Archive for December, 2009

Your clever whisky marketing campaign

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

You remember Bruichladdich’s quadrupel-distilled X-4 being used as race car fuel. Recently, there was the world’s largest whisky bottle, filled with Tomintoul whisky.

pic24464Back in early November I read about a geeky computer guy who made a PC out of a 1.5 liter Ballentine’s whisky bottle. (Picture on left.)

Now, we have the world’s first single malt menorah, filled with Tullibardine.



When it comes to whisky, there’s never a dull moment. And whisky marketing, whether just coincidental or fully intended, is getting more extreme.

What next, I wonder? How about a suggestion or two? Let’s help the whisky companies out by coming up with a few ideas of our own.

We’ve been getting a little too serious of late. Let’s have some fun. I know many of you out there have the intelligence, creativity and wit to do this.

Come on. Don’t be shy. Let’s hear them.

Your predictions for 2010?

Monday, December 14th, 2009

Okay everyone, get out your crystal ball. What do you see happening to the whisky (and whiskey) industry in 2010? I’ll start the discussion by making a couple of predictions myself.

More experimental American whiskeys
The American whiskey industry was very slow getting on the experimenting bandwagon (relative to Scotch, Japanese, and Irish whiskey). But with the likes of Woodford Reserve’s Master’s Collection whiskeys, High West’s “Bourye“, The Party Sources “Wheat on Rye” Experimental Whiskey (in association with Buffalo Trace Distillery), and the blossoming small, artisanal distilleries, I think (or at least I hope) 2010 will see more different kinds of experimental bourbons and other American whiskeys on the market than ever before.

More Scotch whiskies without age statements
Across the pond in Scotland, I think more and more distilleries will continue abandoning age statements. It gives them more flexibility in what goes in the bottle. It will also help them blend in younger whiskey coming on the market with existing stocks of older whisky and still command a fair price for it.

Now it’s your turn. Tell us what you think will happen in 2010. We can come back to this one year from now and see how well we did.

Bonhams Whisky Auction, New York, December 17th

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Bonhams’ third, final, and largest auction of the Willard S. Folsom Collection will take place this coming Thursday in New York. There’s plenty of great whiskies in the nearly 900 lots in this auction.  I went through all of them earlier today. Here’s a link to them all.

Of course, there’s plenty of trophy whiskies, like the Dalmore 50 yr. old (pictured below), several Black Bowmores, ’73 and ’74 Longrows. But if you look through the list more carefully, you’ll find some bargains.

longmorn centenaryFor example, there’s a Longmorn Centenary 25 yr. old (lot 237) listed with a range of $130-160 (pictured on the left). I’ve tasted this whisky. It’s very nice (with even a hint of smoke). I have a bottle already, but at that price range, I’ll be happy to have another one.

 And there are a few Springbank 30 yr. old lots (25-27) valued around $300. That was the going price a decade ago, and it will be a while before Springbank comes out with another standard issue 30 year old, given that the distillery was closed for most of the ’80s.

And there’s plenty of whiskies from distilleries long gone, like Ladyburn, Killyloch, Glen Flagler, Kinclaith, etc.

In addition to old whiskies, there are young whiskies bottled decades ago, which are pretty rare.

Have a look through. Maybe you will find something that catches your eye. I was sent a press release on the auction, which I have included below.




The Willard S. Folsom Collection of Old and Rare Whiskies
To Be Offered At Bonhams New York This December

Dalmore 50Aficionados of fine, rare Whiskies will be presented with an unparalleled collecting opportunity when the renowned Willard S. Folsom Collection goes to block on December 17th at Bonhams New York.

A sports fan, football handicapper, race car driver, master of finance, scuba diver, skydiver, and salsa dancer at various times in his life – Folsom began his love affair with Whisky in 1988 while reading a list of the best bars in the United States for Single Malt. Included in the list was a restaurant ten minutes from Willard’s home in Burlingame, California. After attending his first Single Malt Scotch tasting he immediately became a devotee of the Whisky arts.

For the next 18 years Willard amassed his private collection. Starting with establishing relationships within San Francisco’s Scotch community it was not long before he began travelling the world in search of rare bottles. Having toured the Highlands, the Lowlands, Speyside, Islay, and Orkney, he purchased whisky from all over Scotland and the rest of the UK- resulting in a collection of over 3,000 bottles.

Following the successful sale of a portion of the vast collection in Edinburgh and another sampling to be offered on November 27th in Hong Kong, part three of the sale will take place at the New York galleries of Bonhams and consists of nearly 900 lots of premier Single Malt Whisky. The meticulously selected collection ranges from Single Malts distilled in the 70s and 80s to a 1924 Royal Brackla 60 year old estimated at $2,400-3,300.  The New York sale is being held in conjunction with Bedford Wine Merchants.

Undoubtedly one of the most sought after lots will be the Dalmore 50 year old (pictured, top). It is beautifully presented in a crystal decanter along with a hand crafted wooden presentation case. Carrying an estimate of $6,500-7,300 it is sure to draw serious collector attention.

Also of great interest is the Dalmore 30 year old. This 150th Anniversary issue is offered in an Edinburgh Crystal decanter with sterling silver labelling. Bottle 37 out of a limited run of 50 and never for sale on the open market, the  lot is estimated at $2,400-3,300.
The Balvenie 50 year old is also highly anticipated. Distilled in 1937 and bottled 50 years later, the bottle is designed to replicate the bottling style of the 1930s when it was originally distilled. This nostalgic lot is expected to fetch $4,900-5,700.

Another lot certain to attract bidders is a group of limited edition Springbank whiskies. Bottled for the millenium at five year intervals from 25 to 50 years maturation in the cask, the lot is comprised of Springbank 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, and 50 year old. The six bottle lot carries an estimate of $3,000-5,000.

Macallan 1946Two 1940s Macallan’s will also highlight the sale. Accompanied by a miniature for sampling purposes, the 1948 Macallan Select Reseve 51 year old is estimated at $3,500-$4,500. The 1946 Macallan Select Reserve 52 year old (pictured left) is numbered 536 and is expected to bring $2,000-2,300.

Also cause for excitement is an 18 year old Bowmore. Estimated at $3,300-4,100, this rarely seen bottle was distilled and bottled by Sherriff’s Bowmore Distillery in the 1950s. 

Other notable lots to be offered are a rare, limited edition 1963 Laphroaig 40 year old (est. $1,100-1,500); a limited edition Aultmore Centenary 16 year old only available to employees of the distillery (est. $900-1,200); and a 1963 Bowmore, bottled especially for a dinner at Chateau La Grange marking the 30th Anniversary of Morrison Bowmore’s ownership of the distillery (est. $900-1,200).

“We’re extremely excited to present this collection,” states Director of Whisky, Martin Green. “Not only is it the largest collection ever to come to auction; it is also distinguished by the fact that Folsom bought multiples whenever possible, which allowed him to take pleasure in actually drinking many of these bottles- highly unusual for a collector.”

 The sale will take place on December 17th at 4PM EST. The illustrated auction catalog for the sale will be online at in the weeks preceding the auction.  For more information about the department, please visit

Welcome back (if you knew I was gone)

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Well, it was a crazy Saturday.

For those of you tried to visit here on Saturday, you might have encountered some problems. Depending on what time you visited, everything was fine, everything was blank, or you couldn’t even get on to the site at all.

To make matters worse, I posted up two lengthy blogs and both disappeared. (Technology–you gotta love it!)

Anyway, I think (I hope) we have everything fixed now. I had some good whisky to sustain me through this, which helped. I apologize for any inconvenience,  and I hope to get those lost new blog posts back up here soon.

In the meantime, send me a comment if you want to and let me know you’re still out there. (The “comment” section wasn’t working either.)


Review: Amrut “Fusion”

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Amrut FusionAmrut “Fusion”, 50%, $50
Balance, complexity and surprising maturity for its age—these are the defining characteristics for what is the best Indian whisky I have ever tasted. Amrut is doing some great things, and this whisky just elevated them to a new level. Combining Indian malt and peated Scottish malt, this whisky shows a sweet side, but is never cloying, with  rich caramel, vanilla custard, fruit cocktail in light syrup, balanced by vibrant—almost floral—dried peat smoke, delicate white pepper and a hint of tropical fruit (toasted coconut, pineapple). Soothing, lingering smoke finish.  I look forward to more great whiskies from Amrut. (Available in the U.S. in February, 2010)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 89

Guest blog: Lew Bryson, Malt Advocate Managing Editor

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

In addition to being my good friend, Lew has been the Managing Editor of Malt Advocate almost as long as there’s been a Malt Advocate. Lew and I have a lot in common. We both started from the beer world, similar to the way Michael Jackson did.  He’s still very much involved in beer. (More than whiskey, actually.)

In addition to his writings and editorial input in Malt Advocate, he’s authored several very nice books on beer, and has a great blog, Seen Through a Glass.

I asked Lew if he would be kind enough to be this month’s guest blogger, and he accepted. He’s got a nice rant on young spirits (rye, bourbon, rum, etc.). Have a read. Tell us what you think. Do you agree with him?

A Bad Hat DayHi, John’s readers!

John invited me to throw something on his blog – much appreciated; thanks, John – and the first idea I came up with was the one we decided would be a good one, something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the past few years: young spirits. I keep thinking of something Fritz Maytag said at the rye whiskey roundtable Malt Advocate hosted a few years ago:

“Broadly speaking, the whiskey world thinks that older whiskey’s better. It’s like the wine world used to think that older wine was better. And I submit to you that older whiskey is different. Wonderfully different. And many older red wines are wonderfully different. They’re not better, they’re old. And that’s wonderful. But I submit to you that, especially because we have a big shortage of rye whiskey, you are all going to discover the beauty of young rye whiskey.”

It seemed prophetic, and it was, at least for me. I participated in a New York Times rye whiskey tasting panel three years ago, along with David Wondrich, and the difference between the young ryes in the group and the old ones was striking. The older ones were almost austere: dry, spicy, complex. The young ones were alive, grassy, so much so that you could almost feel the sunlight in them.

Young bourbons, even good ones, mostly strike me as hot, spicy, brash, and need ice or a mixer to smooth them out. But a good young rye is grassy, sweet, vibrant, and usually interesting enough to sip. I recently had a pre-release sample of 13 month old rye from Finger Lakes Distilling, and it was sweet, brittle, and water-of-life fresh, with a grassiness and mint character that brought a smile to my lips.

Why are some young whiskeys good and others, well, not so? I’m starting to suspect it’s because some spirits are just naturally suitable for drinking in the first flush of birth. Rum, for instance, is rich and broad-shouldered when aged, but it can be absolutely beguiling when young, too. Gin’s crispness sings with the intensity of being fresh-forged. A good vodka – and they’re out there, you just rarely see them in their unpolluted form – has an Arctic freshness tempered by the dry crease of good bond paper (a strange analogy, maybe, but that’s what my senses tell me).

But young brandy? It makes a good fire-starter. Poteen, mythology aside, is the kind of spirit you only drink when you have to. Grappa, pisco…don’t tell me I’ve “never had the good stuff,” I know I haven’t; no one ever has. Yeesh. Young Scotch whisky? Tons of promise, but subject to feinting spells.

And, as I said, bourbon. Young bourbon will scorch you. I remember the first time I had new make off the third still at Woodford: like a shot of Novocaine. Hot Novocaine. Some’s better than others: I’ve had new make at Maker’s Mark, and it was like a slightly sweet vodka, but not anything that would stand well on its own.

Why? Gin benefits from being flavored vodka: the botanicals are the drink, and the fresher the better. Rum gets more character from its cane or molasses than grain-based spirits get from their starchy source.

But rye? I don’t know. There’s rye in most bourbons, after all. Maybe a preponderance of rye makes a difference. If distillers can keep the price down on young rye, I intend to keep up the research.

Bourbon and Rye Whiskey drinkers, pay attention: something new!

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

It wasn’t very long ago when I was lamenting how the Scotch, Irish, and even Japanese whisky industries were being creative and experimentative, while the very traditional and loyal (to the point of being borderline stubborn) bourbon/rye whiskey  industry refused to participate.

Well, times have changed. And it’s no surprise that Buffalo Trace has their fingers in this.

A decade ago I asked why we don’t have four grain bourbon (corn, malted barley, rye AND wheat). Why must it be ryed bourbon or wheated bourbon? Brown-Forman broke that barrier with their Four Grain Master’s Collection several years back. But, there’s more than one way to marry wheat and rye.

#2 Wheat On Rye label crop (Small)Today I received two review bottles of Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection whiskeys. Not from Buffalo Trace, but from The Party Source, a retailer in Kentucky. I’m only going to talk about one of the whiskeys in this post.

It turns out that this bottling is a wheated bourbon that was finished off in a freshly emptied rye barrel. I have not talked to Buffalo Trace or The Party Source yet, but  I gather that the concept here, if I can be so assuming, is to marry the mellow drinkability of a wheated bourbon with the vibrant, spice intensity of a rye whiskey.

You know what? It works. I have only tasted this 8 year old whiskey informally tonight, but the wheated bourbon comes through first on the palate, then the rye emerges as the flavors progress on the palate. And, as an added benefit, this whiskey is bottled at 63.5%, not the typical 45% ABV of previous  Experimental Collection bottlings.

This is certainly exciting on three levels–and all new, as far as I know:

1) I don’t recall a wheated bourbon being finished off in a rye barrel and then bottled.

2) Buffalo Trace appears to be willing to work with retailers, allowing them to create/bottle their own Experimental Collections. How many retailers? I don’t know. I’m sure we’ll find out.

3) It’s bottled at cask strength. A first for the BT Experimental Collection

I’m sure I’ll get a lot more answers in the coming days–both from Buffalo Trace and The Party Source (and maybe other retailers  who are doing the same thing but haven’t told me yet). But, I wanted to let you know what I found out, when I found out. After all, this blog is called “What Does John Know?”

Review: Compass Box “Lady Luck

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

LadyLuckCompass Box “Lady Luck”, 46%, $170
A marriage of two casks of Caol Ila (25 and 29 years old) and one cask of Imperial (14 years old). Penetratinglysmoky, visceral,  rooty, and even mean-tempered at times, ultimately being soothed by creamy vanilla and thick malt. It’s peppered with licorice stick, dark chocolate, campfire charcoal, subtle olive brine and teasing berried fruit. Long, clinging finish.  The flavors are nicely integrated and complex. Well done! (This is a  limited release, currently available in the U.S. at Park Avenue Liquor.)

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 91

Review: Old Rip Van Winkle Family Selection 23 yr. old

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

ORVWDecanter09_lg1Old Rip Van Winkle Family Selection, 23 year old, 57%, $350
Distilled in 1986. An excellent old wheated bourbon. Soothing oily texture, with notes of toffee, old rum, nougat, vanilla bean, candied fruit, black raspberry, corn bread, hints of earl grey tea, cinnamon, and nutmeg, with a smooth, polished oak finish. I recently reviewed a Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve 23 year old (Bottle #B1986) at 47.8%, which I also thought was outstanding with a comparable flavor profile (although some earlier bottlings I tasted years ago were heavy on the oak), and it was priced at $220. Given this, you need to ask yourself if you want to pay the extra $130 or so for the higher strength, special decanter, pair of glasses, and wood box that comes with this new ORVW Family Selection. Or not.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 95

New Tomintoul 33 year old

Monday, December 7th, 2009

This is just in from Lorne Mackillop of Angus Dundee Distillers:

Tomintoul 33-Year-old_2009We are launching in 2010 in the USA a new 33 Year Old expression at 43% alcohol, in a new package. It is already available in Europe. This whisky comes from casks that have been specially selected to ensure that the wood characteristics have not overpowered the naturally “gentle” whisky that is natural style of “Tomintoul”.
Availability will be quite limited, and it is expected to retail at around $290 per 750ml bottle.

The 27 Year Old “Tomintoul” will not be re-made.

Lorne is a master balancing a whisky’s flavors, so I don’t expect this whisky to be over-woody (or over-anything for that matter.) I’m looking forward to trying it. I liked the 27 year old, which this whisky is replacing.