gavin smith

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Whisky News, February 2010

by Gavin D Smith

More Managers' Choice

Following the launch of its first batch of single cask, Managers' Choice bottlings last September, Diageo has recently released a further seven expressions. These are a 1995 Blair Athol, a 1997 Cragganmore, a 1992 Dalwhinnie, a 1997 Dufftown, a 1996 Glen Spey, a 1996 Strathmill and a 1994 Talisker. Out-turns vary from 246 bottles (Cragganmore)
to 582 bottles (Talisker), with prices ranging from 200 to 300. A further two batches of releases are planned, and Diageo declares that "The project encompasses all 27 of Diageo's single malts - the first time that Scotland's biggest estate of single malt distilleries has issued a comprehensive series of single-cask bottlings. Each distillery is represented by a very restricted bottling of its single malt whisky drawn from one single cask, selected after a careful examination of distillery stocks. For each malt the cask was nosed, tasted, discussed and finally chosen as a highly distinctive expression of that distillery's single malts by a judging panel of acknowledged experts, including leading maturation experts and the distillery managers themselves. In many cases, unusual cask woods will have had their influence on the final result." Classic Malts Selection spokesperson Nick Morgan said: "As we said last year when the first batch of The Managers' Choice was launched, this is the most extensive collection we've ever released of single cask malt whisky bottling. "Our announcement last September provoked a great deal of interest and comment. The release was a huge success, with a number of customers asking for more allocation. It met all our commercial expectations: in some territories, these bottlings turned out to be the fastest-selling limited-edition single malt whisky bottlings we have ever launched. We expect the second batch, which like before offers both celebrated and lesser-known single malt whiskies, will also be very well received." Whisky-pages' dedicated tasting team will give its verdict on the latest bottlings in due course

Double Black

   Still with Diageo, the centenary of the introduction of Johnnie Walker Black Label is being marked by the release of Johnnie Walker Double Black, which is now available in selected airport global travel retail outlets. The new blend is on offer for a five-month trial period at Bangkok, Dubai, Lebanon, New York (JFK), Singapore and Sydney airports. Diageo says that "Johnnie Walker Double Black amplifies a trademark characteristic of Johnnie Walker Black Label, notably the smokiness, to deliver a new intensity in the liquid. The blend is created using peaty West Coast whiskies to particularly emphasise the smoky elements that have made Johnnie Walker whiskies famous." Jim Beveridge, master blender of Johnnie Walker whiskies and creator of Johnnie Walker Double Black, notes that "Johnnie Walker
Double Black takes Johnnie Walker Black Label as its starting point. Drawing on generations of blending and maturation expertise and with the keys to the largest, most diverse stocks of aged Scotch Whiskies in the world, I have created Johnnie Walker Double Black to be a new and complementary perspective on Black Label. "When creating Johnnie Walker Double Black I built on the house style of Johnnie Walker whiskies, their big taste and trademark smokiness. This was the character that was developed by three generations of Walkers in the 19th century, and owed much to the Walker's proximity to the West Coast whisky-producing regions that were traditionally home to the most strongly flavoured single malts. I then nuanced the original Walker recipe by adding more heavily peated malt whiskies, and by choosing some that have been aged in deeply charred oak casks, to give the blend the additional intensity."

Whisky Shop

The Whisky Shop chain reports strong trading at the end of 2009 and plans to add two new stores to its existing six in England this year. The Glasgow-based company also has nine outlets in Scotland. Sales in England during December rose by 18 per
   ws (3K)
cent over the same month in 2008, while the comparative increase north of the border was 15 per cent. Internet sales over the Christmas period also recorded double digit growth, but, interestingly, Ian Bankier, executive chairman of The Whisky Shop's parent company GlenKeir Whiskies, is less enthused by internet whisky sales than many rival retailers. "Internet sales have been going up for the last four or five years," he notes, "and a lot of people big up internet sales as the way forward. But customers need interaction with our staff. People also don't like a 30-50 glass bottle in the post. The internet doesn't lend itself well to malt whisky trading." The Whisky Shop enjoyed a successful 2009 in general, due to the strength of the euro against the pound, the number of British visitors opting to holiday in Scotland, and the widely publicised Homecoming Scotland celebrations.

Vintage Glenfiddichs

   Although most widely known for its best-selling 12-year-old Special Reserve, Glenfiddich also offers an extensive range of older and rarer whiskies, and has just announced new releases of 30-year-old and 40-year-old expressions. A company spokesperson notes that "This year, for the first time, each bottle of Glenfiddich 30 Year Old will bear an individual bottle number and batch number which will allow us to identify precisely which Glenfiddich casks our Malt Master selected to marry together to create that bottle of Glenfiddich 30 Year Old. "During the 1970s David Stewart, our then Malt Master, carefully laid down a selection of spirit to mature in Bourbon and Oloroso sherry oak casks. We estimate that each cask of single malt that has gone in to creating Glenfiddich 30 Year Old has been nosed and tasted at least five or six times over the past 30 years by David Stewart, Glenfiddich's long-standing former Malt Master and, more recently, the distillery's new Malt Master, Brian Kinsman, who served an eight year apprenticeship to David". Kinsman declares that "Time permeates everything we do at Glenfiddich. To us, it is a
precious commodity, not something to be underestimated. William Grant appreciated that the mark of a great distiller is one who understands the slow but inexorable rewards of time - and this appreciation is still very much a part of life today. I am just one of two Malt Masters who has personally attended to the Glenfiddich 30 Year Old and it has been a great honour to be a part of Glenfiddich's world renowned, time-honoured whisky-making tradition." Meanwhile, the latest release of Glenfiddich 40 Year Old is the sixth to be marketed, and just 600 bottles are available on a global basis. Peter Gordon, the current Chairman and fifth generation descendent of the distillery's founder and great-great-grandson of William Grant, comments that "At Glenfiddich we pride ourselves on our pioneering spirit and exacting standards. The Glenfiddich 40 Year Old is truly testament to this and to our aim to produce the 'best dram in the valley'. It is a great honour to release such a distinguished whisky to enthusiasts around the world and add to our existing portfolio of rare and precious aged single malts." The presentation of Glenfiddich 40 Year Old features uniquely shaped bottles, which have a thick glass base, are individually numbered, hand-signed, sealed with a wax security tag and inlaid with a copper badge. Encased in a hand-stitched, calf leather case, the outer packaging features details echoing historical packaging and distillery decoration. This package, complete with lock and key, comes with a matching leather-bound book detailing the whisky's history and includes space for owners to record personal tasting notes. Also included is a correspondingly numbered certificate that has been hand-signed by Peter Gordon and four of the distillery's long-serving craftsmen, namely David Stewart, Don Ramsay, Eric Stephen and Dennis McBain. Glenfiddich 30 Year Old (43%ABV) retails at £225 per bottle, while 40 Year Old (45.8%ABV) sells for £1,700 per bottle.

Dewar's Legacy

The formative years of the Scotch whisky industry as we know it today threw up many colourful characters, but none more so than 'Whisky Tom' Dewar. Along with his brother, John, Tommy Dewar was at the forefront of the blended whisky revolution, and was one of the pioneers of the use of advertising for promotional purposes. Now, the story of John Dewar & Sons Ltd has been recorded in lavish style by Ian Buxton in a volume titled The Enduring Legacy of Dewars. This is an extensive company history, but avoids the pitfall of many such volumes, which are exhaustive yet less than enthralling for all but the most dedicated enthusiast. Buxton's book is always entertaining, as well as informative, and features a superb array of images
from the company's wonderful archive. Yet another 'must have' for the whisky lover's library. £19.99, The Angel's Share. buy at Amazon for £13.99

And finally... Ugly Betty

Anyone used to the sensuous curves and graceful swan's necks of most pot stills is in for a shock if they visit Bruichladdich. During recent still house renovations a fifth still has been installed, and it is far from pretty. It is a Lomond still, christened 'Ugly Betty' and described by 'Laddie' boss Mark Reynier as "a defunct experimental cross between a Coffey and a pot still." "It was designed with a thick column-like neck with removable sections inserted," he explains, "and the aim was to create more character and variety of styles of spirit by imitating the effect that
different lengths of still 'neck' would have. The versatile still had plates, like Roman blinds, which could be 'opened' and vary the angle of the lyne arm for lighter or heavier spirit." Bruichladdich's Lomond was salvaged from the now demolished Dumbarton distillery, which closed in 1991, and it was the first of its type, having been installed in 1956. It is now the only surviving, authentic Lomond still, and is to be equipped with a new neck, designed by production director Jim McEwan, and called the 'Silver Gattling.' Most of us already find it difficult to keep up with the vigorous programme of releases from Bruichladdich. Imagine how many more permutations are likely to hit the shelves when they have Lomond still spirit to throw into the mix!

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