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E-pistle 2009/15 - What Is Sherried Whisky?

A stack of fresh casksI promised this a while back - things been a bit crazy recently. Anyway...
I did a couple (well, three) classes recently which asked the question "What Is
Sherried Whisky?" For each I used two sherries from Lustau {Palo Cortado Vides
and Oloroso Pata La Gallina) and then four whiskies from the SMWS. The whiskies
differed each time but in simple terms all were from ex-sherry casks but the first
was from a knackered butt, the second from tired refill, the third was sulphury
and the fourth was first fill with no sulphur.)
The aim? To tease out what the sherry industry wants from oak, what the Scotch
industry wants from oak, whether the two are talking about the same thing and,
if not, what "sherry cask" actually means.
It's worthwhile having a look at sherry first. In very simple terms (this isn't a
piece on sherry... so it will skip over some technical details), sherry starts life as
a simple dry white wine which then becomes one of the world's most complex
drinks. The style can be divided into two camps: the first uses biological aging
to produce its character, the second uses oxidative aging.
The first camp contains Fino and Amontillado. These are wines which are lightly
fortified and then placed in butts of 500l - 700l and aged in solera. A blanket of
yeast known as flor begins to grow naturally on the surface, looking like a thick
woollen blanket. This protects the wine from oxidative effects, resulting in a
wine which is pale in colour and light and fresh with no oak influence: fino.
If the flor is allowed to die, then some oxidation takes place and the wine
darkens in colour and becomes an amontillado. Sherries from the second camp
[Oloroso/Palo Cortado] are wines which have been initially fortified to a higher
strength thus killing the flor.

These wines are aged in solera and are in contact with air, making them darker, 'nuttier' and more concentrated.
Palo Cortado starts life as an oloroso but then starts to exhibit aroma characteristics similar to an Amontillado. All of these are aged in butts of 500 - 700 litres in a solera system. The assumption, logically, is that the cask must have an influence on the wines. After all, that's what we've been told by distillers. Fact is, sherry producers do not want any oak influence in their wines. The flavours are obtained predominantly by biological or oxidative aging. Solera butts therefore may be made from oak, but it's tired oak.

Though the whisky industry these days perfers to use European oak, sherry makers use American white oak for these butts and have done so since 16th century, exclusively from 19th century onwards. According to Gonzalez Gordon writing in 1930 [Sherry: The Noble Wine] : "In Jerez, no other wood [other than Q.alba] has been used for many years as American oak has given the best results for the fermentation maturing aging and shipping of sherry."

American oak was used because it coopered well. Spanish oak was considered to be of lower quality because it had higher levels of extractives and was more difficult to cooper. "The great wine shippers ... esteem more than any [oak] that comes from the United States of America, next the northern oak, then the Italian and last the Spanish.  American oak is generally very compact and not at all porous, so the wines do not leak; nor do even the most volatile and refined spirits filter through." (Esteban Boutelou, 1805) So, if sherry casks for the sherry trade are close to inert, sherried whisky must be about the wine, right? After all what we mean by sherried whisky is all about raisins, Xmas cake, dried fruits, tannin, clove incense etc... some of the notes that were noted in the sherries.

There is a different type of cask however. The whisky industry by and large didn't use solera casks, but shipping casks.
These were made from new American oak, first seasoned with must or wine. This was done "... because the oak contains tannin and other essential oils soluble in alcohol which can give taint to a wine. [even repair staves would be seasoned]. The seasoned cask was then rinsed and sulphured to destroy acetic germs." (Gonzalez Gordon.) These were then filled with sherry and shipped. When they arrived in Scotland they were emptied and used for whisky. In other words, they were virtually fresh, made from new wood that had been briefly seasoned with sherry. Lots of extractives, lots of oak. The complete opposite of what the sherry industry wanted for its wines.

The sulphury notes found in some 'sherried' whiskies are a result of the treatment of the shipping cask, or in more recent years treatment of the bespoke casks which the Scotch industry had to produce in order to maintain the 'sherry' element in its whiskies after sherry by law had to be bottled at source. In these, European oak is preferred to American (though both are used); the casks are said to be seasoned with oloroso (but it is more likely to be "lesser wines") for a period that can be anything from 6 months (standard) to 2 years. The casks are emptied and shipped to Scotland.. or Ireland. [IDL was a pioneer of the bespoke casks and works with Lustau. They season for longer, never sulphur their casks and only ship during the winter to stop any potential bacterial infection.] Also, the fact that sherry casks are toasted rather than charred means they are less effective at removing sulphury elements from new-make spirit. Double whammy.

So, are these bespoke casks more about oak than sherry? Certainly q.robur has lots of colour extractivs, is high in tannins and contains compounds such as eugenol, (aka clove). So.. sherried whisky is in fact the oak talking?

Not quite. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. The "sherry effect" that distillers want comes from European oak which has been modified by sherry. It is the way in which the sherry has interacted with the oak and then the pair interacting with the whisky which gives the desired effect. (As long as the cask has not been filled too many times that is...) Maturation involves subtracting unwanted elements (lost through evaporation, absorbed into charred layer, if there) adding extratives from the oak; and allowing comounds to interact. This last part is the most complex as it involves oxidative-driven processes creating new flavours as well as esterification in which the wine + oak produces elements such as acetic acid which then react with the spirit to produce esters.

How do we know? Experiments have been tried. We know that an 'empty' cask will contain between 5 (legally) and 10 (actual) litres of liquid within the wood. Adding 10 litres of sherry to a whisky dos not produce the same effect. Neither does aging whisky in 'unseasoned' European oak. It is the interaction with wood that's the key. The oak has an infuence - but so does the wine.

Dave Broom, UK

E-pistle 2009/16 - Ask an Anorak: A Sherried Discussion (Part 1)

Johannes - Aha.... With the previous E-pistle Dave has given us a very interesting follow-up on the sulphur discussion in MM#112.
And just checking to see if I understand it correctly: if they use the phrase 'sherry seasoned' it means that a cask was treated with sherry purely with the whisky industry in mind? I.e. those casks were not used for maturing or shipping actual sherry that was meant for consumption?

Dave - Sherry seasoned is a term that's been used since the 19th century (Wm Sanderson used it in 1862) initially referring to shipping casks and which is now used for the bespoke casks. It's used to differentiate between solera (ie casks whic have had sherry in them for many many years) and those which have had sherry in them for a relatively short period of time. It's not a legal definition!!

Craig - Thanks for the comprehensive article Dave, but I'd always figured that there were differences between American oak and European oak and that it hadn't altogether to do with either charring or previous contents. What I wonder is how we can sort out sherry butt matured whisky that isn't sulphur affected? The Mortlach I found singularly unaffected was nominated sherry butt – but not first fill sherry butt and based on the citrus extractives I would never have suggested first fill – but the question remains, when then all the bottlers say 'sherry matured" what do they actually mean as we know there are multiple versions of sherry wood???

Dave - There are fundamental differences between American and European oak (or q.Alba and q.Robur) in terms of porosity, extractives, tannin levels and also coopering methods. American oak for bourbon will be charred. American oak for wine (inc sherry) will not be charred but may be heavily toasted. Remember toasting also gives flavour an that you will not get any flavour compounds produced if the cask is not first toasted. So, it's all of these things together. Sherry butt non sulphur? Could be ex-solera, could be from a bespoke cask where no sulphur is used in the coopering process, could simply be refill where the sulphur components derived from the treatment of the cask have disappeared. Again, it's not just one thing! From your notes to the Mortlach I'd guess the sherry butt was refill and probably American oak. The thing with Mortlach is that it is a meaty/sulphury new make (same for Benrinnes and dailuaine by the way).
Put that in first fill sherry cask and it's the double whammy!

Sherry matured is simply shorthand for the cask type, ie it had once held sherry.
Maybe once the whisky industry finally begins to examine wood things will change but don't hold your breath...

Craig - Hi Dave, I'd worked this out a while ago and thanks for the reminder; based on my notes I'd agree that the Mortlach came from refill sherry butt from American oak, but how the hell would anyone looking at the bottle know that? I think I like sherry matured malts from American Oak better than European Oak anyway, but to be totally sure I'd need to know what wood the most magnificent Bowmores (not the Black Bowmores) from the early 1970s were matured in as they always screamed American oak to me as did the lauded Banffs and Glenglassaughs.

Dave - Err .. no-one would and I suspect the distiller/bottler wouldn't know either. Fact is, most of the "sherry casks" are marked as just that. It is only relatively recently that the differences in wood type have been investigated. So, you can say what species the new bespoke casks are made from, for the others, until recently when a chemical test was invented, it was impossible to say.

Davin - And also, white oak includes many species besides Quercus alba.
Quercus alba is a name botonists use for a single species, but once cut there are at least a dozen species that cannot be distinguished. In the lumber trade they are all called white oak.  It is my understanding some American coopers will specify Quercus alba, but others simply buy white oak.  There was a well-known goof-up a few years back when Jack Daniels proudly displayed one of their oak trees in an ad and it turned out to be a pin oak if I remember.

Michel - Too bad this isn't a Sherry piece... In his book 'Sherry and the Sherry Bodegas' Jan Read has a firm believe tannins are the nemesis of Flor - no reference in his book about fortifying. Keeping the romantic touch?

Dave - well Michel.. let's do a sherry and free jazz matching piece!
Sherry is fortified.. less so than in the past perhaps but it is!  (and check page 64 of Jan Read's "Sherry and the Sherry Bodegas").

Michel - Ha, I just had Ayler's 'Last Album' screaming from the speakers - now easing out with some Leo parker and Grachan Moncur III 'Echoes of Prayer' is up in a few minutes... That matching piece is overly tempting!!! :-) About page 64... me so bad...  'mitad y mitad' slipped from my mind...  Right, I have this deadline in a few hours and the only thing I do is performing air-saxophone to one of the cats... back to work!

Serge - These sherries would probably quickly get bone-dry if they weren't fortified (thus stopping fermentation), unless vessel cooling is done. And then, no sugar left means no further yeast work (flor and so on). ... But I'm no winemaker...

Dave - Well... Sherries are fortified after fermentation is complete. all sherries are dry. any sweetness in bottled product comes from the blending process when grape must, moscatel or PX is added. It's port where fortification is used to stop fermentation, making them sweet.

Serge - Ah, right... So it's the juice that's poured into the casks, no fermentation in vats before exposition to flor?

Michel - Fermentation is done before it's put in the casks...
Got a very troublesome reference now. Two books that state the oposit when it come to designate the wine - will it become Fino/Amotillado Read nails it down to adding alcohol, Wim Mey (Dutch Sherry anorach from the 60's and 70's) nails it at a later stage when levels of Flor in the cask are checked. Enough Flor will follow the path Fino/Amontillado, Moderate to low level will be Palo Cortado and too low will be Oloroso.

Serge - Okay, I still don't get it then... (but it's probably me). If complete fermentation is done before the wine's put into the casks, and if the wine is 100% dry, how does the flor form/survive in the casks?

Dave - The way Michel described it was certainly the old way of doing it and some traditionalists may continue to operate like this: i.e. make all the wine the same way and then check what was behaving in what way and select. These days most firms make the decision about taking the fino or oloroso path much earlier. They will know how much fino/amo they need to make and will treat the wines accordingly (pressing, ferment, choice of vineyard etc). They also know how much oloroso they need and so will fortify to a higher degree at the start of the aging process to kill off any chance of flor appearing. Different pressings, vineyards will also come nto play here as well.

One of the strange things about flor is that it will  only form once the grape sugar is fully fermented out and that the surface of the wine is exposed to air. It also only grows in certain temperatures and when alcoholic strength is between 15 and 15.5.

Flor is a collection of yeasts. When you fortify the wine (ie increase the strength) these yeasts rise to the surface of the  wine and change their metabolic state from the aneorobic (ie without air) to aerobic (ie with air). In other words, these complex yeasts need air on order to live (they continue to feed on elements in the wine) but too much oxidation will kill them off. A slow, controlled, feeding of oxygen is needed. It ain't easy!

There's a whole number of other very precise factors which allow flor to form, some from winemaking practise others thanks to the conditions of the region. It's one reason why flor is so rare. It's present in the Jerez region but  even here the levels of flor will vary between bodegas in Jerez (relatively low) Puerto (thicker) and Sanclucar (thickest) As a result, finos from Jerez tend to be slightly fuller than those from Puerto while those from Sanlucar (aka manzanilla) are the lightest and driest.

Michel - The forming of Flor is a (former - now more and more controlled) spontanious process of various kinds of yeast.
Each stage of maturing sees other dominant types or slight alterations of a type yeast that in some stage of live wants to be exposed to oxigen. A cask sees quite some yeast lifecycles in its belly. I believe Flor can maintain itself up to six years in the cask. To refer to your Macle message on Twitter, it's the same process in Jura as in Jerez. Chateau Chalon quit be easily mistaken as an anabolic Fino.
It's quite a subject that is very hard (for me) to distill to a few lines...

Serge - Yeah, vin jaune... (except that the latter isn't fortified). It's what we call 'goût de jaune' (taste of yellow) that I find in the very few finos that I could try as well. Very interesting what you both say about it being endemic to the places. Many Jura wines that never see flor get a bit of this 'taste of yellow', Savagnins of course but also chardonnay... The flor is what we call "voile" (veil?) and Plageolles makes some interesting "vins de voile" in the South-West of France as well. Thanks guys, your knowledge is as deep as our tunnel to China.

Dave - Love vin jaune .. and Plageolles is a good producer as well.
In Spain you'll also get flor in neighbouring regions to Jerez like Montilla and Huelva and the Algarve. There's also some from Palomino in Rueda though it's hard to find. There's also flor influenced wines from Romania (though I've never tried em) and Hungary.
They've tried seeding it in the Barossa (the fortified wines from Seppelt are wonderful) and South Africa.

Serge - Blimey, so many 'unknown' wines to try then... Thanks!
Maybe we should try to come up with a list of 'best wines for whisky lovers' (who are no wine buffs)?

Michel - Serge, the effect you've described could be a case of natural high levels of acetaldehydes in the wine... one of the important aroma components in Fino's. With this I'm completely on thin ice... the books are very hazy at this point...

Dave - Good idea Serge,
And acetaldehyde might be one of the answers Michel, but as with whisky there's never just one clear answer!

Johannes - Well fellows... while sherry is a 'wine', a list of wines might be taking things a little too far off topic; let's keep that for our next issue. This has little to do with the fact that my palate is too childish for most wines (except desert wines) - it's just that our AaA discussions have a tendency to get off course...

Ho-cheng - Can any body confirm if all Highland Park OB bottling still use 100% sherry cask matured whisky in core range?
If not, any reference I can use? Got a request to understand this statement.

Dave - Yes they do. the confusion is the term 'sherry' which people take to mean european oak + dried fruit etc etc; whereas they also use (and always have done) ex-American oak sherry wood as well. .. and refill where the influence of the oak/sherry mix is less.

Olivier - I know that since 2008 they do not use caramel on their younger versions as in the past. The 12yo has a lot of fresh sherry casks in order to adjust the colour... They do say that it is complicated to have a standart colour like this, but it is worth the trouble. But then I am not sure that 100% casks they use are ex sherry. (whether refill or not, or European or American wood...).

Ho-cheng Yao - Thanks Dave, another question: I remember I read in some article that their content including seasoned cask(without saying it's sherry cask.) I guess it means refill casks.  Are they also used sherry refill casks or possible some bourbon refill casks as well?
I've checked some reference and it seems their cask policy does not contain fresh bourbon barrels?

Dave - As with any term used when sherry is around, the term 'seasoned' is potentially confusing! As far as I can tell it means bespoke sherry casks (ie ones made to Highland Park/Edrington's specifics) which have been 'seasoned' with sherry for a period of time, as against those casks which have come through the sherry production system (ex-solera or ex-shipping).
Refill is anything which has already held whisky (ie 2nd fill 3rd fill etc).

It's possible there are ex-bourbon sherry seasoned casks, but they'll be pretty old. This was common in the 1960s when the supply of shipping casks dried up. Distillers, wanting a sherry hit in their whiskies, took ex-bourbon hoggies and treated them with paxerete. If there are any at HP they will now be regarded as refill. I can't say whether there are any or not. Certainly paxerete treatment was stopped a long time ago. Certainly there's no first fill bourbon used for the single malt.

Refill is another potentially confusing term, though used to give a certain degree of clarity!
First fill will give you the big hit of oak type + sherry. In the refill cask this impact will be lessened (often considerably) allowing distillery character to be shown. They are still "sherry casks" though! Blenders/IBs will specify different casks types for their own requirements.

Johannes - And with those final bits of wisdom this AaA discussion gradually fizzled out. For me personally, it illustrated two things...
First, that the production of sherry really requires a lot of craftsmanship - and second that some whisky producers are quite 'crafty' when it comes to finding new ways to reproduce or mimic the effects of time, wood and the local environment. Somehow, this reminded me of a scene from the British TV series 'Bottom' where Eddie reviews some home-brewed liquor that he made in his bathtub with the timeless words
"It has a certain robustness that demands attention!" - to which his friend replies: "Possibly medical".

E-pistle 2009/17 - Macallan Masters of Photography

Macallan nudie pictureMacallan, their pedigree unquestioned, their achievements recognised thoroughly, long
time favourite amongst aficionados of Sherried whiskies. What about such a landmark,
the Rolls Royce of all things whisky? Talking about Rolls Royce, I can't recall the epitome
of car making doing any aggressive corporate advertising since World War 2. One might
wonder why the liquid version is doing a limited series edition of the 30 years old, it
has the kind of atmosphere in which we can see a Phantom 'Break SE' as an answer
to a Maybach 'Run of The Mill' in order to sell loads of BMW 1 Series.
Lets keep the car metaphor and have a closer look at the 'Break SE'.
What are the extra's that would make this edition legimate? Well, a lot.
Despite the slightly critic outline above I can really say we're talking something special
here. The black leather deluxe box is well understood, the same goes for the black
capsule, the black neck label that says '30 Years' in silver typo also. We're entering
black room territories here. And yes, we do have a female nude on the label! In the
box an actual Polaroid which stood model for the label. The 'Break SE' is now called
The Macallan Masters of Photography.

Macallan invited Scottish photographer Ian Rankin to come over to Easter Elchies House to do a heritage series.
The goal was to capture the atmosphere, the light, to tell his visual story about Macallan and its surroundings. During a few summers days at the estate more than 2.000 Polaroids were made which were edited down to 1.000 for the final series. Rankin had a clear idea why he wanted to go the Polaroid way. If whisky is about time he wants to make a cross section of it with something immediate and not reproducible. And if matured whisky is a voice from the past what better way to use Polaroid? As an 'on the side', the model, Tuuli had suffered a lot from midges – anyone who has encountered the tiny flying bastards should imagine standing naked in the middle of a swarm… Art is suffering.

Visiting the presentation of the series for the Dutch market last April was no punishment at all.
What about a lunch in Holland's most prestigious restaurant, De Librije? Knowing one has to make a reservation at least six months before the actual dinner takes place makes you wonder how on earth Dutch agent Maxxium managed to get hold of the complete place. Kudos to that alone! For the foodies amongst us. First course: Smoked IJselmeer eel with foie gars, fennel and Mac Vin accompanied with a h2h of Macallan 15 & 18yo Fine Oak. Second course: Scallops, lightly smoked and air dried lard with a sauce of brioche bread accompanied by a glass off 2005 Oremus Tokaij dry, Furmint. Third course: Pigeon with oranges, Pandan rice and a sauce of Lapsang Souchong tea accompanied by a glass of 2005 Mas Gran Crianza, Monstant. Final course Epoisse cheese, dates and brace yourselves: rabbits kidneys with water from cooked potatoes accompanied by a glass of Macallan 21yo Fine oak and an additional glass of Mac Vin. A Rolls Royce lunch indeed! After the meal a short introduction by Ken Grier whilst looking at blow-ups of some of the Polaroids by Rankin whilst sipping from a glass of Macallan 30yo Fine Oak (look out for the last batch, quality is up!) After a very enjoyable chat with Ken, interview will come later, I wondered why the seats of my Seat were so uncomfortable, I should have chosen the 'Break SE'…

But then again, How many little cars have to be sold in order to pay the bills for the car the producer actually wants to produce and making loss on that matter? In other words, a mundane 12yo Fine Oak is closely connected to the 30yo Fine Oak Masters of Photography. One cannot exist without each other. During lunch it became clear Dutch shops will see a tsunami of 12yo Fine Oak. Well, when buying such a bottle, remember yours truly had a fantastic day and furthermore: you sponsored a great series. Your money is well spend!

Audience was divided when Bruichladdich launched their PC 6 in six different packages. One camp saying 'I want all six', the other 'They're fleecing the collector'. Macallan took it bit further: of the 1.000 Polaroids 1.000 unique labels were produced. Collectors: eat your hart out! The fact this series is so extensive, hardly limited yet every bottle is an '1 of 1' carries ambivalence. Collector series are not my cup of tea but this is completely over the top. So much it becomes serious again. Not that I will ever buy this Macallan and frankly I'm curious to find out which of the two will become the true collectors item: the bottle or the Polaroid?


Michel van Meersbergen

E-pistle 2009/18 - An Interview with Stuart Nickerson

Stuart NickersonWho says old news isn't good news? I was very happy to hear
that the Glenglassaugh distillery is working again - contrary to
the information in the 'Distillery Data' section on Malt Madness.
However, Managing Director Stuart Nickerson was kind enough
to point out my error. Because Glenglassaugh was mothballed as
far back as 1986, I was sceptical about the distillery's chances of
ever being revived again. I'm happy to have been proven a tad
too sceptical in this case; in 2008 (more than two decades after
it was closed) the distillery was revived again... The good news
of Glenglassaugh's revival released a barrage of questions about
the details of the resurrection in my mind. Fortunately, Stuart
was more than happy to be interviewed for Malt Maniacs, so I
would be able to put most of these questions to rest.
It has been a while since we've published an interview on Malt
Maniacs. In fact, it seems like we published our earlier interviews
in another era entirely; the world has changed a lot since then...
More and more people from the whisky industry are active with
social media like Facebook , LinkedIn and Twitter. That means
that these days it's not always necessary to start an interview
with a load of questions about the personal and professional
background of the interviewee. Stuart has an extensive profile
on Facebook as well, which allowed me to kick off the interview
with a question about Stuart working at Bells Scotch Whisky in
1981. I asked about the work he was doing in the 1980's and
the most significant changes in the whisky industry since then.

A: [SN]  I started in the industry as a chemical engineer and initially my work was mainly involved in reducing energy costs throughout Bells distilleries, some of this work involved installing evaporators to produce pot ale syrup with the main energy driver being the hot water from the condensers. This meant running the condensers at much hotter temperatures than was traditional and there is still a debate today on whether some of these practices affected the product quality. I was also involved in the early days of trying to operate one-man distilleries with Bladnoch designed to work in that way when Bells took it over and invested in it.

Q: What have been the most significant changes in the whisky industry since the early 1980's?

A: [SN]  There have been many changes and it is difficult to know where to start – consolidation between many of the larger players, new smaller companies entering the industry, more knowledgeable customers, use of the internet for communication and marketing and sales, far larger range of Single Malts available compared to 20 years ago which gives the consumer almost limitless options. More knowledge of new spirit and much more knowledge of the impact of the cask on the final product, more innovations in maturation – use of wider range of previously-used casks (Rum, Madera, wine etc), finishing, blending of different wood types, use of new wood. In production there is more emphasis on reducing the impact on the environment, more emphasis on health and safety and a lot less people working.

Q: You're part of a minority in today's whisky industry - the people that have lived through the whisky crisis of the early 1980's.
Do you have any insights to share w.r.t. the similarities and differences between that crisis and this one?

A: [SN]  Companies tend to be better prepared now for the challenges that lie ahead. There is more information available to make decisions, people tend to be more knowledgeable, communication is better both internally and with the importers, the wholesaler, the retailer and importantly the customer. This leads to firstly more informed decisions but also means that we can change plans quicker, there are also more options to follow if one strategy proves to be the wrong and so companies can be more flexible. This may be easier for smaller companies like Glenglassaugh but on the other hand we don't have the financial cushion of the huge multi-nationals and with limited stock available it can make the options more restrictive.

Q: Scaent group is listed as the new owners of the Glenglassaugh, but you informed me they have a fairly 'hands off approach' towards the distillery. So, I take it you play a significant role in shaping the business strategy. What are the plans for the next few years?

A: [SN]  Scaent have been fantastic, they invested a lot of cash to purchase the distillery and to re-furbish it so that we were producing at the end of last year. In addition they are in it for the long haul and want to see the business build in value rather than aim for short term profits. Our plans include continuing to release the small amount of aged stock which we have here as single cask bottling all of which will be at cask strength, non -coloured, non chill-filtered and bottled on site. We will also look to produce other products, for instance we have just released a limited edition single mash New Make Spirit called "The Spirit Drink that dare not speak its name" – well we couldn't call it whisky so we said so on the label. We are also about to sell octave casks (50 litres) for individual ownership and later in the year will introduce a members only club which again will have a restricted membership. In terms of capital investment we are hoping to have a visitors centre in operation within the next 12 months and we are also aiming to re-open the traditional dunnage warehouse which we have.

Q: Because the distillery was mothballed as far back as 1986 I assume securing large stocks of the old Glenglassaugh whisky must have been tricky. Nevertheless, I've read on your website that you're offering 21yo, 30yo and even 40yo official bottlings. Were these casks still lying around in the warehouses at the distillery?

A: [SN]  I wouldn't call it lying around but Edrington, who were a fantastic company to deal with acting as complete gentlemen throughout the protracted period as we gained all the authorisations necessary prior to the deal being concluded. In terms of the casks Edrington agreed to sell us their entire stock which wasn't very much and therefore we only have very limited volumes of whisky aged from 30 years and above which we can release each year for the next 10 years, in terms of the "21 year old" this is really all the whisky which we have which is less than 30 years old and once it is sold then that is it gone forever.

Q: With your new whisky, will you try to replicate the 'house style' of the old Glenglassaugh distillery or are you working towards another profile?

A:[SN]  We had the production records of the 1980 Glenglassaugh and so we knew the volumes, temperature and running rates at every stage of the process and our first aim was to produce the same new make spirit. We are very happy with what we produced and we believe that the underlying characteristics of the aged whiskies can be found in the new make spirit. With regard to the maturation we trying a number of options at the moment with casks of different origin being sourced as well as different sizes, this will allow us to find out what works best for us and at the same time share some of these through special releases.

Q: How much of the old equipment - if any - is still used and which equipment had to be replaced?

A: [SN]  The main items – malt storage, malt mill, grist case, mash tun, heating tanks, wooden washbacks, stills, condensers and vessels were all fine ( with the exception of the mash tun false bottom which had been stolen during a break-in before we took over). We had to replace the boiler, the boiler chimney, all the pumps and heat exchangers and most of the pipes as well as all of the electrical wiring.

Q: What is the water source for the distillery?

A: [SN]  We have two wells for the process water which are around 1 kilometre from the distillery with the collected water being stored in a large vessel before being piped underground and under the road to the distillery. The cooling water comes from the Fordyce burn which runs past the distillery.

Q: You mentioned you were involved in operating one-man distilleries like Bladnoch.
I don't have all the facts, but it seems that most new distilleries work with a small crew rather than one single person.
Is that impression correct and, if so, why do you think these experiments seem to have stopped?

A: [SN]  Most distilleries work with only one or two people on shift at one time although that doesn't necessarily mean that they are automated. Many of the manual tasks have been taken out of the work over the last 20 years, primarily because of health and safety and partly due to process control accuracy/consistency and to a very small extent to save costs. 20 years ago it was common to see people climbing in and out of washbacks to clean them or going into wash stills with buckets of caustic to clean them while a number of stills were still manually coal fired and needed a second person in the stillhouse. These tasks are no longer carried out in the same way while in other areas automatic or remote operation is in place in many distilleries. The idea of the crew is more about  3 or 4 men on rotating shifts over a 168 hour week.

Q: You mentioned innovations in maturation.
What type of casks (sherry, bourbon, American, European, etc.) are used to mature the new spirit from Glenglassaugh?

A:[SN]  At Glenglassaugh we are experimenting with many different types of casks including ex-bourbon, refill Scotch Whisky, ex-wine from various regions, ex-sherry and other ex-fortified wines as well as a mix of American and European Oak.

Q: I like the name you invented for "The Spirit Drink that dare not speak its name". However, customers that are used to drinking single malts might experience a 'culture shock' if they try new make spirit for the first time - however refined. Don't you think this could damage the Glenglassaugh 'brand' in the eyes of some customers?

A:[SN]  We believe that it may be a surprise to many people, because both Graham (Eunson) and I feel that it is the best new make spirit that we come across. We don't believe that it will damage the brand as it demonstrates that the fruity aromas and taste of our aged whiskies are very noticeable in the new make and we would like to hope that people will enjoy it as a unique and very nice drink but is not, at this stage Single Malt Scotch Whisky. I should also mention that it is a limited edition, individually numbered bottles and unique in that we have used the spirit from one distinct mash and recorded every details of the mashing, fermentation and distillation stages and these are included in the neck tag on the bottle.

Q: Why did you choose to bottle "The Spirit Drink that dare not speak its name" at 50% rather than at the 'natural' strength?

A: [SN]  Graham and I decided that at full strength the spirit strength overwhelmed the floral tastes of the Spirit Drink but by reducing it to 50% it can be drunk and enjoyed with a great medley of flavours interacting in the mouth.

Q: You mentioned you will be offering 'octaves'. The maniacs are often sceptical when it comes to investing in regular casks of fresh spirit (200 litres or more is a LOT of whisky for one person and the large casks mature relatively slow), but using smaller casks makes such a cask offer more interesting. Will customers have the choice between different types of wood and what kind of investment would be required if you wanted to bottle it after, say, five years?

A: [SN]  We have used octaves for this cask offering because they are approximately 50 litres and will mature quicker than the larger casks.
That means less capital outlay now and the whisky will be able to be bottled earlier than with a larger cask. We will be charging around £500.00 for this cask offer and hope to have the final details sorted out next week and will then make the offer more widely available. We are not offering different types of cask at this time but we are intending having a different cask purchase offering later in the year, which will be based on the more normal barrels, hogsheads and butts and there will be a range of cask types available at that stage.

Q: Why did Scaent decide to buy a distillery that's been closed for a lengthy time (with attendant stock issues) rather than a) buying somewhere like Glendronach, or b) building a new one?

A: [SN]  Well for one thing Glendronach was not for sale at that stage and we were looking for a distillery that (1) made good whisky, (2) had heritage (3) has stocks and (4) was available for sale. That knocked a new built out and when we started looking there were very few distilleries openly available for sale and so I approached Edrington as I remembered that Glenglassaugh whisky was good and it certainly had heritage. As you know there was not a lot of stock available and the distillery and the buildings have needed a lot of investment but we felt that it was the right decision when we got the stock checked for quality and we were just taken aback by the quality of it which we think is outstanding.

Great Stuart, thanks a lot!
I'd love to ask even more about the history and future of Glenglassaugh, but I've got a fresh issue of MM to publish.
Rest assured that I'll be keeping an eye on the Glenglassaugh website to find out what you're up to.

Sweet drams,


E-pistle 2009/19 - Astar Trek

Starship EnterpriseThe distance between Kingston and Roy Thompson Hall, in Toronto, where the
Spirit of Toronto (SofT) took place this last May, is but 256 km or about 2.5 hours
by car.  However, for a husband and father of two young girls, it can sometimes
seem light-years away.  The first phase of the trip is actually persuading your
wife that the SofT is simply one of the best home-grown whisky festivals of its
kind.  In my case, I also had to throw in that it was very important to connect
with my fellow Malt Maniacs, the opportunities for this being so few and far
between.  Finally, there is the economic argument: in order for me to taste these
whiskies on my own, it would cost me ten times as much. Even after this pretty
slick sales pitch, she still gave me an eye-roll that I immediately recognized as
"you're such a nerd, how did I ever end up with you?!", in a loving sort of way,
of course.
My wife's reaction was the same one many women used to give me when I was
eighteen years old, in secondary school.  I was a consummate Star Trek fan back
then.  I also did not enjoy the pleasure of many dates with members of the
female persuasion…not a big surprise! Nonetheless, on the day that SofT took
place, Edan Williams (a fellow whisky lover) and I were in the car on our way to
the tasting when we began to ponder the similarities between my past love of
Trek and my current obsession with whisky. 

As we approached our destination, my anticipation had become almost uncontainable, much the way it had back in 1987, in Dearborn, Michigan…at my last Star Trek convention.  By the time we'd hit the exit for the Don Valley Parkway (or Parking-lot as we like to call it), we had come to the conclusion that being a whisky connoisseur was really not unlike being a Trekkie.  Allow me to explain this comparison with my top 10 reasons why Star Trek fans are like whisky connoisseurs:

#10  Both groups argue incessantly amongst themselves on the web, in forums, over things like "screw caps or corks, which is better?".
#9   They both hold conventions, though the whisky connoisseurs call these "tastings"…sometimes on the aforementioned forum.
#8   Both groups are predominantly male.  Female members of the group are rare, highly valued, and sought after.
#7   Members frequently try to perfect a good Scottish accent, this is usually restricted to the Star Trek fans who think Mr. Scott was tops.
#6   Both types of convention can be expensive, though listening to live jazz is worth the expense and is WAY better than listening to Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner on their 60's album Spaced Out
#5   These folks take a lot of time to perfect a language that is not their own.  They often greet or toast each other in this language. 
The whisky lovers have a leg up here because at least the language they are trying to learn is a real one, unlike Klingon. 
Did you know Slainte is pronounced van lI' pIv in standard Klingon?
#4  They will ridicule you for not pronouncing said language properly.
Klingon poseurs will threaten you with plastic bat-leths.
#3  When both groups meet a celebrity at a convention, they often
fawn, drool, and some ask mundane questions like "don't you think
that A'bunadh batch #20 was way better than  batch #14? Wrath
of Khan vs. The Voyage Home?
#2  Both groups spend an inordinate amount of money collecting
magazines and other paraphernalia, some in the hopes of someday
finding another sucker to whom they might sell the stuff.  Rare
Malts Port Ellen or Leonard Nimoy's used spock-ear prosthetics a
nyone?  Only $400 USD!
#1 They both wear costumes to their conventions, though lifting
up a Klingon kilt isn't nearly as scary a proposition.

Now having said this, I want to say that my experience with my
fellow connoisseurs was a veritable pleasure. The crowd was well
behaved, the staff was professional, and the discourse was
enlightening and interesting.  If you want to call me a whisky nerd,
a malt trekker, so be it. (I'd be willing to wager a bottle of Astar,
Dr. Billy Lumsden is a closet trekkie.)  Nontheless, in the world of
whisky there can be no higher calling than to continue our mission
to explore new malts, to seek out new aromas and flavours, to
taste <pause> what no one <pause> has tasted before. (Please
try to picture frequent hand motions and physical gyrations!  Didn't
Captain James McEwan say something similar to this about the
Starship Bruichladdich during his online Octomore tasting recently?)

And now for a few whiskies I think the crew of the Enterprises would've enjoyed.

Engineer Scott:  Forty Creek Barrel Select, OB, 40%
Colour: Dark gold to amber, not unlike a Tawny port 
Nose: Starts off spirity. Some subtle malty notes, oily almost metallic (characteristic of rye). Some sourish yoghurt notes, could also be perceived as yeasty. Nutty, perhaps hazelnut. Sherry can be detected alongside the bourbon notes (a good proportion of this blend is maize whisky aged in new oak, no surprise). A little toffee comes through with some sweetness and vanilla.  Palate: attack is at the front of the palate. Not as sweet as the nose might suggest. Good balance in this dram. A very mouth warming dram. Lots of vanilla, followed by some nuttiness from the malt and the sherry finish, but not too intense. Later, some choclolate and sweet citrus notes. Again a little sourness, and a hint of tinned fruit. The yoghurt pops up as well. You can also very distinctly sense the very subtle bourbon notes with the vanilla coming through.  Finish: Short to medium finishing on nuts and yoghurt.  Comments:  James Doohan (Scotty) was a Scot who emigrated to Canada.  Much like Mr. Scott, this Canadian whisky underpromises and overdelivers!  88 points on the Canadian scale, 70 points on the single malt scale.

Capt. James T. Kirk:  Eagle Rare 10 yo, Straight Bourbon, 45% ABV, 2008 - Buffalo Trace Distillery
Colour: Golden amber, light maple syrup.  Nose: charred oak, then a big vanilla hit. Rubbed on the hand yields distinct orange and cocoa notes. Toffee, creme brulee, and some maple syrup. Also some spicy nutmeg.  Palate: Light and oily? Candied orange, sweet vanilla, planed oak. Nutmeg hits at the back of the palate. Nice balance with the sweetness yeilding to the drying wood influence. Slight charcoal with brown sugar/maple syrup/toffee.   Finish: spicy heat of cinnamon and nutmeg. Medium. Comment  A smooth operator of an American whiskey, not unlike William Shatner's Capt. Kirk! 84 points on the Bourbon scale, 73 points on the SMSW scale.

Capt. Jean-Luc Picard :  Aberlour A'bundadh #23, 2008 60.7%
Colour: Dark Amber  Nose: Without water is very closed, sherry is dominant, some furniture polish. With water, what an evolution. First starts off on some sweet wine notes, sherry, and quite nutty (candied pecans?). Later develops into a distinct toffee note as well as some candied orange and citrus as well.  Palate: Again, very sweet with good balance on the palate. Medium to full body, with the sherry shining brightly. Raisins and allspice pop up. Later some notes of sweet leather and toffee come through. Follows through on the nose. Not too winey.  Finish: Quite long on sweet leather and nuts.  Comments: What good Frenchman could resist this malt!  85 points

Mr. Sulu :  The Yamazaki 12 yo, 43%, OB, 2007
Colour:  gold
Nose: without water, lots of organic shoe polish, flaxseed oil (linseed), incense, subtle sherry notes, a little nutty. Later some fruity floral notes pop up. With water...WOW, this one blooms! Candied fruit cake. Ripe pears and banana skins, vanilla, the organic oily stuff still there.   Palate: lots of vanilla, sweetness comes through. Poached pineapple and the pears. Finish: Firm malty note with a lingering pepperiness on the front to mid palate which lasts a surprisingly long time. Comment:  Well, the Brits used to think they were the best sailors, Mr. Sulu put that theory to rest, and the Yamazaki did the same for malt whisky.  77 points.

Dr. Leonard McCoy :   Glenfarclas, 15yo, 46% OB,2008
Colour: Deep gold, tinge of amber
Nose: Starts off with a little linseed oil, moves on to distinct nutty sherry notes. Malt comes through a little with a tiny hint of smoke. A waft of wine. Some honey, perhaps a little new sweet leather. Palate: Very well balanced. Not too much wood, leather turns to honey. Raisins and licorice. Nice and sweet, but not too much so. Nutmeg. Sweet tobacco smoke.  Finish: Long, sherry and dark spice.  Comment:  Just like the good doctor, not as well known but a real performer!  88 pts

Lt. Uhura: Johnny Walker Green Label, OB, 15 yo, 45% ABV, 2009.
Colour:  Pale gold
Nose:  Flowers and perfume followed by a hint of sherry.  Just underneath there is some peat and cereal notes.  WW:  The sherry notes really wake up with water offering up marzipan.  The banana and flowers become more intense as well as the vanilla and the perfume.  A slight note of indoor latex paint.  Palate:  Light bodied.  Attack towards the front of the palate.  Sweetness, floral notes, and even a hint of banana and sherry.  A touch of peat reek at the very end.  WW:  Some salt emerges as well as some bitterness at the back of the palate.  Finish:  on latex paint and flowery perfume.  Comments:  Soft, complex, and seductive, just like Uhura.  76 points.

Now, for some full disclosure: I have never ever worn a costume to a convention or to one of the films.  I have, however, had the pleasure of personally asking William Shatner whether he would consider NOT making anymore movies for fear he ruin the franchise (which they did); he didn't appreciated such straight talk!

Thanks to Scott Baker for his input with the top ten list!

Nabil Mailloux, Canada

E-pistle 2009/20 - Victoria Whisky Festival 2009

Victoria Whisky Festival 2009Here's the thing about the Victoria Whisky Festival: it's free for
exhibitors.  So why is that such a big deal?  Well the organizers
and the charities they support don't depend on table fees to
support the festival so they can say no to the marginal exhibitors
who are turning up more and more often at whisky festivals. 
No cigars, no chocolate, no craft-distilled kerosene, just whisky,
and some damn good stuff at that.  Because, that's the other
thing. Since the exhibitors don't have to pay a fee to participate,
they have money left in the budget to bring out the good stuff.

Organised by inimitable Lawrence Graham, and I mean organised,
the festival runs with German precision – the master classes, for
example, are full and on time – but with the urgency of a
Caribbean bonfire.  And although I saw no drunkenness, no
staggerers uncouthly thrusting their glass at any stand come
closing time, those who did feel they had a bit too much were
offered a free ride home.  No, this is a class act put together by
and for whisky lovers, who, though they do turn a tidy profit,
donate it to children's charities and the local jazz society.
As one exhibitor told me, only two other festivals compare with
Victoria: the Australian Whisky Conference, a 1 week convention
organized by Craig Daniels, and Whisky Live Paris which for
square footage alone has to be experienced to be believed.

Being in Canada, the festival showcases a number of excellent Canadian whiskies not tasted anywhere else. 
One hundred percent rye whisky from Calvert for example had Whisky Cast's Mark Gillespie in whisky heaven. You don't get that stuff in the USA do you Mark?  Gotta come to Canada eh? A full range of Crown Royals (only the XO was missing) showed the marked differences a skilled blender can create with the same base whisky. 

Jim Murray was there, of course; he's become a fixture of the festival, and was surprisingly candid about the Ardbeg Uigeadail he tasted there last year and named whisky of the year.  Yes, he knows it was not a special batch for Canada and yes, it is available in some European markets as well.  Yes, he got the abv wrong – a simple transcription error.  Yes, he knows that the BC Liquor Board only brought in one batch after the original shipment four years ago, and yes, the same batch is still available in government liquor stores in BC.  He was told, when he asked Glenmorangie where he could get more, that it had all been shipped to Canada.  And try as he might to anoint another, in one HTH after another it earned and re-earned his nod as best whisky of 2008.  Well, a bunch of us also tried it.  It's good, yes, but it's not OUR whisky of the year.  But, palates being palates, vive la difference!  It was good enough though that when Noel Buckley offered me a full bottle I quickly said yes!

At one point Lawrence handed me a glass asking, "What do you think of this?" 
Well, it was fruity, creamy, rich, and mouth coating with fresh peaches, raspberries, and crème caramel overlaid on a bed of sweet cereal malt.  A good 84, 85 points, I like it a lot.  Turns out it was the private bottling Arran 10yo done for some of the folks who organise the festival.  Later, at the Arran dinner (man, I remember when that distillery was just a wishful thought and now it's got a product as solid as any of the old timers) Lawrence handed me another with "Take a long taste he said and tell me what you think."  42yo Black Bowmore; unmistakable, and unforgivable that I had nothing even close to offer in return.

Victoria is a sleepy city of gardens and ocean.  On the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island, it is both the tourism capital and the retirement capital of Canada.  Folks here know their whisky though, especially since the British Columbia government began to relinquish its monopoly on liquor sales and independent liquor stores began to pop up.  The Strathcona on Douglas Street specializes in malt whisky, which has likely contributed to the general good level of whisky knowledge at the festival. 

For the first time, I was more than a part of the festival crowd; Lawrence had asked me to give a master class on judging whisky.  Thirty enthusiastic aficionados joined me for a morning session where we discussed the merits of five blind whiskies under 16 years old and came up with individual scores.  The level of questioning was excellent, with none of the usual bores asking questions just to show off how smart they are. 

One of the highlights was meeting Mike Nicholson, ex-manager at Talisker.  A character and a half, he looks like a British rock star and speaks with a wit drier than a morning-after tongue.  Mike gave masterclasses on the full Johnny Walker range (including the King George edition Blue label) and on Talisker.  "Of course I have my own opinion of these" he said., "don't think of it as whisky, think of it as liquid with flavours in it."  Good advice to anyone who still at the stage where it's either single malt or else crap.

A wonderful weekend of whisky and camaraderie. 
Thanks to Lawrence, Carollyne, Iain, Jonathan and all who have put so much thought into my best festival yet.

Davin de kergommeaux, Canada

June 15, 2009 - I imagine very few maniacs would describe their
bodies as 'heavenly', but as a collective we do indeed resemble a
celestial body - in the sense that we've grown into some sort of
centre of gravity for opinions and information about malt whisky.
We try to provide a variety of topics in each issue of our E-zine,
so you're able to find articles about sherried whiskies, Macallan's
new PR stunt (nudie pictures), the revived Glenglassaugh distillery,
no less than two whisky festivals (in Victoria, Canada and Vienna,
Austria) and, I kid you not, Star Trek.
For me personally, Dave Broom's article about sherry and the
'Ask an Anorak' discussion that followed it were eye-openers that
have taught me about 'bespoke casks' and 'seasoned casks'.
Sweet drams,
Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs


E-pistle 2009/21 - Vienna Whisky Fair

Vienna Whisky fair, the Fair in the Center of EuropeMost people , when they think of Vienna (and I mean Vienna in
Austria/Europe, not in the USA), they think about Mozart, about the
Spanish riding school, about Chocolates(yummy…) and many other
attractions of Culture and Classic music. But, who would associate
Vienna with whisky ?Well, in the capital of Austria in the center of
Europe, a small but active community of whisky Connocieurs and
whisky lovers has been developing in the last years.
Center of development was and is the legendary Viennese Whisky
shop "Postill" in the center of the city. The shop started importing
Single Malts, in the early 90's, at a time when (in Austria at least)
whisky was a synonym mostly for Blend's or Bourbon.
From the early 90's till now many things happened in the world and
in the Austrian whisky community. The first big step towards bringing
Single Malts to a broader Austrian audience, was the 1'st Vienna
whisky fair, in April 2003 at the Hotel Wimberger. It was a experiment,
that showed, that many people in Austria are interested in single
malts and whisky in general.
The big success of the 1st whisky fair made it possible to regularly
organize a whisky fair in Vienna every 2 years since then, in April 2005,
April 2007 and March 2009.

The Vienna whisky fair, may  not be a significant international event, but it is a major event for Vienna and the biggest of its kind in Austria. The fair is focused mostly on "Standard's" and recent "Premium" Bottlings like the following ones:

84 Glenglassaugh 21yo (46%, OB, Glass Decanter, +/-2009) c2009 OB
86 Glenglassaugh 30yo (55.1%, OB, Glass Decanter, +/-2009) c2009 OB

Vienna is also known for its "comfortable ambience", this part of the fair is represented by the Whisky Club of Austria.  The club is present as a exhibitor since the second whisky fair (April 2005), with one of the biggest stands in the fair at the 1st floor. The stand is decorated like  a "English gentleman club" which is used as a relaxing "oasis" mostly for local politicians and VIP visitors, like the British Ambassador and the Irish Ambassador in Vienna.

Walking through the fair, even that I spent most time at our stand, I started with the Springbank stand and Ranald Watson. Ranald is one of the new generation young Malt Ambassador's, showing that Whisky in general is not an old man drink! Ranald had the following interesting Drams with him (among the standard Springbanks and Longrows):

81 Kilkerran 4yo (46%, OB, 2009) 2009 OB
84 Hazelburn 12yo (46%, OB) 2009 OB
86 Springbank 18yo (46%, OB) 2009 OB
88 Springbank 11yo 1997/2009 (55.1%, OB, Madeira wood, 9090 Bts., Dd:06.97/01.09) 2009 OB
84 Longrow 7yo 2000/2008 (55.8%, OB, Refill Bourbon / fresh Gaja Barolo Cask, 12120 Bts., Dd:10.00/01.08) 2008 OB

I was impressed from the new Kilkerran, because when I first tasted it in Campeltown with Serge and Olivier (on our way to the Islay festival 2007) it was (sorry) not drinkable, chemistry pure, like a paint diluter….this new Kilkerran is really good, with big potential and the same goes for the Hazelburn too, for me the best Hazelburn I tasted till now !

One stand next to Springbank was Glenfarclas, hosted by Ian MacWilliam .
I met Ian many times, in Scotland and in various European Whisky fairs and he always had either great samples or bottlings with him.
This year I tasted the very interesting:

90 Glenfarclas 1954/2000 (43%, OB, 1193 Bts., Dd:06.54/07.00) 2000 OB, he brought with for a Master Class.

Moving further to the Diageo stand (the biggest stand in the fair),
I sampled a 83 Rosebank 25yo 1981/2006 (61.4%, OB, 4710 Bts.) 2006 OB, knowing all the other bottling there and seeing how busy the stand was, I moved further to the only exhibitor  representing the "Rarities" fraction,  Lothar Langer. Lothar who attends the Vienna whisky fair  since the beginning,  had again a stand, full of long gone bottles for tasting and selling. Good old stuff, where I mostly took samples for scoring the later. Among the sampling, I couldn't resist to have a dram of the 92 Ardbeg 24yo 1965 (54.4%, Cadenhead's for Sestante, Dumpy white label, 75cl) c1989 Cad, which I already scored, but…. it was the only old Ardbeg in the fair and a good one too. Lacking of time I moved furher and payed only a short visit to the Bruichladdich/ Murray McDavid stand and Barbara McEwan where I had a 87 Octomore 05yo 'Edition 01.1' (63.5%, OB, Bourbon, 6000 Bts., 2008) 2008OB. Even, if time had passed, I couldn't miss to pay a short visit to the biggest attraction of the fair, the Chivas Stand with a Roulette table and of course the Chivas Girls.

The amount of visitors is increasing steadily since the first fair in 2003 and  it is a mixture of all ages, the older more experienced ones, among them  many younger enthusiast and many young female visitors ! (Who said that whisky is a man's Domain ?) Very interesting was the fact that the most girls and woman's that came to our stand for a dram preferred  the peaty, smoky stuff with a higher ABV !  The number of exhibitors and visitors, shows that Austria, even if not a big Whisky Market in means of sales, it is taken seriously from the whisky industry and it has potential to grow further.

Konstantin Grigoriadis, Austria

E-pistle 2009/22 - Summer Speysides and Friends

It is no secret that I enjoy peated malts in the colder months of the year.
But when spring comes, peat simply doesn't do very much for me. After a whole bunch of my lighter malts got polished off, I restocked for last summer.  But the project seemed to have a life of its own, so it is only now that I am reporting my findings.

But before I go any farther, some more clarification is of the order. Had I simply done my write up last September or so, it would have been just in time for the cooler weather in the northern hemisphere. Great for SMS lovers in Australia, South Africa, and South America, but lousy timing for the majority of the Malt Maniacs readers, who reside north of the equator. So I'll jump ahead a bit, and reveal that I have discovered that man (and woman) does not live solely on peat, even in the winter months. Particularly when you are at something like a holiday party, it's not going to be very cold in a crowded room, and the more delicate Speysides may be more in line with the general ambience. So there are times in the colder months, when even a devoted peathead can take a break.

And second, these difficult economic times require out-of-the-box thinking. Just like the hapless automakers that had the bad luck to introduce a new line of pickup trucks or SUV's just in time for $140/barrel of oil last summer, certain spirits conglomerates (or the distilleries themselves)  and/or importers seem to be marching to the tune of a different dram (bad pun). So some of the whiskies described below may be deemed rather curious choices by many single malt scotch lovers. But have no fear, I will explain at the end.
So having dispensed with the formalities, it's time to get down to business....


Balvenie 17yo (43%, OB Sherry Oak)
This is the latest in Balvenie's 17 year old limited edition series, following the Islay Cask (terminology that is no longer allowed by the SWA), and the New Wood and New oak. It is the first Balvenie in a long time aged exclusively in sherry casks. And well worth waiting 17 years for, I might add. There is good balance between the sherry and the traditional Balvenie marmalade profile. Although bottled at 43% ABV, the body is firm enough. The street price is in the $80-95 range. For $80, it is an unqualified bargain, considering what the Macallan and Glenmorangie 18 year olds go for, but a bit less so at $95. Rating was a bit tricky. I figured that I should do a HTH with the Macallan 12, but at the end of a tasting session, I could barely tell the two apart. That necessitated a second round. The differences were subtle, but the there Balvenie showed a bit more complexity. To put it another way, the Mac was getting a higher percentage of its flavors from the sherry cask than the Balvenie. Don't get me wrong, the Macallan 12 has been one of my favorite drams for many years. I really think that it is one of the best all around drams, while this Balvenie is clearly an after dinner dram. So while I rate the Macallan 12 85 as one on my 'benchmark malts', I'll give the Balvenie two extra points and rate it 87 points . Note: Balvenie has since released the Rum Cask edition, at around $125, making the Sherry Cask look like a bargain.

BenRiach 15yo (46%, OB Dark Rum Finish)
BenRiach 15yo (46%, OB 15 Year Old Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish)
Once BenRiach had their basic line on the market for a while, it was obviously time for some creativity. So we have three expressions, the above two and a port wood finished, all 12 year olds with three years of finishing. As I have already tried a (peated) port wood BenRiach, I just went for the rum and PX. For both, the finishing is on the mild side. The PX has about half of the sherry effect as the Balvenie above, and the rum finishing is really only apparent if you know what it is. These are pleasant malts, although the 12 year old isn't the last word in complexity to begin with. My only quibble is the price, $70 apiece. For that kind of money, I expect a bit more. Rating for both is 83 points.

Compass Box Whisky Canto Cask #46 (54.2%, OB) Bottled for Park Avenue Liquors.
This was the second Park Avenue CBW bottling, the first being the Monster, which was seriously good stuff. Although it has long since sold out, I am still including it here, because it is a noteworthy dram. Well, John Glasser worked his magic again, this time in the non-peated sector . The Cask #46 is vatted/blended from Speyside/Highland malts, most often used for blending. Age ranges from perhaps just under 10 years old, to the mid to upper teens. Put simply, it is the best non-peated, non-sherried, non-Sprinbank I have had in house, and certainly in the top 10 that I have ever tried. It reminds me of the wonderful Scotts Selection Glen Elgin that I was fortunate to sample at Whiskyfest some years ago. And there is more than likely some Glen Elgin in there too. Crisp and clean, with a honey-vanilla profile, and a bit of spiciness. I think that this is the good kind of creativity that we need more of, rather than more wine finishing. Highly recommended, rating 91 points.

Macallan Fine Oak (40%, OB)
When the Fine Oak series was introduced about five years ago, I didn't consider it to be heresy, as I have sampled, enjoyed, and purchased a number of un-sherried Macallan's over the years. But while I enjoyed the 15 year old, at least as a summer dram, I didn't really pay much attention to the 10 year old. Less sherry, less years, and less proof, three strikes and you are out, right? And back then, it was just a few dollars less than the regular (i.e. Sherry Oak) Mac 12 year old. hardly a winning proposition. But as it turns out, the FO 10 is a decent dram in its own right. You get the typical non-sherry Macallan profile, with a (just) slightly flowery profile. And while the 12 year Sherry Oak will set you back around $50 nowadays the FO 10 is still around $35. My provisional rating is somewhere is the low 80's, and this is the perfect dram to have around for your 'scotch is scotch' friends and relatives who aren't worth wasting the good stuff on.

And now for the friends...

Isle of Arran 10yo, 1996 (46%, Whisky Galore)
Wow, I can still remember getting hold of the first Arran release back in 1999. There was no age statement, but it was obviously barely legal (i.e. three years old). There was much promise back then, so I figured that it was high time to try the Arran malt at a more conventional age. The only reason that I went for the Whisky Galore bottling was that it was ten dollars cheaper, but there shouldn't be any major differences between it and the distillery 10yo un-chill filtered release. And on a beautiful May afternoon, there couldn't be a more delightful dram. Pristine fresh barley, with a touch of honey. A comparison with the Glenmorangie 10yo revealed the Arran to be more laid back, without the GlenMo's spicy exuberance. The difference is really a matter of what type of dram you are in the mood for. Interestingly enough, the Glenmorangie had a slightly firmer body, even though it is presumed to have been at least somewhat filtered. So my rating is the same 83 points, and it will be interesting to try the Arran over the next five to ten years.

Springbank 10yo (46%, OB)
The first (recent) release of the Springbank 10 year old back in 2000 was a big disappointment to those who discovered the distillery via the 21 year old or the amazing 12yer/100 proof, which had either some or a lot of older malt in it (depending on which batch your bottle came from). But those drams are no longer available, and fading memory allows us to appreciate the 10 year old on its own merits. Two years ago, i was a a very fancy wedding, and the groom was toasted with a bottle of the 10yo Springer. I certainly wasn't about to decline, and was very pleasantly surprised. There was plenty of youthful exuberance, a hint of the sea combined with a nice dose of fruit. But the bottle that I purchased maybe eighteen months later was different. Now there was a firm malty underpinning, and the sea is somewhat brooding. There is some sherry casking evident, and it remains in the background, This is a firmer dram than the last time around, but now I am curious to see what my next bottle will be like. So while the 10 year old isn't likely to take you back to the glorious (for Springbank lovers) late nineties, it is worth keeping around. Rating 86 points.

Would you date an 18 year old?

Everybody likes 18 year old scotch, right? There is nothing not to like.
Except for the price, of course. In the last few years of so, the price of the better 18 year old single malt scotches has just about doubled, to somewhere in the $130-150 range here in the US. There are of course, a number of 18 year olds that you can get for a lot less, but by and large, I think that the market has sorted itself out pretty well. So I'd like to suggest an alternative, 18 year old blends.

Now I am well aware that the word 'blend' is one that should not exist in the vocabulary of a proper single malt scotch devotee. But the 18 year old blends being produced today are quite good, and are available at very reasonable prices, especially compared to the likes of Macallan and Glenorangie 18 year old single malts.

Blends are cheaper than malts for a couple of reasons. Single malt prices have shot up along with world wide demand, particularly from the Asian markets. But blends use malts from distilleries that are not well know to single malt drinkers, if in fact, they are even released as single malts altogether. And second, there seems to be a greater supply of 18 year grain whisky that makes up maybe 70% of these blends. So here are three blends that are worth considering if your budget or value system won't accommodate the more expensive malts.

Johnnie Walker Gold 18yr (40%, OB)
The Gold has been always a real sleeper, far better (and very different) that the 12 year old Black Label, but hiding in the shadow of the far more expensive Blue. The flavor profile is similar to the Blue, with a base of honey and vanilla, and a nice dose of fruit in the middle. Body is surprisingly firm for only 40% ABV. And you should be able to find a bottle for around $60. While I haven't had a chance to compare the Gold to similarly priced malts, my provisional rating is in the 85-88 range.

Chivas Regal 18yr (40%, OB)
The current release has been reformulated somewhat, as I didn't think much of the original release.
It is more laid back compared to the JW Gold, the fruit component is stewed fruit here. The end result is an elegant aperitif, as I don't think that it will stand up very well to food.. The Malt Advocate gave the Chivas 18 a 95 rating, but I am not prepared to go quite that high. But I would give it a provisional rating in the high 80's, and I hope to get a bottle in-house eventually.  And you can't argue with the price, I just saw it for $54.95 in a local liquor store this week.

The Famous Grouse 18yr (43%, OB)
The Grouse 18 year old is a blended malt whisky, no grain whisky is used. As it is produced by the Edrington Group, it is made up of the likes of Glenturret, Highland Park, Macallan, and Tamdhu. No peated malt is used. And you can really taste the Mac, at least after a few weeks of break in. I have access to a bottle a couple of times in the month it lasted, and improvement was noted each time. The 18 year old Grouse is very hard to find in the US, you may have to have pick it up duty free overseas. No rating, as it's been too long ago since I sampled it.

Wedding Malts

My wife and I were been fortunate to have been invited to six weddings starting with Thanksgiving weekend last November.
While the affairs are always nice, the quality of liquor is rather variable. Caterers certainly understand food, and may know wine as well, but some of them just don't get whisk(e)y. At one place, the only single malts were 12 year old Glens Livet and Fiddich, and even then, the bartender that just about came out and said: 'we only have this stuff because of snobs like you'. I am certainly not expecting older Ardbeg, Brora or Springbank, but come on folks.

Whenever there are decent malts, I am happy to find something that I have never tried, or at least a malt that I wouldn't bother to have a bottle of at home. And I am happy to say that I have been pleasantly surprised from an unexpected source.

Glenfiddich 12yo (40% OB)
Glenfiddich 18yo (40% OB)

Certainly this is a distillery that does not get a lot of love from Maniac-like SMS lovers. But when the Special Reserve was replaced with a 12 year old bottling a few years ago, it was to good effect, despite what Jim Murray may say. While the old SR was pleasant but unchallenging, the 12 year old moves up a level. The basic distillery character is there, with a bit a sherry casking. I think the real problem here is that a single malt scotch saying that the Glenfiddich 12 is a really good dram is akin for a man to say that he really likes music by Celine Dion or Gwen Stefani. But I have no problem with an 82 rating , just a point behind my benchmark Glenmorangie 10. When I tried the GF 18 at Whiskyfest a few years ago, I found it to be so watered down/filtered that I actually preferred the 15 year old Solera Reserve. The Grant's must have heard this a lot, and the current release was a big improvement. It is a medium sherried dram, much less than the typical Macallan 'Shery Oak', or even the Balvenie 17 SW. This works out well, as the typical distillery profile is still discernable, and makes good use of the extra six years of aging. The street price is in the $70-75 range, I would be even more enthusiastic at $10 less, but not too bad in today's economy. My rating is probably about the same as the JW Gold, I will look for an opportunity for a HTH.


OK, so 18 year old malts are good stuff, so how about 21? One affair we were fortunate to be invited was first class all the way, including the liquor. There was not just one 21 year old single malt scotch, but three, and a more than adequate supply, rather than just one bottle of each . And as this was a long drawn out affair, I had plenty of time to do adequate research, as I didn't need to drive home. So let's see how just how much we gain with an extra three years.

Glengoyne 21yo (43%, OB)
Glenlivet 21yo (40%, OB)
Glenfiddich 21yo (40%, OB)

The Glengoyne distillery flies a bit under the radar, but certainly produces some excellent malt, as witnessed by winning the overall winner in the first Malt Maniacs awards. While they call themselves 'the gentle highlander', the 21 actually has the most satisfying heft of the three. The sherry influence was kept in control, and this is probably the best balanced dram of the three. My rating is 89 points.

OTOH, I have never been able to lock in with either the Glenlivet 18 or 21. There is something I just don't seem to get, although the 21 was my wife's favorite of the three. I have has several other opportunities to sample the 21 with the same (lack of) results, so I am going to pass on a rating. Look for a chance to try it without having to buy the entire bottle, and decide for yourself.

But once again, Glenfiddich carried the evening. It turned out to be a very elegant dram, while stealing the gentle title from Glengoyne. I could drink this stuff all day or all night. It's the kind of dram you'd want to drink while wearing your best suit and tie. The distillery character is similar to the 12 and 18, just better. While the 21 is rum cask finished, it is very well integrated, and I didn't detect any artifacts that gave away the finishing. Of the three, this was my favorite, although I will give the same 89 rating as the Glengoyne. It is really a matter of personal preference at any given time, they are both quality drams. As for pricing, all three go for somewhere in the $100-130 range. That's not exactly cheap, and they are obviously better values at the lower end of the range. But I am backing my choice, as I purchased a bottle of the Glenfiddich 21 as my 'luxury bottle' for the year.

If a year ago, I had gotten into the Back to the Future DeLorean, I would have been shocked at what I would have discovered. But I have to give credit where credit is due. The Glenfiddich distillery has really done a nice job with the current range. If you are looking for a gentler dram at any of the age/price points that they offer, look no futher, as you will be getting a quality dram. The Glengoyne 21 is equally worthy, as are the JW Gold and Chivas Regal 18 blends.

Now, for those who think I am getting soft, let's take a step back for a moment. When single malt scotch prices were rising over the last few years, the distilleries claimed it was due to rising energy costs (and the weak dollar for stuff imported into the US). So now that oil prices have plunged and the dollar is strong relative to the GBP, why are SMS prices still going up?

And as I mentioned above, some of them still don't get it. Why is the Balvenie  Rum Cask a third more expensive than the Sherry Cask? Sherry casks are expensive, but there is no shortage of rum casks. And then there is the Tomintoul 12 yr. Oloroso Sherry Finish, bottled at 40% ABV, with a street price of $70. Huh?!?!?!?

Most of us do not have an unlimited budget for scotch. A nightly dram of $50 SMS, which is what many of our favorite 10 and 12 year old malts are going for nowadays, may totally blow the budget these days. So when the industry keeps on pushing up their prices despite the world wide recession, we sometimes need to find alternatives. For everyday drams, or even some of the special occasion drams, there is nothing wrong with going outside the box (or should that be bottle?) to keep room in the budget for the malts that we can't live without. Slainte.

Louis Perlman, New York

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