Whisky News, February 2011
by Gavin D Smith
Ice work if you can get it
Three bottles of Mackinlay's whisky which accompanied Ernest Shackleton on his abortive 1907 expedition to the South Pole have been sent to current brand owner Whyte & Mackay for analysis and examination.
Having spent more than a century encased in Antarctic ice, the bottles were returned to Scotland in Whyte & Mackay owner Dr Vijay Mallya's private jet, after the Antarctic Heritage Trust refused to allow the precious liquid to travel in the hold of a plane. Indeed, Dr Mallya personally collected the bottles, which will ultimately be returned to Shackleton's hut, where it was discovered last year.
Before that, however, Master Blender Richard Paterson is spending several weeks 'deconstructing' the whisky, determining the malt and grain percentages and the likely single malts that went into the blend. It is hoped that a facsimile of the whisky may eventually be created, based on Paterson's work.
"Never in the history of our industry have we had a century old bottle of whisky stored in a natural fridge and subjected to some of the harshest conditions on this planet," says Paterson. "It is an absolute honour to be able to use my experience to analyse this amazing spirit for the benefit of the Trust and the whisky industry."
Staying with Scotch and ice, the Old Pulteney single malt brand and explorer Jock Wishart have revealed the winner of Pole Position, their global competition to find the sixth and final crew member of a pioneering arctic expedition - The Old Pulteney Row to the Pole.
David Mans, a 28 year old army officer from Hampshire, was crowned the Pole Position winner at the London Boat Show 2011 on Friday 7th January. He will join Jock Wishart during the summer, as he attempts one of the world's last remaining 'firsts': an unsupported row to the magnetic North Pole.
According to an Old Pulteney spokesperson, "In a specially designed ice boat, David Mans will take his place in the team of six who will set off from Resolute Bay in Canada on a 450 mile route across the arctic on a voyage which if successful, will make history.
"The challenge is of global significance, as both a pioneering maritime adventure and an environmental expedition - which is only now possible due to the increase in seasonal ice melt and its deterioration due to climate change."
Old Pulteney's partnership with Jock Wishart is rooted in the whisky's maritime heritage and history of supporting sailing and seafaring adventure. It is distilled in the most northerly distillery on the UK mainland and the windswept and rugged landscape that surrounds it has given the malt its legacy as the 'Maritime Malt.' For more details visit www.rowtothepole.com
The family-owned Speyside distillery of Glenfarclas is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year, and has issued a limited edition bottling to mark the occasion. The distillery was first licensed in 1836, and has been owned by the Grant family since 1865. Chairman John Grant represents the fifth generation of Grants to run Glenfarclas, and his son, George, is carrying on the dynasty, currently working as brand ambassador.
Just 6,000 bottles of 43%abv 'Glenfarclas 175' have been produced, and the new expression contains whisky from the oldest casks held by the distillery, dating from 1952, along with three casks from each of the following five decades. It sells for around £75.00 in the UK and is also available in limited quantities worldwide.
"Amber heather honey in colour," according to John Grant, "with toffee and vanilla aromas which become more pronounced the longer the whisky rests in your glass. The taste marries the heavy Sherry from the 1950s and 1960s with the light fruitiness of the 1970s and 1980s, the freshness of the 1990s and the surprising maturity of the youngest casks from 2000."
Midleton Pot Still
Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea, new releases are also the order of the day at Irish Distillers' Midleton distillery in County Cork. Two single cask, pot still whiskeys have been released under the
Midleton banner, more usually associated with annual vintage releases of Midleton Very Rare.
The new expressions have been created exclusively for two customers, the Irish Whiskey Collection shop, which is located in the recently-opened Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport, and The Celtic
Whiskey Shop, in Dublin's Dawson Street.
Just 200 bottles of the Terminal 2 release were yielded by cask no. 48709. This 19-year-old single pot still whiskey was laid down in November 1991 in a first-fill American Bourbon barrel and has, in a new departure for the Midleton brand, been bottled at cask strength (53.7% ABV). According to Irish Distillers, "The whiskey reveals a dark, fleshy fruit character in perfect balance with the underlying pot still spiciness. The impressive presentation box includes a portion of stave from the barrel in which the whiskey spent its life maturing. Each bottle is individually numbered and retails at €260."
The Celtic Whiskey Shop release was laid down in December 1996, also in a first-fill American Bourbon barrel, and has been bottled at 46.0% ABV. Irish Distillers notes that "This slightly lighter style offers green apples and banana on the palate. Just 270 individually numbered bottles have been made available, retailing at €225 each."
Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard CEO Alex Ricard says that "Connoisseurs of fine spirits have always eagerly awaited the annual vintage release of Midleton Very Rare, and with these new single cask, single pot still expressions, we are giving consumers more opportunities to experience the wonderful whiskey complexities of Midleton. Due to their rarity, we expect a high amount of interest."
Luxury small-group tour company Rabbie's Trail Burners has recently launched two new whisky-themed tours, which each last for eight days and embrace the most famous whisky-producing regions of Scotland.
The Whisky Coast Explorer tour includes the opportunity to visit a number of distilleries in Highland, Islay and Island regions, including Kilchoman, Bruichladdich, Bowmore, Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Oban.
According to a company spokesperson, "First, visit the beautiful island of Islay, renowned for its peaty, smoky malt whiskies before enjoying a four island feast including the rolling mountains of Mull, the spiritual and ever peaceful island of Iona, the extraordinary view over the dramatic basalt columns on Staffa and the majestic rugged landscapes of Skye."
"The Islay, Edinburgh and Speyside tour starts by taking in the famous Islay distilleries of Bowmore, Kilchoman, Bruichladdich, Ardbeg and Laphroig followed by a trip to Oban, and its distillery," says the spokesperson. "The next two nights are spent soaking up culture and history in the city of Edinburgh, where guests can continue the whisky theme with a visit to The Scotch Malt Whisky Experience to see the world's largest whisky collection of over 3,000 bottles.
"The tour then continues north to Speyside, home to more than half of Scotland's malt whisky distilleries, including stops at Dalwhinnie, Benromach and Glenlivet as well as the Speyside Cooperage to see how barrels are made. The tour also takes in Loch Fyne, Loch Lomond, Cairngorm National Park, Balmoral and historic Dunkeld".
Tours - comprising no more than 26 people - depart from Edinburgh and Glasgow on Fridays (returning to Edinburgh only), starting from 29 April 2011, and more information is available at www.rabbies.com
Smokehead Flying High
Modern rock band The Sons of Icarus has been crowned the first ever winner of the UK's largest unsigned band competition, the Marshall Ultimate Band Contest (UBC), sponsored by Marshall Amps, the Lick Library and Smokehead Islay Single Malt Whisky.
The UBC culminated in a live gig at Marshall's Milton Keynes headquarters, where five finalists went head to head, with The Sons of Icarus being voted unequivocal champions. The group wins not only the honour of being the first ever Marshall Ultimate Band but also gains a full Marshall Endorsement - previously bestowed on the likes of Slash and Jimi Hendrix.
The Sons of Icarus will also receive a substantial equipment loan, a limited edition bottle of Smokehead Extra Black each, Lick Library DVDs, a re-master of four tracks by famed Metropolis Studio and a 'covermount' CD by Classic Rock Magazine.
Iain Weir, Marketing Director of Smokehead Whisky and UBC judge says "We were thrilled to be able support the first ever UBC and The Sons of Icarus were deserving winners. Over the last 12 months we have increasingly grown Smokehead's rock credentials, not only with our work with Marshall and Lick Library but also by our continued support of key events in the rock calendar including the Classic Rock Hall of Fame Awards. The Marshall UBC was a great success and we cannot wait until Year Two of the Marshall Ultimate Band Contest - this is just the beginning."
Texas is currently home to ten craft distilleries, three of which make whiskey. Nonetheless, very few of the inhabitants of the USA's second-largest state have sampled their native whiskeys.
However, that is set to change if Mark McDavid, owner of San Antonio-based Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, gets his way.
McDavid is keen to develop a Texas Whiskey Trail, along the lines of the highly successful Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and hopes that Texas Bourbon can eventually become a legally recognised category.
We really believe the concept has legs," says McDavid. "Our goal is to compete with Tennessee whiskey and Kentucky Bourbon. There are 24 million Texans, and a lot of them drink Bourbon,"
While many US micro-distillers produce white spirits to generate income as their whiskeys mature, Ranger Creek, which opened for business last September, prefers to concentrate on beers. The company brews strong ale, oatmeal pale ale, smoked porter and lager in what it describes as its 'brewstillery.'
However, whiskey is McDavid's real passion and he explains that "Our flagship whiskey will be a traditional straight Bourbon whiskey, aged using traditional methods. As with all Bourbon, corn is the primary grain, but we also use rye as our flavour grain to give our Bourbon a spicy undertone. Our flagship will need to age for at least two years. While the first batches could be ready as early as 2012, you can't really predict when whiskey will be finished maturing
"Since we're a bit impatient, we'll be releasing a series of innovative, experimental whiskeys prior to the release of our Bourbon. We are a craft distillery, so we plan to take an innovative approach to these products and use new ideas and local ingredients as much as possible. These limited edition products will start the conversation between us and Texas whiskey drinkers to discuss what we all like and want in Texas whiskey."
For more information visit www.drinkrangercreek.com.
With sexism seeming to be all the rage these days (get me another dram while you're in the kitchen will you, love?) it is heart warming to note that the world of Scotch whisky is proving increasingly attractive to the ladies, bless them.
A new study by supermarket giant Asda reveals that a remarkable 35 per cent of women would choose whisky in preference to any other drink, with 60 per cent declaring that their fondness for it
came about due to their male partner having whisky in the house.
Asda's spirits buyer Chris Brooks says that "It's fantastic to see a drink which in the past has been so strongly associated with men being enjoyed by an entirely new demographic."
Well, absolutely. But I'm still waiting for that dram, darlin'...