Archive for September, 2008

Review: new whiskies from Tomatin

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

It’s great to finally see some older expressions of Tomatin after many years of only being offered the 12 year old and left to wonder what mature Tomatin would taste like. The 40 year old is impressive, and the 18 year old is by far the best bang for the buck. (All are reviewed below, in order of increasing age.)

Tomatin 12 year old, 43%, $25
Pleasantly sweet. Good malt foundation with an abundance of bright summer fruit. Clean, straight-forward and uncomplicated.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 80

Tomatin 18 year old, 43%, $60
Fuller in body, deeper and more complex than the 12 year old (as would be expected). Sweeter fruits (honey-laced citrus, lemon gum drops, and ripe peach) and rum notes marry nicely with dried spice (cinnamon, vanilla, ginger). Calming finish. An intelligent use of sherry cask aging.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 87

Tomatin 25 year old, 43%, $125
Plenty of citrus zest, along with subtle pineapple and coconut on the nose. The palate begins with honeyed-malt sweetness, followed by the citrus fruit, but then quickly turns dry and resinous, with dried nuts and spicy oak on the finish. The intensity of the dryness on the finish surprised me and detracted from an otherwise well-rounded dram.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 79

Tomatin 30 year old, 1976 vintage, 49.3%, $400
Bold and spicy, but with enough backbone to handle it. Surely the most intense of the bunch overall. (The 25 year old is dry on the palate—especially on the finish—but the 30 year old challenges you the throughout.) There’s plenty of oak here, imparting leather, resin, and dried spice notes (cinnamon, clove, vanilla), but it is rescued by sherried fruit, honeyed citrus, and toffee. A powerful dram.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 87

Tomatin 40 year old, 1967 vintage, 42.9%, $1000
Significantly darker than the rest, well-balanced, and palate-coating. Softer, not as intense or as dry as the 30 year old. Creamier too, with subtle, yet exotic notes of tropical fruit and exotic spices. There is a point at which ultra-aged spirits—whether they are whisky, rum, tequila, or brandy—find a common ground. What they lose in identity, they gain in intrigue and layers of subtle complexity (if properly matured). This whisky fits into that category. Contemplative and ethereal in nature.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 91

Glenmorangie sells Glen Moray distillery

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

The Glenmorangie Company said they were going to sell the Glen Moray distillery. As promised, they just did.

Just-Drinks reports that Glen Moray was sold to a french company called La Martiniquaise. They have been small players in the global Scotch whisky world, selling Glen Turner single malt and Label 5 blended scotch. They also produce Old Virginia bourbon and Sam Barton Canadian whisky.

Why sell to a French company? Keep in mind that the Glenmorangie company is owned by LVMH, another French company. This might have had something to do with it. But I am only speculating here.

Hopefully the new company will allow Glen Moray to blossom to its full potential as a single malt scotch.

Heaven Hill introduces rare bourbon for their visitor’s center

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Here’s the scoop, as described in excerpts from their press release. (No doubt this was strategically timed for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival this week.)

BARDSTOWN, KY – Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., the nation’s largest independent family-owned distilled spirits producer and marketer, announces the release of a special limited edition Bourbon bottling commemorating the 225th anniversary of the birth date of William Heavenhill, the Nelson County farmer and distiller after whom the company is named.  The William Heavenhill Signature 225th birth date special limited edition, available only at the retail gift shop at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, KY, is a small batch Bourbon aged for 225 months (18 years, 9 months) and bottled at the barrel proof of 127.6 (63.8% alcohol by volume).

It is only fitting then that the bottling that marks his 225th birthday should be rare and unique, with each bottle filled and assembled completely by hand.  The antique-style round shouldered 750ml bottle is thick and heavy, finished with a cork and sealed with hand-dipped metallic copper wax.  The labels use a textured paper stock with deep red and matte metallic copper inks.  The barrel proof and bottle number are each individually written on a separate label.  The entire bottle is then nestled in an elegant gift box made of oak, laser engraved with the logo and bearing a label telling the story of William Heavenhill and his connection to Heaven Hill Distilleries.

The William Heavenhill Signature Commemorative Bourbon bottling will only be available as long as the stock of 225 bottles remains at the Bourbon Heritage Center at a price of $500 per 750ml bottle.  Each bottle will also be individually autographed by Heaven Hill Distilleries Master Distiller Parker Beam.  This special limited edition bottling will be the second exclusive, rare bottling available only at the Heaven Hill Distilleries Bourbon Heritage Center—the other being the export-only Evan Williams 23-year-old, which sells for $350 at the Center.

Review: Willett Family Reserve Bourbon, 25 yr. old

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Willett Family Reserve, (Barrel #81L31), 25 year old, 45.1, $175
Very mellow, silky in texture, and on the sweet side for such a mature bourbon. It’s not bold like Parker’s Heritage Collection 27 year old bourbon, which has much more oak spice and resin. Willett’s foundation of molasses and toffee is accentuated by candied fruit, fig, dusty corn, and tobacco, with mint tea, cinnamon and vanilla peppered throughout. It’s perilously drinkable. I am impressed how these 20-plus year old Willett rye and bourbon whiskeys maintain their balance and keep the oak in check. Could this whiskey be too easy-drinking? I’m nit-picking. A splendid ultra-mature bourbon. (Less than 100 bottles of this was sent to California, and not all the same barrel. Happy hunting.)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 95

2008 “KY Bourbon Hall of Fame” members announced

Monday, September 15th, 2008

 Eric Gregory, the President of the Kentucky Distillers Association, just announced the newest members of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. 

This year’s inductees are:

Brad Boswell, President of Independent Stave Company

Owsley Brown I, longtime President of Brown-Forman

Thomas J. Flocco, President and CEO of Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc.

Edwin S. Foote, retired Master Distiller at Old Fitzgerald Distillery

Rita L. Greenwell, retired Administrative Assistant at the KDA

Jimmy Wickham, Director of Customer Relations and Quality Assurance, Independent Stave

Evan Williams, often credited to be “Kentucky’s First Distiller”

The press release goes on to say:

The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame was created in 2001 by the KDA and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on bourbon’s stature, growth and awareness. It is the highest honor given by Kentucky’s legendary bourbon industry, with only 23 previous inductees.

Candidates may be nominated each year by the KDA’s member distilleries and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Nominees are then sent to the KDA Board of Directors for selection.

The induction ceremony will be held this Friday, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Jideco Hall in Bardstown during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s VIP/Press Reception.

Each inductee will be presented with an engraved miniature still, and their names will be added to the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame display at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown.


Signet & Astar: A tale of two Glenmorangies

Sunday, September 14th, 2008

These two new whiskies are very different in style. One focuses on malted barley quality and variety; the other concentrates heavily on wood management.

According to Dr. Bill, head whiskymaker for Glenmorangie, Signet is the culmination or 20 years of ideas going back to when he was in brewing and distilling school. The actual experiments involved in creating this whisky began 10-11 years ago. That’s when Bill, beer drinker and experimental whisky distiller, decided to tinker with using malted barley varieties commonly used in making beer. (The malted barley varieties used for beer are often more roasted, or caramelized, than what is standard in making whisky. This is why you see brown ales, porters, stouts and the like.)

Signet has a portion of whisky in it (15-20%) made from chocolate malt. Bill describes it this way: whisky made from normal whisky malt is like a cappuccino, while whisky made from chocolate malt is like an espresso. Signet also contains whisky from Cadboll barley malt, the first time this has been used in a Glenmorangie (adding some creaminess to the whisky). The whisky is aged in a variety of casks, including sherry and new charred oak, and contains some older whiskies too up to 35 years old.

So how dies Signet taste? My formal review of this product follows:

Glenmorangie Signet, 46%, $205
This is unlike any Glenmorangie I’ve ever tasted. It’s a very textural, visceral whisky—partly due to the chocolate malt, partly due to the casks used. It’s dark in color for a Glenmorangie, and viscous on the palate, with interwoven notes of dark chocolate, ground coffee bean, pot still rum, and spice (cinnamon, nutmeg), followed by a dry, polished leather, tobacco leaf, roasted walnut finish. This is a fun whisky and earns bonus points for being unique in taste, but I think its dry, slightly assertive, finish detracts from what otherwise is a thrilling, dynamic journey.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 88

Signet will be a permanent part of the Glenmorangie range.

Astar is all wood-driven. If there ever was a designer Glenmorangie whisky, this is it. To quote Bill, this whisky is made from “slow growth, air seasoned, heavily toasted, lightly charred, ex-bourbon, American oak barrels.”

Astar doesn’t have an age statement, but it is in the 9-10 year old range, so comparing it to the standard 10 year old is logical. Astar is a more dynamic expression compared to the 10 year old, handled in a very personal way with every detail of its maturation carefully monitored using only the finest oak to age it in. If you like Glenmorangie aged in bourbon oak without being finished in the wine cask du jour, then you will immediately fall in love with this whisky.

In fact, did you know that Bill has slowly been incorporating Astar-like whisky into the 10 year old bottling? If you thought that Glenmorangie 10 year old has been gradually improving over the past few years (like I did), this is the reason for it. According to Bill, as much as 30% of the current 10 year old bottling is Astar-like whisky. So, just imagine what pure Astar tastes like. Here’s my formal review of the whisky.

Glenmorangie Astar, 57.1%, $85
Astar’s flavor profile is similar to Glenmorangie 10 year old in many respects (showing a superb balance of sweetness, fruit and spice). It’s not as subtle as the 10 year old expression, but it is creamier, richer, and fleshier, with loads of honeyed vanilla, coconut cream pie, toasted almond, vibrant spice (cinnamon, mint) and a basketful of citrus and summer fruits. And the fact that it is bottled at 100 British Proof (57.1% abv) just accentuates every flavor and helps to make this whisky quite invigorating. Imagine Glenmorangie 10 year old with a shot of testosterone. I don’t rate very many ten year old whiskies or younger over 90. This whisky certainly has earned that right.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 93

Similar to Signet, Astar will become a permanent whisky in the Glenmorangie range. It will be available in the U.S. in 2009.

Bill Lumsden is doing amazing things for the Glenmorangie company, both with Glenmorangie whiskies and Ardbeg whiskies. He’s a true leader and one of the greatest innovators in the Scotch whisky industry.

Dr. Bill Lumsden answers your questions

Friday, September 12th, 2008

My 90 minutes with Bill Lumsden was very productive. I was also joined by Glenmorangie’s Business Development manager, Francois-Laurent Vitrac, and he was able to answer some of the more distribution-oriented questions.

I printed out your questions and asked him them as soon as we sat down. Here are his answers.

There are no plans on doing floor maltings any time in the near future at Ardbeg. Installing a second set of stills will be more likely, according to Bill. He said they can’t justify floor maltings. Not yet, anyway. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t wish they had them. He told me the main focus recently has been expanding capacity at Glenmorangie.

Regarding an Ardbeg Committee for the U.S., they are looking into it for 2009.  The problem is that they require import licenses for very small amounts of whiskies. The logistics are tough. Big distributors won’t want to be bothered with such small quantities. Plus, how do you distribute it? You make a few retailers happy, and piss off the rest.

Regarding Blasda, the lightly-peated version of Ardbeg which is just coming out now (not in the US–sorry), here’s the reason why they bottled at 40%. Bill said this whisky is all about the delicate, lighter side of Ardbeg. He felt it would be more appropriate if it were bottled at 40%, not 46%. This is not going to be a new trend for them, so no need to worry.

There are no plans to bottle a Madeira or rum-aged whisky anytime in the near future. When I asked about Kildalton, Bill said they are working on various projects. Read between the lines here: it seems like he’s got something up his sleeve for the near future.

Has the new packaging helped increase sales of Glenmorangie? Bill sales are up 20% globally since the new releases. But, as he said to me, “How much of this is due to the packaging and how much should be attributed to the new whiskies that came out at the same time?” It’s hard to tell.

And for those of you who asked, sales of single casks of Glenmorangie are, as Bill told me, always possible. Stay tuned on that.

About potential buyers for Glen Moray, Bill said there is tremendous interest. There’s about ten different possible buyers. Expect an announcement in October. He assured me that the distillery will be well looked after by the new owner. He was sad to see Glen Moray leave the company.

Regarding your questions about Bill’s involvement in cask selection for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, he told me he has sat on the tasting panel, and he has also selected individual casks for them, along with Rachel Barrie, Glenmorangie’s master blender.

And finally, regarding whether new, older Ardbegs available for the U.S., this will not happen until 2010 at the earliest.

I have the whole story on Glenmorangie’s new Signet and Astar bottlings. I tasted both of them with Bill. I’ll get you the details–and my thoughts on them–sometime in the next day or two. They are completely different whiskies.

Macallan legends bottling their whisky tomorrow

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

I blogged about this back in June. Tomorrow, at The Macallan distillery, four Macallan legends are getting together. Each one will create a unique bottle of Macallan whisky for WhiskyFest San Francisco. Here’s an excerpt from my previous posting:

Current and past Master Distillers and Managing Directors will each create one unique bottle of Macallan. The contents inside each bottling will be offered one dram at a time to lucky attendees who provide a donation to charity.

Current Master Distiller Bob Dalgarno, past Master Distillers Frank Newlands and Sandy Curle, along with former Managing Director Willie Phillips all will be participating. They will each use their talents to create one bottle of Macallan whisky to their liking and specification. Each will be bottle #1 of only 1, never to be reproduced or replicated ever again.

Is this cool, or what? I wish I could be in the tasting lab with them while they’re putting their bottling together.

I will be one of the first in line to pony up the $$ to taste some of these whiskies. Congrats to The Macallan to cut through all the corporate red tape and do something great–and for a really good cause!

New Four Roses “Mariage” Collection

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

I was speaking with Jim Rutledge, Four Roses’s Master Distiller, yesterday and asked him if he has anything new coming out this fall. And, of course, he does.  Ever since the new owners let the Four Roses tiger out of the cage a few years back, they have been releasing some wonderful whiskeys.

The new whiskey will be part of their new Mariage Collection. Here’s the explanation, straight from Jim himself:

We will release a limited edition Small Batch this month. We will do this annually and this year it is called Mariage – 2008 collection. (Mariage is the French spelling of marriage, and is most often seen in the beverage alcohol business describing the marriage of various wines.) This year we will use two of our ten recipes – one 10 years old and the other 13 years age. Next year we may use two recipes again, or four, or five…. Every year it will be a totally different flavor Bourbon – via formula design. With ten distinctive recipes and combining them in different combinations, different percentages and varying ages we have an infinite number of product flavors we can use for Mariage. I’m really excited about this idea, because over the years we can show the versatility in Bourbon products/flavors that only we can do – Uniquely Four Roses.

So, there you have it. He’s sending me a review sample. When I get it, I’ll let you know what I think.

And you complained about White Bowmore being expensive…

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

The 1964 Vintage White Bowmore has an excellent pedigree and tastes great too. But $6,000 is a lot of money for a bottle of whisky.

How about more than twice that amount for a new 1964 Balvenie?

I just read this in AnTara News — Indonesia:

On 1st September, the family-owned Speyside distillery will release The Balvenie 1964 Single Malt Scotch Whisky — perfect for the more discerning malt connoisseur. Bottled exclusively for duty free retailer Sky Connection and available only at Hong Kong International Airport, each bottle is priced at HK$108,000 [7,100 GBP / $14,200 USD]. This unique cask, Number 10378 from 1964, has matured to perfection at The Balvenie Distillery, and is extremely rare, offering connoisseurs a whisky of a lifetime.

The 1964 cask, personally selected by The Balvenie Malt Master, rested in a single oak cask for over 40 years at The Balvenie Distillery in Speyside, Scotland. With only 151 bottles forthcoming, The Balvenie 1964 is a beautifully crafted rarity.

Looks like the sky is the limit right now. Wasn’t real estate like this three years ago? And tech stocks about eight years ago?