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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Over the years, I’ve had countless discussions with whisky enthusiasts from all backgrounds about that magic moment in their life: When did they first try a single malt, and which one was it? It astounds me how often people tell me their first single malt was Lagavulin. And, for the record, it was my first single malt, too.
It was the early 1990’s. I was drinking and enjoying Scotch whisky, but had only been exposed to blends. (For recent converts to the world of whisky who may not appreciate the context, bear in mind that in Australia at this time, the very best liquor outlets in the country stocked, at most, no more than perhaps nine to 14 different single malt expressions, representing perhaps only six to ten different distilleries). UDV had recently launched “The Classic Malts” range and my father-in-law-to-be returned from a trip to Scotland with a bottle of Lagavulin 16yo in his luggage.
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.
If there’s one thing you can say about the whisky scene right now, it’s never dull or boring. Each week there is a new release, or a new launch, or another event, or another tasting, or yet another whisky being sold for an outrageous price. So, regardless of where you fit into the whisky audience, there’s always something to keep an eye out for.
In the rapid-fire and seemingly peak randomness of the above happenings, it’s nice to know that we can at least look forward to some annual constants. Things like an annual whisky show. (Whisky Show, Whisky Fair, Whisky Live, etc). Things like a brand’s big annual celebration. (Ardbeg Day). And, for our tastebuds, things like an annual release – such as Glenmorangie’s annual release of their latest Private Edition offering.