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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: whisky

Top 10 delicious drinks for Mother’s Day!

Mother’s Day is fast approaching! Don’t forget to treat your mum with something tasty – luckily we’ve rounded up a whole range of gift-worthy tipples right here… This is your…

Mother’s Day is fast approaching! Don’t forget to treat your mum with something tasty – luckily we’ve rounded up a whole range of gift-worthy tipples right here…

This is your friendly reminder to get your hands on something delicious for Mother’s Day (it’s on 14 March, FYI). Nothing beats cracking open a bottle together, though this year it’s probably going to be a little different – let the Zoom drinks commence! Nonetheless, you can rest easy knowing that you picked out a top bottle for her to enjoy for the occasion. 

Brilliant bottles await! 

Lind & Lime Gin

Lind & Lime Gin

Your mum will love a gorgeous bottle of delicious gin, and that’s exactly what we have here – Lind & Lime Gin is the first release from Edinburgh’s Port of Leith Distillery! The zesty spirit was inspired by Dr. James Lind of Edinburgh, who first made the link between citrus fruits and scurvy. Alongside a good dose of lime citrus there’s pink peppercorn and juniper spice, too. Plus, after it’s been drunk, you could use the bottle for all sorts of other purposes. Candle holder. Vase. Lamp. The list goes on!

What does it taste like? Bright citrus, fresh and authentic. Juniper is oily and subtly spicy, bolstered by pink pepper and cardamom warmth.

Jaffa Cake Rum

Jaffa Cake Rum

Orange and chocolate. A dynamic duo, and flavours you’ll often find in aged rum. The folks behind Jaffa Cake Rum went one step further, a blended Caribbean rum with real life Jaffa cakes, alongside oranges, fresh orange peel and cocoa powder! Make sure to whip your mum up a Rum Old Fashioned, garnished with a Jaffa cake – failing that, a ribbon of orange peel will do. Mother’s Day drinks, done!

What does it taste like? Zesty orange, cake-y vanilla, and tropical fruit tang, with dark chocolate and bittersweet coffee bringing balance.

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old

Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old

Whether your mum is a seasoned sipper or looking to explore the world of whisky, Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old is a superb choice. The delicate and flavoursome Highland single malt was aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry casks, with just a smidge of smoke running through it. Sublime stuff, and maybe she’ll even share a dram with you if you’re nice enough to give it to her!  

What does it taste like? Oily and nutty, with almond and butterscotch alongside heather honey, malt biscuits, and oaky vanilla. 

Chapel Down Sparkling Bacchus 2019

Chapel Down Sparkling Bacchus 2019

Our Kentish neighbours at Chapel Down know exactly how to make the most out of their Bacchus grapes, and this sparkling wine is one such example! This is a wonderfully refreshing English wine, brimming with vibrant fruit and gentle vanilla notes, all carried by fine bubbles. The perfect bottle to pop open on 14 March!

What does it taste like? Elderflower, pineapple, mango, citrus, cut grass, and nectarine.

Mermaid Pink Gin

Mermaid Pink Gin

Remember what we said literally just now about beautiful bottles and delicious gin? Well, not to hammer the point home, but we’ve got another brilliant example here from the Isle of Wight Distillery! It’s a blushing variant of its gorgeous Mermaid Gin, infused with strawberries from the aforementioned isle. Think bright berry fruitiness balanced by savoury rock samphire and herbaceous Boadicea hops, and you’re there. Pair with a splash of elderflower tonic and handful of fresh strawberries, and serve it straight to your mum. A sure way to become the favourite!

What does it taste like? A burst of bright berries initially, with citrus and piney notes, balanced by subtly coastal samphire.

Starward (New) Old Fashioned

Starward (New) Old Fashioned

Mother’s Day calls for cocktails! Though if you’re not familiar with the ol’ shaker or stirrer, a pre-bottled serve might be the best option. This is the (New) Old Fashioned from Starward in Australia, made with its very own whisky, house-made bitters, and, for an extra Australian touch, wattleseed demerara syrup. If you have ice and a glass, then you’re ready to serve this tasty tipple!

What does it taste like? Sharp orange, stewed berries and strawberry jam, oak, a hint of mint leaf.

Project #173 Pineapple Rum

Project #173 Pineapple Rum

A tropical treat for you from the Project #173 range, made with a delicious top-quality rum base which has been flavoured with the tangy delights of pineapple! It’s totally gift-worthy too, because it’s presented in a bottle adorned with actual 23 karat gold leaf. Go on and make Mother’s Day Daiquiri with this. It’s like a normal Daiquiri, except you’ve made it on Mother’s Day without being asked!

What does it taste like? Vibrant pineapple, and tangy tropical fruit, with fried banana, runny caramel, and a crackle of peppery spice.

Dr. Squid Gin

Dr. Squid Gin

Yes, this is unusual, but that’s what makes this Cornish tipple amazing! Dr. Squid Gin is from the Pocketful of Stones Distillery in Penzance, and it’s made with real squid ink – we know you saw that one coming, you read the name, right? As such, there’s a coastal touch to the spirit, balanced by those classic notes of juniper, citrus, and spice. As if it wasn’t cool enough, it even turns bright pink when mixed with tonic water! And it’s presented in a copper flask! See? Cool!

What does it taste like? Juniper and citrus kick it off, with a subtly savoury sea breeze running through, along with a helping of sweeter florals.

Caoruun Gin

Caorunn Small Batch Gin

First things first, if you’re going to give Caorunn Gin to your mum, you’re going to have to know how to pronounce it. It’s ‘ka-roon’. You’ll also probably want to know what’s in the Scottish spirit, and it’s local botanicals galore! Hand-picked rowan berry, heather, coul blush apple, and dandelion feature in here, and its signature serve is with a good quality tonic and slice of apple to garnish.

What does it taste like? Floral heather, woody juniper, and green, leafy notes, with a burst of citrus and spice.

Drinks by the Dram 12 Dram Premium Gin Collection

Drinks by the Dram 12 Dram Premium Gin Collection

Drinks by the Dram has taken all the hard work out of choosing by doing it for you, rounding up 12 of its favourite gins in this gorgeous collection. Within you’ll find 12 wax-sealed 30ml drams from all over the world – we’re talking England, Australia, Finland, and more! It’s the perfect shape for easy wrapping (should you be so inclined), though covered in florals it’s pretty just as it is.

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Say cheese, with whisky

From rich crumbly blues with peated Islays to Parmigiano-Reggiano with a cask strength Highlander, the world of Scotch whisky and cheese pairing is rich and (ful)filling. Lucy Britner talks match…

From rich crumbly blues with peated Islays to Parmigiano-Reggiano with a cask strength Highlander, the world of Scotch whisky and cheese pairing is rich and (ful)filling. Lucy Britner talks match pointers and favourite combinations with a handful of whisky experts 

A great whisky and cheese pairing is one of life’s little pleasures. And let’s face it, we could all do with a few of those at the moment.

The rules of cheese and whisky pairing

Like many food and drink pairings, there are a few basic rules to observe when it comes to getting your dram and your dairy to dance. Of course, once you have observed them, you can enjoy breaking those rules or making up new ones of your own.

Gordon Dundas, international brand ambassador at Ian Macleod Distillers, says the old adage of looking for a complement or a contrast is the first port of call. Matthew Cordiner, global brand ambassador for Bacardi’s single malts concurs and demonstrates both a complement and a contrast in his pairings (below).

Beyond that, Dundas says “peat level, cask maturation and alcohol strength are the three things you should be looking out for” when choosing a cheese. 

He says stronger whiskies generally have a more robust mouthfeel, meaning hard cheeses are usually a good match, whereas peated whiskies need big flavours, such as blue cheeses.

In Islay, Jackie Thomson, Ardbeg Distillery visitor centre manager, says pairing cheese and whisky is a “win-win challenge, as the fat of the cheese balances the strength of the alcohol”. 

Thomson says there are a few other things that can cement a match: “It is important to find a ‘bridge’ – a fruit, a spice, a nut, a type of bread or biscuit – which will facilitate the marriage between the solid and the liquid.”

Cheese dreams: Top picks from our experts
Ardbeg and cheese tasting

Ardbeg and cheese, these are two of our favourite things

Jackie Thomson, Ardbeg Distillery visitor centre manager

Ardbeg Uigeadail, 54,2% ABV, with blue Stilton

Thomson suggests serving the two with a salad of green leaves, chopped walnuts, dressing with orange juice and zest and olive oil.

“The tanginess of the blue cheese meets the smoky profile of the whisky. The walnut and orange are an echo to the sherried maturation of Uigeadail – this is a truly flavoursome matching.”

Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5 year old, 47.4% ABV, with a Taleggio

To be enjoyed with an olive or bacon focaccia.

“Taleggio is a smear-ripened Italian cheese with a strong flavour and a creamy texture. The rind is washed during the ageing process and is edible,” Thomson explains. “It reveals some fruity and buttery notes and a slight acidity in the finish. There is an interesting combination of flavours with the meaty character of the whisky and the soft texture of the cheese tames the whisky’s spicy outburst at mid-palate.”

Aberfeldy and Craigellachie with cheese 2

Cheese and whisky gang thegither

Matthew Cordiner, global brand ambassador for Bacardi’s single malts

Cordiner keeps things local with his selection of cheeses from Edinburgh’s I.J. Mellis.

Aberfeldy 12 year old, 40% ABV, with Hebridean Blue

“The sharp, salty notes of the Hebridean Blue worked well with the honeyed sweet notes of the Aberfeldy giving a rich, rounded and creamy mouthfeel overall.”

Craigellachie 13 year old, 46% ABV, with Auld Reekie – a smoked cows’ cheese from Aberdeenshire

“Unlike the Aberfeldy which was more of a reverse pairing, the Craigellachie and Auld Reekie was a perfectly complementary pairing, with the creamy tropical fruit notes and wisp of bonfire smoke from the whisky working beautifully alongside the creamy and smoky taste of the cheese, which is itself smoked in Aberdeenshire over old whisky barrels.”

Sandy McIntyre and Gordon Dundas

Sandy McIntyre and Gordon Dundas

Gordon Dundas, international brand ambassador at Ian Macleod Distillers

Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch 8, 59.2% ABV, with aged Parmigiano-Reggiano

“A harder, flavoursome cheese, like an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, will really cut through that high strength. The whisky is matured in both sherry and bourbon casks, so it’s not overtly rich, more fruity although strong and intense. As a result, it contrasts the strong crystal style of the cheese but balances out flavour-wise, giving a long combined finish.”

Glengoyne 12 year old, 43% ABV, with Brie

“For a lighter, bourbon-influenced whisky, such as Glengoyne 12 year old, you want something that complements. Brie is light and creamy and will appear sweeter with the vanilla and calm the zestiness of the whisky.”

 

Ian Logan, international brand ambassador, Chivas Brothers

Glenlivet XXV, 43% ABV, with Camembert and chutney

“This was a creation of John Williams at The Ritz. With the XXV being finished in first-fill Oloroso casks for a couple of years, we managed to get a cheese that complemented perfectly. The chutney was made up of raisins, almonds, spices, apricots, dates and with the sweetness of the coconut, it couldn’t be a better match for those sherry casks. It was served with rye bread on the side for a little extra spice. A wonderful memory of a wonderful evening at The Ritz.”

Glenlivet 15 year old French Oak Reserve, 40% ABV, with Parmigiano-Reggiano

“Those new French oak casks are bringing heaps of sweetness and spice to the game, lots of lactones and vanilla from the Tronçais oak. Often as Parmigiano gets older, there is more spice to be found and that was the perfect foil for the sweetness of the casks and a complement to the spice from the wood. This match was proposed by Martine Nouet.”

GlenDronach-Reviva

The mighty Revival, great with cheese

And here’s one of my own

GlenDronach 15 year old Revival, 46% ABV, with vintage cheddar 

“It is customary in my house to enjoy Christmas cake with a slice of mature cheddar. For this reason, I’d go for something like GlenDronach 15 year old Revival, which is matured in Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez casks, paired with a crumbly mature cheddar cheese. The tang of the cheddar is the perfect match for rich, dried-fruity whiskies and the GlenDronach also has some great caramelised walnut flavours that work well with the rich and bold flavour of the cheese. Extra points for older cheddars with crystals, for extra mouthfeel.”

The beauty of whisky and cheese pairing is that you can go totally bonkers and spend a fortune on artisan cheeses and rare whiskies – or you can go totally Tesco and do it all on a more modest budget. There are perfect partners for every dram and no doubt there’s even a match for the DairyLea Dunker. 

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2020 Diageo Special Releases masterclass videos

The fabulous MoM film crew headed up to Scotch at The Balmoral in Edinburgh to capture the joy of three whisky experts tasting the 2020 Diageo Special Releases, once again…

The fabulous MoM film crew headed up to Scotch at The Balmoral in Edinburgh to capture the joy of three whisky experts tasting the 2020 Diageo Special Releases, once again themed ‘Rare by Nature’. 

Cast your minds back to August 2020, when Diageo released its eagerly-awaited annual Special Releases. The collection of cask strength Scotch whiskies didn’t disappoint – it brought back the ‘Rare by Nature’ theme, which first appeared in the 2019 collection, with the same distilleries making an appearance, too. The liquid was all new, however, so there were surprises among the familiarity. We were lucky enough to have Diageo whisky brand ambassador TJ Littlejohn, bar manager at The Balmoral Cameron Ewen, and bar manager at The Devil’s Advocate Stefanie Anderson on hand to sip us through five of these stellar expressions. 

Diageo Special Releases 2020 - group image bottles

Some tasty drams here!

Let’s take a look, shall we?

Cardhu 11 Year Old with Cameron Ewen

Here’s what we said about it:

On the nose, this is a pretty juicy, wood-forward wonder, rounded out with loads of green fruit (mouth-watering apple especially), and some boiled sweets – pear drops and rhubarb and custard. On the palate, it’s creamy, buttery and lifted by a smidge of pepper. The finish is long, lingering and warming.

Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old with TJ

Here’s what we said about it:

A mega-aged Dalwhinnie, often thought of as the gentle dram. And this continues its reputation! The nose is soft, herbal and shortbread-led, while the palate comes through with soft sweet spices – a smidge of cinnamon with a helping of orchard fruit. The finish plays up on the spices.

Lagavulin 12 Year Old with Stefanie Anderson

Here’s what we said about it:

An earthy delight! This packs an ashy punch, with pronounced smoky notes, but with lashings of boiled sweets, too. It’s lively, packed full of sweet spices, and there’s a vanilla ice cream cone note in with all the medicinal qualities. The finish is super long, with waft after waft of smoke.

Singleton of Dufftown 17 Year Old with TJ

Here’s what we said about it:

A more chilled out expression, but still all-around delicious. The nose is waxy with honeycomb and magnolia vibes, while on the palate there’s a cream soda suggestion, along with British orchard fruits. The medium finish has hints of ginger, too.

Talisker 8 Year Old with Stefanie Anderson

Here’s what we said about it:

The expression of Special Releases 2020 for us. And the first from the distillery to be matured in ex-pot still Caribbean rum casks! It’s aromatic and smoke-led, but with pear drop, seaweed and even a meatiness on the nose, too. The palate adds in tropical fruit hints and peppery spices, while the finish blends in chilli pepper, too.

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What on earth is new make spirit?

Today, Millie Milliken takes a dive into the surprisingly rich world of new make spirit. Unaged whisky can be delicious, packed full of character and a great cocktail ingredient. Who…

Today, Millie Milliken takes a dive into the surprisingly rich world of new make spirit. Unaged whisky can be delicious, packed full of character and a great cocktail ingredient. Who needs barrels anyway?

The beauty of a long-aged and nuanced whisky is a wonderful thing. There’s the romanticism of the angels’ share, the complex flavour imparted by the carefully-chosen casks, choice of barrel the whisky patiently rests in and its resulting complexity; and finally that magical amber hue sparkling in a cut crystal decanter. Bring me my smoking jacket!

Then there’s new make spirit: there’s no colour or age statement. Despite being as close as you can get to whisky DNA and with its own fascinating history, it has to be one of the world’s most unrecognised and unappreciated spirit subcategories.

So, what’s the beef with new make? We got in touch with whisky producers and open-minded bartenders to find out why we should be paying more attention to this enigmatic, young spirit.

What is new make spirit?

In a nutshell: unaged whisky. The clear liquid that comes off the still after distillation (packing a punchy abv of around the 70%) and before it’s moved into barrel. Most commonly, it’s associated with Scotch but technically, new make can be any style of whisky: from Finnish unaged rye, to single malt new make made in Tel Aviv.

And then there’s white dog, new make’s American twin, which also goes by the monikers moonshine, hooch and white lightening. It’s the prelude to bourbon whiskey, more Stetsons and swinging saloon doors than wingback armchairs and roaring fires.

Kingsbarns distillery in Fife

Kingsbarns distillery in Fife (credit: Alan Peebles)

Why do some distilleries bottle it?

A lot of distilleries use it as a way of making money while they wait for their whisky to age, giving their distillery guests a glimpse of what’s to come. “We initially did it before we had whisky to sell,” says Peter Holroyd, distillery manager at Fife’s Kingsbarns Distillery which set up shop in 2014. “It’s great for people to taste something from where they have visited, especially when it isn’t hiding behind any oak.”

While, of course, it comes with its practical uses, there is also a very real value to being able to present customers with the liquid that acts as a base for a distilleries many different expressions. “We always talk about a flavour profile at Mackmyra Whisky, and I think the best way to explain that really is giving people access to your new make spirit,” explains the Swedish whisky’s Scotland brand ambassador Micky Plummer, who describes the beautifully floral Mackmyra Vit Hund (‘white dog’ in Swedish) as its “DNA”. Holroyd also points out that as many distilleries don’t bottle their new make, for those that do, it provides an interesting niche: “it’s really a curiosity”.

Why don’t we see it more often?

For James Hawkins, head bartender at whisky-focused Sexy Fish, new make’s lack of representation on shelves and on bar menus is the absence of age. According to Hawkins, most people associate whisky with an age statement “so it’s very hard to convince your average consumer that this [new make] is still a good product.”

Sexy Fish lists two new makes on their menus: Nagahama New Make Heavily Peated from the relatively young Nagahama distillery in Japan, and Karuizawa/Ocean Blend ‘White Ship’ a premium and rare new make from the now-closed distillery. Bottled in the early ‘80s, it’s possibly the only remaining insight into what Karuizawa new make would have tasted like.

Michal Maziarz, bars manager at Great Scotland Yard Hotel, agrees that the misconception that anything that distillers create “is rubbish before it goes into the barrel” and the classic categorisation of whisky both play a part in new make staying in the shadows of its older counterpart.

James Hawkins from Sexy Fish using new make spirit

James Hawkins from Sexy Fish pouring some new make

Is now the time to experiment with new make?

The creativity of smaller producers is a factor that Maziarz thinks is contributing to more interesting and better quality new makes making it into bottle. “Small producers have time and knowledge and are willing to experiment right at the beginning of the process with yeast, fermentation and different malts,” he explains.

It certainly seems like now is a good time to drink them with the likes of Lindores Abbey and Kilchoman releasing their own in the last two years (albeit the latter having spent a few months in barrel).

Hawkins thinks that drinkers who have discovered a love for other clear spirits like tequila and mezcal might be the ones to embrace new make in the coming years, looking for a long refreshing drink but with a heavier profile than the likes of gin or vodka. After all, you still get all the flavour characteristics from fermentation and distillation.

How can you drink it?

It really depends on the distillery style, but a lot of new make spirits can be enjoyed as you would a whisky: neat, on the rocks, or with a dash of water.

However, there are plenty of ways it can be used in cocktails too. Holroyd knows the orchard fruit, apple, pear and peach characteristics of Kingsbarns’ new make means it works great as a palate warmer, but also knows of customers and friends who drink it with soda (like a Whisky Highball) or in a Bloody Mary. Indeed, smokier new makes make for an excellent vodka replacement for the latter.

Maziarz reckons these more fruity new makes would be fantastic instead of pisco in a Sour, while bolder and funkier ones would fit nicely in Tiki drinks. Or, you could go simple: “something lightly flavoured like a good quality tonic would work”, he says.

Plummer says that replacing gin in some cocktails is a clever approach. For example, making a Vesper Martini swapping the gin for Vit Hund and the vodka for a light whisky. Hawkins admits he’d prefer a New Make Collins over a Vodka Collins every time.

It seems that new make spirit is far less enigmatic and much more versatile than originally thought. Or, as Maziarz lovingly describes it: “quite a clever little kid.”

Two new makes worth discovering:

Kyro Jurii Unaged Rye

Perhaps my favourite new make spirit, this unaged rye from the maverick Finish distillery is bursting with flavours of warm rye bread, spice and subtle notes of liquorice. Delicious on its own.

Thompson Bros Single Malt New Make

This lovely drop from the Dornoch Distillery is the beginnings of its single malt whisky and displays fruity notes of crisp apple and lime with the undertone of malty characteristics.

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Five minutes with… Sarah Elsom, head distiller at Cardrona Distillery

Nestled among snow-capped mountains on New Zealand’s South Island lies family-owned Cardrona Distillery, which recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of its first spirit being laid down in cask. Here, MoM…

Nestled among snow-capped mountains on New Zealand’s South Island lies family-owned Cardrona Distillery, which recently celebrated the fifth anniversary of its first spirit being laid down in cask. Here, MoM talks ancient rose varieties, altitude-accelerated maturation and the wider Kiwi whisky category with head distiller Sarah Elsom…

Set against the backdrop of the South Island of New Zealand – renowned for its mountains, lakes and glaciers – the world’s most southern whisky distillery is surely among the most picturesque on the planet. So stunning are Cardrona’s surroundings (see photo in header), the distillery looks like a 3D rendered image in pictures. Step inside the bright, airy stillhouse with its floor-to-ceiling windows and you’ll enjoy a prime view of the rolling hills – if you can peel your eyes away from the kit: two shiny Forsyth copper pot stills, a Jacob Carl column still, a Jacob Carl finishing still, and a 600-litre copper gin still. 

It’s the culmination of years of planning and research by Desiree Whitaker – who travelled the world learning from whisky’s best teachers, including the late Dave Pickerell, ex-Maker’s Mark and Whistlepig. To make their single malt new make spirit, the team ferments Laurette barley with a yeast variety called Pinnacle, as selected by Whitaker. Pure alpine water is sourced from Mount Cardrona for distilling and bottling. 

Sarah Elsom from Carprona Distillery

Head distiller Sarah Elsom hard at work at Cardrona

The range includes The Source Gin, featuring locally-foraged rosehip; The Reid Single Malt Vodka, which is distilled in a copper pot still before a second distillation in two German column stills; Rose Rabbit liqueurs, including elderflower, orange and butterscotch flavours; Just Hatched single malt, a solera marriage of Oloroso and bourbon-matured casks; and a selection of Just Hatched single cask bottlings, including Oloroso, ex-bourbon and ex-Pinot Noir.

In December 2020, another bottling was added to the line-up. Five years after laying their first cask on 5 November 2015, the team released Growing Wings, which sees their single malt matured exclusively in Oloroso sherry butts for five years. As Cardrona toasts the next stage of its whisky maturation journey, we caught up with head distiller Sarah Elsom…

MoM: Thanks for chatting with us, Sarah! Could you share a little bit of background about Cardrona Distillery?

Sarah Elsom: Its history is quite short but absolutely action-packed. It starts with Desiree, our chief executive and fearless leader. She went off to university to study law, it was not for her so she dropped out and got on a plane to the UK to pour pints in a little bar in East London like so many Kiwis have and fell in love with whisky. Her first distillery visit was on her 21st birthday, when her mother came over to visit, and a seed was planted. On coming back to New Zealand, she grew a small dairy farm into a hugely profitable business, which she eventually sold. That created an opportunity to pursue a passion project, and she settled on perfume. At the distillery we’re surrounded by over 2,000 ancient perfumery roses, which are stunning. Her dream naturally evolved into distillation – and so we are now at a distillery, with beautiful roses growing as we work. She spent years researching and traveling all over the States and Scotland learning the process and made some key connections with industry greats. After years of planning, she settled on the Cardrona Valley. It’s a beautiful location for maturation, we’re at a nice altitude with swings in temperature mediated by clever engineering.

MoM: And where did it all start for you – how long have you been distilling?

SE: This is the very first distillery I’ve worked in, my background is in wine. I studied viticulture and oenology at university, fell in love with it and haven’t really looked back. From university, it was my ticket to see the world. There’s an opportunity to work for the harvest period, because that’s when wineries need all hands on deck. I hopped from south to north hemispheres chasing harvests for about three years. I always came home in between – I’m very close with my family and love New Zealand, it’s a great place to come home to – and during a period at home I learned that Cardrona was being built. It was fantastic timing and an opportunity presented itself. Not as a distiller at first, I was simply going to work part time, learn a little bit more, take tours, but I found myself gravitating back towards production. Our team is very small, I have three distillers that work with me and we are really Desiree’s hands – she’s still so closely connected to everything here, production included. We all happen to be all girls, though not by design. 

Stills at Cardrona Distillery in New Zealand

The still set-up at Cardrona Distillery. Shiny!

MoM: Could you run us through your distillery equipment, and explain how it creates the style of single malt spirit you’re looking for?

SE: Cardrona is the largest distillery in New Zealand, but very small on an international scale. Our mash tun was custom built by Forsyths. Our copper pot stills are Forsyths, they’re hand-beaten, short, squat, and have a large boiler bulb in the middle, so lots of reflux and copper interaction – the surface area to volume ratio of a wash to copper is high on the copper side. Our new make is comparatively quite sweet, there’s a richness and almost toffee-like note that is incredibly soft for a raw spirit. Maybe it’s due to the climate, the altitude and the accelerated maturation from that, but our young whiskies are looking older than what you expect them to be. When Desiree initially started out, she didn’t want to go younger than 10, she wanted her first whisky on the shelf to be near perfect. But they’re looking that good that we wanted to share the progress with our community. This year we’re looking forward to the five year old.

MoM: Have you experimented with different barley varieties, yeast strains or casks?

SE: Right now we’re probably too small to demand micro-level scales in terms of barley. It’s Desiree’s dream to have New Zealand-grown barley malted on site, that will be our opportunity to play with different varieties as we look to a more local supply. For now, we take the absolute best that we can secure. Because we’re still so new, experimentation isn’t total changes in recipe – it’s honing our craft and continuously improving our processes to let the barley speak for itself. We put a lot of emphasis on fermentation – if you don’t create [flavours] in fermentation, you can’t concentrate and collect them in distillation. We kept the maturation programme quite traditional at first and have started introducing local wine barrels, considering Port, Sauternes and Chardonnay to see how it looks. To make a fantastic new make spirit and let this natural vessel do its work – versus pouring that work into the field – was a real 180 for me. It makes it all the more exciting because it’s so different from what I was used to.

The team at Cardrona Distillery New Zealand

Meet the team and note the lovely scenery

MoM: You use some botanicals that you forage from the estate to make your gin – how variable are they over the seasons and how have you gone about creating a consistent spirit?

SE: There is a botanical in the gin, rosehip, that grows in the valley. It was planted by Chinese gold miners – 150 years ago, this place was was full of thousands of people searching for gold. It’s really cold in winter, so they planted rosehip to create these very rich vitamin C teas to fight off scurvy, and it just took to the valley. We pick it at that time of the year it’s budding and dry it out, so that takes away a lot of inconsistencies. The elderflower for our liqueur also grows in the valley, the launch each year is dictated by when the flower is in bloom and we can find a window when it’s not raining and the flowers are dry and smelling really sweet. Citrus has to come from the North Island, it’s not quite warm enough here. We use the peels fresh, so it’s just a matter of using them straight away. Unfortunately we cannot grow juniper, the local council won’t allow you to plant anything that would acidify the soil. Anything that’s classed as a pine competes with the native flora and fauna here. I’m somewhat grateful for that because it is not an easy plant to deal with, it’s quite gnarly. So we bring that in from a New Zealand-based trader. We’ve seen inconsistencies from that and we mitigate them by milling the juniper according to the oil content of the pine cones. We played with different infusion times in the spirit prior to distillation to really let that juniper shine through. 

MoM: And finally – though it’s early days, what would you say are the hallmark flavours of a Kiwi whisky?

SE: What we don’t want to do is pigeonhole a flavour profile too early. We’re at this really exciting point of the industry where people can start a distillery and go in any direction they want, and it would be the worst thing ever if we decided that a New Zealand whisky had to taste a certain way. We just want to make the best whisky that we can, that will always be our goal – to stand on the shelves with the greats. The conversation needs to focus more on ensuring quality and authenticity, because New Zealand is our brand as well as Cardrona – people see New Zealand on a bottle and they have expectations. The more styles of whisky that come out of New Zealand, the better. 

The Cardrona range is available from Master of Malt.

We are sad to say that for the time being this is Annie Hayes last piece for Master of Malt. She’s been with us since 2017 first as a staffer and then contributing freelance work. We just want to say thank you for all the fascinating, amusing and beautifully-written articles, and wish her well for the future. Here’s raising a glass of something fancy to you Annie.

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Enjoy Burns Night 2021 at home

Just in case you thought you wouldn’t be getting your usual yearly dose of whisky, haggis and poetry, don’t worry, like everything these days, it’s now taking place online. Here…

Just in case you thought you wouldn’t be getting your usual yearly dose of whisky, haggis and poetry, don’t worry, like everything these days, it’s now taking place online. Here are some of the best virtual Burns Nights out there.

Burns Night 2021 is on Monday 25 January. Evenings celebrating Scotland’s bard are now international, apparently the Phoenicia Hotel in Beirut normally puts on a particularly lavish one, but this year most of us will be stuck at home. 

If you thought, however, you were going to be sitting on your own with a microwave haggis and a copy of the Collected Poems of Robert Burns, then think again. A number of restaurants, bars, shops and distillers are putting on virtual Burns Nights this year. These range from the complete package where you get everything including a haggis (best order as soon as possible) to music events where you bring your own whisky (like these ones, perhaps?) 

However you want to do it, make sure you raise a glass to the Bard on Monday, and while you’re at it, why not enter our Roberts Burns poetry competition for the chance to wine two bottles of Islay whisky and a Glencairn tasting glass?

Boisdale Burns Night supper

Nice facemask Rabbie!

Burns Night with Boisdale

As you might expect from the name of the proprietor, Ranald MacDanald, Boisdale in London is doing things properly with its Burns Night supper. From 7.30pm on Monday, there will be a piper, Donald Maclaren of clan Maclaren, no less, music from Tallia Storm, a whisky tasting with Mark Tracey from LVMH, and James Cosmo star of Highlander and Braveheart will address the Haggis (fearsomely, we presume). Plus, there are three dining options, all complete with a Rob Roy cocktail and drams of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. All from the comfort of your own home! Order now to make sure you get your package in time. Go to Boisdale’s website for more information. 

Macsween Haggis Burns Night

Well, it wouldn’t be Burns Night without a haggis, the Great chieftain o’ the pudding race, as Burns put it. So you won’t be surprised to hear that Scotland’s best-known haggis makers Macsween will be hosting a Burns Night event on its Facebook page from 7pm on Monday 25 January. James Mcsween commented: “We didn’t want anyone to miss out because of the times we live in. That’s why we are inviting people from across the world to join Macsween with Karen Dunbar, who is a stand out favourite at Burns Suppers, and the trailblazing master blender Dr Rachel Barrie from Benriach distillery.” The event is free, you’ll have to bring your own food and drink but there’s still plenty of time to order your haggis and some Benriach whisky from Master of Malt.

Luvians Lockdown – Burns Night Drams

St. Andrews’ premier whisky shop is putting on an online tasting from 7pm on Monday (cut off date for shipping is 21 January). To take part, pick up a £30 tasting kit consisting of six 20ml drams from distilleries that were operation in Burns’ lifetime including Glenturret, Bowmore, Strathisla, Balblair, Oban and, controversially, Glen Garioch. “This year we are celebrating Burn’s Night with a trio of tastings celebrating the Best of Scotland. What else could we do on the big night itself than whisky,” it says. On the night there will be a zoom tasting with Archie McDiarmid from Luvians, and possibly, we’re told, some poetry. Go to the Facebook page to find out more.

Celebrate Burns Night With Glasgow Distillery, Virtually

Glasgow Distillery, the first malt distillery in the city for over 100 years, is teaming up with Once Upon a Whisky to put on not one but three Burns Night events on 21, 25 and 28 January. Buy a ticket and you will get to taste five whiskies from the distillery, four single malts and a blended malt, and, according to the website, “recount some stories and facts regarding the artistic life of Robert Burns and toast to one of the most renowned Scottish personalities.” Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Go to the Facebook page for more information. 

Big Burns Night In

Taking place on Saturday 23 January at 7pm, this one is all about the music. It’s hosted by Edith Bowman and features music from an amazing array of musicians including Talisk (we’d wager they’re fans of Isle of Skye single malts), Iona Lee, Lennie Pennie, and, speakers Gerry Curruthers and Chris Waddell (not to be confused with legendary England footballer and mullet owner Chris Waddle). There will also be a cocktail masterclass from Anna Mitchell from Glenlivet. Tickets available here, you’ll have to provide your own whisky, and haggis. 

Make the perfect whisky sauce with Dewar’s 

So you’ve bought the haggis, brushed up on your Burns and you’ve ordered whisky, now in conjunction with Dewar’s, head chef and owner of Ballintaggart Chris Rowley will show you how to make the perfect whisky sauce this Burns Night. The recipe includes shallots, garlic, double cream, wholegrain and Dijon mustard, chives, lemon juice and, of course, whisky. Taking place on Monday 25 January on Facebook Live the event will include brand ambassador Gary Ross talking you through Dewar’s 12 Year Old, Craigellachie 13 and Aberfeldy 16. All of which can still, as of 22 January, be ordered in time for Burns Night from Master of Malt.

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Introducing: Try January!

We’ve got a solution to the blandness of the season. A way to try a whole bunch of whiskies, literally risk-free. Behold: Try January! Ahhh January. A time for new…

We’ve got a solution to the blandness of the season. A way to try a whole bunch of whiskies, literally risk-free. Behold: Try January!

Ahhh January. A time for new starts, resolutions, turning over a new leaf. It might be a time for forming new habits, learning a new skill, upping the exercise regimen. These things can all be good. But January can also feel, well… a bit dull. A bit grey. Somewhat lacking in excitement. So let us help. We’ve come up with a way to inject some flavour into a time of year that can be somewhat bland. Ready the tasting glasses and get set for Try January!

What’s this, you say? We’ve got a whole bunch of drams set aside for you that we reckon you’ll really like. Some of these are old favourites, some are more unusual bottlings. Some are the slightly fancier version of a drinks cabinet staple. We’ve even picked out some delectable samples that we highly recommend for whisky newbies (now’s the time if you’re trying to get your friend into whisky over a Zoom tasting!). Basically, each 30ml taster has been chosen by our team here because we really like it. And we want to make it super easy to try before you buy!

Here’s how it works. Buy one of these drams, and we’ll zip you over a Master of Malt voucher to the value of that dram. So you’re basically getting to try it for free! We hope you’ll love your dram so much that you use your voucher towards the cost of a full bottle. But really you can use it for anything you like on the site. We’ll get vouchers out to you by 5 February, so keep you eyes peeled!

You can see the full list over on our Try January page, but here’s just five to whet your whisky appetite.

Here’s the Try January lowdown:

Literally try before you buy with Try January!

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old Cask Strength

Got a taste for all things smoky? Then you need to try this 10 year old single malt from an undisclosed Islay distillery. 10% of it has been finished in first-fill Oloroso octave casks, so there’s a good helping of sweetness in there, too. 

Literally try before you buy with Try January!

Talisker 8 Year Old (Special Release 2020)

A tip-top Talisker from 2020’s sought-after Diageo Special Releases collection. It’s been finished in ex-pot still Caribbean rum casks – the first time the distillery has used this sort of oak! It’s simply a delight for the palate. 

Literally try before you buy with Try January!

Tomatin 18 Year Old Sherry Cask

A classic single malt here from Highland stalwart Tomatin, aged for a whopping 18 years and finished in Spanish oak ex-Oloroso sherry butts. If you like your whisky bursting with notes of sweet spices, vanilla fudge and honey, this is a must-try.

Literally try before you buy with Try January!

Craigellachie 17 Year Old

A firm favourite here at MoM Towers, Craigellachie 17 Year Old really showcases the distinctive meatiness of the Speyside distillery, thanks in part to its wonderful worm tub condensers. One to really sit with and savour!

Literally try before you buy with Try January!

Loch Lomond Single Grain

New to whisky, or know someone that is? Give this light, bright and breezy single grain a go. It’s perfect for sipping, and also highly ideal in Highball form. Just mix with ice, soda and garnish with a lemon slice – tasty!

Literally try before you buy with Try January!

Literally try before you buy with Try January!

We want to know what you’ve tasted, what you’ve loved, and what you’ve spent your voucher on! Let us know on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, or in the comments below. And Happy Try January!

T&Cs

18+ only and shipping restrictions may apply. Complete purchase of any qualifying drams on masterofmalt.com between 20 Jan 2021 and 3 Feb 2021 (inclusive) to receive an electronic gift voucher of the same value (excluding delivery and any other charges) to use on masterofmalt.com at any time. Subject to Master of Malt standard consumer and gift voucher T&Cs. 

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Going against the grain

As you’re reading this blog, we assume you’ve drunk whisky made from barley and corn, and probably had some things made from wheat and rye too. But these aren’t the…

As you’re reading this blog, we assume you’ve drunk whisky made from barley and corn, and probably had some things made from wheat and rye too. But these aren’t the only cereals: what about oats, millet or sorghum? And what on earth is triticale? Ian Buxton investigates. 

What’s whisky made from? Easy: barley, corn, rye and wheat. Custom, practice and legislation have led to the global dominance of these four cereals, and with the many wonderful whiskies that are created from them, we don’t need to look any further.

Well, apparently, we do and a new generation of distillers are asking, ‘what about oats, millet or sorghum?’ Some go even further. Take, for example, Australia’s tiny Adelaide Hills distillery where founder and head distiller Sacha La Forgia explores local varieties such as wattleseed and weeping grass. With his Native Grains releases, he’s aiming to start a debate around diversity, sustainability and the preservation of indigenous species requiring fewer inputs to flourish in their native environment.

Sacha La Forgia from the Adelaide Hills Distillery

Sacha La Forgia from the Adelaide Hills Distillery

La Forgia is part of a global movement that seeks to challenge orthodoxy and offer enthusiast consumers new taste horizons. While in Scotland a limited number of barley varieties have come to dominate production, distillers such as Bruichladdich have looked to whisky’s history to revive the hard-to-grow heritage strain known as bere (see header pic).

Going further into the records, field-to-bottle distillers Ardbikie, located in the fertile farmlands of Scotland’s east coast, have determined that rye was used in making Scotch whisky well into the 19th century. Though enjoying a revival in the USA, Ardbikie’s Highland Rye can proudly claim to be unique in Scotland.

But with the craft distilling movement most fully developed in the USA, it’s here we turn for some more radical experiments.  A number of distillers have released heritage corn varieties, first brought to us by Balcones with their Baby Blue Corn Whisky, amongst them Jeptha Creed Distillery (Shelbyville, KY) with their Bloody Butcher and Charleston, SC High Wire Distilling’s Jimmy Red. For a distinctive take on heritage corn, though, look no further than Mexico’s Abasolo with their use of non-GMO cacahuazintle corn and the 4,000-year-old nixtamalization cooking process (see article here).

Abasolo Mexican Corn whisky

The unique strain of corn that’s the basis for the flavour of Abasolo whisky

The Corsair Distillery in Nashville has pioneered a number of different grains, including quinoa from South America. For something even more off the wall from Corsair, known for its buccaneering approach, just try its Red absinthe: it’s not fairy juice! However, back to quinoa. It’s demanding to work with because of the small size of the grains and their bitter seed coating but almost because of the perversity of that challenge it attracted the attention of Australia’s Whippersnapper distillery who use a Western Australian variety for its earthy and peppery notes.

A vital food source across Africa, sorghum has also found its way into the repertoire of smaller distillers, possibly because of its appeal to the gluten intolerant. As well as High Wire Distilling, Sorghum whiskies include expressions from Still 360 in Saint Louis; Madison, WI’s Old Sugar Distillery and Jersey Artisan Distilling, NJ.

Virtually all of the distillers mentioned are small in scale and unlikely ever to break into the mass market.  But major players have flirted with the alternative grain option, most notably the limited run Jim Beam Harvest Bourbon collection released in 2014 and 2015. The whiskies included Whole Rolled Oat, Soft Red Wheat, Brown Rice and Triticale (a rye/wheat cross also distilled by Dry Fly Distilling in Spokane, WA). Oats, in particular, represented a radical approach for such a large distiller but the collection appears to have been a one-off, with any remaining supplies ironically now more sought after for investment than drinking.

But the drive to experiment cannot be denied and I anticipate unorthodox grains from craft distillers to trend in 2021 and beyond.

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Our favourite posts of 2020

It’s been a bumper year on the blog with over 500 fascinating articles appearing. Earlier this week, we wrote about our most-read ones, but we thought it would be interesting…

It’s been a bumper year on the blog with over 500 fascinating articles appearing. Earlier this week, we wrote about our most-read ones, but we thought it would be interesting to pick our personal favourites too. So here they are!

Our most read posts tend to be whisky news because Master of Malt customers really want to know about in-coming new whiskies. But we also publish more in-depth features with producers, opinion pieces and some good silly stuff. In 2020, despite not being able to travel for most of the year, we managed to continue publishing fascinating, amusing and thought-provoking articles. And not from just in-house scribblers, this year we’ve been proud to commission some of the country’s best drinks writers on a diverse array of topics. 

So, we thought we’d pick some of our highlights. It was not easy to narrow it down to just ten but we’ve got everything from articles aimed squarely at whisky geeks to important scientific research on what snacks go with which spirit. Something for everyone. 

The joy of distillery pets 

We love animals almost as much as we love booze here at MoM so this important article by Lucy Britner was an instant choice. That gorgeous creature above with the film star eyes is Otis from Badachro Distillery.

Why I won’t be opening my bar this December 

There really was only one story this year, and bartender and MoM occasional columnist Nate Brown tackled it head on in this moving look at the difficulties of running a bar with the Covid-19 rules changing the whole time. 

Jim Swan, a legacy of style 

This one got a great response from the industry: our roving whisky expert Ian Buxton took a look at the man who did more than anyone to create the world whisky category. 

Inside Mexico’s first whisky distillery 

Some great writing here from Adam O’Connell. The article manages to do two difficult things extremely well: transport the reader to another country and describe the flavour of a highly distinctive spirit. 

A Long Stride: A history of Johnnie Walker 

2020 was the 200th anniversary of Johnnie Walker. Most of the promised festivities never happened, but we did get this splendid book by Dr Nick Morgan who took the time to talk to us about it. 

Flor de Caña: Rum and adversity in Nicaragua 

Another tremendous bit of armchair travel writing, this time from Annie Hayes. A great story, beautifully told, and it helps that the rum in question is so delicious. 

Everything you wanted to know about peat but were afraid to ask 

Well, the title says it all. This is a rich and rewarding journey into smoke from Annie Hayes which will appeal to those who want to take their whisky knowledge to the next level. 

Lessons in sherry casks with Tamdhu

Another one for whisky nerds, those two simple words sherry and cask can have dozens of different flavour permutations as we learn from Gordon Dundas at Tamdhu.

The story behind the revival of James E. Pepper Whiskey 

An epic tale spanning the centuries told in suitably epic style. This is the article that people will come to again and again when they want to know about this great whiskey brand.

The search for perfect snack & spirit pairings 

And finally… Some actual science here as Sam Smith investigates which spirits go with which snack. The results might surprise you. 

 

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Our top drinks trends for 2021!

From agave spirits to the advent of at-home cocktails, 2021’s drinking trends look set to cement this year’s seismic shifts, rather than usher in a spirits revolution. It’s that time…

From agave spirits to the advent of at-home cocktails, 2021’s drinking trends look set to cement this year’s seismic shifts, rather than usher in a spirits revolution.

It’s that time again – time to get out the [Glencairn] crystal ball and look ahead to what we’ll be drinking in 2021! And if this year taught us anything, it’s that you literally cannot predict what will happen… but in terms of what will be in our glass, we’ll give it a good go..!

We’ve picked out our forecast based on sales patterns here at MoM HQ, plus we’ve kept an eye on social media hubbub, and checked out Google Trends’ search analysis. If you could sum it up in one, we reckon we’ll see more of the same: 2020 largely forced us away from bars, meaning if we wanted a cocktail fix we had to get it at home. At the same time, we all got a little more comfortable with shopping online for spirits (wine and spirits have lagged behind other eCommerce sectors for a while now – think about fashion or electronics). And with a far wider range to shop from than the traditional supermarket aisle, smaller brands and lesser-known categories have got more of their fair share of airtime. 

With all that in mind, here’s what we reckon we’ll see in 2021. Onwards and upwards, folks! 

We made a lot of cocktails at home in 2020

More at-home cocktails

Remember when we were all afraid of getting it a bit wrong when it came to mixing cocktails at home? Now, we’ll literally try anything! From Instagram Live tutorials to dedicated TikTok accounts, we’ve become emboldened when it comes to mixing our own drinks. It’s something we’ve seen in bottle sales, too – vermouth was one of our fastest-growing categories this year to date. Sales of mixers have soared, too. Even the less adventurous among us are buying into pre-bottled cocktails for at-home treats. We think this trend will continue on into 2021 (although let’s face it, as soon as we can, we’re heading back to bars. We miss you!).

The Nightcap

Gin boom – not over yet!

Don’t write off gin – yet

For the last three years it’s been the same question: is the gin boom over? In word, no. But growth is flattening significantly. Could 2021 be gin’s last hurrah? We think there’s still a little more longevity than that. Instead of seeing a proliferation of outlandish flavours, we’re seeing a small but significant return to classic styles, and a few much-loved flavours. This is partly driven by a change in shopping habits – why brave the supermarket for longer than necessary if you can order your favourite gin online instead? A pattern we noticed from Google Trends that’s worth highlighting is a sharp uptick for ‘gin’ searches in the UK as the first lockdown was announced. In tough times we apparently turn to juniper – and long-live classic gins!

bargain rum

Rum was big this year

The continued rise of rum

If flavour fans are deserting gin, where are they heading? The answer continues to be rum. Our rum sales more than tripled in 2020 – driven in large part by the continued taste for spiced and flavoured concoctions. Some of the biggest sellers for the year included Chairman’s Reserve Spiced Rum, Two Swallows Cherry & Salted Caramel Rum, and sister company Atom Labs’ Jaffa Cake Rum. Sweet stuff indeed. The question for us is, will the wider rum category benefit, and do we need some tighter definitions for what makes a rum a rum? Even if they exist in terms of labelling, do we as drinkers understand them? One thing’s for sure, rum is set to get even hotter in 2021.

Storywood Tequila

Blue Weber agave (photo courtesy of Storywood Tequila)

All hail agave spirits!

Here’s an interesting one. We’ve talked a lot about the fast-growing mezcal category, and asked whether it could ultimately upend Tequila. Turns out, in 2020 Tequila’s growth slightly outpaced that of its smoky cousin! We think Tequila has finally outgrown its shots-led reputation, and is growing into itself as a serious sipping and mixing drink. And about time, too – Tequila is thoroughly delicious! It also makes sense in line with wider drink-less-but-better consumption trends. 2021 looks to be Tequila’s year as this trend continues to develop, and we are here for it. 

The Nightcap

Glenmorangie’s striking new campaign

A new age of single malt Scotch

For some time now, single malt Scotch whisky has been trying to reinvent itself. With one eye on the developments of world whisky, American whiskey, and the growing interest in other categories, there’s been a sense of needing to up its game to stay relevant and attract new drinkers. Some of our favourite recent moves in this direction include Glenmorangie’s gorgeous It’s Kind of Delicious and Wonderful ad, and Glenlivet’s Original Since 1824 spot. Marketing is increasingly featuring women, people who aren’t white, and single malt being enjoyed long and in cocktails. There’s genuine excitement around whisky again. Just check out Instagram to see who’s posting about the category, and the imagery put out by this new generation of drinkers. We’re excited to see what 2021 holds for the category.

Stop trying to make hard seltzers happen

… And did our 2020 predictions come true?

As we do each year, twelve months ago we posted our trend predictions for 2020. Did they come true? After a quick glance, we’d give ourselves a solid 8/10 (while cutting ourselves some slack – it’s hardly been a regular year!). Rums were just getting started, world whisky has increased its airtime, vodka continues to grow here at MoM HQ, American whiskeys beyond bourbon are proving popular, we’ve seen more unusual cask finishes come through, and liqueurs have turned a little more traditional. Calvados sales have even soared by almost 300%! However, hard seltzers didn’t make the huge breakthrough promised (although summer parties were off… maybe next year), and while Aquavit and mezcal sales are in significant growth, they didn’t fly quite as predicted. There’s always next year…

What do you think? What are your trends for 2021? What will you be drinking? Let us know on social @masterofmalt, or leave a comment below!

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