2017 Whisky adventures part 2: Campbeltown malts festival Springbank open day

That bouncer seems to be a funny fella!

Springbank Open Day

After an, err, somewhat late start to the day (see the previous post to find out the reason why) for some people in our cottage, it was time for us to head into town for the first time that day, to celebrate the act of… queuing for festival bottles! Hooray! Err… yeah, something like that. Why do all whisky festivals seem to revolve around queuing for bottles of whisky? And what a big queue it was for a “wee toon”. As it turned out, we did not arrive a minute too early, and enduring a bit of a drizzle in between was worth it. Everybody in our group got the bottles we wanted, after being admitted into the tent of devil’s juice by the head bouncer Mark! Glad we had Jo at hand to tease him into letting us in! Just as we grabbed our bottles and left the courtyard, the announcement of the first sold-out whisky (a triple-distilled Kilkerran) was made. Quite a few people missed out that day – and it’s a bloody shame to see festival bottles bought by fierce killers ruthless flippers being flogged at auction by the time I’m writing this post in late June. Sign of the times, malt mates!

Queues! Everybody loves queues!
Queues! Everybody loves queues!
That bouncer seems to be a funny fella!
That bouncer seems to be a funny fella!

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2017 Whisky adventures part 1: Campbeltown malts festival

Spot the odd one!

This year’s whisky adventure turned out to be more of a whisky roadtrip. In the end it would lead me (as the designated drinker) and my malt mate Jo (designated driver) on a 1808 mile round trip from the south of England to the Orkneys and back.

To Scotland!

Having flown into Heathrow the day before, and staying the night at my friend’s house in Gloucestershire, our first day had a very early start. Getting up and having breakfast at 4:30 a.m. was the right thing to do, since it turned out the Mazda MX5 took quite a bit of packing finesse to accommodate all the stuff two adult people need for two weeks on the road! Finally leaving at 6 a.m. sharp and taking a few stops in between for lunch, tea, more tea and beer at Loch Fyne, we finally arrived in the middle of nowhere in Campbeltown at a few minutes past 6 p.m. Great driving, Jo!
Jo and I were, however, not alone for that part of our trip, we had booked a cottage on a working farm for 6 people (go ask me about the drama regarding accommodation booking when you meet me in person!). Since Jo and I were the last ones to arrive (having driven the longest distance of all!), our house mates and good friends Justine, Viva, Flo and Stefan were already waiting for us. The group, also called the #referendrams, were finally assembled and ready to rumble dram! Pizza, beer, drams and laughter were on the agenda for the rest of the day/evening. The next day, the Campbeltown malts festival would officially begin and we were as excited as little kids when the circus comes to town!

Fill the cart! We've got hungry people to feed!
Fill the cart! We’ve got hungry people to feed!

 

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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!

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

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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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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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Speyside trip 2016: Part three – Coleburn/Murray McDavid – Strathspey steam railway tasting

Liquid sunshine!

After the two rather long and eventful previous days, our group was keen on taking it easy on the third day. The entire day was centred around a steam train ride and everything else was planned around it.

Coleburn

Coleburn Warehouses
Coleburn Warehouses

So we started off as a group of four, Kat Presley, my brother and I hitching a ride with Crystal Coverdale to the decommissioned (since 1985) Coleburn distillery. What’s so interesting about an old, dismantled distillery with no equipment left inside? The warehouses! The re-founded independent bottler Murray McDavid (the original company was sold in the course of the Bruichladdich takeover in 2013) bought them in 2013 and now they’re used to mature their casks of whisky – stock they bought from the original Murray McDavid owners. We were met there by distiller and master blender David Simpson, who prefers the title of “Whisky Creation”. After an introduction to the company we were led into the warehouses and were free to roam around and look at all the different casks stored on site (including bourbon and they also talked about vodka and rum). The oldest cask on site is a 1962 North British, in case you were wondering! Well, it’s a traditional dunnage warehouse on two floors, as you can see in the pictures. I’ve seen my fair share of warehouses, so instead of peeking at all the casks and labels I mostly engaged in conversations with David and another lad – Tony Whitnock, former excise officer for Coleburn and other distilleries, joined our group and had a few stories to tell and confirm (involving “copper dogs” for sneaking out whisky from the warehouses…) which was a nice added touch. That’s the guy you want to sit down with for a few drams and listen to stories of bygone times! Continue reading “Speyside trip 2016: Part three – Coleburn/Murray McDavid – Strathspey steam railway tasting”

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Speyside trip 2016: Part one – Boortmalt Maltings Buckie – Speyside Cooperage – Auchroisk Distillery

Auchroisk #whiskyfabric group picture
Plane to Aberdeen
Our plane to Aberdeen

Going somewhere for the first time is always filled with anticipation and excitement. In the last week of April 2016 my brother Johannes and I packed our backpacks for our first ever ‘real’ trip to the Speyside in Scotland. While we’ve been to Scotland many times before and even visited Benromach and Glen Moray last year, this was to be our first proper visit to the current heart of Scotch whisky production. Well, our decision to head there might have been triggered by the fact that there was a whisky festival going on at that time – the Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival. You might have heard about it. If not – click the link! Part of the festival excitement had to do with us meeting friends old and new as nine of us whisky geeks (that would be Jo, Johanne, Crystal, Viva, Kat, the Spellers and us two boys) shared a house for a week – a bit out of the way in Cullen (home of the famous Cullen Skink fish soup), but it was comfy and cheap – perfect as a base camp! And right next to our base camp – the next town, literally – was the first destination of our first tour on the first day of #dram16, Thursday, the 28th of April.

Boortmalt Maltings in Buckie

Boortmalt Maltings in Buckie
Boortmalt Maltings in Buckie

It’s Wednesday morning, the sun is shining (for the most part) and we’re driving our car towards Buckie to take a look at the Boortmalt maltings operation there. What better way to start a whisky festival than looking at how THE main ingredient in malt whisky production, malt, is made? At the door we were greeted by plant manager Gary and led into the board room for tea and cookies. Not a bad way to start the day indeed. The day even got better when we bumped into house mate Crystal for the first time as well as Lora and Rachel – always great to meet fellow malt mates at festivals!

Malting barley is a three-step process. At first you “steep” the dried barley in water to raise water content of the grain, as can be seen in the second picture, which was taken at the time when the steeping vessel was “stirred” by way of introducing compressed air from the bottom. Once a moisture content of approximately 45% is reached, the water is drained and the barley transferred to the germination chamber.

Steeps at the Maltings
Steeps at the Maltings

Under controlled climatic conditions the barley begins to grow during the modification phase, where enzymes break down the proteins and carbohydrates, essential for fermentation later on in the production of whisky. After germination has arrived at a critical point, the barley is kilned – you could also call it heat-dried, to terminate the germination process, or otherwise a barley plant would grow and we wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we? Drying is achieved by introducing hot air through the bottom of a perforated floor. Sometimes peat is used during the first phase of kilning to create smoky flavours, at the Buckie maltings they only produce unpeated malt, from local (Scottish) Concerto barley. They once tried making a peated batch, but after burning 40 tonnes of peat only got them about 10 ppm in the malt, the trials were abandoned. Continue reading “Speyside trip 2016: Part one – Boortmalt Maltings Buckie – Speyside Cooperage – Auchroisk Distillery”

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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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NAS vs age statement whiskies – what it’s all about

NAS vs. Age Statement
NAS vs. Age Statement
A random selection of whisky bottles carrying or missing an age statement

Which side of the “NAS vs. Age Statement” debate are you on? Do you boycot NAS whiskies? Do you buy everything you find tasty regardless of what it (doesn’t) say on the bottle? The heated arguments have been cooking for quite a while now and I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about this minefield for quite some time. I’m a bit late to the party, I know, but I really wanted to make a post painting the whole picture about the topic. In case you’re new to the scene: “NAS” stands for “no age statement” whiskies.

1. Why NAS Whiskies?

First and foremost: Whiskies without an age statement on the label are not a new thing. In the area of blended Scotch they make up the vast majority and have been on the market ever since the first Scotch was bottled (or sold by the barrel to the consumer in times long gone). As far as Single Malt Scotch Whiskies are concerned, we’ve had a long timespan now where almost every bottle carried an age statement and the marketing people wanted us to believe that older is  better (and thus has to be oh so much more expensive). But there have been NAS whiskies long before the current flooding of the market. I’m thinking about Ardmore Traditional Cask, the Springbank/Longrow/Hazelburn C.V. mixed-vintage bottlings (now replaced by similarly good NAS bottlings) or Laphroaig Quarter Cask. These are just three examples of whiskies without an age statement that offer(ed) a quality product at an affordable price point and there are many more. Continue reading “NAS vs age statement whiskies – what it’s all about”

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