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The whisky world as seen by an eccentric Bavarian exile


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Monday September 27th

500,000 or "Half a Million!"

During this last weekend Whisky Emporium reached another historic milestone with the advent of the 500,000th Page Visit.


Yes, I am both proud and surprised at how my personal website continues to grow in popularity since its inception in 2004.


Whisky Emporium began life as a home for a few bottles of whisky and my old attempts at landscape & nature photography, followed by a sales page with some collectible bottle offerings during 2005-6.

It was only in October 2009 when I decided things needed to change. The whole format was revamped and gone were all attempts at sales and photography as I designed a new home for my tasting notes. My blog-esque "Dram-atics" page followed soon afterwards and the new "Whisky Emporium" was finally born, with more than a little help from a good cyber friend called Matthew!

So, today is the day when I step back a little and thank YOU; my visitors for clicking your way through my website on more than half a million occasions and for making Whisky Emporium what it is today!

Thank you everyone!





Thursday September 23rd

The SMWS Spirit Cellars or "Going underground"

I recently received a press release informing me that The SMWS had developed an online bottle selector called 'The Spirit Cellars" for members who want recommendations in selecting what to buy from the Society.


Anyway, as a whisky commentator and not a member, I was offered a “sneak preview” of the Spirit Cellars and I was also offered the chance to speak directly to a real SMWS person about this too, so not being of a shy persuasion and in the name of whisky research I jumped at this chance and below is the result of a discussion with Kai Ivalo of The SMWS.

As for myself and my previous exposure to The SMWS, I moved to Germany late in 1998 and until that time I had been a happy member of the Society in the UK for some years. They always  had a reputation for good quality, single cask, cask strength bottlings but with the difference that they don’t name the distillery. Instead, they assign each distillery a number and each cask from a particular distillery is assigned a cumulative number, so a bottling which is labelled as 14.37 would be translated as the 37th cask from distillery number 14 which is Talisker.

Complicated? Not really, I always found this system as rather quaint and personifying the ‘Members Club’ feeling.



Hello Kai, would you like to introduce The Society, yourself and what your responsibilities are within The SMWS?

My name is Kai Ivalo and I am a director of the Society and am based in Edinburgh. My responsibilities are varied and include the Society’s presentation and communications from the bottle to our printed materials (including our Unfiltered magazine), website and venues or bars. I also look after the whisky selection and bottling process.

As for The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, it began 26 years ago when a group of discerning friends shared the price of a single cask of fine malt whisky.

The Society now has over 26,000 members around the world with branches in 14 countries. It bottles over 300 single casks a year for its members from a range of more than 125 distilleries.

Members can choose from the world’s widest selection of single cask, single malt whiskies with only the very best selected and approved by the Society’s respected Tasting Panel.


I have spent some time looking through this new ‘Spirit Cellar’ feature and the first thing I noticed was that when trying to enter it requested my country or location, but then only gave “UK” as an option, Is this a feature which will remain limited to UK members, or do you plan to open it to a world-wide market too?

That’s quite right. We launched The Spirit Cellars for the UK branch to start with. Other branches will follow soon.


Whilst still in the UK I was always happy with my membership but this came to an abrupt end when I moved to Germany. My experience here was that I was no longer ‘allowed’ to be a member of the same SMWS and had to deal with, or join, another SMWS-related Society based here in mainland Europe. At the time I think this was based in Holland. Anyway, after receiving monthly updates and offers as regular as the proverbial Swiss clockwork in the UK, I was suddenly faced with irregular updates and a much-reduced selection of bottlings, seemingly at higher prices.

How will the ‘Spirit Cellar’ operate in this respect? Will it also be tailored to limited selections for different countries or markets, or will you have one single global selection?

Once you have selected a particular country, The Spirit Cellars will use the selection of available bottlings from that country. This means that you will be presented with results of bottlings that are available to buy. You can choose to change the setting to a different country but you won’t be able to have whisky sent from there.

(NB The Society’s branch in Germany releases six Outturns (bottling lists) a year with around 12 new single cask releases in each.)


In the ‘Spirit Cellar’ you have tried and pretty well succeeded to create a quite simple interface for users, albeit a little confusing to me with 13 different selectors, ranging from what appears to be a game of bingo to some techno ‘mood-bot’, via a route of one-armed bandits and palate equalisers. Do you not think members will be a little confused by all this?

(By the way, your drop-down scroll suggesting I experience a 1980’s Keith Floyd was so persistent that it wouldn’t allow me to see what I may have won on the one-armed bandit)


The aim of The Spirit Cellars is to provide a variety of different ways in which to choose your SMWS whisky. Some of the widgets will undoubtedly be more popular than others so we’ll be sure to monitor their usage and collect feedback from members. The Spirit Cellars will develop and evolve over time and we’re looking forward to receiving suggestions for new widgets to develop.


I said earlier that some years ago I liked the SMWS for their quality of offerings and the ‘quaint’ numbering system, but it seems to me that the emphasis now is much more towards what I can only describe as a ‘headline-hitting’ style of one-line descriptors, in fact isn’t this integral to your ‘Spirit Cellar’ concept and don’t you feel that you are reducing what is a quality, luxury product to a rather dumbed-down level?


The technology behind The Spirit Cellars uses a wide range of data on each of our bottlings. This includes the full tasting notes themselves (around 100 words in length) which have been categorised into the eight broad flavour groups that you can clearly see in The Palate Equaliser together with the tasting note title, the Tasting Panel’s drinking tip and specific details such as age, cask type, region etc.



We deliberately took the approach of creating several specific ‘widgets’ to cater for different people’s needs and interests. Some will know pretty much what they want and will be more rational in their selection approach. Whereas others prefer to receive a specific suggestion or want to have a bit more fun as part of the process. So we have covered a number of different bases for the launch of The Spirit Cellars. It’s now up to people to use it and, as mentioned before, we’ll be keeping an eye on which widgets are working the best so that we can make changes to further improve the service.

Kai, many thanks from me and all my readers for taking some time from your busy schedule to answer these questions and good luck to The SMWS.

Keith Wood



Thursday September 16th

Munich Madness or "200 years to celebrate a wedding?"

On October 12th 1810 Crown Prince Ludwig (who later became King Ludwig I) married Princess Theresa in Munich. To celebrate this event they organised a grand horse race on Oct. 17th and then a people's party on the 18th to celebrate with an 'Oktoberfest'.


Skip forward 200 years, well almost, give or take a couple or so weeks and we wait with great anticipation for the opening of the 177th Oktoberfest or what the locals call the "Wies'n" in less than 2 days time. Only 177 you ask? Well there were a few interruptions thanks to The Napoleonic Wars and the like. Wies'n is a Bavarian word for meadow or field and this particular field is the self-same one which was graced by the first Oktoberfest back in 1810 and was named "Theresienwiese" after Princess Theresa.

It would be hard to believe that many of you haven't heard of the Wies'n or what some call The beer festival and I'm sure you've also heard the term 'beer tents'. Well, what you may not realise is the Wies'n is a true family event with amusements, rides & rollercoasters to suit all ages and stomachs, but alongside this the six central Munich breweries erect their tents to purvey their refreshments, usually in the form of beer, brez'n (no, not pretzels), grilled chicken, pork knuckle, hog roast and the odd Ox or three.

Did I say tents? I guess that technically they can be called this even though building work starts in early summer and takes almost 3 months to complete. There is a total of 14 such tents, ranging in size from a couple which accommodate 2,000 people, to the larger ones accommodating around 10,000 people! In fact, at any one time the Wies'n has a seating capacity of around 100,000.

Are you a statistic junkie? As I mentioned there are 14 tents supplying beer from 6 Munich breweries and the jamboree runs for just over 2 weeks, 17 days this year thanks to a holiday Monday. During these 17 days, going by the averages of previous years, expect somewhere just over 6 million visitors to consume almost 6 million litres of beer (that's just over 10.5 million (UK) pints!), devour around 600,000 chickens and a mere 84 head of cattle. It is said that the Wies'n brings a total of around €700,000,000 in business to Munich and the surrounding area during this couple of weeks.

So, why am I telling you all this on my little whisky blog?

Well, I have decided to give up whisky for a while, in fact for a whole evening, as I try three of the specially brewed Oktoberfest beers which I picked up in my local supermarket today. I recently had a discussion with a cyber friend known to most as 'Billy' who runs a rather decent beer & whisky blog based in the UK. In fact our discussion was based around such festivals as he had just attended the record-breaking 2010 Great British Beer Festival at Earl's Court in London, now why are these things so often associated with Royalty? Anyway, the 5 days of GBBF attracted 67,000 visitors and sold 200,000 pints at an average of 75 per minute. No, I'm not going to work out the average ppm or lpm of Oktoberfest, but feel free to do it yourself. However, they did have a few more different beers with a choice of 700 real ales as opposed to 6.

Oh and whilst we're at it, I have also been talking to some other cyber friends known as Don and Jim, or is it Jim and Don? who run another beer & whiskEy blog based over the other side of the pond. They have recently been blogging about their own local 'Oktoberfests' which are being run Stateside.

Oops, I nearly forgot another cyber-mate who's coming over for this jamboree during the last weekend, so Dougie, be prepared!

So chaps, this one's for you as I take off my whisky hat and put on my beer goggles!


Unfortunately, the supermarket didn't have my favourite Munich beer; Augustiner, but they did have Hofbrau, Spaten & Löwenbrau, so here we go 'whisky style'. OK, some habits die hard!

Hofbrau, 2010 Oktoberfestbier, 6.3% abv Sunny gold in colour and with a nose of floral hops bordering upon the Alpine Wies'n itself, this promises much. The palate is light, hardly bitter, but not exactly sweet and really quite moorish, but without the flora promised by the nose, although that's quite welcome in a beer.

Spaten, 2010 Oktoberfestbier, 5.9% abv Light yellow in colour this is much lighter than the Hofbrau. The nose is quite neutral, but very fresh and light. The palate is smooth and light, but somehow lacking in a little character. At least it's cold and wet.

Löwenbrau, 2010 Oktoberfestbier, 6.1% abv Also light yellow in colour with a nose which initially hinted at fresh coconut, yes really, but soon fades to neutral. The palate is fressh, light and really quite pleasant, in fact I reckon this is the best of the three and I shouldn't say this about Munich beer, but it reminds me of some of my youthful trips to France and the beers on offer there.

  At midday on Saturday the fun begins and, I'm told, if you get to any of the tents and join the queue at around 7am you will have a slight chance of getting in. As for the rest of the 'fest', it opens each day at 11am and almost all the tables are booked solid everyday from 4pm, but if you fancy a chance of an early afternoon beer and maybe a spot of lunch by staking a claim for a chunk of one of the 84 head of cattle or a half of one of the 600,000 chickens, then you should be in with a fair chance.

Cheers Billy, cheers Dougie, cheers Don & Jim, let the fun begin!

What they said

Don: "Keith, good job.  Sounds like the Hofbrau is the best of the bunch.  It also sounds like quite the party.  I think I would kill myself there, because unlike the Great American Beer Festival that Jim and I are going to tomorrow (great anticipation) where there are over 490 breweries and over 2200 beers available for consumption, the German version seems to be more of a quantity festival instead of a quality brew festival. I would definitely spend half the night under the table."

Hi Don and good luck with your own 'festival' tomorrow. It sounds like your GABF is run along the same lines as the GBBF and is a traditional beer festival, a concept I am familiar with and really like from what I will call my formative years at home in England. Oktoberfest or The Wies'n is a totally different concept, it is indeed a party, a peoples' party on an almost unimaginable scale, just imagine 'tents' with capacities up to 10,000 people then multiply it by 14. There's also no concept of wandering around, perhaps along a massive bar and selecting which beer you fancy next. Each tent sells only the beer from that brewery, one Oktoberfest beer, perhaps a Weißbier, an alcohol-free beer (yes really!) and some soft drinks. As I said, most if not all tables are pre-booked months in advance so no reservation, no entry at the busiest times, although there are possibilities to get in otherwise if you're lucky and there's space. I would dispute your comment about (beer) quality versus quantity as Munich's beer is excellent, especially my beloved Augustiner and of course we have a 'beer purity law' or "reinheitsgebot" which has been in force since 1516 which only allows water, barley & hops to be used in its production, although when discovered, yeast was added to make a permitted list of 4 ingredients. None of those nasty chemical thingies here!

But beyond this, The Wies'n is a party and a place for families. It's a massive fun-fair and days can easily be spent there without even entering a beer tent. Keith.



Thursday September 9th

Prime Real Estate or "Playing Chinese whispers"

Did you ever play Chinese Whispers as a child? You know the game where the first child whispers something quickly to the second, then he on to the next ... etc until a totally different and unrelated phrase finally makes its way back to the originator.


Well, yesterday evening the whisky rumour mill was suddenly thrust into overdrive as two specific rumours hit the world of whisky forii and sites like twitter. Firstly the rumour that Bruichladdich had been sold, yes that's right, sold! Secondly, that Ardbeg had been put up for sale. No, in this case I'm not talking about bottles, collectible or otherwise, I'm referring to the distilleries themselves. This all seems to have been started by a forum post on a Dutch forum by Hans Offringa who is normally a well-connected whisky authority and not the type to start some kind of April fool's joke on September 8th.

It seems to be true (according to another rumour) that some time ago Bruichladdich were approached by an undisclosed entity who enquired about buying the distillery, but it also seems to be true that they were given a short, sharp "Not for sale" reply which I can fully understand. Bruichladdich is a work in progress that is far from complete and I personally would be very surprised if the fiercely independent owners were to walk away at this stage. Unless of course they had something bigger in mind, like a not too distant distillery famed for extreme peat. Dram, there go those Chinese whispers again.

As for Ardbeg, it has a history of changing hands and maybe there are people out there who fancy starting a new series of special editions based upon following the maturation of whisky from say, 5 or 6 years old to perhaps 10 years old. Ooops sorry, I think that's been done already. Anyway, in the world of corporate games and one-upmanship, take-overs of this magnitude are a common-day occurrence in the bored (sic) rooms of the powerful.

But settle down folks, it is all rumour and nothing has been officially confirmed at this stage, although a little rabbit did whisper something about his bunny haven.

Now, did someone else say something about a young laddie delivering a new handbag for my wife?



Sunday September 5th

Fame at last or "I can do that, gizza job!"


Over the last months Oliver Klimek has become a good friend in real life as well as in the cyber world of whisky blogging. He runs a whisky blog called "Dramming" in which he not only reviews whisky, but also discusses everything related to it and even challenges some of those old beliefs which many seem to think are set in concrete. Anyway, his latest little soiree is entitled "Whisky People" which basically does what it says on the package; interview people with an interest in whisky, about ...... whisky! He sets each interviewee 10 questions, five of which are uniquely tailored to the individual and five of which are the same for everyone. Anyway, his first target was the incomparable Serge Valentin of whiskyfun and also Malt Maniac par excellence. He was an extremely hard act to follow, but Oliver gave me the honour and pleasure of being his second target of the series, which can be seen here.


Friday September 3rd

The Whisky Knights go all independent

The Whisky Knights comprise 12 different whisky bloggers or website owners who enjoy a monthly 'Round Table' cyber-meeting hosted by each 'knight' in turn. The idea is to discuss a different whisky-related topic each month and this month we try to demistify the world of Independent Bottlers as September sees Ruben of "Whisky Notes" playing the role of "MC Arthur".



Thursday September 2nd

Just how bad can it get or "the only way is up?"

I start October on what I expect to be a real low. No, I'm not talking about my personal situation on this occasion, but my latest whisky review in which I sample the infamous Cú Dhub which follows in the wake of the equally infamous Loch Dh-ugly, but this time from The Speyside distillery as opposed to Mannochmore. Just how does it compare? Can it really be as bad, or worse? Let's see .....




Back in March I tested three whiskies which resulted in my coining the term Loch Dhu-gly as for the first time ever I witnessed a mixture of treacle toffee, tarmac, burnt coffee beans and rancid used ashtray. This Cú Dhub comes with a reputation for managing to surpass Loch Dhu-gly in the ugly stakes so I received this sample with some trepidation and immediately consigned it to my "dangerous substances" corner, which meant locking it in a lead-lined container down in the garden shed for a few days. But was all this palava really necessary?


My first surprise was the nose; initially a little weak, or should I say "restrained" for a couple of minutes until a hint of rich, dark whisky appeared. Yes, it actually had a 'whisky' nose, albeit caramelised and 'growing' a plume of wood-smoke after a little further time. The palate was rich and chewy, just like the treacle toffee it tries hard to imitate in flavour, along with some caramel and rich coffee beans, but not actually burned, perhaps just a little toasted. The finish is quite long and sits purely at the front of the tongue. Did I say "purely"? Maybe a strange word to use with this whisky, perhaps I should stick with "entirely".  Anyway, this is definitely a whisky and not a chain-smoker's paradise of old rancid ashtray which was more along the lines of my expectations. But is this really a good whisky? No. Would I like to buy a bottle? Not really! Would I refuse another sample? That's a difficult one, but maybe I would actually revisit this if the occasion arose. Is it the worst whisky I have sampled in 2010? No, that honour remains with the Dhu-gly one although this offers a close fight with Snow Grouse for 2nd place!

Slàinte Mhath





Previous major features

August 2010

Elementary my dear Islay, Handbags at dawn, Dram-arkable 500, Cheapo Challenge, Ah Dooagh, 1 from 3 left

July 2010

Age matters. A series of whisky reviews concentrating upon 'Age'

June 2010

Jules Rimet, pickles & crisps. Mon coeur, mon amour oh mon sherry. A taste of the great outdoors.

May 2010

The highly-acclaimed and record-breaking "Desert Island Drams"

April 2010

My peat's bigger than your peat, A foursome with a famous Scottish bird

March 2010

Sample Mania tasting notes, The Good, the Bad & The Loch Dh-Ugly, A return to sanity, The Choice of Managers

Jan-Feb 2010

Keep taking the medicine, It's Festival time, Maker's Mark, Sleeveless in Munich

Dec. 2009

All power to the bean-counters, protecting Scotch, seasonal drams, Definitive Xmas Drams, 2009 Whisky Awards

Nov. 2009

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



© Copyright 2009-2011 by Keith Wood - All rights reserved - Whisky-Emporium