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01.04.11 by  

Cheers to the Master of Malt

Whiskey charmer Ben Ellefsen schools us in his signature cocktail, off-the-radar rums and a once-in-a-lifetime flight experience. Ben, we wish you were our big brother.

If you’ve ever met someone who was so cool and in the know that you wished he were related to you and were forced to spend family holidays with you (in a completely non-stalker, not-entirely-weird way), you know what it’s like to meet Ben Ellefsen, sales director at Master of Malt. This guy helps select Master of Malt whiskeys, knows the perfect flights for sampling and has a brain arsenal packed with cocktail knowledge. That’s really all we need in a big brother (keep us in mind, Ben). Here’s a small download of his insights.

Taste this: Drams of whiskey for your next tasting ... more experience in one night than most people sip in a lifetime. Photo: Master of Malt.

served raw: what whiskeys must we sample just to have the experience of sipping something magnificent?

Ben Ellefsen: The new Glenfarclas 40 Year Old is a magnificent dram — and the fact that they’ve launched it at such a relatively low price point speaks volumes about their “no-bullshit” approach to whiskey. I’d also say that our own Master of Malt 50 Year Old is pretty stunning too, but then again I am biased, as I did help to select it.

that makes total sense — we’d love what we selected, too. what are your favorite unknown bottles?

Whilst Whisky is obviously No. 1 for us. I’ve got a lot of time for other spirits too — some really off-the wall stuff that we’ve got at the moment includes 3 centiliter drams of some really zany rums. This one, for example, has been distilled in Jamaica, then shipped over to Scotland [Islay] where it’s been finished in a cask from Ribera Del Duero.

incredible … so are there up-and-coming bottlers you’ve got your radar on?

Absolutely – over the next few weeks, we’re going to be adding a huge selection of Malts from Springbank, as well as many more craft bourbons and rye whiskeys from the USA. The whole ethos of Drinks by the Dram is to allow people to sample whiskeys that they may not have tried before, including those from small distilleries that otherwise may not get a huge amount of press. We hope that once people have tried these drams, they’ll like the product enough to come back and buy the full bottle …

we’re obsessed with the whole dram concept — it really lets people explore. we’d love to host a whiskey tasting party and offer flights of drams, what’s the best way to organize?

A tasting party is a great idea. The first thing to say is that if you’re doing flights, and tasting, rather than drinking, you won’t necessarily need a full dram per person. At Master of Malt, we find that 10 milliliters is a decent amount if you’re going to taste a whiskey, so go wide on the selection, rather than deep. There aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to whisky tasting — except one — which is to try to go from light to heavy, as you would with wine. Trying the peaty, smoky, heavy whiskeys last is imperative, otherwise there’s a risk you’ll knacker your palate.

so, say, flights of three, what are a few must-have recommendations?

As a starter for 10, I’d recommend a flight of Glenfarclas whiskeys ranging from 10 year old right up to the 40 year old — it’s a real eye opener to see how their spirit develops and gains complexity over time. And for 3 people to be able to buy a flight of six whiskeys at 10, 15, 21, 25, 30 and 40 years of age for under $20 each is an experience that I don’t think is available anywhere else in the world.

I appreciate this is six whiskeys, and not the three you’ve asked for, but I’d usually recommend tasting 5 or 6 whiskeys at a time to get a really good spread.

Another fun selection is to taste a whiskey from every region of Scotland:

we’d also love to off-road whiskey in cooking …

Whiskey in cooking is a funny old animal — you have to be very careful not to go too far, but for me, you really can’t beat a good barbecue sauce made with a really good bourbon. I’ve used Emeril’s recipe before with great success — I used Buffalo Trace and the result was stunning.

and i know it’s probably whiskey blasphemy, but … do you have a signature whiskey cocktail?

Not blasphemy at all — whiskey cocktails are without doubt the best cocktails in the world if done properly. Why use an intentionally flavourless spirit like vodka, when you can add depth and intensity with a great whisky. Obviously you’ll get more of the flavor and complexity out of a whiskey by trying it straight, but that isn’t for everyone — and even the most hardcore whiskey drinker sometimes wants to wind down with a cocktail. My absolute all-time favorite cocktail recipe is the Manhattan. I’ve included a recipe below:

Ben Ellefsen’s Signature Manhattan

  • Pack a martini glass with ice, and top up with water to chill the glass here — the ice will be discarded. Leave to one side whilst you prepare the cocktail.
  • Add 60ml (2 ounces) of good rye whiskey to a cocktail shaker – if you’re feeling extravagant, you could use Rittenhouse 25yo, but any rye will do.
  • Add 25ml (3/4 ounce) of sweet red vermouth such as Antica Formula and 15ml (1/2 ounce) of dry vermouth.
  • Add 3 shakes of bitters and 2 big handfuls of ice to the shaker.
  • Shake it until the metal of the shaker forms frost on the outside.
  • Empty the prepared martini glass, and strain your cocktail into it.
  • Garnish with a maraschino cherry – for instructions on how to make the perfect cherry – see our blog posting.
  • Enjoy … but not too many …

Master of Malt's signature recipe for maraschino cherries, 2 weeks into prep. Photo: Master of Malt.