Ask The Collector – Mid-Summer 2007 Edition

It’s been a while since we last hosted our “Ask the Collector” segment. We still get lots of requests for valuation of whisky, but many of the requests are from people who can’t read. 2 basic rules are consistently violated:

  1. Send a picture.
  2. Before asking, take a look at the”Ask the Collector” article archive to see if your bottle has been valued previously. If get another requests to value a Chivas Regal Royal Salute Spode decanter, I’m going to go f’ing postal.

And to be honest, we’ve been getting a lot of simply uninteresting bottles.

But we march on . . .


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And now another installment of our very popular “Ask The Collector” column in which Sukhinder Singh of The Whisky Exchange answers questions about the value of collectible whisky.

We generally respond to questions within a day or so (completely
dependent upon Sukhinder’s schedule).

Remember, when you are in London, you can visit The Whisky Exchange in Hanwell or at their satellite shop at Vinopolis near the Borough Market. And of course you can always visit The Whisky Exchange on-line.


Ground Rules

Still getting way too many questions without pictures or posted as comments. These emails/comments will not be answered. Sorry!

  1. Before emailing, please look through the
    old “Ask The Collector” stories, to see if a similar bottle has already
    been appraised. If we get another question about the value of a bottle
    of White Horse from 1990, I’m going to put my head through the screen.
  2. Some people have been leaving questions
    for Sukhinder in the comments. This is a no-no. I will assume any
    questions left in comments are for other readers to answer and NOT for
    Sukhinder – If you want Sukhinder’s expert opinion please use the “…Ask the Collector” email address in the link to the right.
  3. No questions will be considered without an included picture. I spend too much time asking people for pictures. Starting in 2007, I’m afraid we can’t respond to any questions which don’t include a picture of the bottle. In
    you don’t include a picture, you won’t get a response. Make sure your
    pictures include the fill level as well as the label and any
    distinguishing characteristics!
  4. If Sukhinder makes an offer to buy your bottle, please do him the courtesy of responding whether you accept his offer or not.
  5. Please visit The Whisky Exchange – either in person or via their website. Let’s support Sukhinder, as he is providing this valuation services for free!

Continue Reading >>

Best of: Bad Wall Street Journal

Still on vacation . . .

I am NOT able to approve comments whilst gone.


Originally Posted – December 15, 2005

Wall Street Journal, Tsk, Tsk.

I haven’t had the opportunity to pick on a poorly researched article from the New York Times in a while.

Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal stepped right in, granting me a new target at which to “unleash the fury.”

The following excerpts (through the glory that is the fair use doctrine) are from an article released on Saturday, December 10, 2005 in the Wall Street Journal and written by G. Bruce Knecht.

One too many “e’s” in Whisky

Let’s start with the title – which immediately shows that the WSJ
has writers and editors who aren’t qualified to write on the subject: “Whiskey’s Risky MovesMakers of scotch roll out new twists on an ancient quaff.”

As YOU know, but the WSJ writers and editors obviously
don’t, when referring to a whisky made in Scotland, it is spelled
whisky – no ‘e’. But if only that were the least of the transgressions.

There are a number of small mistakes and stupid statements
throughout the article, but I don’t have all day,so I’ll stick to the
big ones. For example, the third paragraph:

The
appeal of single malts is based on a singular proposition. Each spirit
comes from a particular distillery and has been aged, generally for 10
years or more, a period that is usually specified on the bottle.

Silly me, I thought that the appeal of single malts was based on taste.

Continue Reading >>

Rancio

I’m on a "non-whisky" related vacation. Camping in the desert with friends and no access to a compute or phone. So I thought I’d invite some people to fill in for me while I’m gone. While I am gone comments cannot be approved!

Enjoy these great pieces from guest writers:


Today’s story is from Gary Regan, bar-tender (mixologist?) extraordinaire. Gary, along with wife Mardee, write the Ardent Spirits website, as well as a number of books about the craft of bartending – all of which belong on your shelf.


Rancio? Who is Rancio?  What is Rancio? 

Rancio is a highly desirable, and relatively rare, flavor normally found only in extra-aged fruit-based spirits: cognacs, calvados, and armagnac.  Best described as earthy, cheesey, and mushroomy (with a vague hint of soy sauce), rancio is one of those flavors that has to be encountered a few times before it becomes a close and friendly acquaintance.

Imagine my delight when, a few years ago, I thought I detected rancio in a $7,000 bottling of Bowmore 40-year-old single malt scotch.  My wonderment grew over time when I found it to be present in seven more malts.  But I needed proof.  Most of the French sneered at the thought, and many Scots weren’t accustomed to the flavor.

Alexandre Gabriel, of Gabriel and Andreu, a French spirits company that produces many fine brandies, recently hired scientists to pinpoint the chemical components responsible for the rancio flavor.  Voilà!  Two liquid organic compounds known as ketones were found to be the culprits, and both are said to be a result of advanced oxidization of alcohol.

The next step was to perform the same experiment on a single malt that I thought contained this mysterious flavor.  I chose The Balvenie Vintage Cask 1966 as the guinea pig.  Sure enough, both ketones were detected in this scotch.

Although no other bottlings of single malt have yet been tested, I think rancio can be found in The Glendronach Vintage 1968, Auchentoshan 31-year-old, Aberlour 21-year-old, Murray McDavid 1967 Springbank, Springbank Local Barley Single Cask, 1966, and The Stillman’s Dram:  Dalmore 30-year-old.  All are delectable spirits that wear kilts instead of berets and yet show signs of this baffling flavor.  Try them.  You’ll like them.

Upcoming article on St. George's Distillery

Not too long ago, I did a story on St. George Single Malt Whiskey from American distiller St. George Spirits.

As many of you know the St. George’s Distillery is up and running in Norfolk, England.

The two are NOT related. It remains to be seen if there will be any problem with the importation of the English product into the US.

I asked St. Geroge’s for a comment, but the response to my inquiry was from the Visitor Centre Manager, and was completely devoid of any useful information.

In the meantime, please enjoy this extract of an upcoming story from my friend David Wishart (author of  the fantastic book Whisky Classified). By the way, David tells me the new make spirit is excellent.

Extract from "St George and the Dragon", by David Wishart, Malt Advocate, vol 16 no. 4 (in press).

We arrive at St George’s Distillery to be greeted by an old friend, Iain Henderson, familiar throughout the Scottish whisky industry where he previously worked for over 40 years. “I’m the first Scot to make English whisky for more than a century”, he proudly boasts. The holder of a lifetime achievement award for services to Scotch whisky, Iain’s appointment as the first manager at St George’s has not been without controversy. Ian Hudghton, a Scottish National MEP, recently declared “There is only one Scotch whisky which uses centuries-old methods, and anything else is not the real McCoy. I’ll be sticking to Scotch, and I don’t think English whisky can provide any competition.”

But the plain fact is that, unlike wine, there is no terroir to whisky-making. Provided the production methods are correctly designed and operated, good quality whisky can be made almost anywhere in the world.  And Iain Henderson is uniquely qualified to prove this point in Norfolk. “It is a huge coup for us to have Iain on board”, said Andrew Norstrop, managing director of the English Whisky Company. “The spirit he is producing is excellent, and we are getting very positive responses from those who appreciate the fundamentals of the whisky business.”

Best of: Screw (Cap) This (Part 2)

A recent email from a reader asking about whether it was a good idea
to store his whisky on its side reminded me that we were due to revisit
this series….


Originally Posted April 28, 2006

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.

Continue Reading >>

Lyons goes to Speyside – Roll out the barrels

Will Lyons writes for Scotland on Sunday and has done some fantastic pieces on the Indian situation. Recently he paid a visit to Benromach Distillery and even put in a day’s work.

Today’s guest story was originally posted on Scotland on Sunday, but Will told me it would be fine to repost here.

As a complementary piece, check out my story on Benromach – though Will’s is better.


Roll out the barrels

Will Lyons

AT A TIME of day when most of us are just about managing to
negotiate a bowl of cornflakes, Mike Ross, the stillman at Benromach
distillery, is already at his post, pouring two tonnes of malted barley
into a mash tun full of warm water.

"We have to be very careful not to get this wrong," he says, staring
straight ahead at a small temperature gauge on the opposite wall.

Handing the controls over to me, he adds, "A slight miscalculation
at this stage and we could end up with either not enough sugar or too
much sugar." A strong smell of Horlicks fills the room as I tentatively
spin the lever, careful to keep the temperature at 64.5ûC.

Beyond the industrial sound of rushing water, the distillery manager
Keith Cruickshank paces down the floor. "How we doing?" he asks. "Make
a mess of this and you’ll throw the whole operation out."

Welcome to Speyside – the engine room of the Scotch malt whisky
industry. As the three of us peer nervously into a churning mash tun,
around us the region hums with the noise of hundreds of distilleries,
many of them working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, sweating it out
to meet the growing demand for Scotland’s golden spirit. These are good
times for Scotch whisky.

Last year exports of Scotch generated a record £2.5 billion, with
nearly 90 million cases exported worldwide. To put that into context,
for every second in the day the equivalent of 33 bottles are shipped
overseas, earning the industry £78 – or £6,739,200 a day. Laid end to
end, those bottles would stretch from Perth, Scotland, to Perth,
Australia.

Industry analysts say this could be the beginning of something even
greater. On the horizon lie India and China, two of the biggest spirits
markets in the world. In just ten years, growth in China has risen from
0.7 million litres to 5.7 million litres, fuelled by a burgeoning
middle class which has acquired a taste for whisky. In India the
potential is even greater. While the Chinese still predominantly drink
beer, India is largely a brown-spirit-drinking culture. Attend a dinner
party in Mumbai and you are more likely to be served a glass of whisky
than wine or beer. The prize is massive.

To China and India can be added renewed demand from South America,
eastern Europe, Russia and, of course, the United States. Suddenly,
owning a distillery doesn’t look such a bad investment.

Continue Reading >>

Glenmorangie Update

In regard to the recent posting on the Glenmorangie changes, a trusted source tells me:

The Herald Article, and your subsequent posts relating to it, is not accurate.  I am embargoed to say anything at this time. But, when the info is released in a more formal and legitimate way in the near future, what they are doing will make more sense.

This could be interesting. Stay tuned.

More on the Glenmorangie "make-over"

According to a story in the August 7th Herald, the
results of the Glenmorangie "extreme makeover" will be rolled out this
coming October.

Included are some REALLY risky changes:

  • They plan to reinvent themselves as a "luxury brand" and focus overseas.
  • The Port, Sherry, Madeira and Burgundy Wood Finish
    whiskies will be relaunched under new names such as The Quinta Ruban,
    Nectar d’Or and LaSanta.
  • The bottles have been redesigned and will look like "curvy
    cognac bottles", according to a company source.
  • Rumors speak to plans to increase the price of a bottle of single
    malt by £10 to support the placement as an exclusive luxury brand.

According to one "company source":

"The company seems willing to take the risk of losing market
position in Scotland if it means capturing bigger and more lucrative
markets abroad."

At least they understand and are planning for the inevitable fall from the position of Scotland’s #1 single malt.

As much as I chide the industry for using
"Castles and kilts" in marketing, I’m not sure becoming a different
nationality is the right answer either. Will this work overseas? Only
the right combination of an astounding marketing budget combined with
an easily swayed, status-seeking consumer base – and perhaps product
placement with the right celebrity will ensure this.

It could work.

And if it does . . . get ready for as many copy-cats as the last time Glenmorangie tried something risky – those much maligned "wood finishes"

Read the full article here.

Best of: Screw (Cap) This (Part 1)

A recent email from a reader asking about whether it was a good idea to store his whisky on its side reminded me that we were due to revisit this series….


Originally Posted April 21, 2006

Screw (Cap) This [Pt. 1]

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?

Continue Reading >>

Cases of Kilchoman

I was recently notified that Kilchoman Distillery has stopped offering casks for sale.

They are instead offering a limited edition release of their Single Malt at five years of age.

There will be 1,540 cases available at a cost of £165.00 per (a case of whisky is 6 – 700 milliliter bottles).

The offering is for a 2006 distillation run, which will be bottled in 2011.

GENERALLY these offers are not extended to the US, as it is a phenomenal pain in the ass getting liquor into the country (due to our ridiculous laws), but the offer doesn’t mention any geographic exclusions. I’d check with Kilchoman.

Interested? Here is the order form

or you can email Thomasina Glover for more details.