What kind of whisky do you want to see reviewed?

Twitter Survey

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 “What kind of whisky do you want to see reviewed?”

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The Mortlachisation of Longmorn

New Longmorn Releases. Pictures courtesy of Chivas Bros.

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 “The Mortlachisation of Longmorn”

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Which one is the best glass for whisky? A test

Whisky Glassware Comparison

“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.

Continue reading “Which one is the best glass for whisky? A test”

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A disruption in the #whiskyfabric

This cask needs a medic...
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 “A disruption in the #whiskyfabric”

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

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Highland Park ICE or: Where’s the ceiling?

This cask needs a medic...

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…

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2015 in review, my personal whisky awards and an outlook of what’s coming in 2016

Wolfburn: The two whiskies we got to taste

2015 in review

Wolfburn: The two whiskies we got to taste
Wolfburn: one of the distilleries we’ve visited in 2015

2015 was a schizophrenic year. It was a great one and a bad one. Let’s start with the good stuff, shall we?
I managed to churn out 117 whisky reviews – that amounts to about one review every three days. I’m quite happy with that and although other bloggers get much more done I prefer to take it easy and be thorough – and that can mean taking two hours just to write about one whisky. Quality, not quantity, both in my writing and in my consumption of alcohol.
I attended only two whisky festivals, the biannual Vienna whisky festival and the Finest Spirits in Munich. Both are fantastic ways to meet fellow whisky enthusiasts, try good malts and make new friends, but at least Munich was so crowded it was almost too much to bear. At times one couldn’t even move. Talking about crowded: I expected Feis Ile 2015 to be much more crowded than it was. Sure enough, there were many people there, but the limited housing and ferry capacities put a cap on the number of visitors – and that’s a good thing. My first Feis and probably not my last, though I prefer visiting Islay in the quieter months. Nonetheless, Feis Ile was a big party, meeting many people – old friends and new ones – and bonds for life were formed. Not a day goes by when I don’t think back! Continue reading “2015 in review, my personal whisky awards and an outlook of what’s coming in 2016”

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Scotch Single Malt distillery recommendations from a price/performance standpoint

Many different kinds of casks in use at Ardbeg
Many different kinds of casks in use at Ardbeg
So much whisky, so little time

So my last piece on this blog was more or less a rant about ever increasing whisky prices. Soon after that my Facebook friend and Arran Whisky Ambassador Andy Bell challenged me:

Let’s see an article about the distilleries that sell good whisky at a reasonable price Klaus… 🙂

Right on, Andy – great suggestion! I’ll gladly pick up this ball and run with it. So, here goes. I took a list of all Scottish single malt distilleries and looked at the current officially bottled market offerings of all of them (Austrian/German markets). In the end I came up with a few suggestions of Scottish whisky distilleries which seem to still care for us regular punters looking for quality drams at still reasonable and affordable prices in today’s high-price market.
I tried to stay as objective as possible during the whole process but, of course, there is always personal opinion and preference and not everybody might agree with me – which is perfectly fine as whisky is a very individual drink! Those are just my recommendations – imagine me walking a mate through a liquor store pointing out individual bottles and distilleries as we go along.

The distilleries on the following list stand out because they fulfill all or most of these criteria:
– offer a range of affordable whiskies, not just one affordable entry-level bottling
– do not chill filter or add fake colouring to the majority of their whiskies
– bottle their whiskies (except for bottom-shelf entry-level releases) at higher than the legal minimum of 40% ABV
– still offer a good selection of age-statement drams and don’t overly push no-age-statement expressions
– plus some other reasons, like independent ownership, number of people employed… (stated in the text) Continue reading “Scotch Single Malt distillery recommendations from a price/performance standpoint”

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Whisky prices: Where we are, where we were and where will we go?

This cask needs a medic...
This cask needs a medic...
This cask needs a medic – does the industry need one too?

I love browsing the different whisky retailers’ websites, discovering all the new releases and shiny new bottles on offer. Or should I say “I loved”? Browsing the online shops nowadays leaves me mostly indifferent, sometimes saddened, and with less excitement every single time.

Here’s why, this is a selection of recently released bottles at a German online retailer: Continue reading “Whisky prices: Where we are, where we were and where will we go?”

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Scotch Whisky production, warehousing and export statistics number crunching. Or: How old is the majority of Scotch Whisky when it is bottled?

One statement most of us will have heard – or even mentioned ourself is: “If there’s no age statement on a bottle, it’s 3 years and a day old”. Because that’s the legal minimum a whisky has to mature in oak barrels to be called Scotch Whisky – regardless of it being a blend, blended malt or single malt. But is said statement true? How old is the majority of Scotch when it is bottled and how much is allowed to mature for double-digit years? How do production and sales numbers compare? Lucky for us the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) publishes yearly reports with numbers to crunch and relate. The downside is, the publicly available detailed reports only range from 2009 till 2013, with the 2014 data expected in the fall of 2015. While not ideal it’s better than nothing and with lots of calculations and spreadsheet magic we’re able to condense the data into more digestible summaries. Continue reading “Scotch Whisky production, warehousing and export statistics number crunching. Or: How old is the majority of Scotch Whisky when it is bottled?”

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