gavin smith

 home    about    forum    tasted    features    whisky A-Z    directory    books    links    sign-up    beer    wine

    stories news


Whisky News, April 2009

by Gavin D Smith

English Drams

The first whisky produced at St George's distillery by the English Whisky Company in Norfolk officially comes of age at the end of this year, and 349 cases of the three-year-old are available in time for Christmas. Orders are currently being taken, and demand is strong. Additionally, bottlings of new and young spirit from St George's distillery are on sale, comprising unpeated and peated (to a powerful 50ppm) formats of both 'new make' and spirit which has been matured for 18 months. The first run from St George's pair of stills took place in December 2006, and an average of 13 casks per week is now being filled. Andrew Nelstrop is managing director of the family-owned English Whisky Company, and he says “We're satisfied that we have made it this far. The quality is excellent and this really is an English product. Our whisky is made through a slow and gentle process.” For more details about the pre-Christmas release visit

Sweeter Still

Having installed four new stills, as reported here recently, Glenmorangie distillery readied them for production with a pleasing nod to age-old tradition. The custom of 'sweetening the stills' took place at the end of March, and involved 'christening' them with a unique botanical recipe of herbs and heather. The last man to sweeten the stills at the distillery in 1990 was the late John Murray, one of the famous '16 Men of Tain' of advertising
fame, and the honour has been handed on to his son, Dougie. Dougie Murray and Glenmorangie manager Andy Macdonald gathered heather from nearby Morangie Hill and lichen from Tarlogie springs for the private ceremony, in which the herbs were immersed in boiling water and distilled through the stills. Andy Macdonald says that "This respected whisky ritual has been carried out at the distillery for as long as the men can remember. While the sweetening of the stills is regarded by some as a good luck charm, its heritage is very deep-rooted and it serves to prime the copper and add to the sweetness of the product that Glenmorangie is synonymous with. “We have a commitment and responsibility to protect the integrity of the whisky as well as the celebrated art of distilling, and sweetening the stills is a traditional aspect of this. It is even more touching that Dougie has taken over from his father to carry on the tradition.” Dougie Murray adds that “I remember my father talking about the sweetening of the stills when it last happened in 1990. He was immensely honoured to be involved and loved the attention surrounding it. It means a great deal to me to be able to carry on this Glenmoranige tradition which is now also a family tradition, and I know my father would have been very proud.”

Whisky Tourism

Figures released recently by ScotlandWhisky - the national whisky tourism organisation - reveal a trend-bucking picture for distillery visitor centres. The data shows that 1,236,329 visitors toured a distillery during 2008, a 0.21% increase in numbers over the previous year. More significantly, spend increased by 12.2% - boosting the Scottish economy by some £25 million.
Commenting on the figures, Chris Conway of ScotlandWhisky notes that "Visiting a distillery remains one of the 'must-do' activities for tourists in Scotland. The number of visitors has held out strongly in what are difficult conditions - VisitScotland research reports a 4.1% decrease in numbers during 2008 - and the impressive spend figure reflects the investment that distillers have made in their visitor centres over the last few years. "There is a real thirst for knowledge, with enthusiasts and novices alike wanting to learn as much as possible about the making of Scotch whisky. Distillers continue to innovate to meet this demand and have introduced a whole selection of tours to satisfy consumers' growing interest in all aspects of Scotch. In addition to general tours, many have introduced in-depth master-classes, often hosted by the distillery manager, which offer the public an opportunity to explore overlooked parts of distilleries and sample rare bottlings."

Park Repatriation

Highland Park's Bicentenary 1977 Vintage bottling, released in 1998, soon became a collectors' classic, and having originally sold for £69.99, can now fetch £300 at auction. However, anyone who missed out on the original offering, or is hoarding their bottles as a more lucrative investment than money in a bank account, can buy this notable 21-year-old Orcadian malt once again. According to Gerry Tosh of Highland Park, “A significant proportion of the Bicentenary 1977 Vintage had made the long journey to Tokyo and some bottles were set aside for tasting and sampling. However, the Japanese allocation sold out with this reserved stock barely being touched. The existence of this forgotten cache of 694 bottles only came to light late last year. “We decided to repatriate the Bicentenary 1977 Vintage, to celebrate its extended Japanese sabbatical and to offer the opportunity to enjoy this highly-prized and sought-after whisky to a new audience. “The Repatriation bottling has been repackaged as a coming together of Japanese and Orcadian culture; it is presented in a bespoke oak box, the embellishment of which follows classic Japanese graphic form. The front of the box features an outline of Japan as well as 1977 depicted in
Japanese characters. The use of red as an extra colour is typically Japanese. The design is completed with Japanese characters spelling out the words Highland Park. I am delighted to have another opportunity to enjoy my very favourite Highland Park of all time - and I hope you take this rare chance too. Kampai!" The release consists of 694 bottles, available for £250 at

Ballantine's to a Tee

Ballantine's, the world's second-best selling Scotch whisky, is celebrating a milestone event in the brand's 180 year history following the creation of the 2009 Ballantine's Championship Blend. Created by Sandy Hyslop, Ballantine's fifth master blender, and golfer Graeme McDowell (pictured), the winner of the inaugural Ballantine's Championship last year, the unique 35 Year Old Scotch represents the first time in history that anyone outside the company's own team has collaborated with a master blender. Only 15 limited-edition bottles will be produced, due to the scarcity of the whiskies contained in
the blend, and one precious bottle will be presented to the winner of the 2009 Ballantine's Championship. According to a Ballantine's spokesman, “Continuing the long-term relationship Ballantine's Scotch is developing with the world of golf, the 2009 Ballantine's Championship Blend brings together the shared passion, expertise and flair of two globally respected professions and will commemorate the second Ballantine's Championship taking place in Korea during April.” Sandy Hyslop says that “This is a first not only for Ballantine's but across the entire Chivas Brothers' portfolio. It is one of the rarest blends I've ever created and contains some of the oldest samples from our inventory of over six million casks of ageing whisky. For example, we included two very old grain whiskies from Strathclyde and Dumbarton, the latter distillery no longer in production. Although the age stated on the bottle is 35 years, there are older whiskies contained in the blend. “Graeme did a fantastic job. He knew exactly what he liked and the result is an exceptional blend that fits perfectly in the Ballantine's range. While Ballantine's fingerprint malts Glenburgie and Miltonduff maintain the soft, fruity and smooth characteristics of the Ballantine's portfolio, a little Sherry-matured Longmorn was one of Graeme's favourites and it adds an appealing sweet edge.” Graeme McDowell declares that “I feel privileged to be part of Ballantine's history. Sandy was an excellent teacher and really helped me understand the nose of each sample so that I could create a 'top dressing' to his carefully crafted Ballantine's base.”

And Finally…

As if English whisky was not bad enough for Scotch-drinking traditionalists, Panama-based Scottish Spirits Ltd has recently launched ArKay non-alcoholic whisky, specifically intended to target Muslim consumers around the world. It is Halal- approved and its producers anticipate sales in excess of one million cases this year, rising to five million by 2012. “The non-alcohol whisky tastes and looks exactly like traditional Scotch whisky” they claim. “It is suitable for drinking straight up or with soda, tea or other mixers and is the result of 10 years of research and development.” Owner of Scottish Spirits Ltd, Kevin Grattagliano Katz, says that “This product is perfect for markets such as Middle Eastern countries, Pakistan, Indonesia and any other country where there is a large Muslim population, which represents a market of around 1.3 billion people. The whisky is also perfect for men and women anywhere who prefer non-alcoholic beverages. We are very pleased to offer something truly unique and exceptional to our Muslim friends.” Less pleased is the Scotch Whisky Association, whose spokesman claims “It is not possible to make alcohol-free whisky. This company is trying to exploit whisky's reputation with highly irresponsible marketing.” Be salamati! as they say down Medina way…

 home    about    forum    tasted    features    whisky A-Z    directory    books    links    sign-up    beer    wine