Dominic Roskrow`s Blog

Finally Dom has an outlet!


Award winning whisky writer and former rock journalist Dominic Roskrow is set to combine the two great loves of his life when he launches a new whisky and music event later this year.

Called TRIBE 2013, the first event is set to take place in Leicester in November, with a second planned for Norwich in late February. Four events in total are planned for 2014.

TRIBE 2013 will bring a whisky festival to established music pubs and venues. It will consist of a two hour whisky festival followed by a music event featuring three bands. The first event, at The Musician in Leicester on Saturday November 9 will be headlined by the up and coming swing and bluegrass family band The Toy Hearts in one of their first gigs after returning from a six month tour of America. Two other acts from Americana label Clubhouse will also be on the bill.

Announcing the project, Dominic said that he would be calling on members of the Craft Distillers Alliance to support the venture, arguing that it is the ideal platform to introduce new potential drinkers to exciting boutique and innovative spirits.

“I’ve always linked whisky in particular with music, and that link is particularly strong between the drink and Americana and roots music,” he said. “I am calling the event TRIBE because the idea is to create a network of like-minded people who will share new whisky and music experiences, and grow to trust TRIBE as the event to go to to experience the best of both.”

Although the first events will feature Americana bands, Dominic does not rule out the possibility of linking TRIBE to other musical genres, specially in his home city of Leicester.

“I’d love to put on a Sikh or Hindu version of TRIBE in the future but I need to find someone from the Asian community to help me source the right bands and ensure we respect the customs and traditions of the relevant communities. I would love to create a Leicester event that would contribute to its bid for City of Culture status. My boys and I are Foxes season ticket holders now so it’s very much a case of my club, my city.”

Dominic will support TRIBE 2013 with the launch of a new interactive website where music and whisky fans can join his tribe and swop music and whisky reviews and suggest great pairings.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun and I hope I’ll gain the trust of whisky fans, music lovers, great bands and top brands so that we can keep music live and create a new route to market for aspiring whiskies from across the world.”

Tickets for TRIBE 2013 include five whisky vouchers and are priced £15. They are on sale now and can be booked by contacting Dominic on 07540 348998 or by email at
For regular TRIBE 2013 updates follow Dominic @whiskytasting



“Whisky and music go together like a hand in glove. Both are best enjoyed with friends. Both are best enjoyed together. And both can contribute to fantastic memories and create great talking points. So I’m surprised more is not done with music and whisky. We are delighted to support Tribe and Dominic and I have no doubt this event will be the first of many which will introduce whisky drinkers to new bands and music lovers to new whiskies.”
Rob Bruce, head of global PR for Whyte & Mackay

“Craft distilled whisky and rootsy-americana, two of my favourite things… what’s not to love about Dominic Roskrow’s TRIBE festival? WIth Dom on hand to give expert guidance to the whiskies on offer, and some of the finest UK- Americana bands providing the soundtrack, this event is certain to be a hit.”
Pierre Thiebaut, founder and director of connosr

“Dominic Roskrow is the Paul Morley of brown spirits.”
Time Out Magazine

“If we’re going to have a Britpop battle between our books for the Christmas number one, Dominic is definitely Oasis.”
Dave Broom, whisky writer and educator

“Dominic has the rare ability of making learning about whisky a hugely enjoyable experience. He makes the subject of whisky just what it should be – a total pleasure.”
Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie

I’m standing in the reception of The Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside and the receptionist who is talking to me looks suspiciously like Miss Hoolie from Balamory. Clearly The Spirit of Speyside has roped in all the big Scottish guns this year.

“No I don’t know when the bus to the dinner is coming because they have told me nothing.” BIG smile! That’s a problem, I say, because I need to be on it.

“Oh, lots of guests have been asking,” she says. BIGGER grin. Which begs the question: then why haven’t you found out?

But I’m in a good mood as I’m back in Speyside, so I let it go, and head to my room. I have been travelling for 11 hours and want to pour myself a wee welcome dram in my room, toast the river (as I do), have a shower and prepare for a battle with my kilt.

Five minutes later the phone rings. I am still struggling with a broken suitcase zip. “The bus is here,” says Miss Hoolie, who I know is smiling. “Give me five minutes,” I say.

Seven minutes later Miss Hoolie waves to me as I stagger towards the bus, having showered, semi towelled, and kilted. I am applauded on to the bus. and spend the rest of the night being introduced as the ‘five minute kilt man.’ I am harassed, dishevelled, humiliated, embarrassed, entirely blameless and without a whisky. Ah, so the Speyside Festival hasn’t changed after all!

If you want to find an emblematic representation of the Speyside Festival, it’s the Craigellachie Hotel. It is old and traditional, an imposing manse embodying the huntin’ fishin’ and shootin’ nature of the river and the region – and a strutting, rutting fortress of dead stags’ heads and dark wooden panels, where the food is rich and rugged and they expect you to eat your steak bloody.

And then there’s the Quaich Bar, a whisky bear pit, intimidating to even the most hardy whisky souls , more quake than quaich, and home to any number of bare knuckle fighting whiskies. If you’re brave enough you can go up against them, growing in confidence as the whisky flows round by round, until you hit the early hours and a knock out blow sends you reeling to bed. It’s no place for the timid – and traditionally it hasn’t been great for anything but the old school of single malt whisky ‘no water Scotch single malt whisky lovers either.

How can you change that, and should you? Can you move on without sacrificing the generations of tradition? It’s not as if the Craigellachie hasn’t tried. It has changed hands more than a rugby ball in an All Blacks attack. And yet here we are – for good or bad, same as it ever was.

Which bring us to the whisky festival. A few years back the May festival was in a civil war with an Autumn whisky festival in the region and it was fragmented, disorganised, closeted and, dare I say it, more than a wee bit dull. The lasting memory I have of it from a few years ago was standing in an empty whisky museum in a driechy Dufftown with a whisky writer who had a face like a basset hound as he waited for someone – anyone – to sell a book to and sign it.

We live in a fast moving whisky world. So is there any future for a festival so tied to the past but which needs to feed in to the cosmopolitan, increasingly female and young whisky consumer? Can it find a place in the new whisky world order without throwing the old barley out with the bath water?

simple answer? Yes it can. Welcome to The Spirit of Festival Whisky Festival, a four day celebration which has doubled the number of events it stages since 2011, has even more ambitious ones for the future, and has turned the region in to a whisky Disneyland around all the region’s traditional iconic places and sights. It’s instantly recognisable as the Speyside Festival but it’s like finding that the old Rolls Royce now has a Formula One engine.

How has it happened? Meet Mary Hemsworth, festival manager and the Karen Brady of whisky – a sexy powerful bundle of energy who combines a a fun girly side with a business brain and a steel backbone; the sort of person every journalist would love to ply with Riesling and listen to bawdy and irreverent anecdotes from her no doubt colourful career, but is sharp and just a little scary. You wouldn’t want to cross her. And if you did, you suspect you’d come away smarting. You suspect that over the years many have tried to cross her, rule her or patronise her. And yet here she is, with the great names of Speyside on side with her and moving the festival forward at a rate of knots.

Couples stroll by, laughter echoes round the streets, motor cycle groups wave as they drive by, a steady stream of buses move visitors around the region, information points provide tickets and information. The sun helps, too, though Friday is a nightmare and still great.

You feel the elation from happy whisky lovers in the whisky capital of the world. It’s impressive stuff – and perversely, though I managed to completely miss three of the five major things I wanted to do, wasted two hours standing in a corridor waiting to be an extra in a VisitScotland film and was then told I wasn’t needed, and had no more than a veggie kebab for lunch on one day and a cheese toastie on another, it was the most enjoyable visit to Speyside I can remember.

How did that happen? Read part two tomorrow and hear about a bawdy and utterly hilarious whisky comedian, meet some Speyside legends and hear about two rarely seen distilleries – Tamdhu and Mortlach.

I thought you might like to read the latest news from The Craft Distillers Alliance

I hope this finds you well and you had a happy Easter. I am writing just to update you on some very exciting news.
I am pleased to announce that not only have we signed up some impressive new members with more almost certainly set to follow, but we now have a Chairman!
Tomorrow there will be a joint press release from us and the Brazil Agency to announce that Stephen Davies, managing director of Penderyn, is to take up the post with The CDA. I am delighted that he has accepted because he is the perfect choice. I have long admired what he has done with Penderyn, which is a pioneer in the craft distilling field, but at the same time is a relatively sizeable distillery and is internationally respected. And not to put too fine a point on it, Penderyn is a well established British distillery but not a Scottish one.
Stephen himself is a huge force for good. I offered him the post in an honorary capacity because I didn’t want to burden him work wise but he has made it clear that he would like to play an active role. He will be a breath of fresh air and I am looking forward to working with him to take The CDA up another level. I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to know that there will be a little bit less of me!
Penderyn is of course joining The CDA, and as the company is now distributing the whiskies of Taiwanese distillery Kavalan in the United Kingdom, Stephen will suggest it comes on board, too. Indeed the company has already expressed an interest, as has St Georges in England – another one of the big boys.
Indian distiller Amrut also joined this week, as did The Belgian Owl. Other recent additions are Corsair (USA), Wemyss (Scotland), Bondeau (Scotland), Sullivan’s Cove (Australia) and The Great Southern Distilling Company (Australia), and I’m confident that another five to 10 others will have joined or committed to join by the end of the month, taking total membership to 35 plus.
This makes The CDA a real force and after a hectic six months I feel we need to pause for breath, regroup and plan carefully what we do next.
I have received a number of offers from events organisers and while they are all very generous, they involve a considerable financial outlay. I have decided to put all talks on hold with the exception of one – see below – and to meet with Stephen at the earliest opportunity to discuss and plan a summer and autumn strategy. Among the issues up for discussion are:

* A presence at the Boutique Bar Show in Manchester in May.
I have postponed in depth talks with the BBS until June with a view to a formal alliance in time for the Boutique Bar Show in London in September, but if any members are willing to pay £300 towards a CDA stand in Manchester I am prepared to travel up and represent us there.

* A formal partnership with the Boutique Bar Show from September
The rapid growth of The CDA has created a few issues as to how to make this work financially. One option is to launch a ‘show within a show’ as a partnership.

* The possibility of a consumer roadshow. This would either be in partnership with existing regional whisky events organisers or organised through contacts we can use within The CDA

* A whisky and music event in October. Not dissimilar to Pure, which was a great idea but was badly executed.

Everything’s up for discussion and debate so feel free to chip in with ideas. And if you’re interested in Manchester, please give me a call.

Onwards and verily upwards.
Dominic Roskrow

the following press releases have just been issued. might be of interest.

The Whisky Opus, the 2012 whisky book written by Whisky Pages Editor Gavin D Smith and Whiskeria and World Whisky Review Editor Dominic Roskrow, has been shortlisted in the highly prestigious Fortnum & Mason Food & Drink Awards. It is the only whisky book to make the list.
It is the first year that the luxury department store in Piccadilly, London, has held food and drinks awards and The Whisky Opus beat off stiff competition to join a shortlist of four in the category of Best Drinks Book.
The judging panel includes nationally celebrated food and drink experts including Tom Parker Bowles, Peter Richards and Hamish Andrews.
The Whisky Opus is a weighty coffee table published by Dorling Kindersley. Gavin wrote all the chapters covering Scotland, Dominic wrote the introductory chapters and those covering the rest of the world. There were also contributions from Davin De Kergommeaux, who wrote on Canada, and Jurgen Deibel, who covered Germany, Switzerland Austria.
The awards recognise United Kingdom talent across 10 categories. And Gavin and Dominic find themselves in esteemed company, with the likes of Matthew Fort, Prue Leith, Oliver Peyton, Mark Hix, Sybil Kapoor and Roger Protz also nominated in various categories.
Announcing the shortlist, a spokesman for the prestigious and unique store said: “For over three centuries, Fortnum & Mason has been passionate about seeking out and championing the very best producers in the country and now it wants to acknowledge those in the industry who share its commitment to inspiring people to enjoy, explore, experiment, learn, try, taste and discover more about food and drink through their writing, photography and commentary.”
Dominic Roskrow said he was delighted by the news.
“Dorling Kindersley have done a marvellous job with the look and design of the book and we’re just honoured to even be short listed,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often to me so it just goes to show what can happen when you team up with a talent like Gavin Smith.”
Gavin Smith added: “Collaborating with Dominic on the Opus was great fun, and his international whisky expertise was crucial to its overall credibility. I’m delighted that a whisky title has made it onto the shortlist, and I’m even more delighted it’s ours!”
The complete short list is:
Drinks: Tony Conigliaro (Ebury Press)
Wine Grapes: Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose Vouillamoz (Allen Lane)
The Whisky Opus: Gavin D Smith & Dominic Roskrow (Dorling Kindersley)
Drink Me! Matt Walls (Quadrille)

World Whisky Review, my online magazine about new world whisky, has trebled its viewing figures in the last year and is now attracting 7000-8000 unique visitors a month.

New figures from magazine hosting site Connosr show that WWR now has a similar reach to Whisky Magazine but is likely to overtake it by the start of 2014.
Connosr’s figures show the following:
* World Whisky Review never gets less than 100 page views a day and on peak days can get up to just over 1,000 page views – these are generally the days following a new issue. Each page view = 1 article read.

* Average time on page is around two mins which means people are actually reading the articles.

* Traffic was three times higher in Jan 2013 than in Jan 2012, so it is a growing audience.

* It’s getting between 6,000 – 8,000 page views a month.

* Our understanding is that Whisky Magazine has a circulation of around 8,000 x 8 issues a year. You’ve probably got a similar reach but your audience is growing fast. It has trebled in 12 months. Such is the growth of World Whisky Review that by the beginning of 2014 your audience will be bigger than Whisky Mag.

Thank you for all the support. The next issue should be out a week after Easter on April 12.

I am delighted to announce a major new deal which will allow distillers from across the world to sell even single bottles of whisky directly to British consumer and tradecustomers, and to do so quickly and at a fair price.

I have teamed up with Glasgow-based Bondeau, a storage, logistics and distribution company, food the launch of a new initiative, which provides world distillers with the framework to access the United Kingdom market directly without incurring large costs.

Indeed, Bondeau is not a retailer or conventional distributor, and the deal ensures that the lion’s share of the income generated from sales goes back to the distiller.
What we are offering is an alternative route to market which gives distillers control of where their whisky goes and at what price. It allows direct contact between distiller and customer and it will provide information that will help distillers understand what is happening with their whiskies.

My role is to source potential distilleries, to approach them about joining the scheme and to pretty much continue what I do now – promote and write about them, and take their whiskies to tastings.

The joint venture is a small part of an ambitious Bondeau business model which links the latest e-commerce technology with a large business network which includes large bonded warehouse space and full transport and distribution facilities.

Distillers will be invited to send stock to be kept under bond in Scotland, where they will retain ownership of it. But each distiller’s sales website will be linked to Bondeau, and when out recognises a UK sale, the information is passed back to Scotland where the whisky is sent out through the company’s distribution network.
Duty is automatically calculated and paid directly to customs and excise, and after Bondeau’s fee is deducted the rest of the money goes to the distiller.

From a personal point of view, I am delighted to be part of this business because after years of writing about new world whisky and taking it to tasting events, I will now be able to advise my readers and guests that they can buy it in the UK.

A key part of my role going forward will be to write tasting notes and background information and to continue to do what i am doing now.

World Whisky Review will now be linked closely but not exclusively with the new initiative, and there will be links with my other businesses such as my corporate tasting company, The Craft Distillers Alliance, my Wizards of Whisky World Whisky Awards and The Whisky Tasting Club (, an online business which offers packs of five miniatures and which will be able to sell ‘taster’ packs.

All of this is a logical extension of what I have been doing for the last seven years and will accelerate the already growing interest in whisky from different parts of the world.
I will also be offering a marketing, public relations and events service for organising tastings, launches and other events, which will be offered on an event by event basis or for a small monthly fee.

The new venture is ready to go, and as soon as distillers sign up they will be featured on the new business website.

Horror upon horror – I think I’m in danger of turning in to a policeman.

The last piece of work I did before the Christmas break was to highlight the case of a Norfolk brewery which claimed its eau de vie would become whiskey (sic) in three years due to splinters of bourbon cask added to each bottle, and to take it to task for breaking the rules.

And then over Christmas I appeared on the Connosr video blog defending editorial standards and acting as if I’m the high sheriff of journalism tasked with bringing down the bad guys.

How did it ever come to this?

I’ve thought about it a lot over the holiday and have concluded two things. One, somebody’s got to defend standards and the more doing so, the better; and two, it sort of became inevitable when my wife and launched the Craft Distillers Alliance in September.

For while it is true that the CDA represents the spirits industry’s new thinkers and innovators, and those walking the line and where it’s permissible, pushing the line back or even crossing it, for me craft distilling is still all about quality over quantity, about artisanship, diligence and pride. And for this reason quality must underline everything we do.

The question is, how do you square off the need to preserve quality and craft but encourage innovation, new thinking and the development of new products which will put the noses of the establishment well and truly out of joint?

Distillers across the world are already thinking out of the box, asking big questions and refusing to accept that statues and totem poles can’t be knocked over. That’s going to undoubtedly cause the CDA headaches in the future. It’s easy if you’re the Scotch Whisky Association – you build your castle and defend it to the hilt. We don’t have a castle. We don’t even have a nissan hut. We’re a sort of metaphorical travelling circus working on our acts as we go.

But the first marker has been set, and that marker is quality. We will not succumb to the temptation to compromise for more members. To do otherwise would be suicide. Over the coming years we’re going to be challenged constantly on what we do and don’t support and we’ll be asked big questions, many of which don’t have answers yet.

Sally and I agree that we must represent the very best of the world of spirits and must encourage innovative and exciting boutique distilling projects created through love, skill and care. And we must distance ourselves from the rule breakers and short changers operating on the margins and seeking to make a quick profit from the spirits business.

So quality. Trouble is, how do you define it? Finding new ways to do so may well be The CDA’s first major challenge. Some spirits have defined it by age, but does that mean there are no good young gins, grappas or vodkas? Course not. And even in the sectors where age has been important such as whisky, new world distillers are proving regularly that youth needn’t be a barrier to quality.

These are unchartered waters. The Norfolk brewery mentioned at the start of this article is a case in point. The brewery had one of its porters distilled in to an eau de vie by a Cambridge distillery which in 2013 will be collecting wort from various English brewers to make a range of malt whiskies. This is new thinking and on the face of it should be encouraged.
But on the other hand the distillery allegedly advised the Norfolk brewery on the misleading ‘whiskey’ label and is yet to explain what it means by worts – because you can’t make whisky with wort once hops have been added.

We shall see soon which way it’s headed. This is the sort of example which asks big questions of us, but it’s not the only one. On the Connosr interview I expressed my view on the three year whisky rule and Scotch claims on quality, and some American craft distillers are already asking where The CDA stands on the issue.

Some also want support for a campaign to have American whiskey recognised in the same way as Scotch is, and are offering to back us if we challenge the US rules which state that whisky must be matured in new oak. This is obviously ridiculous for single malt whisky, and made the more so because Scotch and Irish whiskey are exempted so their whiskies can be finessed in quality sherry and bourbon casks while English and Australian single malts must be unnaturally tempered to meet legal requirements that are detrimental to the spirit.

As we evolve we will seek advice and help from distillers associations across the world, particularly in America, purely because they are years ahead of us and there are hundreds of them.

But we have to be cautious.

The Americans are facing up to some big issues of their own. For instance, there are craft distillers in the US who are making great whiskey, and there are plenty that are not. But there are also some buying in spirit and rebranding it as their own, often to a high standard, but who are falling out with the genuine distillers of new spirit.

So the question is, should we side with the distillers, even the bad ones, against those who rebrand spirit that already exists, or should we stand up for quality products from any source against poor ones, even ones created artificially from someone else’s whiskey? And if a company in America makes a great spirit using bought in stocks, can – or indeed should -we differentiate between it and any British independent bottler or whisky maker which buys in Scotch to make its drinks, more than one of which we include as members of The CDA?

Across the world there are small distillers taking spirits production in new and exciting areas. They are making new drinks which don’t sit within existing categories and they are creating diverse and often challenging tastes. I consider this to be a good thing. We have welcomed world distillers in to The CDA with open arms.

But there is murkiness on the margins. There are gaps in existing laws, and there will always be unscrupulous operators who will seek to take advantage of them. And equally, there will be well meaning people attracted to the spirits sector who will step outside the rules through naivety and ignorance.

I recall a few years back an affable businessman dipping his toes in to the Irish whiskey market and declaring that he could call all his whiskey ‘pot still whiskey’ because all of it was distilled in a pot still. Technically true, yes, but he was unintentionally proposing a damaging dumbing down of a unique Irish whiskey style and opening of floodgates to every malt whisky producer in the world, offering every one of them the right to describe their whisky as ‘pure pot still’.

There are other issues which are linked to the quality argument and which are potentially massive for us: one, the issue of how long a grain spirit needs to mature before it can be considered a quality whisky; two, whether territories such as the United States should have their own legal definition of whiskey, recognised internationally, as Ireland and Scotland have; and linked to that , three, whether the association is prepared to support sister distillers in other territories who make quality whisky younger than three years old and believe that the the European three year rule is nothing to do with quality and everything to do with barriers to entry and restrictions on free trade.

My personal view is that we should not challenge the three year rule. Such a move would be interpreted as an attack on the high standards of Scotch whisky and would put us massively on the back foot defending ourselves on such a stance. It would damage our credibility and tie us and our American colleagues in to years of legal action and bureaucratic irrelevancies; and it would lead to a battle that would have no chance of success and would offer no great prize even if victory were attainable.

Personally I love innovation and am drawn to those who probe and question any rules or boundaries. But I believe that it’s simpler to invent a new spirits category or come up with a name to suggest how the drink is made without using the word ‘whisky’ than to challenge directly the existing status quo.

But I also believe that we need open minded thinking and new input as to how we judge quality. Because the European three year rule certainly isn’t it. Why? Because for Scotland the bar is ridiculously low. Nobody tries to market Scottish single malt at three years old, and very few do at five, simply because it isn’t very good – as any number of Scotch ‘works in progress’ have demonstrated in recent years. And how can that rule be about quality? How can it be legal under European whisky rules to take a three year old malt, matured in a tired and worthless cask for three years, to drown it in a large volume of grain whisky, matured in a similar cask for three years and a day, to add a shedload of caramel to turn it rich mahogany brown, and then to let it be bottled as blended Scotch whisky? That’s not quality Scotch – it’s coloured vodka.

I find it amazing that the SWA seeks to impose its dubious and challengeable standards on whisky producers from countries such as America, Australia, and India who are devoting time and passion to creating new and high quality whiskies, when it endorses so many worthless and vastly inferior whiskies within its own ranks.

The membership of The CDA should discuss such issues, and ask questions about any definition of quality that does not make reference to cask size or type, to regional temperatures, extremes of temperatures and humidity.

Already some distillers are suggesting other ways of judging quality – chemical or molecular analysis might hold the key – and The CDA should welcome and encourage a discussion of their views. These are weighty issues and it makes the future challenging and exciting. It’s worth stating, though, that no-one wants to undermine or detract from the great whisky that has been produced for centuries in Scotland and elsewhere, and that our end goals – great whisky produced to the highest quality – are the same. But it is about ensuring that those who deserve to be at the high table even if they have got there by an unconventional route, should be allowed to do so. And that those that put all new distillers at risk by undermining the high standards that exist or by stepping outside the rules, should be challenged and stopped.

No pressure then. But hey, wouldn’t life be boring without a challenge? In this letter I’ve given my opinion on some of the issues ahead – but it must be stressed that they are my opinions only and have nothing to do with The CDA at this point. The CDA’s views must reflect the views of our members – so this month we’ll start reaching out to them for their input.

As we start to explore new terrain we need to gather in information from a wide number of other sources, too. In the coming days I’ll be contacting all the founding members with a questionnaire, and at the end of January we’ll be hosting a lunch in London which I would like to turn in to an informal policy forum.

In the meantime we’ll be focusing on more practical day to day issues for The CDA – and to some extent we’ll be playing catch up a little. December ran away from us – doesn’t it for everyone – so the next priority will be to finish off the membership packs with badges and wall plaques, and get them out to members. We need to finalise our plans for the format of our e-zine Still Crazy, which will feature members and reflect their news as they develop. I’m excited about this because in many ways we’ll be recording history as new businesses emerge hand hopefully a new industry is born. Later this month we should be able to publish details of the first two events we’lI be exhibiting at, and we’ll be exploring other events for the future. And in the coming days I hope to reveal news of a sizeable and exciting media initiative for The CDA.

So onwards and upwards with PC Roskrow – and Happy New Year to everyone. Here’s to exciting and dynamic times ahead.

The Craft Distillers Alliance has criticised a Norfolk brewery for breaking the rules governing the production of whisky after it launched a new spirits product made with one of its beers.

The Panther Brewery at Reepham is selling an eau de vie under the name Spirit of Panther. It was made with wort used for making the brewery’s Black Panther stout and was distilled in to spirit by The English Spirit Company, which has a small distillery in Cambridgeshire. It is not the same distillery as St George’s, home of the English Whisky Company.

Spirit of Panther is an eau de vie because it has not been matured for three years in an oak cask. The beer used must also contain only grain, yeast and water, though Panther insists that there were no other ingredients in the wort.

As a director of The CDA and a whisky writer specialising in new world whisky I take the view that there is nothing wrong with the spirit itself, but the brewery’s labelling breaches legislation governing the production of whisky.

Each bottle of Spirit of Panther contains a small piece of wood from a bourbon barrel, and in the weeks since the spirit was bottled the clear spirit has taken on a yellow hue. The bottle label states that this is maturation taking pace in the bottle, and if you were to leave the bottle for three years you would have ‘whiskey’.

This is utter nonsense and is totally wrong. Leaving apart the spelling of the word ‘whisky’ on this drink, malt spirit must be matured in an oak cask for a minimum of three years before it can be called whisky, and maturation cannot take place in any other vessel, including a glass bottle. And it is illegal to add wood chippings or additional oak staves in to the maturing vessel and then call the resulting product whisky. I am totally in favour of innovation, and welcome new spirits drinks which explore different ways of creating exciting and unusual flavours.

But as we see more and more products of this nature come to the market we must be very careful not to contravene existing rules. There is nothing at all wrong with Spirit of Panther as a spirit, but it is not – and can never be – whisky.

Martin James of the Panther Brewery says that most of the original 60 bottles of Spirit of Panther had been sold and said the misleading label was regrettable.
“The English Spirit Distillery advised me on the details of the label,” he said . “It seems there has been a genuine mistake. We just explained to everyone that bought it how it was distilled and that the oak stave would give colour to the Spirit over time. We also stressed that it could be drunk straight away and it did not need to mature.”

The English Spirit Distillery describes itself as an artisan distillery. It is based in the village of Dullingham near Newmarket in Cambridgeshire. “We pride ourselves on making the best small batch spirits in the world bar none” says the company’s website. The company is about to start maturing whisky in oak casks using the wort from a range of different English brewers, and it already sells an English Spirit single Malt. The company’s website says of it: “We have taken an exceptionally complex wort and distilled to perfection a blissfully complex malt spirit.”

I have contacted the company, which also goes by the name of the English Vodka Company, and has arranged to meet with the distillers in the New Year. The people behind this operation are at the frontline of spirits innovation and it’s exciting that they are trying new ideas. But they are walking on a cliff edge and could go either way. I hope that they intend to stay within the rules and that they really are making world class spirits.

If that’s the case it’s the very sort of operation the CDA would like to have as a member.

Evening all, and welcome back.

Now if you recall, in the first half Diageo went 3-1 up so they’re doing good. But as Tony will tell you, that’s one less than Reading at half time. and it’s not out of the question that this tasting can end up as a 4-4 draw just as it was with The Arse this week. In which case – genius! – I shall demand four more whiskies for extra time and promise them a 7-5 victory?

I tried to balance the two halves of the tasting and I’m taking my time because these whiskies demand respect. But here we may well have the weakest (Auchroisk) and the strongest (Port Ellen). But then again, that price tag might be Port Ellen’s undoing.

We shall see.

Anyway the players are on the pitch, we’re all set to go. Let battle commence.

Auchroisk 30 year old, distilled in 1982, bottled in 2012  54.7%


What they want for it: £230

What they say about it: The oldest Auchroisk ever released by the distillers. From a mix of American & European Oak refill casks filled in 1982.

What I say about it: The malt used in the original Singleton is in pretty stellar company here and has its work cut out. But it has a surprisingly loyal following in some circles. So can it cut it? Sceptical…

How it did:

Nose: Gets prettier the longer you leave it. It’s a bit cramped, damp and fungal first out but there are pretty floral notes there after a while, and some brittle toffee nut bar. A smattering of sawdust. Quite feminine.

Palate: Nice and spicy with intense dark chocolate and espresso coffee notes.The treacle toffee is there but there’s a burnt note to it, too, and that might just be the oak sweeping all before it.

Palate: Disappointing really. It’s too intense, dark and unforgiving. A bit like burnt toast.

Would I or wouldn’t I? No, definitely not. Just not for me.

3-2 and The Ageo has a match on its hands. The atmosphere has changed entirely. We need something with experience. Oh, and here it is…

 Dalwhinnie 25 year old Distilled in 1987, bottled in 2012 52.1%

What they want for it: £185

What they say about it: Latest of four limited releases to be offered by the distillery, and the first of these to come from rejuvenated American Oak hogsheads.

What I say about it: Can a whisky so nearly perfect as the standard (!) 15 year old be bettered by an older version, and should we even try? Should the Rolling Stones have split up decades ago?  Hell no! Have you heard the new single? Are you as curious about this as me? And does it have to be better? No. Like The Stones, it can just be different and worth being in our lives. Big hopes here…

How it did:

Nose: I’ve never been in a garden full of tropical fruit after a rainstorm but this is what I imagine it would smell like. There’s pineapple and mango, sherbet dib-dab, quite clean and sweet but with something damp, too – sort of dirty wispy smoke. Quite polite. Like.

Palate:Wow! I accidentally poured pepper on my grapefruit and it works! It’s a weird mix of a lime liqueur and a fragile grapefruit. Its two main characteristics, as you might expect, are sweetness and Highland earthiness. Perhaps not as rich and honeyed as the 15 year old but reminds me of the delightful Ardmore 25 year old. Some astringency from the oak but this is a treat.

Finish: The driest, oakiest and spiciest part of the ride, but the grapefruit doesn’t let go. Long and lingering. Excellent whisky.

Would I or wouldn’t I? Oh without a doubt.

4-2 to the Ageo and the fans sigh in relief. They can’t lose now and
they have two star strikers on the bench….

Port Ellen 32 year old, 12th release 52.5%

What they want for it:£600 (gulp)

What they say about it: Twelfth of a very limited series of annual releases. From refill
American Oak and refill European Oak casks filled in 1979.

What I say about it: Are we nearly there yet? How much more is hidden away? If you’re a conspiracy theorist you could put up a good argument that some DCL genius (or whatever it was back then) laid down masses of stock from this distillery then closed it down just so we reached this point. Okay, not the greatest theory but David Icke got 4000 people the other night. This is the same age as last year’s release. Can it keep living up to the hype?

How it did

Nose: Mucky but magical. It’s like riding with the driver on a steam train. If you don’t like getting dirty don’t go there. If you do it’s dirty bliss. Oily, fish innards in brine, scuzzy peat smoke dipping in and out of the mix. It’s the whisky equivalent of chili stuffed olives. Sounds intense and intense it is. Sounds awful and it isn’t.

Palate: Well you know you’re not drinking tea. It’s big, with lots of peat and cocoa, but also oak. But there is something not quite right here. Hold it in the mouth – and if you’re going to buy and drink this stuff I’m sure you’re going to savour it sip by sip – then after you get past the peat there’s a flat note which I was taught comes from a poor cask. It’s not the greatest.

Finish: Nice and peaty – but so’s Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig Quarter Cask & St George’s Chapter 11. Have I just committed treason?

Would I or wouldn’t I? I was going to give it the point and then dramatically wave it offside so that the score would be 4.5-2.5 and the victory would be in the bag. Can’t do it. Not a great Port Ellen. Not one to buy and drink. Collect maybe. But we don’t do that, any of us, do we?

So it’s now 4-3 and all to play for.

Oh and if Mark Reynier’s reading, I know which side my bread is buttered when it comes to Diageo do I? Right.

Although I have my fingers crossed for the youth off the bench…

Lagavulin 12 years old, distilled 2000, bottled in 2012, 56.1%

What they want for it: £71 (Yes!)

What they say about it: Eleventh in a series of special 12 year old releases from the original distiller’s stocks. Vatted from refill American Oak casks, each at least 12 years old.

What I say about it: The Whisky Tasting Club’s Uncle Tony rates 12 year old pretty much close to his favourite whisky <ed: that made michelle laugh!>. I can see why. He has favourites from the last 10 bottlings but he wouldn’t throw any of them out of bed for smoking after adult intimacy. Big hopes here.

How it did

Nose: Very Islay, oily, fishy, smoky, peaty. But there’s a very sexy sweet citrus thing going on and there’s no earthiness or scuzziness here. This is is a very good young power metal band. It knows its music but the energy of youth comes through in droves.

Palate: As I started tasting this Rival Sons’ You Want To burst out the iPad with the opening line ‘oooohhh, you got me right where you want me’. Bang on. Download the track, buy the bottle andy take it in to 4D. This is fierce -big peat, lots of mocha, lots of pear, some hickory…I’m in the zone.

Finish: Waiting for the finish is like coming off the highest roller coaster in the world and then waiting to watch the next ride. Sod that! I’m going on again. See ya.

Would I or wouldn’t I? Oh yes. So much so that I’m awarding it two goals. Why can’t I? My game!

6-3 to the Ageo!

A great set of releases.

Time, I think, for a curry…

I am delighted to announce a busy Movember month of whisky tastings in support of The Wizards of Whisky Awards tour.

A percentage of ticket revenue will go to my Movember account so please support my ‘whisky for whiskers’ efforts by coming to an evening. If you would like to attend any of the events please email me at or text or call me on 07540 348998 unless otherwise stated.

Tuesday November 6, The Artichoke, Broome, near Bungay, 7.30-10pm Wizards of Whisky night featuring six medal winning world whiskies and a two hour talk explaining the story behind them. Taste exciting whiskies from among other countries, Sweden, France and Australia. Ring pub for details
Telephone: 01986 893325

Wednesday November 7, Rumsey Wells, St Andrews, Norwich, 7.30pm-10pm Join us for a live tweeting of a whisky tasting from the Rumsey Wells. Five whiskies from around the world, tasted as part of The Wizards of Whisky tour.

Thursday November 8, whisky dinner, Reindeer, Norwich 7pm for 7.30pm Six exquisite and world class whiskies including two aged and rare Scotches and a superb four course dinner, with anecdotes and stories between each course. Ticket £45 Contact the pub on
Telephone: 01603 612995

Thursday November 15, The Royal Oak, Poringland 7.30pm
Six world whiskies as part of the Wizards of Whisky tour – including American craft distilleries, Australian and Belgian whisky. Book through the pub but hurry – nearly sold out! Telephone 01508 493734

Wednesday November 21, venue TBC Cardiff 7.30pmWales V New Zealand whisky Autumn international. Three days before The All Blacks come to town, taste three New Zealand and three Welsh whiskies blind and see who wins the Test! Lots of fun – contact Dominic direct.

Tuesday November 27, The Trafford Arms, Norwich 7pm for 7.30pm
Charity double header. six world whiskies including American rye, Swedish whisky and a special Scotch single malt.
Tickets £17.50 available through the pub, with £7.50 of each ticket split between pub internet child protection charity and Movember. Tickets selling fast.