Sadness, Moving On and New Releases in Whisky
Some sad news and some happy news this month.
The death was announced this last week of Dr. Jim Swan. His name will perhaps be unknown to many consumers but they owe him a great debt for all he did for Scotch Whisky. To the whisky industry he was a fount of all knowledge and will be a sore loss. I first met him aeons ago as a young assistant brand manager when he was a founder of Pentlands Scotch Whisky Research. He came into Teacher’s to speak to our marketing team about identifying aromas and flavours and training the nose. It’s a session which has remained with me and enthused me ever since. In his career he was a chemist, analyst, blender, maturation expert, researcher and developer, inventor, lecturer and more with a degree in Chemistry and a PhD in Chemistry and Biological Studies. Dr Swan was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and was awarded Fellowship of the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. He worked as a consultant to many and, right up until his death, was working with some of the new distillery projects opening up in Scotland, though he shared his vast knowledge with distillers worldwide from Taiwan via India to the USA.
In happier news, it was also announced that Master Blender Rachel Barrie will be leaving Beam Suntory to head for BenRiach Distillers, owners of BenRiach, The Glendronach and Glenglassaugh distilleries. Rachel began her career at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute (learning from Dr. Jim Swan), then moved to the Glenmorangie Company for some 16 years before moving to what was Suntory’s Morrison Bowmore Distillers (now Beam Suntory) where she has been for five years. This will doubtless be an easier commute for Rachel who lives in Edinburgh and bring fresh interest and challenge to an already illustrious career. I must confess to a bit of nervousness when I heard that Brown-Forman had taken over BenRiach Distillers. The BenRiach team has done lots of good things with one of my old brands, The Glendronach and I wasn’t sure what might come next. However, it’s good to know it will be in Rachel’s excellent hands now.
A recent welcome sample was from Glenmorangie. It’s Edition VIII Bacalta (46% abv) from the Private Edition series and it’s the eighth in this special range. The last one was Milsean which was one of my favourite whiskies from 2016. The name Bacalta means “baked” in Gaelic reflecting the fact that the whisky was finished in Malmsey madeira casks, which are sun baked, after primary maturation in former bourbon barrels. The casks were specially commissioned and made from air-dried US oak (US oak for casks is most often kiln-dried) and then heavily toasted on the inside. Once filled with a selected Malmsey madeira they were tended for 2 years then emptied and shipped to Scotland. So what does it taste like?
Appearance: Medium gold with an amber heart. The tears are slow to develop and then quite widely spaced.
Nose: Spicy for Glenmorangie and notes of warm plums; ginger; some soft oak vanilla; creamy custard and honey. With water it noses as sweeter and creamier with more vanilla; milk chocolate and a dab of barley sugar or syrup. There is more toffee/caramel as it opens out.
Palate: some smokiness/toasting and fine oak; bit of licorice; some sweet spices but also dry and a little pinch of salt; touch of vanilla and oak tannins, ginger and malted cereals and an almondy/marzipan note.
Finish: quite long, luscious with some fruit, yet turning dry and with more oak.
This one is priced at about £79 per bottle which seems distinctly reasonable and is indeed a dram to savour.
In other industry happenings, Deanston in Stirlingshire has released a 40 year old expression (45.6% ABV and not chill-filtered). The whisky was matured in whisky refill casks before spending the last 10 years of its maturation life in Oloroso sherry butts. The bottle is a bespoke one as is the capsule with etchings that feature the distillery’s history as a cotton mill. The wooden topping on the cork contains a recessed Deanston coin once used in the cotton mill community. The bottle has textured metal labels and a leather -lined box with plaque. Fewer than 500 are distributed globally at a price of around £1,000 per bottle. The price may deter all bar the better-off but the distillery and the surrounding community are well worth a visit for all the history and charming location. Plus, there are plenty of other expressions which are less expensive.
Loch Lomond Group, independent distiller, has announced the launch of a new global travel retail range at Glasgow Airport. The new collection features two single malt Scotch whiskies, Loch Lomond 12 Year Old and Loch Lomond Inchmurrin Madeira Cask Finish, as well as the blend, Loch Lomond Signature, and Loch Lomond Single Grain. A tasting table will be available at Glasgow Airport during February and March, enabling World Duty Free’s shoppers to sample the new range and encouraging travellers to take a little piece of Loch Lomond home with them. The various expressions are priced between £25 and £75 per bottle.
In a Budget submission to the Treasury, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) sets out the unfairness of the current level of tax on Scotch Whisky – 77% on an average priced bottle – and calls for a 2% cut in excise duty.
The SWA is calling on the Chancellor to ‘Stand up for Scotch’ in the Budget on March 8 to support a strategically important industry, benefit consumers and boost public finances. A fair tax for whisky is also likely to boost spirits revenue to the Treasury. Following the 2% cut in spirits duty in March 2015, spirits revenue in 2015/16 increased by £123 million to £3.15 billion. Spirits revenue is now £155m a year higher than when the spirits duty escalator was scrapped in 2014. Seems like a no-brainer really but will common sense prevail? We’ll find out soon.
The big news of the month is that Jim McEwan, who retired from Bruichladdich in 2014 has joined Hunter Laing in the project to build and commission its distillery at Ardnahoe on Islay. I’m told it’s been Islay’s worst kept secret! Jim has spent some time in late 2016 in Australia helping a gin distiller but this keeps him back on home turf, as a consultant who will help with the design and oversee the build of the distillery as well as training the staff who will run the operation. Many of us knew he wouldn’t just “retire”.
Speaking of new spirits, there are at least half a dozen of Scotland’s new distilleries expecting to begin production this year so plenty more news to look forward to in 2017. Also, there are two new releases from Laphroaig. One has literally just arrived so now too late for this month and the other one should be with me soon so I’ll do a compare and contrast next month if the other arrives in time.