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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: whisky

The Nightcap: 11 October

Dig into The Nightcap this week for stories on a new Keeper of the Quaich, architectural awards, and a surprising amount of basil. It’s cold. It’s officially cold. There have…

Dig into The Nightcap this week for stories on a new Keeper of the Quaich, architectural awards, and a surprising amount of basil.

It’s cold. It’s officially cold. There have been laboured hints and knowing nods towards the weather turning, and while we’ve been staring cautiously at the amassed pile of knitted jumpers and fingerless gloves on that chair in our own respective bedrooms, there’s been the voice in the backs of our heads saying “No, not today.” We continue to walk outside without a jacket, as if trying to will the weather into staying at least tepid. But, despite our valiant efforts, it’s cold. While this may be disappointing to some, this does mean you can cosy up before the weekend kicks off proper with The Nightcap! Maybe wear some warm slippers or something.

The week the MoM Blog kicked off in style with a Cognac masterclass from Eric Forget from Hine. Henry also found the time to write about a triple-distilled new release from the English Whisky Company and learned all about Irish Coffee with John Quinn from Tullamore DEW! Where does he find the time? Meanwhile bartender Nate Brown didn’t like the dress code or the Martinis in a famous London bar, Annie visited the East London Liquor Company and we announced the lucky winner of our fabulous Mackmyra competition. Oh, and there’s a special offer on six sensational gins, buy one, get a second bottle half price. Bargain. Right, that was the week, now this is the news!

The Nightcap

Dr Rachel Barrie, in all her glory!

Dr Rachel Barrie inducted as a ‘Keeper of the Quaich’

Dr Rachel Barrie, the master blender for The GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh has received the prestigious accolade of being inducted as a ‘Keeper of the Quaich’. At a private ceremony held at Blair Castle on Monday 7 October, the first female Scotch whisky master blender to receive an Honorary Doctorate and be inducted into Whisky Magazine’s illustrious ‘Hall of Fame’ was invited into the international society established by the Scotch whisky industry to celebrate the outstanding commitment of those who produce and promote the spirit. It’s fair to say that over 27 years in the industry working with the likes of the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, The Glenmorangie Company, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Morrison Bowmore Distillers, tasting in excess of 150,000 casks of whisky in the process, Dr. Barrie has met those requirements. “Being inducted as a Keeper of the Quaich is a very proud moment in my career. The society brings together those leading the way in Scotch whisky from all corners of the world, and to be part of this highly revered body is an honour, as we continue to push boundaries in perfecting our magnificent spirit,” said Dr Barrie. “My ambition has always been to unlock the secrets of Scotch whisky-making and provenance, to develop and nurture richness of character and celebrate it with the world; it’s an honour to be recognised for this and to be in such esteemed company.” Congratulations Dr Barrie!

The Nightcap

The Macallan distillery: award-winning and somewhat hard to spot.

The Macallan Distillery and visitor experience wins architectural award

The Macallan can’t seem to stop winning awards and receiving plaudits. Now it can even boast recognition from the world of architecture! The firm that worked on its impressive new(ish) distillery and visitor centre, Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), has taken home this year’s Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award from the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS). This year’s judges visited and assessed the shortlisted buildings against a range of criteria including architectural integrity; usability and context; delivery and execution; and sustainability, saying of the Macallan Distillery and visitor experience that, “The attention to detail and the consistency and control of aesthetic decisions in this building is incredibly impressive. A worthy winner.” The owners of Macallan and RSHP client, Edrington, had wanted a building that could reveal the production processes of its single malt Scotch whisky and welcome visitors, all while respecting the idyllic landscape of the Speyside region, and RSHP created the structure’s profile to resemble ancient Scottish earthworks. “We are thrilled that The Macallan distillery has been awarded the Doolan for 2019,” said Toby Jeavons, associate partner and project architect of RSHP. “It was an incredible project to have been a part of and which was only possible due to our forward-looking and ambitious client in The Macallan.” George McKenzie, head of UK engineering at Edrington added that “The RIAS’ Doolan Award is an extremely humbling honour to be bestowed on the team that created The Macallan Distillery Experience. The award is testament to the vision, and collaboration from our team and our partners. Together, we have been able to deliver this unique and striking piece of contemporary architecture.” It’s certainly an impressive structure, as we found out ourselves when we invited for a sneak-peak tour.

The Nightcap

Manchester United fans have really scored with this Chivas bottling.

Chivas celebrates the 20th anniversary of Manchester United’s treble

Last week it was Irish whiskey and rugby and now it’s Scotch with another one of those ball games that have proved so popular in recent years. The Chivas Ultis 1999 Victory Edition has just been released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Manchester United winning the treble. For those who don’t know, this is when they won the Premier League, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, all in one season! That’s a lot of silverware. To chime with the three theme, this special Chivas is a blend of three single malts distilled in that memorable year. Sandy Hyslop, Chivas director of blending, said: “The treble-winning season of 1999 is a historic moment in world football, and we’re honoured to be marking it with a new moment in Chivas’ history – our first-ever 20-year-old blended malt Scotch.” He went on to describe the taste: “The three single malts artfully come together to create a wealth of flavour characterised by notes of milk chocolate, orange and a delicate sensation of spicy ginger and cinnamon.” So if you love football and whisky, and have £199 burning a hole in your pocket, then this might be for you.

The Nightcap

10 points to whoever can spot the hidden bottle of Smirnoff…

Smirnoff unveils global advertising campaign

In a move that likely to enrage language purists, Smirnoff has unveiled its latest advertising campaign called “Infamous Since 1864.” We think they mean famous. Anyway, enough pedantry, the campaign is subtitled: “Invention, Intrigue and Survival Against the Odds – the Extraordinary Story of Smirnoff Vodka”. And what a story it is! Founded in Moscow in 1864 by Pyotr Arsenjevitch Smirnov, following the October Revolution the business moved to Turkey, followed by Poland and then opened a distillery in France. In 1933, production began in the US which is the beginning of Smirnoff’s (somewhere along the way the spelling changed) rise to becoming the number 1 vodka brand in the world. To celebrate this 155-year history, Rupert Sanders has directed a film tracing the Smirnoff’s journey. Parent company Diageo developed the worldwide campaign with ad agency 72andSunny. Neil Shah, global marketing director of Smirnoff, said: “This will be the first truly global campaign on the brand in more than 25 years and will launch with significant media investment in markets including: North America, Europe, Latin America and Africa. It’s been a privilege to work with renowned director Rupert Sanders, who shared our bold ambition for this campaign, and we are thrilled to soundtrack the film with an original composition of El Michels Affair’s cover of the iconic hip hop track “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”. Sounds great, but surely it can’t be as good as the Ol’ Dirty Bastard original?

The Nightcap

No matter how much you love Bond, please don’t shake or stir this Bollinger.

Bollinger celebrates 40 years as Bond’s Champagne

James Bond has been sipping Bollinger Champagne ever since Moonraker starring Roger Moore was released in 1979. Since then there have been three more Bonds, Dalton, Brosnan and Craig, some highs, Casino Royale, and some lows, Die Another Day (sorry Pierce) but the Champagne has been consistently excellent. Etienne Bizot from Bollinger commented: “It brings me an immense amount of pride to be celebrating 40 years of partnership between Bollinger and James Bond, it is a testament to the friendship started in 1979, between my father Christian Bizot and James Bond producer Cubby Broccoli. A friendship based on our shared values such as excellence and elegance.” To celebrate this beautiful friendship, Bollinger has released a Tribute to Moonraker Limited Edition consisting of a magnum of Bollinger 2007 in a Saint Louis crystal ice bucket housed in a pewter and wood veneer case by Eric Berthes inspired by the space shuttle from the film. Only 407 have been produced with an RRP £4,500. If that’s out of your price range, there’s also 007 Limited Edition Millésimé 2011 to mark the release of the 25th Bond film, No Time To Die. It’s an unusual Bolly as it’s made entirely from Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Aÿ. Yours for £150. The film doesn’t come out until April 2020, but the Champagne is available now so you have something to drink while you wait. 

The Nightcap

Filey Bay, making history and looking suave by the sea.

Spirit of Yorkshire distillery launches the county’s first single malt

Three and a half years ago, the very first spirit flowed from the stills of Spirit of Yorkshire distillery. You know what that means, that spirit has been having a swell old time in casks for all that time, and is now a whisky! Launched on 5 October, Filey Bay is the county’s first single malt and is inspired by the bay that you can see from the distillery. “From our very first distillations, we have always set out to create a defined house style and a light, fruity whisky,” says Spirit of Yorkshire’s whisky director, Joe Clark. “Our First Release is a combination of our two distillate styles matured in select oak casks to produce a whisky that is creamy, light and fruity with flavours of vanilla, honey, citrus and caramel.” Spirit of Yorkshire co-founder, David Thompson notes, “you only get to release the county’s first whisky once and we’re thrilled to now share it with customers old and new.” Only 6,000 bottles of Filey Bay First Release have been produced, with the bespoke bottle boasting the distillery’s mascot, the gannet, bringing together land and sea through the decoration. Rest assured, bottles will be landing at MoM Towers soon, very soon…

The Nightcap

BCB says goodbye Station Berlin, and hello Berlin Messe in 2020!

BCB bids farewell to Station Berlin

Bar Convent Berlin (BCB) probably the biggest bar trade show in Europe took place in Berlin this week, and we were on hand to take in some of the action (we’d love to say all, but it’s genuinely so huge you’d probably need five lives and 13 livers to get round all 1,200-plus brands from 446 exhibitors, numerous seminars, and the fiesta of parties and bar takeovers in the evenings… phew). People from more than 48 countries were there, either showing off the newest boozes (or non-boozes as well as all the low- and no-alcohol drinks, there’s a dedicated coffee section, too), or seeking out said newness for their own bars and shops. It was a lot of fun. We spotted ALL the rum (2020 really could be the year), heaps of botanical spirits (could gin be on the wane?), and a bizarre amount of basil. Yes, basil. Seminars ranged from how climate change will affect drinks and looking at spirits through a diversity lens, to social media how-tos and future trends. One of our favourite quotes was from Samson & Surrey’s Kyle McHugh in a session on work/life balance, when he literally shouted: “it’s ok to be happy!” Truly relevant whether you work in drinks or not. And the biggest newsy news from the show? BCB is relocating to the sizeable Berlin Messe for the 2020 edition, to allow it to grow even bigger. See you there, drinks pals!

The Nightcap

Head over to the Rum Kitchen to try out Bacardi Legacy serves.

Tails Cocktails bottles Bacardi Legacy serves for LCW

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s London Cocktail Week (heading down and want some ideas? It’s still on this weekend, and you can check out our post right here). Well, batched drinks brand Tails really is bringing the party, and has become the first to bottle serves from renowned cocktail competition Bacardi Legacy! Global champion Ronnaporn Kanivichaporn’s winning ‘Pink Me Up’ Bloody Mary twist (with rum as a base), and UK winner Chelsie Bailey’s ‘Rum Reverie’ have both been immortalised (or as good as) in pre-mixed form especially for LCW. We went along to check them out, and can confirm they are DELICIOUS. “Batching finalist cocktails from the Bacardi Legacy competition is a real game-changer,” said Tails Cocktails founder, Nick Wall. “Since I started the company, it has always been our vision to elevate drinking experiences by making high-quality cocktails more accessible to a broader audience. Batching some of the world’s best rum cocktails brings this vision to life.” Check out both serves at The Rum Kitchen in Soho before 13 October!

The Nightcap

The quality of froth on that cocktail is pure wizardry!

Gabriel Boudier Wizard finalists announced

We’ve all fancied making our own booze especially at this time of the year when the hedgerow fruits are out but not many get a chance to have their concoctions adopted by one of France’s greatest liqueur companies, Gabriel Boudier. Which is just what will happen to the winner of the annual Gabriel Boudier Wizard competition. This week, the company announced the names of the finalists. The chosen three were: Lorenzo Gavelli from The Chambers at The Chamberlain Hotel in London with his pandan leaf liqueur, Luke Bensley from Legna in Birmingham with his beetroot liqueur and Matthew Cusworth from Hoot the Redeemer in Edinburgh with a nori seaweed liqueur. Each entrant also had to come up with a special cocktail based on their liquor. The finalists dubbed Wizards of the South, North and Scotland respectively will go on to a grand final in Dijon. But the judges were so impressed with other entry, a chipotle & pineapple liqueur from Dominic Saunders from the Royal Academy of Music, that they’re sending him to the final too as a wild card. The eventual winner’s liqueur will sit alongside such former winners as Lime Leaf Liqueur by Samuel Boulton (2015) and Dijon Mustard Liqueur by Maria Vieira (2017) in the Gabriel Boudier range as well as £1000 in prize money. Congratulations to all the three and may the best liqueur win.

The Nightcap

You can be sure a few of those glasses didn’t make it back in this year’s Oktoberfest…

And finally… Disappointing Oktoberfest: beer sales down on last year

Oktoberfest, Munich’s festival of all things Bavarian, well mainly beer, sausages and lederhosen (is lederhosen good, though?), has just finished, and in thorough German fashion the numbers have been crunched and the stats are in. The most notable being that beer enthusiasts tried to steal nearly 100,000 glasses. 96,912 (love that Teutonic precision) glasses were confiscated by eagle-eyed stewards. That sounds like a lot but apparently, it’s fewer than last year. Those famous steins were also used as weapons 32 times. Ouch! But most shocking of all, beer sales are down too, visitors drank 7.3 million beers, that’s 200,000 fewer than in 2018. Very disappointing. Must do better next year Bavaria.

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Five minutes with… Alex Wolpert, founder of East London Liquor Company  

East London Liquor Company has graced our shelves with a trifecta of fascinating new whisky releases, including the distillery’s very first single malt – cause for celebration if ever we’ve…

East London Liquor Company has graced our shelves with a trifecta of fascinating new whisky releases, including the distillery’s very first single malt – cause for celebration if ever we’ve heard one. As we blow up the balloons and scatter the confetti, founder Alex Wolpert talks us through the tasty trio…

Those already familiar with East London Liquor Company’s spirits-making philosophy will know they don’t do things by halves. These are the people who, when presented with the opportunity to release the city’s first distilled whisky in more than 100 years, released a London rye made in a combination of pot and column stills and matured in three different cask types. Whether it’s ageing gin in Moscatel casks or distilling 100% English-grown Chardonnay brandy, we’ve come to expect the unexpected from Wolpert and his team.

The east London-based distillery has just launched three new whiskies, each as compelling as the last. The first, East London Single Malt Whisky, is double pot-distilled and matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and rye casks from California’s Sonoma Distilling Company and ex-bourbon casks from Kentucky for a minimum of three years. Bottled at 47% ABV, given tasting notes include ‘peanut butter, bitter almond and biscuits, developing into a vegetal finish of green tomatoes and light tar, with a delicate and slightly oily mouthfeel’. 

Alex Wolpert looking happy in his distillery, and with good reason

There’s also a fresh batch of London Rye, matured first for a year in virgin oak before being rested in ex-Sonoma and Kentucky Bourbon casks for two years, with six months’ maturation in an ex-peated cask before it was finished in ex-Pedro Ximénez. Another 47% beauty, this bottling boasts ‘a big, umami hit of leather, peat, bouillon, porridge and peanut butter on the palate, with a chewy mouthfeel, wrapping up with notes of candied ginger and light tar to finish’. 

The third and final release goes by the name of ELx Sonoma, a blended whisky made in collaboration with Sonoma’s owner and whisky maker Adam Spiegel. Bottled at 45.5% ABV, the liquid contains London Rye whiskies aged in a variety of casks (including ex-peated, Pedro Ximénez and oloroso casks, as well as ELLC’s own barrel-aged gin barrels) along with Spiegel’s own blend of Sonoma bourbons. Here, spice and fruit lead on the palate, with notes of black peppercorn, dried apricots, candied cherries, corn silk and oatmeal.

Thirsty for more details, we called ELLC’s Wolpert for a chinwag. Here’s what he had to say…

Master of Malt: You’ve just released three brand new expressions, including your very first single malt whisky. Talk us through that project…

Alex Wolpert: From our point of view, it’s always been about experimentation – we never set out specifically to make single malt. Our London Rye last year was about, ‘how can we celebrate rye as a grain? How can we get that into a whisky that showcases us as a distillery? How do we find our character as a whisky producer?’. And at the same time we were – and are still – experimenting with single malt, so Andy Mooney, who is responsible for our whisky production, has really taken this approach to its limits. You’ve got extra pale malted barley, double pot distilled and matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and rye casks. We talk about it being a balance between nutty bitterness, a sweet, fragrant note, and then a vegetalness which really makes it incredibly moreish. It’s really special. But obviously I’m completely biased. 

The three new whiskies. We can’t wait (but we’ll have to because they’re not here yet)

MoM: It’s been a year since you launched London Rye. How was it received by drinks aficionados? What do the barrel finishes in the new bottling bring to the spirit?

AW: It went better than we could ever have dreamt. We allocated a couple of bottles to 40 of our key accounts, I hand-delivered the London accounts on the Friday and by the Monday most of them were out. It was really rewarding to see that not only were people prepared to take the juice and try it, but actually people came to the venues, asked for it by name and it sold. The whole production team were really very happy and it gave everyone a big spring in their step in terms of how we progress and what we work on. The new bottling feels like a development of what we did last year and it’s really tasty – that peated note adds to the fruity flavours of the Pedro Ximénez in such an incredible way.

MoM: You guys have collaborated with Sonoma Distilling Company in the past – could you talk about your relationship with them and the creative process behind ELx Sonoma?

AW: We’ve been importing Adam’s rye, bourbon and wheated whiskey for almost four years now. I never set out to have an import arm, I guess it was driven by finding amazing liquid, and his stuff is truly exceptional. Earlier this year I was out in California, I guess I had a bit of our liquid with me, he had a little bit of his and we just thought, why not see what might happen? In the end we made a few different samples, developing it and having conversations about ABV and blending. To end up with a liquid on this level was slightly unexpected, it’s amazing. What I love is that it proves we’re in pursuit of great liquid. If Adam’s high-rye bourbon adds something to what we’re doing, then why shouldn’t we bring them together? There’s a danger in any category that people have tunnel-vision, so it’s lovely to break that up and say, ‘We want to elevate rye – what better way to do that than to work with other great rye producers?’. Plus, Adam’s a lovely guy and we get along well, so any excuse to sit down with him and drink whisky is always gratefully received.

East London Liquor Company founder, Alex Wolpert, with distillery team

Team East London Liquor Company with founder Alex Wolpert second from right

MoM: When you first opened the distillery, your aim was to “produce spirits that are accessible in flavour and price, while being of the highest quality”. So far, are you happy that you’ve achieved what you set out to do?

AW: Absolutely, yes. Nothing leaves the building without us collectively saying, ‘This is really good’.  And for every new release, there’s so much in the background that isn’t ready or doesn’t quite work. So much work goes into finessing every release and making sure it’s of that standard. At the same time, sometimes you have these moments of panic where you think you’re in a big echo chamber – you release something, like our Grape Scott, where you think, ‘Will people like this? Does this work?’. And then you get great feedback and it acts as a sense check. So I’m really excited to hear what people think about these whiskies. Democratising good booze is always going to be at the forefront of what we do, it really informs how we develop and grow as a business, so that’s always going to be what we come back to.

MoM: ELLC’s momentum is super inspiring – what’s the distillery’s next goal?

AW: I feel immensely privileged, we’ve come so far and the team is a real testament to that. We’ve got such an incredible team who make it happen – without amazing product, we’re nothing. I guess our next goal is getting more whisky out and growing our gin footprint. We don’t call ourselves craft, but in an environment where ‘craft’ is perceived as justifying a £35 price tag for a bottle of gin, we want to get more of our £21.50 gin into people’s cupboards so they realise that price tag doesn’t equate to quality. We’re not shy about experimenting, so there will be some new releases on the horizon. It might be a bit unfair to say that without saying what will come, but when we think they’re ready, they’ll get airtime. We’re not standing still, and we’re not shy of pushing the envelope and developing what we do. 

These fabulous whiskies should be arriving at the end of October, keep an eye on our new arrivals page.

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New Arrival of  the Week: The English – Triple Distilled

This week we’re talking a closer look at the latest release from the pioneers of English whisky, St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk, which, as you might guess from the name,…

This week we’re talking a closer look at the latest release from the pioneers of English whisky, St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk, which, as you might guess from the name, is triple-distilled.

It now seems difficult to believe but when the St. George’s Distillery, home of the English Whisky Company, opened its door in 2006 (its first release was in 2009), a whisky from England of all places was a novelty. Its founder, farmer James Nelstrop now looks like something of a visionary as English whisky has become a respected and rapidly-expanding category. Nelstrop senior died in 2014 but the business is still in family hands. I spoke with James’s son Andrew Nelstrop about the latest limited edition release.

It’s a bit unusual, a triple-distilled single malt. “When you open a distillery you write a list of whiskies you like, and those you don’t like, and then off you go”, Nelstrop told me. And on the like list was a traditional Irish triple-distilled malt, like Bushmills. So for the past 12 years the distillery has been doing runs of triple-distilled spirit. “We liked the results, put it in cask and wait a few years. It’s a delicate and light whisky, unusual for us, for people who like their Irish whiskey”, Nelstrop said. With such a delicate spirit, they had to be careful with the oak treatment: “it’s a mixture of first and second-fill bourbon casks, a good fit for triple-distilled, though lots of people said, ‘put it in sherry!’” The casks were filled in 2011 and the whisky bottled at 46% ABV earlier this year.

The full English!

This is the first time the family have released a triple-distilled whisky. It’s part of the distillery’s small batch range only, 1462 bottles have been filled. For these special whiskies, according Nelstrop, they “pick three or four casks. We try to pick them from all the same year though if we have to mix a year or two up we will. The joy of small batch is it’s different every time.”  The next small batch in the pipeline sounds very interesting, a peated malt aged in virgin oak casks called Virgin Smokey. The distillery also offer two or three single cask bottlings but these often sell out without a public launch such is the demand.

Overall St. George’s distills around 60,000 litres of pure alcohol per year. “We could if were were feeling terribly enthusiastic put out 250,000 litres,” Nelstrop said. “When you start you go flat out. Now at 14 years old, we’re matching sales to production otherwise you’re building a warehouse every year.”

He seems delighted at how English whisky has a category has taken off in the last ten years: “I don’t know if we expected it, father loved whiskey and always wanted to open a distillery. It was only when Adnams joined the fray five years later and then you hear that someone else has a go, and realise that there is going to be a category. Creating the category is terribly important. We are beginning to justify our own space in a shop or on a website. The rest of the world has become more aware of non-traditional whisky nations. You can ask for a Swedish, English, or Australian whisky in a bar. That’s been a massive sea change in ten years.”

As well as small batches and single casks, the distillery has a core range of single malts, pot-distilled single grains and a spicy Norfolk Malt ‘n’ Rye (with a cat on the label – why don’t more distilleries put cats on the label?). The Nelstrop are farmers but at the moment all the cereals in their commercial whiskies are bought-in, mainly from Crisp Malting. But, Winthrop told me, “we have barley from our own farm, all done on in-house floor malting. It’s expensive and hard work. We have our own whisky maturing, we’ve never sold any yet. When we release an age statement whisky then it’ll be estate whisky, as I call it.” That sounds worth waiting for.  

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Orange marmalade, chocolate sponge cake with vanilla custard, notes of anise and condensed milk.

Palate: Another helping of vanilla custard, with butterscotch, lemon drizzle cake, bitter dark chocolate and honeyed pastry.

Finish: Buttery toffee and liquorice on the finish.

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Not whisky, not gin – an introduction to Nc’nean Aged Botanical Spirit

If you want to know what the future holds for Scotch whisky, look no further than Highlands distiller Nc’nean. We sat down with Annabel Thomas to chat about her latest…

If you want to know what the future holds for Scotch whisky, look no further than Highlands distiller Nc’nean. We sat down with Annabel Thomas to chat about her latest creation – a trio of cocktail-inspired aged botanical spirits – and unearth the story behind Scotland’s first 100% organic distillery…

“My mission when we founded Nc’nean* was twofold,” Thomas says, addressing the room at the distillery’s Aged Botanical Spirits launch. “One was around sustainability: to create a Scotch distillery that pioneered the very highest environmental standards to show what could be done in that area. The second was to bring some fresh thinking to the Scotch whisky industry, both in terms of the products we create and also the way we communicate and behave.”

The distillery was established in 2013 on the Morvern peninsula, after a life-changing trip to Islay prompted Thomas to take action. “There are lots of distilleries in a small space so it’s easy to do a quick recce,” she explains, “after a few tours, a theme emerged: we’re doing things the traditional way – the way they’ve always been done. I have no problem with that, tradition is the rock upon which Scotch as an industry has been built, but we also have to move with the times.”

Inside the Ncn’ean, sorry Nc’nean, Distillery

Building a distillery from the ground up meant the entire site could be engineered for sustainable production, from the biomass boilers that generate renewable energy to the waste products that feed local cows and fertilise the nearby land. That’s not to say it’s been a walk in the park. Far from it. “Getting a 40-ft by 60ft biomass boiler – that’s like two shipping containers stacked on top of each other – down a narrow single track road with bridges that go around corners, taking it off the lorry, and getting it into a barn, was one of the challenges,” she says.

Then there was the small matter of buying, processing and distilling organic barley. “We were told horror stories when we were thinking about doing it – that it would be hard to find or impossible to work with and give us terribly low yields, but it’s been absolutely fine,” Thomas says. “There are 10 organic malting barley farmers in Scotland and all of their harvest is collected together and malted for us by Muntons. They send us five tonnes a week.”

In 2018, Nc’nean released its inaugural Botanical Spirit, which sees its light, fruity new make redistilled with 10 botanicals, including juniper, coriander, sorrel, heather, and bog myrtle. The three new aged iterations that recently followed – which sees the liquid matured in bourbon, vermouth and Mondino casks – came about quite by chance. 

“I was chatting to a bartender in London about our Botanical Spirit, and he asked me if I’d ever thought about ageing it,” Thomas explains. “And the answer was no. Despite the fact we’ve got over 1,000 casks of whisky maturing in the warehouse, it hadn’t actually occurred to us. We had a little bit left over from the last batch that hadn’t yet been bottled, so we took one of the bourbon casks that we normally mature our whisky in, filled it with Botanical Spirit, and left it for four months to see what would happen.” 

The aged botanical spirits in all their glory

The resulting liquid was so delicious, they decided to experiment further using different casks. “That was where the cocktail link came in,” she continues, “we were trying to decide what barrels to start with and the cocktails that we like drinking the Botanical Spirit in seemed like a good place to start. Mondino, a German organic bitter liqueur, is a favourite pairing of ours, and they happen to do an aged variety so they had some casks. The Botanical Spirit also makes an amazing Martini, so we got a vermouth barrel. Each barrel brings out different aspects of the spirit, it’s quite fascinating to see.”

You’d forgive the team for resting on their laurels, but these products mark the beginning of what promises to be an exciting chapter for Nc’nean and also Scotch whisky. “We’ll have our first whisky out in June, so we are working very hard on that: designing the bottle, creating the recipe, all those things,” Thomas says. “It’s very exciting after what will have been seven years of work. We have some other ideas up our sleeves too, other products based on our new make. But they’re not very far progressed at the moment – just a twinkle in the eye.” 

*A little note – Nc’nean is the correct spelling, it was previously ‘Ncn’ean’ but apparently everyone found it too hard to pronounce, so the apostrophe has moved. If that’s still no help to you, it’s pronounced something like ‘nuck-nee-an.’

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

major fire at Jim Beam

The big boys will probably be ok

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

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

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

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

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

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New Arrival(s) of the Week: That Boutique-y Whisky Company X Balcones Distilling

This week, we’re tempting you with not one but three (soon to be four) extraordinary bottlings from Texas’ trailblazing Balcones Distilling, released in collaboration with our good friends at That…

This week, we’re tempting you with not one but three (soon to be four) extraordinary bottlings from Texas’ trailblazing Balcones Distilling, released in collaboration with our good friends at That Boutique-y Whisky Company. You’ll want to taste them to believe them, but until then, we’ve captured their essence in four words: upside-down cask maturation…

Hello, curious whisky drinker. We thought the words ‘upside-down cask maturation’ might just lure you in. Those clever folks at That Boutique-y Whisky Company are back at it again – and by ‘it’, we mean bottling the contents of compelling, rare, and/or downright bizarre casks from across the globe, this time from the Lone Star state: Texas. 

Now, the team behind Balcones Distilling aren’t shy about “testing the waters of what’s possible”, as head distiller Jared Himstedt so eloquently puts it. They’re the creators of the first Texan whisky since Prohibition, the pioneers of blue corn whisky, and the only distillers bold enough to create a smoky whisky by smoking the distillate, rather than the grain. If they can’t find a space for these barrels in their existing range, the contents must be – and we mean this as the highest possible compliment – extraordinarily weird.

Of the four Boutique-y releases, three are single malts made from Golden Promise malted barley from Scotland – aged for various timescales in Tequila, oloroso sherry, and Balcones’ own Brimstone casks – while the final spirit is made from blue corn and finished in Pedro Ximénez barrels. Each one spent more time in the finishing cask than it did in the original – hence ‘upside-down cask maturation’.

“We haven’t really released anything like these on our own,” says Winston Edwards, brand ambassador at Balcones Distilling. “We haven’t done a Tequila cask single malt at the distillery, we haven’t done a Brimstone cask at the distillery – we have done a sherry release, but not with our blue corn spirit. They’re unique to Boutique-y.”

Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

 

Balcones 3 Year Old Batch 2 (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

Well, well, well, what have we here? A Tequila cask-aged Texan single malt whisky; bold and vegetal, with a glorious dried fruit sweetness. “I don’t know what distillery this Tequila cask came from,” says Himstedt. “[Cask] Brokers can be weird – sometimes they don’t want you to know because then you can just start calling the distilleries and bodegas on your own. 

The team has always used Tequila casks, right from the beginning, in the mix for Baby Blue Corn Whisky, he continues. “We’d buy all the Tequila casks that were about to break down and they would make them into smaller barrels for us – they’d get shaved and re-charred and all that. I wanted to see what big Tequila casks would do for Baby, and when we got our first truckload in, we probably had 14 or 15 different isolated spirits recipes, so we threw everything in one – just to see.”

After 12 months ageing in a virgin French oak barrel, the single malt was scooted across to the ex-Tequila barrel, where it remained for 37 months. “I don’t know what you call it when you reverse the process,” says Himstedt. “We didn’t ‘finish’ it – we started it in one barrel and then it really matured in another.”

Balcones 2 Year Old Batch 1 (That Boutique-y Malt Company)

The more astute among you might’ve noticed something unusual. That Boutique-y Malt Company? Eh? “We’re not allowed to call it whisky in the UK if it’s under three years old,” Dave Worthington, global brand ambassador at That Boutique-y Whisky Company explains. “This is just two years old, so we’ve put a little flag over the whisky logo and renamed it ‘That Boutique-y Malt Company’.” 

After 14 and a half months ageing in an ex-bourbon barrel, this single malt was switched to a Balcones Brimstone cask for a further 16 and a half months’ ageing. The name Brimstone refers to a corn whisky of the same name, which is smoked using scrub oak. “It’s actually not a different species of oak, but in Texas where it’s really dry the tree grows twisted, almost like a Bonsai version of what an oak tree would be,” Edwards explains. “It’s so dense, we’re talking about something that has spent 60 to 80 years just to grow four feet tall, so lot of the compounds and aromas are really concentrated.” Think: smoky bacon and campfire deliciousness.

Balcones 2 Year Old Batch 2 (That Boutique-y Malt Company) 

The third single malt – again, bottled as a malt spirit rather than a whisky – spent 11 months in ex-bourbon casks before maturing for a further 14 months in an oloroso sherry cask, with all the rich plum fruit and mouthwatering spicy treacle you’d expect. Fun fact: This will be the joint-third Balcones release that has spent time in a sherry cask – the other two being the distillery’s 10th anniversary single malt and a dark rum finished in a Pedro Ximénez cask. *Italian chefs kiss* 

We say joint third, because soon (quite how soon is still under wraps) there will be another spirit joining this experimental line-up: a 100% blue corn spirit finished in Pedro Ximénez casks. If your whistle has been thoroughly wetted, you’ll need to get a move on – a very limited number of bottles are available, priced at £69.95 per 500ml bottle. Hey, we told you they were extraordinary. 

 

 

 

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The Nightcap: 20 September

Your order of bite-sized bits of booze news has been filled once again, courtesy of The Nightcap! This week we’ve got stories about beer from 1936, colourful Macallan whisky and…

Your order of bite-sized bits of booze news has been filled once again, courtesy of The Nightcap! This week we’ve got stories about beer from 1936, colourful Macallan whisky and the return of a drink-filled Amazon Prime TV series.

We’ve spent some time in the office this week talking about how Jeff Goldblum is pretty much the perfect person. To be honest, we spend a lot of weeks doing that. In a way, he’s quite like the booze industry. We enjoy what they produce, we’re excited to see what they come out with next and they both make us thirsty. Only one, however, can be the true focus of The Nightcap. Sorry, Jeff. But needs must.

So what’s been going on here on the MoM Blog? Well, we announced winner of our Salcombe Gin competition, so congratulations are in order. Elsewhere, Jess witnessed the journey of a whisky from tree to barrel to glass courtesy of Jura Seven Wood and Henry enjoyed some Rum Punch as this is International Punch Day (happy IPD, folks!). Annie, meanwhile, had an eco-themed week, first dispelling some eco myths and then looking at some the finest eco distilleries. Adam’s theme was more sherry-tastic as he rounded-up some delicious and delightful sherried whiskies and then made an amontillado sherry cask-finished Tomatin single malt Scotch whisky our New Arrival of the Week, before finding time to talk about the new Jameson Caskmates release.

Despite all of that boozy goodness, there’s still more news stories to cover. It’s The Nightcap!

The Macallan Edition No. 5 launches in collaboration with Pantone

Sound the ‘New Macallan‘ alert folks, because the Speyside distillery has just launched a bottling as a “homage to the diversity and complexity of natural colour.” It may sound more Pantene then Pantone, but the expression is supposed to champion the spectrum of natural colour you’ll find across the Macallan range and features a collaboration with the Pantone Color Institute. The company created the shade of purple you’ll see on the label especially for this particular release, which has been named The Macallan Edition Purple. The Macallan Edition No.5 was matured in American oak casks and is said to have notes of caramel, vanilla, lemon basil and fresh fruit combined with oak spices, but more importantly, it’s a colour the brand describes as “sunlit barley” (I’m thinking of having my spare room painted that). “We can find much common ground between whisky making and colour creation and with Edition No.5 we have been able to explore and celebrate these two art forms,” said Sarah Burgess, The Macallan whisky maker. “Whilst colour development starts with mixing basic colours with precision to achieve different shades, for whisky-making, it is the knowledge and understanding of a specific palette of colours from the cask which is the starting point. From here we can craft the desired character and specific colour of the final whisky”. Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, added: “As the rainbow’s most complex colour, purple naturally felt like the ideal shade to highlight the equally complex process involved in The Macallan’s whisky-making”.

The Nightcap

The remarkable historical beers

Britain’s earliest surviving canned beers go for £2,250 at auction

We’re used to old bottles of whisky selling for thousands of pounds but with beer less so. Which is why we were surprised when two old cans went for £2,250 at Chiswick Auctions in London yesterday. That’s a lot of bread for beer. But these weren’t just any cans. Oh no, these babies date back to 1936 and come from the Felinfoel Brewery in Llanelli which was the first brewery in Britain and the second in the world to produce a canned beer. Similar cans were shipped out to North Africa to keep General Montgomery’s army aka the Desert Rats refreshed. Handily at the time, the brewery also owned a tinplate works. The cans were lined with wax to stop the beer corroding the metal. It seems to have worked because both the contents of one can are entirely intact, whereas the second has suffered some evaporation. Not bad for 83-year-old beer cans. As for the taste of the beer, we are unlikely to find out whether they are drinkable as the cans were snapped up by the very company that brewed them (still in family hands after all these years) to go into its museum.

The Nightcap

Havana Club Tributo 2019, which we can confirm is very tasty

Havana Club brings Tributo 2019 to the UK

At The Churchill Bar & Terrace in Portman Square, London we were treated to live Cuban music, delicious cocktails, a sublime menu and, best of all, the 2019 edition of Havana Club Tributo this week. The fourth bottling in Havana Club’s Tributo range, which was first launched in February 2019 at the Habanos Festival in Havana, Cuba, was created by three generations of masters of Cuban rum (maestros del ron Cubano) including Don José Navarro, Asbel Morales and Salomé Aleman, the first and only female maestra del ron Cubano, who each selected a rare and extra-aged rum base which were first left to mature in the 1970s, 1990s and 2010s respectively. These were then blended together with a rum that was matured for more than 25 years in French oak barrels to form the 2019 edition of Tributo. “Once again, the Havana Club Tributo collection praises the richness and variety of styles that form the base of the authentic Cuban rum category,” said Morales. “Each rum in the Tributo range uniquely focuses on a different element of the production process, from our ancient rum bases to cask experimentation and the 2019 edition continues this story by honouring the craftsmanship of three of the maestros del ron Cubano.” Rich, refined and intense, Havana Club Tributo 2019 possesses notes of dark chocolate, dried fruit, baking spice, coffee, brown sugar and exotic fruit. It certainly earns our seal of approval and will be available at MoM Towers soon…

The Nightcap

A delightful cause, courtesy of a delightful beer!

Beer for good! Camden Town Brewery heads to London for UK’s first Can-for-Can Swap with The Felix Project

We’re all lucky enough to be able to enjoy delicious food and mouth-watering drinks on a regular basis, though it’s a harsh reality that that’s not true for everyone. That’s why we were super stoked to hear that Camden Town Brewery has launched a new autumnal seasonal beer, dubbed Harvest Hells Lager, in partnership with The Felix Project, a charity with a mission in raising awareness for food poverty in the UK. This is a problem which affects 8.4 million people nationally. Harvest Hells gets its autumnal notes from darker roasted speciality malts, making for a richer flavour while poetically turning its summery yellow hue to the reddish-brown of autumn leaves. Mmm, autumn leaves… But how does lager help food poverty, you ask? Well, from 24 September there’s going to be a Harvest Hells van gallivanting between London, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool with the UK’s first ‘Can-for-Can’ swap initiative! Bring a can of any tinned food and you’ll secure a can of Harvest Hells lager in return, while your tins will be donated to local food banks in each city. The when and whereabouts of the Harvest Hells Van can be found here. What’s more, Camden Town Brewery is donating 20p from every can of Harvest Hells Lager sold within the first month to The Felix Project. “Food poverty in the UK is a growing problem, with many people struggling to afford fresh and healthy food for themselves and their families,” Mark Curtin, CEO of The Felix Project, says. “We are delighted that Camden is not only helping to raise awareness of these crucial issues and the work we do at The Felix Project to tackle them, but also getting people involved in supporting the cause to help to reduce waste and eradicate food insecurity.” If there was ever a more appropriate time to do the can-can, it would have to be now.

The Nightcap

Distillation here will begin in 2021. We’d like all artist’s impressions to include dogs, on another note.

Ardgowan releases Coppersmith malt inspired by the Clyde’s shipbuilding heritage

This week Ardgowan announced the first in a series of limited-editions whiskies. The company has received planning permission for a new distillery to commence operation in 2021 but in the meantime will be selling blended whiskies created by Max McFarlane. CEO Martin McAdam described McFarlane, former whisky maker for Edrington looking after brands such as Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark, Bunnahabhain, Tamdhu and Highland Park, as a “whisky legend.” The first release is called Coppersmith and it’s a blend of Speyside and Highland distilleries wholly matured in first-fill oloroso sherry casks. McFarlane, who is from Inverkip on the west coast, said: “Coppersmith is the first in the Clydebuilt series of whiskies which Ardgowan Distillery will release in the years ahead. Each bottle in the series will celebrate the pride shown by generations of workers on the Clyde, who together built some of the world’s most illustrious ships.” He went on to say: “I wanted to produce a top-drawer blended malt and I believe that is what we have achieved.” It will be available from the distillery for £49.99 and from a certain online retailer soon.

The Nightcap

The Three Drinkers return to Amazon Prime, and indeed to Scotland!

The Three Drinkers returns to Amazon Prime

The Three Drinkers are back, and this time it’s personal. We were pleased to learn this week that the irreverent boozy Amazon Prime show is back for another series. The Three Drinkers are, for those who don’t know, actress and wine buff Helena Nicklin, journalist and social media sensation Adrian Smith, and whisky writer and photographer Colin Hampden-White. The first series was called The Three Drinkers do Scotch whisky and for the second series they haven’t travelled very far, it’s called The Three Drinkers Return to Scotland. At this rate it’s going to be years before they even leave the British Isles. Anyway, we aren’t complaining as there’s a lot of good booze in Scotland; the dynamic trio will be visiting: Dalmore, Jura, Fettercairn, Glen Scotia, Glen Moray, Loch Lomond and Firkin Gin distilleries. “We’ve been blown away by how well the series has done in such a short time,” Nicklin commented. “We’re looking forward to playing up the fun side of our travels with more experimentation with food and drink, eerie ghost stories, ridiculous challenges and all the weird and wonderful tidbits people never knew about Scotland and whisky.” The new series will be available to view on your TV, tablet or one of those computer watches that are all the rage these days from early December.

The Nightcap

This is Tails, the downstairs, at what we presume is Harvey Dent’s favourite bar

West Hampstead’s Heads + Tails bar channels two sides of a coin

If you’ve ever flipped a coin to try and decide which bar you should venture to, then Heads + Tails may be just what you’ve been waiting for. The West Hampstead bar was created by London mixologists Will Partridge and Chris Dennis, with the idea of having two complimenting counterparts to the bar: Heads, the top floor, and Tails, the downstairs. Each bar has a different menu, and we started off upstairs in Heads where there are spritzes galore and lighter cocktails, surrounded by light blue decor, filament light bulbs and a marble bar. We went for the Corpse Reviver No. 175, which marries Fords Gin, Dolin Blanc, Italicus and Chocolate & Mace Flower Bitters. Now, we weren’t with any corpses, though if there’s one cocktail that could revive the dead, it may well be this one. Beautifully light and citrussy, with a subtle rich creamy back note from the bitters. Then, there was Smoke on the Water, which takes Olmeca Altos Plata Tequila, mezcal verde, lime and watermelon syrup. Again, wonderfully well balanced, with juicy fruit tempered perfectly by the rich smokiness and grassy notes of the agave spirits. Then, you head downstairs to Tails, covered in dark oak and moodily lit by candles. It’s literally darker down there, and so are the spirits. Here we tried Twist of Fate, comprised of Wild Turkey bourbon, ginger and cinnamon syrup topped off with orange blossom water. Richer without being heavy, you can feel and certainly taste the difference between the two floors. A unique idea and a wonderful spot, and if you can’t decide from the list of delicious drinks you could always… flip a coin.

The Nightcap

If it’s good enough for TripAdvisor, it’s good enough for us!

Rum experience comes to Manchester

The Manchester Rum Experience sounds like the most exciting experience to come to Manchester since the Jimi Hendrix Experience played at the Twisted Wheel in 1967. It’s the brainchild of Dave Rigby from the City of Manchester Distillery, the city’s premier attraction according to never-wrong website Tripadvisor. Tell us more Dave! “Our motivation with the new ‘Rum Experience’ was to pay homage to some of the influences which drove us to build the distillery at the outset. As a collective, we have been on an amazing journey over the last few years and as such, we wanted to share some of these incredible experiences, stories and some of the fun we’d had, through a range of new and diverse, interactive events at the distillery”, Rigby said. Tickets have now gone on sale for the experience which consists of a three-hour immersion in all things rum with Dave Marsland from the Manchester Rum Festival including history, cocktails and the opportunity to fill your own min barrel in ‘The Lab’. Best of all, the new experience is being supported by some of our favourite brands including Chairman’s Reserve, Bacardi, Don Q, Appleton Estate, Diplomatico, Pussers, Wray & Nephew, Doorly’s, Plantation and Gosling’s. Beat that Jimi!

The Nightcap

Munich comes to London, only without any of the tradition. Still lots of beer, though

Inclusive Oktoberfests arrive in London

Once upon a time, you knew what you were letting yourself in for if you decided to go to the Oktoberfest. There would be men in leather shorts, mile after mile of pork sausages, oceans of beer, oh and you’d have to go to Munich to experience the whole thing. Well not anymore because this autumn there are three London Oktoberfests happening at Doc X in Surrey Quays: a fancy one, a gay one and a spooky one for Hallow’en. Go to http://www.doktoberfest.co.uk for more information. These differ from the original Bavarian festival in other ways: you don’t have to drink beer as there will be Champagne and non-alcoholic drinks served, or indeed eat traditional German sausages as at all three events there will be halal, kosher and vegan options. You don’t even have to wear leather shorts but you must be tolerant of those who choose to.

The Nightcap

Asparagus this, Brussels sprouts that… you can’t beat a good ol’ G&T!

And finally… asparagus becomes latest wacky gin flavour

In what has essentially become our, ‘look at this weird gin’ slot, an asparagus-flavoured expression has added to the endless nonsense of novelty-flavoured gins. It’s one of the spirits on offer at the inaugural Malvern Gin Show which showcases “some of the finest spirits from the Three Counties region” and giving visitors the opportunity to sample a wide range of drinks from local and surrounding gin distilleries. A competition will even declare one distillery ‘the people’s champion’. The event, part of the Malvern Autumn Show, runs the weekend of September 28 and 29, and will include a brand new Gin Pod Theatre to host to gin-tastic talks and for visitors to get inspiration for recipe ideas. Some of the confirmed distilleries at the show include Hussingtree Gin (who are responsible for the asparagus gin), Brennan and Brown and Haven Distillery. “The Malvern Gin Show is a new addition and we’re all rather excited about it,” said Richard Heath, show executive responsible for the new classes “We have a rich selection of distilleries which are local to the Three Counties, and what better way to celebrate than to hold a series of classes, and of course give our visitors ample opportunity to do some tasting.” Run in association with Westons Cider Mill, the Malvern Autumn Show will host over 65,000 people at the two-day celebration right in the heart of the beautiful British countryside, and you can get your tickets now at malvernautumn.co.uk.

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How to write a bestselling whisky book

This week Ian Buxton shamelessly plugs the new edition of 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die and takes a look at how the industry has changed since 2010 when the…

This week Ian Buxton shamelessly plugs the new edition of 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die and takes a look at how the industry has changed since 2010 when the book appeared.

Your editor must have been in a very benevolent mood recently.  He’s invited me to write about the new edition of my book 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die, which goes on sale this week. So, if your gorge rises at the prospect of an author blatantly plugging his own work, look away now.

Still here? Some background then. The first edition appeared nearly a decade ago and, I’m very happy to say, was an immediate, albeit somewhat surprising success. But the fact is that the book had a difficult birth, being declined by publisher after publisher on the grounds, back then, that there were already more than enough whisky books (this would be late 2007).  With the exception that is of one very small Scottish publisher, a friend, who I pitched it to more out of desperation than any expectation he would take it on. “I can’t publish this,” he said, “because if it’s the success I believe it will be I couldn’t possibly manage it – the cashflow alone on printing would wipe me out”. 

That, I thought, was the sweetest and kindest way for anyone to tell me they didn’t want the book so I dropped the idea. And then, by a very strange set of coincidences and some further setbacks it was picked up by Hachette, whose Scottish arm (now defunct) was looking for some Scottish-themed titles. Published in Autumn 2010 its immediate success surprised us all and there were several hasty reprints. The book even made it into some national best-seller lists that Christmas.

whisky crash

Ian Buxton about to drink some whisky

And that, we all thought, would be that. One big Christmas and then it would be done. But in 2011 sales were even better and it continued its onward march. Pretty soon though, as whisky moves so fast, it began to feel outdated so I revised a new edition for 2013, and then a third in 2016 and they have continued to sell very well indeed. Over 200,000 in total so far (he bragged, with inexcusable vulgarity).

Why has it been so well received?  Readers tell me there are several reasons: they like the convenient format; the irreverent approach appeals (too many drinks writers take themselves far, far too seriously in my opinion) and the fact that I try not to preach and avoid imposing my opinion encourages readers to develop their own point of view – which is all that really matters. In that spirit I’ve never awarded scores and now I’ve even dropped my own tasting notes. Let your own mother-wit, nose and palate guide you – you are the surest guide to your own taste.

And why a new edition now? Well, to be honest, there are two reasons: firstly, because it has continued to sell and sell the publisher is keen to keep the momentum going but, secondly, I wouldn’t have revised it now if were not for the fact that whisky keeps changing. Looking back to 2010 we’ve seen the rise and subsequent decline of NAS whiskies, the incredible growth in whisky’s popularity in new markets, the spread of the pernicious virus of ‘investment’ in whisky, especially Scotch, and the amazing quality and value offered by many unheralded producers or previously forgotten styles.

There have been lots of revisions and amendments in this new edition. Whiskies have been dropped and new whiskies included. To spread my net as widely as possible, I’ve decided that there will only ever be one expression from any one distillery and, seeking what seems to me best value, I’ve included unfashionable distilleries and countries I’ve previously neglected

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die is a book about tasting and enjoying whisky, not collecting and certainly not ‘investing’ in it. Sometimes I’ve surprised myself with the whiskies I’ve included but they are all there for a reason (you’ll need to read it to find out what they are). So I’m not going to bang on. Apparently the market thinks there’s room for at least one more whisky book and I hope that this can be it.  Thanks to the Editor for his indulgence and thanks to you for reading this far. The fourth edition of 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die is available now and I very much hope you will enjoy it.  Oh, and Christmas is just around the corner. In case you hadn’t noticed.

101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die (4th edition) is published this week by Headline, £14.99.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The connection between Jura Seven Wood and the French forest

The opportunity to see the journey of a whisky from tree to barrel to glass is a rare one. Imagine our delight then, when we were invited to witness exactly…

The opportunity to see the journey of a whisky from tree to barrel to glass is a rare one. Imagine our delight then, when we were invited to witness exactly that in the forests near Bordeaux, following the evolution of Jura Seven Wood

Wood is a huge focus for whisky but how many of us know about the processes before the wood becomes a cask? Probably not that many. We marvel, understandably, at whisky that has been aged for 40 or perhaps even 50 years. And yet, the process really begins centuries before in the forest, which is where our trip began. But first, a brief introduction to Jura Seven Wood. The no age statement lightly peated single malt is initially aged in American white oak bourbon barrels, before it’s finished in six different types of French oak: Limousin, Tronçais, Allier, Vosges, Jupilles, and Les Bertranges. To save you counting on your fingers, yes, that adds up to seven wood types.

Jura Seven Wood

The Loches forest looking particularly magnificent.

As we travel north on what looked like was going to be a rather grey day, the scenery becomes greener until we arrive at the Loches forest, a stark contrast to the stone buildings and baking heat of Bordeaux itself. Forest guard Fabien Daureau emerges from the trees to greet us. The forest is crucial to French history; back in the 1600s wood was predominantly used for energy and ship building. Rather sensibly, to ensure it was protected and managed correctly, the French government split the forest up into parcels, and guards like Daureau were put in place to manage each part. The forest is still divided up the same way, though now the primary use for wood has changed. In the parcel we’re visiting, it’s making casks. 

Oak trees destined to become casks are like the A-listers of the tree world. They must be straight, tall and without branches lower down the trunk. Every 10 years, the guards will comb through the forest, deciding which trees they should cull and which they should keep. It’s a ruthless process. There are an overwhelming number of factors which will exclude a tree from making the cut (pun intended). These include knots in the wood (which would cause barrel leaks), branches low down on the trunk, or tiny imperfections that an untrained eye would never see. We come across a 100 year old tree with something called a ‘pippy’ trunk, a miniscule little nubbin on the trunk caused by a beam of light. Generally other trees act as a barrier to these beams, though clearly this one got through. The ‘pippy’ tree is now unusable as a cask, a century of growth gone to waste!

Jura Seven Wood

Fabien Dareau imparting some serious knowledge.

There are other tricks to reduce the chance of imperfections. To ensure branches don’t grow lower down the tree trunk, Fabien and his team must see that the trees grow close enough together so there isn’t enough light for this to happen. A lack of light also promotes upwards growth, though there’s a fine line. Block out too much light and you’ll no longer encourage the smaller trees, but hinder them.

Choosing when to cut is just as complex as growing them, and Daureau tells us that much like humans, trees have feelings. If all the surrounding trees are suddenly cut, then the remaining tree will go into a state of stress, because of sudden differences in water and light. Older healthy trees are still surrounded by smaller or dying trees, which serve no purpose but to keep the environment stable. As saplings, there are around one million oak trees per hectare. At 250 years old, only between 50 and 100 trees per hectare remain, through both natural selection and rigorous culling from the forest guard. Only a mere quarter of each tree can be used to create casks, as the higher up the tree you go, the less straight it is, lowering the quality of the wood. The very top will be used to make paper or firewood. 

The ideal amount of growth is just incredibly slow, just 2mm a year. Slow growth results in a tight grain, which causes more interaction between the spirit and the wood. Good things take time. It’s incredible to see centuries of growth in one place, with great oaks that are soon to be cut standing tall next to tiny saplings.

Jura Seven Wood

Brownie points if you can spot the pippy trunk, because we certainly can’t!

We leave Daureau and the green wonders of the forest, making our way to the Sogibois stave mill just outside of Bordeaux. Here the oak is cut, revealing if the toils and efforts over the last few centuries have paid off. It’s only here that some trees reveal they’ve been housing bullets from World War I, which have rather poetically turned the wood black. Of course, they can’t be used. That’s not to say there aren’t some happy surprises. We’re shown an eye-catching unique orange wood, its rosy hue thanks to an unexplained mutation and the presence of beta carotene. It’s highly prized and much more expensive, though there’s no way of identifying the mutation until it’s cut. As much as we can try to control these factors, the fact is that nature is unpredictable, which is part of the beauty of the cask.

Jura Seven Wood

Blackened oak from WWI bullets.

Following the journey of the oak, we then head to Demptos cooperage where the staves are made into casks the very casks in which Jura Seven Wood is matured! The wood doesn’t merely pass through the cooperage, but spends a minimum of two years here while the water content is reduced to 20%. Once again, the length of time before the spirit even enters the barrel is just mind-boggling. 

It’s also the cooperage which helps create the flavour profile of the whisky. There are simple differences between different wood types, for example French oak is spicier than the vanilla-heavy American oak. Then, there are more complex layers of wood categorisation, such as micro-porosity, determining how quickly the spirit will age. Demptos has built a menu of 188 different ‘ingredients’, forming a partnership with each whisky blender who will create their own recipe. 

Jura Seven Wood

Many, many staves drying out at Demptos Cooperage.

Having spent much of the day outside, we’re suddenly plunged into a dramatic and fiery warehouse, where the immensely skilled coopers are literally spinning flaming barrels around with their hands. They did have gloves on, mind. The inside of the barrel reaches a scorching 200 degrees celsius, while the outside remains a balmy 35 degrees. A delight to the senses, the barrel smells just like freshly baked bread after one hour of toasting. Of course, there are longer toasting periods, as it’s just another of the many ingredients that can be personalised. Around 150 barrels are made here each day, and it was both astonishing and encouraging how much of the work is still done by hand. Creating a barrel is such a delicate art (albeit with a lot of banging and clanging) that, even in this day and age, it requires a human hand. 

Jura Seven Wood

Talk about playing with fire at Demptos…

Just as we saw the stages of tree growth and barrel-making, we also got to taste each stage of the Jura whisky throughout its ageing. What better place than in the midst of the beautiful Loches forest to taste the evolution of Seven Wood? Naturally, we started with the new make, the majority of which is unpeated, and full of creamy lemon, loads of malt and a hint of pear drop. Then, after maturing in American oak for 10 years, the spirit boasts boatloads of green tea, vanilla, banana and fresh mint.

To really show us the flavour French oak imparts, Glass shows us spirit matured in solely French oak, which is slightly more oily, bursting with mango, baking spices, set honey and chocolate. In Seven Wood however, the six French oak-matured spirits will have spent time in American white oak first, and will be blended with both peated and unpeated spirit that has been aged purely in American white oak. When that all comes together you get Seven Wood, with subtly smoky, nutty notes, vanilla, fresh peach, pear and a prickle of spice.

Jura Seven Wood

Gregg Glass chatting us through Seven Wood in the depths of the forest.

“It’s not just seven woods for the sake of it,” Glass notes as he explains the thought process behind the whisky. “When you look back at the recipes you’ve developed, you don’t realise you’ve used so many. It’s like opening a can of worms in terms of how many ingredients you can use.” Glass and his team found that these specific combinations created the desired layers of depth and complexity, a recipe that was built up over time. “Experimentation has always been very important to me,” Glass continues. “Without that sense of adventure, you’re never going to discover.”

The identity of Seven Wood was found in the French forest, so it’s no surprise Jura wanted to show off the often-overlooked stories of the trees themselves. I know that when I now look at a whisky, I won’t merely see an age statement or time in a warehouse, but will recall the years of growth, nature and talent that begin long before the liquid meets the cask. Glass told us that he was trying to create a harmony with Seven Wood, and harmony he has achieved. A thoroughly delicious whisky, paying its respect to the forest where it all began.

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Accessories to elevate your whisky appreciation

Today we are delighted to welcome a guest writer to Master of Malt, Ian Wisniewski author of The Whisky Dictionary which is published this week. Here he argues that the…

Today we are delighted to welcome a guest writer to Master of Malt, Ian Wisniewski author of The Whisky Dictionary which is published this week. Here he argues that the right accessories add a sense of occasion and enhance the enjoyment of your evening (or morning) dram. Take it away, Mr W. . . 

Of course, it’s about the taste, but there’s more to drinking whisky than that. It’s also an experience that can be enriched with matching accessories, and elevated into a ritual. When tasting, I arrange everything in the usual manner: glasses in a row, aligned with a water jug (not to dilute whisky but to provide a palate cleanser between sips). With a notebook in position, and a pen on stand-by to write tasting notes, I’m ready to begin.

But rather than pouring from the bottle, the whisky can be transferred into a decanter. This continues a tradition, as before whiskies were sold in bottles (a practise that gathered momentum from the mid-19th century) whisky was purchased on the premises of a grocer or wine and spirit merchant, and dispensed straight from the cask. This meant arriving armed with a jug (or other container), and once the whisky had reached its new home, the whisky was relocated into a decanter. Small labels (also known as tags) stating ‘whisky’ could be hung around the neck of the decanter, for ease of identification, as port, sherry and other favourites were also decanter-ed. Ornate tags, whether silver or porcelain, can be purchased on the antiques circuit, with plenty of streamlined, contemporary options on-line.

Check out these beauties: Islay Whisky set from LSA at Heals

Dedicated whisky decanters, whether taller and cylindrical, or shorter and shapelier, create a natural sense of elegance, which raises another question of good taste. Does decanting and aeration have an additional influence on the whisky, compared to pouring from a bottle? And if it does, is this considered an improvement ? As ever, it’s a case of conducting experiments and logging results (let’s start a group discussion).

If you take the decanter option, then why not display it in a tantalus, an unusual name which raises the question of etymology. Could this have evolved from the verb to tantalise? It would be appropriate as a tantalus is a case, typically wooden, fitted with a lockable handle that allows the decanters to be displayed while remaining incarcerated. This gives the owner complete control: the whisky doesn’t have to be hidden to protect it from unauthorised consumption. The tantalus was at its peak in the nineteenth century, and numerous examples have survived, ready to be re-homed by antique dealers (not losing the key is vital).

Scotch whisky used to be served exclusively in a quaich. The original drinking vessel, this is effectively an elegant bowl with two lugs (handles). The earliest examples were fashioned from wood in the sixteenth century, with different types of wood used to create patterns. Silver quaichs first appeared in the seventeenth century, and offered more scope for ornamentation with variously shaped lugs, while the bowl could be engraved with a monogram or crest.

Some lovely quaichs from the Quaich Company

As glassware became less expensive during the nineteenth century, the quaich spent more time on the shelf, and only made an appearance at formal occasions such as a wedding. But quaich-manship continues to thrive in Scotland, with the ‘a la carte’ option being to commission a silver or wooden quaich as a gift, or be presented as a prize.

It’s not always possible to predict when the desire for a malt whisky will assert itself. If it happens once tucked up in bed, there’s no need to get up and head for the drinks cabinet, as a noggin is an ideal bedside companion. Stylish and convenient, this small glass jug with a hinged lid contains a measure of whisky for one person, which hosts traditionally placed on bedside tables for house guests to serve themselves (as required). Noggin is also a traditional term for a quarter of a pint, around 15 cl, and if the noggin is filled to capacity it’s a generous amount.

And there’s no reason why you should ever be stranded without a dram, when a hip flask safeguards against this (a briefcase, handbag, or pocket can easily accommodate). This is why a hip flask is considered an essential accessory by some, and its come a long way since the original design, which was a leather strap that utilised the owner’s hip as a resting place for the flask. A hip flask can also make an aesthetic statement as well as being a status symbol, engraved with a monogram, decorative graphic or motto, with another option being a flask covered in leather, or Harris tweed for an additional Scottish accent.

Hip flasks offer a range of delivery options: the most direct being straight from the opening onto the palate, while some have a cap that unscrews and serves as a drinking cup. Deluxe versions comprise a small case fitted with two flasks and matching cups for sharing with a companion. Or one for each hand.

Adapted from The Whisky Dictionary: An A-Z of whisky from history & heritage to distilling & drinking (Mitchell Beazley) by Ian Wisniewski

 

 

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