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Master of Malt Blog

The Nightcap: 25 September

New Macallan, Jura, Tobermory and Glenturret whisky,  and how to celebrate Oktoberfest at home. Another delightful Nightcap has arrived! So, it turns out we’re no longer allowed to go outside…

New Macallan, Jura, Tobermory and Glenturret whisky,  and how to celebrate Oktoberfest at home. Another delightful Nightcap has arrived!

So, it turns out we’re no longer allowed to go outside again. Well, that was fun while it lasted. Time to pretend you love a virtual quiz, desperately try to remember your Zoom password and resist the urge to look longingly at the local boozer across the road. If you need a bit of cheering up or distraction, or if you’re in your element indoors surrounded by screens (no judgement, we respect the game) then you’ll be delighted to hear that all the doom and gloom hasn’t stopped us putting together another cracking edition of The Nightcap. Read on!

This week in the blog-o-sphere we announced the first Master of Malt Day! What is a Master of Malt Day? Well, you’ll have to click on the blog to find out. Ian Buxton returned to investigate what distilleries are doing to combat the lack of visitors in 2020, while Henry cast an eye on some overlooked joys, including a cocktail that combines bourbon and red wine and a delightful Irish whiskey brand. Annie, meanwhile, turned her attention to Britain’s diverse, dedicated and highly experimental rum brands, three-ingredient classic cocktail recipes and the very first single malt from the 100% organic Scotch whisky distillery Nc’Nean before Adam got his teeth into Glenmorangie’s new cakey delight and learned from Corte Vetusto what makes mezcal so great.

The Nightcap

Sadly, this is the final expression in the excellent Edition series

The Macallan launches sixth and final release in Edition series 

We received mixed news this week as we learned that we were going to get to enjoy a new expression from The Macallan, but also that the sixth release from the Edition Series will be the final one. The Speyside giants have announced that Edition No.6 was created to “tell the story of unique land and an extraordinary river, where whisky making, agriculture and nature all live in total harmony” and “capture the River Spey’s energy, the extraordinary life of the Atlantic salmon on the beat and the warm, welcoming personality of Macallan’s ghillie, Robert Mitchel”, who is responsible for monitoring fish stocks and hosting fishing trips on the River Spey. Macallan whisky maker, Steven Bremner, chose five styles of American and European oak sherry-seasoned casks for this one, which is said to have aromas of fresh fruits, nutmeg and toffee merged with oak and flavours of ripe plum, vibrant sweet oranges and cinnamon, developing into spicy fresh fruits and creamy chocolate and toasted oats at the finish. The brand also marked the news by launching a charitable partnership with The Atlantic Salmon Trust, who help to conserve at-risk fish salmon and sea trout whose numbers have declined so rapidly in places like the River Spey. “This complex single malt provides the perfect conclusion to the Edition Series as there is so much to discover in this whisky,” said Bremner. “The natural colour of antique brass derived from The Macallan’s exceptional oak casks indicates the richness of flavour that awaits and there is a structure and depth that is uncovered more and more over time.” And the best news of all? Edition No. 6 is on its way to MoM Towers.

The Nightcap

You can pre-order this beauty now!

New Tobermory 23 Year Old is sherry heaven

We’re taking orders for a very special Tobermory that will be landing at MoM towers soon. It’s a 23-year-old expression finished in sherry casks. When we say finished, it’s not a matter of months but six years in Oloroso sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass. Just enough time to take on masses of sherry without, according to master blend Julieann Fernandez, “taking on too much sherry and masking the Tobermory.” Previously the liquid, from the famed 2008 release of Tobermory 15-year-old, spent 17 years in refill hogsheads. It was bottled this year at 46.3% ABV. We were the first outside the distillery to taste it and were very impressed. It’s a deep copper colour with the nose alive with ginger cake, dried fruits, cinnamon and barley with that classic citrus Tobermory note, on the palate it’s thick and sweet with salted caramel, butterscotch, vanilla and best of all a finish like candied walnuts. In fact, the finish tastes just like Gonzalez Byass’s premium sweet Oloroso, Matusalem. All this magnificence doesn’t come cheap, £320, but we think it’s worth every penny. Best of all, it’s not a limited edition but a permanent addition to the Tobermory range.  

The Nightcap

Singapore’s Atlas picked up the trophy for World’s Best Cocktail Menu

Spirited Awards reveal 2020 winners

For obvious reasons, the renowned bar industry gathering Tales of the Cocktail couldn’t continue in New Orleans as normal this year – which meant the Spirited Awards ceremony was a virtual affair. Assessed by a highly regarded panel of experts, the bar and personality accolades are considered to be some of the most robust in the category. And we’re celebrating a few of the international winners here! The Connaught scooped Best International Bar Team, while Scarfes Bar at the Rosewood London was named Best International Hotel Bar. The wonderful Kwānt was rewarded with Best New International Cocktail Bar, and Singapore’s Atlas picked up the trophy for World’s Best Cocktail Menu. When it came to individual categories, Alex Kratena was named Best International Bar Mentor, with Kelsey Ramage awarded International Bartender of the Year. HUGE congrats to all the nominees and winners – check out talesofthecocktail.org for the full list.

The Nightcap

The island distillery is supporting a fantastic cause

Jura whisky exclusive auctioned for charity

The Jura has also announced that new whisky is on the way, but this expression was bottled to raise funds in aid of SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health). The incredible gesture (for a mighty important cause) will see 470 individually numbered bottles of exceptionally rare whisky be auctioned online via Whisky Auctioneer as part of a wider effort led by Whyte & Mackay employees to fundraise for mental health charities around the world. The challenge – Whyte & Mackay Cares – was inspired by the heroic feats of Captain Tom Moore in the UK and since June, the team has clocked up enough miles to virtually run, walk, cycle or row around the world twice. As for the whisky itself, the distillery’s latest release is 19-Year-Old whisky that was distilled in May 2001 and placed into Jura cask No 1708 (a sherry butt) before being bottled at a cask strength 55% ABV in August 2020. The Jura Distillery Cask is said to have notes of liquorice toffee, ginger biscuits, subtle vanilla with a subtle touch of sea spray. “I have been so impressed by my colleagues’ passion to support communities where our colleagues, friends and consumers live during the pandemic,” said Daryl Haldane, head of whisky experience at Whyte & Mackay. “The speed and creativity which has allowed this new whisky to reach public auction is outstanding and I am incredibly proud of the team’s efforts to get us here. All of the funds raised from the auction will go directly to SAMH, a charity which has been instrumental in providing vital mental health support to people throughout the pandemic.” To find out more about the auction and register your interest, click here

The Nightcap

Exciting times at Scotland’s oldest working distillery

Glenturret reveals new core range and swanky new rebrand

We reported back in December 2018 that Glenturret, Scotland’s oldest working distillery, no less, had been bought by French luxury wine company Art + Terroir. Seeing as the company is run by Silvio Denz who also owns Lalique, you won’t be surprised to hear that the brand is moving upmarket. One of his first new signings was ex-Macallan whisky maker Bob Dalgarno, a real statement of intent. Last week, Dalgarno revealed the new range he’s been working on along with the swanky new rectangular downward tapering bottle featuring the Glenturret crest, inspired by the coat of arms of the Murray family, the founders of the distillery. We then tried the four core expressions: Triple Wood, 10-year-old Peat Smoked, 12-year-old and 15 year old. We were particularly taken with the honeyed 12-year-old expression. Plus there will be two limited editions, a 25-year-old and an “Extremely Scarce” 30-year-old. Dalgarno spoke about: “the challenge of creating a new range of whiskies with a different cask and character profile. And went on to say that: “Building on previous experiences and having the freedom to influence and develop, respecting the history whilst writing new chapters was a perfect fit”. Ian Renwick, the distillery manager, added: “Having Bob on board is a recognition of the scale of our ambition and a testament to our transformative work over the past eight months. We cannot wait to share the new expressions with the world.” Nor can we. 

The Nightcap

1698 and IPA have become the order of the day in Guadalajara

Shepherd Neame sales are booming… in Mexico

Guadalajara resident Fernando de Obeso had a happy surprise when he visited his local supermarket in Mexico’s second city: strong Kentish ales. In place of local beers, there were bottles of Shepherd Neame 1698 and IPA. He told us “because of COVID, local large breweries like Corona and Modelo were forced to shut down. So supermarkets scrabbled to get beer from every place in the world, so for some time we have had beer from many small breweries in Europe.” Olly Scott, head of export sales at Shepherd Neame, confirmed the story: “The feedback from importer is that there has been more demand for imported beers during the lockdown and we have noticed where we would expect two orders across four months there have been three.” Mr de Obeso went on to say that discovering Kent’s finest beers has been a “silver lining to the pandemic and let the brewery know that they now have a Mexican fan.”

The Nightcap

Cheese and beer is a tried and tested combo that we’re big fans of

And ninally… Missing Oktoberfest? Crack out the cheese!

Oktoberfest is a staple of the season. Alas, this year celebrations will have to take place in a somewhat different format. And one suggestion especially caught our eye at MoM Towers this week. Wisconsin (also apparently known as the State of Cheese), is encouraging beer-loving folks to indulge in a spot of cheese-pairing. “Beer is the perfect palate cleanser for cheese, and frankly, it’s hard to go wrong when pairing beer with cheese,” said Molly Browne, education manager at Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and American Cheese Society Certified cheese professional (how do we get that title?!?). Top suggestions include Butterkäse – a mild, buttery option – and Kolsch; Limburger – a Wisconsin-made punchy rind cheese – and Belgian Ale; and Brick and Weiss Beer. The semi-soft, nutty cheese is said to pair delectably with a wheat-based sipper. Great stuff. Now all you need to do is crack out the pretzels, put on the polka tunes, fashion a beer tent, and Eureka! You may as well be in Germany.

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Three-ingredient classic cocktail recipes

The quest for a half-decent home cocktail doesn’t have to involve elaborate equipment, onerous tinctures or fiddly garnishes. Led by the expertise of David Indrak, operations manager at The Cocktail…

The quest for a half-decent home cocktail doesn’t have to involve elaborate equipment, onerous tinctures or fiddly garnishes. Led by the expertise of David Indrak, operations manager at The Cocktail Service, we’ve pulled together a fine selection of three-ingredient classic cocktails you can whip up at home with relatively little fuss…

As anyone who has attempted a home-made Irish Coffee can attest, making bar-standard cocktails in the kitchen typically requires untold prep work, time, effort, and a certain level of skill. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s easier to leave the tricky drinks to the experts. “Making cocktails is similar to creating good food,” agrees Indrak. “It takes practice and an understanding of techniques, flavour combinations and what ingredients are available to enhance your drinks. Cocktail bartenders in top bars are students of cocktail culture and dedicate their lives to the craft. For the best cocktails, there is no other place to enjoy but a cocktail bar.”

The Nightcap

You don’t need all the kit to make a good cocktail

Creating infusions, sherbets, and clarified cocktails frequently requires long preparations, says Indrak – up to two weeks in some instances – and often requires ingredients or equipment you wouldn’t normally have at home. As well as requiring lots of planning ahead, buying fancy produce is often expensive and wasteful. By keeping home cocktail-making simple and using familiar ingredients, you’ll find it far easier to repurpose anything you don’t use. Besides, visiting your favourite watering hole – adhering to social distancing guidelines, of course – may just help the owners weather the ongoing coronavirus crisis. “We are living in more difficult times now, and supporting your local bars helps the businesses to get through this period,” says Indrak. 

With that being said, ‘simple’ doesn’t mean ‘boring’. There are plenty of ways to dress up a three-ingredient cocktail – for example, adding fruit to the equation. “Strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries – these can be all kept in the freezer and can be used as a garnish, dropped in a glass of fizz to maintain the temperature, or added in the blender to create delicious fruity frozen cocktails,” says Indrak. On the other end of the spectrum, why not dehydrate your own citrus fruit? “Cut your lemon, lime, orange in slices and keep on the window sill until completely dehydrated,” he says. “This can be stored in sealed containers and will last for some time.” Alternatively, stick to tradition and fashion citrus twists with a potato peeler. 

Another easy way to add a ‘professional bartender’ air to simple drinks is by pre-freezing your glasses to give them a delightful opaque mist effect on the outside. You could also use crushed ice to crown drinks in rocks and highball glasses, Indrak suggests. When it comes to the liquid inside, you don’t need a ridiculously well-stocked home bar to make a diverse array of cocktails. If you’re looking for guidance, keeping a bottle each of vodka, gin, white rum, bourbon and Tequila will pretty much guarantee you cover all classic cocktail bases, along with Angostura Bitters, vermouth, Cointreau, and perhaps a coffee liqueur if you’re feeling extra.

For the remaining ingredients, raid your larder (or your fridge), suggests Indrak. Fresh herbs such as mint, basil, coriander and rosemary make cracking garnishes, while spices such as chilli, nutmeg, cinnamon, and star anise can add an warming element to certain drinks where recipes call for them. Honey and agave syrups are an ideal sweetener – to make cocktail syrup, combine 1:1 honey or agave and hot water – as are cordials, such as elderflower and raspberry.

In terms of making the drink, there are plenty of kitchen-friendly substitutes for cocktail equipment, as Indrak explains. If you don’t have a boston shaker, use a Kilner jar (with lid!) or a protein shaker. No jigger? Stick with the measuring jugs, cups or spoons you have in your kitchen. Instead of a Hawthorne strainer, use a slotted spoon, and if you don’t have access to a muddler, use a wooden spoon or rolling pin. A fine mesh strainer can be subbed out for a tea strainer or sieve, and a bar spoon can be switched for a long tea spoon if you have one, or just a regular teaspoon with some adjustments. “A bar spoon holds 5ml of liquid,” says Indrak. “The standard imperial teaspoon holds around 15ml of liquid.”

As we’ve hopefully illustrated, you don’t need a Michelin star back bar to craft these tasty drinks. They’re a step up from your typical spirit and mixer combo, without resulting in a mountain of washing up. Here, we present an extremely quaffable selection of three-ingredient classic cocktails for every occasion…

Margarita

Ingredients:

50ml VIVIR Reposado Tequila
25ml Lime juice
15ml Cointreau
Garnish: lime wedge

Method:

Fill a cocktail shaker – or kitchen substitute – with ice, then add all liquid ingredients. Shake until the outside of the shaker feels cold, then fine strain into a pre-chilled glass. Serve with a wedge of lime. 

Aperol Spritz

Ingredients:

30ml Aperol
60ml Prosecco
30ml Soda water
Garnish: orange slice

Method:

Build the ingredients into glass over ice in the order listed above, and then garnish with an orange slice. 

Negroni

Ingredients:

25ml Bathtub Gin
25ml Martini Rosso Vermouth
25ml Campari (order a Negroni bundle here)
Garnish: dehydrated orange wheel

Method:

Build the ingredients into glass over ice – in any order – and then garnish with a dehydrated orange wheel. If you don’t have one, use an orange peel.

Moscow Mule

Ingredients:

50ml Reyka Vodka
15ml Lime juice
150ml Fever Tree Ginger Ale
Garnish: lime wedge

Method:

Build the ingredients into glass over ice – in any order – and then garnish with a lime wedge. Don’t like vodka? Try subbing in rum, whisky or gin.

Dark & Stormy

Ingredients:

50ml Gosling’s Black Seal Rum
15ml Lime juice
Top up with Gosling’s Ginger Beer
Garnish: lime wedge

Method:

Build the ingredients into glass over ice in the order listed above and garnish with a lime wedge.

Bees Knee’s

Ingredients:

50ml Bathtub Gin
20ml Lemon juice
15ml Honey syrup

Method:

To make the honey syrup, combine equal parts honey and hot water and stir until the honey has dissolved. Fill a cocktail shaker – or kitchen substitute – with ice, then add all liquid ingredients. Shake until the outside of the shaker feels cold, then fine strain into a pre-chilled glass. 

Manhattan

Manhattan 

Ingredients:

50ml Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 proof
20ml Lustau Vermut Rojo
1 dash of Angostura Bitters
Garnish: cocktail cherry

Method:

Fill a large glass or cocktail shaker with ice, then add the liquid ingredients. Using a bar spoon  – or alternative – stir for 20-30 seconds. Fine strain into a pre-chilled glass and garnish with a cherry.

Top 5 drinks films

White Russian 

Ingredients:

25ml Absolut Vodka
25ml Mr Black coffee liqueur
75ml Half and half

Method:

To make half and half, combine equal parts whole milk and cream. Combine the ingredients in a cocktail shaker – or equivalent – stir briefly, and then pour over a glass filled with ice.

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Understanding the magic of mezcal with Corte Vetusto

Corte Vetusto founder David Shepherd talks to us about being Mexican by heart, how to ensure a burgeoning category grows responsibly and why mezcal is so great. Pride, provenance, history,…

Corte Vetusto founder David Shepherd talks to us about being Mexican by heart, how to ensure a burgeoning category grows responsibly and why mezcal is so great.

Pride, provenance, history, tradition and a distinctive taste. Mezcal has it all. Fancy some? Good, because the category it’s still far too overlooked. Sure, the drinks industry has embraced all of its agave-based goodness for some time now, but if you asked the average person in a bar or restaurant if they’d like some mezcal, how many could answer confidently or even say they know what it is? 

For those who aren’t too familiar, mezcal is a spirit made from any variety of agave. In fact, the word mezcal derives from the Nahuatl mexcalli, which basically means ‘cooked agave’. Sounds like Tequila, right? Well, Tequila is technically a type of mezcal from one specific place. Mezcal is made all over Mexico, although there are currently nine states (Oaxaca, Guerrero, Puebla, Michoacan, Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Durango and Tamaulipas) within the official Designated Origin, established in 1995, which means the only spirit produced here can legally be called mezcal (those outside the DO have to settle for the term ‘destilado de agave’). Over 90% of mezcal is produced in Oaxaca and most mezcal is made from Espadin agave due to its high sugar content and suitability to cultivation but there are between 35-40 agave species in use.

Its origins and that of agave distillate are still a source of some debate. The earliest record of agave distillate being produced was in the late 1500s, making it the oldest spirit in the Americas.  Mezcal and Mexican culture are truly interconnected. It is used to celebrate great moments in life, births, baptisms, and even death. “It’s a liquid produced in a traditional manner, not influenced by marketing. It’s genuinely artisanal and craft,” says David Shepherd, founder of Corte Vetusto. “Those words have been lifted and used heavily by big players in numerous categories, which let’s be honest, are dubious at best. But if you’ve observed mezcal production you cannot help but be drawn in by just the sheer effort and passion that goes into making the stuff. That’s what made me fall head over heels in love with it. It’s unlike any liquid I have ever tasted”.

Corte Vetusto

Agave can take anywhere from 6-35 years to mature. No other raw material used to make a spirit takes as long.

Wider appreciation for the category outside of Mexico has been a long time coming, however, with big strides having been made in the last decade or so thanks to brands like the multi-award-winning Corte Vetusto. Since 2016 it has been a category leader thanks to an uncompromising, traditional approach and an impressive range. The name, which translates literally as ‘the ancient cut’, was inspired by its long history and the fact that both the agave and the liquid are cut during production. 

Shepherd has a keen appreciation of the history and culture of mezcal. He was born in Singapore but grew up in Mexico City before spending his teenage years at school in the US. “Though I’m not Mexican by birth, I’m Mexican by heart. My first memories, my first flavours, were all Mexican and that has carried through my life” he recalls. Shepherd’s recollection of discovering mezcal reads like a spiritual awakening: everything became clear to him once his father brought a high-quality mezcal over to him while studying in Edinburgh, “I had a real love of whisky and the Islay malts. I found that mezcal experience represented the intersection or the coming together of the best parts of 100% agave tequila and these West Coast single malts, or island malts. And that was just a eureka moment”. 

This love didn’t initially lead to a career, however, and Shepherd made his way in brand management and new product development. Tasting mezcal at Nico’s, a famous restaurant in Mexico City over a decade ago made him consider its potential. “That’s when the penny dropped, something happening here. There’s a growing appreciation and celebration of this hidden gem of a spirit,” Shepherd says. “I’d always wanted to do my own thing and I was lucky enough to have a friend able to invest and who was in the liquor trade. But when he first looked at the mezcal numbers he said there’s just no market in mezcal. Fast-forward five years and he recalled that conversation and said mezcal is having a moment and the timing might be right”.

Corte Vetusto

Say hello to David Shepherd!

From the outset, Shepherd’s ambition was to shine a spotlight on artisanal production methods and celebrate the producers. After a lot of research trips to Oaxaca, going round to a number of palenques (small scale distillers), tasting and meeting different producers, Shepherd met Juan Carlos Gonzalez Diaz, a fourth-generation maestro Mescalero (the equivalent of a master distiller) and knew that he was the right man for the brand. “I fell in love with Juan Carlos’ approach to the premium or wild agaves and approached him. He’s an incredibly passionate and very proud Mescalero,” Shepherd explains. “It was really important that he understood that we weren’t simply coming along to exploit his skillset, undervalue his mezcal or go down the dramatically commercial route as some mezcals have gone. He sensed early on that we were very aligned with our ambition to bring the best of Oaxaca to the world”. 

The process of creating mezcal begins with agave. Corte Vetusto employs traditional production methods, meaning the pencas (leaves) are cut with a machete to expose the piña (heart) of the agave, which is then removed using a coa (a long wooden stick with a sharp, flat blade at the end). The piña is loaded onto trucks or donkeys before being weighed and then individually cut by an axe to ensure even cooking. Tonnes of agave is loaded in the oven by hand to ensure an even roast. “There’s four generations of experience here playing its part. Before the oven is loaded, a ritual is performed where the raw piñas are beaten with a branch of Piru to clear away any bad energy and to ask the ancestors for a successful batch,” says Shepherd. “We only use well-matured plants. We’re talking between 15 and up to 25 years. They cost more but create richer, more flavoursome and more complex mezcals. It’s a profound amount of time for the specific climate and smoke etc. to influence that plant. At the moment the brand is sourcing much of its Espadin agave, but Diaz has got planted stock that’s about one to two years off reaching maturity”.

Corte Vetusto uses traditional hornos (conical earthen pit ovens) lined with volcanic rocks in order to absorb and maintain heat to roast the agave, which converts its natural starches into fermentable sugar over 3-6 days (depending on the harvest’s size). Mesquite wood, chosen for the flavour it imparts, is placed at the centre of the oven and lit and then covered by river stones until they are white-hot. After another ritual to ward off any evil spirits and to ask for a blessing on the oven, the stones are covered with a layer of bagaso (agave fibres) from a previous distillation to prevent the agave from burning and resulting in overly smoked or bitter-tasting mezcal. The agave is then covered with a tarp and then with soil to seal the oven.

Corte Vetusto

The process to create Corte Vetusto has been passed down four generations

Once the cover is removed the roasted, caramel coloured agave is allowed to cool so it can be easily chopped into smaller chunks, ready to be milled. A tahona (a large volcanic milling stone) pulled around a circular stone base by a horse called Payaso (Clown), due to the distinct markings on his face crushes the chunks and the resultant bagaso (agave fibres) and juice are then transferred to large, open-topped wooden vats for fermentation. Pure spring water, which runs off the mountains behind Mitla, is added and fermentation is allowed to occur naturally, initiated only by the wild and native airborne yeasts surrounding the palenque. “They’re unique to each palenque and another key factor in the taste of the end product,” says Shepherd. 

This takes anywhere from one-to-two weeks, depending on the season, humidity and the altitude of the palenque, during which time the yeasts convert the sugars to alcohol. Once complete, the resultant tepache (mash) is transferred to either a copper or clay pot still. Diaz uses both for the Tobala and the Ensambles, while the Espedin is twice distilled in the 270-litre copper-pot. “This combination of the copper and then clay distillation makes his product completely unique and represents the best of both worlds. You get the crisp bright notes that come from the copper distillation and then there’s this introduction of some earthiness and minerality and almost layering that comes from the distillation in clay,” says Shepherd. “By using the copper first, there’s still enough of the agave notes and the brightness that’s allowed to shine through at the end, in comparison to pure clay pot-distilled mezcals. It’s just genius and delivers an exceptional mezcal”.

Shepherd will always encourage people to sip mezcal neat and enjoy it like you would a whisky or brandy to appreciate its character. But he has plenty of advice on how to make the most of the spirit in cocktails. “You can start with a few of the classic gin cocktails and substitute it or you can replace the Scotch with mezcal in a Penicillin. I like to find flavours that are specifically Mexican. If you zero in on Oaxaca, pineapple, passion fruit, chocolate and coffee are all key crops so learn how to accentuate those notes that are present in the mezcal itself with ingredients like these and you’re onto something,” he explains. “Recently I’ve enjoyed simple Highball serves. The Japanese have done so well showing how a long serve doesn’t mean dilution or loss of flavour. We’ve been pairing our mezcal with tonic or soda because it’s nice to be able to showcase its versatility and demonstrate you can have a rounded and complex drinking experience with mezcal”. 

Corte Vetusto

The Corte Vetusto has multiple awards for its outstanding range

Mezcal is also a great accompaniment with food and Shepherd says that in Mexico it’s very rare to drink mezcal on its own. “If you are in Oaxaca now and you order a mezcal it’s frequently accompanied by some fresh fruit with a bit of sal de gusano (worm salt) or sal de chapulin (grasshopper salt), so there are some savoury elements, a little salinity and a little heat which then is complemented and then contrasted by sweet fruits like pineapple, oranges, mango and papaya. The broad range of flavours in mezcal means that people can experiment because it’s fairly limitless in terms of the possibilities that are out there”.

While there is growing love and optimism for mezcal, the category still has challenges to face. With success comes the cynicism. Tequila has been plagued by enough mass-market brands which have prioritised highly industrial processes and led to intensive cultivation of the Blue Agave, resulting in a monoculture which has homogenised the flavour and made it more prone to disease. Mezcal is by no means perfect and it faces similar questions about the capability and ethics behind sustainably scaling-up production. “There is a very fine balance and I’m afraid a number of people are already on the wrong side of the fence. Producing at too large a scale is not only damaging potentially to the agave stocks, but it’s also undermining and going against the tradition of the Mescaleros,” says Shepherd. “People talk about sustainability and think immediately only of the plant, but there’s a sustainability argument to be had for the producers and the culture of mescal production as well and that can’t be neglected. All you have to do is look a bit further north and see what’s happened with Tequila and how bastardised that product became thanks to distilleries owned by the multinationals that are all about volume and profit”. 

Perception is another issue for mezcal. From a failure to distinguish it from mezcal to the expectation by some to find a worm at the bottom of their bottle, education and advocacy are needed. “It has taken us a number of decades to overcome this association. Most curious spirits drinkers dismiss it, so thankfully we appear to be on the winning side of that now. It demonstrates that education is key,” says Shepherd. “I hate it when mezcal is referenced as ‘Tequila’s smokier cousin’ because it just doesn’t do the liquid justice. Bartenders need to convey the right messages and there’s an onus on us with our website and trade event presence, as well as the resources and knowledge we can supply retailers. I’ve worked with Hawksmoor, for example, to have a dedicated cocktail menu for mezcal week so we can introduce people to the spirit in an accessible way”. 

Corte Vetusto

It’s vital that both the producer and raw material are respected

If you’re intrigued by mezcal but not sure what a high quality and ethical bottle looks like, Shepherd has some tips for the indicators you should look out for. “As a starting point, you should be looking for the type of agave, which should be prominent. As should a reference to the village that it comes from and any credit to the Mescalero. There are a lot of brands that are buying from multiple sources and then blending into large batches,” he says. “I always urge people to look at the label and have transparency. We put the exact agave type from the scientific names and we also say how many litres went into that batch”.

If you are looking to pick up a bottle of mezcal, we heartily recommend plumping for some Corte Vetusto. The mezcal is delicious and it’s a brand that deserves to have a bright future. For what it’s worth, things are looking good in that regard. “While COVID-19 has made entering the US market a significant challenge, we are back and available in California and in Texas. The key focus is growing in the right way. We want to emulate what we’ve achieved here which is working with some of the very best in the business, Berry Bros, Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnums, The Savoy, Nobu and The Stafford Hotel and then places that are focussing on Mexican and championing regional Mexican and quality Mexican food like El Pastór and Tacos El Pastór,” Shepherd says. “I’d like to see the brand spreading its wings within the UK and start to pick off one or two countries in Europe as well but always looking to work with people who appreciate what it is that we are trying to do and why our price point is what it is. Later this year, we’ll launch our first ancestral mezcal which excites me when we’re producing small batches and are able to bring something to market that is unique to them. Hopefully Master of Malt will play a part in that evolution and story”. 

We’ll certainly do our bit. The Corte Vetusto range is available here and tasting notes of its core expressions are below.

Corte Vetusto

Corte Vetusto Espadín 

Nose: There’s a lot of minerality upfront (petrichor mostly) with some earthiness, subtly meaty smoke and crisp agave in support. Underneath there’s some fruity notes from white grape and banana as well as garden herbs, vanilla and salt-cured pork.

Palate: Some honeyed sweetness, fresh mint and more roasted agave initially followed by notes of chamomile, kiwis, aromatic wood smoke and creamy vanilla. In the backdrop, there’s dried herbs, black pepper and freshly cooked sweetcorn.

Finish: Flinty minerals, charred pepper and a touch of vegetal oak.

Corte Vetusto

Corte Vetusto Ensamble II

Nose: Charred agave, green fruit, woodsmoke and garden herbs emerge initially followed by vanilla, cured meat, pickled lime and stony minerality.

Palate: Caramel, candied orange and raisins provide a sweet opening that’s complemented by peppermint, fresh flowers, apricot jam and salty olives.

Finish: It’s a floral, earthy and faintly smoky finish.

Corte Vetusto

Corte Vetusto Tobalá

Nose: So much crisp, fresh agave upfront with some slight vegetal notes as well as cinnamon, leather, wildflower honey and tinned peaches.

Palate: Plenty of flinty minerals, charred pepper and fresh Mediterranean herbs blend with fruity banana, prune sweetness, toasted oily nuts and anise.

Finish: Mineral-rich smoke, cooked apple and more floral honey.

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Master of Malt tastes… Nc’Nean Organic Single Malt Whisky

After two years of fundraising, two years of building, and three years of distilling and ageing, 100% organic Scotch whisky distillery Nc’Nean has bottled its very first single malt, a…

After two years of fundraising, two years of building, and three years of distilling and ageing, 100% organic Scotch whisky distillery Nc’Nean has bottled its very first single malt, a sustainable dram aged in a combination of STR* red wine barrels and ex-bourbon casks and presented in a 100% recycled glass bottle – a first for the UK spirits industry. We caught up with founder Annabel Thomas for a first taste of Nc’nean Organic Single Malt Whisky…

Building a Scotch whisky distillery from the ground up is no mean feat. Designing a zero-waste, synthetic chemical-free distillery, powered by renewable energy, to produce certified organic whisky made exclusively from Scottish barley? Well, that takes a little extra planning, as you might well imagine. Seven years on, Nc’nean Organic Single Malt Whisky is ready to grace our glasses, and we could not be more thrilled for founder Annabel Thomas and the team.

We’re not the only ones getting excited about the Highland distillery’s inaugural release. Nc’Nean set a new world record in August when bottle number one of its first single malt whisky went under the hammer for £41,004 – quadruple the previous record held for a first bottle from a new distillery to be sold at auction. It was one of 10 bottles sold on Whisky Auctioneer, which attracted over 850 bids from 13 countries, raising more than £92,000 for five charities.

Annabel Thomas from Nc’Nean

As Nc’nean Organic Single Malt Whisky hits the shelves, we took five with Thomas to find out more about the much-anticipated release…

Master of Malt: Thanks for chatting with us Annabel, and huge congrats on the release – how did you decide it was ‘ready’?

Annabel Thomas: We were so happy with where it was even six months ago – when we couldn’t have released it as whisky – that there was no last-minute ‘is it ready?’ decision. We’ve been playing around with cask combinations for probably nine months now, and we knew it would only get better. We felt like, ‘You know what? We’re going to have a spirit that’s ready age-wise come the middle of the summer, so let’s just go for it!’.

MoM: How did it feel knowing it was time to debut it to the world?

AT: Well, some of it is wonderful, like picking the casks. Up until recently, we hadn’t gone through the comprehensive, ‘Which actual casks are we going to put in it?’. You pick a few casks, taste them individually, put them together and see what happens. But when it actually comes to the, ‘Is it going to be number 66 or 67?’, that’s an amazing process. Blending has always been the bit I’ve been most excited about, it’s the most magical thing, the melding of flavours. We’re doing relatively small batches at the moment, only 5,000 bottles, so that’s only 13, 14, 15 casks – one cask can really make a difference, and I find that totally fascinating. The bottling process, however, is not nearly so much fun. We don’t have a proper bottling hall at the moment, which means the team are having a real struggle. It’s a bit of a logistical nightmare, but they’re doing an amazing job.

MoM: Could you share some detail about the bottle – it’s a 100% recycled clear glass bottle and potentially a first in Scotch whisky?

AT: The bottle is amazing, we love the bottle. It’s been nearly a year of work. We started working on a bottle last July – which looked nothing like this – and then found an amazing 100% recycled glass bottle in October last year. That took on a life of its own, and we ended up designing the whole thing around this bottle, rather than the other way around. You normally look at all the bottles out there and say, ‘Which one do we want?’. But as soon as we found this 100% recycled one we were like, ‘This is it’. We just feel so lucky to have found it, it was amazing timing and felt very fortuitous, like it was meant to be. 

Nc’Nean Distillery on the west coast of Scotland, doesn’t it look grand?

MoM: What can you tell us about the production of the liquid?

AT: We have multiple spirit recipes that we run in the distillery, but everything we’re releasing this year will be what we call our ‘young’ recipe. There are lots of tiny things in the spirit-making process that we tweak for this young recipe. It starts with the mashing. We let the mash sit for an hour and make sure that we have really pure wort coming off it. We use two different yeasts, Fermentis and Anchor, and ferment for up to 114 hours, which is a relatively long time. We then have a very slow distillation, and very high cut points. All of the tweaks are for either greater flavour or more purity – the idea is that it tastes amazing when it comes off the still, which makes for a great three year old whisky. The cask choice has been very tricky, we have probably spent 18 months testing different cask combinations with friends and family, but also at all of the whisky festivals and events we’ve been to. We also did a send-out to various newsletter subscribers. Most of the casks in our warehouse are either ex-bourbon or ex-red wine STR casks, so we were trying to hone in on the proportions of STR to bourbon. Bourbon casks are lovely; relatively delicate, lots of vanilla flavours, quite sweet, and [they] show more of the spirit,  whereas the STRs are much more impactful and bring spicier, deeper notes to the spirit – so the proportions have a massive impact on what the end spirit tastes like. After much debate, we ended up with 65% STR, 35% bourbon. 

MoM: How would you describe the character of your first release, what are the key flavours?

AT: We’ve picked out three flavour areas – the first we describe as ‘lemon posset’, which is really a combination of citrus and malty almondyness. The second is stone fruit, so peach and apricot and things like that. And the third is spiced rye, caraway-type notes. That last flavour definitely comes from the STR casks. The stone fruit, I think, comes from a combination of the underlying spirit and the bourbon casks. You also get some lovely barley nutty notes from the underlying spirit as well. 

MoM: Were you looking for a specific flavour profile, or was it more of a trial and error process?

AT: A combination of the two! We knew that we wanted a light, fruity, floral spirit, but you can’t really predict that accurately how everything is going to come together. One of the things we were looking for, which influenced the decision of the cask mix, is something that works brilliantly in a whisky soda. And the ‘oomph’, for want of a better word, of the STR casks, really helps in that drink. 

Beautiful liquid in a beautiful bottle

MoM: You released a limited maiden run to investors and fans which sold out within 36 hours. What response have you had from those who have tried it?

AT: Well, so far hardly anyone has tried it. This is the frustration, I think, with first releases. We have had a few people who’ve said it tastes amazing, but to be honest, most people have just been commenting on the packaging so far. In reality, a lot of people have said, ‘I’m waiting for so-and-so’s birthday to try it’. They’re probably not cracking open a £100 bottle of whisky on a Monday night when they receive it from DPD.

MoM: Looking back over the last seven years, what have been the biggest learning curves you’ve faced?

AT: I think people underestimate the complexity of actually getting a product to market – the number of steps you have to go through to get the liquid, the packaging, the licences, the logistics, all of these little bits to work together. It’s actually incredibly complicated. In our more distant past, raising the money and building the distillery was incredibly challenging. But that was three years ago now, it feels like a different lifetime. A new business constantly presents new challenges, so now we’re in a whole new phase again. And of course, we’ve had the additional challenge of Covid. Until February of this year, apart from me, our whole team was based at the distillery, which meant it was a very cohesive organisation. I was up there a lot, everyone was in the same place, it was super easy. Now we’ve got people scattered basically all over the country, though the core team at the distillery are still there. We’re still working on it, figuring out the best way to adapt to that and making sure we’re all working together as efficiently as possible. Right now, we’re figuring out how to get significant volumes of bottles, well, firstly to the distillery and then secondly, away from the distillery, in an efficient supply chain. That’s another challenge that we’ll continue to work on and improve as we go. 

MoM: And with the whisky finally hitting shelves, what’s your focus at the distillery over the next 12 months?

AT: Well, there are some really boring things that we’re going to be focused on, like building a bottling hall and a new warehouse. The actual bottling doesn’t take up much space but the storage you need for empty bottles and full bottles and everything else is massive. As well as bottling our first batch, we’re also continuing our experimentation – we’re running some very exciting yeast trials with a special yeast that was originally a wine yeast which the guys at Heriot-Watt have identified as producing really amazing esters. It’s probably not what the team really wants to be focusing on right now – a complicated yeast trial as well as trying to get 5,000 bottles out the door – but it’s one of those things that happened all at the same time. Next year, we hope to have the first of our yeast trials from 2017 ready for release and tasting, which will be exciting because not only will that be a first for us, but there aren’t many other yeast trials that have been released, so that will be really interesting.

*STR stands for Shaved, Toasted and Re-charred, a cask treatment process pioneered by the late Dr Jim Swan, who worked with Nc’Nean Distillery from the very beginning.

Serving suggestion

Tasting Nc’Nean Organic Single Malt Whisky:

On the nose, the single malt is said to be ‘bright, with lemon oil, nectarine and fudge’. While initially ‘a little grassy at first’, the aroma develops into ‘buttery toast, wine gums and candied pineapple’. On the palate, given tasting notes are ‘creamy and fresh with a rich spice, lemon posset, peach juice, fresh ginger, a little coconut and caraway rye bread’. The finish has a ‘medium length with a lightly resinous texture’. The spice notes carry well, ‘leaving an almost menthol tingle’.

The team at Nc’Nean believe their creation is best enjoyed in a Whisky Six; a highball serve that sees 2 parts whisky (50ml) and 4 parts soda (100ml) combined in a short glass over cubed ice and garnished with a sprig of mint. Eager to sample the liquid for ourselves, last week we attended a virtual tasting co-hosted by founder Annabel Thomas and Dave Broom – you’ll find his thoughts on the dram below.

Colour: “It’s a beautiful, quite full gold,” says Broom. “This is a young whisky, but it’s already picked up a good degree of colour. Lovely legs coming down the inside of the glass – if you think of the inside of the glass as being like the inside of your mouth, the legs will give you an indication of what the whisky’s going to feel like. The legs are moving relatively, slowly so I’m looking for a decent mouthfeel coming through here.”

Nose: “It’s a fascinating whisky, because it really does develop beautifully in the glass,” says Broom. “Initially you get this really fresh, quite grassy character, and there’s a spicy note that seems to run all the way through – a lovely caraway note. There’s green bracken and moss, and then slowly but surely it begins to sweeten up and more of the fruits begin to come through. As well as that light herbal character, there’s some cookie dough, and then we’re moving into soft, gentle orchard fruits and a little bit of vanilla.”

Palate: “Very gentle and incredibly soft, it’s very sweet to start,” says Broom. “Halfway through that spiciness emerges and begins to deepen slightly towards the back, with darker fruits beginning to come through. It’s a beautiful, supple whisky.” Adding a drop of water softens things down, he says, bringing out juicy fruit notes such as peach, apricot, and nectarine. “Underpinning all of that is this fresh barley character,” Broom adds. “It’s not a nutty, malty, flavour – it’s more fresh barley.”

Our allocation of Nc’Nean Organic Single Malt Whisky is now sold out. 

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Cocktail of the Week: The New York Sour

Today’s we’re making a rather forgotten-about cocktail made with bourbon and red wine. Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy, but trust us, you’ll love the New York Sour. There’s a…

Today’s we’re making a rather forgotten-about cocktail made with bourbon and red wine. Yeah, it sounds a bit crazy, but trust us, you’ll love the New York Sour.

There’s a lot of cocktails named after parts of New York, the Manhattan, obviously, but also the Red Hook, the Harlem Nights and the Staten Island Ferry. This week we’re making a drink named after the entire city, the New York Sour. It’s essentially a whiskey sour made with bourbon but with red wine floating on the top. 

What? Red wine and bourbon? Sounds a bit disgusting, doesn’t it? Red wine and bourbon aren’t what you’d call a classic cocktail pairing like, say, gin and vermouth. But actually red wine and whisky have a long history together. Queen Victoria herself used to enjoy Scotch mixed with claret. No one was going to tell her she was doing it wrong. Stop and take it apart for a moment and it makes sense. Whiskies are increasingly aged in different casks including one that formerly held red wine. Think of the delicious Starward Nova from Australia or the recent Aberfeldy aged in Pauillac casks. We’re happy with fortified wines, like Port and sherry, in cocktails. So why not red wine? 

The sour is the cocktail stripped back to its basic parts: alcohol, sweet and, of course, sour. Adding the red wine adds a bitter element, rather like adding bitters or vermouth. According to Difford’s Guide, the New York Sour probably dates back to the 1880s and was first made in Chicago, not New York. It’s been through a number of names like the Claret Snap and the Brunswick Sour before settling on its current name. There have been other New Yorky cocktails: Harry Craddock has a drink called a New York Cocktail in The Savoy Cocktail Book, a sour made with Canadian Club whisky and grenadine but no red wine; David Embury writes about a similar cocktail called a New Yorker also made with grenadine but he writes “a spoonful of claret may be floated on top if desired.” The only problem with this is that as grenadine is also red, you don’t really get the pretty two layer effect which is half the fun.

Careful pouring the wine so that it floats on top

Neither call for egg white but it’s a nice addition as it looks pretty and makes your drink taste all fluffy and lovely. The recipe below is served on the rocks in an Old Fashioned glass but you could serve it straight up. For bourbon I’m using Woodford Reserve because a) it’s delicious b) it’s what I have in the cupboard. And then the big question is what sort of red wine to use. The traditional accompaniment would have been claret, red Bordeaux, which would have been even more tannic back in the early 20th century when it was colder and grapes weren’t picked so ripe. Whatever you decide, it’s worth using something which has a bit of bite to it. A jammy Californian Merlot just won’t cut the mustard or anything that’s too oaky. Instead, try something bitter and interesting from Piedmont (the home of Italian vermouth) in northern Italian like a Barbera, Dolcetto, or even if you’re feeling fancy, Barolo or Barbaresco would turn this drink into a special occasion.

So here’s to New York Sour. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere, even Tonbridge:

60ml Woodford Reserve bourbon
25ml lemon juice
25ml sugar syrup
Half an egg white
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 measure Barbera d’Asti Casareggio (or any red with a bitter edge to it) 

Add all the ingredients except the red wine to your cocktail shaker and “dry shake” without ice for 10 seconds, then take the shaker apart and add cubed ice. Shake vigorously and double strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with cubed ice, then slowly pour the red wine carefully down the side of the glass and with any luck it will float on the top.

Recipe from The Cocktail Dictionary: An A–Zof cocktail recipes, from Daiquiri and Negroni to Martini and Spritz by Henry Jeffreys published by Mitchell Beazley, £15.99.

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Welcome to Master of Malt Day 2020!

Featuring giveaways, discounts and all kinds of spectacular booze… this is Master of Malt Day 2020! Margaritas have their own day (22 February), Star Wars has its own day (4…

Featuring giveaways, discounts and all kinds of spectacular booze… this is Master of Malt Day 2020!

Margaritas have their own day (22 February), Star Wars has its own day (4 May) and now, finally, so do we. Mark it in your calendars, folks. 24 September shall forever be known as Master of Malt Day!

What does this mean? Well, what we do best here at MoM Towers is to help you get your hands on delicious booze as quickly and easily as possible. So we’ve decided to thank all our supporters (some of you have been around a while!) by hosting an annual flash sale. To celebrate the new occasion, we’ve slashed our prices on delicious whiskies, gins, rums and more, saving you up to 25% in the process. 

What’s more, we’ve also got some incredible giveaways too! If you purchase any qualifying bottle on sale as available and listed here between now and the 25 September 2020, you’ll be entered into a draw to win some truly incredible prizes, including:

Master of Malt Day 2020

Look at all these incredible prizes just waiting to be won!

The terms and conditions, as well as a list of products that you can now get incredible deals on, are below. Best of luck everyone, and happy Master of Malt Day 2020!

Master of Malt Day 2020

Rumbullion!

Ableforth’s original rum, this blend of Madagascan vanilla, orange peel, cassia, clove, cardamom and high-quality Caribbean rum is a best seller for good reason. A versatile, complex and moreish spiced rum, Rumbullion! is perfect for a number of rum cocktails but is also delicious neat.

What’s the deal?

It was £34.90, now it’s £27.90.

Master of Malt Day 2020

Seaweed & Aeons & Digging & Fire 10 Year Old 

If you like Islay single malt and are on the lookout for a new go-to dram, then this right here is everything you’re looking for. A 10-year-old expression from an undisclosed distillery on the island, 25% of this beauty was finished in first-fill Oloroso sherry octaves creating a smoky, complex and coastal dram that’s ideal for fans of whiskies with bold personalities.

What’s the deal?

It was £32.95, now it’s £29.95.

Master of Malt Day 2020

Saignée – Rosé Gin

Most garden-variety pink gins are made with berries and sweeties and the like, but Saignée bucks this trend. This tasty Rosé Gin was made with juniper, rose petals, violet flowers and fine Barolo (made from Nebbiolo grapes), resulting in a floral and drying though subtly fruity tipple that’s marvellous in a Negroni.

What’s the deal?

It was £33.95, now it’s £28.95.

Master of Malt Day 2020

Highland Park Valfather

The final bottling from the Viking Legend series, Valfather is the most peated whisky to date from the legendary island distillery. The Highland Park bottling was named after Norse god Odin and its powerful profile was designed to mimic Odin’s strength. This is one to take your time with and appreciate.

What’s the deal?

It was £54.95, now it’s £44.95.

Master of Malt Day 2020

McQueen Raspberry & Vanilla Gin 

Few things sound more delicious than raspberry ripple and Victoria sponge cake, so it’s no surprise McQueen has brought together those two classic flavours in one tasty gin. Expect creamy vanilla sweetness, undertones of juniper and notes of both tart and sweet raspberry.

What’s the deal?

It was £21.95, now it’s £15.95.

Master of Malt Day 2020

Angostura 5 Year Old 

A versatile and terrific-value Trinidadian rum, Angostura 5 Year Old was created from a blend of light and heavy molasses-based rums aged for five years in charred American oak bourbon barrels. The results are fruity, caramel rich and delicious.

What’s the deal?

It was £23.95, now it’s £19.95.

Master of Malt Day 2020 Competition open to entrants 18 years and over. Entries accepted from 23 September to 25 September 2020. Winners chosen at random after close of competition. Prizes not transferable and cannot be exchanged for cash equivalent. See full T&Cs for details.

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Visitor centres without visitors

Many small distilleries have based their business models on direct to customer sales from their visitor centres. With tourism all but dead, Ian Buxton investigates what people are doing to…

Many small distilleries have based their business models on direct to customer sales from their visitor centres. With tourism all but dead, Ian Buxton investigates what people are doing to diversify and bring in the all important pounds, dollar, euros and yen, and what the government could do to help. 

“Overall the last 6 months have been challenging and unpredictable but we have strived to be flexible, nimble and think differently, something smaller distilleries can do well, to make the best of the situation and seize opportunities” says Deborah Carter of the Cotswolds DistilleryAnd, yes, from a cross-section of the smaller distilling community that’s a ‘can do’ attitude that is repeated time and again. Frankly, I was expecting some horror stories: after all, while larger, more established distilleries have deep-pocketed owners to fall back on, the same cannot be said for the burgeoning craft distilling community.

There’s one respect in particular in which I expected the coronavirus lockdown blow to fall especially hard on smaller businesses and that is in the effect on their visitor facilities and highly profitable direct to consumer (DTC) sales. For many, the income from distillery tours, hands-on experiences and bottle sales are a critical part of their business plan; vital cash flow to sustain employment while at the same time creating consumer ambassadors who will promote the brand to friends and family, having paid handsomely for the pleasure.

Worth a visit, the beautiful Cotswolds distillery

As Stephen Kemp of Orkney Distilling explains: “Here in Kirkwall, we expected to welcome thousands of tourists across our door during the summer of 2020,” noting that “with Kirkwall up until the pandemic being the busiest cruise port in Northern Europe, we had over 150 ships due to visit.” He went on to say: “The cruise tourists are generally really positive spenders during their limited time with us [and] retail sales during busy cruise weeks can be in the thousands of pounds per day, so the loss of the cruise tourist market alone has been a very substantial hit for us”.

In the USA, Philadelphia Distilling (makers of the lovely Bluecoat Gin) had a different problem. They’re located in a ‘control state’, where the State government controls all retail and trade sales of spirits yes, that’s correct, there’s nowhere in the whole of Pennsylvania to buy any spirits other than the 600 State Liquor Control Board outlets. And at the start of the pandemic the governor shut them all down! But there’s a tiny loophole: small craft distillers are permitted DTC sales.

Talk about an opportunity. “Within two days of the shutdown we had our online e-commerce site up and running alongside a ‘no touch’ drive thru in front of the distillery,” explains Founder and CEO Andrew Auwerda.  “Prior to the Covid-19 shutdown, we would get one or two orders, but within days of the State’s stores closing, we were processing two to three hundred orders per day!” While the Control Board outlets have now re-opened, as Auwerda notes “we are left with a very nice completely new revenue stream of consumers who are still ordering from us directly and we are planning a big online holiday push!”

Bluecoat gin, selling like hotcakes throughout the pandemic

Sadly, it’s not all good news. Nick Weatherall of the Piston Gin Distillery in Worcester told me that “Gin school and direct bottle sales formed a critical part of our growing business and accounted for around 40% of our revenue, so it was a massive impact to have to close the school and the shop.” He added: “While we’ve been able to re-open the school, social distancing has meant we can now only hold 50% capacity.” “Looking at monthly sales and attendance, it’s clear that Covid lockdown has set us back around 10 months and who knows what lies ahead.” Like so many others there was a silver lining though. “Fortunately we were able to quickly start making hand sanitiser and that undoubtedly saved the business,” says Weatherall who has been featured on the BBC’s local TV news  for his entrepreneurial approach

At Edinburgh’s Leith Distillery, due to start producing single malt whisky in 2021, Ian Stirling observes that “We normally host tours at our Tower Street Stillhouse, where we produce Lind & Lime Gin, but the loss of this business has paled in comparison to the remarkable growth in gin sales that we’ve experienced since May.”  However, he says: “We are certainly grateful that the Port of Leith Distillery is due to open at the end of 2021. 2020 would have been challenging to say the least,” adding “we have modeled lower projections for visitors to our whisky distillery in 2022.”

The Orkney Distillery visitor centre in busier times. What great taste in books they have, BTW

And the pandemic brought one unusual visitor to Orkney.  As Stephen Kemp recalls, in July “Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Orkney to announce the Islands Deal. I was involved in the local meeting with him, and during a quiet moment it was enormously pleasing for me to be able to hand the PM a bottle of our ‘Angell’ hand sanitiser and thank him sincerely for the work that the Government put in to enabling craft distillers like us across the country to quickly diversify.  This not only enabled us to help protect our local communities, it also helped us to keep our staff employed and was a lifeline that kept many small businesses afloat.”

So what, I asked Stephen, would he ask the Government to do now?  “I would like to see a freeze or reduction in alcohol duty for spirits, as the cost of production is rising, but with constrained household incomes and consumer confidence very low we need to be able to avoid product price increases.  Continued support through trade deals with export markets is of incredible importance, and of course we need to understand what our relationship with Europe is going to look like so that we may begin to plan for future export to these markets.”

Sounds like a plan. Let’s hope the Prime Minister was listening.

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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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