plump for the Romanian still? “Go to Forsyths and you’ll have a 10-year wait,” he commented. “We take a very, very short, very high cut,” he continues, with the spirit coming off at around 73% ABV, bursting with big, round fruit notes. 

Milk & Honey Distillery

Gin botanicals!

While Milk & Honey is very much in the whisky business (even if most liquid is still to come of age), gin is a massive part of its activity, too. Local botanicals, sourced from the famous Levinsky market, include cinnamon, coriander, chamomile, black pepper, lemon peel, verbena, and hyssop. These are macerated in the dedicated 250-litre pot still for 48 hours prior to distillation. There’s even a Levantine Gin – Tel Aviv 2019 edition specially blended to capture the essence of the city. We explored the labyrinthine Levinsky market after the distillery tour – this expression really is a taste of Tel Aviv, with its zesty citrus and fresh spice.

Dead Sea maturation

Milk & Honey makes use of a tremendous array of casks. Along with the mix of ex-bourbon, STR and virgin oak (at around a 70%/20%/10% ratio for what will become the classic whisky expressions), there’s a whole load of esoteric vessels, too. Think: Israeli wine casks (“Israeli wines are kosher”), STR red wine casks hailing from Portugal, and even a pomegranate wine cask. This is perhaps where operations diverge from the strictly Scotch-style approach. We gather in a warehouse space, fittingly surrounded by casks, for a tasting session.

Milk & Honey Distillery

Dead Sea spirit!

But it’s not just what you mature spirit in; where that cask rests will have a massive impact on flavour. This is most marked when we taste spirit from casks matured on the shores of the Dead Sea – the lowest place on Earth. After the new make (surprisingly soft, bursting with pear, apple and green grain notes) and a couple of samples of maturing spirit (including exceptionally rounded liquid from an ex-bourbon cask just one year and seven months old), we move on to the Dead Sea liquid. “This one is six months old,” Chotiner explained. I was stunned. The liquid was almost garnet in colour, an astonishing hue given the short time exposed to oak.

I’ve not visited the Dead Sea, but photographs will show you it shares a similarly jewelled complexion. Turquoise and sapphire waters lap at lemon quartz shores – and then there’s the salt factor. It’s 430.5 metres below sea level, and the Sea is 9.6 times as salty as the ocean. Temperatures can reach 50°C in summer. Milk & Honey was the first distillery to mature spirit in these “incredible” conditions.  

The casks chosen to reside here? Ex-bourbon, ex-red wine and more of those STR casks. The first impressions of the spirit (at six months it’s WAY too young to be called a whisky) was its overwhelmingly velvety quality on the palate. Young spirit is usually spiky, lively, harsh. Not this stuff. It was super well-integrated and soft, with dark fruit and chocolate notes. I had to double check with Goren that I’d written down the age correctly in my notes. But yes. Six months it is.

Milk & Honey Distillery

Tasting in the warehouse space

“We could never fully mature there, it would be too much,” he added. Anticipate future Milk & Honey whiskies to spend a short finishing period at the Dead Sea though – and expect them to be incredible. 

We taste some more young spirits, including a delectable rum cask-matured expression, an ex-Islay cask, and even a sample from the aforementioned ex-pomegranate wine casks. Each added another dimension to the Milk & Honey vision: yes, this is ‘proper’ whisky, double-distilled and treated to thoughtful processing from raw materials to maturation. But this is a team unafraid of showcasing its inventive side – or its Israeli heritage.

We walk back through to that sleek bar and event space for a quick cocktail before heading back out into the sparkling Tel Aviv sunshine. I ask Kalkshtein whether among all the iterations, the distillery expansions, the international growth, if he ever takes a second to appreciate everything he and the team have already achieved. 

“You never stop and think, ‘wow, we did it’,” he pauses for a moment. “But the stills are the most amazing thing. That’s the point where you say, ‘wow, we did something good’.” Watch out, world whisky: Israel is about to arrive on the scene. 

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Diageo Special Releases 2019 details are here!

Diageo has just this moment released early details of its Special Releases 2019 collection – eight cask-strength Scotch whiskies under a ‘Rare by Nature’ theme. We’re excited! While pricing, full tasting…

Diageo has just this moment released early details of its Special Releases 2019 collection – eight cask-strength Scotch whiskies under a ‘Rare by Nature’ theme. We’re excited!

While pricing, full tasting notes and availability have yet to be disclosed, the octet features liquid from Mortlach, The Singleton of Glen Ord, Cragganmore, Cardhu, Lagavulin, Talisker, Pittyvaich and Dalwhinnie. So no Port Ellen, and no single grain this time round.

The ‘Rare by Nature’ theme refers to the surroundings of each distillery, as well as the distillers and blenders who made them, and “the whisky lovers who will enjoy them”.

So. What’s in the line-up?

Cardhu 14 Years Old

Said to be a “supremely elegant” expression of the “warm-hearted” Speyside Scotch.

Cragganmore 12 Years Old

A “complex and intriguing” bottling, bringing together Speyside character with “a touch of spice and smoke”.

Dalwhinnie 30 Years Old

And “extra matured and unusual” one, with an “undeniably” gentle character.

Lagavulin 12 Years Old

“Truly spirited yet youthful” – one from the classic Islay distillery.

Mortlach 26 Years Old

The Beast of Dufftown apparently at its “most impressive”.

Pittyvaich 29 Years Old

A “rare sighting” from the closed distillery.

Talisker 15 Years Old

“Sweet yet deep and spicy”. Delicious.

The Singleton of Glen Ord 18 Years Old

“Different and delicious” expression, said to never have been previously bottled.

We know they’re only skeleton details, but which of the Special Releases 2019 expressions are you most excited to taste? Let us know on social or in the comments below!

Diageo Special Releases 2019

Such mystery

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New Arrival of the Week: Darkness 8 Year Old

Sherried Scotch whisky your thing? Then today’s New Arrival of the Week is set to get you salivating… Say hello to Darkness 8 Year Old! We ADORE sherried whisky here…

Sherried Scotch whisky your thing? Then today’s New Arrival of the Week is set to get you salivating… Say hello to Darkness 8 Year Old!

We ADORE sherried whisky here at MoM Towers. One of our top go-tos for all things sherry flavour has been the Darkness!* range, where liquid from well-known distilleries has been finished in specially-coopered sherry octave casks. The result? Something truly mouth-watering.

But the results were also pretty scarce. Each octave cask produces around 46 litres of whisky (it’s called an ‘octave’ because it is one-eighth of the size, in this case, of a sherry butt). The smaller size gives an increased surface area to volume ratio, so the whisky packs a punch. But also… once it’s gone, it’s gone. There are still some drops of these expressions left (you can see them right here), but generally it’s pretty tricky to get your mitts on all things Darkness!. 

One solution (which we are THOROUGHLY on board with) was to get clever with the blending process and introduce a core, permanent expression. Which is exactly what the clever folks at Darkness did! 

Continuous sherried deliciousness.

Those nifty little octave casks are still very much involved (the influence immediately shines through in the silky, nutty, chocolatey palate), but what’s new is that the single malt (undisclosed distillery, this time) starts off life in ex-bourbon barrels. Much easier to source. And where the smaller-run Darknesses! showcased a whole heap of distillery character (fun if you’re the experimental sort), this new eight year old will offer exactly the same deliciousness bottle after bottle. 

Speaking of deliciousness, what do we have here? In the glass on the nose, it’s all dried dark fruit, Christmas cake, chocolate-covered cashews, cinnamon spice and dried orange peel. On the palate, it’s mega oily, with some olive bread notes, raisins, nutmeg, orange furniture polish and gentle oakiness, too. The finish is all about those Christmas chocolates. 

It might be July, but Darkness 8 Year Old is serving us all kinds of delectable festive vibes. And we’re here for it. The best thing? So will this expression come actual Christmas! Long live continuous-release Darkness. 

*Why the ‘!’ sometimes? The new Darkness branding has dropped the over-excitement. Consider this consistently inconsistent.

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Relive all the fun of Fèis Ìle 2019!

Nine days, 12 distilleries and open events, and one magical island. It can only be Fèis Ìle! Join us as we relive all the Islay (and Jura!) whisky fun. Back…

Nine days, 12 distilleries and open events, and one magical island. It can only be Fèis Ìle! Join us as we relive all the Islay (and Jura!) whisky fun.

Back in May, an intrepid team of five headed north from MoM HQ to the island of Islay for Fèis Ìle. The annual spirits extravaganza (there was a lot more gin around than you might expect) takes in all nine distilleries, plus open days at the Port Ellen Maltings and Islay Ales, as well as a focus on neighbouring Jura. It really is a bucket-list trip for whisky-lovers!

Every day we packed the car (with a designated driver, obviously) and decamped with full film kit at each location. We got fully involved in distillery, tours, tastings, and even putting YOUR questions to the great and the good of the island distilling scene.

Missed the action? You can catch-up on our day-by-day reports, videos and more here. But why not get a taste for all things Fèis with our supercut?!

MoM HQ at the Port Ellen Maltings. Safety first!

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Terroir in spirits: the myths and the marketing

Nate Brown says that the word ‘terroir’ is becoming increasingly meaningless as producers and marketers deploy it to describe a whole range of inappropriate products. It’s time we stopped using…

Nate Brown says that the word ‘terroir’ is becoming increasingly meaningless as producers and marketers deploy it to describe a whole range of inappropriate products. It’s time we stopped using it.

Terroir is like quantum mechanics. Nobody can fully understand or explain it, though we are all aware of its existence. And much like the refusal of a quantum particle to be independently measured, as soon as I hear the word terroir in spirits, I know it isn’t at play. It vanishes at the sound of its name, like the opposite of Beetlejuice.

But for the purposes of this article, I’ll offer my own interpretation. Terroir is the flavour imparted by the idiosyncrasies of the location of its production. It’s a word owned by the wine world. It speaks not only of microclimates, polycultures, soils and sunlight, but also of tradition, culture, history and identity. Terroir is introspective. Terroir is retrospective. 

All very lofty. Perhaps I should explain what terroir is not. Terroir is not foraged local botanicals thrown in with sourced imports. Terroir is not a meaningless buzz-word employed by uncreative creatives. Terroir is not synonymous with small batch. Or ethos. Or foraged. Or local. Or mountainside. Or handmade.

Grace O’ Reilly from Waterford in Ireland

“The terroir, [is not] the process and the people ensure passion, innovation and tradition are poured into every bottle of Caorunn Gin”, according to a certain master distiller. There. I fixed it. 

Just for the record, claiming terroir in gin is pretty much always nonsense. Chances of you growing your own source material, fermenting it with wild yeast, then undoing all that hard work by distilling to 96%+ ABV, before sourcing juniper form Macedonia and orange peel from Seville pretty much makes a mockery of your idea of terroir. Because let’s face it, you’ve bought in your spirit, and your handful of locally-foraged botanicals aren’t going to cut it.

Similarly, rum has little claim to the word. I shan’t argue that some distilleries display characteristic styles, but where does the molasses come from? Some may be local. Most of it is shipped in bulk from Guyana. A rum company that imports spirit from a plethora of islands, making no reference to the molasses source, and part ages the product in Europe in French oak, should not be using the term terroir, grand or otherwise. 

As for whisky? Not likely. The overwhelming majority of Scotch produced uses barley from outside Scotland. There are those, like the chaps at Bruichladdich who source individual fields grown by local farmers, and as these ferment there’s a case for terroir. But if the distillation wasn’t destructive enough, the distillate is then aged in mostly American casks, or ex-sherry butts, all of which are most likely made from quercus alba, which isn’t even grown on this continent. Don’t tell me there’s terroir after all of that. 

That’s why vodka can probably use the term. There’s so little of anything else, that if the source starch is from a unique place, then its shadow grows long and reaches the bottle. Vestal does this well with some niche expressions made from individual potato varieties. Belvedere does it too. The other 99.9999% of vodka does not. As for Tequila & mezcal? Well, OK, maybe they have a claim, the blancos at least. 

Terroir can exist in spirits, barely, like fading colours of a painting left in decades of the afternoon sun, but until the likes of Waterford start delivering it in whiskey, it just doesn’t yet.

Not that any of that matters. It doesn’t take a genius (or a well-funded PR campaign) to see that a change in the source material will indeed change the resulting product. Stills aren’t that efficient (thank goodness or we’d all be drinking vanilla flavoured vodka). But, terroir exists in wine because there we have fermentation, followed perhaps by some subtle ageing, (and the low ABV of the ferment minimises cask influence) followed by bottling. Sure, there may be some filtration and other manipulations, but in a good wine there should be no greater influence than the grapes and the fermentation, without distillation to eviscerate terroir’s legacy. 

Nate Brown

Nate Brown in action behind the bar

So yes, talk about local provenance, sure. Incorporate your heritage and your surroundings by all means, but don’t use terroir. Try ‘sense of place’. Or ‘parochial’. Wouldn’t parochial spirits be a nicer term to band around? Because we really have to draw the line at a terroir-inspired (glass, blue highlighted) bottle design. Give me a break. 

I personally believe that terroir in spirits is possible, but I cannot reconcile this scale and commercialisation. I can fantasise about a poitin maker in the hills of Galway, growing his own grains and spuds for his tea, putting a bushel aside to ferment with wild yeasts, a rough, basic single distillation to ‘up the burn’ to ‘make something worth drinking, boy’, all done on a homemade still made from scrap parts and an old bucket. This is how his Daddy did it. And his Daddy before him. This is how he’ll teach his nephew to do it. This is terroir, it’ll be found in the place where the word has never been mentioned. See? It’s quantum. 

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

 

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