Guest blogger: John Glaser of Compass Box WhiskyMarch 30th, 2009
Continuing our guest blogger program, here’s a great blog by John Glaser of Compass Box Whisky. As most of you already know, John is a leader in producing small, high quality Scotch whiskies–many of which incorporate “outside of the box” experimentation. His ideas are fresh and exciting, and his whiskies are always very good.
Thank you John for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us. For all of you who read his blog, feel free to comment.
A few weeks ago I was invited by new friends Sam and Fairfax to see the still they’d just installed in their new office in London.
Sam and Fairfax are planning to start a distillery restaurant in London, making their own gins, vodkas, and who-knows-what-else, but before finding their restaurant site, they plan to install their still and begin working it.
I hadn’t been to their office before, so the morning of the visit I checked the address. Twenty-seven Nasmyth Street. That sounds familiar, I thought. Isn’t that the street in Hammersmith where Michael Jackson used to live? I checked my address book and sure enough, that was the exact address of Michael Jackson’s old office, next door to the house where he lived.
When I showed up I was amazed, actually a little emotional. Sam and Fairfax had moved into Michael Jackson’s old office and installed a still. How perfect, I thought, for the legacy of the industry’s great man.
Michael would have been pleased meeting two guys like Sam and Fairfax regardless of where they set up shop. That’s because Sam and Fairfax represent an important new wave in the spirits industry, one moving across the globe. They represent the small businesses, the small brands that are moving the spirits industry closer to its artisan roots. I’ve been travelling around the world for Compass Box for many years, and I can tell you that more and more, around the world, there is a cultural shift toward an interest in understanding more about distilled spirits. People want to know the people behind the businesses and brands, the stories, the processes and the techniques.
As a whiskymaker, I am excited and pleased to see the growth of small distilling businesses. Just in the last month, in addition to visiting Sam and Fairfax, I’ve been in touch with my friend Henric Molin on the island of Hven, Sweden, who has recently started distilling after many years of planning. (He’s selecting individual trees from America for his casks!) I’ve spoken with Jean Donnay in Brittany in France who is preparing to release his first own-distilled whiskies. I had a fellow from New Zealand come to my office last week to talk to me about his plans for a small whisky distillery in his country.
And of course, in the US there is an explosion of activity among small scale distillers. Being an American abroad, I’m excited about this and sometimes wish I were home taking part.
All of this is all driven by the increased interest people around the world have in the art and craft of distilled spirits. This is real, and it’s growing (big branded spirits take note! …Or perhaps not; just let us get on with things!). I recently had a call from a bartender in London, re-writing his spirits list, and he wanted to know every conceivable detail about our whiskies–not just the distilleries we draw from, but the water source we use to dilute at bottling!
It’s a grand cultural shift, a new wave, and it’s global. With time, we all stand to benefit by having more choices and more interesting choices when it comes the spirits we drink. Sam and Fairfax, in Michael Jackson’s old office, are at the leading edge of this movement in the UK. (In fact, they have been instrumental in shaping UK legislation in this area which I am sure will help open the floodgates for new, small distilleries across the UK in the coming years.)
Their business is called Sipsmith. They begin distilling this month. They’re still working on their website but check back at www.sipsmith.co.uk . Small artisan businesses, operating in an industry dominated by mega corporate brands, need and deserve our support. The more businesses there are like Sam’s and Fairfax’s, the more interesting and rewarding spirits offerings will be, and we will all benefit in the long run.
Michael would be proud.