Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2010 has arrived!

OK, so actually Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2010 arrived last week, but I've been busy and haven't had a chance to thumb through it till now. While it remains a VERY handy pocket reference for whisky shopping, I am once again hard pressed to understand some of Murray's tasting notes. Mostly though, I have a definite sense of where he coming from and so can use his reviews as a sort of rough guide. He's still a little too in love with Ardbeg, but then, on the other hand, it is hard to fault him too heavily on this as it remains a phenom brand of whisky.

Here is also a good excuse to post Murray's annual awards press release (which was actually released at the start of October.

Press Release:
Jim Murray’s World Whisky Awards 2010

Straight Rye Whiskey, the spirit of choice in pre-prohibition America and immortalized in Humphrey Bogart films, has been given top billing in the coveted Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible World Whisky Awards for 2010.

International whisky authority Jim Murray has named Sazerac Rye 18 year old as the finest whisky in the world after tasting almost 1000 new whiskies since April. It scooped the World Whisky of the Year title by gaining 97.5 points, only the second time such a score has been achieved.

Announced to coincide with the publication of the 2010 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, which contains tasting notes on over 3,850 of the world’s whiskies, Sazerac’s success marks the return of a whiskey style that all but disappeared from the marketplace. Following the repeal of Prohibition, American drinkers had developed a taste for lighter spirits, resulting in a boom for bourbon and Canadian whiskies, while straight rye fell by the wayside.

Jim Murray comments, “A decade ago I wrote that it was likely that there would be a renaissance in rye whiskey. I recognised that the combination of big, bold flavours and subtle, delicate fruity notes would be appreciated by connoisseurs, especially those who prefer smoky Islay single malts. Now American distillers can’t make enough of it. And in this particular bottling of Sazerac 18, we have a rye that is not just at the top of its game, but reaching previously unknown heights. In beating all other world whisky types, Sazerac 18, has set the bar for rye whiskey and it will be fascinating in forthcoming years to see what is bottled to try to at least match it.”

Distilled at Buffalo Trace distillery Kentucky, Sazerac 18 pipped into second place one of the smokiest whiskies ever produced, from the Ardbeg distillery on Islay.

Another Award winner likely to cause a surprise was an Indian Single Malt, which was awarded the title of World’s Third Best Whisky. Distilled in Bangalore, Amrut Fusion scored an outstanding 97 points. “It makes no matter where in the world a whisky is made. If it is magnificent, then it stands a chance of being recognized in the Whisky Bible Awards. Amrut have been bottling astonishing whisky for a few years now. But this particular bottling just made my hairs stand on end. It is hard to find a whisky with better balance. India has unquestionably arrived as a whisky nation” added Murray.

Category winners:

Scotch Whisky of the Year – Ardbeg Supernova
Single Malt of the Year (Multiple cask) – Ardbeg Supernova
Single Malt of the Year (Single cask) – Glenfarclas 1962 (3rd release)
Best Scotch New Brand – Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX
Scotch Blend of the Year – Ballentine’s 17 Years Old
Scotch Grain of the Year – Duncan Taylor North British 1978

Single Malt Scotch

No Age Statement (Multiple cask) – Ardbeg Supernova*
No Age Statement (runner up) – Glenmorangie Sonnalta PX
10 Years and Under (Multiple cask) – Octomore 5 Years Old*
10 Years and Under (Single cask) – SMWS 77.17 (Glen Ord)
11-15 Years Old (Multiple cask) – Tomintoul 14 Years Old
11-15 Years Old (Single cask) – Isle of Arran Sherry 353*
16-21 Years Old (Multiple cask) – Glen Grant 1992*
16-21 Years Old (Single cask) – Glendronach 1992 Cask 401
22-27 Years Old (Multiple cask) – Brora 25 Years Old 7th Release*
22-27 Years Old (Single cask) – Cadenhead’s Benriach 23YO
28-34 Years Old (Multiple cask) – Highland Park 30 Years Old*
28-34 Years Old (Single cask) – Douglas Laing Glencadem 32YO
35-40 Years Old (Multiple cask) – Glenglassaugh 40 Years Old*
35-40 Years Old (Single cask) – Whisky Fair Glen Grant 36 YO
41 Years and Over (Multiple cask) – Glenfiddich 50 Years Old*
41 Years and Over (Single cask) – Glenfarclas 1962 Release III

Blended Scotch
No Age Statement (Standard) – Ballentine’s Finest*
No Age Statement (Premium) – The Last Drop*
5-12 Years – Johnnie Walker Black Label*
13-18 Years – Ballentine’s 17 Year Old*
18 & Over – Chivas Regal 25 Years Old*

Irish Whiskey of the Year – Redbreast Aged 12 Years*

American Whiskey
Bourbon of the Year – George T Stagg (144.8)*
Rye of the Year – Sazerac 18 Years Old (Fall 2008)*

No Age Statement (Multiple barrel) – Parker’s Golden Anniversary*
No Age Statement (Single barrel) – Blanton’s Single Barrel 316
9 Years & Under – Jim Beam Black Aged 8 Years*
10-12 Years – Wild Turkey Russell’s Reserve*
13-17 Years Old (multiple Barrels) – George T Stagg (144.8)*
13-17 Years Old (Single Barrel) – Buffalo Trace Experimental Course Grain
18 Years & Over – Evan Williams 23 Years Old*

10 Years & Younger – Jim Beam Rye*
11 Years & Older – Sazerac 18 Years Old (Fall 2008)*

Canadian Whisky of the Year – Wiser’s Red Letter*
Japanese Whisky of the Year – SMWS 116.4 (Yoichi)*

European Whisky
European Whisky of the Year – Santis Malt Highlander Dreifaltaigkeit*
European Single Cask Whisky of the Year – Penderyn Port Wood Single Cask*

World Whiskies
Indian Whisky of the Year – Amrut Fusion*

(* denotes category winner)

To mark the sheer quality and standard of whisky making around the world Jim Murray has created a new Liquid Gold Award for all whiskies scoring 94 points and above. Representing 10% of all the whiskies featured in the ‘2010 Whisky Bible’ they are, says Murray “the elite; the very finest you can find on whisky shelves around the world. Rare and precious they are liquid gold”.

A full account of the 2010 World Whisky Awards can be found in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2010 published today (5th October 2009). And with nearly 4000 tasting notes, including 946 of the very latest releases, the ‘Whisky Bible’ remains the definitive and most up to date guide available.

Published by Dram Good Books priced at £10.99, the ‘2010 Whisky Bible’ is available through online retailer Amazon and other good book stores. Signed copies by the author can be obtained from from
[End Press Release]

Well, like I said, sometimes it is hard to know what Murray is going on about.

For example, just last night at the SMWSA 16th Annual Extravaganza, I re-tasted the Highland Park 30 year old -- I'm in total agreement with Murray here, definitely one of the greats for this year.

The Sazerac Rye 18 year old, however, is nowhere near as good as Murray seems to think it. It isn't terrible, mind you; not at all. The Sazerac 18 is however fairly one-dimensional. Likewise I don't get his take on the Evan Williams 23 year old, which to me is simply smothered in oak -- totally kaput in complexity as a consequence.

He does work damned hard though, and he maintains his individuality throughout -- so first marks in that. NOBODY ELSE, in English anyway, reviews and publishes that many whiskies in a very handy pocket-sized volume. For that alone, it is worth getting.

SMWSA's 16th Annual Extravaganza initial follow-up

OK, so I just got back from the SMWSA's 16th Annual Extravaganza and wanted to update the blog with some quick impressions. I'll follow-up later with some actual tasting note and maybe a few more thoughts, but I wanted to get my first impressions down before my memory fades too quickly. Besides, it might take me some while to read the scribbles that pass for notes...

The event was wonderful. It was a little less crowded than in years past, but the folks in attendance were, as always, uniformly a great bunch of people -- well mannered, jovial, friendly and serious about their drams and about drinking whisky with their friends.

The evening started with a Whisky 101 symposium of sorts. Alan Shayne, the SMWSA's president, opened with some introductory material and then passed the mic on to Simon Brookings of Jim Beam Global, representing Laphroaig and Ardmore. Simon is one of the best at this sort of gathering -- funny, informative, and great at drawing folks in to what makes the malts he represents so special. Simon warmed up the crowd perfectly. Next up was the guy from Diageo, whose name I have already forgotten -- which is a shame because he was a very nice guy. He's not as polished as Simon and isn't Scottish, making the kilt thing a tad more ridiculous than it already is.

Next up was the Chivas Bros guy (representing The Glenlivet) -- he was great too. Then LVMH's David Blackmore from Glenmorangie and Ardbeg -- another old hand at this who also knocked the ball out of the park. Then Sam Simmons, aka Dr. Whisky, spoke briefly but informatively on behalf of the Balvenie and Glenfiddich, adding a slightly contemplative though wholly welcome note about the Scottish-ness of the whiskies. Sky Liquors was also ably represented by another two guys whose names escape me.

Whisky-wise, there were more expressions (i.e., different individual bottles) than last year, but not much that was wholly new. Disappointingly, The Dalmore seemed not to have shown -- at least I somehow missed their table if they were there. I was particularly hoping to taste the new Gran Reserva. Oh well.

There was some definite standout whiskies of the evening. AGAIN, this is just off-the-cuff impressions; real substantive tasting notes will follow in a future post:

Laphroaig -- well the entire line-up is brilliant, obviously, but the 18 was special -- super complex, earthy, sweet, deliciously muted smoke-bomb with layer after lay of flavor; the final outing of the 15, which hasn't been available near me for a little while now, was also noteworthy.

Ardbeg -- ditto about its lineup being being brilliant! The standouts, however, were the Airigh Nam Beist 1990 (a massivly smoky, yet wonderfully delicate and involved dram) and the Corryvreckan (another whopper that kinds of beats wildly about you and then calms down towards near docility as the flavors and characteristics dance before you) .

The Ardmore Traditional Cask was very, very interesting! the sweetnees seemed slightly unmoored and the caramel splashed about a tad, but all to my general liking.

The Douglas Laing "Premier Barrel" bottling of 25 year old Glenburgie was outstanding!

Balvenie -- the 17 year old Madeira Cask was particularly nice.

The Glenmorangie Astar and the "Extremely Rare 18 Year Old" were both terrific.

The Highland Park -- again, mostly brilliant. The 30 year old is a super-standout!

The Scapa 16 year old was great.

The SMWS's own bottlings were great this year (as always). The 9 year old 48.17 from Balmenach had some real power, while the 26 year old 49.10 from St. Magdalene had real finesse -- a really lovely dram.

The 11 year old 121.30 Ise of Arran malt was a bit rough and ready, but overall very nice.

The 17 year old 93.36 from Glen Scotia was great -- a bit atypical of Glen Scotia, but not in a bad way (less fishy).

The 11 year old 33.77 from Ardbeg was out of this world good!

I'm a little too tired and way too happy to keep this straight now, so more in the (hopefully) near future.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

SMWSA's Annual Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza

I am excited! Tomorrow, well actually later tonight now, is the 16th Annual Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza sponsored, as always, by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America.

I have been a member of the Society since 1989 and I've been going to their annual tasting event EVERY year since. [I am actually also a member of the UK Scotch Malt Whisky Society; I have family in London, and go there periodically so it only makes sense to be able to purchase rare society bottlings of single cask single malt Scotch whisky from the original society, closer to the source -- as well as from the US branch closer to home. At least that is what I tell me wife and she, bless her, pretends to be persuaded.]

The details of tonight's event:
When: Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Time: 6:30pm - 9:00pm
Location: JW Marriott Hotel, 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC
Cost: Society Members - $115.00; Non-Member Guests - $130.00
On offer for tasting: over 100 whiskies will be poured this year!

So I thought I'd post an article I wrote about the 13th Annual Extravaganza, in honor of tomorrow's event and in general furtherance of my efforts to maintain some public record of all the articles I wrote for The Examiner newspaper in DC.

Here then is another of those pieces that originally appeared in the Weekend Edition section of the Washington Examiner print edition back on October 21 & 22, 2006. [Like MOST of my fairly regular output for them, this was never posted to their website and so it lost for all time...until now.]

The Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza
Scotch's time has come

Interested in Scotch whisky? Whether you consider yourself a seasoned aficionado, or a total novice with an interest but not a clue, then you’ll want to attend the 13th Annual Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza on Wednesday, October 25th, from 7-9pm, at the J.W. Marriott Hotel (1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW).

This isn’t just any old whisky event. This is, hands down, THE whisky event of the year in the Washington area. Over 60 “rare and exceptional” whiskies are on offer for tasting; a full dinner buffet is provided, as are premium cigars. The event is run by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America (SMWSA), and is co-hosted by the Robb Report.

What makes the event so special? Well, every year they bring you over 60 (usually more like 70+) excellent Scotches from more than 30 producers, and often a couple of Irish whiskies and the occasional rare American Whiskey. Single malt Scotch whisky will usually run you $10-$25 per shot in the Washington area restaurants and bars, and most of the better bottles start at around $45 but easily run double or triple that for the sort of rare and exceptional whiskies you’ll find at the event. So $95 ($105 for nonmembers) is actually a remarkably good value for money.

Each tasting table is staffed by friendly representatives from the distilleries or the distributors who will discuss the joys and nuances of each offering, answer questions, and generally do their best to add to the fun atmosphere.

So what exactly is Scotch whisky? Well, “Scotch whisky” is simply whisky made in Scotland. The term whisky, is derived from the Scottish Gaelic term “uisge beatha” or “water of life.” Whisky is little more than an alcoholic beverage produced by distilling a fermented mash of cereal grain (like corn, rye, wheat, oat, and barley).

As the novelist Iain Banks noted a couple of years ago in his otherwise verbose and rambling book on Scotch whisky, Raw Spirit, you simply “make beer in a teapot, transfer it to a bucket and then boil it in a kettle. Thereafter: barrel, bottle and serve.”

This is not to say that producing a complex, enticing, high quality whisky is as simple as just distilling beer. But, fundamentally, them’s the basics. That is whisky.

The term “Scotch whisky” usually refers to blended whisky—a mix of malt whisky and grain whisky (whisky made from grains other than malted barley). A “single malt” simple means that the whisky comes from one distillery and is made of 100 percent malted barley. Blended whisky can be really good, but single malt whisky can be sublime. If you like your whisky to be tantalizingly complex yet thoroughly enjoyable, then you’ll want to try some single malt Scotch whisky. The best way to learn more about Scotch is to drink it.

The best place to do that while getting the biggest bang for your buck amidst friendly faces is to attend the 13th Annual Single Malt & Scotch Whisky Extravaganza. The second best way to discover great whisky is to join the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

Tickets for the event are $95 for SMWSA members, and $105 for non-members and must be purchased in advance at 800-990-1991 or through the SMWSA website

One final note, for anyone thinking of joining the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America. I very highly recommend joining! Should you decide to so based on anything at all that I have written here or elsewhere, please mention me or this blog.
Here are the details of SMWSA membership:

he Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a private membership club whose member's are avid enthusiasts of single malt Scotch whiskies. Our objective is to promote the appreciation and discerning consumption of the finest whisky in the world.

Benefits of Membership

As a member of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society you can discover the very best single cask, single malt whisky available to mankind anywhere in the universe. From a range of over 120 whisky distilleries, every Society bottling is exceptional. Capturing rarity and perfection in the glass, the Society's malt whisky attracts the curious and discerning.

Commercially-bottled malt whisky has to be consistent in taste so the whiskies from different casks are mixed, with great skill, to achieve this uniformity. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, however, exists to celebrate diversity. The Society's tasting committee selects particularly fine casks and bottles their contents at cask strength, without chill-filtration.

We bottle malts from virtually all of Scotland's distilleries and have brought to light some really great whiskies, which were previously unavailable to the public. Each cask is allotted a number which appears on the bottle label and by which members may identify the whisky.

Exclusive to Our Members

Society whiskies are available exclusively to our members and are not sold commercially. The limited number of bottles produced from each cask will vary, thereby adding to the exclusivity of the whisky.

How to Join

Membership in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America is open to all persons over 25 years of age upon payment of the initial membership fee of $199.00 -- (plus shipping and handling in the amount of $16.00 for regular ground, tax where applicable) -- which shall include the purchase price of one 750ml bottle of an extremely rare and unique malt whisky never to be available again.

Receipt of your Society whiskies will be arranged through a licensed purveyor of fine spirits in your area. The member also receives a membership kit, which includes a membership certificate, membership card, The Short Guide, the most recent bottling list and newsletter, along with our gift catalog. Annual renewal of $35.00 is due on the anniversary of joining.

Throughout the year the Society sends its members a number of Newsletters and Bottling Lists. Each list contains details of all the whiskies, which are currently in bottle. Members wishing to order supplies of whisky can do so from the list, by telephone, fax, mail or online. We do encourage members to call us if they have any questions about the whiskies or any of our activities.

We also offer a wide range of gift items to our members, which can be ordered at any time. They make very nice presents for special occasions.

For more information on the Society, please visit or call 800.990.1991

Friday, October 23, 2009

News flash: New Rip Van Winkle Bourbon Whiskey!

This just in from the wires (so I have not tasted it yet, and given the cost, might not ever get the chance):

Limited Edition Old Rip Van Winkle
Bourbon Whiskey to be released

FRANKLIN COUNTY, KY— The Van Winkle family is pleased to announce the release of a very limited Old Rip Van Winkle Family Selection 23 year-old bourbon whiskey decanter. Every barrel of whiskey was chosen from the lower, cooler floors of the aging warehouse, allowing this wheated-recipe bourbon to age more gracefully.

Julian and Preston Van Winkle hand-picked these select barrels which were filled in April of 1986. This bourbon will not be chill-filtered, leaving in all the flavor and complexity of the whiskey. Each decanter will be bottled at the original barrel entry proof of 114.

“This is some of our best whiskey,” commented Julian Van Winkle. “I’m thrilled to offer this new expression of Old Rip. Hopefully whiskey aficionados will appreciate the rich taste of this bourbon as much as I do.”

There will only be 1,200 of these unique decanters available. Each bottle was produced by the award-winning Glencairn Crystal of Scotland and is hand-engraved and numbered to commemorate the exclusive bottling. Every decanter will be packaged in a beautiful solid wood, leather-lined box along with a crystal stopper and two crystal glasses.

This special release will be available in stores late November and is expected to sell for $350. For more information on the Van Winkle family of bourbon please visit

About Van Winkle Bourbon:

The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery has a four generation history. The Van Winkle family’s involvement in the bourbon industry began in the late 1800s with Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr. He was a traveling salesman for the W.L. Weller and Sons wholesale house in Louisville. Pappy and a friend, Alex Farnsley, eventually bought the wholesale house and also purchased the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery. They merged the two companies and became the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Their prominent brands were W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still.

In May of 1935 at the age of 61, Pappy opened the newly completed Stitzel-Weller Distillery in South Louisville. He had a heavy influence on the operations there until his death at the age of 91. His son, Julian, Jr. took over operations until he was forced by stockholders to sell the distillery in 1972. The rights to all of their brands were either sold with the distillery or to other distilleries.

After selling the distillery, Julian, Jr. resurrected a pre-prohibition label, the only one to which the Van Winkles kept the rights, called Old Rip Van Winkle. He used whiskey stocks from the old distillery to supply his brand. Julian junior’s son, Julian, III took over in 1981 when Julian, Jr. passed away. Julian, III has continued with the Van Winkle tradition of producing high-quality wheated-bourbon. His son, Preston, joined the company in 2001 and the Van Winkles look to continue that tradition for generations to come.

Recently, the Van Winkles entered into a joint venture with the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY. All of the Van Winkle’s whiskey production now takes place at Buffalo Trace under the same strict guidelines the family has always followed.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tasting: Old and Rare Whisky: Glenlivet 1968 (37 year old), Cask No. 5240, bottled 5/04/2006, Duncan Taylor & Co. Ltd.

So this evening I finally got around to cracking open a whisky sample I got a few years back while preparing a scotch whisky article for volume 3 of Mixologist: The Journal of the American Cocktail. Mixologist is/was a first rate annual journal I used to copy-edit/contribute to.

[The Mixologist venture has been put on hold while the editors/publishers have gotten VERY busy with other (hopefully) more profitable, though equally rewarding, projects. I suspect that one day this volume, and the entire project, will resume. For those interested, Volume 1 (which I did not copy edit) and Volume 2 (which I did) are still available.]

At any rate, the whisky in question is a rare gem: Glenlivet 1968 (37 year old), Cask No. 5240, bottled 5/04/2006, 53.4% abv, Duncan Taylor & Co. Ltd.

This pale amber colored whisky has some substantial heft to it, and a considerable though almost flinty edge. Aromas of vanilla, custard, honey-bread, and something grassy-to-herb-garden like, with some distinct malty richness present at first brush (the alcohol is apparent as well); water develops these further, with additional sweet caramel and toasted bread notes (and with the obvious dilution of alcoholic fumes). Flavor-wise, a remarkably fresh scent of citrus fruit emerges (not unlike a smidgen of lime zest flamed over the top, cocktail style); more vanilla and some subtle, though lovely, crème brûlée notes emerge, along with some spritely and lingering acidity to balance off the shortbread and slightly old buttered popcorn finish. This dram has depth, character, a creamy body and just enough fight left in it to keep it really, really interesting. Too bad there is little of it to be had. A great and rare dram from the Glenlivet Distillery.

This is also another real winner of a bottle for Duncan Taylor & Co Ltd., and so is as good an excuse as any to do a quick independent whisky company profile. ;-)

Duncan Taylor & Co. Ltd (DTC hereafter) is an independent purveyor of rare Scotch whiskies. With a base in Huntly (Speyside), this independent Scotch whisky bottler has one of the largest privately-held collections of rare Scotch whisky casks.

DTC's "Whiskies of Scotland" shop (at 36 Gordon Street, Huntly, Aberdeenshire AB54 4EQ; on the Eastern fringes of Speyside, 2 minutes off the A96 road from Aberdeen to Inverness) is a veritable cornucopia of whisky treasures -- bottles of rare and very old whisky, some of which from long silent, or even totally dismantled, distilleries.

Besides their own WIDE range of bottlings of great, cool and rare single malts and single cask single malts, DTC also offers various proprietary blends and even private casks; their Gordon Street shop also sells a huge range of scotch whisky paraphernalia -- books, distillery prints, DVD's, clothing, etc.

DTC's managing director, Euan Shand, grew up in the business. His father, the late Albert Shand was a former manager of the Glendronach Distillery (which I profiled earlier on this blog), and Euan grew up in the house on the distillery grounds. Following in the family footsteps, which are long and wide with millers, distillers, etc., Shand joined the industry at the ground floor, as a cooper and warehouseman at Glendronach Distillery. He then moved on within the Wm Teacher and Sons Ltd parent company (they acquired Glendronach in 1957), where he spent 6 years or so, working his way through virtually every department. Shand even spent time as a tour guide before moving to their Sales Department at their headquarters in St Enoch Square in Glasgow. At one point during his training he spent about 9 months at the Ardmore Distillery.

DTC entered the independent bottlers' scene with a loud boom in 2003. Success has followed success, and Shand's vision grew towards starting their own distillery. The project is a new £5million “green” or totally "carbon neutral" distillery in Huntly.

How did this all come about? Shand and his partner, Alan Gordon (another Scotch whisky veteran), acquired the business from the executors of a family estate in New York, and they were so "stunned by the diversity of whiskies on offer and the incredible quality," as Euan put it one interview, that he "just had to buy the company!"

So who was behind this NY family estate? A legendary Jewish New York businessman named Abe Rosenberg, not a Scotsman named "Duncan Taylor."

After the 1933 repeal of prohibition in the United States, Abe Rosenberg and his two brothers sought their fortunes in booze. They got their wholesale liquor license (covering Connecticut, New York and Miami) and in 1934 established Star Liquor Dealers in Sunnyside (right on the edge of Long Island City), Queens. As their hard work payed off, they became major industry figures. Eventually they moved the operation out of Queens to Syosset, Long Island, and renamed it "Star Industries" -- which is still in business).

When WWII ended, Rosenberg became a partner in the Paddington Corporation, the U.S. importer of J&B Scotch. The company was established by importer/distributor Charlie Guttman. Paddington Corp is also still going strong.

Previously in 1933, just as an aside, Guttman had formed the "Buckingham Corporation" with Jake "Jay" Culhane to import Cutty Sark to the U.S. for Berry Brothers. Four year later, Guttman and Culhane parted ways. Buckingham Corp, eventually called Buckingham Wile & Sons, changed ownership numerous times over the decades but continued to carry the Cutty Sark account until 1990 when it got got bought out by Hiram Walker-Allied Vintners; which eventually became Allied Domecq, which was later acquired by Pernod Ricard. Though Cutty Sark is still partly owned by Berry Brothers & Rudd (Cutty Sark is jointly owned by The Edrington Group) and is now imported by Skyy Spirits which is owned by the Campari Group.

When Guttman left Culhane, he did so in a huff. Guttman determined to set-up shop as a competitor by importing whisky from "the other merchant in St. James's" -- Justerini & Brooks (still in business and still on St. James's, no. 61, though not in the original location; now owned by Diageo. Berry Brothers & Rudd have been at Number 3 St. James's Street in London since 1698, though their current building there was only built in the 1730's). According to the historiography, Guttman passed a bus in London with a sign for Paddington Station and so decided to name his new company Paddington.

Guttman was happy to let Rosenberg drive the J&B account - which he did, with gusto. Single-handedly, Rosenberg saved the moribund brand and before too long he steadily increased annual exports of J&B in the U.S. from 25,000 cases to 3.5 million cases.

Rosenberg was a very shrewd businessman and an early devotee of single malt Scotch whisky. To this end, he bought a small whisky holding company in Scotland called "Duncan Taylor & Co." It was both an investment vehicle and an outlet for his single malt hobby.

Through Duncan Taylor & Co., Rosenberg began in the early 1960's to build private stocks of single malt Scotch whisky. He bought casks of spirit fresh off the still from distilleries all over Scotland (until it is aged at least 3 years in oak in Scotland, it can't be called whisky). His tastes were exquisite, and a great many of these excellent quality casks were of whiskies that had predominantly been used for blending -- so few malt whisky bottlings of them ever went into circulation.

Abe Rosenberg amassed over 4,000 casks of single malt and single grain Scotch whisky through Duncan Taylor & Co. by the time of his death in 1994 (his purchases slowed considerably as his health grew progressively worse; his wife only passed away in 2004; Guttman passed away in 1969). Since MANY of these casks were freshly filled in the 1960s, the cask ages spread between 21 to 40+ years old. So DTC's whisky library of casks averages around 35 years old! Wow.

Euan Shand acquired the mothballed Duncan Taylor & Co. and its extensive bonded warehouse of casks, and moved the headquarters to Huntly, Aberdeenshire (Speyside) in Scotland. DTC hit the ground running in 2003, and between the excellent stock and Shand's brilliant management of the emerging DTC brand, Duncan Taylor & Co. Ltd was quickly recognized as one of the very best and consistently great independent bottlers of Scotch whisky. Given some of its competitors, like Gordon & MacPhail and WM Cadenhead, this is NO SMALL ACCOMPLISHMENT!

I look forward to my next DTC whisky dram.

[Given how long this post is, I’ll do a profile of The Glenlivet another time.]

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My copy of Whiskey & Philosophy has arrived!

Today's post has brought me my copy of Whiskey & Philosophy: A Small Batch of Spirited Ideas edited by Fritz Allhoff and Marcus P. Adams with a foreword by Charles MacLean (John Wiley & Sons: October 2009; 384 pages; $21.95).

This is the latest in the "X (foodstuffs) & Philosophy" series by Allhoff, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan University. I have off and on been reading through, and enjoying, his previous two entries Wine & Philosophy: A Symposium on Thinking and Drinking (Wiley-Blackwell, October 2007; 328 pages; $21.95) and Food & Philosophy: Eat, Think, and Be Merry (co-edited with Dave Monroe; Wiley-Blackwell, October 2007; 320 pages; $21.95).

As I've only just gotten it, I can't post much beyond that it looks wide ranging and sports an impressive roster of contributors, including, beyond the serious academic philosopher that most whisky drinkers will have never heard of, Ian Buxton, David Wishart, Prof. Mark H. Waymack (philosophy prof at Loyola and co-author of 1992's thoroughly readable Single-Malt Whiskies of Scotland: For the Discriminating Imbiber), and the generally brilliant and always immensely readable Andrew Jefford.

Topics include: the history and culture, beauty and experience, metaphysics and epistemology, and ethics of whiskey, as well as a section on "whisky: a sense of place."

I hope to report back soon with some considered judgements.

Enhancing whisky, good or bad? The debate rages on The Malt Advocate blog

Over at The Malt Advocate blog, John Hansell, Publisher and Editor of that fine publication that published my article on the George Washington Distillery, posed the following to his blog readership: "Is it acceptable to “enhance” a whisky to make it more appealing? Or is it improper to do something like this?"

His blog post was inspired by an exchange he had with Dr. Whisky on Dr. whisky's blog. Sam Simmons, a.k.a. “Dr Whisky,” a.k.a. Balvenie Brand Ambassador for William Grant & Sons USA, reviewed the Bernheim Wheat Whiskey on his blog, and noted that he thought it was “boring and inconsequential.”

Hansell suggested in the comments section that since it is a wheat whiskey, that he might consider "blend[ing] it with a little straight rye whiskey to give it more personality, depth and complexity."

Dr Whisky considered this presumptuous, adding:
Who am I to judge professional whisk(e)y makers with 45 years of nosing experience, 3 generations of blending in their families, 10 year apprenticeship training, etc.?

Do you bring a paintbrush to an art gallery in case you find Renoir missed a spot? Do you add salt, Tabasco sauce, and ketchup when dining at a friend’s house?

There were over 40 responses, all intelligent, and mostly all in agreement. Here was my two-cents:
I’m with you and the gang here on this one. You buy it, you enjoy it in any way you like. That’s how it works. As for Dr. Whisky’s take, I think he’s actually way out-of-line. Whisky is a beverage, first and foremost. YES, there is often real artistry involved, and YES, some whisky expressions even achieve true artistic greatness, but it is still a potable product sold for consumption.

Strictly speaking, whisky is a luxury product. Enjoyment is, in fact, what it is all about. If instead of painting Renoir’s medium was the food and beverage industry and his art was served in a restaurant or purchased at a retail outlet rather than viewed at a museum, Dr. Whisky’s analogy would be less off the mark. Besides, mixing or adulterating the purchased product does not necessitate negative judgments against the artistry of the producer, any more than mixing a martini is a judgment against the particular brand of chosen gin or vermouth.

Except for Dr. Whisky, a paid whisky promoter, albeit of a different product, does anyone really disagree?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Current Pride of My Scotch Whisky Library - Kirkland bottled 19 year old Macallan Distillery whisky!

Almost two years ago now, I stumbled across a true gem of a whisky, and at such a reasonable price. In Yiddish, it's a metzieh (rhymes with "Let's see ya") or a real find! A bargain! A lucky break! Drinking it now, every sip, is such a mechaye (rhymes with "messiah") or a real pleasure! Such a Joy!

The whisky in question is the Kirkland Signature 19-year-old Single Malt Scotch from the Macallan Distillery (Item #235674; production: 780 cases; 80 Proof; as found at the Costco on Hartspring Lane, Watford, Herts, England). The cost? Roughly $65 (give or take, given the exchange rate). I bought about five of these on the spot (I would have bought more, except that I can only transport but so many on the flight home). My saintly Mother-in-Law returned later and bought every remaining bottle at this location. The bottles slowly made their way to me stateside in installments over the course of last year; I have been nursing the library along since -- I have only three unopened bottles left. :-(

To put this in perspective, Macallan -- or more properly, "The Macallan" is recognized the world over as one of the truly great Scotch whiskies. Currently in my area a proprietary, or official, bottle of The Macallan aged 18 years runs about $175. Sometimes more.

This Kirkland labeled bottle of 19-year-old Macallan isn't just cheap, its awesome.

This full bodied deep-amber colored whisky is both complex and balanced. It has an intriguing, fresh nose of something akin to dried currants, dried citrus fruit, something vaguely floral, and with distinct wafts of a sweet spiciness (almost cinnamon-like, but better) and some subtle traces of smoke. On the palate, I get velvety smooth, rather elegant notes of spice, citrus-fruit zest, sweet sherry (but NOT overly sherried), a sort of racy or spicy ginger sensation, caramel, honey, and all with subtle traces of peat and oak in the background. The finish is long and absorbing, soothing, a tad drying, and richly rewarding -- with a heightened interplay of spice, citrus zest, toffee, something like milk chocolate, and pleasingly subtle wood notes.

As for the distillery itself, this seems as good a space as any for a nice "profile" write-up... ;-)

Located just west of the village of Craigellachie in Morayshire (or the county of Moray - better known to whisky marketeers as the heart of the "Speyside" region), just off the B9102 towards Archiestown, stands The Macallan Distillery.

The distillery was licensed by Alexander Reid in 1824 on the grounds of the Easter Elchies estate; Reid had rented the manor house and farm in 1820 from the Grant family and had developed a good relationship with Lord Lewis Alexander Grant-Ogilvy (5th Earl of Seafield), who lived in Castle Grant a few miles away. Reid called the distillery Elchies Distillery, after the estate, though the whisky produced there was known as Macallan, after the ancient church which stands in ruins nearby. Macallan comes from two Gaelic words, MAGH meaning a fertile piece of ground and ELLAN, meaning of Saint Fillan, a legendary eighth century Irish monk who travelled widely through Scotland spreading Christianity.

The Jacobean manor house, "Easter Elchies," still stands at the heart of the estate. It was believed to have been built in 1700 of sandstone by Captain John Grant, based on a carved date-stone above the door, though some believe the actual house is perhaps a century older. Between 1981-1985 the manor house was refurbished and fully restored and is now an integral part of The Macallan Distillery image and branding (a likeness of the manor house appears on every label).

Ownership of the distillery switched hands in 1847 when Reid died, and then again in 1868 and again in 1896, before it was sold, in 1892, to Roderick Kemp from Elgin, a former worker and part owner of the Talisker distillery on the Isle of Skye. Kemp invested in some distillery expansion and refurbishment, and renamed it Macallan-Glenlivet. This renaming was fairly typical of the period, as Glenlivet was then the most marketable name in the Highlands.

Kemp passed away in 1909, and the company was put into the Roderick Kemp Trust. The family remained part owners until 1996 when Highland Distilleries Co plc (later renamed "Highland Distillers Ltd" in 1998) bought the Kemp family out of the business. In 1999 the Edrington Group and William Grant & Sonsbought Highland Distillers, which was already partially owned by Edrington, Suntory (the Japanese whisky company), and Remy-Cointreau.

In 2000, William Grant & Sons and Edrington made Highland Distillers, now a production wing of Edrington, totally private (William Grant & Sons has a 30% share). Thus the Macallan is an Edrington Group plc brand; produced, marketed and sold and controlled by them...simple, right? This is fairly typical of how Scotch distilleries are bought and sold (and I totally simplified much of the corporate stuff and cut-out some of the, now totally minor, players).

While throughout this history and into the present the Macallan earned a reputation for excellence, it is worth noting that the "Macallan-Glenlivet" only became "The Macallan" in 1980; the first official single malt was launched in 1977, and the first official 18 year old bottling wasn't launched until 1984. Something to keep in mind the next time you get too misty-eyed about your traditional Macallan whisky.

The whisky used to be known as an 100% sherry cask aged whisky (meaning that only casks that previously stored sherry wine -- or really that had been seasoned with sherry wine -- were used for whisky destined to be sold officially as The Macallan; the distillery routinely used other casks for whisky being produced for other drinks companies, principally for blending or the occasional independent-label bottling of single malt). Worldwide demand was such, however, that the company determined that a brand expansion was required if they were to make the most of the upward swing in good fortune, hence the introduction of the "Fine Oak" range in 2004 (which allows for the official use of non-sherry casks in the maturation process).

Even still, The Macallan accounts for something like 65% of all the sherry casks imported into Scotland for maturing scotch whisky. The Edrington Group, The Macallan's parent company, accounts for over 90% of all sherry casks entering the system. The regular, or sherry cask, range is still 100% matured in sherry seasoned Spanish oak casks; and sherry casks still make-up about 50% of all the whisky that goes towards the Fine Oak range.

Indeed, not to put too fine a point on it, the Edrington Group plc alone supports the cooperage of Spanish oak casks for sherry. [Sherry is a Spanish fortified wine made in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, in the province of Cadiz, from within, a triangle of towns -- Jerez de la Frontera, which is also the most important, and Puerto de Santa Maria and Sanlucar de Barrameda.]

The vast majority of sherry today is actually made in stainless steel tanks, and then matured in American Oak (Quercus alba) sherry casks, or butts as they are generally called in the trade. The oak is imported from the US prior to coopering. The Scotch trade, however, learned a long time ago that their whiskies matured well in European oak species, specifically Spanish oak (Quercus robur) in the case of The Macallan.

So when casks of this type became less fashionable in Jerez, Edrington began commissioning the cooperage and seasoning with maturing sherry of Quercus robur casks. Edrington partnered with the Tevasa Cooperage in Jerez who annually select around 10,000 Spanish oak trees from sustainable forests in Northern Spain. The trees are felled, processed in Santander, sun dried for 2 years, and then introduced into various sherry producers' soleras -- or the fractional blending systems of Sherry producers -- for about 3 years of seasoning. All for a princely sum!

The only temporary blip on The Macallan's success was, in fairness, not entirely their fault. The Macallan got snookered into buying some fake "antique" bottlings of their whisky which, before they learned of the forgeries, spun into an antique range of whiskies patterned on the newly found old stuff. A 1874 replica bottling was put out by the previous management in 1996, and Edrington continued the range based on "antique's" acquired at auction and through private sales from 1998-2000, with additional replica bottlings produced in 2001 (the 1861 bottling), 2002 (the 1841 bottling, and 2003 (the 1876).

Then whisky journalist David Broom, in Issue 28 of Whisky Magazine (Dec 02 / Jan 03), questioned the authenticity of a number of pristine "antique" bottles that were suddenly hitting the collectors market; he specifically cited examples of, among others, Talisker, Ardbeg and Longrow and The Macallan. More than a little concerned, The Macallan began an investigation with the help of the Scotch Whisky research institute.

Using the radio carbon accelerator unit at Oxford University to determine the approximate age of the whisky. They had previously tried carbon dating the bottles and labels. but not the whisky inside the seemingly authentically sealed bottles -- which is how they missed that several of their antiques were fakes. Once they learned the truth, and this is to their credit, they went public with it and stopped sales of the antique line of bottles.

That blip aside, The Macallan has become one of the greatest "luxury" brand success stories of Scotland. Yes, it is overpriced and YES, it is mostly hype and marketing blah that is the engine of growth for the brand, but then it is ALSO TRUE that The Macallan is a damn fine whisky.

Given the price and the lack of "branding" crapola that accompanies "The Macallan," my Kirkland bottle is currently the pride and joy of my Scotch whisky library.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I'm back...(kinda, sorta) to write positively(!) about Bad Whisky...the book, that is ;-)

OK, so I sort of abandoned this whole blog thing a bit sharpish about a year ago. As someone who used to earn a living writing and editing, I still haven't fully wrapped my head around the notion of writing NOT for pay. Frankly, I remain ambivalent. Yet, when I suddenly do get the hankering to write, I quickly (re)learn that I have been out of the professional writing game to long to simply jump back in as the mood takes. Thus, I'm back to this blog...(kinda, sorta) to write positively(!) about Bad Whisky...the book, that is ;-)

I just learned -- and this is moving me to take another crack at this blog -- that Neil Wilson Publishing (NWP) will be republishing a fantastic and important Whisky title that has fallen our of circulation -- Edward Burn's Bad Whisky. NWP, it is worth taking a moment to note, is one of the very best and most innovative small, independent publishers around, and the hands-down leader of the whisky genre. They publish some of the very best Scotch whisky writing in print.

Bad Whisky is, well, brilliant. It briefly, but succinctly, chronicles and beautifully brings to life the Victorian era scandal over the widespread publican adulteration of whisky throughout the UK. In 1860 Parliament, following the findings of an 1855 public hearing by the House of Commons about the adulteration of foodstuffs, passed an Act to protect the public good against food adulteration, both to protect the consumer's purse and person. The act was non-mandatory and so feckless.

So public was the flouting of this act, however, that further investigation was deemed warranted in almost every category of foodstuff -- dairy products, meat, beer, spirits, bread, tea, tobacco, candies, etc. In context, then, the widespread adulteration of malt whisky was hardly surprising. Common adulterants included, at the more pleasant end of the spectrum, additives such as burnt sugar, caramel and prune wine or, at positively dangerous end of the spectrum, methylated spirits, shellac gum, sulphuric acid, turpentine and boot polish.

The adulteration of whisky in Glasgow was, by 1872, so atrocious and so widespread, however, that it became subject to greater official scrutiny and public ire. Burns details how Doctor Charles Cameron, editor of the North British Daily Mail, and Doctor James St. Clair Gray of Glasgow University forced the issue and thereby altered the course of Scotch whisky history forever.

This new edition of Bad Whisky, the third to date, has, I gather been finessed a little. It is winging its way to me now, so I have not yet had a chance to actually review the new edition.

The old title was actually It's a bad thing whisky, especially BAD WHISKY published by Balvag Books in 1995 (ISBN: 0951202022); though it was known by the all-caps BAD WHISKY. My copy was picked up for me as gift in 2006 by my father-in-law who very kindly ventured out to The Whisky Exchange to get it for me.

This new third edition title, which also sports a new forward by the indefatigable and always reliable Ian Buxton, is Bad Whisky: The Scandal That Created The World's Most Successful Spirit. I trust their has been a little more exposition either by Burns or Buxton to help highlight the proper importance of this work in the history of the industry. In the edition I have, Burns asserts that it is important inside of a couple of lines. He is correct, obviously, but a little more exposition can't but help get the message across.

I hope to post more when the new version hits my mailbox.