The Whisky Tasting Club

WORLD WHISKY REVIEW -NOVEMBER 2014

My view – November 2014

Welcome to the new look World Whisky Review – a monthly blog that will hopefully pick up where I left off a few months ago.

This time round the format will be simpler and not so high maintenance as it was before and it will have less lengthy features and more snippets of news from the very furthest parts of the whisky world.

Certainly there won’t be a shortage of things to write about. Increasingly smaller distillers are finding their own markets far away from the United Kingdom and have seen little point in publicity in territories they can’t service. But there are some fascinating experimental new whiskies and some exciting innovations that I’m sure whisky lovers would like to hear about.

I’m fascinated, too, in plotting the progress of distillers as they grow, and how they go about making a decision to recruit a new distiller while they represent their whiskies around the world. Or when they decide on recruiting a brand ambassador so that they can focus on strategy and new brand development.

Which brings me to Balcones and the developments there since I last wrote about the Texas distillery.

Ironically I interviewed Chip Tate about this very issue some months ago – how to expand without losing sight of what you’re trying to achieve, how to represent the whiskey around the world but still control the home production; how to expand without losing control. Events since then suggest that for whatever reason, everything has gone horribly wrong. I hope Chip comes through it and emerges with the opportunity to contribute to the world of whisky once more.

Balcones is back defending its titles in this year’s Wizards of Whisky Awards along with more than 75 other whiskies. The judging will take place in December and the winners announced in January. Watch for a particularly strong contest in Ireland and Europe this year.

Finally, I am very excited to announce that I have teamed up with the Alpine Spirits Association in a bid to promote their whiskies and gins to new markets. I’m also going to try and persuade some of them to let us have some of their stunning fruit spirits. If Scotch, American and Irish whiskies can be flavoured with artificial fruit flavourings, then the beautifully crafted European spirits have every chance of doing well on the cocktail circuit.

There are more than 100 distilleries in what I call Rheinside, many of them making whisky. Some of the world’s best distillers are in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and Liechtenstein, and in the last five years they have learned quickly that you can’t make whisky the same way as other spirits, and have adapted accordingly. The new whiskies are obviously young but excellently made, and many distilleries are innovating and producing new whisky styles. My story on Orma below is a starting point and I’m delighted to say World Whisky Review will also be available in German.

I always appreciate your feedback. Happy reading!

Indian giants back with a bang in 2015

India’s single malt giants Amrut and Paul John are set to hit the ground running in 2015 after both distilleries had relatively quiet years in 2014.

Amrut, which has picked up scores of awards across the world, has struggled to keep up with demand over the year, and has focused on a couple of very high end and limited edition whiskies.

But it has a new 10 year old version of Greedy Angels out in time for Christmas, and a new single malt being bottled this month for release in early 2015.

The original Greedy Angels was so called because three quarters of the cask was lost to the elements. But the whisky, at eight years old, was the oldest ever Indian whisky and was stunning.

Meanwhile Paul John pulled back from some intense marketing and promotional work this Autumn and will return to the fray in 2015. Various set backs including stock damage after a fire on a ship bringing over from India are said to have contributed to the problems.

But Paul John did release some fabulous single cask bottlings and are defending their title as Asian distiller of the Year in this year’s Wizards Awards.

Wizards hit new high

The Wizards of Whisky World Whisky Awards have passed 75 entries for the first time – and are set to grow further.

The deadline has extended until late November to accommodate a flurry of late entries from the United States.The American craft distillery category, and those of Europe and Ireland, are looking particularly strong this year.

Judging will take place in early December in London, with a judging panel made of young whisky bloggers, writers and retailers, and in Norwich with the Norwich VIP whisky club.

Whiskies will be judged in two broad categories, single malt whiskies and other grain whiskies, within gold silver and bronze medals being awarded as appropriate. Whiskies from across the world will be judged against each other to find the overall world whisky in each style. Then the results will be broken down to find regional winners by Continent. Finally, results from each distillery will be collated to find the regional distiller of the year, and the overall world distiller of the year.

Results will be announced in early January.

Australasia goes through the gears

Australia and New Zealand are producing a range of new spirits which suggests that the future for whisky from down Under is very good indeed.

Tim Duckwood of Heartwood has sent me new make spirit from Lark and Redlands in Tasmania and both are outstanding. The Lark one, LD1151, is 63.4%, and is 50 per cent peaked. The Redlands Estate new make is bold, clean, rich and very fruity. Typically tim followed up with an email saying that the next batch of spirits was even better.

Meanwhile in New Zealand The NZ Whisky Company has launched The Oamaruvian, a weighty double cask whisky which is the best thing the company has done so far.

And small family NZ company Thomson has distilled spirit from barley dried over manuka twigs. It’s 69% and has the most fascinating bitter and topsy smoke taste and unlike anything erase I’ve tried. Can’t wait to see what wood does to this.

World whisky focus: Whisky deep, mountain high….

“You see that building there,” says my Swiss host Pascal Mittner pointing at a non-descript but clearly well protected grey factory complex. “That building is where more than three quarters of all Euro notes are made as well s other currencies. It’s not well known for obvious reasons. I know that as they are a client of mine.”

It’s a sunny day, and the picture in front of me – with the exception of the Euro building – is straight out of a Swiss tourist brochure: cows with large bells grazing in verdant meadows, the sun shining down on mountains with the first snows of winter at their summits, church bells ringing out in this very Catholic part of Switzerland. No milk maids or lederhosen though.

We’ve been driving beside the Rhein and are about to head up in to the Alps to the world’s highest maturation warehouse. Or rather, a cave high up above the Rhein valley. My host drives a silver Jaguar, makes his living through IT Security, and his whisky business partner, Rinaldo Willi, makes diamonds out of dead bodies. Or rather, he uses the 18 per cent of a cremated body that is carbon and makes it in to a memorial diamond for wealthy people.

And these two very likeable friends are part of a growing army of distillers from this part of the world who are bring an attitude to distilling that is as refreshing as the Alpine air they’re maturing their spirit in.

It’s very early days for the duo – who call their whisky Orma – which is a Romansh word. Romansh is an official language in Switzerland, and is widely spoken in the South East of the country.

“It is spoken by more than 60,000 and is my first language,” says Rinaldo.

“It is derived from Roman-spoken Latin, and which is spoken by more than 60,000 people. the word ‘Orma’ means soul.”

They admit that their first attempts at making whisky were catastrophic, but what they’re doing now is exciting, different and very well made. Using mainly Swiss wine casks and some port and sherry, they are at the experimental stage. They have been distilling at two separate distilleries but are moving towards just distilling over wood fire at Marcel Telser’s Telsington distillery in Liechtenstein.

“It’s amazing the difference between the two,”  says  Willi. “The one on central Switzerland is more aggressive and we’re moving to Marcel’s more harmonious and smooth spirit.”

They use five different locations in the Alps for maturation – some of them like the cave I visit that is hard to approach even without snow so heaven knows how they manage in winter.

“We bring the casks up in a cable car,” shrugs  Mittner,  smiling.

This isn’t indulgence, though, and already the effects are there to see. The Angels’ Share in the mountains, for instance, is an astonishing six per cent. And this part of The Alps is regularly blessed with ‘the hair dryer’, a warm wind which has its roots in the Sahara Dessert and can transform the temperature here so that barbecues aren’t out of the question even in winter. It’s what allows the growing of wine grapes here.

“The temperatures can vary from -20C to +28C and that affects maturation. We’re interested in seeing what happens in different places.”

The whisky is young but feisty, with an earthy smoky base. A peated version will be released for Christmas.

And if you want to know how ambitious these guys are, take another look at the whole Orma package. The logo is a Capricorn goat – a symbol of the region – with long horns and a curled leg so that it forms an eight, which happens to be a number of symbolic importance across Asia. The strength of the whisky is 44% – do the Maths – and the way Orma is written on the bottle means that when inverted you read the Latin number VIII.

Impressive on every level.

SHORTS

  • The English Whisky Company has just released a limited edition Chapter 16 – and it’s a cracker.
  • The new single malt, released at both cask strength (96 bottles) and at 46% (300 bottles) is the distillery’s first release of a peaked sherry cask. And it really works. Don’t hang about if you want to get one.
  • Catoctin Creek of Purcellville, Virginia has been awarded the Platinum Award, the highest level achievable, in the Loudoun Dulles Green Business Challenge. This is an alliance between the Loudoun County and Dulles Chambers of Commerce to promote businesses that make direct efforts to improve sustainability by saving energy, conserving water, reducing waste, combating congestion, protecting native habitat and reaching out to employees, customers, communities
  • England expects: England doubles its distillery count this month. Cotswolds Distillery started producing spirit last month and Lakes Distillery comes on stream later this month. There will be a traditional still naming ceremony, when the stills are named after the wives of the chairman and managing director.
  • Award-winning Tasmanian distillery Sullivan’s Cove is giving people the chance to buy their own 20 litre cask to mature. The customer chooses between ex port or ex bourbon wood and the level of char, then the cask is filled with new make spirit and stored at the distillery for two years before being bottled. If you’re in the neighbourhood you can visit them as often as you like.
  • * independent Scotch Whisky specialist Douglas Laing & Co has released a   new batch of rare and ‘antique’ single cask Scotch whisky range under the name ‘XOP’ – Xtra Old Particular. The range includes a Macallan 26 Years Old, an Invergordon 40 Years Old Grain and a Caol Ila 30 Years Old.
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