Archive for October, 2007

Midleton Distillery: The enormity and complexity of it all

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

This was my fourth tour of Ireland’s Midleton Distillery in the past fifteen years, and each time I tour it, I am in awe. Barry Crockett, Distillery Manager, showed me around.

Imagine standing next to four of the largest pot stills anywhere in the world. Then imagine, in the same room, a series of column stills. Then, visualize pipes coming out of the pot stills at various points with various things connected to them (like cyclone filters and miniature columns for example), with some of these pipes going into the column stills. Then, imagine pipes coming out of the column stills going back to the pot stills. Has your brain exploded yet?

Bottom line here: Midleton can make just about any kind of whiskey they want. They have to because, with the exception of Bushmills and Cooley whiskeys, all the other Irish whiskeys on the market (Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Redbreast, Green Spot, Tullamore Dew, Midleton Very Rare, etc.) are all made here. Many were once produced at their own respective distilleries throughout Ireland, but consolidated to Midleton during difficult times about 30 years ago.

Each whiskey has its own unique formula, consisting of varying amounts of grain whiskey and pot still whiskey (whiskey produced from both malted and unmalted barley). But there’s more to it than that. They make several different types of grain whiskey (including an all-malt grain whiskey) and several different formulas of pot still whiskey (with varying percentages of malted barley). Some formulas require a “lighter” pot still base, while others call for a “heavier” pot still base. One of the whiskeys, Paddy, even has a small amount of all-malt whiskey in it (although they aren’t currently making malt whiskey at Midleton, only pot still  and grain whiskey).

If you want to learn about how whiskey is made by visiting a distillery, don’t go to this one first!! It’s sort of a moot point anyway, as they currently don’t offer public tours of the working distillery. (They do, however, provide tours of the Old Midleton Distillery which closed in the mid 1970s and is now structured more like a museum, reception center and gift shop. )

I’ll be providing more information on my trip to Midleton in future editions of this blog, along with a more detailed feature story in the 2nd Quarter 2008 issue of Malt Advocate magazine.

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve: sneak preview

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

I’m in Midleton, County Cork, Ireland (jet-lagged, but otherwise fine). The official launch of the new Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve is tomorrow (Wednesday) at the distillery, with select press being invited to the launch. I was fortunate enough to meet this afternoon (Tuesday) with the four key players at Irish Distillers: Barry Crockett (Master Distiller), Billy Leighton (Master Blender), Dave Quinn (Master of Science) and Brendan Monks (Master of Maturation).  We tasted our way though the entire line of Jameson whiskeys, including the new Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve. Here’s the scoop.

This is a new whiskey which completes the newly organized Jameson portfolio (12 year old Special Reserve, Gold Reserve, 18 year old Limited Reserve, and now Rarest Vintage Reserve). Side note: those of you who have been drinking Irish whiskey for a decade will notice that they’ve brought back Jameson Gold, a great whiskey (part of which is aged in new American oak) that was available in the U.S. back in the late ’90s, but was then limited to Travel Retail (a.k.a. Duty Free).

In brief, the new Rarest Vintage Reserve is a blend, like the other Jameson whiskeys, consisting of older grain whiskeys in addition to pure pot still whiskey (containing both malted and unmalted barley), some of which was aged entirely in ruby port casks (with the rest matured in second fill bourbon casks). They told me today that the grain whiskey is 23-24 years old, with the pot still component being slightly younger. The whiskey is bottled at 46% and is not chill-filtered!

The whiskey is the deepest, richest, and most lush of the Jameson family, and nicely layered. In short, it’s a great whiskey! Such luxury isn’t without a cost, though. I’m told that the whiskey will run approximately 10x that of the standard Jameson. And it really is a Vintage Reserve: the bottle is vintage-dated, and each vintage will be a limited edition, unique expression of Jameson.

As Dave Quinn told me: “The Rarest Vintage Reserve line allows us to experiment and have a little fun with the brand.”

Indeed.

I’m off to dinner with the same group of guys, along with a tour of the distillery with them tomorrow morning before the rest of the press show up, so stay tuned.

Midleton bound in search of a new Jameson whiskey

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Towards the end of the last decade, there were several interesting releases over a period of a few years from Ireland’s Midleton Distillery in County Cork. They included Jameson Gold, Jameson Pure Pot Still 15 year old, Jameson 18 year old, Powers 12 year old, and even a Midleton 175th Anniversary bottling. But it’s been several years now since we’ve had a new Jameson whiskey (or any other whiskey made at Midleton Distillery for that matter) to enjoy. (Yes, I know, there’s a Redbreast 15 yr. old out there, but it was never imported to the U.S.)

Finally, the wait is over. I’m heading off to Ireland today for the launch of the new Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve. In addition to trying (and learning about) this new whiskey, I’ll also be meeting with the distillery manager, master blender, and warehouse manager while I’m there. My intentions are to get completely caught up with any distillery operation changes and also get the latest on any other recent or upcoming releases from the distillery. 

All this is for an Irish whiskey feature I’m writing for Malt Advocate magazine, which should appear in the 2nd Quarter issue in 2008. I’ve already been to the three other Irish whiskey distilleries this year (Bushmills, Cooley, and Kilbeggan). A visit to Midleton will complete my dance card. Naturally, I’m bringing my laptop with me and you will hear from me on the new Jameson as soon as I find out more about it. 

This “dram’s” for you?

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Looks like Anheuser-Busch might be getting serious about expanding into the distilled spirits industry. (If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?). Issue #92 of American Distiller posted a job offering by A-B for a Director of Distilled Spirits Development. And if there are any craft brewers lurking out there, I think the pay is a little more than what you’re making right now. Try a salary range of $100k-$150k. 

According to the posting, the job responsibilities include:

  • Being responsible for the business development aspects of A-B’s distilled spirit entry, partnering with the innovation team to build a portfolio of internally developed and 3rd party spirit brands.
  • Develop and implement new distilled spirit alliances to support NE distilled spirits test.
  • Identify and target companies for acquisition and/or partnership. Act as principal negotiator representing A-B’s interest in the development of master distribution or import agreements. Evaluate alternative structures for AB to participate in the value created.
  • Lead due diligence team and manage transaction to closing. Coordinate and negotiate where appropriate the legal documentation of the transaction.
  • Work with the business process transition team to ensure proper accounting and reporting of financial, sales, and operational information.
  • Coordinate brand right transition to A-B wholesaler system in open states. Lead the development of a state by state plan to sell distilled spirits in control states.
  • Gather critical information regarding distilled spirit market conditions and business requirements from internal and external sources.
  • Construct a thorough analysis of brand past sales performance and build detailed multi-year projections which forecast brand future sales.
  • Evaluate the potential for spirit brand acquisitions.

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff. You’ll need, among other things, an MBA in finance with 10-15 years experience. The website listed to find out more information is: www.buschjobs.com. I checked the site to see if the posting is up there, and I couldn’t find it. That, along with some typographical errors I had to clean up when I imported the posting, makes me a little sceptical of the validity of the posting. Still, if it is legit and if you do get the job, go out there and make some good whisky (or rum or gin) for us.

I wonder:  if they make scotch-style whisky, will they get some Highland cattle and use them in commercials instead of the Budweiser Clydesdale’s? (Please, no sheep!)

A nice pair (of Old Pulteney, that is)

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Drinks International has just reported that there will be a pair of new 23 Year Old, Old Pulteney whiskies released for World Duty Free. One is matured in bourbon casks, the other matured in sherry casks. This is great news because some of the older Old Pulteney whiskies, both sherried an not, can be delicious–especially some of the cask-strength offerings.

Old Pulteney Brand Manager Iain Baxter:

pic035572.jpg“We’re very excited about the Old Pulteney ‘pairing’ concept as it not only prompts the drinker to consider the ways in which the whisky has developed but it also presents a unique offer to the duty free market, which is an important area for our business and one that we are keen to invest in.”

The whiskies, shown here, are being released in time for the Tax Free Word Association exhibition, opening in Cannes on October 22nd.

BenRiach releases Batch #4 of single cask bottlings

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Those creative guys at BenRiach are at it again. They recently announced their fourth in a series of single cask bottlings. All vary in age, peating levels, and types of finishes. But they all have one common thread: they’re all hand-numbered and bottled at cask-strength with natural color and are not chill-filtered. Here are the details:

1975 cask 4451, 31YO, port pipe, lightly peated / port finish
1976 cask 4469, 30YO, port pipe, richly peated / port finish
1978 cask 4413, 29YO, Moscatel barrel, lightly peated /Moscatel finish
1978 cask 4416, 29YO, Tokaji wine barrel, lightly peated / Tokaji finish
1984 cask 4049, 22YO, port hogshead, richly peated / port finish
1985 cask 3766, 21YO, Oloroso butt, richly peated /Oloroso finish
1994 cask 26, 13YO, port hogshead, richly peated / port finish

Incidentally, I already tasted and reviewed Cask #4469 in the current issue of Malt Advocate magazine, where I rated it a 90. A very nice whisky, but it’s going to set you back $400. For more information regarding pricing, availability, etc., you can email Alistair Walker at: awalker@benriachdistillery.co.uk

Review: Macallan 1975 vs. 1976 Vintage

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

No posting yesterday, but I have a good excuse. I was tasting whiskies for Malt Advocate magazine’s Whisky Awards and for the next issue’s Buyer’s Guide. I’ll be giving you my informal opinions of many of these over the next few weeks. (Formal reviews will appear in the next issue of Malt Advocate.)

Two I would like to highlight today are the new Macallan Fine and Rare vintages: 1976 and 1975. As you may recall in an earlier posting, the 1976 is coming to the U.S., the 1975 isn’t. The 1976 is a sherry cask, while the 1975 was aged in a bourbon cask.

In my opinion, both whiskies are very good. The ’75 is one of the best non-sherried Macallans I have tasted (and there’s been a lot of them sold through independent bottlers). But the real star is the ’76 Vintage. It’s thick, complex, and it just continues to evolve on the palate. It is one of the best whiskies I have tasted all year, if not the best. So, in my opinion, the U.S. is getting the better of the two casks.

The only downside: the price. I was told by their PR company that it will retail for $1,500, which I think is ridiculous for a 29 year old whisky. Yes, it’s cask strength, but only 45.4%.  Half that price would be a lot. The whisky is so good. It’s a shame that only a very few “well to do” individuals will be able to enjoy it.

A “Double Barrel” of Ardbeg

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

The 1974 Vintage of Ardbeg is becoming legendary, especially with the Ardbeg “Provenance” 1974 Vintage releases over the past decade. There were also some excellent 1974 Vintage releases from independent bottlers over the past 15 years or so. (I’m still holding on to a couple of them.)

There’s now two new Ardbeg 1974 Vintage releases, but you’re going to have to come up with about $20,000 to buy them. (Relax, that’s only $10,000 per bottle.) That’s because they are being sold together in a double barrel rifle case from James Purdey & Sons. Only 250 are being offered for sale worldwide, with 50 heading to the U.S.

Here’s what my press release has to say about the case and all the goodies inside:

“The case includes two single cask bottles of the rare 1974 vintage of Ardbeg. Each bottle is delicately hand blown, individually numbered and adorned with sterling silver labels. This vintage is one of the rarest of all scotches as there are only two hundred and fifty bottles left in the world. The case itself – finished with two bronze belt buckles – is hand-stitched bridle leather and internally divided with distinctive compartments which, in addition to the two bottles of Ardbeg, also hold eight sterling silver cups that are crafted by Scotland’s top silversmiths, a hand bound leather book to keep your own tasting or shooting notes, and an Omas fountain pen.”

All this stuff is great, but I’ll bet you’re wondering how the whiskies taste. Moet Hennessy, the importer of Ardbeg, is hosting a tasting of the two whiskies later on this afternoon in New York for a select group of writers. Those lucky dogs! And I can’t make it. No worries. I already have a small sample of both, sitting right next to me here as I type this. And I just tasted them. (Yes, I am a very fortunate individual, and I mean that most sincerely.)

Each bottle is from a single cask–one being cask #3524, and the other being #3145. And, according to the hand-written label on the sample bottles, both are bottled at 49.9%. After nosing and tasting both of them, I must say that they’re both pretty damned good. I feared that this many years in oak would have the whiskies tasting a little tired and woody. I was wrong. They still maintain a vibrancy and balance of flavors, along with all that depth and maturity one would expect in an older whisky.

Cask #3145 is the lighter in color, and the sweet notes that balance the smoke and seaweed are not as deeply caramelized as Cask #3542. I’m tasting notes of shortbread and caramel custard, which permeates through the peat smoke, tobacco, toasted nuts, firm spice notes (cinnamon, clove, and mint) and lingering brine.

Cask #3524 is darker, with notes of sticky toffee pudding and chewy caramel that firmly supports the polished leather, cigar box, roasted chestnut, smoked seaweed, tar, dark chocolate and, on the finish, espresso.

I’m not sure if I will review them formally in the Buyer’s Guide of Malt Advocate magazine, because they can’t be purchased individually. However, I can assure you that, if I do,  I will score both in the mid 90s.

If you have the money for these two whiskies, buy them, along with all the other cool stuff that goes with it. You will love the whiskies. I was told that they will be available November 1st onward. Too bad, though, that we couldn’t have the opportunity to just buy the bottles individually, without all the goodies, which might have put it into a greater range of affordability. (A bigger bang for our buck, so to speak.)

Review: Glenkinchie 12 vs. 10 yr. old

Monday, October 8th, 2007

As some of you may already know, Diageo is replacing Glenkinchie 10 year old with a Glenkinchie 12 year old. Glenkinchie is the Lowland representative in their “Classic Malts” lineup of whiskies. Many whisky enthusiasts, myself included, would rather have seen Rosebank be the Lowland representative rather than Glenkinchie. But, after tasting the new expression, I can say that this is a step towards bridging the gap, as the more mature expression of Glenkinchie exhibits greater depth and complexity. It’s worth a try if you’re a Lowland whisky fan.

New Rittenhouse Rye 23 yr. old

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

Rye whiskey is on fire, and Heaven Hill Distilleries is adding some fuel to the fire by following up their 21 year old Rittenhouse Rye whiskey release back in 2005 with a 23 year old Rittenhouse Rye later this month.

When I asked my Heaven Hill contact why they waited this long to follow up the 21 year old with a 23 year old, here’s what he said:

“John, it won’t be 23 years old until later this month.”

Good reason. Really good reason. They’re sending me a sample when it’s bottled. I’ll pass on my thoughts to you after I taste it.