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.
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.
One of the problems with being heavily involved and associated with the Scotch whisky industry is that people assume you’re less inclined to entertain a glass of bourbon in your hand. Far from it, I’ve long enjoyed a good bourbon. And, whilst it doesn’t feature prominently on my CV, I have in fact worked as a brand ambassador for Jim Beam and hosted my fair share of bourbon or American whiskey appreciation nights and tasting events.
A few years ago, I indulged my love for American whisk(e)y by taking a trip to the USA with the specific intention of visiting the distilleries of Kentucky and Tennessee. Courtesy of my involvement in the industry, I’d been hooked up with trade visits with the likes of Makers Mark, Jack Daniels, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses and Jim Beam. However, it was on a Saturday afternoon in March that I made an unscheduled and unannounced detour to Lawrenceburg to visit the Wild Turkey distillery in Kentucky. I rocked up to the Visitor Centre to book myself in for a casual tour. And there, in the middle of the room, happily chatting to all and sundry was the legendary Jimmy Russell. The Jimmy Russell. This was the bourbon equivalent of walking into Glenmorangie and bumping into Dr Bill Lumsden, or swinging by Bruichladdich and saying g’day to Jim McEwan. I was more than a little surprised that the man was spending his Saturday afternoon in the visitor centre, much less standing there purely for the purpose of talking to casual visitors. In an instant, you got some insight into (a) the man, and (b) Kentucky hospitality and charm. We shared a brief conversation. “Always happy to welcome an Australian here,” he said. “You’re a very important market for us” he explained.
The Wild Turkey stillhouse.
Corn, Rye, and Barley – the magic ingredients.
The open top fermenters
I subsequently enjoyed a very interesting and entertaining tour of the distillery, and more than enjoyed the little tasting they put on for me afterwards. I left the distillery with a very different view of Wild Turkey and a newfound sense and understanding of the brand.
In the good old days of looking at a whisky brand’s portfolio, it used to be an easy affair to identify and speak about the brand’s “flagship” expression. This was the main expression; its biggest seller; the one that was a constant in all markets and carried the brand. Each of the other expressions in the portfolio were usually older, rarer, and less-often seen. If you can think back 15 years ago, it was an era where most brands had their ubiquitous 10yo or 12yo flagship expression, and then some brands had an 18yo or a 25yo to offer the connoisseurs some choice.
As the single malt market started to truly boom (and bloom) during 2000-2007, many brands’ portfolios started to widely diversify. Finishes or Extra Matured expressions became more prevalent; a wider and more populated range of age statements appeared; and in the last few years, many brands added one or more NAS expressions to the range. More recently, for some brands, the flagship expression you see may depend on what market you’re in.
Most of this activity is due to marketing and sales opportunities; and some of it is simply cask and stock management: Either dealing with what stocks are currently available, or taking steps to ensure that supply will meet demand in future years.
If you read enough whisky literature, opinions and noise, you’ll be aware that some brands are already having to make hard decisions to ensure supply keeps up with demand. Cutting various product lines or removing an expression from a particular market. Many bloggers assume this is a new phenomenon, but no, it’s been happening for a while. For example, it was back in 2004/05 that Macallan discontinued its 15yo in order to keep stock back for its more lucrative (and popular) 18yo. More recently, we’re seeing an increasing number of NAS expressions being put forward and marketed, in an attempt to take pressure off the 10yo or 12yo aged statements. Enter Glenlivet.