me here to comment on any Dram-atics article, I'll include as
many replies as possible
Putting it into Perspective
or "A Blend of Maniacs"
love to invent Collective Nouns, I have previously suggested
a Commission of Salesmen, but now I offer to
you a Twist of Worm Tubs, or in this case how
about A Blend of Maniacs?
For my final mini-report on our
15th Anniversary Celebrations in Scotland I'm going to offer my
own reflections on what was really a life-changing trip whilst
focusing mainly on one part of our visit which I can best
describe as taking the Malt Maniacs out of their usual comfort
For two and a
half days of our 4 days of Celebrations Diageo hosted the
Maniacs and not only offered a quite unique base for our event,
but also opened a few doors that wouldn't
be on any 'normal' visitors' tours.
Yes, it was
great to have the honour of visiting Roseisle and Mortlach
distilleries, also Blair Athol & Dalwhinnie, but for me the
first real eye-opener was their new Cambus Cooperage. We all
know that Diageo are big, very big, but it's only when driving
through acres and acres, or even square kilometres and square
miles of warehousing and then mountains of casks that we realise
just how big. As we pondered literally mountains of casks
awaiting rejuvenisation for refilling, one Maniac pointed to
just one mountain and asked how long that particular one would
last. Our guide thought
for a couple of seconds and replied with "Oh, about two and a
half, maybe three days". Such is the scale of this operation
which can build from new or rejuvenate up to 1000 casks per day
for filling to contribute to the 40,000 required casks per week!
I have met a few
Master Distillers and Master Blenders, one even threatens to
kill me if I hold the glass incorrectly every time I see him.
Others just prefer to sit more in the background and get on with
were treated to an audience with one such Master Blender who
definitely took us out of our comfort zone; well,
we are Malt Maniacs and when we suddenly have to
think blended whisky we are in slightly different territory.
But first let's look at some more rather mind-numbing numbers;
Diageo sell, so need to produce, 18.6 million cases of Johnnie
Walker whisky each year, that's almost 225 million bottles!
That's a lot of casks, a lot of bottles, a lot of distilleries
and an impressive amount of business.
In comparison, Diageo's whole Single Malt business equates to a
much with 6.4 million cases per year.
is Diageo's Master Blender and the man behind Johnnie Walker
(Well, with a name like that what else could he possibly have
done in life?)
very informedly explained some basic concepts behind
blending and how, at the end of the day, each one of Diageo's
distilleries is one single component, or colour on his palette
with which he can further mix or blend to create his art. (The
Artist metaphor is mine, not his.) Yes, as Maniacs we are
delighted to have the choice of so many single malts on the
market, but the raison d'etre for these malts is that
they are components for Diageo's blended whiskies.
The blend of
Maniacs; Jim created a blend specifically for our visit. No,
don't get ideas of an ultra rare Johnnie Walker or other blend
being bottled for us. This was a very small scale blend served
in glasses and not bottled as such. But first we were introduced
to the individual components which included a 20y vatting of
Highland malt, Talisker 25y, a 21y vatting of grain whisky,
Auchroisk 20y and Rosebank 21y. Each was delightful in its own
right but then we sampled Jim's blend of these components which
clearly exhibited the finer points of each component, a true
synergy. The more adventurous of us then proceeded to use the
remains of our individual samples to create our own blend which
always seemed to be rather heavy on the Talisker! Well, I did
say we were out of comfort zone and that Talisker is
After our private
mention most were heavy on the Talisker?) we were treated to a
rather unique tasting. The first bottle was donated to the event
by our very own (Blend Maniac) Ralfy and was a Johnnie Walker
Red Label from the early 1960's. What a difference from the JW
Red of today! Lots of nuttiness, toffee and a light smokiness
whilst also being slightly grassy and then a mouth-coating
fudginess on the palate. A total contrast to the rather lighter
and more crisp character of today's.
And now for
something completely different; A JW Fest of four rather
exclusive expressions. Each year Jim and his team create a
one-off bottling for the JW Directors. Each is limited to a
maximum of 500 bottles and given only to the Directors of
Johnnie Walker for them to use as they wish. But more than that,
each year's expression is created to show the influence that
various components or interactions can have on the final blend.
What do I mean by this? Let's explore ......
Blend; The focus here was grain whisky and the blend does
indeed have a solid grain influence with a fresh nose offering
lots of vanilla and butterscotch, whilst the palate offers a
slightly dry grassiness and lots more mouth-coating butterscotch.
85 Points from me.
Blend; 2009's focus was Highland and Isalnd Smokiness and
yes, it also succeeded here with lots of lightly perfumed
smokiness on the nose. Then apple, raspberry, smooth creamy
vanilla sauce or custard and that lovely gentle smokiness on the
palate. 87 Points from me.
Blend; Speyside fruitiness was the focus in 2010 and yes, it
has lots of zing, a typically complex Speyside nose with a bowl
full of fruits which all translated well onto the palate and
were joined by a very light pepperiness. 86 Points from me.
Blend; Wood was the word for 2011 with a nose of apricot,
vanilla, butterscotch and believe it or not; oak! The palate was
a delight of lightly flowered perfumes and what I can only
describe as vanilla wood. Wonderful and 87 points from me.
Following this tasting it is rumoured that Diageo received 22
applications for Director positions with Johnnie Walker.
Mhath and Long live the Blend Maniacs!
Cue the Castle Champion
by a firt timer"
I'm sure you've all seen the film,
some have been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.
There I was
occupying a rather comfy sofa by the snooker table in the
drawing room, thoroughly enjoying a trilogy of Rosebanks when I
overheard two Maniacs discussing not whisky, but the possibility
of playing a game of snooker.
It went something like this:
Maniac 1: Fancy
Well, yeah, but can you tell me the rules, I've never played
At this point I
temporarily abandoned my enthralling trilogy and clarifed the
object of the game and a few rules for both Maniacs.
Let the game
begin: Maniac 1 started well but somehow our first timer
Maniac 2 managed to keep within reach. A rather exciting game of
many reds and even
a few colours soon left Maniac 1 16 points
ahead with only 18 points left on the table (Blue, Pink and
Black balls). After Maniac 1 clarified that Maniac 2 needed all
three balls to win by a mere 2 points, Maniac 2 addressed the
table, head down and very coolly (I stress very coolly) eased
himself around the table and potted all three required balls
with the highest break of the game to leave poor old Maniac 1
shocked, stunned and totally shattered. First game indeed
But what about my trilogy of Rosebanks?
As it happens,
the oldest of the three was the least typical of Rosebank.
Lots of sherried notes including furniture polish, banana stem
and even leather, faint coffee and chocolate seemed to prevail.
The palate was dry and very mouth-coating with dark cherries and
a quite floral woodiness. 85 Points from me.
The youngest of
the three was the Rare Malts 20y and offered a much lighter
style of nutty, creamy, perfumed grassiness. Very light, very
nice indeed and 87 points from me.
Finally, the 21y
variant was awash with a lightly perfumed citrus grassiness,
lots of floral herbiness, creamy apple pie and vanilla. An
absolute gem and well worthy of my 88 points.
The ABC Guide to Scotland
or "Anoraks, Bottles
and a Castle"
or, or "Anoraks get slammed in The Vaults"
I'm safely home
and now digesting this incredible experience, trying to put my
thoughts into some kind of order. I was hoping that almost a
week in Scotland with the largest group of Certified Maniacs
ever gathered together would be quite amazing, perhaps almost
life-changing and guess what? It didn't disappoint on either
front. As I compose my thoughts I'll add a few features, I
refuse to say highlights as each and every minute was a
highlight, but if you want a good overview then my good friend
Oliver Klimek has posted
an excellent one here..
The official start to our celebration
arranged for Monday evening with a short tasting of three
whiskies followed by a long tasting of dinner in a private room
at the SMWS Vaults in Edinburgh. Well, we're Maniacs so not all
plans went according to expectation, especially when it came to
a short tasting.
Our Master of
Ceremonies for the evening was Charlie Maclean who did an
admirable job of welcoming us with a glass of 64.30 which
was a rather good Mannochmore with much more class and character
than I'm used to from this distillery.
was a rather fetching 35.62 which was filled with a light
pepperiness and lots of apple crumble and custard. A jolly good
Glen Moray which I scored 86 points.
Next in our
glasses was a slightly rarer dram dressed in the older SMWS
presentation as this was distilled in 1977 and bottled in 1998,
yes a 21y 69.6 tantalised our palates with light pepper,
oodles of fruit and just slightly herbal apples. A fine Glen
Albyn which also acquired 86 points from me.
then stunned our palates with not only peat and a rubberiness,
but big bursts of fruitiness which included some very lively
raspberry. This Caol Ila definitely upped the bar with a worthy
87 points from me.
Our next whisky
was held back and served with coffee at the end of the dinner
and what a great decision from Charlie that was. The 105.19
had not only heavily sherried characteristics, but also some
incredible floral notes and a hint of red grapes which caressed
the palate through the rich sherry notes. A truly wonderful
Tormore which deserved my 87 points.
official (well, we are Maniacs) dram of the evening
turned out to up the bar even further as the 29.102 just
blasted us into submission with an armoury including vanilla
cream, sherry, creme brulée, herbs, dark cherries, a light dry
rubberiness, dark chocolate, coffee beans, damson and, as one
would expect from any serious armoury; cordite! An astounding
12y Laphroaig indeed and a snip at 88 points from me.
Mhath and let the celebrations begin!
15 Years of Anorakness
else but Scotland"
It's official The Malt Maniacs have
been anorakking (is that
a word? It is now) since 1997 which means 2012 sees our 15y
anniversary. What better way to celebrate it than with a
trip to Scotland? In fact we are creating the largest
real-life meeting of certified Maniacs ever witnessed. The
weather forecast says showers so I guess we'll be taking our
anoraks. Wish us well and more upon my return in a week.
The Three "I"s
Integrity & Me"
It seems that every
there's a recurrence of certain discussion topics around the
world or concept of whisky blogging and commentating. One such
old chestnut has recently bubbled up to the surface once again;
that of Independence.
But what is
Independence? Well, for me it means not being connected with
the whisky trade in any way and not earning any money from it. I
don't even have any advertising revenue from Whisky Emporium,
although I don't see any other blog or website owner who does
have google ads or something
similar as not being independent
over this. It's just a personal thing with me where I don't
currently want them on my website. My web hosting is relatively
inexpensive and I'm happy to pay for this myself.
Now here's a lovely word and a very closely related theme to
independence, although I see them as two individual aspects.
What the hell am I talking about? Well, if I should receive a
free sample from someone, whether a friend, a whisky shop or
even a marketing arm of a whisky producer, can I still honestly
review it? I know we would all like
say "yes" and I am indeed
saying so. I do honestly give 100%
honest reviews 100% of the time, whether the sample has been
given to me, swapped with another whisky friend or, as in the
majority of cases when I bought it.
What if I upset
someone with a bad review? I also believe that if I were to
give a false review and maybe a few extra points here or there,
this would compromise my integrity even more! Then none of my
reviews would be trusted, whether good or bad. I won't even
consider going down that route and quite honestly, I would soon
lose any respect for someone not expecting an honest review for
This brings me
to the subject of samples and trips? It seems to me that
lots of people think whisky bloggers don't have to work and just
live a life of one trip or free sample after another. Let's just
put this misnomer to rest from my personal experience; in fact
it's quite an apt time for me as my post below was about such a
trip. In the almost three years that Whisky Emporium has been
running as my whisky review, article and commentary website I
have been offered two trips. The first was in Autumn of 2010
which I gladly accepted and spent two days in the back of a van
driving quite literally the length of Scotland and visiting
three distilleries en route. The second trip was just a few days
ago when I was invited to a two hour event in London to
experience the launch of some new whisky products. I knew only
minimal details beforehand, like the distillery and the fact
that this was a series of new Duty Free or Travel Retail
bottlings, but that was all. I just couldn't resist the
opportunity to visit a truly unique location which is not
usually open to the public and in addition, the usual profile of
Dalmore is one that I generally like in my whisky.
So, two trips in
three years and again, if I'm honest, I really can't manage
more than this as I have to consider precious days off from work
which would usually be spent enjoying time and holidays with my
wife. But once again, can I write an unbiased review of whiskies
presented in this way? You bet I can and yes, those were four
truly excellent whiskies. Shame about the price though. But
that's a different topic for another day.
As for samples;
yes I do receive a few, emphasis on few but don't treat this as
a complaint, I'm not begging or even asking for more. There are
three, maybe four companies who tend to send me occasional
samples and I'm happy to receive them and again, write honest
reviews of them. Yes, I have written bad as well as good reviews
So, why do I
feel the need to write this article? Do I have some secretly
guilty conscience? Not at all, I just want to put a few things
straight as I sit here looking at around 60 sample bottles on my
desk of which 8 were given to me. Two from a fellow enthusiast
and blogger (thanks Steffen) and six from an independent bottler
who I met at Limburg for the first time last weekend. Finally,
thanks also to Steffen for allowing me to use his excellent
picture of me and Ben at Limburg last Sunday. Ben? That's Ben
Wyvis from Signatory which I bought and paid more for a 2cl
sample than the majority of people pay to enter a whisky
festival for an entire weekend.
between a Crown Prince and the Glitterati whilst being
Yesterday evening I
had the very real pleasures
visiting a quite unique location, trying some rather unique (and
expensive) whiskies and, at the same time being called a normal
person. I've spent most of my adult life trying to promote at
least a hint of eccentricity and suddenly I'm being told I'm a
All right, I was
in illustrious company and as I mentioned a truly unique
location; one which is the official starting and finishing point
of The Queen's State visits. "Welcome to The Royal Suite at
Heathrow" our hosts offered over a champagne reception, then
adding "you are the first ever normal members of the
public to be allowed into this suite. In fact a Crown Prince has
just passed through and we're expecting some other guests quite
soon". At which point a private jet rolled in and parked just a
few yards from the said Prince's slightly larger private jet.
OK, so I accept normal can can be a quite comparative term.
But why were we
there? Yesterday, Tuesday May 1st was the official launch
day for Dalmore's new Constellation Collection; a series of 21
different bottlings or expressions which will be released over
five years and which will include a total of around 20,000
bottles, so around 4,000 bottles each year and World Duty Free
Group, whose main tax and duty free store is at Heathrow's
Terminal 5 has initial exclusivity and also all the number 1 &
number 8 bottles.
introduced to four of the expressions by Whyte & Mackay's
Master Blender himself; Richard (hold the glass like this and
I'll kill you) Paterson who is obviously as passionate as
ever about his creations, but are they any good?
Well, let's not
beat about the bush here, these are four
bloody good whiskies, in fact three of them are what I call
"Great" which means they hit at least 90 points on my
scoring scale and that's no mean feat indeed.
The 1992 has
had nine years in port pipes and a jumbo outrun of 747
bottles. It was the lightest of the four tasted with lots of
wine, fruit and cherries. It's silky smooth and quite amazingly
concentrates totally on the roof of
the palate. This is not only an extremely interesting whisky,
but an excellent one too with 89 points from me.
The 1973 has
a myriad of aromas and flavours which include citrus elements of
oil of orange and lime zest over blackcurrant and plum, maybe
even damson. After time in the glass these expand to include
hints of hazelnut, vanilla and creme brulée. The palate is
slightly dry but this works exceptionally well with the rich
creminess and fruitiness. 90 Points from me makes this a
begins with a burst of early summertime Alpine flora which is
soon joined by damson, oil of orange, mango (or is it papaya?)
and a creamy toffeeness. This is stunningly good and well
deserving of 92 points from me.
1964 again offers an incredible amount of flora alongside
orange and various spices which include cardamom and cumin. The
palate is slightly dry with generous hints of blood orange and
chocolate. I think I just fell in love with this whisky! 93
Points and another "Great".
"If one has
to ask the price, then one can't afford it, Sir" is an
old adage associated with luxury items often beyond the means of
normal folk and this Constellation series of whisky
expressions is no exception. I am only sad that these are indeed
aimed at the luxury market as opposed to normal whisky drinkers,
but who said the rich and famous aren't normal whisky drinkers
too? Maybe I'm just slightly jealous that this series represents
a world that I can't afford to buy into. Maybe we are talking
silly money. Maybe they are worth it to some people. Maybe I am
just a normal person after all. Maybe I'll win the
Limburg; The Whisky Fair
What better way to
whet the appetite
some drams that true dreams are made of than to visit the whisky
fair? No, not just any old whisky fair, but The
whisky fair. Distillery 'OB' stands are in a very small minority
as Limburg is more about the independents, meaning not only
independent bottlers, but also independent sellers specialising
in long-forgotten, long-lost and often very hard to come by
bottlings, many of which are open and sold by the dram.
It's also a
chance to meet old and new friends whilst discussing some
quite amazing whiskies. Did I say old, rare, hard to find &
long-lost? Well, here's just a small selection of a few samples
I picked up this year:
Ahh yes samples,
welcome to one of my favourite complaints when it comes to
whisky festivals; so often I hear about events where sample
bottles just aren't allowed, either because the event is an
all-inclusive pay one fee and drink what you like, or because of
some strange concept that people call responsible drinking.
drinking? Well, it seems I'm allowed to enter an event and
drink as much as I like for a single small fee and have to pay
nothing more. Whereas when I'm willing to pay for the actual
whiskies separately, fill them into small sample bottles and
take them home to savour at leisure in my own time and across
maybe a few days, I'm considered irresponsible? Let me just say
I paid more for a single 2cl sample of that Ben Wyvis than many
people have to pay for entry into other whisky festivals. Did I
say festivals? By definition a festival is an event spanning
multiple days, as opposed to an event spanning a few hours which
would normally be called a tasting. OK, I'll climb down from my
soap box now.
Did it work for me? You bet it did and I can't wait to go
back again and as a final note to any of those brilliant
of rarities and whet dreams; I still have
Dunglass, Islebrae, Killyloch, Kininvie and Hazelwood on my
2009-2012 by Keith Wood - All rights reserved - Whisky-Emporium