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.

Scotch (Blog) is enjoyed across the globe!

I thought this was a neat graphic.

Scotchblogvisitors_1The world-wide locations of the last 100 visitors to The Scotch Blog.
<—-Click for a larger version

The last visitor is in red, the next 10 visitors are in green and the rest are in white.
Courtesy of Site Meter.

"The" Whisky Glass

It was after I had completed this story that it was announced that Glencairn Crystal was awarded a Queen’s Award for Enterprise. Congratulations!

TastingglasssketchI love the Glencairn tasting glass – its the glass I use for all of my personal tasting notes.

If imitation is truly the sincerest form of flattery, then it is obvious that others love it as well – there have been a rash of imitators since the glass was first introduced in 2001.

But none, in my estimation, are the equal of this glass – and most are simply variations on a theme.

About the glass:

The glass was designed with a tapered mouth to focus the aroma while at the same time being open enough to make it easy to drink from. This was married to a robust base that is comfortable in the hand and allow gentle warming of the liquid to open it up, resulting in a stylish attractive glass, a base to keep the hand clear of the liquid and it has no cuts or decoration that would obscure the colour while at the same time being easy to drink from.

I originally met Raymond & Scott Davidson, of Glencairn Crystal, in London, but it wasn’t until we met up in New York, that I got a chance to talk to them in detail about the genesis of the Glencairn Glass and the imitators.

Kevin Erskine - Let’s talk about the Glencairn glass and why it’s better than any other glass on the market…

Raymond Davidson – First, let’s talk about how it came about. I’ve been a whisky drinker all of my adult life. I’d go in a bar, select whatever whisky I wanted, and I’d always say to the barman "Would you mind putting that into a wine glass please?" So I’m doing this for years and I think – This is crazy – I’ve got a crystal business – I should do something about this.

And that’s when we came up with this. And once I was satisfied with it, I was quite happy – and I let it go – I forgot about it, as I do with many things.

My oldest son, Paul was in the warehouse 10-12 years later, found the glass in the warehouse and said "What’s this?" I told him all about it, and we decided to revisit it, by getting master blenders from 5 of the biggest whisky companies involved.

My original design is slightly smaller than the one we produce today – because I like small measures – plenty of them, but smaller.

KE - You introduced it in 2001 and it’s caught on quite well. Certain unnamed people use it in their book to describe the perfect tasting glass.

Scott Davidson – Wise man.

KE - What about the imitators? I don’t even "get" the Riedel glass, You can’t hold it properly, and I don’t like the turned out lip.

RD – Everyone has their preferences, as you can see from our display, we’ve been supplying all sorts of shapes of glasses to the industry – we sell more of the standard whisky tumbler, which comes in all shapes & sizes: tall, fat, slim, heavy, light, and so on. And that’s fine. They are absolutely perfect if you want your whisky on ice or with coke.

But if you want whisky on its own, then this is the whisky glass I would recommend. This glass was designed to guide the drinker to nose before he drinks… and I think that’s part of its success.

SD – All glasses have a place. They are all trying to help with the education process. We like this glass (Glencairn) which was created in the right environment – master blenders got behind it, the Scotch Whisky Association supported it, all the right people helped develop it – all to make sure that the glass was right for the whisky consumer.

All of the other glasses are trying to do a similar job – make sure you get a chance to nose the whisky, and all help in the education process – I can’t say anything bad against any of them.

KE - Before your glass came out, everyone used a sherry copita. So basically everyone now says "The Glencairn Glass – a brilliant idea, let me change it slightly, and do my own. "

SD – It can be a bit irritating, lots of people are trying to come up with an idea – the problem is, these are all their own ideas, there is no fundamental reason behind it – it’s all an augmentation of what we created.

But they are not doing anything really different, and the market sees that – and the imitators don’t step on our toes enough to be an issue. And they’ll likely burn out – they follow the market – they are not market leaders.

KE - There is one new glass , which looks ridiculous, like a miniature "Hurricane" glass. I don’t believe the odd shape adds to your tasting experience.

SD – And that’s the whole point, when you drink from the Glencairn glass, it’s all about an experience that we can ensure you’ll get from professional tasting all the way to the bar – which is where we want it to be. When people say "I want a whisky, and I want it served properly" we hope you’ll get it in a Glencairn glass.

This glass is comfortable in your hand – nobody is disputing that it does the job, so we think we got it right.

KE - And this glass is solid, all the others feel like you are going to shatter them.

SD – But that’s good for business!

KE - Maybe you should make this one thinner…

SD – The point is, those glasses are being created for niche markets, Riedel is big in wine, so feel that they should be in whisky…but it is an expensive glass aimed at a high-end market.

KE - Let’s talk about the bar market; the Glencairn is a solid glass, and bars are looking for good, but sturdy glassware. Are you getting penetration directly into the bar and restaurant market?

SD – Oh yes. A lot of bars in Scotland have contacted us directly. Vodka is the number one drink in Scotland – it defies understanding. We want to get more people drinking whisky when they are out – people with money, those who like premium drinks, a lot of them are moving over to whisky – but as you know, the tumbler is just not the right glass to serve whisky in. There are all of these smashing single malts – but if it is served in the wrong glass, it’s a problem. Every bar that we meet with ends up buying the glass.

RD – If someone orders a whisky, and then don’t intend to put in a mixer or ice, then we want them to be offered the appropriate glass. It gets the message across.

We then talked a little bit about Glasgow, which recently instituted a silly ban on glassware in bars.

KE - Marketing: You’ve done very well by word of mouth alone. Aside from a couple of whisky magazines, you haven’t gone crazy with marketing spends. The glass hit a chord with people.

SD – That’s right. We’ve been really lucky to have fantastic industry support. And places like France where we sold a ton last year – they jumped on it on day one. The U.S. has been a little slower because it’s so segmented.

KE - As much as I love this glass, I’ve been wondering if, like beer, different whiskies shouldn’t have different glasses – just as pilseners, Belgians, pints, etc. each have a specific glass style. Maybe there’s no single glass for everything.

SD – Possibly. I mean there can’t be a glass for everything and for everybody.

By the way, I draw a strict delineation between tasting and drinking. I always use the Glencairn glass for tasting – that is, trying whiskies with an eye towards taking notes – when doing so, I want to take as many variable out of my tasting as possible – and using the same glass every time, removes one major variable.

I do (sometimes) use other glasses when simply drinking – which is trying a whisky for the sheer enjoyment of it. But there is a reason you’ll get a Glencairn at the major shows. It is simply an awesome, and indispensable part of the whisky experience.

About Glencairn Crystal
Glencairn Crystal is a family owned company based in East Kilbride, Scotland. We have been supplying cut-crystal and glassware to the world for over 25 years. Specialising in decoration we have established ourselves as the best in the United Kingdom for engraving and printing. Our portfolio of clients includes large blue chip organisations as well as Government institutions. Our level of attention to detail and customer service has earned us a reputation for reliability and consistency. We are also the number one supplier of crystal and glassware to the Scotch whisky industry as well as the UK’s largest corporate gifts & incentives provider.

Scotch is Doomed!

…At least that’s what you might believe if you read this headline: Scotch’s reputation on the rocks as unique taste branded a myth in the April 20th Scotsman.

According to the writer of this article (Andrew Tolmie):

…ONE of Scotland’s top whisky experts has stunned the industry by claiming the taste of single malt has nothing to do with its place of origin, and foreign drams can be as good as Scottish ones.

The honorary research fellow studied the national drink from 94 distilleries from Scotland and around the world, and claims particular regions do not guarantee a whisky’s flavour.

The whisky expert in question is Dr. David Wishart, author of Whisky Classified and frequent contributor to The Scotch Blog.

Disregarding the dire headline, those 2 paragraphs don’t equate to the downfall of Scotch as we know it, do they?

If you’ve read David’s book (as I have), you might not agree with all of his conclusions and categorizations. But think about it – tell me how Bunnahabhain and Ardbeg are similar. Now tell me how they are different. Try the same exercise with The Dalmore and Glenmorangie; now think about Glenfarclas and Glenlivet.

I fully agree that regions are a poor indicator of flavor, and are (for the most part) only useful for geographic assignation – and in the case of Highland whiskies – not a very concise one.

According to the article, David allegedly says:

To say that a flavour is determined by where it is from is to pull the wool over the eyes of consumers. The distilling process can be mirrored all over the world. India and Japan produce excellent whiskies that are the equal of many produced in Scotland. Scotland has no right to be assumed as the place where you get the best whisky.

I have suspicions about the authenticity of this quote.

Also from the Scotsman article:

For example, traditionally, the Islay is thought of as being peaty and strong tasting, like the Laphroig or Ardbeg, but there are now many mild Islays which taste more like traditional Speyside whiskies.

There are also so many types of whisky cask… that the flavours can be completely different from distilleries that are only a few miles apart.

Now that is a statement I believe David would make – and who can argue with that?

The real issue is whether these quotes (and this sentiment) are really the work of Dr. David Wishart.

Via email, David tells me:

Needless to say I am mis-quoted in the Scotsman – I certainly didn’t say that Scotch malts can be replicated all over the world, though I did say that there are good whiskies already from America, Japan and Ireland. You can read my press release here…
I’m sure you will agree it is not reflected in the Scotsman article, and others have not followed this line.

My main argument is that we cannot accurately describe the flavor of, for example, Highland Park whisky by reference to a "Highland Region" style, or an "Island Region" style, or even an "Orkney Region" style. The distilleries of Highland Park and Scapa on Orkney are barely 5 miles apart, they share the same water catchment, but they produce distinctively different malt whiskies. The region they happen to be in, however defined, doesn’t influence or determine their flavor.

Scotland has some great single malt whiskies, but the producers cannot afford to be complacent in a global market. In my opinion they should stop competing on price, and instead focus on the heritage, authenticity and quality of their malts, which make them unique.

By the way, this mastermind of the destruction of the reputation of Scotch is being admitted as a Keeper of the Quaich today.

David also just announced the release of the second edition of Whisky Classified. I, for one, look forward to the new research and updates David has done for this edition.

Highland Park in Highland Park

Attention Chicago.

This Thursday, April 27th, from 6:30 – 8:30 pm, Gerry Tosh (Highland Park Global Ambassador) will be at the Binny’s in Highland Park to officially roll out a new special 34 year old single cask bottling.

Distilled in 1971 and matured in cask for 34 years, this cask strength
(53% abv) is priced at $350 per bottle, but is available at $325
to celebrate the release.

Brett tells me:

This is pretty yummy stuff. It was being poured at the Highland Park booth at WhiskyFest Chicago, and was one of the hits of the show.

This is prototypical older HP, layers of flavors, chocolate, dried fruit, packing spice, pepper. I normally wouldn’t buy a whole cask of whisky that I have to sell for $350, but this one was worth the financial commitment.

There is a cost to attend the event, but it’s quite reasonable, and the fee will allow you to try a range of Highland Park expressions including the 15, the 18, the 1981, the Binny’s 24, and the 30. The tutored tasting also includes appetizers to complement each expression.

Seating is limited and reservations are required.
Call 847.831.5400 or email:

$15 for Binny’s Card Members; $25 for non-members.

Binny’s Highland Park location
153 Skokie Valley Highway
Highland Park, IL

Screw (Cap) This [Pt. 1]

Over at Whisky101 (the reader participation wing of The Scotch Blog) Jody Cairns asks:

How about an article behind the usefulness (or lack thereof) of corks?
Do they serve any practical purpose? Are they only a marketing gimmick? I
suspect it’s all about perception, but then you’d think why don’t the
bottlers of blends adopt using corks, too? Is there a marketing agreement
between single-malts and blend bottlers to permit only single-malts the
use of corks?

I look forward to reading any insight you can bring about the subject.

Ah, the age old question of the cork. Corks have a long history with Scotch – before the screw cap was invented, all bottles were sealed with cork. Plus, there’s an undeniable, emotionally satisfying aspect to pulling out a cork – as opposed to screwing off a cap.

But don’t whisky producers face some of the same issues faced by wine makers?

What about TCA taint?
If you are not also a wine drinker, you may not be familiar with the concept of "cork taint" which is a very real bacterial issue affecting as much as 2-5% of bottled wines. A bottle of wine that has cork taint is generally referred to as being "corked."

The following explanation of cork taint in wine comes paraphrased from The Wine Steward:

All natural cork contains traces of a bacterial compound known as
Trichloroanisole, or “TCA” for short. When it occurs at a certain level
(literally just a few parts per trillion) it imparts a “taint” to the

In the early stages of
TCA spoilage, only those especially sensitive to the taint can detect
it. Rather than an aroma or flavor, there is initially only a “dumbing”
of the wine’s original fruit character; it is simply not all that it
should be. With more time, the spoilage develops to something almost
anyone can sense: A “wet newspaper” mustiness that has completely
replaced the wine’s original aromas and flavors. This is not damage you
can actually see; other structural flaws are to blame for leaky or
brittle corks.

We might assume that cork taint also presents a problem for any whisky which uses a cork – but this is apparently not an issue that concerns some in the industry:

In 43 years of distilling, blending, coopering, cask warehousing, countless tastings with IWSC [International Wine & Spirit Competition] and ISC [International Spirits Challenge], and thousands of bottles sold, I have only ever found a handful of bottles that were corked.

Did you know that from the seventeenth century until the mid 1970s all maturing casks had cork bungs – it was only when racked warehouses were introduced that oak bungs were used to seal the casks.

So, if cork was a problem surely, over the course of 300 years, someone would have spotted the problem. Or could it simply be that the distillers and blenders of yester-year were not nearly as clever as today’s “experts”?

The reason cork was used was to enable the cask to breath – which helped to stop the build-up of pressure within the cask. Such a build-up could cause leakage where a weak spot may have been in the cask.

Corked whisky is now the latest blog baby . How did we ever make it this far without such experts? Whats next? Plastic bottles ?

Sorry, I could go on but I need a strong dram from a bottle with a cork.
Jim McEwan

There are some dissenting opinions about this:

Whiskies can be corked (have "cork taint"), just like wine. This is a fact. I can show you examples.
John Glaser

Cork cause problems. TCA and dissolved cork are a reality if the liquid lies against the cork for any length of time.

We have 100 year old bottles of Cognac at Berry’s but they have been standing all that time. No rest for great Spirits.
Ronnie Cox

Perhaps the cork allows the whisky to breathe?
Nope. In case you didn’t know, whisky ceases to mature once removed from the cask – unlike wine which continues to mature and evolve (and eventually devolve), helped along by the oxidation effects of air that is allowed in through the cork:

The cork in a bottle of Scotch does not act as it does in wine and permit further breathing. The moment that the spirit is decanted from the cask and filled to glass the breathing and ageing process ceases.
Jimmy Robertson

As Jim McEwan stated above, cork bungs were used in casks at one time, and the purpose was to allow the cask to breathe. At Glenmorangie, they are still using them:

I think cork, as you suggest, does have a perception of quality rather than any actual benefit when used in bottling.  – we do however still use it for our cask bungs (although not exclusively anymore as it’s very hard to get -so now only when refilling a cask already "soft" bunged ie 2nd fill) –  we believe it allows the cask to breath easier and reduces any pressure that may build up on warmer days.
Graham Eunson

Let’s talk about Blends
To clarify things – there is no agreement between single malts and blended whiskies concerning corks. Glenfiddich 12 and Grant’s use screw caps, while many of the higher end blends (JW Gold, JW Blue, Chivas Royal Salute) use corks.

Blended scotches used corks as well back in the day, but they were
selling faster than single malts and being consumed faster than single
malts – so when the much cheaper twist offs were invented in the early
1900’s, they were adopted for blends.

It was thought that a cork provided better
long term protection for a whisky, so the single malts kept them –
since most consumers, even now, parcel it out. 

Most bars today will go
through more Johnnie Walker Black Label in a week than most single
malts in a year, so long term storage is not an issue with blends.

Marty Duffy

Economics plays its part
Screw tops are much cheaper to make – a fraction of the cost of corks. And since most blends require highly specific cost targets to meet the price points for different tiers – that equals no corks in the mass market blends.

Security, as well

These are parts of the world where fraudulent use and counterfeiting mean it is preferable to use bottles with a non refillable closure – this helps stop the bottle being refilled with cheaper whisky.
Neil Macdonald

So why not use screw caps on Single Malts – don’t they face the same issues?

Corks have traditionally been used on Scotch whiskies and I guess the idea of moving away from them, like with wine, would be considered a down market move.

Mark Reynier

Interesting question and it seems to be a covention that quality whiskies use corks – mainly because they are seen as a strong indicator of quality. Also there is a definite tactile pleasure when you hear the gentle "thwock" of a cork being drawn out of the bottle – something a screwcap just does not emulate.
Neil Macdonald

$30 + for a bottle of malt so most maketers/brands/companies believe that cork is king for this. Personally we use them in JMR bottles ’cause we love the popping sound they make when you open and close the bottle!
Dave Robertson

It’s very straightforward in my view. It’s all about another of our senses SOUND. Sound is an important part of the ritual. The wondeful pop each time – rather than the one time metallic "crack".
Ronnie Cox

John Glaser is passionate about cork – or actually, the need to move away from cork. Is John trying to cut costs? I doubt it, John is also quite passionate about using the finest woods to age his whisky, so I know cost isn’t a factor in his decisions…

There is no doubt:  the Scotch whisky industry continues to use cork on super premium whiskies ONLY because of consumer perception.  The common consumer perception is that cork is superior closure suitable for better, more expensive products.

Why do we use cork?  It’s a traditional and historically effective closure for bottles, especially wine bottles that require small amounts of oxidation over many years.

There is no economic and certainly no product quality-driven reason for Scotch whisky bottlers to use cork anymore.

Synthetic corks can work, but have two problems: 1) after repeated opening and closing, the silicon wears off and the corks get stuck; and 2) biodegradability.

The Scotch whisky industry should be moving away from cork, if they care about the quality of their products, just like winemakers around the world are increasingly moving away from cork.

Now, you’ll be wondering why we (Compass Box) still use cork.  First, I’ll say that our long term plan is to move to screw cap (unless a better option comes along).  Secondly, I should say I used synthetic cork when I first started the company, but was faced with the two issues above. 

So, why still use cork?  The economics of being a small company.  To move to screw cap, we would have to pay many tens of thousands of pounds to design and create molds for a custom screw cap, given the bottle we use.  We simply cannot afford that.  So, we will move to a screw cap or better alternative in the future, when we can afford it.

For a big company brand, the switch would be considered cheap and no big deal.  And here’s the kicker:  screw caps (after amortising the cost of design and molds and bottling line change parts…no biggy for a big brand) are CHEAPER than corks!  (Assuming you haven’t designed a screwcap out of marble or some such thing!). 

The problem for big brands, is what I stated at top: consumer perception.  They’re scared.  And so far there is no super premium malt brand willing to take this chance.  We will, one day…

Marty Duffy concurs:

A screw top would, I believe, take some of the romance out of it,
which is why they have stayed with it for so long in the first place. But the
use of cork may change in
the future.  Like wines, they are finding that screw tops may
actually work better than cork – plus cork is getting rare &

I had so much good input, I’ve split this into a two-part story. Stay tuned for next week’s installment when we talk to Ian Millar about Glenfiddich’s plans for the future, as well as the Sales Manager from Amorim…a provider of corks to the Scotch industry…


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.

Smoking ban has positive side

Speaking as a non-smoker, I really dislike bars and pubs – because I come out smelling like crap, and I can’t try some whiskies, because the smoke will interfere with my tasting.

And despite the whining of smokers and tobacco producers, the various bans on smoking have had little impact on sales. As a matter of fact, in Scotland pub owners report that sales are soaring – not in spite of the smoking ban, but because of it.

From the Scotsman

Pub sales soaring despite ban on smoking

Publicans across the country said sales of food and drink had risen
significantly since the ban came into force two weeks ago.

One bar in Edinburgh reported a 25 per cent boost last weekend as drinkers
were attracted by smoke-free rooms.

Colin Cameron, chairman of the Aberdeen Excise Licence Holders Association,
admitted fears of thousands of job losses in Scotland were unfounded.

Mr Cameron, who owns three pubs in the city, said: "To some extent I would
admit that I was wrong. I did feel it would have a significant impact."

Some key quotes:

Mike Dignan, Dows Bar, Inverness:

Our sales have gone up by 5 to
10 per cent. The food side of things is really taking off, but this is also
helping our drinks sales, as people stay in the bars for longer.

Richard Thomas, All Bar One, Glasgow:

Food sales have definitely
gone up and alcohol sales have been constant. People prefer to eat in a
non-smoking atmosphere.

Jeff Falls, The Blind Beggar:

Sales last weekend actually increased by 25 per cent. Supplies of
Guinness ran out on Wednesday night.

People who might have avoided pubs because of the smoky atmosphere are
coming in. Smokers are drinking a bit faster – they are not pacing themselves
with cigarettes. Our food sales have definitely gone up.

David Agnew, the Horseshoe Bar, Glasgow:

figures are up on this time last year. That could be partly due to the ban. We
haven’t had any negative impact, apart from the fact that door staff are
suffering from passive smoking due to people hanging round outside.

If you are a smoker, sorry, but I dislike your habit. But since I live in Virginia, I’m not holding my breath for a ban of smoking here. So I hold my breath when in a bar.

The Big Fellow

The Irish part of me really dislikes St. Patrick’s Day . Like my pals over at Liquor Snob say: 

It’s the biggest amateur drinking night of the year, where everyone pretends they’re Irish for a day.

Apparently to a lot of people, being honorary Irish means paying a
$15 cover charge to get into an over-crowded bar and drink too many
pints of Budweiser tinted with green food coloring.

We may sound bitter, but that’s because drinking is not an amateur sport. Believe us – we’re Scottish, we drink every night.

All the knuckleheads running around, wearing green, drinking their annual half pint of Guinness, (they’ll switch back to Miller Lite in a minute) and singing Danny Boy off-key. Blechhh…I avoid Irish pubs on St. Patrick’s day like I avoid duck hunting with Dick Cheney.

Anyhoo… when I got back from London, I was lucky enough to have a package waiting from Sidney Frank Importers. It was two samples of their new Irish Whiskey, Michael Collins. Unfortunately, I was sick, and didn’t have a chance to give the whiskey the attention it required right off.

By the time I could actually taste again, it was St.Patrick’s Day – but as you may have guessed from above I’m not going to buy into the "Irish things are only interesting on St. Patrick’s Day" bias – so I consciously avoided doing the story around March 17th – there was enough silliness about Guinness, shamrocks, corned beef and Irish Whiskey to keep you occupied – I’m not going to add to all that.

Good whiskey is good all year.

So I decided to publish today, APRIL 17th. So there.


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.

Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey

Michael Collins Blended Irish Whiskey is a combination of malted barley (which, like most Cooley Distillery whiskies, is twice distilled in pot stills) – a small amount of which is peated, and blended with column-distilled corn whiskeys.

Apparently the youngest component is four years old, though there are some 12 year olds in the mix. The aroma is honeyed and malty, with a touch of oak; while the taste is malty, light and quite sweet. The finish is short, but pleasant.

(By comparison, I find the nose of Jameson to be leather and caramel vanilla, while the taste is spicy-pepper with rich vanilla undertones – with a long, lingering finish.)

Being so sweet, it will likely make a very nice mixed-drink base (I tried it neat).

All in all, not a bad little blend, but with a price point of $26.99 for 750ml, it is a bit pricier than your average Irish Blend.

The blend will also be available in 1 liter, 375ml and a 50 ml mini.

Michael Collins Single Malt Irish Whiskey

Michael Collins Single Malt is also double
distilled in pot stills, from a mixture of peated and unpeated malted barley. The components for the single malt are aged from eight
to more than 12 years.

The nose on the single malt is soft malt and light citrus – but it doesn’t give you a clue that the taste is deep and rich maltiness with a very slight peat taste and a hint of smoke in the finish – which is malty, long and presents hints of caramel and chocolate.

I liked this quite a bit, it’s slightly reminiscent of Connemara but it’s definitely got it’s own vibe. With a price point of $39.99 for
750ml, it is a little pricier than your average Irish Malt – except for Connemara.

Other points

The blend and the single malt are identical in color so there is some artificial coloring at play.

The bottles are unique and quite attractive, with an interesting series of ridges along the back side. The labels are very similar with the blended version primarily black, while the single malt is primarily gold. The bottles will certainly stand out in a bar or your liquor cabinet; unfortunately, they are a bit taller than the average whiskey bottle, which could present storage problems.

I’m a little worried that by going with the "Michael Collins" name, the target audience is strictly the hard core Irish community. I mean, who else has a clue who Michael Collins is? And with the blend price point higher than your average Irish Blend, they are positioned quite a bit above the cost of a Tullamore Dew, Powers, Jameson or Bushmills – the standards in Irish bars, pubs and households.

Likewise, with the single malt price point at $39.99, it’s still higher than Bushmills 10 year old, Knappogue or Clontarf, but it’s not far off the mark.

However, the folks behind this, Sidney Frank Importing, are also the same guys who created the "ultra-premium" vodka segment with the introduction of a French vodka when every one else said "Whaaa??" – they later sold that French vodka to Bacardi for $2 billion, the largest single brand sale in the history of the adult beverages. You know it as Grey Goose.

Sidney Frank also had great success turning obscure little German Jägermeister into a staple at hipster bars through a mixture or hottie-based marketing and ubiquity – as well as getting in early on the wave of high end tequilas with the very successful Corazon.

The Michael Collins blend is apparently positioned to compete against Jameson and Bushmills, but as a more premium product based on the price and packaging.

Does that sound silly? Well, Sidney Frank got everyone to pay $30 a bottle for vodka, when the standard bottle was selling for $20. These guys can market liquor, so if anyone can use the name of a little known Irish nationalist folk hero to create the hot new Irish whiskey, Sidney Frank can.

Speaking about Sidney Frank, Jack Teeling of Cooley told me:

They are a superb partner given their marketing skills and the
on-trade sales force they have from their Grey Goose and Jagermeister
experience, which can only help to expand the Irish whiskey segment of
the market and bring consumers in that other brands
couldn’t. This will hopefully open their eyes to who Cooley Distillery
is and experiment with our other whiskies.

As for you, the Scotch whisk(e)y lover, I’d pass on the blend – which is really destined for mixed drinks, shooters and "Irish car bombs" – and try the single malt, a little expensive compared to other Irish single malts, but darned tasty – and well within the price range of your average single malt Scotch.

Then pick up bottles of Connemara, Black Bush and Red Breast to fill out your Irish collection.

2006 Whisky Bible in stock!

For some unknown reason, the 2006 Whisky Bible is next to impossible to get in the U.S. – and Lord knows U.S. fans have been waiting to get their hands on it!

As I told you last month, I got tired of waiting for the Bible to make its appearance here in the US, and I picked one up in London.

But not everyone gets to travel, so I’ve made arrangements with some friends in Canada, who have a stash of the Bibles, to make them available here in the States.

The book is available through Doceon Press. The cost is $17.95 and shipping is $6 – the books are shipped from Canada.

The 2006 version has over 1,000 new and updated entries.

This is the most comprehensive and thoroughly researched guide to the world’s whiskies ever produced. Honest, forthright and proudly independent, Jim Murray has tasted and rated over 3,400 whiskies, including 2,050 single Scottish malts, 395 blended Scotches and 325 American whiskies. Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible provides an unrivaled and invaluable source of reference to the consumer, the whisky industry and the drinks trade alike. In terms of whisky, this is the gospel.

Johnnie Walker Gets Charitable

Holy Crap! I’m about to say something nice about Diageo :)

I grew up in NYC and there you had 2 choices. Mets or Yankees. And
since the Mets were in Queens, I went with the Yankees. Some of my fondest memories growing up are associated with the Yankees. My dad worked
on the renovation of Yankee Stadium, and I got to run around on the
field during the reconstruction – one of my brothers still has the
bleacher bench my dad brought home one day.

During the renovation we would schlep to Queens to watch the Yankees (they played at Shea Stadium during the renovation), and I’d get to sit in the Press Box and play with the Scoreboard after games. (A friend of my Dad’s worked the score board at Shea). Good Times. But once again, I digress.

JohnniewalkerOn Opening Day, Tuesday, Diageo announced plans to donate $100 to Recording Artists, Actors, and Athletes Against Drunk
Driving (RADD) every time a Yankee player walks at me beloved Yankee Stadium –
all through the 2006 season.

In my book, Scotch & Baseball were made for each other (OK maybe not, but I’d rather have a glass of JW Red than an $8 Miller Lite), and I’m glad to see Diageo supporting responsible drinking – especially in regards to Scotch consumption.

As you may know, the corporate symbol of the Johnnie Walker brand is the "Striding Man" Johnnie
Walker himself, and the new Johnnie Walker campaign encourages you to "keep walking". So this is a clever fit.

In a cool move to raise awareness about drunk driving (and a great public relations move), Wade Boggs, Hall of Famer and former Red Sox and Yankees third baseman handed out NYC
Subway MetroCards before the Yankees game on April 11th to encourage adult fans to
enjoy the game responsibly and get home safely.

Said Boggs:

I’m proud to help launch a program that reminds everyone not to drive
drunk. This is a subject that I’m passionate about,
particularly when it is delivered with such a positive voice.

Chris Parsons, Vice
President, Scotch Marketing, Diageo:

This program is a huge opportunity for Diageo and Johnnie Walker to raise
awareness of our efforts against drunk driving. As we approached the start of
the baseball season, we saw the opportunity to promote responsible drinking,
and we’re thrilled to work with Yankee legend Wade Boggs to help us do so.

Let’s hope the Yanks are walked a lot this season. And hit a lot of homers too.

Wade Boggs greets fans on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.