Whiskey Book Review, More Whisky Things to Do in Lockdown, Awards
Hello and greetings from house arrest – or maybe it just feels like it. I hope those of you whose countries have implemented movement restrictions are all staying safe … and sane!
First on my list this month is a whiskey (yes, with an “e”) book by Robin Robinson. Robin is a US writer and educator who has the rare distinction amongst whisky scribes of actually having sold the stuff. As a whisky marketer I salute the sales guys. Anyway, my old acquaintance Doug Stone of forwhiskeylovers.com brought the book to my attention a couple of months back and I requested a review copy through him. The book is entitled “The Complete Whiskey Course – A Comprehensive Tasting School in Ten Classes” and was published in the latter half of 2019. If you have it , great; if you haven’t, read on. Robin makes the point, as an American, that he uses the whiskey spelling throughout apart from when writing specifically about styles that don’t use the “e”. He also tells us more about the history of that divide.
The book is beautifully presented in a lovely, tactile hardcover and printed on high quality thick paper. It features great photography and illustrations too. But what of the text? As the title suggests, it’s divided into ten classes or chapters. There’s one about whiskey generally, including history and various features of whiskey making. Class Two is how to nose and taste then we move on through to classes on the leading whisky producing countries finishing up with information on other world whiskies though that list is not exhaustive (many haven’t really meaningfully made the world stage yet). Main ones well covered, though. The history sections are good reads. Indeed, the whole book is an easy and pleasurable read. Each chapter features recommendations of whiskies to try and at the end of each country section are suggested tasting flights under different headings. For Scotch, I’d like to have seen more from the aged blend category in a list though there are several of them dotted about as recommendations elsewhere. However, that’s the fun of these things – follow the recommendations and reasons for making them then make your own lists or additions under the same headings. Also the point is made elsewhere in the book that you can confound a malt snob by giving them a fine blend (of any age) in a blind tasting.
Robin makes some fine points about terminology used and assumptions made. There are also areas I’d like to discuss more with him as a whisky educator myself. That made the book a thought-provoking experience as well as a practical one. There are also just a couple of places where I thought, “Eh? What?” and then realised it’s a statement specific to the US market so do bear that in mind when you read it.
As I say, the text is very readable – indeed friendly – and chopped into very manageable knowledge chunks with clear, concise explanations of processes, chemical compounds and more. There’s some wry humour here and there too. I’d like to have seen more in the Scotch chapter on new distilleries and recent movements as the American and American Craft chapters are more extensive. However, I reckon it’s because the new Scottish guys can’t do some of the really innovative things some of the newer US guys are doing. The final chapters go into the glassware to use for nosing/tasting and how to conduct a group or solo event, with plenty of sound advice. There’s an excellent glossary at the end for newbies and enthusiasts alike.
In summary, this is a very well-written, informative and highly enjoyable book for those keen to learn more and as a reminder for those who are already whisk(e)y enthusiasts. I thoroughly recommend it, especially in the current situation where you might be looking for things to do to keep learning. If you’ve done or are about to do any of The Whisky Ambassador courses, this should be added to the reading list. I appreciate some of you may have been furloughed from your jobs right now and the price of the book is £25 (UK) / $27.95 (USA). Cheaper as the Kindle version but you don’t get the lovely tactile aspects. This is definitely one to have as a physical book and one you’ll keep coming back to. It’s well worth the money. If you can afford it now or later, maybe order online from an actual bookshop or direct from the publisher, if possible, rather than the Amazon behemoth? Keep supporting smaller businesses. One piece of advice in the book which gladdened my heart was Robin writing that in tasting you should, “…travel beyond your comfort zone and don’t be a snob”. Yes!! Man after my own heart. Now go buy the book, read it and taste whisk(e)y.
That brings me on to other things to do during lockdown. This site is primarily to do with Scotch Whisky learning but take this opportunity to try things from our friends in other places, perhaps with Robin’s book beside you. I have unopened bottles in my cupboards from the US, Canada, Ireland and Japan that will merit some sampling. If you don’t do it already, start a tasting notes book for Scotch and other whiskies. You can do it using iPad/tablet/phone but there are few things more satisfying than starting with a lovely notebook full of blank pages you can create as your own tasting note library (paper and a nice pen are trendy again). It’s also useful to go back to in future as new expressions of your favourite whiskies come out or you want to re-taste something and compare your impressions now with then. HOWEVER, don’t drink too much during lockdown. Looking after your health doesn’t mean swigging back more alcohol, however pleasant some of it tastes. Taste and spit for proper results.
Another thing to do is clear out your whisky cupboards. I have samples of things that have been tasted and written up and then left partly used. Same with full bottle sizes. I’m sure many of us are guilty of such things. If there’s quite a bit out of the bottle and you haven’t touched it for 1 year or more, pour it out. Air getting in does affect the whisky left in the bottle and too long means you’re not tasting it at its best. It’s a useful, indeed vital, discipline in a bar/restaurant/hotel to put a little label bearing the date on a bottle when you first open it. Doubtless many of you already do that. That discipline serves equally well at home.
Speaking of clearing out cupboards, I was doing that the other day and going through old whisky and drinks magazines I had stashed away. Found an article I’d written in Whisky Magazine, I think it was, from around 2008 (I’ve tidied it away again) about distilleries where you can also stay. Probably high time I rewrote that one! I’d forgotten I’d even produced it all that time ago.
Now, even more of our distillers and others are doing online tastings and “conversations” or even virtual visits. News of these is coming in thick and fast, sometimes at very short notice. They don’t always coincide with this column which is now twice monthly but I’ve posted an extra “Note” about a couple and tweeted about them. I suggest you check your browser or social media feeds for brands you like to see what they might be doing. Recent ones that have come in to me are:
1) “BenRiach and The GlenDronach are inviting whisky fans worldwide to embrace their extra time at home with an online conversation series exploring the many
possibilities of Single Malt whisky. Both whisky connoisseurs and the whisky curious are invited to join each conversation via @BenRiach and @GlenDronach on Instagram Live, with the option to ask questions in advance”.
The first one on Benriach went out on 8th April but still to come on Wednesday 15 April at 8pm (BST) is ” ‘Coorie in’ with The GlenDronach: Master the art of fine Single Malt at home. We’re told:
“…‘Coorie’ is a traditional Scottish word, meaning to cosy and snuggle in… Master Blender, Dr. Rachel Barrie and Global Brand Ambassador, Stewart Buchanan will discuss the artistry of traditional whisky making at the Highland distillery and how they like to ‘coorie in’ with The GlenDronach in their respective homes, encouraging viewers to develop both their flavour palate and Single Malt expertise.
Viewers will be able to send questions to Rachel in advance via @GlenDronach , with a rare opportunity to learn more about her role as a Master Blender with over 27 years’ experience in crafting fine Single Malts.”
So we’ll “coorie in” while we’re “hunkered doon” against the virus!
2) The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) is setting up an online ‘Members’ Room’ “where whisky fans can meet up virtually to enjoy a dram, share their experiences and participate in a series of online tastings, from the safety of their own homes.”
You do need to be a member for this one and the release text is a bit of an unashamed tout for new members but it’s a very fine idea if you want sign up and log on. Their online shop is still open for business to acquire any expressions you might need – or desire – and they do have a cracking range of whiskies. SMWS offers a print-at-home tasting mat, which can be downloaded for use in these sessions and you can listen to their Whisky Talk podcast “which explores the people and the stories behind the drams”.
3) Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast in the USA is running live webstream on Wednesdays and Fridays at 5p.m. EDT (US Eastern time) with whisky guests from various places round the world. If you’ve missed the recent ones you can catch them on their You Tube channel or their Facebook or Twitter timelines.
4) This Sunday 12th April at 5pm (BST) will see the first in a series of broadcasts from Smokehead Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky which Ian Macleod distillers describes as, “the wild one of the whisky world” at the launch of Smokehead TV. It continues, “Over the coming weeks, Smokehead will be presenting further tastings, boilermakers, cocktail making sessions, food, music, interviews, giveaways and other cool Smokehead stuff. During this challenging time, £1 from the sale of each bottle purchased from www.smokehead.com (and all other IMD websites) will be donated to Drinks Trust [UK charity] to support their mission of providing care and support to our hospitality colleagues.”
Now that’s a fine cause to support.
5) Japanese spirits e-commerce site dekantā has launched its online channel, ‘Japanese Whisky Lockdown’, which is “offering an eclectic mix of comedy, whisky news, live music, and cultural trends in a bid to ease the boredom of lockdown for Japanese whisky and culture fans internationally. With bars, pubs and restaurants closing across the globe…, a trend has emerged in Japan to allow people who are social-distancing to enjoy a drink with friends and family while chatting via video messaging apps. It’s called ‘On-nomi’ (オン飲み), which means ‘online drinking party’, and it was the inspiration for dekantā’s new entertainment channel. The programme will air on the dekantā website and social media channels every Friday at 8:30pm EDT, starting Friday 10 April 2020, with episodes available on-demand after that date. Each episode will raise money for Wellcome’s COVID-Zero Fund, with dekantā pledging to match donations from viewers. To view episodes of dekantā TV’s ‘Japanese Whisky Lockdown’ and more information about the channel, visit dekanta.com/tv.”
6) Now this headline intrigued me: HOW TO SPEND £1M… AT HOME IN YOUR PYJAMAS. There are plenty of people out there who have shopped for goodies late at night after a few drams or wines or too much chocolate and then regretted it later but this refers to the second part of an auction of “The Perfect Collection by Mr. Richard Gooding – a library of over 3,900 of the rarest, most coveted, most expensive as well as expansive range of bottles of Scotch Whisky ever to go to public auction.
During the 10-day sale of 1,958 bottles, whisky lovers worldwide will have what may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to purchase some very special whisky. Some highlights include:
● The Macallan 1926 Fine & Rare 60 Year Old
● A host of highly sought-after bottles from some of Scotland’s lost distilleries
including Dallas Dhu, Glenugie and Killyloch with some bottles dating back as
far as 1921
● Glenfiddich 1937 Rare Collection 64 Year Old; with only 61 bottles produced this is a very rare find and is the oldest expression ever to have been released by Glenfiddich”
To sign up for Part Two of The Perfect Collection by Mr. Richard Gooding and for more information/get the catalogue, visit:
Let’s finish on a couple of award-winning notes. First from Loch Lomond Group who advised:
“Loch Lomond Group has enjoyed one of its most impressive sets of results at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year, receiving twelve separate awards, including two coveted platinum medals for its Loch Lomond 12 Year Old Single Malt and Glen Scotia 25 Year Old Single Malt. This was the 20th San Francisco World Spirits Competition which this year received over 3,000 entries.
The platinum medals were introduced last year and recognise brands that win a Double Gold or Best in Class for three consecutive years. This year only seven platinum medals were awarded across the entire Scotch category. To date only 17 platinum medals have been awarded across all categories in the competition.
Ten further awards were collected, including Double Gold for both Loch Lomond Inchmurrin 12 Year Old and Loch Lomond 18 Year Old; four gold awards for Glen Scotia Double Cask, Glen Scotia Victoriana, Glen Scotia 18 Year Old and Loch Lomond Inchmoan 12 Year Old; and four silvers for Glen Scotia 15 Year Old, Loch Lomond Original, High Commissioner Blended Scotch and Ben Lomond Gin.”
I’ve done tasting notes for a few of these before and may include one next time if there’s room.
Secondly, Tamdhu Single Malt Scotch Whisky is celebrating another industry award after garnering a top accolade at the final of the highly regarded World Whiskies Awards 2020 competition. The Tamdhu Distillery Manager’s Single Cask was crowned as the ‘World’s Best Single Cask, Single Malt Whisky’ during the digital awards ceremony.
“Sandy McIntyre, who was crowned Distillery Manager of the Year in Whisky Magazine’s ‘Icons of Whisky Scotland 2019’ awards, hand-selected a first fill American oak sherry butt for his award-winning single cask vintage. As reported last time, as well as scooping the coveted ‘World’s Best Single Cask, Single Malt Whisky’, Tamdhu also secured a ‘Category Winner’ commendation for its Edinburgh Airport Sherry Oak Single Cask, as well as two Gold commendations in the ‘Single Malt Scotch Speyside’ category for Batch Strength No. 004 and Dalbeallie II in the ‘No Age Statement’ division.”
So there you have it for the first half of April. I was going to include some cocktails/mixes but well out of room now! This column is meant to be shorter now that there are two. I’ll try and do better next time. Keep learning and tasting and stay well.