Ardnamurchan – 2016/AD

It’s hardly shiny or earth-shattering news to write that new distilleries are popping up all over Scotland.  In fact, such a statement is unlikely to pique any interest amongst the more learned whisky enthusiasts.  However, what does become interesting is when you start to look at the geography of these new distilleries.  Many are now re-populating the Lowlands, such as the Glasgow Distillery, or the wee-explosion of distilleries in Fife (e.g. Kingsbarns, Daftmill, etc).  Others are adding to the spectrum of Speyside, such as Ballindalloch or Dalmunach.

When starting a new distillery in these current times, the owners will be looking for some key necessities when deciding upon the site of their distillery.  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 raw materials and the departure of spirit and filled casks.  So – with all these essentials being key to a successful distillery start-up, 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.

Continue reading “Ardnamurchan – 2016/AD”

2016 Diageo Special Releases

For anyone who’s entered the single malt whisky scene in recent years, the choice and array of bottlings, brands and releases can be overwhelming.  Almost 30 years ago now, the situation was very different when Diageo launched “The Classic Malts” – first into travel retail in 1988, and then into the domestic market in 1989.   Those six whiskies (Glenkinchie, Cragganmore, Oban, Dalwhinnie, Talisker, and Lagavulin) became the vehicle through which hundreds of thousands of people were introduced to malt whisky.  For close to a decade they were almost the definitive collection and – notwithstanding the omnipresence of the likes of Glenfiddich and Glenlivet – it was only by the late 1990’s that other brands and recognisable labels started to consistently appear in regular retail outlets.

Never one to rest on their laurels, Diageo continued (and continues) to expand their range.  The so-called Rare Malts range ran from 1995-2005, and the Managers Choice range also kept hardcore fans happy with its single cask, cask-strength releases.  The original Classic Malts range was also expanded in 2006, adding the likes of Clynelish and Caol Ila, in addition to others that were custom selected for individual markets (e.g. Cardhu for the USA).

One of the longer-term and more interesting projects has been the Diageo Special Releases range, consisting of a specially selected and crafted series of bottlings released annually each year since 2001.  As the name inherently suggests, the releases are “special” and typically include Diageo’s rarest stock, such as whiskies from closed distilleries – Port Ellen, Brora, and Cambus being three examples.

Continue reading “2016 Diageo Special Releases”

Ardbeg Untamed and Ardbeg Kelpie

With multi-tasking all the rage these days, this piece combines two distinct happenings involving Ardbeg.  The second of these relates to Kelpie, this year’s new release to coincide with Ardbeg Day.  But before we try and conquer that wee beastie, have you heard of Ardbeg Untamed?

The last three decades have seen the distilleries and the whisky brands take ever increasing and impressive steps to bring us into their sanctums.   Once upon a time, importers and distributors simply held a tasting event and poured out their whiskies for the punters to taste.  Then came the brand ambassadors, who did more-or-less the same thing, except with the assistance of slide shows, which then morphed into the “multi-media presentations”.  With the advent of live webcams, distilleries took us into their production areas and you could get a sneak peek into the workings of a distillery without having to leave your own home.

So, short of hopping on a plane and making your way directly to Scotland, what was the next step and development for distilleries to bring us ever closer to their heart?  The answer is Virtual Reality.  Ardbeg Untamed is one such undertaking.  Courtesy of VR, Ardbeg has launched a series of visual experiences that take you across the water to Ardbeg and through the distillery.  As the fly-through whizzes through the warehouse, you’ll see and hear Mickey Heads, distillery manager, talking to the lads as they go about their daily routine.

Given that so much about a distillery is now available online in the form of pictures and virtual tours that you can enjoy whilst sitting at your desktop, the VR experience is pretty special and certainly adds both a layer of realism and a tangible feeling of being within the space.  Surely this is as close as you can get to Islay without actually being there.

Continue reading “Ardbeg Untamed and Ardbeg Kelpie”

Hyde Single Grain Whiskey – The Aras Cask releases

Every whisky drinker has his or her favourite category or variety of whisk(e)y.   Once upon time, many were firmly camped in one category and rarely ventured outside it.   You might have been a Scotch person who never touched Bourbon.   Or a fan of the Irish stuff who found the malts of Scotland a bit too robust.   However, with the explosion of whisky bars around the country and diverse ranges of spirits more readily and affordably available to try by the dram, people can now explore categories of whisk(e)y outside their comfort zone without too much grief.   It’s one of the reasons that people are expanding their horizons and – whilst we all still have our favourite – at least we’re embracing other categories.

For obvious reasons, it’s about this time every year that people suddenly decide to check out Irish whiskey.   St Patrick’s Day means different things to different people, but – if nothing else – for whisky drinkers, it’s a good excuse to insert an ‘e’ into the word and try a drop of the pure.

Continue reading “Hyde Single Grain Whiskey – The Aras Cask releases”

Paul John: The Man and the Whisky

If there’s one message the whisky industry is sending to Consumerville right now – both implicitly and explicitly – it’s that for malt whisky drinkers looking to try new drams, your options extend well beyond the shores of Scotland. Malt whisky is being made all over the world, both from serious contenders set up for large scale production, and from the plethora of craft distilleries forging small but new ground.

The trouble for many of these newer distilleries is that finances and cash flow almost demand that they put their product out to market early. Yes, we all know that these early releases are works in progress and that these “Hey, I’m here” bottlings at two, three, and four years old are all immature and not a true reflection of what the whisky might one day become.   But one wonders if such producers might do their brand a favour if they were to simply sit back and patiently wait until the spirit was truly ready?  Nonetheless, regardless of the marketeers or the accountants, every distillery has to get through its awkward years of puberty until it can put world class whisky on the shelves.

Meanwhile, one country that continues to press on and build on an already firmly established foundation is India. Paul John is certainly one distillery that has its teething years behind it and is now bottling impressive whisky. Very impressive whisky.   Whisky & Wisdom has previously told parts of the Paul John story, and you can read much of the background information, plus read tasting notes on the core range here.

Continue reading “Paul John: The Man and the Whisky”

Glenmorangie Bacalta

At the start of every year, we all sit down with our calendar and enter all of our annual events and occasions: The public holidays.  Your partner’s birthday.  Your dentist appointment.  Your wedding anniversary.  The release of the next Glenmorangie Private Edition bottling.

Glenmorangie’s Private Edition range is a special once-off release that comes out each year to showcase a new variation of the Glenmorangie flavour profile.   Through the use of different casks or wood regimes during maturation, or by using different varieties of barley (or different peating levels), the usual Glenmorangie DNA is given a tweak and a nudge to explore new and – without fail – delicious flavour territories.  Some  within Glenmorangie (including Dr Bill Lumsden himself) have hinted or suggested that the Private Edition range showcases experimentation but, to my palate, the results are consistently too successful and too good to be mere experiments.  No, this is a product line that knows what it’s doing.  And for those who are curious, in terms of volume, the Private Edition range makes up less than 1% of Glenmorangie’s total annual production, so it is genuinely a very limited product.

Continue reading “Glenmorangie Bacalta”

Fets Whisky Kitchen

One of the greatest and most appealing aspects of being a member of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is the Members’ Rooms in the UK.  With two venues in Edinburgh and one in London, the Members’ Rooms are both havens and heaven.  They’re the whisky equivalent of entering one of the First Class airline lounges at an airport:  Cosy lounges, brilliant food, a comfy fire during winter, knowledgeable and friendly staff, meeting facilities, and – of course – a sensational whisky bar.  New and old SMWS whiskies adorn the shelves and they’re great venues to try the latest releases first without necessarily having to buy a whole bottle for yourself.

Of course, whilst that sounds great on paper, the reality is that for members who don’t live near either Edinburgh or London – and particularly for members who live in other countries (not to mention other continents!) – a visit to one of the Members’ Rooms isn’t exactly a stroll around the corner.

The Society started to address this many years ago with the introduction of “Partner Bars”.  These were existing third party venues, initially the bars inside high-end hotels, but over the years they’ve branched out to include some very formidable whisky bars, dive bars, restaurants and pubs.   Quite simply, the Partner Bars are venues that stock SMWS bottlings which can then be purchased over the bar by the dram.  No, you don’t have to be a Society member to be able to buy a dram but, depending on which country/venue you’re in, many Partner Bars offer the drams at discounted prices for Society members.  (You simply need to flash your Membership Card).

Fets Whisky Kitchen in Vancouver, Canada, is arguably the most well-stocked and extensive whisky bar in Canada.  And whilst whisky-loving folks will obviously focus on the bar, Fets is actually a mighty good restaurant, serving absolutely delicious food.  Operating for over 30 years now, the venue is located just outside and east of the CBD.  The food menu is “southern inspired” and the whisky menu is…well, it’s huge.   The whisky range expanded further in October 2013 when the venue became an SMWS Partner Bar.  There are over 800 different whiskies available by the dram, including an unbelievable 180 different SMWS single cask bottlings!  And for those whose whisk(e)y flavour preferences sit outside Scotland, there is also a huge range of American whiskies (over four pages’ worth of bourbons, ryes, and craft whiskies on the menu), plus impressive selections from Canada, Japan, Ireland, India, Australia, and more.  The bar is also home and host to a large number of whisky tastings, events and product launches that are held throughout the year.

Continue reading “Fets Whisky Kitchen”

The Liberty Distillery – the craftiest craft distillery.

Craft. Craft Brewery.  Craft Distillery.  Craft is such a cute word, it’s no wonder any business that is merely just small, quaint, or limited in production reaches for the word.  “Craft beer” is such a ubiquitous term (and product) in so many pubs and bars now, it’s at risk of losing its meaning.  Thankfully, in certain distilling circles, the term “craft” does take on meaningful significance.

The Craft Distillers Guild of British Columbia is one such circle, and The Liberty Distillery in Vancouver is one such distillery. Located on Granville Island in the middle of the city, The Liberty Distillery is a perfect example of all that is right in the craft distilling world.

Continue reading “The Liberty Distillery – the craftiest craft distillery.”

Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Series: Red Rye Finish

If there’s one word to describe the Scotch whisky industry right now it’s diversity. When it comes to expressions available, new releases, and new flavours/styles being developed and marketed, diversity is the name of the game at present.

Of course, amongst the community of whisky drinkers, most of these diverse pursuits focus on the single malt category, but neither can the blends afford to be caught standing still. In this respect, the Johnnie Walker stable has been growing and expanding significantly.  If you thought the Johnnie Walker range consisted of Red, Black, Green, Gold, and Blue Label, then you’ve not kept up with the times.

Continue reading “Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Series: Red Rye Finish”

Ardbeg and the new 21yo

Ardbeg. That wonderful Islay distillery with a cult following so devoted, over 120,000 fans from over 130 countries have pledged their allegiance to ensure the distillery never closes its doors again.  Again?  Yes, Ardbeg has quite a tale to tell…

Ardbeg has a weight, a brand, a persona, that is bigger than itself. It has a reputation for huge, bold, peaty whiskies, and its name travels so far and with such reverence that you could be forgiven for thinking it’s the biggest distillery on Islay.  In truth, it’s actually the second smallest!  With just one pair of stills churning away, its potential annual production capacity is just a trickle over 1.1 million litres.

Continue reading “Ardbeg and the new 21yo”