gavin smith

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Whisky News, January 2007

by Gavin D Smith

Mellerstain Malt?

Lowland malts have long been considered deeply unfashionable, but perhaps that situation is finally changing. The ranks of Lowland distilleries have already been swelled recently by the establishment of Daftmill in Fife, while work is ongoing on the neighbouring Ladybank distillery site, now likely to start producing spirit during 2008. The latest Lowland news concerns a projected distillery on the Earl of Haddington's Mellerstain estate, near Kelso in the Scottish Borders. Three potential sites have been identified, with
Mellerstain the most likely to be given the planning green light, and the Earl is working in partnership with former Diageo production director Alan Rutherford to establish a distillery with the now obligatory shop and visitor facilities. Investment of £1 million is currently being sought, but it is said that if all goes well the first spirit could be flowing next year. Inevitably, however, all rarely goes well with such ventures, and projected time scales for completion of the ongoing Ladybank, Shetland and Lake District distillery projects have all proved wildly optimistic.

DramFest, NZ

   Some of the world's leading Scotch whisky experts are due in New Zealand for the country's first-ever whisky festival next month. DramFest 07 is to be held in Christchurch, and guests include Charlie MacLean and the Hon Alex Bruce, representing Adelphi Whiskies. The son of the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, he is a direct descendent of King Robert the Bruce. “We are thrilled with the calibre of people who are coming to the festival,” says Michael Fraser Milne (left), event organiser and owner of New Zealand's only dedicated whisky shop, 'Whisky Galore' in Christchurch. “The combined knowledge of our guests, from distilleries all over Scotland, from Ireland,
Japan and America, is extraordinary," he says. "Charles MacLean is one of the foremost whisky writers in the world. It is rare that we get to hear first-hand in New Zealand from people this knowledgeable about whisky." The festival will allow participants the choice of hundreds of whiskies as part of tasting and nosing sessions, and also includes a Whisky Dinner, cocktail competition, master classes and music as well as a nosing/tasting competition. Dram Fest 07, 23-24 February, Christchurch. See: and

Barrogill Blended Malt

Following on from the success of his Duchy Originals range of organic products, Prince Charles is due to launch his own 'North Highland Blended Malt' whisky under the Barrogill banner in the near future. Barrogill is the former name of the late Queen Mother's home of the Castle of Mey in Caithness, and since her death, Charles has taken to spending considerable amounts of time in the far north. He has gone so far as to launch the North Highlands Initiative, which is designed to support remote communities in the area. The Prince is a fan of Old Pulteney, distilled in the historic Caithness port of Wick, and the new blended malt has been created by Old Pulteney's owners, Inver House Distillers. Charles selected the whisky from a short list of four presented to him by Inver House, and the label features one of his own watercolours of of the Castle of Mey. According to Inver House, "This robust, complex whisky balances the various
characteristics of the distilleries of the area,” and it seems safe to assume that Old Pulteney and Balblair figure large in its make up. The Scotch Whisky Association's David Williams says that “Scotch whisky is clearly associated with local communities in the Highlands and it's good to see whisky being used to support this local initiative.” Barrogill North Highland Blended Malt is expected to sell for around £20 per bottle, with £1 of each sale going to the North Highlands Initiative.

Whisky Lahore

   One of the latest single malt releases to hit the shelves is a 21-year-old, described as having “…a crisp and mellow maltiness.” Don't get too excited, however, since it is distilled by the Murree Brewing Company in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, and is only available to the local population of non-Muslims and ex-pats, since the Islamabad government bans the export of alcohol. Pakistan is the only Muslim country in the world that distils malt whisky. Murree already produces well regarded eight and 12-year-old single malts, and the establishment is a legacy of British colonialism, having been set up in 1860 to brew beer for British troops based in the Murree hill station. The Murree Brewing Company's chief executive, Minocher Bhandara, declares that "Very few distilleries anywhere in the world, even the high-end ones in Scotland, produce 21-year-old malts. We went to Scotland to enlist their help in distilling our own whisky, but they said it was impossible because we needed special water quality. We decided to try anyway, and
concluded this water business was nonsense. Our whisky compares well with Scotch malts of equal age.” If any of you get the opportunity to try this 21-year-old dram, we would love to hear whether you think Bhandara's claims are justified.

Whisky Tales

Whisky Tales is the latest book from Charlie MacLean, and is, essentially, an expanded edition of his 2005 volume Whisky Miscellany. Nonetheless, this title is undoubtedly worth adding to your library, even if you purchased its predecessor. In addition to the existing essays on such diverse aspects of the subject as worm tubs and whisky's connection with royalty, MacLean has now included new chapters on elements of the whisky production process, along with a fascinating and illuminating piece on 'The Strange Story of Welsh Whisky.' The book also boasts 20 colour plates and many black and white drawings and engravings. As the publishers say, “...perfect weekend reading for all lovers of a dram or two, a book that should be consumed at leisure, in appreciative sips.” Warmly recommended. Little Books, £12.99

And Finally...

   If you thought whisky was just for drinking or collecting, then think again. Unless, of course, you have read Alan Warner's novel Morvern Caller and know that The Macallan may also be injected directly into the temples, though whisky-pages strongly urges you not to try this at home! Celebrity stress expert Bharti Vyas suggests a new use for the 'water of life,' saying, “Just put two drops of whisky in the palm of your hand, then rub it in with the fingers of your other hand, using the nail beds to create a hot friction. Continue for five minutes. The heat gets the whole body's system energised and immediately eases all the nerves of the body. It really is one of the best stress-busters.” Sounds ideal for when all those post-Christmas credit card bills start hitting the doormat…


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