The Exclusive Malts 2000 Craigellachie 12 Year Old

•April 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

ExMalts_Craigellachie *Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

Some Scotch distilleries seem to live more on the peripheries of whisky history than on the center of the stage. There are those that were not designed by the leading architect of the day, that spent as much time mothballed as they did open for business, and that bounced from owner to owner over the years, never quite making it into the stables of one of the major beverage companies. Many of these have been shut down (such as Imperial) but some survive (such as Balmenach), and some even manage to make a bigger name for themselves in the modern era (such as BenRiach). On the other hand, there are those distilleries whose histories are well-known and well-tied-into the popular story of Scotch (such as Glenfiddich, Laphroaig, Glen Grant, and Macallan). These distilleries often have had the most flamboyant owners, or been part of the biggest mergers, and today, tend to be the world’s best sellers.

Then there’s distilleries like relatively un-heard-of Craigellachie. Founded in 1891 by some big names in Scotch whisky, designed by the most renowned distillery architect of the day, Charles Doig, and eventually being a part of the biggest merger’s in Scotch’s history, Craigellachie has managed to be center stage and back in the shadows at the same time. The distillery did not actually begin producing spirit until 1898. It was built by a partnership led by Peter Mackie, owner at the time of Lagavulin and the man behind the famous White Horse blend, and Alexander Edward, owner of Benrinnes and later, Oban. Mackie bought out the other partners in 1916, forming Mackie & Co. Distillers Ltd. Peter Mackie died in 1924, and the company name was changed again to White Horse Distillers. In 1927, White Horse was bought out by Distillers Company Limited (DCL) and Craigellachie just kept chugging along in the service of DCL’s blended whiskies. Not much happened to Craigellachie for the next 70 years…well, ok, pretty much the entire distillery was rebuilt and modernized in 1964, but other than that, not much. Then in 1997, Guinness, who had purchased DCL in 1986, merged with Grand Metropolitan to form Diageo. The large-scale, somewhat controversial merger forced Diageo to sell off the Dewar’s brand and its four key distilleries to satisfy international competition laws. Little ol’ Craigellachie was one of those four distilleries, a small piece of the pie, integral to the popular Dewar’s blend, but fairly invisible on its own. Over the years, there’s more or less just been one official distillery bottling and occasional independent bottlings such as this one from The Creative Whisky Company’s Exclusive Malts range.  It may interest some to learn that Craigellachie is somewhat unusual amongst its Speyside brethren because of its use of lightly peated malt.

The Nose:  Very inviting and positively dripping with honey. Thick orange blossom honey and waxy honeycomb mingle with fruit notes of cherry juice and tangerines. Sawn oak and even a small hint of cedar sit well in the background with dusty cinnamon, vanilla extract, and the faintest breath of peat smoke. With water, some of that thick honey is lost as additional, stronger spice notes come out – dried orange peel and clove. While water doesn’t add much more smoke, it adds a bit more subtly tarry peat to the mix.

The Palate:  Big, oily mouthfeel that’s both spicy and sweet to begin with. Much more citrus here; navel orange and Meyer lemon but still a touch of that honey from the nose. Much more wood is evident on the palate as well, more oak chips, greenish clove, vanilla bean, white pepper, and a surprising little touch of mint. While it’s still subtle, there’s a stronger whiff of woodsmoke on the palate. Like the nose, adding a bit of water, tones down some of the sweetness while exposing more edgy wood and spice.

The Finish:  Longish with slightly under-ripe citrus, oak, clove, pepper, and that very pleasing light breath of what’s now dry wood smoke.

Thoughts:  Very enjoyable stuff from a distillery that’s wholly new to me. At first blush, this seems a relatively simple malt, but there’s a subtle complexity to the woodier notes, and the faint touch of peat that gives this one a surprising amount of character. Adding a little water toned down the sweeter notes, playing up the wood and spice more. On the nose, that worked, on the palate it made things seem a little younger than they were. Still, throughout, I found this engaging and quietly interesting in a way that made me wish I had more in my glass when it was gone. Recommended.

The Exclusive Malts 2000 Craigellachie 12 Year Old, Speyside, IB +/-2013

55.8% ABV

Score:  85

Kilchoman 100% Islay, 3rd Edition – Review

•April 7, 2014 • 3 Comments

Kilchoman100Islay_3

*Thanks to SF and the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

Back in days of yore, yore being that time long ago when people actually darned socks, butchered their own animals, and didn’t fret needlessly over whether or not radiation from the Fukushima meltdown plant was actually seeping into their Gorton’s fish sticks, most distilleries in Scotland malted all their own barley (malting being the process of steeping grain in water until it begins to germinate and then halting the germination by drying the grain). Demand for Scotch is just a little higher today than it was in the mid to late 1800′s, and certain aspects of the supply chain may have changed a little as well. While there were commercial maltsters back then (Baird’s, Crisp, and Simpson’s for example, can all trace their beginnings back to the mid 1800′s), many distilleries were able to accommodate their malt needs by doing it all by themselves. As time marched on, the industrial revolution laid its rails and upped its efficiency, and the whisky industry grew and consolidated, and then grew some more; more and more distilleries realized it was easier, and more importantly, more profitable to have a large commercial maltster malt their barley. Floor maltings began to disappear, and today, there are only a handful of distilleries that continue to malt their own barley. Not counting the newish, large-scale, serving-multiple-distilleries, Diageo-Owned spirit factories of Roseisle and Glen Ord, the only old school distilleries that still turn their own barley are: Balvenie, BenRiach, Bowmore, Highland Park, Laphroaig, and Springbank with Islay’s new school Kilchoman also joining this established crowd. It’s very important to note that of those seven mentioned, only Springbank is able to malt its entire requirement, with the others only producing a minority percentage. The volume these companies are producing is just too great for their relatively small and antiquated maltings to keep pace. Even the relatively tiny Kilchoman (producing 140,000 litres of alcohol/year compared to, say, Balvenie’s 6,400,000 litres) malts just 30% of their requirement and gets the majority of their malt from Port Ellen.

What sets Kilchoman apart somewhat from the others is that while they incorporate their own maltings with the commercially malted stuff for much of their output, they have also have a now yearly release that they call their 100% Islay expression. These are whiskies made from barley grown on the Kilchoman farm, malted on site, and mashed, distilled, matured, and bottled at the distillery as well. Granted, the glass bottle is most likely not made on Islay, but everything inside the bottle was produced right there at Kilchoman – a rare occurrence in this day and age. The third edition in the 100% Islay series was released in the summer of 2013 and is a mix of four year old and five year old whiskies all matured in new American white oak barrels. For those driven absolutely wild by such things as peat levels used, it may interest you to know that Kilchoman’s malt from Port Ellen is peated to approximately 50ppm (the phenols expressed as parts per million), and the malt from Kilchoman itself, peated to approximately 20ppm.

The Nose:  A very clean, fresh, inviting, absorbing nose with both complex fruit and peat notes. True to the Kilchoman style, lots of pear, both poached and crisp, barely-ripe Anjou, along with a bit of tart lemon curd and Meyer lemon pith. There’s also a floral honey sweetness here and touches of vanilla bean. The peat and smoke have a lighter, more integrated quality, almost like smelling fabric that’s been around peat smoke rather than the peat smoke itself. Tucked further back is a wisp of sea spray, bright cinnamon, a bit of rubbed tobacco leaf, and a faint hint of eucalyptus. 50% ABV isn’t too high a proof to enjoy this on its own. A bit of water brings out more peat and smoke, but also tones down some of the complex sweeter elements.

The Palate:  A nicely creamy mouthfeel shows off continued honeyed pear and citrus sweetness as well as much more sooty peat than was on the nose. Dark, fudgey chocolate with sea salt and smoked almonds lead to a nice swell of slightly ashy peat smoke, vanilla bean, peppercorns, green-ish clove, and a bit of that same, resinous eucalyptus from the nose. Water does very nice things here, drawing out all the flavors nicely and rounding off some of the sharper edges.

The Finish: Long.  A honey-roasted nuts quality fades quickly, but mingling peat, smoke, and lemon notes hang around for quite a while.

Thoughts:  Great stuff. At this point, the one thing you need to recognize about Kilchoman over the last couple of years is its remarkable, consistent quality even at such a young age. Of the three 100% Islay expressions so far, this is by far my favorite – the extra year of maturation has helped integrate everything better, and some of the rawer edges have been smoothed, especially those of the house-malted peat. There’s a great balance and progression of flavors here. This is a lighter whisky than the 2007 Vintage but it still stays true to this fledgling distillery’s house style.  Definitely recommended.

Kilchoman 100% Islay, 3rd Edition, Islay, OB 2013

50% ABV

Score:  87

Obligatory April Fool’s Day Whisky Blog Post.

•April 1, 2014 • 3 Comments
Hieronymus Bosch, "The Ship of Fools"

Hieronymus Bosch, “The Ship of Fools”

Despite knowing that a number of humorless curmudgeons find this kind of thing annoying, I’ve always enjoyed concocting some cockamamie story about some preposterous whisky-related something or other for April Fool’s Day. I’ve enjoyed it despite occasionally not going far enough, or perhaps more accurately, underestimating how ridiculously far the whisky/booze/bar industry goes and ending up writing something kind of plausible despite its implausibility. So this year when I sat down to write something funny, it took me all of about three minutes to realize that whatever it was I had in mind, the industry had already beaten me to it.

I could’ve written a story about a new major release that comes in special 500ml “compact” bottles but costs even more than most other standard-size releases…but that just sounds stupid and no one would think getting less for more was funny.

I could’ve made up some bullcrap about a big whiskey heist, some Smokey and the Bandit caper where two charming guys in tight pants make off with a large amount of over-hyped bourbon…but no one really thinks stealing overrated whiskey is worth going to jail for, that’s just silly.

I could’ve gone macabre and made something up about a blended whisky brand creating a scant few, customized, presumably collectible bottles to house their cheap blended whisky. Instead of the usual fancy wooden box, or overblown Lalique crystal decanter, these special bottles could be made to look like tattooed skin because, you know, nothing says class like drinking cheap scotch out of some tattooed guys leg. Nah, nevermind, that’s gross.

I could’ve spun a yarn about a guy who walks into a liquor shop and buys a bottle of readily available Scotch for $90 and goes home to find that the same bottle just sold for three times that much at auction…and a mini of the same whisky sold for four times what he paid. People are stupid, we all know that, but a story like that…that’s going too far, people are not that pathetic, are they?

I could’ve written a hypothetical scenario wherein some huge, impossibly greedy company decides it’s ok to suck up the valuable legislative time of a state’s government by “persuading” a congressman to introduce a doomed-from-the-start law that attempts to weaken the standards by which a rival company makes a product. Nevermind the fact that the rival company sucked up valuable legislative time creating the standards in the first place, ostensibly to protect the heritage of the state, but really just to protect their own brand. The rival company got there first, so fair play to them. Nobody likes to read fiction about big companies forcing politicians to do their dirty work.

If I was really clever, I would’ve followed up the above story with another bit of farce wherein the huge, impossibly greedy company, stung by the legislative loss, decides to sue the state they previously had cozied up to for having a 77 year-old law that just doesn’t fit into their money-making…er, sorry, doesn’t allow them to make the best whisky they can. No one would think that kind of thing would happen in real life. Whisky companies don’t spend all their time influencing lawmakers and hiring armies of lawyers, they spend their time coming up with brainy schemes like expensive 500ml bottles of NAS whisky.

Speaking of armies of lawyers, maybe there could’ve been a funny story about a big company getting sued for using a name like “the Explorers Club” when there already was an Explorers Club. Instead of firing the intern who didn’t do the due diligence in researching the name, the big company could argue that their “Explorer’s Club” has a possessive apostrophe and the original does not – a semantic difference, yes, but an important one, especially since one club is dedicated to the exploration of the land, sea, air, and space, and the other club is dedicated to the exploration of overpriced  travel retail booze and business class amenities.

Or maybe instead of an army of lawyers, there could be a navy of lawyers from one big company shouting, “avast!” to another big company for using a suspiciously similar sea-faring character to sell cheap rum. Everyone likes a good courtroom drama and the climax to this poop deck would be when the prosecutor, coolly antagonistic in a pretty nice suit practically mounts the witness and with all the confidence of Trafalgar square behind him, queries, “did Admiral Horatio Nelson actually wear an eyepatch or did you just make that shit up to compete with our mustachioed pirate?” High drama to be sure.

That courtroom stuff is pretty good. I could’ve written something about packs of whisky bloggers, egos running amok, snapping at each others throats and constantly fighting off accusations of ethical sluttiness and industry crony-ism by people who apparently hate whisky blogs yet spend all their time reading and commenting on them, or even “writing” their own, but there’s no story arc there. The characters are flaccid, the rising action tepid at best, and the denouement more concerned with page views and web rankings than anything else.

No, in the end, this year there will be no April Fool’s post. In the same way one red-blooded, cross-waving faction of American politics keep preempting the lampoonists and satirists by saying unbelievably stupid things, the whisky industry keeps churning out crap that sets the bar mighty high in terms of churning out lampoonist and satirical crap that makes fun the of whisky industry.

Glen Grant Five Decades – Review

•March 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

*Sincere thanks to NR from Exposure PR for the sample.

In an attempt to give you a little mood music and to keep the Glen Grant Five Decades theme going, here are songs from the five decades in question, all performed at least partly by someone named Grant. Go ahead pick a tune, I’ll wait…

Glen Grant V Decades (1)Now that the mood is properly set, Glen Grant’s Five Decades was released in the Fall of 2013 to celebrate Master Distiller Dennis Malcolm’s 50th year with the distillery. Malcolm began work at Glen Grant as an apprentice cooper, eventually rising to the position he holds today, overseeing the 8th largest distillery in Scotland which produces the 6th most popular single malt in the world. Five Decades is a vatting…sorry, a “marriage” of whiskies made by Malcolm from the 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, 90′s, and 00′s. The edition size of this limited release is a fairly large 12,000 bottles.

The Nose:  Bright and fresh, delightful, really. Nice notes of honey and brown sugar, along with waxy Red Delicious apples and a bit of peaches and cream (not this kind). Quite a bit of soft malted barley, a touch of almond paste, and nice spice notes of Vietnamese cinnamon and bourbon vanilla.

The Palate:  Still light, but with a bit more pop than the nose, this progresses nicely with notes of over-ripe pears, spiced apple sauce and sea-salted caramels. The sweet barley is back as well, along with malted milk balls, nutty toffee, and even a touch of salty mixed nuts. A mellow spice wave of vanilla bean, cinnamon stick and grippy clove leads to the finish.

The Finish:  Nice length with last burst of bruised apple sweetness, honey-roasted salted almonds, vanilla bean, and soft, drying clove trailing off at the end.

Thoughts:  Very enjoyable. Surprisingly enjoyable even because both on the nose and the palate, the initial impressions are of youth and simplicity. I don’t think it would shock anyone to find out that the large majority of the whisky used here was the young stuff from the 2000′s and 1990′s. This definitely feels like a relatively young, teen-aged whisky, but where it succeeds is the use of the older whiskies to temper the edges, smooth the youth, and add subtle shades of depth. Glen Grant’s success is based on the popularity of its lighter style and younger whisky, so it’s quite fitting that they seem to have decided to showcase that here, using the old stuff to help show off that style, rather than trying to make a whisky seem older than it is, – chapeau to that. This originally clocked in at a pricey $250, as an NAS malt, it’s not worth that, but still, expertly made stuff. Recommended.

Glen Grant Five Decades, Speyside, OB +/-2013

46% ABV

Score:  86

Ok, I gotta ask…what song did you listen to?

Green Spot Irish Whiskey, circa 2010 – Review

•March 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

GreenSpot_Old

*Thanks to DD of Whisky Party for the sample!

Nearly 14 years ago, on a memorable trip to Ireland, my family and I were introduced to Redbreast by a heroic concierge at the Mercer Hotel in Dublin. We had been drinking Bushmill’s Black Bush, which, to be fair, was met with tacit approval, but our guide pushed us further. Redbreast, he said, and if you see it, Green Spot. We saw a lot of Redbreast. We liked Redbreast a lot. We drank a lot of Redbreast. Perhaps we opted for Redbreast over Green Spot because of some puerile preference for a red breast rather than a green spot, which to be honest, doesn’t sound all that healthy or at least doesn’t sound like something that would come out without a lot of scrubbing. In any case, Redbreast was abundant, Green Spot was not. I saw it in shop windows on occasion, its wonderful label and concierge-approved reputation beckoning, but I yielded not to its siren call. I would regret that siren-call-yielding for many years hence. Getting a bottle to the states was tricky and expensive and getting myself back to Ireland was even trickier and more expensive. Luckily, thanks to a fellow blogger, I was eventually able to sip some of this fabled pure pot still gold, and now, many years after that first mythic sighting, Green Spot is joining the Irish whiskey boom and finally hitting shelves near me in the U.S.

So what, exactly, is it about Green Spot that gives it this legendary status? To begin with, its history. In 1805, a family by the name of Mitchell went into the grocery business in Dublin. 82 years later, the successful business expanded into wine and spirits, specifically whiskey, which was a booming business at the time. Mitchell & Son became whisky bonders, they had their own casks filled with spirit from Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery, and sold it under the Green Spot brand. This was common practice at the time, but Mitchell & Son were particularly successful at it, reportedly ordering 100 sherry casks a year even during the downturn of the early 1900′s. The name “Green Spot” apparently has a couple possible origins. Originally the whisky was called “Pat Whiskey” and featured a rough-looking chap on a green background on the label. Somehow this morphed into “Green Spot”. If that story sounds as shaky to you as it does to me, try this more plausible one on: Mitchell & Son were so successful with their whiskey bonding that they expanded their range over the years to include a Blue Spot (7 years old), a Yellow Spot (12 years old), and a Red Spot (15 years old) to go along with the 10 year old Green Spot – the casks destined for each style marked with the appropriate spot of paint.

Green Spot proved to be the most popular of Mitchell & Son’s whiskies, indeed as whiskey’s popularity in general waned and the trade of whisky bonding died out, it remained the only brand of its kind after the 60′s. Since then, up until a year or so ago, Green Spot held its place as a rarely seen Irish gem. When Redbreast was finally brought to the U.S. in the mid-2000′s, it raised from relative obscurity the distinctly Irish process of “Pure Pot Still” style whiskey. Pure pot still, or as it is legally called today for no good reason whatsoever, “Single Pot Still” uses a combination of malted barley and un-malted barley in the mash in contrast to single malt Scotch which uses 100% malted barley. Redbreast became a well-known and well-renowned ambassador for the style, with the only other Pure Pot Still brand being…the hard to get, mythic Green Spot.

With Redbreast’s success, and Irish whiskey on the rise once again, more Pure Pot Still expressions have joined the fray. Irish Distillers, the Pernod-Ricard subsidiary headquartered in Middleton, Co. Cork, and Mitchell & Son have revived both the Green and Yellow Spot brands, and as I mentioned, Green Spot is now available in the States. The sample that I’ve detailed below was from a Green Spot most likely bottled in 2010. Back then, it was reportedly an 8-9 year old whisky with 25% of the maturation happening in sherry casks, and Mitchell & Son filling approximately 1200 bottles a year. The new, re-branded version of Green Spot now uses whiskies “7 – 10 years old” according to the Irish Distillers’ Pure Pot Still site. It is still being matured in a mix of new and re-fill bourbon casks, and sherry casks. With any luck a review of the new version will follow this review of the older one…

The Nose:  Initially quite sweet and simple, but an underlying complexity causes a double-take. There’s a lot of honey and fruit here; juicy, tart apples, tangerines, and sticky figs. A bit of the sweetness comes from the grain notes as well – brown sugar and butter on oatmeal. That crisp Irish pot still character seems almost a little mentholated here, with subtle, hovering notes of peppermint candies. Behind the sweetness are spice notes of sanded oak, soft clove, candied ginger, and vanilla syrup.

The Palate:  Wonderfully coating and oily mouthfeel with a malty grain-forward sweetness along with continued juicy citrus sweetness from the nose. Notes of nutty toffee and dark chocolate lead to a near-perfect swell of spice. There’s more of that pleasant, unique peppermint towards the end, along with clove, vanilla bean, and hints of charred oak.

The Finish:  Longish with vanilla, a touch of mint, more soft clove, with a bit of oak and salted nuttiness fading in the end.

Thoughts:  A gorgeous Irish whiskey. Sweeter than Redbreast, less bold and spicy as well, or at least spicy in a different way with those delicious, unique, well-integrated peppermint notes. At first, it seems a touch simple, but there’s a subtle yet deep complexity to the nose, and on the palate, a strength belying its lowly 40% ABV. The sherry cask influence is faint, showing up in the fig-y notes on the nose and the added nuttiness on the palate. Overall, Green Spot is just an absolute pleasure to sip, balanced, well-integrated with such a well-made progression through its flavor range. A beautiful example of the distinctive Irish Pure Pot Still style. So far, the new version is well-regarded as well, hopefully I’ll be able to do a head to head soon. This older version, with a doubt, is very difficult to find now, but if you get the chance, leap at it. Highly, highly recommended.

Green Spot Irish Whiskey, Irish, OB +/-2010

40% ABV

Score:  90

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Still Waters Distillery Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky, Casks no.3 & no.5 – Reviewed

•March 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

*Sincere thanks to RS and Purple Valley Imports for the samples. Additional thanks to Johanne McInnis of Whisky Lassie for organizing the twitter tasting that Cask #5 was a part of.

One of the few “craft” distilleries in Canada, Still Waters Distillery sets itself apart even further, whisky-wise, by focusing on single malt instead of the expected Canadian style. Founded in 2009, the distillery has a fairly small output, but last year started releasing bottlings of single casks. In another interesting twist, Still Waters features their “Cask Book” on their website, which is basically a searchable, trackable catalog of every cask of whisky they’ve filled. True, this kind of thing often only appeals to the most sordid whisky geeks, but you rarely get this kind of glimpse into a whisky makers production and warehouse – that alone makes it worth a quick look. Granted, they’ve only filled 129 barrels, the last being bunged in September of 2013 (come on guys, let’s pick up the pace), so the Cask Book is not necessarily a long read at the moment, but still, hats off to these guys for being transparent and sharing this info with whisky fans.

sbbottleI reviewed Cask no.1 back in June of 2013 and was surprised by its complexity and depth even at such a young age, so I was excited to have the chance to try two other early casks to see how this young distillery was doing. Cask no.3 was aged for almost three years and three months in a new American White Oak cask and bottled at 46% instead of cask strength. Cask no.5 was aged for three years and five months in a first fill, ex-bourbon barrel, and was bottled at cask strength.

————————–

Still Waters Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky, Cask#3

Cask: New
Age: 3.2 years

The Nose:  Youthful and light, upfront there’s a nice combination of golden raisins, lemon juice, light floral honey, and slightly bread-y malt. Surprisingly strong wood notes, of fresh-sawn oak, cherrywood sap, and a bit of cedar with lighter spice notes of cinnamon icing, vanilla bean, and subtle clove.

The Palate:  Even at 46%, there’s the expected youthful heat on the palate. There’s still quite a bit of lemon-y sweetness early on along with some sugary cereal notes, but they’re joined by some dark chocolate and nutty, slightly salty, slightly burnt toffee. Like the nose, there’s quite a bit of wood here as well, oak chips and sawdust, along with ginger, clove, and savory pepper.

The Finish:  Continued lemon, raisin, clove and oak drift off in pretty much that order with faint beery notes loitering at the last.

Thoughts:  It was interesting to compare my notes on this one to those of Cask no.1, I found enough similar flavors that you could almost say there’s a bit of a house style being developed. Taking into consideration that this is a very young whisky from very young (experience-wise) distillers, there is quite a bit to be impressed by here. Cask no. 3 is a bit rough-edged compared to no.1, but the pleasant citrus and faintly dried fruit sweetness along with the well-handled integration of a surprising amount of woody notes from the new cask makes this an interesting and appealing single malt.

Still Waters Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky, Cask#3, OB, 2013

46% ABV

Score:  81

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Still Waters Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky, Cask#5

Cask: First fill ex-bourbon
Age: 3.4 years

Nose:  Hmmm…there’s honeysuckle, floral honey, light malt, tart lemon icing, citrus pith all with a light dusting of cocoa powder. Decent spice notes of candied ginger, green clove, hints of fine ground pepper, fresh sawn pine are present as well. Unfortunately, aside from the high alcohol, there are also some strong, solvent-y/lacquer notes that are hard to get past initially. With a bit of time in the glass, this does blow off somewhat and reveals some lighter complexity. With water, much of that complexity is lost, lemon furniture polish notes emerge and overwhelm the relatively delicate spice notes.

Palate:  Wow…hot stuff. There’s an early bit of sweetness in the form more honey and juicy citrus, but that’s quickly subsumed by the high-proof heat. A bit of baker’s chocolate and salty, candied nuts show up before the young, rough, hot, tannic spice rolls in. Quite peppery, along with dusty clove, more ginger, a touch of anise and grippy pine resin. Water does help, but really only by calming that high-octane alcohol burn, the youthful harshness remains.

Finish:  Yep, still quite hot with just a touch of that lemon-y citrus. Lingering white pepper, raw ginger, and clove – quite dry and tannic at the end.

Thoughts:  I was very impressed with the cask-strength Barrel no.1, it was both enjoyable on its own and pointed to good things to come from this small distillery, unfortunately this fifth barrel from Still Waters falls short in comparison. While no.5 has much in common with no.’s 1 & 3, it was also just too rough, spirit-y and hot. Even with water, that sharp-edged, solvent-y quality played too big a role. My guess is the re-fill cask used here didn’t do the spirit many favors. Still, on the positive side, even five casks in, some of the house style is evident, and so far that house style is good.

Still Waters Stalk & Barrel Single Malt Whisky, Barrel #5, OB, 2013

60.3% ABV

Score:  72

Reckless Moments in Booze Marketing, Vol. 1

•March 11, 2014 • 2 Comments

I’d like to think this would become a regular feature around here, but seeing as I, myself, am powerfully irregular… there’s really not much hope in that. The fact is, pretty much every piece of booze related marketing/advertising/PR contains something at least a little silly and worth calling out…it would be impossible to track them all. But there are occasions when the silliness over-reaches and becomes downright stupid and even mildly enraging. The past week, there were two such pieces of booze “news” that came to my attention, one because of its big-time desperate inaccuracy, the other because of its big-time steamrolling greed.

Let’s go with the greedy one first. Back in December of 2013, Diageo announced that they would be doubling the capacity of and introducing a new range of four malts from cult-favorite distillery Mortlach. On the surface, this seemed like kind of good news, a renowned distillery usually laboring in the shadow of blends, finally gets to see more light of day. My immediate feeling, however, was, “they’re going to ruin this for everyone.” They announced that the range would be made up of two “no age statement” (NAS) whiskies and two older expressions. The NAS whisky trend has come under a lot of fire for being generally over-hyped, under-matured, and over-priced so that was warning sign #1. Warning sign #2 was the fact that Diageo really doesn’t do expanded ranges with their single malts. Usually, there’s just one or two core expressions from the Classic Malts line. The fact the there was going to be four core Mortlach expressions was a sure sign that Diageo was going big, and going big is never inexpensive. Warning sign #3 was when Diageo announced that there would be substantial price increases in its core single malt range to go along with the large and largely unpopular price jumps in their 2013 Limited Release editions. Whisky’s popularity is soaring, Diageo obviously think it’s time to cash in on existing brands, why would anybody think they’d do differently with the new Mortlach’s? It was depressing writing on the wall, but trying to fault a publicly traded company for making big profits any which way they can is like trying to fault a train for heading down the tracks.

This past week, Diageo offered up pics of the bottle design (hey, rectangular, how unique!) and details on pricing, and the whisky community just about crapped in their collective elastic waist-banded khaki pants. I’m sure some of the older ones swooned while the younger ones jumped to their feet and angrily pounded their chests. How dare they try to make money?!? Oh, the horrible injustice of it all! One blogger, one of the best commentators on the industry out there, was so embittered he seemed to lose his mind for a minute and practically demanded restitution because he felt it was the efforts of the tiny whisky geek community that allowed this billion dollar multi-national corporation to even attempt to re-brand the Mortlach name in the first place. Rising prices and NAS whiskies are nothing new, so why the increased outrage over this Mortlach stuff, why were people positively apoplectic? Here’s why. Because, with the exception of the US market, the bottle size for the Mortlach range will be 500ml. Yeah, you read that right. The prices for all four expressions, including the “Rare Old” NAS, entry-level (meaning it will be the easiest-to-find and the youngest…rare and old, indeed), are considered quite high for normal size bottles…and these new bottles are going to be a third smaller. Gosh, thanks, Diageo, how nice of you to try to sell us less for more. Who knows what the prices for the 750ml bottles that will be available here in US will be, I shudder to think about it.

The high prices and NAS whiskies, I would hope most people saw coming. The small bottles for even more money…I don’t think anyone saw that coming. That’s awful. It will be even more awful if it sets a trend and we see more brands on the shelves in smaller bottles with bigger price tags. High prices are one thing, but to be blatantly told you’ll be paying more for less is just relentlessly offensive. Lately, it’s felt to me that the whisky community in general has forgotten that the whisky industry is there for one reason and one reason only – to make money. It’s not there to make inexpensive, high quality whisky for a relatively small number of people. People yelp and howl about the greed of the industry and then post pictures of their huge collections online – it all seems a little naive and disingenuous at the same time. This time, though, this time the ranting and raving is well deserved. Diageo…you have gone too far. Hopefully this time whisky drinkers will more or less turn its back on this new level of greed.  This isn’t a call to boycott, it’s just a wish that people will recognize that they’re being taken for fools and react accordingly. It’s usually hard to say if something as subjective and luxurious as whisky is “worth the money” – by what and whose standard do you judge that? Then there are those rare times, however, like this one, when the standard is clear, when you don’t even have to try what’s in the bottle to know that the money-grubbing is too crass, too egregious, and the cost is way, way too high.

The second reckless moment in booze marketing was a lot less enraging and depressing. Thankfully it came not from the whisky industry, but from the beer industry. In mid-February, Miller rolled out their new Miller Fortune beer in a large, and somewhat desperate and obvious attempt to…I don’t know…do something! Big Beer, and by that I mean A-B InBev (Budwiser) and MillerCoors (Miller and…uh, Coors), control the large majority of beer sales in the US. But recent years have seen a small but steady decline for these ubiquitous brands. While the numbers are not staggering, the trend is clear, these big beer brands are losing market share to spirits, wine and even a little bit to craft beer. Young drinkers have turned away from these brands and they not likely to turn back. In an effort to appeal to these young whippersnappers who like their brown water and fancy beers, Miller has come up with “Fortune”…and it’s pretty much gone downhill after that.

The idea was that Fortune would appeal to spirits drinkers, specifically whisky drinkers apparently, and those cocktail enthusiasts who look for more complex beverages. I guess it didn’t occur to them that whisky drinkers and cocktail enthusiasts are…whisky drinkers and cocktail enthusiasts and therefore perhaps prefer whisky and cocktails. If they are into beer, they’ve already found a more complex beverage than Bud and Miller Lite…it’s loosely called “craft beer” and there’s approximately 9,458,345 different kinds out there.

According to the press release, Fortune “is an un-distilled, spirited golden lager”. This was shocking news to me. I mean, when was the last time you had an un-distilled beer? What would that even taste like? Like Diageo’s smaller-bottles-for-even-more-money-ploy, I sincerely hope MillerCoor’s un-distilled beer fad doesn’t take off, that would ruin beer for…oh wait, ALL BEER IS UN-DISTILLED! If you distill beer, you know what you have? Whisky (kind of, more or less…in a rough manner of speaking). While trying to snare drinkers who aren’t going to be interested in the product anyway, the PR people managed to cleverly state the obvious and confuse the issue all at the same time.

Mentioning the words “distilled” and “spirited” put the new brand into some early trouble when an inaccurate Bloomberg News Service article clumsily made references to the “bourbon-like lager” with flavors “hinting at bourbon” and made a big deal out of the idea that this is a beer you’re supposed to pour into a rocks glass, not a beer glass. MillerCoors had to come back out and do a little damage control to clear-up the erroneous notion that this was a flavored or bourbon barrel-aged beer. They didn’t clear up the beer in a rocks glass thing, though; that was their idea. Seriously. In their effort to recapture the palates of those who have turned away from beer and towards spirits, they’ve decided that Fortune’s amber color looks bourbon-like and therefore will appeal to bourbon drinkers if you put it in a rocks glass. Here’s what bourbon drinkers actually like to see in a rocks glass: bourbon. People spend tens of thousands of dollars on getting marketing degrees, a big company like MillerCoors supposedly hiring the best and the brightest of ‘em, and what they can come up with is, “maybe we can get knowledgeable spirits drinkers to drink our beer if it looks like bourbon and we tell ‘em to put it a bourbon glass! Hell, it’ll sell on looks alone!”  People drinking spirits and cocktails are doing so because they like spirits and cocktails, NOT because they like to have something amber-colored in a rocks glass…that seems obvious to me, but then again, I don’t have a marketing degree.

This brings us to the beer itself, which is technically an American Amber Lager, a lighter style not really known for deep complexity. It’s 6.9% alcohol which means, technically because of the lager style, you wouldn’t be wrong in calling this a malt liquor…also a style not really known for deep complexity, certainly not known for being a rocks glass worthy beer. So, in the end, we have a relatively simple style of beer wrapped up in an edgy bottle and silly, confusing marketing speak, made by a huge beer company that seems to be just lobbing shit out there and hoping it sticks in an effort to recapture a bit of market share that they probably don’t have a chance of recapturing no matter what they do. Why? What the hell was MillerCoors thinking on this one? Trying to have a beer compete in the spirits arena is like throwing a cat into a tank full of sharks. The cat is just not going to make it. This is not a slam against cats, cat-lovers, if the shoe was on the other paw and you tossed a shark into a sandbox full of cats, chances are the shark’s a goner.

So there we have it, two reckless moments in booze marketing, one depressingly, relentlessly and aggressively money-grubbing, the other desperately flailing, ill-conceived, and silly. Unfortunately, Diageo knows exactly what’s it’s doing. MillerCoors, apparently not so much.

 
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