The Whisky Tasting Club

Book waves the flag for whisky at prestigious new drinks awards

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)

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On line whisky magazine shoots for the stars

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.

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GROUND BREAKING DEAL OPENS THE DOOR TO DISTILLERS

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 (www.thewhiskytastingclub.co.uk), 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.

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Craft distilling has got to be about quality

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.

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CDA challenges labelling on new spirits drink

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.

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Diageo special releases: second half

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…

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Here comes Movember!

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 d.roskrow@true-spirit.co.uk 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.

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Diageo special releases, first half

Caol Ila 14 Year Old unpeated 59.3%

What they want for it: £66

What they said about it: From a batch made only once a year, the seventh limited release of unpeated Caol Ila, the first at 14 years old, also the first ‘sherried’ Caol Ila released in this series. From 1st fill ex-bodega European Oak casks filled in 1997.

What I say about it: The unpeated Caol Ila was a big surprise and one of the highlights last year. I was so impressed I bought a bottle. And that doesn’t happen often. So expectations are high going in to this one and it’s first up on the plate with a roster that includes a 35 year old Brora (a step too far? We shall see…), a Talisker 35 year old (lots of confidence in this), two Lagavulins, a 25 year Dalwhinnie, a Port Ellen, and the oldest Auchroisk ever released. No pressure then…

How it did…

Nose: I can’t say I’m very impressed with the nose. it’s tight and even without water it doesn’t have a great deal to say. There’s a slightly doughy, mouldy off note there, too. With time there is some sweet lemon and lime, some sherbet.

Palate: Much better! Don’t over-water it, but those lemon and lime notes are on the palate and it’s sweet and very drinkable, honeyed, soft in the mouth and with some spice from the oak to keep it interesting. as you’d expect rich and oily in the mouth.

Finish: Big, soft, honeyed and spicy.

Would I or wouldn’t I?* I would! 1–0 to the Ageo!

Next up…oh goodness me, it’s the Led Zeppelin of malt, the historic monster that can still sweep all before it…

Brora 35 year old 48.1%

What they want for it: £400

What they said about it .Eleventh of a very limited series of annual releases. Vatted from whiskies at least 35 years old distilled in 1976 & 1977 and aged in refill American Oak casks What I say about it I absolutely adore Brora, a ‘shiver down the spine every time’ malt from the same site as Clynelish and well and truly consigned to history. But I can’t think of any malt that gives more ammunition to the big whisky companies who argue that independent bottlers damage their brands’ reputations. Diageo has brilliantly managed the releases from this distillery – at a substantial price to the consumer, to be fair. But I’ve tasted independent bottlings priced well over £100 that are as bad as any whisky I’ve taken anywhere in the world. That’s the equivalent of taking a bad bootleg of the aforementioned Zep, recorded on a Sony Walkman, and selling it off as a band rarity. But even Diageo’s release last year was a disappointment. Maybe it was the Caol Ila situation in reverse.

How it did…

 Nose: Moody, Autumnal, Stewed dates and plums, some smoke and peat. Could be Japanese. woody, oily, intense and damp.

Palate: Quite thin, not as bold and rich as other bottlings. I’m wondering whether it’s got too old and frail? That said, there are fare some menthol and liquorice notes which i find irresistible, the peat is still defined and attractive and thew overall balance of the whisky, with some apricot and tropical fruit poking up through the oak and smoke making it a damn fine dram (not my phrase). Hard to fault, then, and I prefer it to last year’s. And it’s certainly Brora.

Finish: Fairly long finish with peat and spice both on top.

Would I or wouldn’t I? This is really tough because it’s borderline. But the case for the defence is that it’s definitely a quality Brora, if not the best, and if you gave me £2000 to spend on whisky this might be my guilty pleasure. So on balance, yes, lie down, I think I love you. 2-0 to the Ageo!

A toughie, Saint, but on balance a home win. Now we turn to one which I want to put my shirt on. I love this distillery but we’re in unchartered territory..

Talisker 35 year old 54.6%

What they want for it £525

What they say about it. The oldest limited release ever offered by the distillery. Sixteenth in this series. From American and European Oak refill casks filled in 1977.

What I say about it. Talisker is an amazing malt because it reinvents itself at different ages. i adore the 18-year-old, can take or leave the 10 year old, but would die for the 25 year old or 30 year old if I had the chance. Still think I’d invest all my available cash in the 18 year old though – just because of how much I could buy compared to the older expressions. Not sure what to expect here, though…

How it did…

Nose: Another tight nose but with some fishy peat, oily citrus fruit and burnt spices. Like the barbecue got left on too long and the lemon drizzled fish has risked round the edge. Not irretrievable but hovering…

Palate: Wowsa! No tiredness here. This is an immense whisky, with distinctive thunder cracker Talisker pepper and peat, a nice splash of oak, and a surprising dash of honey. I’m just listening to AC/DC’s Back in Black and that’s the spot on soundtrack for this…an ageing masculine heavy hitting rock out of a malt showing any young whipper snapper how it’s done. Awesome.

Would I or wouldn’t I?* I know I shouldn’t but put the Brora back on the shelf…four bottles for £2000 please? I feel dirty and seduced but if ever anyone was going to do it, it was this spice girl… 3-0 to the Ageo!

No chance for a 21 year old Lagavulin after that I don’t think. Tough but it’s up against it. Question is, after last year’s 5-3 victory for Diageo can the company go 4-0 up at half time? But let’s play ball…

Lagavulin 21 year old, 52%

What they want for it £350

What I say about it It’s a lot of money for a 21 year old but let’s go there…

How it did

Nose: Typical smoky, oily, fishy Lagavulin: spritely, exciting and very, very Islay. Palate: Beautiful smoky, peaty and oily whisky. It”s young and vibrant with melon, kiwi and mango as well as lots of peat and smoke. Not the most subtle of whiskies but an absolute delight. Excellent stuff.

Finish: Just beautiful; honeyed, fruity, rich, peaty, oily and long. Exquisite.

Would I or wouldn’t I? Can’t do it. A step too far. Very nice but there are better options here. Sorry!

3-1 to the Ageo!

Impressive but still all to play for… watch for part two in the next few days…

 

* This is based on the fantasy that I’m unbelievably rich

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The elephants in the room…

Or indeed, the issues that dare not speak their name

Are people getting a little bit fed up with the heavy-handed tactics of the Scotch Whisky Association? And is it the case that confidence is growing and a rapidly growing force is prepared to stand up to the Association on an ongoing basis?

I ask because when I wrote a pro-SWA feature for Whisky Magazine some years back I was amazed at the venom that was thrown at the SWA, and indeed me, for writing favourably about in. I got more negative response to that one feature than for all the features I’d done in the previous five years added together. And since then I’ve seen a small trickle of criticism turn in to a regular flow of negative comment.

More than that, there seems to be a growing number of interested parties willing to challenge the boundaries of the existing rules and to work within the law but probe for new areas of innovation.

The SWA is basically a force for good. It plays a crucial, indeed essential role, in protecting Scotch whisky and all that it stands for. It helps Scotch find routes to new markets, to establish a level playing field for its members in those markets, and it protects Scotch from erosion of standards or ‘passing off’ by poor imitators.

But let’s be honest, its job is to protect SCOTCH and that may mean doing so to the detriment of whiskies from other parts of the world; whiskies which have every right to trade and compete for the whisky drinker’s share of throat. And it could be – and has been – said that it has bullied and threatened to do so.

The traditional world of whisky has always, rightly, been dominated by Scotch. Its 100 plus distilleries dwarfed the other whisky makers of Japan, Ireland, Canada, and Kentucky, who broadly accepted its definitions of what whisky was. But what happens when the ‘old world’ of 150 distilleries has to stand up to a growing number of whisky distilleries worldwide which now easily exceeds 750 whisky distilleries and is growing? What happens when 400 plus American distilleries start accusing Europe of imposing unfair trading barriers on its distillers? Or Europe starts making whisky in casks that are not oak, as they may, or mix whiskies from different countries with Scotch, as they do?

It’s happening and any journalist worth his or her salt should be asking what it all means, questioning what is and isn’t – and should and shouldn’t – be allowed, and investigating what the reasons for the existing rules are and whether they do what they set out to do.

No real journalist should accept the status quo and leave rules and regulations unchallenged. If they don’t make sense, or aren’t fair, or lead to inequity or unfairness, then it’s a journalist’s duty to objectively, rationally and fairly, to say so.

That’s why I welcomed Jim Murray’s excellent ‘Bible Thumping’ piece in the recently-published Whisky Bible. Not because I agreed with it – I don’t entirely and have fundamental differences of opinions with him on several bits of it. But because he’s asking difficult questions and raising some serious issues and concerns.

I don’t see anyone anywhere else doing this – and specially not among the sycophantic bloggers who set themselves up as whisky experts, line up for free samples and then obligingly write unquestioning marketing notes for whoever pops a freebie in the post.

I’ve been over this ground any number of times and don’t want to go over it again here. But I do want to write a series of blogs which recognise the herd of elephants that are in the room.

I want to ask what exactly you can and can’t do by law, question what the purpose is of the three year rule governing what can be called whisky in Europe, and explore where the new distillers might be taking us with different cask types, grains, peats and production techniques.

Whether we call it innovation or progress, we should welcome it. And if we find anyone who stops it for any self interest, we should fight against them.

This isn’t to challenge all that is good about Scotch whisky, it’s to enhance it. Find whisky at all and you’ll eventually find Scotch, and long may that continue to be the case. But we should encourage debate and exploration. Just don’t shoot the messenger.

So let’s start gently, with a chat to former Cooley director Jack Teeling about his new whiskey company and his launch whiskey, Hybrid.

When I first wrote about Hybrid, a mix of Scottish single malt and Irish single malt, it provoked a flurry of comment and response on Twitter. Many of the posts suggested the new whiskey fell outside Scotch Whisky Association rules, some pointed to the fuss caused by the SWA the last times such whiskies were tried (Celtic Nations from Bruichladdich, which you can still buy, and Dave Mark & Robbo’s The Smooth Sweeter One from 2002) – and most seemed to be totally unaware of, and surprised by, the fact that Spanish blended whisky DYC contains Laphroaig and Ardmore, and some Japanese blends contain Scotch from the Scottish distilleries owned by Suntory and Nikka.

So there’s not anything earth-shatteringly new about the idea of mixing whiskies from different countries. What makes Hybrid different is the fact that Jack Teeling and former Cooley whiskey innovator Alex Chasko are laying claim to inventing a new whiskey category. If there should be any question mark how life is for former Cooley director Jack Teeling these days, try and track him down for a chat about his new business. He’s currently on the West Coast of America but his feet have hardly touched the ground in recent days and catching up with him has been a nightmare.

When we do speak he is totally apologetic but excited about his new brand. “It’s been a bit slower coming out than I would have liked,” he says. “I left Beam in April and had some family time before doing this. I didn’t leave because of anything directly with the new company but I knew as far back as last December that if the takeover happened it wouldn’t be for me.

“I didn’t want to be a small fish in a big pond. I like to have control of my own destiny and Beam know what they wanted to do with Cooley so I could see possibilities to do other things.”

Effectively Teeling was more interested in the innovation and exploration of new and exciting areas than he was the international distribution of some key core brands.

If he were in a rock band, I suggest, he left because of musical differences – he didn’t want to be part of a band following the commercial route in to the charts.

“I suppose that’s true, and I took Alex on board for that reason. It’s looking for new ideas and flavours to excite and interest the whiskey drinker that is what interests us. But this has been a big change for us, going from a company with 100 people to one with just two.”

Hybrid is a statement of intent. It’s a combination of Cooley single malt and 10 year old single malt whisky from Bruichladdich which has been married together in oak barrels for eight years. It is bottled at a modest cask strength of 44.1% ABV with no chill filtration or colouring added. Edition No.1 will be limited to just 1,200 70cl bottles.

So is Teeling worried about the potential political reaction it will receive? “We are just a tiny little company so hopefully the SWA won’t have an issue with us,” he says. “We make no claim about what we are, whether we’re Scottish or Irish or anything else. We have effectively come up with a new category that we call Hybrid. The idea is to fuse different styles and flavours to give the connoisseur a different drinking experience.”

One thing we can be sure of: this is just a beginning and all sorts of weird and wonderful whiskeys from an exciting innovative duo, and we should welcome their return to the fray. But will they be able to find the stock, I ask?

“I managed to secure a limited supply agreement when I left Beam,” says Teeling. “Not a lot but enough to stay in the game. And I’m looking in all directions and leaving no stone unturned to find more. I’ve managed to find some. The plan is to keep looking for new directions to take our whiskeys in.” Watch this space.

Tasting notes:

Nose: West Scotland is in charge here. This is a distinctly Islay nose, with savoury and sea notes, some damp Autumn, oily boat yard and peat. Quite restrained though, and after breathing and with a drop of water, some sour apple and a hint of lime make an appearance.

Palate: Intriguing mix this – the whisky styles sit together nicely, with lemon and peat from the Scotch, some apple, pear, marzipan/apple pip form Ireland, and an oil, pepper and some peppermint/menthol backbone which could come from either side and which we’ll credit to the hybrid mix. It’s not a particularly thick or rich whisky but very drinkable.

Finish: Soft, balanced and pleasant, with the citrus, peat, and honeyed fruit in balance.

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Here Come The Wizards

My inaugural Wizards of Whisky World Whisky Awards, sponsored by Glencairn glass, start in earnest this week when the first world regions are judged for medals.

I launched the awards to cover whisky from every region except Scotland, and an astounding 80 whiskies have been entered, representing Australasia, Asia, Europe, Ireland, Canada, American craft distiilers and non-Scottish independent bottlers.

In the first stage of judging that total of 80 has been whittled
down to 60 potential medal winners. But now the contest is set to get serious.

London Wizards of Whisky judges

How it works from here

On Monday the first of two second round panels met to taste and score whiskies from North America, Asia and Europe and from non-Scottish independent bottlers. Today a London judging panel will judge Australia and New Zealand, Ireland, Japan and Canada. They will be considering which of the 60 ‘finalists’ are entitled to receive a medal.

There are no limited to how many gold, silver or bronze medals the judges can give, and they will be advised that these 60 have been chosen because the original judges consider them worthy of a medal of some colour or other. However in theory they may award no medals at all, or they may award 60 golds. And while in an ideal world 20 bronzes, 20 silvers and 20 golds may be awarded, the second round judges have the power at this stage to score any
whisky low so that it does not receive a medal.

On Wednesday a smaller and final judging panel will meet to
consider the second round scores and confirm medal colours. They will re-taste whiskies where the judges’ totals put them on a margin of a medal to decide the final medal colour.

The final list of medals’ winners will be announced world region
by world region from later this week, with the full announcement of who won what medal and which distiller won overall regional winners of the year and World Wizard of the Year will be announced in the next issue of World Whisky Review, published on the weekend of October 4-6.

 

The judges

Both second round judging panels have been selected specially to
offer two things: a) a knowledgeable and advanced understanding of world whisky  b) a fresh and new approach from other awards where the same old judges are rolled out each time.

The judges come from two main sources:

1.Dominic’s VIP whisky tasting club, which has been meeting for
nearly eight years and has tasted hundreds of whiskies with me in that time. They can spot a Mackmyra or a Belgian Owl from a hundred paces and individual members include North American single malts, Swiss whisky and the occasional Australian gem among their favourites.

2. The finer end of the new wave of whisky enthusiasts, experts
and bloggers, including new distillers, web hosts and events organisers.

What happens next

Once the medal winners are announced one distiller from each world
region will be chosen as overall world regional winner, and each will receive a trophy provided by our sponsors Glencairn Glass.

From those one will be picked as the World Wizard of Whisky overall
winner.

 

Over the next six months Dominic will undertake a 12 date ‘tour’
featuring Wizards medal winners, and The Whisky Tasting Club will put together some miniature tasting packs so that others can taste the whiskies.

 

Watch out for the whiskies shortlisted for medals, published from
Wednesday….

ED: more info on the wizards will be published on the website

http://www.wizardsofwhisky.co.uk/

which is under development.

 

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