Whisky Advocate


21st Annual Whisky Advocate Award: Irish Whiskey of the Year

December 8th, 2014

Midleton Very Rare 2014, 40%, $125

In living memory, Ireland’s whiskey industry has never been healthier. Irish Distillers has been reaping rewards for their consistent investment this century but they are not alone. The realization of the huge potential for Irish whiskey has led to a flurry of new distillery projects in the north and south. Over the next five to ten years, we can anticipate an abundance of provocative new whiskeys.

Thirty years ago, the very first Midleton Very Rare expression was released on an unsuspecting world. Over the decades that followed, the popularity of this whiskey has grown steadily; well received, but never fashionable. It was the one that earned quiet respect rather than runaway success, never winning the ‘must-have’ status of flagship pure pot still whiskeys such as Redbreast (a four-time winner of this category). It’s time to put that right this year.

This was master distiller Brian Nation’s first full year in charge since taking over the reins from Barry Crockett, now master distiller emeritus. This Midleton Very Rare 2014 is the first bottle from Irish Distillers to be inscribed solely with Brian’s signature. His state of the nation address, if you like. This whiskey has real personality, a distinct step-up from the innate sappiness of the 2013 release.  We love this for its heavy, oily, vanilla-dominated nose through to the sweet, crème caramel and cinnamon flavors that saturate the taste buds. The triumphant arrival of this rewarding, well-constructed, moreish Irish whiskey heralds the beginning of an inspiring new chapter at Midleton. There is much to look forward to. —Jonny McCormick

Tomorrow we will be announcing the Japanese Whisky of the Year.

21st Annual Whisky Advocate Award: Canadian Whisky of the Year

December 7th, 2014

Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye, 40%, $27

The race for Canadian Whisky of 2014 was tight. Crown Royal Monarch was first out of the gate; probably the most flavorful Crown Royal ever. Scoring 96 points in the Canadian Club RyeBuying Guide, Monarch tied the record set in 2010, when Forty Creek Confederation Oak became our top-scoring Canadian whisky ever. A perpetual favorite, Forty Creek followed with another solid contender this year: its 2014 Evolution. Then Highwood Distillers returned from a disastrous flood in 2013 with an even more flavorful, post-flood version of the already spectacular Ninety 20 year old. But everything changed on October 2 when Canadian Club released this year’s winner.

Canadian Club Chairman’s Select 100% Rye is a glorious all-rye whisky and more than just another line extension. This whisky arrived with a rye-filled bang, loud enough to shake up the industry. For the first time in over a century, a mainstream brand has bottled an all rye-grain Canadian whisky. Finally, whisky lovers have been heard. With its robust, fruity spiciness, and limber balancing act befitting a chainsaw juggler, Canadian Club 100% Rye declares that when Canadian whisky is writ larger and louder, it remains Canadian whisky.

In the 150 years since Hiram Walker began distilling whisky in Windsor, Ontario, Canadian Club has been a blend of corn, barley, and rye whiskies. Now owned by Beam Suntory, the Canadian Club brand continues this tradition in Windsor. However, Beam Suntory also owns the Calgary-based Alberta Distillers, renowned for its all rye-grain whisky. This is where the Canadian Club blenders sourced their CC 100% Rye. Fear not this move to another distillery; Canadian Club’s dried dark fruit signature remains. When you own the distillery you get to choose the barrels you really want. —Davin de Kergommeaux

Join us tomorrow for the announcement of the Irish Whiskey of the Year.

21st Annual Whisky Advocate Award: American Whiskey of the Year

December 6th, 2014

Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $80

There were many great American whiskeys released this year, including Booker’s 25th Anniversary release, Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch, and George T. Stagg. However, the winner this year is Sazerac Rye 18 year old.BTAC 2014 Sazerac 18

It’s not just because it’s a classic—I rated it a 95—but it’s also because of its consistently high quality, year after year. That, to me, is this year’s “tie-breaker.” Limited edition whiskeys change from year to year. Since Sazerac Rye 18 year old was first introduced in 2000, its quality has mostly been stellar and unwavering.

Part of its consistent quality is the fact that, for many years now, the whiskey released is essentially the same. About a decade ago, the management at Buffalo Trace realized there was a gap in production between the 18 year old rye they had in stock and younger rye that would eventually become 18 years old. The demand for ultra-aged rye whiskeys caught distillers by surprise.

Rather than do what other distillers did, which was to continue aging their rye and selling it at older ages to the point where the whiskeys were past their prime and over-oaked, Buffalo Trace wisely transferred theirs to stainless steel tanks, releasing a limited amount of it annually until fresh stocks of 18 year old come of age in 2016.

Some whiskey elitists have viewed the tanking as a negative, seeking out the pre-tanked bottlings on the secondary market. However, the whiskeys are nearly identical in quality and flavor profile, and Buffalo Trace should be congratulated for preserving a great whiskey while still in its prime, rather than selling it at an older age, higher price, and lower quality.

Why is this whiskey so great? It’s fully matured but still maintains its vibrancy. It’s complex too, brimming with allspice, clove, mint, and cinnamon. The spice notes are balanced by soft vanilla, soothing caramel, and candied summer fruits. It’s impeccably balanced and a pure joy to drink! —John Hansell

Check back tomorrow. We’ll be announcing the Canadian Whisky of the Year.

21st Annual Whisky Advocate Award: Craft Whiskey of the Year

December 5th, 2014

St. George Single Malt Lot 14, 43%, $80

There have been a significant number of “American malt whiskeys” popping up recently, and a fair amount of talk about them. Are they a new class, are they “Scotch” (they’re not, period, end of discussion), and more importantly, are they any good? I don’t think any new type of American whiskey is going to be a class or a category for at least five years—it’s just too soon to tell—but I can taste them now…and this one’s most definitely good.

St George Single Malt_Lot14The St. George Spirits (Alameda, California) single malt releases have been on my short list for this award for the past three years, but this year’s stood out. The bottlings—the “Lots”— before were good, but I felt that they had integration problems; too much of one flavor, uneven transitions. The whiskeys that went into this Lot—eight different casks, 4 to 15 years old—don’t argue or mumble, they all sing in balanced choral harmony. There’s an overture, a beautiful middle section that recapitulates and enhances the overture, and a hauntingly teasing finale that brings it all to a circling completion.

For more detail, here’s the heart of my review. “Delicate fruit, nuts, and sweet malt combine like a perfect pastry in the nose. Add a bit of unsweetened chocolate on the palate, finishing with a lingering reminiscence of every bit of flavor, and you have a beautifully integrated whiskey that is unmistakably St. George. Delightful.”

I said “unmistakably St. George” and I meant it. Whatever small flaws the previous Lots have had, they have had an underlying consistency of malt purity and light fruits. The fruit was lost in the somewhat singular voice of the pear eau de vie-casked XXX release two years ago, but it’s nicely framed this year. I’m looking forward to more of the same from St. George…and even better whiskeys to come. —Lew Bryson

The American Whiskey of the Year will be announced tomorrow.

21st Annual Whisky Advocate Awards To Be Announced

December 3rd, 2014

The Whisky Advocate Awards are less than two days away!

wa.awards2015.logThe 21st Annual Whisky Advocate Awards will be announced right here on the Whisky Advocate blog beginning this Friday, December 5th. As the awards are announced, they will automatically be published to the Whisky Advocate Facebook page and the Whisky Advocate Twitter feed (@whiskyadvocate).

The Whisky Advocate Awards exist to recognize excellence in the world of whisky. Now in its 21st year, the program is simply about the world’s greatest whiskies and distilleries, and the individuals who make and promote them. As always, these awards are not simply assigned to the whiskies that get the highest ratings in our reviews. The winners might be the highest-rated, or they might instead be the most significant, or the most important, or represent a new direction for a category or niche. The awards process is not, in short, a mere numbers-based formula. It is recognition of a combination of excellence, innovation, tradition, and…simply great-tasting whisky. Our Buying Guide reviewers reach a consensus on the awards.

These awards are the oldest and longest-running annual whisky awards program. We taste and sample over the course of the year, at year’s end we consider and confer, and then we make our decisions based solely on the merits of the whiskies…as we have done for over twenty years. We give you our word: that’s how it will continue to be.

Stop by each day to get the winner and read our commentary on the whisky and why it was chosen. Here’s how they’ll roll out, starting with the American whiskeys and progressing around the world to wind up in Scotland, followed by our Lifetime Achievement Awards and the big one: Distiller of the Year!

December 5: Craft Whiskey of the Year

December 6: American Whiskey of the Year

December 7: Canadian Whisky of the Year

December 8: Irish Whiskey of the Year

December 9: Japanese Whisky of the Year

December 10: World Whisky of the Year

December 11: Blended/Blended Malt Whisky of the Year

December 12: Speyside Single Malt of the Year

December 13: Islay Single Malt of the Year

December 14: Highland/Islands Single Malt of the Year

December 15: Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year

December 16: Lifetime Achievement Awards

December 17: Distiller of the Year

Be sure to check in every day, and join the lively conversation that these announcements always set off!

Cara Laing — In 140 Or Less

December 1st, 2014

Author - Caroline DewarCaroline first met Cara Laing when she was a young, very capable marketer at Whyte & Mackay. She then went on to do good things at Morrison Bowmore before joining the family firm, Douglas Laing & Co., in 2013. She works alongside her father, Fred Laing, as head of brands marketing, looking after all aspects of marketing and communications; and she’s still young! This has been a momentous eighteen months; she also got married and became a Keeper of the Quaich.

What’s the view from your office window? Truthfully!

The sun is shining, rather unusually and I can see my old school from my office window!

Hope that’s a good memory! You studied marketing at uni and work internationally. Do you speak any foreign languages?

Definitely: my closest friends are from there.

I claim to speak French. Would like to be much better. France is a key market for us so would be good to speak it confidently.

It’s easy, honest! You got married fairly recently. Does the job get in the way of home life even though you work together?

We don’t allow it to! We have love for whisky but we also have strict ground-rules – we don’t talk work over the weekends or once we get in the car to head home after work.

Sounds an excellent rule. How much do you travel for work?

A sensible amount; about 2 long distance trips a year and a number of shorter key European market ones. Love meeting trade and consumers in markets. Key part of the job.

Cara Laing 2It is indeed. Loved those bits when I was marketing whisky. Was it always the plan to join the family firm? If so, did you feel you had to earn your stripes elsewhere?

Definitely not! After uni it was the last thing I intended; didn’t even like whisky. By sheer chance found myself at Whyte and Mackay and loving it. Then on to Bowmore.

And then?

Only as the chance arose here that Fred suggested I come on board. He always said if I joined, I’d have to add value, bring experience and prove my worth!

Sensible – and must be rewarding.

Yes; very special coming in every day to work alongside your dad in a company your grandfather established.

Very cheeky question here: you’re third generation in the family company. Will there be a 4th?

One day, I hope. But our kids would be encouraged to do whatever they have a genuine passion for; that said, it would be rather nice if their passion was also whisky!

Nice answer.
Is social media now too much of a focus in marketing?

Not for smaller companies like us. An amazing way to reach consumers: very targeted and cost-effective. Allows us to get across brands’ personality / character.

Interesting and makes sense. I hear opposing views out there.
Do you get involved in blending/cask choices – i.e. do you have a good nose?

Fred’s great at involving me in both. Some of our labels carry my tasting notes which is lovely. It’s wonderful, a very fun part of the job. Now working on a vatted malt.

So your nose is good, or being trained.

Yes, I do have a good nose. My tasting notes are getting ever more descriptive; so sometimes have to tone them down a bit!

Much as I enjoyed marketing, I’d love to come back as a blender!
More use of whisky in cocktails with mixers including malts – yes or no? Purist or experimenter?

Good question, depends on my mood! I’m all for experimentation to bring new people in.

Any you like yourself?

Traditional whisky cocktails like Whisky Sours – Big Peat phenomenal in a Smoky Whisky Sour – but I prefer my malts straight up: no water, no ice, just 100% natural.

I love to try new things but tend to go back to the purist version.
Any new expressions in the offing you can tell us about?

Working on a new vatted malt – maybe joining the Big Peat, Scallywag, Timorous Beastie family next year. Been fun one to work on and excited to see

how consumers respond.

Will look forward to it. Your brands have won plenty of awards; Big Peat fairly recently. How much do they matter/help?

Always a good seal of approval. Douglas Laing is known for high quality. So consumers know to trust us but awards are a lovely addition and we’re happy to receive them!

Some of your label designs are more innovative & more interesting compared to other companies; e.g., Big Peat, Timorous Beasties, Scallywag. Was that your doing?

A real double act: Fred and me. We both love creative packaging. A great way to punch above your weight and get noticed on-shelf, without big marketing budgets.

They’re very attractive, especially the Timorous Beastie mouse.
Would you agree you need a passion for whisky to market it properly? Can it be done without it?

You must have enthusiasm. It can’t be faked if out meeting people at whisky shows etc. or you’ll be found out. Also, for me, leads to the creativity, ideas, work ethic.

Cara Laing and her father, Fred Laing

Cara Laing and her father, Fred Laing

Amen to that. Seen enough graduates who just want to “tick off” a whisky on the resumé.

Any dreams to own a distillery or is the company happy as is?

Maybe one day. Currently focusing on brands and seeing what happens next in the industry. Many changes of late so we’ll see but no rush for one, nice as it would be.

Women who like whisky have strong character/opinion. Is it patronizing to market to them differently from men?

Yes and no. I’d hate to see “a whisky for girls” BUT I do think there are subtle ways of communicating to women about whisky.

Such as?

Long serves where it’s tempered a little or just less butch marketing platforms. And David Beckham is indirectly probably a great way to interest women in whisky!

Well, he interests me! And that’s without the whisky.
You’ve said you like to run. Just gentle exercise or something more committed than that?

Ran a marathon; would love to do another. Right now only a 1 hour run a few mornings a week. It’s tough on dark, cold mornings at 6 a.m.! Been known to turn off alarm and snooze!

I wouldn’t even run to the end of my street.
I hear you also like to bake. How did that come about?

I’m new to baking. It was the Great British Bake Off that inspired me!

Any specialty?

Still learning but make a mean banoffee cake. Full of stuff bad for you but tastes so good. A favorite with Chris and Fred and pairs beautifully with a dram of Scallywag!

A new line for Douglas Laing & Co…maybe.
You’re now a Keeper of the Quaich. What does the induction ceremony involve?

If I told you…I’d have to kill you!! An amazing ceremony. Must be truly exceptional for non-Scots: full of old Scottish tradition and great whiskies! A huge privilege.

What does Keeper of the Quaich do for the industry?

From my perspective, it’s the ultimate acknowledgment of your commitment to Scotch whisky; it’s for those who go above and beyond the 9-5 whisky “job.”

Your ambitions for a) the company and b) yourself; anything unfulfilled?

To continue growing and delighting our customers but we don’t want to get too big; we like being specialist and hands on.

And yourself?

Lots! I’m heavily involved in our production department but keen to have knowledge of all elements from sales to logistics; finance to stock management.

Yes but personal ambition?

Oh, right. Skydiving! I have an overwhelming fear of heights and don’t terribly enjoy being in a plane. To combine both and overcome my fears would be amazing. One day!

Lastly: what is your desert island dram? You’re allowed to appreciate the work of others!

Our most recent Port Ellen release; genuinely the most remarkable whisky I’ve ever tried. Sentimental value, too; it was my grandfather’s favorite distillery.

Top 10 Rated Whiskies from the Winter 2014 Issue

November 14th, 2014

The winter issue of Whisky Advocate will be hitting the newsstands in early December. Until then, here’s a sneak preview of the Buying Guide. It’s our biggest yet; with 157 whiskies reviewed. We start with #10 and conclude with the highest-rated whisky of our winter issue.

#10: Port Ellen 1978 35 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 56.5%, $3,300Port Ellen bottle&box LR

Scarcity and the secondary market have driven prices up, so either buddy-up to a rich guy, or club together to try this. Greater levels of cask interaction have added an extra dimension to a whisky that is often skeletal. The smoke’s in the background, as salted cashew, peppermint, tansy, furniture polish, and smoked meats take center stage. The palate is slowly expanding and smoked, with some chocolate and wax. Finally, a Port Ellen that is truly, classically mature. A killer. (2,964 bottles)—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Makers Cask Strength Hi Res

#9: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, 56.6%, $40/375 ml

This is what I wish the standard Maker’s Mark would be: more mature, spicier, more complex, and with a richer finish. Caramel kissed with honey provides a base for marzipan, cotton candy, cinnamon, clove, and a balancing leather dryness on the finish.–John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93The Joker Hanyu color label

#8: Ichiro’s Malt The Joker (distilled at Hanyu), 57.7%, £220

The final deal of Ichiro Akuto’s Card Series, a vatting of Hanyu from 1985 to 2000. Highly complex, rich, and distinctly resinous. Typical Hanyu boldness, but with balance struck between weightiness, finesse, and intensity. There’s old cobbler’s shop, tack room, light smoke, incense, ink, autumn leaves, and sumac. The palate is sweet to start, then builds in power. Leathery, then praline, damson jam, and fine tannins. Water loosens the tension, allowing yuzu to show. What a way to go out.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#7: Four Roses 2014 Limited Edition Small Batch, 55.9%, $90

C2014LESmallBatch_Frontrisp clove, cool mint, cinnamon, and cocoa mingle with glazed orange, honeyed vanilla, caramel, and maple syrup. Polished oak and leather on the finish balance the sweet, fruity notes. More oak and dried spice when compared to the 2013 release (our American Whiskey of the Year) and, while not quite reaching that caliber (it’s not quite as seamless, drinkable, or complex), it gets close. Very impressive. –John HansellSpeyside

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#6: The Exclusive Malts Speyside 25 year old 1989 Cask #3,942, 48.8%, $200

Exclusive Malts doesn’t disclose the source distillery, which doesn’t matter when you’ve got a whisky that’s a gem. Apple cider defines the nose and is complemented by ginger and iris. On the palate this whisky is lush but well balanced, with honeyed apple cider, gingerbread cookie, and baked apple. In the center of all this is rancio. Ginger spice and baked apple define the finish, which is long and flavorful. Great balance, integration, and flavor. What more can you ask for? (U.S. only)
Geoffrey Kleinman

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Park_Avenue-Rare_Release#5: Scotch Malt Whisky Society Hunting Hound on Holiday 4.180 24 year old 1989, 51.3%, $225

From the nose you can tell this is a special whisky, with old, dark, lacquered wood, dusty cigar box, and sea salt combined with dark sweet cherry and a hint of rancio. On the palate it gets even better, with lush, dark cherry perfectly balanced and integrated with oak spice, salt, and peat smoke. There’s clear rancio in the center of it all that’s utterly delicious. This stunner finishes with a long, slightly spicy, and entirely lovely finish. (Park Avenue Liquor only) – Geoffrey KleinmanMidleton Very Rare 2013 Bottle

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#4: Midleton Very Rare 2014, 40%, $125

Make way. The nose is dense, oily, and mesmeric. There’s vanilla, sure, but it’s the intense aroma of vanilla pods split and scraped at knifepoint. Woven around it, there’s crème caramel and heavier cinnamon flaring at the margins, softening with dilution, but remaining sweet. The first Midleton to carry master distiller Brian Nation’s name is purposeful and assured, lacking some of the sappiness of the 2013 release. This is less about succession, more an emphatic statement of intent.—Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

Brora bottle&box#3: Brora 1978 35 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 48.6%, $1,250

This is the 13th annual release of Brora, which has been aged in refill American oak and refill European oak casks. Hessian and hemp on the early nose, with a whiff of ozone, discreet peat, and old tar. Fragrant and fruity notes develop, with ripe apples, and a hint of honey. The palate is waxy, sweet, and spicy, with heather and ginger. Mildly medicinal and smoky. Dries steadily in the finish to aniseed, black pepper, dark chocolate, and fruity tannins. (2,964 bottles) —Gavin SmithSazerac Rye 18

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#2: Sazerac Rye 18 year old, 45%, $80

A benchmark aged rye whiskey, and it’s similar in profile to recent releases. Vibrant for its age. Complex too, brimming with allspice, clove, mint, and cinnamon. The spice notes are balanced by soft vanilla, soothing caramel, and candied summer fruits. Impeccably balanced, and a pure joy to drink! –John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

Stagg#1: George T. Stagg, 69.05%, $80

No age statement, but distilled in 1998. A beautiful expression of Stagg, and a lot of bourbon for your buck. Easy to drink with the addition of water, showing caramel, nougat, dates, dark chocolate, polished oak, along with a hint of leather and tobacco. Slightly better than last year’s release—richer, thicker, and more balanced. I’m enjoying Stagg’s more rounded, less aggressive demeanor of late. A classic! –John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

Orphan Barrel Whiskey Release #4: Lost Prophet

November 13th, 2014

john hansellI wrote about Diageo’s first three Orphan Barrel (OB) whiskeys here back in January. The whiskeys in these bottlings are from either the old or new Bernheim distilleries. As I noted in that post, they vary in taste, from the easy-drinking, gently sweet, and uncomplicated Barterhouse to the dry, spicy, and oak-driven Old Blowhard. Rhetoric, the third release, is somewhere in between those two flavor profiles, but leaning more towards Old Blowhard.

While all three releases are certainly interesting to taste and diverse in flavor profile, I feel that they never quite lived up to their potential. To me, the optimal whiskey is some blend of these three whiskeys, with Barterhouse being the primary component.

Orphan Barrel_Lost Prophet Bottle Shot_Lo ResProving that they have other arrows in the quiver, Diageo’s newest OB release, Lost Prophet, is not from one of the Bernheim distilleries, but is rather a 22 year old whiskey distilled in 1991 from what was then the George T. Stagg distillery (now Buffalo Trace) in Frankfort, KY. Similar to the previous OB releases, this whiskey spent time maturing in the old Stitzel-Weller warehouses in Louisville, KY (since 2006 for Lost Prophet), and was bottled in Tullahoma, TN, at the George Dickel distillery.

The mashbill for Lost Prophet is 75-78% corn, 7-10% barley, and 15% rye. Serious whiskey enthusiasts will note that this is similar to the “high rye” #2 mashbill formula at Buffalo Trace—the mashbill similar to such brands as Ancient Age, Elmer T. Lee, and Blanton’s. It’s bottled at 90.1 proof (45.05% ABV) and will list for about $120. Similar to Old Blowhard, this will be a one-time release.

Most importantly, how does it taste? I’m happy to report that it’s the best of the four Orphan Barrel whiskeys released to date. It’s complex, balanced, easy to drink, and not over-oaked. Sure, the spice notes (clove, cinnamon), oak grip, and notes of leather are there (it is a 22 year old whiskey, after all), but there’s also a lovely lower layer of sweeter notes (honeyed fruit, soft vanilla, coconut custard) for balance, along with a nice creamy texture. It’s a complete package.

This is a 22 year old whiskey. If you don’t like well-aged whiskeys, you might want to try it before you buy it. But, when compared to other 20+ year old bourbons in this age range (Pappy Van Winkle 23 yr. old, Elijah Craig 23 yr. old, Old Blowhard 26 yr. old, etc.), this whiskey has them beat. And at $120, it’s a better value.

Dewar’s Master Blender on “The Last Great Malts Collection”

November 7th, 2014

Author - Caroline DewarOn receiving the press release on the new “Last Great Malts Collection” from Dewar’s, I had as many questions as there are malts in the range. I thought it might be helpful to get some views from Stephanie Macleod, Dewar’s master blender, who chooses the casks and creates the samples which led to this launch.

First, though, it seemed sensible to get examples of some of them to taste before our talk. Don’t panic; I’m not going to belabor you with all my tasting notes. Some small samples of the Craigellachies (all except the 19 year old) and the 12, 21 and 25 year old Aultmores were supplied to give me a feel of what was on offer. Most of the Aberfeldy bottlings I largely know already from previous work done with this company. The Royal Brackla and The Deveron are not yet released.

Craigellachie is described by some as “meaty,” though Dave Broom does tell us it gets fruitier with age. I’m glad I saw that comment after tasting, as fruit was what struck me, most specifically on the 17 year old, which was my favorite from there. Oh, those mango skins!

Aultmore 12The Aultmore was a little harder to pin down, but they were all amazingly fresh tasting, even the older ones. One word I had noted for the 12 year old was ethereal, which also turned out be a word Stephanie had used for the same age. A delightful nose of Muscadet wine also appeared along with the woodland scents which came through on all three ages.

So in talking to Stephanie I wondered, why now? She reminded that they updated the branding of the Dewar’s range so it was a good moment to put these out on the back of that exercise. But why so many at one time? Stephanie laughed and asked if I’d been bugging her office, then went on to explain that they want to showcase as much as possible about each distillery as a range and make a statement of how great they are.

It seemed to me that the Dewar’s business had been quite quiet for years; then we get Highlander Honey and now these. What stirred things up? Seems that when global category director John Burke came on board, not enough was being done with single malts. They decided to be brave and put a number of them out there. One view is that maybe not all of them will ‘stick’ with consumers but clear favorites may emerge.

Marketing had been thinking about this for a while but the exercise to get the final ages chosen was quite an intense and concentrated time. Samples were tasted with the marketing team and out in markets. Stephanie also had to look at the inventory available, as all of these are vitally important to certain blends, most notably Aberfeldy for Dewar’s, and each age has to represent the key characteristics of its birthplace.

Stephanie Macleod - Dewar's Master Blender

Stephanie Macleod – Dewar’s Master Blender

The two youngest samples I had were quite pale; Stephanie confirmed that no natural coloring is being added. She was a little nervous about it, worrying that this might put off consumers or affect their perceptions of nose and taste, but they decided to go for the purity aspect. Both Craigellachie and Aultmore are non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% abv.

What does each distillery bring to the party? Royal Brackla is one of only two distilleries to have “royal” in its name, so it will be saved for very special bottlings. Stephanie describes it as “summer in a glass,” fruity, floral, and perfumed. It’s been finished in sherry wood to add color and spice and live up to its royal connection.

Aultmore epitomizes lightness and elegance, though the 25 year old has a slightly different profile with a lot of sherry influence. Aberfeldy, already known as a single malt, has been included with an extended range and to show off the Dewar’s house style. As it’s such an integral part of the Dewar’s blends it is a touchstone, an elder statesman, to give us all a familiar note (as well as a damn good dram). The 30 year old finished in Marsala casks for six months was tasted frequently during that time to make sure the Marsala did not dominate. I think I’d have wanted to taste it often too!

Similarly with The Deveron: it features strongly in some blends. In France it has been a popular 10 and 15 year old Glen Deveron single malt. It has also been known by the distillery name of Macduff for bottlings by independent companies. Here they want to show off its representation of the place where it hails from, as the River Deveron meets the North Sea. I asked whether there was any maritime influence, but Stephanie thinks not as there’s no salt note in it. She mused as to why, if whisky can get salt notes with no actual sodium, then why would the food industry not be hammering our doors down to find a safer alternative? Good question!

Craigellachie 13In Stephanie’s opinion, Craigellachie could be the “Marmite” brand here. You’ll either love it or not. It’s robust and old-fashioned in that they still use worm tubs in the distillation process. This is where the meaty element comes in. I found one expression quite mushroomy. She tells us it needs a long time in cask where it soaks up the wood goodness to acquire the fruity notes. The barley for this one is dried using oil firing, which is where the sulfury note comes from. So any sherry wood with Craigellachie needs care as that would add too much and become a “sulfur fest” as Stephanie puts it.

Why are we waiting till 2015 for the Royal Brackla and The Deveron? Was it packaging or not trying to do everything at once? Stephanie says there are elements to do with packaging as this is an ambitious program, but it is also a sensible idea to embed the first few and learn some things.

She tells that the packaging of each one embodies a sense of the place and character of the whisky within. One of the important parts of the whisky and pack creation was to talk to the distillery people, collecting stories from them and finding out what they like to see in their own distillery drams. “It’s exciting for us here and the distillery guys. They’re thrilled.”

Ewen Mackintosh — In 140 Or Less

October 31st, 2014

Author - Caroline DewarAnother in our occasional series of Tweet-style interviews. As always, it’s 140 characters or less (we don’t count the spaces) in the answers. Ewen Mackintosh is the new managing director (CEO) of Gordon & MacPhail, the renowned independent whisky bottler based in Elgin on Speyside and owned by the Urquhart family. Ewen will be the first non-Urquhart for four generations to be running the company. 

 

What’s the view from your office window?

Today: beautiful blue skies and Boroughbriggs Football Stadium – home to Elgin City FC.

No need to buy match tickets then. What’s it like living on Speyside?

It’s a great part of Scotland – sandy beaches in one direction, mountains in the other and peppered with golf courses and distilleries.

Paradise for many. You’re going from Chief Operating Officer to Managing Director. Please explain the differences, task-wise.

No, I remain as COO for the business. However I do take on more Executive responsibilities, such as Export Trade.

20614_G&M_001_-_smlSo it’s basically the same but more. You’re the first non-Urquhart family member in charge for 4 generations. Any nervousness?

Nervous, no. Excited, yes. However, it will be business as usual, no point changing a winning formula.

True! Sounds like a nice place to work. You went there straight from university. Was whisky already in the blood and what rôle did you start in?

Niblick Bar in St Andrews must take some credit for introducing me to malts as a student.Actually started with G&M as a student during summer holidays.

But first post-university role?

First permanent role was implementing Quality Management Systems.

And on from there, obviously. G&M sales/turnover/profits all well up this last year. Some of the big guys seeing some brand/country downturns. What’s your secret?

We have products to suit all wallets/purses — from our entry level 8YO malts, up to the 70YO, and of course Benromach continues to grow.

Malts are so popular so is it easier or harder to get casks fillings from other producers these days for your own bottlings? Or just more expensive?

We have good, long standing relationships. Filling our own casks ensures highest quality. Important to us that we complement official bottlings, not compete.

You’ve done that well for a long time. You must be thrilled with the success of Benromach. How was that achieved?

Our desire was to re-create a traditional Speyside style from the 1950s and 1960s — this character has proved very popular.

Indeed it has. 100º Proof is new. Organic, Peat Smoke, Heritage and more. Are you allowed to tell us what’s next?

We’re still catching our breath after introducing all the new packaging, however there are some wood finishes on the horizon.

On the G&M side: Connoisseur’s Choice, Generations etc. — about a dozen ranges. How do you choose what stock goes where?

A very good question and one difficult to explain in Twitter length! For example, some labels are historical…

Maybefor a longer interview another time but please go on…

Certain labels are agreed with particular distillers, others are for styles (cask strength and wood finishes). Generations is right at the top for the oldest.

I hear you like sport. Care to elaborate? Player or spectator?

Much more enjoyment playing than watching. Unfortunately my rugby days are behind me and so golf is the passion.

More of a spectator myself. Told other interests are travel, food & drink and socialising. Does that mean you’re a party animal?

No — definitely quality not quantity. Enjoy visiting new places, trying new things. Inevitably when people find you’re in the whisky business, socialising follows!

Gordon_&_MacPhail_Directors_250413_0162_-_smlA lot of us would agree with that last bit. Do you like to pair whisky with food or is that a step too far?

Certain things work for me, cheese and chocolate pair well with whisky. It’s all about personal tastes, I never see whisky replacing wine at the dinner table.

Nor I, despite my whisky industry background. Still like it though. Travel — most of it for the job? When travelling — books or music?

For holidays, definitely a book. For work travel, mainly music. Unfortunately the emails never stop, so these generally replace the book.

Sounds familiar! Future ambitions for the company?

Benromach – keep telling our story, introduce new people to it. G&M – many “independent bottlers” out there. Want to ensure people understand what makes us different.

Unfulfilled ambitions for yourself — what’s on the bucket list?

Personally, the list is quite long, however right at the top is getting my golf handicap down to single figures.

All sounds achievable. Nothing scary there!
Lastly, what’s your desert island dram? Doesn’t have to be one of your own…

The golf handicap is quite scary! I’ll take my golf clubs and a few bottles of Linkwood with me to the desert island.

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