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No Ordinary Love

For our Valentine’s Day session, we chose a selection of whiskies backed up by stories of passion – drams that wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for someone really pushing them to be made. Here are those stories.

Kingsbarns Dream to Dram

We started the night with the Kingsbarns Dream to Dram, a whisky that sprung from the mind of one man. Golf caddy Doug Clement worked the greens and fairways of the Kingsbarns golf course, down the road from the more well-known St Andrews. While carrying clubs, telling visitors which way to hit the ball, and being a general fixer for their trips to The Kingdom of Fife, there was one question he got more than almost any other: ‘Is there a whisky distillery near here that I can visit?’.

After a while of saying ‘No’, Doug decided that he should probably make the answer ‘Yes’. Starting out in an era before crowdfunding, he pioneered many of the fundraising techniques loved of start-up distillers. Active across social media, he told the world of his vision, started a founders club and began to gather funds. In the end, despite years of work, he was still short of his target and joined up with the Wemyss family to push his dream over the line.

The Wemyss have long been a presence in Fife, from leasing the land on which Cameronbridge distillery stands to its original builder – the Haigs – to running their own independent bottling company: Wemyss Malts. It was a natural fit, and the distillery started producing spirit in early 2015.

To secure the final funding, Doug sold his business to the Wemyss. While he stayed on as a director of the company and ran much of the customer facing side of the distillery, he eventually left Kingsbarns in January 2017. However, he may no longer be directly involved with the distillery he founded, but he’s still its number one fan. When the first release from the distillery hit the shelves, he was on hand at the launch, along with a new acquisition that he was finally able to unveil on the night – a tattoo of the bottle:

He may not be making the whisky day to day, but it’s still very much on his my mind.

Teeling Single Pot Still

The Teeling family have been a driving force in the Irish whiskey world since 1987, when John Teeling founded Cooley distillery. At the time, there were only two working distilleries in Ireland, and the Teelings started the rolling ball that has eventually, 30 years later, led to the explosion of distilling across the country.

The Teeling distillery is the work of John’s sons, Jack and Stephen. In 2012, the family sold Cooley to Jim Beam. John retired, Jack left the company and Stephen stayed on to help manage the transition. Jack didn’t stay quiet for long, and quickly started up The Teeling Distillery Company, with former Cooley head blender Alex Chasko as his head distiller. They started building a distillery in Dublin, and using stock from Cooley that they’d kept as part of the sale, they put together their first whiskies. As soon as Stephen had finished his work with Beam, he left and joined his brother at Teeling.

The Teeling brothers love a cheesy photo…

It took until 2015 for the distillery to open, and its first spirit turned three in 2018. However, rather than switch over one of the existing releases to use the distillery’s only spirit, the brothers instead released a new whiskey, one that celebrates an older style: pot still.

Pot still whiskey is very much the whiskey of Ireland. A mixture of grains with malted barley, distilled in a pot still, it traces its history back to English taxes on malt and the distillers attempts to get around them. It is also a style of spirit that almost entirely died out during the 20th century, along with many Irish distilleries. Despite the resurgence of distilling, until the launch of Teeling’s Single Pot Still, there were only two distilleries who had any on the market: Irish Distillers, makers of Red Breast, Green Spot and all of the other well-known pot still whiskies; and Dingle, who have released two small batch bottlings.

Pot still is an evocative subject, as it now has a legal definition, something it never did back in its heyday. The recipe must now contain at least 30% malted barley, at least 30% unmalted barley, and at most 5% ‘other cereals’. As Peter Mulryan points out on the Blackwater Distillery blog that’s a definition with no historic basis, but which does fit in with what Irish Distillers are making.

Anyway, no matter the definition of pot still, the Teelings are now making it in large enough quantities to make it a commercial product. Irish Distillers are no longer the only maker, and the door is now very much opened for pot still to yet again have (at least some of) the range of flavour it used to in the past when there were more distillers. Let the Irish whiskey revival continue.

Glenmorangie Allta

When it comes to people passionate about whisky, Dr Bill Lumsden – head of whisky creation for LVMH, owners of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, is one the pops to mind. Frequently dragged out of his blending lab to tell people about his creations, his obvious love of whiskymaking is only equalled by his fondness for fine suits, great wine and the filthiest jokes known to mankind. Each year, he is given seemingly free reign to create a whisky that is specifically his – the Glenmorangie Private Edition. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the range, and to celebrate, Bill has rolled out his geekiest creation yet, Glenmorangie Allta.

Filthy joke teller Bill Lumsden and apprentice/next in line to the throne/inevitable eventual murderer of Bill due to him not retiring Brendan McCarron at the launch of Allta

The idea started with a visit from whisky writer Michael Jackson when Bill Lumsden was the distillery’s manager. He insisted that Glenmorangie used a special, custom yeast, unlike other distillers. While Michael was certain from the flavour profile of the distilery’s whisky, Bill couldn’t find any evidence of it in recent memory. Inspired by Michael, Bill started a project to create and then use a special yeast.

They started by swabbing parts of the distillery and the nearby Cadboll estate, where Glenmorangie sources some of its barley. In the end, viable yeasts were found on the samples taken from barley at Cadboll, and, having selected one, yeast expert Lallemand grew it from single cells up to the multiple tons needed.

Now, a decade later, the whisky made with the yeast – and Cadboll barley – has hit the shelves. Matured in second-fill and refill casks to keep the wood influence in check and emphasis the spirit character created by the yeast, it’s a tribute both Michael Jackson, who passed away in 2009, and to Bill Lumsden’s creativity, which shows no sign of stopping.

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2009

This is a story about passion for the land, for farming, and for tradition. And a damn nice whisky that Elise snatched up from duty free on a trip to Shanghai last year. Now sold out, this is a very special whisky from the ever-interesting folks at Scotland’s progressive Hebridean distillery.

Bruichladdich have no lack of passion – they’re ridiculously loved-up about whisky, their Hebridean heritage, and their brand. But their Bere Barley stands out as the most pure expression of the passion for terroir that has driven this ambitious team from the start. From their website: “Bere is the ancient landrace from which the illegal spirit uisge beatha was distilled back in the 18th century and from which modern whisky was to evolve.”

Bere barley is a truly ancient grain, the oldest under continuous cultivation in Britain. It’s been growing here for 5000 years at least – an ornery, stubborn thing, well-suited to poor soils, harsh conditions and the long cool days of the Orkney growing season. It’s difficult to grow and even more difficult to distil with, with a hard grist that is particularly unfriendly to mill. Famously, when Bruichladdich first attempted their first mash the bere barley mixture broke their Victorian equipment.

Bruichladdich have been working in collaboration with The Agronomy Institute at Orkney College, University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) for more than a decade now, and the Institute manages the bere-barley supply chain for the distillery. This 4th edition, now sold out, was made with grain from four Orkney farms: Weyland & Watersfield, Richmond Villa, Quoyberstand, and Northfield Farms.

Bere barley is never going to get easier to grow, harvest or distil – making this whisky will always be a special labour of love. If you see a bottle, buy it!

Dingle Single Malt Whiskey, Batch No 3

Today the Irish whiskey scene is booming and it seems like a new distillery breaks ground every second Tuesday. Best count is that there are now as many as 50 distilleries in various stages of planning, building and production across Ireland, according to Billy. But back in 2012, when Dingle started production there were only three companies making whiskey, and Dingle made it four.

Dingle was founded in 2012 by the threesome behind the Porterhouse pub chain – Oliver Hughes, Liam LaHart and Peter Mosley. These independent Irish brewers set up as craft brewers back in the mid-90s before hipsters were even a thing, and we were all watching Point Break (the original one, aka the good one) and Reality Bites.

Their beer empire grew to include clubs and restaurants, and is now mahoosive. For guys who could afford anything, even with their brewing success launching a distillery was a step into the unknown. Ireland was just coming out of recession and there seemed little reason to take such a risk.

Founder Oliver Hughes (Image: The Guardian)

It was the passion of Oliver Hughes that made Dingle Distillery a reality. A larger-than-life character by all accounts, it was he who led the charge to build the distillery in 2012 in a redundant sawmill in Dingle on the south-west coast of Ireland. They were the first new distillery in the country since Cooley in the 1990s, and kicked off the current boom in Irish distilling.

Dingle is small – producing just two casks of spirit a day. They have two pot stills, and are about to expand to double production. Batch 1 of their single malt was just 7,500 bottles. Batch 4 (imminent) will be 30,000.

The tragedy of this story – and why Batch 3 made the tasting – is that Oliver died of a heart attack in July 2016 just four months before the release of Batch 1.

The London Distillery Company 109 Casks – Cask #109

This is a slightly more personal whisky than any other Billy has written about – it’s his own cask.

The London Distillery Company was founded in 2011 by Darren Rook, Whisky Squad’s original ‘whisky guy’. While he’s man with a stupidly large number of ideas, Darren seemed to always come back to wanting to build a distillery and make whisky. While managing the Scotch Malt Whisky Society rooms in London, he made some useful contacts, found a business partner and launched.

Crowdfunding had definitely been kickstarted in 2011, but TLDC were one of the first to apply the model to the booze world. Billy kicked in a few quid, and has been told that he was the first person to transfer money into the nascent company’s back account.

The plan was simple: make gin and whisky. The same plan that has become a mainstay of much of the new wave of British distillers. Unfortunately, when you’re the first company to do something, is often a little harder to do, a fact that hit TLDC hard. While the distillation regulations had been tweaked in the years before TLDC was founded, allowing whisky makers to use stills smaller than the previously, getting the local HMRC branch to license a small still was a different matter. Getting a gin-making license was simple, but it took over a year before the distillery could start distilling whisky.

Eventually, on 12 December 2013, the first barley-spirit distillation took place. It was only a test run, and we don’t know if any of the new make was kept for maturation, but finally the company could start making whisky. However, making whisky costs money, so the distillery started its first cask ownership program: the 109. They would produce 109 casks – the number of years since there had last been whisky distillation in London – and fill them with spirit made using heritage yeast and barley. Billy obviously bought one.

It took a while for the whisky to actually get made, but on 9 September 2015, ta 20-litre refill bourbon cask, previously filled with whiskey from Kings County distillery in Brooklyn, was filled with barley spirit made using Plumage Archer malt, and both a 1920s’ distillers yeast and Whitbread B brewers yeast, the latter still used today by a huge number of brewers to make beer.

Cask #109 of 109

Billy’s cask yielded 28 bottles at an impressive 63.3%. And it’s good. Which is a relief.

These days, things are very different at TLDC. The distillery has moved from Battersea to Bermondsey. Darren is no longer involved (ask me about that over a pint), nor are any of the distillery staff from the Battersea days. Original distiller Andrew started Sweetdram and now makes weird and wonderful spirits in Edinburgh; Joel, former distiller and Whisky Squad boss, now runs booze trips around the south-east as Grape and Grain Tours (Billy did one – he’s really good); and the rest of the gang are spread across the UK doing beer- and spirits-related things.

It’s still a project driven by passion – grab Toby the distiller for a bit and you’ll see that – but things have definitely changed. The new team are very gin focused, with Dodd’s and Kew Gardens both doing very well, and it’s a very different company from when Billy used to help out at shows, or pop down to the distillery to have a chat with Darren.

Billy’s next task is to work out what to fill the cask with next. There’s a little distillery called Bimber down the road from his house who might be able to help…

November Charity Tasting – huge success!

A quick update on our November charity tasting – it was a huge success. Many thanks to all who came.

In the end, we had about 35 whiskies on the table to taste, from single cask SMWS bottlings and distillery exclusive releases to hard to find treats and strange things from overseas.

All of the money from the tickets (after PayPal fees were taken off and a bit of cash from the coffers was kicked in to make it a round number) has gone out to our November charities of choice – a total of £600!

Continue reading November Charity Tasting – huge success!

Elise’s Summer Picnic – how to make your own

[Our August Whisky Squad session was a summer picnic. Here, Elise breaks down what we had and how to make it at home]

One of my favourite “genres” of food is the picnic. Whether it’s a last-minute Tesco supplies grab or a properly planned epic day out – I love a picnic. And I love whisky. See where I’m going with this?

What better way to draw the summer to a close than to pair some great whiskies with some classic picnic foods.

Pairing 1 – Watermelon, peach and feta salad with a Bulleit Rye Watermelon Smash

The pairing here is pretty obvious – watermelon all around!

Watermelon, peach and feta salad

Watermelon and feta make for a perfect summer salad – the sweet, light watermelon and the salty, crumbly feta lightly combined with a tiny bit of mint is a classic. Then I read this recipe adding fresh peaches. It’s easy, tasty and refreshing – and it travels pretty well if you fill a container quite full.

Find the recipe here.

When you’re picnicking you don’t want to lug around loads of kit, a really simple cocktail is the way to go. This one is dead simple, and incredibly refreshing.

Whisky Squad Watermelon Smash

  • 1.5oz Bulleit Rye
  • 3oz Watermelon mix (watermelon juice and blended watermelon)
  • Ice
  • Wedge of lime
  • Raspberries to garnish (if you feel fancy)

To make the watermelon mix – when making the salad, keep back at least a third of your watermelon. Carve out all of the pink part, and blend it into a mush (I use my Nutribullet). Use that to boost the watermelon-ness of the watermelon juice you buy.

Pairing 2 – Summer shredded chicken tacos and Longrow

This easy chicken taco recipe gives you a succulent pile of sweet, juicy and richly flavourful meat. This is a recipe that works better on it’s own, so to help it pair well with whisky, reduce the garlic way down  – I used just one clove. The sweetness in this dish comes from a balance of butter, orange juice and a little cilantro [coriander for all our non-colonial readers – Ed], with a few cheats including Worcestershire and, of all things, American yellow mustard. Cut small circles out of your favourite kind of tortilla rounds to serve.

Find the recipe here.

For a pairing, I wanted a sweet whisky that wouldn’t be at all cloying and would add an additional dimension to the chicken: I chose Longrow Peated. It’s really beautifully balanced with a sweet smokiness. On it’s own it also has something a bit minerally or medicinal about it – I think this is what gives it the structure to hold its own against the chicken.

Pairing 3 – Bodean’s Burnt Ends with Dalmore 15

Bodean’s. If you don’t know this excellent BBQ chain, do yourself a favour and go get acquainted. One of the first of London’s many BBQ joints, their burnt ends are  both famed and very tasty. There’s always room at a picnic for some kind of beefy barbecue, wet or dry, sweet or tangy. I prefer a slightly more robust BBQ and these burnt ends are just the thing. We had this rich, smokey, tender and luscious beef with its slightly sweet and tangy sauce with a little bit of classic potato salad on the side.

Try this recipe if you want to give it a go at home.

Bourbon and rye can pair really well with BBQ: bourbon’s sweetness can amplify the character of the BBQ sauce and a rye that’s not overly spiced can bring out the meatiness of a dish. But I’ve recently been loving the Dalmore 15 and expected that it would be incredible with a bit of beef, and it is. Dalmore 15 is an exceptional dram – balanced and sophisticated, its rich hints of ginger syrup and winter spices work in harmony with the BBQ sauce and the meat. It’s also got a dark, coffee-ish finish that is a classic math for beef.

I’ll be pairing it this winter with venison wellington, and coffee-crusted beef fillet.

Pairing 4 – Cheeses with Aberlour 16

Aberlour 16 is awesome. It’s fruity, spicy, sweet and rich all at once: a complex but balanced whisky. It’s also a creamy dram on the nose, with fruitiness immediately apparent and a nice nutty undertone. On the palate it offers a soft sweetness, fruit (plums and raisins) and a warming spice. Its finish is long – rich and honeyed to the end.

This balance of tastes makes Aberlour 16 a great pairing for cheeses – lots and lots of cheeses. We got ours from Neal’s Yard Dairy, which may be my absolutely favourite shop in London. It’s a cornucopia of dairy goodness, with some of the most stunning cheese I’ve ever had.

We tried three with this dram:

  • Innes Log is an ash-coated slightly firm goats cheese with grassy, savoury flavor that was an interesting balance with the brightness of the whisky.
  • Bermondsey Hard Pressed is a local cheese in a gruyere style: a hard, nutty and sweet round made in London. It’s got a fizziness to it that I adore, and the whisky brings out its alpine nature.
  • Montgomery Cheddar was the third and my favourite pairing. A very fruity Cheddar – perfect.

Pairing 5 – Peach and Bourbon hand pies (aka pasties) with Smooth Ambler Old Scout Rye

There are no words to describe how lovely a rye and peach pairing can taste. Just trust me: go make this one for yourself.

I used Blanton’s Bourbon in the pies because I had it to hand, but almost any bourbon will do. Also, while you can make the pastry by hand, it’s so much easier to hit your local Tesco and buy two boxes of ready-made sweet crust pastry.

You can get the recipe here.

For extra decadence I used smoked sugar from Smoky Brae to dust the tops of the hand pies and it was delicious.

Pairing 6 – Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve with a deconstructed Bounty Bar
(AKA brown-sugar-and-coconut-glazed hot milk cake with dark chocolate)

Russell’s Reserve is a proper bourbon – a big ol’ southern mouthful of swagger and sass. With notes of oak, toffee, cocoa and dark vanilla, it pulls no punches.

I’d been thinking for a while about bourbon and coconut, and what kinds of chocolate bars would make the best pairings. One thing led to another and ‘tah dah’ – the deconstructed Bounty Bar bourbon pairing.

The cake is very rich and supports the dark vanilla and toffee notes of the bourbon without becoming too sweet together. Instead, I think they balance each other out. The dark chocolate grounds the bourbon and reveals the influence of the oak and deep char on the barrels.

This recipe is an old family favourite, with a few extras:

For the cake:

  • 2 eggs well beaten
  • 1 cup white sugar (granulated for you folks over here)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp butter
  • ½ cup milk

Beat the eggs and add the sugar to them. In a bowl sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and then add it slowly to the egg and sugar mixture. In a small pan, heat the butter and milk together until really hot, but not boiling – just starting to be a little bit bubbly is okay – add it to the cake batter and mix.
Bake in a 325ºF/160ºC oven for 20-25 minutes or until done (that’s when a toothpick stuck into the centre comes out clean).

For the topping:

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1 cup shredded or desiccated coconut

Melt 3 tablespoons of butter, add 3 tablespoons of milk and 1 cup of shredded or dessicated coconut (long shredded is better but anything works), and stir together.

Spread the topping on the cake when it’s cooked but while still in the pan, leaving about a cm or so around the edges. Put back into the hot oven and watch carefully as the topping spreads a bit and melts all together – it should take about 5 minutes or so.

Serve with a healthy dollop of clotted cream and a shard of the best dark chocolate you’ve got. Fortunately, I had some excellent and appropriate chocolate from a recent US trip: Raaka Bourbon Cask Aged Virgin Cocoa.

Bon appetit!

Raasay and Borders – It’ll be ready soon…

When almost the first thing that comes out of a whisky tasting host’s mouth is ‘We haven’t built a distillery yet but we hope to start making whisky soon’, then you know you’re in for something a little different. That’s what happened at our second June Squad session – ‘It’ll be ready soon’, with Chris Hoban from R&B Distillers.

Continue reading Raasay and Borders – It’ll be ready soon…

Agave Squad!

While the name may suggest otherwise, Whisky Squad isn’t only about whisky. Granted, we do drink a lot of the stuff, but we also like to occasionally slip off piste and look at what other beverages the world has to offer.

Continue reading Agave Squad!

Whisky Squad for June!

Time has passed a bit faster than expected this month, so we’re a little late getting June’s sessions on sale – never fear, they’ll soon be here…

Tickets go on sale on Tuesday 24 June at 1pm

Your choices for June are:

Whisky Squad #130 – Around the world, around the world

World Map Dark

You asked, so you will receive – an evening of whisky from around the world.

Learn more and book tickets >

Whisky Squad #131 – R&B Distillers: it’ll be ready soon

R&B Distillers

Some people decided to build a distillery. R&B Distillers is going to build two…

Learn more and book tickets >

April – a month of birthdays and nice whisky

This April, Whisky Squad turns six, and we’ll be celebrating with a laid back month of great whisky and fierce rivalry:

Whisky Squad #126 – The Sixth Birthday Session

6th BirthdayThree Whisky Squad organisers, two whiskies each and a blind tasting to decided which is best – it’s our sixth birthday session.

Come along and help us decide which Squadlateer knows the Squad’s tastes the best…

More details and bookings >

Whisky Squad #127 – Nice Whisky

Nice WhiskyFor this session, we’re stripping things back to basics, and are simply having an evening of nice whisky.

We’ll have six drams, all chosen due to them being tasty. No frills and lots of good whisky.

More details and bookings >

Tickets go on sale on Friday 18 March at 1pm. You can find our booking rules here.

March Whisky Squad sessions on sale on Friday 19 February at 1pm

Our March email has gone out to the mailing list, but for those of you who like websites, here’s what’s coming:

Whisky Squad #124 – Billy’s birthday bash

Billy HaarSquad minion Billy has yet another birthday rapidly approaching – it’s almost as if they happen every year. He’ll have a selection of some drams to share in honour of the occasion, with a variety of tasty treats old and new.

More details and bookings >

Whisky Squad #125 – It’s all gone green

shamrocksThis year, our regular second March Whisky Squad session falls upon 17 March, St Patrick’s Day itself. That sounds like the perfect excuse for an Irish Whiskey tasting, and minions Billy and Elise have selected some suitable bottlings for us to try.

More details and bookings >

Tickets go on sale on Friday 19 February at 1pm. You can find a our booking rules here.

Exclusive Offer: 20% off whisky at The Grey Horse, Kingston

Here’s something for Whisky Squadders in South West London, or for those who are willing to travel for excellent whisky, BBQ and music (that’s everyone, right?): Sam Daffin and Leigh White, the two men that were behind such great London whisky establishments as The Wargrave Arms and The Britannia, have joined forces in Kingston-Upon-Thames, re-opening and re-invigorating The Grey Horse pub.

They have combined the live music and comedy that made the pub famous with excellent BBQ food, a great list of craft beers and a bottle of whisky from every Scotch distillery they can get their hands on – Joel has been there and gives the pub an enthusiastic two thumbs up.

If you want to check it out for yourself, make sure you show this coupon to the staff at the bar to receive 20% off the price of any whisky you order during the month of February!

The only cure for an arctic blast – Whisky Squad!

Finally the weather is turning cold and we can use the temperature as an excuse to drink some whisky.

Our February Whisky Squad sessions go on sale on Thursday 14 January at 3pm, and here’s the line-up:

Whisky Squad #122 – Springtime in Italy
4 February 2016, The Ship

Join Whisky.Auction showrunner and genuine Italian Enrico Gaddoni for an evening of Scotch whisky that has escaped to Italy, only to be dragged back to the UK for our delectation.

More details and booking >

Whisky Squad #123 – Milroy’s: The Return
16 February 2016, Milroy’s of Soho

Iconic whisky shop Milroy’s of Soho has been reborn – no longer ‘just’ a whisky shop, it now has a pair of bars and even more great whisky than ever before. We’ll be taking the place over for an evening to try some of their tasty drams.

More details and booking >