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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
Exclusive Drams or "Only a lucky few (RHIP)"
I receive many press releases from various corners of 'the trade'
usually I read them and don't necessarily automatically include
them here in Dram-atics. A few other websites look after 'whisky
news' and do it far better than I could, but sometimes, just
sometimes, one takes my fancy for whatever reason and I get the
urge to comment.
Such an urge came over me
yesterday when I received a mail from someone involved in
marketing Johnnie Walker, specifically JW's Blue & Gold labels.
Apparently there's a new kid on the block, but not one for most
of us, in fact he hails from a family of only 330 bottles and
claims to be (I quote) "A
tribute to the Founding Father of Johnnie Walker".
He has a name too; "The
John Walker", to his
Exclusivity and rarity?
Well there are only 330 bottles in total, but these are no
ordinary bottles, we're talking individually numbered,
hand-blown Baccarat crystal decanters, from one of only three
master craftsmen in the world, so I'm told. As for the whisky;
it comes from 9 hand-selected casks, alas, does this imply that
computerised warehousing exists in the whisky industry now? I am
also told that "Every
care has been made to recreate the authentic flavours of a 19th
Century blend in John Walker's original style".
This is starting
to sound like something I want to try, well I have tried
many different JWs, including the rather expensive and exclusive
King George V, so did I get a sample of this to add to my
tasting notes? Sadly not. So if I, or you, wish to get hold of
this we'll find out just how exclusive it is as it's only, or
exclusively available at Harrods for a mere RRP of a brace of
grands. No, sorry, no matter how I phrase that, the price
£2000 that's two thousand of those quintessential English quids
at the one and only, equally quintessential olde English shoppe
called Harrods, for a quintessentially Scottish blended whisky,
named after a (not necessarily quintessential) chap called John
who, according to the video, once went for a walk.
do love that decanter! Eau de eau de vie anyone?
thank you for bringing this new, exclusive and rare bottling to
my attention, I'd love to rush out and buy one, maybe even two
to put alongside a Mortlach 70y, Glenfiddich 50y, various
Dalmores ranging in age, exclusivty and price from perhaps a
rather sensible 40y to a Trinitus (why do I always want to call
that one a Tinitus?) at a mere 100,000 of those quintessential
Englsih quid things for each of only three bottles, but sadly
once again I will have to pass on this wonderful opportunity.
Each morning I
rush to my e-mail, as I have done for the last year and a
half, to see if any of my multitude of job applications have
brought news of an interview, or even any progress at all. Sadly,
in this year and a half none have and I remain one of the
unemployed and seemingly, unemployable in Germany, so I just
continue to spend my hours, days, weeks and months working on
this website and increasing my knowledge of all things whisky.
The thought of
a bottle of whisky doesn't
exactly annoy or outrage me, it just reminds me of my own
situation where it may as well be
£50 I'm being asked to pay, as
this is a fortune which I just don't have and could not find
RHIP and I'm slowly learning my own rank in life.
Affordable dramming or "Cute little things"
Today I take a look at how we reviewers and bloggers manage
to sample some rarer drams without suffering the expense of
full bottles, which can be extreme if talking about drams
My oft-stated goal
is to sample whisky
from as many distilleries as possible, if not all of them. OK,
so this may be a pipe-dream if talking about all distilleries
that ever existed, but my personal list covers all present ones
and many closed distilleries which I hope to sample one day,
although I have always believed that two of them would be well
beyond realistic possibility. Not any more! Today I achieved one
of those impossible dreams as I sampled the extremely rare
Kinclaith. A quick search tells me that this bottle usually
carries a price getting on towards €800 which I assure you, is
also almost €800 beyond my means right now.
How I mnaged
this is thanks to one of the few whisky sellers who are
catering to folk like me and also those who wish to "try before
they buy" by purchasing smaller (sample) bottles. In this case,
I spoke with a UK retailer called Master of Malt who advertise
such samples. Always on the lookout for rarer samples to fill my
'distillery gaps' I was delighted to see they were offering a
Kinclaith and also a Linlithgow.
Well, it would be rude not to wouldn't it?
much (blogger) talk about ethics recently and I agree that
one should not be forced to offer anything other than honest
reviews, even if a sample or two should drop through the
letterbox, which has only ever happened once to me. No, this
wasn't exactly the case here as I paid for the samples, but what
arrived were slightly larger ones than I paid for. Well, Mr.
Master of Malt, welcome to Dram-atics' honest review of your
service and drams received.
In fact, I
contacted one of the 'Masters' of Master of Malt and asked
if he would be willing to answer a couple of questions about the
idea of samples and trying before buying, to my delight he
agreed, so here first is my mini-interview with Ben Ellefsen of
what made you decide to open bottles, especially quite valuable
ones, in order to move into the sample 'business'?
To be honest, it wasn’t really a
conscious decision at first, we found that we were opening quite
a lot of bottles to allow our customers (and friends) to try the
latest releases and some of our favourite whiskies (one of the
challenges of being an online only merchant is that we can’t
just open bottles in our shop and let people try). As we sent
out samples to people, we noticed that they were coming back
more and more frequently to buy full-sized bottles of the
products we sent them, so it became a bit of a no-brainer to
invest in a bottling line, and it kind of grew organically from
successful are you finding this 'sample business' and how does
it compare to full bottle sales?
The primary role of the sample service is to
allow consumers to try before they buy, and in comparison to the
full-sized bottles the volume that we sell is tiny. The focus
of the sample service has always been to allow people that are
really interested in expanding their tasting repertoire to do so
in a convenient and comparatively inexpensive way – we’ve never
seen it as a money-spinner. Overall though, we’re incredibly
pleased with the way the samples are going. Literally every day
we get positive comments from our customers about how exciting
and innovative they find the service, and from a commercial
perspective we’re seeing an uplift in the number of bottles
we’re selling as a result.
I am a little surprised you only talk about the sample sales
growing from "try before you buy" rather than thanks to the
proliferation of whisky bloggers who wish to try lots of
different distilleries without actually buying full (and often
without saying that we are incredibly grateful to
the whisky blogging community as a whole for their to-a-man
support and encouragement, but from a commercial perspective the
number of orders and sales coming from bloggers and vocal
members of the online community are actually fairly small. The
majority of sales are from everyday consumers who are curious
about why they should pay an extra £10-50 for the next
expression up in their favourite distillery’s range, or take a
foray into the world of superb independent bottlings that are
There is of course the happy
side-effect that bloggers and whisky super-enthusiasts (I
include myself in both these groups by the way)
can taste an absolutely astonishing array
of whiskies and other spirits in a comparatively inexpensive way.
Ian Macleod "Chieftain's"
The colour of this
Imperial is unbelievably pale, I've seen new spirit with more
colour, but never mind, I don't believe in judging a whisky by
colour. In fact, this particular Imperial had a quite strong and
immediate nose, The palate was one of perfumed grasses and a
hint of liquorice, but in spite of the long finish, it still
seemed to be lacking a little 'something'. Perhaps a few more
1982, 27y, 58.3% ABV
A rich gold colour
signifies an immediate difference to the above Imperial. The
nose is also much stronger with lots of lightly perfumed,
aromatic wood and plenty of suggestion of my favourite childhood
"olde Worlde sweet shoppe". The palate introduces lots of fruits
like peach and melon alongside the aromatic wood and
butterscotch, then even hints at raspberry coconut as it glides
into the very long lingering finish. I love this whisky!
The nose offers a
quite complex mixture of extremely aromatic and gently perfumed
wood, some butterscotch or mild toffee and a good old fruit
cocktail. The palate is creamy and warming, but at 61% it's also
filled with alcohol burn, although this doesn't prevent some
wonderful fruit and toffee flavours coming through. A very
long finish makes me want to come back to this over the next few
days and experiment with adding water.
28th May 1969,
Rich, well polished
aged oak initially greets the nose, followed after some minutes
by a slight antiseptic quality and suggestions of oil, of the
petroleum kind. No hint of oil on the palate as the polished
wood is joined by dark fruits like raisins and also a touch of
marzipan. A few drops of water increase the presence of the
nuttiness and also enhance the light perfume of the wood. This
is undoubtedly a good whisky with plenty of rich flavours, but I
still wouldn't classify it as a 'great' and as for the price
conclusions firstly state that three of these four whiskies
are very good, just one, the 18y CHieftain's Imperial was a
slight disappointment, but none of this is any fault of the
seller as they are not the bottler in this case.
have promised (or threatened) a totally honest review of the
service I have received from Master of Malt and I can honestly
say that this cannot be faulted. These 3cl sample bottles just
have to be the cutest ones I've ever seen, with their solid
dumpiness, that wax-style seal and rustic, parchment-like labels.
All in all there is great attention to presentation and detail
which is so often lacking these days.
change anything? Well, I personally like to experiment with
adding water to my drams and this is quite difficult with a
sample of 3cl, so I may suggest slightly more voluminous samples
of 5cl, although with such affordable samples (OK, maybe not the
Kinclaith) I think buying 2x 3cl of each would be a great idea.
sample or "try before you buy" concept is a true God-send to
people like myself, especially when it comes to rarer or more
expensive drams, I mean, almost €800 for that Kinclaith would
immediately make it a non-starter for me, but a 3cl sample .....
why not indeed?
you Master of Malt (and of course other sellers offering
samples) for the opportunity to be able to fill many of those
distillery gaps in my tasting notes and long may you continue!
Now, if you should happen to have an affordable Ben Wyvis or
even Craiglodge, Glen Douglas, Hillside, Killyloch or Kininvie
Under the spotlight or "Finding that dream-job"
As many of my Dram-atics readers will know,
I tend to spend
quite some time communicating with various whisky people on
twitter. We are all fortunate that social media sites like
twitter are not only frequented by whisky anoraks like myself,
but also by a good number of industry people who readily answer
questions and give us an insight into
what's going on in the
world of whisky that we love so much.
One such person
was Donald Maclellan, known to most as "Bruich_Sales"
for some time now, but unfortunately, he disappeared from the
face of twitter recently, which left me wondering what had
managed to catch up with Donald a few days ago by good old
e-mail and I learned that he has moved on to pastures new,
leaving Islay and heading northeast to Speyside where he has
found his dream-job with Glendronach.
So, putting best
foot forward, or rather risking putting it uncomfortably in
my mouth, I jumped right in and asked if he would agree to a
Dram-atics style interview and, quite surprisingly for a new kid
in town who wouldn't normally wish to rock the boat, he accepted.
I now offer you Dram-atics first "under the spotlight"
Donald, firstly please allow me to congratulate you on your new
position and also for agreeing to this interview.
I read that you grew up in Australia to Scottish parents, but
what made you want to discover Islay and then move there?
I initially arrived on
Islay for a wedding and Jim Mc Ewan offered me a job doing admin
for 3 days for £50 & a bottle of whisky. The he asked me back
for another week and before I knew it
was working there permanently.
What were your responsibilities at Bruichladdich?
I was responsible for
Eastern Europe and Russia since 2005. When
was made responsible the region had only 2 active markets/countries.
Over 4 years I developed it to be more than 15 active markets/countries
including Baltics, Kazakstan, Bulgaria and Ukraine.
How did you find life on Islay compared to what you had
been used to in Australia?
It’s another world! In
short, the Australian climate is much warmer and drier which
promotes an outdoor culture which naturally is more laid-back,
metropolis with restaurants from about 45 different countries
whereas Islay had just opened its first non-Scottish restaurant
‘the Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant’ shortly before I arrived!
Finally, on Islay it
takes much longer to make friends but once a friendship is
it is a genuine, longer lasting and supportive friendship.
Bruichladdich is generally perceived as a kind of "new kid on
the block with attitude", how did this come across to someone
'on the inside'?
never knew anything different having just arrived from Australia
so it’s difficult to say precisely. I instantly identified with
Bruichladdich being independent, and somewhat maverick – a small
team with everyone performing many different tasks, almost
totally paperwork free and with an almost flat organisational
With all fast growing companies, it needed to expand in order to
realise its full potential.
I guess one question which may interest the whisky collectors is
"How many editions of the Links series will there be?" Also, "How
many more WMD editions?" OK, sorry, that was two questions.
The Links series is a superb series and I believe the concept
should be even more successful. It’s incredibly eye-catching
packaging but importantly the whisky inside the bottle is superb
14yo, 15yo and now 16yo whisky! Unfortunately, several editions
were launched at the same time and sales have slowed and so I
believe the series will soon finish.
The WMD series has now sold out and I don’t expect the series to
continue. Bruichladdich has decided to streamline its range -
which I believe is a positive decision - and naturally some
products have to be removed from the extensive range!
The five questions posed so far have basically looked to the
past, let's now concentrate on the present and the future. So, I
guess the most obvious next question is; "What influenced your
decision to leave Bruichladdich and the magical Islay for
BenRiach in Speyside and GlenDronach in the Highlands, other
than maybe money of course?
After 5 years at
Bruichladdich I was keen to continue my professional development
by expanding my role in a new company. I had known the team at
BenRiach and GlenDronach for many years and I was excited by
their huge growth potential and expansion plans (buying BenRiach
Distillery in 2004, GlenDronach Distillery in 2008, the
Newbridge Bottling Hall in 2010 and maybe even more to come!).
So I’m moving from strength to strength!
are the major challenges you see for yourself and BenRiach /
GlenDronach in the coming years? (I don't use the word 'challenges'
in any negative way here!)
BenRiach is a great
which is now available in over 35 countries worldwide. However,
before its independent ownership in 2004, the distillery’s
single malts were never freely available to the general market.
Increasing brand awareness has and will continue to be at the
forefront of the team’s goals moving forward, as there are still
many people out there who don’t know about the brand.
GlenDronach is a much loved brand, with a large fan base
worldwide as it was part of Teachers portfolio in the ‘60s and
was pushed as a single malt in ‘80s and ‘90s when very few
others were. However, for many years the distillery received
little investment and as such the product line diminished and
the brand was seldom seen on retailers’ shelves.
The challenge has been
to bring GD back into the market and re-establish it as one of
Scotland’s finest richly sherried malts. GD is now 2 years into
its new independent ownership and sales are once again booming.
Moving forward, we envisage that the challenge will continue to
be to increase brand recognition, product understanding and
don't exactly term myself a whisky blogger as many are, but I
see myself more as an opinionated commentator on all things
whisky and the industry. I'm also fanatical about my tasting
notes which I write with a passion. But how do you see the role
of people like me and my fellow bloggers in spreading the word?
In fact, do we actually have a role to play?
Bloggers, first and
foremost have a hugely important role to play as ambassadors for
small, independent distilleries that don’t have multi-million
pound budgets for advertising and marketing. Small distilleries
can provide pertinent information direct to bloggers for them to
interpret, publish and discuss with their followers.
Secondly, bloggers are
in a position to educate customers about important processes and
marketing tricks. As an example, chill filtration & caramel
colouring which are both industrial processes that reduce the
quality of the end product and used to be the norm. But through
education consumers are now pressing producers to provide more
non-chill filtered and caramel free whisky. Without bloggers
educating consumers and bringing these processes to consumer’s
attention for discussion over the last few years, these
processes may still be considered standard practice by the
With this power,
bloggers naturally have a responsibility to publish honest,
well-informed and balanced views on current issues and
bottlings. Whisky consumers and fans are increasingly trusting
bloggers’ opinions and the volume of whisky information
available on SM (FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) is incredible.
Whisky has always been a very sociable drink but thanks to
Social Media you can now be alone in your house but still
discuss your experiences, stories and feelings with friends all
over the world!
provide samples to a select group of 'tasters' so they can
review your products. Surely there is pressure on them to review
your product favourably or you won't send them more?
No, not really. I
selected my 5 ‘tasting club members’ for their honest opinion
and readable style. One taster (who I won’t name but he may wish
to make himself known when this goes online?) had just given a
particularly critical, negative review of a Bruichladdich
expression when I asked him to join. I liked his writing style
and thought he brought depth (he is from another race, religion
and/or cultural segment) and so although he was critical, his
review was fair and honest and you can’t ask much more. So I
decided to provide him with further samples to see if what he
thought of other expressions/ranges.
I approached my selected tasters approx. 12 months ago I stated
the following 2 points in my introduction email:
1. Please give a 100%
honest review. If you don’t like a particular sample then so be
it! I won’t be giving more samples to those who review more
positively. I know other companies do this, but I won’t as I
personally believe that customers are very smart and will notice
in 2 mins if we suddenly start getting 100% positive reviews!
2. Please forward me a preview of each tasting note before you
post it? It’s NOT because I want to censor them – not at all –
but just so I can check all the bottling/product facts are
accurate such as bottling strength, recipe, distribution region,
limited numbers, casks used, etc. so that your readers get 100%
accurate info. I promise to preview and respond as quickly as
possible – usually within the hour, but please give me this
I look forward to
continuing work with this these 5 tasters as well as extending
the offer to new markets and segments.
Finally, I should declare that I too have been approached to
provide a ‘nice’ bottle or two as a gift in return for a
‘positive review’ but I have never entertained these requests.
In short, if I can’t trust the quality of the whisky I am
selling then I am fooling myself and my customers!
long will you stay at BR/GD?
Until I stop having
fun! Many years I expect ;)
So, we learn that no more WMDs will be produced on Islay, nor
will the golf course have too many more holes, will it reach 18,
or even the infamous 19th? But seriously now Donald, many thanks
for taking the time and trouble to answer my rather Dram-atical
and first "under the spotlight" interview and even more
seriously, my best wishes for success to not only yourself, but
also Benriach & Glendronach!
Now about a certain negative review, you couldn't possibly mean
.........., surely not ......., could you?
Whisky Round Table or "Knights in White, Sitting"
Twelve whisky blogs & websites, twelve often very different
opinions, but never a sword raised in anger as the 'Whisky
Knights' of the almost legendary Whisky Round Table tackle a
different whisky topic each month.
This month it's
to lower the drawbridge to Schloß Emporium and invite the
esteemed knights to enjoy the hospitality afforded in
Bayern. But I don't give them an easy time of it as I ask a
rather tricky and technical question regarding the possible concept of
Here's the devillish little question:
I know that officially the ageing or maturation of whisky is
defined as the time spent in oak casks, but apart from that, do
you believe in any form of 'bottle ageing' being accountable for
changes in the flavour of whisky over a period of years whilst
still in the bottle? (I am also talking about originally
sealed and unopened bottles, as we all know that once a bottle
is opened, oxidisation of the whisky can and often does occur).
up for it?
bet they are!
See their replies here.........
© Copyright 2009-2011 by Keith Wood - All rights reserved - Whisky-Emporium