A whisky for bartenders, by bartenders. Right now this year’s 12 members of Auchentoshan’s New Malt Order are making this happen.
Bartenders from Germany, Canada, Russia, Sweden, the US and the UK converged on Glasgow this week, tasked with creating the second edition of Auchentoshan’s The Bartender’s Malt. Like last year, some of the best bartenders in each country were selected to join the Lowland scotch whisky’s New Malt Order, and create a whisky of their own.
Following last year’s Bitters theme, prospective members of 2017’s New Malt Order were given the theme of Fermentation. Cocktail comps were held in each market, with competitors tasked with creating a cocktail using a fermented ingredient that made reference to their city. ‘I ferment fruit and veg every day, so I made a Werther’s Original sparkling wine,’ explained UK winner Charles Roche of Scout in London’s Shoreditch.
First stop in Scotland for the final 12 was a visit to Auchentoshan’s distillery in Glasgow for a first-hand look at its triple-distilled process. Next was a tasting and presentation by sensory expert Jozef Youssef, exploring taste and flavour. If an oyster and whisky pairing to the sounds of a cow mooing in a field isn’t enough to expand your understanding of how your other senses affect taste, Youssef also had dyed samples of whisky, and helium balloons filled with different aromas.
Soon enough it was time for this international team of bartenders to get to work at Beam Suntory’s nearby Springburn facility, where casks for the company’s scotch portfolio are filled, stored and emptied. Based on a questionnaire each bartender had previously filled out, each was allocated a different cask of Auchentoshan, which were presented to the group alongside six additional casks. These 18 whiskies would provide the palette for the Bartender’s Malt 02.
This broad selection included a 2011 ruby port barrique, a 1989 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel and a 1980 1st fill sherry butt, not to mention a 1966 refill hogshead. Master blender Ron Welsh provided maximum percentages that each whisky could be used in the final blend, from 100% in some cases, to 1%, unsurprisingly, in the case of the 1966.
By the end of the week, this team of bartenders would draw on these 18 exceptional casks to create a whisky exclusively available to, and designed for, bartenders like themselves. Electing to work together rather than each create a blend, the first step was to identify five whiskies to create a base for the final spirit.
‘This morning was intense, but it’s nice there are no ego trips or frustrations,’ said André Duncan, bar consultant in Montreal. ‘Everyone’s working together.’
With the ratios for this base established, they’d meet again later in the week to complete their whisky. But first there was more on the New Malt Order agenda. In addition to exploring Glasgow with mural collective Recoat, the trip included a visit to Edinburgh, for exclusive visits to the Scotch Whisky Research Institute and International Centre for Brewing and Distilling.
Back in Glasgow, with the base blend established, all that remains is to select the final additions to the final whisky, and finalise its packaging. ‘The next level is to tweak the base blend with other flavours, like the peat and smoke from the Laphroaig cask,’ explained Welsh. ‘And of course everyone wants to use the 1966.’
The pressure’s on, with Welsh offering no more than a guiding hand. ‘You’ve heard me saying “I would advise…”, but I’m not going to tell them what to do,’ he says. ‘The only time I’d interfere is if there was a clash of personalities and strong opinions going both ways, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.’
That said, those personalities are the defining thing about this project, and Welsh is full of praise for this team of bartenders. ‘They’re very knowledgeable about whisky. Some of the stuff they’ve done, and how they’ve won the competition – making their fermentations – is unbelievable. And they’re very likeable people as well,’ he says.
‘Some of them say that making a blend is totally different from making a cocktail. To me, it isn’t really, but what they’re saying is that it’s different because when they’re making a cocktail they’re making an end product, whereas when they’re making this they’re making something that will be part of an end product, so they need to think about how it will affect the cocktail they’re going to use it for. It’s another level.’
What we know so far about Auchentoshan Bartender’s Malt 02 is that it’ll likely be higher ABV than the previous whisky’s 47%, probably 50%, and that the base will consist of whiskies finished in wine, Pedro Ximénez, port and marsala casks, as well as a 2012 1st-fill ex-bourbon barrel ‘fermentation experiment’.
And when they’re done, this year’s New Malt Order won’t only have a whisky with their names on the label, but will have become part of a growing international group of bartenders. ‘It’s great to see them coming together – it’s a great opportunity for them,’ says Welsh. ‘The good thing is that they’ve competed to get here, but they’re working as a team now.’
On-trade exclusive Auchentoshan’s The Bartender’s Malt 01 was released earlier this year, so keep an eye out next year for this second incarnation, by bartenders, for bartenders.
The Auchentoshan New Malt Order 2017 is:
André Duncan, Bar Consultant, Montreal, Canada
Karl-Martin Edin, Open/Closed, Umeå, Sweden
Sascha Geiersberg, Luna Lounge, Neuruppin, Germany
Christian Herberholz, Das Schwarze Schaf, Bamberg, Germany
Nicholas Incretolli, Bar Sazerac, Hamilton, Canada
Robert Kramer, The Brick Yard, Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Charles Roche, Scout, London, UK
Lachlan Rooney, The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, UK
Jeremiah Schenzel, Daps, Charleston, South Carolina, USA
Nathaniel Smith, Spoon & Stable, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Filipp Vovnenko, The Balance, Novorossiysk, Russia
Kimber Weissert, Butcher and Rye, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA