Johnnie Walker Select Casks – Rye Cask Finish

Keen observers of the malt whisky industry will have noted the kaleidoscope of ever-expanding and diversifying product portfolios amongst the various brands.   The days of a distillery featuring just a 12yo and an 18yo bottling are long gone…today it is de rigueur for serious distilleries to offer an entry-level NAS, a peated NAS, a 10yo with a wood finish, a 12yo, a 14yo port wood, a 15yo cask-strength, an 18yo sherry wood, a 21yo, a 25yo that no one can afford, and finally a release with a fancy gaelic name that will be mispronounced around the world.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is subjective, and there are pros and cons on both sides of the argument.  The marketing departments argue that they need more bottles on the shelf of liquor stores and bars so that the brand stands out.  It also gives the warehouses and blenders flexibility with stock.  And, for the consumer, the range of choice, variance, and price points forever increases.  My personal view is that the industry is self-generating a consumer base that becomes increasingly fickle and with a shorter and shorter attention span, but that’s a piece for another day.

In the meantime, it’s been interesting to observe that the same pressures and marketing ideals have extended to the blends.  Even the most traditional blends are having to come out with variations and new expressions to maintain interest and keep up with the Joneses.  Or, in this case, the Johnnies.

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Westland Distillery – an American game changer?

It’s no secret that America is in the grip of a craft distillery boom right now.   According to the American Craft Spirits Association, there are over 770 craft distilleries in action across the US!  Of course, many of these distilleries are producing brandies, eau de vies, vodkas and so forth, and so we shouldn’t instantly assume that it’s all whisk(e)y.  However, the number of distilleries that are actually profitable and creating more than a blip on the radar with consistent product is much, much smaller.   Look at the distilleries making a whisk(e)y, much less a malt whisky, and the number is smaller still.

And when it comes to craft distilleries that are making a malt whisky on a scale that is garnering international attention, few rise above the pack more than Westland Distillery.  Located in Seattle, Washington (right up in the very north-west corner of the USA), the distillery has been in production since June 2011.

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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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