gavin smith

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Whisky News, November 2008

by Gavin D Smith

Diageo Special Releases

Diageo has just launched its eagerly-awaited annual line up of 'Special Releases,' comprising some unusual bottlings of familiar single malts, along with whiskies from silent distilleries, ranging in age from eight to 29 years.
There are ten expressions on offer, including three variants of the elusive Speyside malt Linkwood. All three were identically aged for 12 years, then each of the three was matured in a different cask-wood for 14 more years. One was filled into ex-port casks, one into former rum casks and one into a sweet red wine cask. Unusually, they are presented in 50cl bottles created specially by designer Glenn Tutssel. Each expression has been released in just 1,260 individually numbered bottles. Nick Morgan, marketing director for the Classic Malts Selection says that “Every year we review our inventory of single malt Scotch whiskies with a view to releasing limited quantities of the most special ones for connoisseurs. I suspect that some will be bought by collectors, as always, but I can certainly confirm that every whisky we issue in this series is not only individual and interesting but supremely drinkable. Demand for rare and special malt whiskies continues to grow, and of course some of these now released are drawn from a finite and dwindling stock, as their distilleries were closed over 20 years ago. In these circumstances we believe that even the most expensive offer terrific value compared with some of the more hyped wine vintages.” In addition to the trio of 26-year-old Linkwoods, there is a 16-year-old bottling of fellow Speysider Glen Elgin, from ex-bodega European Oak casks filled in 1991, in an edition of less than 10,000 individually numbered bottles. The 2008 Special Releases also include a rare, eight-year-old unpeated 'Highland' version of Caol Ila and a 12-year-old Lagavulin vatted from refill American oak casks. As well as these two Islays, the Hebrides are represented by 25 and 30-year-old Taliskers. Featured closed distilleries are Brora on the East Sutherland coast, which supplies a 25-year-old, and Port Ellen on Islay, from which a 29-year-old expression has been sourced. For further details visit

Whisky Welcomed Home

   Staying with Diageo, the world's largest distiller has been responsible for acquiring the world's largest collection of whisky for display in Scotland. Featuring 3,384 bottles, the record-breaking collection was built up over 35 years by Brazilian whisky enthusiast Claive Vidiz (left). The bottles are currently being stored in a high security location in Scotland, after being shipped 6,500 miles from Sao Paulo. A specially designed vault is being created at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh to display what will be known as the 'Diageo Claive Vidiz Scotch Whisky Collection.' The vault is part of a £2million investment at the popular tourist attraction on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. While details of the terms of its sale to Diageo remain confidential, the unique collection is described by whisky experts as 'invaluable' and ranges from the most popular whiskies to some of the rarest. "To split up a collection which I have devoted more than 35 years of my life to would have broken my heart, so I am truly thrilled Diageo has purchased it in its entirety.
It is now in the hands of a company which is at the heart of the Scotch industry and I am certain they will cherish and develop the collection,” says Claive Vidiz. “It is also wonderful to see it safely back in Scotland. We have an expression in Brazil - 'the good son returns home' - and in my view the collection is back with its family now.” Among the many rare bottles is a Strathmill single malt produced to celebrate the Speyside distillery's 100th anniversary. One of only 100 bottles ever produced, this limited edition centenary malt was offered to a very select few, including Calive Vidiz, one of whose personal favourites is Dimple Pinch. This was one of the first special editions of a Scotch whisky ever produced. Bought in 1969 for US $1000, it was the most expensive limited edition bottle of Scotch whisky on the market at the time. “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,” says Bryan Donaghey, Managing Director of Diageo Scotland. “We are loaning the collection to the Scotch Whisky Experience, where annually 200,000 visitors will be able to view the collection in its atmospheric vault.”

Fit for a Viking

On the subject of collectible whisky, a 100-year-old bottle of Glencadam is likely to be the star of Bonham's first whisky sale in Edinburgh on 12th November. The bottle of 'Old Pot Still Scotch Viking' whisky from Glencadam distillery in Brechin was part of a consignment exported to Washington State in the USA during the early 1900s, and subsequently hidden in a secret cupboard in the owner's house during Prohibition. More recently, it has been stored in Sweden. Bonham's whisky consultant, Martin Green, describes the Viking bottle as “…one of the rarest early 20th century malt whiskies to appear at auction in years. It is possible the bottle is the only one of its kind in existence.” The whisky is expected to fetch in excess of £5,000, and further details of the Bonham's sale can be found at

Glenmorangie Grows

   As part of its ongoing £45 million investment programme at Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distilleries, the Glenmorangie Company is about to embark on the installation of four new stills at Glenmorangie, located on the outskirts of Tain, in Easter Ross. This will increase potential production by 50 per cent, and follows the addition of extra fermentation capacity. Ultimately, new warehousing will be added to both the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg sites, while the Glenmorangie visitor centre will also be redeveloped.
According to Glenmorangie's Chief Executive, Paul Neep, "Given the increasing growth of single malts across the world and of major brands like Glenmorangie, we are responding to the expected long-term requirements for the brand. “The investment we are making at Tain, and elsewhere in Scotland, will deliver long-term additional growth for both the company and also, importantly, for the local and wider Scottish economies.”

First Growth Whisky

The Bruichladdich team, headed by Mark Reynier, continues to release a plethora of new expressions, and among notable, recent innovations is the First Growth series, which uses casks formerly containing wine from those vineyards nominated as 'First Growths' in the famous 1855 Classification of Bordeaux. These casks are coopered from trees in the forests of Troncais, Alier and Vosges which may be between 150 and 200 years old, and they cost up to four times the price of an American oak equivalent, with their staves being subjected to outdoor weathering for four years. According to Bruichladdich's managing director, Mark Reynier, ““It's simple: if you want the world's best casks you have to go to the best sources. Only the top domains can unstintingly afford barrels of this quality. They ruthlessly cull them from their cellars after only 18 months, before the oak gets tired; it is their fastidious attention to detail that is our
gain." Reynier adds that “If you put identical whisky into similar casks, that had the same type of wine in them, you would sort of expect a pretty similar result - right? Wrong. We were astounded. Though it is very subtle indeed, each chateau's basic character comes through. So we've kept them as six separate bottlings. It sounds pretentious but it's as if a hint of the wines' mystical terroir, hidden within the finesse of the oak, has been sought out by our spirit.” The First Growth series comprises six limited edition Cuvées - labeled A to F. Each is a 16 year old Bruichladdich, American oak matured, which has subsequently undergone additional 'cask evolution' in French oak casks from each of the 1855 first growth chateaux, including Sauternes. “Pomerol was not classified in 1855,” notes Reynier, “but based on the original criteria would be today. A Pomerol estate is therefore included in the series.”

Malt Whisky Yearbook 2009

Editor Ingvar Ronde reveals in his introduction to the latest edition of this indispensible publication that when he first came up with the idea of producing a 'whisky annual' many people questioned whether there would be enough new material each year to justify its existence. Time has proved the doubters wrong, of course, with changes in the world of whisky moving at a sometimes bewildering pace. Not only does the 2009 edition of the Yearbook include its customary 'The Whisky Year That Was' feature and thorough updating of distillery entries, but also a listing of Europe's leading whisky retailers, plus details of no fewer than 475 new bottlings. The major innovation, however, is tasting notes for core expressions, provided by David Stirk and Dominic Roscrow, while Charles MacLean, Gavin D Smith, Ian Buxton and Walter Schobert provide a range of meaty features. Since the first Yearbook appeared in 2006 we have almost exhausted our store of superlatives. Suffice to say, therefore, that if you buy no other whisky book this year (except for Goodness Nose by Richard Paterson and Gavin D Smith, published by NWP this month!) buy The Malt Whisky Yearbook. Superb as always. Available at bookshops and distillery visitor centres for £12.95. For further details see

And Finally...

The ingenuity of Scots should never be underestimated when it comes to acquiring alcohol in unpromising locations. You might think that the legendary Barlinnie prison in Glasgow - frequently referred to in the west (of Scotland) as the 'Bar-L' - is as unpromising as they come, but this hasn't stopped inmates from producing 'moonshine' from oranges, bread, sugar, water and even tomato ketchup. 25 litres of fermenting liquor were discovered recently by warders in the low-risk Letham Hall unit, which houses 'trusted' inmates, and a number of prisoners have lost their jobs in the kitchens as punishment for supplying the raw materials.
According to one prison source, quoted in a Scottish tabloid newspaper, "It's seriously powerful stuff and blows your head off, but it's all gone. The more you make, the harder it is to keep it out of sight." He added that “It can take around 500g of sugar to make just three litres of hooch so you have an idea of how much sugar they go through. The messy bit at the start is mixing the brown bread with warm water, which removes the yeast. But the most important thing to remember is to loosen the bottle cap when it starts to bubble. If you don't let out the air pressure then the thing will explode. “Some of the cons who make it have become real experts. They think they're Steve McQueen and James Garner in The Great Escape, producing their moonshine behind closed doors.”

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