New Year, New Whiskies, New Distilleries, Nasty Tariffs
Happy New Year! It’s just the end of January and I allow myself the whole first month for those good wishes each year.
Some new distillery news this month as well as a look at Highland Park’s Valfather, Scotch Whisky Association updates, a new Big Peat, a new Craigellachie travel retail exclusive and yet another new distillery. And what new whiskies did you enjoy in 2019?
Highland Park Valfather was first revealed in summer/autumn last year and the sample and letter did not arrive till just before my Christmas shutdown but Brand Director, Jason Craig, advises that some markets have chosen to delay its launch until early in 2020 so here we are.
They say it’s their peatiest yet but it’s still very interwoven with everything else and doesn’t overpower the whisky. Valfather is the final whisky in a series of three special edition Viking Legend releases, the others being Valkyrie and Valknut. It’s inspired by Odin, Father of the Norse gods and is matured entirely in refill casks; 47% abv and all natural colour from the casks only.
So what do we have?
Appearance: Rich barley and old gold with brass highlights. Tears are medium to fast-paced at first then slower and more widely spaced.
Nose: At first it’s not very overtly peaty or too smoky. There’s a honeyed and floral, baked apple/pear sweetness. Maybe a touch of apricot also. Then the smoke starts to insinuate its way in. A bit of vanilla and cedar wood. It’s all very harmonious with no dominant notes. With water, the smoke and peat come through a little more, plus richer honey and even a bit of citrus – like the spray of oil you smell when peeling citrus fruits.
Palate: A slightly unctuous mouthfeel; more smoky and peaty than on the nose. Some vanilla custard and toasted barley; demerara sugar notes; cooked honey and a hint of citrus zest bitterness plus a touch of spice. It feels physically zesty or prickly on the tongue too.
Finish: The finish is long and with a smokiness yet also a residual barley sweetness. It then dries the mouth with heathery and herbal notes, slightly spice and that citrus zest bitterness again.
A really tasty dram you could sit with for a while to let all its nuances unfold. Make mine a large one.
Regular readers may recall that I interviewed family members who own/run the Vintage Malt Whisky Company last year. They were interested in doing something on Islay but couldn’t say what at that stage. Well, they are setting up a distillery ….for rum. They’ve partnered with a young Ileach (native of Islay) called Ben Inglis who was introduced to them by the indefatigable James McEwan. Ben has a passion for rum and has been developing recipes for distillation.
I spoke to Caroline James of VMWC and asked what type of rum they intend to produce and it seems they may do a few different versions, including a spiced rum. There are no current plans for anything other than rum. To begin with, the base ingredient will be molasses sourced from England and shipped over to Islay. Naturally, ingredients going over will mean higher end costs but if quality is right, it will be worth it. I love the idea of a Hebridean rum! Rather expands the “island rum” category from the West Indies.
The rum will be bottled on the mainland, at least to begin with, at the same bottling plant where VMWC’s whiskies are bottled. Caroline says they may consider Islay bottling later on, if they have space. The site is a former warehouse and lemonade factory in Port Ellen and work has started to bring the buildings up to scratch for this venture. Also to begin with, only two people will be employed at the site. There are a few things to sort out and they are aiming to start production in early 2021 and, hopefully, in time for Feis Ile. Strength of the rums may vary according to product type. This will be a busy little corner of Port Ellen with the Port Ellen maltings and new Port Ellen Distillery nearby too.
From my point of view, the further good news is that I get to go and be nosey when I’m over for the Islay Whisky Festival in May. It won’t be open to visitors but I’m going for a preview -if my plan goes well – and will report again afterwards. Sadly I can’t show you the plans here.
Just this week the Spirit of Speyside festival has unveiled its dates for three events. There will be the usual SOS fest from 29 April to 4 May (700 events; full programme coming in February) and the newer Distilled one-venue event, featuring local food produce also, will be on 28 and 29 August. Also relatively new (launched last year) is the SoS Gin Experience from 10 -12 July and a venue is still to be announced. A good time to be had by all on Speyside this spring and summer.
Also this week, the Scotch Whisky Association has made it clear that US tariffs imposed on single malt Scotch Whisky (not blends) have already caused a “marked” decrease in exports and could lead to a loss of up to £100 million this year if those tariffs remain. Graham Littlejohn of the SWA is joined by Chris R. Swonger of Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) to discuss the impact of these on both sides. The Chief Executives of the SWA and DISCUS have called on the UK and US governments to find a negotiated solution urgently to unrelated trade disputes and to remove all tariffs on distilled spirits. Listen to the latest for @distilledspirit’s @ChrisRSwonger & SWA’s @littlegrumpyG on the impact tariffs are having for whisk(e)y on both sides of the Atlantic.
Just for some background, a 25% tariff was imposed on imports of US whiskey into the EU in June 2018, in response to US tariffs on European steel and aluminium. In October 2019, the US imposed a 25% tariff on imports of Single Malt Scotch Whisky to the US in the long-running dispute over EU and US subsidies to Airbus and Boeing. A silly game of tariff ping pong. Scotch and American whiskies have traded tariff-free across the Atlantic for over 25 years, and they have flourished as a result. However, both Scotch Whisky and American whiskies are now caught in this trade dispute that has nothing to do with them “but which are now harming investment, productivity, jobs and growth” says the SWA. True – consider that the Scotch industry buys bourbon casks for maturation. If Scotch single malt sales drop there will be less of a market for the empty US bourbon barrels. There may also need to be reductions in personnel in both industries if sales slump.
The nice people at Douglas Laing & Co. have two new expressions out. The first is in the Old Particular series and is Old Particular Elements – Jura 12. This is the last in the Elements Series, looking at the key contribution earth air, fire and water make to Scotch Whisky, with this Jura 12 representing water. It was finished in a Pedro Ximénez Sherry butt, “imparting warming winter spiced and chewy toffee notes to the salty, maritime Jura spirit within.”
It is bottled at natural cask strength and, in line with the Douglas Laing family philosophy, without colouring or chill-filtration,. The family owners say Old Particular Elements Series ‘epitomises Scotch Whisky that is “truly as natural as it gets”.’ The release continues, The concept is brought to life by intricate illustrated labels, with the latest release featuring crashing waves in honour of the wild waters surrounding the Isle of Jura… The complete Old Particular Elements Series comprises Craigellachie 12 Years Old “Fire” Edition, Cameronbridge 27 Years Old “Air” Edition, Caol Ila 8 Years Old “Earth” Edition and the newly-released Jura 12 Years Old “Water” Edition. That’s a nice tour round Scotland if you have the bottles and the time.
The second from Douglas Laing is Big Peat 27 Year Old Black Edition. Bottled at 48.3% with no added colour or chill filtration, this completes the Big Peat Aged Trilogy, the others being Big Peat Gold (25y.o.) and Big Peat Platinum (26 y.o.) from 2017 and 2018 respectively. It’s available now but there are only 3,000 bottles. Cara Laing, Director of Whisky, said “In 2017 we selected a number of sister casks that were all destined to be bottled within Big Peat’s Vintage Trilogy. Back then we set out bring to life the journey of the spirit with each year that passed, and the experiment has been a fascinating one.” Now, if you have the other two, that will be a smoky and peaty little tasting.
One of my favourite single malts from the Dewar’s (Bacardi) stable is Craigellachie. I love the 17 Year Old. They’ve just come up with a 39 Year Old Single Cask which is for travel retail only and then only in the World Duty Free outlets at Heathrow Airport. It’s the oldest and rarest Craigellachie bottling available to buy. It was distilled in 1980 and matured in a refill bourbon hogshead. There are only 138 bottles at 51.5% abv; no added colour and no chill-filtration. What we used to refer to, irreverently, as “lumpy whisky” in my days at Teacher’s. Master Blender, Stephanie MacLeod, has described it as having notes of delicate oak, charred pineapple and toasted cereal. I suspect there will be a lot more too. It can also be acquired via the Heathrow Boutique Reserve and Collect Service. Price is … wait for it… £3,499.99 for a 70cl. bottle. (Still cheaper than the Bollinger Champagne bottling I heard of recently. A magnum of 2007 vintage champagne in a Moonraker shuttle container to celebrate a 40 year partnership with the James Bond movies at £4,500 – and the crystal decanter is “free”. Yeah, right.) Purchasers will be entered into a competition to win a luxury trip to Scotland. The winner will spend three days and nights in a unique experience of Scotland including a Craigellachie whisky pairing dinner in Edinburgh and a personally guided tour of the city’s iconic bars before being chauffeured to the distillery for a behind-the-scenes tour of the distillery. That will be a treat as its not open to visitors.
As we know, distilleries are springing up like mushrooms. Latest one to be announced is in Moffat in the south west Scotland. It will be the first legal distillery in the town as were surely distilling activities in the 19th century and before. Anyway, Dark Spirits which currently produces a blended malt called The Moffat (whisky bought from other parties), aims to start building works this year, hoping to begin distilling in 2021. There will also be a visitor centre. The distillery, which currently does not have a name, will have capacity to produce 60,000 litres of alcohol p.a. (about a barrel per day) and will employ around 12 people. The south of Scotland, east and west, has been popular for distillery start-ups in recent years so I hope this latest one is a success with a quality offering to add to Scotch’s global reputation.
If you’re not familiar with Cask 88 go and look at their website: https://www.cask88.com. They do online cask sales and special bottlings. One of their latest is The Scotch Whisky Express to celebrate the railways to/from the north of Scotland in the ” Golden Age of steam” that opened up the Scotch trade and brought visitors into the north. This will be a series of 6 bottlings in a nod to the six railway companies which operated these lines and some of the distilleries along their routes. The first commemorates the Highland Railway connecting northern areas with Perth in the south and the whisky is a 10 year Old Blair Athol from a bourbon cask. Only 125 bottles have been filled. Packaging artwork is by railway historian and artist, Robin Barnes who has painted six of the locomotives that ran on these lines as well as images for the company’s ads in steam railway enthusiast magazines. A cute idea and worth a look.
Tomatin has recently announced the newest edition of the Warehouse Six collection; The 1977, yielding just 390 bottles priced at £3,000 each. Seems to be a month for releasing expensive whiskies. “The entire Warehouse 6 collection has spent the last four decades slowly maturing in Tomatin’s traditional dunnage warehouse. This luxury whisky is the first in the distillery’s history to be matured in a Sauternes wine cask, resulting in an exceptional explosion of tropical flavours. Tomatin’s whisky from the 1970s is known for its deep and complex fruit flavours, previous releases from the Warehouse 6 collection include 1971, 1972 and 1975.” The release continues, “This unique flavour profile combines stunningly with the intense notes of coconut, mango and ginger. The 1977 expression has spent its life maturing in Warehouse 6, the traditional dunnage style warehouse where Tomatin’s most treasured casks are laid low above a cool earthen floor…As with every Warehouse 6 release, each expression pays tribute to the Tomatin craftsmen that have been custodians of exceptional Scotch for generations. Bottled at natural cask strength (49% alc./vol.).”
Last mention this month goes to our friends over in Ireland. Powers Whisky has a new pack design starting with its Powers Gold Label expression and will be seen in markets from March. The bottle shape “has been inspired by the distinctive pot still silhouette from the brand’s historical home at John’s Lane Distillery. Another striking aspect of the new design is the label which is styled on the iconic Powers ‘diamond P’ – one of the first ever trademarks registered in Ireland and a link to the legacy of Powers and Irish whiskey history all over Ireland.” We are told that Carol Quinn, the Irish Distillers archivist, explained, “Powers’ sense of identity has always focused on the diamond P; that became very clear to me as I worked my way through the historical archive. The diamond P was everywhere; on the casks, stationary, on bills and receipts, emblazoned on everything that left the distillery, and notably on the wonderful Powers mirrors that still hang in Ireland’s pubs today. Workers at the old John’s Lane distillery even took to wearing a diamond P pin on their lapel, such was their pride to be part of the Powers family. For me it’s wonderful to see the diamond P front and centre on this new label, symbolising all the history of this great whiskey since 1791.” It’s nice to see a brand coming back to its history to create something new. If your roots are strong, don’t forget them.
So there you have it for January except to ask what your favourite whiskies were in 2019? Keep any answers short! I enjoyed many but one memorable one was Bruichladdich’s Octomore 10.4.
February and Valentine’s Day are really close so how about a dram instead of pink champagne or rosé wine this year? No pink whiskies (though a few have a pink tinge from maturation) but there are cocktails, folks.
Till next month, Happy Dramming,