Posts Tagged ‘Dave Broom’

Whisky Returns to London

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Author - Dave Broom

It’s hard to know precisely what a distillery looks like these days, but I’m not expecting one that shares a building with a boxing gym, an Islamic Arts Centre, a cinema, and a bar. The blue neon sign declaring “The London Distillery” looks like some post-modern irony rather than a working plant. Outside, the muddy coffee waters of the Thames flow under Albert Bridge. Not, as I said, the location you think of when talking whisky.

In the tiled, high-ceilinged main room is a highly burnished, 650 liter copper pot called Matilda, built to the firm’s specifications by Christian Carl. At the other end of the room is the mash tun and stainless steel fermenters. Most excitingly, there’s clear spirit running into the large receiving vessel.

Although in the 18th and 19th ceThe London Distillery Companyntury the Thames and its tributaries were home to many substantial distilleries, the last dedicated whisky plant, Lea Valley, closed at the start of the 20th century. The notion of English whisky laid dormant for over a century, that of London whisky even longer. This is a significant event: whisky making returning to London after 100 years.

This is a chance for CEO Darren Rook and distiller Andrew MacLeod Smith to start creating a London style. It also indicates a relaxing of the attitude of the UK Excise, who had to have their own regulations quoted back at them in order for Rook and his team to be granted their license to distil spirits (rather than the license to rectify granted to gin distillers). Distilling whisky in the capital is a symbolic moment in the development of a national English whisky industry.

The way they are approaching it is hearteningly forensic. That trickle of clearic in the vat is the first runnings, not an end product. The next few months will be a period of assessment of the options open to them, “to find what excites us,” as Rook says.

Darren Rook and Matilda

Darren Rook and Matilda

Barley strains (brought in as grist) will be looked at as will yeast strains. “The idea is to use yeasts which have historically been used by London brewers,” says Rook. “At the moment we are trialing Young’s and an old Whitbread one. We’re working through the decades to discover which strain works best for which style.”

Matilda is equally flexible. The vapor can be run through a condenser, or diverted to a copper rectifying column should they wish to distil in a single pass. The plates in the column can also be removed, effectively extending the length of the lyne arm. At the moment, though, double distillation is being used, with the heads being returned to the next batch of wash and the tails into the second distillation.

Each distillation, handily enough, will give sufficient spirit for one standard cask; there’s no sign of quick-fix, small cask maturation being used. “It will be ready when we think it’s ready,” says Rook. “If that’s 25 years, then so be it!” He then floats the idea that chestnut casks might be trialed along with new oak, should they make a rye and corn-based whisky. Options open.

Consultant distiller John McDougall smiles. “Anyone can build a distillery,” he says, “it’s making it different that’s the tricky bit.”

Whisky Advocate Award: Islay Single Malt of the Year

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Kilchoman 2007, 46%, $80

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

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

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

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

Whisky Advocate Award: Speyside Single Malt of the Year

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Macallan Ruby, 43%, £120

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

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

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

Whisky Advocate Award: Japanese Whisky of the Year

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Yoichi 1988 single cask, 62%, $250

Yoichi is a distillery which has great resonance for those of us who have followed the remarkable arrival of Japanese whisky into the world. It was this distillery, after all, which did the equivalent of Stags Leap Cabernet at the famous Judgment of Paris, when the Yoichi 1988 single cask lriconic Napa wine beat the great Bordeaux blends. Yoichi did the same in Edinburgh in a blind tasting, beating the greatest Scotch single malts. The world, as they say, would never quite be the same again. There have been plenty of good Yoichis since then, but none, in my opinion, as great as this which, in a neat enough parallel, I tasted first in Paris.

Though aged in virgin American oak, it’s distillery character that is in charge here. Rich, mysterious, layered, mixing rich fruit compote with scented coastal smoke: ozone, tar, and soot, alongside masses of vetiver and cigar humidor. The palate is oily and immense, with fluxing layers of sweet fruit, oily peat, salt, and ink; camphor, flax seed, and, in among the smoke, apple mint. In other words, here’s complexity and here, in spades, is what defines Yoichi.

I know… it will have been gone by now, and if you can get a bottle you’ll have to pay, but it would be wrong to pass over a whisky this great. Hopefully in 2014 the U.S. will get a single cask of equal quality. —Dave Broom

We’ll see you here tomorrow for the World Whisky Award.

Beyond Solera Reserve: 3 new Glenfiddich solera vat whiskies

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Dave BroomDave Broom follows up his investigation of Glenfiddich’s solera vats from the current issue of Whisky Advocate.

Could it be that solera marrying* might be about to gain momentum? If the scenes earlier this year at Glenfiddich are an indication, then it could well be true. Three new solera vats, built by local coopers Joseph Brown of Dufftown, were installed at the distillery. The first two whiskies married in them were released last week, with a third planned for April next year.

Select Cask, Reserve Cask and Vintage Cask are all no age statement bottlings, and will be exclusive to Global Travel Retail, offering three different perspectives on the distillery’s personality; one of which will take many by surprise.

Glenfiddich_Brian KinsmanLR

Brian Kinsman, Wm. Grant & Sons master blender

“What happens inside a solera vat has been of interest to me for years,” Brian Kinsman, master blender at William Grant & Sons told Whisky Advocate. “It is a way to get consistency, but the way in which the process is also a way to create depth and complexity fascinates me. I’ve used the same principle as behind the 15 year old Solera Reserve to create these new brands, but in order to create three distinct flavor profiles.”

As with the original, the new solera vats will only ever be half-emptied and it is believed that it is this residual liquid which adds new elements to the final product.

The first two to be released are Select Cask, from a solera vat of 27,000 liters; a melding of American oak, sherry, and some red wine cask-matured Glenfiddich. Reserve Cask comes from a 13,000 liter solera vat and is composed of 100% Spanish oak refill and first fill butts.

Select Cask promotes Glenfiddich’s more light and fruity side with an overwhelming aroma of fresh William pear, florals, and raspberry. It will retail at £39 for a 1-liter bottle.

The Reserve Cask, not surprisingly given its wood makeup, goes deeper, showing dried fruits, candied peels, leather, spice, and sultana. A 1-liter bottle will be £49.

The last member of the triumvirate, Vintage Cask, also comes from a 13,000 liter vat and is a mixing of first and refill bourbon, and a little sherry butt, “for mouthfeel”.  The surprise is how peaty it is.

“This is going back to the style of Glenfiddich 100 years ago,” explains Kinsman, “when we had a touch of peat in the whisky. We’ve been making a small amount of peated whisky for over 12 years now and this element forms a small part of the overall vatting.” The peat shows itself as bonfire smoke on the nose with ferns, citrus, and a little malt, but this smokiness becomes more restrained on the palate, where it’s joined by with ripe fruits and pepper.”

It will be launched in April 2014 and retail for £79. Full tasting notes will appear in the next issue of Whisky Advocate.

* For more on the solera process, see the current issue of Whisky Advocate

Part Two: Lost in Alberta. And Windsor.

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Lew BrysonDavin, David, and Lew get into the nuts and bolts of Canadian whisky, as described by Lew.

After our day at Black Velvet, we left Lethbridge the next morning, headed north toward Calgary, and stopped along the way at the Highwood Distillery in High River, Alberta. These guys do things their own way: they don’t have a mill. Only distillery I’ve ever been to that doesn’t have a mill! They put the whole grain—wheat is what they’re currently running—in a big pressure cooker, step it up through three temperature/pressure stays, and then, at 120 psi, they open the valve and the wheat blows into a vessel where it slams into a bell-shaped metal plate. Any starches that haven’t already burst from the pressure blow open at that point! They’ve been doing it that way since they opened in 1974. They use a column still, and a pot still for rectification, doing a series of redistillations.

The guys at Highwood confirmed what we’d been starting to suspect: barrels are used, re-used, and re-used some more in Canada. “We like to get as much use out of a barrel as we can,” we were told. “A barrel is spent when it starts to leak.” There must have been some leakers in there, because Highwood’s warehouse was the most alcohol-filled I’ve ever been in; my eyes were burning! When we were treated to a sample from a 33 year old cask (which was lovely, sweet, and gentle enough to hold on the tongue, even at 79%, which is just crazy), the whisky reek in the air was so strong that I couldn’t discern a difference between the air in the glass and the air outside the glass! We had to open a door. By the time we got to the lab to taste whiskies, we were all a bit jolly from just breathing…

We tasted White Owl, Highwood’s carbon-filtered 5 year old white whisky (and their best-selling product). It was sweet, fruity, touched with vanilla, and a flip of a bitter finish; definitely not vodka, despite its appearance. We tasted several more whiskies, some—like the 20 year old Ninety (named for the proof)—quite good indeed, and then wrapped up with a bottle Dave and I had noticed: The Volstead Project. It was a 5 month old barreled Manhattan, and it was quite tasty; putting a handful of cracked ice in it made it even better. But…we begged to be dropped off at a restaurant for lunch; we were woozy! We ate a big lunch, and walked about a mile back to the distillery, and felt much better. Back to Calgary, and we’d leave early in the morning for a day of travel that ended in Windsor. (We’ve since learned that Highwood had 2 feet of water running through it on 6/20 due to flash floods; best of luck to them, hope they’re okay and didn’t lose much stock.)CC-Heritage-Centre-June-14,-2013

Windsor was a pretty nice little town, all things considered—being a mile from Detroit these days can be unnerving—and after a great dinner at a place called the City Grill and a couple beers in some downtown pubs, we got some rest before the final day of distillery visits: Canadian Club and the Hiram Walker distillery.

If you’ve never been to Windsor—or Walkerville, as it was originally called, when it was Hiram Walker’s company town—you’ve never seen the Canadian Club Brand Center. Hiram Walker—the Hiram Walker, the man—built it in 1891 to celebrate the success of the global whisky brand he’d built. It’s modeled on the Pandolfini palace in Florence, and frankly, it’s stunning. Hiram may have been a grocer from Massachusetts, but he had or developed excellent taste, and the art and architecture in the building is beautiful. The offices look over the Detroit River, over to where Hiram lived (he never became a Canadian citizen, and commuted home every day by way of a tunnel and a cart pulled by his beloved donkey, Hector). We had time for a quick sample; I picked the CC 20 year old, and found it delicious, with a firmly oaky nose, but gracefully youthful notes of grass, mint, and pepper.

Canadian Club is made under contract at the Hiram Walker distillery. The distillery also makes the Corby brands, including Wiser’s, Pike Creek, and Lot No. 40. We got our tour from Dr. Don Livermore, the master blender, who is very savvy, and very keen to experiment with places Canadian whisky hadn’t yet gone. He talked several times about “keeping the pipeline full of innovation,” staying ahead of the demands of marketing.IMG_0281

This was where we came face-to-face with the tail-end of Canadian whisky, the waste, the DDG: distiller’s dried grains. Due to their use of enzymes and scarily clean fermentation, Canadian distillers get an almost complete use of sugars in fermentation, and as a result the material coming out of their dryhouse is almost all protein. Unlike the burnt chicken feather smell of most dryhouses, the Walker dryhouse smelled like toasted cereal, almost good enough to eat. When something’s wrong with fermentation, Dr. Don said, you’ll smell it here, and you’ll know. This high-protein product is a profit item for them; “It’s not a by-product,” he said, “it’s a co-product.”

Hiram Walker is huge. They use 218,000 liter (57,000 gallon) fermenters that use 60 metric tonnes of corn in every batch, and they have 39 of them. The fermenters are cooled by huge amounts of water piped in directly from the Detroit River: brute force cooling. Their column still is the size of a Titan missile and puts out spirit at 240 gallons a minute. It is the largest beverage alcohol plant in North America. It reminds you that while we may not think much about Canadian whisky—and that’s likely to change—one hell of a lot of it gets bought in a year.IMAG0738

We tasted 40 samples, everything from straight-up new make base whisky pulled off at 94.8% and their Polar Vodka, done at 96%— they were surprisingly different—to all the different flavoring variants of corn, rye, barley, malt, and wheat, run off the beer still in single pass or second-distilled in their pot still (referred to in-house as “Star” and “Star Special” variants) at various ages, spirit aged in used oak and new wood, and in used wood with red oak stave inserts…Dr. Don is an experimenting fool! “They’re all tools in the box for a master blender,” he said.

We tasted finished whiskies, too; the full Wiser’s range, Pike Creek, Lot No. 40, and a new J.P.Wiser that’s intended for the U.S., blended with more rye, and whiskies aged in new wood, bourbon barrels, and used Canadian whisky barrels. It was spicy, sweet, bold, and had some vinous notes to it. Then he pulled out a surprise. Davin had mentioned a 15 year old whisky from the defunct Gooderham & Worts distillery as a “dram before you die;” Dr. Don had the stock from the distillery and the formula, and he made up a small batch. We tasted it, and Davin was right; an exceptional whisky indeed.

A barrel of Dr. Don's Ph.D. whisky that we all signed.

A barrel of Dr. Don’s Ph.D. whisky that we all signed.

You’d think it was downhill from there, but we drove out to the Wiser’s warehouses (beside the real Pike Creek, and sampled Dr. Don’s Ph.D. project, three small runs of whisky done in new oak. It was roaringly bold, and we were loath to toss them, but there were others to try… We were off the clock, and having fun, but still noticed that they had begun barcoding barrels and tracking use and flavor. Wood management is coming to Canada.

After a fine Italian dinner on Windsor’s Via Italia, and a couple more drinks in a street fair on a fine moonlit night…our trip was finally done. We’d learned a lot about Canadian whisky, its history, and its homeland. There’s a lot to be said for learning, that’s for sure.

Part One: Lost in Alberta

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Lew BrysonDavin De Kergommeaux, Dave Broom and Lew Bryson hit the prairies in search of real Canadian whisky. Lew brings you along for the ride.

Our Canadian whisky reviewer, Davin de Kergommeaux, contacted Dave Broom and I a couple months ago about a trip to visit Canadian whisky distilleries, sponsored by the Association of Canadian Distillers. We were eager to learn more about the Canadian whisky tradition—especially after reading Davin’s excellent book, Canadian Whisky—so the second week of June saw the three of us, and the Association’s president, Jan Westcott, converging on Calgary.

I landed first…and realized Davin and I had made no plans on how to meet. My emergency plan worked: sitting in an armchair beside the baggage carousels till Davin walked by. We picked up the rental car and drove to our motel in downtown Calgary, where we ran into a colorful demonstration against the government. The Ethiopian government. Didn’t make sense to me, either, but Davin waded right into it—they politely held the door for him, it is Canada—we dropped our luggage in the rooms, and headed to a well-recommended spot, Beer Revolution, to meet friends of mine for pints and pizza. Or at least, I did, and Davin headed back to the airport to get Dave. They got lost on the way back; it was a precursor.

The next morning we met up with Jan, who was going to lead us to Alberta Distillers Ltd., our first stop. We saw some nice neighborhoods, the Bow River, one really nice neighborhood under construction — we were lost. After some quick discussion, we were off again, and found the place, off in an industrial area, surrounded by magpies. We learned about enzyme creation and the difficulties of 100% rye distillation, and tasted Alberta Premium 25 year old and 30 year old, two wonderful limited release whiskies that are vanished from the shelves, and Dark Horse, a 45% NAS kicker that was just stuffed with flavor, a very lively whisky indeed. (More to come on Canadian distilling in an upcoming issue of the magazine; we’re just having some fun here).

Tom Riehs and Lew Bryson

Tom Riehs and Lew Bryson

After lunch, we headed south across the prairie, the Rockies in the distance to our right, rye fields all around us. We stopped at one, Tom Riehs’s farm—I’d asked Davin to see a rye field, and he delivered!—and Tom was good enough to take us out to see the field, stand in it, see what rye looks like and how it grows. He told us that it was just young at this point, up to our knees, but when it was ready for harvest, it would be almost head-high. He also told us that fewer farmers are growing rye—a variety of reasons; his son’s probably not going to grow rye when he takes over because he doesn’t want to raise cattle, and pasturing them in the rye is part of the process—which doesn’t bode well for whisky.

Back in the car, and as we approached the turnoff for Lethbridge at Fort MacLeod, Jan said he had to stop to stretch his legs, and started going on about a great hamburger he’d had in the bus depot in Fort MacLeod. He went looking for it. We didn’t find it—it had closed about five years earlier, and to be honest, it looked like a lot of the rest of the town was waiting to join it—but we did stop and tour the recreation of Fort MacLeod, home of the North West Mounted Patrol, which would become the Royal Canadian Mounted Police: the Mounties. It was a great tour, with Mountie memorabilia, photos, and a gift shop…where Jan found that one of the women who worked there used to be a waitress at the bus depot. He was overjoyed.

We drove on to Lethbridge, and I took over the directions: we rolled straight to our motel, where we discovered a tiki-type bar in their central courtyard, which was full of tikisemi-tropical plants, water, a piano, and cast-iron alligators. We had to have a drink! I got a rummy-pineapple concoction (with umbrella; Dave insisted on getting a picture: “For evidence.”), Davin had a beer, and Dave got a daiquiri (Waitress with permanent smile: “What flavor would you like?” Dave, wary: “Daiquiri flavor.”). After a long walk for a nice dinner (and a continuing enjoyment of Calgary-brewed Big Rock Traditional ale), we called it a night.

We set out across town for Black Velvet the next morning. After our misadventures with directions, I was prepared with a mapped-out route to the distillery. It was great, until we hit a roadblock and detour on the main road that dumped us onto the road out of town, in the wrong direction. We were cursed! Davin found a quick route back through a nature preserve, and we took side streets to Black Velvet.

They really rolled out the red carpet—all the distillers did—and opened every door, answered every question, even the sticky ones. For instance, why do they feed the heads of the distillation process back into the fermenters? The compounds in the heads induce the shutdown of certain metabolic paths in the yeast, which keeps them focused on alcohol production; they’re getting 14-15% ABV in fermentation. We then had a thorough tasting session that included the GNS used for blending, the rye and corn “flavoring whiskies,” Black Velvet, and Black Velvet Reserve (all cut to 20%).

Then we got to taste the Danfield’s 10 and 21 Year Old, at which Jan protested in mock fury: “No, they can’t taste them, and they can’t have them outside of Canada!” We’d already discovered that Canada does indeed keep “the good stuff,” and we were intrigued. The Danfield’s whiskies intensified that, full of fresh-sawn oak and cedar notes, vanilla, and sweet warm cereal, delicious without the cloying sweetness of some younger, export Canadians. We wanted them, and Jan wasn’t letting go!

Tins of alcohol at Fort Whoop-Up.

Tins of alcohol at Fort Whoop-Up.

We had overstayed in our curiosity, and the rest of the day would be a rush. We grabbed a quick but delicious lunch at a local taphouse, then went to Fort Whoop-Up, an old “whisky fort” where sharp traders swapped diluted grain alcohol-based “whisky” to the natives for furs; it was another thing the Mounties were formed to monitor.

Then we zoomed across the prairie to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, a site where native peoples without effective weapons had craftily stampeded buffalo over a cliff for food and materiel for millennia; the last such hunt took place only 120 years ago. Our guide, Edwin, was a Blackfoot, and even though we got there just before closing, took us up to the cliff site, showed us the herbs the hunters used to disguise their scent, and—really—beat a drum and sang a Blackfoot song for us. It was a fierce moment, and a great experience, with a tremendous view of the vast Alberta prairies.

The next day we would see a third Alberta distillery, then head east…to Windsor.

Whisky Advocate’s #3 whisky of the summer issue

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Glenfarclas “Family Cask” 1972 (Cask 3551), 44.7%, $599

Dark amber in hue, this shows immediate mature elegance with great sweetness — think of spiced honey or mead. There are some light notes of pecan pie and all the while that thread of the sod. Glenfarclas can never fully escape its dark roots. There’s dried peach and fruit leather, toffee, and, with water, biscuits dunked in tea. The palate is autumnal and soft — fruit compote and peppermint. This is what you want from fully mature Glenfarclas at its peak. (A U.S. exclusive). — Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Whisky Advocate’s #4 whisky of the summer issue

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Diamond Jubilee by John Walker & Sons, 42.5%, £100,000

Bright gold. Amazingly fresh fruits and quince, slowly evolving into mango, blueberry, and a jammy tayberry note. At the same time, exotic spices like cardamom begin to build, particularly when the surface is broken with a drop of water, while vanilla pod notes develop. In the mouth, the grain smooths all the elements, giving an unctuous feel. There’s just sufficient oakiness to give structure and any smoke is far in the distance.  A triumph of the blender’s art.
— Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 93

Whisky Advocate’s #6 whisky of the summer issue

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Lagavulin 16 year old, 43%, $90

Lagavulin is a classic example of how smoke isn’t a blunt instrument that covers everything in a fog, but an element that works with all the flavors produced in distillation and maturation. Lagavulin isn’t ‘smoky,’ its peat moves into a weird territory of Lapsang Souchong tea and pipe tobacco, fishboxes and kippers. It smells of laurel and light cereal, but is always sweet. The palate shows more creosote, with hints of kelp and a little touch of iodine. Complex.  — Dave Broom

Advanced Whisky Advocate magazine rating: 92