Guest Blogger: Jason Craig, Highland Park WhiskyAugust 19th, 2009
We’re fortunate to have Jason Craig, Global Controller for Highland Park, as our August guest blogger. He has some breaking news for us. And it’s good news! Plus he has a couple of questions for you.
I love the whisky business, I love the passion and I love the fact that wherever you go in the world people have opinions about best, worst, blogs, magazines, people etc etc etc. I have had the good fortune of working with Highland Distillers and The Edrington Group for over 10 years in the marketing and development of some of the finest whiskies available. As a guest blogger on Malt Advocate I have considered long and hard what I should blog about and I concluded that it should come down to a couple of issues which should provoke debate – Strength and Natural Colour…….I can hear the intakes of breath and the stretching of the fingers ready to tap into the key boards across the globe.
I am in control of the hidden gem which is Highland Park. The production story behind this brand is for another day….(as John would only edit it out!!!), but basically all distilleries are water, barley, yeast and a giant chemistry set. The process is very similar, some discuss water type, some discuss still height, some discuss climate, for some it is casks, others it is peat – for Highland Park it is all about sherry seasoned casks and unique Orkney peat. We have a glorious production process which we have kept as consistent as possible for over 200 years and with that authenticity comes expense and quality. One of the areas which always puzzles me is the addition of colour to whisky – I have never understood why brands do it.
Highland Park is all natural colour, for a couple of years in the 1990’s our 12yo had some added but that is firmly in the past. Every bottle of Highland Park you now see (new shape glass) is naturally coloured and has had no spirit caramel added. I have noted with interest that in the German market, due to tighter labelling laws, brands now have to declare if they have added spirit caramel and it would REALLY amaze you as to how many single malt brands add caramel – of course it is perfectly legal under SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) rules and they are doing nothing wrong. I am sure that this labelling law will spread throughout Europe in the coming years and with that will come questions about why it has been added and for how long the practice has been occurring.
Obviously spirit caramel adds not a thing to the flavour, it merely misleads the drinker visually but obviously not when they come to taste it. My colleague Gerry Tosh, Head of Brand Education on Highland Park, always says asks the question during tastings “What does the colour of the whisky in the glass tell us?” and the answer is always “Nothing”. Colour in whisky should come from the cask that it matured in, this would provide the consumer with a clearer guide to the whisky they are drinking. That is why on Highland Park and throughout the other brands in The Edrington Group, we pride ourselves on having the most obsessive, rigorous and highest quality cask program in the industry.
So that is my first question for this blog – does adding colour to whisky mislead the consumer, should colour be natural and allowed to vary with each vatting within agreed tolerances?
The second area I would like to discuss is strength of the whisky. As you may or may not know Highland Park 21yo ( a Global Travel Retail exclusive) recently won an award through Whisky Magazine (a competitor to Malt Advocate!!) declaring it the Best Single Malt Whisky of the Year. The irony was that only 3 weeks before we had reduced the 21yo from 47.5% to 40% due to high demand and limited stocks. John covered this in Malt Advocate and expressed concerns but applauded us for our open and honest attitude. With that in mind I freely admit I would have preferred to keep this strength higher but to maintain supply we had to reduce strength. In an era of aged whisky stocks becoming limited, we have also looked at reducing the strength of our 25yo and 30yo and I advised many whisky writers of our probable intention to do this – I am happy to break the news on this blog that we will not be doing so. We will be retaining both at 48.1% for the next 2 years minimum. This solution has been possible through market stock management and price adjustment in selected markets.
The reaction of some of the experts to the 21yo actual change and proposed changes to the older expressions was a mix of apathy and horror. Some saw it as a natural progression and some saw it as the end of an era which should not be ended. We have also just released a 58.1% 12yo “Hjarta” for UK and Scandinavian markets in the last few weeks. This is a very high strength whisky and is an absolute cracker – the writers have accepted this with little comment and I am sure our whisky fans will love it. In the fall we will be releasing 2 Vintage editions a 1964 and a 1968, both of which due to time in cask will be under 45% – basically as it comes out of the cask with a little bit of filtration. I am positive the strengths of these brilliant whiskies will again not be questioned as they are natural.
I found the reactions to strength interesting and that is the second area I would like to provoke on this blog. Do consumers only care about the strength of mid range (20yo to 30yo) whiskies, does strength need to be fixed or should it be allowed to fluctuate wherever possible?
So, feel free to answer Jason’s questions. Or, post your thoughts on anything he blogged about.
It’s nice to hear from Jason that they won’t be lowering the ABV on HP 25 and 30. For now, anyway.
Thanks Jason, for taking time to participate here.