A cause for celebration.

Ok, before I get started, I know there are a few things I owe you:

  1. More blended whisky reviews (including some Douglas Laing Double Barrel, Compass Box and Eades Double Malt expressions)
  2. A follow up to my Skyped-in Balvenie tasting with the London Jewish Chaplaincy.
  3. Reviews on the Master of Malt 30, 40 & 50 year expressions
  4. Anything else?

So, this is what I owe you and I will get to that.  Promise.

Before I do, however, I thought I’d do a quick post which actually is a follow up to the first contest I ever did.  I gave you a chance to taste a sample of the Ardbeg Rollercoaster if you gave me a good reason to crack open my Glenmorangie Margaux Cask.

I am happy to announce that I have finally opened the Margaux Cask Glenmo!  And though I am still striving for the goal and main reason I chose to open this bottle, I have made some headway.  So, you might ask “why, if you haven’t reached you goal, did you open up that beauty?”  Well, I’ll tell you.

Reason number 1

As you may know, before I started this blog, I ran a whisky society by the same name.  I still do.

Recently we enjoyed our largest tasting event hosted by Mr. Sam Simmons (with proceeds going to my synagogue’s social justice fund).  You guessed it, Dr. Whisky.  We had just over 30 people at the event and it was a total blast!  Sam did a fantastic job!

So, are we celebrating this big tasting?  Yes.

Is it enough for “Reason number 1“?  Almost.  However, I needed more.

What better component to “Reason number 1” than to celebrate Sam’s promotion to The Balvenie’s Global Ambassador!?

Sam, congrats!  After attending your tasting event, and seeing how you wowed and taught my group about The Balvenie and Scotch whisky in general, it’s quite apparent that your promotion is a well deserved one.  Cheers brotha!

Reason number 2

Dag nambit, if I don’t LOVE the internets!!

Over a year ago I started chatting it up with Jason of guidscotchdrink.com (for those not familiar, formally WHISKYhost).  We would twitter quite a lot and I was, and continue to be an avid reader of Jason’s blog.  Heck, I’ve even done a couple of guest posts on his blog where I reviewed whisk(e)y infused chocolate bars: Talisker Scotch Bonbon BarsGeorge T Stagg Bourbon Bonbon Bars.

Recently, and for a variety of reasons (Sam’s Balvenie Tasting being one of them), Jason took many-many hours out of his life to fly out to Connecticut for a visit.

Even though I’ve hung out with Sam before, this statement goes for both Sam and Jason: How cool it was to finally meet someone you’ve been interwebbing with for so long!?

Jason, it was great having you as a guest and hanging out with you!  Sam, see above. 🙂

Reason number 3

Well, I still can not give this away but I will be sure to announce what this reason is when that time comes.

So, how’d the stuff taste??

Looks like I owe one more thing – tasting notes!

When we opened it, we drank to enjoy and celebrate !  Tasting notes to follow.  However, as a preview, I can tell you that it is some amazing fluid!

Sam, Jason, thank you!  Until the next time our path cross again (which I know will happen soon and repeatedly)…  I wish you both the very best!



I am honored…

If you’re not yet familiar with Oliver Klimek’s dramming.com whisky blog/website, you need to change that (and quick)!

His site is more than just his reviews and opinions on whiskies – Oliver also has great articles on general whisky information, how to rate whiskies, whisky philosophy, debunking whisky related myths.  The list can go on — and it does!!

Oli has got a new series of interviews he’s doing on “Whisky People” and I am proud and honored to announce I was his fifth interviewee.

And I’m in good company!

Whisky person #1 is Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun! and Malt Maniacs

Whisky person #2 is Keith Wood of Whisky Emporium

Whisky person #3 is Ralf Mitchell of ralfy.com

Whisky person #4 is Erik Burgess, a prominent member of Glasgow’s Whisky Club

If you care to learn a bit more about me and what goes on in this crazy-ass head of mine, click here (and thanks or reading)!

Oliver, thanks again!!

A day in the life of… the folks at Master of Malt

And now for the fifth installment to my interview series.

As you hopefully know by now, I’ve started series of interviews to help demystify some of the many aspects of the whisk(e)y industry.  Who makes it, how they do it, how they got into it, how to they sell, promote it, market it, etc…  While this series is called “A Day in the Life”, it will focus on more than on just a single day in the life of a Cooper, Sales Person, Ambassador, Master Blender, Independent reviewer/critic, etc…  I try to get a full picture of what they do from day to day.  Also, I will try to get a little personal (without making said person or people blush).

For previous interviews I’ve done, please see the links below (at the end of this interview).

It is a privilege and and honor to have had the chance to interview, Ben Ellefsen, Justin Petszaft & Darren Rook (aka The Whisky Guy) of Master of Malt.  Ben, Justin & Darren, thank you all again for your time!

On to the interview:

Joshua: Please explain who you all are and what you do for Master of Malt.  Also, how did you first get involved with Master of Malt and what had you done prior to this?

Master of Malt: I’ll tell you a bit about the background of the company, and where we stand now… Whilst the company has been around for over 25 years, it’s only in the last couple of years that we’ve started to grow into a larger organization. This has happened as a result of significant investment in both staff and infrastructure, and the growth is still rapidly accelerating. The three of us you’ve mentioned are:

Justin – Managing Director, ultimately responsible for everything (m’lud), but mainly works on making the website ‘cool’. Background in Theoretical Physics, Mathematics, and Web design/coding.

Ben – Sales Director, responsible for most stuff, but heavily centered at the moment in range expansion, stock acquisition and the development of other sales channels. Background in Restaurant Management, and print and web media sales management.

Darren – On-Trade and Events Manager, responsible for selling into all those lovely bars and restaurants we love so much, and running tasting events (coming soon – watch this space!). Background in bar management and hospitality. Most recently ran the London SMWS Members room.

It’s worth noting of course that there are many other noteworthy people involved in the business at many levels – it’s not just us three

Joshua: As you made me aware in our previous conversation, Master of Malt is an online storefront with no brick and mortar.  There used to be a physical storefront, when did you decide to close it and why?

Master of Malt: The store was a very useful tool in interacting with customers face-to-face, but with the development of the web into a much more all-pervasive sales medium over the last 5 years or so, we took the decision to concentrate solely on the web for the time being.

Joshua: Do you feel that being an online shop only is an asset or a hindrance to the company and, why?

Master of Malt: Definitely an asset overall, although we do all miss the ability to get in a room with our customers and hear what they’ve got to say. Hence the development of the tasting programmes launching over the next few months.

Joshua: From your standpoint, what would you say your biggest obstacles are in progressing the sales of your whiskies?

Master of Malt: Without a doubt, the biggest barrier to sales is getting customers to try new expressions and whiskies from different distilleries to those they’ve previously encountered. This was (for us especially as we’re web-only) a very serious issue, to which we had to develop a solution. With this in mind, we launched Drinks by the Dram, our ‘try before you buy’ sampling service a few months ago, and it’s been tremendously well received. It makes us very happy to see the positive feedback from our customers and press alike.

Joshua: How many people work at Master of Malt?  Who are they and what do they do?

Master of Malt: We’re currently about 20 people, and without going into personal backgrounds of each, we have a significant team involved in web-design, and another heavily focused on analysis and insight – there’s actually a separate business unit called ATOM insight, which consults for larger blue-chip clients on Marketing analytics and data segmentation as well as feeding back into Master of Malt (nice little plug if there are any Marketing officers for large blue-chips out there J). We also currently have 8 full-time staff in our packaging and warehousing operation.

Joshua: You must have a massive inventory – how many bottles do you stock and how many different expressions?

Master of Malt: Wow – well with the products that are going live this week, we’re going to be tipping over the 3,500 mark in terms of lines we carry. I can think of maybe one other retailer that has more than that, but we’re catching up rapidly…

Joshua: Master of Malt has had an online presence for just over 10 years now and within the past years you’ve launched some fantastic features – a chance to win a 40 year Glenfarclas, “Drinks by the Dram”, an opportunity to win a trip to Ireland to visit the Cooley Distillery, etc… Whos brainchildren are these, how did you come up with them and what can we expect in the near future?

Master of Malt: Perhaps the biggest lesson that we’ve learned in the last few years is to listen to your customers. The initial concept of Drinks by the Dram was actually kind of forced upon us by a few rather enthusiastic customers, and as we implemented and developed it further and further, it became clear just what a good idea it really was.

The competitions that we run are our way of having a bit of fun really. We’re all kids at heart, and whilst a £3 discount on each bottle of Glenfarclas would have been an easy (and no doubt popular) thing to do, it’s not quite as fun as chucking all the money into a hat and letting someone win a once-in-a-lifetime bottle of something truly spectacular.

In terms of what you can expect next, you’ll have to keep watching this space, but I can (exclusively) reveal that we’re going to be running an absolute belter of a competition involving Compass Box soon. It’s going to be a fantastic opportunity, and one that everyone (not just the competition winners) can get involved with…

Joshua: Master of Malt has some award winning Single Cask exclusive malts.  Can you go into the process of choosing the malts?  Also, do you have any new bottlings you’d like to announce?

Master of Malt: Our process for choosing new malts is really quite simple – we only bottle if we’re all convinced that we’ve got something exceptional. We’ll taste, on average, over 100 samples before we select a cask to bottle, so whilst bottlings may be relatively infrequent, you can rest assured that they’ll always be tip-top. In terms of new stuff coming up soon, we’re looking at a few at the moment, maybe in the slightly lower (more affordable) age range, and may have a surprise coming up before Christmas in the shape of a slightly more exotic bottling… Can’t say too much about that now, but watch this space.

Joshua: When someone goes to your site they will see a link to the comments left from your customers.  There must be some that have been left that you just HAD to take down.  Perhaps it was rude, crude, perverse, etc…  I’m not a prude and either are my readers (well, that guy is and maybe her but, not the rest of them), care to share one or two?

Master of Malt: In complete honesty, I think we’ve only ever had to remove two comments. One was rather expletive-packed (might be something to do with the fact it was written at 23:30 on a Friday?), and one (for no real reason we could ascertain) cited some slightly curious views about the French, so we edited that one out. We’ll only ever remove them if they’re downright offensive, racist or potentially libelous!

Honesty is really important to us, so leaving in the ones that are critical is very important to our growth as a business. You don’t get to silence a pissed-off customer in a shop, so why should we be any different? That said, the vast, vast majority of the comments are overwhelmingly positive which can only be encouraging!

Joshua: As you may have guessed, some of my readers may be of the Hebraic persuasion (they’re Jews).  While I can not speak for all, many Jews will not partake in the consumption of whisky (or anything from grains for that matter) during Passover.  Do you feature any kosher certified tequilas, cognacs, mead, etc…

Master of Malt: Indeed – I have to profess that my knowledge of this area is somewhat limited, and whilst several distilleries (notably Bruichladdich, Auchentoshan and a few others) are now beginning to grasp the fact that there’s a significant market out there for Kosher products, other spirit producers have been less forthcoming with actively promoting products as Kosher. I’ll conduct some research and get back to you on this one, as it’s a very good question. Equally if any of your readers know for a fact that some of the products we stock are Kosher, please let us know, and we’ll be sure to promote them as such!

Joshua: One thing I try to focus on with my blog is what dram to drink for a particular mood or season.  Do you approach personal consumption in this manner?

Master of Malt: I think it’s inevitable, yes. We all drink whisky the whole year round, but the ‘diet’ does tend to vary a little more in the summer months in favour of Martinis, Rum-based cocktails, and even the odd beer or two

Joshua: How did you all get into whiskies?  Did you have a gateway whisky?  Do you have a story that goes with it?

Master of Malt: With a lot of hard work is the honest answer. We started reasonably young on whisky (insert an age that meets the minimum requirements in your particular country), but at first knew it was something that would be rewarding once we got there rather than being something we were immediately into. My personal ‘eureka’ whisky moment was in the tasting bar at the Whisky Experience in Edinburgh with my (now) wife. I described my tastes to the barman, and he immediately pulled a bottle of (very new) Uigeadail off the shelf. I’ve never had a more profound experience with any whisky before or since, and that’s when I knew it was something I wanted to get into in a big way. Goes to show the power of well-trained staff.

Joshua: What passions, other than whisk(e)y do you have?

Master of Malt: Wow, well speaking for the rest of the directors too, I’d put together a list as follows:

Food (big-time)


Champagne – Paticularly older NV stuff.


Properly made cocktails

Prog. Metal

Cars (particularly R.W.D. with skinny tyres)

The life and work of Richard Feynman.

Mr T.


Joshua: Do you have a list of Top Drams or perhaps some Desert Island Drams you’d like to share?

Master of Malt: Perhaps the best way to answer is if you were only ever allowed three whiskies – I think mine personally would have to be: Ardbeg Uigeadail (one of the first batches), the recent 1976 Karuizawa from No 1 Drinks, and a bourbon. Which one, I can’t quite make my mind up about. Maybe Noah’s Mill? Then again some barrels of Blanton’s are pretty special too…

Joshua: Without giving out names & places (basically, without getting yourself into any trouble), do you have any funny, interesting or bizarre stories from any of your events/travels that you wish to share?

Master of Malt: What stories Yossi? What could you possibly be talking about? Us industry types are all completely responsible sober types who generally get home of an evening nice and early and curl up with a mug of cocoa before bedtime… Definitely nothing at all untoward, and whoever told you the story about a certain couple of people wandering around London until 6am looking for an all-night Salt Beef Bagel shop is lying. Lying I tells ya.

(yes we found it, and it was worth the walk)

Joshua: Lastly, if you had a message or lesson to give people who are just getting into whiskies, what would that be?

Master of Malt: (not neccesarily something you’ll hear from a retailer all that often) Price does not neccesarily equal quality. If something’s expensive, the chances are it’s expensive due to rarity rather than absolute quality. That’s not to say that there isn’t a correlation between price and quality of course, but the graph is far from linear. If you’re unsure about whether or not to buy that £500 bottle, for goodness’ sake TRY IT FIRST!!! That’s what Drinks by the Dram is for!

Master of Malt people – thanks again!!

My previous interviewees are:

Serge Valentin of Whisky Fun! and Malt Maniacs

Sam Simmons of The Balvenie

Stuart Nickerson of Glenglassaugh (Part one and Part two)

Alan Shayne of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) of America

Big Peat (or, what you’d get if you mixed Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila & Port Ellen in a really smart way)

A vatting of Islay region whiskies – 46%ABV – $80 – $100 | £30 | €35

Continuing my week of vatted/blended whiskies, I move onto “Big Peat”.

Not sure about what it’s like where you are but, it’s getting colder around here (Connecticut, USA).  Especially at night.  I’m seeing temps at 40 – 55deg fahrenheit (about 4.5 – 13deg celsius).  To me, based on my patent pending Mood-And-Season-O-Meter™, this means peat season!

I love a good smokey Islay malt in the fall & winter time (heck, I’ll take a heavy/smokey Campbeltown or a peated Highland malt too).  Mood will affect what you reach for in a whisky and season will affect your mood.  It’s the triple “S” effect.  No, not Shit, Shower & Shave.  Stupid, simple science.  Light & fruity whiskies (and wines) for the warmer months, heavy (and/or peaty for whiskies) and big for the cooler months.  Stupid, simple science.

I’ve been hearing a whole heck of a lot about the cost of this whisky accompanied with complaints of: “why so much for a… blend?”  Many folks see that this is, and is labeled as, a blended whisky so they wont break out their wallets for it because of the higher cost (especially in America).

Statements such as these make me break out my soap box so I can scream to the world “MORE THAN 90% OF SINGLE MALTS ARE BLENDS PEOPLE!!!”

Yes, it’s true.  That Glenfiddich 12, Highland Park 18 or Caol Ila 18 you love so much is a blend of many different barrels which could (and do) contain whiskies that are, 12, 15, 18, 25 years, etc… to create a flavor profile that the distilleries are comfortable labeling as their 12, 15 or 18 year old product.  Single Malt simply means that the whiskies were malted at the same single distillery.  The age statement tells you what the youngest whisky is that blend, I mean, single malt.

Update: In years past, if you mixed different malt whiskies from different distilleries it was OK to call it a “vatted malt”; if you mixed malt whisky with grain whisky it was then called a “blend”. Even though this is a vatting of four different single malt whiskies, the SWA has deemed that a mixture of whiskies from two or more distilleries (be it malt or grain) is now to be called a “blend”.  While I’m not sure I agree with this move, thems the breaks when it comes to labeling Scotch whisky!

OK, off of my soap box.  Let me review this fluid to see if  it’s worth its weight in whisky:

On the nose Well, there is big peat in here for sure!   A nice peat blast upon initial whiff.

Very briny and a blast of lemon zest.

Do I detect a bit of sherry influence here (mere hints of dried fruits)?

Well used canvas sneakers (rubber, canvas and salty perspiration).

A little flinty (maybe the Port Ellen rearing it’s head).

The smoke is a dirty one.

On the mouth It’s all about the mouthfeel here folks.

Lush, chewy and coating.  Yum!

Stewed root veggies.  Salty, salty, salty.

Less of a smoke attack on the mouth here.

Teas galore: Chamomile, Sencha, Black Oolong and Rooibos – it’s all there and a bit over steeped.

Finish Sweet carrots and singed tea leaves, all in the back of the mouth.

In sum Tough to tell which whisky is strongest here.  The Ardbegian lemons are out there for sure but so is the flintiness of Port Ellen and the mouth feel of many Bowmores I’ve have.  I’d be happy to enjoy this on a hot summer’s day.  Seriously.  It’s bright and refreshing (even with all of that peat smoke) like a nice Caol Ila.  Kudos to the people who made this blend.  Well done.  Take a bow (more)!  Impressive.

Jura Music Fest 2010 this weekend (wish I could be there…)

6000 deer. 200 people. 1 Jura Music Festival.

Celebrating it’s 17th year, The Isle of Jura Musical Festival is now a well established favourite for lovers of the traditional music scene. This years festival is dedicated to Nicky Watson and Rev. George Campbell who were both such valued committee members and are now sadly missed.

At the Friday night concert locals and visitors from the nearby island of Islay set the scene for a weekend filled with toe-tapping, foot-stomping, elbow-fiddling musical pleasure when they step up to the stage and show off their talents.

On Saturday night it’s the professionals turn: With past performances by Blazin’ Fiddles,Karen MathesonMichael McGoldrickAnna Massie BandStuart Cassells,DannsaSamba ya BambaDeaf Shephard and Dochas, the festival has a history of promoting both up and coming and established artists. And this year’s line-up is no exception. Check out the line-up section of the site for more details.

A surprise addition to the Jura music festival was announced today as organisers revealed that Elvis will be making an appearance.

Elvis to Appear at the Jura Music Festival!!

Although he will not be performing at the traditional music event, the local distillery’s four year old moggy will be taking pictures of the island shenanigans over the whole weekend using his “petcam”.

Whisky aficionados, feline fans and music lovers will be able to get a cat’s eye view of the bands and the punters enjoying three days of entertainment on one of Scotland’s remotest islands.

The festival starts this Friday (24 – 26 September) with a line up that includes Session A9, Mary Ann Kennedy, piper Fred Morrison, Brigada Mercy and a host of talent from the island itself.

Artists that have made the trip previously to Jura – described as “ungettable” by author George Orwell – include Blazin’ Fiddles, Karen Matheson, Michael McGoldrick, Anna Massie Band, Stuart Cassells, Dannsa, Samba ya Bamba and Deaf Shephard.

Jura distillery manager Willie Cochrane said that Elvis was a much loved regular at the music festival.

“Elvis is very sociable and loves the music and the people, and can often be seen weaving his way between dancing feet into the wee small hours.

“For the first time visitors to the Jura website will be able to see what Elvis sees, and get a very unique insight into this great event. If it’s successful and loads of people log on, we may well make it a permanent feature and people can get a cat’s eye view of life on the island.”