Just the other day, a young lad sat next to me in my study, we were working on a movie project. On my table was a bottle of a single cask bottling I had received and “catalogued” that day – meaning the bottle got a hand-written neck tag with price, date of purchase and so on. “75€?” the young man asked me, seemingly in awe, as he inspected the bottle. To him, clearly used to buying spirits at a much lower price point, it looked like a very expensive bottle. To me it was just something I bought and would open at some point – rather casually too, having become used to whisky selling for triple figures, so that 75€ had become a rather ordinary price tag in my perception.
I had become so immersed in the whisky world that over the years my perspective had changed – and I didn’t even realize it until my friend pointed it out. While it did take that experience to really drive the point home, this moment was indicative of a change I had noticed myself during the past couple of months.
Who doesn’t like whisky samples? Okay, most would probably prefer full-size bottles, but for most of us mere mortal lovers of the amber nectar, samples are a great thing.
We collect samples at festivals, we bring back home unfinished drams from tastings, we swap them with friends, we get them for free or we stash a way hidden liquid treasures of times gone by. Some of us might even keep an archive – a liquid sample library of all the bottles we’ve ever opened. Is there a whisky lover out there who doesn’t have samples?
I am a sample hoarder. I have brought back samples from my Scotland trips, from tastings, festivals and meetings with friends. I also keep a liquid library. I even bought a huge archive of 6 cl samples from one entire year’s worth of entries into the Malt Maniacs Awards when they were sold by a friend for a good cause.
Needless to say, in total that’s a LOT of sample bottles kicking around, stashed away, waiting to be discovered “someday”. And so late last year I made the decision to do something about the “backlog” and start drinking and enjoying my samples. What I did not expect was how mixed my experiences would be.
It’s the 22nd of May, 2018 and it’s been a few days since Jo and I left the Cotswolds Distillery in England. I’m once again sitting in Jo’s zippy Maizy Mazda sports car on a beautiful, sunny day – but this time we don’t need GPS navigation. We’re on the B-road that takes us from Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre, where we’re based for thewhisky festival, all the way up to Claonaig. From there we hop on the ferry to sail over to the Isle of Arran to catch an appointment with distillery manager James MacTaggart.
Our plan for the day is to get an update on the recently upgraded Arran distillery and then head down to the south end of the island to check out the construction site of the new Lagg distillery. Arriving at the Arran distillery we’re informed of a slight change of plans – James would arrive later in the afternoon so Jo and I are joining a regular distillery tour of the Arran distillery with tour guide Campbell first.
May 15th, 2018. It’s a glorious day, the sun is shining and I’m sitting in the passenger’s seat of Maizy Madza, driven by my good friend Jo. We’re starting out on a two-week whisky tour, me being the designated drinker. The scenery is grandiose. Driving along small roads, following the directions of the lady living in my phone, I get to enjoy the beautiful Scottish countryside, wide fields, soft hills and glens. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a distillery appears. “Cotswolds distillery”. Hang on, Cotswolds? That’s not in Scotland?! Indeed, we are in the heart of England, where Daniel Szor founded a distillery just a couple of years ago – 2014 to be exact.
I’ve been following the distillery since its inception – and today would be the day I’d finally get to visit it. We are met by “the man” himself – Dan Szor. He used to be in the financial trade but if you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell. An instantly likeable, charming man, with a sense of “real” honesty, friendliness and openness surrounding him, unbothered by corporate rules and scripted talk. The kind of man you can talk with for hours – which is exactly what Jo and myself are about to do!
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.
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 “Why attend whisky fairs? That’s why! 2018 Limburg Whisky Fair”
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.