Category Archives: Thoughts

Thoughts about the industry, spirits and the world.

Brora distillery

Brora, Port Ellen and Rosebank revived? A new era begins!

Brora distillery

Brora distillery

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.

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Whisky friends

The best thing about whisky!

Whisky friends

Whisky buddies on tour!

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!

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I quit

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”.

But let’s start from the beginning!

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2016 in review, my personal whisky awards and an outlook of what’s coming in 2017

2016 in review, my personal whisky awards and an outlook of what’s coming in 2017

2016 in review

Dalmunach still room

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…)

Notable articles I wrote in 2017, which attracted loads of attention were these:
The Mortlachisation of Longmorn
– Which one is the best glass for whisky? A test
– A disruption in the #whiskyfabric
– Highland Park ICE or: Where’s the ceiling?

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!

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Twitter Survey

What kind of whisky do you want to see reviewed?

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:

Twitter Survey

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

New Longmorn Releases. Pictures courtesy of Chivas Bros.

The Mortlachisation of Longmorn

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

Whisky Glassware Comparison

Which one is the best glass for whisky? A test

“Which kind of glass would you like – Glencairn or Classic Malts”? That question, by malt mate Keith Wood, ignited a thought process in my mind. I was sitting in his dramming den, relaxing in a comfy leather armchair, when he hit me with the question of all questions. Up until this point, the “classic”, specially designed and sturdy Glencairn crystal glass had been my go-to whisky glass I always reached for. The first time Keith asked me that question I, naturally, wanted a Glencairn. On my second visit, I tried a Classic Malts glass for the first time after a long break. It was certainly a very good whisky glass and I enjoyed my drams from it. And then my mind started to wonder: Which one is really the best whisky glass for me? Avid readers of my blog will know I used a Classic Malts-style glass for my first couple of reviews, I actually don’t remember why I switched.

Thus it is high time I methodically compared some of the different kinds of whisky glasses I have at home with different malts to see if there are differences, and if so, how big they are. And, just maybe, I’ll choose a new standard whisky glass going forward. This test of course only reflects my own opinion and other people might come to different conclusions, but I’ll try to keep the descriptions as universally usable as possible.

Deliberately leaving out all kinds of fancy one-off branded glassware and other glasses I know not to be very good (the smaller half-size “Glencairn-style” ones you often get at distilleries come to mind) I chose four classic glasses to compare and added a fifth, odd-shaped one as a sort of “control-glass” that just has to be different.
Now, you might be asking why I didn’t include new bespoke whisky glasses, which have appeared on the market recently. The reason is simple: Without trying them first my inclination to shell out 20+€ (even more including shipping) for the next hot thing on the glassware market is rather low, when standard glasses, which work perfectly fine, are between 3€ and 6€ (and sometimes “free”), so I don’t have any of those to test, sorry. Besides, this should really be a test of classic, well-known, widely used styles of whisky glassware.

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This cask needs a medic...

A disruption in the #whiskyfabric

This cask needs a medic...

I’ve used this picture a few times before, but it never gets old…

“Don’t feed the beast that chokes you”. A blog post under that title paired with a new site banner with the words “Hibernation mode” by Malt Maniac Oliver Klimek sparked many responses, questions and similar statements by other whisky bloggers all over the world. Long-standing, respected whisky bloggers are putting blogging on the backburner or calling it quits:

But you can expect the blog to remain low-key until the grip of the beast has eased at least a bit.

What’s it all about?

The biggest issue at the moment, amongst others, which I won’t touch since Oliver has already laid them out in detail, is the price of whisky. A topic which I have written about in the past as well. As whisky bloggers, when we can no longer afford the whiskies we want to try, and share them amongst our peers and friends, we run into trouble. We either have to depend on the generosity of distilleries and distributors, wealthy friends, the purchasing of samples or, begging. Begging for samples, if you don’t mind me digressing, but it has to be addressed, is a recent phenomenon. That small but vocal and nagging sub-group of bloggers is dragging the whole online whisky writing community through the dirt. This results in rolling of eyeballs when you mention what you do, as I’ve experienced myself and my good friend Johanne has also written about (which has triggered me to write about it too). It’s a shame. We don’t need that. Stop begging, people! You’re not only hurting yourself, you’re hurting all of us and make us even more frustrated! I for myself have a written code and that includes never asking for samples and giving my honest opinion without sugar coating on those samples which are offered to me. If it comes with strings or expectations attached, I don’t take it, period. And neither should anyone else. That’s the journalistic ethic code, and journalists is what we are. End of digression.

I went on a trip to the Spirit of Speyside whisky festival exactly a month ago. One thing I couldn’t help noticing was the extreme number of extravagant, fancy, glitzy and exorbitantly priced bottles of whisky I encountered – either on sale or still in cask with an announced 5-figure future selling price. At the same time the “daily dram” category gets flooded with younger, no-age-statement releases at higher prices and not always better quality than we previously got.

Whisky used to be a brown spirit for everyone. If you had a “normal” income, you could afford a (really, really) good tipple, if you wanted to. Whisky is not only a brown spirit, it is also an aged spirit. All the fancy cask voodoo so popular these days can only bring the spirit so far – age is more than a number, it is a prerequisite. Some distillates are great at a young age (Talisker, Ledaig, Kilchoman spring to mind, a non-exclusive list) while others take a long time in cask to mature to perfection. The sweet spot for many whiskies lies between 15 and 25 years. That, however, is a diminishing category. Continue reading

Nosing, tasting and casting my vote for the #ArranWhiteStag second release

Nosing, tasting and casting my vote for the #ArranWhiteStag second release

Nosing, tasting and casting my vote for the #ArranWhiteStag second releaseThree drams of Arran Malt, sent to 20 panel members, all to be tasted completely blind, in a quest to choose which one will become the second “White Stag” release. This will be a single cask bottling of Arran whisky, exclusive for the members of the (free!) White Stag club. I was chosen as one of the panellists and now face the hard task of choosing my preferred sample. All drams were tasted on the same evening at the same time – first the nose of all three drams, then palate and finish afterwards. Hey, you’re here for the whisky, so let’s get going!

Sample 1

Info: Single Sherry Butt No. 96/1320 filled on 17th September 1996. 54.5% abv. 3 votes overall
Colour: 
copper gold
The nose opens on what I love about Arran. Perfect dram to start with! Light fruits (red apples, sweet pears), orange juice, orange peel, the signature is there. It’s also getting a bit tropical with mango and sweet pineapple. Progressing into darker berries with a slightly bitter note of cracked berry seeds on light, fragrant oak. Delicate, yet with a substance in the background provided by the cask. Continue reading

This cask needs a medic...

Highland Park ICE or: Where’s the ceiling?

This cask needs a medic...

I don’t often feel inclined to post a short opinion piece, but I just had lunch and sat down with a cup of coffee in front of my computer to look at new arrivals at whisky shops. That’s when I saw the new Highland Park ICE on offer. Let’s put it that way: Coffee stains on my keyboard and screen when I saw the price.

Highland Park ICE. The latest instalment of Highland Park’s highly collectible series of whiskies. There are 30.000(!!!) bottles worldwide. That’s hardly “limited” by any standard, most distilleries have much smaller batches with their regular bottlings.
In essence it is 17-year-old whisky, selling at 350€ a bottle. 350€! Their very good standard 18 year-old is already sold at a steep price – and it’s “only” 100-125€. If you’re lucky, you can get four bottles on offer for the price of one bottle of this new limited edition.

I am scratching my head here. Did I miss something? Is Highland Park a lost distillery, closed for 10 years or longer? Is there a pure gold stopper on the bottle? Or did the queen sign them? Or perhaps the queen’s poodle sniffed the vatting tank? What’s the heck is going on here?

In my opinion this bottling is displaying everything that’s wrong with the whisky industry right now. It will be talked about not only amongst whisky enthusiasts (heck, I’m even giving them publicity here, even if it’s more of a rant so I too fell into the trap…).  It is one of many puzzle pieces as of late changing public perception of whisky being that of an elite luxury, a dream only rich can fulfill, worse, a snobist’s tipple. Whisky used to be a tipple of which nearly everyone could afford a “special” bottle for special occasions. These days the market is increasingly divided.

I have to congratulate Highland Park and their marketing team for pulling it off, though, and I’m dead serious about this. It takes skill, a great reputation, a large following of collectors and devotees, predecessor bottlings which are highly sought after and a superheated market to be able to place a bottle of whisky in pretty high volume at such a price level. Not everyone can do it and I’m sure it will be a quick sell-out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’s a lovely dram and if you head out to buy and enjoy it – good on ya, no envy involved, enjoy it with a few mates as intended. But, in the end, it’s still “just” a very big batch (30.000 bottles amounts to roughly 150(!) barrels at 200 bottles each) of 17yo ex-bourbon matured whisky that isn’t any more expensive to produce than the standard expressions (except for a few additional coins for the admittedly very nice packaging – which you can’t drink).

But, in the end, when you look at it from a distance, it’s just another sign of how superheated and completely over the top a portion of today’s whisky market is and it makes me wonder whether we’re getting close to the ceiling or if there’s still loads of head space to trump it in the upcoming years…