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Whisky News, December 2008

by Gavin D Smith

The Stornoway Way

While a great deal of attention has been focused on the ill-fated venture to build a distillery on Shetland, over in the Outer Hebrides one man has quietly been getting on with the business of developing the only legal distillery in the Western Isles. Mark Tayburn is a Stornoway-based recycling merchant with a long-standing interest in the heritage of whisky-making on his native island, and he has created a boutique distillery on the site of a former salmon hatchery at Carnish, on the remote Atlantic coast of Lewis. Tayburn's pair of stills is modelled on an idiosyncratic illicit still, used in the locale until at least the 1950s, and now on display at the entrance to Abhainn Dearg (Red River) distillery (right). The island of Lewis has long been noted as a hotbed of illicit distilling, but Stornoway did once boast a licensed distillery, which operated between 1829/30 and 1840. The first spirit flowed at Abhainn Dearg in September, and Tayburn is now producing around 2,000 litres per month, filling it principally into first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels. A modest
amount will be bottled to help oil the wheels of the Royal National Mod, when that annual celebration of Gaelic culture and alcohol consumption rolls into Stornoway in 2011, but the first real release will be of five-year-old whisky in 2013. For the full story of Abhainn Dearg read Gavin's article in issue 76 of Whisky Magazine.

Glenglassaugh Again

   Another name to add to the list of working Scottish distilleries along with Abhainn Dearg is Glenglassaugh, as profiled on whisky-pages earlier this year. Last month saw Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond officially open the restored plant at Portsoy on the Moray Firth coast at the conclusion of a £1 million refurbishment programme. Managing director Stuart Nickerson said at the reopening ceremony that "We have been working up to this day since the end of February and it is absolutely
fabulous. We have eight full-time jobs here already and, at the end of the day, there will be about 20 jobs altogether. We have plans for a visitor centre, hopefully next year." In the meantime, a project to launch some limited edition bottlings of vintage Glenglassaugh is well advanced, and whisky-pages will bring you our assessment of those whiskies in due course.

High Rankin Whisky

The Macallan has announced the launch of a £1.3 million limited edition bottling in association with Scots-born photographer Rankin. Originally from Paisley, Rankin is best known for his fashion photography and portraits of subjects from The Queen to Madonna, but for his collaboration with The Macallan he was invited to the distillery at Easter Elchies on Speyside, where his brief was to produce a personal interpretation of the brand. The result is a series of 1,000 black and white Polaroid images, one of which will feature on the label of each limited edition bottle of 30-year-old Macallan Fine Oak, while the original Polaroid photograph is included in the presentation. According to The Macallan, “The array of images captured by Rankin is breathtaking, depicting a range of locations around The Macallan estate, including Easter Elchies House, the distillery, dedicated craftspeople and still life images of the surrounding flora and fauna. Many of the images are further enhanced with artistic
nude studies, featuring Tuuli, Rankin's muse." Ken Grier, Director of Malts for The Edrington Group, says “Our partnership with Rankin really is something different and daring for the Scotch whisky sector due to the range of images that will be featured on the bottle labels and we believe that there will be huge demand from consumers wanting to own a 'Masters of Photography' bottle. We anticipate that it will generate interest amongst a wider consumer audience and will prove highly collectable both by whisky and art lovers.” The Macallan Masters of Photography Fine Oak 30-year-old will be available to purchase throughout the world, and is being launched in Russia, Singapore, Korea and the USA during the next few months. In the UK it is available through luxury retailers for a recommended price of £899.

Cooley Coup

   Congratulations to Cooley for being the first Irish distilling company to win the prestigious World Distiller of the Year title at the recent International Wine and Spirit Competition Awards The maverick independent Irish distillers - think Bruichladdich but with slightly fewer new releases per week - also landed the European Distiller of the Year award, and the County Louth-based outfit additionally won nine gold awards, with several of its whiskeys taking gold as best in their class, including
Kilbeggan 15-year-old, Locke's eight-year-old and both Connemara and Connemara 12-year-old. Cooley has been in existence for just 20 years, and managing director David Hynes notes that "As an independent company we cannot compete with the large multinationals in terms of marketing and advertising spend, but in terms of whiskey we produce the best in the world."

Talisker all at Sea

Talisker has launched a seasonal, limited edition, nautically-themed gift pack, and for every one sold a £2 donation will be made to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). The pack is available nationally in Sainsbury's stores and includes a bottle of 10-year-old Talisker from the Isle of Skye in an attractive, blue 'nautical' case. The RNLI's fundraising and communications director David Brann says that “We are delighted to be working with Talisker single malt whisky. Their support will help raise funds for RNLI volunteer crews around the coasts of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. According to Talisker senior brand manager Steve Wood, “The RNLI's constant presence at the station on Skye provides safe passage for visitors to the island and our distillery, so we have first-hand experience of the vital role they play. We're very excited about this fundraising initiative and giving whisky fans the opportunity to enjoy a Christmas gift with a difference.”

High Society

   As anyone who entered last month's competition will know, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is celebrating its 25th anniversary by unveiling an attractive new look for its bottlings and publications. Membership of the Edinburgh-based Society now numbers around 28,000, and managing director Paul Miles says that "We offer the world's widest range
of single cask, cask strength malt whiskies, bottling in excess of 200 per year. We focus on our members and on single cask whiskies. We only deal with single cask Scotch whisky and the occasional bottling of Japanese, Irish whiskey or Armagnac. We don't sell to retail outlets. Our strength is our focus." The new style of SMWS bottling features a 'tasting note title,' and the famously individualistic tasting notes provided for members are now incorporated into the label, rather than hidden away in a printed bottling list as was previously the case. Miles says that “The initial feedback has been fantastic. The presentation now looks the way members want it to look. We've also improved the membership box that people get when they join the Society. Instead of one bottle of whisky, the box now contains four x 10cl bottles; one to represent each of the four principal malt whisky regions. “Additionally, we've launched a new version of our quarterly 'Unfiltered' publication, which is 36 pages in extent, well illustrated, and altogether more substantial than the previous newsletter. In it we take a slightly quirky view of the world of malt whisky; we give it a curious twist that we think is in the spirit of the founding principles of the Society.” Discover more at

Masters of Whisky Weekend

Looking ahead to the New Year, anyone who fancies a weekend in the fascinating German city of Bonn can combine their visit with a weekend of whisky experience and indulgence, hosted by our very own Gavin Smith. The weekend of 7/8th February sees leading German business and leisure seminar specialists The Feierabendlounge team up with Gavin to offer a series of presentations and sampling sessions on a variety of Scotch whisky topics, including the influences of maturation, the rise to prominence of Islay
malts, independent bottlings and the role of the blender. The weekend is based in the luxury hotel Villa Godesberg, located in the beautiful 'mansion quarter' of Bad Godesberg, and in addition to the whisky events, there will also be fine dining opportunities in one of Bonn's leading restaurants. For further details visit

And finally…

The dedicated team that brings you whisky-pages' monthly news updates (well, actually it's just me) would like to take this opportunity to wish you all the very best for Christmas and the New Year. Despite our small island sinking below a spiralling mountain of debt, 2009 should still see optimism on the whisky front in many parts of the world and we can look forward to any number of exciting and innovative new releases during the twelve months ahead. Drink well and drink wisely…


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