Summer 2020 Premium & Small Batch Spirits Reviewed

So, the good news is that lockdown appears to be easing and life returning to a new sort of normality. Time to finally get together with friends and family, enjoy the garden and this glorious sunshine (long may it continue), not forgetting some epic moments drinking some equally epic premium and small batch spirits, many of which we’ve had the chance to review and share our experiences of below. The lockdown has certainly paved the way for some fantastic new product launches.

The whiskies

Glen Moray Madeira Cask Project 46.3% ABV

We’ve enjoyed a few virtual tastings over lockdown, this being one of those. This is an opportunity to pick up the most delicious madeira cask whisky from our lovely friends at Glen Moray. This is the third entry in the distillery’s annual Elgin Curiosity range and is (as you can imagine) sweet, deep and complex. Expect toffee, chocolate, coffee and figs with a sweet oak and soft fruit. This is definitely a lingerer with sweetness by the bucket loads. Perfect for a wee dram after meals, delicious!

Master Of Malt £65

Michters US*1 Small Batch Bourbon 45.7 ABV

As a bottle design snob, first impressions are, I love this… pure simplicity, reminds me of what bourbon must have looked like in the days of prohibition! This is truly a small batch spirit with each batch being around two dozen barrels and no more. To taste, I really like this; rich caramel, butterscotch, vanilla with a ripened fruit finish – a total joy to drink when served with ice, which only makes it smoother and oakier.

Look around and read the reviews, this is getting muchos love everywhere!

Amazon £53.50

Woodford Reserve Exclusive Selection

If you know your bourbon, Woodford Reserve won’t be a new name to you. Now widely available in pubs and bars, it has quite a following, and when asking friends if they fancy a “Woodford Reserve”, just watch the smiles glimmer!

This is the limited edition, Exclusive Selection range, part of a collaboration with Waitrose, and has a distinctive rich colour. Also, this particular tipple remains the only bourbon to be triple distilled in copper pot stills, giving it a really balanced flavour. In terms of notes, expect; spice, dark cherry, dried cranberry, caramel and vanilla with an oaky finish.

This is a must have drinks cabinet staple that’s easy going and fully enjoyable. Personally, I love it on its own, but equally amazing as the base of a classic Old Fashioned

Waitrose £34.50

Cotswolds Whisky Amaro 40% ABV

If you’ve been following our premium spirit round ups you’d know that our absolute favourite English whisky right now is Cotswolds. It’s delicious on every level.

Now imagine my delight learning of Cotswolds latest innovation, the Cotswolds Whisky Amaro, made with their single malt product. This is the perfect summer evening tipple; expect a smooth blend of botanicals including vanilla, orange citrus and spice. It’s creamy and thick, which when served on ice, makes you savour it for longer than you would perhaps a straight single malt. Love it!

If you want to ooze sophistication, serve your guests a measure of this after a hearty meal!

Cotswolds Distillery £34.99

Nikka days 40% ABV

All the way from Japan we have a delicious, vibrant blended whisky from the Miyagikvo and Yoichi distilleries. With its cheeky peatyness balancing its fruity and malted flavours, expect a smooth, creamy, nutty toffee with vanilla fudge. If the bottle doesn’t brighten you up, the sweet apple finish certainly will. It’s so smooth and summery that you’ll have to remind yourself you’re drinking whisky!

Amazon £35.99

Balblair 12 year old 46% ABV

This is the first whisky in the Balblair Collection and has been matured in a combination of double-fired American oak casks and ex-bourbon casks. The result, is outstanding for a whisky of this age. A little like your favourite aunt, this is brimming with warmth sweetness and a lovely citrus aroma. You’ll come to enjoy the long and creamy, honey finish, with a multitude of flavours including; dark chocolate, vanilla, apples, biscuits and cinnamon, ending on a sweet spice.

This has certainly left a positive impression and will be rolled out for sure on a few long summer evenings. 

Master Of Malt £43.84

The Gins

HMS Mary Rose Gin 42%

A new gin to us, and we’re grateful we found it. YUM! This multi award winner is the flagship spirit from the HMS Spirits Company and is their London Dry Gin. Expect subtle botanicals including rosemary and grapefruit, which is ‘oh so refreshing’ – especially when served with a slice of grapefruit and a sprig of rosemary. This is small batch excellence with a slightly higher oil content than many gins, which gives it a richness and ensures it’s smooth on the palate. A great summery tipple that is ideal for both cocktails and served with a quality tonic.

Worth noting are the brand’s two other gins, The Dreadnought (Navy Strength gin) and Elizabeth Gin (with natural elderflower in).

HMS Spirits £39.45

BeauFort Sipping Gin 57% ABV

One look at the ABV and I feel tipsy! This is a truly different gin for us, in a good way. Whilst we wouldn’t normally warm to such high alcohol content, it’s hard not to enjoy its smoked oak and hickory coupled with spicy Szechwan pepper and pink pepper, not forgetting its more traditional botanicals.

It’s designed for a straight up tipple on the rocks – and it’s also fantastic in cocktails, although carries a hefty kick that is sure to get the post corona virus party started!

Master of Malt £39.95

Boodles Strawberry and Rhubarb Gin 37.5% ABV

When someone asks, ‘is it possible to bottle a beautiful English summer?’, I suggest sending them off to buy a bottle of this delightful stuff. The two central flavours are, as you might guess, rhubarb and strawberries, both very British by design, and which make for this refreshing zinger of a gin. Every mouthful is packed with flavour creating a glorious tipple when teamed with an unfussy, premium tonic. Another favourite way to mix it is with a glass of prosecco. So yep, this definitely gets out vote.

Master of Malt £27.99

Highclere gin 43.5% ABV

Hailing from the estate that’s better known as ‘Downton Abbey’ comes this multi award winning London dry gin with botanicals inspired by the castle’s own herb garden – expect notes of juniper, lavender, lime flower and orange peel, which fade into a rich and creamy finish. Highclere is in fact England’s oldest distillery (1800s) and it’s said that the botanicals sourced from the estate can be traced right back to the Romans.

This is a classic gin that absolutely shines through either mixed with tonic and a wedge of lime or even a cocktail. It’s smooth and totally delicious. If you do one thing, you have to try it in a Martini!

Master of Malt £37.95

Cotswolds Wild Flower Gin 41.7% ABV

Absolutely perfect for a summer’s soirée, this wild flower gin is a delight both to look at and drink. Launched in March 2020, this is a London dry gin base blended with cornflowers, lavender, rhubarb root and orange. Could you get any more ‘summer in a bottle’! Serve with a slice of lemon and a premium tonic and experience time stand still for a moment as you savour its floral notes of lavender with sweet bursts of fresh orange.

Also, worthy of a mention is the beautiful illustrations of wild English country flowers on the bottle, it’s a piece of art.

Cotswolds Distillery £34.99

Method Of Madness Gin 43% ABV

Currently our fav Irish gin, MoM has got it all going on. Distilled in Cork at the Midleton Distillery, expect an intense, creamy citrus hit with a freshness you’ll struggle to find with other gins. There’s heaps going on here including florals from 16 (yes you read that right) botanicals including black lemon and Irish Gorse Flower. Interestingly, this MoM places less emphasis on juniper, in turn creating a league of its own.

Botanicals include: Juniper Berries, Sweet & Bitter Orange Peel, Black Lemon, Lemon Peel,  Lemon Verbena, Coriander, Cardamom, Caraway, Ginger, Nutmeg, Cassia Bark, Basil, Bay Leaves, Lavender and Irish Gorse Flowers

Master Of Malt £40

Caorunn Small Batch Gin 41.8%

Caorunn Small Batch Gin is quadruple distilled at the Balmenach distillery in Speyside, perhaps more famous for its delicious whiskies. Gin Master (what an amazing job title!), Simon Buley has created an absolute corker here. Caorunn contains 11 botanicals including angelica, coriander seed, cassia and five Highland botanicals foraged in the wild including dandelion leaf, bog myrtle, heather, blush apple and, most importantly, rowan berries – whose Gaelic name is Caorunn.

So, what to expect… medium weight, gentle and silky, you’ll pick up lemon sherbet and juniper, with an earthy, slightly bitter, citrus finish. This makes a cracking GnT, but avoid using too much tonic as you’ll miss some of the more delicate flavours. To sum up, this is a very well priced, premium gin suitable for cocktails OR even neat if that’s what tickles your fancy!

Master of Malt £26.99

Pink Mermaid Gin 38% ABV

There are some drinks that summer simply wouldn’t be the same without, Pink Mermaid gin being one of these fine delicacies! Distilled in the Isle Of Wight’s only distillery, this is the vibrant sister of the award winning Mermaid Gin, which is equally as ‘tasty’. Expect sweetness from the infusion of Island strawberries, which combine so well with the botanicals already in the mix, including the subtly savoury rock samphire, the herbaceous Boadicea hops and the zesty Sicilian lemon. Then bottle is pretty snazzy too!

Garnish with strawberries and an Indian tonic for the ultimate Summer GnT.

Master of Malt £38


The Others

Inugami 23% ABV

Ever heard of Shochu? I’d be impressed if you had, but likely not. This is a drink that’s adored in Japan and pretty well unknown outside of it! Unlike Sake, it’s distilled rather than fermented and is normally made from whatever is available; including rice, barley, buckwheat and even sweet potato. It can be served up with hot or cold water. Brewdog have recently added this to their impressive (and ever growing) list of premium spirits, this time making it with malted wheat, barley, rice and a touch of molasses for fruitiness. They then subtly lace the liquid with rhubarb, galangal and ginger, which gives it a bold aromatic nose. On the tongue it’s smooth, gingery, light and very drinkable thanks to its relatively low ABV.

This is definitely a ‘grower’ on us.

BrewDog £27

Cove Vodka 40% ABV

As vodka goes, this is exceptionally smooth and creamy. Made from King Edward potatoes in our home county of Devon overlooking Hope Cove. This is a single distilled vodka made in an artisan distillery. It contains just a few key ingredients including potatoes, Devon Spring Water and a little yeast and enzymes added during fermentation. The carbs from the potatoes don’t carry across into the vodka and this little tipple contains no added sugar, making it as low in calories as a spirit could be.

In terms of taste, it has a unique, clean taste allowing you to drink it either neat or as a mixer for a delicious cocktail. The lovely people at Devon Cove suggest a ‘Perfect Serve’ being; Devon Cove Vodka with ice, chilled soda water and a squeeze of fresh lime and we’d have to agree with them.

Devon Cove website £39.99

Aelder Wild Elderberry Elixir 17% ABV

I love it when a new spirit creates a whole new category for itself and Aelder is a great example of this.

Here we have a delicious elderberry liqueur infused with wild botanicals and blended with young whisky. Think dark, rich fruit with complex aromatics and a warming finish, ideal for those summer evenings or served with cheese – it’s got a hint of a port feeling to it, but throw in a few botanicals and some whisky for good measure. What is very obvious is just how quaffable this stuff is thanks to its incredible smoothness. It leaves your tongue feeling silky soft, with botanical flavours remaining on your tongue for some time.

There’s a number of ways this can be enjoyed; a) straight up over ice, b) mixed with sparkling wine, c) in a Whisky Sour! If you enjoy experimentation, this may be a good match for you.

Amazon £29

Graham’s blend No.5

A rather nice change if you are ‘ginned out’ from lockdown, a white port and tonic/soda is not only refreshing, but actually really quite tasty too. What’s more, it’s about half the price of a premium gin. Expect crisp and fruity flavours, especially tasty when garnished with rosemary or a slice of orange too. Served straight over ice is also a really tasty treat, especially with cheese or dessert too.

Amazon £22

Devon Spiced Rum 40% ABV

Another beautiful spirit born in our home county of Devon, this delicious, small batch, spiced rum made in an ‘English Style’ with a blend of Caribbean rums from Jamaica and Guyana. The team at Devon Rum mix the distillery strength nectar with soft Devon spring water, which brings it down to its 40% ABV. They then infuse with a range of natural aromatic spices, pepper and citrus zest to create a super tasty rum that’s full of character.

Expect cinnamon, toasted sugars and bursts of zingy orange. This is fantastic as a standalone, or as a mixer for an exotic cocktail. Such a great find!

Master of Malt £35.95

Overproof Spiced Pineapple Rum 63% ABV

If you’ve just seen the ABV and given a double take, you’re not alone. A whopping 63% will certainly warm the cockles no less, and likely tempt some away from a straight serve over ice. Honestly, this is absolutely stunning stuff, but really needs a mixer. Ginger ale and heaps of ice is a match made in heaven. You can connect with the pineapple immediately, it’s sweet, tangy smoother than you may imagine, and what’s more it’s full of bouncy character.

It’s a big tick from us!

Master of Malt £42.95

Three Tides Smoked Madeira rum 40% ABV

This may change your entire view of spiced rum. Expect deep, dark flavours of smoke, bitter dark chocolate and earthy tones. It is unique and has become quite popular in our household as a fantastic cocktail mixer. It adds a whole new dimension to a mojito too!

Master of Malt £30

Five Hundred Cuts Distiller’s Cut rum 40% ABV

Another addition to Brewdog’s spirit line up, Five Hundred Cuts Botanical Rum is as bold as its reddish colour looks. Aged in sherry casks for 15 months, expect sweetness blended with delicious and intense botanicals including schezuan peppercorn, green cardamom, blood orange peel and clove. In terms of flavour… expect it by the bucket load; delicious layers of citrus and ginger are the standouts.

Thus far, there have been only 300 cases produced and it’ll be interesting to see whether it’s a hit or miss. For us, it’s different and in a very good way. We’ve yet to experiment in cocktails but can imagine it would do a pretty good job of a  Pina Colada! £35

Canned Cocktail Hippy Fizz 5.7% ABV

There’s been a revolution stirring for a while now, cocktails in a can are getting more varied, energetic and eclectic. Hippy Fizz is just one of the new delights from the manufacturers of Porter’s Gin. Dubbed ‘the party in a can’, you’ll find a delicious mix of Porter’s Gin, Patchouli Leaf, Pineapple Shrub, Malted Passionfruit and Hop Soda, which makes up a delightful little portable cocktail. Ideal for lazy summer BBQs we’d say!

Porters website £34 for 12 25cl cans

Buck & Birch Bottled Cocktails

Another innovation from those clever Scots, Buck & Birch, are these rather special, pre-mixed cocktails. You literally don’t need any of the fancy gear, slick skills or weird and wonderful ingredients to make the perfect cocktail. So far, the brand has launched 6 bottled cocktails in the wake of lockdown to provide us purveyors of fine booze the chance to carry on enjoying the perfect blend. You can get your hands on 150ml bottles of the Aelder Sour, Amarosa Old Fashioned, Espresso MartAna and the Thornstar, whilst others are brand new creations like the (Rowan) Atkinson and the Dandy Lion. Each bottle serves 2 people comfortably and contain ingredients that are fresh and wild and proudly represent Scotland and its seasons.

So, what do they taste like? The Thornstar Martini is stunning! Give it a shake over ice and strain… so simple! These are absolutely perfect to kick off a dinner party and will have the compliments flying in

Buck & Birch £8 per bottle

Moore House cocktails 

Hailing from London, Moore House are taking the cocktail industry by storm with their outstanding collection of classic staples. What’s unique about these products is a) their premium flavours b) the opportunity you have to experiment with the flavours and c) you will always end up with the most amazing tasting cocktail that even Tom Cruise would be proud of. We received a Negroni, Espresso Martini and a Manhattan, garnishes along with a cocktail shaker for one, which comes with all orders, nice touch for sure. With a little ice and a good shake you’ve got one hell of a cocktail looking at you. It’s so very easy and saves faffing about trying to locate weird and wonderful ingredients you probably don’t have!

Moore House Cocktails: From £25 (for x3)

Sinclair Love Box And Whisky Club 5% ABV

Now for something completely different, edible alcoholic candies in two lovely box sets (10 gummies per box).

Let’s start with the Love Box, where you’ll find an array of classics… as delicious gummies. Expect a Cosmopolitan, Daiquiri, Mandarin Spritz, Tequila Sunrise and a quite incredible Passionfruit Mojito.

Now onto the Whisky Club box, expect Bourbon Old Fashioned with Orange Sugar, Whiskey & Ginger garnished with Ginger Sugar, Manhattan garnished with Cherry Sugar and Whiskey Sour garnished with Lemon Sugar.

Ermmm…these are quite simply delicious and a fantastic way to start or even finish an evening with friends or family. They are also well priced and very affordable if looking for a pressie that will impress without breaking the bank.

These are vegan friendly and just 36 Kcals per gummy.

Smith & Sinclair £15 / box

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