Some secrets are meant for sharing.

A mysterious box showed up  this past week. I finally got the courage (and time) to open it up this morning.

Inside was a dossier, 2 tasting glasses, a very cool memory card and best of all…a bottle of the newly released Benromach 10 year old whisky.

More on the package in a bit, but first a little history on the Benromach distillery:

Purchased by Gordon & MacPhail in 1993,  the Benromach distillery was not immediately ready to move into production:

An opportunity to buy Benromach Distillery presented itself and we grabbed it with both hands!” says Ian Urquhart.

But when we purchased Benromach there wasn’t a great deal left behind by the previous owners,” adds David Urquhart, Ian’s younger brother. “Indeed the buildings, spirit receiver, wood from the larch wash backs and the distilleries distinctive near 100-foot chimney, were virtually the only things remaining.”

Before beginning the project of re-equipping the distillery we carefully considered the amount and indeed style of single malt we wished to produce. This involved a great deal of planning and research before we started,” continues Ian.

Continue Reading >>

Spencerfield keeps the spirit of James Anderson, Father of American Whisky, alive


As America celebrates Washington’s birthday next week, Scotland raises a toast to James Anderson, Father of American Whisky.

From Spencerfield Farm on the banks of the Forth, farmer and distiller James Anderson set sail for America in 1791 with his wife and seven children. There he advised George Washington to get into the whisky distilling business and helped America’s first President become the country’s biggest producer of whisky.

Spencerfield Farm is still in the whisky business today. The Spencerfield Spirit company produces and distributes two brands of whisky, Sheep Dip malt whisky and Pig’s Nose, a deluxe blend to the States.

In 2005, husband and wife team, Alex and Jane Nicol, launched Spencerfield Spirit, an independent drinks company, fighting to save orphan brands for the iconoclastic whisky drinker.

‘Orphan’ brands are once famous brands neglected by large companies because they are not seen to be profitable.  The first two whiskies rescued from obscurity by Spencerfield Spirit are Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose.

Both whiskies achieved cult status in the 70s and have been lovingly recreated by Richard Paterson, Scotland’s only third generation master blender. The phrase Sheep Dip is slang used by farmers for whisky and Pig’s Nose takes its name from an old farming saying ‘as soft as a pig’s nose’.

Alex Nicol of Spencerfield Spirit explains: “Whisky belongs on Spencerfield Farm and we are very proud of our links to the story of America’s whisky.

“Using his knowledge and experience of farming and distilling, James Anderson left our land in Inverkeithing and became Farm Manager for George Washington, encouraging him to open the first rye distillery at Mount Vernon.

“The distillery, in West Virginia is a classic replica of what small country distilleries looked like in Scotland at the time and under Anderson’s guidance, it became an overnight business success.

“We are following in his footsteps by keeping whisky deeply rooted to Spencerfield Farm and honouring his memory by bringing whisky from his homeland to his new found home in the States.

“As Washington is regarded as a symbol of the USA, we believe that James Anderson deserves recognition in Scotland for his entrepreneurial achievements, making him the undisputed Father of American Whisky.”

Professor Michael Moss from Glasgow University who has carried out vast research into the history of Scottish Whisky supports this claim.

“James Anderson was born at Spencerfield in 1745, the year of the Jacobite Rising.  The next forty years witnessed a total transformation in Scottish agriculture as new ideas spawned by The Enlightenment were introduced.

“James Anderson, as a tenant farmer or tacksman, could count himself a pioneer of these improvements.  Intelligent men educated in parish schools, they were often well read and their views were accurately described by the Scottish Bard Robert Burns, born 250 years ago on 25 January.

“Farms on the fertile lands of the east coast were well-suited to growing barley for London brewers and much more importantly the Scotch whisky trade.  In 1788, Scotland’s ‘great distillers’ led by the Haig and Stein families faced ruin, precipitating a financial crisis very similar to that we are experiencing today with the failure of HBOS and RBS.

“It is not difficult to deduce that rather than face financial ruin, James Anderson old as he was, chose to brave the north Atlantic and seek a new life with is family in the United States.  If he had known that the French Revolution would have driven up prices of agricultural produce, he might have stayed; but that would have deprived Mount Vernon of its whisky distillery.”

For more information on Mount Vernon or The Spencerfield Spirit Company visit:

The Lazarus Syndrome

I recently had a chance to chat with Dr. David Thomson, who is the chairman of MMR Research, a professor at Reading University, and the new owner of the long silent Annandale distillery.

A brief history of the Annandale Distillery

Originally established in 1830 by George Donald & Co., Annandale was run by the Donald family until 1882 when it was leased to John Gardner. Alfred Barnard visited the distillery while it was under the purview of Mr. Gardner, and his impressions are included below.

In 1893, the expanding John Walker & Sons acquired a distillery called Cardhu (which is still a primary single malt ingredient in their ubiquitous blends). In 1896, John Walker & Sons acquired their second distillery – Annandale. But they didn’t hold onto it for very long in the grand scheme of things – mothballing the distillery in 1919 and closing it for good in 1921.

The site became a fram and the distillery itself has remained shuttered until this acquisition.

You can read more about Annandale in Brian Townsend’s Scotch Missed and in Misako Udo’s The Scottish Whisky Distilleries.

Barnard’s Take on Annandale (circa 1885-1886)


After resting and refreshing ourselves at
Dumfries, we resumed our journey southwards, P1000871
and made our next stoppage
at Annan, the capital of Annandale. It stands on the high road from
Dumfries to Carlisle, is a royal burgh, and one of the cleanest and
pleasantest towns we have seen in the Lowlands.

Annandale, from whence the distillery takes
its name, is really the valley of the river Annan, commonly called the
How of Annandale, and one of the most garden-like districts in
Scotland. The soft bright landscape of luxuriant green, of clustering
foliage, of rich verdant pastures, gives to this valley the appearance
of English scenery. The river Annan, which rises in the Hartfell
mountains, runs a course of thirty miles through this valley into the
Solway Firth. We drove 11 miles from the hotel to the Distillery, along
a pretty country road, from which we diverged down a private
carriage-way, crossing a bridge over the Annan Burn, and found
ourselves at the gates of the works.

Continue Reading >>

Excerpt from "The Business of Spirits" – America’s Confusing Three-Tier System

For the longest time, I’ve been meaning to do a story on the
"3-Tier system" which affects the distribution of alcoholic beverages in
the United States – and is the very reason that some tadty beverages are not
available in your state – while they are available right across the
state boundary.

Luckily enough, I was just sent a review copy of a new book by Noah Rothbaum called The Business of Spirits.  The book is a great introduction to the byzantine world of Spirits and how they are marketed in the U.S.

In the book, Noah talks to a number of notable folks in the industry and includes backgrounds on many of the personalities and iconic products.

In the first chapter, Noah has an excellent overview of the origin
of our 3-tier system. This chapter immediately drew me in to the book. I thought: "Why not just get Noah to do an excerpt of the book for us?"

Below is the except from that first chapter of his book.

America’s Confusing Three-Tier System and the Legacy of Prohibition.

An excerpt from the new book The Business of Spirits by Noah Rothbaum

To get to the storeroom of New
York’s legendary ‘21’ Club, cross the dining room with its
constellation of corporate and sports memorabilia,  slip through the
bustling kitchen, and head down a flight of steep  stairs. There, in an
unremarkable brick-lined hallway, is a  pencil-sized hole. Insert an
18-inch piece of wire into it, and like  something out of an Indiana
Jones movie, a two-and-a-half-ton hidden  door swings open, revealing a
fine spirits and wine collection. This  hidden storeroom was built
during Prohibition and is actually below the  adjoining townhouse (19
West 52nd Street). It was constructed so the  owners could truthfully
say that there wasn’t any alcohol on the  premises if the restaurant
was raided.


But this quaint relic of Prohibition isn’t the only legacy of that
era,  which still haunts the United States. Almost 75 years after
Congress  overwhelmingly passed the 21st Amendment ending the 13-year
period of  Prohibition, the U.S. is still trying to figure out how to
regulate the  sale of alcohol. This is particularly troublesome given
the fact that  the spirits industry is now booming and sales are
increasing every year.


The problem stems from the fact that the 21st Amendment only repealed
the 18th Amendment; it didn’t spell out exactly how alcohol sales
would  be controlled. Congress left those decisions up to the
individual  states. As a result, the United States has an almost
incomprehensible  patchwork of alcohol-related laws that vary greatly
from state to state  and sometimes county to county. No two states have
exactly the same  laws regarding alcohol.

Continue Reading >>

Father of our country; Whiskey peddler

I was invited to the opening ceremony for the George Washington Distillery on Friday March 30th in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

It was a very nice event – yet a little too politically focused for my tastes. There were way too many speeches – the Director of Historic Mount Vernon; the head of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association; The President of the Distilled Spirits Council; the chairman of the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Council; a  Virginia State Senator; John Manfreda from the Alcohol Tax & Trade Bureau; and more. Yet somehow Virginia Governor Tim Kaine didn’t deem it important enough to attend.

F’ing politicians.

Continue Reading >>

Best of: The Big Fellow


Developed by Sidney Frank with the partnership and whiskey production expertise of the Cooley Distillery,
Michael Collins has been released in two versions, a Blend and a Single
Malt. Michael Collins was developed for the U.S. market, but will be
available at select upscale retailers as well as Duty Free in Ireland.

The whiskey is named
in honor of "The Big Fellow" who spearheaded the fight for Irish
independence and who was assassinated in 1922 at the age of 31. Both
are bottled at 40% and aged in small oak casks to accelerate the
maturation process.

Continue Reading >>

Coffee. But better…

Today’s story comes from guest writer L. Borger.

Before there were double frappacinos and caramel macchiato, there was Irish Coffee, perhaps the first popular flavored coffee drink.  Each year since this creamy concoction was invented new consumers discover it as a delicious way to warm up a cold winter day.  In fact the drink was invented back in the  1930’s to welcome-and to warm up the first transatlantic travelers.

It was the dawn of transatlantic plane travel, when a trip from America across the Atlantic was only possible on an 18-hour flight by “flying boat.” On landing, passengers were ferried from these early seaplanes, arriving chilled and damp at Foynes Airport in County Limerick, Ireland.  By 1942, a restaurant had been established at the airport to welcome the travelers, which by then included such VIP’s as Humphrey Bogart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Edward G. Robinson, Ernest Hemmingway and Douglas Fairbanks.

Continue Reading >>

My bottle is bigger than yours


At the Park Grill dinner I attended during the New York Whisky Fest, Michael Urquhart of Gordon and MacPhail was discussing the range of G&M available in the US:

The challenge we have is that 700 ml is not a permitted size, so we have to bottle at 750. Here we have about 155 different expressions so it’s quite a wide range – whiskies from all different areas of Scotland. But if you were able to have the laws changed to have a 700 ml bottle permitted, your choices would increase by three-fold overnight.

He was referring to was the fact that the “standard” bottle in the US is a 750 milliliter (ml) bottle while in Europe the standard is 700 ml.

I wondered…”Why do we use 750 ml bottles here in the US and why don’t we simply import the 700 ml bottles.” After all, 50 ml, isn’t a large amount of liquid – in fact, it is equivalent to the contents of a standard “airplane” or mini bottle and equates to just a single (good-sized) dram or 1.69070113 ounces. So what’s the issue?

Continue Reading >>

St. Andrew's Day

Happy St. Andrew’s Day!

Laphroaig is recycling their St.Andrew’s site again, so I thought I’d recycle last year’s story.

Laphroaig seems to be developing quite a sense of humor. Is it new
owner Fortune/Jim Beam, or was it always there bubbling just below the
surface? Maybe Bruichladdich’s quirky sense of humor is coming cross island.

Who knows, but they make some damn fine whisky. Heck, there’s
nothing from Islay that I don’t like (nice double negative, huh?), but
Laphroaig just holds a special place in my heart.

Continue Reading >>

Screw (Cap) This [Pt. 2]

Continuing our look at the cork and its place in Scotch…

I also got in touch with a representative from Amorim one of the largest manufacturers in the world, based in Portugal. Deborah Guimaraens is the sales manager for Bar Top Corks also called "T-Corks."

My job is to sell a particular type of cork called bar top corks. These corks have a cork body/shank attached to some type of top that can be made of plastic, wood, metal and other materials.

What I can say, is that the main reason corks are used in whisky or spirits is because, in theory, no-one drinks a whole bottle at once. Hence, you need a special cork that can be easily reinserted into the bottle. Bar top corks are not compressed during bottling as in wine corks. Their diameter should be 1 to 1.5 mm wider than the bottle neck in order to fulfill it’s purpose as a closure, to ensure a good fit. This means that the consumer can easily open and close the bottle using the same cork, without having to use a cork screw and without running the risk of falling particles into the spirit. Cork as a raw material also has the wonderful ability to deal with small bottle irregularities, very common in spirits – particularly in small producers who buy small bottle runs. For an irregular bottle a cork closure is by far the most efficient.

The other big reason for using a cork in a spirit is for consumer differentiation. If you look at the whisky market as a whole, the premium whiskies are all in cork, and the standard blends are all in screw cap. It’s an image thing. I am sure the marketing experts from any large whisky company can give you precise reasons, they probably have market studies to prove this I am sure.

TCA does affect whisky of course the same way it affects all beverages. The difference in whisky is that the TCA level has to be a lot higher – in it’s 20’s at least – before it’s detected by the human nose.

This is because the fumes of the whisky overpower the TCA on the nose, it is more easily detectable on the palate. The TCA threshold varies enormously with the flavour profile of the whisky, for example you would probably detect it more readily in a Dewar’s than you would in a Talisker.

We don’t have specific studies concerning the affect of TCA on whisky as our corks go into many many types of spirits and fortifieds and, as you know, the variety in enormous.

At Whisky Live New York, I talked about corks in some detail with Ian Millar, Distillery Manager and Chief Ambassador for Glenfiddich.

KE - Let’s talk corks. The Glenfiddich 12 uses a screw top while the rest of your expressions use cork.

IM - The perception of the consumer is that cork is quality…so we’ve been thinking about moving the 12 year old to cork as well. But cork brings with it some issues.

If you look at the wine trade right now a lot of the new world wines are actually going away from corks to synthetics – the seal is good and you don’t get so many returns or consumer issues in relation to a spoiled cork.

The Balvenie 10 year old, which is our biggest seller with a cork, gets a lot of complaints about spoiled corks.

KE - IS this a real problem, or just baseless complaints?

IM - No, We take the whisky back, and you can smell it. So we’ve been looking at bottling with a synthetic cork. But the problem with synthetic cork is that they haven’t been through a trial. You’d have to test the product in the bottle and how do you simulate that for 40 years?

So, though we’d like to move the 12 to cork, keep in mind – Glenfiddich 12 outsells Balvenie 10, eight bottles to one. And we are already having lots issues with the corks in the 10, so we want to be sure, before we make such a move. Remember, we are a big company and we bottle a lot of product. The Glenfiddich 12 is a high speed line, and we’d have to make massive changes to the line to incorporate cork.

But we are getting a lot of mixed messages – the wine trade and a few others are looking at moving away from cork to synthetics and screw tops. At the same time we know we can’t move away from cork to synthetic because of a lack of data showing how well they’ll work long-term. So we’d be taking a big chance. So for now, we will wait and see how things settle, before we make our next move.

If synthetics are proven, or screw caps become more socially
acceptable, and it blows any quality perception issues out of the
water, we could more more products to screw caps.

KEWell tell me, how long have you been with a screw cap on the 12?


KEExactly. So a screw top is obviously not cutting into your sales, so why even think about going to a cork on the 12?

IM - It’s easy to settle for what you’ve got, but we want more. And the only way to get more, is to keep on improving. And to show the consumer that you’re making every effort to improve the quality of what you produce, both inside the bottle and how attractive it looks, and how it is packaged are all factors in the perception.

KEBut do you think there is a problem with the perception of the quality of the 12? And if there IS a problem with the perception, will a cork change that?

IMIf I look at a wine bottle, and I see it has a screw top on it, it almost puts me off buying it.

KEI agree with you.

IMSo that perception is already there. Two products sitting on a shelf, one with a screw-top, one with a cork, that might push a consumer to buy one over the other. And that affects their perception of quality. The packaging is all about selling that first bottle. That taste is what sells the second, the third bottle. So you’ve got to get that first impression right. It’s all in the packaging.


I must admit, I like pulling out a cork, it really is quite
satisfying…but apparently, aside from my own satisfaction, the cork
isn’t bringing anything to the party.

I must also admit, that recently I was served an Australian wine that, while pretty
damn good, I was irked to pay $60 for
something with a screw cap.

Obviously, there are cost savings to the industry. I wonder, though,
if moving to screw tops would result in any discernible reduction in
the price to my favorite malts. I wonder if the cost differential is
big enough to pass on, or this would be pure profit to the distillers?

We will see where the industry goes – and how consumers respond to the (inevitable??) move.

Hope that answers your question Jody…


Thanks to Jimmy Robertson (Morrison-Bowmore), Jim McEwan &
Mark Reynier
(Bruichladdich), John Glaser (Compass Box), Marty Duffy (Diageo), Dave
Robertson (JMR), Graham Eunson, (Glenmorangie),
Ian Millar (Glenfiddich), Deborah Guimaraens (Amorim) and Neil
Macdonald (Chivas Brothers) for their input.