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Master of Malt Blog

Category: Features

Dream Drams… with Joe Hall of Satan’s Whiskers

You miraculously find yourself on a desert island equipped with a beach hut bar and eight spirits of your choosing. What are you sipping? For Joe Hall, general manager at…

You miraculously find yourself on a desert island equipped with a beach hut bar and eight spirits of your choosing. What are you sipping? For Joe Hall, general manager at London bar Satan’s Whiskers, survival sustenance means frozen Cognac shots, amontillado Sherry and Piña Colada pineapple goodness…

It’s a dilemma we’ve all pondered at one point or another. If you should find yourself stranded on a remote island with little more than a selection of handpicked bottles to call company, which particular boozes would fill your glass?

We put the question to Joe Hall, general manager at laid-back neighbourhood hangout Satan’s Whiskers. For the unacquainted, Satan’s serves up some of Bethnal Green’s finest cocktails to a formidable hip hop soundtrack. The daily-changing menu is packed with riffs on classics so killer, the man himself would patently approve.

Satan’s Whiskers

Say hello to Joe Hall!

No stranger to the back bar, Hall’s career started at former north London bar Wax Jambu at the age of 18. After a few years he moved to Bristol – “a place that I still think has one of the best cocktail scenes in the country, with Hyde & Co, Redlight and Filthy XIII leading the charge at the moment,” he says before returning to London to Beaufort Bar at The Savoy, which won Best International Hotel Bar at The Spirited Awards 2015 during his tenure. Hall left The Savoy for a junior bartender position at Satan’s Whiskers, which almost four years on, he now runs.

“During my time at Satan’s I’ve learnt a lot, taken a great sense of ownership over the place and won a few competitions,” he continues namely Belvedere’s Grain to Glass 2019 and the Diplomatico World Tournament 2017, for which he was crowned the European winner “nowadays I’m much more settled and focused on the advancement and training of the staff at the bar. In my limited spare time, I’m also a certified Cognac educator on behalf of the BNIC.”

Being the first to tackle our ever-so-slightly shameless homage to BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs is a pretty big undertaking, but Hall did not disappoint. After raiding his metaphorical suitcase Border Patrol-style, MoM asked him to talk us through the contents. Here’s what we found…

Martell VSOP

Why? The perfect mixing Cognac. Clean, Borderies-only and lees-less liquid amazing in Harvards, French 75s, and Cognac and Tonics. Also, perfect for those frozen Cognac shots we all love right?

Cognac Frapin Fontpinot XO

Why? This is the Cognac you want to drink neat. Unbelievably flavourful product of single vineyard Grand Champagne grapes, aged for a long time in dry cellars. It’s rich and complex, but has remarkably distinct tropical notes passionfruit and pineapple. This is an amazing example of what, for me, makes Cognac stand out amongst other spirits.

Hidalgo Amontillado Napoleón

Why? Pleasant, accessible amontillado Sherry. Maybe too light for the ultra-serious sherry heads of this world but it’s perfect for clean, crisp mixed drinks. Makes my favourite [version of the cocktail] Adonis, and Sherry and Tonic or a Sobremesa, a drink of mine that contains sherry, sweet vermouth, cucumber and a touch of mezcal.

Satan’s Whiskers

Satan’s Whiskers, which we hear is a hell of a night…

Potocki Vodka

Why? Why isn’t everyone aware of this stuff?! It’s through distilling only twice with no filtration during the production process that creates this beautifully-flavoured and textured rye vodka from Poland. It makes Martinis that are absolutely out of this world.

Compass Box Hedonism

Why? I knew I wanted to include something from Compass Box, but picking which bottle is a real challenge. They have such a fantastic range, with some unbelievable blends on offer. As far as pushing the envelope and mind expansion goes, Hedonism has it all, showing that grain whisky can be 100% delicious too.

Kahlua

Why? You wouldn’t be able to make any White Russians without this.

Diplomatico Reserva Exclusiva Rum

Why? The fondest memories in my entire career are of my time in Venezuela with Diplomatico and the rest of the European competitors. Such wonderful hosting, food, country, weather and… rum. This is the kind of rum you can drink in cocktails during the day, on ice in the evening, and straight out the bottle at night. And that’s just what we did.

Virginia Black

Why? As if I could do any kind of Desert Island Discs piece from a cocktail bar that only plays hip hop without referencing Drake. I like to think we’re the only small, curated industry cocktail bar that stocks it, let alone has it taking pride of place in the centre of the back bar. Tastes 100% acceptable.

Satan’s Whiskers

From frozen Cognac shots to Sobremesas, Hall serves up some of Bethnal Green’s finest

In-keeping with the theme, if you could take one book with you, which would you choose?

Champagne Cocktails by Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller. Apart from being an informative and succinct list of fancy drinks, this book does a fantastic job of evoking the convivial fun that drinking Champagne should be. Having this on a desert island would get some good celebratory nostalgia going!

And your luxury item?

My phone. Just for the Instagram. Can you imagine the photo opportunities? Coconut shell cocktails and banana leaves… My stories would go viral.

Finally, if you could only drink one cocktail there, what would it be?

On a desert island I’m going to need all the sustenance and nutrition I can get. So, out of necessity more than anything else, I’m going to pick the humble Piña Colada. Plenty of fresh pineapple goodness and calories to sustain me. If you’re going to get stranded on a desert island, you may as well get into it…

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Why don’t bars serve good coffee?

Nate Brown loves a good cocktail and he loves a good cup of coffee. So why, he asks, do so few bars in Britain do both well? A great coffee…

Nate Brown loves a good cocktail and he loves a good cup of coffee. So why, he asks, do so few bars in Britain do both well?

A great coffee served alongside a Whisky Highball, a bitter espresso in the same sitting as a clean Negroni, an americano and an Americano. Little moments of heaven. Or so I imagine. Because as delightful as these sound, the chance of me getting a decent coffee where I can get a decent drink is frankly slim to none. There are exceptions, of course. However, on the whole, the coffee that bars serve is so usually embarrassingly, insultingly terrible.

It shouldn’t be like this. After all, coffee is a mixed drink, prepared to order and delivered. A few rounds of Martinis followed by a bright, bitter espresso can be the shortcut to why we go to bars in the first place.  And if that’s a bit too much for you, the rise of low-ABV drinking walks hand-in-hand with the coffee world. In theory, they’re the same thing. In practice, the bar world has all but turned its back on the bean. Which is a bloody error. If I meet a colleague, we shouldn’t have to choose between going for a coffee or a for a drink.

Espresso

Wouldn’t that look even better with a Negroni on the side?

And don’t talk to me about margins. I’m not advocating replacing drinks with coffee, I’m talking about additional quality offerings. There is something contemptuous about the token hot drinks offering. If you’re going to do it, do it well; your guests deserve better. I asked one of the precious few who has migrated from booze into coffee and back again what his thoughts were. “Bars cannot be fucked,” was his response. This is more depressing than it first appears, because bars should be there for the guest, not for the ego of the bartender.

Is it a culture clash? Do those baristas that embrace the pull of espresso exist in the energy of the morning, and the shot-slugging bartender crew arise only for the glamour and sex of the evening? If so, then they’re missing a trick because guests no longer define their days in this on-duty/off-duty dichotomy. Why do bars and coffee shops?  Last month’s Coffee Festival showed some of these cultural differences in the cruel light of day. The general atmosphere between the dozens and dozens of competing soft drinks brands, espresso machineries, roasters, and merchandisers was jovial, friendly and positive. The booze additions, however, brought scandal. Mr Black’s juvenile attempt to undermine Tia Maria was ill-judged, especially considering that Tia Maria was one of the main sponsors for the event. The brandishing of spiteful stickers was at least appropriately childish. It was a stunt that may have impressed bartenders, but to a coffee crowd it was generally seen as darn right bitchy. Shame on us.

Moreover, coffee is growing up. The processes involved in bringing bean to cup have clear parallels with distillation. Washed processing, like column distillation, creates cleaner flavours; in contrast, natural processing is the pot distillation of the coffee world, producing bolder funkier flavours..And then there’s terroir: try beans from Ethiopia for berry-like fruit, like, say Pinot Noir; or beans from El Salvador for a richer, maltier flavour. See where I’m going with this? Perfect fodder for today’s more aware guest.

Sure, to some, the coffee and alcohol crossover manifests itself as the increasingly popular Espresso Martini and no further. This is hardly surprising, given the general disregard given to the coffee by bartenders. Just once, I’d love to have an Espresso Martini that celebrates and showcases the coffee. Nespresso Ne-no-no.

Nate Brown

Nate Brown, don’t make him choose between coffee and booze

Bars have a duty to provide a third-place world for their guests. And yes, they are guests, not customers. We are in hospitality, not retail. It makes a difference. And when we position the emphasis on providing a welcoming, affordable place for our guests to enjoy, to escape into, to mingle in and connect, the drinks we serve become mere vehicles for this hospitality.

Indeed, the drinks we serve have to excite and entice, to create conversations and provide intrigue and value. This is exactly what coffee can do just as well as booze. Hell, the word ‘Barista’ even means ‘bar-tender’. It’s about time bars realised this. Time to wake up and smell how crap your coffee is.

Nate Brown has owned and operated spirit specialist cocktail bars in London for the better part of a decade. He’s a regular speaker on industry panels, a judge for various spirit awards and has been known to harbour an opinion or two.  

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Talisker’s top five ways to bring Wild Spirit to your cocktail

Remember Talisker’s maritime-inspired Race to Skye competition? Well, this year the single malt Scotch whisky distillery’s annual cocktail challenge has transcended the tumultuous Skye shoreline to encompass Britain’s fields, forests,…

Remember Talisker’s maritime-inspired Race to Skye competition? Well, this year the single malt Scotch whisky distillery’s annual cocktail challenge has transcended the tumultuous Skye shoreline to encompass Britain’s fields, forests, and farmer’s markets. Here, brand ambassador Jason Clark shared tips for crafting a drink inspired by the wilderness…

If there’s one thing the Isle of Skye’s only distillery excels at, it’s crafting a bold, smoky, spicy, maritime dram. And if there’s one thing the UK’s bartenders know how to do, it’s make a damn fine cocktail with the stuff. So, it’s with great anticipation that we welcome back Talisker’s bartender training programme and competition for a third year. And this time, it’s evolved.

Wild Spirit Whisky Tour

To spread this fine news, Talisker brand ambassador and double World Class Global Finalist Jason Clark has embarked on a UK-wide tour of 16 seaside locations and other cities to chat about the brand’s history, production and characteristics, and share a few Wild Spirit cocktail techniques. Oh, and he’s doing the whole thing in a Talisker Land Rover Highland Defender – camping in each location and documenting his journey along the way.

After his tour is over, bartenders across the UK will be invited to submit a Talisker Wild Spirit serve and add it to the menu in their bar for eight weeks to be in with the chance of bagging a Talisker Wild Spirit adventure for themselves and two of their colleagues. We’re a curious bunch, so we decided to sneak into Clark’s first session, which was hosted in London-based subterranean whisky den Black Rock. Here’s what we learned about crafting cocktails with a touch of Wild Spirit…

  1. Test your palate

Experiment with “seasonal, natural flavours that are different to the classic flavours you find in a bar”, Clark suggests. Things like different mushroom varieties, toasted nuts, pine needles, olives, beetroot, tomato, different blossoms and flowers, salt, different types of honey, different types of apples, pears, weeds, roots, cured meats, samphire, rhubarb, figs, nettles, tangerines, stone fruits, dandelion, and seaweed varieties.

  1. Consider homegrown

“These flavours may be grown in your garden or on your windowsill,” Clark suggests – indeed, garden centres sell all-in-one kits for mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and various herbs. Otherwise, “they might be foraged from a local park or coastline, they might be purchased from a local farmers market, or even from the supermarket,” he adds.

  1. Forage with care

Our neighbourhoods, parks, reserves, and coastline are all abundant with forageable produce, you just need to know what you’re looking at, suggests Clark. However, “you need to know that the area you’re sourcing from is natural, clean and safe,” he says. For example, don’t pick blackberries from a graveyard, a dog park, or an industrial area.

  1. Utilise the ingredients

If you forage something, and simple use it as a garnish or muddle it in the drink, you’re missing a trick. “It’s going to be gone in a day or three,” says Clark. “But if you look at ways of preserving it, you can use it on an ongoing basis for, potentially, the remainder of the season.” Syrups, infusions, shrubs, bitters, tinctures, pickling and cooking all bring out flavour in different ways. “You could do something as simple as infusing ginger bitters with magnolia flowers,” he adds.

  1. Give it a fancy name

When someone opens a menu and sees the name of a cocktail, it instantly creates a mental image, says Clark. Think: Winter Waves, Spring Orchard, Shackleton Toddy, Highland Fire, Campfire Tales, and so on. Take it a step further by creating a little story about that as well.

Foraging not your forte? Here are three pre-approved Talisker cocktails you can whip up from the comfort of your own home…

Talisker Sea Sour

Talisker Sea Sour

Sea Sour

Ingredients: 50ml Talisker (10 Year Old, Skye or Storm), 30ml lemon juice, 1 egg white, 15ml honey syrup, 3 dashes celery bitters
Glass: Old fashioned or tumbler
Garnish: Fennel or samphire
Method: Shake and double strain then garnish.

Talisker Campfire Hot Chocolate

Talisker Campfire Hot Chocolate

Campfire Hot Chocolate

Ingredients: 50ml Talisker (10 Year Old, Skye or Storm), 50ml boiling water, 45g dark chocolate (60%), 150ml milk (dairy or oat), 10ml golden syrup
Garnish: Toasted marshmallow and spice dust
Method: Mix chocolate with water and stir. Add other ingredients and steam on a coffee machine milk wand. Pour into mug and garnish.

Talisker Hot Todday

Talisker Hot Toddy

Hot Toddy

Ingredients: 50ml Talisker (10 Year Old, Storm, or Port Ruighe), 10ml ginger liqueur, 15ml heather honey syrup, 25ml lemon juice, 25ml apple juice, 100ml boiling water
Garnish: Cinnamon-spiced honeycomb
Method: Build in a pre-heated mug and garnish.

The Talisker Wild Spirit Whisky Tour will run until 20 April. To see the full schedule and sign up, bartenders should visit https://taliskerwildspirit.events.idloom.com.

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Master of Malt tastes… Mortlach 47 Year Old

We found ourselves dram-to-face with the oldest ever distillery expression released from Dufftown’s oldest distillery: Mortlach. It’s safe to say that Mortlach is one Scotch whisky’s finest distilleries. The spirit…

We found ourselves dram-to-face with the oldest ever distillery expression released from Dufftown’s oldest distillery: Mortlach.

It’s safe to say that Mortlach is one Scotch whisky’s finest distilleries. The spirit is reliably good and possesses a distinctive distillery character. It’s current core range is one of the most impressive you’ll find. But what are things like at the other end of the age spectrum?

We were invited to a tasting of its latest release, Mortlach 47 Year Old, to find out. The brand arranged for 47 guests in total to imbibe the imperious at The Violin Factory in Lambeth, London last night. Global Scotch ambassador Ewan Gunn hosted and was at hand with anecdotes and answers. Did I mention there’s was a 47-year-old Mortlach? It was all obviously incredibly exciting.

Mortlach 47 Year Old

An introduction to Speyside whisky at the Violin Factory: Knockando 12 Year Old (front) Cardhu 12 Year Old (middle) and finally Mortlach 16 Old (end).

Anybody who’s ever enjoyed a dram of the good stuff knows that there’s always going to be a level of intrigue about whiskies of a certain age, no matter how many brilliant young spirits are released by great distilleries.

An extra-old whisky can prove to be something of a double-edged sword, however. An expression of that age may have actually suffered from too long in the cask, suppressing a lot of flavours and any trace of the distillery’s profile. You don’t want to end up writing a tasting note that’s essentially just a list of synonyms for ‘woody’. Worse still, you could come to the realisation that your dreamy dram was actually a relatively poor whisky before it was even matured in the first place. Respect for your elders can only go so far.

Mortlach 47 Year Old

Mortlach Distillery in Dufftown, Scotland

That said, my impression going into this tasting was that Mortlach was exactly the kind of distillery that would avoid this fate. The spirit is known as The Beast of Dufftown’ for its robust, bold and uncompromising character and its noted ability to stand up to long maturation and distinctive cask types. It’s also been described as being atypical of ‘Speyside style’, though I’m not sure you could or should reduce any region to one profile.

Instead, it’s worth exploring what makes Mortlach unique, and for many that lies in the distillation process. You may have heard the brand explain that it distils its whisky 2.81 times, using a complicated process known as ‘The Way’. Gunn describes it is a method that “can only have come from the mind of a world-class engineer.”

It’s essentially a partial triple distillation. Only two out of its six variously sized stills operate conventionally, the first being a wash still that carries out the first distillation and the second is a spirit still, which takes care of the second distillation. This pair of stills creates one spirit stream. All pretty standard fare so far.

Mortlach 47 Year Old

The famous Mortlach stills

That leaves a remaining four stills, two wash and two spirit. The wash stills carry out the first distillation for the second and third spirit streams and what they produce is split between the remaining two spirit stills. One spirit still receives 80% of it, making a second spirit stream, while the remaining 20% is distilled three times in the last still, which is known affectionately as ‘Wee Witchie.’ The middle cut is taken after the third distillation, creating the third spirit stream.

All three spirit streams are then combined, having been condensed using wooden worm tubs (Mortlach remains one of only a handful of distilleries still using these to cool its spirit). The end result is the classic Mortlach new-make, muscular, meaty and full-bodied. You can get an idea here of why long maturation or cask types don’t tend to undermine Mortlach whisky. You’d have to think it would take a lot to shackle that particular beast.

Which brings me to the Mortlach 47 Years Old. It’s worth pointing out that it’s not the oldest bottle of Mortlach whisky. In fact, a 75-year-old bottling of Mortlach released by Gordon & MacPhail is one of the oldest whiskies in the world. The 47 Year Old is the oldest ever released from the distillery itself, and the first from a new collection of single cask whiskies called The Singing Stills Series. The range will eventually feature three rare single cask expressions and was named after Mortlach’s famously vocal distillation equipment. Talk of beasts and singing inanimate objects all sounds a little Beauty and the Beast, but “the sound of the stills is as distinctive to the distillery as the taste of the whisky,” Gunn explains.

Mortlach 47 Year Old

It’s the oldest distillery expression released from Mortlach

Mortlach 47 Years Old was matured in a single refill American oak hogshead that was filled in 1971. For 47 years the spirit rested in the original warehouse before it was bottled at 46.8% ABV. There are just over 90 bottles left from the original 100 that were filled, so Mortlach has launched an online registration, which opened last night, on Justerini & Brooks in order to handle demand. It will set you back £10,000. Quite steep, but then we are living in increasingly silly times.

In the material sent out with the announcement of this series, master blender Dr Craig Wilson describes the 47-year-old as “exquisite for its age and is unmistakably Mortlach, with its intensely complex character and well-balanced flavour profile”. There was also a tasting note provided, which read as such:

Producer’s Tasting Note for Mortlach 47 Year Old:

Nose: Aromatic and exotic with orchard and tropical fruits followed by honey and waxy notes. Subtle spice notes emerge with sage, rosemary, incense and myrrh followed by a faint touch of smoke.

Palate: Soft, ripe fruits with an intriguing combination of sweet and sour notes – umeshu plums and peaches are both present. There are balanced by firm tannins and a rich earthiness with just a little smoke.

Finish: Earthy and spicy with a touch of wood ash.

It all sounds very delicious. Happily, we can confirm that it’s exactly what it is. As we tasted our dram, music commissioned specifically for this whisky (no, really) played. It was written by Alexis French using the singing of the stills as inspiration. It added a nice ambience to the tasting, but there was simply too much going with this whisky to notice it that much.

What really stood out was the elegant structure of the dram, with a sublime nose as the highlight. There was enough there of what people would recognise was classic Mortlach, but also plenty of welcome surprises. Here’s a full MoM tasting note, so you can get a better idea of just how good my Tuesday night was:

Mortlach 47 Year Old

Mortlach 47 Year Old

Master of Malt Tasting Note for Mortlach 47 Year Old:

Nose: Rich, deep and elegant, the nose begins with dark chocolate with raspberries through it, Christmas pudding and a little floral honey. Fleshy nectarines, pineapple rings, ripe mango and a little banana foster add an exotic and refined sweetness. Vanilla fudge emerges and is followed by a fascinating blend of incense, star anise and thyme. Dried mushroom and cured meat provide a savoury, umami backbone, which baked earth and sandalwood complement. A helping of butterscotch and soft toffee pennies are present throughout, adding a sticky, unctuous sweetness.

Palate: The 47 years of maturation is more apparent on the palate, with sparks of oaky tannins rushing to the fore among dry earth and rancio. Then a raft of dark fruit sweetness and bittersweet, menthol herbs: blackberry compote, rosemary and more thyme predominantly, provide the all-important depth. Rich toffee, ginger snaps and a notable return of the fresh tropical fruits add very pleasant support.

Finish: The finish starts auspiciously with a thick spread of melted, salted butter. It then morphs into a decadent flourish with pear drops, a little retro lemonade and salted caramel sauce, which are balanced by notes of wood ash and charred Chinese pork spare ribs.

Overall: Very, very impressive. The nose, in particular, I could have enjoyed for a fortnight at least. In summary: I’ll fight you all for another bottle.

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Tears before bedtime: are we heading for a whisky crash?

Today we are honoured to introduce Ian Buxton who is going to be writing a series of columns for us. In this his first article he looks back at whisky’s…

Today we are honoured to introduce Ian Buxton who is going to be writing a series of columns for us. In this his first article he looks back at whisky’s turbulent past and asks when the next bust is coming. 

According to Mark Twain, “too much good whiskey is barely enough.”  Well, uncomfortably soon, we might find out if that’s true. Whisky – be that Scotch, American or Irish – has, with monotonous regularity, a very bad habit of shooting off its own foot.  Bear with me: short and grossly simplified history lesson coming up.

whisky crash

Ian Buxton at Glenfiddich

At the end of the 19th century, the Irish whiskey industry, which was heavily invested both financially and emotionally in its large pot stills and regarded grain spirit as ‘sham whisky’ and blending as adulteration, turned its back on the future.  While other factors then came into play, it’s taken the industry more than a century to recover. Our American friends, having just got over the self-inflicted wound of Prohibition, decided that rye was finished and bourbon belonged on the bottom shelf.  That’s taken a while to sort out.

And the Scots, contrary to their national reputation for caution and parsimony, are overly fond of some boom and bust, be it the Pattison crisis of the late 1890s or the closures of the 1920s, which – lesson not learned – were neatly repeated in the mid-1980s when the industry finally confronted the consequences of over-production. Not to be outdone, shortly afterwards, the Japanese industry thought seppuku a smart move. Reacting to economic recession and dropping sales, a series of cutbacks and closures explain why Japanese whisky of any age is so very expensive today.

So, that’s one thing the world of whisky has in common.  Here’s another: we may be on the brink of repeating the same mistake because, wherever you look, distilleries are being expanded and new ones built as if the current good times will never end. The thing is, top-line numbers don’t tell the whole story. While there may be literally thousands of boutique distilleries being built anywhere you can cast a quaich, they don’t actually matter all that much.  Sure, they do if you’re an investor. Furthermore, they add to the gaiety of life and people like me get to write articles about them, but in terms of the volume they add to total production they’re insignificant.

whisky crash

Macallan’s spanking new distillery

If you doubt that, here’s a sum: it would take 125 (that’s one hundred and twenty-five, count ‘em) tiddlers of 100,000 litres annual capacity to equal the output of one Roseisle.  By the way, 100,000 litres is a perfectly decent little distillery: more, for example, than the projected individual outputs of Daftmill, Abhainn Dearg, Strathearn, Eden Mill or Dornoch .  And, while a lot of new boutique distilleries are being built in Scotland, the total doesn’t approach 125.

So, I’m not that worried about the small fry, fascinating though they are.  The problem (if there is one) comes with the less heralded fact that the big are getting very much bigger: Inchdairnie (up to 4 million litres); Ailsa Bay (12.5m); Roseisle (12.5m); Dalmunach (10m); Macallan (15m) and Borders (2m). That’s without considering expansion at Glenfiddich (to 20m), The Glenlivet, Glen Moray (now a 5m-litre plant), Glen Ord, Glenmorangie and the re-opening of Glen Keith.  I could go on.

In fact, I shall.  Exactly the same thing is happening in Kentucky and elsewhere in the USA.  That’s without mentioning the States’ reputed 1,500 plus craft distillers which, however small any one of them may be, does eventually add up to an awful lot of liquor. Expansion in Ireland, chiefly at Tullamore and Midleton, but not forgetting Waterford and Bushmills, has also seen a headlong rush into micro-distilling – which is interesting, given how Jameson continues to dominate the category.  Does the world need twenty or more tiny Irish distilleries? In Japan, following years of under-production and a sudden dramatic rise in demand (and hence those prices), they’re scrambling to catch up.

whisky crash

Artist impression of the new Port Ellen distillery

Now, while you can, of course, keep whisky in cask almost indefinitely, that requires barrels and warehouses, scarce and expensive resources that tax the patience of the most saintly accountant. Because a lot of this expansion has happened within a short period of time, a tsunami of newly-mature spirit can be expected on the market within the next five years.  

In fact, the world has never seen so much whisky. Where will it all go? Who is going to drink it all?

I would like to conclude with the thought that the last time whisky grew this fast it all ended badly. Which is true, but I can’t because whisky has never grown this fast. The size of some of these giant distilleries is unheard of for single malt, and, for the industry as a whole, the scale of expansion is unprecedented. That’s worth thinking about, because it means an unprecedented level of risk of a very messy end to our current golden age.

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

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A Way with words: Globetrotting cocktails at Little Red Door

Have you ever come across words in other languages that don’t directly translate into English? Well, the team behind Parisian bar Little Red Door haven’t just deciphered their meaning for…

Have you ever come across words in other languages that don’t directly translate into English? Well, the team behind Parisian bar Little Red Door haven’t just deciphered their meaning for us – they’ve interpreted them as cocktails. We caught up with group bar manager Rory Shepherd to find out precisely what (or who…) ‘pochemuchka’ is…

If you’ve ever felt as though you can’t quite find the right words, it could be because they don’t exist – not in English, anyway. The team at Little Red Door has clocked onto this with a new drinks selection, taking 10 untranslatable words and using them to inspire corresponding cocktails.

Behind the Little Red Door

Behind the Little Red Door

The premise of the menu, dubbed A Way With Words, is this: all words are rooted in emotion, which is how they are given meaning (deep, we know). So the cocktails, in their deliciousness, will delve deep into the emotion behind the phrases.  The team, who hail from French, Dutch, Swedish and Venezuelan backgrounds – and usher hundreds of international guests through their doors each week – were inspired by the language barriers that are often broken down in the bar.

“As a Scotsman it was very hard not to involve some seriously rough Scottish slang,” says Shepherd of words that didn’t quite make the final cut. “We also wanted to do words that are an absolute no in a bar environment like ‘culaccino’, which in Italian refers to the mark left on a table by a wet glass.”

Pochemucka

Pochemuchka 

Ingredients: Strawberry leaf Belvedere, strawberry wine, strawberry moo juice
Language: Russian
Rough translation: Why is the sky blue? Why are strawberries red? Why does that person keep asking questions?!
How it’s made: The team separates milk using strawberry leaf-infused Belvedere vodka, adds strawberry vermouth, and then filters the mix to serve a clarified milk punch.

So, how did they do it? First, they gathered words that “depict a certain emotion, feeling, state or ritual that in its native language sums up an entire experience, but in English needs a full description”, and shared them out among the bartenders, who got busy researching, interpreting developing, and ultimately translating their given word into a drink – albeit in their own creative bar language.

“Pochemuchka is someone who asks questions,” explains Shepherd. “There’s a kids book called Pochemuchka about this kid who is super curious about everything to the point where it’s almost annoying. We purposely wrote Strawberry Moo Juice so you’d ask what it is. What is a ‘Moo’ and what would it’s ‘juice’ be? …. Strawberry milk!”

Passeggiata

Ingredients: All day amaro, bubbles
Language: Italian
Rough translation: Strolling along by the sea, breathing in the warm sunset air, digesting a lovely meal, being with each other.
How it’s made: To create this non-alcoholic twist on the classic Americano serve, the team combine house-made non-alcoholic Amaro with Seedlip Garden 108 and soda water.

The physical menu, should you be lucky enough to get your mitts on one, is decorated with artwork by surrealist photographer Natacha Einat which aims to evoke the feeling of the words behind each cocktail. Thought-provoking drinks are, after all, a Little Red Door staple.

The new cocktails follow 2018’s Menu of Universal Values, made up of drinks representing 10 different values that everyone feels at least once (strength, stimulation, achievement, hedonism, benevolence, conformity, self-direction, tradition, universalism, and balance, FYI). I ask Shepherd what he enjoys about approaching cocktails in this way.

“It’s fun, it’s bonding, it’s intriguing,” he says. “By digging into a topic you don’t really know about you discover new things so therefore when you are exploring flavour you will also do the same, it’s an amazing way to step out of our comfort zone. Ultimately our interests lie in social studies and anthropology, which in a social world such as cocktail bars it’s nice to get nitty gritty with this.”

Fuubutsushi

Ingredients: Monkey Shoulder, seasonal tea, rice wine, ‘terroir’
Language: Japanese
Rough translation: The sense of seasons to come, the first scent of cut grass, bees collecting nectar, leaves turning to amber.
How it’s made: Well, it really depends on the season. The flavour of this whisky cocktail which is served on the rocks in a Japanese-inspired bowl with seasonal flowers and fruits – will be dictated by the local produce available.

While the hip hangout, situated in the Marais neighbourhood of Paris, undergoes a small refurbishment, Shepherd and the team will take their new creation on an international tour, working in collaboration with bars along the way to create bespoke drinks based on words in their native languages. London will be the first to taste A Way With Words over the coming weekend (12, 13 and 14 April), hosted at buzzy Marylebone bar FAM in collaboration with Porter’s Gin.

We collaborated on a Cognac drink which will be available at FAM after we leave for the duration of Cognac Week in London,” says Shepherd. “It was super fun coming up with this name because we had to kind of reverse our process; an English word that doesn’t really translate… Higgledy-Piggledy contains Remy Martin 1738, Londinio Aperitivo, fino sherry, lemon thyme, and Sacred Amber vermouth.”

Na’eeman

Ingredients: Fermented agave, forbidden fruit, hops
Language: Arabic
Rough translation: A feeling of self-freshness. The purity and ritual of cleanliness
How it’s made: Fermented agave wine made in Paris is combined with red apple verjus and mastiha soda with hops to make a light, floral drink.

A Way With Words is available at Little Red Door now, presented in both French and English.

 

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Bats, agave and mezcal: a love story

We headed over to Temper in Covent Garden for an outstandingly educational afternoon with Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, known as the Bat Man of Mexico, for a chat about bats and…

We headed over to Temper in Covent Garden for an outstandingly educational afternoon with Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, known as the Bat Man of Mexico, for a chat about bats and their synonymous relationship with agave plants.

Did you know that 80% of agave pollination is due to the humble bat? Dr. Rodrigo Medellin, a professor at the University of Mexico, has spent pretty much his whole life studying and protecting bats, hence his nickname. Born with a love of animals, his first word was “flamingo”. At the age of 12, he held his first bat and his fate was sealed: he was going to work with bats for the rest of his life. We were lucky enough to see him talk about his passion, and learnt a lot about a species that isn’t given much good press. Move over Bruce Wayne, here’s the real batman.

With a glass of mezcal in hand, Medellin began to explain how bats and agave plants are linked. The relationship goes back around 12 million years, but don’t worry, we won’t start all the way back then. Instead, we’ll begin in 1988 with the lesser long-nosed bat, which are found in Central America and were, at the time listed as endangered. Fast forward 30 years, and in a truly historic moment in 2018 they were the first mammal to be delisted! This was no cue to relax, it was now time to focus on the maintenance and conservation of the species.

The Bat Man with a lesser long-nosed bat

When Medellin first started studying the largest colony of lesser long-nosed bats in northwest Mexico, he and his team realised that the area was completely barren. Not an agave in sight. The nearest sources of agave were at least 40 or 50km away. Too far, Medellin thought, for such a small bat to fly just to feed. In a great plot twist, they found out that the bats were flying 90km one way to feed from agave plants. Medellin showed us a picture of a bat after feeding, its whole body completely covered in pollen. So, when these bats are flying 90km each way to find food, of course they’re spreading this pollen around from agave to agave like nobody’s business.

Agave is used to make mezcal, and Blue Weber agave is specifically used to make Tequila. The plants take between six to eight years to grow, and only sexually reproduce once in their entire lifetime, during which they bloom a magnificently tall flower. Medellin compared it to “a humongous penis”, and this flower is what bats feed from. However, this process takes up a huge amount of sugar and energy from the plant, so agaves that are destined to make mezcal are harvested before it can take place. Instead of natural reproduction, agave farmers take clonal shoots from beneath the plant and replant those.

The problem with this is that there is no genetic diversity from all these cloned baby agaves. Farmed agave have not been allowed to bloom in over 150 years, and in 2014 it was discovered that 270 million agave plants were clones of just two original agaves. Yep, our jaws dropped too. This means that they all have the same genetic makeup, so should a disease come along (or even the effects of climate change) they would all be equally susceptible. That’s a pretty precarious situation.

Agave plants destined for mezcal

Medellin proposed a solution to recover the genetic diversity of the agave species and, importantly for him, to help conserve the bat population. If agave farmers allow just 5% of their agave harvest to bloom, that will feed 100 bats per hectare. These bats will then pollinate the agave, reviving the genetic diversity. Should the farmers do this, they will be able to claim their mezcal or Tequila as ‘bat friendly’, and will be able to display a special hologram on their bottles certifying this. So far, mezcal and Tequila brands Ocho, Tapatio, Siete Leguas, Siembra Valles Ancestral and Cascahuin have earnt the title. Clearly, it has been hugely popular, as every single bottle of bat friendly mezcal has sold out. At the moment, it’s impossible to get your hands on any!  

Medellin is also urging bars and other establishments to display this information around the bar, in menus, and to educate the bartenders. The key is to offer people a choice (when some bat friendly mezcal returns to the market!) to help support this crucial cause.

Behold, a very tall agave bloom waiting for bats

Mezcal is one of the very few alcohols that doesn’t rely on a monoculture. Beer? Fields of barley. Wine? Grapes of one species (vitis vinifera) as far as the eye can see. Cognac? More grapes! Even Tequila is made only with Blue Weber agave. Mezcal can be made from any one of over 200 agave species, and this bodes for far healthier and robust ecosystems. When we asked Medellin about his favourite mezcal, he answered that from his top 10 at least half of them he would never be able to try again, and that’s fine with him. “Dwell in diversity”, he said, “or mezcal will become the next Tequila.” What he means by this is that, when you try a brilliant small batch mezcal, you must enjoy it and move on. Whoever said that variety is the spice of life was really on to something.  

At the end, we asked Medellin what Master of Malt could do to help. He answered, “the industry is thirsty for information”, so if we can continue to convey the crucial role that bats play then awareness will only increase. The industry is also thirsty for Tequila, so spread the word, just like those lesser long-nosed bats spread that agave pollen! Seeing Medellin speak about his work was truly inspiring. He was passionate, informative and downright hilarious, and his cause is something that we can all get on board with.

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Tell ’em about the honey: How mead became the latest thing

Before there was beer, whisky or gin, people from northern climates turned to honey for all their alcohol needs. Since then, mead, has been out of fashion for over half…

Before there was beer, whisky or gin, people from northern climates turned to honey for all their alcohol needs. Since then, mead, has been out of fashion for over half a century. But now, it’s back…

Last month, I went to a pop-up bar in Peckham, south east London, and everyone was drinking not craft beer or yuzu smoothies, but mead. Yes, mead, the drink that we associate with Vikings and chubby medieval friars is now, whisper it, a bit cool. We’ve noticed the mead effect here at Master of Malt. It is flying off the shelves. So, we thought it would be a good idea to look a bit further into the category and find out what it’s all about.

Tom Gosnell in trendy Peckham

The bar in question was called Gosnells Upstairs at the Coal Rooms, and it will be open for the next six months. It’s designed to showcase Gosnells Mead which is produced just around the corner. The founder Tom Gosnell used to make cider, but picked up a love for good quality mead in the US. “I was travelling along the East Coast of the US when I was first exposed to mead that was crafted with real, love, care, and respect for the honey,” he said. “This really lit a fire in me, and I was determined to start making a modern mead in London.”

And so, in his own words, Gosnell opened “the first London meadery in over 500 years”. Being based in Peckham means that he’s in the heart of London’s craft brewing scene. “It’s so vibrant and diverse, there’s a real energy here that you can’t help but get caught up in,” he told me.

James Lambert from Lyme Bay down in Devon also started with cider, then wine, and now makes an extensive range of mead including the bestselling Moniack brand that was previously based in Scotland. “We own the Highland Wineries brand and make all their products at our Devon winery,” he explained. “This change took place when the Fraser family, who used to own Moniack, closed it and sold the business.”

Lyme Bay

Lyme Bay, they make cider, wine and mead here

In order to make alcohol, all you need is a sugary liquid and yeast. So it’s understandable that honey was one of the first products that people made into alcohol. Tom Gosnell explained the process: “We simply take honey, mix it with water and pitch a yeast, which turns the sugars into alcohol.” But it’s important to use top quality raw ingredients. “Great mead starts with great honey,” He continued. “When you ferment, you strip away some of the sweetness and get access to the amazing tertiary flavours that the bees have been collecting from all the flowers.”

Gosnells London Mead is made from Valencian orange blossom honey. According to the company’s mead maker, Will Grubelnik, this is to ensure consistency. Grubelnik is an Australian brought up in a wine producing part of Victoria. “Wine and mead are very close in fermentation style and they’re both very much about terroir,” he told me. Gosnells’ bestselling 5.5% ABV original is pasteurised to retain some sugar, carbonated and then sold in 750ml bottles to rival Prosecco or good quality sparkling cider.

The team also produces limited edition meads made from single flower varieties, single areas or individual beekeepers. A current offering from Biggin Hill in Bromley is fully fermented to about 8% ABV, so it is bone dry. Grubelnik enthused about meads barrel-aged for 18 months that taste a bit like dry sherry.

James Lambert agrees on the importance of good honey. He uses a “unique blend of English, Mexican and Chinese honey which combines the most aromatic of indigenous flower species to create the rich, floral and pungent characteristics that our meads are famous for.” You can also add flavours and spices, as they do at Lyme Bay. “We combine honey with hand-picked spices and ferment them with water to create our award-winning range.” Lyme Bay offer a huge range of flavoured products including Garden Mead (made with fresh mint); Tournament Mead (ginger); Rhubarb Mead; and Yore, “a dry, light mead with a sparkle and a delicious honey kick which makes a refreshing alternative to beer and cider”.

In proper mead all the alcohol should come from honey. However, there are no regulations for the category, so many meads get some alcohol from apple juice or beer, or may even be merely honey-flavoured. Grubelik told me that they are currently campaigning for a regulatory framework.

So, how to drink all that honeyed goodness? Lambert recommends drinking her Rhubarb Mead “served chilled or on the rocks but this tangy mead also has the sweetness and fruitiness to pair it perfectly with blue cheese and terrines, as well as ice cream and fruit-based desserts.” According to Gosnell, the sparkling product is “perfect as an aperitif, an alternative to Prosecco, but I really like the way that it holds up well to spicy food, and cuts through fattier dishes like pork belly.”

Mead also works superbly as a cocktail ingredient. Gosnell gave me a drink to try called a Peckham Lemonade. It sounds like old-school gangster slang: ‘he ain’t gonna snitch no more, Vern’s given him a dose of Peckham Lemonade’. But it’s actually a delicious long drink made with gin, honey, lemon juice and sparkling mead.

Gosnells Mead

It’s all about the honey

Lambert agrees: “Mead’s flavour combinations make it an ideal addition to cocktails. We’ve collaborated with Sam Boulton, owner of The Vanguard mead bar in Birmingham, who has come up with six mead cocktail recipes.” These include a Rhubarb Negroni, made with Rhubarb Mead, Aperol and Cotswold Gin, and a delicious-sounding low-ABV one called English Gardening, made with Garden Mead, Seedlip Garden, elderflower liqueur, apple juice and soda water.

What’s driving mead’s new-found popularity? Could it be something to do with Game of Thrones? James Lambert had some thoughts. “Across the pond, mead is having a full-blown revival and is one of the fastest growing alcoholic beverages in the country. It has captured the hearts of a new generation of discerning drinkers and there is also, of course, a certain HBO series that is putting mead in the spotlight. Over in the UK these effects are being felt and we are seeing the beginning of a long and sustainable growth.”

Grubelnik reckoned about a third of the people who came to the bar were already into mead, particularly customers from Scandinavia, and wanted to try flights of different meads. But Gosnell told me that many customers are completely clueless. “There often isn’t the fundamental understanding around mead,” he said. “It’s not just a new product to the market, it’s a whole new category!” All we can say is, give it a go and maybe you too will acquire the need for mead.

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Five new Scotch distilleries we can’t wait to explore

With around 30 new Scotch whisky distilleries in the planning or construction phases, it’s an exhilarating time to be a dram fan. Here, we’ve picked out five of the most…

With around 30 new Scotch whisky distilleries in the planning or construction phases, it’s an exhilarating time to be a dram fan. Here, we’ve picked out five of the most hotly-anticipated producers preparing to join the fold…

The last few years have been a ride, haven’t they? Scotland’s best-known distilleries are expanding, new players are making waves and old favourites like Port Ellen, Brora, and Rosebank are en route to resurrection.

While there are many more Scotch whisky distilleries in progress and no doubt plenty others to be announced over the coming year – we’ve picked out five we’re particularly excited about. What’s yours? Let us know where and why in the comments below…

port of leith distillery

Port of Leith Distillery (it doesn’t quite look like this yet)

Port of Leith Distillery, Edinburgh

We’ve had a soft spot for Port of Leith Distillery for a little while now. A whisky crush, if you will. Not only will the Leith-based site be Edinburgh’s first single malt whisky distillery for more than 100 years, but its ground-breaking design means it’ll be Scotland’s very first vertical distillery too. It’s expected to be up and running by autumn 2020, with the first whisky bottles slated for release in 2023, but that hasn’t stopped co-founders Paddy Fletcher and Ian Stirling from giving us a flavour of what’s to come. Last year the duo released Port of Leith Distillery sherry, sourced from Bodegas Baron in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and Lind & Lime Gin, produced at nearby The Tower Street Stillhouse which will later house the Port of Leith’s whisky development programme. Expect unusual yeast strains, fermentation experiments, and a whole new world of flavour.

Clutha Distillery

Clutha Distillery

Clutha Distillery, Glasgow

Situated at Glasgow’s Pacific Quay development on the south side of the River Clyde, Douglas Laing’s project Clutha – meaning Clyde in Gaelic – isn’t just a single malt whisky distillery. Oh, no. The £10.7m building will also house a bottling complex, visitor centre, whisky laboratory, whisky archive, bar, bistro, and corporate head office. The family-owned business plans on producing whisky with a heavy sherry influence that will differ from traditional Lowland styles: think macerated fruit, dark fruit, chocolate and cocoa character. Last year, third generation family member Cara Laing told MoM to expect a “down-to-earth, very honest distillery” that focuses on “everything from the barley to the finished bottle”.

Cabrach Distillery

Cabrach Distillery as it will look when finished

Cabrach Distillery, Moray

While the stills at Inverharroch Farm in the Highlands – home to Cabrach Distillery and its accompanying heritage centre – are new, the 150,000-or-so bottles of single malt they’ll produce each year will “made with historical methods” according to “the blueprint of an early 19th-century distillery”. The project, operated by The Cabrach Trust, aims to essentially produce Cabrach whisky as it would have been produced in the area in 1820, when wild, remote and rural Moray was at the centre of illicit whisky-making and smuggling. Cabrach Distillery is expected to release its first mature bottling in 2024.

Ardgowan Whisky Distillery

Ardgowan Whisky Distillery visualised by digital artist Tom Barnett

Ardgowan Distillery, Inverkip

Lowlands liquid with a maritime touch is what the good folks at Ardgowan Estate (around 30 miles from Glasgow, FYI) plan on serving up at their site, which will nestle across a cluster of ancient farm buildings on their Bankfoot site. The original Ardgowan Distillery was founded in 1896 in Greenock, and made grain spirit and industrial alcohol until it was destroyed during the Second World War. A £12 million distillery and visitor centre, Ardogowan 2.0 will produce three separate whisky styles – heavily peated, lightly peated, and unpeated – which will be available for sale as four, five, and seven-year old drams. In September 2018, the team released their inaugural whisky, the Ardgowan Expedition: a 20-year-old blended Scotch made with liquid that has travelled to the South Pole and back.

Ardross Distillery

Shadowy figures lurking at Ardross Distillery

Ardross Distillery, Inverness

Located in the Averon Valley, 30 miles north of Inverness, Greenwood Distillers’ Ardross Distillery is set on a 50-acre farm complex that dates back to the 19th century. The two-storey still house, tun room, mash house, milling area, blending and product development lab, vaulted cask storage area, tasting room, marketing suite, offices, and staff accommodation will split across steading buildings, farmhouse and cottages that once made up Ardross Mains Farm. Keen to get distilling, the folks at Greenwood recently unveiled Theodore Gin, created with guidance from olfactory expert and perfumier Barnabe Fillion. Our very own Jessica popped along to the launch in London read all about it here.

That’s it, folks! Five new Scotch whisky distilleries we’d love to visit. Which next-gen distilleries are on your bucket list? Let us know in the comments below, on social.

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Q&A: Gregg Glass, founder of The Whisky Works

Innovation in Scotch whisky is now everywhere, with numerous brands taking creative steps to stand out from the crowd. The Whisky Works from Whyte & Mackay (W&M) is one such…

Innovation in Scotch whisky is now everywhere, with numerous brands taking creative steps to stand out from the crowd. The Whisky Works from Whyte & Mackay (W&M) is one such approach; we spoke with its creator Gregg Glass to learn what it’s all about.

It’s not every day we hear about a new blending and bottling house focused on producing intriguing small-batch Scotch whisky, so when we do, we sit up and take notice here at MoM Towers. It’s safe to say our curiosity has been piqued by The Whisky Works, the newly-launched independent arm of Whyte & Mackay which operates under the watchful eye of W&M blender and whisky maker Gregg Glass.

We were fortunate enough to speak to the man himself about how The Whisky Works works, how it came to life and what to expect from the two delicious launch expressions: the King of Trees and the Glaswegian.

The Whisky Works

Gregg Glass holding a glass

Master of Malt: What is The Whisky Works?

Gregg Glass: The Whisky Works has been on my mind for a number of years. It was probably about five years ago I started to think about what sort of company would I like to build and what would be the best method to make that happen. Then, literally, the first week that I joined Whyte & Mackay, it was a discussion that we had. That’s why you’ll see in our logo ‘established in 2017’ because it was very early on in 2017 I actually started to action a lot of these cask laydowns and cask selections. What we created is an innovation hub where there’s complete creative freedom but it’s within the structure of Whyte & Mackay. What’s really great about that, certainly from my point of view as a whisky maker, is that I can utilise the real skill base that is here both in human resource but also the depth and breadth of our whisky stocks as well in creating exciting new whiskies. Part of where the name ‘The Whisky Works’ came from was my love of motorsports. A works team for a rally are the people on the ground. They have that freedom to explore different avenues and innovate in different ways that can then also feed back into the parent company, the manufacturer. The Whisky Works is an opportunity to also engage with everyone who works at the company and for them to feel part of the process too. It was a way of spending time with the guys on the ground and band about ideas.

MoM: What are you trying to achieve with The Whisky Works?

GG: I want to create unique and different characteristics both from a flavour profile point of view and perhaps methodology in making whisky through new innovative practices. We’re really a flavour-led company. Through The Whisky Works, we can look at doing things on a small scale with responsible risk-taking within this structure, almost like a test hub. When Richard Paterson (W&M master blender) and I work alongside each other on a variety of projects, we experiment with concepts that might be interesting to use or try out. Through The Whisky Works, we can test these ideas here, maybe at a smaller scale. Some of these concepts will then go out to maybe some of the other brands, once we’ve successfully tested or trialled them within the Whisky Works.

MoM: You’ve said the inspiration for The Whisky Works was your collaborations with wine and spirit producers, coopers and sawmills. How did those experiences inspire you?

GG: Through my career path, this year is going to be my 20th year in the industry, I’ve been very fortunate to work one-on-one with different people not only within the Scotch whisky industry but also with winemakers. When Richard Paterson and I travel the world we make a point to go out and see cask suppliers or other producers. It gives me a lot of creative inspiration. I’m a bit of a sponge for information, and these opportunities provoke me to go off and think about innovative things and do my own testing based on that.

The Whisky Works

The King of Trees

MoM: The first Modern Whisky Experiment expression is the King of Trees (a 10 year old Highland blended malt whisky). Can you talk us through how you created it?

GG: The concept behind the King of Trees began with the thought of using native Scottish oak. Although other people have used Scottish oak before, for me this is actually part of a bigger process and this is not a one-off idea or use. I’m actually building a bigger programme around that, about which we’ll be disclosing a little bit more in the coming months. But essentially what happened was that I found myself spending a lot of my own time researching and sourcing Scottish oak, going to sawmills close to where I grew up in the Highlands and trying to investigate how to utilise them. This was the inspiration behind the cask we used to finish the King of Trees. It was built from two windfall trees from the same estate in the Highlands that were between 160 and around 220 years old. We used windfall trees as we didn’t want to be cutting down trees unless they were necessarily having to be done so for forest management.

Now in terms of the flavour profile, what I really wanted to try and achieve with King of Trees was a lovely freshness in the recipe that allowed the core orchard fruit characters in the apple/pear notes to really come through. So I wanted to use the Highland oak to really accentuate that, but not to overpower the recipe. That’s why, in terms of the proportion, the Scottish oak is a roundabout 14% of the overall recipe. It expands the aftertaste and the longevity of the whisky, so what you find is that lovely soft spice will build up and come through in the finish really nicely. It’s very much a fresh, almost summery style of whisky, which is exactly the style I wanted to create.

The Whisky Works

The Glaswegian

MoM: The other launch expression is the first Classic Whisky bottling, the Glaswegian (a 29 year old single grain whisky). What can we expect from it?

The 29-year-old Glaswegian, for me, is beautiful, it’s fresh and, while it’s an older expression and it’s got depth, it’s also got the elegance and balance within there. I wanted to bring out the butterscotch type of characters and custard notes, crème brûlée and retain some of the exotic fruit characteristics that are within there. That’s something you’ll see with all of the projects that I work on. What I’m trying to do is build in depth and complexity but also at the same time harmony and balance to the recipes as well. All of our expressions are non-chill filtered, natural colouring and, if it’s not natural cask strength, then they are bottled at an alcohol level that was chosen very much specifically for the flavour delivery and the flavour experience that comes through there.

I’ve been a great lover of grain whisky for many years. Look at my experience working at Compass Box and some of the grain whiskies that I had exposure to there! What I found when it came to grain whiskies throughout my career was that I was drawn to casks from particular parts of our dunnage warehouse that were imparting a lovely freshness to whisky. So the majority of the casks for the Glaswegian came from dunnage warehousing. When it comes to the Glaswegian, we can’t talk too much about the spirit itself as it came from a closed distillery that was in Glasgow and we’re not disclosing the distillery name. But, what we can talk about is the cask maturation side of things, and hopefully, that provides a different message and insight into whisky creation that may act to help to educate people who are maybe newer into whisky or wanting to try and explore new flavours.

Both the King of Trees and the Glaswegian will soon be available from 15th April at Master of Malt, so set a reminder in your calendar.

 

 

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