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The whisky world as seen by an eccentric Bavarian exile
me here to comment on any Dram-atics article, I'll include as
many replies as possible
500,000 or "Half a Million!"
During this last weekend Whisky Emporium reached another
historic milestone with the advent of the 500,000th Page
Yes, I am both proud and surprised at how my personal website
continues to grow in popularity since its inception in 2004.
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
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
Thank you everyone!
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"
who want recommendations in selecting what to buy from the
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
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’
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
As for The
Scotch Malt Whisky Society,
began 26 years ago when a group of discerning friends shared the
price of a single cask of fine malt whisky.
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.
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
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
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
many thanks from me and all my readers for taking some time from
your busy schedule to answer these questions and good luck to
Munich Madness or "200 years to celebrate a wedding?"
On October 12th 1810 Crown Prince Ludwig
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
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.
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
beer & whiskEy blog
based over the other side of the pond. They have recently been
blogging about their own local 'Oktoberfests' which are being
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!
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!
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.
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
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
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."
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!
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.
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
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
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
at this stage, although a little rabbit did whisper something
about his bunny haven.
Now, did someone
something about a young laddie
delivering a new handbag for my wife?
Fame at last or "I can do that, gizza job!"
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.
The Whisky Knights go all independent
The Whisky Knights
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
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
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
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
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