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Whisky Advent 2019 Day # 5: Steel Bonnets

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

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

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

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

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

The Lakes Distillery

The Lakes Distillery

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

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

MoM: How much do you love sherry casks?

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

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

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

Steel Bonnets

Steel Bonnets, an Anglo-Scots collaboration

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

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

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

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

Steel Bonnets Tasting Note:

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

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

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

 

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Cocktail of the Week: The Hard Seltzer

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

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

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

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

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

Hard seltzer

Hard Seltzer, easy to make

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

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

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

Hard Seltzer

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #4: Nikka Days

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

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

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

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

Masataka Taketsuru

Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nikka Days

Thank you for the Days

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

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

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

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

Tasting Note for Nikka Days:

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

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

Finish: Buttery shortbread, brown sugar and vanilla pod.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #3: Talisker 10 Year Old

On the third day of Advent, my Whisky Advent Calendar gave to me… an enticingly smoky dram indeed! Discover what Drinks by the Dram has hidden away for us today……

On the third day of Advent, my Whisky Advent Calendar gave to me… an enticingly smoky dram indeed! Discover what Drinks by the Dram has hidden away for us today…

Feeling the festive vibes yet? If not… WHY?! We’ve already had two liquid treats this Advent. And now we’re ready to crack open the third door of Drinks by the Dram’s 2019 Whisky Advent Calendar.

And the dram behind window #3 is…

Talisker 10 Year Old!

One of Diageo’s most-loved single malt Scotch distilleries, Talisker is located on the Isle of Skye, off Scotland’s stunning west coast. Its history stretches all the way back to 1830, when brothers Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill kicked off distillation. Today, the distillery takes a thoroughly modern approach to all things whisky, encouraging us to drink the stuff in whatever form we like, championing whisky cocktails, and even hosting a Race to Skye bartender competition.

We got hold of Diane Farrell, senior site manager, up at Talisker, to tell us more…

Talisker 10 Year Old Dianne Farrell

Say hello to Talisker’s Dianne Farrell!

Master of Malt: Talisker is located on the Isle of Skye! What impact does this have on the style of whisky you produce?

Diane Farrell: Talisker is such a fantastic representation of place – you taste it and you are transported right here; sitting by a campfire by the sea with your dram of Talisker. We are able to capture a lot of the flavour and character of our environment through our production process. It’s prevalent in our new make spirit and continues to shine through after its maturation period and into your glass. Talisker has been battered by the elements on the windswept cost which means our whisky has a uniquely maritime flavour that means we are uniquely ‘Made by the Sea’.

MoM: Tell us a bit about island life. What challenges does this hold for whisky-making?

DF: Talisker is one of the most remote distilleries in Scotland, located on the west coast of the Isle of Skye. Since it was founded in 1830 it has been in near-constant operation which truly shows the resilience of our people, past and present. In the early 1900s our own pier was built along with a purpose-built tramway to make bringing supplies to the distillery easier. Of course, now that we have the Skye Bridge it makes bringing supplies to the distillery much more straightforward than ever before!

Talisker 10 Year Old Distillery

The gorgeous Talisker Distillery

MoM: What have been your 2019 highlights at Talisker?

DF: 2019 has been an incredible year with so many highlights, including the second release in the Talisker Bodega Series, Talisker 41-year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky, one of the oldest from Skye’s oldest distillery. We hosted the finalists of the Diageo World Class Competition in September where the four elements of the wild were truly embraced during the Talisker Mystery Box Challenge. The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, the premier event in ocean rowing, starts on 12 December which is set to be the biggest and best to date, and we cannot wait to follow the action – we wish all of the rowers the very best of luck out there in the Atlantic facing the elements!

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

DF: The increasing number of new serves for Scotch in bars. Whisky cocktails on menus are becoming more and more popular, reaching the next generation of Scotch whisky drinkers. This is a big evolution and it’s exciting!  

MoM: What will you be drinking this Christmas?

DF: Most definitely a Talisker Old Fashioned! Being warm and cozy indoors, sipping a Talisker Old Fashioned and spending time with loved ones – you can’t beat it!

Talisker 10 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: Lively and aromatic, there’s all sorts going on. Alongside the pronounced bonfire smoke there’s pear and apple too, seaweed, and almost a brine note, too. 

Palate: The bonfire smoke leaps from the glass, with a malty barley note, too. Dashes of black pepper give a warmth, but it’s balanced well with orchard fruit sweetness. 

Finish: Long and lush. The sweetness and bonfire embers go on and on.

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #2: Starward Nova

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starward Nova

Look, it’s David Vitale!

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

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

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

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

Talk us through the signature Starward character…

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

Starward Nova

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

What have been your 2019 highlights at Starward?

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

What’s next for Starward?

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

Starward Nova

Starward Nova

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

Starward Nova tasting note:

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

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

Finish: Toffee with walnuts. 

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

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New Arrival of the Week: Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens. Barentsz…

This week we have been mostly drinking an exotic flavoured gin inspired by a Dutch explorer. To learn more, we spoke with founder of Willem Barentsz gin, Michael Claessens.

Barentsz is named after a 16th century explorer Captain Willem Barentsz who attempted to find a way through the Arctic to China. He didn’t succeed but gave his name to the Barents Sea somewhere way up north between Norway and Russia. Barentsz’s intrepid nature and never-say-die attitude inspired Michael Claessens to create his own gin.

Drink runs in the family blood: “My father’s business, Claessens, is the foremost specialists for the development and creation of brands for the international beverage industry. It has been developing, re-positioning and creating brands for nearly 40 years,” he told us. So starting his own drinks brand was the most natural thing in the world. And with his Anglo-Dutch heritage, gin was the obvious choice: “Gin has clear ties with my two home countries – UK and Holland. My family’s Dutch roots, blended with my London upbringing, made it appropriate that the new brand should be a gin – which was born in Holland and perfected in London”, he said.

Michael Claessens.

It’s Michael Claessens!

Refreshingly, he is totally candid about where the gin is made, by Charles Maxwell at Thames Distillers in London. Claessens knew exactly what he was looking for when designing his own gin with Maxwell: “Barentsz is different in that we actually spent time looking at the concept of gin from the perspective of ‘mouth feel’. It was very important to us that the harsh and often bitter reputation of gin was overcome, in order that we could create a spirit foundation of the finest quality that was soft enough to allow for more delicate and fresh botanicals – and a gin that could actually be enjoyed neat over ice.” He went on to say: “I spent a long time playing with the formulation of our spirit foundation. I wanted it to be something that tasted smooth before the botanicals were added.” The result was a special spirit made from two grains, golden rye and winter wheat.

We are big fans of the standard bottling here at MoM. With its jasmine note, it’s very distinctive but this doesn’t stop it being extremely versatile. It achieves the gin triple crown of being superb in a G&T, a Martini and Negroni. It was honoured with a gold medal at the IWSC in 2018. This new version turns up the jasmine and adds mandarin to the mix. “Once again, we seek to honour the pioneering spirit of the Dutch Arctic explorer, Willem Barentsz,” Claessens said. “Our mandarin and jasmine botanicals are inspired by his quest for a northeastern trading route to China by way of the sea. Mandarin oranges symbolise luck at Chinese new year and our jasmine flowers are sourced from China.”

Willem Barentsz Mandarin and Jasmine Gin takes on some colour and sweetness from the mandarins but, according to Claessens, there is “no artificial colouring or sweeteners and no sugar. All sweetness is natural”. Claessens recommends drinking it neat over ice with a twist of orange but like its brother, it’s lovely with a decent tonic water. So let’s raise a glass to Williem Barentsz and the Anglo-Dutch alliance and himself. Proost!

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Whisky Advent 2019 Day #1: Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Forget pinch, punch, first of the month – today is all about drams! That’s right, we can finally open our Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and enjoy what’s…

Forget pinch, punch, first of the month – today is all about drams! That’s right, we can finally open our Drinks by the Dram’s Whisky Advent Calendar and enjoy what’s behind window #1.

The wait is over. Advent is here. 

On the one hand, this is not good news. It’s come around too quickly again. You need to start making your Christmas shopping list (#WhiskySanta might be able to help with that). You need to start mentally preparing yourself to untangle the impossible ball of Christmas lights and awkwardly hoist the old tree down from the attic. It’s also worth working on that inevitable explanation/apology for when your family points out that you were adamant that tree had another year in it. In your heart, you always knew it didn’t. It’s more brown than green.

On the other hand, though, it is good news. Very good news. Brilliant news, in fact. Why? Because we finally get to rip open the first window of our Advent calendars. Because you’re totally rad, you’ve ditched boring old chocolate and got the Drinks by the Dram Whisky Advent Calendar. Which means a delicious Scotch whisky awaits…

What’s behind window number #1?

It’s Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak!

The first dram of this Advent season is part of the recently launched The Balvenie Stories range. As the name suggests, the classic Speyside distillery made this selection to celebrate the tales behind the tipple. The Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak, for example, was created to demonstrate what happens when ancient techniques and fresh ideas are blended, and was apprentice malt master Kelsey McKechnie’s experiment. Matured in twice-toasted virgin white American oak casks from Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky, The Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak was bottled at 43% ABV.

Balvenie 12 Year Old - The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Look – it’s McKechnie (L) and global brand ambassador Gemma Paterson in Kentucky!

Happily, we had the chance to catch up with McKechnie to find out her story.

Master of Malt: Talk us through the creation of your own dram for the Stories range.

Kelsey McKechnie: It was so exciting. Working on something and being able to tell the story right from the very first point of conception, when we had this idea to do something different with virgin American oak barrels, has been great. It’s so exciting, especially when we’ve had the liquid for such a long time and we’ve tasted it a lot. I definitely want it to be more of an opening into people understanding a little bit more about what a malt master does as well. As far as a narrative, for me, it’s an opening for people to talk more about how we actually make the spirit, how we mature it and why finishing times are so important. It sparks a lot of those questions and gives people an answer to the question of what is it you really do in this role.

MoM: What was the profile you were going for? Why virgin American oak barrels?

KMcK: With the virgin American oak barrel, we wanted to give a big flavour boost to the spirit and experiment with how would we go about, in effect, exhausting a virgin American oak barrel and a single finish. We really wanted to ramp up the flavour of the 12-year-old spirit. The fact that we get things like the big toffee and the sweetness and that candy fruit flavour really jumping to the forefront, it’s exactly what we were looking for, so to find it with the virgin American oak is perfect.

Balvenie 12 Year Old - The Sweet Toast of American Oak

The Balvenie Stories Range

MoM: What are your own personal taste notes on your dram?

KMcK: There’s an upfront, syrupy sweetness of toffee and caramel. Off the back of that, once the sweetness passes a little bit, there are notes of spice and citrus coming forward. Then it will leave us with that classic mouthfeel, which we call the ‘marzipan effect’ and the coconut burst that we get with Balvenie.

MoM: How would you describe the Balvenie profile?

Our new-make spirit has a cereal sweetness. As soon as the pure spirit runs off the still, every time we nose the vats, every distillation run, we want cereal sweetness. Almost like a loaf of bread. When the spirit matures, there’s more of richness that comes forward, coconut, marzipan, citrus. These flavours really jump to the forefront with Balvenie. Although we can do a lot of different finishes, we always want to layer them on the true DNA of Balvenie so that these notes always jump out at us. If we were to lose any of that character or the depth of the spirit, we wouldn’t be doing justice to the distillery.

MoM: How has your first year as the Malt Master apprentice gone?

KMcK: Amazing! It’s definitely been a lot of fun. I’ve been really lucky that this has in a lot of ways been my second year because we almost had that little silent year. It’s been fantastic working alongside David, learning all these little nuggets about when the cask-finishing becomes absolutely perfect or how we know when the spirit is just right. It’s been a fantastic year and I’ve learnt so much, I’m having a great time. 

Balvenie 12 Year Old - The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak

Thank you very much to Kelsey for speaking to us. The only thing left to do is crack open the Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak and kick off this year’s Advent dramming!

Balvenie 12 Year Old – The Sweet Toast of American Oak Tasting Note:

Nose: Lusciously malty with some sweet fudge, followed by citrusy and oak vanilla aromas with layers of spicy oak notes of ginger and cinnamon.

Palate: Candied orange and lemon peel, vanilla toffee and butterscotch, layers of blossom honey, some melted brown sugar and oak spices at the end.

Finish: Rich and malty with gentle waves of oak vanilla and subtle spices.

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Master of Malt Dram Club – December 2019

It’s the final month of 2019, and we’re finding out what drams are tucked away inside the final Master of Malt Dram Club Tasting Sets of the year! Let’s see…

It’s the final month of 2019, and we’re finding out what drams are tucked away inside the final Master of Malt Dram Club Tasting Sets of the year! Let’s see what you’re in for in December…

Not only is it the last month of the year, this December is also the last month of the decade. The 2010s are coming to a close and we’ll be stepping into the 2020s. You just know some people are going to try and revive the trends of the roaring ’20s. They’ll try to bring back those horrible stripy suits or those hats that look like they’ve vacuum-sealed onto your head. Every pudding will be some sort of jelly. People might even start travelling by zeppelin again. OK, maybe I don’t know exactly what air travel was like in the 1920s but this all sounds: not great. Try to resist all of that and make the 2020s completely different and infinitely better than the 1920s as possible. But first, we have to finish off 2019 fantastically with one last batch Master of Malt Dram Club Tasting Sets!

Dram Club Whisky for December:

Dram Club Premium Whisky for December:

Dram Club Old & Rare Whisky for December:

Dram Club Gin for December:

Dram Club Rum for December:

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Cocktail of the Week: The Martinez

It’s not easy being a Martinez, watching your child, Martini, become the most famous drink in the world while you lay forgotten about in dusty old cocktail books. So this…

It’s not easy being a Martinez, watching your child, Martini, become the most famous drink in the world while you lay forgotten about in dusty old cocktail books. So this week, we’re resurrecting this classic with a special oak-aged gin from Martin Miller’s. 

Before anybody had thought to put the words ‘craft’ and ‘gin’ together, there was Martin Miller’s Gin. It was launched in 1999, that’s 10 years BS (Before Sipsmith), by Martin Miller of Miller’s Antiques guide fame. Craft gin years work rather like dog years, making Martin Miller’s 70 years old! It’s distilled at the Langley Distillery in the West Midlands before being shipped to Iceland where it’s blended with spring water. This makes it sound a bit gimmicky but Martin Miller’s quickly established itself as a favourite among bartenders and drinks writers. 

Martin Miller himself died in 2013 but the company goes from strength to strength. It produces a range of oak-aged gin called 9 Moons after the number of months the spirit is aged. The latest version has just been launched, called Solera Reserve – it uses French oak barrels and a solera process to ensure consistency. Some oak-aged gins can rather whack you around the head with oakiness but this is quite subtle, giving a creaminess, roundness and spice without overpowering the botanicals.

Martinez

A Martin Miller’s Martinez

The company recommends serving it in a Martinez. This 19th century classic is often thought of as the forerunner of the Martini. David Embury in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks refers to the Martinez as “the original Martini.” The cocktail itself is probably named after a town in California called Martinez, the inhabitants of the town certainly think so as there’s a plaque saying as much in the town square. It’s essentially a Manhattan made with gin instead of rye or bourbon. An early recipe in O. Byron’s The Modern Bartender from 1884 specifies using Dutch gin which would have been oak-aged so this version from Martin Miller is a nod to the original Martinez, though the Dutch gin would have also been sweet. Other original versions call for another sweet gin, Old Tom.

For a long time, the Martinez lived in the shadow of its more famous off-spring. Ask for one and you might be given a blank look, but in recent years there’s been a mini-revival, helped by the return of sweeter styles of gin and the availability of exciting new vermouths. The Martinez is a very broad church running the gamut from very sweet, made with Old Tom gin and a high percentage of Italian vermouth, to almost Martini levels of dryness. Some versions call for a rinse of absinthe which certainly makes it distinctive. This one is at the drier end but still is very much a sweet cocktail as it uses Italian vermouth and Maraschino liqueur. The creaminess and spice of the oak-ageing takes this into Manhattan territory. One could use it as a gateway cocktail to tempt your gin-loving friend into brown spirits.

Anyway, here’s the Martinez. We hope you like it.

50ml Martin Miller’s 9 Moons Solera Reserve Gin (or another oak-aged gin)
20ml Martini Rubino vermouth
5ml Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir all the ingredients in a shaker with lots of ice for a minute or so. Strain into a chilled coupe or Martini glass and garnish with a piece of lemon peel.

 

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New Arrival of the Week: Michter’s US*1 Sour Mash Toasted Barrel Finish

This week we’re drinking a Kentucky whiskey with an unusual twist, it’s been aged in barrels that are toasted rather than charred! What’s all that about? Michter’s whiskey has something…

This week we’re drinking a Kentucky whiskey with an unusual twist, it’s been aged in barrels that are toasted rather than charred! What’s all that about?

Michter’s whiskey has something of a convoluted history. It was originally founded in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania in 1753 by John Shenk who began distilling rye. He was a Mennonite, a religious sect like the Amish, think beards without moustaches, putting up wooden houses quickly and strictly no motor cars. Especially in 1753.

This was pre-independence when the 13 original colonies of British America were still part of the mother country. During the War of Independence, George Washington is said to have purchased Shenk’s whiskey for his troops to keep their morale up. It seems to have worked as the rebellious colonists won the war and thus the United States of America was born.

Shenk’s distillery was bought by Abraham Bomberger in the 1860s and became known as Bomberger’s. Then in the 1950s, the name was changed again by the distillery’s then owner Lou Forman by combining the names of his sons Michael and Peter: ta da, Michter’s!  Pennsylvania was once famous for its rye whiskey but by the 1980s rye as a category was dying and the venerable old distillery closed in 1989. It’s now a National Historic Landmark but sadly in a state of severe dilapidation. Ominously, according to Wikipedia: “The distillery closed in 1989 and may have since been demolished.” 

Happily the brand was revived by a company called Chatham Imports. There’s been some legal argie bargie over the name Bomberger’s since but we won’t go into that now.  The Michter’s magic now happens at the Fort Nelson distillery (see image in header) in the heart of bourbon country Louisville, Kentucky under the watchful eyes of master distillery Dan McKee and head of maturation Andrea Wilson. Last year it opened a visitor centre on the famous Whiskey Row. 

The standard rye whiskey is a benchmark, particularly popular with bartenders, while there are all kinds of bourbons and whiskeys produced too. Which brings us on to this week’s New Arrival. Because of its unusual grain bill, it can’t be categorised as either a rye or a bourbon (which would have to be at least 51% rye or corn respectively.) In the sour mash process a portion of the last ferment is added to the next to get things going rather like with sourdough bread, only better because you end up with whiskey. This is produced as with the standard Sour Mash but then it undergoes secondary maturation in, according to Michter’s: “a second custom made barrel. This second barrel is assembled from 18-month air-dried wood and then toasted but not charred.” It’s bottled at a nice punchy 43% ABV and only produced in limited quantities. You’ll probably want to sip this neat to appreciate those fancy casks but you can also channel your inner Mennonite with an Old Fashioned

Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt:

Nose: Golden Grahams, orange peel, soft oaky smoke and a hint of menthol.

Palate: Honey on toast, salted butter, vanilla pod earthiness and white pepper heat.

Finish: Cinnamon, floral grains and another waft of smoke.

Michter’s US*1 Sour Mash Toasted Barrel Finish is now available from Master of Malt.

 

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