The Whisky Tasting Club

WIZARDS OF WHISKY AUSTRALASIAN DISTILLER OF THE YEAR

 

New Zealand Whisky Company

nzwhiskyco

This year sees New Zealand’s All Blacks defend their world rugby title -and 2015 will no doubt mark another significant step forward for the New Zealand Whisky Company.

When The All Blacks triumphed in 2011 Tasmanian Greg Ramsay, having bought up existing stocks of the old Willowbank Distillery,  was making his first tentative steps in his bid to put Kiwi whisky on the map. It’s hard to believe that it’s just over three years ago since that journey started. And it’s fitting that in 2015 The New Zealand Whisky Company should pick up the award for Australasian Distiller of the Year.In the past 12 months the company has made major strides in international markets, launched new products, repackaged existing ones, and improved the quality of its offering across the board.

I should at this point declare a vested interest – as an adopted New Zealand citizen I am proud of my association with this company and have worked with Greg and his team to promote this whisky to the world. And I am delighted to see its three entries do so well in The Wizards.

But I should once again point out that I was not part of the judging panel that scored the whiskies so highly.

The big surprise for everyone this year was another fruity delight, the Oamaruvian. It was one of three gold medals the distiller picked up recently.

Watch out for the February World Whisky Review where I’ll speak to the team behind New Zealand whisky about the current range, what is in store, and what plans it has for world cup year

TOMORROW: Asian Distiller of the Year

 

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CANADIAN DISTILLER OF THE YEAR

CANADIAN DISTILLER OF THE YEAR:   STILL WATERS, ONTARIO

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These are early days for Ontario’s first micro-distillery –  but all the signs are we’re seeing  the birth of another world class whisky maker.

Still Waters is the creation of two Barrys – Stein and Bernstein – and the distillery only bottled its first single malt whisky in 2013.

That’s right – single malt from Canada. And the distillery isn’t stopping there  – it’s also distilling a rye that has more in common with the bolder American versions than the Canadian take on the grain.

Canada observes the three year maturation rule so to fill in the time between distilling and bottling, Still Waters released its own blend, called 1+11 Canadian whisky. It’s very good indeed, an intriguing mix of citrus, spice honey and vanilla.

The single malt is released under the name Stalk & Barrel and is, unsurprisingly, very young and under-cooked. But it is extremely well made, has enough about it to capture the attention, and hints at greatness to come. It’s the whisky equivalent of young and untutored new singer – with bags of charisma, great pitch and tone,  lots of power and style, but in need of harnessing and pointing in the right direction.

That will come with time, though. Still Waters has won a gold medal for its Canadian whisky and a silver for its Stalk & Barrel single malt.

A work in progress – but what a work!

Don’t miss the February edition of World Whisky Review online when the team behind Still Waters will be talking about how they came to be making single malt whisky in Canada, and where they are hoping to go next.

TOMORROW: Australasian Distiller of the Year

 

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WIZARDS OF WHISKY WORLD INDEPENDENT BOTTLER OF THE YEAR 2015

This is the first time that the independent award has gone outside the United Kingdom, but it goes to a company that has been ritually kicking butt for a couple of years now, and which demands your attention.
Heartwood is the company owned by maverick Tim Duckett, who epitomises everything good about New World whisky in general and Australian whisky in particular.

Heartwoodlogo180x150

Heartwood bottles casks bought from Lark, and each one is marked out by three specific factors: the irreverent names that Tim gives them, their hyper cask strengths – high 60s and into the 70s – and most of all, masses and masses of flavour.

 

Drinking Heartwood is the whisky equivalent to a net session with Aussie paceman Mitchell Johnson when he’s got a toothache. These whiskies – with names such as Convict Redemption, Convict Resurrection and Vat Out Of Hell – are big, bold, unsubtle, complex, confusing and unforgettable. If the likes of Lark and Sullivan’s Cove are AC/DC, Heartwood is Rose Tattoo and The Angels jamming with the volume on 11: snarling, in your face, and dripping in passion, intensity and intent.
You either love them or hate them – whisky’s equivalent of vegemite sandwiches – but they are leading an Australian journey in to new and unchartered waters – and they sum up perfectly what The Wizards of Whisky are all about.
Heartwood picked up two gold medals for The Beagle and Convict Redemption. Tim tells me his next release is ‘an absolute cracker’ bottled at 72% ABV. The Wizards can’t wait….

Hear Tim Duckett’s response to the Wizards Award in the net issue of World Whisky review, out in two weeks.

TOMORROW: WIZARDS OF WHISKY CANADIAN WHISKY OF THE YEAR 2015

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THE WIZARDS OF WHISKY WORLD WHISKY AWARDS 2015

A record number of  whiskies were entered in to the third Wizards Whisky Awards and several new distillers entered for the first time. The competition in most of the categories was intense.

The judging was carried out by a panel of 10 members of my VIP Whisky Club, most of whom have been tasting world whiskies with me for nearly 10 years. The whiskies are tasted blind and because I know what the whiskies are, I am not part of the judging panel.

Whiskies are scored out of 100, and a proportion of them are awarded gold, silver or bronze medals.

Trophies are given in the following categories:

American Craft Distiller of the Year

Asian Distiller of the Year

Australasian Distiller of the Year

Canadian Distiller of the Year

European Distiller of the Year

Irish Distiller of The Year

World Distiller of the Year (chosen from the winners of the above

Independent Bottler of the Year

New World Single Malt Whisky of the Year

New World Other Grain Whisky of the Year

World Whisky of the Year (chosen from the two world winners above)

The results will be announced on Facebook and Twitter each day from today, and published on my blog site at the Whisky Tasting Club, www.thewhiskytastingclub.co.uk.

A full list of winners with comment and interviews with the winners will be published in the February issue of World Whisky Review, published at the end of January at www.worldwhisky.co.uk

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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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Top whisky bloggers to judge The Wizards of Whisky awards

Almost 15 top whisky bloggers are set to join the judging panel of the Wizards of Whisky
Awards, making them the most new media friendly awards in the world of whisky.

The new judges bring a fresh, youthful but knowledgeable face to The wizards, which are now in their third year. This year’s competition was launched last week, with judging due to take place in October and November.

I want to make The Wizards the best reflection of what is happening with ‘New World’ whisky. The new judges will join a team made up of a number of established whisky experts as well as members of his VIP team, which has been tasting world whiskies with him for nearly 10 years now.

These aren’t wine people dabbling in the world of whisky, and they’re not the same old dyed in the wool judges that turn up at pretty much all the other Awards events. Each year I look to do something a bit different to freshen things up. There are some very talented people who prefer the internet to pursue their passion and I’m looking forward to their involvement in the judging process. They should shake things up a bit.”

There is still time to apply to be a judge. Simply contact Dom through Facebook or Twitter or email
him at d.roskrow@aol.co.uk

Meanwhile The Wizards look set to become the biggest yet, with the Independent bottlers’ category, the only
one featuring Scotch whisky,  looking particularly strong.

Three reasons why whisky companies need to enter

The Wizards of Whisky will showcase whiskies from around the world with a unique three-pronged promotional approach.

One – The Wizards of Whisky will be judged by two panels of experts made up of the best bloggers and writers, retailers,
and members of my VIP club, which have been tasting world whiskies for 10 years
and have more experience of world whiskies than anyone else in the country

Two – Medal winning whiskies will be given the opportunity to be included in up to three of my tasting evenings as part of
a 12 date Wizards Of Whisky tour for corporate clients and whisky clubs. There is no additional cost for this, apart from providing stock.

Three- Winning whiskies will be offered the chance to be included a five miniature Wizards whisky pack sold on line by the
Whisky Tasting Club (see www.thewhiskytastingclub.co.uk). There is no added cost for this, apart from providing stock.

What previous winners say about The Wizards

“Competing on an international stage is what sets the Wizards of Whisky apart. It puts you in front of the
entire world. Being recognised by the Wizards of Whisky Competition has been huge for the Corsair Distillery and put us in the big leagues. No one in the industry is as committed as Dominic Roskrow is to world whiskey. His unique voice is always on the cutting edge of international whiskey trends and is vital to a world that is becoming more global.”  
Darek Bell, Owner Distiller of the Corsair Distillery, USA

 “Dominic Roskrow appreciates and feeds the discerning drinker’s appetite for new world whisky, and the people behind it. He is not betrothed to any behemoths of the old world, and captures the fresh flavours, refreshing stories and pioneer processes behind emerging whiskies around the globe. His interest in New Zealand whisky has been greatly valued by me, and extends beyond tasting notes
 and quiet applause, to market advocacy,public relations ideas, and the odd clip under the ear’ol when required”

- Greg Ramsay, Owner of the NZ Whisky Company, New Zealand

For full details of the Wizards email Dom at:

 

 d.roskrow@aol.co.uk

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THE DOM ROSKROW WIZARD OF WHISKY AWARDS 2015

I’m delighted to announce the launch of the third annual Wizards
of Whisky World Whisky Awards.

These awards have quickly won an outstanding reputation for
recognising the best whiskies from across the world and can boast the most
knowledgeable and experienced panel of world whisky judges of any other awards
event.

Unlike other awards world whiskies are judged against each other
by style before individual awards are given by Continent.

And this year there are two new ground-breaking innovations – the
publication of the World Whisky Top 20, and a new award, The Next Big Thing
Award for ‘works in progress ‘ – new make spirit or spirit under three years
old for European whisky and under  two years old.

The closing date for entries is October 30 and judging will take
place in two stages in November and December. Results will be announced in
January.

Three reasons why you need to enter 

The Wizards of Whisky will showcase whiskies from around the world
with a unique three-pronged promotional approach.

One – The Wizards of Whisky will be judged by two panels of experts
made up of the best bloggers and writers, retailers, and members of my VIP
club, which have been tasting world whiskies for 10 years and have more
experience of world whiskies than anyone else in the country

Two – Medal winning whiskies will be given the opportunity to be
included in up to three of my tasting evenings as part of a 12 date Wizards Of
Whisky tour for corporate clients and whisky clubs. There is no additional cost
for this, apart from providing stock.

Three-
Winning whiskies will be offered the chance to be included a five
miniature Wizards whisky pack sold on line by the Whisky Tasting Club (see www.tthewhiskytastingclub.co.uk).
There is no added cost for this, apart from providing stock.

Two innovations for 2015

This year there will be two additions to The Wizards:

  1. World Whisky Top 20

A list of the top 20 world whiskies irrespective of style or
country of origin, based on the scoring from both judging panels

 

2.
The Next Big Thing Award

Aimed at new distillers who have yet to bottle their first whisky,
or companies which have released a new make spirit or ‘work in progress’ and
recognises one to watch for the future.

Coverage

The Wizards will be covered in the following ways:

  • Regular coverage, brand focus pieces and distillery focus pieces at the Craft
    Distillers Alliance website www.thecda.co.uk
  • Regular coverage, news and brand focus pieces on my blog at The Whisky
    TastingClub, www.thewhiskytastingclub.co.uk
  • Daily coverage on Facebook and Twitter
  • PR coverage and press releases to all major trade media and to relevant consumer media
    including radio

Categories

Whiskies will be judged by style of whisky across the world before
awards are made in the following categories:

World’s best whisky

World’s best single malt

World’s best blend

World’s best other grain whisky

World top 20 whiskies

 

American Whiskey of the Year

African/Asian Whisky of the Year

Canadian Whisky of the Year

European Whisky of the Year

Irish Whisky of the Year

Japanese Whisky of the Year

 

World Distiller of the Year

American Distiller of the Year

African/Asian Distiller of the Year

Canadian Distiller of the Year

European Distiller of the Year

Irish Distiller of the Year

Japanese Distiller of the Year

 

Independent Bottler of the Year

World Top 20

Next Big Thing Award

 

Crucial dates

All entries should be sent to the following address by no later
than Friday October 24

Dom Roskrow

World Whisky Company Ltd

Independent House

Thorpe Road

NORWICH NR1 1RY

 

For an entry form and entry costs email dominic at dominic@thewhiskytastingclub.co.uk
or ring him  on the number below.

 

Dom Roskrow

World of Whisky

Craft Distillers’ Alliance, TRIBE, Discovery Road &
Wizards of Whisk
y

0044 7540 348998

 

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TRIBAL GATHERING

PRESS RELEASE

TRIBAL GATHERING
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 d.roskrow@aol.co.uk
For regular TRIBE 2013 updates follow Dominic @whiskytasting

Ends

Testimonials:

“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

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The Speyside Festival Part One

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.

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Craft Distillers Alliance news

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

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