Archive for November, 2007

Ardmore headed to the U.S. in 2008

Thursday, November 15th, 2007

Great news for Ardmore single malt scotch enthusiasts. It’s finally coming to the U.S. in 2008. We just received this from the brand manager:

“We have a new single malt coming out called Ardmore with very limited distribution in the US.  We thought that Whiskyfest would be the perfect opportunity for it to make it’s debut!” 

Might we be seeing Ardmore Traditional Cask, an Ardmore finished in a Quarter Cask and bottled at 46% and not chill-filtered? Let’s hope so.

Three things that really frustrate me: Part 1

Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

The last time I checked, the United States was still the biggest whisky market in the world. So why do I feel like I’m in prison?

I constantly get press releases about new whiskies.  Far too many times, when I ask the sender if any of the whiskies are coming to the U.S., they tell me “no.”

For example,  this week I received an email telling me about special trio of single cask whiskies from Glengoyne called “Choice” bottlings, because different distillery workers pick their favorite cask. Great idea, but no one from the U.S. will know what they taste like. None are being imported.

Before that it was the 1975 & 1976 Vintages of The Macallan (part of the Fine and Rare series). The 1976 Vintage was brought into the U.S. and won Malt Advocate magazine’s “Scotch Malt Whisky of the Year” honors for 2007. We never got the 1975 Vintage.

A couple of weeks before that I received a press release on the new single cask, cask-strength peated BenRiach whiskies. Of the seven, we’re getting one. Hey, at least we’re getting one!

Before that press release, I was informed about “The Family Casks” from Glenfarclas. That’s 43 different vintages of Glenfarclas from 1952 to 1994. How many of these vintages have come to the U.S. so far? Not one!

The reasons are always the same: “We have to do a special 750ml bottle for the U.S.” (It’s 700ml for other European countries.). Each state is like it’s own country when it comes to the liquor laws. Our importer doesn’t want to be bothered with them.”

I understand what you’re saying, but you don’t have to send us a lot. And you don’t have to send it to all 50 states. Pick a handful of specialty retailers in a few states and send each of them a few cases. These retailers have customers throughout the U.S. The whisky would probably sell out within a week, and then everyone is happy. The whisky producer, importer, distributor, and retailer all make money, and the consumer gets your whisky.

New Murray McDavid releases

Monday, November 12th, 2007

When I visited Bruichladdich back in May, it was obvious to me that there won’t be a shortage of Murray McDavid whiskies any time soon. A lot of casks of what will be bottled as Murray McDavid whiskies are being matured at Bruichladdich. (In fact, I sampled my way through about a dozen of them with Jim McEwan, whiskymaker for Bruichladdich and Murray McDavid.)

Here’s a list of the new releases to the U.S., which I received directly from the importer. (With review samples!)

Here they are, listed alphabetically:

Bowmore, 11 yr., 1995 viognier cask finished, $75
Caol Ila, 14 yr., 1993, fresh sherry aged, $92
Clynelish, 11 yr., 1995, port cask finish, $72
Highland Park, 17 yr., 1989, refill sherry cask aged, port finished, $86
Littlemill, 16 yr., 1991, bourbon cask aged, $72
Macallan, 9 yr., 1997, Ridge Zinfandel cask finished, $69
Macallan, 16 yr., 1990, Madeira cask finished, $125
And from the Murray McDavid Mission Range: 
Glenglassaugh, 20 yr., 1986, fresh sherry cask aged, $175

I’ll provide some overall impressions after I taste my way through them.

New Cooley Irish whiskeys headed our way

Friday, November 9th, 2007

When I was in Kilbeggan this past May for the grand opening of the Kilbeggan distillery, I was introduced to several new whiskeys that were made at Kilbeggan’s sister distillery, Cooley. One was a 15 year old blended whiskey called Kilbeggan. As many of you know, the standard Kilbeggan blend (made at Cooley, not the new Kilbeggan distillery) has been around for years. But now that Cooley has been making whiskey for more than 15 years, they have the ability to put out various 15 year old whiskeys. And they are. The 15 year old Kilbeggan blend is one of them, and it will be coming to the U.S. in the Spring of 2008.

Another line of whiskeys I tasted back in May were several new wood-finished Tyrconnell single malt whiskeys. Some of these were delicious. In addition to the wood-finishing, they were also more mature than the standard Tyrconnell line. They, too, will be coming to the U.S. in the Spring.

And finally, it’s only logical that Cooley would also release a 15 year old expression of their grain whiskey, Greenore. This too will find its way to the U.S. in the Spring.

Put simply, Cooley has turned 15. They’re proud of it, and they want to show off what they have. Good for them! Can a Connemara 15 year old peated Irish whiskey be too far behind?

Three new whiskies from The Macallan

Wednesday, November 7th, 2007

Macallan has some new whiskies coming out. Some will be coming to the United States. Some won’t. So, I reached out to my friend Bob Dalgarno, the whiskymaker for The Macallan, to get the inside scoop on these new whiskies.

The first one is Malt Advocate magazine’s Scotch Malt Whisky of the Year for 2007, the single cask 1976 vintage Macallan, which is part of their Fine and Rare range. It will be available here in the U.S. This was from a sherry cask, and will set you back a good $1,500. (Ouch!)

Bob: “In order to keep the range with a variety of colour and character, this cask was chosen. Initially when nosed, the peated notes gave some difference, in no way dominating, but it was always there in different guises. The front end has a lot of fruity characteristics opening up. It is soft and subtle on the nose, at times elegant, then again at times full on. And the palate is very different. All told, it’s a whisky which tells a story enabling us to return to a moment in time when everything was not the same.”

The second whisky is a new Gran Reserva 12 year old, 45.6%. As you may recall, the Gran Reserva line whiskies are from first fill sherry casks.

Bob: “All are from sherry casks, first fill butts, puncheons, and hogsheads. It’s richer in flavor because of this. We’re looking for the European oak influences to come to the fore. It has notes of dried fruits, chocolate orange and burnished oak. Quantity: 5,000 bottles this year, going to Asia. Taiwan mostly, with a small amount going to Japan.”

The last whisky I want to tell you about is a 55 year old, 40.1% abv Macallan bottled in a Lalique decanter. Only 100 are coming to the U.S., beginning in January. This one will set you back $12,000. (Double ouch!) This is the second in a series of what will be six different Lalique decanter Macallan whiskies.

Bob: This was driven by the idea that I would like to see a 55 year old whisky from the distillery. We had done a 50 year old and a 60 year old, but never a 55 year old non-vintage that I knew about. This was put together mid 2004, then put in glass later that year. Its make-up is two refill hogsheads from 1945 and a sherry butt from 1949. Only 420 decanters will be available worldwide.”

I’m hoping to get a sample of this rare nectar. If I do, I’ll pass on my thoughts. It’s nice to see Macallan coming out with new whiskies. It would be even nicer if more of them came to the U.S.

Exclusive! Malt Advocate Whisky Awards: the Runners-Up

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Here’s some very valuable information you can only get here! I posted up the Annual Malt Advocate Whisky Award winners this past Tuesday, which were announced at the 10th Annual WhiskyFest New York that same night. It’s public knowledge now. But what were the whiskies that almost won? They are pretty impressive too! Well,  here they are. If, for whatever reason, you can’t find an award winner to buy, look for one of these whiskies:

Best Buy of the Year

Winner: Black Bottle Original

Runner-Up: Elijah Craig 12 year old

Comment: Bourbon remains the best value in whiskey. Elijah Craig 12 yr. is proof.

American Whiskey of the Year

Winner: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon (2007 Edition)

Runners-Up: Wild Turkey American Spirit 15 yr. old, Parker’s Heritage Collection (122.6 proof)

Comment: These two runners-up are both fantastic bourbons

Canadian Whisky of the Year

Winner: Crown Royal Cask No. 16

Runner-up: Crown Royal Special Reserve

Comment: Special Reserve is a tough one to beat, but Cask No. 16 did! Forty Creek is gaining.

Irish Whiskey of the Year

Winner: Redbreast 12 year old

Runners-Up: Bushmills 21 yr. old and Jameson 18 yr. old

Comment: If Redbreast 15  yr. old was available in the U.S., I think it would have trumped the 12 yr. old (would need to taste them formally side-by-side)

Scotch Blended Whisky of the Year

Winner: Chivas 18 yr. old

Runners-Up: Dewar’s Signature, various bottlings from Compass Box

Comment: The well-established Chivas 18 yr. old is better than the new 25 yr. old. Compass Box is a perennial contender and you should check out some of his creative blends.

Scotch Malt Whisky of the Year

Winner: The Macallan 1976 Vintage (Cask #11354)

Runner-up: The Glenlivet Cellar Collection 1969 Vintage

Comment: The Cellar Collection 1969 was a very close runner-up. A really great whisky!

World Whisky of the Year

Winner: Suntory Yamazaki 18 yr. old

Runner-up: Penderyn (Wales)

Comment: This is a new and emerging category. There aren’t a lot of whiskies available in the U.S. from countries outside of North America, Scotland, and Ireland. More Japanese whiskies please!

There are also some good whiskeys that are just being released and, as a result, were not eligible for this year’s awards program, like Buffalo Trace’s 2007 Antique Collection. They’ll be considered for for next year’s awards program as they spill over into 2008.

So, you want to get into the whisky biz?

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

I though I’d take a brief break from discussing all the new whiskies flooding the retail shelves these days and address a different topic that comes up a lot.

I get emails on a fairly regular basis from “malt advocates” asking me how they can get into the whisky business. Many of you are passionate about whisky but have a job that doesn’t have anything to do with whisky. That’s how it was for me about 17 years ago. I was a scientist before Malt Advocate magazine was born.

There are many ways to break into the business. Some people write a book, blog, webcast, or even publish a magazine, preferring the communications end of things. Others organize whisky festivals. I know some people who went the retail route, becoming a whisky specialist for a specialty retailer (or wholesaler).

Another angle is working for a whisky company as a brand ambassador. Every once in a while, I get an email from a whisky company letting me know that they are looking for a whisky enthusiast to fill a position. I received such an email just this past week and, since I was going to write about this topic anyway this weekend, I thought I’d pass it on. (I don’t plan on making a habit of this.) The Balvenie is looking for full-time brand ambassadors for the East coast and West coasts. Here’s the link: One could certainly do worse that promote and drink Balvenie for a living.

Whichever direction you chose, I wish you all the best. The more the merrier. It’s a great time to jump into the whisky business because the category is growing at the moment.

Two new Glenrothes vintages

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

As many of you may know, in addition to the Glenrothes Select Reserve (which is the constant in the brand’s portfolio), the distillery regularly releases vintages from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Well, the brand manager for Glenrothes here in the U.S. informs me that we’re getting two new vintages in the very near future.

The first one is a 1975 Vintage. This one is expected to arrive in the U.S. in the December/January time frame. The details: 3708 bottles produced, with approximately half of them coming to the U.S. Expect to pay about $500. I had a quick tasting of it at WhiskyFest (poured at the charity table) and thought it was pretty good–much less sherried than the single cask, cask-strength 1979 Vintage what was released about a year ago. I felt that one was just too sherried for balance. The question remains: will this new 1975 Vintage be better than the what’s becoming legendary 1972 Vintage released a few years back?

The second one coming out in the spring of 2008 will be a 1985 vintage that replaces the previous 1987 vintage. That one will set you back about $125.

I’ll be getting pre-release samples of both whiskies and post my thoughts within the next few weeks.

And one more thing before I forget: For all of you traveling this fall, I was also informed that Travel Retail (formerly Duty Free) will have a 25 year old Glenrothes for sale. It replaces the 30 year old. There’s 2,400 bottles being distributed and will go for about $360.

WhiskyFest New York highlights

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

I’m slowly recovering from WhiskyFest New York, which Malt Advocate magazine hosted this past Tuesday night. As you probably already know, it’s my magazine (and event) so I was very busy that night. My primary goal at WhiskyFest is to make sure everyone else is happy and having a good time, but I did manage to discover some new whiskies (and even taste a few) along the way. Here are the ones that caught my attention.

Rye whiskey is still on fire, and I noticed two new ones. You may recall the Willett 22 year old barrel strength rye I reviewed and gave a whopping 96/100 to in the 4th Quarter 2006 issue of Malt Advocate. Well, they were pouring a new 23 year old at their booth (along with a new Willett Bourbon 47% bourbon in a cool glass pot still decanter). And speaking of 23 year old rye whiskeys, wasn’t that a bottle of the “soon to be released” Rittenhouse Rye 23 year old I saw hiding behind the Heaven Hill table? I’ll be getting samples of both. It will be fun to compare the two 23 year olds.

I saw the two new Aberlour whiskies at the Aberlour table: a 12 year old and a 16 year old. Both were described as “double matured” (i.e. aged in both bourbon and sherry casks). These two whiskies replace the existing 10 and 15 year old Aberlours. These recent changes were done with very little fanfare by Pernod, the distillery’s owners, so you may not have noticed the change yet. Reviews to follow in the near future.

Lorne Mackillop pulled out from underneath his table two new Tomintoul whiskies he will be releasing in 2008 in the U.S. The first one is a Tomintoul 12 year old which was finished in oloroso sherry casks for 18 months. I tasted it and it is masterfully balanced–Lorne’s trademark–and the sherry is very clean and polished. He’s told me he only has 15 casks of this whisky, so I don’t expect it to be around very long when it is released.

Lorne also showed me a second whisky coming out soon, a peated expression, which is a blend of 4-5 year old peated Tomintoul and 8 year old standard Tomintoul. (Think of it as a more mature Old Ballantruan whisky with a lower alcohol level.) It’s going to be called, “With a Peaty Tang.”

It’s good to see Scott’s Selection whiskies becoming more visible again. They were pouring a delicious cask strength 1967 Longmorn at their table. That one was bottled back in 2003. Hopefully we’ll see more new whiskies from Scott’s Selection in the near future.

Crown Royal replaced Dickel at one of the Diageo tables. We missed Dickel, but they were pouring the new Crown Royal Cask No. 16 at the table, which is finished in Cognac casks. That’s Malt Advocate magazine’s 2007 Canadian Whisky of the Year award winner. Those of you who “bah, humbug” Canadian whiskies should really try this one.

The two hottest whiskies of the night were at the charity table. Whiskies at the charity table required an additional donation of $20 to the American Red Cross before you could taste them. One was a whisky I donated. It was a 1979, cask-strength, sherry cask aged Springbank that was bottled by Sam’s in the early 1990s. It was hand-picked by the legendary “Joe C” who worked at Sam’s at the time. That whisky disappeared in less than one hour.

The other one was a bottle (bottle #1 of 1) made by Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich just for the charity table. He called it “Bruichladdich 100 years” because the three whiskies he married to produce this bottle added up to 100 years in age (36 and 34 year old in a bourbon cask, and a 30 year old aged in a sherry cask). I tasted it at the beginning of the evening. It was wonderful! That whisky commanded at $40 donation, and the bottle was empty before the night was over. Thanks Jim for helping to support the cause!

I’ll have more to say about the whiskies at WhiskyFest as the days go on, but I wanted to post these while they were still fresh in my memory.