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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: whisky

Whisky Advent 2019 Day #12: Mackmyra Äppelblom

It’s nearly time to open door number 12 on your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendars! This dram hails from a Nordic spot known for the Northern Lights, Ikea,…

It’s nearly time to open door number 12 on your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendars! This dram hails from a Nordic spot known for the Northern Lights, Ikea, ABBA and, most importantly, lip-smacking whisky.

Well, that’s it. We’re officially half-way through Advent! If you’ve still got Christmas shopping to do, this is your call to arms. What have you been doing all this time? Go, go! If you’re one of those uber organised folk, then you can reward yourself with opening the 12th door of your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar, and treat yourself to some tasty Swedish whisky with a pretty… apple-ing cask finish (sorry).

Today’s dram is… Mackmyra Äppelblom!

Mackmyra is a pretty awesome Swedish distillery, breaking new ground all the time. Did you know it’s even got its very own super futuristic gravity distillery, built in 2011 at 35 metres tall. Like the name suggests, the eco-friendly distillery uses gravity throughout the whisky making process, with the raw ingredients entering at the top, and the new make collected at the bottom. The heat generated during production is even used to heat the premises, which is pretty nifty. 

Mackmyra Appelblom

It’s the fruit bomb that is Mackmyra Äppelblom!

It’s no surprise then that the folks over at the distillery have been known to try out some cool cask finishes, namely in the form of Mackmyra Äppelblom! Äppelblom means apple blossom, which makes more sense when you find out that, after ageing in bourbon and new American oak casks, the Swedish single malt was finished in oak casks which previously held Calvados. 

This wasn’t just any old Calvados, but spirit from one of the world’s leading Calvados producers, none other than Christian Drouin. Prepare yourselves for a whole load of spiced orchard fruits over here. Get your hot toddy glasses out and pair this one with warm apple juice for a winter warmer, or follow UK sales manager Alex Johnson’s advice on the perfect Äppelblom serve. We managed to grab a chat with Johnson to tell us more about all things Mackmyra.

Master of Malt: A Calvados cask-finished whisky! What can we expect flavour-wise?

Alex Johnson: Apples abound with strudel and custard, then cedar, soft spices, vanilla, pear and a touch of citrus.  

MoM: What’s your favourite way to drink Äppelblom?

AJ: Chill a glass and pour in a good measure. Serve with banana bread dipped in sea-salted extra virgin olive oil – you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!

Mackmyra Äppelblom

Check out Alex Johnson’s favourite serve, with a hefty slice of banana bread.

MoM: What was a Mackmyra highlight of 2019?

AJ: The creation and launch of Intelligens, the world’s first A.I. whisky was a very special event and another first for Mackmyra.

MoM: Can we expect more fun cask finishes from Mackmyra in 2020?

AJ: Of course, innovation is at our core. Angela’s not revealed what they’ll be just yet but we know they’ll be our best yet.

MoM: What’s your favourite Christmas cocktail?

AJ: A Margarita is a perfect way to get the day going but in the evening that try stirring some Äppelblom down with Angostura bitters, a pinch of sea salt and a dash of crème de banane. Serve on the rocks with slices of dried banana – it’s essentially an apple and banana Old Fashioned, but we call it a Bonita Äppelblom.

Mackmyra Äppelblom Tasting note:

Nose: Toasted oak and orchard fruits galore, namely apple and pear with a hint of lemon, delicate floral notes with sweet vanilla and toffee.

Palate: Well rounded fruity and spicy notes continue with the marriage of pear and citrus. Cedar wood emerges alongside aniseed, caramelised almonds, white pepper and ginger spiciness.

Finish: Spicy tones linger with gentle oak and zesty lemon and apple.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #11: BenRiach 10 Year Old

The 11th door of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar holds something exceptionally tasty from a certain Speyside distillery which is named for the Gaelic for ‘speckled mountain’…  Well,…

The 11th door of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar holds something exceptionally tasty from a certain Speyside distillery which is named for the Gaelic for ‘speckled mountain’… 

Well, well, it’s the 11th day of Advent. We’re not half way just yet, but gosh darn it’s not far off either! You’ll know that though of course, because you can see how many doors you’ve opened on your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar, and it’s got a treat for you on this special day.

We all know you’re here for the whisky, so we’ll get down to it.

Today’s dram is… BenRiach 10 Year Old!

This particular expression was first launched in April 2015, and is the flagship expression from the Speyside distillery after it changed hands in 2004 from Pernod Ricard to Billy Walker (it was subsequently bought by Brown-Forman in 2016). So, this was the first core range expression to be predominantly crafted from whiskies distilled at BenRiach since Walker took over. And it’s still going strong! 

The Speysider is drawn from both bourbon and sherry casks after a decade of ageing, so you have all those sweeter, creamy notes from the bourbon cask sitting wonderfully alongside the spicier notes from the sherry cask. 

Benriach 10 year old

It’s the wonderful Dr Rachel Barrie, everyone!

We got to chat to the awesome master blender Dr Rachel Barrie, to talk us through all things BenRiach! It’s been quite the year for the Dr Barrie, as among many other achievements, after 27 years in the industry she was inducted as a ‘Keeper of the Quaich’

Master of Malt: Wow, here we have the flagship expression from BenRiach! Can you talk us through what we should be expecting flavour-wise?

Dr Rachel Barrie: Benriach 10 Year Old glides on the palate like a delicious patisserie, with layers of succulent orchard fruit on a base of pastry-like malt and vanilla cream, topped with toasted almond and a touch of spice. 

MoM: What’s your favourite way to drink BenRiach 10 Year Old?

RB: I enjoy BenRiach 10 Year Old neat or with a splash of water for the perfect multi-layered balance of fruit, malt and oak. 

Benriach 10 year old

Behold, Benriach 10 Year Old.

MoM: What’s been a BenRiach highlight of 2019?

RB: In 2019, the launch of the latest BenRiach Cask bottling Batch was a highlight, after selecting 24 casks from Warehouse 13, including Benriach unpeated and peated matured in oak casks previously filled with Tokaji wine, oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximénez, Port, claret, Madeira, Sauternes, virgin oak, South African red wine, Jamaican rum, Rioja, Sicilian Marsala, and bourbon! The drinker now has the chance to select from the same eclectic collection of casks I have the pleasure of nosing every day.

MoM: What’s your favourite Christmas cocktail?

RB: A smooth, spiced fruit cocktail with cloudy apple juice, ginger beer, cinnamon and cloves, and a slice of red apple perched on glass, to crunch between sips. The perfect balance of sweet and dry, warm and spicy yet refreshingly smooth and fruity.

MoM: What can we expect from BenRiach in 2020?

RB: BenRiach will really come alive in 2020 with many exciting developments when it comes to our pursuit of flavour and pushing the creative boundaries of whisky-making in our three styles – classic, peated and triple-distilled.

Tasting note:

Nose: Citrus-forward, with gingerbread and cinnamon in support.

Palate: Fried banana, brown sugar, powerful barley notes driving it all along.

Finish: Lasting hints of peppery malt and vanilla custard.

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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, 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. You need at least 1ml otherwise it’ll be a blended malt, and those have to be bottled in Scotland. 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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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #10: The GlenDronach 12 Year Old

On the 10th day of Advent, Drinks by the Dram declared that we should drink delicious Highland whisky, from a wonderful distillery situated at the Dronach Burn. Go on people,…

On the 10th day of Advent, Drinks by the Dram declared that we should drink delicious Highland whisky, from a wonderful distillery situated at the Dronach Burn. Go on people, get that Advent door open already!

It’s the 10th day of advent! That’s a nice round number. As such, day 10 deserves a suitably well-rounded whisky (see what we did there). Luckily Drinks by the Dram’s 2019 Whisky Advent Calendar is on hand with all the goods.

Today’s dram is… The GlenDronach 12 Year Old!

For five sad years, the Highland distillery was mothballed from 1996 until 2001. Thankfully whisky stock was still maturing over that time, and the distillery reopened, and with it the 12 Year Old was born! It was first released in 2009, and the fruity single malt is aged in a combination of oloroso and Pedro Ximénez casks from Spain. 

The year that was 2019 saw The GlenDronach release the seventeenth batch of its Cask Bottling series, as well as a smashing 1993 Master Vintage! It’s not like we really need a reason to raise a dram of The GlenDronach 12 Year Old, though those endeavours are certainly worthy of one!

Glendronach 12 year old

Say hello to Stewart Buchanan!

We were lucky enough to grab a minute (and a chat) with GlenDronach brand ambassador Stewart Buchanan, to learn more about the wonderful Highland distillery.

Master of Malt: Can you talk us through the flavour profile of the sherry bomb that is GlenDronach 12 Year Old?

Stewart Buchanan: It really is a single malt for everyone. So many times I hear from consumers that it was the first whisky that sent them on their single malt journey; the harmony and balance of sherry maturation, oak spice and the rich Highland character combine perfectly together. From the first sip to the last it shows all off a richly sherried whisky at its absolute best – from the notes of sweet, creamy vanilla and ginger on the nose to spiced mulled wine and pear flavours, to the warming finish of rich oak and sherry sweetness bursting with raisins and soft fruits in the palate. Delicious!

MoM: What’s been a GlenDronach highlight of 2019?

SB: Goodness, that’s a tough one…! I suppose the most exciting release to launch and take round the world has been the 1993 Master Vintage – from Stockholm to Singapore and Tokyo to Taipei the reception was fantastic. GlenDronachs from 1993 have always captivated palates and with this particular Master Vintage, our Master Blender really has done it again – it truly is an extraordinary limited edition. Expect profound layers of depth and complexity, leading to an exceedingly long, voluptuous and memorable finish through its vibrant profile.

MoM: What’s your favourite way to drink GlenDronach 12 Year Old?

SB: The GlenDronach 12 Year Old is, I suppose, my most social occasion single malt of the range. Enjoying with friends whether at home or in a bar, its rich but simple flavours working in perfect harmony make it a great single malt to simply enjoy and savour without having to overthink – that for me makes a perfect social Scotch whisky.

Glendronach 12 year old

The Glendronach 12 Year Old looking suitably snug.

MoM: Can you give us any hints as to what we can expect from GlenDronach in 2020?

SB: As ever, our master blender Dr Rachel Barrie is constantly nosing, tasting, assessing and creating – we do have some special gems tucked away so watch this space.

MoM: It’s Christmas Eve, and you’re sitting down with a GlenDronach dram. Which one is it?

SB: I will be doing what I do every Christmas Eve – my mother brings out the Christmas cake which she has been preparing since September. She slices through the sugar icing and marzipan into the boozy, dark fruit-laden masterpiece and I pour everyone a warming measure of the GlenDronach 21 Year Old Parliament – it’s a match made in heaven!

Tasting notes

Nose: Rich cereals, struck match, raisin, cinnamon, caramelised sugar. Opens with some sweeter PX and lots of delicious raw ginger before becoming creamier with hazelnuts.

Palate: Fruits, peels, buttery. Pain au chocolat, a little marmalade on toast before becoming firmer and nuttier with spiced raisins.

Finish: Smoky toffee and nut brittle.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #6: Mackmyra Vinterglöd

Roll up, roll up, it’s the sixth day of Advent, which means that door number six on your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar is eagerly awaiting to be…

Roll up, roll up, it’s the sixth day of Advent, which means that door number six on your Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar is eagerly awaiting to be opened! What’s in store for us today?

The first week of Advent is just flying by, don’t you think? With a different dram to look forward to every day, it’s hard not to wish away the whole 24 days! Today, we’re in for a real treat, with a whisky from a place which, over the last couple of decades, has now been put on the tasty whisky map. Yes, it’s a thing. Yes, it also looks a lot like a regular map, except… this one’s full of places which produce tasty whisky. Duh. 

Today’s dram is… Mackmyra Vinterglöd!

Once the friends behind Mackmyra started looking to create a Swedish whisky distillery back in 1998, it seemed ridiculous that nobody had thought of this before! There’s pure water running past the distillery, with Swedish barley growing in the fields, to the Swedish oak which can be used to make barrels for ageing. It’s like this is what the country was born to do!

Mackmyra Vinterglod

Mmm, maturing Mackmyra whisky…

Vinterglöd means ‘winter glow’ in Swedish, and the whisky was inspired by the Swedish tradition of drinking mulled wine during winter (though we wouldn’t say that’s an exclusively Swedish tradition, we don’t want to know how many ladles of mulled wine we get through during the festive period here at MoM Towers). To achieve this fruity, wine-y flavour, Vinterglöd is matured in casks that previously held Pedro Ximénez sherry and Swedish mulled wine. That should do it.

To learn a bit more about this fun-loving Swedish distillery, we chatted to UK sales manager Alex Johnson!

Master of Malt: What memories come to mind when you nose/taste Vinterglöd?

AJ: It’s all those lovely evocative Christmas flavours – Christmas cake, marzipan, fragrant spices, dried fruits, candied peel, sweet sherry and panettone.

MoM: What’s your favourite way to drink Vinterglöd?

AJ: With a slice of ginger cake or a bowl of Christmas Pudding. A roaring fire is not obligatory but it helps, however good company is essential.

Mackmyra Vinterglöd

It’s Mackmyra Vinterglöd!

MoM: What can we expect from Mackmyra in 2020?

AJ: More innovative finishes and more people experiencing their own personal 30L casks.

MoM: It’s Christmas Eve, and you’re sitting down with a Mackmyra dram. Which one is it?

AJ: It would have to be a bottle from my own Mackmyra Reserve 30L Peated Oloroso cask.

MoM: Okay, and besides mulled wine and (obviously) whisky, what’s your favourite Christmas tipple?

AJ: Sherry, sherry and more sherry – Manzanilla in the morning, Amontillado in the afternoon and PX with pudding!

Mackmyra Vinterglöd Tasting Note:

Nose: Christmas cake spice cuts through blood orange and red berries. Aromas of burnt toffee popcorn, caramel fudge and a little marzipan develop throughout.

Palate: Blackcurrant, pink grapefruit and a little floral barley blend with caramelised almonds and tobacco leaves.

Finish: Oak spice and ginger linger with a little cherry.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day # 5: Steel Bonnets

Open door #5 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and you’ll find a blend that unites those two great rivals, England and Scotland, together in one bottle.  First…

Open door #5 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and you’ll find a blend that unites those two great rivals, England and Scotland, together in one bottle. 

First of all, why is it called Steel Bonnets? Well, it’s time to don the old tweed jacket with leather elbow patches and indulge in a bit of history. Pay attention at the back, Jenkins! Cumbria, where the Lakes Distillery is situated has long been fought over by England and Scotland. Borderers developed their own fierce outlaw culture (which they took to Ulster and Appalachia). Bandits who operated across the frontier were known as border reivers and wore metal helmets aka steel bonnets. There’s a non-fiction book about them by George MacDonald Fraser (he of Flashman fame) called, Steel Bonnets.

So, what better name for a blend of Cumbrian and Scottish whisky? Steel Bonnets is a blend of malts from the Lakes Distillery and from further north. The distillery was founded in 2014 by Chris Currie, who had previously set up the Isle of Arran Distillery, and Nigel Mills, who made a bit of money in property and hotels. They had some serious talent on board from day one in the form of former Dewar’s master distiller Chris Anderson and Alan Rutherford, former production director at Diageo. In addition to Steel Bonnets, there’s another British blend called The ONE plus vodka and various gins.

In 2016 Dhavall Gandhi joined the team from Macallan. As you might imagine, he’s not averse to a sherry cask or two. And indeed, this year’s long-awaited first commercial single malt release, The Lakes Whiskymaker’s Reserve No.1, is a sherry monster. To tell us more about the Lakes, Steel Bonnets and sherry casks, we spoke with Gandhi:

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery

Master of Malt: Steel Bonnets is such a great idea, a blend of English and Scottish whiskies. Can you tell me how you came up with it and whether you have any other cross border plans?

Dhavall Gandhi: The idea of our cross-border blended malt, Steel Bonnets, was conceived by our two founders, Nigel Mills and Paul Currie, and our chairman, Dr Alan Rutherford. This is a very unique platform and gives us many opportunities to create some interesting cross-border blends. Watch this space!

MoM: How much do you love sherry casks?

DG: Every cask will influence the character of the whisky in a unique way, and, out of all the casks available for whisky maturation, sherry casks are my absolute favourite. I love them so much that I have decided to make it the focus of my professional career. I continue to study them in-depth and work very closely with our trusted suppliers on a variety of experiments.

MoM: In what ways does it help the Lakes Distillery to be part of a category, English whisky?

DG: English whisky or even world whisky in general is an exciting and growing category. A lot of whisky makers in England are producing great whiskies and it helps to be a part of the category when everybody is doing the best they can to create they own distinctive style and contribute to growing this category. 

Steel Bonnets

Steel Bonnets, an Anglo-Scots collaboration

MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

DG: Whisky-making is a subjective topic and hugely influenced by the philosophy of the whisky maker. The focus will be in flavour but the most interesting thing is that every whisky maker will focus on areas they believe are important in creating their own style of whisky. These will highlight the nuances and diversity of flavours created by raw materials, fermentation, distillation, maturation and blending.

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

DG: It will depend on the time, occasion and the company, but there will be a variety of whiskies and some wine. I am looking forward to enjoying the Quatrefoil Hope with my dad.

Steel Bonnets Tasting Note:

Nose: Hazelnut whip, vanilla pod and gingerbread, with stewed plums and a hint of wood smoke underneath.

Palate: Touches of exotic fruit, cinder toffee and nutmeg emerge through the combination of dried fruit and creamy nuttiness at the core.

Finish: Medium-length, sweet and a little bit smoky.

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Hard Seltzer

Those who live outside of the US might not be familiar with the concept of a Hard Seltzer. The trend is certainly yet to catch on among us Brits. To…

Those who live outside of the US might not be familiar with the concept of a Hard Seltzer. The trend is certainly yet to catch on among us Brits. To gain a little industry insight, we stirred down the popular Stateside serve at a J&B Rare masterclass with Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch drinks experts Neil Ridley and Joel Harrison…

A whisky highball on steroids. That’s my first impression of America’s beloved Hard Seltzer, which has exploded in popularity both as a bar serve and in bottled form. Seltzer drinks – “effectively naturally-flavoured sparkling water,” Harrison explains – are absolutely booming across the pond, and their boozy iterations are set to become a US$2.5 billion category by 2021, according to an estimate shared with Business Insider.

If you hadn’t already guessed, the Hard Seltzer is flavoured water “with an added element of alcohol,” Harrison continues, “often whisky, so it’s essentially a Highball but with flavoured water.” Despite runaway success overseas, in Blighty, the term has most of us scratching our heads (hard soft drink doesn’t quite have the same ring to it), which is ironic, really, since the serve in its simplest form was initially made with liquid from the UK. 

Well, sort of. In The Mixicologist, Or, How to Mix All Kinds of Fancy Drinks, penned by Chris F. Lawlor in 1895, there are two recipes, says Harrison. “The first calls for British Isles whisky, likely Irish whiskey at the time, lengthened with soda water,” he explains. “In terms of measurements, [Lawlor] simply says, ‘Let your guests help themselves to the amount of whisky they like, and top the rest up with water’. There is also another recipe for a B&S (Brandy and Soda), where he calls for a ‘pony’, which would’ve been about 28ml. And that kick-started this refreshing club soda-style drink.”

Hard seltzer

Hard Seltzer, easy to make

Among the first to tackle the trend was Scotland’s J&B Rare. Made with 42 different whiskies, the blend was created first and foremost for club soda-style drinks, says Ridley. “If you were going out for dinner or having a lavish dinner party, you want to spoil your palate for all these fantastic wines that you were going to be drinking. At the time, people weren’t drinking single malt, largely speaking they were very peaty, smoky, heavyweight whiskies. The idea was to create eminently lighter, more delicate, and more refined.”

Such was its success in the UK, parent company Justerini & Brooks rebranded the bottling J&B Rare and took it to America just in time to toast the end of Prohibition. US drinkers loved it, and soon the brand found a real foothold in New York and Las Vegas, becoming a firm favourite among The Rat Pack – particularly Dean Martin. The Highball spread to Japan, where it became a striking vessel for the nation’s light, delicate whisky style and was adopted as a cultural icon., Japan’s bartenders refined the signature serve with crystal-clear ice and delicate glassware, paving the way for the modern Highball you find on menus in bars around the world today.

But I digress. Back to the Hard Seltzer serve. You don’t need a fridge full of flavoured soda to execute your own perfect version of the drink. In fact, Ridley and Harrison recommend giving the dodgy artificial-tasting stuff a wide berth in favour of making your own flavoured sparkling water seltzer at home. It’s easy enough – just infuse fruits, vegetables and other tidbits with sparkling water in one of those lovely glass barrels with the tap attached. 

Hard Seltzer

You can buy ready-made flavoured water, or make your own

Flavour-wise, you could go for a refreshing cucumber and mint combination, spice things up with ginger, apple, and cinnamon, or keep things simple with a classic lemon and lime. However, if you don’t fancy making your own and would rather stockpile the bottled stuff, a handful of health-conscious flavoured sparkling water brands are starting to crop up in the UK, for example No1 Rosemary Water (which has also started branching out with fizzy versions of other tasty herbs like fennel).

You’ll also need bitters, preferably fruit-flavoured – peach, orange, lemon, rhubarb, plum, grapefruit, whatever you’re feeling – and a handful of tasty garnishes to really set the drink off: lemon zest, rosemary, cherry, or mint, for example. Ready to jump on the Hard Seltzer trend? Here’s the recipe for the Rosemary Hard Seltzer to get you started:

25ml J&B Rare 
125ml No.1 Sparkling Rosemary Water

Fill a highball glass with ice. Add J&B Rare and top with Sparkling Rosemary Water. Stir slowly and garnish with a fresh sprig of rosemary. Could not be simpler.

 

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #4: Nikka Days

There’s something a bit special behind door #4 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. It’s a creamy blended whisky from Nikka in Japan. You’ve probably noticed that Japanese…

There’s something a bit special behind door #4 of Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar. It’s a creamy blended whisky from Nikka in Japan.

You’ve probably noticed that Japanese whisky especially of the age statement variety has become rather expensive. It’s a simple matter of too many customers and not enough whisky. Supply and demand, innit? There are, however, a few Japanese bottlings that overdeliver on flavour per pound like Nikka from the Barrel, a cask strength blended whisky with a high malt content. Not surprisingly, it’s one of our bestselling whiskies and a massive staff favourite. But now there’s a new rival for the coveted top Japanese blend slot and it’s from the same stable. Called Nikka Days, it was launched earlier this year with some rather groovy packaging. It’s gentler, softer and sweeter than the big flavours of Nikka from the Barrel. We think it might be the ultimate Highball whisky.

Nikka has some serious pedigree: it was set up by Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky. He studied in Scotland where he met and married Rita Cowan. Returning to Japan, he worked with Suntory before setting up on his own in 1934 with the foundation of the Yoichi single malt distillery. In 1952 the name of the company changed from Dai Nippon Kaju to Nikka. Later Taketsuru would be the first person to make whisky in Japan with a Coffey still. To tell us more about Nikka Days, we have brand ambassador, Stefanie Holt:

Masataka Taketsuru

Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky

Master of Malt: Can you tell us a little about the components in Nikka Days?

Stefanie Holt: Nikka Days is  a combination of the Coffey Grain, lightly-peated single malt from Miyagikyo distillery, Coffey malt and Yoichi single malt, so the balance between the main flavours from each of those components is what makes it so rounded and complex. It’s a really well-balanced blend – it starts off fruity and floral on the nose, then soft flavours of toffee, cereal, roasted nuts and a hint of smoke come through on the palate, along with a creamy texture. Finishes off with dried apricot, orange blossom and vanilla. 

MoM: What’s the best way to drink it in your opinion?

SH: It’s fantastic neat and shows a lot of complexity and elegance for a very affordable price, but it was designed for mixing into Mizuwaris or Highballs. The best ones mix Nikka Days with elderflower tonic or coconut water – one part whisky to two parts mixer, served over plenty of ice. Garnish with a mint sprig.

MoM: Now that Japanese distilleries like Nikka have upped production to meet to meet demand, are we likely to see more age statement whiskies soon?

SH: I think ‘soon’ might be a bit optimistic, but the aim is for there to be enough for that eventually. You can’t rush good whisky! We still have age statements in the Taketsuru range though (17, 21 and 25 year old – limited allocation each year), and the Nikka 12yo is still available in the UK (even though it’s been discontinued in Japan) until stocks run out, so we have a few age statements around. It’s really exciting about the increased production capacity though as it will give the blenders there some more flexibility and allow them to be creative.

Nikka Days

Thank you for the Days

MoM: What trends or developments do you think we’ll see in the world of whisky in 2020?

SH: It’s going to be interesting with all the changes to import duties being imposed in various countries around the world, but I think in general we’re still seeing more new distilleries & countries producing whisky. It’s an exciting time as a lot of distilleries started producing three to five years ago, so there are lots of newly released things to taste!

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

SH: I’ll be on holiday in Bali, so will be aiming for Piña Coladas/Miami Vices on the beach, but I’ll also take a bottle of Nikka Coffey Gin with me for some 5pm G&Ts on the balcony! If I was back home having a snowy Christmas, then I’d most likely sip & savour Nikka’s Pure Malt Red or some Hine Homage.

Tasting Note for Nikka Days:

Nose: Orchard fruit, honeydew melon and Campino sweets, then orange oil, golden barley and lemon cheesecake.

Palate: Creamy hazelnuts, toffee apple, sweet cereals and vanilla fudge alongside a hint of barrel char, freshened up by Conference pears.

Finish: Buttery shortbread, brown sugar and vanilla pod.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #2: Starward Nova

An awesome Australian whisky awaits those who open window #2 of their Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar… Christmas is at the beginning of the summer holidays for Australians….

An awesome Australian whisky awaits those who open window #2 of their Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar

Christmas is at the beginning of the summer holidays for Australians. You may have previously heard of folks enjoying Boxing Day barbecues* and trips to the beach. Frankly, I don’t know how we convince #WhiskySanta to spend so much of the season around MoM Towers. He does love a surf, our festive friend. 

Anyway, the reason why I brought all of that up is that today there’s an Australian whisky behind window #2 of your Advent calendars… Starward Nova!

Who else? Starward has been flying the Australian whisky flag as proudly as it can for the last few years and given the quality of spirit it bottles, it’s not hard to see why. Don’t forget, the opportunity to see how they do it can be yours by winning this delightful VIP trip to the distillery!

Back to Nova, which is an expression that should appeal to those who consider provenance important. It was made entirely from Australian malted barley and spent three years maturing in Melbourne in a mixture of wine casks from some of Australia’s greatest wineries including Yalumba, Penfolds and Wynns. The barrels are a mixture of American, French and a little East European oak that previously held mainly Shiraz, Cabernet and Pinot Noir.  

But don’t take our word for it. Here’s founder and maker of Starward whisky, David Vitale, to tell us more:

Starward Nova

Look, it’s David Vitale!

Describe the flavour of Starward Nova. What casks have you used in its maturation?

We use Australian red wine barrels for our full maturation, which has given it an aroma of bright red fruit, chocolate and baking spices with a lingering finish of berries and vanilla.

Starward is located in Australia. What impact does this have on the style of whisky you produce?

All great whiskies talk to the place they’re made and Starward is no different. We have access to some of the best barley, wheat and wine barrels to make Starward. But, more than that, we have a vibrant city in Melbourne which inspires us to think differently about whisky and bring it to life in easy to enjoy cocktails.

Talk us through the signature Starward character…

If I had to describe Starward in three words, it would be: fruity, smooth and balanced.

Starward Nova

Vitale feels the future is bright for Starward, and it’s hard to disagree…

What have been your 2019 highlights at Starward?

This has been our best year yet. Not only in terms of sales, but huge milestones like launching Two-Fold and Nova in the US, UK, France and Japan. It’s always been our dream to take a bit of Melbourne to the world and we are on our way.

What’s next for Starward?

We’ve only just started on our launch plans in these key export markets. So we have a big job to do to get Starward in the hands of curious whisky drinkers who are interested in delicious modern Australian Whisky.

Starward Nova

Starward Nova

Thank you very much to David for speaking to us. A delightful dram of Nova awaits!

Starward Nova tasting note:

Nose: Positively bursting with red fruit like strawberries with a Port-like mixture of fruit and nuts.

Palate: Honey, cinnamon and more red fruit on the palate, creamy nutty texture, luxurious mouthfeel with a touch of tannin.

Finish: Toffee with walnuts. 

*Where prawns, not shrimps, are enjoyed. Shrimp is what Americans say. Don’t believe everything you read.

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#WhiskySanta’s Bunnahabhain 40 Year Old Super Wish!

It’s another wonderful week and #WhiskySanta is on a roll, so get ready for his third fabulous Super Wish. Well, well, if it isn’t my third #SuperWish! In between giving…

It’s another wonderful week and #WhiskySanta is on a roll, so get ready for his third fabulous Super Wish.

Well, well, if it isn’t my third #SuperWish! In between giving away £250,000-worth of delectable drinks, for this particular treat I managed to find the time to pop over to Islay to scout out something exceptionally tasty. If your mind has jumped to peaty treats galore, then spoiler alert! This one is fruity and creamy, which should narrow down which distillery the delicious liquid has come from. We’ll save the coal and ash for a certain someone’s stocking (not yours, obviously…).

Behold the marvellous Bunnahabhain 40 Year Old! It’s matured for an entire four decades in the Islay warehouses by the sea, which is a long old time….

Bunnahabhain 40 Year Old #WhiskySanta

It’s the magnificent Bunnahabhain 40 Year Old!

Sorry, I’m just imagining being holed up in the same place for 40 years. I know I only get out of the house for one day a year, but still. This particular whisky was actually in the casks for so long that they were forgotten about (they should make lists like me to help them remember), until the master blender stumbled across them whilst reviewing the warehouse ledgers. Before it’s bottled and boxed up, it’s blended with pure spring water from the peaty moorlands.

It’s pretty impressive. Flavour-wise, think berries and cream, toasted nuts, caramel and tropical fruit. Normally, this liquid gold would cost any regular whisky-loving human a whopping £1,750! Though, thanks to me, this marvellous week one lucky person is going to get it absolutely free.

If your mouths are watering like a reindeer’s around a carrot, then scoot on over to the Bunnahabhain 40 Year Old product page, and hit the ‘Wish’ button! You can’t miss it. There’s one more step. When you do this, a box will appear with a pre-populated Twitter or Facebook post. Publish that, and you’re all set! If you’re more of an Instagram fan (Insta-fan?) yourself, you can wish on there too, but just make sure you use the #WhiskySanta hashtag.

bunnahabhain 40 year old

Make haste, you have until Friday to wish for this tasty bottle!

Though the whisky spent a leisurely 40 years maturing, this is time-sensitive stuff, and you have until the end of Thursday to get those wishes in. What are you waiting for?!

While you’re busy wishing away, I’ll be unpacking from my travels. I wonder what the MoM minions will think of my new ‘I ♥ Islay’ t-shirt…

UPDATE: And just like that, I’ve gone and granted this spectacular Super Wish to Phillip Scott! Hope you enjoy incredible Islay whisky!

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