Production Director Allan Logan and Head Distiller Adam Hannett inspect trial plots planted on Islay in 2016.(Picture: Bruichladdich)
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…
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.
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.
I have just returned from yet another epic Scotland road trip, which led me to Campbeltown, the Orkneys and Fife. I’ve been travelling to Scotland for the fifth year in a row and this year’s trip was yet another unforgettable experience, which once again reminded me of the main reason why I like whisky as much as I do.
Yes, whisky, to me, is the best aged spirit category in the world and I love smelling, sipping and enjoying the amber nectar above any other kind of drink. It’s diverse, it’s multi-faceted with unrivalled depth. But what really makes it for me, is a special breed of people: Whisky folk. Whisky folk are the best kind of people to surround yourself with and this year’s road trip has, once again, reassured me of that!
Picture credit: Eaters Collective via unsplash.com
Yep, I quit. I got fed up with it all. I can’t continue the way it was and I don’t want to after things were set in motion a few months ago which culminated the past two weeks.
Okay, that cryptic introduction needs explanation. First things first: I’m not quitting blogging about whisky. Whether or not that’s a relief is completely up to you. But I am quitting (or, rather I quit) what I call the “whisky mania”. Some might even call it “whisky BS”.
Dalmunach still room – only one of the distilleries I’ve visited this year
2016 was a great year in many regards. A year of friends, fun, experiences and many a good dram.
The blog continued to grow and flourish, so much, that I switched to a dedicated server in October, speeding up access times, which also impacted the number of people visiting the site and reading my articles.
Thanks a lot to all readers for your support, your comments both on the site and on social media. Whisky is not only about the drink, it is also about the people making it and the people you share it with!
Having started the blog in 2014 (3rd anniversary coming up in April 2017… how time flies!) also means I’m getting noticed by distillers and their PR people. I do not regurgitate press releases, I do not have the time to do so and there are others doing a great (and important) job at covering the day-to-day news. There’s also another side to getting noticed: Whisky samples. I have a strict rule of not asking or begging for samples and thus I’m even more humbled when distilleries or their agencies notice me and my blog and feel I’m the right person to send samples of new releases for reviewing. I have a policy of speaking my mind about what’s in the glass, no bonus points awarded for freebies. That’s the respect you as my readers deserve – and also the respect and honest feedback the companies deserve. So, on this occasion, a huge thanks to all my contacts in the “industry” for believing in me and sending samples (and if you have not sent samples but want to – contact me for my postal address. That’s the most “begging” you’re going to get from me, guys…)
The biggest event I attended in 2016 was the Spirit of Speyside whisky festival. You can read about some of my experiences here in detail – and I know I’m behind on finishing that series of articles. Mea culpa. It was the best festival I’ve attended so far – spending time with a close group of friends, meeting loads of people from the industry as well as fellow bloggers and writers really made my year. I can only wholeheartedly recommend you to consider attending it in 2017!
Every journalist and / or serious blogger needs to ask himself one vital question: Who do I write for? What does my target group want to read? What should they be informed about? What’s of interest? There are all kinds of metrics and you can compare click rates and social shares as well as comments to figure out what people like to read. But metrics only take you so far.
It was time to ask you, my readers of this blog, as to what you are actually looking for in my whisky reviews. I decided to conduct a twitter survey amongst my twitter followers, and here are the results:
What surprised me the most was that the majority chose the answer “surprise me” – showing no clear preference in the type of whisky they wanted to see reviewed. Those who did choose one of the three types of whisky showed a clear preference for “Show me the daily drams”. People want to hear about great value for money whisky. In a world of ever-increasing whisky prices, people seek guidance. Do they want to hear about the latest four-figure posh crystal decanter whisky? Yes, they do, but they care much more about drams actually suiting their whisky budget. A case in point is my review of the 12 yo Kilkerran – very good, very affordable and one of the whisky reviews with the highest number of clicks this year so far. Continue reading →
It was only a matter of time until someone tried to follow what Diageo started when they premiumised their Mortlach distillate, introducing a whole new range of half-litre bottles at excessively high prices and posh packaging. They even introduced a brand ambassador, responsible for Mortlach, Georgie Bell. Well, two years later, Georgie moved on to Bacardi and it seems the position of a Mortlach brand ambassador will not be filled again. Signs of a failed experiment of premiumising a distillery which is mainly used in blends and was virtually unknown to supermarket malt whisky drinkers? Maybe, we can’t tell for sure without knowing the sales figures. Personally I don’t know too many people who bought any of the new Mortlach releases…
And now there’s this: Longmorn owner Chivas Brothers just announced a new range of Longmorn bottlings. The “Distillers Choice”, which replaced the old (and up to this point only official bottling) 16-year-old a few months ago, will be joined by two new expressions: A 16-year-old and a 23-year-old.
Good news? Well, not so quick. Let’s take a detailed look here!
The old Longmorn 16 cost 56,90€ when I last bought a bottle a year ago, an adequate price for a good whisky. The last bottles of this expression can be had for about mid-60€ prices if you look around a bit. The new “Distillers Choice”, a weaker bottling (40% ABV vs. 48 for the 16-yo) retails for the same price. To us whisky lovers it’s obvious which bottle we buy, as long as we still have a choice. Well, that choice will soon be gone. Here are the prices for the two new whiskies: Continue reading →