New Glengoyne Tasting Talk, Whisky Fights, Waterford Launch, Awards, New Islay Distillery Plans & Much More
Earlier this month I attended the launch of a new tasting talk and film at Glengoyne Distillery not far from my home in Glasgow. It’s fronted by Gordon Dallas (as distinct from their Brand Ambassador Gordon Dundas) and covers the whole history of Glengoyne from farm to the internationally loved whisky it is today. It’s divided into sections with a dram to partner each segment of history (about 6 in total) telling of the families and events which have been crucial in the life of Glengoyne.
After university, Gordon spent the next 10 years as part of a comedy double act performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and all over the UK before being signed up to write comedy for BBC TV and Radio Scotland and appeared regularly on BBC Radio as a contributor to a variety of programmes. He puts his craft to good use in the entertaining and informative talk that accompanies the tasting. His researches led to several new discoveries in the distillery history.
With media opportunities in Scotland shrinking, he worked in corporate entertainments before trying to start up an internet TV channel but with no success. Glengoyne was looking for a tour guide and he was looking for a job. Slowly and surely he started to bring his media background to an interested company that was open to new ideas. Glengoyne’s parent company, Ian Macleod Distillers, backed Gordon to the hilt by staging “Unhurried” at the Edinburgh Festival – a show concentrating on the Victorian era of Glengoyne. This led to the new job.
As this is a new test format, the tasting is available only on certain Saturdays at the moment until the end of March. You can find details on their website at www.glengoyne.com. It’s called The Glengoyne Story and takes about 2 hours in total. The Glengoyne team will then review it and it will likely be back later in the year. I was told it’s suited to autumn/winter tour schedules as two of the drams included, certainly this time, are the Teapot Dram and Glengoyne Legacy – rarer, limited expressions which are usually launched in the autumn. For now the cost is a bargain as I think they are under-pricing it. It doesn’t include a distillery tour so, if you want that too, the best thing to do is book the tour immediately before this tasting. If you can get in before this pilot finishes, I’d urge you to do so. Otherwise, look out for it coming back later on in the year. I’d hope to use it in future for client tours.
Just this week I attended a crazy, fun Whisky Fight Night. A what?! Well, the idea was the original brainchild, some years ago, of Simon Roser and Franchi Ferla of Simply Whisky, though there have since been some inferior copies out there from others. It takes the form of two high-profile brand representatives slugging it out, mainly verbally, in a boxing ring with lots of pre-match hype, whisky cocktails and great music as well as audience participation in nosing, tasting and judging three sets of two whiskies from each contender. Oh, and some spectator games between rounds.
This one featured my occasional judging colleague, Mark Thomson from Glenfiddich and Grant Neave from Compass Box. I thought Mark won but the judges decided otherwise so congratulations to Grant who is now Scottish Whisky Fight Night Champion. It was a brilliant night with a lot of jiggery-pokery going on with the scoring as well as a ripped jacket, a beer soaked contender’s shoe, open-heart surgery (you had to be there) and the inimitable Frank Murphy of the award-winning Glasgow whisky bar, The Pot Still, dressed as a nun to be the “ring boy”! The recent world heavyweight match had nothing on this…
As their website says,” There is no violence or fighting. ‘Fight’ in ‘Whisky Fight Night’ refers to the playful banter, brand stories, and witty but wicked put-downs that take place within the ring between the contenders, as they use their skill, knowledge and trademark moves to help you differentiate between their whiskies.
The overall winner of the 3 rounds wins the Whisky Fight Night battle belt, your adoration and stays on to face their next challenger!”
This kind of thing takes a lot of good organisation and attention to detail and these guys have it nailed. My kind of people. As a whisky educator and speaker myself, I’ve been doing tastings for years but mine are a bit more sedate and usually less messy! Simon and Franchi also stage these Whisky Fight Nights in countries other than Scotland and England, with Poland and Ireland being two examples. There are plans for a US bout too. Check out further events on the Simply Whisky website. I’m sure if you felt a need for Whisky Fight Night in your country they’d be happy to talk to you. Here I must thank Colin Hampden-White, renowned professional photographer, whisky and wine writer, former editor of Whisky Quarterly and presenter of The Three Drinkers Do Scotch Whisky on Amazon Prime. He allowed me to choose any pic to use here from those he took on the night.
Speaking of Mark Thomson, he was made a Keeper of the Quaich late last year. The Keepers of the Quaich is an exclusive organisation set up by whisky companies thirty-odd years ago to honour those who have made major contributions to the reputation and advancement of Scotch Whisky. Mark has certainly done that. I’ve recently found out about two other brilliant whisky people who were inducted at the same time but have been too modest to shout it to the world. The Keepers isn’t about being shouty anyway. It’s a serious and dignified organisation. The two are Brian Crook of The Vintage Malt Whisky Company and the excellent Jackie Thomson of Ardbeg Distillery.
Long overdue in both cases. Jackie has been at Ardbeg since Glenmorangie took it over and has done a fabulous and tireless job in all that time, especially with Ardbeg Day at the Islay Whisky Festival so it’s lovely to see her being recognised for her creative and enthusiastic hard work, keeping Ardbeg as one of the best visitor centres in the industry.
Auctioneer Sotheby’s has a wine and whisky sale coming up on 18th March. It includes the oldest Macallan and Karuizawa malts ever bottled. There are a 51 and 52 year old Karuizawa and another Macallan Six Pillars Collection in a Lalique bottle alongside 20 other Macallan lots. As if that weren’t enough there is a collection of 50 vintages of Glenfarclas, estimated at fetching between £55,000 and £70,000. A bargain in my view, if you have the money. There are also a number of Gordon & MacPhail Private Decanters which would be well worth having. I do hope these are sold to whisky enthusiasts who will drink and share them, but I suspect otherwise.
Word reached me this week also of a new name – Goldfinch Whisky Merchants who buy and sell casks and are independent bottlers too. I heard of them only through a media release sent to me about their own bottling of a 26 year old Macallan. The whisky was distilled in June 1993 and matured for 25 years in US ex-bourbon oak then a year in an oloroso hogshead. Only 100 bottles are available. It’s non chill-filtered and was bottled last November at 40.8%abv, just over minimum legal strength for Scotch Whisky. Price for a 70cl. bottle is £1,200 and for those with that kind of spare change, you can acquire it direct from Goldfinch or from Nicholls & Perks, Master of Malt or at Gleneagles Hotel. Sadly, at that price and rarity, no tasting sample.
Glengoyne’s sister distillery, Tamdhu, has been on a winning streak recently. It’s just won four awards at the World Whiskies Awards.
There were two winners in the single cask, single malt category with Edinburgh Airport European Sherry Oak Single Cask in the 13 – 20 year old section and Sandy McIntyre’s Single Cask (a 2003 first-fill American oak oloroso Sherry butt bottled at 56.2% abv without chill-filtration and matured for 15 years. There were then two gold commendations for Batch Strength 004 (bottled at 57.8% abv), and Dalbeallie II which was launched at last year’s Speyside Whisky Fest. It’s at 61.1% abv and matured in European and US oak casks. Tamdhu uses only oloroso sherry seasoned American and European oak casks crafted in family cooperages and bodegas of Jerez for up to 6 years, before beginning their journey to Scotland.
As if that weren’t enough from Ian Macleod Distillers (IMD) we also have news of two releases of Rosebank, both distilled in 1993, the same year that the distillery was closed and which IMD are in process of reviving. These are from two single casks with fewer than 300 bottles from each one. The first 100 bottles of each were released for sale via ballot which is soon to close (perils of being a monthly column!). They’ve both been matured in refill bourbon hogsheads, Cask 433 at 53.3% and Cask 625 at 50.4%. Both are priced at £2,500 per bottle.
Those who are lucky enough to purchase one of these will be invited to collect their bottle at a private event in London on Wednesday 18th March 2020 – where they will be given the chance to meet Rosebank’s Distillery Manager, Robbie Hughes, learn more about the malt and even sample the single casks. Also in March there is supposed to be the release of a travel trade exclusive pre-1993 expression at the DFS Masters of Wine & Spirits expo in Singapore. I wondered if corona virus may put paid to that but, as of a few days ago, it seemed still to be on. There are a number of rare and fabulous things featuring there. Learn more at https://www.dfnionline.com/latest-news/dfs-presents-set-exclusives-9th-masters-wines-spirits-showcase-singapore-25-02-2020/ .
Now a quick whip over the sea to Ireland as Mark Reynier (who reopened Bruichladdich at the beginning of this century) is preparing to launch the first Waterford release since the distillery was set up. 1ST CUVÉE: PILGRIMAGE is highly limited and will be available only at a special distillery open day on Saturday 25th April. In the first weekend of the event being announced, 50% of tickets to acquire 1ST CUVÉE: PILGRIMAGE had already sold, with the masterclass level ticket selling out within 45 minutes. Still tickets for bottles and the open day left, though! We are told, “The open day is to celebrate Waterford Whisky’s coming of age, their Irish Single Malt Whisky’s debut, and they wanted to open their gates on Saturday 25th April to those curious to see what the distillery has been up to these last five years.
To provide a festival atmosphere, irrespective of the weather, the distillery has invited local food suppliers, brewers and musicians – and Waterford Whisky will also be available to taste for the first time.”
The special Pilgrimage expression (50% abv; 150 euros) consists of only 1500 bottles and 1,000 of them, labelled I Was There will be available to buy at the event on that day, restricted to one per person and must be collected on that day. Beautiful packaging! Head Distiller, Ned Gahan, has created a malt that, “…contains our 36 first year distillations – that’s 36 mini Waterford Single Malts – mostly matured in small 35-litre American Oak ‘blood tubs’, along with other wood types. Those 36 farms, representing unique terroirs and unique flavour starting points, are layered on top of each other to create a very complex whisky indeed.” Well, we won’t have too long to wait to find out if consumers agree.
In a few weeks where a lot of the UK is flooded and climate change is top of many minds, Pernod Ricard, already committed to 100% electricity from renewable sources, has just committed to a carbon neutral Scotch distillery. The location is Glentauchers Distillery which will be converted to be able to use biofuels. I’m hoping to find out more for a future column.
Back over the sea to Islay. News also from Elixir Distillers, headed by Sukhinder Singh of The Whisky Exchange in London. Plans for their Islay distillery were approved in late 2018 but there are now revised plans which are the result of what we are told are “extensive conversations.”
It seems that now the exterior will look more like other distilleries along that coast but with more modern elements to reflect the building’s specific location and certainly looks impressive from the artist’s drawing. There will be space for 16 washbacks and four sets of stills, the latter apparently being “smaller”. Compared to what, one wonders? It rather depends on the size of the washbacks and stills and that sounds huge though I understand the distillery will have an annual 1 million l.o.a. capacity. That’s in line with some of our smaller distilleries. Its floor maltings will be able to supply 75% of requirements. Another feature will be an experimental still with a capacity for 200,000 litres of alcohol per year but we wait to find out what those experiments will be.
The now obligatory visitor centre will also be there with an education aspect and training programme for apprentices too which is a definite plus. The owners intend to produce a range of whisky styles using different types of yeasts (now that’s interesting) and extended fermentation times (so is that) as well as having a light footprint on the environment. And they’re not stopping there. The company intends to submit a further application next month to build eight houses for distillery staff. Right enough, housing on Islay must be at a premium now as some places are being converted to B&B’s to accommodate all the island’s visitors. As mentioned in an older column, the distillery will be located near Port Ellen making it even more of the distilling hub than it already is.
No samples for tasting this month and next month should be another interview if all goes to plan. Meanwhile keep dramming. For this month, as the seasons change wherever in the world you are, expand your flavour horizons and try a whisky or two that you haven’t tried before.