Last week one of the cocktail competitions we judged was the Saint James Cocktail Competition. Fifteen candidates squared off against each other in the lovely ‘La Tricoterie’ in Brussels in the hope of winning one of the great prizes – amongst them one of the last bottles of Saint James 250 for Belgium.
Saint James Rhum is an underestimated product I believe. It is virtually unknown in Flanders (Belgium) even by people who call themselves rum-lovers and that’s a shame, because it is a wonderful product. Saint James is a typical rhum agricole with a very funky character. The very first incarnation of this rhum was called “guildive”, which actually means “Kill Devil” and that is saying something! Relax, it is much less “hellish” now than its 18th century ancestor, but it still carries the heritage. I had the good fortune to be able to visit the picturesque distillery of Saint James on the beautiful tropical island of Martinique and it was there that I really started to understand what rum is in my opinion.
You really can taste the island in its rum. And that’s no illogical thing to say, considering the wild yeasts and the sugar cane. My impression was that they approach their sugar cane like wine grapes, which is also reflected in their rum range with lots of ‘cuvées’ and ‘millésimes’. It makes more sense to me than some brands who try to approach their “rum” as a whisky, you know: ageing it for decades in a gazillion of different barrels hoping something tasty will come out. Knowing that the ageing process in the Caribbean goes at least twice as fast than it does in Scotland, the number on your bottle needn’t be so big. In fact their unaged ‘Coeur de Chauffe’ is one of the best rums I ever drank, that’s a lot of ‘hogo’ in one bottle.
Back to the competition. It was a very colourful competition, a wide spectrum of skillsets performing on stage (or trying to). I especially recall Michel Van Hecke’s (Thon Hotel) variation on Ti Punch. I like Ti Punch, especially with a good agricole, it’s fun, it’s simple, it tastes great. But instead of going for the simple, lime, cane syrup and rum combo, Michel enthusiastically veered off course with chamomile and cucumber, amongst other things. My first thoughts when listening to him were: “Oh no, the horror!”, but actually it fitted together quite nicely. It was a very original take on the Ti Punch, quite daring, and he received a well deserved third place in the competition.
Another cocktail I liked a lot was the drink made by Cathy Mutis (Boos Bar). It tasted so different from all the other cocktails (i.e. it wasn’t too sweet and/or drowned in fruit juices), it was refreshing, a little sharp even. There was a strange note that went very well with the Saint James, but I couldn’t immediately lay my finger on it. She had used ‘essence de muscade” from Martinique itself! Ah, rum and nutmeg, always a good combo.
And then the winner, Mr. Filoo About from Vagabond Barrr made us a very yummy Tiki in nice glassware with a beautiful garnish. A Tiki with Tonka syrup and Thai bitters served in a skull, we couldn’t say no to that!
And we close this article with a final remark: next time there is a Saint James competition, please allow the competitors to bring their own home made syrups instead of using commercial ones and make it mandatory to use freshly squeezed fruit juices, instead of commercial ones. Saint James Rhum deserves no less.
Mauritian rum brand New Grove chose Belgium's first and foremost Tikitender Tom Neijens from the Drifter to organise a Tiki cocktail competition at Uncle Babe's Burgerbar in Ghent. The result was great fun with an amazing diversity in drinks! It shows how much you can do with rum. Next to the usual suspects there were also quite a few new faces among the competitors and they did a really great job! Alas, to no avail, because Vitas was on fire (almost literally) and combined a spectaculair drink with a fantastic presentation.
New Grove’s got funk, New Grove’s got soul
The island of Mauritius has produced rum since the 18th century, but the New Grove brand is a relatively young player on the field. Tikitender Tom introduced us to the better part of the New Grove range: the Plantation Rums. It’s a lovely rum, well balanced in sweetness, funkiness and fruitiness. The funkiness comes from the typical Mauritian yeast strain and the relatively long fermentation process. I love the funk, it gives soul to the rum. Next to the rums they also make three liqueurs (honey, vanilla and coffee). And you always fear the worst when you have to try a rum based liqueur, more often than not it practically is a syrup with a hint of herbs. Not in this case! Nicely balanced, not too sweet and good aromas. The vanilla for instance is real and comes from the nearby island of Madagascar. The coffee also is very nice, especially when you have to compare it to Kahlua. New Grove is young and groovy, we’ll be hearing a lot more from this brand soon.
The Tiki competition
The lady and gentlemen from the jury for this lovely event were: Flo Harel and Didier Noel from New Grove, Scotty Schuder from The Dirty Dick, a bar in Paris’ red light district and used to be brothel and our own tikitender Tom Neijens from The Drifter, Ghent.
First up was a new face: Ruben Patoor. Considering the fact that this was his first competition he did very well. He presented a Tiki made of rum, guave and amongst other things a white beer from Ghent.
Ran Van Ongevalle from The Pharmacy, Knokke drew inspiration from his recent trip to South East Asia and made us soup, yes, soup. Based upon Tom Kha Kai, a coconut soup from Thailand. He prepared everything in a mortar which also served as the Tiki mug. He concluded the presentation with a pyrotechnical magic trick, which we failed to capture on photo! Great presentation, good drink!
Bruno Simons from Mixing Tales made us breakfast with coffee liqueur and cream in an atypical tiki cocktail.
Yoerie De Schepper, our youngest candidate from L’Histoire d’O, Ostend gave us a fabulous presentation. We will definitely be seeing this guy again very soon! He puzzled 3/4 of the jury with his explanation as to why he had chosen an aged rum: ” My boss used to tell me that if you want to learn how to ride, you have to do it on an old bike!” Which is an English translation of a Flemish expression that has more to do with popping cherries than it has with riding a bike. His cocktail was named “Revenge of the dodo”.
Frederic Geirnaert from Cafe Theatre, Ghent, presented us an exotic concoction in an elephant’s foot. Another first timer who performed very well.
Vitas Van de Cauter from Uncle Babe’s was on fire and blew everybody away with a fantastic presentation and a fabulous drink. He made a “Mount Murr Punch” named after a volcano on Mauritius. He stated quite clearly that “in Tiki the theory of less is more does not count, in Tiki more is…more”. Also his only reason to name the drink after a volcano was because he wanted to put things on fire and so he did. Loved it!
Sofie Ketels from Sofie’s Living Room, Koksijde told us the story of Paradise Vicky and put her drink in a claw! She caramelised nuts in New Grove rum, yummy! Lovely presentation.
Finally there was Mitchell Martin, another new face with a spectacular drink and a lovely garnish.
Well Vitas won this incredibly fun competition and can spend a week on Mauritius sipping rum! If there’s one thing we remember that is the fact that Tiki cocktails are not just rum and fruit juice and that rum is a very versatile product and fire is fun!
Sometimes you really start wondering, seeing these countless and delicious variations and dedications. Quite a few people go very extreme in this, resulting in the unavoidable remark by someone: “is this still a Negroni?”. The question is, if not, what is then? The answer must be sought in its clouded and disputed origin…
The official recipe as we all know, is equal measures of gin, Campari and red vermouth. And logically, when we want to make a variation on it we start to substitute one of the ingredients for another. starting with the spirit, this resulted quickly in rum Negronis, whisky Negronis, bourbon Negronis, cognac Negronis, genever Negronis and so on. Next we switch Campari for other amaro like Cynar or Averna or others. Finally we can change the vermouth from red to dry, white or even use quinquinas and other stuff. Also measurements can be adapted, bitters can be added, glasses can be rinsed, perfume or smoke can be used, etc, etc…
Actually it is fantastic to see this unbridled, unlimited passionate creativity of bartenders playing around with this famous Italian aperitif cocktail. Recently we had the BeNeLux Negroni Competition organised by Campari and even though the jury contained several very experienced Negroni lovers like Salvatore Calabrese en Mauro Mahjoub, it must have been very difficult reaching a decision on the winner (in this case Sofie Ketels from Sofie’s Living Room, De Panne, Belgium) seeing and tasting all these different and delicious Negroni styles. But what when you encounter a recipe in a book, that contains gin, sherry and Galliano; then you really start to wonder, delicious as it might be, is this still a Negroni? And if not, why then?
We recently had the good fortune to attend a workshop concerning the famous Negroni cocktail. The workshop was given by the great Luca Picchi from Florence, Italy, who wrote a hefty 221 pages about the Negroni, focussing on its origins. We like the book a lot, we read it with pleasure and delight and eventually learned and deduced something that was new for us about the origin of this iconic cocktail.
Most of you already know the origin of the Negroni, featuring the famous Count who gave his name to this delicious red libation. Camillo Negroni probably was indeed the original reason for the creation of the cocktail. There are pictures of him drinking (a Negroni?) at Casoni Café and more importantly there is a letter, dating 1920, from a friend who advises him not to drink more than 20 ‘Negronis’ a day. This letter actually proves that there was a drink in 1920 named after him. Much more interesting is: what’s in it and how did it became to be (the drink, not the letter) in the first place?
‘Americano’ is not just one cocktail
The popular story is that count Camillo, whilst in Florence, walked into Casoni’s and asked Fosco Scarselli, the bartender, to…erm…”spike” his ‘Americano’. Now here the story starts. I always thought the actual Americano cocktail was meant here and only to be told later that it was in fact a Milano-Torino, which was called Americano afterwards (so they say) due to the high popularity with Americans (tourists, businessmen or soldiers you can choose between stories here). In my strictly personal opinion ( I do not claim this to be the absolute truth, it’s just a theory of mine) he did not mean the actual Americano cocktail. Americano just means ‘American style’ and refers to the then rather new fashion of mixing one drink with others. That is what we’ve learned from Luca Picchi.
The drink in this case probably just being vermouth, which was extremely popular in Italy at that time. “American style” meant ‘the way they drank drinks in America’ and the very popular ‘American bars’ in Europe. So it probably has nothing to do with American soldiers after the war – a story which I hear and read frequently. Americano was probably nothing else than saying “cocktail” in Italian. You know, mixed with a spirit or amaro over ice. That information was new for me.
Vermouth as a base
So Camillo probably ordered a simple Italian vermouth (which was extremely popular by then), but had it made American style to strengthen it. The bartender, Fosco Scarselli, chose gin and then Camillo himself chose to add some bitters – Campari most probably – and thus created his signature drink. We deduce this out of an interesting interview with Fosco himself in 1962 about the Negroni. He (Fosco) literally says: “I added a few drops of gin to fortify the drinkand then the count had the habit of adding a few drops of bitters“.
Eventually other guests at Casoni were curious and also ordered an Americano ( meaning, I think, as much as ‘vermouth cocktail’ or just ‘cocktail’ in general), Negroni style. And so the birth of one of the most famous cocktails in history came to be. I think the story is very credible knowing that the count spend more than seven years in the USA in the exact ‘golden age of cocktail making’ before he came back to Florence and ordered his drink. Also, the vermouth back then, was served in small liquor glasses (about 1 or 1,5 oz), which explains the “drops” of gin and bitters and the sentence in the letter that warns him not to drink more than 20 of it each day. Also when you consider his words, he says he adds two things (gin and bitters) to something he didn’t mention. Something so obvious that he needn’t mentioning it and I think that’s vermouth.
And the story of Gaspare Campari who made his famous red amaro “americano” to make it more palatable and trendy for the Milanese high rollers at that time is a different story that eventually converged into the Negroni drink. The theory makes sense, I think, also considering the way Negronis are made today. By which I mean all the variations on it. What really defines a Negroni? Is it the gin? Surely not, it is the first thing they replace by something different. Is it Campari? Although most Negronis are made with it, it can also be made with other bitters and even though chances are high that the first one was made with it, we’ll never know for sure.
So actually it’s two different kinds of Americano coming together: one being gin + vermouth, the other being: amaro + vermouth. Of which the common element is the vermouth. In the end it gives us our answer to the question as to what defines a Negroni. In my opinion it is – very simply like the recipe says – a combination of spirit, vermouth and amaro. May you break this rule and create something else? Sure! Can you call it a Negroni? Well, it’s a free country, so you can call it whatever the hell you want, as long as it tastes good. Because, no matter how many Negroni “families” you create, the real Negroni will always be remembered as equal measures of London Dry, Campari and red vermouth.
Speaking of Negroni families… how about the other count Negroni? You know, General Pascal Olivier de Negroni, which one of them is the real Count? Well, why does one of them have to be fake? It is perfectly possible. A letter written by Pascal mentions a vermouth cocktail which was received well by the other officers. Perfectly possible, although it would be interesting to know more about the ingredients.
In the end it doesn’t really matter who invented the drink, eventually somebody somehow would have come up with gin, Campari and red vermouth. You know, I prefer ‘countless’ Negronis over Count Negroni, any time.
I’ve always liked the Famous Grouse, being one of the first blended whiskeys I ever tasted. A bottle can become empty quite fast, when in good company. This very affordable Scottish whiskey has three, maybe less famous, friends: Black Grouse, Snow Grouse and Naked Grouse. All three very fine blends, but you know what’s better? Making your own blend…
So a while ago we were invited to attend a Grouse tasting at The Egg in Brussels (a 5000 square meter event venue). The room was small, but awfully cosy and possessed a peculiar detail, a fancy quirkiness, that I wasn’t able to perceive the first five minutes I had entered it. I was distracted – as I often am – by the beautiful table before me.
Why is it called ‘famous’? Well, for starters, it apparently is one of the best selling whiskeys in Scotland itself since the ’80s. Especially round Christmas so it seems. And we fully agree with that, it’s perfect if you want to grab a quick bottle with a nice, smooth flavour and you don’t want to spend a fortune on it. Better grab two, because they’ll be killed quite fast. Secondly, the grouse was one of the most popular birds to shoot out of the sky and gobble up at exquisitely decadent hunting parties (it has a doomed tendency to fly quite low).
Why ‘Grouse’? Well, most importantly because ‘Gloag’ sounds like you’ve got something down your throat that doesn’t belong there in the first place. And Matthew Gloag, the Scottish father of Famous Grouse, realised this quite quickly. “If I want this whiskey to be something on the international market I can’t just name it after myself.” I better name it after the bird with the biggest violent death ratio in Scotland! And right he was, to the effect that the expression: “let’s shoot some Grouse,” has a very different meaning now.
By the 1920s Famous Grouse was an international product, going as far as the Caribbean. The blend consists – if I remember correctly – out of 1/6th part of grain whiskey, actually corn, which gives it that characteristic sweetness and the rest is a mix of Glenturret, Highland Park and Rhuidmore single malts. All this is aged in American sherry and bourbon casks and finished in Spanish sherry casks.
In the end we were allowed to make our own blend out of a selection of 5 single malts and 1 grain whiskey. This was great fun and at the same time it shows you how difficult it is to be a Master Blender. I baptised my concoction the ‘Famuzze Gruzze’. Which is how you would pronounce the brand in West Flemish dialect after you had a bottle or two.
Now Black Grouse is actually a more smokey, slightly peated version of Famous and is actually very nice and very affordable. Naked Grouse is something else entirely, extremely rounded and smooth, but long lasting in the end. It’s called naked not because it maybe has a grouse deprived of feathers on the bottle (it does not), but because there’s no label at all (except a small one round the neck and the back of the bottle with all the legal stuff). Snow Grouse is meant to be put in the freezer a few minutes before you drink it, to get that syrupy texture. Not really our thing, but I am sure students love it.
So, after a fun tasting, brilliant blending and a nice chat with Brand Ambassador Lucy Whitehall we were ready to go home again. And then it hit me, it wasn’t the Scotch, it was the room! Everything was reversed, you know, upside down, the paintings, books, lamps furniture, the whole shebang. Rather quaint.
Anyway, if you want good value for money without having to spend a lot and you need a quick bottle then remember the bird.
Tanqueray’s Master Distiller Tom Nichol has created his final Tanqueray gin: the Bloomsbury. We love its masterfully balanced modesty. The gin possesses a quintessential purity in itself without losing character or the Tanqueray personality, so much that it almost becomes an archetype of gin itself.
Let me explain the above. For starters it’s not boring, that’s not what I meant. It’s a beautiful balance between juniper berries, coriander, angelica and crushed cassia, just like the bottle says. And frankly, we were almost moved by this honesty. Many contemporary gins try to combine so many flavours and aromas resulting in the loss of their own identity of gin and consequently more resembling a startled skunk in a fireworks factory. But no worries, if you put an entire bottle of tonic over it, something eventually will shine through.
Not this gin. This one can stand on its own or take tonic without losing character and more importantly it can take other things besides tonic and works beautifully in cocktails. It makes one hell of a Dry Martini for instance. Actually when you taste it, it feels like the grandfather of Tanqueray Ten. You know, without the grapefruit or citrus notes and much more rounded, smooth with that little hint of cassia and all the blessings of juniper berries.
Grandfather may be an apt title for it, because Tom Nichol based it on an old recipe from Charles Waugh Tanqueray ( the son of Charles Tanqueray who took over the company after his father’s death in 1868) himself. ‘Waugh‘ was actually the first thing I said when I tasted it. Well, Mr Nichol, if this was the last gin you made for Tanqueray I would say it is a daring masterpiece and a fitting farewell. Because somehow, this day and age, it seems easier to continually diversify than to make the actual real thing. Which you did!
Located in the beautiful ‘La Pharmacie Anglaise’ and decorated by Max Colombie of ‘Oscar And The Wolf’ Hendrick’s ‘Chambers of The Curious’ really aced its Pythonesque revelry of ‘The Weird’. Also seeing that team behind the bar gives us clear evidence that the big train of Brussels Mixology is slowly starting to roll.
The place is absolutely beautiful, inside and outside. The building is actually a 19th century neo-gothique pharmacy designed by famous architect Paul Saintenoy for a famous Belgian pharmacist who sold chocolate as a medecine (he is now better known for his cooky factory that still bears his name: Delacre). If Mr Delacre would be able to see what has become of his fabulous pharmacy, he wouldn’t mind at all! The outside of the building looks like it was ripped out of a Disney movie, complete with a woman living on the upper floor who likes to chat with mirrors. The inside is warm, cosy and f***ing crowded if you arrive on a Friday night at 21hrs.
There’s an unusual labyrinthine feeling about the place, there’s always another door leading to another stairs leading to another room. An unusual experience especially since every room seems to be filled with a mixture of objects which obviously must have belonged to Mary Shelly, Terry Gilliam or an extraordinary successful cucumber producer. Some of the rooms had weird experiments going on… “Should I like to be tested?” “No, sir, thank you! I’ll try my luck at the bar!”
The bar is obviously located in the former pharmacy’s shop, complete with wooden cabinets and balcony. Behind the stick were two familiar faces, good bartenders, who both competed in the Belgian World Class Competition: Alexis Mosselmans and Ennio Campanaro. Energy, enthusiasm and 100% passion for the Craft. They form such a dynamic duo that I hereby baptise them “The Sultans of Sling” (sling is not a typo, but a type of cocktail if you were wondering). It is good to see the Brussels Cocktailbar Scene flowering and producing specimens like Alexis and Ennio. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more and more cocktailbars very soon in Brussels.
Do go and visit, you have the chance until the end of October. It is located at Coudenberg 66, Brussels, a stone’s throw away from the Central Station. If you want to have yourself tested make an appointment.
Although he didn’t make it to the final 6, Belgian bartender Jurgen Nobels managed to successfully impress the jury of the Diageo World Class Global Finals on several occasions with his excellent drinks, unbridled creativity and amazing speed. It heralds the start of a busy, but interesting year for Jurgen.
Diego World Class is the most prestigious cocktail competition in the world. To be elected and join the 54 best bartenders in the world 2015 is quite an honour. This year the battle of the best was held in South Africa, where the 54 competitors would undergo 5 challenges. One of them is the speed challenge.
If I remember correctly the objective is to make at least 8 cocktails in just 10 minutes. If this already seems daunting to you -and it should – it gets a bit more complicated than that. For starters you can’t just make 8 Gin Tonics and call it a day. (People will laugh and throw strainers at your face)
You want to make 8 totally different cocktails using as many different techniques as you can (shaken, stirred, built, swizzled, maybe even thrown). Furthermore, these cocktails need to taste better than good (duh!) and last, but not least you have to make a decent presentation too.
You can’t just say: “And now I’ll be making a rum Old Fashioned…it has rum, syrup and bitters in it, exciting isn’t it!” It isn’t! The room is filled with bartenders and you’re judged by four cocktail demigods, they know what a rum Old Fashioned is. Chances are even the camera man knows what an Old Fashioned is. (so people won’t like it and stab you with swizzle sticks)
You’re goal is to entertain and impress the jury and this should reflect in your presentation (often centred around sprezzatura). So in fact there’s a huge pressure on you. When the most basic of all cocktail competitions would be ‘to make a good drink’, this challenge requires you to do that 8 times in just 10 minutes. As you can see it is considered the most dreaded of all challenges in World Class.
Jurgen didn’t make 8 drinks… he made 10. Including a Ketel One Bloody Mary with…goatmilk, which he affectionately called the ‘Bloody Mèèèèry‘. In fact this drink impressed the jury so much that Julie Reiner – herself not a big fan of Bloody Marys – immediately asked for the recipe! 10 fantastic drinks in 10 minutes with a fantastic presentation earned him the award of “Best Competitor – Speed Challenge“.
So he didn’t make it to the final 6 candidates, but he can return home proudly, holding a prestigious award in his hands. When asked what will come next he immediately replied “a couple of weeks of rest & recreation with family and friends are on top of the bill now and then it’s back to Uncle Babe’s (a famous Burger Bar in Ghent)!”
Enjoy your well deserved rest Jurgen! I can foresee hordes of curious customers storming Uncle Babe’s to get a good look at you, so you will certainly be able to put your speed talents to good use!
P.S. Also congrats to Tess Posthumus from The Netherlands who made it 7th best in the world! And of course Michito Kaneko from Japan who can call himself best World Class Bartender of the Year 2015!
The famous Williams Martini Racing Team held a Terrazza Party at Liege Belgium and took the opportunity to launch their brand new vermouth. Daniele Dalla Pola had some fun making cocktails with it.
Fast cars, fabulous women and fresh drinks, what more can you desire? Well it was all there in Liege, Belgium. The sun was up – which we didn’t take for granted – and lots of people longed for ‘apperitivo’. Martini had landed its Terrazza temporarily on the banks of the river Meuse.
Together with us famous Formula 1 pilots Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas arrived by helicopter and had a little race exercise in view of the upcoming Grand Prix of Francorchamps (Belgium).
The real star of the evening however stood behind the bar where famous Italian Tiki bartender Daniele Dalla Pola made signature cocktails with Martini’s brand new vermouth: Martini Riserva Speciale. It comes in two expressions Rubino (red) and Ambrato (amber). And it’s actually very nice! I prefer the red version Rubino, it’s smooth and silken with just the herbal notes you need. This one’s actually made from red grapes (as to other red vermouths who are mostly made with white grapes and subsequently coloured with caramel), unfortunately I forgot which one.
Daniele made his exquisite Americano Bolognese with it. No, it’s not a sandwich or spaghetti, but a cocktail and as far as I know it didn’t involve tomatoes or parmesan. It made for a lovely aperitif make sure you try one.
After a couple hours of real good fun, nice drinks and excellent food, it was time to go home.
If you want to visit the Terrazzo Party, you still can! Today it opens around 16h, entrance is free and none other then Felix da Housecat will purr some beats into your ears. Tomorrow it opens at 14h and amongst others Aeroplane will lift you off your feet.
Boulevard Frère – Orban (right next to the Albert I bridge), 4000 Luik, Belgium.
What happens when you combine beer and gin? It shouldn’t surprise you that Belgians came up with the idea since it is the country with the most beers and through their genever harbours the origin of gin itself. Lindemans, famous Belgian family brewery, producing Belgian cherry beer since 1822 and De Moor, famous Belgian family distillery, producing genevers since the early 1900s, put their passion together and created the first cherry beer gin.
The gin is made by distilling Old Lindemans Cherrybeer Cuvée René together with 15 carefully selected botanicals. It is a very small batch (250l) en bottled by hand. The Lindemans Gin comes in two versions: a clear one and a red one.
The clear one is citrusy with a hint of cardamom and an aftertaste of sour cherries. In my opinion it is balanced out brilliantly (a trademark from De Moor). Not sweet, not too fruity or floral, but everything’s there. When tonic is added the cherry flavour grows more intense and pairs well with the bitter tonic. I assume it would do well in Gin Fizz too.
The red variety is made in the same fashion except for the addition of the juice of sour cherries (whence the colour). The difference in taste is more cherry flavour obviously. Pairs well with tonic too. Another combination that worked out very well for me was red vermouth. Just 2 parts gin and 1 part red vermouth served over ice with an orange zest. Very tasty and easy to make.
If you’re a fan of Belgian beers and gin you should definitely give it a try, it is extremely refreshing when the temperatures get tropical.
It's called Mortlach and is known as the best kept secret of Scotland. It's a beast spawned from a vertically challenged witch! No, it's true! This isn't Game of Thrones, a Tolkien movie or a Harry Potter novel, this is pure Scottish reality. This is probably the best whisky I have ever tasted. Photography by Mathias Roelants.
Mortlach, I love the name. If you put an umlaut on it you have something that sounds like the loudest rockband on earth: Mörtlach! I can see the T-shirts already. Wondering where the name came from I conducted some etymological research (i.e. I Googled it) and apparently it is the old name of what is now officially known as Dufftown. Seriously, from Mortlach to Dufftown? Town of Duff? James Duff, Earl of Fife… Very modest of you James.
Why is it called “Scotland’s Best Kept Secret“? Because, until now, you couldn’t lay your hands on a single bottle. Except for the very rare exceptions, which were plundered immediately by those vultures called ‘collectors‘. As we speak there must exist quite a number of unopened old Mortlach bottles! Every bottle of Mortlach left unopened is a living disgrace! I hope Wee Witchie curses you all!
Wee Witchie is actually the name of the column in which the whisky is distilled. Named aptly because it’s there where the magic happens. Mortlach has a very unique 2,81 distillation method, meaning it is distilled more than 2 times, but less than 3 times. I’ll spare you the details. It’s the Witch that gives it its unique taste, that striking balance between extremes. Sweet and dry, raw and soft, a complex magic between malt, meat and fruit. First the beast hits you and then it puts a spell on you, which remains forever. Almost like Keats’ “La belle dame sans merci”.
Speaking about “Belles“, the Mortlach Brand Ambassador deserves a fair mention too. Georgie Bell is probably the most perfect brand ambassador to spread the word of the Beast and the person responsible electing her for this position deserves an HR medal. When this passionate lady starts her story about beasts and witches, you become like children glued to her lips, hearing an awesome fairy tale. And then, when you taste the Mortlach for the first time, you lean back and say: “My God, it’s true”.
The Beast Of Dufftown is now also available in Belgium. It comes in 3 forms: Rare Old, 18 Years Old and 25 Years Old. We prefer the raw finesse of the Rare Old, but only if we were forced to choose. And remember, when you buy a bottle don’t let it sit in your cabinet gathering dust, but share it with your loved ones and best of friends having a magical evening.