Archive for the ‘Scotch whisky’ Category

Bruichladdich’s Duncan McGillivray — In 140 Or Less

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Author - Caroline DewarAnother in our occasional series of Tweet-style interviews. Here’s Bruichladdich general manager Duncan MacGillivray, who was interviewed just before Christmas.

What’s the view from your office window?

Out across Loch Indaal to Bowmore. Nice view of Bruichladdich pier too.

Better than mine, even if it is my garden. What season of weather is it today, given it could be any one of four on Islay?

It’s rather grey and unusually calm, late autumn. Damp, but not wet.

What’s going on at the distillery today?

We’re distilling Octomore spirit. The last mashes before the Christmas break. Then we will have a maintenance period.Capture-Duncan

I read that on the web. Why do you expect a lower yield of alcohol per ton of barley from that?

The phenolic content affects the efficiency of fermentation, resulting in lower yield.

And why take the middle cut at a different point, for those who don’t know your process on this one?

You can alter the strength and character of the spirit by altering the middle cut. We have an unusually short middle cut which gives us better quality spirit.

Are you still being whisky mavericks (that’s a bit Wild West!) under the new ownership?

It’s business as usual at Bruichladdich. No change in attitude or approach!

Glad to hear that. You’re general manager, not distillery manager. What’s the difference? 

I am able to take a broad overview of operations rather than attending to the day to day needs.

What do you mean by broad overview? Can you expand/give an example?

I take a more ambassadorial role now. I don’t have to worry about the day to day running of the plant as we now have a manager, brewer, and engineer.

In that case, any inclination to travel as much as Jim McEwan or do you do that anyway now?

[At this point Duncan had to go – called to the Laddieshop. We waited while he did manager things. And…he’s back!]

Jim loves to travel. He has just done Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Canada, U.S., and Germany and is heading to [Australia] and NZ in the New Year.

But that doesn’t answer my question – how about you?

I may travel more next year – but not to the extent Jim does… He loves it.

I hear you’re a Gaelic speaker. Get to use it much?

Speak Gaelic with Alasdair in the bottling hall pretty much every day.

What’s this about a passion for tractors? Tell us more.

I have restored a David Brown 880 (1964) and a Massey Ferguson 135 (1966).

That’s impressive, though tractor models not my area of expertise! And the old lorry you rebuilt. What’s the tale behind that?

The lorry is a Ford AA 1 ton truck (1935) restored by David McLellan and myself. It has spent its whole life on Islay.

I heard it was the first lorry to come to Islay; is that correct?

We believe so. It was driven up from Ford’s Dagenham by original owner Willie Christie of Islay Woollen Mill.

A great story. Any new expressions coming soon of The Laddie, Octomore, or PC coming that you can tell us about now?

We have Octomore and Port Charlotte releases distilled from Islay barley coming. No release dates yet.

Any unfulfilled distilling ambitions?

We’re just enjoying the exploration of different barley varieties and provenance from around Scotland. It’s a fascinating and ongoing project.

Fascinating indeed. No plans for vodka or Islay rum from local sugar cane fields then! And the Port Charlotte distillery?

Port Charlotte distillery was halted by the financial crisis. Remy Cointreau have not decided what they are going to do with it yet.

I sense you won’t have trouble filling your time if you ever retire. And you adore seeing your grandchildren. Are they on Islay too?

I love seeing the grandchildren, but they live in the Scottish borders. I get to see them often though. No intention of retiring; always seem to have something on the go.

Social media and the Internet: fan or foe?

I suppose it’s a necessary evil. I do look at Facebook etc. for the family now and again. I don’t’ really get involved though.

What would be your desert island dram (it doesn’t have to be one of your own!)

Bruichladdich 15, 2nd Edition: one of my all-time favorites, finished in a very good Sauternes cask. I’ll take that to my island. If unavailable, then a Highland Park.

And we’re done. Thank you!

Whisky Advocate Award: Distiller of the Year

Monday, December 23rd, 2013


Roseisle distillery

Roseisle distillery

Diageo moves in big ways, and that makes some folks uneasy. People scoffed when Diageo unveiled the massive new Roseisle distillery, for instance, fearing it would lead to the lights going out at affiliated distilleries all over Speyside.

Actually, what happened next was a $1.5 billion, five year investment program in Scotland, including a brand new distillery beside Teaninich. The numbers are big: 13 million liters per annum, sixteen copper stills, twenty new jobs, and a project cost of $76 million. Expansion projects and upgrades benefited distilling at Mortlach, Teaninich, Inchgower, Glendullan, Dailuaine, Benrinnes, Cragganmore, Glen Elgin, Glen Ord, Linkwood, and Mannochmore. The Cameronbridge facility has been revolutionized with a $163 million investment, endorsed by a site visit from the British prime minister. The company expanded the Diageo archive at Menstrie and realized improvements in their Leven packaging plant. The nearby Cluny Bond will have 46 new warehouses, each of which can store 60,000 casks.

Diageo also takes energy efficiency, water treatment, and renewable energy seriously. This investment in sustainability has added the latest green technologies to Glendullan, Dailuaine, Glenlossie, and Cameronbridge, with plans for a bio-energy plant at the new distillery in Alness. Roseisle is scaring nobody now.

Then there is Johnnie Walker. The world’s biggest Scotch whisky brand introduced Gold Label Reserve and Platinum Label into the United States, in addition to a freshly primped JW lineup in stores and Travel Retail. Odyssey tore up the rulebook on the perceived worth of blended malts. Those following the oceanic adventures of the John Walker & Sons Voyager across Pacific Asia and Europe were treated to a heady mix of glamour, celebrity, talent, and show-stopping spectacle with blended scotch as the guest of honor.

Now their single malt brands are returning to the fray. For starters, there are three new regular Talisker expressions, backed by the passionate people running the innovative new visitor experience on Skye, and there will also be more choices from Cardhu, Dufftown, and Mortlach.

The Diageo Special Releases 2013 contained some phenomenal liquids: the stunning Brora from 1977 with flavors that snapped into place with a droplet or two of water, and the beguiling, rounded flavors to be found in a glass of Convalmore 36 year old. The steep jump in some prices was in part justified as Diageo’s latest salvo on the war against flipping on the secondary market. Their attempts to snuff out the commoditization of highly sought-after limited editions may ensure that the purchasers are truly venerating the single malt whisky in the bottle. This stance extended to the festival bottlings of Lagavulin, Caol Ila, and Mortlach in 2013 from the Islay Jazz festival, Fèis Ìle, and the Spirit of Speyside festival. Bottling runs were upped into the thousands and prices were kept around £100 to prevent disappointment and curb profiteering.

Diageo is about whisky on a global stage. New innovations have bolstered their prospects across the Atlantic; Crown Royal Maple and Bulleit Bourbon 10 year old hit the ground running. Bourbon lovers will be intrigued to try the new Orphan Barrel whiskeys and Blade & Bow bourbon. Internationally, a pivotal moment was marked when Diageo gained control of India’s United Spirits Ltd. The prize was not Whyte & MacKay especially, rather the flourishing opportunities in accessing potential drinkers in the Indian subcontinent.

Sure, Diageo is huge, and their size makes some people nervous. But big moves require a big company. Substantial investment, a world-beating vision for future growth, and harnessing their guardianship of brand history to reach out to consumers have helped our Distiller of the Year deliver an incredible portfolio of whiskies to suit all pockets and preferences. — Jonny McCormick

photo credit: Keith Hunter Photography

Whisky Advocate Award: Lifetime Achievement

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Michael Urquhart

Managing Director, Gordon & MacPhail

M. Urquhart_Gordon & MacPhail CREDIT John PaulMichael Urquhart, son of George Urquhart and grandson of John Urquhart, joined the family firm of independent whisky bottlers Gordon & MacPhail in 1981. His grandfather started work at the little grocer’s shop in Elgin in 1895, just a year after they first opened their doors.

“Mr. George,” Michael’s father, launched the ever popular Connoisseur’s Choice range in the 1960s. George’s three sons Ian, David, and Michael followed him into the company, along with Rosemary Rankin, John Urquhart’s granddaughter. Shortly after the firm’s centenary, Benromach distillery reopened under their ownership and continues to grow.

For the whisky community, the unrivaled release of the Generations Mortlach 70 year old 1938 and Generations Glenlivet 70 year old 1940 shone like a beacon around the world. It was Michael who led the team that designed and launched these exceptional whiskies. The Mortlach decanter #1 was gifted to Queen Elizabeth II and is proudly displayed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Michael is impeccably well-mannered and gracious company, yet he commands instinctive, razor-sharp business acumen too: what better qualities to represent Scotland and Scotch whisky around the world? A Master of the Quaich, Michael’s tireless energies are focused on driving forward exports of Scotch whisky, particularly Benromach, to new and existing markets. This ensures he is constantly traveling to the fifty or more markets they supply. His vitality is enviable; with a spring in his step, he’ll greet you with a recent anecdote along the lines of ‘last week, when I was in Russia’…or was it Taiwan, or perhaps Vancouver? No wonder the company was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade in 2013, repeating the honor they received in 2009.

He is the last of George Urquhart’s sons to manage Gordon & MacPhail. The next generation are already playing their part in this unique family business and one day they’ll be in charge, but for now, we salute Michael Urquhart’s distinguished achievements. —Jonny McCormick

Photo credit: John Paul


Whisky Advocate Award: Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

Kilkerran Work in Progress 5 Sherry Wood, 46%, $60

Glengyle is Campbeltown’s newest distillery, in the sense that it first produced spirit during 2004, though the original Glengyle operated between 1872 and 1925; a period when Campbeltown was still a major player in the Scotch whisky world. Glengyle Kilkerran WIP5 Sherrywas revived by Springbank owner Hedley Wright, and features a pair of modified stills formerly used by the Ben Wyvis malt distillery at Invergordon. Glengyle is operated by Springbank staff, using malt made in the floor maltings there, and quantities of spirit distilled vary significantly from year to year. The distillery is also the focus for experimentation, with peated malt having been used at times; quadruple distillation has also been performed.

Glengyle is working toward the release of its first permanent expression in 2016, a 12 year old, and to that end now has its own dedicated team tasked with raising the awareness of the output of Glengyle distillery, which is named Kilkerran single malt because the ‘Glengyle’ title had already been registered.

In the meantime, annual batches of Kilkerran Work in Progress have been released since 2009, allowing consumers to gauge the progress of the whisky as it gains maturity. Next year, six different expressions of 10 year old—all from the first batch of spirit distilled and all matured in varying woods—will be marketed, but for 2013 we have a bourbon cask-aged variant and a sherry cask-aged expression. Just 9,000 bottles of each are available worldwide.

Of the pair, the Sherry Wood version in particular demonstrates that this is a single malt whose time has come. It is a “work in progress” in name only, being a confident, complex, integrated and individualistic whisky fit to stand alongside its Springbank, Longrow, and Hazelburn siblings. Who knows just how good it might get by the time it achieves mainstream release as a 12 year old? —Gavin Smith

Come back Sunday for our Lifetime Achievement Award.

Whisky Advocate Award: Highlands/Islands Single Malt of the Year

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Talisker Storm, 45.8%, $66

Talisker in any guise is a very special and idiosyncratic single malt, defining an Island style that is all its own. The last year has seen Diageo expand the existing portfolio with three new Talisker expressions, namely Storm, Dark Storm (matured in heavily charred casks), and Port Ruighe (port finish), all released without age statements. Of this trio, Talisker Storm seems the pick, with one commentator describing it as “…everything that you love about other Taliskers with the settings turned right up.”

Talisker Storm_Hi ResOne of the ways in which the bolder aroma and flavor profile of Storm has been achieved is by using a mix of refill casks and rejuvenated casks. The latter—older casks which have been de-charred and re-charred to give them a new lease on life—offer a distinctive wood influence when again filled with spirit.

Essentially Talisker Storm exhibits a more smoky, maritime character than the familiar 10 year old expression, yet could not be mistaken for anything other than a Talisker. Although it does not carry an age statement, this is one of those instances where you never feel when drinking the dram in question that the lack a specified age is about conserving precious stocks of older whiskies (although that may well be the case). All seems harmonious and well integrated, and any more youthful notes that emerge on the nose or palate seem entirely in keeping with the nature of the expression.

Storm arrived in the U.S. in October, and Talisker aficionados will no doubt argue long and hard over whether it just outpoints the 10 year old. One of the reasons behind the development of Storm was to be able to offer a new Talisker variant that remains true to the brand’s essential character while offering something slightly different, with easy availability and an affordable price. —Gavin Smith

Tomorrow: the Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt of the Year.

Whisky Advocate Award: Islay Single Malt of the Year

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Kilchoman 2007, 46%, $80

2007 Kilchoman VintageThis was a strong year—again—for Islay, with every distillery releasing sublime single malts, which made this decision an incredibly hard one. It ultimately came down to a choice between Bowmore’s The Devil’s Casks, a mentally wonderful sherried 10 year old which must now become a regular release (please?), and Kilchoman, with the latter shading it.

Why? Because here was a whisky which not only showed the difference between age and maturity, but was the first demonstration of a distillery itself reaching maturity, quicker than anyone might have imagined.

Single malt is all about distillery character and here you can see what Kilchoman’s is. In this expression you get full integration between oak and distillery, a sparkling mix of seashell, the freshness of seaweed, mixed with churned butter, driftwood, and fresh-kilned peat. On the tongue, there’s samphire, peat, sweet barley, and an herbal kick. The great thing is that there is clearly still more to come. Kilchoman has truly arrived. Buckle up, this is going to be some ride. — Dave Broom

Close to the end, with only four more awards left; tomorrow is the Highland Single Malt of the Year.

Whisky Advocate Award: Speyside Single Malt of the Year

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Macallan Ruby, 43%, £120

To say that Macallan flirted with controversy last year would be a bit of an understatement. The announcement that it was going to replace some of its age statement range in favor of a new selection of No Age Statements graded by Macallan Rubycolor certainly got plenty of people’s backs up. As a result, the new drams tended to be condemned before they’d ever been sipped. Those who did try them would, hopefully, have found that Gold, Amber, Ruby, and Sienna were not only excellent whiskies in their own right, but were excellent representations of Macallan, and, in this writer’s opinion, were superior to the whiskies which they were replacing.

For me, the finest of the quartet is Ruby, which is Macallan in mellow and fruitful autumnal guise mixing prune, dried cherries, rose petal, and chocolate-covered Turkish Delight. More vinous than resinous, it balances tannin with deep fruitiness. Yes, people will continue to carp, but if they do, ask them this: why replace one range with another that costs more to produce…and tastes better? Better still, sit them down, pour them a glass and watch the result. For quality and also for chutzpah, Macallan Ruby deserves the award.  — Dave Broom

Brace yourself: the Islay Single Malt of the Year blows in tomorrow.

Whisky Advocate Award: Blended/Blended Malt Scotch Whisky of the Year

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

The Big Peat Christmas Edition 2013, 54.9%, £46

I’ve never hidden my love for big peaty whiskies. But this year releases that I thought would set my world on fire failed to deliver, and I found that most of the star performers were from the other end of the whisky spectrum. I was falling in love with gorgeous whiskies from bourbon barrels, laced with tropical fruits and vanilla, and reaching for quirky Aberfeldys and Glen Gariochs. Never was the case made more strongly tXmasBigPeat_Carton BlackCap2013 v2han in the case of blended whisky, where a procession of peated but bland blends failed to turn the lights on.

Then at Whiskyfest New York we were presented with a 1973 Ardbeg and normal service was resumed. On reflection, I’ve decided that my nonchalance towards smoky whiskies this year has been because most of them were ordinary to poor, presented in over-priced and under-aged Travel Retail bottlings where the peat is used to hide rootsy, sappy, immature malt.

You’d need a mortgage to buy the 1973 Ardbeg were it ever to be released, but a few days later I was asked to try the Big Peat Christmas Edition 2013. I not only rediscovered my passion for peat, but realized that getting it doesn’t need to burn holes in my wallet.

The cask strength release of Big Peat for this Christmas is a battering ram of a blended malt whisky, but with plenty of subtlety in the mix, too. Think of a rap star strutting and snapping menacingly for most of his show, but still including a tender and sophisticated ballad in the set. This has honey and billowing smoke, some spice among the peat. Then at the end it reaches a crescendo of oily tar and smoke, a metaphorical finale with all the greatest hits wrapped up in one impressive crescendo. Ace. Big Peat’s well and truly back. —Dominic Roskrow

The next award presented will be the Speyside Single Malt of the Year.

Good News – and Bad – for Mortlach lovers

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

There is good news for lovers of Mortlach the distinctive, near-triple distilled Speyside single malt, renowned for its meaty full flavor, with the announcement by Diageo of four new expressions. And, I fear, bad.Ian Buxton

Due to be available mid-2014 in global markets, the range comprises Rare Old (43.4%, no age statement); Special Strength (49%, no age statement, non-chill filtered, Travel Retail exclusive); 18 Years Old and 25 Years Old (both 43.4%). Packaging details and prices have yet to be finalized, but I understand that the ‘new’ Mortlach will be positioned as a luxury brand, with the entry level Rare Old priced alongside Johnnie Walker Platinum, and other expressions higher still.

So the good news is tempered with a wealth warning, and the further disappointing

news that stocks of the current 16 Years Old Flora & Fauna expression will not be replaced; it has effectively been withdrawn. If this is a favorite, better lay in a bottle or two!

Current stillhouse

Current stillhouse

The move has been three years in the planning and follows the welcome announcement that production of Mortlach is to double beginning November 2015, with the opening of a new, purpose-built facility that replicates in every detail the current distillery, a process that a Diageo spokesman described as “idiosyncratic, not state of the art.”  Investment in the new plant exceeds £30 million ($48.5 million).

Diageo’s Dr. Nicholas Morgan, head of whisky outreach, described the move as the company’s most significant in single malt in the past decade, claiming that the new Mortlach brand will “define luxury for single malt [and] become the next great luxury brand.” Though specific competitors were not identified, this suggests that Diageo have category leaders Glenlivet and Macallan very much in their sights.

Based on a limited tasting of the new expressions, the distinctive meaty, sulfur-influenced taste of Mortlach, with heavy sherry notes, has been evolved to a more elegant and refined style, without compromising the signature power and weight beloved of fans.

Site manager Steve McGingle

Site manager Steve McGingle

These are complex, multi-layered whiskies with a considerable depth of flavor. While the beefy note has been muted (think roast pork and BBQ juices), the fruit and spice impact has been dialed up through a different balance of casks. Rare Old and Special Strength illustrate this in fascinating detail, being basically the same cask mix but presented at different strengths to draw out varying facets of spirit character. At 25 Years Old, Mortlach offers a dense, layered and extraordinarily rich taste that demands contemplation.

While lamenting the loss of the Flora & Fauna expressions, Mortlach drinkers will find much to enjoy in the new range, which will be available more readily, albeit at higher prices. Further details of the range will be announced in February next year with the products in market from the early summer.

Cutty Sark’s Jason Craig — In 140 Or Less

Monday, November 25th, 2013

Caroline DewarWe’re all Tweeting, expressing ourselves in 140 characters or less. This occasional series asks whisky luminaries to express themselves in the format, but all in one place. Here’s Jason Craig, Global Brand Controller for Cutty Sark. (We gave him the spaces in his answers for free, so they may go a bit over 140…)

What’s the view from your office window?

The River Tay on one side and a large tree covered hill on the other side; the sun is low and the colors are gorgeous.

Not bad; better than a car park, unless you’re fibbing. You take guitar lessons. Frustrated rock star?

Always! Love the idea of it; really annoying that my young daughter makes me look bad though. In 10k hours I would be Slash from Guns n’ Roses; if I had the time, obviously.cutty sark

Might not take that long. You like listening to music and audio books. Compatible with all your travel but running a youth soccer team and going to movies aren’t.

Long haul = movies and work. Driving a car = audio books. Air travel means showing up for football matches in a suit sometimes; lots of abuse, i.e. “check Mourinho out!”

So cruel! You’re a sociable guy: good choice for a brand created for making cocktails. Lots of nights in bars necessary? 

Cocktail bars, late nights, interesting drinks and people: all for understanding the consumer and the trade. Sometimes wish my family or friends were there though.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles! Cutty Sark has great history. Good to see a brand promoted for mixing and cocktails. Do you have a favorite?

I think that classics are classics for a reason. I love an Old Fashioned. Got to be made the old school 6 minute way though…if I have the patience.

Old school way? Tell us more.

Not using gum syrup: taking the sugar, crushing it and letting it dissolve in the glass. Love the theater and anticipation of it. Bartenders don’t get enough credit!

Agreed. Some great cocktails on Cutty’s website, classics and new. Where did all the recipes come from?

We have a lot of pals associated with Cutty, the brilliant Maxxium Mixxit team – Wayne, David, Amanda, plus Gary “Godfather” Regan in the states who makes good soup too!

Cutty in soup might be nice! I’d like to try some of these myself but don’t know what size of measure a “shot” is. Any idea?

The only thing that goes in soup is a spoon or fresh bread… A shot is 25ml in grown-up countries or the 2 fingers approach in less formal places…I much prefer the latter.

Great – we’ll all try that size. Does Cutty’s usage message for mixing mean younger drinkers than average? Does that depend on market?

Most brands’ target audience age is 25+. Cutty drinkers, men and women, are already that age. Our approach aims to keep it that way! Blow away the Scotch whisky cobwebs.

I endorse that, wanted to see it for ages. A lot happening on Cutty in recent years. New pack, age extensions, Storm, Tam O’Shanter, Prohibition. Biggest challenge?

Our brand is young and cool, offers so much, loved by millions and the quality is exceptional. Biggest challenge is not taking it too seriously.

Certainly an old brand but a cool image. Some fun promotions too. The giant crate? Please tell more. Was it only London?

Cutty Cargo. Giant wooden crate, London, 380 writers, consumers, influencers – 9 acts, great food, brilliant drinks – the best emerging talent from London – NYC next.

Terrific. And Speed Rack for women bartenders. Open to misinterpretation?! Or intentional wordplay? It’s a nice idea.

I think they are brilliant. Speed Rack is a cute play on words, they raise money for breast cancer and are up front about it. We love them.

Seems the older whiskies = dumpier bottles. Tam O’Shanter pack very different from main blend, as is the whisky. What were you seeking to achieve there?

Start with the story behind the name. Dumpy allowed the etched illustration to wrap round the bottle, liquid and pack awards enhance the whole brand. Maleficent dram.

Assume you mean the Cutty Sark reference in the poem. But where did the liquid take the brand? I bet [master blender] Kirsteen Campbell had fun.

Yes the name comes up in the poem. Kirsteen, please blend 25yo Macallan, Highland Park and Glenrothes and several others…the result proved we are “A” league whisky.

Indeed they did. Cutty Sark is back in the UK after some years’ absence. Why now?

Blended scotch growing, cocktails are growing, Cutty Sark is  a perfect base for mixed drinks and classy cocktails: we asked, they said yes! Long overdue – sorry UK.

Seems reasonable. Cutty Sark Prohibition is about to reach US shores. Any big launch plans? And going forward?

Prohibition is landing (legally now) in the US and many other markets too. Launching in our Cargo Crate in NYC early 2014. Might be some fedoras and passwords needed!

Maybe follow up with Gangster’s Moll and St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Seriously, any other expressions coming?

Oh hell yeah, we have around 6 killer ideas all being tested just now. Our “Spirit of Adventure” means that we can play at the edges of the category. Watch this space.

Will do. On a different tack (but marketing and personally relevant too), social media: friend or foe?

Definitely friend, gotta play there, gotta speak to our consumers, gotta embrace their world, not make them embrace ours. I love technology which keeps you in touch.

You travel a lot. If not living in God’s own whisky country where would you be? Why?

I love cities and mountains/lakes but need technology.  Love Japan: they combine all that, have great food and ancient history. Be like “Lost in Translation” though.

And they drank whisky in that movie! Your desert island dram? Doesn’t have to be a brand you’ve worked on!

Ouch! Hard question. Which of your kids do you love more? Highland Park 18yo. Loved it before I worked on it and still do. Orcadian Nectar….and it is in Cutty 18yo too!

And we’re done. You’re a star – thank you. Any few last words you’d like to add?

Just that our mission is to ensure Scotch whisky is for everyone and to blow up so many of the rules and regulations.