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 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.

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Lagavulin 8yo Launch

As is widely known across the whiskysphere, 2016 sees the Lagavulin distillery celebrate its 200th Anniversary. No one celebrates a 200th birthday lightly, and Lagavulin has been widely praised for the release of its limited edition (but widely accessible and affordable) celebratory 8yo in honour of the occasion.  Whisky & Wisdom had an early taste of this, and wrote up a piece about the distillery and the whisky back in April.   You can read that piece and the review on the 8yo here.

However, more recently – and closer to home – the 8yo had its local launch in Australia just a few weeks ago. Held at The Wild Rover in Sydney’s Surry Hills, the launch was not just the unveiling and tasting of the whisky, but it was also an incredible virtual reality (VR) tour of the distillery.

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The Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship, 2016

The Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship is a bit like the internet.  It’s something you might think is a relatively “new” thing, when the reality is that it’s been around for decades longer than you gave it credit for.

In actual fact, the Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship has been around since 1989!  As the name suggests, it is a tasting competition, and had its origins in Adelaide, South Australia.  The competition’s principal format and structure has remained largely unchanged over the years: Competitors are presented with eight whiskies pre-poured before them, and supplied with a list of nine possible whiskies – in other words, the eight whiskies that are on the table, plus one red herring.   Competitors are then given 30 minutes to identify which whisky is which and to write their answers on the answer sheet.  Of course, having a list with all of the possible contenders in front of you makes the exercise seem a little easier, but the challenge is also in establishing which whisky of the nine on the list is not on the table!

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An audience with David Stewart & Balvenie

If you’re an employer or in charge of Human Resources, you’ll be aware of the dynamic and shifting nature of your workforce in recent years.  Being Generation X myself, it was drummed into me that you should show loyalty to your employer and stick around.  We were constantly told by the Baby Boomer generation above us that “your CV will look more impressive and you’ll be rewarded if you’ve demonstrated that you stay at the one place for five to ten years.”

This is in stark contrast to the Gen Y and Millenial approach, where the thinking seems to be that a CV littered with multiple positions and experience gained across a many different roles and jobs is the more attractive pursuit.

So with that as context, what do we make of an employee who sticks with his boss for 54 years?  What do we make of a role and a career that has outlasted many people’s lives, let alone most people’s professional undertakings?  Such is the story and the appeal of Mr David Stewart.

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Macallan – The past, present, and future collide

In France, they timestamp their modern history into pre and post The Revolution.  In countries like Germany & Japan, the split point is pre and post World War II.  In the computing world, Apple will come to be referenced as pre and post Steve Jobs.  And for fans for Macallan, life is pre and post 2004.

This is a topic close to home, and much has been written about this previously.  For a more detailed rundown and perspective on Macallan and how its whiskies have changed since the mid-2000s, I encourage you to read this piece here.

But for now, suffice it to say that 2004 was the year Macallan made the momentous decision to introduce bourbon cask-matured spirit into their official bottlings.  It started with the Elegancia release, followed by the launch of the Fine Oak range.  By 2005, as a result of growing markets and increased demand (which had a flow-on effect to cask procurement, cask management, and the recipes/vattings for the various releases), many regular Macallan drinkers felt the brand’s whiskies changed in style, character, and quality – even the releases that remained purely sherry cask-matured.  After decades of 100% exclusive sherry maturation releases and undisputed quality, suddenly, Macallan drinkers across the world fell into one of two camps:  Those that liked Macallan, and those that liked what it used to be like.

But that was then.  This is now.  What about the new generation of Macallan drinkers being introduced to the brand today?  Now that the dust has settled and the apocalyptic events of 2004/5 are a blissfully unknown chapter in an unknown whisky history book, how do today’s twenty-somethings approach a distillery they’ve heard so much about, when so many of the celebrated bottlings are either unavailable in our country, or priced at a point that is beyond what most can afford?

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Ardbeg Dark Cove & Ardbeg Day 2016

Ardbeg Day is just around the corner again, which means it’s time to shake off the Autumn blues (or dust off your Spring hat if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and gear up for all the fun and excitement of Ardbeggian delights.

I’ve written much about Ardbeg’s history, the Ardbeg Committee and Ardbeg Day in the past.  So rather than fill up space by repeating it all on this page, you can re-visit those pieces here (Ardbeg Day 2015 report), here (Perpetuum review) and here (Ardbeg Day 2014 & Auriverdes review) if you need to fill in any blanks.   For the purposes of a concise read, let’s cut straight to the chase and get stuck into Ardbeg Day and the annual release for 2016.  If you’re here just to read the review on the Dark Cove release, scroll further down.

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Now & Then: Comparing old bottlings with their modern-day counterparts

If there’s a topic guaranteed to start an argument around the table, it’s when sports enthusiasts try to pick or assert that a particular sporting team from one era was superior to the team from another era.  For example, is the Hawthorn team from the 1980’s better than the Hawthorn team from 2013-2015?  Was Don Bradman’s 1948 “Invincibles” side a better cricket team than the all-conquering Steve Waugh side of 1999-2001? If the two teams were to compete against one another, who would win?

Sadly (or happily?) in the case of such arguments, it is all speculation and conjecture.  For, quite simply, we will never know.  And how do you compare teams across different eras when rules were different, playing conditions differed, and the level of athleticism and professionalism was different.  The discussion is nothing more than hypothetical amusement.

Increasingly of late, similar discussions and assertions are translating across into whisky circles.  For example, a commonly-seen thread in many online whisky groups or forums is the assertion that the whiskies of today are not as good as what they were 20 years ago.  Or that whiskies have changed over the years.

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Kininvie – The distillery emerges…

Like so many other aspects of the whiskysphere in recent years, there are entities or processes that have been around for a long time, but simply weren’t well known. The internet, combined with a booming market, have resulted in many industry secrets or hidden jewels coming to light.  Distilleries are one such example – if there wasn’t a commercial release available (or widely distributed) on the market, consumers simply didn’t know it existed.   Ailsa Bay, Inchgower, Allt-a-bhaine, etc, are all examples of distilleries that most whisky drinkers simply haven’t heard of, despite the fact they’ve been around for many years.   Kininvie is another example, although that’s now all changing, courtesy of its whiskies suddenly being thrust into the limelight.

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The art of matching food to whisky

SMWS Whisky Dinner

with Franz Scheurer and LuMi Bar & Dining

When the Scotch Malt Whisky Society launched and commenced operation in Australia back in 2002, one of the earliest and most staple activities was a healthy program of whisky dinners.   The tradition has never died and, here in Sydney at least, the Society continues to hold at least two significant whisky dinners each year for its members. When it comes to matters culinary, if you’re going to promote something as being uniquely special, delivering excellence, and showcasing “the best”, then you need to work with the best. For this reason, wherever possible, the Society chooses to team up with Franz Scheurer – the maestro of matching food to whisky.

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