Master of Malt have been steadily growing their empire of house brands over the past years. From their own single cask bottlings to That Boutique-y Whisky company, from Professor Cornelius Ampleforth’s concoctions to the Hot Enough Vodka. Now they have launched yet another venture, called the Reference Series.
The concept is an interesting one for sure: They take three base whiskies (blended malts of varying age profiles) and plan on doing alterations to them like finishes or caramel colouring. The comparison with the original reference whiskies then would allow you to see exactly what effects these changes have.
I was sent a sample set of the three reference whiskies, but as no experiments have been done yet (or at least have not been bottled yet), all I can do now is to try them on their own.
Reference Series I (Mostly young whisky) – 50cl for £36.95 – 47.5%
Colour: Pale straw
Nose: Grapefruit, hints of banana, vanilla, breakfast cereals, liquorice, ginger, pepper and a faint floral whiff.
Palate: Very much like the nose with a bit of added honey and wood spices, the mouthfeel is rather creamy.
Finish: Medium long, spicy and slightly fruity.
Overall: The high amount of young whisky in here is obvious but you can also notice the older malts that keep the roughness in check.
Rating: 81/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$ – Buy at Master of Malt
Reference Series II (A bit less of young whisky) – 50cl for £53.95 – 47.5%
Nose: Difficult to pin down specific aromas here, overall the floral and spicy character is augmented, fruit stays well in the background.
Palate: Lots of aromatic spices upfront, eucalyptus, violets, a bit of vanilla, only faint fruit.
Finish: Rather long, spicy and slightly floral.
Overall: Quite interesting and unusual with the suprising lack of fruit. The oak notes are already quite prominent.
Rating: 84/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$ – Buy at Master of Malt
Reference Series III (Mostly young and very old whisky) – 50cl for £105.95 – 47.5%
Colour: Bright amber
Nose: Again the nose does not give away very much. It is a creamy, spicy and slightly fruity continuum, with a floral hint as before.
Palate: Honey, rose water flavoured Turkish Delights, hints of banana and lemon zest, vanilla, ginger and nutmeg .
Finish: Rather long, slightly spicy and slightly floral.
Overall: Age and youth are in an interesting balance in this whisky. Everything is quite subtle and light.
Rating: 86/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$ – Buy at Master of Malt
My feelings about this “educational” range are a bit mixed. One one hand I think this is a brilliant idea. Something like this has never been done before except maybe privately by geeks. The possibility to find out what certain treatments exactly do to a base whisky is definitely fascinating. In this quasi-scientific context I don’t find it the lack of proper age and distillery information objectionable because the evaluation of such experimental drams should be done as “blind” as possible.
But anyone seriously interested in this experiment should be aware that the price for these whiskies is far from being a bargain, if you regard them as standalone drams. While they are certainly good whiskies, the value for money you get is on the lower end of the spectrum. Going the full distance with these will burn quite a hole into your pocket, so you might consider getting them as samples.