More Karuizawa, New Port Charlotte, Chivas Ultis XX, Scotch Round the World, Glencairn Turns to Crime

Hi everyone

A couple of columns ago I mentioned that the Karuizawa distillery in Japan is to be rebuilt and the brand name revived. I had some questions and the answers came in before last time. However, as that was an interview those answers had to be held over. I wondered:

Will the water source for the new distillery be the same as the old one and what barley variety will be used? Is it the same as before? 

The water is the same in that it comes from Mt. Asama. There is a possibility that the water ‘hardness’ is slightly different due to the new distillery being located in the town of Karuizawa whereas the old distillery was in the neighboring town of Miyota.

We are using a blend of barley from Belgium, Australia and Scotland. The previous company used a similar blend we believe though that is unconfirmed.“

What about still size and shape? Have they been taken from the old distillery or were new ones commissioned?

We are using new stills in the same shape as the original Karuizawa Whisky though our stills are larger.“

My thanks to Iona Stevenson from dekanta for getting me answers. They do prompt further questions, though, as to what will the spirit character be with larger stills compared to the previous ones and what are the reasons for this change? Character depends on other things in the still house – e.g. lyne arm angle – and production process too. I also asked about an interview with dekanta‘s owner and CEO but she‘s in process of moving house – indeed, continent! – so that will have to wait.

News this week of a new Port Charlotte expression from Bruichladdich. It‘s Port Charlotte Islay Barley 2014. Strength is 50% ABV and peating level at 40 PPM. Just as a reminder, it is distilled, matured and bottled on Islay, using barley exclusively grown on the island from eight separate farms (up from just one farm in 2004). We‘re told, „Bruichladdich Distillery now works with a total of 20 farming partners on Islay – with over 50% of the distillery’s barley grown on the remote Hebridean island“. A hugely important contribution to local agricultural activity. Wood used for maturation was 84% first fill bourbon casks, 8% second fill Virgin oak and 8% second fill Bordeaux wine casks. I‘m promised a tasting sample and am intrigued as to what the Bordeaux casks will add. I have an idea of what I‘m expecting so hope to report on that end of this month if the sample arrives on time. I‘ve deliberately not looked at their tasting notes and am looking forward to trying it. This expression is priced at around £75 and is available via the Bruichladdich website (plus shipping, of course) and from specialist retailers.

Just last week, Chivas launched Chivas Ultis XX, the latest under this limited and exclusive blend name. The first one was a cracker. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, Ultis is to „…honour five generations of Master Blenders by blending five of Chivas’ most precious single malts: Strathisla, Allt A’bhainne, Braeval, Longmorn, and Tormore along with Chivas’ signature grain, Strathclyde“. Of course, Tormore was sold to Elixir Distillers not so long ago but Chivas will still have stocks and, doubtless, access to more in future. The first Ultis some years ago was a cracker. Sadly, no sample this time but it is now older, at 20 years old, rarer and thus more expensive. This one was crafted by my former colleague, Sandy Hyslop, to honour five of his predecessors. Strength is 40% and approximate price was not supplied though I’ve found a price on a UK site (where it’s sold out) of £185 and on a US retailer site of $180. The tasting notes from the release are: aromas of juicy red apples, interlaced with raspberry jam, fresh vanilla pods and sweet butter toffee. On the palate, whisky lovers can experience flavourful notes of blossom honey, milk chocolate and poached pears in syrup leaving a long, sweet, and smooth finish.“ Definitely my kind of flavours. I may have to put this on a wish list somewhere…

In 2021, Scotch accounted for 22% of all UK food and drink exports. In 2022, the value of Scotch Whisky exports was up 37% by value, to £6.2bn. The number of 70cl bottles exported also grew by 21% to the equivalent of 1.67bn“. That‘s a lot of bottles and provokes the thought that, „If they were all in the same type of bottle how many times would that number go round the world?“ Or maybe it‘s just my daft brain that thinks these things. Now, we have to take into account that Covid got in the way of things for a couple of years but things are obviously looking very healthy again. Interestingly, looking only at volume sales, India has taken over from France as the top market and there‘s still a huge amount of room for growth there given that Scotch accounts for only 2% of the whisky market in India and we‘ve yet to see the effect of a trade agreement there which will reduce tariffs. In terms of value the only market to do over £1 billion in sales is the USA.

The SWA‘s CEO, Mark Kent (pictured) said,“By reducing tariffs through the UK-India free trade agreement, continuing the duty freeze in the March budget, and ensuring the industry’s continued ability to advertise our world-class product in our home market, the Scottish and UK governments can count on the Scotch Whisky industry to reinvest its success across the UK.” That‘s rather wagging a finger at the Scottish Government‘s loony consideration of stopping alcohol advertising in Scotch‘s home market. Good for him!

Lastly, the lovely people at Glencairn, they of the wonderful Glencairn whisky glass and countless other good things, are to sponsor Scottish Crime Book of the Year (The McIlvanney Prize named after the late, lauded writer William McIlvanney) and the Bloody Scotland Debut Crime Novel of the Year for a further three years. Main prize is £1,000 for the former plus a Glencairn trophy and UK-wide promotion in the Waterstone‘s book chain and £500 for the latter, also plus trophy. Not at Booker Prize levels but, in times when even high-selling writers find it hard to make money from their craft, it‘s a very welcome contribution. So, all you readers here who fancy yourselves as crime writers better get going, for next year unless you have a finished, previously unpublished story ready as this year‘s submission deadline is 5p.m. (UK time) on 31st March, 2023. The Bloody Scotland International crime writing festival 2023 is on in Stirling from 15 – 18 September. Let‘s hope there are drams for the winners too.

That‘s all for the first February piece. Till end of this month, happy dramming and I‘ll see you soon.




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