On the evening of the 19th of September I had the pleasure to be invited as a guest at the Maltman Mike and Friends show on Youtube. 8 drams tasted live on camera with a quiz – what’s not to like? If you missed the live show, you can go watch it below. While you’re at it – please give the video a like and subscribe to the channel!
This past weekend a press release by Bruichladdich appeared in my inbox. Getting press releases is nothing new when you’re covering any kind of topic and especially in a booming market like the current, bloggers like myself are often flooded with sometimes good and sometimes cringeworthy examples. I usually don’t bother covering the latest whiskies – others are better and quicker at covering the “business news” and I don’t even attempt to compete.
And yet this press release was different – confirming what had already been murmured behind the scenes: The Islay-based distillery has acquired the Shore House Croft with 30 acres of former farmland in the immediate vicinity of the distillery. Why would a distillery buy farmland? Well, no, they won’t use it to build another mega distillery or any other construction project, they plan to use it as – drumroll, please – farm land, plain and simple.
Bruichladdich identifies itself by the slogan “Progressive Hebridean Distillers”. Some might roll their eyes at the idea of being “progressive” in the production of booze or when someone mentions “terroir” in conjunction with brown spirits. Why is this? In a whisky world where mass is king and most of the whisky is produced by using high-yield malting barley and high-yield yeast in search of ever more efficiency (at the potential cost of losing flavours) attempting to do things differently and looking left and right of the highway are good things – at least in my book. Bruichladdich has never shied away from trying things – and trying is the key phrase with this latest project:
The land will be used to conduct soil surveys followed by farming trials to “test the viability of different barley varieties on Islay soil.” In doing so they will look at heritage barley varieties “outside of the ‘recommended list’.” Now that’s where it gets interesting. Personally, I tend to think that different barley varieties, especially old varieties, can bring variety in distilling and anyone who has tried one of Bruichladdich’s Bere Barley bottlings can taste the difference themselves. I’ve baked with beremeal and if you’ve tasted the raw ingredients you can nose and taste it in the finished whisky. Now, at first there will be trials and what will come of these is too early to tell but I wholeheartedly agree with looking left and right of the mainstream raw ingredients and experimenting – especially if the end results are a mighty fine dram.
The 30 acres are rather insignificant in size compared to the current 1000 acres farmed by 17 farmers on the Island for the distillery, but the research conducted there might very well benefit their partners due to varieties emerging successfully seeing more widespread planting.
Now, there’s only one key production step missing in making whisky and that is malting the Islay-grown barley on Islay instead of shipping and tankering it off to Inverness. But that’s something for another press release, maybe in a couple of years time…
If you’ve been into whisky for any length of time you will have noticed single malts being items of luxury. In a world where whisky is more often than not sold at a premium in fancy, shiny boxes due to people going crazy for old, aged whisky, we maltheads must take care not to pay way over the odds. One of the best names in the independently bottled whisky market is Cadenhead’s. Established in 1842 it is the oldest independent bottler in Scotland – and one of the biggest. Size is important – if you’ve got the stock you can afford to buy casks of whisky young and cheap(ish) and wait years and decades before bottling instead of having to sell it quickly. Add to that their no-frills packaging (to quote Mark Watt, Director of sales: “You can’t drink packaging”) and a reasonable price and you’ve got a winner.
The only trouble is getting access to their wares. Cadenhead’s offers two different product lines: Their “international range” (mostly vattings of two or three casks) is available, well, internationally through a network of retailers while their rarer, single cask “Authentic collection” is only available at Cadenhead’s branded stores – of which there are only nine spread throughout Western Europe. Up until the end of 2017, when they stopped operating under the Cadenhead’s brand, we Austrians were lucky enough to have a shop in Salzburg. After eight long months of absence (though my wallet quite liked the reduced whisky spending…), on Tuesday, the 14th of August 2018, a new Cadenhead’s shop opened its doors in Austria. Did I rush to be there for the opening day (and night)? You can bet on it!
On the 10th of April in the year 2014 the first article, aptly named “(Yet another) Whisky Blog” was published on this site, back then under a different domain name. Before reading these first ramblings again I thought they might be cringeworthy now that I’m more seasoned, more experienced and quite a bit older. Alas, what I wrote back in 2014 still holds true to this day, which makes me proud.
This blog was started to provide guidance in a whisky world that’s certainly grown a lot in complexity over the years and decades. In a way, the whisky world has changed that much in just four years, that I was on the brink of losing myself in it – and losing interest. Only earlier this week did I buy my first bottle of whisky in 2018 (and a grain whisky to boot!). There were days when I wasn’t sure whether I should really attend the Limburg Whisky Fair, out of the sheer perceived loss of interest.
Things were not going well in my own whisky world for a few months! There’s I reason I quoted the Obama campaign slogan in the title – to me it felt as if my term in the whisky world was coming to an end. I did not need an election – but I needed a big kick in my behind, catapulting me forward. Limburg represented that kick in the bottom, the experiences, the talks, the malt mate comradery – and a few drams that reminded me that whisky is indeed the best aged brown spirit this world produces.
Now I can honestly say “Happy birthday” to my wee little corner of the internet. Hey, this blog is now older than some of the no age statement bottom-shelf whisky on supermarket shelves! I consider that an accomplishment! Thanks to everybody for sticking with me for the ride, thanks for all the comments, the friendships – and the samples. This blog would be nothing without the people reading it and engaging with my “content”. I’m looking forward developing it further for and with you.
I am back. FOUR MORE YEARS!
Why do you attend whisky fairs? Yes, you on the other side of this internet connection. Why do you go? To taste the latest and greatest? To attend masterclasses? To learn more about spirits? To get drunk at “all included” events? All (more or less) valid reasons to attend – but none of these really draw me to a fair. In fact, I rarely ever attend whisky fairs – precisely for these reasons. I’m not as much interested in tasting the latest and greatest I’ll probably never ever buy anyway due to sticker shock. I don’t enjoy rushed masterclasses where you basically knock back five or six drams in the same time I usually spend with just one. And, most of all, I don’t like getting drunk knocking back drink after drink just to get “my money’s worth” at all-inclusive events.
So, why the heck did I attend the Limburg Whisky Fair 2018 just this past weekend? Well, I did not just attend a whisky fair – I attended a networking event with the opportunity to try whisky I would be very hard-pressed to find anywhere else!
For me, the Limburg fair already started on Friday with a privately organized dinner at a local restaurant. Imagine the kind of dinner where everybody orders food and beer and the landlord is more than happy to see all the open bottles of whisky on the table, brought by the guests. Pretty much unheard of in just about any location – but not in Limburg! Great food, great people, great conversations and mediocre but drinkable beer (ahem…) – a recipe for a long night. Thank god the fair wouldn’t start until 11 a.m. the following day! Continue reading
Ah yes, the good old tradition to look back at what was – and a gaze into the crystal ball. Well, actually, a crystal ball isn’t really needed – 2018 will be even crazier than before, so I guess you could just re-read what I wrote last year and exchange “2017” with “2018”.
Anyway, first things first:
2017 in review
2017 was a year with both ups and downs. Let’s start with the downs first so we can get them out of the way.
I can’t lie. I’ve been a bit silent these past weeks and months. As the whisky world is buzzing with more and more distilleries, more and more releases and more and more messaging put out there, there is less and less “for me” out there that truly excites me. In the course of this year, I have found less and less to buy and spending will have decreased considerably for the second year running. The more hyped up the whisky world gets, the farther it distances itself from me – or the other way round. With the closure of the Cadenhead’s shop in Salzburg at the end of the year, I’m losing my main source for affordable, interesting bottles, which “doesn’t help” either.
Anyway, this should only serve as an introduction. No, this will not be a blog post about whisky prices, I’ve written about that before. Today I want to talk about whisky, luxury and aspiration due to two things that happened just today: A discussion about whisky magazines and their content/target group in a Facebook group and listening to a podcast about luxury. That made things click for me and prompted me to write a few lines… Continue reading
This week something unprecedented happened in the whisky world. Three “lost”, disused, in some cases partly or even completely dismantled distilleries are in the process being resurrected. Not one, three!
On Monday, Diageo announced it would invest 35 million GBP to rebuild / revive the now legendary Port Ellen and Brora distilleries. The news took everybody by surprise and created a lot of buzz amongst whisky lovers around the world. Not to be outdone, Ian MacLeod distillers (Tamdhu, Glengoyne), announced, they would also be reviving the – also mothballed and partly dismantled – Rosebank distillery.
Distilleries have shut down, been mothballed, dismantled and sold – and sometimes restarted ever since the invention of distillation, but this is taking things to a new level. There is a Scotch whisky boom going on and companies are reaching for the stars. Distilleries are getting expanded left and right, new gigafactories for malt whisky production emerge from the ground like mushrooms – even more so the hard to keep track of group of new (and old) entrepreneurs starting new, smaller whisky distilling enterprises all over Scotland and beyond. The next, logical step in this industry-wide capacity-crave is the rebuilding/revival of legendary distilleries – and the start of a new era.
Just a few years ago, when I first travelled to Scotland, Fife was pretty much non-existent on modern whisky maps, even the rogue farm distillery at Daftmill was only known to a handful of geeks. These days it could count as a whisky region of its own, with quite a few new distilleries starting up. Amongst them is the first stop of the day for Jo and myself – Lindores Abbey.
Sit back, pour yourself a dram and join us on the journey!
Et per liberacionem factam fratri Johanni Cor per preceptum compotorum rotulatoris, ut asserit, de mandato domini regis ad faciendum aquavite infra hoc compotum, viii bolle brasii.
“To Friar John Cor, 8 bolls of malt, wherewith to make aqua vitae for the King.”
The date was 1st of June, 1494, and this phrase is to be found on a piece of parchment, an Exchequer Roll. It marks the first recorded history of distillation of “aqua vitae” in Scotland, the “water of life”, the unaged equivalent of what we call “new make” today before it goes into casks.
523 years later, to the day, Jo and I are given a very warm welcome by Drew McKenzie Smith, Managing Director and Gary, distillery manager, at the gates of the former Lindores Abbey on Lindores Farm, in the possession of Drew’s family for over 100 years. Distillation is about to be resumed at the time of writing (August 2017), at what they call the “spiritual home of Scotch Whisky”. Now, we’ve seen a lot of new distillery projects these past few years and everybody tries to find a unique story, a unique selling point, some so far-fetched it’s borderline comical, but the same can not be said about this place. Actually, the project has been (on and off) in the making for many years, way before the current distillery boom had started.
The new distillery is being built across the road from the abbey’s remains, where formerly farm buildings – built from Abbey stone – stood. It might not be visible anymore today, but digs carried out when constructing the distillery, revealed the ground where the distillery now stands once was part of the abbey itself, which was founded in 1191 by Benedictine monks from the Order of Tiron. The monks were known for medicinal skills and horticulture and the abbey grounds once were home to an impressive orchard – about 3000 fruit trees can still be found in town, originating from the Abbey’s orchards. Now, why is this important? Every new distillery project needs an income stream before they can sell whisky after a minimum waiting time of three years and a day. Many sell products like gin, vodka or young whisky, or even new make. Drew’s vision for Lindores is slightly different and a clever integration of the site’s heritage: He plans to sell aqua vitae, which once was new make improved with all sorts of herbs (and honey). The visitor’s centre will feature an apothecary where visitors will be able to create their own version of it, with Lindores new make and selected (some even locally grown) herbs. They also plan on selling a commercial aqua vitae. Depending on how their own spirit matures and how well sales of the spirit product are, the first whisky release is planned to occur at about 5 years of age. The sale of aqua vitae is not the only homage to the distillery’s past, there will be a refactorium, used as a dining area, with huge, rustic oak banquet tables, for instance, and more details for visitors to explore during a visit. Continue reading
Orkneys day 3
Preparing breakfast in the Kirkwall youth hostel (a cooked full-Scottish one, of course), Jo and I could already see the first destination for our last full day on the Orkneys in the distance: Up on the hill on the other side of Kirkwall, smoke emerged from the pagodas of the Highland Park distillery. Having heard many good stories from delighted visitors, this distillery was high up on my “bucket list” for a long time. Now, as some of you know, I’ve voiced my criticism about Highland Park before, especially concerning a few of the rather expensive and marketing-driven, “collectable” releases of the past years. A distillery almost hidden behind a thick layer of branding, like a veil. Marketing aside, the distillery produces a great distillate and by visiting I was hoping I would get to lift the veil, to see the “real” Highland Park. So, I was excited and ready to have my preconceptions shattered!
Highland Park distillery
Upon striding through the iron gate bearing the distillery’s name, one can see the immaculate state the distillery is kept in. Impressive stone-wall buildings, flowers everywhere, the place is kept to impress, as is the stylish, dark, themed visitor’s centre. Thanks to an arrangement by Nicola (shout out!) we were set to go on a separate tour, led by Mark, joined by a visiting group of distributors. When you’re trying to get a feel for a place and get as much information as possible for an article, it’s always good to get the extra time for pictures, questions and sticking your nose into places and things. It also helps when the tour is held by a knowledgeable person, which Mark certainly turned out to be!