London's Oldest Wine & Spirits Merchant Curates Selections From Renowned Distilleries From Around The World
Berry Bros. & Rudd Spirits Manager Doug McIvor (PICTURED ABOVE) plays a crucial role in the creation and curation of the company's renowned spirits program, Berrys' Own Selections. McIvor has helped create some of Berry Bros.' most iconic spirits in recent years, including the Blue Hanger series of whisky and a range of rums from various regions. Here is a short interview with McIvor to learn more about his process and vision:
What is Berrys' Own Selections?
Prior to the opening of many famous whisky distilleries during Victorian times, merchants such as Berry Bros. & Rudd would source casks of various spirits to satisfy demand from their customers as preferences changed over time.
In the late 1700s, brandy and soda was the chosen spirit-based drink of the wealthy London gentleman. By the Napoleonic wars between 1803 and 1815, supply was restricted and scotch whisky became a popular alternative. Later in the century, the phylloxera bug decimated French vine stocks and as a result it was a boom time for scotch whisky.
BB&R can be counted as one of the founders of procuring casks of the finest spirits, and it is a tradition that we continue today under the Berrys' Own Selection banner. The range focuses mainly on single malt scotch whisky, although we also bottle some blended malts, blended scotch, rum, brandy and other products. We do not own a distillery, so we are often described as independent bottlers, and BB&R was voted Independent Bottler of the Year in 2010 and 2011.
What is Your Process for Selecting Spirits to be Part of Berrys' Own Selections?
I work with several distillers and brokers to source casks that fit our criteria. I am looking for spirits that have balance, complexity, texture and maturity. The company philosophy is that it must be good to drink. I have a steady stream of samples arriving which I nose, taste and classify. Much of our stockholding of casks is still immature, so I keep an eye on these in order to judge when the casks will be ready. Equally, it is important that casks are not left too long as they can become over-oaked.
What is Your Process for Creating Blends Such as the Blue Hanger Series of Whisky?
Blue Hanger was revived about 10 years ago, after I experimented with a handful of samples that had arrived on my desk. I was keen to understand how the personality of each cask would interact with the others, and I created a blended malt that we just had to bottle. We did not have a name for the product, so we reprised the Blue Hanger name, which was previously used for a BB&R blended whisky. The first batch sold very well so I continued to put together new batches roughly once a year, and we are now up to number 10. In essence, I use the best casks that we have available at the given time that will work together to create an interesting and harmonious-tasting whisky. Each batch differs from the last, so each edition is unique.
Blue Hanger, a blended malt whisky (a category previously known as vatted malts), is named after William Hanger, the third Lord Coleraine and a loyal customer of Berry Bros. & Rudd during the late 18th century. He was renowned for the striking blue clothes he wore and gained the soubriquet, "Blue Hanger." The Blue Hanger brand was originally a blended scotch whisky intended by Berry Brothers & Rudd for the diplomatic export market in 1934. It disappeared for a period of time until 2003 when Doug McIvor, Spirits Manager at Berry Brothers & Rudd, began his experiments in vatting malts. The initial release in the U.K. of the new Blue Hanger in 2003 was limited to 700 bottles and was a vatting of only two single malts: Glen Grant and Glenlivet. McIvor's objective from the beginning has been to create the best blended malt possible from existing stock. He noses and tastes his way through many samples to identify exceptional casks before working with them to produce the best possible results in terms of aroma, flavor and finish. Every release is unique, although there is continuity in overall style to retain the rich, smooth, fruity complexity that makes this whisky stand out from the crowd.
Limited to 3,088 bottles, this release of Blue Hanger is comprised of the following whiskies: one hogshead of Bruichladdich 1992, one butt of Bunnahabhain 1990, four hogsheads of Miltonduff 1997, and two hogsheads of Bunnahabhain Moine (peated) 2006. 45.6% ABV
- 92 Points “What a success story...This release is especially for the States, and it's a fireball. There are dried fruits and dusty bookshelves on the nose, and tropical fruits with water. On the palate it's a big, peaty, rich whisky with licorice and more of the pineapple, kiwifruit, and guava. You get the whole fairground in the finale, with candy, fruit, and smoke. Excellent.”- Whisky Advocate
- "It's a lovely whisky for fans of the peated stuff that aren't looking for big, explosive, mouth-tingling smoke. A more refined experience overall and really interesting just because of the peated Miltonduff involved." - K&L Wine Merchants
Limited to 4,398 bottles, this release of Blue Hanger is comprised of the following whiskies: one butt of Bunnahabhain 1987, one hogshead of Bunnahabhain 1988, one hogshead of Bunnahabhain Moine (peated) 2007, two hogsheads of Westport 1996 and one hogshead of Mortlach 1997. This edition also contains three butts of blended malts made from a batch Doug created with younger malts from the following distilleries: Bunnahabhain, Glenallachie, Glenfarclas, Glengoyne and Tamdhu. 45.6% ABV
- 92 Points, Excellent, Highly Recommended - Ultimate Spirits Challenge, 2015
Distilled from molasses at South Pacific Distillery using a continuous still. Beautifully balanced, giving soft ripe fruit and acacia honey on the nose. 46% ABV
- ★★★★ Highly Recommended “Like no other rum I've tasted and leans in its character to rhum agricole; not designed for rum lovers who prefer their rums candy-sweet or marshmallowy. Love it.”- F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal
Distilled from molasses at Don José Distillery using a four-column continuous still, operated by Varela Hermanos, SA. The company is the largest sugar cane spirits producer and bottler in Panama, and traces its history to 1908 when Don José Varela Blanco founded the Ingenio San Isidro sugar mill, the first in Panama. Stylish golden rum delivering fruit and wood spice aromas. 46% ABV
- ★★★★★ Highest Recommendation “Aftertaste is long, supple, succulent, and, well, bloody well perfect. A classic landmark in molasses-based rum.”- F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal
Distilled using pot stills at St. Lucia Distillers with molasses sourced from the river plains of Guyana. Vibrant and invigorating with a sweet honeyed nose and bright ripe fruit and herbal notes. Good length developing into full fruit, toffee and spice elements. 46% ABV
- Best Rum of the Year “Best rum of the year and a leading contender for my overall spirit of the year. Honey, cherries, menthol, fruit tea, and bitter spice. I don't know what makes it taste this way, but I wish I could find more rums like it.”- David Driscoll, K&L Awards, 2011
Distilled from molasses using a combination of continuous and pot stills at Foursquare Distillery, which occupies the site of a former sugar factory dating back to 1636. A classy rum with a harmonious, sweet, fruity nose and balanced raisin and fig-rich depths. 46% ABV
- ★★★★★ Highest Recommendation “A prime example of why Bajan rums have for centuries been the benchmark for molasses-based rums.”- F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal
Distilled at Bellevue Distillery, which is the oldest rum distillery on the island of Marie-Galante, from sugar cane juice using a continuous still. Trademark vegetal notes confirm the agricole character of this complex rum. The spirit is layered with cinnamon, coffee-cream, brittle toffee, wood and exotic fruit. 46% ABV
- ★★★ Recommended - F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal, 2015
- "Copper-pot distillation further softens this elegant and flavorful rum, which exhibits all of the intensity and depth that one would expect from a spirit bottled under this respected British label. At 92 proof, this 12 Year Old is thickly flavored with caramel, vanilla, cinnamon, and citrus essences. Though its intense flavor profile would certainly enhance a Mai Tai, this barrel-select spirit's mature strength is perhaps best enjoyed neat, near the cooling presence of the sea." - Robb Report
Distilled at Westerhall Estates, which is the third-oldest distillery in Grenada. The rum is distilled from molasses using a column still. On the palate the soft fruit presents itself to the front of the mouth, fattening to deliver good length and some spice notes. This very refined rum benefits from well managed wood, which balances the spirit superbly. 46% ABV