The Scotch Malt Whisky Society presents….Exotic Cargo

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.

Continue reading “The Scotch Malt Whisky Society presents….Exotic Cargo”

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.

Continue reading “Highland Park – the Vikings are coming.”

Ardbeg An Oa

With so many different special releases of Ardbeg that catch everyone’s attention each year (i.e. the annual Ardbeg Day releases such as Kelpie, Dark Cove, Perpetuum, Auriverdes, etc, or the limited release of the 21yo), it’s easily to forget that Ardbeg’s actual core range consists of just three bottlings:  Uigeadail, Corryvreckan, and the 10yo.

Of course, a decade or two ago, a distillery with multiple expressions in its portfolio usually showcased its core range via a diverse spread of different age statements, for example, a 12yo, an 18yo, and, say, a 25yo.  However, as is widely reported and acknowledged these days (see here), distilleries today are increasingly turning to No Age Statement releases to manage their stocks and inventory.   (Talisker is a classic example – arguably one that has gone too far – with core range NAS releases such as Skye, Storm, Dark Storm, Neist Point, Port Ruighe, and 57o North)Given Ardbeg’s chequered history, with such small and sporadic production between 1983 and 1997, it’s no surprise that Ardbeg must also make a virtue of NAS releases.  Fortunately, as anyone who’s tasted them can attest to, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan are two very good whiskies.  But what if you’re a huge Ardbeg fan and you still yearn for something more?  Relief is now at hand…

Continue reading “Ardbeg An Oa”

Glen Moray & Mastery

Glen Moray celebrates its 120th anniversary this year, having been founded way back in 1897.   The distillery had humble beginnings and had already endured over a decade of silence and inactivity when it was bought by Macdonald & Muir (effectively Glenmorangie) in 1920.  Glenmorangie held the reins for the next 88 years, during which time the distillery became a workhorse for the many supermarket blends that Macdonald & Muir were behind.   If you believe the folklore, Glen Moray was also the playground for Dr Bill Lumsden, who would conduct all manner of trials and maturation experiments on Glen Moray spirit before transferring his more successful undertakings across to Glenmorangie.

Continue reading “Glen Moray & Mastery”

The Whisky Lover’s Guide to climbing Ben Rinnes

Each year, thousands of whisky tourists make their way to Speyside to visit their own personal mecca.  Each pilgrim no doubt has their own favourite and plans their itinerary around getting a glimpse into the factory that produces their most revered malt.

Of course, no one travels all the way to Speyside just to visit just one, single distillery and thus it’s not uncommon for we pilgrims to set up camp in one of the many hotels or B&B’s and use it as a base to explore multiple distilleries over several days.

Outside of the distilleries, however, your average whisky tourist quickly runs out of things to do in Speyside.  The only other pursuits are the outdoors – golf, salmon fishing, and hiking.  And it’s this last category that offers something pretty special to the whisky enthusiast.

Ben Rinnes is the highest mountain in the Speyside region.  At 840m, it’s officially a “Corbett”, being 300 feet shy to qualify as a Munro.  It towers above many of the distilleries, and the snow melt and water run-off from the hills goes a long way to supplying many of the surrounding distilleries in its foothills.  Needless to say, the view from the summit is incredible, and distillery spotters can have fun trying to identify the many distilleries visible from the top.  For the whisky enthusiast or jaded Speyside visitor looking for a new perspective, a hike to the top is a highly recommended and rewarding journey.  So here’s the whisky lover’s guide to climbing Ben Rinnes…

Continue reading “The Whisky Lover’s Guide to climbing Ben Rinnes”

Ardbeg Kelpie – The 46% Retail Release

With Ardbeg Day now an entrenched part of the whisky calendar, it seems unnecessary to go into great detail about the day itself and what it entails.  Of course, whilst the day itself is a great hive of fun and activity, most people’s  focus and attention is on the special release bottling.  This year’s release, Kelpie, is a belter, and an Ardbeg to make the purists happy.

The Committee Edition release – bottled at a higher strength of 51.7% – was released earlier this year and found many friends.  The commercial or retail bottling, bottled at 46%, will be released on June 3rd to coincide with Ardbeg Day.

Of course, many people make the mistake of simply dismissing the retail version as being a “watered down” version of the Committee Edition.  Chemically speaking, they’re correct, but from a sensory perspective, there’s so much more to it than that.  Yes, whilst the retail version simply has more water added to it to bring it down to a lower strength, the effect of this on the whisky is very pronounced.  The influence of the ABV is huge when it comes to how our palates react to the whisky.  Master blenders and independent bottlers often carry out multiple tastings or samplings to establish whether a special release should be bottled at, say, 46%, 48%, 50%, or 51.5%.  The different ABV’s influence how the alcohols and flavour compounds are balanced, and thus a different bottling strength will pronounce (or, in contrast, diminish) certain aspects of the flavour spectrum.  For example, a whisky bottled at 46% might seem saltier, or sweeter, or fruitier than the same spirit bottled at 48%.

Continue reading “Ardbeg Kelpie – The 46% Retail Release”

The dark side of samples and bottle-splits

Last week I walked into a fancy steakhouse – one that’s run by one of Australia’s leading and most well-known restauranteurs and celebrity chefs.  I was shown to my table and handed the menu.  Wow! It showcased an amazing selection of gourmet choices, although with price tags to make most of us squirm.  There was one particular steak that stood out – it was a particular cut of wagyu that sounded out of this world.  As was its price tag!  I’d love to have treated myself to it, but it was more than what my budget could justify.  Besides, there were much cheaper steaks that also looked pretty tempting, and I couldn’t order two meals now, could I?  I resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably have to order one of the cheaper, more regular cuts.

As I pondered this situation, a waiter brought the main course out to the couple who were sitting at the table next to me.  I couldn’t help but notice that the man had ordered the very wagyu steak I was lusting for.  As they settled into their meal, I leaned across and said, “Excuse me – I was just wondering if you’d mind cutting off a piece of your steak and giving it to me so that I can try it?”

– – – – –

It’s nonsense, isn’t it?  You’d never have the temerity to do such a thing or to make such an undignified request.    So why does this very situation play out in the whisky world?  We wouldn’t do it with food at a restaurant (yes, for the record, the above story was a fictional allegory), yet plenty of people are quite happy to make similar requests when it comes to whisky.  It’s the dark side of samples.

Continue reading “The dark side of samples and bottle-splits”

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”

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”