Review: Drinks by the Dram

There’s a liquor retailer in the UK called Master of Malt, and despite its name, it sells more than just whisk(e)y. In the summer of 2010, they started a program called Drinks by the Dram, wherein they’ll sell you little sample bottles of many of their products–from low-end to high. The samples are 3cl/30ml, or a little over an ounce.

The goal is to provide a try-before-you-buy program, allowing consumers to buy small drams at reasonable prices, so that they may sample unique and hard-to-find bottlings without paying possibly hundreds of dollars for something they may not like.

Someone from MoM contacted me a couple of weeks ago, and offered to send me a package of them if I was interested in covering this program. Wanting to learn more about Irish and Scotch whiskies, I agreed. So just before Christmas, I got these:


Edradour 1998 Sassicaia

Highland malt. Bottled at cask strength, 56.9%. Distilled and matured in 1998, bottled in 2009.

[Edradour 1998 Sassicaia – Straight from the Cask sample; £4.45 for 30ml, or about $7.35 US]

Sassicaia is an Italian wine, so this means it’s aged in wine barrels to pick up some of that flavor. Fewer than 500 bottles of this were released.

Color: A pale amber with reddish undertones.

Nose: Floral, spicy, sweet but not cloying.

Tasting notes: Well-balanced scotch. Hot, in keeping with its barrel strength. Drying. Notes of chocolate and stone fruit, the latter probably from the wine barrel. The stone fruit reminds me a bit of cherry. At this strength, it definitely needs some water. Moderately creamy texture. Subtle smoke.

Final word: At the price point (£41.97, or about $70 US) for a 500-ml bottle, there are better scotches on the market.

Johnnie Walker Blue

Nuff said. Does this require a review? I think they’re including it mainly to show that their samplers cover a range of whisk(e)y styles, including high-end blends.

[Johnnie Walker Blue Label sample; £8.45 for 30ml, or about $13.95 US]

Master of Malt 12 Year Old Lowland

I know next to nothing about this. It’s from something called Master of Malt’s Secret Bottlings Series, which bottles scotches from undisclosed distilleries.

[Master of Malt 12 Year Old Lowland sample; £3.45 for 30ml, or about $5.75 US]

Lowland malt, 40% abv.

Color: Honey/amber.

Nose: Walnut, pecan. Butterscotch, toffee, honey.

Tasting notes: Candied nuts, hint of smoke, honey, malt. Fresh and light, with hints of lemon and grass. Moderately bitter on finish.

Final word: Tasty example of Lowlands style. At £34.95 (or about $58 US) for 700ml, might make a nice present for a scotch lover who’s a completest, or at the opposite end of the scale, for someone fairly new to scotch, since the Lowlands style tends to appeal to beginners.

Tyrconnell 10 Year Old Sherry Cask Finish

Single-malt Irish whiskey is a category that seems to be little-known among US consumers. Shame, if this one’s any indication.

[Tyrconnell 10 Year Old Sherry Cask Finish sample; £3.95 for 30ml; or about $6.50 US]

Single-malt Irish whiskey, 46% abv.

Color: Copper, dark amber.

Nose: Malt, hint of spice, caramel, chocolate, white pepper. Nose opens up over time.

Tasting notes: Not winey, despite the sherry finish, but there is a hint of stone fruit and sherry-nuttiness, possibly from the cask. Dried fruit–apricot, maybe. Rich, well-balanced.

Final word: Delicious. I’d drink this often, if I could find and afford it. I want to linger over the precious grams that remain in my glass.

Master of Malt offers this for £49.14 for 700ml, or about $81 US.

Greenore 15 Year Old

Single-grain Irish whiskey, 43% abv.

[Greenore 15 Year Old sample; £4.45 for 30ml; or about $7.35 US]

Color: Light amber, honey.


Tasting notes: Chocolate, vanilla, honey, bourbon.

Final word: Would recommend for bourbon drinkers branching out into single malts. Very smooth whiskey. Definitely lighter and sweeter than most single malts, so a good stepping stone to single-malt Irish and Scotch bottlings. The grain here is corn, with just a little bit of malted barley to start the fermentation process, according to the Cooley Distillery website. Aged in bourbon casks. The 15-year retails for £52.45 for 700ml, or about US$86, but Greenore also makes an 8-year that goes for about $50.

Drinks by the Dram: The Takeaway

I really enjoyed sampling through these whiskeys, so I think Masters of Malt has a good program going here. These wee bottles would make great individual stocking stuffers. A multi-bottle sampler box would be perfect for the aficionado who’s looking to try new bottlings.


From the Archives: The Thistle

Repeal Day came and went this year, with nary a comment from me. What can I say? Bad blogger. Today, though, I want to revisit a cocktail I first explored four years ago, for Repeal Day 2006: the Thistle. The Thistle is a simple cocktail; my version came from Robert Vermeire’s Cocktails: How to Mix Them, and it calls for 2 parts Scotch, 1 part Italian vermouth, and 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.

Wait a minute. Scotch, sweet vermouth, and bitters? Yes, you’re going to say the same thing someone else said in 2006, and that Erik “The Obscurist” Ellestad noted earlier this year: that’s a Rob Roy. Okay, it’s a Rob Roy. It’s a Thistle. It’s a York. You can call it a peppermint patty for all I care, it’s a fine damn drink.

I don’t know how to admit this to you, dear readers, but I actually prefer a sweet Thistleroy to a sweet Manhattan. Even made with rye, a sweet Manhattan simply tastes too sweet to me. For it to be truly tasty, I have to make the perfect variation on it: 2 oz. rye, 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth, and 1/2 dry vermouth. Scotch, though (even a blended variety), brings enough smokey character to the cocktail to rise up and tame the sweet vermouth.

Four years ago, I used Dewars for the scotch, and Cinzano for the vermouth. This time, I went a different route, and came up with something my wife and I loved. First, I wanted to play with a single malt in this instead of a blend. I used Knockdhu Distillery’s An Cnoc 12, a well-balanced and relatively inexpensive Highlands whisky.

For the vermouth, I chose a product that wasn’t even available to me (or anyone in the United States) in 2006: the French Dolin Rouge. I’m really starting to shun the available-everywhere products like M&R or Cinzano, in favor of more bitter and herbal vermouths such as Dolin or Carpano Antica, the latter of which I have to schlep from Boston. I found that the Dolin’s bittersweet herbaceous qualities married well with the An Cnoc.

Finally, I rounded the drink out with Jerry Thomas Decanter Bitters from the Bitter Truth. I remembered, too late, that I had drained the Angostura the previous evening. But it’s okay, because I like the Christmas-spiciness of the Jerry Thomas.

In all, the Yorkeroy is a great drink that deserves a regular spot in my drinks rotation, and it’s proven itself as open to experimentation as a horny college student. I’ll have another.

(If you’re joining me from Serious Eats, welcome aboard. Look around, kick the tires, poke the cats, and pour yourself a stiff one.)

Ad of the Week: In America…

A while back, I highlighted an advertisement by Johnnie Walker, in which the striding man attended the gala coronation of Britain’s George VI. I made a note of the fact that I had scoured Google Books to see whether JW had run similar ads afterward, and couldn’t find any. Well, look here:

NewYork 1-10-77

This ad, from New York magazine’s issue of January 10, 1977, says, “In America, anyone can grow up to deserve Johnnie Walker Black Label.” The timing? The January 20, 1977, inauguration of Jimmy Carter as the 39th president of the United States. Now to hunt for similar ads for other inaugurations.

Ad of the Week: Johnnie’s Sixth

Oops, managed to miss a week. Been so busy helping prep Cook and Brown for opening that I forgot to upload a new ad post last week. Onward. This next ad comes courtesy the May 24, 1937, issue of Life magazine, and it’s a nod toward the history of the Johnnie Walker brand.


As the ad states, old John is celebrating his sixth coronation of a British monarch, in this case George VI. George never expected to take the throne; he only assumed power after his older brother Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. George was succeeded in turn by his daughter, Lizzy Deuce. John Walker started blending scotches in 1820, so the list of regents that his avatar would have seen crowned are George IV (crowned in 1821), William IV (1831), Victoria (1938), Edward VII (1902), George V (1911), Edward VIII (who doesn’t actually count in this list, since he abdicated before his coronation), George VI (1937), and Elizabeth II (1953).

I know what you’re going to ask at this point. Did JW run a similar ad in 1953? I dunno. I looked through all the magazines on Google Books and couldn’t find one, to my disappointment. Hey Johnnie! You can have this one for free. Lizzy ain’t gonna hold out forever, just sayin’. We know you love your history!

With C&B ramping up to opening in early March, I can’t guarantee I’ll be able to do a write-up on these ads every week. So temporarily, I’m reverting back to the previous model, where I run an ad or two a week sans commentary. This allows me to schedule several weeks worth of ads out in advance and not worry about them. Sorry, chums.

Raising a glass in thanks

With Thanksgiving approaching, it’s time to plan for festive cocktailing! Mrs. Bitters has already started prepping our locavore Thanksgiving (there’s a story behind it being locavore, but you’ll have to wait for it), so now’s the time for me to plan my approach. I haven’t quite figured it all out yet. I know I want to get some Calvados and make a batch of sage simple syrup, so that I can mix up the Apple Sage Old Fashioned I created for the autumn issue of Edible Rhody (still on the stands, so if you’re local, grab a copy–it’s the one with the cranberry bog on front).

For my second drink, I’m still working my brain on it. In Friday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, Malt Adovocate editor John Hansell edited a small advertising supplement on whiskeys. Included was a piece on cocktails by Gary Regan, or gaz regan as he apparently prefers to be called these days. Old gaz included four cocktails in the piece, one of which I think I’ll adapt for Thanksgiving. Here’s the gaz version:

Babbling Brook

  • 1-1/2 oz. scotch
  • 3/4 oz. B&B liqueur
  • 1/4 oz. absinthe
  • 1 lemon twist, for garnish

Stir over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add garnish.

As gaz discusses in his piece, scotch marries well with anise flavors, and we definitely found that to be the case here.

Earlier this year, I picked up a bunch of anise hyssop from a local herbalist. Back then, I used it in a variation of the New Orleans classic cocktail, the Vieux Carre. On Saturday, when we were at the market, we stopped by the Farmacy table to pick up some local honey for Thanksgiving baking. They happened to have as well some small jars of honey infused with the anise hyssop. I immediately started thinking about cocktail applications and eagerly bought a jar. I might do a variation on the Babbling Brook. Or, I might do a scotch Sazerac instead, with a syrup made from the hyssop honey. I don’t think I’ll go wrong either way.

How about you? What Thanksgiving-themed drinks are you planning to mix this year? Do you have special Thanksgiving snacks that pair well with cocktails? Sound off in the comments!

Blend it like Walker

At 3pm Eastern today, I’ll be in sitting in the kitchen, surrounded by bottles of scotch. How is this any different than a normal 3pm in Chez Dietsch? Today, I have an excuse. Johnnie Walker’s black-label blend turns 100 years old this year, and to celebrate, Johnnie’s jetting his master blender, Andrew Ford, over to New York City, to lead a webcast focusing on the blending process.

I received an invitation to the webcast a couple of weeks ago, and shortly after I accepted, the FedEx man brought me a large box of kit.

Inside the box, I found seven sample bottles of single malt and grain whiskies, a small bottle of Johnnie Walker Black, a nosing glass, a measuring beaker, a funnel, and an empty bottle.


Seven brothers


Andrew Ford will be walking us through the process of blending scotch whiskies. He’ll also be taking questions, so if there’s anything you want to know, leave a comment here, and I’ll try to pass it along.

One question I have is why the grain whiskey appears to have been barrel-aged. I’m also curious about the number of whiskies they sent–one grain whiskey plus six bottles from various regions of Scotland (or in the case of the sherry-cask whiskey, a type of finishing method). Black Label is blended from at least 40 different whiskies. I know that Walker couldn’t possibly have sent 40 bottles without breaking their bank. Even this shipment wasn’t cheap, I’d wager. Now, what I don’t know is whether each of those bottles is actually a single malt, or if each bottle has a blend of several malts–say, several malts from the Islay region–to approximate the 40 whiskies that comprise Black.