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The whisky world as seen by an eccentric Bavarian exile


Dec. 2009

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Wednesday 30th; Whisky Awards - 2009 or  "The good, the great & the ugly"

The dust has almost settled on 2009 and the hopes of a happy and prosperous 2010 are just around the corner, but not yet. One of the most anticipated events of the year is about to be announced. Yes, here are the Whisky Emporium awards for 2009.

Without further ado, pomp, circumstance or pontification, here are my personal awards for 2009:

Distillery of the year 2009

This was not such an easy choice for me to make as there were many contenders, but a decision had to be made and it goes to Glengyle for their Kilkerran Work in Progress!

Congratulations to all at Glengyle. This was your first release of Kilkerran at 5 years and I have to say it is already a very good whisky and shows great promise for the future.

The runner-up and closely in second place is Kilchoman, well done to Islay's newest and smallest 'farmhouse' distillery for your three-year expression and first whisky launched this year. Once again this shows amazing prospects for the future.


Best new release of 2009

For me there can only be one winner in this category; Hazelburn 12y

Congratulations! This is a fantastic whisky which has matured marvellously since the release of the 8y variant. It shows a rich depth of flavours, warmth and complexity that make it a memorable dram for me.


My three favourite whiskies sampled in 2009

This category is not about whisky released in 2009, but ones I tried during this last year and, it seems, 1969 was a jolly good year!

1st Place:  Glen Mhor 1969, distilled 1969, casks 1407-1409, bottle 907 of 2265, 45% ABV

Fruity, light, fragrant, but at the same time herbal, rich and complex. A sublime whisky.


2nd Place goes to Tamdhu 1969, distilled 1969, bottled 2004, 34y,  40% ABV, Duncan Taylor 'Auld' range.

Very intense and floral apples, violets, liquorice and dry fino sherry. Marvellous!


3rd Place is awarded to Glenglassaugh 1973 'Family Silver'

Leather, herbal hay and rich fruit soaked in amaretto. Complex, fruity luxury in a glass.


The 'dud' of the year is awarded to Bruichladdich Waves, the original presentation.

This is quite a decent dram when the bottle is first opened, but if left only for a matter of a week or two, a strange sediment forms at the bottom of the bottle and this signifies the whisky is now undrinkable! Turning it from a lively 7 year old into a musty, rancid old beast which is best poured down the drain. Oh dear, what went wrong at Bruichladdich with this one?


Finally, Best whisky Glass of 2009: The Classic Malt glass!

2009 was the year when I finally ran an in-depth analysis of whisky glasses (which can be found here) and the outright winner was The Classic Malt glass, with the Glencairn in second place and Spiegelau a close third.


Sunday 27th; Twixt the years or  "A walk on the cold side"

As you know I currently live near to Munich in Bavaria, but at heart I am still a Yorkshireman and, although there really isn't very much I miss from my homeland, today rekindles memories which make me wish I were indeed back there in one specific, small and very beautiful corner of Yorkshire.

I was extremely fortunate to be introduced to the beauty of the Yorkshire Dales at the age of about 12-13 when the school I attended managed to buy an old Coaching Inn located in the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale, the village at the heart of the 'Yorkshire Three Peaks' which are three hills named Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough & Whernside. Together they form a 27 mile round walk where each hill is just over 2000 feet high. There is even an antique (workers) clocking-in machine at the famous Pen-y-Ghent cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale where walkers have the ability to declare the start of their walk and if completed within 12 hours they qualify for membership of the 3-Peaks Club.

Anyway, back to that pub, The Golden Lion had accommodation for around 30 people so the school converted it into an outdoor centre and pupils who stayed there, usually for long weekends or a full week were introduced to The Dales and fell-walking or hiking in the area. So deep-routed in my heart were these breaks and also this area, I returned many times long after leaving the school and starting work. In fact the one fixed time when I always re-visited the village, usually only for a one-day walk was during the days just after Christmas Day and before the New Year. This was my pilgrimmage, one which I usually faced alone and for some reason, I tended to  prefer the challenge of Whernside, the highest of the three hills at just over 2400ft. The surrounding scenery is beautiful and dramatic as it sits right alongside the even more famous Settle to Carlisle railway line with the Ribblehead viaduct sitting right at the foot of the hill.

But what has this to do with whisky? Please stay with me, all will be revealed.

I'm sure you can imagine the scene; a clear, crisp, cold day, often shrouded in snow or sheet ice, but for some lucky reason I hardly ever faced rain on these days. I would set out from home in the early morning, drive for about an hour and a half and aim to start my walk by around 10am. Lunchtime would be spent atop Whernside with the obligatory turkey sandwiches, a piece of Christmas cake and a flask of piping hot tea with 2-3 cardamom seeds for an invigorating freshness.

Sitting atop Whernside I would further reflect on my previous hikes in the area and inevitably upon growing up with many trips into The Dales and very long, very hard days of hiking which at the time could only have been called 'character building', but which, as I already mentioned, gave me a very deep-routed love for the region.

OK, now for the whisky bit.

I have often told how a certain whisky can remind me of a long-ago time or experience and this is yet another example. I will never forget the time I first tried a Caol Ila at cask strength (almost 60% ABV). The nose was one of gentle peat and wood-smoke, it was unique in its ability to convey this sense of both peat and wood-smoke and it immediately flicked a switch in my brain, one which is still active today and which for many years I returned to the area to re-live in the days just after Christmas.

Yes, I need to take you back to those school days when I was in my mid-teens and our target was the Summit of Whernside, but instead of a school bus to take us there, we were walking from Horton via Ingleborough and some would even continue to return by Pen-y-Ghent and complete all three peaks, but I digress.

This walk is never too far from civilisation, but it is long and difficult and the leaders need compass skills. Anyway, we had already climbed a couple of smaller hills on our way to Ingleborough, the day was wintry and bleak and discomfort was beginning to set in when we suddenly had a view across to a small hamlet of just a few cottages, a symbol of civilisation which somehow gave a comforting feeling, especially so with the gently smoking chimneys. These houses had no central heating at that time, so the warmth was gained from their real fires where they tended to burn a mixture of peat and wood.

I had no idea the effect those cottages and that day would have on me in later life, in fact I had totally forgotten about it until that fateful day many years later when I was introduced to a Caol Ila CS, or should I say, I was immeditely transported to my youthful outdoor days of The Dales.

This still lives with me today, each time I nose a CS Caol Ila I am back in the middle of a Dales Fell, on my long hike to Ingleborough and Whernside on a very cold, but no longer dismal, wintry day.

So, as I have sat many times since atop Whernside, Ingleborough or even Pen-y-Ghent, I have always spared a thought over my lunch of turkey butties and hot tea for those long-ago hikes magically symbolised in a glass of superb whisky. Those cottages still exist, although I understand some are now converted to holiday homes and have probably been much modernised in the last thirty-odd years, but their memory will never leave my Caol Ila, especially today when had I been able to get to that area, I would have again sought the pilgrimmage of my youth.

The last time I had the pleasure of this pilgrimmage was in 2006 when I returned to The Dales with an old school friend and for that day, we chose a very difficult, icy and treacherous Ingleborough;





Friday 25th; Make a  little time for yourself today or  "My definitive Christmas dram"

Merry Christmas, happy holidays and season's greetings to all. I don't know what today means for you, but for me it's a time to spend with loved ones, to give gifts and to celebrate our life together, so I say to my dear wife "Sabine, I love you, thank you for just being there and I sincerely hope we share many more years and Christmasses together".

As I think about Christmas my mind is also drawn to whisky as many drams offer the types of flavour we associate with this time of year. Some time ago I offered a certain whisky as my definitive 'Christmas dram', but some of the guests on that tasting disagreed with my train of thought. Although they agreed with my taste profile, their own culture associates different flavours with this time of year, with more light marzipan and gentle nut flavours, rather than heavier, rich dark fruits.

What was that whisky? Let me take you on a short journey of discovery.

Imagine the scene;  It's Christmas day in an Olde English country house, or more fittingly a Scottish Castle and your family have travelled from far and wide to be together. Breakfast and lunch were lavish spreads of locally sourced produce, conversation was brimming with family news and even some small gifts were exchanged. Then, in the afternoon you decide to retire to your study; A room lined with old oak bookshelves, themselves laden with musty old books, many are leather-bound first editions. You gently relax into your favourtie deep-buttoned leather armchair and pour yourself a glass of your finest sherry.

At this point you may be forgiven for asking what this has to do with whisky, but my reply would be that this would be my definitive Christmas afternoon. Perhaps an hour to myself in such a study. So I was extremely happy when I found the perfect dram which immediately transported me into this fantasy.

Pulling the cork on a new bottle immediately releases the mixed aromas of rich leather, old oak and even the mustiness of those old first editions, unopened and unread for some years now. As the whisky settles the aromas change slightly to include more sherry and those dark fruits of the finest Christmas pudding.

Did I say fantasy? The location may be, but the whisky is very real - welcome to Glenfarclas 'Quarter Casks, 1987' My definitive Christmas whisky, what's yours?

Slàinte and a Merry Christmas to all from Dram-atics!



Thursday 17th; Deck the hall with boughs of holly, 'Tis the season to be jolly ...

The Festive Season, Christmas,  The Holidays or whatever you wish to call it is rapidly approaching. It's a time for families to relax, exchange gifts, spend time together and hopefully, a time of love and peace. It's also a time when many of us can sit back with some of our favourite drams and reflect upon the year that was and the one that is about to be.

Do you have a favourite Christmas whisky? Do you like those typical Christmas flavours often provided by first-fill sherry casks? For me, these are certainly the drams I normally choose at this time of year, so let me offer some suggestions and recommendations.

Macallan, but make sure it's the 'sherry' range (and not Fine Oak) for those wonderful, traditional flavours of rich dark fruits. The 18y fits the bill perfectly, but if your budget doesn't run to that I can highly recommend the 10y Cask Strength.

Dalmore is another of those dark, rich, deep drams with all the flavours of this time of year and if you're lucky, they even have hints of spiced orange too. As for which one? my palate says "the older, the better" so tailor your dram to your budget accordingly, you won't be disappointed.

Aberlour offer some great sherried drams, but absolute foremost are the A'Bunadh batches and although the great batch numbers 3, 6, 14 & 20 are probably long-gone from the shelves, you still shouldn't be disappointed with the latest ones.

Glenfarclas is another name synonymous with Christmas. A great distillery with some fantastic cask selection policies. If you can find them, try some of the vintages or the 'quarter casks' if you like your Christmas cake and pudding all together in a single glass!

My list is far from definitive, but it will certainly help you find what I think are very good Christmas drams so if you haven't already given your present-list to Santa, do it today and say I sent you!

What is my favourite Christmas dram? I'll let you know on Christmas Day, 25th, Merry Christmas!



Thursday 10th; Protecting Scotch whisky but not most of it!

On Monday 30th November new laws came into force regarding Scotch whisky, its production, its bottling, its labelling and even its marketing, so let's have a look at some of the salient points of these new laws.

Scotch Malt Whisky must be produced at a distillery in Scotland, matured within Scotland in an authorised warehouse for a minimum of 3 years in oak casks not exceeding 700 litres. Only water and caramel colouring may be added and it must have a minimum strength of 40% ABV.

Single Malt Scotch whisky must also be produced in Scotland at one single distillery from water and malted barley (with no other cereals being added!) and it must be distilled in pot stills.

Well, we're looking quite good so far; Scotch must be produced and matured in Scotland and when it comes to Single Malt, seemingly by traditional methods including pot stills. But this immediately brings one distillery to mind who use not only two 'traditional' pot stills, but also four 'Lomond' stills and one continuous column (or Coffey) still in their whisky production. Yes, Loch Lomond (who are not members of the SWA) are pretty unhappy about this new law which they say immediately wipes GBP 3.5 million off their current stock alone, which can no longer be called 'Single Scotch Malt'. Loch Lomond story here.

At this time I should also mention that the new laws also define five different names, or categories, of Scotch whisky that must be used; Single Malt Scotch whisky, Single Grain Scotch whisky, Blended Malt Scotch whisky (previously referred to as 'Vatted' whisky), Blended Grain Scotch whisky & Blended Scotch whisky.

Great: No more 'Pure' silliness here then!

So far all seems to be looking good for the protection of Scotland's great gift to the world (my words), but let's look a little deeper at some of the other little goodies in the new laws, especially when it comes to movement and bottling as there is currently much debate as to whether Scotch whisky should be bottled in Scotland. Hopefully the new laws make this clear?

Single Grain, Blended Grain, Blended Malt & Blended Scotch may not be moved "from Scotland to another country in a wooden cask or other wooden holder"

Until (and including) 22nd November 2012 Single Malt Scotch whisky may not be moved "from Scotland to another country in a wooden cask or other wooden holder"

From 23rd November 2012 Single Malt Scotch whisky may only be moved from Scotland in a bottle (made from any material) that is labelled for retail sale.

Great again? Scotch whisky must be bottled in Scotland? Errmm no, not quite, you may call me an old cynic but only Single Malts actually have to be bottled in Scotland from 23rd November 2012, until that date they may not be transported outside Scotland in casks or other wooden containers. So, for any of you who may own a distillery or two, you have almost three years should you wish to get any of your matured Single Malts out of Scotland for bottling in other (perhaps much cheaper) countries, just don't use wooden containers.

As for the other four categories (which include Blended Scotch) there is no cut-off date, they just can't be moved in anything wooden and as Blended whisky only accounts for around 95% of all Scotch sales(!) I guess it doesn't matter that only 5% of Scotch must actually be bottled in Scotland, just make sure you keep all the wood in Scotland.

Finally, what about the Islands? I like to associate my Scotch with geographical regions and have always acknowledged and spoken of what I believe to be the six within Scotland; Lowland, Highland, Campbeltown, Speyside, Islay & Islands and I'm pleased to see that the new laws go as far as far as 'protecting' them, all five of them so nobody can use the term 'Highland' for any whisky unless it was distilled in a Scottish Highland distillery, with the same rule governing the use of 'Lowland', 'Speyside', 'Campbeltown' & 'Islay'.

Did I say five? My sympathy to the poor unrecognised 'Islands', I'll give you a good home if nobody else wants you.

Finally, finally back to maturation; Don't mention the terroir!

Link to the full extent of the new laws

The last word from Paul Walsh, Chairman of the SWA & Chief Executive of Diageo "It is a defining moment for Scotland's distillers.  We have been distilling whisky in Scotland for more than 500 years and today landmark rules covering every aspect of the making, bottling and labelling of Scotch whisky come into force."

.....But not most of it! (My words)



Wednesday 2nd; Time Please, last orders or "All power to the bean-counters"

For sale; only 112 years old, three careful owners and full service history. Oh how I wish it were openly for sale almost as much as I wish I had the cash or even the backing to buy it.

Sadly, after 112 years we hear that Edrington Group have decided to stop production at Tamdhu distillery. This move will take effect in April 2010 as the distillery will be reduced from production to "care and maintenance".

This won't be the first time Tamdhu has been 'closed' as it saw a brief closure between 1911-13 and then a longer one for 20 years between 1928-48, so here we are again after the expansion of the 1970's when Tamdhu's stills were increased from two to six and the 8y Single Malt bottling was introduced, but now all this may have been in vain as it is about to close again.

Tamdhu is owned by Edrington along with The Macallan, Glenrothes and Glenturret but these are being pretty well left alone as for various reasons they seem to be viewed as 'the jewels in the crown' and only Tamdhu - the poor relation will suffer closure as an Edrington statement announced that they want to ensure "the business is the right size and shape to support current and future activity levels."

So what are these activity levels? I personally can only guess at this, but as most companies are looking towards the emerging markets of China and India along with a growing demand for single malts, they see the need to increase production to meet projected demands. Even the Scotch Whisky Association have recently said that more money is being invested in whisky since the late 1960's. "The Chinese have bought into Scotch whisky,” Gavin Hewitt, chief executive officer of the association, said  “There’s a huge new middle class and they want to make a statement about themselves.

This leaves me baffled and I have to ask myself "why would Edrington rather lose 31 valuable employees and ramp-down production, blaming the 'economic situation' when their competitors seem to be doing exactly the opposite?" Well, I may be wrong here, but I haven't seen any report saying Edrington is not making a profit or losing money. I have only seen ones saying they aren't making enough profit, so they choose to close a distillery and throw valued employees onto the streets! Maybe the answer lies in something I read on The Macallan's own website, which is also true for their other distillery shops; "Please bear in mind that regrettably, if you are outside of the UK it is not possible to purchase whisky through the Online Shop."

Maybe they want to conquer the UK and leave the rest of the world to their competitors! (OK, only joking, we all know The Macallan is a world-leading brand and for some the definitive Christmas present, but I am still dismayed and extremely disappointed when I see distillery closures).


But what of the whisky? Well, Tamdhu is a major component of Famous Grouse blended whisky and this is indeed where most of the production goes. So a new recipe will be needed for this flagship blend.

As for Tamdhu as a single malt; I only recently discovered this and after hearing so many reports saying it is one of the best value single malts around, I can only agree! It was a very enjoyable dram at a great price. In fact, my tasting notes are here.

Is there hope? Well I for one can only hope someone sees the true value of this distillery and prises it from the Edrington stable, perhaps giving it a little rejuvenation and turning it from an unwanted 'ugly sister' into a true 'Cinderella'.























































































Previous major features

Nov. 2009

How it all started, Bonfire night, Autumnal musings, EU Tax & Duty, What's in a (whisky) name?





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