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Whisky News, June 2009

by Gavin D Smith

Dram Good Stats

Despite the prevailing economic doom and gloom, the Scotch Whisky Association's latest figures for Scotch whisky exports make encouraging reading. Global exports rose by eight per cent during 2008, breaking the £3 billion barrier for the first time, with exports earning £97 a second for the UK balance of trade. For the fourth consecutive year, both bottled malt (up nine per cent to £497m) and bottled blended Scotch whisky (up nine per cent to £2.43bn) exports increased in value, and this increase was achieved despite a five per cent reduction in export volume, reflecting the industry's investment in premiumisation over recent years. Overall, the equivalent of 1,080 million bottles of Scotch
whisky were shipped overseas, the industry's second-best ever volume performance. After publication of the new figures, Paul Walsh, chairman of The Scotch Whisky Association, noted that "Scotch Whisky exports have proved to be resilient in the face of difficult economic conditions in a range of markets. To achieve record export value at such a time is quite an achievement and underscores just how important the industry is to the UK economy. I am convinced that the major investments made by distillers will stand us in good stead for the return to better economic times. As that happens, whisky will play a leading role in exporting the economy out of recession."

Glenfiddich Explorers

Glenfiddich, the world's leading single malt Scotch whisky, has recently launched an online whisky community at According to the distillers, “Premium whisky, like fine wine, isn't always the easiest sphere to penetrate. Ever been left standing at the bar feeling as though you'd like to contribute more to the discussion? Thanks to the newly launched - and aptly named - Glenfiddich Explorers site you can now join the club and instigate a conversation. "Packed with facts, recommendations and first hand
insights, the site will take you on an interactive journey of discovery, allowing you to explore the world of whisky and enhance your enjoyment and knowledge of single malts, with a single click.” Utadi Murphy, William Grant & Sons' Global Relationship Marketing Manager says that “The launch of Explorers is a really exciting step for us and one which will provide visitors with stimulating insights into the pleasures of whisky drinking and the distinctive taste of Glenfiddich. It follows the launch, earlier this year, of The Balvenie's new website, which features an online Whisky Shelf called Warehouse 24, and offers visitors the opportunity to rate and share notes on thousands of different single malt whiskies.”

Whisky Experience

Last month Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond officially opened the newly refurbished Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh, and welcomed home the 'World's Largest Collection of Scotch Whiskies.' Following a major, £3 million facelift, the five-star visitor attraction on the Royal Mile now includes a state-of-the-art barrel ride, sensory rooms, private whisky tasting rooms, a new area with panoramic views over
the city and the 3,384-bottle Diageo Claive Vidiz Scotch Whisky Collection. Collected over 35 years by Brazilian businessman Claive Vidiz, and purchased by Diageo, the Collection is on exclusive loan to the Scotch Whisky Experience. Showcased in a bespoke vault, it provides an important anthology of Scotch whisky, now on public display for the first time. Speaking about the collection, Bryan Donaghey, Managing Director of Diageo Scotland says “We are delighted to have worked with Claive to bring this wonderful collection safely back to Scotland and to play a part in preserving its legacy and historic significance.” On opening the revamped Experience, First Minister Alex Salmond said that “Whisky is a truly unique product and one of Scotland's most iconic contributions to the world. It is a high quality product which has hugely influenced Scotland's heritage, culture and economy.”

NAS Rolls out the Barrel

If you happen to be in Edinburgh visiting the Scotch Whisky Experience during the next few weeks it is well worth crossing into the 'New Town' and paying a visit to the National Archives Scotland's (NAS) West Register House on Charlotte Square, where the fascinating free exhibition From the Vaults: Whisky and the Scots runs until 26th June. A spokesperson for the NAS says that “We have taken the opportunity to display the parchment Exchequer Roll of 1494, the earliest document to mention whisky. This famous reference records how Friar John Cor was allowed eight bolls of malt from royal lands in Fife for making 'aquavite'. The roll is not normally on display because of its fragility and age, so this is a rare chance to see this iconic document from our vaults. "Find out about getting whisky and soda on prescription in 1913, and the true story behind 'Whisky Galore', when whisky was
'salvaged' from the SS Politician in 1941. A final highlight illustrates the work of Scotland's most famous exciseman, Robert Burns: the official ledger containing the poet's last signatures for his salary shortly before his death in July 1796.” Material from the NAS' own collection has been supplemented by items from Diageo plc, John Dewar & Sons Ltd, and a private collector. The exhibition is a collaboration between The National Archives of Scotland, Diageo, Dewar's and the Scotch Whisky Association.

Things to do in Denver

Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey is one of the success stories of the US micro-distilling movement, earning the accolade 'Best Small Batch Distillery Whiskey of the Year' in Jim Murray's Whiskey Bible 2009, as well as 'Best of Show' award at the 5th Annual American Distilling Institute Conference. According to its distillers, “Setting a new classification for whiskey, Stranahan's unique distilling techniques blend the processes used to make both Scotch and Bourbon whiskeys in order to produce a straight Rocky Mountain whiskey.” Stranahan's has now outgrown its original Denver home, the first ever micro-distillery in the state of Colorado, and is in the process of moving to a 60,000-square-foot facility in the city's South Kalamath Street. The larger micro-distilling facility will enable Stranahan's to meet growing demand by adding new distilling equipment and increasing production. In addition, Stranahan's will now be able to produce its own 'distiller's wash,' or mash, which was formerly sourced externally. "This special four-barley fermented wash is part of what gives the Stranahan's recipe its distinctive flavour," says founder Jess Graber, "and we're thrilled that the demand for our unique small-batch whiskey has increased to the point where we need a larger facility."

Finger-laking Good

Staying in the world of US micro-distilling, a new distillery is up and running at Burdett, overlooking Seneca Lake, in upstate New York. The Finger Lakes Distilling Company is the largest craft distillery in the region and aims to produce a range of distilled spirits, including corn whiskey and small batch, aged whiskeys. The venture has been established by former New York State bank vice-president Brain McKenzie and master distiller and unrelated, self-styled “Southern Alabama farm boy” Thomas McKenzie. The McKenzies built their own malt kiln to produce malt for whiskey production, but, alas, it was destroyed by fire in April, though the distillers remain committed to on-site malting. New York State is now home to almost 300 wineries, 60 breweries, and a remarkable 24 licensed distilling operations, but
Finger Lakes is the first standalone distilling company - not associated with a winery - in the area. Follow the project's progress at

Whisky Reading

No fewer than three new, whisky-related titles to muse over this month, starting with Ian Macilwain's lavish Bottled History. Subtitled 'Feints, fellows and photographs,' this is a superb visual record of what the author describes as “Vestiges of a disappearing era in Scottish malt whisky distilleries.” This concern for recording and preserving in photographic form is backed up by a series of absorbing interviews with retired distillery employees. A 'must-have' for everyone with even a passing interest in the heritage of Scotch whisky. (£30.00, Gavin D Smith may be credited with pioneering the idea of recording the stories of long-standing and former distillery employees, as
published in his Whisky Men volume, and the second of our new books this month is also by Smith. Strictly-speaking, this is not a new book, as The A-Z of Whisky first appeared in 1993 under the title Whisky: A Book of Words and was then published in paperback format in 1997. However, as Smith notes in the introduction to the new edition of A-Z, “Few things in life stay the same for very long, particularly in competitive commercial environments, and so it is that the whisky industries of the world have changed significantly since the first edition of this book was published as Whisky: A Book of Words back in 1993.” This latest edition takes cognisance of those changes, embracing a thorough updating of the existing text and the addition of more than 70 entirely new entries, running to in excess of 12,000 words. If you own a copy of the existing A-Z you really need to update - especially if you want to discover exactly what 'chimb' and 'zymurgy' are! (£9.99, Our third 'book of the month' is not exactly a whisky book, but it was inspired by periods spent on the island of Jura, courtesy of the Jura Malt Whisky Writer's Retreat, based at the magnificently-restored Jura Lodge, adjacent to the island's distillery. Spirit of Jura is a collection of poems, stories and essays by authors including Will Self, Janice Galloway and John Burnside, inspired by their stays on the island where Gorge Orwell famously write 1984. Philip McTeer, Marketing Manager of Jura single malt, says “The publication of this book is the result of mystical inspiration reaching some of the most creative minds of recent times while on the island. The book will give readers a chance to see what one of the most inspiring settings in Scotland can do for writers and poets and allows them to share our enjoyment of that work. “We have always said that Jura and Jura malt whisky help creative expression, but while other brands may claim the 'creative' label, none have an island so steeped in literary tradition and storytelling myths to substantiate those claims.” (£9.99, Polygon).

And Finally…

Something for the true whisky connoisseur. The Edinburgh Tea and Coffee Company, in association with the Cuillin Hills Hotel on the Isle of Skye, has developed what it claims is the perfect coffee to complement single malts. Aided by Talikser distillery, a full-bodied, medium dark roast blend has been created, using Indonesian and South American beans. “We wanted to develop a coffee to complement and showcase malt whisky as the ideal after-dinner drink, and this coffee certainly does that,” declares Peter Sim, general manager of the Cuillin Hills Hotel. “Even Islay whiskies are enhanced, and that's saying something!” The only drawback is that at present The Cuillin Hills Blend is exclusively available at the hotel in Portree (tel. + 44 (0) 1478 612003), so it looks as though here at 'whisky-pages' it's another evening of Macallan and Maxwell House…

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