Whisky Travels, A New Grouse, Award for Martin & Things to Look Forward To
(A little addendum first. You‘ll be seeing this a little later than intended as I started to write this while away in Paris but hotel wifi wasn‘t good/fast enough for uploading this and photography so here I am back in Scotland with own wifi.)
As I‘m away I‘ve asked those offering samples to hold back till I‘m home. Postal service and couriers these days have a terrible habit of leaving packages on the doorstep if no one answers the door. Leaves them either to be stolen or it‘s a big clue to potential burglars that no one‘s home. Find myself wondering whom I sue if that happens… Anyway, there are some cracking samples to come if they‘re still available to send so fingers, eyes and toes are crossed. I‘ll use them in my mid-April and/or end-April columns depending on numbers.
First up this time is a new blend from The Famous Grouse Master Blender at Edrington – it‘s called The Famous One (40%abv; £23/US$30 per bottle). Word on this came in late March shortly before I waltzed off to France. It‘s an Amazon exclusive (personally, I try to avoid Amazon but there are times when it’s not possible) and we‘re told it‘s,“…a blend of grain and malt whiskies, hand-chosen by The Famous Grouse master blender. The liquid was aged in a mix of Sherry- seasoned American oak casks and ex-Bourbon American oak barrels. The casks were specifically chosen to deliver sweeter, more honeyed flavours. Tasting notes include citrus, vanilla, fudge and toffee…The Famous One retains all the brand’s complexity and smooth texture but with the additional honeyed, citrus and vanilla characters it truly stands out on its own. The aim was to create a modern and more indulgent take on The Famous Grouse: one that is still perfect for sharing with friends but designed to be enjoyed in a range of smooth, sweet whisky serves.”
I‘d have to say there are many whiskies out there making similar intention and characteristics claims but a new expression from the Grouse people is always worth a look. A cocktail recommendation that came with it is an Old Fashioned though it says there are other cocktails suitable, „or neat or on the rocks.“ I appreciate stressing its versatility but I do find myself wondering if they have a perfect serve they could settle on rather than making it an all things to all (wo)men offering.
Interesting piece from Richard Woodard in The Drinks Business daily digest since my last column. Find it at https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2022/03/how-scotch-made-its-mark-on-the-secondary-market/ . Includes a useful warning that items bought at auction can later go down in value as well as up. I‘d have to repeat my view that you should buy to drink and enjoy not to invest in. Auctions can sometimes be a useful way for on-trade operators or private individuals to buy some whiskies at cheaper prices than via wholesalers etc. or obtain expressions no longer made but you have to bear in mind the buyer premium to be paid to auction houses. It‘s usually never less than 15% and can be a lot more. I sometimes go along to auctions out of interest but have never bought anything. I have enough whiskies already! Remember also that you can bid online but there may be problems sending a purchase to you if you don‘t live in the UK, not to mention added costs. Check it out before bidding for anything.
A recent piece of good news saw Martin Markvardsen, Highland Park‘s Senior Brand Ambassador, recently given the Scotch Whisky Brand Ambassador of the Year award in the Whisky Magazine 2022 awards. I‘ve met Martin on a number of occasions and he does a brilliant job for his brand. It‘s well deserved. In the same set of awards, Thierry Benitah of La Maison du Whisky in Paris was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Whisky Icon. Another deserving character. Sadly, I haven‘t had time to make it into the flagship store on this trip but it‘s one not to miss in Paris if you‘ve never been. I did a tasting there at a book launch several years ago and it‘s a fascinating shop with a really good team working in it.
The tasting samples mentioned above are the things to look forward to but, having now travelled so recently and seeing the world open up a bit for all of us, it‘s time to think about whisky trips in Scotland. If any of you are thinking of coming here to pursue your whisky interests, take time to set it up properly given the amount of time you have and how long it takes to travel between places. One way of tackling it is to make the trip over a smaller area e.g. Lowland or all south west Lowland or all south east Lowland (especially as Rosebank will be open again this year); Edinburgh and Fife is another option as is east coast from Angus northwards or the mainland west coast (Oban, Ben Nevis etc.). Islay can easily be a trip in itself but it takes time to get there by ferry (my preference), quicker by plane. If you do want to visit any of our whisky islands then make sure to take at least two nights on the relevant island(s) and factor in time for ferries, reaching and checking in at ports. I have some super U.S. clients who‘ve been clients for about 20 years or so and come back about every 5 years. They were meant to come in 2020 but had to postpone till 2021 and then again till later this year. They‘re doing an islands trip this year and are here for a week and a half to cover everything they wanted but it‘s still quite a quick run round. Of course, we have the Highland distilleries which cover a large area but there are no large multi-lane roads (though some very good ones) to spoil the scenery so add on time or choose your destinations carefully. Speyside is, of course, a smaller area but packed with distilleries so needs careful choosing and planning. Do note this list of regions or potential combinations is by no means complete.
Distilling is largely the same process everywhere apart from some finer details so choose places where there are points of difference (e.g. gardens or malting floors; ratio of wash still distillation to spirit still etc.) or where there is a tour + tasting flight that particularly interests you. If you‘re self-driving – or taking turns at driving as a group of friends – a lot of distilleries now will give the driver a little samples pack to take away to enjoy in your trip accommodation or at home so you don‘t have to drink and drive. It may seem like that takes away a lot of the enjoyment but it‘s the safe option and drink driving laws are strict. You can of course do what we professionals do which is taste and spit out but that does seem like a waste! The other option is to be driven if your budget stretches to it. Most, though not all, of my clients over the years have been driven. When working in the industry as a marketeer, I always took the view that to be caught drinking and driving meant you brought the company into disrepute and you lost your job so it wasn‘t worth the risk. Especially as Scotch Whisky is such a great industry to work in.
Then there‘s gin. You can have a great gin tour these days too with so many towns and villages the entire length and breadth of Scotland having their own gin distilleries.
Lastly, a reminder that The Whisky Ambassador Advanced Course is being launched end of April and, as a contributor to that, I hope to be there on one of the course days.
Till mid-April, happy dramming.