The Whisky Tasting Club

Interview with Bruno and Eugen Broger

When Whisky Advocate chose Broger Burn Out as its World Whisky of the Year at the start of the year, brothers Bruno and Eugen Broger couldn’t believe it.

They head up the family business, which has become a leading light of the Austrian Whisky Association. Their distillery is based in Klaus, Vorarlberg, in the far western tip of Austria, nestling close to the border with Germany, Lichtenstein, and Switzerland.

Whisky production began there in 2008, though there was no shortage of technical experience, as earlier generations of the family had been distilling fruit brandies and other spirits for many years. Although their orderly range consists of just five whiskies, they bring a creative and enthusiastic approach to quality and innovation. For example, their Broger Medium Smoked whisky uses barley kilned over beechwood, like a Rauchbier.

Further diversification of flavour comes from maturing whiskies in a variety of casks, from sherry, port, and Madeira to French Limousin oak and Château d’Yquem casks.

For Burn Out, they knew exactly what they wanted and imported heavily peated Scottish malt to create a burly, bruising, peaty style of whisky.

Q. So firstly, were you surprised to win the award and what did it mean to you?

When Whisky Advocate contacted us in spring 2014 and asked us for tasting sampls, we’ve been speechless. We thought “Wow – how do they know us? Does they already know us in America? “. When we later read the tasting note for our BurnOut, we were completely amazed at how this unconventional description has brought the character of our BurnOut “to the point”. The biggest surprise came naturally in December. First, a couple of emails from American and Canadian dealers and whisky fans arrived – and we didn’t know yet of the award, so this has totally confused us. Later that evening we “googled” and found out that we’ve won this award. The award means a lot to us and makes us very proud. It is an endorsement of our work and our passion. The price shows that our whiskeys are on the same level as large international whiskey brands. The fact that whiskey distilleries small unknown hobby so recognised and appreciated, really nice. What perhaps is not an outsider so aware of is the enormous motivation that draws our whole team of this award. The passion and enthusiasm which we put on the family Broger in our whiskeys have been recognised internationally! Of these, we would not have dared to dream.

Q. How was the news greeted at home?

The reaction in Austria and the Alpine Region was a bit split in two. In the immediate vicinity, all customers, partners, friends and acquaintances were pleased with us and it has brought many to wonder. The national media have reported, the Austrian Television aired a report and it is planned another television appearance in the near future. Among fruit spirits and whisky producers, it looks different – on the one hand, some of them shared honest joy and congratulations with us and they see the positive impact for Austrian / Alpine whiskey in general. On other other hand, you realise there is envy.

Q. Is there a general benefit to the Germanic speaking whisky making regions?

Yes, we certainly think that international recognition like an award from Whisky Advocate helps promote whiskies from atypical countries and makes them more known. The award for “Best World Whisky” has only come to Europe twice. Certainly, not much attention has been drawn to European whisky producing countries in the past. We hope that our award will increase attention for European and Alpine whisky in the future. Especially in the Austrian tourism regions, the local whisky so far has been ignored. “The prophet in his own country” is not considered. Through this award, we now receive requests from other countries – obviously a window has since opened and whisky lovers from other countries are now interested in “Alpine whisky”.

Q. There is a very strong distilling tradition in Europe isn’t there? Was it easy to adapt to whisky?

If you believe the historians, the technique of distillation was invented in the Arab region – and is not necessarily known for its related products today. In our region, fruits are processed for hundreds of years, including the distillation of fruit spirits. The art of distillation has a long standing tradition here. The use of wooden casks for maturation were unknown and Broger started first tests in 1993. At that time, of course, with fruit spirits and even then with our boundless experimentation. We did not just use oak casks but also casks from mulberry, cherry or acacia. Also ran trials with pre used casks of Calvados, rum, brandy and whiskey. What we really had to learn “from scratch”, is the processing of cereals, mashing etc. and of course the different types of grains used. As a new world has opened up for us, we could not imagine at the beginning of our whisky passion about 5 years ago, what was about to come. We are convinced there is still a lot of knowledge waiting for.

Q. Have you witnessed a growth in quality in recent years?

A. In the region in general it’s fair to say that the quality has improved. In our opinion this is due to the fact, that only a few distill whiskey in our region and these distillers were rather unkown but produce excellent qualities based on their fruit spirits heritage. The last few years and the last decade, whiskey enormously gained importance in our area: on the one hand the production of whiskey and whiskey in general as a sipping drink. More and more people become whiskey lovers athey re surprised that there are regional whiskeys. Of course, the quality is hs been increased in recent years: “Practice makes perfect”. With increasing experience and longer maturation of the whiskey, quality has accordingly improved

Q. Is distillation of whisky different to say genever or gin, and if so, have Austrian distillers adapted to it?

The basic principles of distillation themselves are identical, however there is a big difference in the processing of the raw material and the aging in oak casks. It’s not easy if you have to gain this knowledge yourself in a region, which actually is a white spot on the map for whisky production. You have to help yourself with “trial and error”, textbooks, courses, internet research and sometimes you get advice from others. We think we had a great advantage, since we started many years ago to mature fruit spirits in casks. In the production of whisky it takes a lot of sensitivity to choose/select the perfect casks that make the whisky harmonious and unique. In Austria and Germany some distillers produce very good whiskey these days. The exciting with whisky is, of course, the time lag (maturation) until you can say – Wow – this is really something special. We can already enjoy some cask samples of other manufacturers in recent years, there is some great potential in it.

So there are similarities in the distillation process of course, but every raw material is different – Fruits are different  than herbs, and of course grain has to be processed in a different manner. A huge difference is the storage in barrels, which is not typical for fruits or herbs.

Q. Please tell me about your distillery

Our distillery has its origins in the distillation of fruits from the parental orchard of Bruno and Eugen Broger. Since 1976 Bruno and Eugen have helped their grandfather, father and uncle to distil their fruits.

In 1993 the first own distillery was bought. Over the years we learnt a lot by doing, by reading specialist magazines, by attending classes and by training our sensors and the whole family of Eugen and Bruno got fascinated by the high-end spirits distillation.

In 2008 we started distilling grain and refining it to whisky.

In 2011 the company Broger Privatbrennerei OG was founded by Bruno and Eugen together with their wives Ursula and Ulrike. Distilling for us is only a side-line business. We are passionate hedonists and we are passionate about manufacturing appreciative spirits.

Our homemade whiskies and spirits convince with their variety, expressivity and intensity of aromas. Our major goal is to collect and preserve the uniqueness and the affluence of each fruit and grain sort: Starting with an enticing scent, tasting a full aroma profile on the palate, and closing in a powerful long finish.

Q. Why did you start making whisky?

We ourselves have been great whisky connoisseurs and as we said, why should we not also venture the time to produce it ourselves? It was curiosity that drove us to explore the unknown field of grain distillation next to the successes in the distillation of fruits and herbs. Whisky is not just alcohol. Whisky is life. You can feel that when you talk to whisky enthusiasts, customers, etc.. For these people, it’s not about drinking, which is about enjoyment and pleasure and have visions. We are pleased to be a part of this community and I think it enables us to keep this a little joy, respectively in the barrel. the bottle convey.

Q It is brave to fggo for such a big, peated whisky. How did that come about?

Within the Austrian Whisky Association we are called the “Limitless” because we are always open to experimentation and trying out new things. Because who does not ventured, nothing is gained. The word whiskey is diversity. We love whiskey in all its variations and we also wanted its own “Smoke and Peat”. We have long needed here to find a supplier for the malt. When we finally get our heavy peated Scottish barley and distilled the first time, we noticed that could get out of it. It was so exciting to follow the cask storage time and the result was a real pleasure for us. One advantage is certain that we are a hobby distillery, and we all go to another day job. This eliminates a lot of the pressure. For us, the passion is important, not winning at the end of the year and therefore we can “afford” to experiment

Q. What are your plans and what are you working on?

Our ideas will last a long time – the theme of whiskey is also extremely exciting and there are seemingly endless possibilities. Each whiskey is different. Later this year we will start to grow local grain to produce a 100% regional product. Of course, the wood for barrels will come from our native forest. It should also be grown very special coarse grains as we are still with the farmer with whom we work in conversation. As far but already ahead – it will not only be barley. With regard to the use of pre used barrels we have a more complex issue. We have an excellent cooper, who produced our new barrels according to our expectations. For pre used Sherry or Port casks the quality of the final product is greatly influenced by the quality of the former. Intercalated product. Here we are still in search of a collaboration with a top winemakers or sherry producer. Maybe with the help of the “Whisky Advocate Award” it will get ahead more easily? Since we are a very small company and therefore can make really small special bottlings, we will continue to experiment with different woods and defaults. We currently have stored in former whiskey brandy barrels. for example, previously perfected our own plum brandy and nutmeg grape brandy. We will see what will be there.

Q. How do you view the future for you in particular but also for the other distilleries in your region?

The future of Broger private distillery lies not in growth. We want to keep our passion and love for the product and to the people. Our happiness is that we can run this as a hobby and are not dependent from the market. Nevertheless, it makes us great joy when specialists such as the Whisky Advocate hear about us “midgets”. We want to bring us into the whisky community. Maybe we or our ideas motivate other. The whisky boom in the Alpine region will continue in the coming years. We are also an embossed by tourism country and our guests with international experience want local produce with an independent identity. For cheap products with low quality level we see in our region very few opportunities for growth. The AWA (Austrian Whisky Association) provides an excellent platform for domestic whiskey producer. Within the AWA, there are a wide variety of burners with very different whiskeys, a wide variety of raw materials and production methods. It is so exciting to share with the other whiskey producers. Although Austria is not large, it regional trends and specialties can already see here. Generally alcohol is not en vogue, this can be seen in a variety of legal regulations and restrictions. But this is our chance – Alcohol may only be the carrier for enjoyment, flavour, diversity, lifestyle, joy and pleasure. The image of alcohol as a “cheap drug” needs to be changed to a high quality product, in which the quality and not the quantity is in the foreground. To this end, we want to contribute.

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Taking The Liberties – Teeling brings distilling back to Dublin

Walk down to O’Connell Street in Dublin,  cross The River Liffey, turn right, and eventually you’ll reach an area known as The Liberties.

Once the city was walled, and this was where the boundaries were. The area’s called The Liberties because an unofficial town, outside the rules and taxes of Dublin itself. There’s a modern building here called The Corn Exchange, and that’s because it was here that merchants would enter the city with produce from the land. And here brewers and distillers would meet them and buy grain at prices lower than they could in Dublin itself. Search hard enough and you’ll find any number of references and symbols of the rich brewing and distilling heritage that once existed here. You can even see the copper stills, now moss green, abandoned by the mighty Powers Distillery.

There is little of those times left today, and the area is depressingly depressed, a shoddy mass of dirty walls, torn posters and closed down businesses.The huge all singing and dancing tourist attraction The Guinness Storeroom is here but the irony of scores of tourists being shuttled in and out from the city centre as local pubs with Guinness signs are closed down and boarded up isn’t lost on the locals.

Through Guinness and now with a resurgent craft industry,  beer has always been an integral part of the Dublin fabric. But while whiskey is a feature of every bar in the city, Ireland’s capital didn’t distill it for many many years. So it is appropriate that in the heart of The Liberties distilling has just started again.

It’s a good walk from the city centre to the new site, and I doubt I would have ever found it without Fin O’Connor, who has just completed a book on pot still whiskey and is a font of information on the Liberties and the distilleries that operated here. There were 37 of them at one time, some considerably bigger than Jameson. It’s a perfect platform for my visit to the Teeling Whiskey company’s new Dublin Distillery.

Stephen Teeling had pre-warned me that the new distillery was ‘rough and ready.’ In actual fact  it’s a building site. Distiller Alex Chasko has to lead us round piles of plastic sheeting, building materials and debris. The distillery is dark and incomplete. The visitor reception area is nothing but an empty space with a concrete floor. When Alex is asked when it is due to open he mentions a date towards the end of April.

Not a chance, though often looks can be deceptive and it might shape up fast. An most importantly from a whiskey lover’s point of view, it is fit for purpose and its whiskey heart is beating.

Alex uses the light on his phone to lead us down a a ramp to the still room, where three stills are in place and producing. They’re an impressive site and the symbolism of the gleaming copper isn’t lost on us: Dublin has whiskey spirit again – for the first time in 125 years.

When you’re in Dublin these days, you can’t help but feel that the Teelings are reclaiming their Dublin heritage from the Jameson family. They’re too polite to say that, of course, but walk through the city and Teeling is a name you see a lot. And hear a lot, because there’s a buzz about what the family is doing, and the excitement is almost palpable.

The family remembers its roots too. When Sweny’s (sic) the little ancient chemist mentioned in James Joyce’s Ulysses and now run as a charity faced closure due to a council rates demand, Teeling stepped in to provide whiskey for a tasting that paid off the bill.

The Teelings have form in Dublin. The whiskey relationship started in 1782 with Walter Teeling. But while The Liberties is all about heritage and history, you’d expect something a little different and innovative from the family, and that’s what they intend to offer.

“Our philosophy is that while we are respectful to the rich provenance of Irish whiskey,” as a new generation of whiskey makers we are confident to forge a new future for Dublin and Irish whiskey,” says the company’s website.”

You better believe it. The plan is to offer tours from may for 14 Euros. There will be a retail space offering exclusive merchandise and bottlings. There will be a cafe and whiskey and cocktail tastings. And there will be a distillery making single malt and pot still whiskey to a 50:50 recipe.

Bringing back whiskey to where it all started for Dublin is an emotional necessity for the feelings, but it might make sound business sense, too. There are some signs that life is returning to The Liberties, and it has the potential to become fashionably bohemian. If so, Teeling will be at its very heart.

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Isreal Special part 3: interview with Tomer Goren

Tomer Goren is the organiser of Whisky Live Israel, which was held for the second time this year. So how did he think it went?TOMER AND PATSY

Q. What are your thoughts on this year’s whisky Live in Tel Aviv?

I think it was successful and beyond our expectations, although I think there is a lot to improve on for next year.

Q How did it compare to last year? Has it grown?

We had more presenters and stands than last year, and the event was better organised. Last year we had about 4000 people, this year we had more than 6000 people. Next year it will be much better and with more people.

 

Q. What did you enjoy most about it. What were your highlights?

first of all – the visitors from abroad (you!) – people from the world whisky industry. Also it’s the first time we have has the Best In Show competition and it went well. I think people really enjoyed it and we succeeded in our target of developing the whisky culture in Israel.

 

Q. Do you get the feeling you are at the start of a ‘whisky revolution’ in Israel?

I wouldn’t call it revolution but a little wake up. We have a long way to go and the Israeli market is too small to be interesting for small distillers abroad so I guess we won’t see a lot of new and exciting whiskies imported to Israel in the next future.

 

Q. Why did you decide to take up Whisky Live?

There was one big reason – to develop and improve the whisky (and alcohol) culture in Israel.

 

Q.You looked worried a lot of the time. Was it very hard work and are you glad you did it?

I’m glad I did it even it wasn’t so healthy for me at the time. I had a lot of pressure during the event as all the problems during the event were passed to me to solve. I only really started enjoying it towards the end of the last day.

 

Q. I hear Richard Paterson is coming next year. Do you expect the reputation of the show to grow and more of the big names coming?

Richard Paterson is not yet locked in for next year and I really hope to see him as I really appreciate the man. I hope to see more and more people from the industry arriving to Israel and promoting their brands here.

 

Q. Are you considering growing the show in to a bigger venue?

Yes – next year it will be in a bigger venue as it was a bit small this year. I’m also considering going back to the show being a two days event because three days was too long.

Q. Have you got anything you haven’t achieved in the show which you would like to do so in the future?

I would like to see more distilleries from abroad arriving and trying to interest people here, rather than just have the importers representing the brands. I really think this event can open new doors to new markets.

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Isreal Special part 2: Milk and Honey

Its been a long time coming but the Milk and Honey distillery in Tel Aviv is open for business. I visited it recently

MILK AND HONEY 1

 Tel Aviv is a surprise on any level.

I’m not really sure what I expected but it certainly wasn’t what I got. I was offered pork sausages within a couple of hours of arriving. And I found a city overflowing with energy and vitality, a liberal and friendly metropolis that comes alive at night and through its dozens of bars and restaurants, knows how to host a party.

The city almost certainly isn’t typical of Israel as a whole, and I’m not trying to portray the country in a rosier light than it deserves. But I didn’t travel to Jerusalem or the occupied West Bank or to extremely religious village communities which exist here. I went to Tel Aviv, where in some areas Arabs and Jews live peacefully side by side, and where religion swings from Orthodox to atheist.

One of those regions is Jaffa, a multicultural working district of the city where the two top football teams share a football stadium. And it’s here that Milk and Honey Distillery has started producing spirit.

What a great name – but one that is distinctly at odds with the site and district it occupies. It’s surrounded by industrial warehouses, scrap metal merchants, car dealers and large public car parks. It feels like an industrial suburb and certainly there are a distinct lack of bens, glens and gargling brooks.

Milk and Honey isn’t the prettiest distillery, then, but it is the real deal. It’s been a long time coming -I first wrote about it more than two and a half years ago, and the distillery’s website talks about starting distilling in late 2013 or early 2014.

MILKANDHONEY2

No matter – it’s there now, and just like the distillery in Dublin, the stills are now running – just. And at the time of my visit the equipment was on site but not much else was ready – very much a work in progress.

But it’s no bit part operation. It occupies an industrial warehouse space and when it’s finished it will be a slick, sizeable and efficient distillery which has properly invested in and hasn’t cut corners.

We enter through the front door to what lis going to to be a reception area. Today, though, it is a mass of pipes, wiring and panels, a dusty work area. I’m told. though, that it’s only weeks away.

The equipment for fermenting and distilling is in place, however, and I’m shown how the process will work. There’s even storage space for maturation. As the new distillers talk about the project you can see that they are realising the dream. They exude pride, enthusiasm and just a touch of worry.

Not surprising really, because although there is one other major distillery producing in Israel, we’re in very unchartered territory. and the management team of six members are friends and enthusiasts who come from a large range of backgrounds and have limited experience in whisky production. But that enthusiasm counts for lots.

Our skill set covers quality assurance, production, management, marketing and engineering,” they say. “We have rolled up our sleeves, stayed up late, opened our cheque books and activated our networks to keep things going.”

They faced two major issues, one self-imposed, the other inherited and unavoidable.

The first was the team’s desire to be environmentally friendly as possible. The other was how to go about making quality whisky in Israel’s hot climate.

The former has been dealt with through research and their knowledge of water management and fuel efficiency. The latter was to employ the services of distilling trouble shooter Dr Jim Swan, who is the world’s leading expert on producing whisky in hot climes, having successfully shaped malt distilleries in india, Taiwan and…er, Wales.

The plan is to produce traditional malt whisky at first, but they talk of the unique influence of the Israeli climate, about ‘local influences’, of ‘being creative’ and of even making different styles of whisky, such as a bourbon-style corn whisky.

Only time will tell, but watch this space. Milk and Honey is set to join the Premier League of new independent distilleries. Of that I have no doubt.

 

 

 

 

Our master distiller

Dr. James Swan is from Glasgow and probably the world’s finest Master Distiller. The deep, detailed knowledge Jim has gathered over the years about key topics such as maturation with oak wood products, cask management, flavor composition, distillation and blending is unrivalled. There is simply no-one else with his level of experience and understanding of the production of whiskey. Fortunately for us, Jim is the leading expert on whiskey production in warmer climates. He is working very closely with us.

 

Our equipment

We have purchased the highest quality hand-made copper whiskey stills. Both are traditional swan’s neck whisky pot stills. One is to be our wash still (9000L) and the other our spirit still (3500L).

 

What we will be making

The first whiskey we make will be a Speyside/Highland inspired single-malt. Our goal is to make a fruity, flavorful whiskey that is not too sweet. It’s the type of whiskey that enthusiasts and newcomers should both enjoy. The Israeli climate will have a unique influence upon the flavors of our whiskey. In the future we look forward to making other editions. We have already been asked to think about making a Holy Land Bourbon edition or even some quality Jerusalem Moonshine. The Milk & Honey Distillery will be a traditional

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Israel special part one – Whisky Live Tel Aviv

Israel special part one – Whisky Live Tel Aviv

Whisky Live Israel’s organiser has a a poker face – almost impossible to read. If I had to guess, though, I’d say he was worrying.

Quite why, though, only he knows. Because the plain facts are that after three days of Whisky Live in Tel Aviv, he can reflect on an event which attracted thousands of people, was marred by no negativity or demonstrative signs of excess, and which almost certainly will provide a platform to take the event on to a bigger and better level next year.

 

Not that this was a small show – far from it. Now in its second year, the event saw a 50 per cent rise in attendance from about 4000 to 6000, and it attracted more stands. Many of the master classes were sold out.

The knowledge of whisky for most Israelis is still at an infancy stage, but those who do know what they’re talking about, really know what they’re talking about. There is a healthy blogging community here, a whisky society, and a whisky club. Two distilleries are up and running in the country, more are on the way, and most intriguing of all, some are distilling at home.More of that later.WHISKY LIVE

The show itself has a good cross section of leading whisky brands, the majority from Scotland but with a smattering of bourbon, too. Moat brands are represented by the companies that import them, and there are only a handful of overseas representatives, including Jura’s Willie Tate. But the number will rise as the word gets out about the quality of both the show and the visitors, who, typically it seems for Tel Aviv, are vivacious, passionate and very keen to learn more about whisky. Next year there’s talk of Whyte & Mackay’s legendary live showman Richard Paterson putting in an appearance and that in itself is a serious step up for the show should it happen.

The sizeable presence of Diageo this year no doubt will help as well. The staff were mainly pouring The Singleton and Talisker ranges, including an absolute favourite of mine, Talisker 18 Year Old.

One thing absent – and it’s due to economics – is the presence of much independent whisky bottlings. One stand that did catch the attention, however, was Vom Fass, a German company which traditionally offers vintage wines as well as premium vinegars, oils and spirits all direct from the cask.

VOMFASS

I tasted two of my favourite whiskies here, a 22 year old Bunnahabhain to die for, and a 21 year old malt from one of my favourite distilleries, Glen Garioch.

A good event, then, but made special by what was going on around the edges.

First there were the master classes of Patsy Christie, Macallan’s ambassador for the Middle East and a whirlwind force of nature who presents her brands in a totally irresistible and unique way. She’s irreverent, direct and extroverted and she has an amazing back story.

Originally from Canada, she was working in a bar when a group of men asked her to make them whisky cocktails. She did so to such great effect that one of the group returned to the bar to offer her a job with the company the group worked for – which just happened to be global drink distributors Maxxium. She got the Middle East post via a spell with Maxxium and Edrington in the United Kingdom and now lives in Dubai, which she says is “like living in the future.”

Then there are the unusual takes on whisky that people brought for me to try: a couple of very palatable Israeli Whisky Society whiskies which were brought over from Arran and then matured in Israel. And best of all, a sample made at a home distillery by Nimrod Rosenblatt.

Israeli blogger Gal Granov has written about the Rosenblatt brothers in World Whisky Review before, some three years ago. There are fermenting and distilling enthusiasts in the extreme, with Nimrod focusing more on the distilling side and his brother making a wide range of beer and wine.

He has distilled everything from star fruit, passion fruit, mulberries, peaches, port, sherry, hopped beer and even cinato style wine, prepared with desert herbs. The brothers have experimented with different yeasts and have made peated whisky using peat dug from the Hula Vlley in Northern Israel.

The whisky I try is called The Attic and was distilled in March 2011 and bottled in July 2014.

“To my knowledge it is the first Israeli single malt matured for more than three years,” says Nimrod. “It was distilled from a mash which included Maris Otter barley from the United Kingdom, along with beechwood-smoked malt from Germany.”

It was fermented for two weeks with beer yeasts to make it fruity and for one year it was in a cask that had contained rum also made by Nimrod.

Given its age, it is amazing. There are no young sappy notes at all, and it has a rich smooth orange taste, along with buttered corn, straw, toast, and a delightful and highly unusual strawberry mousse note.

Nimrod is promising further samples. I can’t wait.

All in all Whisky Live Tel Aviv was a triumph, but theres plenty more to come.   I was proud to play a part in an evolving show that could rival London Tokyo, Capetown, Paris and Taipei at the top of the whisky show tree. I hope to be back again next year.

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We’re talking about a revolution – Whisky Live Israel

I’m not sure what I was expecting but it certainly wasn’t this.

I’m at the opening of Whisky Live Israel, standing in front of 20 members of the Israeli press – and it’s like a scene from a recurring nightmare. I have introduced myself, stated how delighted I am to be in Israel and thanked my hosts for their warmth and generosity. And now I am waiting for the first question.

Dom EDITORIAL

And waiting. And waiting. But all I see iin front of me are 20 blank faces, just staring at me.
I have not prepared a speech but I am forced to ad lib, so I waffle on for a few minutes. Then I again invite questions. Nothing.

And with that the press conference staggers to a conclusion. I don’t know what to think.

“Don’t worry about it,” says event photographer Shai Galboa, sensing my unease. “It’s because they know nothing about whisky.”

Now they tell me…

Thankfully the same level of ignorance and indifference is not repeated by the hundreds of event visitors over the next three days.On the contrary: Tel Aviv provided one of the noisiest, happiest and most enthusiastic backdrops of any whisky event I’ve been to. Two things were abundantly clear: one, that Israel is at the start of a whisky revolution. And two, Whisky Live Israel is set to grow in to one of the best shows of its kind anywhere in the world.

You can’t talk about Israel without mentioning politics, and some people were surprised I went. My support for Palestine and a two state solution is well documented, and I believe strongly that disproportionate bombing of any people will create resentment and bitterness for generations to come.

But I also believe that no group should live under the constant threat of death as Israelis do, or have to go through constant security checks to avoid the very real possibility of indiscriminate killings by suicide bombers. I believe firmly in the rights of Israelis and I despise the people who bring terror to Jewish people anywhere in the world.

More than that, I relate totally to the energy and enthusiasm of the people I met in Tel Aviv, and was overwhelmed by the kindness and hospitality of everyone I met in Israel. Just as I was when I held tastings in a Jewish home and at a Jewish law firm.

Let’s get one thing clear: Israel isn’t some dictatorial po-faced Jewish state imposing religious doctrines on its people: on the contrary. At least in Tel Aviv there is a relaxed liberal attitude to life. On my first night I was offered pork sausages, and I met several people who told me they were non-religious. Tel Aviv is a multi faceted, complex and raucous mash-up of views and opinions, and everything is up to debate. Even whisky is subject to debate as to whether it is kosher or not. Something I wore on-line about No Age Statement whisky was even described as ‘non kosher for Passat.’

In the April issue of World Whisky Review I review Whisky Live Tel Aviv, visit new distillery Milk and Honey, and meet a home distiller who is making some fine whisky.

Later this month another Israeli is flying to Paris to buy a new still. And he’s popping over to London to film me for a crowd funding video.

These folk mean business – and I for one am proud to be playing a bit part in their whisky revolution. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

 

 

* A special thank you to Shai Gilboa, who not only provided all the pictures used in my Israeli special edition, but along with Ran Latovicz. kept me out of trouble and made me feel welcome in Tel Aviv. Also to Tomer Goren for treating me so incredibly well and ensuring that I had a comfortable and trouble-free stay in Tel Aviv

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NON AGE STATEMENTS – A MASSIVE CONSUMER CON? PART 2

Dom promised a second piece on Non Age Statement whiskies. Here it is. sort of.

 I sat down this morning and tried to write the second part of my Non Age Statement whisky blog. But I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know where to start.

For two hours I wrote nothing, staring morosely in to space and stared in to a dark  abyss where my words should be. And I couldn’t find them. This occasionally happens when you’re manic as I am, and you come down from a particular high, which i did after Tel Aviv. So I gave up and wrote a couple of unrelated pieces for The W Club (www.thewclub.co.uk), one of them on three whiskies with very old age statements.

But these things tend to niggle at me, and I needed to work out why I couldn’t write on this topic again. So I went back to the original article as I was urged to do and it dawned on me. It wasn’t really about Non Age Statement whisky was it? It was about whisky bloggers who are regurgitating public relations nonsense without challenging it to ensure they continue to get free samples. And all the nastiness, criticism and bullying I received was because I clearly touched a raw nerve.

Let me make this clear from the start: I certainly have no axe to grind against the blogging community. I meet and talk to on-line whisky writers who I like and respect, and even asked some of them to contribute to my 1000 whiskies book. I think it’s great that they offer a younger, more dynamic approach to the world of whisky. I don’t even mind them criticising the old dinosaurs like me. That’s as it should be. I learned many years ago that if you can’t take it you shouldn’t dole it out.

What I detest, though, is that group of people who are freeloading, self-appointed experts, on the take for free whisky, who challenge nothing, regurgitate everything and then feel compelled to personally attack anybody who sees through the bullshit and take issue with them. And worse still, by writing endless pretentious and utterly boring tasting notes, no doubt with a dictionary in hand, they seek to pass themselves off as experts when actually they know jack shit.

What has provoked this blog is a comment by someone on Facebook today who has dug up a four year old blog of mine where I stated that I don’t consider what whisky writers do is journalism. it’s closer to marketing. Am I a critic or a marketer, he asks?

That was written when I was at my most ill and I don’t really remember it. But it’s very well argued and I stand by every word. Whisky writing is a public relations exercise. There is too much good whisky to waste a lot of time on bad whisky. To do so would make the writer sound miserable, ungrateful and whinging. Naturally, then, we are doing the PR person’s job for them – helping to sell whisky.

The question is, if  a whisky was bad – say a Non Age Statement Whisky – would all the whisky writing world say so?

Nobody could doubt that I would. This is all about me taking issue with bloggers who swallow the lines on Non Age Statement whiskies that are churned out by PR companies and are just plain wrong.

Actually there is another question. Do they do so because they want free whisky and haven’t learned how to ask challenging and fair questions without pissing people off. Or are they incapable of recognising a bad whisky at all? This isn’t about personal taste or preference. You might like your chicken roasted. I like mine grilled.

But  raw chicken is raw chicken and I don’t want to be served by a chef who just can’t tell that.

Getting free whisky is fine. Writing positively about good whisky is fine.  Saying good things about badly undercooked whiskies isn’t. Accepting payment from a whisky company, not declaring it with openness and transparency and then writing about its whiskies – as SOME bloggers (and indeed professional whisky writers) do, is wrong.

This isn’t about experts versus amateurs. I don’t consider myself an expert and anyone who knows me will know that there is a gram of arrogance in my approach to whisky.  But I am opinionated, honest and direct. if you think these traits are out of place in a writing environment, you shouldn’t be writing at all.

Nor is it about professional writers against bloggers. It’s about challenging the dumbing down of whisky, and siding with a process that leaves bad NAS whisky unchallenged. This is damaging Scotch whisky and should be opposed.

The irony of this is that even most of the bloggers I know agree with all of this. Certainly no-one would deny it exists. Every person i meet who has been in the industry for more than 30 years says the same,  Sadly 90 per cent of bloggers have never met any of them.

 

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Living the whiskey dream: an interview with Bernard Walsh

Bernard Walsh is the man behind The Irishman and Writer’s Tears but now he’s building a large whiskey distillery in the South East of  Ireland.

People talk a lot about the luck of the Irish, and it does plays a major role in the country’s culture.

So you can forgive whiskey producer Bernard Walsh for feeling that fortune is smiling on his distillery project after an excellent six months of building work.

“Yes, Walsh Whiskey Distillery has got the perfect start” he says. “We had a mild Irish Winter. The weather has been very kind to us here in Ireland and more particularly where we are, at Royal Oak, County Carlow, in the South East of the country. It has been the driest and warmest spot on the island.”

Walsh is known for two unique whiskey products, Writer’s Tears and The Irishman. These are made for him at Irish Distillers’ huge Midleton plant but they are special because they combine traditional Irish pot still whiskey with single malt whiskey, bought under agreement from Bushmills in the North. But it has long been Walsh’s dream to have a distillery of his own, and the current boom in Irish whiskey has made it possible to seek international backing.

“Building our own distillery, in a beautiful rural location has been our long held dream,” says Walsh.
“Since 1999 we have aspired to create a very special distillery. Even as far back as 2008 we were exploring with Forsyths the feasibility of building our own distillery.
“However we knew we needed three things: a fully financed project, financing not just the construction but the working capital for those early years (first 10); a strong whiskey brand long before whiskey from our new stills starts to flow; and a global distribution network, because once that tap is turned on in the new distillery, we will require a tried and tested route to market.

“Having Illva (owners of Di Saranno) as our preferred partner has enabled us to enter the distilling industry fully financed, while at the same time we now have the ability to tap into their truly global distribution network. The cream on the top is that Ilva like Walsh Whiskey is a family run business where we both share the same values.”

The plan is to have the distillery built by the end of this year  and production to start in 2016. But a lot has been achieved already, as Walsh explains

“There are two parts to our project,” he says. The first is the restoration of the old mansion on site known as Holloden House. It was  built in 1755. Unfortunately the house was in very bad condition when we found it.

“However for me this house represents the soul of the property. For centuries this house was alive with children running its stairways, roaring fires and parties that were the talk of the town.

“Now a deathly silence has befallen this once magnificent house. But we vowed to restore this old lady to her beautiful self so our friends could join with us in sharing a whiskey by her fires. So we have set about saving this old property, keeping the rain out by reinstating the roof and weather-proofing it.

“Contractors moved on site at Royal Oak on September to start the restoration of the old house. Now several months into the restoration the roof has been fully restored using 90 per cent of the existing slates and timber beams.

“The second part is the building of the new still house and ancillary buildings is located on a beautiful park land setting. By the end of January , the foundations were all dug out, foundations poured with concrete and rein-forced steelwork in place. In February already the steel girders are going up as the first crane ever appears on the Royal Oak skyline.

“I have just returned from the site today where the biggest concrete pour in the history of Royal Oak is taking place. We have to pour 800 tonnes of concrete (that’s 50 truck loads) in one day to create a single float or raft which sits above the reinforced steel foundations. It was amazing to see.”

Walsh has signed a new agreement with Irish Distillers to continue to pro-duce The Irishman and Writer’s Tears at Midleton but unsurprisingly he in-tends to use the new distillery for new, exciting and innovative whiskeys, with an eye on the region’s history.
“ The whiskey from Royal Oak will have a different taste profile,” he says.  “It will be one representing the South East of Ireland which historically in the eighteenth century was one of the country’s biggest distilling regions. This new whiskey will allow Walsh Whiskey to create new expressions for both The Irishman and Writers Tears. Equally we will create a whole new line of distillery reserve whiskey.
“We will be producing all three styles of Irish Whiskey – pot still, malt and grain whiskey. Uniquely, however,  we will be producing them all under one roof in the same still house. Although it is normal for each distillery to focus on one specific style and then trade with other distilleries our aim is to be self sufficient. By controlling the production of the three styles we inevitably give ourselves more room to innovate.”

The total capacity of the distillery will be two million litres per annum, making it the fifth largest distillery in Ireland, and the largest of all the new entrants.

Walsh can hardly contain his excitement at the months ahead, believing he is playing a part in a whiskey revolution that could take Ireland back to the very top of the whiskey world.

“We are really relishing the challenge to push the boundaries of what has gone before us,” he says.  “There is so much work to be done over the next 10 years as Irish whiskey rediscovers what made it great in the 19th century.

“Irish Whiskey is a category representing the whole island and this is something we are all proud of. More than 200 years ago (during a time of great expansion in Irish Whiskey) one of our great revolutionaries, Wolfe Tone, commented that he longed for the day when he would be known not as a Protestant nor a Catholic, but  just as an Irishman’.

“Irish Whiskey has gone from domination in the19th century to almost wipe out in the 20th century. The 21st century represents a rebirth and we must learn from our mistakes. The addition of possibly 20 or 30 new distillers in the next few years has given rise to new optimism. It’s breathing new life into the industry. The future is bright, The future is Irish.”

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NON AGE STATEMENTS – A MASSIVE CONSUMER CON? PART 1

Recently a feature appeared on line about Non age Statements. the writer had swallowed e dry line thrown to him by the Scotch whisky industry and it was poisonously wrong. Dom isn’t happy…

A couple of weeks ago I read an online feature on Non Age Statements and wrote that it was complete tosh and the person responsible for it should have been ashamed of himself. Every single line the big companies defending the category would want us to swallow, he swallowed.

I was asked in a private message why I had a problem with the article, and I told the person that I didn’t really know where to start. But in retrospect I think it comes down to three outrageous and erroneous statements made by the writer:

1. That non age statement whiskies allow the whisky maker to work from a bigger ‘palate’ of flavours and he is released from the chains imposed by not being able to use anything younger than 12 years or 18, or whatever the age statement is. What a load of old piffle.                                        It’s up there with the line that the distillers use better casks and know more about maturation now so they don’t need to age the whisky so long. Really? Then why does so much Non Age Statement whisky taste sappy, ready, raw and under-cooked? And with a price tag higher than the age statement whisky it replaced, also over-priced? BECAUSE IT IS.

2. That there is nothing new about Non Age Statement whisky and there are lots of whiskies that have no age and don’t get panned. Like some Ardbegs, Aberlour A’Bunadh and Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
Oh dear. That’s because they’re excellently made, value for money whiskies, you idiot. Johnnie Walker Blue Label may have some young whisky in it, but I’m willing to bet the average age in it is about six times older than the average spirit in a Travel Retail No Age Statement whisky.

3. And that most of the criticism comes from on-line experts who have different taste needs to the entry level drinkers who are attracted by Non Age Statement whiskies and who don’t have developed whisky palates.
This is an argument in defence of selling rubbish whisky at inflated prices on the premise that the new drinker is ignorant and gullible, and is absolutely indefensible. I’d love to know if the writer came up with this all on his own or whether it was a line fed to him by a whisky marketing chappie. And whether the logical conclusion would be for the critics to all shut up and stop rocking the boat.

And anyway, it’s untrue that the critics are expert bloggers on line. Hate to break this to you, son, but many of the online bloggers are only experts in their own  minds, no better than many of the marketing people now working for some whisky companies (who are, indeed, often recruited from the world of blogging). With some notable exceptions, online bloggers are too busy trying to get free whisky samples to criticise the hand that’s feeding them. The critics are people Murray, Malt Maniacs and me. And we’re only the public face of it. Find anyone who has been in the industry for more than 10 years and they will say exactly the same thing.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room now. The big increase in the number of Scotch whiskies without an age on them in the last few months has nothing to do with creativity and innovation and everything to do with economics and making money. Non age statement whiskies are more often than not a cynical marketing ploy, wrapped as innovation and evolution, but in reality laced with disingenuous opportunism and a big dollop of greed.

The simple facts are that the demand for Scotch whisky has led to shortages, prices have been going up, and the industry has responded to demand by bottling younger whisky at higher prices. After years of telling whisky drinkers that premium Scotch whisky should be 10 or 12 years old, it’s a big ask to tell them that now it’s as good at six or seven years old, and to charge them more to drink it. But they’re trying. And if that feature is anything to go by, succeeding.
I can’t help thinking that some Scottish whisky producers have lost the plot, and that marketing people with little understanding of, or empathy with, malt whisky have taken over the asylum. As the great guardians retire whisky’s equivalent to New Labour move in, finding a third way that is bland and out of touch. They are still  great people in Diageo, Pernod Ricard et al, but you can’t help but feel that they’re being marginalised.

Trouble is, they’re actually not really getting away with it, and although the best Scotch leaves pretty much everything else dead in the water, people are noticing that many of the Non Age Statement whiskies are not fit for purpose. at my tastings I often take a vote, with each guest having three votes. Last week at a tasting of six whiskies and with a total of 75 votes up for grabs, I had a No age Statement score a big fat zero.

And what’s worse, when  Scottish single malts slip down to six to eight years old, they cannot match the competition of whiskies from emerging territories such as England, Wales, Sweden, Australia, India and Taiwan. At some levels Scottish whisky is doing itself great harm and it’s content to shoot the messenger, and carry on fiddling. It can’t last.
So are the new wave of non age statement whiskies just one big con?

Actually, no they’re not, or at least they need not be. And if you want to find why I think that’s the case, watch out for Part Two of this feature.

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Irish whiskey is liquid gold

You know the landscape has changed a lot when an Irish whiskey maker welcomes investment from a Scottish whisky company.

Go back through Irish whiskey’s history and you will discover a once very healthy whiskey industry that was taken to pieces. Back then Scotland did a lot of investing in Irish distilleries – so it could shut them down.

And you don’t have to go that far back to find the most recent example of overseas interference in the Irish whiskey. When John Teeling had the audacity to launch whiskeys that did not conform to the standard Irish whiskey style, Irish Distillers – at that time a combination of overseas giants Diageo and Pernod Ricard – tried to stop him selling whiskey.

But that was then and this is now. And today several multi million Euro deals have provided the Irish whiskey industry with the chance to build new distilleries, to grow the overall category, and to take advantage of strong and established routes to new world markets.

Now there is a cautious but optimistic hope that the new international investors will put the interests of Ireland first and repeat the experience of the past and encourage small domestic Irish distillery projects to thrive.

To some extent it has happened already. For a long time now Pernod Ricard and Diageo have provided independent whiskey maker Bernard Walsh with whiskey to allow him to sell his own unique range of products. Suntory Beam’s purchase of Teeling indirectly allowed Stephen and Jack Teeling to take some whiskey stock and form The Teeling Whiskey Company, and Diageo allowed the sale of one of its old breweries to be sold for conversion in to an independent whiskey distillery.

Perhaps most significantly of all, Scotttish family-owned William Grant & Sons once again showed how switched on it is by buying Tullamore DEW, little more than a brand name and a museum, and set about turning it in to a working distillery. YOU try and tell brand ambassador John Quinn, for some years a brand ambassador with no distillery behind him, that William Grant’s is anything but a good thing. He points out that the people at William Grant understand whisky, what makes it special, and how important it is to create unique and relevant to its geography and culture.

“With William Grant we have a company made up of whisky people, people you can talk to and understand.” he says. “They do not want to impose a Scottish view of whiskey on Ireland, they want to reach back to our heritage and provenance.

“Everything they do is about quality. They want to check every penny but they are getting outstanding value for money. They want to recreate the stills as they originally were.

“I heard one of the Grant family discussing something for the outside of the distillery and he said it wasn’t good enough because it wouldn’t look good in 100 years. That made my heart soar. They are thinking about the heritage for a future generation.”

There is a very strong case for a similar level of care to be made for Pernod Ricard, owner of Irish Distillers, too. Having failed to shut down Teeling, it finally took the decision to expand its definition of what Irish whiskey should be, and to push different styles of pot still whiskey. It is committed to 20 new pot still releases in 10 years. But more than that, it has invested in an education centre to further the development of pot still whiskey, it is at the heart of the Irish Whiskey Association, and all the signs are that it is actively encouraging new distillers.

Finn O’Connor, a young whiskey expert and author of a forthcoming book on pot still whiskey, is happy to pay credit where credit’s due.

I think Irish Distillers Limited have certainly been a force for good in the big picture,” he says. “ Firstly, they make some fine whiskey and the category wouldn’t really exist without them.

“They made it a financial contender with Jameson and that financial success has both encouraged would-be distillers to take the plunge, and provided Irish whiskey with a global market. Redbreast, Green Spot, John’s Lane– these kinds of whiskeys are the spine of Irish whiskey and it sounds like they have plenty more on the way.

“Large as they are, I think IDL have a long memory going back to their roots in Irish whiskey’s dark ages and an even older memory of the heights that irish whiskey fell from.

“I’ve had plenty of talks with them about single pot still in particular and, although they certainly are the large and international players of the irish whiskey family, they really do care about the heritage of the category. And I’ve heard countless stories from new distilleries about the help they’ve received from IDL, especially in the case of distilleries like Dingle and the Dublin Whiskey Company which want to make single pot still whiskey themselves, i’ve hear nothing but good things about the encouragement they’ve received from IDL.”

Since 2013 more than one billion Euros has been invested in Irish whiskey. This will allow the industry to double capacity over the coming 10 years. So is there a danger thatIreland is at the mercy of overseas companies?

Bernard Walsh, who is building the Walsh Distillery at Royal Oak, county Carlow, thinks not.

“Firstly it has to be said Ireland is no stranger to foreign direct investment in whiskey,” he says.  “As it currently stands 98 per cent of Irish Whiskey is owned by the big international drinks corporations. The positive here is that all those currently involved in Irish Whiskey are global brand builders.

“Almost 100 per cent of Irish Whiskey produced is for brand building versus private labelling/bulk sales. This compares very favourably when you look at other whiskey producing nations. When Walsh Whiskey was looking to raise money we could have sourced it locally in Ireland but we strategically went after global brand builders in the drinks industry. Distilleries don’t just need funds, they require a route to market.”

But there is some disquiet at grassroots level, and among the more serious traditional Irish whiskey enthusiasts.

Whiskey expert Peter Mulryan is a former journalist and now master distiller at Blackwater Distillery at Cappoquin, West Waterford, wants to ensure that the big companies don’t reintroduce a definition of Irish whiskey that stifles innovation and diversity.

“It’s good to see all the investment,” he says. “However the industry will only be healthy when there are operations coming from the grass roots. As far as I can tell, all players are now chasing the same market – that is mass production, international sales. That means bland. The industry here is very poor on innovation and you know when you are in long term trouble when the most exciting thing is a new expression of Redbreast.

“Overall it’s all good right now as long as we can wrestle the definitions back from the big boys. It’s proving hard as the Government Minister is in awe of multi-nationals. However I am involved in planning some direct action that might win the day!”

The fight’s on for the soul of Irish whiskey – but so far, so good. watch this space.

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