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Master of Malt Blog

Master of Malt tastes… Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake

On Friday evening we were fortunate enough to have a taste and learn all about Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake, the Highland distillery’s latest release which is aged in Hungarian…

On Friday evening we were fortunate enough to have a taste and learn all about Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake, the Highland distillery’s latest release which is aged in Hungarian Tokaji casks.

Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation, has been innovating and experimenting his way to new delights at the Highland distillery for a quarter of a century now. Over the last 25 years, he has challenged himself and his team to take whatever captures their imaginations and turn it into whisky, from a cup of coffee (Glenmorangie Signet), a long balmy day in Madeira, (Glenmorangie Bacalta) the beautiful barley fields near the distillery (Glenmorangie Allta) and more. 

Recently the good doctor (he has a PhD in biochemistry, this isn’t a Doctor Who situation) found himself musing over how some of his most joyful memories involved cake, from baking with his granny to the pineapple upside-down cake his daughter made him for his birthday. So, Dr Bill did what he does best. He created a whisky that could encapsulate the joy of cake in a single malt whisky. It’s called Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake. 

“Like so many of us, some of my favourite memories come from cake, whether it be helping my granny in her kitchen, or the pineapple birthday cake my daughter surprised me with one year. By finishing whisky in Tokaji wine casks, I’ve captured the joy of those indulgent cake moments in Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake,” said Dr Bill. 

Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake

Glenmorangie and Dr Bill aim to celebrate the joy of a ‘cake moment’ with its latest single malt.

It begins with the classic Glenmorangie fruity, fragrant new make, distilled in the brand’s towering copper stills, the tallest in Scotland (the necks are the same height as an adult male giraffe). Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stocks at The Glenmorangie Company, explains that this expression began life essentially as Glenmorangie 10 Year Old – The Original. “It’s very much the Original turned and twisted into something else. Baked, if you like…” he said. “We deliberately didn’t change the cut points or use a different strain of barley because it was all about making that classic Glenmorangie house style and using the casks to build extra layers and flavours”. 

Speaking of casks, you won’t be surprised to learn that the spirit has been initially matured in bourbon casks for a period before Dr Bill transferred into a style of cask that could make things a bit more cakey. For that, he turned to Tokaji casks. They might sound like a species of Japanese wood but actually Tokaji is a highly-prized dessert wine from the Hungarian region of Tokaj, created using noble rot grapes. This noble rot fungus (Botrytis cinerea, for those who like to get geeky) causes the grapes to shrivel up and concentrate their sugars. 

It’s a pretty singular style of wine. It has a deep gold colour which gives it an almost single malt appearance and balances a high sugar content with plenty of acidity. Unsurprisingly, Dr Bill had quite the fascination with the cult status of these wines and their sweet and distinctively honeyed and citrus notes. He sourced a range of largely Hungarian oak Tokaji wines casks from a leading producer. McCarron said that he’s not allowed to say which one but did drop a hint that it’s a ‘regal’ one. So work that one out. A Tale of Cake is the result of his Tokaji tinkering.

Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake

The brand’s signature tall stills help create a light, fruity and fragrant new male

You might be wondering at this point if this single malt tastes particularly delicious alongside real cake? Well, Dominique Ansel, a pastry chef hailed as “the Willy Wonka of New York” and the creator of the ‘world-famous’ Cronut® (a doughnut-croissant hybrid that I’m pretty sure I invented after a night out at uni but I’ll let sleeping dogs lie) seems to think so. He’s created a twist on a pineapple boat cake inspired by A Tale of Cake and paired with a pineapple Old Fashioned cocktail made by expert mixologist Jeremy Le Blanche. Welcome to the world of ‘caketails’, folks, it’s sure to be as fun as it sounds. 

“When I first tried Glenmorangie, it opened my senses to this amazing world of colour, texture, taste, and aroma. It’s a new adventure each time,” says Ansel. “I never guessed I could enjoy whisky this much, but there is a friendliness to the way Glenmorangie tastes. Baking and whisky making are different worlds but they have a lot in common. If you stir Dr Bill’s passion for single malt with my love for cake, you get the best of both our worlds!” The duo has also invented ‘caketail’ pairings for The Original, The Lasanta and The Quinta Ruban. These delights will be available to a lucky few from his bakery in New York, but to ensure everyone can indulge, they’ve released the recipes so you can recreate them at home. We’ve popped The Cake Old Fashioned recipe below so you can partake. 

I can’t speak to the cocktail’s taste because I haven’t made one yet, but I can confirm that Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake is a really lovely dram. It’s well balanced, moreish and super-interesting. The cask finish suits and enhances the Glenmorangie profile, similar to the effect the Sauternes wine casks have on Nectar d’Or. It doesn’t taste like any one particular cake, but there are plenty of sweet, fruity and creamy elements for those who are expecting a dessert of a dram to enjoy.

Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake will be available from MoM Towers in October and we’ll be sure to let you know the moment it has arrived. When you do get your hands on a bottle, be sure to let us know what you think in the comments.Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake

Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake Tasting Note: 

Nose: There’s plenty of classic Glenmorangie goodness here, orchard fruits, acacia honey and creamy vanilla initially, followed by stewed orange, golden sultanas and a little Amalfi lemon. Then there’s white chocolate and crème brûlee with hints of elderflower, a fresh wholemeal loaf and a little mint among an array of fruity elements like nectarines in syrup, dried mango and apricot yoghurt.

Palate: The palate is complex, tart and has some slightly tannic wood notes which cut through flinty minerality tones as well as tinned peaches, orange chocolate, apricot croissant and more vanilla. There are honey roasted almonds and a little dark fruit underneath. 

Finish: The finish lingers for an age with notes of marmalade, honeycomb and some fresh pear.

The Cake Old Fashioned (at-home version) 

50 ml of Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake
7.5 ml of coconut water
7.5 ml of pineapple syrup
1 dash of Peychaud’s bitters
1 pinch of black pepper 

Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a rocks glass over block/ cubed ice. Garnish with a twist of orange zest and a walnut.

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New Arrival of the Week: Powers Three Swallow

This week we’re toasting Monday with a single pot still whiskey from one of the great names in Irish whiskey, John Power & Sons. In the days when there were…

This week we’re toasting Monday with a single pot still whiskey from one of the great names in Irish whiskey, John Power & Sons.

In the days when there were only two distilleries in Ireland, Bushmills and Midleton, it used to be said that while Jameson was what they drank in Britain and America, the Irish kept the good stuff for themselves, Powers Gold Label. And even now with the range of Irish whiskey available expanding daily, it’s still an essential bottle.

The Powers story begins in 1791 with the establishment by James Power of a distillery in Thomas Street, Dublin. In 1822 the business, now called John Power & Sons, moved round the corner to John’s Lane. The city, as we have covered on the MoM blog before, was the world powerhouse (if you’ll excuse the pun) of whiskey at a time when commercial distilling in Scotland was still in its infancy. Demand was such that the distillery kept on expanding from 160,000 gallons produced in 1827 to 900,000 gallons by the 1880s. The site was so vast that it covered over six acres of the city and employed 300 people. 

A map of Powers Quarter around the old distillery in Dublin

The style of whiskey made was what became known as single pot still, pot-distilled (probably twice rather than three times as is the norm now) from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley, and other cereals such as oats. This was originally a wheeze to get around the tax on malted barley and accidently created one of the world’s great whiskey styles. You can see the sort of monumentally large stills that were used at the time at the old Midleton Distillery near Cork, which is home to a vast non-working 19th century still. 

Traditionally, Irish distillers didn’t bottle their own whiskey. Instead they sold it to merchants, who would mature it under bond (ie. without having to pay duty) and bottle it under their own names. Brands like Green Spot, which was created by Dublin wine merchant Mitchell’s, has its origins in this time. But John Power and Sons were different. In 1886 the company began bottling its own whiskey with a gold label, hence the origins of the Power’s Gold label. 

Following the decline of Irish whiskey, the big firms, John Jameson & Sons, Powers, and Cork Distillers Company amalgamated to form Irish Distillers and moved to a purpose-built new distillery at Midleton. Powers Gold Label was reformulated as a blended whiskey, though still with a high ratio of pot to column still in the mix. It was thought that part of the Irish whiskey’s problem was that it had too much character for the uninitiated and couldn’t compete with easy-going Scotch whisky blends like Cutty Sark and J&B especially in the all important American market.

For a long time the only single pot still whisky on the market was Green Spot which was made in very small quantities. Writing in the 2010 edition of his book 101 Whiskies to Try Before you Die, Ian Buxton described it as “the coelacanth of whisky – a dogged survivor of a virtually extinct race of giants.” 

The Powers Range has just had this snazzy rebrand (your order might be in the classic bottle, however)

The revival began with the launch of Redbreast in the 1990s by Irish distillers and then in 2011 with Powers John’s Lane, the first all pot still Powers since the 1970s. There’s some lively debate going on in Irish whiskey at the moment about the term ‘single pot still’. Up until the 1950s, mash bills were made up of malted and unmalted barley and around 20% oats and wheat but by the 1960s non-barley cereals had fallen out of use. When the current rules were formulated in 2014, the only company making the style was Irish Distillers using just malted and unmalted barley so the rules only allowed for 5% other cereals. 

The Midleton distillery makes a variety of different weights of triple-distilled pot still spirits to go into its single pot still whiskeys like Redbreast or Green Spot, or blended with column still distillates for bestsellers like Jameson. Master distiller Kevin O’ Gorman wouldn’t go into specifics about how the different whiskeys were made but would say that Redbreast has a “completely different flavour profile to the Powers range thanks to the selection of a range of specific distillate styles and to the maturation techniques.” At the top of the Powers tree is the fabulous 12 year old John’s Lane, a premium product with a premium price tag and worth every penny. Three Swallow is younger, there’s no age statement, has less sherry cask influence, and offers that pure pot still magic at a price that’s only a bit more expensive than Gold Label. If you like Irish whiskey, your cupboard should not be without a bottle.

Tasting note from The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Cinnamon and warming nutmeg, maple syrup, banana fritters and dried oak.

Palate: Roasted almonds, crunchy brown sugar, melted butter and a hint of toasted marshmallow.

Finish: Whispers of malt loaf and aromatic spices.

Powers Three Swallow is available now from Master of Malt.

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Exploring the wide world of British rum

Whether they’re fermenting and distilling molasses from scratch, adding spices or botanicals to imported distillates, or blending and bottling ready-to-drink rums from overseas, Britain’s diverse, dedicated and highly experimental rum…

Whether they’re fermenting and distilling molasses from scratch, adding spices or botanicals to imported distillates, or blending and bottling ready-to-drink rums from overseas, Britain’s diverse, dedicated and highly experimental rum brands are carving their own niche. Keen to find out what the future holds for the burgeoning British rum category, we spoke with distillers, blenders, spicers and bottlers from across the UK…

While Britain has a long (often very dark) tradition of importing rum, because the UK’s temperate climate is inhospitable to sugar cane, few have attempted to make it from scratch. The first British distiller to make rum on a commercial scale was English Spirit Distillery back in 2011. From its Essex base, the team produces the widest variety of spirits and liqueurs in the UK – all under one roof, all distilled using raw ingredients under the trained hand of head distiller Dr John Walters.

When the distillery first opened, Dr Walters “started making a whole slew of spirits at once,” explains general manager James Lawrence. “He dived in headfirst to see what kind of vodka he could make, what kind of malt he could make and so on, and realised nobody had commercially produced rum in the UK before – everything before that was imported from elsewhere.” At the time, all the well-known famous brands – “Pussers, Lambs, all the ones with the Union Jacks on” – consisted of rums sourced from the Caribbean and other rum-making, which were transported to the UK and blended together, sometimes with spices added.

John Walters in the thick of it at the English Spirit Distillery

English Spirit has released three rums since – Old Salt Rum, English Spiced Rum, and St. Piran’s Cornish Rum – all distilled from 100% sugar cane molasses from across the globe. “A lot of the larger commercial rum distilleries will use sugar cane juice or sugar cane syrup, which is a lot easier to work with, cheaper, and less messy,” says Lawrence. “But using pure molasses gives a Golden Syrup-y, treacly consistency that makes a really great base for rum.” After a long fermentation – around two to three weeks – and a triple distillation in copper pot alembic stills, around 200 litres of molasses wash has been transformed into approximately 20 litres of rum.

Despite pioneering rum distilling in the UK almost a decade ago, English Spirit remains the exception rather than the rule, illustrating just how time-consuming and expensive the process is, and the difficulties in sourcing and transporting the raw ingredients. Just a handful of distillers have followed in their footsteps – including Dark Matter, a Scottish distillery that makes spiced rum; BrewDog Distilling Company, which last year released botanical rum Five Hundred Cuts; and unaged rum SeaWolf, created by bar owners Mike Aikman, Jason Scott and Craig Harper and made at Ogilvy Spirits distillery. 

Of course, that’s not to say blended rums are any less authentic. In the south west of England at Devon Rum Company, founder Dave Seear worked closely with a Caribbean rum blender and importer to create his take on a premium ‘English style’ spiced rum. “English style rum is categorised by heavy and powerful rum types – mostly pot and column-distilled from molasses and sourced from previous British colonies of Barbados, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica and St Lucia,” he says. 

Devon Rum Company Spiced Rum combines two pot-stilled Jamaican rums – a column-still rum and a pot-still rum from Guyana – which are imported at 80% ABV. “Once landed in the UK, we infuse the base Caribbean rum in vats with natural Devon spring water to reduce the ABV to 40%,” Seear explains. The rum is then steeped in a secret blend of spices and citrus zest, with the latter being sourced from local businesses. “Unlike many alternative spiced rums, we add no vanilla, sugar or colouring and have concentrated on the quality of our base rum, our carefully crafted recipe and sourcing quality natural ingredients,” he adds.

Just some of the spices in Rumbullion

Rather than masking low-quality spirit with punchy spices, today’s spiced rum producers seek to create harmony between the base liquid and botanicals. “[Our founders] were frustrated by the lack of respect for the base spirit exhibited by established spiced rum brands, where spices were dumped into poor quality base spirits,” says Hannah Burden-Teh, brand manager at Kent’s Rumbullion. To create their small batch spiced rum, the team layers “carefully blended natural spice tinctures” of Madagascan vanilla, orange peel, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom into their “top quality” Caribbean rum. “Although some of the process finishes in Kent, we want to champion our original locale where the sugar cane grows and is fermented,” she adds.

Honouring the base components is an ethos shared by Devon-based independent blender Hattiers. To create his flagship sipping rum bottling – Hattiers Premium Reserve Rum – founder takes a blend of eight-year-old double retort pot and twin-column coffey still rums distilled from sugar cane molasses in Barbados and combines them with pot still rums from Guatemala, Panama and The Dominican Republic before adding water drawn from a well in the nearby village of Beesands. 

Philip Everett-Lyons from Hattiers

“We typically blend at 62% to 70% ABV, then marry with our local Devon water to bring each blend down to bottling strength,” says Everett-Lyons, who explains that traceability is paramount. “We are completely transparent on all components, which are stated on the label along with full details including still type, maturation, location and cask,” he continues. “We only blend rums with no additives or colourants and choose not to spice or use botanicals in our blends. In our opinion, the quality of the rum shouldn’t be overshadowed by these things.”

Some distillers take this approach further still by bottling single estate rums – East London Liquor Company, for example, which made its first foray into rum with the release of Demerara Rum from Guyana. “What you’re drinking at your local in Bethnal Green is exactly what the locals in Georgetown are appreciating half a world away,” says founder Alex Wolpert, “delicious molasses-based rum made from sugar cane grown along the Demerara River, distilled in the world’s last working wooden Coffey still, aged in ex-bourbon barrels until you get notes of caramel, baking spices and toffee. Basically, perfection. And we’re not about to mess with perfection, so other than proofing the rum down to 40% ABV, we haven’t touched it.”

Their latest release East London Rum from Jamaica is similarly unadulterated. “We’ve developed a blend of three of the most famous rum distilleries in Jamaica to come up with a funky, ester-led white rum that is my new favourite in Daiquiris,” Wolpert says – an 80:20 blend of medium to high-ester rums, with 80% coming from column and pot distillation, and 20% from funky Jamaican pot still. “As a huge rum fan, I’m loath to mess with a good thing,” he continues. “And as a distillery, we understand the amount of thought and hard work that goes into making these distillates, and trust that we can’t make them better than they already are.”

No messing about, the latest bottling from the ELLC

Industry folks regularly refer to the runaway success of the gin category when forecasting the burgeoning interest in rum. Will rum be the ‘next gin’? The answer might be less about the liquid, and more to do with the practicalities of production – especially if, like English Spirit Distillery, you have designs on making the liquid from scratch. “Everyone in the UK was able to pile into making gin quite quickly as opposed to importing it,” says Lawrence. “Whereas with rum, there’s such a massive capital investment needed. You need a lot more room, a lot more experience. You need more time to perfect your product before it’s ready to sell. There is a completely understandable reticence to completely investing, finding a distiller who’s willing to put in the work, and affording someone the time to practise over and over again, as we know full well that you have to do to make a decent rum.”

That British rum consists primarily of independent spicers and blenders is a trend that’s set to continue, at least in the short term. But regardless of whether brands import rum or raw molasses, future-proofing the sector, as Everett-Lyons, points out, brings benefits for everyone. “We believe that there is absolutely room for all, and that either adopting an international definition of rum classification or developing a British standard on labelling would be the next step,” he says. “As other rum-producing nations seek to adopt their own guidelines, now would be a great time to mirror the Scotch Whisky Association and bring some accountability and compliance to our trade. For this to happen, the industry would need to tread ensuring not to ostracise but instead to unite all sub-sectors of British rum.”

It’ll also support the immense creativity already bubbling away within the category. There are so many different directions you can take rum in, as Lawrence rightly points out, by playing with botanicals, barrel-ageing, and even the distillation process. When English Spirit Distillery produced Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ Great British Rum, they added three wood varieties – date palm, pine, and sequoia – to the still, which pulled “all that really interesting wood complexity into the spirit” without the need for maturation. A dark rum called Daymark 1683, produced for a company based on the Isles of Scilly, is infused with hand-picked samphire and Cornish sea salt. The British rum revolution really has only just begun. “Give it a few years, there’s going to be some absolutely amazing rums out there,” says Lawrence. “It’s really exciting.”

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The Nightcap: 18 September

This week on the Nightcap: Octomore and Lagavulin launch new whisky, Bob Dylan brings back the Theme Time Radio Hour and dog-themed cocktails… A whole week has been and gone…

This week on the Nightcap: Octomore and Lagavulin launch new whisky, Bob Dylan brings back the Theme Time Radio Hour and dog-themed cocktails…

A whole week has been and gone since we last went Nightcapping, which means that a brand new Nightcap is required. Fortunately, the world of booze is always churning out all kinds of news stories. We’re not sure what we’d do if it stopped. Perhaps we’d just write about some of the drinks we’ve enjoyed recently or post a series of amusing photos of cats. Thankfully this week there’s been plenty of excitement to write about, so the funny feline pictures will have to wait. Although one of the stories this week does feature a cracking photo of a dog, so if we’ve got you in the mood for pet-based content you won’t be disappointed. Onto The Nightcap!

If you’re a fan of big whisky news stories then the MoM blog was the place for you this week. Jim Murray announced his 2021 World Whisky of the Year and Richard ‘the Nose’ Paterson confirmed that he would step back from Whyte & Mackay to focus his energies on The Dalmore. Elsewhere, we spoke with Dr Rachel Barrie, Benriach master blender, about the brand’s recent makeover before Annie tasted one of the good doctor’s finest creations, a well-sherried 29-year-old single malt released to coincide with the upcoming release of The King’s Man. Other delightful drinks we tried this week include a very special new range of Cognacs from Delamain, a category-defying spirit from Belvedere and a cocktail made with one of the world’s unique spirits, Metaxa. Internationally-renowned bartenders Joe and Daniel Schofield also popped by for a chat, while Jess kicked off our Classic Bar series with the wonderful Coupette, which has just launched a new menu.

The Nightcap

New Octomore is terrific news for peated whisky fans

New series of Octomore whisky unveiled

We’ve got good news for fans of peated whisky this week as Islay-based distillery Bruichladdich has announced the imminent arrival of some new Octomores. First is the Octomore 11s series, which is set to launch on 1 October and includes three expressions, Octomore 11.1, Octomore 11.2 and Octomore 11.3, all of which retain the ultra-peated style that the brand is known for. Octomore 11.1 was malted to 139.6 PPM and matured for five years in first-fill ex-American whiskey casks from Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Jack Daniel’s before it was bottled at 59.4% ABV without any chill-filtration or additional colouring. Octomore 11.2 was malted to the same PPM and also aged for five years on Islay, but it was matured in two separate casks: 25% of the whisky was aged in Pauillac ex-wine casks, while the remaining 75% was aged in ex-American whiskey casks before being transferred into St Julien wine casks for 18 months. This expression was bottled at 58.6% ABV without added colouring or chill-filtration. The third whisky in the new series, Octomore 11.3, was malted to a massive 194 PPM before it was aged for five years in first-fill American whiskey casks from Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace and Jack Daniel’s. The whisky was bottled at 61.7% ABV without caramel colouring or chill-filtration. Bruichladdich will also release a bonus bottling alongside the range. It’s a 2020 edition of Octomore 10 Years Old which was malted to 204 PPM and matured in a mix of virgin oak, and first- and second-fill ex-American whiskey casks from Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace and Jack Daniel’s before it was bottled at 54.3% ABV without chill-filtration or additional colouring. We will write more fully on the Octomore 11.1 and 11.3 soon when they arrive at Master of Malt. Octomore 11.2, however, will only be available direct from the distillery here and in global travel retail. Not fair!

The Nightcap

Monkey Shoulder wants to see you back in bars. Responsibly, of course.

Monkey Shoulder spends £250k to entice you back to the bar 

Monkey Shoulder is so keen to get you back to the bar (responsibly, natch), that it has spent £250,000 on an advertising campaign called ‘The New Rules for Mixing.’ The blended whisky brand won the money as part of OCEAN’s Crucial Creative Competition and decided to put it to good use. The campaign will take the form of a series of local ads with partner bars in cities around the country that will go live on 24 September as well as generic national posters. The press bumf described the campaign by ad agency Tommy as “a playful take on the brand’s ‘made for mixing’ tagline; using Monkey Shoulder’s cheeky tone and distinctive branding style to bring to life the social distancing measures in a fun and memorable way.” Social distancing is fun! To further entice people to venture out of their homes, each venue will be offering a free drink to customers. The participating bars are Glasgow’s The Dam, Edinburgh’s Uno Mas and Kin, Liverpool’s Present Company, Newcastle’s Mother Mercy, Manchester’s Cane & Grain and Science & Industry, Birmingham’s Theatrix, Nottingham’s Brass Monkey and Leeds’ Watermark Bar. Let’s hope another lockdown doesn’t muck things up. The best-laid plans and all that.

The Nightcap

This year’s Islay Jazz Festival might be online, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your hands on delicious whisky!

New limited edition Lagavulin Jazz bottling is here, or rather, there.

We all know that there’s no better way to enjoy your bourbon than with a blast of rock and roll, but what should you listen to with a Scottish single malt? Some might say folk music, but we’ve conducted totally scientific tests here at Master of Malt and discovered that jazz is, in fact, the perfect accompaniment. Especially with a smoky Islay dram, you can’t beat a bit of John Coltrane or Miles Davies, hence the long-running Islay Jazz Festival. Ever since 2011, Lagavulin has released a special jazz bottling and now the latest edition is here. Or rather, there, it’s a distillery only release with only 2004 bottles available at a meaty £405. It’s matured in mainly refill American and European oak, with some active casks, for a minimum of 22 years and bottled at 52.6% ABV. Distillery manager Pierrick Guillaume had this to say: “The Islay Jazz Festival has become a pilgrimage for many whisky and jazz lovers around the globe and we hope our friends will join us for the online event to celebrate 22 years of the festival. This will be my first festival having taken over as distillery manager of Lagavulin and although we are unable to host the event in Islay, we wanted to continue to honour the occasion by creating a remarkable bottling. This year’s 22-year-old bottle is a glorious and unique Lagavulin from an interesting mix of casks that have given an extra twist of rich, smooth and sweet fruitiness to the palate and finish.” On 3 October at 7pm BST, go to the  Lagavulin and Friends of the Classic Malts where Guillaume and global whisky master Ewan Gunn will be hosting a jazz and whisky odyssey. Nice!

The Nightcap

Great news music lovers! Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour is back

Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour is back thanks to Heaven’s Door Spirits

Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour is back, this time with added whiskey. For those who don’t know, Theme Time Radio Hour was a series of shows on NPR hosted by his Bobness where he would play records and riff around certain themes such as ‘fruit’ or ‘weather.’ The music was always an education, but the real fun was just listening to Dylan talk, dispensing wisdom, offering recipe tips or being totally baffling. Equally amusing and baffling, were the celebrities such as Tom Petty or Marianne Faithful who would call up to join in the fun. There’s never been like it before, or since. 100 shows were recorded with the last one airing in 2009, and now thanks to Heaven’s Door Spirits, Bob’s bourbon brand, it’s back. There will be a special one-off episode airing on Monday 21 at 12pm EST on SiriusXm. It will then be available on Heaven’s Door website and social channels, Bob Dylan’s website and social channels, as well as other streaming services from 25 September. And the theme of this one-off special? Whiskey, of course. 

The Nightcap

It’s quite the coup for Last Drop Distillers

Colin Scott joins Last Drop Distillers

Back in June, we raised a glass to Colin Scott, former Chivas Regal master blender, as he waved goodbye to the brand after an enormous 47 years at the nosing glass helm. News reached us this week that he’s back at it, and is now consultant master blender at high-end bottler The Last Drop Distillers! According to the company, Scott’s appointment is the first stage of becoming ‘not only curators but also creators’. And it’s not the first time they’ve worked together. Back in the 1990s, The Last Drop founders James Espey and Tom Jago teamed up with Colin on a number of projects, including the creation of the now-iconic Chivas Regal 18 Year Old. “We are absolutely delighted that Colin Scott will be joining The Last Drop as master blender,” said Rebecca Jago, managing director at The Last Drop. “One of the many attractions for both Colin and The Last Drop is that he will have the widest palette to paint from.” Scott himself added: “The Last Drop is very much a luxury brand in a very niche market. They have a global reach but have maintained their integrity and vision since they began, which is hugely important to me. This is a new chapter that I am very much looking forward to: carrying on the story that began with Tom and James some decades ago. As my much-missed friend Tom Jago said, “If you can’t have fun in the drinks industry, and in what you create, you can’t have fun anywhere!” Rebecca and the team do just that!” We can’t wait to see what comes next.

The Nightcap

The week-long programme will unite professionals from around the world

Imbibe Live goes global with BCB Berlin, BCB Brooklyn and BCB São Paulo

If you like boozy worldwide networking and education events, then you’re in luck. There’s a biggie on the way. Imbibe Live Online has joined forces with BCB Berlin, BCB Brooklyn and BCB São Paulo to create Global Bar Week uniting the international drinks industry at the first-ever global, online drinks exhibition. From 12–18 October topics such as how hospitality venues can rebuild, drive customer footfall and loyalty, build a sustainable business, tap into consumer trends and improve diversity and inclusion will be discussed by a selection of experts such as Lynnette and Ivy from Speed Rack, award-winning bartender Chelsie Bailey, and Diogenes the Dog founder Sunny Hodge. Drink-focused masterclasses and tastings will also feature in the week-long digital programme, which you can check out here. While it will never be the same as the classic Imbibe Live, the on-trade magazine’s inaugural digital event back in June saw hundreds of drinks brands and on-trade professionals come together to share insights, trends and much more in what we’d say was a pretty successful experiment so it makes sense that it’s gone global. Drinks brands have until the end of September to sign up for this virtual event, while UK drinks industry professionals can now sign up to Imbibe Live Online to access a range of educational and inspirational content and be part of a worldwide celebration of the people, brands and businesses who are shaking up the drinks industry. Registration for the week-long virtual event is free and tickets are available at https://live.imbibe.com/.  

The Nightcap

Kane and Rawcliffe impressed the judges in the Bottled Cocktail Challenge

Diageo’s World Class competition returns 

New people, new partnerships and new competitor challenges await as Diageo’s World Class competition comes back after taking a brief pause due to recent events. Featuring a revised approach that adapts to a new competition environment, the internationally recognised competition has announced a series of activations at this year’s London Cocktail Week (now extended to the full month of October), at Whisky House in Kings Cross’ Goods Way. Three masterclasses a week will be hosted by the World Class team with Johnnie Walker, Tanqueray and Ketel One ambassadors sharing cocktail recipes and tips. Diageo has also revealed who the winners of the Bottled Cocktail Challenge are: James Rawcliffe, Tigerlily (Edinburgh); Kuba Korzynski, Black Rock (London) and Stevie Kane, Baccarat Bar (London).The GB Top 100 were split into three groups – Ketel One, Johnnie Walker Black Lable and Tanqueray No. Ten – and tasked with creating cocktails based on three classic serves: Espresso Martini, Tom Collins and the Highball. The winners have secured a spot in the GB Top 15 and will have their cocktails produced in a cocktail kit for consumers to buy via Cocktail Porter, featured here. Finally, the World Class family has been bolstered by a trio of new appointments. Pippa Guy (previously senior bartender at the Savoy’s American Bar) is now the new Tanqueray brand ambassador; Jo Last (formerly of the Savoy’s Beaufort Bar) has been given the title of whisky brand ambassador and Mimi Schofield is now TLA account executive. “We are incredibly excited to bring World Class back to GB, with a new and adapted program to champion bartender creativity in the face of adversity,” said Jack Sotti, head of advocacy GB at Diageo. “Most notably World Class is about people, and so it gives me the utmost pride to welcome Pippa, Jo and Mimi to our diverse and passionate team.” 

The Nightcap

Is this the best idea ever? It might just be.

And finally… Dog-themed cocktails for Skylight’s Charity Dog Day

Picture this. You’re at a gorgeous rooftop bar, you’ve got great company, delicious drinks – what more could you want? Oh right, dogs! Next Sunday (27 September), Skylight over at Tobacco Dock is combining all of those things on Dog Day! The annual event is run in collaboration with UK charity Dogs On The Streets (DOTS), which supports rough sleepers and the homeless community with dogs. Not only will you be able to bring your actual dog, but there will also be dog-themed cocktails – for human consumption, of course. No, really. With serves like the Pugtail and the Frenchie 75 this is just too good to miss, and between midday and 4pm the cocktails are all 2-4-1. If you’re wondering if your pooch will feel left out, fear not because there’ll be some treats on offer for each dog-bringing guest (and their pup, of course). Proceeds from the cocktails will go towards DOTS, so grab your furry friends and get down there! 

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A world of flavour: Behind Benriach’s new look

Speyside Scotch whisky distillery Benriach has undergone something of a makeover, with a refreshed core range and revamped presentation. We chat to Dr. Rachel Barrie, Benriach master blender, to get…

Speyside Scotch whisky distillery Benriach has undergone something of a makeover, with a refreshed core range and revamped presentation. We chat to Dr. Rachel Barrie, Benriach master blender, to get the inside scoop.

Paid partnership

Benriach is a distillery with a storied history. It dates back to 1898 when it was founded towards the north of Speyside by a chap called John Duff. Over the following decades, and like many distilleries, it faced periods of closure and changed hands multiple times. Since 2016, Benriach has been part of the Brown-Forman’s family, marking the Jack Daniel’s- and Woodford Reserve-maker’s first foray into the world of Scotch. At the time, the deal made the whisky headlines. But now, with its new look, a refocusing on flavour, and a compelling narrative around innovative cask combinations, Benriach is making waves all on its own.

Dr. Rachel Barrie has developed the range

“I’ve been with the company three-and-a-half years now, and I’ve really got to know all of the whiskies,” said Dr. Rachel Barrie, Benriach’s master blender. We’re speaking on the day of the relaunch. The line-up has been unveiled to the world, and drinks social media is in a chatter about the news. And it’s been a while in the works. Even within six months of taking on whisky development at Benriach, Dr. Barrie said she was thinking ‘what’s next?’.

“I had thousands of casks,” she said, outlining the process. “I’ve described it like discovering all these paint pots; it’s like painting with flavour.”

She mentioned she’d always admired Benriach from afar. “I’ve always loved the balance of the fruit and the malt,” and this balance is at the heart of the new core range. 

So what have we got in the line-up? Dr. Barrie took it back to Benriach’s Speyside home (Did you know it gets 40 more days of sunshine a year than anywhere else in Scotland?” She quipped.). A key source of inspiration was the 1994 Benriach 10 Year Old expression, the first bottling that really cemented the distillery as a brand in its own right. It’s balance, body and mouthfeel underpin the philosophy behind each new expression.

All about the cask: the new core range lines up

At the heart of it all, there’s The Original Ten, The Smoky Ten, The Original Twelve, and The Smoky Twelve, all bottled at natural colour. Two fundamentals thread through the quartet: production (essentially peated versus unpeated), and the cask make-up. These are all a blend of three different cask maturations. Move higher up the range to The Twenty One, The Twenty Five and The Thirty, and you’ll find four different cask types. The entire line-up was crafted to offer accessibility to whisky newcomers, and established enthusiasts alike. And the clear positioning does just that.  

When it comes to the malt specification itself, it’s useful to look at the calendar. Each September is devoted to ‘smoke season’, where malt processed to 55ppm using local Highland peat prior to distillation tracks its way through the distillery. Then malting season (yes, Benriach has its own malting floor), takes place each spring. There will be dedicated Smoke Season and Malting Season limited editions to come in due course, too. 

“My job was to create this perfect world of flavour, a journey of taste, many different layers all perfectly integrated,” Dr Barrie continues. “There’s a rainbow of flavour as the spirit comes off the still, which you can then amplify with casks.” 

And why such an overt focus on smoke? “It’s such a sweet smoke with Benriach, it opens the door to new consumers,” she explained. “Just saying ‘peated’ is too simple, it’s a different character.” 

The core quartet

In the tasting glass first is The Original Ten. “It’s like sunshine on Speyside,” Dr. Barrie described it. “A fruit orchard, ripening peaches, a patisserie.” Interestingly, while it’s barely perceptible, there is still a wisp of that Benriach smoke running through. “It’s less than 5ppm,” she said, adding that it adds more of a depth, a textural quality, rather than contributing flavour as such. Going into the Original Ten is liquid from bourbon barrels and sherry casks, plus virgin oak. “It’s got layers of perfect balance,” she continued. 

Benriach is embracing its smokier side

Next up was The Smoky Ten with an intriguing cask mix indeed: bourbon barrels, toasted virgin oak, and Jamaican rum casks. She confirmed the latter previously held high-ester, pot still liquid. “It amplifies the esterification that happens with the maturation,” she got technical for a moment. “It brings out the vanilla, coconut, lactones, the sweetness.” The result? “Exotic fruits charred on a barbeque.” Delicious!

The Twelve is a “new to world” expression, Dr. Barrie continued. “Everything changes with maturation. You’re going to have more oxidation, and therefore more of those top notes.” She reckoned the esterification reaches a “sweet spot” at this age for Benriach. Plus the addition of Port pipes to the bourbon and sherry make-up “lifts and lengthens”, with a “dark chocolate note on the end”.   

Rounding off the four at the heart of the range is The Smoky Twelve. “This is unexpected in its cask combination,” Dr. Barrie said, referencing the bourbon, sherry and sweet Marsala cask recipe. “It’s a collision of the rugged side of Benriach with the sweet side,” she added. “Plus, I love Italian food, I love Sicily. You can see how I was drawn to this.”

An experimental approach

It’s true that there are some unusual cask combinations across the four expressions we explored. How does that come about, and will there be more experimentation to come?

“There’s like a ‘eureka!’ moment with all of the whiskies,” she detailed. “It’s a constant quest. You have all the casks, you blend, you go back and think, ‘imagine…’. Eventually to get to the point where you’re, 80%, 90% there, and then you raise the bar even further.”

Announced alongside the new range was an intention to release esoteric limited editions in the future. Are there any experiments or cask types she’d like to play with yet but hasn’t?

“Oh, there’s so much experimentation,” she said, referencing what’s going on in American whiskey with mashbills and developments within wine. “And within our group [Brown-Forman], there are so many different types of spirit… Tequila with Herradura. Now, that would be interesting. Never say never!”

The range takes on the character of the distillery and the surrounding Speyside region

Other ongoing projects include working with the R&D team at Brown-Forman’s Louisville HQ to investigate the impact of different types of oak on flavour, another area of interest. It makes the whisky lover incredibly excited to see what might come next from Benriach as part of this new programme. 

“There’s plenty to try, and then different combinations to try!” There’s an energy to her statement that makes you long for a sneak peek around her blending lab, just to see what’s there. There’s lots to taste in the new range, and there’s certainly deliciousness to come. Dr. Barrie best sums it up: “There’s an everlasting world of flavour.” 

Benriach’s new-look line-up

The Original Ten, 43% ABV

Bourbon, sherry and virgin oak casks with a trace smoke level for orchard fruit, honeyed malt and marmalade on toast notes. 

The Smoky Ten, 46% ABV

Bourbon barrels, virgin oak and Jamaican rum casks combine for smoky sweetness with barbecued fruit notes. 

The Twelve, 46% ABV

Sherry rich maturation and layers of dark berry fruit encapture the flavours of Benriach in the autumn.

The Smoky Twelve, 46% ABV

Made with an unusual combination of bourbon, sherry and sweet Marsala casks for a rich smoky sweetness with dark chocolate, almond and charred orange notes. 

Plus coming soon, three older bottlings which we were given a sneak preview of:

The Twenty One, 46%

Bourbon, sherry, virgin oak and red wine cask liquids with elegant smoke. Lashings of orchard fruit, pinewood and honey smoke. 

The Twenty Five, 46% ABV

Sherry, bourbon, virgin oak and Madeira wine casks combine for an intensely rich mouthfeel with baked fruit, cinnamon spice and caramelised smoke. 

The Thirty, 46% ABV

The oldest peated Speyside ever bottled. Sherry, bourbon, virgin oak and Port casks result in chocolate raisin, smoked walnut and cinnamon cocoa notes. 

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Master of Malt tastes… Delamain Pléiade Cognac

Earlier this year we were invited to a swanky London club to try a very special new range of Cognacs from Delamain. Now, at last, they have arrived at MoM…

Earlier this year we were invited to a swanky London club to try a very special new range of Cognacs from Delamain. Now, at last, they have arrived at MoM HQ. What took you so long?

Delamain is aiming at the enthusiast rather than the plutocrat with a new range of Cognacs called Pléiade. Admittedly with prices going up to £1000, these will be quite well-heeled enthusiasts. The packaging with information about age, ABV, the village where the grapes were grown, cask size, and distillation type, is more nerdy than blingy. These are Cognacs for single malt or wine lovers according to Rebecca Montgomery, who works on the export and marketing side of the business and was our host at a launch dinner at the Carlton Club in London.

The new range comes in three levels, (each linked to an accompanying video):

Révélation: Cognacs of 20 to 30 years
Plénitude: very old mature Cognacs of 30 to 50 years
Apogée: extremely old, exceptional Cognacs 50+ years

Cognacs so valuable they have to be kept behind bars

These will be single cask or demijohn and, mainly, single vintage releases. All have been matured in a special cellar above a crypt. This lets in the sun so the temperature is not constant. Cellar master Dominique Touteau only uses old casks so there’s no bitter tannins from the wood. Some of the range will be bottled at cask strength while others are diluted. Montgomery described dilution as an “art in itself” where watered down Cognac at 15% ABV is slowly added to the cask. All of them are bottled with no boize or colouring. Anyone who knows Pale & Dry will recognise the style in these Cognacs, they are light, fruity and joyful. Montgomery described them as perfect for the “sophisticated” British market. Flattery will get you everywhere.

Pale and Dry XO, Delamain’s flagship bottling, has long been a British favourite, particularly among the wine trade. It celebrates its 100th anniversary this year and to celebrate, the house has tuned the blend a little. As before it only contains fruit from premier cru vineyards within Grand Champagne but now contains more from the aptly-named Bellevigne, where Delamain has recently begun cultivating fruit again. The blend is now done earlier so the component parts have longer to marry and crucially it is now bottled at a higher ABV, 42%, with no colouring or syrup added. Previously, at 40% ABV, a little caramel was added for consistency and syrup sometimes added depending on the batch. According to Dominique Touteau, this higher alcohol brings out the natural sweetness. It’s a double celebration this year because  Touteau celebrates 40 years with the firm.

The vineyard at Bellevigne

Delamain has a long history: it dates back to 1759 when James Delamain went into the Cognac business with his father-in-law Jean-Isaac Ranson. Like many Cognac dynasties, there’s an Irish or British connection, the Delamain family were French protestants who had been living in Ireland since the 17th century. In 2017, the firm was bought by Bollinger, something Rebecca Montgomery described as “perfect marriage”, but it is still run by a direct descendant of James Delamain: Charles Braastad. Now, that it has begun working vines again, for the first time since 1910, the company is looking to own some too so that eventually it will have complete control of the entire process, though good vineyards in Grand Champagne don’t come on the market very often.

The company only produces Cognacs at XO level and above, and only from Grand Champagne. Though blends (link here to full range) will remain at the heart of the business but these new releases explore the quality and variety of the terroir in Grand Champagne. Prices range from around £150 up to £1000 a bottle. So, they are not cheap but if you think what Macallan, for example, would charge for a 50 year old single cask bottling, neither are they outrageously expensive. Quality Cognac is currently undervalued, it won’t be for long.

Here are the first three releases which have just landed at MoM:

Collection Révélation Malavile

Cask number: 709-01
Village: Malaville
Age: not a vintage release, it is described as very old
45% ABV

Nose: Very grapey, fruity and floral, orange blossom, a little apricot and Brazil nut. It’s a bit like nosing an old Muscat de Rivesaltes

Palate: Gentle, soft and very fruity, floral, creamy texture with some pepper and toffee. Just a little oakiness.

Finish: Very long with oak and rancio notes. 

Collection Plénitude Mainxe 1980

Cask number: 212-01
Village: Mainxe
Age: 40 years
Vintage: 1980
44% ABV

Nose: Wow! this is like stepping into a vintage Bentley (something we do a lot of here at MoM), or expensive furniture shop: old leather, walnut, and furniture polish. Then there’s autumn leaves and rancio notes.

Palate: so mellow and soft, with baking spice, creamy toffee, and fruitcake.

Finish: salted caramel ice cream. Utterly gorgeous. This was my favourite. 

Collection Apogée Verrieres 1965 

Dame-Jeanne number: 339-01
Village: Verrieres
Age: 50 years old, distilled in 1965.
42% ABV

Nose: menthol, tobacco, dried apricot, orange marmalade and dark chocolate. So rich and powerful.

Palate: Chocolate and fresh apricot with just a little tannic bitterness coming, huge hit of aromatic tobacco. Very savoury.

Finish: walnuts and more tobacco, bring on the Havanas! 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Metaxa Spritz

Today’s we’re getting to grips with one of the world’s unique spirits, Metaxa, a blend of brandy, sweet wine and natural flavours with a special cocktail from award-winning Athenian bar…

Today’s we’re getting to grips with one of the world’s unique spirits, Metaxa, a blend of brandy, sweet wine and natural flavours with a special cocktail from award-winning Athenian bar The Clumsies. 

If you’ve ever been on holiday to Greece, then you’ve probably tried Metaxa. Many restaurants give customers a little glass after a meal rather as they do with limoncello in southern Italy. Only, in my opinion, Metaxa is a far superior drink. It’s often described as a brandy, but this isn’t quite right as it’s a blend of brandy with sweet wine and natural flavours such as anise, rose petal and herbs.

The brand was founded in 1888 by Spyros Metaxa in Piraeus, the port of Athens. From the beginning, the firm has used sweet Muscat wine from the island of Samos. This is an ancient style of wine that was especially-prized in the Middle Ages but Muscats crammed full of sugar are still made all over the Mediterranean not just in the Greek islands but Sicily, France and Spain, and as far away as South Africa and Australia. The brandy is high quality too, double pot-distilled brandy from Savatiano, Soultanino, Kourtikakis grape varieties and aged in Limousin oak. The wine, flavouring and brandy are then married in cask for a year.  The man in charge of the process is the so-called Metaxa master Constantinos Raptis, only the fifth ever to hold this title.

The Metaxa journey starts with the 5 Star expression, the sort you’ve probably tried in Greek restaurants and goes up in age and complexity to 7 and 12 Stars plus various special bottlings. I find the older they get, the less sweet they taste, with more Cognac-like woody notes but always with that floral Muscat and rose petal taste. 

It’s a unique spirit, but the idea behind it isn’t so unusual. From fortified wines to sherry-cask whisky, mixing wine and distilled alcohol has a noble history. There’s even a law in Canada known as the 9.09% rule allowing whisky producers to add up to 9.09% non-Canadian whisky to the blend such as sherry or Port. You can try this at home, a spoonful of Oloroso sherry is a great way to liven up an indifferent whisky. Anyway, I digress…

Metaxa, supremely national

What I love about Metaxa is you can really taste the quality of the ingredients, the Muscat-laden sweet wine, the delicate spicing and then the long finish from aged brandy. I’ve been fiddling around with a bottle of 7 Star and it’s really an incredibly versatile drop. The cocktail below is from award-winning Athenian bar The Clumsies, and very nice it is too, but you don’t need to go to such lengths to get the best out of Metaxa. As a mixture of wine, brandy and spices, it’s basically a cocktail in a glass. You don’t need to add much or really anything to get a delicious complex drink. 

I added a measure to a Champagne flute, topped it up with some Biddenden Kentish dry sparkling cider (though sparkling wine would also be great) and then added an orange twist. Absolutely delicious. It’s also great neat and chilled, especially after a big Greek feast. But the recipe below from the Clumsies shows how well this adaptable spirit works in more elaborate cocktails. Behold, the magnificent Metaxa Spritz!

50ml Metaxa Amphora 7 Star
100ml Chapel Down English Sparkling Rose
10ml Fever Tree tonic water
10ml honey
Pinch of Salt 

Build over ice in a large wine glass, stir gently, garnish with an orange twist and sprig of mint. Yamas!

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Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2021 winner announced

Jim Murray has spoken. The 2021 World Whisky of the Year is Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye! If only it was available in the UK. Autumn is a very exciting…

Jim Murray has spoken. The 2021 World Whisky of the Year is Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye! If only it was available in the UK.

Autumn is a very exciting time in the whisky world because everyone knows it’s when Jim Murray publishes a new version of the Whisky Bible. And with it comes the Whisky Bible Awards, where arguably the world’s most famous whisky writer announces his favourite drams of the year. And whether you’re a fan or not, his selections always provoke debate. This year is sure to be no different.

The theme of the 2021 edition (which will be arriving at MoM Towers very soon) is new releases, new distilleries and letting the past be the past: “But the one thing that tasting 1,250 whiskies a year for this book has reinforced in my mind, is that for people to really enjoy whisky of whatever type, then they have to let go of the past and learn to swim,” Murray says. 

But what you really want to know is which expressions make up the big four. For those who are new to all this, Murray doesn’t just announce a World Whisky of the Year, but a top three and single cask winner. So, here they are:

The 2021 World Whisky of the Year: Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye! (Sadly not available in the UK. Boo!)

Second place: Stagg Jr Barrel Proof (64.2%)

Third place: Paul John Mithuna

Single Cask: Glen Grant 1956 Mr George Centenary Edition Gordon & MacPhail

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2021 winner

The 2021 Edition will be available here very soon

It’s a huge victory for the Canadian rye whisky, which scored an incredible 97.5 out of a 100, and marks the first time it has won the coveted top prize. The Alberta distillery has long supplied high-quality rye to such lauded American brands as Whistlepig but has only recently begun bottling such magnificent whiskies under its own label. Made from a mix of malted and unmalted rye, Alberta Premium Cask Strength draws its water from the Rocky Mountains and was bottled at a massive 65.1% ABV. It’s also received the Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, so I’d chalk that up as being a pretty good year.

Murray, who tasted 1,252 new drams for the 2021 edition of the Whisky Bible, described the expression as being a “truly world-class whisky from possibly the world’s most underrated distillery. How can something be so immense yet equally delicate? For any whisky lover on the planet looking for huge but nearly perfectly balanced experience, then here you go. And with rye at its most rampantly beautiful, this is something to truly worship.” Alberta Premium was named Canadian Whisky of the Year in Murray’s 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009 Whisky Bibles, so his love for the Canadian distillery is already well-established.

Fans of the Whisky Bible will have noted that, for the first time in five years, the US has been knocked off the World Whisky of the Year top spot. Kentucky distiller the Sazerac Company made have swept the board in 2020 with a unique 1-2-3, but the “mind-blowing” Stagg Jr Barrel Proof, had to settle for the runner-up spot in 2021. Arguably the most eye-catching podium entry of all is Mithuna, however. The Paul John expression, a distillery in the tiny Indian state of Goa, is the first South Asian whisky to have taken a top three gong in more than a decade. 

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2021 winner

Being named in Murray’s top list is a coveted award for whisky brands

All this means it’s another relatively barren year for Scotch as far as Murray’s awards go, although his love for Glen Grant clearly remains undiminished. The brand won three of the six categories Scotch whisky can compete in, including Scotch Whisky of the Year, Scotch Single Malt of the Year (Multiple Casks) and Scotch Single Malt of the Year (Single Cask). The category’s most significant win, however, was on the single cask side of things where the old and rare Glen Grant Mr George stole the show, which was dubbed Mr George Centenary Edition in honour of George Urquhart, creator of Gordon & MacPhail’s wonderful Connoisseurs Choice range.

The last time a Canadian won World Whisky of the Year was in 2016 when Murray selected Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye. Not only did it spark renewed interest in the category, but caused the demand for the bottle to be so high that police in Toronto were called as drinkers fought over the last bottles still on the shelf. Hopefully, we don’t see a repeat of such antics this year. We’ve got plenty of lovely Candian whisky right here that you don’t have to fight over.

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Five minutes with… the Schofield brothers

Internationally-renowned bartenders Joe and Daniel Schofield have amassed more than 25 years’ experience tending the world’s best bars, including American Bar at The Savoy Hotel in London, Singapore’s Tippling Club,…

Internationally-renowned bartenders Joe and Daniel Schofield have amassed more than 25 years’ experience tending the world’s best bars, including American Bar at The Savoy Hotel in London, Singapore’s Tippling Club, and Little Red Door in Paris. Now, with the ink still drying on their first cocktail book, the brothers are gearing up to open a place of their own in their hometown of Manchester. We took five with the duo…

Bartending brothers Joe and Daniel Schofield have spent more than a quarter of a century working in some of the world’s top cocktail venues, and they have the industry accolades and acclaim to show for it. In 2018 alone, Joe was recognised as International Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards and Bartenders’ Bartender at The World’s 50 Best Bars. At the very same awards ceremonies, with Daniel as assistant bar manager, London’s Coupette scooped Best New International Bar at the former, and Best New Opening at the latter.

Since then, the Schofield’s have been busier than ever, launching their eponymous Schofield’s Dry Vermouth in collaboration with Asterley Bros – which sees 28 English botanicals blended into a British Bacchus, Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc base – traversing the globe doing guest shifts in bars, and speaking at seminars and masterclasses. Most recently, they released Schofield’s Fine and Classic Cocktails: Celebrated Libations & Other Fancy Drinks, in which you’ll find out why you should ‘throw’ Bellinis, discover the perfect Spritz ratios, and update your classics repertoire using subtle tweaks and adjustments favoured by high-end bartenders.

The Schofield brothers, outstanding in their field

Now, the brothers have set their sights on what could quite possibly be their greatest challenge yet: the launch of Schofield’s Bar in their hometown of Manchester later this year. As we await news of the grand opening with baited breath, we took five with Joe and Daniel to find out more about the unique journey that brought them here. They were even kind enough to share a cocktail recipe (a Scotch libation called the William Wallace) for us to try out at home – scroll to the bottom for the recipe.

Master of Malt: Thanks for chatting with us, guys! As people who are constantly travelling for work, how has this year been from your perspective? 

Daniel: This is undeniably an incredibly tough time for our whole industry globally, but as with all situations like this, we always try and focus on the positives. We’ve both spent the last five to six months working on all the admin and logistical aspects ahead of our bar opening – time that we wouldn’t have had normally due to the travel. From a personal perspective, it’s actually been quite nice to spend so much time in our home city after living away for so many years! Even though we’ve been based here for the past two years, we have spent so much of that travelling.

MoM: You’ve amassed years of experience working in some of the best bars in the world. Which of your past cocktails – or menus – do you look back most fondly on, and why? 

Joe: For me, I have a couple of moments that really stand out. Placing a cocktail on the menu at The American Bar at The Savoy was very special to me. As were the Sensorium menus I created with chef Ryan [Clift] at Tippling Club in Singapore. We created two menus, the first was about triggering memory with aroma, and this was followed by a completely edible menu in the form of gummy bears. Each bear took on the main flavours of the cocktail and the dream or desire it represented.

The brothers out standing in the street

MoM: What would you say are your biggest creative influences?

Joe: Inspiration can be found anywhere! I love looking to different industries for inspiration. Food is a very obvious choice. Whenever I’m overseas, I love eating local street food and flavours.

MoM: Tell us more about the book. How would you describe it to someone who’s never read it?

Joe: Daniel and I have always loved classic cocktails and we wanted to create a book that a bartender and a home enthusiast could pick up and have the tools they need to make great drinks at home. Explaining why we do things, how we do things and featuring recipes from our collective 25 years in the industry.

MoM: Having worked independently in different venues across the globe for much of your careers, what’s it like when you get to work behind the bar together?

Daniel: Most of the different bars we have worked in have all had similar core values to hospitality, and we cut our teeth in several of the same bars, so we have the same attitude to hospitality. We both have slightly different strengths which lend themselves to different aspects of the operations, which we feel is going to be beneficial for the bar opening.

MoM: You’ve also worked with some key figures in the industry. What’s the best bartending advice you’ve ever been given? 

Daniel: We’ve both been very lucky to work with some hugely inspirational people in our industry, and I believe that we’ve definitely learnt something from every single person we’ve worked with. I think the most important thing to always remember is that good work ethic, a positive attitude, and being nice to people will get you very far in this industry.

MoM: Aside from being your hometown, are there any other reasons you chose to open a bar in Manchester?

Daniel: Not many people know this, but Manchester is currently the quickest-growing city in Europe, the rate that the city is expanding and developing is unlike anything I have seen before. There are many great operators moving here from other major cities in the UK such as Edinburgh or London, which makes us incredibly excited. The drinks scene is rapidly developing too, there are many great bars here and we both believe that Northerners have a natural sense of hospitality. For personal reasons, it’s great to be so close to our family. After so many years of living away, it’s good to make up for some lost time with them!

MoM: We’ve seen immense innovation in cocktail culture over recent years – are there any bars or bartenders that you feel have really pushed the scene forward, or whose work you admire?

Daniel: What Max and Noel Venning and the team at Three Sheets [in east London] are doing – and have been doing since they opened – has influenced a huge shift in the industry towards simplicity in drinks. I really respect that they make some of the best drinks in London, yet they have a fun, relaxed atmosphere. I have the utmost respect for the team at Satan’s Whiskers [in east London], there aren’t many bars that I go to and want to try every single drink on the menu.Now, here’s that cocktail from the book:

William Wallace 

50ml Blended Scotch (we love Hankey Bannister)
10ml Asterley Bros. Estate Vermouth (or Martini Riserva Speciale Rubino, if you can’t get hold of it)
10ml Gonzalez-Byass Pedro Ximenez Sherry
3 Dashes Orange Bitters

Method:

Stir all ingredients together with ice. Strain and pour into a frozen coupette, and garnish with an orange twist.

 

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Getting a taste of vodka’s past with Belvedere Heritage 176

What’s the deal with Belvedere’s new and intriguing rye-based expression? We get the low-down and learn all about history of rye in spirits, how Scotch whisky was an inspiration to Polish…

What’s the deal with Belvedere’s new and intriguing rye-based expression? We get the low-down and learn all about history of rye in spirits, how Scotch whisky was an inspiration to Polish distillers and why the brand is looking to the past to create the flavours of the future.

On Friday we attended another cyber-tasting, this time with Belvedere’s brand ambassadors Mike Foster and Mark Tracey for the launch of Heritage 176. The new kid in the town is a “spirit drink” (we’ll explain in a bit) which was inspired by Polish distilling traditions and uses centuries-old rye malting techniques to showcase the taste of the distinctive grain and recreate a historical taste.

I know what you’re thinking. Taste? Vodka? Doesn’t it all taste the same? Well, as we’ve covered before, this is a recent development. Historically, vodka was all about taste and flavour, and those days are coming back. “There’s a renewed interest and energy in the category. When Belvedere first launched vodka was in a very different place to where it is now. Thankfully, the days of these candied, toffee, whipped cream or peanut butter vodkas are gone,” says Foster. “The direction of travel is towards credible vodka innovation. It’s more about being authentic. For spirits that means stories of origin and inspiration”.

Foster dedicates a portion of his presentation to Belvedere’s inspiration, the history of distillation and malting in Poland. Belvedere has spent much of the last decade investing in research to better understand the core ingredient, from its role in Polish culture to its origins, covering traditional production methods and examining the places where it’s grown. We learned about perevera, a strong alcoholic drink made by heating mead together with beer which was consumed across eastern Europe from the middle of the 14th century and how the culture developed from there into widespread distillation and innovation. Did you know the first written record of vodka is from 1405 and is written in Polish?

Belvedere Heritage 176

Historical malting techniques were used to create Heritage 176

“The Poles take their alcohol very seriously; it’s part of everyday life. Given that it was too cold to produce grapes, malt and rye fueled the industrious Poles to develop their own domestic distilling industry on an unprecedented scale. By 1850, the city of Poznan alone had almost 500 distilleries”, Foster explained. This research into Poland’s malting past uncovered some surprising facts. Archival records from the agricultural society in Warsaw revealed Scotland was seen as a source of farming knowledge. Scottish farmers even migrated to Poland, bringing with them an understanding of distillation and malting practices, and many set up their own agricultural distilleries. “From our research, we found that a distilling process more associated with Scotch whisky and beer making was once at the heart of Polish vodka tradition, and that is malting.”

However, with the 20th century came modernisation, the ability to scale up production and with that, the use of malted grain in vodka production began to be phased out. The focus became the neutrality vodka is associated with now. It’s this development Belvedere challenges, which makes sense given it creates vodka solely from good ol’ Polska rye and purified water, which is drawn from a natural well on the grounds of the distillery. No additives or sugars here. Its Single Estate Series demonstrates this outlook, a range created using rye grown on a single estate to show off the terroir and quality of the grain. As does Heritage 176, the brand’s latest innovative malted rye expression. 

Heritage 176 was created from a blend of just 2% malted rye spirit with 98% of Belvedere Pure. Although 2% does not seem like much, it makes a huge difference (the upcoming tasting note will reveal more). “We found the formula to reveal the characteristics that would have been present in historical Polish vodka, but sadly became lost with time thanks to a desire for cheaper and faster spirit,” Foster explains. “We all know that malt is not new news. Distillers, brewers, bakers and milkshake makers have been talking about its ability to give character for years. But our ancient natural process made using only rye, water and heat is not very well understood”. 

Belvedere Heritage 176

Rye is the key ingredient in Belvedere booze and naturally, the brand is pretty passionate about it

Thankfully, Foster was happy to explain the malting rye techniques Belvedere employed, along with its partners in crime at Viking Malt (which has six malt houses across the world, including two in Poland) to create Heritage 176. “Rye is a very challenging grain to malt, it requires a great level of knowledge and expertise. The malt house we worked with was specifically set up to produce special malts with rye for craft producers such as ourselves,” says Foster. “But the principles of malting grains haven’t really changed for centuries. It’s the same three-stage process of steeping, germination and kilning.”

Steeping

The first step entails submerging the grain in water at three different temperatures, 35-40 degrees, 25 degrees and 20 degrees. The water is then drained and the rye is left to rest in the air for 24 hours. “What’s happening is this combination of water and air is used to increase the moisture content of the grain. We need to get it around about 46% to allow the complete modification of starch into sugar,” Foster explains. 

Germination

Once the ideal moisture content is achieved, the grain is transferred to germination drums (big steel drums, basically), which rotates the grain around to keep it loose which allows the funnelled-in air (which is around room temperature) to dry it. At this point, the grain has become green malt, which means it’s started to grow again. For Heritage 176, the green malt is left in the drums for about 4-6 days, in which time the grain is constantly monitored by the maltsters so it doesn’t grow too much. When the sprout reaches the size of the grain, you’re in the money and can stop the process.

Belvedere Heritage 176

The Żyrardów Polmos distillery where Belvedere is made

Kilning

The third and final stage takes the kiln, which Foster explains is “the most vital stage of malting”. Heat is applied to kill the growth and germination and reduce the moisture content back down to 5%. “There are four aspects to this process for Heritage 176 which starts with forced drying, where we’ll push hot air for about three or four hours into all of the grain to dry all the moisture. Next is the pre-break, this is where the air is blown through the grain for around 12 hours, which dries the surface of each of the grains,” Foster explains. “Then there’s the curing, in which the green malt is cured in kilns up to 176 degrees Fahrenheit which stops all the changes, modifications and growth in the grain. Hence why we decided to call it Heritage 176. We’re using the old heritage style of vodka production and the name leads to a sense of intrigue which gives us a chance to explain this process of malting”.

All of these steps occur at one of Viking Malt’s Polish sites and then the entire rest of the production takes place at Belvedere Distillery. Heritage 176 even has its own exclusive distilling team and stillhouse. At the distillery, the malted grain is milled to create a mash which is then placed in small stainless steel vats where yeast (the same strain used for Pure and the Single Estate series) is added to the mixture. The liquid is then double distilled, the first distillation lasting around 16 hours and creates a spirit of 88% ABV. From this spirit, the heads and tails are cut and the heart is distilled for another 16 hours, creating a 91-92% ABV spirit. This malt spirit is then blended with Belvedere Pure in stainless steel vats and left to rest for two days before it’s bottled at 40% ABV.

Belvedere Heritage 176

Belvedere Heritage 176 will be coming to MoM Towers soon

What’s in that bottle is a delightful spirit drink. Why not vodka? Well, because technically the malted ry e spirit was distilled to 92% rather than the required 96% ABV by European law. Belvedere isn’t concerned about this, however. “To us, it didn’t matter if it isn’t legally called a vodka. We’re masters of rye, we want to explore this raw ingredient and to adapt and manipulate in weird and wonderful ways to create flavours”, said Foster. “We’re not trying to adapt to a flavour that hits a certain consumer palate or add anything synthetic or unnatural post-dilation. We’ve just taken this wonderful rye ingredient and processed it in a different, more traditional way. What excites us is getting down to the nitty-gritty and the science of rye”.

Foster also remarked that it opens up the potential for a subcategory for a vodka. After all, as we’ve already learned, vodka made with malted grain and distilled to a lower ABV has its place in history. “I don’t want to as be brash to say we’ve created a spirit category, but we’re on the way to it. It’s a niche product: there are not many vodkas in the world that use malted grain to produce a spirit. To that extent, we’ve probably created a sub-category. I’m quite excited to see if other vodka companies expand to try projects like this and diversify their portfolios,” Foster explains. “The key thing is that vodka does have taste and character. Hopefully, we’ll encourage the rest of the distilling community to create some exceptional vodkas that use different techniques which can showcase to consumers that vodka isn’t just what Dick Bradsell described it as, ‘the coat hanger from which you hang all the flavours onto in a drink’. We want that to be switched around where vodka is the primary flavour of the drink that then accentuates the other ingredients”.

Tracey recommends serving the spirit over a block of ice with a lemon twist, or alternatively in cocktails. He made one during the presentation which combined 60ml of Belvedere Heritage 176, 5ml of honey syrup and three dashes of walnut bitters. It was delicious and easy to make so I’d suggest giving it a go. Equally, you can happily sip this one neat. Heritage 176 is impressive and fascinating in equal measure. It’s a complex, rich and dynamic spirit, filled with multiple aromas and flavours supported by an indulgently creamy texture. It’s such a contrast from the classic Belvedere Pure and I recommend comparing it with a classic vodka so you can appreciate the difference.

Think vodka doesn’t taste of anything? Think again. Belvedere Heritage 176 will be available from MoM Towers in the near future, so keep an eye out for it

Belvedere Heritage 176

Belvedere Heritage 176 Tasting Note:

Nose: Clotted cream, homemade vanilla ice cream and almond butter lead, with toffee fudge, cinnamon and acacia honey in support. Compared to the regular Belvedere, it’s thicker, richer and the spices are more aromatic (think allspice and cinnamon).

Palate: If you thought the nose was creamy, wait until you get to the palate. It’s like liquified vanilla fudge with a helping of salted butter thrown in for good measure. There’s a touch of lemon shortbread, walnut bread, baking spice and some classic rye notes of black pepper underneath.

Finish: Butterscotch, freshly cracked pepper and toffee apple linger.

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