Shackleton’s Whisky is an amazing bit of history, and Richard Paterson lets you get up close and personal with it in this video. Though I have to say, it’s really, really a shame they’re not going to drink any of it …
Just one of the advantages to knowing thoughtful, pretty Canadian girls: I received this rare whisky as a very generous present this winter. Furthermore, it is as-of-yet unavailble in the US (although I hear that the second batch will be coming here at some point).
Forty Creek Distillery, founded and run by the ex-wine producer John K. Hall, is only ten years old but has already become a significant and respected force in the sphere of Canadian whisky. The facilities are located near Lake Ontario, on the site of the 18th century settlement called Forty Mile Creek (named so because of its proximity to Niagara Falls). They use corn, rye, and barley as their grains, but unlike a bourbon, there is no ‘mash bill’— they distill (and mature) each grain’s whisky seperately before marrying them together (sometimes in vintage sherry casks). The total maturation process can last up to ten years.
The Confederation Oak limited release has undergone its own special process, which you can read about here, but the basic idea is that Forty Creek’s standard “meritage” whisky (aged in American white oak barrels of varrying degrees of charring) eventually spent three years in barrels of locally grown Canadian white oaks over 150 years old (i.e., dating back to the time of the Canadian Confederation). The species of tree, Quercus alba, is the same as American white oak, but the colder climate induces slower growth and thus a tighter-grained wood. A tight-grained wood will tend to impart the oak elements to a greater degree (flavours of cream, butter, coconut, etc.), and the combination of both wood types thus gives a lot of nuance and character to the whisky. Okay, let’s drink some.
Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve
Color: burnt-sienna-orangey brown.
Legs: large (see abv), but well-formed beads that move very slowly down the glass.
Nose: grilled Cuban corn with a rye mustache. Sweet bourbony notes of vanilla extract and maple syrup; hearty rye notes of hay fields and bramble fruit. Freshly rolled Nicaraguan cigars. Barely clad females bathing in a natural hot springs in the cold Canadian winter.
Palate: creamy, with lots of vanilla custard up front followed by a just-slightly-spiced middle, moving into the more fruity, estery finish with lively notes of paprika. Other sips suggested mossy wood; then something like dried cranberries.
Finish: subtle or quiet but very, very nice while it lasts; the faint taste of fresh cherries mixes in with a farmy fade.
Overall: Flavourful and accessible, with a newly accentuated focus at every sip. I found that the various grain components (corn, rye, and barley) and the various barrels used (standard American white oak and the slower-growth, tighter-grained Canadian white oak) are all harmonized exceptionally well, providing, depth, character, and balance. Would have liked a higher strength bottling, of course, but not because it feels watery; just because. Nevertheless, my favourite drop from the North Country to date (not that I’ve had a lot of them, but still— it’s pretty damn good, and much better, I feel, than Whistle Pig if you’re looking for interesting Canadian releases).
Other Opinions: not many yet, but what there are all really appreciate the complexity and craftmanship.
- Ol’ Johnny Hansell loves it, calling “one of the best Canadian whiskies [he’s] ever tasted” “creamy and seamless;” 95. Couldn’t agree more, especially about the creaminess and seamlessness.
- CanadianWhisky.org calls it “highly recommended (four out of five stars), and notes the butterscotch, vanilla, “odd fruitiness,” wood integration, and overall complexity. I think I know what they mean about the odd (sweet and sour) fruitiness; that’s probably how I got to dried cranberries.
- The Luxist blog finds vanilla, buttercream, spice, etc., although I think they just copied the official tasting notes (a-booo).
Or, Why the Whisky Industry Should Stop Worrying and Learn to Embrace Digital Marketing
There’s a whisky blogger backlash brewing. Tim Forbes, of the Whisky Exchange, fired the first shot way back in November when he published an opinion piece in Whisky Magazine lambasting the whisky blogosophere. (You can read the full piece for free if you give Whisky Magazine your email address).
According to Forbes (ironically a whisky blogger himself for online retailer The Whisky Exchange), whisky bloggers are social misfits harboring grudges and hurling insults from the bowels of their parents’ basement. Yet they are also “shameless bootlickers” happy to write a good review in exchange for free samples and a chance to climb their way into the industry. They are disproportionately powerful techno-geeks capable of warping the Google rankings for their own nefarious purposes. Yet they are also insignificant know-nothings, and a flash-in-the-pan best ignored by our betters.
They are self-styled digital emperors, unfairly breaking the industry’s tidy monopoly on criticism & marketing, in which, “only a few years ago there were only a few people to keep happy: a long-established coterie compromising a handful of 5-star hotel managers and a few highly-qualified specialist journos.”
That is a galling quote from Forbes, and one that hints at a profound laziness on the marketing end of the whisky industry. But all bluster and hyperbole aside, Forbes’ rather schizophrenic rant isn’t really about whisky bloggers. It’s about the way technology is changing the relationship between brands and consumers, and how distilleries are managing that transition. Just look at Forbes’ “nightmare” scenario:
Imagine you’re a brand exec for Glen Thingy. Your company has spent decades building relationships within the trade, and millions of pounds on your global marketing campaign. But when you Google your brand name, top of the page is the notorious whisky misanthrope, Billy No-Mark, loudly declaiming to the world that ‘Glen Thingy is Sh*t’. He’s a web-savvy nerd with almost no whisky knowledge, but he’s nursing an epic grudge. He might be a part-time security guard living with his mum in an Alaskan bunker, but he reads Search Engine Optimisation manuals in the bath, so he’s on Google page 1 for all your brands. Potential new customers looking for Glen Thingy are going to find him slagging off your whisky on his snazzy website. Your multimillion pound brand is at the mercy of a socially inept geek with a vicious inferiority complex.
"Glen Thingy" doesn’t have a blogger problem. They have a marketing problem. Across all consumer brands – from automobiles to detergent to whisky – digital is becoming a marketing and communications medium of increasing importance. Whether the whisky industry likes it or not, the influence of digital marketing is only going to grow. Whether we’re talking about online advertising and location-based marketing opportunities, online video and social media, or even something as basic as publishing a website that doesn’t look like it’s from 2003, distilleries need to get up to speed on best practices if they want to compete for young market share against more tech savvy spirits brands. And that includes having an understanding of the whisky blogosphere and a strategy to work with bloggers.
While blogging has indeed democratized whisky criticism, bloggers do not exist in isolation. They are part of a larger, and largely meritocratic, community. Bloggers gain authority in two ways: by being consistent and informative, and via endorsements from other bloggers (hyperlinks). If a blogger fails to produce a reliable, peer-reviewed product, they are not likely to gain either the credibility or SEO to make a significant impact on a brand’s reputation. As it turns out, Forbes’ boogeyman - “Billy No-Mark” - is actually little more than a straw-man used to prop up a faulty argument.
In his piece, Forbes focuses exclusively on what he perceives as the “downside” of the new blogger/brand relationship. As a result, he all but ignores the significant upside that blogs and bloggers present the industry, both in terms of brand recognition, growth and customer relations.
Increasingly, consumers are going online to vet products before making a purchase. When they do, they are not seeking out official (read: inherently biased) statements of quality from the producer, but rather third-party validations or criticisms that can help guide their purchase. The closer that criticism originates in relation to the consumer (ie a friend, family member, or trusted blogger), the more impact that recommendation will have. This is as true for purchasing a new car or gaming system as it is for a bottle of whisky.
A vibrant whisky blogosphere expands the amount of information available to consumers and can increase confidence in purchases made “off the beaten path.” With the right recommendations, whisky drinkers who have tried Chivas or Jameson in the past might feel confident in dropping a few extra dollars on less familiar bottles like Balvenie, Macallan, or Laphroaig. Those who are already inducted into the pleasures of these drams might feel confident to go a step further, exploring more obscure distilleries, more expensive expressions, or even the world of independent bottlings.
Anecdotally, this certainly seems to be the case in New York City, where a wealth of new information about whisky is driving demand and making it viable for more liquor stores and bars to feature a diverse range of whiskies, and creating space for the rise of new bars dedicated almost exclusively to whisky. My guess is that this transition is happening in other urban areas across the US as well. What’s more, the emergence of online whisky sites, coupled with the growth of online retailers, is affording consumers outside of major metropolitan markets the chance to explore and experience whisky in ways that were not previously possible, or at least economically viable, on a normal person’s budget.
In some ways, of course, this is all the same as it ever was. Multimillion dollar ad campaigns by major labels like Johnnie Walker, Chivas, Jameson, and Dewar’s aside, word of mouth - a trusted recommendation from a known source - has long been a foundation for exposing people to new whiskies. In the past, these conversations occurred solely offline, amongst friends and in bars. Today they also exist in an online public space that shines an equally bright light on comments both good and bad.
Judging from Forbes’ opinion piece, as well as a recent piece at What Does John Know, it is clear that at least some prominent voices in the industry view this as a problem. What a supreme lack of imagination. By bringing these conversations online, blogs are creating a space for brands to answer criticism in ways they never could before. While a dozen, or even a few hundred negative comments online might appear problematic in the short term for sales, those who choose to respond by bullying bloggers, or sockpuppet comment sections, are missing out on an unprecedented opportunity to make a hundred new first impressions on the people most likely to buy their product.
Whisky brands that engage these online discussions openly and honestly, and harness the voluntary feedback from the online whisky community to tweak their product, will reap long-term dividends that more than make up for a few lost sales (to say nothing of the backlash if they are caught dishonestly manipulating the discussion).
I’ve focused most of my energies here on rebutting Forbes. Lest you think I’m all sour grapes, I want to point out that some distilleries are, in fact, doing a great job online. I think Whyte & Mackay’s Master Blender Richard Paterson should be lauded for his ubiquity online, his willingness to promote the work of the industry overall, and for the way that his use of the online space ties into his real-world schedule. I think The Macallan has done some ground-breaking work with their Tweet-up tastings. Johnnie Walker has done some interesting things with online video (though I wish all of it was available to a larger audience). Chivas has also been out front in working with bloggers (and putting their reputation on the line) to create a name for their brand among a new generation of whisky drinkers.
Whisky has long been considered an “older man’s” drink. Our father’s (or grandfather’s!) spirit. In the last few years, it’s gained real traction with a younger audience who are used to engaging with brands online. They are out reading blogs and twitter, participating in online community sites, and scouring Facebook for recommendations on new things they should try and buy. This is the future of the whisky industry, and the distilleries need to meet these new drinkers where they are - online.
I have no idea how prevalent Forbes’ views are within the whisky industry. I sincerely hope they represent a minority voice that is just unable to let go of the old ways of doing things. If his views are widespread, I fear that the whisky industry is throwing away a golden opportunity to cultivate the next generation of whisky drinkers.
In an unfortunate turn of events, The Edrington Group, owners of Macallan, Glen Rothes, Highland Park, and Tamdhu, mothballed the latter distillery earlier this year.
Although there are no immediate plans to reopen the distillery, their stocks will continue to exist (and age) for a while to come, and grocery store shelves will likely carry Tamdhu products for the forseeable future. Since Tamdhu presumably makes up a significant portion of Edrington’s Famous Grouse blend, my guess is that production will resume once the stocks dip too low to contribute to that brand. But for now, you can still find the 10 year old at places like Fairway for around $22. Yeah, that’s a pretty good price for a single malt.
Tamdhu 10 year old
Legs: a few large, long, quick ones; not great.
Nose: highly floral (might be cloying to some), with a touch of sweet peat; intense heather and vanilla.
Palate: wax or lamp oil on a smooth but watery entry, then mostly malty, drying out into a simple kind of vanilla and sweet-spice flavour.
Finish: actually kind of a nice array of marzipan, cocoa, and other notes including a faint hint of smoke from a stove top; not too short at all, with a little lasting fizz.
Overall: I was surprised at how not terrible this was, but I wouldn’t write anything but a quick tweet home about it. I happen to like big flavours, and the floral nose is nothing if not big—but many a manly man might not be into that many flowers up his nostrils. The palate was certainly not great, and was watery as I feared from the abv; the dryness was also disappointing. Still, it had some flavour to it, and didn’t offend in any major way (other than being somewhat bland). Nothing rubbery or sulfury, though. Perhaps we can say that this, like a cheap blend but with more oomph and character, is a good Scotch for getting bombed. Party on, gents.
Other Opinions: Not a lot of real reviews for this bottle.
Chicagoans: starting next week I’ll be co-teaching a class, open to the public, at the Oriental Institute entitled:
“Our Liver is Happy, Our Heart is Joyful:” Drinks and Drinking Culture in the Ancient Near East
Normally the OI doesn’t publicize these offerings, but we’ve still got space to fill and it might interest some of you drinking scholars out there. Here’s the description:
Wine-soaked statues? Beer through a straw? Drunken brawls in the divine assembly? Come learn about the first alcoholic beverages and the development of drinking cultures in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia, and the Levant. From the earliest evidence of Neolithic fermentation to Bronze-Age Babylonian beer gods and Iron-Age Phoenician wine merchants, this 6-week course will explore a broad range of archaeological and historical evidence for the production, consumption, and cultural significance of ancient spirits. The course will conclude with a hands-on experiment in Mesopotamian-style brewing. That’s right—we will be making our own beer using ancient Babylonian recipes.
All information regarding regarding the class can be found here at the OI website.
The Whisky Round Table: Craft Distilling and the Future of Whisk(e)y
Welcome to the January 2011 edition of the Whisky Round Table! For those of you just joining us, the Whisky Round Table is a collection of 12 whisky bloggers from around the world. Once a month we convene on a different blog to discuss a particular question pertaining to whisk(e)y.
This month is Whisky Party’s turn to host, and seeing as we are one of the few members located in America, we thought we’d represent the home team, and focus the discussion on the burgeoning American micro distilling movement.
The American whisk(e)y industry is in a so-called ‘experimental’ period, in which new microdistilleries are offering a multitude of less traditional and less regulated variations on single malt and traditional American whiskey styles. How long do you predict this trend will continue, and what will be the ultimate impact on the American and/or global whisk(e)y industry?
I think the tendency toward more chaotic, diffuse production is a general trend within whisky. I wrote a piece on this in a book called Whisky and Philosophy (Wiley, 2009), which basically argued that by setting up non-geographic, non-brand dependent value systems on which to value and judge whisky, backed up by a priesthood of critics for whom finding and lauding new sources of spirit is a positive, whisky has set itself on course to more diffuse, less standardised, less locally restricted production. This means that the tendency in the US is part of a broader trend which has also seen, for instance, the emergence of Japan as a respected center of whisky production (validated by awards from those critics) and the current shoots of growth in India, Europe and other parts of Asia (David Broom’s new Atlas of Whisky has some great maps showing this). This trend will continue. The internet and modern distribution make these craft distilleries practical, but the space in consumers` minds is down to the fact that the modern whisky market essentially values “Single Cask 1979 cask no. 1243 Sherry Finish from A.N Other distillery, Timbuktu” above “Feisty Highlander Sporran Blend from Amalgamated Distillers.”
Neil and Joel at Cask Strength: We hope that this isn’t just a trend, but the beginning of a new innovative era in whisky making, which helps support the spirit for years to come. In the UK, there is less of what you call an ‘experimental’ phase as distillers are more duty bound to stick to the regulations of the SWA, which lays out the frame work of making Scotch whisky. However, there are more and more ‘artisanal’ and new distilling projects emerging, including a planned distillery at the Adnams Brewery in Norfolk, with stills fashioned by the German coppersmith, Carl.
For the extent of the rigidity surrounding making Scotch whisky, you only need to look at Compass Box and the brushes with the rule book that the visionary John Glaser has had to deal with. Consider the original ‘Spice Tree’, with a ground-breaking use of additional, high quality French oak inner barrel inserts. Used for years by the wine trade, the technique led to extraordinary results in secondary maturation and an incredible, innovative whisky. But the success was short lived and the process was outlawed by the SWA as not adhering to ‘tradition’. Of course there are ways and means to get around the rules and ‘Spice Tree Mk.2’ has returned, to an even greater fanfare, using differently toasted cask heads.
You can buy small copper project stills for next to nothing. Whether you can use them to make a ‘legal’ whisky is another matter. Imagine ‘Glen Crystal Palace’, matured in oak, felled from the local park!
In our opinion, most major innovation which occurs in the US, will probably have an small impact on distilling in the UK, but it will take a great deal of time and a cumulative effect to make any meaningful changes to the rules of making a whisky here in the UK.
From what I detect about the phenomena that is craft distilling is that it’s all pretty small-time where everyone and their granny can set up an operation and try to sell their wares. Now this may be quite a glib statement, but we are talking micro-distilling at a local level. Is this a bad thing? Probably not, I’m all in favour of expansion of choice, but what about quality and control, or even quality control?
My thoughts immediately return to the concept of the SWA in Scotland, we often complain about some of their foibles, but overall they do a pretty good job of ensuring the integrity and quality of the product called whisky that Scotland is now world famous for.
Is there any overall body keeping an eye on things over there?
The big boys do a great job and have their reputations to stand by, but when it comes to these new start-ups on a local level, what guarantees of quality, or at least a base minimum quality of their product(s) are in place for their customers?
I lived through the onset of a similar fashion back in the UK when there was a rebellion against the large corporate breweries and many small operations, sometimes single pubs, started brewing their own beers. Some were good and soon gained great reputations, others were not so good and ultimately failed.
I see a similar thing happening with craft distilling, some will create good whiskeys and will survive, possibly growing in size and output, others will not. But the over-riding factor is that some quality control should be introduced and although I do like trying the odd new make, I sincerely hope this is not just the start of a modern-day moonshine or white dog craze as this will do the industry as a whole no favours.
My regards and best wishes to all the Knights for a prosperous and healthy 2011.
This is a big, multi-faceted question for sure! True, we’re now seeing some very interesting experimentation with American whiskies. Whether it’s the Woodford Maple reserve (whiskey matured in maple rather than oak), Angel’s Envy finishing their bourbon in port casks, Stranahan’s & Tuthilltown (Hudson), as well as a few others, coming out with a US expression of Single Malt - there’s some fun stuff going on out there!
What will it do to and for the market for American whiskies? I’d say it’s tough to predict but I sure as shit hope it’s not a passing phase. My hope is that these experiments will help to mature or change the current course of the typical US consumer’s palate. Even Jack Daniels, the ubiquitous and near inescapable Tennessee whiskey, is coming out with some experimental whiskies such as the “Gentleman Jack” & “Single Barrel” expressions which, with hope, will help the American consumers’ tastes to evolve.
Personally, I feel that America (and those who drink American whiskey) is ready for an evolution or perhaps what seems to be a revolution with Bourbon/Rye/Wheat/Single Malt and if yer not for it, you’re a’gin it!
It will be interesting to see what effect this “experimental period” has on the Scotch and Japanese whisky industry (being that ex-bourbon barrels are used so often for the maturation of world whiskies). With hope, all of the experiments will also make an impact with other whiskies as well. Of course, it may take 10-12 year to realize this… So, until then, enjoy what’s being made know and “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”
I’m writing this as being somewhat uninformed of the current situation in the US, although I would dearly love to know more. My initial reaction to any sort of experimentation is that is must be a good thing: if there’s no variety and choice, good or bad, then we simply stagnate and would not have got to where we are today. I remember reading a post on John Hansell’s blog (What Does John Know?) suggesting that while there are many new distilleries all trying something different the quality, for many, just wasn’t there. Whilst I understand this I think it simply means that the better stuff will eventually rise to the top and the bad experiments will soon be left to the past. It might take many distilleries going under to produce that one distillery that is still around in 100 years. In fact that’s probably what happened with Scotch whisky a century or two ago.
I really hope that this continues, despite any flaws in many of the products, as we really need the innovators and those willing to give something different a go alongside the big boys who continue to do what they always do. It’s great to hear that this is happening and I would love to see this sort of thing in my home country. The only thing on a downside would clearly be if there was so much inferior whiskey being released that the perception of the whole industry in the US drops and it damages everyone. While that’s a possibility I would guess that the quantities are so small as to barely impact on the big players so I doubt that scenario would be realised.
At any rate, I’m keen to know more and this question has prompted me to read further. Maybe I’ll even be able to track down some of this whiskey and try it for myself. After all, if I don’t experiment with other tastes then my own knowledge stagnates too. And that would be a very bad thing indeed.
Well, I am not a big American whiskey drinker for one reason: American whiskey is not very popular in Israel, and as such only a few well known brands are imported. Also, some online shops where I do most of my shopping are mostly Scotch related, and the American part is not very popular there.
But, from the samples i receive at times from those little so-called ‘experimental’ distillers, i was quite impressed. I do belive they are doing all of us a huge favor in allowing us to experiment variations on those traditional American styles. I also believe they are here to stay. It’s sometimes cooler to try new stuff from small companies which can experiment much easier than those giants who take a lot of time to change their “original” recipes.
In the long run, of course some distilleries will be bought and merged into the existing whisky giants, but a fair share will always stay independent, and give us the possibility to keep exploring new exciting possibilities.
I wish for 2011 to be filled of good whisky, be it small batch, large batch, or tiny batch. Whisky is the nectar of life. Let’s celebrate with it.
Happy new 2011.
It is America after all, land of the free and all that, so most likely what will happen is that a few of the more successful microdistilleries will either get bought out (yawn) by larger companies, or grow large enough to realize that their market share will drop significantly if they don’t bribe some congressman into regulating their most profitable variation. Perhaps they’ll get a labor union involved somehow, maybe longshoremen, and legislate that all X-type of whiskey can only be transported by rowboat. Or perhaps a politician will pretend to get nervous about the moral implications of all these microdistilleries popping up in one area and declare the area dry and the distilleries illegal except for the ones he has his hand in. Possibly. Or possibly not. Hopefully not. The very recent sale of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey to Proximo Spirits fulfills that first part nicely.
Whenever there’s a swell in a movement like this, the range of quality expands and lines of traditional whisky get blurred, but time always seems to separate the wheat from the chaff. Despite their being some not-so-hot “craft” whiskies out there at the moment, I think it’s a pretty exciting time for spirits in general and whisky in particular in this country. Personally, I could give a rat’s ass whether a whisky confirms to what are, on occasion, somewhat arbitrary regulations…as long as that whisky is good and the creators are honest and clear about how it’s made. To my way of thinking, increased transparency is an important facet of whisky’s future. For example, some of the great “craft” American whiskies out there (High West, Templeton, Angel’s Envy, etc.), use spirit distilled elsewhere, and while they don’t necessarily hide that fact, they tend to de-emphasize it as much as possible. I have no problem with using outside spirits, it is in essence, independent bottling, it allows them to get a product to market while the company grows, and has produced some really high quality results. But I do feel a bit of a let down when it’s easier to find out from a third party that the whiskies used were not all distilled by the distillery on the label. I think the majority of people interested in these more artisanal spirits know and care about things like terroir, special ingredients, and process and therefore would appreciate knowing exactly what they’re drinking and where it came from. I think this kind of transparency will help define and sell these new, unique, and often experimental whiskies and will help maintain the integrity and hopefully a bit of the tradition as well.
Happy New Year!
Our view is that anything that adds diversity to the whisk(e)y market and industry is generally a good thing. This is naturally for as long as the quality of the products is of a good standard. Diversity and the use of less traditional methods gives the consumer more choice in the market place and should bring new drinkers and enthusiasts to the world of whisky. It should also keep the larger and more established distilleries and brands around the world ‘on their toes’, so to speak. Again, this can only be a good thing and ensure that standards are maintained.
The American whiskey industry currently seems to be a microcosm for what is happening around the world. The increasing number of so-called micro-distilleries is mirrored in many other countries (but maybe just not on the same scale) and across other genre of spirits. How many American whiskey distilleries can you find that have started in the last five years, and especially the last two? Equally, how many vodka, gin, eaux de vie distilleries can you find that have started in the same time? The answer is plenty and these are even more frequent, as they do not require the aging process of whisk(e)y. The recent surge of the whisk(e)y micro-distillery is also not limited to America – you could consider Kilchoman, and Abhainn Dearg in Scotland, Nant’s in Australia and even The English Whisky Company, amongst others, in the same category.
The reason for growth of the micro-distillery seems to be not just driven by the people establishing them, but also by the paying customer. The current consumer interest in artisan foods has led to a massive boom in the number of local, smaller producers coming to a more prominent standing in the market place. Whisk(e)y is part of this resurgence, but it covers nearly all aspects of food and drink – farming, baking, cheese making, wine making, organic produce, the spirit makers mentioned earlier etc etc. Many of these producers can give a good value for money to product quality ratio, as they have lower overheads compared to the larger manufacturers.
The consumer is demanding these artisan products, especially if there is a story or some tradition behind them, and asking for them to be of high quality and offer value for money. This coupled with an increased education of consumers about the products is driving many industries on, not just new whisk(e)y production. This is how the internet can sustain so many food, drink, cookery and, yes, whisk(e)y blogs. The whisk(e)y blogging community, of which all the members of this Whisky Round Table are part, helps with this increased education and that plus everything else mentioned, should contribute to the continued growth of the micro-distillery worldwide. Just as long as the quality of the whiskies remains top drawer and people are not in it for a fast buck.
Personally I think that the Scotch whisky industry is too heavily regulated by the SWA. Experiments like Compass Box’s Spice Tree, one of the most significantly new Scotch whiskies, have been forbidden and gave birth to new rules. In a way I suppose this is typical British traditionalism (although French winemakers or Spanish jerez producers have equally strict rules). Americans, not being hindered by too much tradition, are way ahead when it comes to inventing new variations.
Thinking about the micro-brewery revolution in the beer world, I don’t expect a revolution from micro-distilleries. Sure they will bring us high-quality craft products, but this market will always be marginally small and prices will be relatively high. The traditional whisky industry is light years ahead in terms of efficiency and marketing so my hopes are more on bigger names like Buffalo Trace who seem to be able to combine fresh ideas with excellent quality in their Experimental Collection. What they’re doing is basically exploring and investigating what is going on with their product, like micro-distilleries but on a larger scale. I hope this trend continues, not so much because of the wider product variety, but because eventually the best ideas will shine through in regular production. In the Scotch world, apart from Compass Box, Glenmorangie is probably the most significant example with their wood experiments and finishes. We’ve gone through a phase of awkward releases but nowadays we’re starting to see very modern, highly “designed” products that have a unique new profile (Signet, Sonnalta PX, Finealta).
I wish the SWA would allow a bigger variation in Scotch whisky (why not introduce an all new category with specific labeling?) so that experiments can be conducted and sold in a legal way. If the end result is gaining from it, why would we prohibit it?
Good question! I think all of us here, as people who live and breathe whisky, are fond of those small, experimental, independent distilleries. They produce a wide spectrum of styles and flavours, they have different approaches to what they do and that makes them really interesting to us. I think there is room for them on the market alongside multi-million-litre blending houses of Scotland and Ireland. Why not? They target a very different consumer.
More optimism? No problem.
I think they are here to stay. Not all of them of course but some of the best ones. Think micro breweries, think small independent vineyards. The former have been doing well in the US and the UK for decades now and some of them became true superstars.
And just a final word. I think we have some responsibility to promote and support those small ventures. We may not have a lot of power being merely on-line commentators but we tend to be the squeakiest wheels and that’s exactly what those little businesses need, some free exposure. Chris and I have a not-yet-operating micro distillery just round a corner – Kingsbarns – and we are planning on delivering regular features about it on the blog.
I think any trend has the potential to maintain itself so long as quality remains high and the prices remain affordable. Locally, I have Dry Fly to the north and McCarthy’s to the west. Both distilleries produce top quality, affordable whiskies as well as their capital-raising other lines (gin and vodka with Dry Fly, aux de vie with McCarthy’s). In speaking with the owners at each distillery their most difficult tasks are building stock (Dry Fly’s wheat whisky is just months old while McCarthy’s single malt is three years old) while meeting high demand from consumers and generating enough capital to keep the doors open. Obviously, these issues are related: a distillery needs to sell their whisky in order to keep the doors open but unlike gin, vodka, and aux de vie, whisky needs some kind of aging. It’s hard to look at a barrel full of “money” and not want to get one’s hands on it!
With these issues in mind I think current microdistillers are often very tempted to sell out to the “Big Boys” and that, as we all know, is often the end of any kind of exciting, interesting trend. However, if microdistillers can strike the precarious balance between producing a quality product, selling at an appropriate price point, and operating according to a long term business plan I don’t see why we, as consumers, can’t enjoy this recent trend for many, many more years. Just look at craft brewing on the west coast to see how the market can grow decade after decade so long as the people in charge strike the precarious balance mentioned above.
Personally, I’m very excited to see what the future holds for American craft distillation.
It’s really great that the famous Gordon & Macphail shop and indie bottler has revived their Macphail’s Collection range of generally younger, cheaper, but high-quality single malts. Their Highland Park 8 year old was excellent (for the price; good either way), and I was excited to see this Islay malt for under $40.
Macphail’s Collection Bunnahabhain 8 years old
Legs: medium in speed and size.
Nose: underripe pears, overripe honeydew, a sharp floral sweetness that might need some time in the cask to chillout.
Palate: tobacco leaves and a bit of that underripe pear from the nose give way to a burnt malt flavour; there may also be a note of honeydew here.
Finish: as various girlfriends have described some very decent whiskies—“burn-ey and sting-ey.” Has an interesting baked cinnamon-and-apple flavour to it, but it’s a little overpowered by a prickly mouthfeel that lingers.
Overall: It honestly took a few pours and some time left out to turn from a highly metallic style toward something reasonable to drink; the burnt-malt note was consistent, however. And while this doesn’t resemble the more developed fruits, vanilla, and smoke of the distillery-released 12 year old, to a certain degree it has its own charm. I’d get it if you really like Bunnys and want another angle for a lowish price. Or if you’ve got every other 40/40 bottle on our list and are keeping your own notes on the best bargain Scotches. But for a cheap, smokier Islay, I’d go with Finlaggan every time. I don’t really think it’s great as a light, subtle whisky, either.
Other Opinions: um, not many. In fact, there’s none that I could find. Just this DUNY blurb:
- DUNY gets some of the tobacco and burnt (okay, “roasted”) malt, but finds a softer side to it.
Instead of doing a top ten list for 2010 based on traffic (we didn’t think our regular readers were consistently hitting up our review of McClelland’s Single Malt), we each wanted to start off the new year by identifying our favorite Whisky Party posts from 2010. We hope that we can continue this wonderful whisk(e)y journey and consistently drink to the health of our friends, family, and whisky compatriots.
In a year where our blog went from beyond-fringe to at least a blip on whisky blogosphere radar, and where we the writers experienced more to do with whisky than any young man really ever should, we’ve done (seemingly) a ton of reviews of whiskies, events, locations, etc. And so my favourite posting experience, on the one hand, is simply another review lost in the shuffle of the internet, but on the other hand represents the culmination of our first year as WhiskyParty: our anniversary post/Ardbeg Supernova review. We purchased that bottle a long time before we opened it, planning on saving it for a time when we were all together. And while it took a long time for all three of our schedules to overlap, last April we were able to party down and drink some great bottles together, throwing around drams of Laphroaig 30 and Supernova, off-the-cuff tasting notes, and good cheer. And then we wrote up our post, reflecting on the lead up to that particular whisky party. Cheers in the New Years.
Runner up: I enjoyed compiling the songs for my 8 Tracks whisk/e/y tunes mix, but I thought it would stir a good bit more debate.
My favorite post of the past year is one that like above, also got a little lost in the shuffle. With a few friends, we at Whisky Party were able to purchase a barrel of whisky. Though the whisky itself didn’t turn out as well as we had hoped (and is a risk you take when purchasing a barrel), the post captured a lot of detailed information that I don’t feel was available on the web before. Purchasing a barrel of whisky seems to be a desire for many folks, and I hope that we were able to help some people follow this desire through our post. After all, what we want to do is increase people’s knowledge and appreciation of whisky, and if we can both help people consume a special product with friends, and perhaps help distilleries see that they should offer a compelling and higher quality producct, well, that’s not a bad accomplishment for 2010.
Every December, the whisky blogsosphere does some soul searching. Who will replace Michael Jackson? What is the role of the blogs in the industry? etc. Last year was no exception. Dr. Whisky had some thoughts on how the whisky blogosphere might/should evolve, and I posted my a response with a few idea of my own. I don’t think it’s held up nearly as well as the Who Will Replace Michael Jackson? piece that first helped launch our blog (during the prior round of soul-searching), but some of the predictions weren’t too far off. A number of whisky blogs - including our own - have upgraded their websites considerably. We didn’t see Whiskypedia explode in popularity, but we did see Connosr really begin to take off as a place for crowd-sourced reviews of whiskies and distilleries. And whisky apps are proliferating across all mobile platforms. Take a look back and let me know what you think.
Runner Up: 40 Whiskies Under $40
Yes, this technically didn’t start in 2010. And as my fellow bloggers said, it’s doubtful that our core readership is hitting the well over and over again on our McClelland’s Islay post. But this year we crossed the halfway point (and then some), and I think that in aggregate our 40 Whiskies Under $40 series provides real value to to the whisky community - particularly enthusiasts just getting their foot in the door.
— Mike F., Dan, and Mike C.
In a supreme act of whisk(e)y geekery, I compared the history of the words “whisky,” “whiskey,” “scotch” and “single malt” in written literature from 1800 - 2008 (thanks, Google ngram viewer!). The chart measures how frequently those words were used in all the books for which Google has digital scans. Scotch is blue, Whisky red, Whiskey green, and Single Malt is yellow.
I wonder what accounts for the huge decline in popularity of the term “whisky” (minus the “e”) during the latter half of the 20th Century?
Happy Holidays readers! If you are as into the whisky, as we are, you most likely got a few nice bottles this week. Holidays are a great time to stock up on whisky, and I know that I personally rely on my friends and family to help restock my dwindling bar every December. Here’s a quick look at my whisky score this year.
All in all, I got the Glenmorangie 18, an Ardbeg 10 (my go-to whisky), a new bottle of the always excellent McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, a Cask Strength, Single Barrel expression of McCarthy’s bottled just last month, samples of Compass Box Flaming Heart and Amrut Intermediate Sherry (Thanks Dan!) and two rather unique independent bottlings that need an introduction.
Those odd looking bottles are Independent Bottlings of a Caol Ila 13 Cask Strength and a Royal Brackla 11 year old. The IB is a store called Vom Fass (literally translated as “from the cask”). Vom Fass is a very popular chain in France and Germany that sells oils, vinegar, liquers, brandy and whisky straight from the cask in their stores. Vom Fass is a newcomer here in the USA, and I stumbled into one of their only US franchises while down in New Orleans visiting my in-laws. I’ll have more on Vom Fass and their whisky selection in a separate post later this week.
So how did you do this year? What bottles did you find in your stocking or under your tree?
Auchentoshan is one of the few remaining Lowland distilleries, and it is the only Scottish whisky distillery to permanently triple distill their spirit. The result of this triple distillation is a house style that leans towards smooth, light and floral whiskies. Beginning in 2008, the entire range of Auchentoshan went through a radical transformation, as owners Morrison Bowmore reimagined everything from the packaging to the core expressions.
The Auchentoshan Classic is the new entry-level whisky in the distillery’s portfolio. It is a young, No Age Statement (NAS) whisky matured for an unspecified amount of time in ex-bourbon casks. The official tasting notes describe a vanilla and coconut nose, followed by a fruity taste on the tongue and a “zesty” floral finish.
Color: Thick honey.
Nose: Fragrant grass, peaches.
Taste: Same as the nose, but less exuberant. Some fruits and grass up front, fragrant flowers towards the back. A hint of butterscotch. Perhaps that’s my palate’s interpretation of the vanilla and coconut, which aren’t readily apparent to me.
Finish: Light and crisp. Fairly short.
Overall: More interesting on the nose than on the tongue, it’s a decent summertime dram for those muggy nights when a highly peated or sherried Scotch just won’t do. It’s not the best Scotch you can get in this price range by any means, but you’ll certainly get your money’s worth. I agree with many fellow whisky bloggers and reviewers that this could be an excellent starter Scotch for someone who is a little intimidated by the cask-strength, super peated whiskies that are in favor today.
- Whisky for Everyone: "It is rich and creamy with lots of vanilla and coconut present (classic characteristics of bourbon cask maturation). The whisky also has a pleasant malty flavour that mixes with an interesting citrus note (imagine lemon or lime zest)."
- Whisky Magazine: Dave Broom says “Balanced clean and a good starting point.” Rob Allanson says “An easy dram for any time in the day.”
- Drink Hacker: Calls it a great starter Scotch and gives it a “B” rating. Drink Hacker also reviews the rest of the new Auchentoshen core range.
- Connosr: Only one reviewer has looked at the Classic on the whisky social network, and his verdict is “It’s no instant classic, although it does not suffer from being a young whisky, but it’s not a tremendously great dram either. It’s a nice addition to the Auchentoshan range and easy to drink, making it an ideal aperitif or whisky for a novice.”
Auchentoshan Fun Fact: I’ve heard of many micro distilleries engaging craft breweries to provide the wash for their distillation, but Auchentoshan may well be the only whisky distillery to make their own craft beer.
The Cooley Distillery in Ireland is known for independence and experimentation. The youngest Irish distillery, they offer a wide range of products that go well beyond the standard, non-peated, triple distilled product put out by Bushmills and Midleton. This strategy has served them well, and in 2010 Malt Advocate declared Cooley "Distillery of the Year."
Connemara is the peated, single malt brand in the Cooley portfolio, and Turf Mór seems to be their play to really engage the peat freaks. At 50 ppm phenols, Turf Mór is the peatiest expression in the range by far. It’s 3 years old and bottled at cask strength and non chill-filtered. As the latest release in Connemara’s Small Batch Collection, only 20,000 bottles of Turf Mór will be available.
Connemara Turf Mór
Color: Sauvignon Blanc
Nose: Heavy Peat, light citrus. Meaty.
Palate: Holy crap. A huge burst of peat followed by an intense rubbery taste. Ever watch the opening credits for The Simpson’s and see that giant pile of flaming tires? This is like diving into that burning rubbery mass and inhaling until your lungs can take no more.
Finish: One of the longest finishes I’ve encountered. This burning hunk of rubber just won’t quit.
With Water: Much the same, but the nose seems hotter.
Overall: This bottle is getting raves all over the blogosphere (see below), so I’m in a clear minority when I say that I just don’t like this whiskey. I’m a huge fan of peated/smokey/medicinal whiskies, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed extreme peat monsters like Octomore and Ardbeg Supernova, yet this seems one note to me - and an unpleasant note at that.
Looking back at my previous reviews of Connemara whiskies - the 12 year, NAS and NAS Cask Strength - a clear pattern emerges. I enjoyed their 12 year, but didn’t think much of the younger, NAS expressions. Maybe Turf Mór - a 3 year old - just needs more time in the cask before it will appeal to my palate. Or maybe I just don’t like Connemara. Check out the opinions of other whisky bloggers and decide for yourself.
- Whisky for Everyone thought it was quite good for so young a dram. “If you like the peaty, smoky style of whiskies, then you simply have to try this one - it’s a cracker!”
- Whisky Notes: “This Connemara shows heavy peat but in another way than most Islay distilleries. The added roundness and fruitiness brings a nice variation on the theme. This will be popular.”
- Dramming says “this is a real young peat monster but not in the smoky Islay sense. The dry fruityness of the Connemara is something very unique.”
- Chris and Lucas at Edinburgh Whisky say it’s a “full bodied and full-blooded peaty bad boy boasting complexity and kick. But don’t be mistaken, it is not an Islay-style whisky, it’s a different beast altogether.”
- Yossi at JSMWS says “I’m not going to lie — this whisky is not for everyone. However, if you like the more medicinal/peaty/earthy whiskies – this will please you. “
- Whisk(e)y Apostle have the most similar take to my own, nevertheless they call Turf Mór a “stand out” whiskey.
*A free sample of this whiskey was provided for review by representatives of Cooley Distillery.
Amrut has done very well recently. Their standard collections are winning awards (and I assume) selling well, even grabbing last year’s Third Best Whisky in the World honor from the Whisky Bible. The Amrut ‘Intermediate Sherry’ is their standard Cask Strength Whisky (it’s unclear if it’s their peated variety or not - I get a decent amount of peat in my tasting below), aged in Bourbon Barrels for I believe 3 years, then shipped to Spain for aging in Oloroso butts for a few months, shipped back to India to age in bourbon barrels again, and then bottled in a limited production run at cask strength. The packaging is wonderful on this one, and it was my pick for our 2010 Chrimbus Holiday Gift Guide for gifts over $100.
Amrut ‘Intermediate Sherry’ Indian Single Malt Whiskey (NAS)
Legs: well formed and mixed. Small and skinny, with a quick drop initially and slower drops behind.
Color: a liquidy, crystallized darker brown.
Nose: really briney. Salt and seaweed. A forest right after rain, earthy with a hint of smoke, but more sweetness. A little rubber, but it’s well behind the other scents. There’s a lot of malt here and it’s almost sanguine. Floral and sanguine.
Palate: belying the nose, there’s little/no salt. You taste the fire first. A strong cleaning fire. Not peat, but hot spice. But the overwhelming strength fades quickly. The initial blindside is followed by an initial thought of peat, which is then followed by sweet honeyed cherries, almost a jammy citrus marmalade and then a building pepper, a delicious sweet black pepper corn, that’s hot and almost smoky. On further tastings there’s a backdrop of licorice that comes out.
Finish: peppery fire, earthy , and wet copper bordering on a steel rust. suck a penny, lick a scratch, your choice. A spicy sweetness. The finish closes with heat and a lasting peppery kick. You’re sucking on a pepper corn that numbs your tongue while the rest of your mouth is salivating. Wow.
Overall: I was worried when I shelled out for this whisky. I tried it first at whiskyfest, and though I remembered loving it, I had been tasting a great deal already. Would I be let down? My first nose left me a little worried - I didn’t remember the brine. But I got over the surprise quickly. The whisky made me pay attention - there’s a good amount going on. Though the whisky shows its youth slightly, and the cask strength brings it in as anything but mellow, it doesn’t end the party. This whisky is wonderful, invigorating and thoughtful. I can’t wait to enjoy the rest of it.
- Jim Murray (c/o the K&L Page) says it has cracking delivery and is entirely unique in form.
- Whisky Israel finds Turkish Delight and lots of spice. He calls it complex, but doesn’t get the peat that I did.
- Serge also finds Turkish Delights. He finds a little peat, but perhaps not as much as I found. He gets the saltiness and marmalade/jam flavor. He gives it a 91 overall and seems to like it as much as I do.
- Dominic Roskrow, a contributor to MaltAdvocate, finds a “fruity taste sensation” and vanilla.
- LAWhiskySociety member Chris finds the citrus and flowers that I get. The other members tend to find more of the sherry influence then the peppery peat.
Whoever said having good friends is a waste of time clearly never recieved even a few drops of this odd blend as a gift. You can read all about the history and unconventional creation of The Last Drop in any number of different reviews (listed, of course, below), or you can listen to this video explanation, but the main thrust is that the $2000/750ml blend is comprised of 70 single malts and 12 grain whiskies that, after 12 years, were moved into three (very high quality) ex-sherry casks. Thus in 2008 a 48 year old (or older…) whisky vintaged to 1960 came into existence. And just as peculiar as the approach taken in its creation are the colour, aroma, flavour, and finish of The Last Drop— truly 1/1,347th of a kind.
The Last Drop 1960 vintage (bottled 2008)
Abv: 52% (natural cask strength).
Legs: hundreds of miniature beads form at first, giving way to a few sticky, larger ones.
Nose: raisony, bourbony, and chocolatey on a magnificient first whiff; brown sugar, rock candy, prunes, vanilla extract, cereal malt; perhaps the term ‘sticky cinnamon bun’ is appropriate here. A drop of water awakens a rich floral style with big, lush fruits—something like fresh pomegranate.
Palate: a candy-coated entry of sticky, Pedro Ximinez-type sherry flavours (molasses is one), rolling into waves of chocolate-covered red fruits (strawberries at first, then perhaps cherries). Water brings out the fresh sourdough bread (ie, a tart maltiness) and array of warm spices such as nutmeg, vanilla bean, and a little bit of caraway (ie, such a slight anise flavour).
Body: I can’t quite say ‘full bodied;’ in fact, even though it is weighty from the sherry influence, it is fairly light bodied, almost silky but with a little bit of bite.
Finish: f*cking amazing; long, yes, but with loads of baking spices at first, turning to a port-like flavour that keeps developing (eg, toward marachino cherries) long after you swallow. I think I should forgo brushing my teeth tonight.
Overall: Just think about all that has happened in the Western world that this blend (of whiskies from the majority of the Scottish distilleries) has survived since it was laid down in wood: the commercialization of folk music, ‘Nam, hippies, a presidential assasination, Watergate, disco, the coke years (twice!), collapse of the Soviet Bloc, acid-washed jeans, the all-but-deceased Beatles, the all-but-alive Stones, mass consumption of “country” music, terrorism, a multitude of wars, and finally, and most impressively, the Bush/Blair era.
Fittingly, it’s got a lot of depth and a ton of character; lots of flavours developed during all those decades, and each one shines for just a moment. I suppose there is a quiet oakiness to it, but in no way are the 48 or more years of wood overpowering or detrimental (I would even say subtle). At first it really, really nosed like an insanely complex bourbon—so much so that I really wondered if we’d been swindled for a second. But no, this is good blended Scotch at its best, and in a final clichéd act, I found myself searching the glass to get that very last drop. Thanks, Dan!
Btw, I saw this bottle still available at Park Avenue Liquors last time I was in New York, and I know that Binny’s currently has it in stock— I guess the double-grand price tag has extended its shelf presence for a few years.
Other Opinions: who’s not going to love this bizarre, brown-colored, half-century-old whisky? Lots of support (and love) for the dark fruits (prunes, raisons, etc.), chocolate, some (but not overpowering) spice, and molasses.
- Jeff at ScotchHobbyist very much enjoyed his brief encounter with this ancient blend, and we’re both in complete agreement about the oddly bourbon-like nose.
- John Hansell, editor of Malt Advocate, gives high praise and scores (95!) to this remarkable Scotch, finding “molasses, fig cake, dried fruit, tobacco, dark chocolate, old pot still rum, and polished leather, finishing with lingering cinnamon and mint.”
- The Luxist (a luxury merchandise blog) finds “dried fruits, tobacco and leather,” noting its “beguiling lightness,” and finding the water-induced floral quality that seemed apparent to me as well.
- Business Week even got in on the Drop (appropriate, considering its targeted market), similarly noting “figs, dates, and raisins, [with] some chocolate on [the] palate as well and a hint of molasses,” a “jammy” finish, and a toasted-oak underpinning.
- The Malt Imposters did their thing in a Boston bar, finding “wood spirits, corinthian leather, … cotton candy made from maple syrup,” etc.
At the Alameda Flea Market last Sunday, I stumbled upon a vintage wooden crate that used to store Johnnie Walker Black. There are always wooden crates around, but this one, with it’s two-toned color walking man, was especially cool.
What’s cool? Finding a vintage Johnnie Walker crate at a flea market.
What’s cooler? That vintage Johnnie Walker crate being cheap, having a two-tone walking man, and having it actually be related to San Francisco.
What’s da coolest? Aside from peeing your pants, the vintage Johnnie Walker crate acting as vintage decor so that there is no problem with the lovely lady I live with, in other words, providing me an opportunity to have more whisky displayed. It totally counts as Catalog Living.
Win win situation all around. I’m guessing the crate is from the 1980s because of the Canada Dry Corporation mark, but I’m not sure. Anyone have an idea based on the front/back? Maybe when that third street warehouse was active?