Archive for the ‘Distillery Tours’ Category

Scotland’s tallest stills installed at Glenmorangie

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

This is straight from the press release I was emailed today. The photo I included shows the bottom part of the still being installed:

Scotland’s tallest whisky still has been launched into place at the Glenmorangie distillery in Tain, Ross-shire today.

The five-metre-tall, swan-necked still is the last of four new stills being installed at the Gglenmorangie.jpglenmorangie Distillery. This will allow The Glenmorangie Company to meet the growing future demand for premium single malt whiskies from existing and emerging markets in the USA, Far East and central Europe.

Measuring 5.14 m in height, the stills are made from copper to exacting modern standards, but they follow exactly the same design of the original stills when the distillery opened in 1843.

The expansion of the Tain distillery is a key plank of The Glenmorangie Company’s recently announced £45m two-year investment programme to focus on building its highly successful, iconic premium single malt Scotch whisky brands – Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.

Dr Bill Lumsden, Head of Distilling and Whisky Creation at The Glenmorangie Company, said: “The new stills will allow us to significantly increase our production capacity and deliver long term growth for the Company as well as the local and Scottish economy.

“The installation of the new stills, which are each an exact replica of the current stills, will be a particularly closely supervised procedure, as the handcrafted quality of the spirit produced at Glenmorangie is always of paramount importance.”

The distillery – which is home of the world-renowned single malt Glenmorangie – was founded as Macdonald and Muir in 1843 and is renowned as a pioneer in its field uniting tradition with innovation.

Tom Moore Distillery joins Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Friday, August 29th, 2008

There is now one more distillery you can visit in Kentucky. Excerpts of the press release I received earlier this week follows.

KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL ROLLS OUT NEWEST MEMBER

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The historic Tom Moore Distillery, home of 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, has joined the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and will begin offering tours on Oct. 1, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association announced.

The Bardstown landmark is owned and operated by Constellation Spirits, the former Barton Brands, Ltd., which was founded by Tom Moore in 1879. Its super premium 1792 brand bourbon is named for the year when Kentucky gained statehood.

“We’re excited and proud that visitors will be able to get a behind-the-scenes look at what our employees do best – make excellent Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey,” said Johnnie Colwell, Vice President and Plant Manager of Constellation Spirits.

Plans also are underway for a visitor’s center to open in 2010.

Speyside visit update: Benromach

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

After touring BenRiach in the morning, I followed it up with a tour of Benromach in the afternoon. You could say I had a case of the “Bens” that day. (Sorry.)

Although the distillery began operations in 1898, it was closed from 1983-1998. There will always be a 15 year gap in production (and in the expressions of Benromach that are released).

It seems like only yesterday that Benromach’s new owners, Gordon & MacPhail (G&M), were celebrating the distillery’s new start up. It’s hard to believe that this occurred back in August, 1998. They are coming up on their 10th Anniversary. Good for them!

After an enjoyable tour of the distillery with Keith Cruickshank, Benromach’s Distillery Manager, we darted off to G&M’s main headquarters (and warehouse) in Elgin, where I sampled an array of Benromach whiskies with Joint Managing Director Michael Urquhart and Whisky Supply Manager Ewen Mackintosh.

When G&M started Benromach up in 1998, they completely changed the style of Benromach. Part of this was a necessity. To quote Michael: “The only thing left from the original distillery was the oil boiler, buildings, and water supply.”

But even so, they decided to change the peating level of Benromach, from the essentially unpeated Speyside character to a moderately peated level of barley with about 12 ppm phenol.

Michael explains: “It is our desire to go back to the way things were done.”

But this hasn’t stopped them from also being innovative. In addition to their flagship Benromach “Traditional”, they also recently released Benromach “Organic” and Benromach “Peat Smoke.”

My thoughts on these whiskies? The Traditional (no age statement but currently hovering about 7 yrs. old) is youthful, but pleasant. The same goes for the more intensely smoky Peat Smoke, with the sweeter notes and smoke both fighting for attention. The Organic, on the other hand, is aged in new oak. Even thought the whisky is young (there’s no age statement on that label either, but it’s 6-7 years old), the impact of the new oak on the whisky’s flavor is unmistakable. Some of you (myself included) will find the oak notes too intense.

There are also a series of Benromach wood finishes. Recently there was the “love it or hate it” Benromach Tokaji wood finish, that was pretty heavy on the Tokaji wine. The newest release is a somewhat less extreme Marsala wood finish.

And there’s a new project that G&M is working on with Benromach. It’s going to be called Benromach “Origins.” Essentially, this is a new series of whiskies focusing on the “front end” of production rather than a back-end change like wood finishing. (Expect to see more of this from the other companies too!) Their first release, coming out within the next month or so: a Benromach produced from Golden Promise barley.

G&M inherited the older stocks of Benromach too. While at the G&M offices, we also “worked” our way through some of them. The oldest one I sampled? It was the oldest vintage of Benromach in stock: a 55 yr. old survivor, dating back to 1949! Might there be a Benromach 50 year old in the works for 2009?

And what about a special 10th Anniversary bottling? Or a 10 yr. old bottling, now that they will hit this milestone later in the year? Indeed, there’s a lot going on at Benromach. Stay tuned.

Speyside visit update: Glenfarclas

Sunday, May 11th, 2008

With 52,000 casks of whisky maturing in 29 different warehouses, Glenfarclas doesn’t have a shortage of older whiskies like many other distilleries I visited in Speyside whose whiskies have been largely allocated to go into blends. In fact, Glenfarclas decided to prove this point, loud and clear, by introducing “The Family Casks” this past September. This is by far the most significant effort by Glenfarclas in the 30 years I have been drinking whisky.

The Family Casks are a series of 43 different vintages from 1952-1994. It is an amazing collection of whiskies which I was able to taste last July, well in advance of the official launch during my visit to Glenfarclas with George Grant, Brand Ambassador. The whisky was being bottle at the time , but he had cask samples of every vintage in boxes stacked up all over his office.

“Have whatever you want, John,” he said.

I just stared at the boxes and thought to myself, “Good Lord! A great deal of restraint and self-discipline is in order here.” After all, it was only 10:00 in the morning and I had a busy day ahead of me.

The better part of me persevered and we decided on tasting one vintage from each decade. I was amazed at how different they were. While most expressed a degree of sherry influence, they varied greatly, from light and elegant, to the vintage of my birth year, 1960, which was very dark and brooding.

(As a side note, George informed me that the standard ratio of sherry to bourbon casks for aging Glenfarclas is 60% sherry and 40% plain oak. Yes, that’s plain oak, not bourbon oak. Plain oak means that it was a sherry cask that was used at least four times before, or a bourbon cask that was used three times already. He said Glenfarclas doesn’t use any first fill bourbon casks because it makes the whisky too oily. Very interesting.)

During my most recent visit to Glenfarclas, I once again enjoyed sampling my way through various samples from The Family Casks, including the oldest vintage, 1952. I also had another go at 1960. (Why not? How often does one get to taste a whisky from their birth year?)

My only complaint about The Family Casks is that they have not been available in the U.S. But they sure have been popular. In fact, they ran out of several vintages and have done a second release from the following years: 1952, 1957, 1960, 1967 and 1969 . One guy from France, who tasted his way through various vintages, bought the entire lot from 1960. (He obviously has good taste!)

George Grant assures me that he will work with a few select retailers to bring a portion of The Family Casks to the U.S. Let’s hope so.

I also enjoyed spending some time in the Glenfarclas warehouses, and we tasted some interesting whiskies, including some aged in port pipes. (They have vintages from 1979-1981 aging in port pipes.) In fact, George informed me that, for the first time, they will be importing a Glenfarclas into the U.S. that was aged entirely in a port pipe. It will be a 1981 vintage, 27 years old, and will be available through Park Avenue Liquors in New York City in August. I didn’t get the chance to taste that one, but I am looking forward to it. No doubt you are too!

Speyside visit update: The Macallan

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

I was just at the Macallan distillery a few years ago and toured the distillery at that time. So, when I showed up this time, I asked if there have been any changes to the distillery operations. They told me “no”, so I asked if I could just go to the blending lab and spend some time with Bob Dalgarno and Ian Morrison, the Whisky-makers. They obliged. Bob was out for the afternoon, but Ian was there working on the next bottling of Macallan 12 year old so I chatted with him.

I think that the blending lab at The Macallan is as close as a whisky-lover can get to heaven on earth. My afternoon spent there began simply enough. I was a little uninspired by the second Macallan Lalique decanter release this past fall, which contained 55 year old Macallan (and cost $12,000!). I was okay with the aroma and the first half of the palate, but the second half really started showing its age, getting rather woody and tired. I have enjoyed several other 50+ year old Macallan whiskies, and this one seemed a bit inferior to those. The US PR group asked me to taste the whisky again while I was at Macallan, so I did.

The whisky tasted the same to me. And to prove my point to the UK PR Manager who was with us in the lab, I asked Ian if he had anything else in that age range for comparison. That’s when I experienced one of those rare moments that we whisky drinkers can only dream of. Ian rummaged through what looked like thousands of whisky samples to pull out anything close. We tasted a 50 year old that was lighter and fresher with less wood, a 49 year old that was deliciously sherried and even-keeled throughout, and then sampled the Macallan 1946 Vintage bottling which still is the smokiest Macallan I ever tasted.

Catching my breath from all that, we tasted several new releases, including the richly sherried Gran Reserva bottling for the Far East and the Whisky Maker’s Selection for Travel Retail, which is essentially a marriage of 12-21 year old Fine Oak.

I then inquired about the Macallan Replica bottlings and asked if there are any more in the works? Ian said: “No, but I have samples of the original 1861 and 1851 bottlings. Would you like to taste them?” (Not samples of the replica bottlings, but the original whiskies.)

I didn’t have to answer that one. I just looked at him and smiled.

It was an interesting contrast between the two. The 1861 was not that bad actually: European Oak, sherried, adequately matured. The 1851, from what appeared to be American Oak,  tasted quite young. Less than 10 years old I would guess. I didn’t like it. That’s one whisky I don’t think Bob and Ian want to replicate exactly the same as the original. Definitely throw in some older whiskies in the mix on that one.

And so went the rest of my visit in the Macallan blending lab, tasting samples and talking about Macallan whisky, until Ian had to leave for home. A very memorable day indeed.

And it turns out there are some big changes in the distilling operations after all, which we discussed during my visit. I’ll include that information in my feature on Speyside in the 4th Quarter issue of Malt Advocate magazine.

Speyside visit update: Glenrothes

Monday, May 5th, 2008

I was priviledged to have Ronnie Cox, Director for The Glenrothes, show me around the distillery and taste me on some whiskies. Ronnie is a very engaging person, well traveled, and knows a thing or two about whisky too!

After an interesting tour of the distillery (details in the 4th Quarter 2008 issue of Malt Advocate), we worked our way over to the tasting room. Glenrothes’ signature has been that they focus on vintage bottlings, not age statements. There have been a few reasons for this, which Ronnie explained to me:

“We’re looking for maturity, not age. But you must also realize that (brand owner) Berry Brothers & Rudd have a wine background, and the wine industry is more focused on vintage. And at one time, the quality controls weren’t there to make the same whisky twice. They would all be a little different. Releasing vintages shows people the different personalities of the whisky. It’s more about style than anything else. We don’t want to keep making the same whisky. We want to make different styles of whiskies for different moods.”

Ronnie told me that there have been 17 vintage releases of Glenrothes so far from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. He mentioned that they still have some casks from the 1960s, but, to quote Ronnie, “They may not be ours. At one time we used to fill casks for private individuals and age the whisky in our warehouses.”

I didn’t recall ever seeing a Glenrothes in a port pipe, Madeira casks, or something even more exotic, so I asked him about it. He told me that Glenrothes whisky is aged in nothing but sherry and bourbon casks. “We have enough to experiment with working within these parameters,” he said.

Glenrothes did finally release a non-vintage “Select Reserve” a couple years back, which contains the basic house flavor profile. It’s a relatively young whisky (when compared to the vintage releases) but still adequately matured and economically priced. The vintage releases all evolve from the Select Reserve’s flavor foundation.

We sampled numerous expressions, including a 1966 & 1967 limited release around 2000 which, according to Ronnie, at that time were selling between $1,500 and $2,000. The 1966 was from a first-fill sherry cask, very rich and nicely balanced. The 1967, a little bit less expensive than the 1966, was from a second fill sherry cask and was fantastic!

Another whisky that really impressed me besides the 1967 vintage above was the 30 year old bottling released in Duty Free (Travel Retail) a little while back. It’s replacement, a more heavily sherried 25 year old , is no slouch either. It’s not as elegant as the 30, but will romance you with its sherry and wood spices.

There are also some really good new releases from the 1970s, namely a 1975 that was released in the U.S. (A 1978 expression was released in Europe as the sister vintage for those of you across the pond.) Another one from the archives to track down was the amazing 1972 vintage released several years back. That whisky, along with the 30 year old release, may well be the two finest Glenrothes whiskies I have ever tasted. And if you look hard enough, you can probably still find the odd bottle somewhere.

But, steer clear of the 1979 single cask, cask strength whisky that was released to the U.S. a couple years ago. The excessive sherry and sulfur just ruined the show for me. That’s one style of Glenrothes I didn’t need to see. No mood exists for that whisky. Not in my personality, anyway.

Here’s another insider tip for you: There will be no more vintage releases from the 1970s. That’s now common knowledge. But, according to Ronnie, the distillery is also running low on casks from the 1980s (just like many other distilleries I visited in Speyside). Indeed, he told me that the next releases will be from the 1990s. So, now is the time to go out and get those vintages from the 1970s and 1980s that you enjoy and stock up!

One final note. Glenrothes is a key component to the Cutty Sark blend. I tasted the Cutty 25 year old while I was in Speyside and it was amazing. I loved the combination of drinkability, flavor, complexity and balance. It’s one of the best blended whiskies I have ever tasted. Even my wife, who doesn’t normally drink whisky, finished her entire dram. And if she hadn’t, I would have finished it for her! The only problem: it’s not sold in the U.S.

So, for all of you who email me and ask me what you should buy when you are overseas, you now know my answer.

Three down, four to go

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

I have already posted tasting reports on three of my seven Speyside distillery visits two weeks ago. A few diversions have delayed my posting on the other four (namely my reviews of Highland Park 40, Bruichladdich PC6 and my posting of the new Forty Creek whisky).

But, no worries. I have already written about my tasting experiences at the other four distilleries. They are teed up and ready to go. First posting will be on Monday. Let me note that these are just the tasting segments of my distillery visits. These, along with write-ups on my distillery tours, will be published in the 4th Quarter issue of Malt Advocate.

I’ll be out of the office during the daytime the next few days goofing off with a new (used) boat I bought, but plan to check my email in the evenings. If you make any comments to the blog, they might night get posted until the evening hours (after I have approved them).

Speyside visit update: Ardmore

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

When Beam Global took over Teacher’s Blended Scotch in 2005, they also got the distillery whose single malt is the heart of Teacher’s: Ardmore.

Prior to Beam, Ardmore was produced primarily for blending. There were only two commercially available distillery bottlings, a 12 and 21 year old, both released in limited quantities for the distillery’s Centenary several years ago.

The cool thing about Ardmore is that it is one of the few smoky Speyside distilleries, with a peating level of 12-14 ppm phenol. (Yes, a lot more Speyside distilleries are jumping on the peaty bandwagon but, for Ardmore, this has been the norm for quite a while.)

Given that Ardmore was a blending malt and dumped at a young age, stocks of old Ardmore in the warehouse are extremely rare. It is also the reason why when Beam Global released their first distillery bottling of Ardmore, the Traditional Cask, it was relatively young in age. (The whisky has no age statement but, according to Alistair Longwell, Ardmore Distillery Manager, it is aged from 6-12 years old in American oak and then finished off for 6-12 months in quarter casks. Alistair explained to me that “it’s more about the flavor” than the age.)

I have to admit. I have tasted this whisky on several occasions (there have been three bottlings of it so far) and my opinion is the same. It is a nice whisky with great potential, but I can tell that there’s some young whisky in there and would like to see a little more maturity to the whisky. I didn’t compare samples of the three bottlings side-by-side, but it seemed like the most recent botting might be a little bit more mature in character, but still not where it should be.

This doesn’t mean that the whisky needs to be 20 plus years old. In fact, 12 years old will work just fine. I know that because I tasted the 12 year old Centenary bottling and thought it was wonderful: an excellent balance of Speyside elegance and smoky undertones.

While we were knocking about one of the warehouses, Alistair did show me some experiments. He has whisky aging in cognac casks and some also aging in port hogsheads.

He also let me try samples of two different casks of Ardmore (informally called “triple wood”) which he plans on releasing later this year. Both are older than Ardmore Traditional, but are in the same vein. Each cask spent about 6 years in a bourbon cask and then about 4 years in a quarter cask. One has been finished for about 9 months in a sherry butt; the other is being finished in a Spanish oak puncheon. The whisky in the sherry butt, in my opinion, already had too much sherry on it, but the other one finished in the puncheon was quite nice. If and when these whiskies are released, you now know which one to look for.

And if you really want to understand Ardmore’s true potential, you should try to find the odd bottle of the 12 year old Centenary bottling before it disappears completely. If you do, you’re in for a special treat.

I’ll close by letting you in on a little secret: In 2001, Ardmore started making an unpeated whisky, which Alistair calls “Ardlair”. There currently are no plans on bottling and selling it as a single malt.

“It’s typical of a Speyside malt,” he told me. “We’re making it to sell to blenders.”

Speyside visit update: Cragganmore

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Good news. I was going to be out of the office the next few days and would not be able to blog about my trip. (I bought a boat. I was going to drive to the Jersey Shore today to the marina where the boat is and take the boat to the slip that I rented.) But all this has been pushed back one week.

So, you will hear a lot from me this week, and very little from me next week. I am sitting with my computer on my lap and my golden retriever at my feet. (I decided to work at home today and skip going into the office. I get more writing done.) I thought I’d post briefly on my visit to Cragganmore.

I toured the distillery with Nick Morgan, Director of Malts for Diageo (and a longtime friend) and Andy Cant, Distilleries Manager for Cragganmore, Cardhu and Knockando. (No, I didn’t even “go there” regarding the whole Cardhu thing.) The highlight of my visit was the tasting after the tour.

Lined up in front of us were the six distillery bottlings released over the past decade or so. They were (in the order that we tasted them): Standard 10 yr., Distillers’ Edition 1992 Vintage, 14 yr. old, 10 yr. old cask strength, 17 yr. old cask strength, and 29 yr. old cask strength. Of this group, the 14 yr. old and 17 yr. old expressions were not imported to the U.S.

The most humorous part of the tasting (for me, not for Andy) was when Nick was looking at the whisky labels and said: “Hey Andy, did you know that you opened Bottle #1 of the 14 yr. old?”

Andy looked at the label and continued staring at the label as his face turned white. Not a word was spoken for what seemed like minutes (although was probably only about 10 seconds). Nick and I then began to laugh. Although, I really felt sorry for Andy.

You see, distilleries like to keep Bottle #1 of any limited releases. Many times, it will be on display at the distillery. Not this time. (According to Nick, the 14 yr. old was released in 2001 for the Friends of Classic Malts.)

I’m not sure if Andy has told his boss yet. If he hasn’t, let’s hope the guy’s not reading this blog! Andy told me later that it took him several hours for him to recover from the whole thing.

Anyway, back to the whiskies. It was interesting to see the difference in personality between the six whiskies. The Distillers’ Edition is finished in port, the 14 yr. old was what I would call “moderately sherried” (probably a combination of first, second, and maybe even refill or fino sherry casks), and the 10 yr. old cask strength was very sherried (my guess would be mostly first fill sherry cask). The standard 10 yr. the 17 yr., and 20 yr., all seemed to be from ex-bourbon casks.

My take on the whole thing? (And I think this was unanimous, by the way.) The 17 was the best of the bunch. So much so that I brought a bottle home with me. It was dry and balanced like the standard 10 yr., but deeper and more complex.

I actually liked the standard 10 next, followed by the 29 yr. (Although there was some subtle mustiness in the 29. Looking back, I wonder if the bottle wasn’t corked?) Anyway, the moderately sherried 14 yr. and port wood finished Distillers’ Edition were also very nice, although masking some of Cragganmore’s more subtle notes. The only one that I didn’t fancy was the very sherried 10 yr. limited edition cask strength. The sherry dominated the flavor profile. Of course, as luck would have it, this is the bottle I have in my drinking collection…

All-in-all, the tasting was a lot of fun–and very educational. I hope it will help you with your decision-making process the next time you see one or more of these whiskies on a retailer’s shelf.

Speyside visit update: BenRiach

Monday, April 28th, 2008

I just returned back from a tour of seven Speyside distilleries. Over the next few weeks, I’ll provide a brief overview of some of the interesting whiskies I tasted, along with some general thoughts on each distillery. A feature on Speyside will appear in the 4th Quarter 2008 issue of Malt Advocate magazine. The first distillery we’ll take a look at is BenRiach.

BenRiach
When Billy Walker and a group of investors purchased BenRiach four years ago, they already inherited stock from the previous owner (Chivas Brothers) that included a wide variety of experimental whiskies, including peated whiskies, triple distilled whiskies, whisky aged in virgin wood and whisky aged in various cask sizes. On top of this, Billy Walker & Co. have been conducting their own experiments, including a wide variety of wood finishes. That would include some experiments that didn’t work out as planned, like a 1991 Tokaji wood finish, which Billy admits “we kept it too long (in the Tokaji wood).”

The highlight of my tour was a stroll through one of the warehouses with Billy, where we sampled a number of whiskies straight from the cask. One was one of the oldest whiskies he has in the warehouse, from 1968. But we also sampled more than a dozen other whiskies. My favorite was from a 1976 fino sherry butt which was superb! There were other interesting whiskies, including a 1976 Quarter Cask, a 1975 port wood finish, a 1984 peated port wood finish, a 1988 whisky from a virgin cask, a couple of whiskies finished in Gaja Barolo, and even a 1991 Chateau d’Yquem finish.

Suffice it to say that Malt Advocate magazine’s distillery of the year for 2007 will continue to be offering interesting new whiskies indefinitely. A full report on BenRiach will appear in the 4th Quarter 2008 issue.