gavin smith

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Whisky News, November 2009

by Gavin D Smith

Special Releases

It is that time of year again when Diageo reveals to us which bottlings it has undertaken for its annual programme of rare, limited edition, cask strength Special Releases. The cult Islay malt of Port Ellen is perennially popular with drinkers and collectors alike, and the latest line up includes a 30-year-old, only the second expression offered b y the distillers with this age statement. Overall, it is the ninth annual release of Port Ellen.
Another highly desirable malt from a silent distillery is a 30-year-old Brora, the eighth annual release from the East Sutherland distillery, while the range also embraces 25 and 30-year-old Taliskers. A 12-year-old Lagavulin and an unpeated (10-year-old) Caol Ila are effectively continuations from previous annual releases, offered again due to their great popularity. Three intriguing and unusual Speysides complete the latest line up, namely a 23-year-old Benrinnes, notably influenced by the use of ex-Sherry casks, a 20-year-old Pittyvaich, matured not in ex-Sherry wood for once, but in refill American oak casks, and an 18-year-old Mannochmore, assembled from a combination of reconditioned bodega European oak, ex-Bourbon barrels and new American oak casks. According to Diageo's Dr Nick Morgan, "Demand for rare malt whiskies continues to grow, and as before, some of these being released this year are drawn from a finite and dwindling stock, as their distilleries were closed a quarter of a century ago. But although these will appeal to collectors because of their rarity, we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that these are fabulous drinking whiskies, with unique tastes and flavours, which have been bottled first and foremost to be savoured and enjoyed." Prices range from 48 for the Caol Ila up to 230 for the Brora, and we will be offering you our personal take on the 2009 Special Releases in the near future.

Double Barrel Trace

   Kentucky's Buffalo Trace distillery has produced a number of interesting bottling since 2006 in its 'Experimental Collection.' These have included Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel wine-barrel-aged expressions, plus a 'Fire pot Barrel' release, for which the barrel was heated to 39 degree C prior to filling, in order to give a greater 'burn.' The most recent release is a pair of 'double-barrelled' whiskeys, with the spirit being filled initially into new, charred oak barrels, only to be decanted and filled into more new, charred oak after a number of years.
An April 1993 Double-Barrelled expression was re-casked after eight years (on 12 December 2001) and subsequently bottled in September 2009, while a November 1997 variant was re-casked on the same date and also bottled in September. Although we haven't had the opportunity to try these bottling for ourselves, those who have tend to use the adjectives "powerful" and "woody" to describe them! If and when we get the chance to sample them, we will let you know our thoughts. Meanwhile, Buffalo Trace's Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley declares that "I really love the variety in these experimental releases. The end product is so different from one release to the next. I look forward to the new information we garner from each round."

Indian Society

Having enjoyed success in a number of international locations, the Edinburgh-based Scotch Malt Whisky Society has recently opened a branch in India. The country is the largest spirits market in the world, and in the words of a SMWS spokesperson, "The Society is tapping into the aspirational Indian whisky drinkers who comprise the world's largest consumer block for the Scotch whisky industry. Branded Scotch whisky sales crossed a million cases last year, which some analysts argued was only the beginning of a large market opening up."
As part of the Society's launch, an event was held at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi, with Society managing director, Paul Miles in the role of host. Miles says that "India is seen as a huge opportunity for the Scotch industry and this is an exciting development for the Society in a country where consumers are very interested in Scotch whisky and single malts. The enthusiasm expressed by everyone attending this event for what the Society has to offer was very encouraging." Established in 1983, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society now has over 26,000 members worldwide, with Members' Rooms, in Edinburgh and London, and the Society bottles single casks from no fewer than 125 distilleries.

Green Glenturret

   The Scotch whisky industry's rush to embrace 'green' technology continues apace, and Glenturret distillery in Perthshire is the latest venue to benefit from an environmentally-friendly scheme. The innovative project centres on a reactor which uses algae to convert carbon dioxide created by the distillery into proteins and oils. Green MSP Robin Harper, who officially launched the venture, says that "I am thrilled to have flipped the 'on' switch for such a fantastic and innovative system. Glenturret should be commended for investing in and using this cutting-edge carbon-reducing technology. This is an
extraordinary innovation, using algae - an abundant and sustainable resource - to transform something polluting into something useful. "If Scotland's carbon emissions targets are to be met, there need to be changes made on every level, and it is wonderful to see business playing its part in this way. The Famous Grouse whisky produced here will from now on be famous for its green credentials as well. I'm confident other companies will be inspired to see such a recognised Scottish product blazing the trail for recycling and carbon reducing, and I am delighted to have been a part of its launch."

Brian becomes Master

Brian Kinsman, so long the apprentice to David Stewart at William Grant & Sons Ltd, is to take over as Master Blender on 1st December. David Stewart, who has been with the family-owned company for no fewer than 47 years, will continue in his role as The Balvenie Malt Master. He will select and monitor The Balvenie's rare and vintage collection and continue as a judge at the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) and International Spirits Challenge (ISC). Brian Kinsman will become only the sixth Master Blender in the history of the firm which he joined in 1997, and from December, he will assume responsibility for all spirit quality, both new make and maturing inventories, for the company's brands distilled around the world. He will also become Glenfiddich's Malt Master and the Master Blender of Grant's Blended Scotch Whiskies. Born in West Lothian, Scotland in 1972, Kinsman studied at the University of St Andrews, where he graduated with a first class honours degree in chemistry. Apart from whisky, his passions are piping and traditional Scottish music. He learned to play the pipes aged just 10 and has travelled extensively while performing with various bands.
In David Stewart he will have a hard act to follow, as 'the quiet man of blending' is hugely respected in the world of whisky, and has been instrumental in the success of the quality of William Grant & Sons' spirits brands for more than four decades. He has helped the distillers win many awards, including, most recently, the coveted International Spirits Challenge (ISC) Distiller of the Year 2009, an accolade the company has won four times in the last five years. During his 47 years at William Grant & Sons, David has developed an award-winning range of single malts and blends which have earned him some of the industry's top accolades, including coveted Lifetime Achievement Awards from the IWSC and Whisky Magazine and the Grand Prix of Gastronomy from chef Egon Ronay. He also helped William Grant & Sons become Distiller of the Year for an unprecedented four times in a row. His key achievements include the crafting of The Balvenie DoubleWood, arguably the first single malt to be finished in a different wood type, and of Glenfiddich Solera Reserve, using the innovative Solera maturation process. He also developed the world's first blends to be finished in ale and Sherry casks, introducing Grant's Ale Cask Reserve and Sherry Cask Reserve.

And Finally...

This month, we at 'whisky-pages' have been blessed with the presence of two annual publications, which have become essential reference works for the committed whisky buff. The first is Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2010, and 'Saint James of Wellingborough' performs his usual task of irritating and garnering praise in equal measure. We suspect he wouldn't have it any other way. Modesty is not exactly Murray's forte, as his self-penned biographical dust jacket notes attest, but he is refreshingly frank about his opinions - not always something associated with whisky writing. That said, can he really justify nominating yet another Ardbeg - this time around Supernova - as his Scotch Whisky of the Year? Nothing wrong with the dram, of course, but this is starting to look like the sort of 'old pals' act' Murray purports to despise. The second publication in question is The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2010, edited with admirable Scandinavian coolness and impartiality by Ingar Ronde. Commentators have more or less exhausted their stock of superlatives on previous editions, so suffice to say the 2010 version lives up to its
predecessors in every way, featuring intelligent and lengthy articles on influential figures on whisky history, Scotch whisky innovation, peated whiskies, whisky and recession and European whiskies. As ever, the roll call of writers involved is a veritable 'Who's Who' of whisky scribes, including Ian Buxton, /Charles MacLean, Dominic Roscrow, Gavin D Smith, David Stirk and Ian Wisniewski. An innovation this year is a series of 'In Focus' pages, spread through the book, each of which focuses on a different aspect of whisky production, from malting to maturation. In the absence of superlatives - just buy it. You must.

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2010, Dram Good Books Ltd, 10.99
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2010, MagDig Media Ltd, 12.95


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