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Whisky News, August 2009

Home of Malt

Perhaps keen to earn some 'brownie points' in Scotland following its controversial decision to close the Kilmarnock packaging plant and Port Dundas grain distillery, Diageo has been in discussions with Moray MP Angus Robertson to help promote Speyside as the 'Home of Malt.'  
Robertson says that "Moray is home to some of the greatest national food and drink brands and is a draw for its natural beauty. If everyone pulls together to fulfil its potential, we could see a significant economical boost to the region and the whisky industry, as well as the brands produced here." Earlier this year, Robertson talked to 'whisky-pages' about his desire to see a greater degree of 'joined up thinking' in the promotion of Speyside Scotch whisky and other local attractions. Recently, he has talked with a number of senior Diageo personnel in Scotland, including director of corporate relations, Ken Robertson. Diageo currently operates 17 malt whisky distilleries in the Speyside region. Following meetings with the Member of Parliament, Ken Robertson posed the question, "Could Moray be like the Napa Valley in America or some of the great regions of France, where you get to follow the wine trail? "How would you bring people here? What we are trying to do is think about what kind of aims we can have. Having lots of visitor centres is not the only thing we need to have in the area. You need other experiences that can entertain more people and keep them in the area for the week. I think the area is a fantastic natural larder and we can certainly do more with the combination of food and whisky because they are both centred on flavours." Having enlisted Diageo's support, Angus Robertson declares that "I am confident there is now a step change in engagement between the industry and local stakeholders." Watch this space for signs of practical progress.

Motion of Confidence

The Edrington Group's master blender John Ramsay has retired from his prestigious role, after spending 43 years in the business, beginning at Strathclyde distillery in Glasgow during 1966. One of the quiet men of Scotch whisky blending, Ramsay is succeeded by his long-standing protégé Gordon Motion. John Ramsay was the recipient of Whisky Magazine's 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award, and he declares that "I'm most proud of the development of the Famous Grouse Malt range, culminating in the winning of the Malts Trophy at the International Spirits Challenge in  
2007 - effectively the best whisky in the world at that time of judging. Looking back, there are a number of highlights that really stand out, from creating Highland Park 18, 25 and most recently 40-year-old expressions and moving The Glenrothes whisky to a vintage. "I'm now looking forward to having more time to practice my golf and get my handicap down a bit. I've had an immensely enjoyable career with The Edrington Group, which has taken me all around the world, and I would like to extend thanks to all of my colleagues who have been such a fantastic support." Gordon Motion declares that "It's an incredible privilege to be the successor to John Ramsay, the doyen of blenders. John has been an inspiring mentor to me over the last ten years, working as his assistant and particularly over the last two and a half years as I've stepped into the master blender role." John Ramsay notes that "I have absolute confidence in Gordon; he has the natural ability combined with the passion and ambition to make a very successful master blender and I wish him all the best in his new role."

Macallan 1824

John Ramsay may be practicing his putting on a golf course somewhere in the west of Scotland, but his blending legacy is to be found in the Macallan's new 1824 Collection. According to its producers, "The Macallan 1824 Collection is a new family of single malts from The Macallan. It has been developed exclusively for the brand's third largest market - Global Travel Retail - where it has been the fastest growing major single malt in the last five years and is currently ranked number two by volume. "The 1824 Collection of four expressions - Select Oak, Whisky Maker's Edition, Estate Reserve and 1824 Limited Release - offers the ultimate flavour journey for whisky lovers. Recommended retail prices range from 46 to 1,450 Euros."  
The 1824 Collection has been created by John Ramsay and Bob Dalgarno, The Macallan's Whisky Maker, and "Each expression illustrates a particular story about The Macallan's long and distinguished history," says a company spokesperson, "showcasing the spectrum of flavours and aromas associated with The Macallan, the world's most iconic whisky." William Ovens, The Edrington Group's Area Director, Global Travel Retail, comments that "The Macallan has enjoyed the most dynamic growth of any single malt in Travel Retail in recent years. In this period we have experienced significant success with some very innovative new products. The 1824 Collection opens a new chapter in the illustrious history of The Macallan and we are confident that consumers will react positively to this exclusive and eye catching new range." Samples are en route to 'whisky-pages' as we write, and we will share our impressions of them at the earliest opportunity.

First for Kilchoman

The Macallan is not the only distillery announcing new releases, though compared to the Speyside veteran, Kilchoman is a very new kid on the block indeed. On 9th September the Islay distillery, which began production late in 2005, will release its inaugural single malt whisky, and anticipation of the release has been growing since a bottle  
from the first cask filled at the distillery was auctioned on Kilchoman's open day during Feis Ile, the Islay whisky festival, in May this year. A number of collectors and whisky enthusiasts were present for the auction, and the bottle eventually sold for an extraordinary £5,400. Annual production at Kilchoman is between 90,000 and 100,000 litres of alcohol, and 30 per cent of the spirit is distilled from barley grown and malted at the distillery, with the balance coming from the Port Ellen Maltings. The two malts are kept separate during distilling and Kilchoman plans to offer two different expressions of single malt. The whisky has been matured in fresh Bourbon barrels, before being finished for six months in Oloroso Sherry butts. In order to maximise flavour and texture, the single malt will be bottled at 46% abv, with natural colour, and it will be non-chill-filtered. According to Anthony Wills, the founder and managing director of Kilchoman, "The release of our first single malt is the culmination of a huge amount of hard work and we have strived to produce top quality spirit and fill into top quality wood. The reaction to the various releases of our spirit has been very encouraging and everyone connected with Kilchoman is looking forward to sharing our malt with whisky enthusiasts around the world."

Glass Act

Glencairn Crystal has recently unveiled an addition to its award-winning range of whisky glasses, and this time the west of Scotland manufacturer has turned its attentions to Canada. Glencairn has sold more than five million of its 'signature' Scotch whisky nosing and tasting glasses, which have effectively become the country's national whisky glass, embraced by virtually every producer in the industry. Now, the company has produced a vessel ideally suited to the appreciation of Canadian whisky, and an initial shipment of 250,000 glasses has already made the journey from East Kilbride, near Glasgow, to Ontario. The glass has been designed in association with the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), which is a Crown Corporation, charged with the control of sales and distribution of liquor in Ontario. The LCBO expressed an interest in developing a bespoke Canadian whisky glass, and, as Glencairn Crystal Studio's managing director Raymond Davidson explains, "Around a dozen designs were created by Glencairn, based on the brief from Canada, resulting in my son Scott and myself flying to Toronto to meet with the LCBO and the master distillers from the Canadian whisky industry, including Canadian Club and Forty Creek.  
"The LCBO wished to raise the profile of Canadian whisky at a time when emphasis was being placed on the quality of the spirit. The glass had to have some element of nosing, ability to detect the sweetness of Canadian whisky and to be able to accommodate ice and a mixer. "To allow the consumer to nose the whisky, if chosen, the waist was introduced and flares out slightly to deliver the whisky to the tip of the tongue. The capacity had to be able to take ice and mixer and still be comfortable in the hand. The most important element is to educate the consumer by assisting him or her to get the most from the experience. We believe the glass will be suitable for any whisky which requires ice or a mixer." Here at 'whisky-pages' we have been road tasting a sample of the new glass, using copious amounts of Toronto's own Crown Royal deluxe blend, both neat and served on the rocks. The verdict is that this is a capacious glass which sits nicely in the hand and certainly achieves its aims of delivering aromas and flavours in a targeted manner. It would also seem ideal for Bourbon, Irish or blended Scotch. Although so far only generally on sale in Canada, Raymond Davidson tells 'whisky-pages' that the Canadian glass is also available via the company website for approximately £5.00. See for more details.

Wyoming Whiskey

The US craft whiskey-making movement continues to grow, with Wyoming being the latest state to get its first distillery. According to its proprietors, "On July 4, 2009 in Kirby, Wyoming, 144 years of Wyoming heritage and 220 years of American Bourbon-making tradition collided in the Big Horn Basin. Under the direction of Master Distiller Steve Nally, and using 100 per cent Wyoming grains and water, Wyoming Whiskey has started small batch production at the state's first legal distillery with one simple goal - to create America's next great Bourbon."  
A formal opening ceremony is planned for 10th October, but in the meantime, anyone interested in having access to ongoing information about this new venture should email to receive regular updates.

And Finally…

The Balvenie has announced a 'Sow the Seeds' scheme, which involves distributing free barley seeds to 1,000 people to grow, creating what is termed "…the UK's first virtual allotment community." Apparently, the crop they produce will ultimately be put to use in the making of a batch of The Balvenie single malt. The participants will be chosen at random and contact details should be emailed to, marked 'Sow the Seeds,' or posted to Libby Lafferty, The Balvenie Distillery, Dufftown, Banffshire, AB55 4BB. We thought the folk at Glenglassaugh were pretty lazy for not bothering to mature their whisky before selling it, but this really puts things into perspective…

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