Jane Walker Arrives, Charity Whisky Auction, More New Stuff & A Great Cocktail
First off, I’d like to highlight an online whisky auction running till 8p.m. on 7th March. It’s being run by Royal Mile Whisky Auctions in aid of MyName’5 Doddie Foundation set up by Scottish rugby legend Doddie Weir who announced in June last year that he was suffering from motor neurone disease. He set up the charity to raise funds for research to find a cure for the disease and to give grants to those who have the illness to help make their lives better. It’s a great cause from a great Scot so please support if you can. After that wonderful Scotland victory at Murrayfield on Saturday this would be one way to celebrate. The relevant websites are http://www.royalmilewhisky.auction and www.myname5doddie.co.uk.
Hot news of the month is that Ardbeg is to build a new still house to double its output, such is the brand’s popularity worldwide. It’s all subject to planning permission but let’s hope that’s not an issue. The intention then is to commence the work this year (presumably after this year’s whisky fest, it’s not mentioned) and have it finished in 2019. The site to be used was where warehouses once stood and there will then be four stills rather than two. Permission has already been granted to move the distillery’s boiler house.
More on the special edition of Johhnie Walker Black to be called Jane Walker. I was kind of right – it’s all about gender equality and encouraging more women into whisky – presumably both to work with and to drink. A positive public move by a company that will have women as half of its Board members by next month so definitely putting the brand where the mouth is. As mentioned last month, Diageo has long placed qualified women in positions some people might have thought were “male” jobs, just not a lot of people know about it.
The special edition, seen here, will be sold in the US from 8th March – International Women’s Day – at US$34 per bottle. From each bottle, the company will donate $1 to Monumental Women and She Should Run – this latter encourages women to run for office. Why the US and not here, you might ask? Well, The US is a huge market for JW Black and the UK isn’t. Simples! Even when US sales dip a bit as they have in some recent years, it’s still much bigger. One thing I do not agree with is one of the Diageo US managers saying that whisky is intimidating to women. Really? Not to all of us it isn’t and I don’t mean people steeped in it (sorry!) like me. It’s great when I attend whisky shows and events to see how many women are there and especially younger ones.
Early this month the Twittersphere and elsewhere was a-flutter about Diageo flirting with experimental whiskies and potential rule breaking. I think some people have never heard of new product – or brand – development. A bit of blue-sky thinking or in-lab tinkering never did any harm. As a former boss once said to me, ” You make and manage your own luck in some areas.” You’ve got to try out a lot of new ideas to find one that sticks with consumers or push against existing “rules” to see how elastic they are. Old bufties please note that cask finishing with wine and other spirit casks really only came to the fore in whisky in the last 10 years or so and nobody died. In fact, we’re thriving. Good luck to them and companies like Compass Box, not to mention some of the new distilleries coming on stream, that make us all think a bit harder.
The SWA has renewed its Scotch Whisky trade mark (and Chinese translation thereof) in China until 2028 which means Scotch is protected from local copies until then. We are told, “Twenty-five bottles of Scotch Whisky are exported to China every minute, so protecting the Intellectual Property rights of the spirit is important to both the industry and the UK’s balance of trade. Since securing trademark protection in China 2008, the SWA has investigated and dealt with around 200 brands of fake “Scotch”, in addition to over 100 trademarks featuring Scottish words and images which companies have applied for in bad faith for use on their Chinese made products.” This makes it all the more annoying that a German distiller has had an appeal upheld allowing it to use the word “Glen ” on its whisky. Okay – the rest of its name is very German (Buchenbach) and it’s clear that it’s produced there but does it somewhat dilute the results of the SWA’s great efforts to clamp down on this kind of thing? Irish whiskeys use Glen too but I get that – it’s part of their geographic name tradition, but Germany?
Meanwhile Scotch Whisky continues to perform well. An SWA release advised that Scotch Whisky has enjoyed a record-breaking year for exports in 2017. According to official HMRC data, last year Scotch grew in both volume and value (by 1.6% and 8.9% respectively) to a total of £4.36bn – the equivalent of 1.23bn bottles exported globally.
Also, just in today is news that the SWA has secured enhanced legal protection in New Zealand after the Scotch Whisky Association’s application to register “Scotch Whisky” as a Geographical Indication (GI) was successful. GI recognition means the description “Scotch Whisky” can only be used on whisky produced in Scotland in accordance with strict production and labelling requirements. Requirements include that Scotch only be made from the raw materials of water, cereals and yeast and matured in Scotland for at least three years in oak casks. “Scotch Whisky” is the first foreign GI to be registered by the New Zealand Intellectual Property Office. New Zealand’s GI scheme is designed to give greater legal protection to domestic and international wines and spirits and protect consumers against fakes. The granting of GI status for “Scotch Whisky” greatly enhances the basic protection previously given under New Zealand’s Food Standards Code, which did not contain a comprehensive legal definition of Scotch Whisky. This development comes on the back of a strong year for Scotch in New Zealand as exports rose by 27% in 2017 to almost £8 million.
Earlier this month Tomatin released the last two expressions in its Five Virtues series (limited editions of 6,000 bottles each). They are Metal and Water and on sale for around £49.99 per bottle. A pretty decent price and their website allows you to see the recipe for the bottlings, as far as regulations allow. All in the series focus on the effects of different cask maturations. Metal, inspired by the distillery’s twelve stills, is matched with classic first fill Bourbon barrels, demonstrating the definitive Tomatin style. Water is inspired by the water from the Alt-na-Frith burn, Tomatin’s private water source. The water is drawn year round but this particular edition employs a winter-distilled spirit and Sherry butts to enrich the final flavour. Sadly, no tasting samples but the official notes are:
“The Metal expression is typically soft, sweet and light with flavours of soft creamy vanilla laced with sweet treats such as milk chocolate, marshmallows and ice cream. Citrus notes also emerge with equally sweet spices. Water is delightfully mature, expressing fruity flavours, with hints of chocolate honeycomb and smooth toffee, which are complemented by rich blood orange marmalade. This warming whisky has a long and oily finish.”
Further words from Distillery General Manager, Graham Eunson, “During the cold winter months at Tomatin, the spirit vapours have less contact with the condensers during the distillation process and are therefore turned back into liquid form far quicker. In the Water expression, a winter distilled spirit, this results in a slightly heavier and fuller spirit, which when combined with its Sherry cask maturation, gives a great, full-bodied whisky. The Metal expression meanwhile uses bourbon barrels, which really accentuate Tomatin’s house style; light, sweet and fruity.”
The Glendronach (God’s own single malt distillery) has released Grandeur Batch 9, another in its extremely rare series and as you would expect from something that precious, no tasting sample. It’s not chill-filtered, has no added natural colouring, comes in at 48.7% abv and was crafted from Spanish oak sherry casks dating from 1990, 1992 and 1993 so it has to be stated as 24 years old. Only 1,487 bottles were produced, Tasting notes supplied are :” The expression offers a carefully woven tapestry of stone fruit, baked quince and glazed cherries on a bed of sandalwood, roast chestnuts and subtle musk scented leather. The freshness of oak balsam lifts and lengthens throughout, sustaining the exceptional balance and complexity. With an elegant, deep and perfectly integrated palate, Grandeur combines a myriad of sherry cask tastes in each sip. As time slowly passes, the taste lengthens and deepens towards an elegant dark chocolate mint, raisin and angelica root velvet finish.” That would cause many a sigh of contentment. There was no price info but we know it’s going to be expensive.
The Glendronach has also released Batch 16 from the Cask Release series – a range of fifteen specially selected casks from 1989 – 2006 ( so 11 – 28 years old). Batch 16 comprises between 513 and 698 bottles from each cask, with ABV ranging from 49.4% for the 28 year old 1989 Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon to 58.5% for the 25 year old 1992 Sherry Butt. Interestingly, one of them is from a port pipe rather than a sherry cask.
Wm. Grant’s Monkey Shoulder is using a new, large format cocktail mixer in a tour of the US (see pic) . No kidding – it’s not even 1st April. This cement mixer holds 123,000 bottles worth of the brand. That’s apparently 2,400 gallons but no indication if that’s UK gallons or US ones (their gallons are smaller, I believe – rather like bits of Donald Trump, if those rumours are true).
Another novel grand tour involves Glen Scotia, from Campbeltown. We are told that, “The Glen Scotia Grand Tour kicks off in London in March before being rolled out internationally. It aims to transport whisky lovers to the Glen Scotia distillery on the Mull of Kintyre and replicate the experience of visiting the distinctive Campbeltown whisky region.
Attendees will be fully immersed in the Campbeltown environment via an interactive pop-up event reproducing the sights of the Glen Scotia distillery and the surronding, seaside town. The 60-minute experience, begins with whisky-based cocktails and canapes, inspired by local producers, in the Victorian themed Distillery Manager’s office. Next guests will experience Glen Scotia’s dunnage warehouse, tasting a variety of expressions from the independent distiller including a whisky exclusive to the Glen Scotia Grand Tour.
Each space has been carefully designed for an authentic experience with windows looking out on to the Kintyre Peninsula. The Victorian themed room exudes the classic style of the era, and the furniture and artefacts have been hand-chosen to create a comfortable and inviting atmosphere.
In the dunnage warehouse guests will find original whisky barrels from the Glen Scotia Distillery, and will sample drams straight from the cask. During the experience, attendees will be transported to the costal town through virtual projections which will light up the surrounding walls.”
I do hope they intend to let us see it here at home in Scotland but no Scottish destination is mentioned in the release.
Now that we will definitely have minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland it will be interesting to see what effect it does have on Scotch sales. Reckoning is that the cheapest bottles will go from £11 to £14 but I still believe the real health problem is with cheap beers, lagers and ciders that Scotch drinkers don’t buy.
Lastly, a lovely cocktail to try during all this snowy weather. I got this via an e-mail from the www.liquor.com website and it’s courtesy of Jessie Lorraine of the Absinthe Brasserie and Bar in San Francisco.
The Scottish Breakfast:
1 oz Ardbeg Ten Years Old Scotch
1 1⁄2 oz Pür Likör spice blood orange liqueur
1⁄2 oz Fresh lime juice
1⁄2 oz Apple butter
3 dashes Fee Brothers Aztec chocolate bitters
Garnish: Dehydrated lime wheel
Give it a try!
Till late March, happy dramming.