Archive for the ‘Independent Bottler’ Category

Cara Laing — In 140 Or Less

Monday, 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.

Ewen Mackintosh — In 140 Or Less

Friday, 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.

Whisky Advocate’s Spring Issue Top 10 Buying Guide Reviews

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Here’s a sneak preview of Whisky Advocate magazine’s spring 2014 issue Buying Guide. Today we reveal the ten top-rated whiskies. We begin with #10 and conclude with the highest rated whisky in the issue.

BT Extended Stave Drying experiment#10: Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Extended Stave Drying Time, 45%, $47/375 ml

Richer and fuller when compared to the Standard Stave Drying Time variant in this Experimental Collection. Sweeter too, with creamy layers of vanilla and caramel. The extended drying time influence tames the dried spice and oak resin and is proof that extended stave aging really benefits older bourbons that might otherwise be dominated by oak. Sadly, with whiskey in such demand, I doubt many bourbon producers will take the time to age the staves longer.—John HansellPM10 BottleShot

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#9: Compass Box Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Limited Edition, 48.9%, $130

Peat Monster is a staple Compass Box blended malt whisky, but this raises the bar significantly. The nose is “as you were”: peat reek, seaside, very Islay. But on the palate John Glaser’s added some peaty Highland whisky—probably a signature Clynelish—to add a hint of licorice, a softer, fruitier smoke base, and through some virgin French oak, a delightful spiciness. Compass Box is in a purple patch. Again.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

35YO_Dec_Box_White_Front2#8: Glengoyne 35 year old, 46.8%, $4,640

Glengoyne 35 year old has been aged in sherry casks and just 500 decanters have been released. The nose offers sweet sherry, maraschino cherries, honey, sponge cake, marzipan, and soft fudge, turning to caramel in time, with a whiff of worn leather. Slick in the mouth, with spicy dried fruit, and more marzipan and cherries. Long in the finish with plain chocolate cherry liqueur; still spicy. Finally a buttery, bourbon-like note. No negative cask connotations in this well-balanced after-dinner dram.—Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#7: Aberfeldy Single Cask (Cask No. 5) 16 year old, 57.4%, $250

From a sherry cask. Bright and lively. Quite fruity, with notes of golden raisin, pineapple, nectarine, and tangerine. The fruit is balanced by honeyed malt and light caramel. A dusting of vanilla, cinnamon, and hint of cocoa, with black licorice on the finish. Lush and mouth-coating. The best of the Aberfeldy whiskies I’ve tasted to date. (New Hampshire only)—John Hanselltalisker1985

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#6: Talisker 1985, 56.1%, $600

This 27 year old Talisker has been aged in refill American oak casks, and the nose offers brine, wood smoke, wet tarry rope, slightly medicinal, with the emergence of milk chocolate. Big-bodied, with lots of peat accompanied by chili and smoked bacon, with sweeter notes of malt, fudge, and apple. A hint of fabric Elastoplast. Long in the finish, with rock pools, bonfire ash, and sweet, tingling spice notes which carry to the very end. A powerful beast, even by Talisker standards. (3,000 bottles)Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#5: Signatory (distilled at Laphroaig) 1998, 60.8%, £100

Any sherried Laphroaig is welcome, and this does not disappoint. Rich, resinous, medicinal, with underlying soft fruits, the smoke is all-pervading, but never dominant. In other words, it isn’t just complex and balanced, but has that other dimension which elevates it in mind (and marks). With water, there’s antiseptic cream mingling with oxidized fruits and nuts; think manzanilla pasada. The palate shows storm clouds gathering over Texa. Rich dried fruits, cacao, and a ferny lift on the finish. Fantastic.—Dave BroomLongmorn

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

#4: Exclusive Malts (distilled at Longmorn) 28 year old, 51.6%, $250

The nose is fascinating, as if dust is cohering into form, and fruity form at that. When it emerges there’s baked banana, fruitcake, citrus peels, passion fruit, mango, mace flower, and nutmeg. A mossy edge anchors it to earth. Even livelier with water, this is a superbly balanced, mature whisky. The palate is pure, with big retronasal impact of the spice. Layered and long, it’s at its best neat; you need the intensity to amplify all the complexity. Superb.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 92

Bowmore 50 year old#3: Bowmore 50 year old (distilled 1961), 40.7%, £16,000

The whisky is sensational, a glorious mix of ginseng syrup, baked banana, semi-dried tropical fruits, and an exotic smoked edge. Without the last, you could believe it was a delicate Cognac. In time, there’s peppermint and guava syrup. A sip is all you need to reveal perfect, thrilling harmony: light nuttiness, pollen, subtle fruits, gentle smoke, and light fungal touches. It’s stunning, but it’s £16,000! Whisky this great, even in limited quantities, should be fairly priced. Points off.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 95Brora_35yo_2013_LowRes

#2: Brora 35 year old, 49.9%, $750

Maturation of this 1978 distillate has taken place in European oak and refill American oak casks. Fresh and fruity on the early, herbal nose; a hint of wax, plus brine, developing walnut fudge, and an underlying wisp of smoke. Finally, wood resin. The palate is very fruity, with mixed spices, then plain chocolate, damp undergrowth, gentle peat smoke, and finally coal. Mildly medicinal. Ashy peat and aniseed linger in the long, slowly drying finish. Brora at its very best. (2,944 bottles)Gavin Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 95

General-Dieline

#1: Compass Box The General, 53.4%, $325

With a name inspired by a 1926 Buster Keaton movie, only 1,698 bottles produced, and the news that one of the two batches is more than 30 years old, the clues were there that this blend was never going to be cheap. It isn’t, but it’s superb, rich in flavor that screams dusty old oak office, fresh polish, and Sunday church, with spices, oak dried fruits, squiggly raisins, and a surprising melting fruit-and-nut dairy chocolate back story.—Dominic Roskrow

Advanced Whisky Advocate rating: 96

IRON DRAMS

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Author - Johnnie McCormick“I can’t stand the stuff” my cab driver said as we hung a left a little fast, pressing me tight into the door. “It’s so strong.” It’s a frequently heard refrain when a whisky drinker gets talking about libations with a stranger. So it got me thinking as I rattled around the backseat. You can divide whiskies up by country or by region. Sure, you can split them up by cereal or cask type. Then again, there’s another dividing line. Most whiskies sold in the world today are still bottled at 40% ABV. And they call that the hard stuff! We may clinch a small victory whenever a classic range is refreshed and comes back at 46% and non-chill filtered, but that’s just small fry really.

Let’s face facts: some drams are bigger than others. These are Iron Drams: high-strength muscle whisky which is more alcohol in the glass than anything else. These bottles brim with vigor and potency. Be careful, and approach with ritualistic trepidation. Iron Drams demand deference because who knows what apocalyptic hellfire will befall those who dare to put that glass to their lips? We’re after aroma and flavor, not some Bill Bixby transformation. Yet the mind is primed to expect a tornado of intensity, like consuming a ball of fire with cartoonish results; the eyeballs poking out on stalks amid a fiery, scarlet complexion, smoke jets emitting from both ears.

Iron Dram Stagg2_McCormickOf course, there are technical reasons for Iron Drams. Where the distiller chooses to make their cuts during distillation, the number of distillations, through to the filling strength as the spirit enters the cask all set the wheels in motion. Maturation matters too, as the evaporation of water over alcohol will depend on the type of vessel, the condition of the oak, the position in the warehouse, and the temperature fluctuations within. Alcohol strength typically falls over time in Scotland, but hotter climates promote greater evaporation of water than alcohol, as we observe in a Kentucky rickhouse or among casks of Amrut maturing in India. Cost plays a part too: producers get many more cases from their batch if they bottle down at 40%. It’s about physics, chemistry, geography, history, and economics—it’s quite an education!

You do get a great deal of alcohol for the money though. The strongest George T Stagg release—the 2007 edition—was bottled at 72.4% ABV. That bottle contained 54.3 units of alcohol (a unit is defined in the UK as 10 ml of pure alcohol); six times as much as a $45 bottle of Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut champagne. Now that’s a celebration!

It’s not just machismo for machismo’s sake. Iron Drams should still be approached responsibly, and hopefully, they encourage people to pour smaller measures. Appreciative of the production reasons, whisky connoisseurs prefer the versatility and the opportunity to drink their drams at cask strength and find their own preferred dilution. It’s the difference between playing piano using the whole keyboard or being restricted to an octave. It feels more authentic, rather than have someone else decide what strength you’ll have your drink. The scope for experimentation is greater as you can explore the full spectrum of flavor by adjusting the water you add (an aspect taken out your hands with 40% ABV). It feels better to be in the driving seat, right?

Iron Drams – a quick guide of where to go hunting for big game.

1) George T Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky. Since 2002, every one of these bourbons has been bottled at a strength over 60%, with the majority over 70%. These are so strong that they even breach the TSA regulations for carrying on board an aircraft in your checked baggage.

2) Bruichladdich X4. This quadruple distilled spirit was reduced from 92% to 50% before being sold as an unaged spirit. Bruichladdich once assisted a TV show to film a thrilling publicity stunt by using their unreduced X4 spirit to fuel a Le Mans race car to roar past the distillery. Three years later and Bruichladdich X4+3 was released at 63.5%, to date the only available quadrupled distilled single malt whisky. Mind you, their Octomore and Port Charlotte releases have been no shrinking violets either.

Iron Dram Karuizawa_McCormick3) Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Editions. The strongest bourbons from Jim Rutledge and the team at Four Roses; many of these bottlings hold an ABV in excess of 60%. It’s a great way for bourbon drinkers to gain insight into the subtleties of their ten recipes of different mashbills and yeasts.

4) Karuizawa single malt whisky. Japan is the perfect place to explore lengthy maturation and high strength. The closed Japanese distillery has attracted a cult following in Europe and Japan but it requires some effort to get hold of a bottle if you live in North America. Whether it’s a vintage release or Noh bottling from Number One Drinks Company, these long aged and heavily sherried beasts typically weigh in somewhere north of 60%.

5) Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Over the past 30 years, the SMWS have delivered thousands of single cask releases for their members, bottled at natural cask strength. Other independent bottlers produce specifIron Dram Mortlach_McCormick (1)ic cask strength lines too but this is the raison d’être for the SMWS. You will find most of the Iron Drams in the young, powerful bottlings matured for less than a decade.

6) Rare Malts Selection. One of the more collectible whisky series in their distinctive livery, you might find a Mortlach at 65.3% from 1972, a Teaninich at 64.95% from 1972, or a St Magdalene at 63.8% from 1979 if you hunt hard enough. These days, these official releases are only to be found at auction or at a premium price through specialist retailers.

7) World Whiskies. Whisky importers recognize that world whiskies are most likely to be bought by established whisky drinkers looking for new experiences beyond their regular tipple. Producers are obliging by supplying some high strength beauties such as Taiwan’s Kavalan Solist series, Amrut’s Peated Cask Strength 62.8% or Portonova 62.1%, Tasmania’s Lark Single Cask bottlings, and Overeem Cask Strength releases from the Old Hobart Distillery.

8) White Dog. The fashion for unaged whiskey and rye seems to have abated though they remain popular among some bartenders (and people who bought one of those home maturation kits). As a constituent of a mixed drink, that high bottling strength will be tamed before it’s served to the customer anyway. As an individual drink, most drinkers’ curiosity is satisfied after the first few sips.

9) Aberlour A’bunadh. This classic heavily sherried whisky is approaching its 50th batch, but it was batch 33 at 60.9% that proved to be the strongest. A classic Iron Dram.

10) Islay single malts. Some people (like my cabbie) might equate peaty, smoky whiskies with being stronger, though that’s a myth. The peating of the malted barley doesn’t automatically equate to the phenolic content of the final spirit, let alone the alcohol strength. However, if you want to check out Islay’s Iron Drams, get hold of a bottle of Ardbeg Supernova 2010 at 60.1%, Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength, or Lagavulin 12 year old which was strongest in 2002 at 58.0%.

Have you any Iron Dram recommendations? Do you find high strength is your preference or do you avoid such liquid dynamite? What’s your opinion on the relationship between more alcohol and flavor? Do you have any favorite producers who you feel could benefit from adding an Iron Dram to their range? Jump right in!

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

 

Euan Shand — In 140 Or Less

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Caroline DewarBy Caroline Dewar

We’re all Tweeting, expressing ourselves in 140 characters or less. It seemed like a fun thing to ask whisky luminaries to express themselves in the format, but all in one place. It’s easier to read, and a lot easier to find. Here’s Euan Shand, Chairman of Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky Ltd. (We gave him the spaces in his answers for free; they may go a bit over 140!)

Why Pasadena, CA now instead of Huntly, Aberdeenshire? Euan Shand (Cask Photo)

Pasadena is a gorgeous city, has great potential being near one of the largest whisky drinking conurbations in the world and is great for golf.

Better golf weather then!  What’s the view from your office window?

I actually look onto a car park! Though it’s a nice one with lots of convertibles.

Bummer! I envisaged mountains or sea. You’re a motor racing fan. Do you follow Indy Car over there?

Forgot to mention I do see the San Gabriel mountains! How could I miss that? I love motor racing and do follow most of the US races, including American Le Mans Series.

What are the reasons for your different ranges? Short answer for each one, please.

Rarest: flagship, extremely rare and collectible; Tantalus: 40+ years old, dead distilleries; Octave: our pioneering octave range.  I’ve got more ……

Go on then!

Singles: 20–40 YO; Dimensions 10: 20YO malts and grains; Smokin’: because it’s smokinnnn; Big Smoke: Islay.

What’s coming in the next few months from Duncan Taylor – anything special in the approaching holiday season?

An addition to Rarest, likely a 45 YO Bowmore. The entire new Tantalus range, all around 35 – 45 YO incl. Banff, Port Ellen, Glenrothes and more.

You have some beautiful packaging. Is it all done by your graphic designer?

All designs done in house plus we tap into the strengths of some of our friends who are craftsmen in wood.

You’re very lucky to have them.

Since buying DT Scotch you’ve won a slew of awards. Useful? Meaningful?

Always good but some mean MUCH more than others. We only get involved in blind tasting awards from real experts such as the Malt Maniacs, Whisky Advocate

Your distillery build’s taken a while to start. Any particular finance, world economy, design or planning issues?

We’ve started the building process. We had environment issues, now resolved. I wanted to build using my own cash resources and have done so. No family trust fund here!

What were those issues?

I forgot to mention the bats and voles…

Protected wildlife! Where do they fit into the project?

As we are renovating a very old existing building we had to make sure that we didn’t do anything when the bats were mating, also any groundworks would upset the voles…

What about the green aspects? What are they? And how are the stills to be fired?

Was going to be all green but didn’t make financial sense to cost an extra £1m for wood chip heating etc. so that’s on the back burner, pardon the pun. I’m going for gas.

Bats and voles don’t burn too well either! When will it be finished?

Don’t you just love environmentalists… Finished July 2015 as it’s a reasonably large distillery, output circa 1.6m liters.

Any hankering still to buy a distillery in Scotland?

Yes, still want one, but it has to be the right one.  Those that are available I’m not interested in. Not that there’s many around. Though I think there might be plenty soon.

Why is that?

There’s too many being built not of commercial size. If everyone fights their corner on uniqueness then that becomes old news and history shows that outcome.

Lots of craft distilling in the US – any ambition to start up production over there?

I’m currently in discussion with a US craft distiller, interesting project, can’t say too much at the moment.

Are you primarily a blends man or a malts man?

I like both but have most fun with blends….you can play about with them and come up with some wonderful taste profiles. Blends not blondes…

Your wife might object to the latter.

Luxe furniture range – nice idea. How’s it going?

It’s all new and being patented now. It’s our green contribution, reclaiming old casks to make bespoke furniture. Amazing craftspeople and the designs are stunning.

Social media – fan or foe?

Social media is wonderful. It gets to places that we would never have got to before, so I’m a fan.

Anything back home that you miss or can’t get over there?

I miss the wet, dreich, cold, dark, miserable winter nights. Other than that it’s all good, even get my favorite digestive biscuits here.

Some whisky highlights from WhiskyFest San Francisco

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

WhiskyFest San Francisco was this past Friday. I had a chance to try some new whiskies while I was there and would like to share my thoughts. Some of these are so new, they haven’t even been formally released yet. I was just offered pre-release samples to taste.

One of my favorite whiskies of the evening was a Samaroli Glenlivet 1977 Vintage. It was elegant, well-rounded, and subtly complex. Very nice!

The U.S. finally has Japanese whisky besides Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hakushu. Nikka is making its formal debut at WhiskyFest New York in two weeks, but the importer was also pouring Taketsuru 12 year old “Pure Malt” and Yoichi 15 year old single malt at the San Francisco event. The 12 year old, a blend of malts, was nicely rounded and easy to drink, while the 15 year old was very distinctive. My feeling on Japanese whisky is: the more the merrier!

Angel’s Envy has two new whiskeys coming out. The first one is a barrel-proof version of their flagship Angel’s Share bourbon that’s finished in port pipes. The other one is a high-rye whiskey that is currently being finished off in a Caribbean rum cask. I tasted both. Both were very interesting. The high rye/rum finish combination was unique.

Wild Turkey is finally coming out with a new whiskey that’s not 81 proof! (Thank goodness!) There’s a new Russell’s Reserve Small Batch being released soon that’s 110 proof, with no age statement.

I was able to taste the next Evan Williams Single Barrel vintage release (a 2003 vintage). It was very smooth, easy-going, and dangerously drinkable.

There’s a new Michter’s 20 year old single barrel about to be released. I was concerned that it was going to taste too woody, dry and tannic. Not a chance! I was so impressed with this whiskey, that I kept taking people I knew over to the Michter’s booth to taste it before it disappeared. (Well, it wasn’t officially there in the first place, but I did my best to spread the word.) I know this was a single barrel, but I sure hope they all taste like this!

Gable Erenzo had a unmarked bottle of a Hudson Bourbon he wanted me to try. It was a six year old Hudson bourbon matured in a standard 53 gallon barrel (not a small barrel!) and it was the best Hudson whiskey I have tasted to date. Thanks for the tease, Gable…

One of the most pleasant experience of the evening wasn’t even a whisky. It was a beer! At the Anchor booth, they were pouring Anchor Steam that was bottled just five hours earlier. Damn that beer was fresh. It was the best Anchor Steam beer I ever had outside of the brewery. So, if you saw me walking around with a glass of Anchor Steam, now you know why!

Finally, I couldn’t resist sitting in on one of the seminars: a flight of Bowmore whiskies paired with a variety of West Coast oysters that were flown in that day and shucked right in front of us.  Delicious!

More new releases

Friday, July 20th, 2012

This is, once again, information from a U.S. perspective.

Bunnahabhain is smokin’!

International Beverage Company is importing Bunnahabhain Toiteach, the first owner-bottled heavily peated version of this whisky to be imported to the U.S. Over the past several years, I’ve tried some from the independent bottlers and was not very impressed, largely because they were so young and raw. This one is much better. It’s still youthful, but also enjoyable. I also like the fact that it’s bottled at 46% and not chill-filtered. (The NAS releases continue. And will continue to do so.)

New WhistlePig is the one (x3)

The brand owners will be introducing a new WhistlePig “Triple One” this fall: 11 years old, 111 proof, for $111. (I guess no one wants to wait for it to reach 111 years of age.). It’s only going to be on the market for 111 days and in 111 retail outlets, where they can only sell it for 111 minutes each day. (Okay, I made that last sentence up.) I’m told it’s from the same source as previous WhistlePig releases.

Gordon & MacPhail gets naked…

And stronger too! All future bottlings of the “Connoisseurs Choice” line will now be bottled at 46%, with no chill-filtering and no artificial coloring. Kudos to G&M for making this move. My only gripe with the CC line in the past was that so many were bottled at 40%, chill-filtered, and (I assume by the appearance of some of the whiskies over the years) caramel colored. (Update: See Michael Urquhart’s note about caramel coloring below in comment #6.)

 

   

…While Kilchoman gets sherried

A new limited release Kilchoman Sherry Cask is coming to the U.S. The Sherry Cask release is Kilchoman’s first fully matured sherry release and matured for a full five years. (That may not be a long time for most single malts, but it is for Kilchoman.)

This release is a limited bottling of 6,000 bottles, with 600 coming to the U.S. Like previous releases, it’s bottled at 46%. ($75)

 

Say goodbye to some Irish whiskey brands

Friday, April 13th, 2012

What’s now happening in Ireland is not new. It’s a trend that’s been prevalent in Scotland ever since the demand for whisky increased years ago. Many distilleries stopped, or drastically cut back, selling whisky to private bottlers once their contract was up, leaving them scrambling to source product.

Now we’re seeing this happening with Irish whiskey. The Cooley distillery provides whiskey for so many different private labels, I can’t even keep track of all of them. Now that Beam purchased the Cooley distillery back in December, I know many brand owners who–for good reason–began worrying if Beam would cut their supply off once their contract was up. If what Beam did this week is an indication of the future, it’s not a bright one for private labels.

The most recent casualty is Slane Castle Irish Whiskey. As reported in Shanken News Daily yesterday:

“Beam Inc. is reportedly scaling down contract whiskey production at its newly acquired Cooley Distillery in Ireland as it ramps up volume of Cooley’s own brands, such as Kilbeggan, with an eye toward U.S. growth. Reports out of the country say that while contracts in place will be honored, Beam isn’t accepting new contract orders at Cooley. That’s leaving some private label Irish whiskeys—such as Slane  Castle, which Cooley previously produced on an individual-order basis—hunting for supply.”

I like many of the older expressions of Kilbeggan, and I’m happy to know that Kilbeggan will become more widely available. That being said, I’m going to miss the variety and choices of some really nice Irish whiskeys that have proliferated over the past several years, largely because of the whiskey that Cooley has sold to independent bottlers like Slane Castle.

Let’s hope that the large conglomerates that now own Ireland’s three big Irish distilleries will pick up some of the slack and keep us entertained with new and exciting releases.

Some new whiskies I’ve been enjoying

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

I was in San Francisco most of last week hosting WhiskyFest (More on that in a bit). We’re gearing up for our New York WhiskyFest which is only a couple weeks away. In the interim, we’ve got to put together the Winter issue of Whisky Advocate. So, if you’re wondering where I’ve been lately, now you know. This is the busiest time of the year for me. The moment I get some free time, I will post something up here.

I’ve been tasting a lot of whiskies lately. Formal reviews will follow for most of them. But, in the interim, so you can get a jump on your autumn whisky-buying, I’ll let you know my informal thoughts now.

I was able to taste the new Bruichladdich 10 year old at WhiskyFest. (It’s not in the U.S. yet, but the importer brought me a sample.) As you may know, this is the first 10 year old whisky being sold that was produced by the current owners. It’s a new dawn for Bruichladdich, and I am happy to say that this whisky is very good. Most of it is from bourbon barrels, but there’s some sherry casks thrown in too. I just hope they can keep this profile consistant going forward. If they do, it could become the go-to entry level non-smoky Island whisky (competing with Highland Park 12 year old and Bunnahabhain 12 year old  for that honor). To me, it tastes like a 12 year old whisky.

Another whisky that surprised me was the Kilkerran WIP (Work In Progress) 3rd release. If memory serves me correctly, it’s 7 years old and tasted surprisingly fresh and also nicely mature for its age.

Dr. Bill Lumsden, after his Ardbeg seminar, let me sample a 1975 Ardbeg from a sample bottle (Cask #4714) from a refill sherry cask which I thought was outstanding! My favorite whisky of the night. He said they’ve been using so much from this cask at whisky shows, they won’t have much left when it is bottled. But let me put it this way: when it’s bottled, I am buying a bottle (if it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg).

I tried some of the Samaroli releases. This independent bottler is new to the U.S. I tasted a 1967 Tomintoul and a 34 year old Glenlivet which were delicious. (The Glenlivet was not identified as such–it had a false name which I didn’t write down. I’ll try to dig that one up and let you know what it was called.). I’m not sure what the prices and availability of these whiskies will be at this time. Details to follow.

I have a bottle of the Shackleton whisky, which I have really been enjoying over the past couple of weeks. Very distinctive for a blend, and with plenty of character. Dominic Roskrow rated it in the lown 90s for us, and I would probably have given it at least a 90 myself if I formally reviewed it.

Another new blended scotch I really like for its drinkability and versatility is Compass Box’s Great King Street. It’s not going to set your world on fire, but it was never intended to do so. That’s what whiskies like Peat Monster are for. Whiskymaker John Glaser continues to impress me.

For the bourbon enthusiasts out there, I’ve been through the new Buffalo Trace Antique Collection a few times already. It’s just hitting the shelves now. The entire line is stellar–as it was last year, and they taste very similar to last year’s release. So, if you liked last year’s offering, you can be confident that you will like this year’s releases if you have a chance to buy them. (They are always hard to come by.)

Heaven Hill has two really nice whiskeys that just came out. This year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection is a 10 year old, 100 proof bourbon finished in Cognac barrels (similar to the old Beam Distillers’ Masterpiece bottling). The cognac doesn’t dominate, adds intrigue, and this whisky is dangerously drinkable for 100 proof. But, if you are a purist (dare I say stubborn?), and don’t want people meddling with your bourbon, you might think differently about this offering.

The second whiskey from Heaven Hill is a Elijah Craig 20 year old single cask bottling (Cask #3735). The good news: I love this whiskey, and will be rating it in the mid 90s. The bad news: it’s only available at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, KY, and it will set you back $150.

Finally, for those of you who are budget-minded, I tasted my way through the Pappy Van Winkle line of bourbons (12, 15, 20 and 23 year old). My favorite? The 15 year old. Save your money and get this one!