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Whisky News, September 2009

Manager's Choice

Diageo has just announced a major malts initiative which will see single cask expressions from 27 of its 28 operational malt distilleries (Roseisle - right - has only just begun production) become available during the next 12 months. According to Diageo's Dr Nick Morgan, "We asked members of our sensory team, including Jim Beveridge, Maureen Robinson and Craig Wallace to pick three casks from each distillery. The brief was to ensure they carried the 'DNA' of each distillery's character, but also that they offered something different, and in particular,   
characteristics not associated with the 'standard' distillery bottlings. No brief was given on age. "Having selected three casks from each distillery, we invited managers and site operations managers to get together at Blair Athol distillery in February to arrive at a consensus on the ndividual casks we would bottle." Craig Wallace notes that "When you're selecting casks for a bigger bottling, you can work with a wider variation of maturity, distillery character and wood influence because you can even it out and aim for consistency. "But when you are bottling a single cask, you can't do that: you have to get the balance totally right when selecting the cask. And it's highly unlikely, whatever single cask you choose this time, that you'd ever be able to replicate that precise flavour profile the next time you look for one. So finding a single cask with just the right balance is actually very challenging." Out-turns will vary from 200 to 600 bottles, and the first six bottlings - due for release this month - are a 1997 Cardhu, matured in a Bourbon cask, a 1998 Glen Elgin (rejuvenated Sherry butt), a 1996 Linkwood (European Sherry butt), a 1997 Mortlach (Bourbon cask) a 2000 Oban (European Sherry butt) and a 1996 Teaninich (rejuvenated hogshead). Prices will range from £200 to £300 a bottle, and availability will be restricted to the UK, Germany, The Netherlands and Switzerland. Whisky-pages will offer personal sampling notes at the earliest opportunity.

John Walker

   Staying with Diageo, the distilling giant recently revealed the latest addition to its Johnnie Walker range. Called The John Walker, it will be exclusive to duty-free outlets, where it will sell in the region of $3,000, making it the most expensive drink in the entire Diageo portfolio. The new blend has been created from a small number of rare and exclusive whiskies taken from distilleries that operated in the 1800s, during the lifetime of the brand's founder, John Walker. Just nine distilleries are represented in the exclusive blend, six malt and three grain, with malt whisky from the now demolished Glen Albyn distillery in Inverness and grain from the closed Cambus distillery in Clackmannanshire making it into the mix. According to a Diageo spokesperson, "Using so few whiskies allows no margin for error and is only possible with whiskies of impeccable quality and it demands they be selected at their absolute peak age. Unlike any other Johnnie Walker blend, the whiskies then come together for a second and final maturation to marry the blend in a 100-year-old wood cask. Each single barrel batch (no two batches will ever be exactly the same) fills just 330 individually
numbered, hand-blown Baccarat crystal decanters." Johnnie Walker Master Blender Jim Beveridge declares that "John Walker is watching over our shoulders as we blend. Inspired by the principles, techniques and style of whiskies that John Walker used to create small batch, hand-crafted blends for his customers in the nineteenth century, we believe we have created a modern masterpiece to satisfy the ever increasing demands of today's sophisticated whisky drinker." Diageo tasting notes state that "On the nose, mature fruits slowly supersede aromas of fresh citrus. On the palate, a vanilla oak sweetness is framed by a certain zest of the great classic Walker Speyside whiskies - Mortlach and Dailuaine - both bringing elegant structure and enormous body. The smooth and mellow finish reaches its climax in rich smokiness."

Rothes goes Green

Since 1904 the distillers of the Rothes area of Speyside have been involved in a joint venture to process pot ale, known as the Combination of Rothes Distillers (CoRD), and referred to locally as 'the Combi." Now, renewable energy specialists Helius Energy have joined forces with CoRD to establish a £50 million biomass processing plant, which will generate some 7.2 megawatts of electricity - enough to power around 9,000 homes - and turn pot ale into concentrated organic fertiliser and animal feed. The new plant is beleived to be the first to combine distillery by-products with wood chips to generate electricty. All being well, construction work will commence early in 2010, with building work lasting for some two years.   
CoRD general manager Frank Burns (pictured) says that "The ability to generate renewable heat and power and secure additional markets for our distillery co-products is a very exciting development for the malt whisky industry on Speyside." Helius has a 51 per cent stake in the new venture, with CoRD, representing Diageo, Chivas Brothers, The Edrington Group, Inver House Distillers, Glen Grant Distillery and the BenRiach Distillery Company, owning the remaining 49 per cent.

Laddie Peat and Malt

   There are two significant new releases to report from Bruichladdich, and in the world of 'mine's bigger than yours,' the lads from Port Charlotte have announced a new version of Octomore, "...now seven per cent more peaty than the inaugural 2008 record-breaker." "The peatiness, at 140 ppm (parts per million) in the original malted barley, gives this whopper a huge peat smoke punch, almost 30 per cent more than its nearest rival to the title," they boast. "It is referred to as 'the iron fist in a velvet glove,' owing to the whisky's surprisingly subtle charms."
The Laddie's Jim McEwan declares that "It's a great equation: massive peat + Bruichladdich elegance = awesome spirit. We dialed up the peating level of this second bottling of Octomore because it seemed churlish not to. But Octomore is not for the faint-hearted. At this peating level it is for savouring; a little goes an awful long way. Taste with minimal water to appreciate and share in its evolution." The second recent Bruichladdich offering is of the world's first organic Islay single malt, released late last month to coincide with the opening of a new island barley facility for local farmers and Bruichladdich distillery. According to company CEO Mark Reynier, This is the ultimate 'single,' single malt (single farm, harvest, variety and vintage) distilled from Chalice barley grown by William Rose at Culblair in the summer of 2003.This first organic bottling represents the direction Bruichladdich has been going since it was reopened in 2001. Unparalleled Scottish provenance, quality, variety and traceability." Distillery manager Duncan McGillivray says "It's the way is used to be - ultimate authenticity - real people, real places, real character. That's what we're about" The new Octofad barley facility (weighbridge, unloading area, drying house and storage) means that barley harvested from each of the 15 Islay farms involved can be kept separate until ready for malting later in the year. "Being able to dry our barley 'off the field' makes harvesting logistics less frantic, less risky and more efficient," explains McGillivray. "With the current poor weather it is not a moment too soon. Environmentally too, by trucking one load of 'green' barley to the maltings at Bairds, and returning with one load of 'malted' barley means less of a footprint. We're very proud; it's the culmination of a great team effort. People thought we were mad, and perhaps we are, but the taste makes it all worth while; the proof is in the pudding."

Wigtown Words

The 11th Stena Line Wigtown Book Festival will take place in south-west Scotland from 25th September to 4th October, and this year there is a unique festival-within-a-festival called 'Whisky & Words,' with a programme featuring events about the relationship between whisky and writing. Most of the programme for Whisky & Words will take place at Bladnoch distillery, which is a couple of miles from Wigtown. The Whisky & Words festival, which reflects the 'Homecoming' themes of whisky and Robert Burns, will be launched with a Burns' Supper on Wednesday 30th September. Among the events on offer are Roger Hutchinson, tackling the 'real' story of Whisky Galore, Tom Morton's presentation of 'Drinking For Scotland', Ian Buxton talking about Aeneas MacDonald, and   
Gavin D Smith discussing Scottish novelist and one-time excise officer Neil M Gunn. Charles MacLean and David Broom will also be hosting events, and there will be features on the poetry of drink and a whisky-themed creative writing course. According to the organisers, "There will be 'nips and tastings' with most events to combine the 'practical' whisky information with the more literary angles." Finally, on Saturday 3rd October there will be a special event to celebrate the launch of the new Bladnoch 8- year-old single malt. Further information and booking faclities are availble at www.wigtownbookfestival.com or by phoning 01988 403222.

And Finally…

   According to the marketing department of Isle of Arran Distillers Ltd, the release of a new, limited edition single malt has been thrown into chaos by the disappearance of its "cover star," a peacock called Albert, who lives at the distillery. The whisky features Albert on its label, but the bird has decided he is publicity shy and has gone on the run in the village of Lochranza. Isle of Arran Distillery Manager, James MacTaggart, says "Albert was the perfect choice to grace the label of our new Icons of Arran bottling, as the peacock has become a symbol of the distillery's distinctive whisky. There have been peacocks at the distillery since we opened in 1995 and Albert is much admired by visitors." However, just as the labels for the new bottling were rolling off the printing press Albert decided to make a break for freedom and despite several sightings has never returned to his spiritual home. MacTaggart declares that "His timing was awful and we have received a number of complaints from locals that
the peacock has been eating all the flowers in their gardens. I have even resorted to sticking up 'Wanted' posters in the area with a reward of a free bottle for Albert's safe return to the distillery". Isle of Arran Distillers' Managing Director Euan Mitchell couldn't resist adding that "we can't be sure exactly what happened, but we suspect 'fowl' play." Well, we would have said it if he hadn't…
  

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