Archive for the ‘Scotch whisky’ Category

Georgie Crawford of Lagavulin Distillery — In 140 or Less

Friday, March 14th, 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 from the distillery manager of Lagavulin. Georgie Crawford left Islay at thirteen to live on the mainland. In her work life, among a few other places, she spent some time at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society before joining Diageo. She returned to Islay a few years ago to take over the management of Lagavulin.

What’s the view from your office window?

Today it is blue skies and green rolling fields full of sheep. I can also see my house, and now it’s sunny I can see I need to clean the windows!

Get a little man in for that! What’s happening at Lagavulin this week?

Really busy on distilling as usual, but focusing on pulling together final details of our Fèis Ìle program before the tickets go on sale.

What’s happening for Fèis Ìle [Islay Festival] at Lagavulin this year?

Can’t say yet, BUT the staff have outdone themselves with great ideas to entertain our loyal visitors. We are finalizing the Fèis bottling too; another cracker in 2014.

GCrawfordWe’ll hear more soon then, on your website. You’ve been there a few years now. Anything changed in the distillery or company in that time?

We have focused our efficiency and are making more Lagavulin than ever. With the growth in whisky it all counts so we are glad we will have more whisky for the future.

Sounds great. You were looking at re-use of waste energy, etc. Progress?

There’s a new project on this in the pipeline (no pun) and we have optimized the stillhouse energy. I’m happy with the results to date.

What do you mean by optimized here?

By managing distillation temps we can get better heat transfer in our pre-heat heat exchangers, which saves the steam usage at site.

I was going to say ‘cool,’ but not if it’s steam! Very efficient. I’ve met your new female colleague, also called Georgie. A new Diageo hiring policy?

Georgie Bell. We haven’t met yet as she had to call off her visit due to winter gales. She also worked at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society which is just spooky!

Some mainlanders who now live on Islay run back every couple of months for some R&R. You?

No! I love the islands so much that this year’s trips are Orkney & Iceland! It’s the year of the seafaring Vikings in our house!

I know you like to travel. Are those destinations for work or pleasure?

Both for pleasure; you need to leave the whisky behind sometimes. (Or maybe pack a little bottle in your luggage.)

Sounds reasonable. You traveled far this last year, I hear. Where and why?

China on holiday for the culture and heritage. I will remember the view on top of the Great Wall forever. The Terracotta Warriors were also amazing.

What else fills your non-work time?

Our new puppy Sidheag (means wolf) is taking up most of my free time of late. She is driving me and poor 8 y.o. Jock, the Westie, mad!

Fabulous. Another Westie? And I was going to ask how Jock was enjoying island life…

She is a lab cross wire-haired pointer who will hopefully be a gun dog down the line. Jock is standing his ground and loves the longer walks!

Jock not bossed around then. You like cooking; any signature dish? Are your Lagavulin chocolate truffles in the shop there?

I can’t poison the customers! I make a mean lasagna, its bacon that’s the secret ingredient. Can’t beat my homemade shortbread with a cup of tea.

You were going to be starting a vegetable garden…

We should all have aspirations in life and try to live our dreams but if you saw my cauliflowers you would say, “Stick to making whisky!”

Okay, we will. Are there any distillers you particularly admire (anywhere)?

Pre-Diageo, I was just a whisky anorak. I will always remember John MacLellan spending time with me. Billy Stitchell [at Caol Ila] was my in-house go-to.

What would be your desert island dram? Doesn’t have to be Lagavulin!

Only one – impossible! Lagavulin Jazz 2010 from home or Longmorn 15 yo, Talisker 18 yo or Balvenie 12 yo depending on my mood and the weather!

Great choices, if too many. And it’s all over! Hope that wasn’t too testing and thank you so much.

Mortlach: more news…and the price

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

Author - Ian BuxtonDiageo have announced further details and pricing for the forthcoming release of four new Mortlach expressions. First revealed here in early December, the new range – which sadly means the demise of the much-loved Flora & Fauna 16 Years Old expression – comprises Rare Old (43.4%, no age statement); Special Strength (49%, non-age, non-chill filtered, Travel Retail exclusive); 18 Year Old and 25 Year Old (both 43.4%).

Rare Old

Rare and Old

Coming alongside a major expansion of the distillery, this is a big play for Diageo. Dr. Nick Morgan, the company’s head of whisky outreach, described the launch as “positioning Mortlach as the luxury malt to redefine the category. We didn’t just hang it with luxury trappings. It has great single malt credentials.” Quite what The Macallan will make of that remains to be seen but, as I warned last time, new Mortlach comes with a wealth warning; prices are very definitely going to rise sharply.

European consumers will get the new whiskies in smaller 500 ml bottles.  Morgan stated that this was “to make a little go further, as supply is constricted” but also suggested the new pack designs worked better in this bottle size. Be prepared for some fiscal easing: currently the Flora & Fauna bottle runs to around £70 in the UK (savvy merchants having moved their prices up as soon as supplies of these bottles were withdrawn).

Special Strength

Special Strength

The new ‘entry-level’ Rare & Old (it’s a NAS expression, but let’s not open that particular bottle here and now) in 500 ml is priced around £55 (£77 for the equivalent of a Euro-standard 700 ml bottle).  Special Strength will be £75 (£105); the 18 Years Old £180 (£252); and the 25 Years Old a thumping £600 (or £840 for a standard bottle).  U.S. consumers will get a 750 ml bottle, as the half-liter size is illegal there, so expect a shock at the check-out (actual U.S. prices have not been set yet).

The launch will be a global one, with priority given to high-end bars and specialist retailers in “core metro markets.” That means London, New York, Paris, Chicago, Shanghai, Moscow, San Francisco, and so on.

18 Year Old

18 Year Old

The highly distinctive packaging, said to be two years in development, was created by New York-based Laurent Hainaut of the Raison Pure design house, who claim on their website to offer “a platform for design excellence and social progress.” Clearly design excellence comes at a price, and with retail stickers such as these they will hardly be mistaken for socialists or philanthropists! The packs pay homage to the distillery’s founding father Alexander Cowie, and are heavily influenced by the great engineering achievements of Victorian Scotland, including icons such as the Forth Bridge and the mighty foundries and steelworks of Glasgow and the west of Scotland. (Note the metal framing on the 18 and 25 year old bottles.)

As for the distillery expansion itself, ground works have started to ready the site and construction will begin as soon as the final planning permissions have been received from the local authorities. It’s hoped that building will start very soon as the planning process is stated to be in its final stage.

25 Year Old

25 Year Old

The new Mortlach expressions themselves will enter global markets in late June and July this year, beginning with the UK and Germany, followed by Asia, and the U.S. later in the year. I await the launch with some interest: I cannot remember Diageo ever taking this amount of time and care to brief the whisky press over any previous release. These are big, meaty whiskies and the company is evidently playing for big steaks (pun intended, please forgive me!).

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

Billy Walker of BenRiach Distillery — in 140 or Less

Friday, February 7th, 2014

Another 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 from the CEO of BenRiach Distillery.

Author - Caroline DewarWhat’s the view from your window at HQ?

Edinburgh airport. Unfortunately, I don’t just get to see the planes – I hear them too.

But I understand you’re up at The Glendronach today…

Yes, it’s looking fantastic. Weather staggeringly good for the time of year.

You’re originally a chemistry graduate. Did you choose the whisky industry or fall into it?

I chose it, but a bit of inevitability, coming from Dumbarton, home of J&B and Ballantine’s blending and bottling.

What’s been your career path?

Pharmaceutical research; Ballantine’s; Beecham’s; Inver House; then Burn Stewart: bought that out and after 20 years bought BenRiach.

BenRiach ‘04, GlenDronach ‘08, Glenglassaugh ‘13. All Highland/Speyside. Ambitions for more, other regions, new build?

Not new build. If something came up adding balance to the business, we’d consider. Hard at present as many from outside interested in a hot industry and raising prices.

BenRiach: 6 ranges, quite comprehensive. Any more to come? New finishes maybe?benriachMDBillyWalker

No…might be a bit of rationalization.

What of the distillations since you bought it? It’s been 10 years now.

We’ll definitely do something to recognize the 10 year milestone.

You found peated stock on buying it. How much of a boon was that?

Quite a lot. It let us do something not done before on Speyside. Those creative enough to do it years ago were revolutionary. It’s a different style from the islands too.

The GlenDronach – a pity the previous owners removed the coal-firing of stills?

Oh, sure, but they were made to do so by Health & Safety people. But we do get a more even heat distribution with indirect firing – and it hasn’t impacted on quality at all.

You’re doing great things with it. A smaller range than BenRiach – so far.

A more traditional range.  It was very visible for years then marginalized for 10 years to ‘08. It has an uncluttered footprint with the sherry, just us and Glenfarclas.

I loved the 1968 years ago. Has your bottling sold out?

Not yet but it will soon. We have a few more casks of it and the strength is holding up well. Good news!

Future plans there?

Emphasis on brand build. Infrastructure / cosmetic changes, we’ve done those. The location makes it look good. We replaced old wooden washbacks with new ones.

Glenglassaugh: your new baby. What’s happening?

We found the distillery ran very well. We’ve done up the dunnage warehouse, mended roads, landscaped, converted maltings to warehousing.

Is there a stocks gap, and how are you dealing with that?

Now running at full capacity. It’s a long play. We’ll feed out vintage stock and continue Evolution and Revival. A 20 year gap but due to vintages we can get a good income.

Still bottling on site?

No. Need a good sheet filter or whisky loses brightness. No chill filtering but still need brightness. We bottle existing Octave casks too, but we don’t sell any more.

Anything more?

More to come. One will be a blend to commemorate the distillery’s founder, Colonel James Moir, with Glenglassaugh as the base.

Will we see big range development here too?

No, we’ll take time to allow brand’s personality to develop. We’ll see where the journey takes us.

Your brands are at a lot of whisky festivals. Do you speak at them yourself?

I’ve done some and enjoy it. Might do 1 or 2 this year but I don’t enjoy the traveling so much now.

I’m told your interests are football and cricket. Any particular football team?

I’m a Rangers supporter, so there’s a question over whether I’m still a supporter or not!

[For non-UK readers, Rangers was one of Scotland’s top clubs but was demoted a few leagues after some financial scandals. Now having to win their way back up.]

Cricket: might seem odd for a Scotsman but my Dad loves it too. How did that come about?

School, our physical education teacher was an enthusiast. It was part of the sport curriculum and I liked it.

So are your key markets linked to countries with cricketing prowess?!

No, but we’re in South Africa and Australia, and SA is key! UK is important too, as are Europe, North America, and Taiwan. No one place dominates.

Are you still intent on not selling via supermarkets and large chains?

Yes. We support private, independent retailers. They support us and have done for a long time.

What’s your desert island dram? You’re allowed to appreciate the work of others!

Either BenRiach Authenticus or The GlenDronach 18 year old. If not possible, I’d be comfortable with a vintage Caol Ila, north of 20 years old.

And we’re done – thank you.

Examining the New Whisky Auction Record

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Author - Johnnie McCormickJonny McCormick puts the auction of The Macallan M Constantine in perspective.

Sotheby’s, Hong Kong have set a new record for the highest auction price for a bottle of whisky. On Saturday January 18th, the sum of $620,000 was reportedly paid for The Macallan “M” decanter. The Macallan partnered with Lalique to produced four ‘Imperiale’ 6-liter decanters designed by Fabien Baron. Each of the imposing vessels was named after a Roman Emperor: Caesar, Augustus, Justinian, and Constantine. It took 17 craftsmen over 50 hours to produce each statement piece, which weighed 16.8 kg (37 lbs.) when filled with whisky. The Speyside single malt whisky within is a non-age statement vatting of The Macallan from distinctive casks dating from the 1940s-1990s selected by their whisky maker, Bob Dalgarno.

So let’s take a longer look at the numbers. This sale breaks the record that stood for 1,160 days from Sotheby’s, New York for The Macallan 64 year old in Lalique Cire Perdue (hammer price $460,000). Careful checking of the Sotheby’s, HK website reveals that The Macallan (lot 212) in their Finest & Rarest Wines auction sold for HK$4 million, a figure boosted to HK$4.9million ($620,000) with the addition of the 22.5% buyer’s premium.

The Macallan M Hong Kong Auction

Hammer Time!

Due to local taxes and variable buyer’s premiums between auction houses, the only practical manner to meaningfully compare international prices is to use the hammer price. In this case, I calculate that HK$4 million to be $515,600, an increase of 12% over the previous record. Contemplate that if Sotheby’s, New York had charged 22.5% on the one-off sale of The Macallan 64 year old in Lalique Cire Perdue, the press releases of the day would have championed its sale at $563,500, not $460,000. Check the search engines and you’ll see that I’m right.

The large format of the bottle, (unique in The Macallan’s history) undoubtedly contributes to its value. You will recall that world records were claimed for the Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts 55 year old when it was first auctioned. However, it was The Macallan 64 year old in Lalique Cire Perdue 1.5L, not the Glenfiddich, which was recognized by the Guinness Book of Records.

The Macallan M is a 6-liter decanter, so I make that an equivalent value of $64,450 per 750 ml (or $2,580 for a 1oz. pour; and there are 200 pours inside). The Macallan 64 year old in Lalique Cire Perdue was a 1.5L ship’s decanter, so by the same measures, that’s worth $230,000 per 750 ml. For comparison, the top price paid for Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts 1955 was $94,000 for a standard sized bottle. However, Lalique is highly collectable and the desirability of a beautiful object of this magnitude can transcend the boundaries of whisky collecting. Standing at 28 inches tall, The Macallan M is definitely no standard bottle.

You can be too big, of course. The world’s largest bottle of single malt whisky, authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records, is a 105.3 liter bottle of 14 year old Tomintoul. It was valued at $164,000 to $246,000, but failed to sell at auction when offered last December. I don’t imagine it’s an easy pour at that size, but that’s still a staggering $1,168 per 750 ml at the low estimate! It can work both ways. A miniature of Karuizawa 1964 48 year old sold at an online auction last year for £1,100, the equivalent of $27,000 per 750 ml, even though a full bottle fetched a mere $6,000 at Bonhams, New York.

Well then, does age matter? It is noteworthy that the upper echelons of the list of top prices for auctioned whisky bottles are untroubled by non-age statement whiskies. Until now, that is. The Macallan M is a balance of some very old whiskies with younger whisky from the 1990s. Clearly, an age statement of around 20 years would have been legally accurate but inelegant and inappropriate to competently describe Bob Dalgarno’s creation. The Dalmore Oculus in 2009 (now the 14th most expensive bottle auctioned) is the closest equivalent project that comes to mind. Even so, it’s interesting to note that the majority of the most expensive whisky bottles ever auctioned were bottled in the 21st century and sold to collectors from new by the producers.

How about the charity angle? The proceeds of the hammer price will benefit charities in Hong Kong. Sotheby’s have agreed to donate part of their $100,000 buyer’s premium too. Although four ‘Imperiale’ M decanters were made, this was the only public offering. Two others sit in The Macallan archive and one was sold before the auction (not for charity) to a collector in Asia. That matters, as Bowmore found in 2012, following their two unsuccessful attempts to auction the Bowmore 1957 54 year old for $160,000 for charity when there were eight similar bottles for sale on Islay at the same price (and without the competition). The Bowmore 1964 auctioned for £61,000 at last October’s Distillers’ Charity Auction demonstrated just how well they could execute a one-off spectacular.

Lastly, how does the location of the sale in Hong Kong reflect on the auction market? Both decanters of The Macallan M have been sold in Asia. Sotheby’s wine department does not routinely deal with rare whiskies other than working in conjunction with The Macallan. Bonhams 2013 sales in Hong Kong were very impressive, and it has become one of the strongest growing markets for whisky auctions on the planet.

My congratulations go to The Macallan, Lalique, Baron & Baron, and Sotheby’s, on this outstanding achievement, not forgetting the successful bidder. I recognize this record as the world’s most expensive bottle of whisky ever sold at live auction (although history books should record the HK$4 million hammer price). Furthermore, I wager that only The Macallan can potentially break this record at present.

Suntory Bids For Beam

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Author - Lew Bryson

It was revealed today that Beam, the all-spirits company spun off by Fortune Brands in 2011, has agreed to be acquired by Suntory for $13.62 billion, upon approval from Beam Inc. shareholders. Suntory already distributes Beam’s products in Japan, and Beam distributes Suntory’s products in several other Asian markets. The deal is targeted for completion in the second quarter of 2014.

Given numbers from the Impact Databank, the deal will make Suntory the world’s fourth-largest spirits company, behind Diageo, India’s United Spirits Limited, and Pernod Ricard; Bacardi will now be fifth. By dollar amount, this is a bigger deal than the Fortune Brands/Pernod takeover of Allied Domecq in 2005.

Assuming the deal goes through, this will put a lot of new whiskeys under Suntory’s roof. In addition to their own Suntory, Yamazaki, and Hakushu brands, and Scottish brands Bowmore, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch, and McClelland’s, they will now own all the associated Jim Beam brands, Maker’s Mark, Canadian Club, Laphroaig, Ardmore, Teacher’s, Alberta Distillers, Cooley, and the Spanish DYC brand. They’ll also own the still-growing Pinnacle flavored vodkas, Courvoisier cognac, Sauza and Hornitos tequilas, Gilbey’s, and Skinnygirl cocktails.

What’s this mean to you, the whiskey drinker? Probably not much. Beam CEO Matt Shattock and the current management team will be left in place to run the business. Bourbon, Irish, Canadian, and Scotch whisky are all growing strongly. Given Suntory’s record with Morrison Bowmore, it seems unlikely that they’d change anything with their new acquisitions. Should we worry about Suntory owning both Bowmore and Laphroaig, and possibly closing one Islay distillery as unwelcome internal competition? Not for now, when both are selling well, though it may become a factor if there’s a downturn; but in that case, everything is going to be in play anyway.

The deal will increase Suntory’s debt load considerably; Moody’s Investors Service indicated that they would be evaluating the company for a re-grading in light of it. Should we worry about prices going up to cover the debt? Realistically, at this point in the whisky market…would we notice?

This was a sale that everyone interested in the industry had been expecting, at least on the “Beam sold” end. As a purely spirits company that was neither family-owned nor large enough to fend off purchasers, Beam was widely considered as a very likely takeover target. The “Suntory acquired” part was more of a surprise, in that one company is swallowing them whole. That’s the only potential downside; that a richer purchaser might have been able to put more into the new brands than Suntory will, but that’s all speculation.

In the end, it looks like a ‘move along, nothing to see here’ moment. Just another swapping in the game that has gone on for decades. Suntory has a good track record; rest easy. We might even see more Suntory whiskies in the world market.

Meanwhile, in a much, much smaller deal that was also announced today, two Tasmanian distilleries are merging. Lark distillery will acquire Old Hobart distillery and the Overeem brand. Both companies will remain as separate brands and entities, Overeem becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Lark. Perhaps more importantly, Bill Lark will be reducing his time at the distillery and becoming the Lark global brand ambassador, and Casey Overeem will be doing the same. We’ll wait to see if this means more Tasmanian whisky in America.

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

Diageo

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.