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15 Scotch Secrets from Glenfiddich’s Malt Master

Whisky and water are the main attractions to Scotland’s Speyside region. The area houses more than half of the country’s malt whisky distilleries—some of which open their doors to the public. Among the more welcoming of distilleries is the family-owned Glenfiddich, which has been producing one of the world’s best-selling single-malt whiskies for well over a century. And it’s here that we met with Brian Kinsman, Glenfiddich’s Malt Master since 2009, who revealed the secrets to his profession and what it takes to produce what is popularly known as the "best dram in the valley.”

1. THE MALT MASTER GIG IS HARD TO COME BY.

In the company’s more than 125-year history, Kinsman is only the sixth individual to hold the Malt Master title. He joined the company as a chemist in the grain distillery in 1997, and four years later became the apprentice to David Stewart, Scotland’s longest-serving Malt Master (Stewart held the position for 35 years), whom he worked under for eight years.

2. A GREAT NOSE IS A JOB REQUIREMENT.

While there are no formal qualifications to become a Malt Master, “the most important skill is nosing,” Kinsman says. “Everything I do is based on sensory assessment and in a typical week I will nose hundreds of samples from new make spirit through to finished bottles ready to go to market.” Kinsman credits Stewart with helping him “fine-tune this sense of smell and fully understand the profiles of all the William Grant & Sons products and the history of how they have evolved over the years.”

3. MATURITY IS PART OF THE PROCESS.

Kinsman’s chemistry background is of particular benefit to the company when it comes to his understanding of the science of maturation. “I spend a lot of time working with our chemists and coopers analyzing samples of oak and whisky to investigate what is happening during maturation,” Kinsman says. “This allows me to get a better understanding of how each cask is performing and also what we need to do to get the final flavor I am looking for.”

4. TESTING 300 SAMPLES A DAY IS THE NORM.

If you think Kinsman spends his days tasting Scotch, you’re half-right. On any given day, he spends about two to three hours in the sample room. “Some days I might only have 20 or 30 samples to nose from the daily production and on other days I could have 200 or 300 samples to nose,” he says.

5. MORE THAN HALF OF A PRODUCT’S FLAVOR COMES FROM THE CASK. 

A cask is more than just a vessel to hold Scotch while it matures; choosing the right one is essential to the production process. “The cask contributes over half the flavor of the final bottled whisky as all the oaky, sweet flavor comes from maturation,” Kinsman says. At Glenfiddich, the majority of the casks are once-used bourbon casks from the U.S. and brand-new, sherry-seasoned ones from Spain. “The American oak casks bring sweet, vanilla, fruity character and the Spanish oak casks deliver a deeper, rich, oily, fruity character,” Kinsman says.

6. ONE COOPERAGE IS IMPRESSIVE; TWO IS BETTER.

The casks are so important to the process that the company maintains two cooperages: one in Speyside, and the other at the grain distillery in the south of Scotland. “It is a huge benefit to have direct control of the cooperage and to be able to speak directly with the coopers themselves about the quality of our casks,” Kinsman says. Becoming a cooper is no easy task, either. “Glenfiddich coopers apprentice for approximately five years (as long as a doctor) and work with incredible speed and agility to assemble, repair, or reconstruct around 25 casks every day.”

7. THE GOVERNMENT DICTATES WHAT RAW MATERIALS CAN BE USED IN THE SCOTCH-MAKING PROCESS.

“Because of the way Scotch whisky is enshrined in law, we can only use three raw materials: water, yeast, and whole grain cereal,” Kinsman says. “For single malt, the cereal is 100 percent malted barley.” But that doesn’t mean that Kinsman doesn’t get to experiment with more exotic ingredients: “I am in a lucky position of managing all spirits for the company and therefore get involved with innovation in non-Scotch whisky, too, where we have experimented with a massive range of fruits (from grapefruit through to strawberries and raspberries) as well as the rose and cucumber infusions for Hendrick’s Gin. Those experiments are always fun.”

8. SCOTLAND'S RAINY CLIMATE IS PARTLY WHAT MAKES THE PRODUCT "SCOTCH."

The reason why Scottish whisky has its own designation and a separate location in the liquor aisle is largely a result of the country’s climate. “One of the key factors is having a plentiful supply of clean, pure water, and with all the rain we get, this is not a problem,” Kinsman says. “The environment also plays a crucial role in maturation and the cool, damp atmosphere in our warehouses means we get slow, steady maturation, which is perfect for aging of the single malt.”

9. SMALL STILLS MAKE BETTER SCOTCH.

Glenfiddich's distillery houses 28 handmade, 11-foot copper stills that are uniquely shaped and much smaller than those of their competitors. (They’ve been the same size and shape since the very beginning.) Another distinction of the brand is that “we have a very high cut point,” Kinsman says. “This means we only collect spirit that is light and fruity and doesn’t have any heavy, oily character at all. We then mature everything at the distillery in casks maintained by our own coopers.”

10. TRADITION RULES, BUT EFFICIENCY IS IMPORTANT.

With the exception of a few efficiency tweaks, very little has changed about the way the Glenfiddich team makes its product. “We use a single source of water from the Robbie Dhu spring for the entire production and we then maintain the same process as started by William Grant over 125 years ago,” says Kinsman, who notes that the specific location of a distillery also has an effect on the final product. “The key to maintaining product quality is introducing new technology while respecting the traditional practice and ensuring the spirit quality and character doesn’t change. So, for example, we have introduced new engineering solutions to reduce energy usage and to manage the temperature of our condensers, but each time anything is introduced we spend a huge amount of time testing the spirit to make sure it stays consistent throughout.”

11. THE DISTILLERY CAN PRODUCE UP TO 10 MILLION LITERS OF SCOTCH PER YEAR.

That’s roughly the equivalent of five Olympic-sized swimming pools.

12. AMERICANS DRINK THE MOST SCOTCH.

Though Glenfiddich is consumed around the world, the good ol’ USA is the company’s top market in terms of both sales and consumption.

13. YOU COULD SPEND $94,000 ON A SINGLE BOTTLE OF GLENFIDDICH.

Following the 2012 death of Janet Sheed Roberts—the oldest woman in Scotland at the age of 110, and company founder William Grant’s granddaughter—Glenfiddich paid tribute to her life with a vintage 55-year-old Scotch. They produced just 11 bottles (one for every decade she lived), one of which sold for $94,000

14. BUILDING THE GLENFIDDICH DISTILLERY WAS A FAMILY AFFAIR.

It took William Grant and his nine children (seven sons and two daughters) one year and 750,000 stones to build the Glenfiddich distillery.

15. FIFTY MILLION LITERS OF SCOTCH EVAPORATE EACH YEAR.

As a cask ages and breathes, approximately two percent of the alcohol evaporates through the wood and is lost forever. It’s what is known as “The Angels' Share.”

All photos courtesy William Grant & Sons

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7 Hangover Cures Backed By Science
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Science has a lot to say about bogus hangover cures (coffee, hair of the dog, and saunas aren't doing you any favors), but not as much about which treatments are legitimate. That's not for a lack of trying: The quest to banish the headaches, nausea, and dizziness that follow a bout of heavy drinking has been going on for centuries. We still don't know how to prevent hangovers or how exactly they happen, but if you're feeling miserable after last night, there are a handful of science-based remedies that might ease your pain.

1. ASIAN PEAR JUICE

Have some extra Asian pears at home? Run them through your juicer before your next night out. According to researchers at Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, just 7.4 ounces of Asian pear juice is enough to soften the blow of a hangover. The scientists say that the juice interacts with enzymes that break down alcohol, speeding up your metabolism and leaving less surplus alcohol for your body to absorb. There's just one catch: The juice must be consumed before you drink anything else in order to be effective. Apologies to anyone currently reading this through heavy-duty sunglasses.

2. MUSIC

Anyone who's ever suffered through a massive hangover knows that sound is the enemy. But while your roommate's 9 a.m. tap dancing practice might exacerbate your symptoms, music may have the opposite effect. Research has shown that listening to music can provide relief to migraines, which are similar to hangover headaches. As long as the music is pleasant and suits your taste, it should help to drown out the chorus of pain playing in your mind. Head sensitivity isn't the only symptom music helps with: According to researchers at the University of Edinburgh, listening to your favorite music also eases pain. There hasn't been research specifically on hangovers, but at the very least it should hide your pained cries.

3. SPRITE

If you're looking for something to nurse your hangover, skip the bloody Mary. A team of Chinese researchers found that Xue bi, the Chinese version of Sprite, is actually the best beverage to combat the lingering side-effects of alcohol. Of the 57 drinks tested, Sprite was the best at helping enzymes break down acetaldehyde, the metabolized version of ethanol that's blamed for some of the nastiest hangover symptoms. The scientists also identified which concoctions you should avoid: A drink containing herbs and hemp seeds was the worst offender, as it actually prolongs acetaldehyde metabolism instead of speeding it up. (We should also caution that this test was done in a lab and might not be applicable to actual drinking scenarios.)

4. PEDIALYTE

Although not the primary cause of your hangover, one of the many ways alcohol can leave you feeling worse for wear the morning after is dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic—it makes you pee a lot more than you would otherwise. If your fluids are depleted when you go to bed, you can expect to wake up feeling groggy, achy, and all-around not your best. Water is the simplest fix for dehydration, but for more extreme cases, there's Pedialyte. The drink was originally developed to rehydrate kids sick from vomiting and diarrhea, but it's marketed as a hangover treatment for adults as well. It contains nutrients, sodium, and other electrolytes—all things that can nurture your body when it's dehydrated. It won't cure the hangover, but it might help alleviate the worst of it.

5. ANTI-INFLAMMATORY DRUGS

If your first move when you're hungover is to reach for a bottle of aspirin, you have the right idea. Anti-inflammatory drugs may not do much to stop the underlying causes of your condition, but they can suppress your symptoms long enough for you to get out of bed without feeling like your head's been replaced with an anvil. On top of easing headaches and muscle pain, there's another reason these pills are good for hangovers: They may directly combat alcohol's inflammatory effects. But there's one over-the-counter painkiller you should never take while or after consuming alcohol, and that's Tylenol. Any drug that uses acetaminophen will only further abuse your recovering liver.

6. EGGS

The best way to tackle a hangover with food is to eat while you drink. Chowing down after the damage has already been done may distract you from your turmoil for a short while, but it won't soothe your physical symptoms. There are a few exceptions: Eggs, for example, have hangover-fighting potential thanks to a special ingredient. The food is packed with cysteine, an amino acid that breaks down the drinking byproduct acetaldehyde. So whether you prefer to enjoy brunch out or at home, make sure your meal includes eggs in some form.

7. HONEY ON TOAST

While you're at it, put some honey on toast next to your omelet. According to Britain's Royal Society of Chemistry, while it won't cure a hangover, the breakfast can help alleviate the symptoms: "The best breakfast is toast and honey (or golden syrup) which provides the body with the sodium, potassium, and fructose which it now needs." The BBC talked to a junior doctor about this hangover remedy and he recommended adding banana. While he cautions it's an acquired taste, the doctor explained, "Bananas are a high source of potassium—an electrolyte that gets depleted when you go out on the binge. The honey will give you that spike of sugar in your bloodstream and that energy rush to help you get back on your feet."

BONUS: DRINK LESS

While this is definitely the least helpful of all suggestions, in 2005 an article in the BMJ looked at 15 studies of hangover cures, noting that "the paucity of randomised controlled trials is in stark contrast to the plethora of ‘hangover cures' marketed on the internet." Their conclusion? "No compelling evidence exists to suggest that any conventional or complementary intervention is effective for preventing or treating alcohol hangover. The most effective way to avoid the symptoms of alcohol induced hangover is to practise abstinence or moderation."

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11 Secrets of Bartenders
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Spend enough time at your local watering hole and it becomes apparent that the person slinging drinks behind the bar is so much more than just a human recipe book. They’re flavor experts possessing saint-like levels of patience, who can strike up a conversation with just about anyone. With that in mind, Mental Floss spoke to three bartenders about the one thing you should never order, how to stock your own bar, and the best way to approach the attractive stranger you just locked eyes with.

1. THEY'RE SMART ABOUT WHAT THEY SPEND MONEY ON.

Berkeley, California-based bartender Nat Harry suggests considering a drink's recipe before you shell out for top-shelf liquor. “Any time you have a spirit that’s going to be the star of the show, like in a Manhattan or a Martini, you’ll probably want something a bit nicer,” she explains. “But if you’re drinking a cocktail with aggressive or spicy mixers, like a Moscow Mule for example, that is not the time to order Ketel One or Belvedere."

According to a bartender at NYC’s Gordon Bar, whiskeys and tequilas are generally worth spending a bit more on. "The quality with both spirits does ramp up quickly," he says. "And the difference between top shelf and well is very noticeable."

2. THEY DO THEIR BEST TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND.

A smartly-dressed drunkard chats to a young lady at a bar in a theatre scene from 1933
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The customer is (almost) always right—but when they aren’t, you won’t hear it from whoever’s serving them drinks. “I don’t really judge people based on their orders, aside from an ‘Ooh, you just turned 21,’” Courtney Cowie, a Long Island-based bartender, says. “I’m a strong believer in liking and drinking whatever you want.” Harry adds that she does her best to put her own preferences aside when she steps behind the bar: “With experience, you realize the important thing about being a bartender is giving your guest a good experience. If someone orders something I might not find palatable, I’ll try to make the best version of that drink possible.”

3. BUT THEY WILL ROLL THEIR EYES OVER CERTAIN ORDERS.

Of course, there’s one (boozy) exception to the aforementioned rule: anyone who sidles up to the bar and orders a Long Island Iced Tea. “Even if you used all premium spirits, mixing all those flavors together will never be anything more than a hot mess,” Harry says. “Is there a decent amount of booze in there? Sure. But most cocktails, either by virtue of proof or volume of spirits can achieve that for you, and spare you the hangover you’re gonna have from all that sugar.” The Gordon Bar bartender agrees: “You know immediately their number one goal is to just get wasted.”

4. THEY DON’T MIND CREATING SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR YOU.

A barman at the St Mellons Club near Cardiff mixing cocktails for the Carlyle cousins, 1936
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 All three bartenders agreed that creating personalized drinks for customers is one of the best parts of the job—“It makes me feel respected!” says Cowie—with just one caveat. “I love it, but if I’m totally slammed behind the bar, that’s not a good time for a personalized drink,” Harry says.

If you're set on trying something different, get ready to field a few questions: “I always ask right away what they normally drink and what flavors they like, and then if they want to be adventurous,” the server at Gordon Bar says. “I like to get people out of their comfort zones.”

5. IT’S OK TO ASK YOUR BARTENDER TO TRY AGAIN … USUALLY.

Just not feeling the drink in front of you? It’s OK to ask for another. Says Harry, “I think customers are always entitled to a mulligan. I hate to watch someone pull a series of tortured faces if they aren’t enjoying something.” But that rule generally applies only if the bartender’s the one who led you astray. “The exception is when someone tries to order something ‘experimental’ and I try to talk them out of it, and then said experiment results in a yucky beverage,” Harry explains. “If you want to come up with crazy drink combinations, that’s what your home bar is for.”

6. ANYONE CAN INVENT HIS OR HER OWN SIGNATURE BEVERAGE.

Jessica Mitford with her husband Esmond Romilly behind the bar of the Roma Restaurant in Biscayne Bay, 1940
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 If you’re a beginner, Harry suggests following this simple formula: “It’s a safe bet to start with a base spirit, 80 proof or higher, a liquer, citrus, and then a sweetener if needed, or even bitters. After you get comfortable following the rules, you can start breaking them.” The most important rule of all, according to the source at Gordon Bar? “Always taste as you go!”

7. "MIXOLOGIST" IS MORE THAN JUST A PRETENTIOUS SYNONYM FOR "BARTENDER."

As the Gordon Bar employee notes, “A mixologist is more like a chef in that they spend a lot of time researching ingredients and comparing flavor profiles.” Unlike with sommeliers, there’s no single organization governing the profession. While there is currently a movement in favor of formalizing the training and certification process, most mixologists just learn on the job. As Harry puts it, “Every good mixologist should start by trying to be a good bartender first."

8. LOOKING TO PLEASE A CROWD? HERE’S WHAT YOU SHOULD KEEP AT HOME.

If you're setting up a home bar for the first time, there's no need to run out and buy one of everything. “Always have vodka, and then one whiskey, either a bourbon or a rye,” says the anonymous NYC-based bartender. “Those are essentials. And then a couple of bitters—like Angostura or Regan’s Orange—and high-quality club soda and fresh juice.” Harry suggests making your own simple syrup, too—”It’s cheap and easy, and lasts a long time in your fridge”—but as far as equipment goes, you can skip the elaborate gadgets and gizmos. The only “specialty bar tool” you really need, according to Cowie, is a shaker.

9. THEY COME READY TO CHAT.

Men gathered around a bartender, 1950
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 Even the most introverted bartenders know the small talk they dish out is almost as important as the beverage they’re stirring (or shaking). “We know a little bit about everything: sports, music, and pop culture usually have you covered,” Cowie says. “But if all of the above fails, we just ask questions.”

10. YOU CAN LET THEM PLAY CUPID.

Bartenders rarely mind helping their patrons make connections. “For folks who don’t want to stroll up and start chatting with a perfect stranger, ask the bartender if they can buy the person they like a drink,” Harry suggests. “I phrase it like that because I like to check in with the object of their affection before I start making it. Maybe they don’t want company, or maybe they’ve already had too many. But most of the time, it’s a yes, and they move down the bar to thank their benefactor.”

11. YES, THEY’RE PROS AT PREVENTING HANGOVERS.

A woman suffering from a hangover circa 1956
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 Experienced bartenders try not to get to a point where a hangover will be an issue, because they know there's no magic cure-all. “The best remedy is preventative care—one glass of water per every two drinks,” Cowie tells Mental Floss. “But if the deed is done, try energy drinks, lots and lots of water, and a huge breakfast.” Harry agrees that getting something in your stomach is key: “Bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich and a Coke. Bonus points for hash browns.”

This story originally ran in 2015.

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