Misako Udo – The Scottish Whisky Distilleries

The word on the street was that I needed to get my hands on a book called The Scottish Whisky Distilleries by Misako Udo.

Checked Amazon. 2 million books, but not this one. But Amazon DID lead me to Royal Mile Whiskies.

Getting to the Royal Mile Whiskies site, I was all set  to finally order – only to discover that they are out of stock – the first edition has sold out.

Good sign for the quality of the book, bad sign for my chances of acquiring one.

A beaten man, I figured I’d just wait until my next trip to Scotland and I’d hopefully pick one up (and also save myself the cost of postage.)

But the description from Royal Mile made me want the book. Now.

A new book especially for the serious malt scholar and collector! Simply a list of every piece of minute information from a myriad distilleries, past and present.

Want to learn about Mucklewartle Distillery? Can’t sleep without knowing the capacity of Caledonian Grain Distillery’s underback? Then this is the book for you. Simply presented in list format, Misako Udo’s book is a frighteningly comprehensive list of operational and closed distilleries and must represent years of determined work…well done!

In desperation, I figured I’d try eBay.

Knock me over with a feather – searching for "Misako Udo" indeed turned up a copy for sale. Two in fact. Obviously this eBayer "Distillery Cat" had a secret stash, and I wanted in.

I emailed "Distillery Cat" directly – "Let’s cut to the chase – you have copies and I want one. How much?"

Imagine my surprise when I got an email back from Ms. Misako Udo. Whaddya know – Distillery Cat IS Misako! Turns out that Distillery Cat is the name of her publishing company and Misako offered to send me a copy, gratis.

TswdThe Scottish Whisky Distilleries is 477 pages of hard-core whisky research. An exhaustive list of active, closed, dismantled and lost distilleries. One review said:

It is meticulously researched and all-encompassing in its attention to
detail
.

This is NOT an over-statement.

Each listing includes a mind-boggling amount of information: from email addresses and visiting times, to current owners, past owners, # of staff, PPM of peat content, water sources, peat sources, barley sources, volumes  of washbacks, still volumes, the name of the distillery’s cat, the angle of the Lyne arm, fermentation times, distillation time, distillation volumes – and that is a just a very abridged list of data for each active distillery. I am not kidding.

For a guy, like me, who dabbles on the edges of the industry, this book is a must have. For any Scotch geek out there – you’ll want it as well. And if you are in the industry and say, needed to get the scoop on a competitor – this is definitely for you.

But who is Misako Udo? How does a Japanese woman come to be a repository for such an incredible amount of information?

This excerpt from "This is North Scotland" August 2005, gives us an insight:

Misako Udo was so smitten by the aura of Scotch whisky as a teenager in Japan
that she travelled halfway round the world to live in a strange country where
she didn’t speak the language and in which she knew no one, just to be close to
its origin.

Misako’s extraordinary knowledge has its roots in her native Nagasaki when, as
an 18 year-old, she tasted her first whisky – a dram of White Horse,
incidentally. It was a seminal moment and whisky has fascinated her ever since.
She says she always wanted to travel to Britain and to learn English, but that
first taste sent her on her way not to London, like so many of her compatriots,
but to Edinburgh.

She said: "When I arrived here in 1988, people were
very much better than I expected. I couldn’t speak English, but everyone was
very friendly and helpful."

Undaunted by her strange environment, she
began to work as a tour guide and has now been a member of the Scottish Tourist
Guides Association for 15 years, working with Japanese visitors to Scotland. She
is not stupid; she chose that career knowing full well she would be paid to
visit many distilleries and have the opportunity to learn about whisky and its
manufacturing. Now, she has guided everyone from ordinary tourists to
whisky-industry professionals and got to know more whiskies than she ever
thought possible.

Working as a guide and taking people to distilleries,
she began to build up notes on the almost mystical processes behind the magic.
She was methodical in her approach, and her knowledge soon began to outstrip
even that of seasonal staff working in distilleries that welcome thousands of
visitors each year. They began to come to her for advice on technical matters
and she was often asked to photocopy her notes for others.

She has been here 17 years and cares so deeply for Scotland that she has
forsaken her Japanese passport and become a naturalised British citizen. She
will talk whisky at any hour, but there is one piece of information she will not
disclose – the name of her favourite malt.

She said: "My personal opinion
is not important; I am just an ordinary enthusiast.

A woman after my own heart. Thanks for the book Misako! And I don’t just mean for the free copy.

Good news for U.S. Jim Murray Fans

One of the most frequently asked questions I’ve getting lately from US-based whisky drinkers is "When is the 2006 Whisky Bible being released???"

Back on November 24th, I reported that Jim Murray had expected the Bibles to available for sale by early December. However, by late January, there were no still books to be found anywhere in the US!

The year has been busy for Jim and it’s only January – for the first part of the year he was fighting a throat infection, then he had to isolate himself to catch up on work – the last few weeks were spent on a 10-day tasting and publicity tour through Canada. And just got back to the UK this weekend.

But he isn’t home for a rest break, according to this email I received this morning:

Doing all I can to keep on top of news and developments in
the industry (worldwide) as well as prepare for trips I have between
now and April to Denmark, India, USA, Brazil and Greece. The days are
simple too short!

But what about those 2006 Whisky Bibles?

OK, the Bibles are now in the USA. They arrived just after Christmas
following a screw up beyond my control regarding transportation. I am
busy getting copies shipped around the States: last week I sold several
thousand throughout Canada. Kevin, if you know stores or individuals
who need copies, let me know and I get them sent out immediately.

I still haven’t seen them on Amazon- but you can now order one from Malt Advocate. You may also be able to get your local book store to secure a copy.

If I get enough interest, I’ll ask Jim to ship me a few autographed copies and I’ll get them up on the Doceon Press site pretty quickly.

A Frenchman in Scotland

Have you heard of the "Malt Maniacs?"

An offshoot of Malt Madness (the unholy love child of Johannes Van Den Heuvel and a case of Springbank), The Malt Maniacs are a group of 24 whisky lovers from around the world, some of whom you’ve likely heard of – Dave Broom, Charles MacLean and Martine Nouet – and others you may not have.

Serge Valentin, a native of France, is one of those Malt Maniacs – and boy does this guy like Ardbeg!

Serge also has his own Whisky site – Whisky Fun – a combination whisky worship and music review site, or as Serge describes it:

It’s about Single Malts, about the Brora distillery, about Music, about Old Motorcycles, about enjoying life in general…"

I thought I’d invite Serge to introduce himself and tell you all about where his passion comes from:

I’ve always been, and still am, a wine and other alcoholic beverages freak, but although I visited my first Scottish distillery in 1982 (it was The Glenlivet) it’s only in the late 1990′s that my rather passionate love affair with malts started to bloom. Besides, I’ve always been interested in what was happening on the other side of the Channel anyway, don’t ask me why.

It’s another visit to Scotland and to a specialist shop in Pitlochry (Robertson’s) with my friend Olivier that made the whole thing grow even worse – I remember it’s been my first exposure to, for instance, Port Ellen.

I started to look for more info on the Web and came across Johannes’ Maltmadness.com website. Johannes had really pioneered the whole ‘Web and whisky’ thing, as he had started to publish his tasting notes on the Web as early as in 1996, on sort of a prototypical blog. Besides, he had also started to gather a small team of international whisky geeks, called the Malt Maniacs. I think they were 6 or 7 at the time.

So, in the very beginning of 2002 (or maybe was it late 2001) I sort of applied and they agreed to welcome an ‘infuriating French ostrich’ (a Maniac’s own words!) amongst them. I never regretted that move, because beyond a common love for Single Malts, it was also about friendship and since that very day, we met quite often, for instance in Scotland, with guys flying in from Australia, Canada, the US or India quite often. Always good occasions to ‘destruct some products’, as the marketers say.

As for Whiskyfun.com, I started it as a Malt Maniacs’ extension in 2003. It was designed as a place where we would publish stuff that didn’t fit the Maltmaniacs.com ‘webzine’ concept, such as our picture book, statistics, our Malt Maniacs Monitor (soon 15,000 scores on it!) etc. A little later, in January 2004, I decided to add my own whisky tasting notes and short comments on music in kind of a journal (not really a blog because the readers can’t react), which got daily a few months later. There’s very little literature on it, only tasting notes as far as whisky’s concerned, mainly because English isn’t my main language and I didn’t want to make the whole thing too painful to read – and I know it still is. Thank God, Nick Morgan (and later fellow Malt Maniac Dave Broom) accepted to write some excellent concert reviews for Whiskyfun and that skyrocketed the whole thing from kindergarten-level English to something more, let’s say globally decent (some would say Oxfordian). There are also a few cartoons from time to time, as well as whacky news and old whisky ads that I sort of like.

In short, it’s all about having fun and only fun, as I think whisky is serious matters only to the people who make it or sell it and to the people who drink way too much of it.

Thank you, Serge.

We’ll randomly be meeting other people, who like you, are involved with whisky – making, selling, or just enjoying.

Huh????

Johnnie Walker Honored as Wine Enthusiast’s 2005 Distiller of the Year!!!

That is GREAT news! My favorite distillery in the entire world is the little-known Johnnie Walker Distillery. Since you may not be familiar with it, the distillery is nestled in a beautiful, pristine valley on Tiree, one of the most lovely Hebridean Islands you’ll ever visit.

The distillery has been owned and run by the same family for over 15 generations. Johnnie Walker (the 12th) is the Master Distiller for this wonderful non-peated Islay-inspired, Lowlandish, Speysider. He grows all of his own barley on his one-acre farm, which he malts, mashes and ferments by himself in a very large machine of his own design. He uses only Evian water, imported from France, for the production process and dilution.

He only produces one cask at a time, and ages each of these precious containers individually for 10 years by perching atop the cask like a mother hen. His wife of 43 years, Marybeth, fills and hand labels each bottle (she also runs the small visitor center).

The bottles are then gently swaddled in rare Cambodian silk, and then lovingly placed in a custom-made gold-hinged box constructed of petrified wood. His aged grandfather "Chuck" Walker then swims to the mainland and walks to Edinburgh where he hand-delivers each bottle to Royal Mile Whiskies – the sole purveyor of the line.

Said Johnnie Walker when informed of the distillery’s award as "Distiller of the Year":

I am absolutely ecstatic that someone has finally recognized this small family-owned  distillery.

We are even more excited that it is that well-known whisky-oriented periodical "Wine Enthusiast."

For some unknown reason, the rest of the world believes that Johnnie Walker is a blended product. Which is simply NOT true.

Our line of Single Malts – which we refer to as "Red", "Black", "Gold" & our brand new, "Blue" (for the budget conscious), are all produced here at the distillery by me, my wife, and our man-servant, Hamish.

We also recently introduced a raspberry-infused cream bourbon, the first legally produced outside of the US, which we call "Green" because of it’s chartreuse color.

I’d like to thank our public relations agency, the small London-based boutique firm Diageo which is helping us more firmly establish ourselves as an up and comer in the Single Malt world.

Their unending dedication to the simple idea that confusion in the Scotch whisky industry is the single biggest blight on the planet – their never-ending fight to make sure consumers are not confused between what is a Single Malt Scotch and what is a blend.

It is through their work alone that the world now knows that we are, in fact a distiller, and not a producer of something so pedestrian as a "blend."

————————————————————————————-

Of course, the article above is a work of sarcasm. Nothing in the story is true EXCEPT that Wine Enthusiast DID in fact, name Johnnie Walker the "Distiller of the Year." Here are some facts to reduce potential confusion:

  • A blended whisky is created when the single malt whisky of a distillery (and usually multiple distilleries) is mixed with grain whisky.
  • Johnnie Walker is the brand name of a line of blended Scotches owned by Diageo.
  • Johnnie Walker Red purportedly includes 35 different single malts, while Johnnie Walker Black contains 40 different single malts.
  • Unlike Red, Black, Gold & Blue, Johnnie Walker Green is a vatted (or blended) malt and contains no grain whisky. In my estimation, it is a pretty good dram.
  • 150 million bottles of Johnnie Walker Blended Scotch whiskies are sold each year.
  • Johnnie Walker does NOT have a distillery. And if they did it would likely NOT be on Tiree.
  • Diageo is NOT a small London-based Public Relations firm, but is the largest producer of alcoholic beverages in the world with a market capitalization of $44.4 billion and revenues of $12 billion which generates $3.25 billion in profit per year.

Boos and hisses to:

Wine Enthusiast – for either doing zero research, or allowing advertising dollars to sway their votes.

Had they named Johnnie Walker BRAND of the year, or marketer of the year, I’d have had no issues with the award. Had they named Johnnie Walker (any of the labels) the best tasting blend, I may have had issues with their sense of taste.

F. Paul Pacultwho is the Spirits Tasting Director at Wine Enthusiast, and should know better – however I’m starting to wonder if he isn’t also an employee of Diageo. He wrote the original article selecting Johnnie Walker as "Distiller of the Year." He has a long history of writing what I consider to be Diageo "fluff" pieces. (One example of this is discussed in Integrity)

Diageo – Instead of CLARIFYING Wine Enthusiast’s misinformed (easily-swayed?) award granters, and simply turning down this "award" to avoid confusion, Diageo accepts the award and issues a Press Release to tout it. Not only do the attempts to confuse Scotch drinkers continue, now they want to confuse wine drinkers.

Shame on you all.

Read the press release here: Johnnie Walker Honored as Wine Enthusiast’s 2005 Distiller of the Year
Read the Wine Enthusiast article here: Distiller of the Year – Johnnie Walker Dieageo (sic) Ltd.
Here is a snippet from that article:

Innovative marketing successes and institutional pedigree duly noted, the editors of Wine Enthusiast Magazine have named Johnnie Walker Distiller of the Year primarily because of the continued, unwavering quality of the Johnnie Walker portfolio of blended Scotch whiskies. This is true, in particular, with the company’s two “core” offerings, Johnnie Walker Red Label and Johnnie Walker Black Label 12-Year-Old. These two sibling whiskies represent remarkable value, while embodying quality and sophistication. They epitomize why blended Scotch whisky is the world’s most popular kind of whisky.

The company’s triumphant foray into the superpremium and ultrapremium blended Scotch whisky categories, with Johnnie Walker Gold Label 18 Year Old and Johnnie Walker Blue Label (the latter priced at $190), has bolstered its ranking as the world’s foremost blended Scotch whisky source. The Gold Label has been lauded as one of the top blended Scotch whiskies in the world, while the Blue Label enjoys a reputation of mythic proportions among connoisseurs.

PLEASE NOTE: I want to point out QUITE CLEARLY that I include many of Diageo’s products among my absolute favorites. It’s the Marketing department and their duplicitous tactics which I clearly have issues with.

I’m imploring Diageo to use their leadership position to help clarify, and not confuse the general public about Scotch. I also hereby offer myself to act as their "marketing conscience."

I will only charge them a case of each of the Classic Malts and 2 cases of Guinness per calendar year. Oh, and profit sharing.

——————————————-
Whisky101
I wanted to remind you all of Whisky 101. The base is growing slowly but surely – Registered users include Misako Udo, Author of The Scottish Whisky Distilleries; Ulf Buxrud, a Keeper of the Quaich & Malt Maniac; The Liquor Snob; and we’ve even had a Mark Reynier siting.

Stop by and share your wisdom.

Still looking for moderators, Resident Experts, and of course, people who just want to have a friendly place to discuss Scotch (and maybe even some other adult beverages).

The Irish Blog?

I love it when care packages show up from my distillery friends in Scotland. I rip into them like a kid on Christmas. But when one showed up with a return address of Dublin, Ireland I was curious.

Opening up the large envelope revealed a packet from Jack Teeling at Cooley Distilleries – producers of Connemara and Tyrconnell, both single malts from Ireland.

Yes, I know this is the SCOTCH Blog, but let’s examine the facts:

  1. Cooley Distillers is independent. I love independent.
  2. They produce a line of Single Malts. I love Single Malts.
  3. They are from Ireland. My sweet Grandma Madden was from Ireland. Done deal.

After all…what separates Ireland from Scotland, but a few miles of water?

First, let me familiarize you with Cooley
The first new Irish distillery in over 100 years, Cooley Distillery PLC was formed in 1987 – and their first Malt Whisky Whiskey was distilled in 1989 – but it wasn’t until 1991 that Cooley’s distilled a peated single malt. Yes, that’s right. I said peated.

Tyrconnell
Cooley’s whiskies are all distilled at the Cooley distillery (named for the Cooley peninsula on which the distillery sits) and matured at the warehouses at Locke’s Distillery (also owned by Cooley Distillery PLC) in Kilbeggan – the oldest licensed distillery site in the world (1757). There are plans to begin production again in Kilbeggan, though for now the distillery is used only for warehousing and the Cooley cooperage. Cooley Distillery is not only independent, it’s the ONLY independent in Ireland AND the only Irish owned distillery.

Wait a second – there are dozens of distilleries in Ireland
Actually that’s not true at all. There are only three distilleries in all of Ireland. Bushmills in Northern Ireland; Midleton in the County Cork (Republic of Ireland) and Cooley, also in the Republic of Ireland.

No, I didn’t forget the famous Jameson – Jameson is produced at Midleton – along with Powers, Tullamore Dew, Murphy’s, Redbreast, Midleton, and a number of other brands.

It also surprises people that despite the "Bushmills is for Protestants" and "Jameson is for Catholics" schism, Bushmills and Midleton (and thus Jameson) were, until very recently, owned by the same company…Irish Distillers Limited, which has, in turn, been owned by France-based Pernod-Ricard since 1988. It was only this past June (2005) that Pernod sold off Bushmills to UK-based Diageo for 298 million in a move to gain support for
the Pernod acquisition of Allied Domecq.

Now on to the whiskey
Connemara is a single malt, which is rare in Ireland, but the addition of peat makes Connemara unique. Connemara is distilled twice, in copper pot stills – while other Irish whiskeys which are distilled three times. Cooley uses 100% Irish grown barley.

Cooley currently produces three expressions of Connemara:

  • Connemara (no age statement) is very light – You get hit with the peat quickly, but it fades just as quickly. Tasty and sweet. 40% abv. Way back in Issue 3 of Whisky Magazine, the Connemara got VERY respectable 8 ½ and 9 ratings from Michael Jackson & Jim Murray.  $40 at Binny’s.
  • Connemara Cask Strength (no age statement) Strong. Not an Irish version of  an Islay  which is what one might expect – more pear; spicy sweet at the start; peat and malt dominate the middle; with a long chocolatey finish. Alcohol content varies, the one I tried was 57.9%. $56 at Park Avenue Liquor.
  • Connemara 12 – Spicy, sweet and very malty. Great Vanilla/almond after-tones. A good complex malt, Irish or otherwise. Spice is predominant in the finish – which is medium long and pleasant. 40% abv. Only 5,000 bottles are produced each year – Malt Advocate gave the 12 year-old  a “90” in the 4Q2005 issue, while Whisky Magazine’s reviewers Peter Mulryan and Dave Broom gave it a 8 ¾ and 7 ¾ respectively in issue 43. $89 at Binny’s.

Cooley also produces another single malt (not peated) called Tyrconnell, which is something different altogether. The nose reminds me of Isle of Jura – citrus, pine & sea salt. It is sweet and tastes of vanilla and honeyed caramel – this is not your standard Irish Whiskey. A pleasant dram with a long malty finish…$40 at Binny’s.

Jack and I had a chance to chat, and I thought I’d share that discussion.

KE – Why a peated Irish?

JT – Why not? The traditional method of distillation in Ireland utilised the abundant natural resource of peat, especially in the west of Ireland. One of our aims in creating a traditional Irish whiskey, one that encapsulated the heritage and beauty of West of Ireland, required that we were true to our roots.

As a small independent distiller we also needed to create a niche for ourselves and stand out from the multi-national marketing machine that is Pernod Ricard. So, by focusing on developing Single Malts and even more so, a Peated Single Malt – while Irish Distillers, prides itself on the non-Peated nature of its whiskies – allowed us to develop a whole segment of the Irish whiskey market that we could call our own.

KE – Why did peating fall out of favor in Ireland?

JT - Peat fell out of favour once coal was introduced as a cheaper form of fuel. Prior to that all malting in Ireland was done by peat – but as boats began bringing large amounts of coal on their inward journey and barrels of whiskey on their way out, it made economic sense to utilise coal. Also, with the demise of unlicensed distillers (a result of increased British regulation during the 1800′s) many of the smaller peat-using distilleries in the West of Ireland were shut down.

KE – Why don’t more Irish Whiskies utilize the abundant peat in Ireland?

JT – The majority of Irish whiskey sold is Jameson, a blend, and their apparent aim is to make this accessible to as many people as possible. Their big drive is for Irish Whiskey to be seen as a drink which can be utilised in cocktails, or as a long drink. For example, a recent Christmas tasting campaign at the Dublin airport involved getting people to try Jameson and Cranberry juice.

Good luck to them, but we are aiming on increasing peoples’ appreciation for quality Irish whiskey rather then diluting the experience for them. One of Irish Distillers’ unique selling points is that their whiskies are non-Peated – probably to differentiate them from Scottish whisky. I would be interested to see how Diageo approaches the notion of a Peated Single Malt given their success with such Scottish brands.

KE – Why single malt Irish?

JT – There was no history of Single Malts in Ireland as Irish whiskey was traditionally Pot still blends. The Cooley distillery was set-up to produce whiskies that were going to expand the narrow category Irish whiskey found itself in during the 80′s – and I think we have succeeded in doing this.

We wanted to create our own distinctive whiskies, thus the choice of what barrels we used, the fact we distill our whiskies only twice rather then three times, the choice of pots, etc. were all chosen to produce something different in the Irish category. We want to compete more with the Scots who ran the roost at the time, then the stuttering Irish.  We saw the trend emerging in Scottish Single Malts and developed Tyrconnell in particular to compete against the likes of Glenfiddich.

KE – What makes you different from other single malt Irish – Clontarf, Knappogue, Bushmills, etc.

JT – Clontarf and Knappogue both have their roots in Cooley. We worked with both Roaring Water in developing Clontarf and Mark Andrews of Castle Brands in developing Knappogue. Our whiskey was used in the first three impressions of Knappogue Castle (1990 1992 & 1992) until we had supply constraints and they switched to Irish Distillers. We had been the sole supplier of whiskey for the Clontarf Brands until last year when they were taken over by Castle Brands – who secured a long term supply contract with Irish Distillers for both Clontarf and Knappogue.

Bushmills, even though it is a malt distillery, uses the majority of their whiskey for blending (Bushmills & Black Bush are both high malt blends) – and prior to our development of Tyrconnell, they had put little or no effort into developing their own range of malts. Still, to this day, the main use of the pot stills in Bushmills is to produce malt for the Bushmills Blend, which will be in more demand then ever as a result of the might of Diageo.

KE- What makes Cooley’s expressions different than the big blended boys – Bushmills & Jameson.

JT – I think I covered that earlier in some of the other questions. We never saw ourselves as competing against only the Irish – thus our whiskies were created with the very notion that they could stand on their two feet against the best Scotland could offer.

Prior to Cooley’s creation, the Irish whiskey market was a monopoly – with little innovation and bad marketing . Thus, we felt that if we could create whiskies that could compete against Scotch, we would be in a good position to compete against the lethargic Irish. Of course things changed with Pernod entering the market, and again with Diageo’s entry in 2005.

KE – Tell me a little about your Blends – Kilbeggan and Lockes.

JT – Part of the strategy back in the 1980′s was to resurrect old brands that had died out during those dark days for Irish whiskey. As part of this, the Old John Lockes Distillery in Kilbeggan and its old warehouse as well as the Kilbeggan and John Lockes brands were acquired. To this day our whiskies our matured in the old 250 year old granite warehouses in the Centre of Ireland.

Kilbeggan is our main blended brand. It is a sweet, delicate and smooth whiskey with a good malty nose. It has taken a decent share of the Irish whiskey market in some European markets. It is by far our highest selling brand.

Lockes has a higher malt content, giving it a full malty and spicy middle – as well as a delightful, honeyed sweetness. The Lockes family is very hard to find outside of Ireland as we have not actively search for distribution partners for this yet.

KE – Tell me about distribution in the States and Canada.

JT – We are going through a lot of changes at the moment in the US. Heaven Hill was one of our first customers and through whom we had sourced the used bourbon casks we use in maturation. They had been our importers and national distributors for Kilbeggan and Tyrconnell until the end of 2005. Connemara had been distributed through a boutique importer/distributor called Preiss Imports, in Romana California, until the end of last year as well.

While we have enjoyed good relationships with the two we felt that we needed a change. The US is our priority market and we wanted to consolidate our distribution with one partner. That’s why from the start of 2006, Sazerac has been appointed our Importers, and their subsidiary Monsieur Henry, run by Jon Mowry, will be our National Distribution Managers for Kilbeggan, Tyrconnell and the Connemara Family.

We have been very impressed with what Sazerac have been doing in the premium/super premium end of the Bourbon market in the US, along with the staff they have. The relationship is at the beginning – but I hope it will be a long beautiful marriage.

In conjunction with this, Preiss Imports will be taking on a new brand for the US in 2006 – Greenore 8 Year Old Single Grain Irish Whiskey. This is a small batch bottling that will be bottled over the next 4 years with the age profile changing every year. The bottlings we are going to have are 8,10,14 and 16 Year Old. We are very interested to see how the wood effects the whiskey over the different ages.

KE – How does being independent make a difference?

JT – It provides the flexibility to try different things. Irish Distillers/Pernod’s focus is solely on Jameson, while Diageo’s will no doubt be Bushmills. We are there to provide choice, and an opportunity to educate and expand people’s palates. We are a very flat organisation – thus things can happen quickly. The Chairman can pick up the phone and talk to anyone in the organisation – everyone is on first name basis. At this stage there are only two generations of my family involved but I hope there will be many more.

KE – What are the plans to start distilling at Locke’s Distillery.

JT – They are on ice at the moment. Unfortunately, we have too many coals in the fires and this is not a priority.

KE – Can people visit any of the Cooley facilities

JT – At the moment the only place open to visitors is the Old John Lockes Distillery in Kilbeggan where the old distillery is actually in near-working order – even encompassing the water wheel. It is like steeping back in time as we have left it as rustic as we possible can. You will not experience the glam of visiting somewhere like the Jameson corner in Dublin – but rather, a real insight into what was involved in the old days of whiskey distillation. We have our coopers on site, who can be seen in operation, and the opportunity to visit our maturation warehouses.

KE – Who do you view as competition? Scotch Single Malts, Irish Blends, Vodka?

JT – Our malts are positioned to compete with Scotch Single Malts while our Blends compete with the other Irish Blends.

KE -  Who is the perfect audience for Cooley?

JT – People who like to experiment. Be it someone who has never had a whiskey before, to an experienced Malt drinker who tastes Connemara for the first time and can’t believe it is an Irish whiskey.

KE – Tell me about Single Malts Scotches -  Some you like, or those which are comparable to Connemara & Tyrconnell.

JT – We would see Tyrconnell being
similar to many Speysides, while Connemara compares to a mid-level
Islay. I personally have a tinkering for Macallan 18 Yr Old and Gran
Reserva along with some Glenfarclas bottlings.

KE – Any finishes in your future?

JT – We are experimenting with some sherry, port and rum finishes for both Tyrconnell and Connemara which should see the light of day in 2006/2007. We are launching a Single Barrel Offering for Connemara in 2006 in selected markets as well.

KE – How do you suggest people enjoy Cooley whiskey?

JT – With an open mind and good company.

Con_tube_mood_low_res

When is a 10 year old, not a 10 year old?

…When it’s a Bruichladdich 10.

As you may know, in 1994, Bruichladdich, which was then owned by Jim Beam Brands, was deemed  "surplus to requirements", ceased production and was closed – by all estimations, for good.

But in 2000, after years of trying, the distillery, along with 1.3 million liters (10,000 casks) of existing stocks, was acquired and reopened under the ownership of Mark Reynier, Andrew Gray, Jim McEwan and Simon Coughlin, as well as a number of private shareholders. After extensive renovation, production began again on May 29th, 2001.

1994-2001 – that’s 6+ years of no production – meaning that as of 2005 there was theoretically no 10 year old left.  No, the 1994 distillate didn’t run out – the existing, maturing stock simply turned 11. And the "new stuff", which started being distilled in 2001 under the
watchful eye of master distiller Jim McEwan, won’t turn 10 until 2010+.

So theoretically, there is no 10 year old whisky in the 10 year old labeled Bruichladdich!

This got me wondering about what plans Bruichladdich may have for their 10 year old:

  • Will they continue to label the older stuff as a 10?
  • Change the labels to match the age of the contents?
  • Or simply stop putting out a 10 year old?

A quick missive to Mark Reynier cleared it up – I was partially correct with all three guesses:

  • Collector Alert! – Currently, the 10 year old is actually 12 years old – so you are getting an excellent value!
  • They will continue to release a 10 year old labeled expression (which, per above, is actually 12) for most of this year. They will then will drop their 10 year old in favor of a 12 year old labeled expression.
  • Finally, Bruichladdich will likely reintroduce a 10 year old in 2010, and that  will primarily be the distillation work of Jim McEwan and team begun in 2001.

Mark also let me know that:

There was also a large distillation in the Summer of 1998 which sort
of acts as a stepping stone for us. The 10 year old will either reappear
in 2008 or 2010 depending on what we feel like.

I want to point out that Bruichladdich is not only run by whisky lovers, they also happen to be good businessmen. So in 2005, they set about to purchase an
additional £1.5 m of Bruichladdich’s older vintages from third party
industry stock holders – as a result, they have plenty of casks of 1994
(and older) distillations.

Mark has always considered the 10 year old to be the aperitif cuvee of their
expressions, but the Multi-vintage
"Rocks" has now taken on that role.

Will the 2001 Bruichladdich 10 year old be substantially different than the pre-McEwan 1994? Only time will tell – but the best way to tell will be to save a current 10 year old and have a comparative tasting party in 2011.

In other Bruichladdich news:

  • The first ever Islay-grown Bere Barley will be distilled next week. Says Mark:

Sure, Islay would have had Bere barley growing over the last millennium, and illicit distillers may have used it up to the nineteenth century, but we think this will be the first (and probably
the last) Islay Single malt produced from Bere barley. 11 tons of the Viking’s
original barley will be distilled on January 25th – which should produce about 25
casks. Interesting to see what it does. Don’t hold your breath.

  • A new, one-off, record-breaking, "just-for-fun" special distillation is planned for next month.
  • To keep up with the growing demand for Bruichladdich expressions a "new, fancy, all singing, all dancing" bottling line is also going in next month; They will retain the existing line.
  • A new boiler to replace the original two is getting installed in March.
  • A very special bottling is planned for the Islay Festival, and will be launched on May 28th – Bruichladdich Day. I’ll be celebrating my birthday on that very day at Bruichladdich – and I’m giving Mark fair warning that I fully intend to purchase the first bottle from Bruichladdich.

—————————————
TOTALLY UNRELATED – JMR announces latest addition to the line-up

JMR has just announced the release of "The Fresh, Fruity One."

It will initially only be available at the World of Whisky stores located at five of the UK airports (Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Edinburgh, Glasgow). And it should be out this coming week – early February at the latest.

They are also running a competition for three traveling, fast-purchasing, whisky lovers:

The first 3 people to send in the purple wax top (yes, it is all still hand dipped) from a bottle of "The Fresh Fruity One" will get one of each of our other flavoursome malts to keep it company. Send the wax to Andy in the Landy, JMR’s Easy Drinking Whisky Co Ltd, Perth, PH2 7XZ.

So short, and yet, so wrong

Here’s something that’s sad, yet funny. And made sad and funnier still, by something I’ll reveal in a bit.

The following little snippet appeared in the online version (and appears in the January 23rd print version) of Time Europe.

Life Style Easy Drinking
A round up of the latest rounds. What’s new at the bar for 2006

By Lisa McLauglin

Thursday, Jan. 12, 2006
Say goodbye to single-malt snobbery. It’s time to toast the arrival of more approachable — and affordable — blended whiskeys. Scotland’s Jon, Mark and Robbo’s Malt Scotch Whisky blends — the Smokey Peaty One, the Rich Spicy One and the Smooth Sweeter One — are already hits with the 18-to-35-year-old set in Europe.

Now American distillers like Phillips Union are hoping to crack open the U.S. market with vanilla- and cherry-flavored blends.

OK, let’s get started.

  • Don’t know why they switch back and forth between whisky and whiskey spellings.
  • Smooth Sweeter is 70% Irish (Cooley’s) and 30% Scotch (Bunnahabhain) so it isn’t a blended Scotch whisky (much less a "Malt Scotch Whisky blend")
  • Phillips Union does make a line of flavored, blended whiskies, but as it is made in the US, it is certainly not Scotch.
  • What’s so snobbish about Single Malt anyway? Why are blends more approachable. Or affordable for that matter?

ANYWAY
1101051219_400 Ok, that’s a lot of grief I’m giving to a (barely) 2 paragraph piece of filler. BUT (and here is the sad/funnier thing I mentioned earlier) THE SAME EXACT little snippet appeared in the December 19th issue of the US version of TIME magazine.

But here is the kicker…I KNOW FOR A FACT that someone – a person in the Scotch whisky industry – sent a letter to TIME to point out the flaws. I know, because they copied me:

Sent: Wednesday, December 14, 2005 8:15 PM
To: ‘letters@time.com’
Subject: Re: "Your Time" -19th December edition

Last week the venerable Wall Street Journal put its foot in it in a big way with a dreadful and inaccurate article about Scotch Whisky, and now TIME follows suit with the (thankfully) short article by Lisa McLaughlin.

For start, will someone out there please take on board the long established fact that Scotch whisky is not spelled WHISKEY ?  We Scots dispense with the E, while others prefer it (eg. American, and Irish whiskey). TIME displays a penchant for carelessness… in the lead paragraph of the article you use the correct spelling without the E, and then in the lower section headed “Big Spenders” the dreaded E shows up !  I offer my services as an eagle-eyed proofreader at a very modest fee.

While I’m at it, would you kindly explain to me, and the great unwashed out there, why blended Scotch malt whisky is necessarily more approachable and affordable than the far more distinctive single malts that abound ? The world of blended Scotch whisky, a product consisting of a mixture of single malts and grains Scotch whiskies, has been around since time immemorial, and I am at a loss as to why your writer has decreed that a mix of single malts to the exclusion of grain is magically cheaper and/or approachable than single malts, which can be had at prices below $20 and upwards.

While confessing that I have a vested interest in the issue at hand, as one who has had the good fortune to have thus far spent almost thirty years in the Scotch whisky industry, I have to say that I find your assertion that it is time to “…Say goodbye to single-malt snobbery”  (by the way – the hyphen is superfluous) absurd and wholly unsupported by any logical argument. Single malts are thriving in the U.S., consumers are undoubtedly enjoying them as growth in sales of these nectars is running well ahead of growth in blends’ sales, and the plethora of different distilleries’ wares at  prices that cover a wide spectrum which is in many instances at or below the level of many a blended Scotch, attest to the splendour of single malt which is enjoyed by people from all walks of life who harbour no sense of snobbery whatsoever when they imbibe what they simply enjoy.

There is a viable market for blended Scotch whisky (the mix of malts and grains), single malt Scotch whisky, and what we used to refer to as “vatted” malt which is now known as a blend of malts, and your publication does our industry a disservice with ill informed musings of the sort that you have just published.

Yours in some displeasure,

An industry guy I know.

So, these guys write something bad, ignore feedback from an industry person, and then reprint the same wrong stuff one month later. Funny. And sad.

A New Forum?

Does the world need another forum to discuss Scotch?
Probably not, but that didn’t stop me from setting up one anyway.

Whisky 101 is a new forum which I created using the free forum service from PHPBB for Free.

It’s bare-bones and has Yahoo ads (which are not mine, but part of the package) – but it is FREE, so I can’t complain.

Why a new forum?

Mostly because I notice that the existing forums, while a great place to find like-minded folks, tend  to be co-opted by the "whisky-know-it-all." They don’t present a forum for the novice to feel comfortable asking questions.

And while The Scotch Blog allows comments, isn’t really set up as an open forum.

I’d love it if the old pros start frequenting the forum, but I’d like to ask that the smart-aleck commenters, flamers, and insulters stay where they are. Obnoxious comments will NOT be tolerated.

Like I said, aside from the cost of that snazzy new URL <www.whisky101.com>, this isn’t costing me anything, so I figured I’d set it up and see where it goes. I also plan to invite a couple of people to become the "resident experts".

Interested in moderating, or have an idea for a new chat room? Drop me a line – it’s an unpaid gig – but we are all in this for the glory, right?

If things get moving, great – if not, I’ll chalk it up to a nice experiment, and figure out a new use for "Whisky101."

Thanks!

Responsible Consumption

From the Scotch Whisky Association – January 11, 2006

NEW APPOINTMENT PROMOTES RESPONSIBLE DRINKING


Scotch Whisky industry efforts to promote responsible attitudes to alcohol have been strengthened this week with the appointment of Douglas Meikle as The Scotch Whisky Association’s Alcohol Policy Manager.

Douglas will be responsible for further developing industry wide initiatives promoting responsible drinking. He will also run the SWA’s Code of Practice on the Responsible Marketing and Promotion of Scotch Whisky, the toughest self-regulatory code in the alcoholic drinks sector.

Speaking on his appointment, Douglas Meikle said:

“2006 will be an important year as we work with other stakeholders in Scotland and beyond to create a society that regards irresponsible drinking as unacceptable. This requires a concerted, long term approach to education on responsible attitudes to alcohol and I am delighted to be taking forward the SWA’s work in this vital area.
“Looking to the year ahead, a good resolution to start 2006 would be high profile, rigorous enforcement of the laws that already exist to stop sales to underage or intoxicated drinkers.”

Douglas, who has over a decade’s experience in the Scotch Whisky industry, much of it handling alcohol and society issues, joined the SWA in 2003 and has been working in its European Affairs Department. Douglas replaces Fenella Nicholson in the post.

WhiskyFest Chicago

There are two big whisky shows sponsored by Malt Advocate Magazine – WhiskyFest New York, which takes place in the Fall, and WhiskyFest Chicago which is in early Spring.

Despite the fact that we recently celebrated the New Year, WhiskyFest Chicago is coming up quick – It will be held on Thursday evening, March 30th at the Hyatt Regency.

WhiskyFest isn’t a new event – the 2005 New York WhiskyFest, held
this past November, was the 8th annual, while the 2006 Chicago WhiskyFest
will be the 6th one. They have their stuff down – the show runs smoothly, with great access to the industry folks and their products, and the speakers are varied and interesting. For example, here’s a sampling of the line up for Chicago:

Ronnie Cox, Director, The Glenrothes
Marty Duffy, Master of Scotch, The Classic Malts
Ewan Gunn, USA Brand Ambassador, Dewar’s
Michael Heads, Distillery Manager, Isle of Jura
Ian Millar, Distillery Manager, Glenfiddich

And for the bourbon drinkers out there:

Chris Morris, Master Distiller, Woodford Reserve
Craig Beam, Master Distiller, Heaven Hill
Fred Noe, Jim Beam’s Great Grandson, Small Batch Bourbon

But it’s not just about the speakers, it’s about what will be poured – which is more than I can easily list in this article, but you can read the full list here.

I get emails from people who are just getting into whisky, and
want to know the best bottles to buy with say, $100. I heartily suggest that you take
that $100 and attend an event like WhiskyFest. You’ll get to try a
large number of expressions from a large number of distilleries – take good notes and you’ll be readily able to choose something that you like when you make your next Scotch purchase.

For the more seasoned drinker out there, there’s plenty to try that you may not already have sitting in your liquor cabinet – interested in trying that Macallan Fine Oak 15, Dalmore 28 year-old Stillman’s Dram, or Talisker 175th Anniversary? You can do it here – all without buying each bottle separately.

You’ll also end up with a Glencairn glass for your tasting pleasure – but be careful, I put mine down to sign a book for someone in New York, and some thieving, drunken bastard swiped it. Luckily, the Malt Advocate team was nice enough to replace it.

As you can imagine, it’s pretty hectic over at the Malt Advocate offices right now, getting ready for the show. But Amy Westlake, Director of the WhiskyFest event, took time to talk with me about WhiskyFest:

KE – Is there a different feel than at the New York Whisky
Fest?

AW – WhiskyFest Chicago is similar to WhiskyFest New York
naturally since we put on both shows. What we’ve noticed about Chicago is that
there is a much higher percentage of women. A lot more couples attend the event
which you see more with wine events. It’s also has a Midwest feel to it….it’s
not as rushed at the tables is what some of the companies have told me.

In addition, there are a number of whisky-related events
that occur during the week of WhiskyFest Chicago….we’ve termed it "The
Whisky City" instead of the Windy City for the week of WhiskyFest.
The retailers and bars/restaurants are very appreciative of the whisky experts
who are in town and take advantage of their presence by planning special
events. It’s great for the companies since they can reach an even larger
audience in addition to WhiskyFest. Last year Binny’s and Sam’s, the two
largest retailers in Chicago, had big whisky events during that week.
In addition, Delilah’s, which is a terrific whiskey and beer bar, (KME – Been there, love it) opened
their 10,000th bottle of Maker’s Mark the night before WhiskyFest. A
sushi restaurant had a special whisky-sushi dinner; each course was paired with
a different expression of Gordon & Macphail products.

KE – Chicago looks to be a little more Bourbon oriented, is
that due to the Midwest locale or is it just me?

AW - A more bourbon interest for Chicago? Not sure about that.
We seem to have just as many Scotch/Irish/Canadian/Japanese tables at the event
as we do in New York.

KE – Any plans for more Whisky Fest cities? West Coast?

AW – Regarding WhiskyFest growing to other markets, we’re
always open to considering this possibility.

KE – How long does it take to plan an event like this?

AW - It takes over a year to plan our events; you just can’t
believe the amount of work that goes into it so that everything runs smoothly.
Hopefully we make it look easy.

KE – At Whisky Fest New York, you gave a special Award to
Michael Jackson, any surprises planned for Chicago?

AW - At New York, we announced the 2005 Malt Advocate Whisky
Awards and Michael’s award was one of about 8 we presented. This happens once a
year at the New York event so there won’t be any awards given out at WhiskyFest
Chicago.

WhiskyFest Chicago and has sold out 5 years running so buy your tickets soon!

And for you advance planners the New York WhiskyFest is scheduled for Monday, November 6, 2006.