Archive for the ‘Scotch whisky’ Category

Nomad: sherry maker González Byass ventures into whisky

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Alia AkkamThe other night I was sitting at a bar, a hushed, handsome space awash in wood and leather, tucked behind an unmarked door upstairs from a more raucous joint dominated by a flat screen blaring the World Cup and gals in too-tight dresses. I could have been in a speakeasy-style lair anywhere in the world, except I was in Taipei, at Alchemy, in the slick Xinyi district. It is here that I watched a large group of dolled-up friends, tipsy from a wedding, keep the party going by passing around a bottle of the Macallan and greedily sipping it like water.

Soft and sweet, the Macallan, I learned a few days prior, is the single malt of choice among Taiwanese imbibers. Instead of feeling fierce pride for the lovely whiskies being turned out at Kavalan, a little over an hour away from Taipei, many locals are skeptical of single malts from their homeland.

imageIt is precisely this status-conscious demographic González Byass is targeting with its brand new whisky, Nomad. The Spanish wine producer, best known for its range of sherries, has decided to amp up its spirits collection—most notably marked by the London No. 1 Gin—with Nomad, a whisky crafted by Whyte & Mackay’s zany Richard Paterson.

Like any Scotch whisky, this cross-cultural creation is distilled, blended, and aged in Scotland. But then, in a romantic twist, it’s shipped off to balmy Spain, where it’s finished in Pedro Ximénez casks. For the debut of Nomad, González Byass first set its sights on Taipei, the world’s sixth-largest single malt market. The Taiwanese, I am told, have the power to turn their drink-swilling neighbors in Hong Kong and China onto new products and habits, making them an even more captivating audience.

For Nomad’s grand launch, González Byass brought writers from around the world—luckily including myself—to Taipei to taste the much-buzzed whisky, discover what makes it stand out from the bombardment of new releases on retail shelves, and give them a feel for Taiwanese nightlife in between dumpling runs.

Via Skype, Paterson, donning a suit in the middle of the night, UK time, walked curious attendees through the particulars of Nomad. For example, he told us he melded 25 single malt and six grain whiskies that are 5 to 8 years old for this blend, then aged it in oloroso casks for a year. Once shipped off to Spain, the whisky did time in the Pedro Ximénez barrels for up to another year. Although most bottles of booze boast 40 or 43% ABV, Paterson determined Nomad’s should be 41.3%.

I was almost scared to taste it. After all this anticipation, imagine what a letdown it would be to fly across the globe for a swig of something hot and one-dimensional. But it did not disappoint. Paterson kept emphasizing its heady raisin and marzipan notes, and the pastry buff in me was delighted each rich sip conjured a loaf of warm Christmastime Stollen and brown sugar-packed sticky toffee pudding.

He also encouraged us to resist the urge to plunk ice cubes into our glasses, and drink Nomad neat. This will not be a problem because it’s an approachable whisky, something I would have no qualms about opening on a Tuesday night while in yoga pants. At around $45, it’s not something you need to save for a white tablecloth feast, but guests will most certainly relish it when you bring it over for a potluck. They may even strike a conversation over how closely the flat, flask-like bottle resembles Knob Creek’s.

Perhaps the most interesting element of Nomad’s arrival is that it has given González Byass the opportunity to carve out a new category of whisky called Outland. The name exemplifies wanderlust and adventure, and it’s interesting to think of the future cross-cultural collaborations that will undoubtedly ensue. More whiskies making their way to Spain is inevitable— González Byass may have the audacity to take Scotland-meets-Spain whisky to a new level, but Paterson is no stranger to such international tinkering; he did this before with Sheep Dip—yet is Irish whiskey aged in Kentucky a possibility? Or maybe Japanese whisky will get sent off to Canada?

Lest bartenders be excluded from all of this intrigue surrounding Nomad, the González Byass folks asked local barkeeps to show off how they weave the whisky into clever concoctions. One of them even found Fireball a fine complement. With Paterson’s words warning us to drink it in as pure a state as possible, I only wanted to try it in an Old-Fashioned. Surely Nomad will make a splash on Taipei’s burgeoning craft bar scene—and New York’s when it hopefully hits the States in the fall. Dessert notes coupled with a European fairytale of a narrative might just get Taipei bar-goers to look beyond their beloved Macallan.

Five new releases — no, make that six!

Friday, July 11th, 2014

Author - Ian BuxtonTruly the whisky gods have smiled on me. Great are their blessings, as I bring you tidings of five (yes, five: read it and weep) interesting new releases that I have tasted recently on your behalf. To be even-handed, I’ll mention them in alphabetical order.

First up, then, is the Balvenie Single Cask 15 Years Old expression, the second in Balvenie’s Single Cask line. Drawn from a sherry butt, cask number 16293 (not that any of us would know the difference, but it lends corroborative detail to the label), this full-flavored 47.8% dram drew me in with its rich, warming color, and then engaged my palate with an explosion of spices and sweet dark fruits (think candied pineapple and chocolate coated raisins) that lingered gently for minutes afterwards.

With a mere 650 bottles available worldwide, and a comparatively modest $99.99 price point, I don’t expect supplies will last long, but a further Single Barrel release, drawn from a refill American oak barrel and aged 25 years, will complete the range at the end of 2014. These Single Cask releases are another sublime illustration of the hand of a master; in this case, Balvenie’s malt master David Stewart. Grab one while you have the chance.

Glenfiddich ExcellenceStraight on to another from the William Grant & Sons’ stable, this time Glenfiddich Excellence, a 26 year old from the world’s best-selling single malt brand that, a trifle worryingly, they described as a “luxury expression” (worryingly, because that’s generally bad news for wallets). All too often, such language from the PR folks speaks more to ritzy packaging than the quality of the liquid.

This is the first time Glenfiddich have released a whisky wholly and exclusively matured in bourbon casks. It struck me as a curiously subtle whisky, strangely pale for its age, and one that will slowly seduce you with its evolving complexity rather than make an immediately dramatic entrance. It’s none the worse for that, but I imagine buyers will need to take some time to fully get to know and explore its undoubted depths. (43%, around $600).

GG Wine Cask MaturedMy third selection is from a distillery as obscure as Glenfiddich is well-known: Glen Garioch. Part of the Morrison Bowmore stable, it tends to be over-shadowed by its more famous Islay cousin. I rather fancy that if it was in Speyside it would enjoy greater fame and appreciation but, as it is, somewhat tucked away in rural Aberdeenshire with no near-neighbors, it languishes in obscurity as a result, with much of the output historically going into blends.

That’s a shame, but perhaps this latest release will win it a few fans. This is the Glen Garioch 1998 Wine Cask Matured which (the hint’s in the name) has spent the last 15 years aging in the finest ‘tonneaux de vin rouge’ (that’s red wine casks to you and me) from an anonymous Bordeaux chateau; annoyingly, they couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me which one. Never mind; while plenty remains of the distillery’s fruity and spicy Highland character, the casks have added loads more intriguing flavors: berries, chocolate, ginger, and coconut to name just a few that rolled over my palate. Bottled at 48% abv, the 5,400 bottles available will be shared between the UK, the U.S., and, fittingly, France. Look for them this Fall at around $170.

Next up is the only blended whisky of the five, but a notable one. This is John Walker & Sons Private Collection, the first in a series of limited releases from this Diageo behemoth. While the Johnnie Walker brand is huge, the folks behind it have also cleverly managed to introduce some variety with the Private Collection and, if this new release is anything to go by, there’s every chance they will even please single malt mavens. This is an exquisite blend specially prepared to highlight different facets of the brand’s character: master blender Dr. Jim Beveridge has showcased the smoky Highland and Island single malts in the blend, but introduced a delightful sweet note into the bargain.

Just 8,888 bottles will be available worldwide, and while that number might suggest Diageo have their sights set firmly to Far Eastern markets, their spokesman assured me that the U.S. will be their most important market. This isn’t a cheap whisky by any stretch of the imagination—expect a retail price of $750+—but unusually for products with this premium position, the packaging is relatively restrained, letting the whisky do the talking. As, in my view, it should.

Beveridge drew on some rare experimental casks for the blend and gave the whiskies a long marrying period to integrate their complex flavors. No age has been declared, as is the current fashion, but there are some very mature whiskies to be found in the blend, which will never be reproduced, so scarce are the constituents.

And, finally, back to William Grant & Sons (haven’t they been busy?) for a very rare and special release of their little-known Kininvie single malt, from a distillery opened in July 1990 essentially to supply the blenders. If you’ve ever visited their distilling complex at Dufftown, Kininvie is housed in the anonymous building behind the Balvenie tun room. If you didn’t know it was there, you probably wouldn’t have noticed it, and the guides don’t generally point it out.

They are offering two expressions, at 17 and 23 years old respectively, both with an identical cask mix (80% hogsheads and 20% American oak sherry; both at 42.6% abv). The younger whisky is reserved for travel retail, but the older version will appear in whisky specialist shops in domestic markets. With very limited quantities released and a price point of over $300 for a bottle equivalent (sold only in half bottle sizes), Kininvie is never going to be an everyday drinking whisky.

No doubt single malt enthusiasts will welcome the overdue arrival of this rarity, though, and will be interested to try what Kevin Abrook, Grants’ global whisky specialist for innovation, described to me as a hitherto “hidden secret jewel.” I found lots of vanilla sweetness, floral, citrus, and cut grass notes in my dram, finishing with a suggestion of fragrant sweet lemon mint.

STOP PRESS: As I file this report, Highland Park have sent me their new Dark Origins release. The whisky gods really are working overtime.

Mossburn And Mathieson: a different distillery startup story

Friday, June 27th, 2014

Author - Gavin SmithAnother day, and another Scotch distillery project appears. No doubt funding will come from an issue of founders’ bonds or future cask sales, and a diverse group of private investors, while early income will be predicated on sales of gin and new-make spirit. You get the picture.

So we look at the case of Mossburn Distillers Ltd. with a slightly seen-it-all-before eye. We chat with chief executive Neil Mathieson, who outlines two distillery projects, one on the Isle of Skye and another near Jedburgh, in the Scottish Borders. Talk turns to likely expenditure; and Mathieson mentions that the Borders plans involve spending between £35 and £40 million ($60 to $68 million), and that no external funding will be required.

Did he say £35 to £40 million? More or less what it cost Diageo to build its largest and most state-of-the-art distillery to date at Roseisle? Yes, he did.

Clearly we need to know more about the man and his plans. Mathieson was born in Scotland into a family with over 100 years of involvement with Scotch whisky. Moving to London, he trained as a chef, also getting involved in law, accountancy, and hotel management. He then opened a restaurant with his chef wife.

For the past 30 years he has been running Eaux de Vie, which he set up in 1984, growing it into the UK’s leading independent importer of spirits. Eaux de Vie now in the hands of Marussia Beverages BV, which ultimately belongs to the privately owned Swedish investment company Haydn Holding AB. Marussia operates vineyards in Europe and a brandy distillery in Eastern Europe, while additionally working with Caribbean rum producers.

Neil Mathieson points out that, “We started looking at having our own involvement in whisky distilling in Scotland five years ago, so we’re not jumping on a bandwagon.” In order to further these distilling ambitions, Mossburn Distillers Ltd. has been set up to create and operate the two new distilleries.

Proposed designs

Proposed designs

“At Torabhaig on the southeast coast of Skye, more than £5 million ($8 million) will be spent building a new malt distillery in a listed farm steading,” notes Mathieson. “The aim is to produce half a million liters of spirit, using traditional pot stills made for us by Forsyths. The restoration of the buildings has commenced and the first distillates will be produced in 2016. We expect that the flavor profile will be confirmed over the next year as we work on the still shape and height, malt sourcing, and wood program.”

By coincidence, distilling guru and former Diageo production director Alan Rutherford already had an existing interest in both the Jedburgh and Skye distillery projects. He was involved with the Torabhaig distillery venture before Mossburn came along, when all permissions were in place ready for work to commence. At an earlier stage Rutherford had identified the Jedburgh site as an ideal location for whisky-making in the Borders. Joining forces with the Mossburn team as technical director, it was decided that both ventures should go ahead.

“At Mossburn, our aim is to produce up to 2.5 million liters of malt and grain spirit per year,” says Neil Mathieson. “The design of the distillery buildings is currently subject to gaining planning permission, although work has begun on the other buildings at the site we own, based around the former Jedforest Hotel. We hope to start on the production buildings next year with distillation commencing in 2017. As with Torabhaig, we have yet to confirm the flavor profiles for production.

“It’s going to be a unique, statement building, which will incorporate a malt plant, a grain plant and a ‘hybrid’ plant; three distilleries under one roof, in effect. Ultimately, there will also be maturation facilities, a bottling hall and 1,000 square meters of hospitality space. We aim to have the largest whisky shop in Scotland and conference space for a spirits academy. If all goes to plan, we are talking about a 2015 build, while in 2016 the equipment will be put in place, and during 2017 the distillery and visitor center will open.”

Given that both distillery ventures are being “internally” funded by a clearly cash-rich enterprise, there are fewer pressures to obtain short-term returns for Mossburn Distillers Ltd than in the case of other fledgling whisky distillers. “We are working on a 25-year fully-funded business plan, just as we would for our other vineyard and distillery enterprises,” explains Mathieson.

Torabhaig plans

Torabhaig plans

“There will be no founders’ casks or sales of new-make spirit. We will market single malt, single grain, and blends, and the aim will be to build brands and create international sales prospects. The first limited release bottlings will probably be of five year old whisky before a standard ten or twelve is chosen. This will depend on the flavor profile the team decides on, and the development over the first five years.”

Some observers of the Scotch whisky scene foresee problems when all of the emergent ‘craft’ distilling operations begin fighting for their slice of the market. After all, each is likely to be offering consumers pretty much the same product, namely three of four year old, ‘limited edition’ bottlings from a predictable variety of casks, all with price tags of $120 and upward.

It appears that Mossburn is in the position to avoid such a situation, but what does Mathieson suggest for others embarking on their whisky-making dream? “I would advise them to concentrate on the costs of grain, wood, and cask storage over their aging plan, rather than the initial outlay on distilling equipment, and not to consider unrealistic retail prices or expect them to continue increasing,” he says. “Also, forget the U.S., as our distribution and retail models are different. Perhaps if we all took the initial expected financial requirement, doubled it, and then doubled it again, we would all be securely funded for the future!”

 

John Campbell of Laphroaig – In 140 Or Less

Friday, June 13th, 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 Laphroaig distillery manager John Campbell. (This was a special one for me, as the brand’s former marketing manager from some years ago.)  

What’s the view from your office window?
I have a great view, looking out over Laphroaig bay and it’s a beautiful day today on Islay.

Lucky you. We know you can get all 4 seasons in one day! Did you always want to be a distiller?
Yes, we can have variable weather, and nope:  I wanted to be a mechanical engineer first!!

Really! What was your career path to becoming Laphroaig’s manager?
Well, I started off on that path when I was 16 but it was too soon, became a lobster fisherman on Islay, then a distiller.

So did you ever expect to be Laphroaig’s manager, then?
No, not a chance.  I started off stenciling the numbers on the barrels, but have just kept sticking my hand up as time passed.

A serial volunteer, then.  Islay distillery managers seem to be more involved with consumers/visitors than the mainland ones? Would you say that’s right? If so, why?  
I am not sure, we probably are and it’s because we have much more charisma.  Oh, and we are nosy!

John Campbell and his son Murray.

John Campbell and his son Murray.

 

Very honest! You seem a very quiet person. Do you enjoy all the public facing part?
Ileachs [Islay natives] are very open too…I am quiet and understated, just like Laphroaig….but I enjoy meeting people and having fun. Who doesn’t?

True. Under Beam there were more new expressions of Laphroaig. Will this continue under Beam Suntory?
Not sure if the strategy will change under new ownership, we will be integrating shortly, then we will know.

Of which expressions, from your tenure as manager, are you most proud? Do you get involved much in the creation process?
Yes, sometimes involved.. so Triple Wood, PX or An Cuan Mor are the best. Had to choose all 3!!

What have been trade and consumer reactions to Laphroaig Select and An Cuan Mor (I prefer the latter)?
We generally get positive reviews. These 2 are for different types of consumers. Select is for novices, not purists.  An Cuan Mor gives fantastic European oak effects.

And it goes well with food too. Friends of Laphroaig now has over 600,000 members and is quite an online community too. Are you aiming for world domination here?!
Yeah, whisky does work well with food. FOL has given us world domination in peaty whiskies, yes… Ha ha – you guessed!!

I was just thinking you might take over and run the world from Islay. What about John Campbell off duty. I hear you play golf – much time for that?
Islay is the center of the universe, right? I used to play a lot of golf, not so much now…run a little and muck about with my kids.

The running: just for fitness or marathons?
Just fitness right now, but I will see where it goes, never know… if my knees last.

I’ve just spent a week walking round Paris; no knees left. I’ve noted family and travel as other interests. What do you like to do as a family?
Well, I like to take my boys and do fun stuff, so live sport is always good, football, rugby, American football, and generally just have wee adventures.

Sounds magic. I have little nieces but they live overseas so we don’t see them often to do stuff. Favorite place to travel for a) work and b) leisure?
So, fave place I have been to for work is hard! I like the U.S. a lot and I will say Seattle and for leisure I love Portugal – food and weather are great.

I liked Seattle too. Lovely relaxed feel to the place. Where will the next Laphroaig Live online broadcast come from (if there is to be one)?
There is and I am not sure if I can say yet. It will be in Sweden tho!!! Whoops ☺

The frozen north! Any plans yet for the distillery’s bicentenary in 2015 or are those a secret?
Not secret, just not fully completed yet, but we’ll have stuff throughout the year to celebrate with.

So we’ll look forward to hearing more before 2015 and for next year’s Islay Whisky Fest. Social media – friend or foe?
Social media is instant, so can be both… but mainly positive I feel.

Lastly, what would be your ideal desert island dram? It can either be one of your own or from somewhere else.
Bit boring and maybe predictable with desert island dram, but it has to be 10 year old Laphroaig. It has a depth of flavor that you get in only 3 or 4 other single malts.

A First Glimpse of the new Ardnamurchan Distillery

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

There is an undulating, skinny ribbon of asphalt running along the north shore of Loch Sunart. It’s barely wide enough for one vehicle, let alone two, but it stretches all the way out tJonny McCormicko the most westerly point in mainland Great Britain. In this stunning locale, distilling is set to commence at the brand new Ardnamurchan Distillery in Glenbeg, Lochaber. The independent bottlers Adelphi Distilling Ltd will finally see their dream realized and join the rank of those who can proudly call themselves distillers. This is no farm distillery by any stretch of the imagination. Underneath the twin pagodas, the Ardnamurchan Distillery will have the capacity to make 500,000 liters of alcohol per year.

Graeme Bowie

Distillery manager Graeme Bowie gave me a tour of the site. He was assistant manager at Balblair Distillery for six years, and has progressed his way to distillery manager from distillery operator following six years at Balmenach and sixteen years at Glen Grant. As you might imagine, he is relishing the job at hand.

The distillery will produce peated and unpeated Ardnamurchan whisky in equal quantities, although at the outset, Graeme predicts it could be eight years until the company considers the whisky to be ready for release. Boldly, there will be no gin or other distractions produced for short-term cash. They are straightforward whisky men; nothing more, nothing less. Meanwhile, there will be a visitors center with a bar and tasting area where you will be able to find Adelphi’s latest independent cask strength bottlings.

The company is named after the Adelphi distillery, a Lowland distillery that operated on the south side of the River Clyde in Glasgow from 1826 until 1907, drawing its water from Loch Katrine. In its day, it had two mash tuns, up to twelve washbacks, and two stillhouses containing a Coffey still and four pot stills. In addition, the 19th century Adelphi distillery boasted its own cooperage and maltings (though the bulk of the malt came from Port Dundas). When Alfred Barnard paid a visit in the 1880s, Archibald Walker & Co, then Adelphi’s proprietors, owned Limerick Distillery, Ireland and the Vauxhall Distillery in Liverpool, England. The Adelphi name was revived in 1993 by Archibald Walker’s great grandson.

Like other newly opened distilleries, Ardnamurchan will have a private cask ownership scheme whereby whisky enthusiasts and clubs can order a cask of peated or unpeated spirit filled into either a bourbon barrel or sherry butt. Final prices are being confirmed, but they are expected to be approximately £1,750 for the bourbon barrel and £5,000 for the sherry butt, so it should prove popular.

Inside the biomass burner

Graeme pointed out their four 15,000 ton grain silos, which will receive the barley deliveries. With different malt specifications, supplies will come from Bairds Malt, and from malting on site. Production will begin with milling in the compact Alan Ruddock AR2000 four roller mill, the same model as you will find at Wolfburn distillery. Adelphi have installed a two-ton, copper-topped, semi-lauter mashtun with a manhole and double hatch. Power will come from the Swiss-built, one megawatt Schmid biomass wood chip burner, whose fiery hunger will be fueled by the local forestry companies. The yawning hatch to the deep pit of the chip store in the yard is motor-driven and opens effortlessly at the touch of button, like the malevolent plaything of a Bond villain. The burner can take up to an hour to get up to its running temperature of 800°C, but then it will reliably produce steam bountifully. This is conveyed to the space age looking Steam Accumulator.

Ardnamurchan’s pagodas

Each heating tank holds 9,000 liters of water in preparation for mashing. The first water will be 6,500 liters at 65°C, followed by a second water of 4,000 liters which will slosh in at 82°C. The 6,500 liters of the third water will gush in at 90°C. Production will start modestly at one or two mashes per week, but in time, production will be ramped up to six days a week.

Unique to Scotland, the fermentation will be carried out in four oak washbacks resized from ex-cognac vats by the J. Dias cooperage in Paramos, Portugal, plus three Forsyth-built, stainless steel washbacks complete with switchers. Anchor dried yeast will be used (10 kg for every 10,000 liters). The fermentation times are planned to be reassuringly long to build flavor, envisaged to be 55 hours for the short runs, then 88-90 hours for long runs over the weekend.

The pair of virgin copper stills look magnificent. Built by the experienced coppersmiths of Forsyths, they sit resplendent behind picture windows. The wash still holds 10,000 liters and has a silhouette reminiscent of those at Highland Park. Meanwhile, the spirit still has a body contoured like the Glen Grant stills, and has a capacity of 6,000 liters. Everything is controlled by hand, so you will find no automation here. The vapors will funnel down a Lyne arm sloping away at 15° into two shell and tube condensers tucked away at the back, before the spirit is pumped into the spirit receiver warehouse vat.

McCormick Ardnamurchan distillery stillThe first delivery of American oak barrels has already arrived from Jack Daniel. Ardnamurchan’s traditional dunnage warehouse will bear casks three racks high, but it is eerily empty at the moment. The steel frame of the warehouse is covered with Kingspan; insulated, metallic panels to help keep a cool, damp interior temperature for maturation. Eventually, the warehouse will hold 6,500 casks over two floors but it will take six years to fill up before they need to build another one.

The warehouse footprint has been physically hewn out of the solid rock of the hillside, some 12 meters deep. The excavated rock has been utilized to lay a rough road up to the distillery’s water source. Before I depart, Graeme zooms me a mile up the bumpy track in an all terrain vehicle to show me the source of the production water from the Glenmore River.

As the inaugural distillation is still a few weeks away, the only undertaking I’m denied today is a taste of the new make Ardnamurchan spirit. However, that intrigue gives me the perfect excuse to return.

Spirit of Speyside Festival Review: 2014

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Author - Gavin SmithThe first Speyside Whisky Festival was staged in 1998, and from its low-key beginnings the event has blossomed into a five-day springtime extravaganza, celebrating all aspects of distilling in Scotland’s most productive whisky-making region. This year, visitors from 31 different countries participated in a remarkable total of some 370 events, as the Festival raised the curtain on Scotland’s designated ‘Whisky Month.’

Come in, walk around.

Come in, walk around.

Festivities commenced at the ‘Touch of Tartan’ opening dinner at Glen Grant distillery in Rothes, where, according to his billing, Charlie MacLean offered a touch of “Hollywood glamour,” as guest of honor, thanks to his role in the Angels’ Share movie, which is fast achieving almost mythic status. Indeed, given the opportunity to question MacLean about any aspects of his fascinating life and career at a later event in the Drouthy Cobbler bar in Elgin, one participant could only come up with “Did they give you a Winnebago during filming?”

Although Speyside is home to nearly half of Scotland’s malt distilleries, many of them are not usually open to the public, so one key attraction of the Festival is the opportunity for aficionados to see inside some which usually keep their doors firmly locked.

Of most interest to attendees was probably the chance to explore Diageo’s vast Roseisle plant near Elgin, while a manager’s tour of Auchroisk was also provided by the company. Chivas Brothers showcased its Glen Keith, Glenburgie and Tormore distilleries. Meanwhile, Tamdhu, which featured in last year’s festival for the first time, offered a one-day-only series of ‘VIP’ tours, conducted by distillery workers.

 Brian Robinson at Ballindalloch

Brian Robinson at Ballindalloch

As the rush to build new distilleries continues its momentum, one highlight of this year’s Festival was the chance to take a ‘hard hat’ tour of the partially completed Ballindalloch distillery, situated on the Ballindalloch Estate, close to Cragganmore.

This venture is fronted by ex-Glenfiddich chief guide Brian Robinson, and benefits from the technical input of Diageo veteran and former Talisker manager Charlie Smith. Funding is being provided by the Macpherson-Grant family who own the estate, and it is likely to be a minimum of eight years before a single malt is released. The style will be a relatively heavy Speyside, and the design embraces quite small stills and wash tubs rather than condensers. Distilling is projected to start in July.

While the festival organizers always try to be innovative – hence this year’s Tomintoul and Glenlivet whisky treasure hunt, scarecrow-watching and the chance to participate in the knitting of a giant cushion – straight up tutored tastings remain as popular as ever. Indeed, the same old faces can be seen year after year sampling their way through flights of whisky provided by the likes of independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail, Berry Bros & Rudd and Adelphi.

These are in addition to numerous distillery-based tasting sessions and specialist tours, in which The Macallan, Aberlour, Glen Elgin, Glenfiddich , Cardhu, Benromach and Strathisla all participated. Glenfarclas also got in on the action with the launch of its first ever distillery-exclusive bottling. The single cask 1988 vintage release in question comprised 300 bottles, and with queues at the visitor centre door ahead of opening time, the bottling sold out in four days. Future exclusives are promised on the back of this success.

Glenlivet's sma' still

Glenlivet’s sma’ still

Additionally, The Glenlivet released a limited edition bottling by the name of Auchbreck, and the distillery hosted several events as usual during the Festival, including the opportunity to taste whisky being made in its unique outdoor ‘sma’ still, as would have been used by illicit distillers in days gone by. There was also the chance to visit the site of the original Glenlivet distillery in the company of Chivas Brothers’ distilling manager Alan Winchester, one of the very best people to talk to if you really want to know about Speyside and its whiskies.

The Speyside Sessions

The Spirit of Speyside Sessions

A new element to the Festival this year was ‘The Spirit of Speyside Sessions,’ a series of concerts and ceilidhs being staged in venues closely linked to the whisky industry. One such session was provided by Copper Dogs, who launched their debut album with a gig in the ruins of Balvenie Castle, close to Glenfiddich distillery.

The band recorded the album in Balvenie distillery’s floor maltings, and its line-up includes the Balvenie global ambassador Sam Simmons on guitar and vocals, William Grant’s new global ambassador for blends, Rob Allanson, on bass, Cat Spencer on lead vocals and Simon Roser on drums. The album, titled ‘The Balvenie Maltings Sessions,’ also features guest appearances from some familiar whisky figures including Dave Broom (vocals), Brian Kinsman (bagpipes), Neil Ridley (organ) and Nick Morgan (guitar).

The climax of the Festival came with the announcement of the winners of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Whisky Awards, sponsored by Rothes coppersmiths Forsyths, and unique in that they are voted for by the public during a series of roving sampling sessions during the weekend. The winner of the 12-year-old and under category was Benriach 12-year-old Sherry Wood, while the title for malts aged 13 to 20 years went to Balvenie 15-year-old Single Cask. In the 21-year-old category Cardhu 21-year-old topped the poll, and the prize for distillery special editions went to the Tamdhu 10-year-old Limited Edition.

James Campbell, chairman of the Spirit of Speyside Festival says that “This years’ Festival has exceeded all of our expectations. This part of the world is known internationally for the warmth of its welcome and hospitality. We feel that we have now established a really good platform to build upon in future years and have already begun planning more great events for next year.”

Top 10 Whiskies Reviewed in the Summer 2014 Issue Buying Guide

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Here’s a sneak preview of our Summer 2014 issue’s Buying Guide. A total of 117 whiskies were reviewed for this issue. We welcomed two new members to our review team: Jonny McCormick (blended scotch, blended malts, grain, Irish, and world whisky) and Geoffrey Kleinman (flavored whiskies and U.S.-exclusive imports).

Crown-Royal-XO-bottle#10 - Crown Royal XO, 40%, $45

A rich luxurious whisky finished in cognac casks, as was the crisper, brighter Cask No. 16 that it replaces. This is the cedary, leathery, tobacco-ish sipping whisky of the private club. Simple toffee and the cherry essence of Beaujolais nouveau evolve into ripe red apples and heavy, dusky, dark fruit with candied citrus peel, bitter almond skins, and hints of oak. Sizzling gingery spice and white pepper linger over textured sandalwood. Defined by its heavy, creamy body. —Davin de Kergommeaux

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92

#9 - Evan Williams Single Barrel (Barrel No. 1) 2004, 43.3%, $27

Polished and nicely balanced, with caramel as the main note, followed by candied fruit, soft vanilla, sweet corn, and nougat. Subtle spice (ginger, cinnamon) and gentle oak on the finish round out the sweet notes. Easygoing demeanor and very drinkable. Great value too! A very pleasing, versatile bourbon. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93JW Odyssey

#8 - Johnnie Walker Odyssey, 40%, $1,100

Jim Beveridge delivered these aromas of toffee apple, peach, and rich berry fruits by working with European oak casks. The smoke is timid, with hints of background salinity. The finely structured mouthfeel is where this triple malt whisky truly shines: the polished smoothness is exceptional. The flavor journey begins with honey, citrus, and swirling melted chocolate, building to a fire of squeezed orange oils, dry fruits, and pecan nuttiness before concluding with rich espresso, dark caramels, and plain chocolate. Immaculate.—Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#7 - Cragganmore Triple Matured Edition, 48%, £80

This is Cragganmore in early autumnal guise. Dry leaves underfoot, ripe black fruits on the bushes, waxed jacket, chestnut, and a whiff of cedary smoke, opening into dried peach. The palate is thickly textured, with those fruits, dark chocolate, and pomegranate molasses. The immensely long finish gives you light pepper, smoke, and blackberry jam. Cragganmore at its very best, and at a great price. —Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93mortlach_18yo

#6 - Mortlach 18 year old, 43.4%, £180/500 ml

Deep amber in color with the green glints of first-fill sherry, this has bosky notes and meat—mutton and venison—plus graphite, bitter chocolate, and wet rock before layers of dried stone fruits and date. This is the most savory and Bovril-like of the new range. The palate is feral and earthy; think mushroom with game pie, and rowan berries. Deep, but with more dimensions than the previous 16 year old which, in comparison, seems like a blunt instrument.—Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

#5 - Brora 40 year old Single Cask 1972 Vintage, 59.1%, £7,000

Just 160 bottles of 1972 Brora are available through UK World of Whiskies and World Duty Free Group stores. The oldest bottling of Brora to date was distilled using heavily-peated malt. A big hit of oily peat on the early nose, with malt, dried fruit, and black pepper. Mildly medicinal. The palate yields bonfire ash, licorice, honey, more pepper, and well-integrated oak. The finish is long, with peat smoke, plain chocolate, and tannins lingering in harmony. Complex and rewarding. —Gavin D Smith

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94

#4 - The John Walker, 40%, $3,500

The pinnacle of the current Johnnie Walker range, this is a rare, inimitable blend of just nine whiskies. It exudes the aromas of ripe bananitos, whole mango, satsuma, vanilla seeds, barley awns, butter biscuits, and crystallized pineapple. The supple grain sustains indulgent, characterful malts creating a weighty, smooth mouthfeel. I’m smitten by the vanilla creaminess, burgeoning deep fruit layers, how it swells with a satisfying snuffbox smokiness. A beautifully styled blend delivering a captivating, sensuous experience. (330 bottles only)—Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 94Last Drop 50 year old

#3 - The Last Drop 50 year old, 50.9%, $4,000

Would you have gambled The Last Drop 1960 liquid in new sherry wood for four more years? The indulgent nose proffers maple syrup, buckwheat honey, roasted spices, blue grapes, pomegranate, raspberry compote, cilantro, pandan leaf, and beefsteak juices soaking into mushroom gills. The complex, lustrous mouthfeel is replete with a sheen of rich maltiness, molasses lashed by sherry before a dry, resinous finish. Water brings an oily nuttiness, then further drops produce a silky, clingy texture. Glorious. Miraculous. Victorious. (388 bottles only) —Jonny McCormick

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95

peatmonster_park-avenue_front2#2 - Compass Box The Peat Monster 10th Anniversary Special Cask Strength Bottling, 54.7%, $120

As you’d expect, solid peat is the first thing out of the glass, but this isn’t just a peat beast. Underneath are honey, dried fruit, and malt. The palate is all about balance with honeyed malt, raisin, and oak spice all complementing smoky peat. A lush mouthfeel makes you forget it’s cask strength. A pure love note in a glass from Compass Box to Park Avenue Liquor.  (Park Avenue Liquor only.) —Geoffrey Kleinman

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 95
Bookers 25th Anniv Bottle

#1 - Booker’s 25th Anniversary Bourbon Batch No 2014-1, 65.4%, $100

The complete package: uncut, unfiltered, full-flavored, richly textured (almost chewy), and very complex. Notes of toffee-coated nuts, vanilla fudge, polished leather, cedar-tinged tobacco, barrel char, cocoa powder, and a hint of fig, wrapped up with a firm oak grip on the finish. Worth every penny of the premium price being charged for this commemorative release. —John Hansell

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 96

George Grant of Glenfarclas – in 140 or Less

Friday, May 9th, 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 Glenfarclas brand ambassador. George Grant is the sixth generation of the owning family to work at Glenfarclas.

Here we go: what’s the view from your office window?

Glenfarclas No.1 Duty Free Warehouse door, in our beautiful red.

Sounds cheerful! What’s happening at Glenfarclas this spring?

At this rate, we will be doing a rain dance. Winter never happened at Glenfarclas.

Soggy for the visitors, then. But good for the distillation. You’re in a family business. How old were you when you started?

Joined the payroll in 1997 at 21. But I was working for Muntons Malt, Inver House, and Fine Vintage Far East Ltd in Hong Kong. I started at Glenfarclas in 2000 aged 23.

That answers my next two questions! You travel a lot. How many weeks each year are you away?

I would say I am away 6-7 months a year, it works out about 15/16 days a month. Some months are obviously worse than others.

GSGsndSGHard. How does family life fit in round that?

Grab it as you can. I have 2 girls and off to Crieff Hydro at weekend. Still all the usual activities to squeeze in: swimming, tai kwan do, tennis, Brownies, ice skating…

Lovely. I know they’re still little. Is either of them interested in distilling yet?

Luckily not yet: 2 and 7 years old. 7 yo knows what Daddy does: “Makes whisky.” One of her first words was “Glenfarclas.”

Chip off the old block. In future will Glenfarclas be owned/managed by women? As some were in 19th and early 20th century?

Will have to wait and see. Wouldn’t be the first time. Granny Grant used to run this place.

And other women ran/founded others, not to mention champagne houses. What are your key markets for Glenfarclas?

All markets are key! Just at different times. Our current markets UK, U.S., Canada, Taiwan, Russia, Oz, and powerhouse Germany.

Quite a spread; no wonder you travel so much  and so far. On website, you say your favourite is 21 YO. Does that ever waver?

Yes, when we put the website up it was the 21, now my tipple is the 15 YO or 40 YO. Liking my whisky more at 46% nowadays.

Our palates do change and new expressions do come up. What about the Family Casks? I have one from my birth year. They seem to go well.

They continue to go from strength to strength. Currently 1954 to 1999, 52 and 53 gone. We are currently doing 28 new family casks for years we’re currently out of.

Do you mean in terms of bottled stock?

Yes, out of bottled stock currently with 28 years. Will be back in end of summer.

We’ll look forward to hearing more then. Do you acquire your sherry casks from only one source? Can you say where? (Don’t just say Jerez!)

Our casks currently come from Jose y Miguel Martin. We have used the same family owned bodega since 1990. All oloroso sherry. Prior to that bought where we could.

Your washbacks are steel, not wood. How long ago did you change over? And why? 

Dates get hazy. Switched to stainless steel 42-45 years ago, for consistency. We get the same result every time from steel. Wooden ones have more variables and risks.

Point taken. A number of distilleries are being expanded. Any plans that way?

We are quite a large production plant. We can produce 3.5 million lpa. Last year we were around 3.3m.

So no expansion, then.

No plans for physical increase. We still sell to blenders. Simply reducing what we sell to them increases what we make for ourselves.

Yet, you’re perceived as a small and beautiful operation. You were visitor center pioneers and offer great tours. How is the new 5 Decades one shaping up?

People sometimes get a shock ref. capacity when they visit. We also do a 7 decade tour now. The customers get a dram per decade from 1950’s – 2010’s. Quite mind boggling.

I’m in for that one! What are your ambitions for Glenfarclas?

Continued growth, maybe not at the speed we have seen in the last 5 years. Developed in new markets. To get every whisky drinker to know the name Glenfarclas.

You celebrated the 175th birthday in 2011. Plans already in hand for 200th?

Yes, date in the diary and an access ramp for the warehouse so I can roll in my father!

Hope he appreciates that!

2015 also special for us – 150 years since my great, great great-grandfather bought the company for £511.19s. Will just be a quiet celebration!

4Z9F9553Well, that was a bargain! Changing tack, you shoot game birds in season. Do you cook them yourself too?

Of course. We sponsor the game menu with Shooting Times so lots of great recipes there. The slower you cook them, more tender they are. Can’t beat an Aga to cook them on.

I’ll just turn my normal ovens right down. After family life, lots of work and travel, plus shooting, any time for anything else?

Not a lot currently. Looking forward to my youngest being out of nappies then envisage we travel a little more as a family. Have 2 Labradors that also take up a lot of time.

Dog walking and little girls must be compatible. Social media: fan or foe?

Mmm, fan, I think. Don’t think I use it for all it’s worth but certainly do have some fun with it. We are now 10,000+ on Twitter and 8,000+ on Facebook. Both @glenfarclas.

It can take up time. And what’s your desert island dram? Doesn’t have to be one of your own…

First distillery I ever worked at was Knockdhu so An Cnoc 21 YO has a special place. My McDonalds Whisky is JW black label (can get it everywhere).

And from your own: is it the 15 or 40?

Every day 15, once a week special 40 YO.

Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg – in 140 or Less

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Author - Caroline Dewar 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 director of distilling, whisky creation, and whisky stocks at the Glenmorangie Co., Bill Lumsden. He’s understandably quite busy, but took time out to answer some nosy questions.

What’s the view from your office/lab window?

I am lucky to have a splendid view of the Balmoral Hotel and in the background…Edinburgh Castle! Oh and the lovely St. James Centre! [The Centre is a 1970s concrete monstrosity shopping mall.]

Sublime to ridiculous! What was your route into the whisky industry?

Studying for my Ph.D., I discovered the sublime taste of malt whisky. That was it; no other choice. First job was with DCL (Diageo) as a research scientist.

And from there to here was…?

Working in all aspects of whisky production; you name it. First job at Glenmorangie Co. was Glenmorangie distillery manager, then the predecessor of my current role.

Lumsden's obsession: wood

Lumsden’s obsession: wood

Well rounded then. I assume no typical day. What tasks might take up your time?

Absolutely no such thing as typical – with an incredibly low boredom threshold ‘typical’ would irritate me. Most days involve some organoleptic analysis of whisky.

Nosing and tasting then! Or just nosing? How much time do you get to spend at the distilleries?

Both nosing and tasting (but of course I don’t swallow in the office). Not nearly as much as I would like but basically at both at least once a month.

And how much time travelling? You pop up all over the world.

Hard to be precise but probably spend about 25% of my time in the markets. Usually do 2 trips a year to both Asia and the U.S. and some trips to Europe, London, Paris etc.

Do the public appearances take up lots of time? Are they enjoyable?

Out in the market sometimes I barely have time to sleep/eat/shower but it is still enjoyable. Genuinely gives interesting consumer insights into the whisky world.

Where does family life fit in?

All I will say on that one is that it costs me a fortune in presents from my many trips away.

You’re renowned—among other things—for work on maturation wood. What drives you there?

An understanding from early in my career that it doesn’t matter how good the raw spirit, if it’s not matured in good quality oak you simply cannot make good whisky.

Anything else?
Yes, the laws governing production of Scotch are so strict that the oak barrel is one of the most successful ways of playing tunes with the flavor of your whisky.

And you’ve played some great tunes. Still sourcing oak from the Ozarks?

Absolutely, it’s one of the key cornerstones of the quality of Glenmorangie. I have recently doubled the quantity of this type of wood we use for our top marques.

Presumably not a cheap option, then.

A very, very expensive option, but critical to the taste profile I am trying to achieve.

Do you like or use European oak?

I like European oak for some of my whiskies, but will typically use it for a limited part of the maturation, due to the higher level of tannin.

So the U.S. oak works better for you…?

I prefer American oak for the base maturation, as I particularly like the soft, sweet, creamy flavors it imparts (for both Ardbeg and Glenmorangie).

Any other elements/ingredients in Scotch production still largely unexplored or unexplained?

Trying to create new products; some people are looking at aspects of primary production.
I believe the fermentation offers the most potential for new flavors.

Do go on, please…

Ha ha! Not going to fall for that one. However, there are other strains of yeast out there I think could give an exciting alternative range of flavors to our products.

No trick intended! Your parent company owns champagnes, and so yeast. Any ambition for a sparkling Glenmorangie or Ardbeg?

From my experiences of drinking whisky champagne cocktails, I’m not certain that this would be a good idea!

I’ll just have to play with Ardbeg as a Kir base then. Kir fumé anyone?

I am very partial to a Mosquito (an Ardbeg-based mojito), and even, believe it or not, an Ardbeg Bloody Mary, but I haven’t yet tried it in a Kir.

Bill Lumsden TaghtaWe’ll all give it a go and let you know. In photos your suits always look immaculately cut. Is tailoring/clothing important to you?

Sadly, utterly obsessed with it, particularly the cut/fabric of suits. At any one time, I’ll have at least twenty clothing items still in their wrappings in my wardrobe.

Not sad; just particular! Ever thought of a modeling career? Seriously, though, what else do you enjoy outside work?

Modeling? Ha ha, very funny, Caroline! Interests: walking, wine, jogging, wine, cooking, wine, gardening, wine, etc.

Just a thought as an alternative career! I’m sensing a wine theme here. Anything in particular?

Very eclectic tastes and enjoy all sorts of wines. But my favorite whites, by some distance, are white Burgundies, and Cab Sauv is probably my favorite red grape.

It’s white Burgundy for me too. You cook: any signature dish?

Not really any signature dish per se, but I guess the dish I cook most is grilled rib eye steak with a blue cheese sauce.

All your fine whisky creations: any one of which you’re most proud and why?

I guess my magnum opus would be Signet, which is a very personal product to me, particularly given the length of time from when I had the original idea.

Do tell us more.

Idea from student days and disliking coffee: better aroma than taste. Led to considering the roast of the beans. A short leap to maybe roasting barley the same way.

Any favorite country to be in a) for work, and b) for pleasure?

Work: Japan. Just love the fact that the culture, the cuisine, the people are so different from the West. Pleasure: so many places but my top 3 are France, Italy, and U.S.

Lastly, what’s your desert island dram (you’re allowed to appreciate the work of others if you wish)?

My desert island dram would have to be my 1981 Glenmorangie Distillery Manager’s choice, which was bottled from my favorite single cask (ex-bourbon).

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.