Ardnamurchan – The western jewel of Scotland

(Or everything you wanted to know about Ardnamurchan but were afraid to ask!)

In this digital age of whisky websites and social media activity, there are very few secrets left in the whisky industry.  Once upon a time, a new distillery would suddenly appear and no one knew much about it except for what might have been published in a subsequent book.  Today, by the time a new distillery’s first release is bottled, it seems we’ve all followed the journey of the distillery breaking ground; building the stillhouse; installing the stills; starting production; and filling the casks.  We’ve done the virtual tour of the distillery before the Visitor Centre has even opened its doors!

One of the primary reasons for this is simply because most of us will never get to make the journey to the distillery, and thus we live and drink vicariously through what we read and view online.   Consider, also, that not all distilleries are blessed by geography:  Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie, for example, are an easy bus ride from the big city centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively, but things are trickier for the more remote distilleries that sit well off the tourist trail or are located on the fringes of Scotland’s reaches.

Ardnamurchan is one such distillery.  If you’re looking to start up a new distillery, your choice of location is fairly critical.  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 materials and the departure of spirit and filled casks.  So – with all these essentials being key to a successful distillery venture – 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.

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Visiting the distilleries of Tasmania

As recently as 15 years ago, the term “Australian whisky industry” used to be a cute little phrase that vaguely referred to the activities of a few hobby-distillers, whose products were more curiosities than serious globally-acclaimed malts.

Today, nothing could be further from the truth: A swag of international awards; coopers and coppersmiths suddenly in constant work; an industry that supports visitor centres and regular tours; impressive investment in new stills and bondstores; and well-aged stock on the shelves of major chain liquor outlets.

Travelling to these distilleries and visiting them is not necessarily an easy task, particularly taking into account the rural likes of Limeburners in Albany, or Blackgate in Mendooran.  However, with the bulk of the action taking place in Tasmania, a quick trip to Hobart and its surrounds allows the whisky tourist to see quickly and in no uncertain terms that the Australian whisky industry is a force to be reckoned with.  So for those wanting a snapshot of the main Tasmanian distilleries, or for those thinking of touring the Apple Isle and paying our friends a visit, here’s your guide to the main players amongst Tasmania’s whisky scene:

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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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A Glenfarclas whisky not to miss?

So regular readers and subscribers will know that Whisky & Wisdom recently released its own private bottling of Glenfarclas.  A 9yo single-cask bottling from a European oak sherry butt, to be specific.  If you missed the original release details and the story behind the bottling, you can read it all here.

Anyway, many people no doubt saw this and may have been interested in acquiring a bottle – but I know what you’re thinking:  “Sure, he’s telling us it’s a great whisky, but how much weight or credit can you give to a whisky blog that’s spruiking its own bottling?  He’s obviously biased!”   Yes, that’s a fair call and I don’t blame those who’ve paused or held back from ordering a bottle because they’re waiting for an independent review or opinion.

Well, the good news is that the Whisky & Wisdom Glenfarclas has been “out there” for some time, and it’s been getting rave reviews everywhere.  As well as being available through the official Whisky Empire site (see below), the bottling is available by the dram in a few good whisky bars, and has also been picked up by a number of independent liquor retail shops and outlets.  Social media has been very busy, with lots of positive comments appearing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

But for those of you who’d prefer to see some actual independent, unbiased old-fashioned written reviews, the good news is that a significant number of whisky bloggers and online food/drink critics have tasted the Whisky & Wisdom Glenfarclas and they’ve written glowing, rave reviews.

So, to save you the hassle of tracking all those reviews down, here are the ones I’m aware of at this point in time.  (No doubt others might appear as the bottling falls into more and more hands).   I’ll leave you to check out the below links in your own good time but, if and when you’d like to acquire a bottle or two for yourself, you can order directly from The Whisky Empire

Here are those great reviews for you to check out…



Amrut Spectrum

Previously whilst writing a feature article on Indian whisky and reviewing the excellent Paul John whiskies, I – perhaps a little flippantly – introduced the piece by explaining and asserting that Indian single malt whisky had not previously impressed me.   Prior to tasting Paul John, I had tried many expressions of Amrut over the years (my first back in 2009) and on a reasonably regular basis since.  The simple truth is that I have not tasted an Amrut that made me think, “Wow, this is a great whisky.”

Of course, whilst those comments set the scene for the subsequent article on Paul John, they also simultaneously raised a few eyebrows amongst Amrut fans, not to mention the wonderful folks at Alba Whisky, who are the local Amrut distributors within Australia.

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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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The three stages of your attitude to Glenfiddich: Like – Hate – Love

Catchy article title, eh? Not sure my former editor would approve of it – it’s hardly a flowing headline.  But there’s not really a  more succinct way to say it.  I’ll elaborate:  In my opinion, I reckon whisky drinkers all go through three very distinct stages in their appreciation of Glenfiddich.   And, depending on what stage you’re up to, this tremendously impacts your attitude to Glenfiddich.   Curious?  Let’s look into this…

Depending on how old you are and when you tried a single malt for the first time, there’s a good chance that your maiden dram was a Glenfiddich. The familiar green, triangular bottle was synonymous with single malt whisky through the 1970’s and 1980’s, before other brands finally found their way onto the shelves of our bottleshops. Certainly, when you speak to most whisky drinkers in their late 40’s and older, Glenfiddich was the whisky they lost their malt virginity to.  Even if you took up malt whisky more recently, a dram of Glenfiddich was still a textbook malt to turn to as you made the transition out of blends or simply dived head first into the category via a single malt.

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Whisky & Wisdom’s “Whisky Quiz”

The mere fact you subscribe to or read a whisky blog means you either know a bit about whisky, or you want to know more!   So how good is your whisky wisdom?

Here’s a fun little quiz that will test the whisky facts and trivia you’ve picked up over your malt journey.  There are 25 questions that will sort out the newbies from the experts.  Yes, you could consult Google and find the answer to each question, but that would be cheating, right?  So, be honest with yourself and others, and see how many questions you can answer correctly off the top of your head.

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