Scotch Maturation Flexes; Tourism Boom; OBE for Diageo’s Dr. Jim Beveridge; New Expressions from Compass Box, Whyte & Mackay & Glengoyne and Much More
Well, I opened last month with news of the ballot for The Macallan Estate. For the first time I was successful and needed to contact them to acknowledge and pay for the bottle. They give you only a 3 day window in which to do that….and I got so caught up in work matters that I missed the deadline to acquire my bottle. Gutted. No other word.
On happier notes, Scotch Whisky tourism is booming here with the Scotch Whisky Association releasing figures that show how successful our distilleries are at attracting enthusiast visitors. Scotch Whisky tourism saw record numbers of visitors in 2018, with over 2 million visits to Scotch Whisky distilleries from tourists for the first time. I’m happy to have played my own part in that since starting up Scotland’s first ever specialist whisky tour business some 22 years ago. In truth, a number of general tourist visitors are coach parties or medium size groups who have it as part of a general tour and not all are whisky fans or drinkers (when they arrive) – even a few of my own clients have been spouses or partners accompanying the real fans. However, any visit that helps people understand and appreciate Scotch and the care/time taken to make it has to be worthwhile and can send them away with a taste for it that wasn’t there before. Karen Betts, Scotch Whisky Association chief executive, said: “We’re delighted that Scotch Whisky distilleries have become such popular places to visit…Distilleries offer something of an antidote to today’s fast-paced world, where visitors can see the slow, careful craft, rooted in a distinct sense of place, that creates Scotch Whisky.”
The annual survey compiled by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) revealed visits were up 6.1% year on year and 56% more than in 2010. The survey also showed spending at visitor centres was up by 12.2% to £68.3m – additional £7.4m compared with 2017 and 154% more than in 2010. Over 20 different nationalities visited distilleries last year, with Germany and the USA providing the largest number of Scotch Whisky tourists. Increased visits from France, Spain, and the Netherlands were also reported, as well as India and China. Collectively, Scotch Whisky distilleries remain the third most visited attraction in Scotland.
And on that note, it was announced a couple of weeks ago that Diageo has been granted planning permission to create great new visitor facilities at Clynelish in the north of Scotland. From the artist’s impression sketch it does look rather stylish and modern. It’ll be interesting to see the final item. Work should be starting soon to create this fine new addition to the Diageo site, part of a massive investment in distilleries and visitor centres announced some time back. Clynelish has had a long association with Johnnie Walker and it remains one of the key single malts that goes into making Johnnie Walker today. The plans include a comprehensive upgrade of the distillery visitor experience with a new upper floor to tell the Clynelish story, as well as a new bar and tasting area offering beautiful views of the Sutherland coast. The area surrounding the distillery will also benefit from enhanced landscaping.
In more Diageo news, Dr. Jim Beveridge, Johnnie Walker Master Blender, has been awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his outstanding service to the Scotch Whisky industry. We are told, “In a career spanning almost four decades with the world’s leading distilling company Diageo, Dr. Beveridge has established himself as one of the most highly respected figures in the industry, renowned for his skill and dedication to quality, as well as his considered and unassuming manner. Dr. Beveridge is only the sixth person in two centuries of the company’s history to have held the position of Master Blender, the first being founder John Walker himself. Jim Beveridge leads a team of 12 blenders responsible for the quality and consistency of all the company’s Scotch whisky brands.” He also works closely with many other crafts involved in producing Scotch Whisky. I’ve been fortunate to meet him once or twice and to meet members of his team and all are unassuming people with a real zeal and love for what they do. It’s true to form that Dr. Beveridge has paid tribute to others who work with him on Johnnie Walker expressions rather than take all the credit to himself. Long may he and his team continue to delight and inspire us with fine whiskies.
Also from the SWA comes news of a flexibility or, perhaps, rather an expansion, in the types of cask which can be used to mature or finish Scotch Whisky. The exclusive information was given to www.scotchwhisky.com and you can find the piece here:
It’s a thorough spelling out of what is and is not allowed, including the permitted use now of casks “previously used to age agave spirits (including Tequila and mezcal), Calvados, barrel-aged cachaça, shochu and baijiu, as well as some other fruit spirits.” Bear in mind, though that Scotch Whisky should still taste of its basic ingredients and different cask types have not been used to make whisky taste like its previous contents but to add depth and nuances to the fine spirit we already produce. I’m not entirely sure what some of those abovementioned cask types might bring. However, it allows for a more adventurous field in a competitive drinks world and should allow Scotch producers to showcase even more of their talents. Indeed, as the article tells us, these casks were never specifically forbidden but the legal advice was always to use casks with ‘sufficient evidence of traditional use’ within the industry which, for a very long time, was taken to be ex-sherry or ex-bourbon casks.
There have been pieces in the last 10 -15 years wondering whether the bubble round all the finishing and different cask types used for main maturation would eventually burst and everyone would go back to the basics of bourbon and sherry but no sign of that anytime soon. It’s actually quite exciting and things that don’t work won’t last very long. It’s a bit like the current upsurge in gin distillation. The good ones will survive and others will fall away.
Chivas (Pernod Ricard) has announced its fourth expression in The Glenlivet mystery series but this one, Enigma, will be a US exclusive. “What did the rest of us do to deserve that?” I find myself wondering. How and ever, it looks good and will doubtless taste good so get your hands on a bottle if you can. It’s at 46% abv and tasting clues can be unlocked by solving a digital crossword puzzle. This new expression is available from 10 July at US$149. More info on this secretive offering will be announced in late 2019.
Royal Mile Whiskies in Edinburgh announced a couple of weeks ago the release of a 2006 single cask release from Daftmill distillery. This marks one of the very first exclusive bottlings from this highly regarded Lowland farm distillery. Daftmill distillery founder and owner, Francis Cuthbert, has always maintained that the whisky he makes is for drinking and sharing and Royal Mile Whiskies has echoed this ethos by launching a social media competition urging those who buy a bottle to do the same. I met Mr. Cuthbert a few years ago and asked when we might finally see some Daftmill in bottle. “When we think it’s ready,” was the response! Customers simply need to share an image of themselves on social media enjoying a dram of Daftmill 2006 Single Cask with their open bottle, and include the hashtag #CheersFrancis in order to be entered into a random prize draw. The winner will receive a bottle of Royal Mile Whiskies’ and Berry Bros. & Rudd’s respective Daftmill single cask releases, signed by Francis himself, and an invitation to tour the distillery with him. Bottles are limited to one per customer will be available exclusively from Royal Mile Whiskies both online and
in stores on Thursday 18th July for £144.95.
And now on to this month’s tasting notes.
Some of you may recall I postponed Glengoyne Cask Strength Batch 7 (58.9%) as there was quite a lot of new stuff to be nosing and tasting so here we are at last. This one features a small amount of bourbon wood matured whisky for the first time in this cask strength collection.
Appearance: A rich, medium, bright gold. Some old gold and brass tints. Tears are slow to form, clingy and quite fat and far apart.
Nose: Quite sharp on the nasal passages but it is high alcohol. Some barley sugar/demerara sweetness; sweet wood notes; a bit of vanilla nd ripe, cooked apricots. Waxy notes also and perfumed; some dried fruits and a little bit of sulphur. With water, it is fruitier and more sulphurous with a tiny dab of char from the bourbon wood.
Palate: Medium mouth feel. Quite a full flavour, oaky and peppery (partly down to high alcohol); some savoury spices and a bit of char. It has charred wood notes you wouldn’t normally expect from Glengoyne, due to the bourbon casks and also sherry dryness. Some dried fruits but more wood and grain notes.
Finish: Chewy, dry and herbal. Quite long with a little bit of char.
Second up this month is a completely new offering – Whyte & Mackay Light Spirit Drink. This one was previewed last month. You’ll all know that it can’t be called whisky as it’s less than 40% abv – only 21.5% in this case. It’s been created as W&M noted that a growing number of people ( and I reckon largely younger ones) are looking for low or no-alcohol drinks to look after their health more and while other drinks categories seemed to be meeting some of this need, spirits were lagging way behind, though there are a few gins and other items out there. Now, I have to say, I’m not in the target market and wondered if there would be flavour to back up the “premium” claim. Sceptical, moi? This expression is available in the UK in Tesco supermarkets at a cost of £12 per 70cl. bottle so it’s not far off the price of some bottles of full strength whisky.
The label says it is Scotch whisky married with sherry. What?!! In fact, this seems to mean simply that the spirit created from malt and grain spirits has spent a bit of time in former sherry and bourbon casks as it also states, “enriched by sweet Sherry casks and freshly emptied Bourbon barrels.” To be fair, I tried a cocktail some years ago using another blended Scotch and a rich sherry and it tasted brilliant. This one might be just as good a base to play with. Playing with flavours is what we should do. Regarding the packaging, it’s their standard bottle which is great to hold, with some touchy-feely embossing on the glass. The front label makes it very clear what this is and I’ll be following its progress with interest.
Appearance: Amber with orange highlights. Golden syrup and tea; stewed Irn Bru. For non-Scottish readers, Irn Bru is a carbonated drink made in Scotland and is a dazzling shade of orange. This spirit is more muted in tone. Tears are swift and close together indicating some likely presence of youthful spirit.
Nose: Stewed apple, soaked raisins, tea. Fresh and fruity if not particularly deep. A little wood comes through later and, left alone for a while, a charming smoky note reaches out of the glass. Now, the pack tells us that we can try this neat, with ice or with mixers. I’d tried it neat so put in a little ice. That releases notes of sulphur (sherry cask) and makes it more yeasty, a little like the wash stage after fermentation.
Palate: Slightly unctuous, sweet, heathery, a little bit of liquorice; dry herb; spiritous (young) notes and ginger. With ice, the smoke starts to come through along with some yeast hints.
Finish: Short, herbal and tongue-drying but with some sweetness and smoke.
I think this would be fine with ice or as a base for mixers. I think back to the flak that Haig Club got when it was released and yet it also does have a decent flavour and is good for cocktails and mixes, though it is full strength. At the lower strength, this has a different offering. I wonder if it might make a decent smoky martini but haven’t yet tried to make one with W&M Light. Full strength, less subtly smoky whiskies can be too overwhelming for that. If you’re UK based, give the smoky martini a go and let me know what you think. Do try it with ice too.
Last tasting note for this month is a new one from Compass Box – The Circle. It’s blended malt at 46% abv and 6.151 bottles have been made for UK (£120) and some overseas distribution, available from June 2019. In the US from July ($150). What’s The Circle? A bartender programme to connect blending and bar trade who hear first hand from consumers. CB’s founder, John Glaser, tells us, ” It is our way of bringing together like-minded creators who love to do things differently. But this isn’t about industry experimentation behind closed doors. These expert bartenders are set a range of challenges to test their creativity. The ultimate winner is then rewarded with the opportunity to create his or her own Compass Box limited edition whisky.”
2018’s winner was London based, Rosey Mitchell from Three Sheets in London. The inspiration for her blend was simplicity: “I wanted to make an approachable whisky to be shared with friends. I wanted something you could share in the daytime, something with brightness. It could be served as a vibrant summery highball in the garden – sunshine whisky. For me, I say enough of the ‘whisky in dark bars’ mentality…. The final product is exactly what I’d imagined: it is bright; it is light and warm; it is made for sharing. You want to have more than one. It is sunshine in a glass.”
The Circle Limited Edition is a blend of Scotch malt whiskies, as follows: Tamdhu first-fill bourbon cask; Clynelish refill sherry butt; an Orkney malt (can be only one of two) from a recharred US oak hogshead and a Highland malt blend placed in customised French oak with a light toast. The Highland malt blend is made up of Clynelish, Daluaine and Teaninich. That amounts to an impressive pedigree but how does it taste?
Appearance: Rich straw/medium gold. It is quite like sunshine as its creator intended. Tears are swift at first and fairly close then rather slower.
Nose: Quite a sharp note in the nasal passages at first with some candy sweetness and apple peel. Dab of vanilla then citrus juice and apples. After that, more sponge cake sweetness comes through. With water, a little of the zesty sharpness fades but it’s more mellow with toffee sweetness and vanilla.
Palate: The maltiness is quite striking at first, then sweetness and some oakand mild spices. Afterwards a dry and herbal/heathery finish. Slight hint of smoke from the recharred casks. Not a heavy whisky but more for daytime /early evening or summer at the end of a day.
Finish: Mainly maltiness and sweetness at the back with some liquorice. Medium length with a touch of char flavour. Very drinkable.
Douglas Laing & Co. have announced a brand extension to the Xtra Old Particular Single Cask Scotch Whisky range: XOP The Black Series. Each bottle is filled by hand and features an embossed metallised label, glass stopper and the signatures of Fred and Cara Laing. A striking black moleskin display case carries a certificate of authenticity alongside the antique Scotch Whisky. Beautiful packaging. The inaugural cask to be bottled under the new alias is an antique ex-Sherry hogshead, distilled at the Springbank Distillery in 1994. Bottled at Cask Strength (47.7%) over 25 years later, Douglas Laing & Co note that “this rare Whisky has taken on an exceptionally rich, dark colour, an inviting hint as to dark fruited, subtly smoked, leathery and chocolatey spirit within”. XOP The Black Series Springbank Vintage 1994 is available throughout Europe and Asia with an expected retail price of £800.00. Just 148 bottles exist. Not for the light of wallet.
Macallan has opened a glamorous boutique in Dubai airport, Terminal 3, Concourse B. They say, ” Explore the full breadth of Macallan whiskies, some of which are exclusive to our Boutiques, in a luxury retail environment which echoes the design of our Distillery and Visitor Experience at the heart of The Macallan Estate. The Macallan brand stories, shot in stunning cinematography, will be showcased alongside virtual reality content that transports you to Speyside to explore the history behind The Macallan Estate.” Looks like it beats the business class lounge any day or so I understand from the one person I know who’s been in that.
On the cards for July, I’m at a Highland Park event at the Dunstane House Hotel as the owners have an Orkney connection and back over east the following week for a Japanese whisky tasting. Looking forward to both and to a potential sample of a new Benriach. Fingers crossed! More news on all of those in July.
Till then, what Scotch Whisky would you drink watching the Wimbledon tennis tournament?
Happy summer dramming.