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The whisky world as seen by an eccentric Bavarian exile


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Monday October 18th

Exclusive Drams or "Only a lucky few (RHIP)"


I receive many press releases from various corners of 'the trade' but 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 friends.

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 remains £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.

I do love that decanter! Eau de eau de vie anyone?



Dear John, 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 £2000 or £100,000 on 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 right now.

RHIP and I'm slowly learning my own rank in life.



Sunday October 17th

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 like Kinclaith.


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?

There's been 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 MoM.




Ben, 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 there.


How 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 expensive) bottles.

It goes 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 out there.

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" Imperial, 18y, 43% ABV

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 abv's?

  Signatory Imperial, 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!


    Signatory, Linlithgow, 26y, distilled 1982, 61.2% ABV

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.

  Signatory, Kinclaith, 35y, distilled 28th May 1969, 53.3% ABV

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 .........



My 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.

I 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.

Would I 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.


The 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?


Thank 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 ..........


Thursday October 7th

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 happened.

I eventually 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" interview:


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 I was working there permanently.

What were your responsibilities at Bruichladdich?

I was responsible for Eastern Europe and Russia since 2005. When I 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, less formal.

Melbourne is a multi-cultural 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 developed, 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'?


I 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 structure.

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!


What 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 whisky 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 loyalty.


I 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 industry.


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!


You 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.


When 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 opportunity.


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!


How 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?

Slàinte, Keith




Friday October 1st

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 my turn 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 'bottle ageing'.

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).

Are they up for it?

You bet they are! See their replies here.........

Slàinte Mhath





Previous major features

Sept. 2010

Playing Chinese whispers, Oktoberfest, SMWS Spirit Cellar, 500,000

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?




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