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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: whisky

The Nightcap: 24 January

Need a break from practising your Burns Night speech? Tune into The Nightcap, your weekly source of bite-sized booze news! We sell whisky here at Master of Malt. That shouldn’t…

Need a break from practising your Burns Night speech? Tune into The Nightcap, your weekly source of bite-sized booze news!

We sell whisky here at Master of Malt. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. As such, it also should not be a surprise that we quite enjoy said spirit. A third thing that shouldn’t be a surprise is that Burns Night is happening this weekend – that one shouldn’t be a surprise because we’ve been nattering about it for a little while now, along with everyone else that has an affinity for whisky. If you’re in the same boat and heading to a Burns Night celebration, pack that brain full of booze news in case small talk situations arise between bursts of poetry and toasts.

On the blog this week we turned our attention to all things Burns Night, unsurprisingly, rounding-up some sensational Scotch to enjoy on the night, enjoying a Bobby Burns and reminiscing about the worst Burns Night celebrations ever, all while enjoying your poetic entries to our Burns Night competition… Thank you to all who entered, the competition is now closed and the winner will be announced on Monday!

Elsewhere, we launched a new #BagThisBundle competition, Adam heard Black Lines’ case for why you shouldn’t write off draft cocktails and Henry cast his eye on a baijiu producer that wants to land the spirit in the Western market and a bourbon from the Lone Star state. Annie, meanwhile, checked out the UK’s first sake brewery before going down under to learn about Australian wine and the Archie Rose Distillery.

So, what are you waiting for? There’s boozy news to enjoy!

The Nightcap

Hidden haggis, bingo, London’s first whisky wall and more. It’s must be Burns Night!

Burns Night celebrations in full flow this week

With Burns Night tomorrow, there has been a raft of events this week in celebration, as you can imagine. But plenty are forgoing the tradition to mark the day in all kinds of wacky ways, such as The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), who are planning to hide 18 mini haggises around Glasgow city centre in celebration of their new Members’ Room opening on Bath Street in March 2020. The lucky folk who find them have a chance to win an annual membership to the Society, SMWS bottles or tasting glasses. DrinkUp London, meanwhile, is offering all kinds of deals for its Scotch Whisky Weekend, while still finding time to host BenRiach’s ‘painting by tasting notes’ workshop with landscape artist Ellis O’Connor and master blender Rachel Barrie, in which you can create your own artwork inspired by tasting notes. A night full of bingo shenanigans from Bobby’s Burns Bingo awaits those who go to New York bodega-inspired bar Liquorette, which is celebrating Burns Night with an American twist with Chivas global brand ambassador Rhys Wilson. He will be calling the numbers and handing out the prizes ranging from Chivas 12 and 18 year old bottles, home whisky blending kits, nights out at Liquorette and tickets to Chivas Blend experience. London’s oldest whisky specialist Milroy’s is doing its own more traditional Burns Night in Spitalfields tonight with complimentary drinks thanks to Crabbie Whisky alongside haggis, poetry and music. One event we know for sure was a success was Mac & Wild’s Burns Warm Up Party with Copper Dog last night, which featured live entertainment, masterclasses, London’s first whisky wall, Bone Marrow Whisky Luge experiences and all kinds of tasty Scottish street food. Oh, and Paul Young has been making signature Burns Night chocolate made in collaboration with Glen Moray (we can vouch for its deliciousness), proving that chocolate belongs at every occasion. It’s great to see so many so keen to toast Scotland’s national bard. Slange var!

The Nightcap

This could be yours. For free. No, really.

Silk Road Distillers is giving away free rum

This is not a drill. It’s not a scam. There are no pirates involved in this rum, folks. No, free samples of rum (excluding post and package) can truly be yours thanks to the marketing initiative of a startup rum brand in London. Silk Road Distillers is backing 2020 to be the year of rum (it’s not alone) and the spirit producers are so keen to show off their new creation that they are charging absolutely nothing (excluding post and package) for the pleasure. This isn’t any ordinary rum, no. The sample you’ll receive is full of white spiced rum. A white rum that was infused with six botanicals. It truly is a brave new world. “2020 is going to be all about rum, and we can’t wait to be a part of it”, says George Agate, founder of Silk Road Distillers, “We’re hoping to get loads of samples out for Try-January, and we know once someone tries it, it will be their go-to drink for the year”. Silk Road Distillers also wants you to ditch Rum and Coke for this one and instead try out a Rum and Tonic, which admittedly is an often overlooked serve. Each 50ml is only available until the end of the month, 31st January 2020 from hereNow get ordering!

The Nightcap

A section of bookcase opens to reveal this secret bar, James Bond villain-style.

‘Secret’ bar opens in Great Scotland Yard Hotel

When we turned up, rather late, it has to be said, for the launch of a new bar at the Great Scotland Yard Hotel, we were a little confused as there was nobody to be seen. Maybe, we’d got the wrong day. All became clear, however, when the bartender from the hotel’s other bar, 40 Elephants, pressed discreet button and, James Bond villain-style, a section of bookcase opened to reveal a secret bar. It’s called Sibín, as in an Irish drinking den (sometimes spelt shebeen). The drinks menu takes a turn for the unexpected too with old classics given a tune-up. The Rusty Nail is made with two types of Talisker and Drambuie is left to oxidise for two days to mellow. Bars manager Michal Mariarz adds a little PX to his Smokey Cokey, Lagavulin 16 year old and Coke. Most innovative of all was bartender Alex Williams’ concoction, the Clear Conscience. Based on that old classic the Grasshopper, it’s made with poitin, Branca Menta and all kinds of scientific stuff to make something that smells just like a Matchmaker mint. For the more classically-inclined there are unusual whiskies like a 2005 Caol Ila part-matured in Hermitage red wine casks. The hotel located just off Trafalgar Square and housed in the former HQ of the Metropolitan Police, opened last year and already feels like a classic venue.  

Record number of ‘visitations’ at Buffalo Trace

Whiskey tourism in Kentucky is now a big thing: Buffalo Trace has just released figures that show that 294,996 people visited the distillery last year, 35% up on last year and a massive 466% up on 2010. The press release describes it as a “record-breaking visitation streak” which makes it sound like Kentucky has had an unusual number of divine interventions. All these visitors (divine or otherwise) have come during a $1.2 billion investment scheme. Yes, you read the right. 1.2 billion dollars. This includes a new visitor (or should that be visitation) centre, 22 foot (6.7 metres) cookers that required raising the roof of the mash house, four 92,000 gallon (420,000 litre) fermenters, a new cooling tower and six new warehouses which each hold 58,800 barrels. That’s a lot of bourbon. There’s even a special ‘hard hat’ tour so that you can see the work being done. “The growth we are seeing in all aspects of the distillery is really exciting,” Meredith Moody, director of homeplace development said. “We are eager to show all of our distilling upgrades to new and returning guests on our updated Hard Hat Tour. It’s a whole new experience, whether you are a first time visitor or have toured many times.” Oh, and talking of Buffalo Trace, it’s almost time for our annual parcel of Antique Collection rare bourbons from the distillery to arrive. Watch this space.

The Nightcap

The fantastic Passport menu takes you to all corners of the world

We taste St James Bar new Passport cocktail menu 

It’s around about that point in January that we all start getting a bit of wanderlust around MoM Towers. It’s rainy, it’s cold, and suddenly I’m having to resist the urge to book a holiday somewhere. Our wanderlust dreams were answered when we heard about the new Passport menu at St James Bar, Sofitel St James, so we headed over to try it out. The idea is to take you on a journey, and the menu looks like an actual British passport (for now…) boasting 12 cocktails from 12 different countries. We started, appropriately with a 5 to 7, a beautifully balanced bitter aperitif straight from Italy made with Campari-infused coffee, presented in a cafetière. Where would you like to go next, bar manager Kostas Bardas asked us. America! The Maker’s Mark and sherry-based cocktail, 1st Step, comes in a smoking rocketship. How could we not?! Then, to Thailand, where we tried Megong, a blend of Mekhong Thai Spirit, rum and Earl Grey presented alongside a mini gong. Heaven Howler was a tribute to Iceland’s Prohibition period from 1915 to 1989, a unique marriage of Himbrimi Old Tom, Martin Miller’s Westbourne Strength, homemade rhubarb and thyme liqueur, pale ale and beer soda. We certainly wouldn’t mind sipping this refreshing serve in a geothermal spring… Then, on recommendation from quite literally everyone behind the bar, we tried the Victory Martini, inspired by Winston Churchill. Well, we are in London after all. A sophisticated blend of Plymouth Gin, Cognac and a brilliant homemade pine honey and wine leaf cordial made this little number outrageously easy to drink. The brilliantly conceived and engaging Passport menu took us to all corners of the world, though all from the luxurious blue plush interior of the bar. Bon voyage!

The Nightcap

I’ve never been so proud of the Brits before. Well in, guys.

British drinking more beer despite Dry January claims Wowcher

You may have noticed that it has become popular in the last few years to give up alcohol in January, a bit like a Lenten fast but without the Christianity. With all the noise in the media about Dry January, you might think that alcohol sales would be seriously affected but, according to figures just released by Wowcher, the discount voucher people, this is not the case. In fact, there has been a 71% increase in beer sales compared with January 2019. It has to be said, that this is based only on data from Wowcher’s website and app so could hardly be described as definitive. Nevertheless, it does seem to suggest that even with all the newspaper articles, TV segments, advertising and general media hubbub, Dry January is still very much a minority pursuit. Britons, never change. 

The Nightcap

It’s a fine donation to a good cause.

Diageo rolls out the barrel for Scottish Rugby charity 

Diageo has announced that it donated a cask of Scotch whisky to raise money for Doddie Weir’s My Name’5 Doddie Foundation to find a cure for MND. The rugby legend and inspirational Motor Neuron Disease campaigner Doddie Weir visited the brand’s new Scottish headquarters in Edinburgh on Monday 20 January to accept the donation. This is also marked the official opening of the offices and reaffirmed Diageo’s support for Scottish Rugby ahead of the forthcoming Six Nations, which will be the first to feature Johnnie Walker as Scottish Rugby’s official whisky partner. “Doddie Weir is an inspiration to people everywhere with the remarkable bravery of his campaign. It was a privilege to welcome him to our new offices and to share his incredible campaign with our people,” said Ewan Andrew, president of global supply & procurement at Diageo. “We have a powerful connection with rugby through our Guinness Title Partnership of the Six Nations Championship and our Johnnie Walker partnership with Scottish Rugby. What better way to celebrate these partnerships and to mark our move to our new office than by supporting Doddie and his campaign.” Doddie Weir added: “I am delighted to accept the donation of this cask of Glenkinchie single malt whisky for my foundation. The momentum behind the campaign keeps growing and it’s terrific to see companies like Diageo and brands like Johnnie Walker stepping up to show their support and to raise funds.” Diageo will now work with the My Name’5 Doddie Foundation team to select a cask of Glenkinchie single malt and to have it bottled for the charity. We wish all involved the best luck in fighting for this fantastic cause.

The Nightcap

The Big Drop Brewing founders are hoping to raise a pretty penny

Big Drop Brewing Co. launches crowdfunding for major expansion

Launched in London in 2016, Big Drop Brewing Co. is shaking up the alcohol-free beer game as one of the very few totally dedicated alcohol-free brewers. In its portfolio, you’ll find stout, pale ale, IPA, lager and other brews, along with a range of gluten free and vegan beers too. For its brews, Big Drop uses a method which removes the need to extract alcohol after fermentation, which is often what affects the taste and mouthfeel of alcohol-free beer. It’s launching a crowdfunding campaign in February, and investors will become a part of the company as well as receiving a few perks alongside, from brand merch to a day with the master brewer. The perks get better depending on how much more you’re willing to invest, of course. The point of the crowdfund is to help it expand into markets outside the UK, as well as within its home country. “We knew there were a lot of people who felt exactly the same way as we did,” says co-founder Rob Fink. “We realised we could create not just the beer we wanted, but a community of like-minded people too. What if we could do for alcohol-free beer what the craft beer revolution had done for, well, beer?” Well, if you want to find out and want a piece of the action, then head over to the site

The 2020 Tap Takeovers at the Tate will feature the likes of Cloudwater Brew Co., Tiny Rebel and more.

Tap Takeovers at the Tate

Lovers of contemporary art, good beer and alliteration are in for a treat as the latest Tap Takeovers at the Tate have just been announced. These consist of an evening at the Tate Modern in London devoted to a particular brewery. The first event on 30 January features Manchester’s very own Cloudwater Brew Co. with its delicious range of beers including a mighty 8.5% ABV Double IPA. And don’t worry if you don’t like beer or alcohol, as the brewery produces a range of zero ABV sodas. Be warned, though, you can’t just turn up and have access to delicious brews, that would be too easy, you need to book in advance here. Tap Takeovers will be running monthly throughout the year with breweries such as Tiny Rebel, Verdant Brewing and Northern Monk Brew, so there’s sure to be something that tickles your fancy.

The Nightcap

Yep. That’s a haggis lasagne alright.

And finally. . . It’s getting Scot in here! Aldi makes Burns Night lasagne with haggis.

Burns Night is, of course, founded on tradition. And tradition is fun, you know what you’re going to get. But this year, Burns Night 2020 will be known as the year that Aldi, everyone’s favourite discount supermarket, really shook things up because it has given Scotland’s national dish, the haggis, an Italian twist with a recipe for haggis lasagne. Yes, really! Literally lasagne with haggis, it’s the greatest Scots-Italian mash-up since Peter Capaldi. Imagine serving that at a traditional Burns Night. If this kind of culture collision isn’t your thing, then you can just buy the haggis from Aldi and enjoy it in its pure form. But if we could time travel, the only place we’d be going is back to the late 1700s to ask Robert Burns himself what he thinks of this. Salute! No, wait. Slange var!

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When Burns Night goes wrong

Burns Night is now an international institution with events celebrated all over the world. Ian Buxton should know, he’s hosted a few. But now he’s hanging up his ceremonial trews,…

Burns Night is now an international institution with events celebrated all over the world. Ian Buxton should know, he’s hosted a few. But now he’s hanging up his ceremonial trews, so it’s the perfect time to share the highs and lows of honouring Scotland’s national poet in some decidedly unScottish environments. 

After many months of reflection and internal discussions, I have chosen to make a transition this year in starting to carve out a progressive new role within this institution. I intend to step back from Burns Night to focus on a new chapter.

Over the past decade it’s been my pleasure and privilege to attend Burns Night celebrations, often acting as fear an taighe (that’s master of ceremonies to you), at gatherings as far-flung as San Diego in the west to Budapest in the east; Lisbon to the south and Helsinki in the north.  Not every one of these would be recognised as an entirely conventional Burns Night in Alloway, the birthplace of the great man.

Burns Night, for those of you unaware of the event, is the biggest celebration in the Scottish calendar (well, apart from Hogmanay, possibly, and the Scottish Cup Final, but Celtic generally win that and it’s getting quite boring to be honest).  It commemorates the 25th January 1759, birth of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. He’s noted, apart from the verse obvs, for collecting traditional songs, authorship of a book full of dirty ditties that his admirers tactfully forget to mention and for siring twelve or possibly thirteen children with four different women.  Frankly, in the world of #MeToo, Burns would be in the dock as a sex pest.

But back to the party, which involves the consumption of haggis and whisky; a set pattern of speeches and sometimes songs, and the consumption of haggis, not forgetting the whisky which greatly assists getting the haggis eaten up.  Not everything runs smoothly on these occasions (did I mention the consumption of whisky?)

Now that is what a haggis is supposed to look like

At one event in the rather glamorous setting of Lugano in Switzerland, I was deputed to give the Address to the Haggis and all eight verses were requested. No difficulty there as I learned this at my mother’s knee and other low joints (sorry). I instructed the kitchen and requested a sharp knife for the theatrical third verse:

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

They obliged with something close to a bayonet. Again, no difficulty as I fondly imagined this could only add to the fun.  What I did not expect was that the kitchen, having been strictly enjoined not to cut up the presentation haggis, had also neglected to cook it.

The result: a greasy, rugby-ball shaped beast that resisted all my increasingly frenzied attempts to break through its skin and which proceeded to bounce off the magnificent platter and across the table. My Italian audience applauded with vigour, believing this to be a regulation part of the proceedings; the Scots in the room were generally helpless with laughter, though their enthusiastic consumption of whisky may have played some small part.

In Oslo, the distinguished chef took great offence at the idea that the haggis should be shipped from Scotland and insisted that he was more than capable of preparing the dish himself. The result looked like cheap dog food, which I then spent some anxious minutes wrapping in cling film wrap to give some resemblance to an actual haggis. “So you eat this in Scotland,” enquired one politely curious guest. I fear that I may have prevaricated somewhat and that they can only be disappointed if ever they encounter the genuine article.

Ian Buxton with Hungary’s finest piper

On piping in the haggis in Budapest the locally-engaged piper, allegedly the finest in Hungary and it must be conceded splendidly arrayed in full Brigadoon mode, appeared to have indulged not wisely but well in the drams that I had arranged. As a result he was unable to inflate the bag on his pipes and marched in an unsteady manner, swaying somewhat as I attempted several a cappella verses of ‘Flower of Scotland’ while we presented the haggis to the assembled guests, now somewhat bemused by proceedings.   No more, I may add, than I was. The piper made his excuses and left shortly afterwards

And, at a prestigious London venue, the kitchen staff made such a mess of cooking the haggis that the host for the evening dragged them out in front of the guests and made them apologise to the company for their inept presentation. If nothing else, it certainly made for an unforgettable evening.

On Burns Night, in the words of the poet: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/ Gang aft agley”. Truer words have seldom been written!

 

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Five interesting facts about Archie Rose Distillery

When Archie Rose Distilling Company fired up its stills four years ago, it pledged to honour Australia’s rich spirit-making history and at the same time shape its future. We peered…

When Archie Rose Distilling Company fired up its stills four years ago, it pledged to honour Australia’s rich spirit-making history and at the same time shape its future. We peered behind the scenes at the innovative Rosebery site, Sydney’s first independent distillery since 1853. Here’s what we found… 

With master distiller Dave Withers at the helm, the team has gradually built an eclectic range of sustainably-produced whiskies, gins, vodkas and rums that showcase Australia’s native ingredients – and the country’s unique microclimate – in all their glory. 

Whether they’re crafting Chocolate Rye Malt Whisky (the only whisky of its kind in Australia),  melting huge blocks of ice in a wood-fired oven to create Smoked Gin, or combining Vegemite, freshly churned butter and Sonoma sourdough toast to make an unapologetically Aussie unaged spirit, seemingly nothing is off limits.

When we dropped by over Christmas, Withers kindly showed us around the Rosebery site, soon to become a dedicated research and development distillery as the team moves their main operations to nearby Botany. Trust us, if you think smoked ice is a stroke of genius, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Until then, here’s five reasons to keep Archie Rose on your radar…

It’s Dave Withers!

1. They make spirits with a sense of place

At Archie Rose, indigenous ingredients are key. Australia is one of the largest malting grade barley producers in the world, says Withers, with many varieties being unique to the country – as such, Archie Rose works with an array of NSW farmers to get hold of malts that demonstrate regional terroir, as well as ancient and heirloom varieties. 

It’s not just about barley, of course. A limited run of Virgin Cane Rhum – the first of two cane spirits that were released under the distillery’s experimental ‘Concepts’ label – saw the team distill freshly cut and pressed sugar cane from Condong, northern NSW as a nod to Australia’s distilling heritage. 

The same homegrown ethos applies to the team’s extensive botanical selection. Their Distiller’s Strength Gin, for example, combines sixteen individually distilled botanicals, including fresh pears from Orange in NSW, rose petals, elderflower, juniper and honey from local beehives.

Unsurprisingly, this approach is extended to the ageing process, too. The country’s history of winemaking grants the distillery access to a vast array of wine casks, including ex-Apera (essentially Australian sherry) within which they age their whiskies. 

Archie Rose

The unique still set-up at Archie Rose

2. Quality over quantity is paramount

The recipe for their single malt whisky is a prime example. While most single malts typically feature one or two malt mash bills, Archie Rose’s new make is made from six distinct malts: pale, amber, caramel, aromatic roasted, chocolate and peated.

“Each of these malts offer a distinct flavour, the combination of which provides complexity and a depth of character rarely seen,” Withers explains. “Many of these malts are incredibly inefficient, some offering up to ten times less alcohol per tonne that a traditional malt, but it is important for us to put the flavour of the final product ahead of yield and efficiency.”

The team is always looking at ways to maximise flavour, Withers adds. “Our whiskies are the result of countless trials and hours of research and development,” he says. “They are boldly different in flavour as well as in philosophy to the majority of more traditional Australian whiskies.”

3. They’re big on transparency

Want to find out exactly where the barley in your bottle came from, and the grain treatment? Perhaps you’d like to know the type of cask was used, or get technical about the distillation process? Archie Rose has made it super easy for spirits geeks (ourselves very much included) to dig into the fine details.

“We love to show you everything that went into the creation of your bottle,” says Withers. “That is why we started the ‘Spirits Data’ section of our website. In essence, it is a tool for whisky drinkers to learn more about the bottle in their hand. Drinkers can use their batch code to explore all of the details of their bottle all the way down to the variety and origin of the malt that went into their whisky.”

Archie Rose

These babies mature fast in Sydney’s humid climate

4. They work with Australia’s distinct weather

Safe to say, the climate in Sydney is pretty unique. Being situated on the coast, Archie Rose enjoys year-round high humidity and temperatures, Withers says. As such, the climate is an important ingredient in Archie Rose’s aged spirits.

“In Sydney, we have some fairly warm stretches of the year which means that the casks work hard,” he explains. “It also means that the liquid should not stay in cask for an extended period or it may be prone to becoming over-oaked. We have specifically sought to ensure that the new make spirit enters the cask with enormous amounts of flavour while still being clean and refined. It does not have, nor need, decades to develop flavour or remove impurities. As soon as it hits that oak, the environmental and regional clock is ticking.” 

5. A hands-on approach from the very beginning

When building the distillery, Archie Rose founder Will Edwards enlisted Peter Bailly – then Australia’s only still maker – to handcraft three copper pot stills, all steam heated by a gas-powered steam boiler. 

“Our equipment is not akin to what you would find in many of the well known distilleries of Scotland; it’s a hands-on process of producing,” explains Withers. “Our current still was made in Tasmania and refurbished in New South Wales. It now sports a chiller jacket which increases the copper contact and reflux, providing us with the ability to control and accentuate the unique flavour compounds we are looking for.” 

 

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How the iStill is revolutionising distillation

To make good spirits you need a room full of gleaming copper. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! says Dr Edwin van Eijk, inventor of the revolutionary iStill. We talk to the…

To make good spirits you need a room full of gleaming copper. Right? Wrong, wrong, wrong! says Dr Edwin van Eijk, inventor of the revolutionary iStill. We talk to the good doctor about automation, cask ageing and why most distillers are stuck in the past. 

We met Dr Edwin van Eijk, or Odin to his friends, at an event called Speakeasy organised by Spanish spirits distributor Vantguard. Presenting after the charismatic Carlos Magdalena aka the Plant Messiah (one of the Evening Standard’s 1000 most influential Londoners, dontcha know) can’t have been easy but the doc more than kept the audience of bartenders and industry types transfixed. While he spoke, a silent lab coat-clad assistant (who I was later specifically told that I was not allowed to ask questions of) beavered away in the background with an iStill. It was like the Pet Shop Boys of distillation.

Odin in action with a mini iStill.

The genesis for the iStill comes from visits to Hungary, Van Eijk’s wife is Hungarian, a country where amateur distillation is commonplace. Most of the fruit brandies he tried were pretty rough, according to van Eijk, “but one guy came up with a nice smooth drink, no hangover. How?” Van Eijk’s curiosity was aroused but he quickly became frustrated by the unscientific approach to distillation: “I soon discovered that most information was anecdotal,” he said. “My grand grandfather did this.” For van Eijk this was good enough, he just kept asking ‘why?’ 

So, he built his own still, and added thermometers and automation so it could run while he was doing his day job. He quickly realised he was on to something so he quit his job, sold his house and set up his own business in 2012 with the aim of, according to the website, “making modern, game changing distillation technology.” 

All iStills are made in a factory in the Netherlands. It’s now a big operation. Van Eijk claims to be the largest supplier of distillation equipment worldwide in terms of numbers sold. Such well-known operations as Dornoch in Scotland, Wrecking Coast in Cornwall, Blackwater in Ireland all use iStills. You can see from these maps how ubiquitous they have become in Ireland and Scotland.  Some distilleries have both a traditional and an iStill. There’s something for all budgets: an eight litre mini still that can be carried in a suitcase (see above) starts at €3000; whereas a 5000 litre one begins at €90,000. The company recommends customers take a four day training workshop. Odin is also very responsive in distillation forums for those who have further questions. “We are successful because we keep asking why. Innovation is only key to success. Try something different”, he said.

A map showing all the iStills in the world

Take automation, for example. When you visit distilleries, even new ones or especially new ones, you are often proudly told that everything is manual. There are no computers here. For van Eijk described this as “bad business covered up as romance.” He went on to say:  “We all love horses and carriages but I came here by aeroplane and taxi. It’s in the glass you beat your competition.” He compared distillers love of old equipment unfavourably with brewers: “Craft brewers are ahead of the curve,” he said. “Brewing is understood and researched. Not magic.” iStills are fully automated with a robot that takes the hearts, heads and tails, and an app that tells you where to cut depending on what you’re looking for in a spirit: “The most profound flavours come from back end tails,” he said, “Toothy rooty, nutty and earthy flavours.”

An iStill doesn’t look much like conventional still. It’s square for starters and made out of stainless steel. “Why are stills made from copper?” he asked me. “It removes sulphur caused during fermentation. Why not start with great beer or great wine without sulphur?” (Though, of course, you might want some sulphur in your spirit). iStill does, however, offer a copper ‘waffle’ to remove sulphur compounds caused by “substandard fermentations” as the website puts it. iStills are direct-fired either with electricity or gas and claim to be much more economical than a standard set up. The biggest surprise though, is that it’s possible to mash, ferment and distill all in the same vessel: “Why mash, ferment and distill in separate containers?” he said. “They all take place in a boiler and are about heating up and cooling down. My machines can do everything in one boiler.” He thinks part of the reason people go for the traditional set-up is so that suppliers can sell more equipment.  

We’re not in Rothes anymore

You won’t be surprised to hear that Van Eijk has strong views about the finished product too: “Why should whisky taste like peat or sherry?” he said. “I want it to taste like grain. People in the whisky business used to say that 50% of the flavour comes from cask, now they say it is 80%. New make spirit has deteriorated in terms of the grain and procedures used in order to create as much alcohol as possible. This is worldwide. The real reason people use sherry and Port casks is to cover up spirit that has a fruity flavour deficiency.” That’s fighting talk! He’s also critical of gin: “Most gins do not have a lot of back end,” he told me. With the app, you can, according to van Eijk “see where there is a gap in flavour profile and find something that fills it out.” 

“We love to bash the status quo,” he told me. This has angered some people. To answer some of his critics he took part in a challenge with a distiller in Chicago. “He had beautiful copper still costing $200k and my little still cost $10k”, he told me. To the horror of the distillery owner and (some of) the critics, Van Eijk’s little still not only distilled faster but his spirit tasted better in a blind test. That day he sold seven stills. 

While van Eijk was talking, the iStill was running watched over by his silent assistant. Then at the end we got to try the result, a rum distilled with mint and lime, like a gin. Made in around half an hour. And the results, well, there wasn’t a traditionally-distilled version for comparison but it tasted pretty damn good to me. I’m going to start saving up for a iStillof my own. I think I could squeeze one into my shed.

You can find out more about how the iStill works on its YouTube page. 

 

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The winner of our Starward competition is…

It’s about time we announced the winner of our competition to visit the spectacular Starward Distillery in Melbourne, Australia! Drum roll at the ready… Sitting here in 2020, it may…

It’s about time we announced the winner of our competition to visit the spectacular Starward Distillery in Melbourne, Australia! Drum roll at the ready…

Sitting here in 2020, it may feel like a lifetime ago, but think back to November 2019. Before that New Year’s thing occurred, and before that Christmas stuff took place, a different incredibly exciting situation happened – we announced that someone would win a trip of a lifetime to visit the Starward Distillery in Melbourne, Australia! The prize included a seven night stay in Melbourne, a private tour and drinks at the distillery, a distillery bottling of their phenomenal Australian whisky, and £500 spending money. “A cool prize” would be an understatement. Crack out the thesaurus (or just Google “other words for rad” like we all do since no one owns a physical thesaurus anymore) and whack in a few other fun adjectives and you’ll be more on the right lines.

The Starward Distillery – where our winner will be headed!

To be in with a chance to win, all you had to do was snap up a bottle from Starward’s lip-smacking range and your name would be in the hat. Many names went into the aforementioned headgear, but only one name has been pulled out, and they are our winner. That name is…

Andy Woods!

Much applause and many congratulations to our winner, Andy! We very much hope you enjoy your trip! We’d also like to give a big thank you to everyone who took part as well!

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Burns Night poetry competition – win a bottle of Aerolite Lyndsay Single Malt

It’s back, the Master of Malt Burns Night poetry competition. If you fancy yourself as something of a bard, why not enter for the chance to win a bottle of…

It’s back, the Master of Malt Burns Night poetry competition. If you fancy yourself as something of a bard, why not enter for the chance to win a bottle of Islay single malt whisky?

Last year, we put on our first ever Burns Night poetry competition. Frankly, dear reader, we were amazed, not just by the number of entries but by the quality. Who would have guessed that Master of Malt customers would be so talented? You can read Richard Foster’s winning entry and the runners-up here. 

So we’re doing it all again this year in the run up to Burns Night on Saturday 25 January. All you have to do is write a poem about whisky. You can take your inspiration from the Bard himself but don’t feel constrained. If you want to do it in the style of Omar Khayyam (wine-loving Persian poet of 11th century), then we’d love to see how you get on. There are no restrictions on length or style, all we say is that the poem must be in English or Scots. To enter simply email us at marketing@masterofmalt.com or comment on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or below. Entrants must be of legal drinking age and based in a country that we ship to. We will be accepting entrants from 13 until 22 January (see full terms and conditions below). 

Aerolite Lyndsay

Chocks away!

All entries will be judged by the (extremely discerning and well-read) team here at MoM. The winner will receive a bottle of Aerolite Lyndsay, a single malt from the Character of Islay Whisky Company. The name might make it sound like the sort of aeroplane flown by a man called Ginger during World War One but it’s actually an anagram of ten year old Islay. Three runners up will receive drams of Aerolite Lyndsay.

So, what are you waiting for? Time to sharpen those quills, get out your finest vellum and channel your inner Orpheus.

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Trust the algorithm: The future of AI in booze

Last month, Johnnie Walker’s parent company Diageo rolled out artificial intelligence (AI) whisky selector ‘What’s Your Whisky’, which analyses drinkers’ flavour preferences to pair them with their perfect single malt…

Last month, Johnnie Walker’s parent company Diageo rolled out artificial intelligence (AI) whisky selector ‘What’s Your Whisky’, which analyses drinkers’ flavour preferences to pair them with their perfect single malt Scotch. Here, we take a look at the ground-breaking technology, and consider the ways in which algorithms could revolutionise the drinks industry in years to come…

Think back to a bottle of alcohol you bought without ever having tried it. What compelled you to pick that one, rather than another? Perhaps it was the look of the label, or the price. Maybe a friend recommended it, or you spotted it on this very blog. Or, if you’ve just road-tested Diageo’s new AI whisky selector, it might be because an algorithm told you to.

Named ‘What’s Your Whisky’, the selector uses FlavorPrint taste profiling technology to match your individual tastes to one of 18 featured single malts, explains Benjamin Lickfett, head of technology & innovation at Diageo. It asks eleven questions to understand your preferences – e.g. ‘how often do you eat bananas? How do you feel about chillies?’ – and then analyses your responses.

“To do this, we use an algorithmic machine learning analysis of 500 different flavour points based on data from the food science and expert sensory science sectors,” he continues. “Once individual flavour preferences have been mapped, the app uses AI to continuously learn what drives consumer preferences.”

Team Circumstance: Liam Hirt, Mark Scott and Danny Walker

Elsewhere, AI isn’t just matching you with your optimum booze pairing. It’s creating it. In November, Circumstance Distillery created the world’s first AI gin, called Monker’s Garkel, in collaboration with tech companies Rewrite Digital and Tiny Giant. They designed a ‘recurrent neural network’ named Ginette, explain Liam Hirt, Circumstance co-founder. 

“She was trained to compose gin recipes using an enormous data set of botanical and recipes,” Hirt says. “We chose her best two recipes for further traditional development at Circumstance Distillery. One recipe emerged as a favourite, although it was very close. Ginette also came up with the name for the gin. A separate neural network was used to create the label and the wording on the back of the bottle.”

Circumstance isn’t the only producer to harness the power of AI to make great-tasting spirits. In May last year, Swedish distillery Mackmyra teamed up with Microsoft and Fourkind to create a whisky informed by Mackmyra’s existing recipes, sales data and customer preferences. In January 2017, Virgin’s travel arm partnered with super-computer Watson to analyse the social media posts of 15 million holidaymakers, match them to 5,000-plus flavour descriptions and reviews, and create a one-off rum recipe at Barbados’ Foursquare Distillery.

Is there a danger our industry’s tastemakers could soon be overthrown by AI distillers? Not quite. “AI technology is in its infancy, and is not ready to take over from a skilled distiller like those at our distillery,” reckons Hirt. “Where I see AI making a difference in the near future is as a creative muse used during product development. At Circumstance Distillery we do a lot of product development and contract distillation for customers. AI in its current form can be a useful tool at the brainstorming stage to contribute ideas that might be quite different and take development in an unexpected and novel direction.”

Would you take a recommendation from one of these?

In what ways, then, could AI potentially revolutionise the industry as we know it today? For now, the answer lies in behind the scenes operations. French drinks company Pernod Ricard, which owns Jameson whiskey and Beefeater gin, has been “developing a series of successful pilots and then projects at scale for quite a large array of applications” for a few years now, explains global media and content hub leader Thibaut Portal.

This could be something as simple as identifying trending venues using data from Google Maps, Google Venues traffic, Trip Advisor and social media channels, he explains; information that helps the company map and structure its approach to the on-trade. Automated algorithms help the company optimise its social media campaigns, too – by defining and predicting best days and hours of the week to interact with consumers as well as personalising messages and communications. 

“We have applied AI mainly so far and at scale for our marketing and sales department activities, as data are massive and easy to collect,” says Portal. AI technology definitely enables us to react faster and prepare for more informed decisions, leveraging and computing data available internally or sourced externally in a flash. It provides solid analysis capabilities and unlocks new business opportunities: from product launch to market share increases.”

While it’s still early days for Diageo’s customer-facing whisky selector – which launched across nine European countries in six languages – Lickfett says the team is excited about the potential of this untapped tech. “Once we’ve received the initial results, we’ll be looking to optimise how we integrate the AI experience in bars, supermarkets, online and beyond,” he says. “As with any new technology application, it is key to put the consumer at the centre of the experience, ensuring real value is added and to avoid creating technology for technology’s sake.”

The stills at Circumstance in Bristol

He makes a point. With that in mind, are there any challenges the industry might need to overcome to integrate AI technology successfully? The most obvious one, Hirt says, is knowledge. “Circumstance Distillery is very tech-focused, with successful projects such as issuing ‘whisky tokens’ in the form of our own cryptocurrency,” he says. “Most small businesses in the drink sector are not as tech-focused as we are.”

It’s a sentiment backed by Portal. “AI technology has developed so fast with so many suppliers that confusion is already there,” he explains. “It requires expertise, knowledge and capacity to select the right project.” With a little knowledge, however, the sky’s the limit. “There are so many offers on the market, available and easy to access for all,” he says. “We are entering a democratisation phase, as well as a learning curve for all to build.”

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These were the most read posts of the year

By popular demand, it’s time to look back at our most-read blog posts of 2019. Well, maybe there hasn’t been that much demand, but we’re interested, so here they are,…

By popular demand, it’s time to look back at our most-read blog posts of 2019. Well, maybe there hasn’t been that much demand, but we’re interested, so here they are, the posts that grabbed your attention this year. 

It’s that time of the year when we look back at the year in booze. And what a year it’s been with trade wars, ghost distillery revivals and the SWA getting all funky with new cask types. There’s four words you never expect to see in one sentence, Scotch Whisky Association and funky. From crunching the numbers, it’s clear that what you, dear reader, love is whisky. Whether it’s whisky news, whisky comment or whisky snark, all the top posts this year are about whisky. So here they are in ascending order of popularity:

Jim Murray

You can bet that dear old Jim will be in here somewhere

Number 10:

The Macallan unveils new expression: The Macallan Estate  – A new Macallan expression is always of interest. And this latest release is particularly special being made from barley grown on the Macallan estate. 

Number 9:

Unusual Scotch ahoy! SWA widens permissible cask types – In June the Scotch Whisky Association revised it rules to allow new types of casks for maturing Scotch whisky including Tequila, mezcal, Calvados and Baijiu barrels. 

Number 8: 

Was Glenfiddich really the first ever single malt whisky? – Here our columnist Ian Buxton pulls apart some rather outlandish PR claims from Glenfiddich.

Number 7: 

Diageo Special Releases 2019 details are here! – It’s that wondrous time of the year when Diageo releases some rare and unusual whiskies from its unparalleled portfolio of distilleries. 

Number 6: 

Our take on booze trends for 2019! – Here MoM editor Kristiane Sherry peers into her crystal ball to see what we would be drinking in 2019. You can see here how much she got right. 

Number 5: 

1792 Full Proof is Jim Murray’s World Whisky of the Year 2020 – Another perennial popular event, the release of Jim Murray’s new guide and the crowning of a new World Whisky of the Year.

Number 4:

Behold: Fancy Brora 40-Year-Old 200th Anniversary incoming! – With Brora due to come back on stream in 2020, we had an opportunity to try a very special old expression to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the distillery.

Number 3:

The Balvenie Stories launches with three special whiskies – Three key figures at Balvenie have each created a whisky to celebrate human tales of endeavour, craft and surprise.

Number 2:

Ardbeg adds 19 year old expression to core range – A new core addition to the Ardbeg range is always going to be of interest so no wonder that this is the second most read post of the year.

And at number 1 

Tears before bedtime: are we heading for a whisky crash? – It’s Ian Buxton again, and apparently “we’re dooooomed!”

 

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Cognac maverick: Alexandre Gabriel from Maison Ferrand

Alexandre Gabriel isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what is and isn’t allowed in Cognac. So much so that one product launched last year had to be labelled as…

Alexandre Gabriel isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of what is and isn’t allowed in Cognac. So much so that one product launched last year had to be labelled as an eau-de-vie. But, he tells us, everything he does is informed by a profound knowledge of the history of the region. We join Gabriel for a glass to learn more. . . .

Alexandre Gabriel has his fingers in many boozy pies (see earlier interview for more details) but his first love is Cognac. So when an old failing firm, Pierre Ferrand, came on the market, he jumped at the chance to acquire it. The house had been in family hands since it was founded in 1631 by Elijah Ferrand. The last of the family was an old lady simply known as ‘Mademoiselle’; there were no more heirs.

Alexandre Gabriel

Alexandre Gabriel in the cellars of Maison Ferrand

Gabriel is a historian as much as drinks producer and businessman, and he was in his element going through the centuries of archives at Maison Ferrand. “We discovered fascinating things about the way Cognac was made,” he told us. “Invoices for chestnut barrels. The acreage, and how it was planted, and which type of grapes. We wrote a book about it called An Enlightened Farmer.” This isn’t just historical curiosity, however, he is using what he discovered to expand what can be done in Cognac.

The result was the Renegade #1 which was aged in ex-Sauternes barrels. Cognac is usually only aged in new French oak or refill Cognac barrels so it caused quite a stir. Gabriel, however, had history on his side: “I was able to show from old documents that it is still legal to age Cognac in a wine barrel”, he said. “A lot of people thought that was not allowed anymore but there was a law from 1923 that was never overturned.”

He didn’t just stop there. The Reserve Ferrand is aged for two to three years in ex-Banyuls casks. Banyuls is a French Port-style wine that is often made in an oxidative style that produces ‘rancio’ flavours of dried apricot, pineapple and nuts (the word literally means rancid in Catalan, nice) the same flavours you get in sherried whiskies and Cognac. So it’s a good fit. Then there’s Ten Generations, inspired by the long history of the Ferrand family, which is 20% aged in Sauternes barrels giving it a sweet honeyed note not unlike a Glenmorangie. 

Ferrand Ten Generations, gorgeous Cognac, gorgeous label

As a rum and gin producer, Gabriel’s horizons are broader than most in Cognac. “I am influenced by every spirit,” he told us. To learn about cask finishes, he went to Springbank. “I went with Gordon Wright, at the time Gordon ran the distillery, before his uncle took it over, and I remember going there and trying to learn about wine barrels. Which is crazy the French guy who grew up in the wine region is going to Scotland! But the finishing and the use of wine barrels, we had lost the tradition in Cognac. So, in a very humble way, I went there and was like ‘teach me’”, he said. Gabriel often swaps casks with other producers such as Teeling in Dublin, Kilchoman on Islay and the Isle of Arran Distillery.

Ferrand isn’t the only Cognac house doing experimental things with wood: Bache Gabrielsen launched an American oak-aged spirit in 2016. Tastings like a cross between a bourbon and brandy, it’s startlingly different to the Cognac norm but, according to Gabriel, there is a historical precedent: “The law says ‘Cognac is a spirit aged in an oak barrel’. The second part of the law is, ‘typically Cognac is aged in Limousin type or Tronçais type oak’. But it doesn’t say that it’s limited to that, it’s typically.” Gabriel told me that in the 19th century, France, unlike now, had been almost completely deforested to provide wood for fuel and battleships: “if you wanted to try to beat the English at sea which we never were able to be doing! you needed to buy battleships”, he quipped. So in the past Cognac producers would have used imported wood including American oak. 

Bache-Gabrielsen was allowed to call its spirit Cognac, unlike Martell when it released Blue Swift in 2018. It’s aged in ex-bourbon casks and the company had to call it an eau-de-vie. It’s a similar story with Ferrand’s Renegade #2 which is aged in chestnut barrels. Apparently since 1945, they have not been legal. But Gabriel has found documentation showing that chestnut was traditionally used. According to Gabriel the cellars of Cognac are full of rogue wood: “I’m part of a very old group of master blenders and the old guys would tell you: ‘I have a barrel of Cognac, it’s 40 years old, it’s in acacia’ and they are like kids talking about smoking a joint!”, he said.

Gabriel has the financial clout and the chutzpah to challenge the rules, and when things don’t go his way, to go outside the Cognac appellation. But, he thinks that change is afoot: “I think Cognac is going through that revolution”, he said. The BNIC (Bureau National Interprofessionnel du Cognac) is currently looking at revising the rules for different wood finishes: “There is something really serious happening in Cognac and I hope the region is thinking about possibly reopening the different wood varieties. I don’t know what is going to be decided, I have no input”, he told us. 

Alexandre Ricard, Maison Ferrand

Alexandre Gabriel next to a portrait of a spectacularly bearded member of the Ferrand family

People are not only experimenting with wood but with grapes. Most Cognac is made from Ugni Blanc but Gabriel said: “we’re planting a lot of Colombard, we have our own vineyard, and it’s magical. The problem with Colombard, it is why I have circles under my eyes, is that it starts a little early in the season. So when you have a season like this, with frosts, you are not so relaxed.” It is, however, worth the stress: “It’s delicious because it makes these very floral notes,” he said. The Ambre Ferrand release is made with 10% Colombard.

Gabriel think his cliente is changing too: “There is a revolution happening, I think, in Europe,” he said, “part of it is probably wishful thinking. But I see us increasing our sales substantially in markets that were considered depressed for Cognac: France, the UK is starting to sizzle, Germany and Denmark. When we do a show about spirits in France, the guys who come to the Cognac booth are like 25 years old. It used to be their grandpa’s drink.”

Part of getting in the younger crowd is through cocktails. Earlier this year, Maison Ferrand came top in a blind tasting put on by bartenders including  Salvatore Calabrese and Ago Perrone in a blind tasting. Again this is all informed by Gabriel’s sense of history, before rye or bourbon, Cognac was the original cocktail ingredient. He works with drink historian David Wondrich (author of Punch) to recreate old recipes. “The cocktail is an American version of the old British punch,” he said. “It’s really a British invention, And Americans made a single portion of it which is a cocktail.”

There’s never a dull moment when Alexandre Gabriel is around. “I can say this month is my 30th anniversary doing this job,” he said. “I had no clue what I was doing when I started, I’m not sure I have any clue right now but I’m just still working at it, and it’s been an incredible journey.” 

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The fundamentals of five key whisky flavours

As whisky bars go, London’s Black Rock is pretty out there. The team filled a three-tonne tree trunk with whisky and installed it in the basement. They built a whisky…

As whisky bars go, London’s Black Rock is pretty out there. The team filled a three-tonne tree trunk with whisky and installed it in the basement. They built a whisky vending machine. Now, they’re fitting out London’s first whisky hotel for January 2020. Their mission? To make the liquid accessible to everybody. We talk flavour fundamentals with co-founder Matthew Hastings as the team fling open the doors to their brand new blending suite…

“Flavour is absolutely paramount to everything we do,” says Hastings, as he welcomes our group in Black Rock’s light and airy blending room. “It makes learning about whisky significantly easier than trying to learn about regions and different styles and exceptions to rules. It’s convoluted. Great if you’re really into whisky, but if you just want to enjoy a dram you don’t necessarily need to know all of that.”

Black Rock

Just some of the enormous range of whiskies to choose from Black Rock

As such, each bottle in Black Rock’s 250+ bottle library is grouped by flavour (rather than region) and labelled with the price, so you know how much a dram will set you back before you order. “We’re removing barriers to entry,” he continues. “No one wants to get stung. It might be that you can afford a £20 dram, but you might not have wanted to spend that on this occasion. Having to have that conversation is not hospitality.”

There’s also the brand spanking new blending suite, where you can blend your very own bottle of whisky so long as you book ahead. After a welcome drink comprising one of Black Rock’s signature whisky highballs – a Smokey Cokey in our case – you’ll delve into the origins of blended whisky and explore the team’s flavour-forward approach through a vertical single malt tasting comprising sweet, fruit, fragrant, spice and smoke.

“While we arrange by flavour, there are certain rules that tend to hold fast,” Hastings says, “so most of ‘smoke’ is still Islay whisky, most of ‘sweet’ is full of bourbon, most of ‘spice’ is full of rye. But there are obviously outliers. Bunnahabhain is an Islay whisky that’s never been peated in its life, there’s no smoke in it whatsoever.”

whisky blending at Black Rock

Young people love whisky blending

Advice worth remembering, because after you’ve soaked up as much knowledge as possible from Hastings and co, it’s time to blend your own 500ml bottle. And once you’ve settled on the exact specifications, the team will record the recipe on Black Rock’s blending room file so you can re-order it whenever you like.

Whatever your personal whisky preferences, it might help to know which part of the distilling process those notes emerge from. Here, Hastings runs you through the fundamentals of five flavour groups…

Sweet

Here you’ll mostly find grain whiskies, along with single malts that display lighter characteristics, says Hastings – for example Auchentoshan, a single malt which triple-distills. “You need a little bit of sweet because it helps carry flavours – even if you’re not after a particularly sweet dram, it just helps to mellow things.  The amount you use will change the intensity of the final spirit.”

Fragrance

The majority of the fragrant notes found in whisky come from the specific shapes and angles within the still, Hastings advises, which are unique to each distillery. “If you want to make a light, fragrant, floral-style whisky, you want to increase reflux – which is essentially the vapour falling back down into the still and distilling again – as much as possible,” he explains. “Generally, if you want a lighter whisky you’ll have relatively long stills because you’re making it travel further. Jura has the second tallest stills in Scotland and it produces a very light style of whisky.”

Your finished whisky at Black Rock

Your finished whisky at Black Rock

Fruit

By contrast, there are a number of ways to introduce fruit flavours. “You’ve got pretty much the entire production process to play with,” says Hastings, “starting with the yeast strain and fermentation period. Generally, longer fermentations produce more tropical fruit flavours.”
More prominent, though, is the influence of cask ageing and finishing. “Different types of oak from different continents and regions will also produce different flavours,” he adds. “And then there’s the fill – a sherry cask will produce a radically different flavour to a Port cask. Different types of sherry, being the world’s most diverse wine, will produce different flavours on top of that. Whisky in fino will be fresh and apple-y, Pedro Ximenez will give raisins and chocolate.”

Spice

Spice tends to be produced either at the end of the distillation process – decreasing reflux means heavier, thicker flavours, which tend to be spicy – or in the casks, Hastings says. “Different casks can help develop those spicy flavours,” he says. “Casks that have had more than one fill tend to produce spicier qualities, because you’re getting past the initial sweet vanillins you see in newer wood and any residual liquid from a first fill sherry or a first-fill bourbon cask.”

Smoke

The peating process occurs right at the beginning of the process, when you’re essentially smoking the malted barley dry. The smokiness of a whisky is measured in ‘phenolic parts per million’ (known as PPM), which starts high and decreases rapidly throughout the rest of the distillation process. “You’ll lose some in the mashing stage, distillation loses a tonne depending on the type of stills, and then during maturation – especially in older whiskies – you’re constantly losing smoke,” Hastings explains.

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