New Distilleries, Introducing New Whisky Ambassador Tutor, New Wemyss Malt, Beautiful Bars and New from Compass Box
Hello! First column of 2019 and I wish everyone the best for 2019 – this first month has zipped by.
First of all in news just this week we see plans revealed for Diageo’s revived Port Ellen Distillery on Islay and Ian Macleod Distillers’ plans for a redevelopment of Rosebank, the former Diageo premises near Falkirk and which closed years ago. Let’s look at Port Ellen first.
Plans were revealed to the local community just this week (29th January) and will be formally submitted to Argyll & Bute Council later this year. The local event was to give Islay residents the opportunity to view the proposals and to share their memories and artefacts relating to the historic distillery. Former employees of Port Ellen were amongst those invited along to share in the distillery revival plans. Diageo’s specialist archivist for single malt whisky, Joanne McKerchar, also attended to meet people and to learn from their Port Ellen experiences, anecdotes and artefacts.
Under the plans, Port Ellen will be brought back into production with a combination of two pairs of copper pot stills and two separate distillation regimes in an innovative combination of tradition and experimentation. The primary distillation regime, using two stills that will exactly replicate the original Port Ellen copper pot stills, will carefully recreate the original character of the spirit from this distillery.
Alongside will be a second, smaller pair of stills that will produce alternative spirit characters, allowing the Port Ellen whisky makers the freedom to experiment with new whisky styles. These experimental stills pay homage to John Ramsay, who owned Port Ellen in its formative years and who made it one of the most innovative distilleries of the 19th century, pioneering many of the techniques and equipment that would become mainstays of the Scotch whisky industry including the spirit safe (now in all Scotch distilleries). Ramsay also experimented with the patent still, now standard for producing grain spirit and with different cask types used for sherry and Madeira. He also exported Port Ellen whisky to the USA in the 1840’s – a true export pioneer sending whisky over even before the American Civil War. Wouldn’t a bottle of pre-Civil War Port Ellen be a real find!
The buildings at the Port Ellen distillery have gone through many changes since it first opened in 1824 with the distillery closing and largely being demolished in the 1930s, before being rebuilt in the 1960s. Following its most recent closure in 1983 only the kiln building with its classic pagoda roofs and the traditional sea-front warehouses have survived. These buildings will be restored as integral parts of the revived distillery, with a new stillhouse created. An archive pic of the old distillery is shown here.
The project is in excellent hands – those of former Lagavulin Manager, Georgie Crawford, who said: “These plans are any whisky maker’s dream come true.
To have the opportunity to recreate the original spirit character of Port Ellen distillery so we have new generations of that classic, Islay peated malt is incredible, but then to combine that with the freedom to experiment with new variations is truly extraordinary.” As an annual visitor to Islay I’m keen to see the progress on this one so will hope to have a look at the site when I’m over in a few months.
Ian Macleod have been given planning permission for the Rosebank site from the local council. It is intended to open in autumn 2020 and will add to their distillery stable of Glengoyne, Tamdhu and, more recently, Edinburgh Gin. Rosebank whiskies have been prized as a fine example of Lowland single malt and old bottlings as well as more recent ones from surviving casks have been much sought after. Seem to remember buying my brother a Douglas Laing one for his 40th birthday. Rosebank ceased production in 1993 when UDV (now Diageo), mothballed the site and its maltings were converted into a restaurant.
Work on the buildings is expected to start fairly soon. It’s good to know that this will bring a few dozen jobs to the area in terms of spirit production as well as manning a visitor centre and shop. Ian Macleod Distillers also acquired the Rosebank brand and last remaining stocks from Diageo in 2017. The company expects to use this limited Rosebank whisky for a small number of releases from this year as well as for certain distillery tours that will apparently feature the last casks distilled in the last years before the distillery was mothballed. They hope to attract some 50,000 visitors a year to the area. The location is alongside the Forth & Clyde canal so plenty of opportunity for lovely water views, maybe?
Production capacity of the new place will be up to 1 million litres of alcohol (not liquid litres) per annum. The chimney that you see on the site when travelling between Glasgow and Edinburgh by train (and in this pic on the right) will remain and other of the historically significant buildings will be repurposed as visitor centre, tasting room, shop and warehousing.
Leonard Russell, Managing Director of Ian Macleod Distillers, said: “We’re delighted to have reached this significant milestone of the Rosebank redevelopment project. To bring back to life an iconic distillery and quintessential Lowland single malt is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Our investment goes beyond production. We’re proud to be investing in Falkirk by adding to the town’s flourishing economy and tourism scene with a new Rosebank Visitor Centre, to help tell the story of this remarkable whisky. Rosebank Distillery has a very special place in Scotland’s whisky heritage and we’re committed to ensuring this remains the case. We will strive to replicate the unique Rosebank style by once more employing the unique techniques of triple distillation and worm tub condensers, for which this iconic Lowland single malt is famed.”
Now, use of worm tubs tends to produce a heavier spirit but there is also triple distillation so this will be a fascinating one to watch once more as the spirit matures.
The Whisky Ambassador has a new tutor signed up to deliver its courses in France. He is Regis Lemaître whom I first met in the early 2000s when he was Bars Manager at the renowned Gleneagles Hotel. Even then, Regis was doing some whisky tastings and, as someone with a Scotch industry background, I was also doing that as well as whisky education work so our paths crossed occasionally and we’ve kept in touch on and off since then. Regis’ “patch” for WA will be Switzerland and some of eastern France from his home base in Evian. If my memory serves correctly, he comes from Vittel so he’s exchanging one brand of water for another! Both nice and pure for diluting your whisky for nosing.
While in Scotland Regis was also Scottish Chair of the UK Bartenders Guild and had his own whisky tasting/event company, Whisky Mad, here then moved back to Switzerland and France to work in some of the top hotels there. His passion for Scotch Whisky has never faded so I’m delighted, as someone who helped create the Whisky Ambassador courses, that he’s on board in that part of the world. He got in touch with Sue and Jo at The Whisky Ambassador after he contacted their tutor in the Bordeaux area to find out more and discovered they needed new tutors so he came over and did the course himself. He will also continue working as an independent consultant for brand companies in France who need a bit of training help for salesforces etc. Anyone attending the Whisky Ambassador courses he is running will benefit from someone with great knowledge and enthusiasm for Scotch – and other – whiskies. He also looks the part in a kilt – but I can’t find that pic in my files!
A couple of samples arrived this month – the two Compass Box ones delayed from the end of last year. We have Stranger & Stranger and Juveniles.
Stranger & Stranger (46%) was created to celebrate the Compass Box relationship with the design agency which creates those beautifully detailed labels for them. They’ve been partnered for 10 years. Stranger & Stranger can’t be called whisky because one of the components is 1 year old grain spirit rather than a legally mature whisky of at least 3 years. What does that bring? Freshness and some very interesting nose and palate elements. It does mean that it has to be called a spirit drink but don’t let that put you off. Just try it.
The full make up of this expression is 80% Glenlossie re-charred hogsheads; 14%re-charred barrels from Glen Elgin; 5% first fill sherry from Linkwood (shows through beautifully) and 1% refill hogshead of grain spirit from Girvan Distillery. The grain spirit was in their experimental US oak barrels to season the wood but after that was completed they put this sacrificial spirit (so called as it usually gets discarded after it’s done its seasoning job) into a refill hoggie while they worked on this blend.
Appearance: Medium gold with close, swift running tears
Nose: Pear drops and fresh damp woodland. Hint of caramel; clean and fresh with a bit of mint; milk chocolate. With water, creamy custard, waxy, some baked fruit notes and more vanilla.
Palate: Medium mouthfeel; some sugary notes (the young grain spirit brings sweetness; almonds and herbs; bit of oak tannin; slightly mouth-drying with some bitterness at the sides. After spitting out it leaves a richer note on the palate too.
Finish: short – medium but something fresh, minty and cooling on the palate. Dry.
I’m actually wondering if I should try this with a mild curry. I think it might be interesting.
Now we have Juveniles (46%), a blended malt. Not a tribute to the young but a toast to the wine (and, presumably, whisky) bar in the centre of Paris where the owner, Tim, has been a friend of CB’s whisky creator, John Glaser, for some years. Indeed they have co-created Juveniles whiskies before. Apparently Tim asked this time for something “bright and smooth, not smoky…an assemblage perhaps between 10 and 15 years old.” I’m in Paris at least once a year but have never yet set foot in this wine bar. Something to be remedied on my next trip later this year.
Make-up of this one is 34% refill hogshead from Strathmill; 34% refill hogshead from Balmenach; 20% re-charred hogsheads from Clynelish; 10% refill sherry butt from Clynelish and 2% first fill sherry from Glendullan.
Appearance: Pale barely straw. Tears slow to develop and quite close at first, then wider.
Nose: Some lychee syrup; vegetal water; a bit of youth (oddly); some oak and vanilla and barley sugar sweetness. With water an interesting truffle / onion/ sulphur note which then dissipates.
Palate: Medium mouthfeel and very slightly oily; almondy and palate cleansing; other nutty notes; herbal; a little touch of cask char.
Finish: Medium – long; hazelnuts and dryness. Heathery and herbal.
Wemyss Malts have a new malt available from their Kingsbarns Distillery. It’s called Dream to Dram and priced at around £44.95. The barley used came from the area around the distillery in the East Neuk of Fife and it’s bottled at 46% abv.
Most of the whisky has been matured in first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels from Heaven Hill distillery while 10% has been aged in shaved, toasted and re-charred wine casks from Portugal. I thought it might have been casks from the Wemyss family’s own winery in the south of France, but obviously not. Dream to Dram is available from their website and specialist retailers in the UK, the first bottling from Kingsbarns to be generally available. Some of the quantity bottled will make its way to Taiwan and certain markets in Europe in due course. There’s an informative little launch video on YouTube at https://twitter.com/KingsbarnsDist/status/1090184747324764160 .
Valentine’s Day is coming up soon and one bar which would be great for a romantic cocktail/dram is the refurbished (autumn 2018) Beaufort Bar in The Savoy Hotel in London, if you happen to be down that way. In fact, it would be worth dropping in at any time of year just to take in the luxurious surroundings and enjoy a drink or several though it certainly isn’t for low budgets. I’ve attached pics here so you can see how gorgeously fitted out it is.
The menu in here is called Music, Magic and Drama and looks to distinguish this bar, which is the hotel’s former cabaret stage, from their American Bar elsewhere on the premises which is also a great bar to try (can vouch for that personally). We are told, “the Drama section of the menu is all about dark, atmospheric drinks that take guests late into the evening. Evoking this theatrical theme, the main spirits featured in this section… are potent, rich and impactful. Expanding its representation of world whiskies, and offering small, rare batches, the whiskies at the Beaufort Bar range in style, age, region and complexity, pleasing both malt connoisseurs and curious neophytes. Balancing the whisky component in each serve with aperitifs, liqueurs and champagnes, the mixed drinks in this section are not all merely stirred down and brown and guests can choose from both lighter long drinks and strong short blends.”
Maybe we should start a regular spot for pics of the world’s most beautiful bars!
Lastly, I’ve just received a sample of the recently launched 21 YO from Isle of Arran but this column is long enough already so we’ll hold that one over till February.
Till then, slainte mhath,