Johnnie Walker 18yo – The old is new

If you’ve read enough pieces, opinions, wisdom – and certainly reviews – on Whisky & Wisdom, you’ll have noticed a subconscious, underlying nostalgic tone occasionally.   When you’ve been enjoying whisky for over twenty years and observed the very significant changes and growth that has occurred in the industry in that time (even in just the last ten years), it’s hard to look at and comment on current whisky affairs without inadvertently glancing backwards to how things once were.

Such observances even pervade one’s thinking when it comes to Johnnie Walker.   Once upon a time, the Johnnie Walker stable was a pretty simple and well-defined house.   Just four simple colours:  Red, Black, Gold, and Blue.   (Yes, there was the occasional sighting of something different (e.g. Swing), and let’s not forget the rumours of the elusive Grey Label that did the rounds back in the mid-2000’s.)

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Glenmorangie 1990 Grand Vintage Malt

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the core-range of many distilleries consisted of a ubiquitous 12yo, followed by an 18yo and a 25yo.  The really daring distilleries would then inject something colourful into the portfolio, such as a vintage release or something with an exotic name.

Glenmorangie is a remarkable distillery for many reasons, but one of its most impressive aspects is its huge and diverse core range.   The humble (yet sensational) Original continues to underpin the line up, but the flavour profile and offerings rapidly then diversify with the likes of the Extra Matured range (Lasanta, Quinta Ruban, and Nectar d’Or), followed by the older age statements – namely the 18yo and 25yo.   The latter two – in particular – were notable for being exceptionally rich and luxurious.

But in today’s whisky world, nothing is constant for too long and there was a touch of sadness when we heard that the Glenmorangie 25yo was effectively being discontinued.  However, any sadness you experience will instantly evaporate once you taste its replacement:  The Glenmorangie 1990 Grand Vintage Malt.

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The Scotch Malt Whisky Society presents….Exotic Cargo

Members or watchers of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society may recently have heard about one of the Society’s latest projects:  The release of a blended malt.  No, not a blend….a blended malt.   (And if that subtle distinction in terminology still confuses you, you are welcome to write to the Scotch Whisky Association and let them know your thoughts on the matter.  Good luck.)

If there’s one thing you can’t accuse the Society of doing in recent times, it’s standing still.   Clubs, societies, bottlers, and brands need to continually evolve and change with the times, and the Society has been particularly pro-active in expanding its list of bottlings and the benefits that membership bestows on its members.

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Highland Park – the Vikings are coming.

Anyone who’s bring drinking whisky for a few years now will no doubt have noticed “change”.   Brands have changed their packaging and labels.   Distilleries have changed their core-range or introduced new expressions into their line-up.   Prices have changed.  Distillery Managers and Brand Ambassadors have changed.   According to some, whisky itself has changed!

Another key area that has changed (and will continually evolve and change) is whisky’s marketing.  In particular, each whisky brand’s image can change. And few brands can match the change in persona that has overcome Highland Park.

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Ardbeg An Oa

With so many different special releases of Ardbeg that catch everyone’s attention each year (i.e. the annual Ardbeg Day releases such as Kelpie, Dark Cove, Perpetuum, Auriverdes, etc, or the limited release of the 21yo), it’s easily to forget that Ardbeg’s actual core range consists of just three bottlings:  Uigeadail, Corryvreckan, and the 10yo.

Of course, a decade or two ago, a distillery with multiple expressions in its portfolio usually showcased its core range via a diverse spread of different age statements, for example, a 12yo, an 18yo, and, say, a 25yo.  However, as is widely reported and acknowledged these days (see here), distilleries today are increasingly turning to No Age Statement releases to manage their stocks and inventory.   (Talisker is a classic example – arguably one that has gone too far – with core range NAS releases such as Skye, Storm, Dark Storm, Neist Point, Port Ruighe, and 57o North)Given Ardbeg’s chequered history, with such small and sporadic production between 1983 and 1997, it’s no surprise that Ardbeg must also make a virtue of NAS releases.  Fortunately, as anyone who’s tasted them can attest to, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are two very good whiskies.  But what if you’re a huge Ardbeg fan and you still yearn for something more?  Relief is now at hand…

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Glen Moray & Mastery

Glen Moray celebrates its 120th anniversary this year, having been founded way back in 1897.   The distillery had humble beginnings and had already endured over a decade of silence and inactivity when it was bought by Macdonald & Muir (effectively Glenmorangie) in 1920.  Glenmorangie held the reins for the next 88 years, during which time the distillery became a workhorse for the many supermarket blends that Macdonald & Muir were behind.   If you believe the folklore, Glen Moray was also the playground for Dr Bill Lumsden, who would conduct all manner of trials and maturation experiments on Glen Moray spirit before transferring his more successful undertakings across to Glenmorangie.

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Matching a whisky to every James Bond film

Whisky has been paired with food for decades, although in more recent years we’ve seen whiskies paired and matched to cigars, watches, albums, bands, and even movies!   If you’re going to sit down in your comfy sofa and pass away a few hours being entertained by 007, then having a good dram in your hand goes a long way to enhancing the experience.

Of course, Jimmy’s drink of choice may be a vodka martini, but we can shake and stir things up for the whisky drinkers out there who are James Bond fans: Here is our attempt to pair and match the perfect whisky to every (official) James Bond film.

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The Top Six things to do on Speyside

Yes, the obvious thing to do on Speyside is to visit distilleries and drink whisky.  But there’s so much more on offer if you look beyond the distilleries…

Any punter who’s been to Speyside can tell you to visit Distillery X or to make sure you do the “Experts Tour” (or some similarly badged experience) at Distillery Y.   The problem with such advice or recommendations is that most people giving you their tips can only draw from their experience of the five or six distilleries they’ve been to, or they simply tell you to go to their favourite distillery – which is a subjective opinion and experience at best.

There are 50 operating distilleries on Speyside at the moment, and Whisky & Wisdom has visited and toured all but one of them.  (Ironically, the one Speyside distillery Whisky & Wisdom has yet to step inside of is the Speyside Distillery at Drumguish!!).   Roseisle, Dalmunach, Mannochmore, Macduff, Strathmill, Ballindalloch, Glenburgie, Allt-a-bhaine, Braeval, Speyburn, Balmenach…..you name it, W&W has been there; met with the staff; and seen around it.  Which means we can take a more objective view of what’s on offer and provide a balanced opinion of what appeals or what provides value to the visitor.

However, this piece is not titled “The Top Six distilleries to visit on Speyside” – we’ll save that article for another day.  Rather, it’s the top six things to do.   The distilleries that are open to the public generally have tours between the hours of 10.00am-4.00pm (in the summer months), and – as you’ll discover, if you haven’t already – trying to schedule your tours and dovetail your visits so that you can sequentially get to multiple distilleries in a day is not the easiest of tasks.   This means you’ll have gaps in your day, or you’ll have time to do other things – particularly after the visitor centres close their doors.   So here are a few other things to keep you amused:

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Ardnamurchan – The western jewel of Scotland

(Or everything you wanted to know about Ardnamurchan but were afraid to ask!)

In this digital age of whisky websites and social media activity, there are very few secrets left in the whisky industry.  Once upon a time, a new distillery would suddenly appear and no one knew much about it except for what might have been published in a subsequent book.  Today, by the time a new distillery’s first release is bottled, it seems we’ve all followed the journey of the distillery breaking ground; building the stillhouse; installing the stills; starting production; and filling the casks.  We’ve done the virtual tour of the distillery before the Visitor Centre has even opened its doors!

One of the primary reasons for this is simply because most of us will never get to make the journey to the distillery, and thus we live and drink vicariously through what we read and view online.   Consider, also, that not all distilleries are blessed by geography:  Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie, for example, are an easy bus ride from the big city centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively, but things are trickier for the more remote distilleries that sit well off the tourist trail or are located on the fringes of Scotland’s reaches.

Ardnamurchan is one such distillery.  If you’re looking to start up a new distillery, your choice of location is fairly critical.  In addition to the most obvious requirement (i.e. a good water source), other considerations will be existing infrastructure, convenient access, shared resources, a ready-made tourist trail for visitors, and ease of transport for both the delivery of materials and the departure of spirit and filled casks.  So – with all these essentials being key to a successful distillery venture – why would you choose to locate your distillery in one of the most far flung, remote, and inaccessible parts of Scotland?  In the case of Ardnamurchan, the answer is pretty simple:  Because they can.

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The Whisky Lover’s Guide to climbing Ben Rinnes

Each year, thousands of whisky tourists make their way to Speyside to visit their own personal mecca.  Each pilgrim no doubt has their own favourite and plans their itinerary around getting a glimpse into the factory that produces their most revered malt.

Of course, no one travels all the way to Speyside just to visit just one, single distillery and thus it’s not uncommon for we pilgrims to set up camp in one of the many hotels or B&B’s and use it as a base to explore multiple distilleries over several days.

Outside of the distilleries, however, your average whisky tourist quickly runs out of things to do in Speyside.  The only other pursuits are the outdoors – golf, salmon fishing, and hiking.  And it’s this last category that offers something pretty special to the whisky enthusiast.

Ben Rinnes is the highest mountain in the Speyside region.  At 840m, it’s officially a “Corbett”, being 300 feet shy to qualify as a Munro.  It towers above many of the distilleries, and the snow melt and water run-off from the hills goes a long way to supplying many of the surrounding distilleries in its foothills.  Needless to say, the view from the summit is incredible, and distillery spotters can have fun trying to identify the many distilleries visible from the top.  For the whisky enthusiast or jaded Speyside visitor looking for a new perspective, a hike to the top is a highly recommended and rewarding journey.  So here’s the whisky lover’s guide to climbing Ben Rinnes…

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