Originally By Tony Ackland
It is a matter of conjecture as to who were the first to distill whisky, the Scots or the Irish; both claim the honor. The Scots may however, have been the first to practice aging, and it was their discovery and use of blending spirits that transformed Scotch whisky from a somewhat earthy, highly distinctive product to the lighter product known today as blended Scotch whisky, or more simply, Scotch whisky.
The British description of Scotch does not offer many clues as to why it is the distinctive and highly regarded product it is - "Spirits described as Scotch Whisky shall not be deemed to correspond to that description unless they have been obtained by distillation in Scotland from a mash of cereal grain saccharified by the diastase of malt and have been matured in warehouse in cask for a period of at least three years." Neither does the U.S. Standard of Identity which requires only that it be a distinctive product of Scotland, manufactured in Scotland in compliance with the laws of Great Britain regulating the manufacture of Scotch whisky for consumption in Great Britain and containing no distilled spirits less than three years old. In addition, if it is a mixture of whiskies, it must be labeled blended Scotch whisky or Scotch whisky - a blend.
Blended Scotch is unique because its processing is quite different from the whiskies we have described. To begin with, it is a blend of two types of whisky; one type is made entirely from malted barley, the other from mixtures of grain similar to American and Canadian whiskies. With Scotch, it is the malt whiskies which provide its distinctive characteristics and an understanding of how the malts are produced is necessary to fully appreciate Scotch whisky.
History of Scotch Distillation
When, exactly, distilling first reached Scotland is uncertain. It is known that the Ancient Celts practiced the art and called their high-proof liquid "uisge beatha" - the water of life. They used this spirit in clan rituals, before and after battles, and to aid the tired and revive falling spirits. Initially lauded for its medicinal qualities, whisky eventually became part of everyday life.
The first recorded mention of the distillation industry dates back to 1494 when a Scottish tax document noted the "delivery of eight bolls [approx. 1Ό tons] of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make aquavitae..." Initially, distillation was an alternate activity for farmers. They grew barley and during the winter months it was a profitable and useful activity to distill the barley into a spirit. Many farmers were also distillers and many of the present distilleries were once working farms.
The increasing popularity of whisky eventually attracted the attention of the Scottish Parliament who sensed an opportunity to generate revenue. In 1707, after The Act of Union with England, newly instituted taxation on malt and whisky drove most of the distillers underground. Smuggling became standard practice for some 130 years; without any apparent disrepute. The result was that, by 1777, there were only eight licensed distilleries in the City of Edinburgh while nearly 400 unregistered stills were producing half again as much whisky. By the 1820's more than half the whisky consumed in Scotland was produced in illicit stills even though the government was confiscating up to 14,000 illegal stills each year.
Finally the government realized that it was fighting a senseless battle and in 1823 set reasonable licensing and production fees per gallon of spirit distilled. This made legal distillation profitable and smuggling died out almost completely.
Thus, the earliest founding date given for any of the distilleries is 1824 because that is when the government began taxing spirits and issued distilling licenses. Glenlivet was the first to obtain one and they, consequently, date from 1824. However, distilling had been going on there for many years prior to that.
There were two significant occurrences in the last century which helped advance the Scotch Whisky industry. The first took place in 1831 when Aeneas Coffey developed the Coffey or Patent Still which enabled a continuous process of distillation. With this kind of still, distillers were able to use corn, wheat and other grains as new sources of fermentable sugars and produced a light, sweet whisky. A direct result of this was that Andrew Usher & Co. blended malt and the less intense grain whisky together for the first time in the 1860's. Blending allowed the production of large, consistent quantities of a lighter flavored whisky and led to the establishment of a much wider market for Scotch whisky.
The second significant occurrence was that, in the 1880s, the vineyards of France were devastated by phylloxera and, within a few years, there were virtually no existing stocks of wine and brandy. By the time the French industry recovered, Scotch Whisky had replaced brandy as the preferred drink of European society. The French currently consume more Scotch Whisky in one month than Cognac in one year.
Opening Of The US Market
The U.S. was opened to imported spirits with the ending of Prohibition in 1933. Domestic producers were unable, at least initially, to provide an adequate supply of quality whisky and the Scots took full advantage of the opportunity. This new export market was further developed following the end of World War II when American Gl's returned with a taste for Scotch Whisky.
Today there are some 100 distilleries producing Scotch Whisky. Ninety-two of these produce malt whisky; eight distill grain whiskies. The exact numbers change from time to time as distilleries cease production and others come on line again. Collectively, they hold about 660 million gallons of mature and maturing whisky; equivalent to nearly nine years sales. Unfortunately, this level of reserves has resulted in the closing or "mothballing" of several distilleries; 19 in the past 17 years. Were the market to increase substantially however, they could easily be brought back into production.
Today, Scotch Whisky is a $3 billion per year industry, employing some 15,000 people. About 190 million gallons of both grain and malt whiskies were produced in Scotland in 1994. Over ninety-five percent of that production was shipped in the form of blended Scotch Whisky; the remainder was used for Single Malt and Single Grain whiskies. By the end of the century, the percentage used for Single Malts had increased to nearly 10 percent.
Scotch whisky is exported to over 200 countries and represents over 20% of the total value of Scotland's manufacturing exports. Over 85% of the production is exported. Most of the 100 distilleries operating in Scotland today are linked in corporate ownership. United Distillers, which belongs to Guinness, owns 29 distilleries; Allied Distillers, part of Allied Domecq, owns 16; and Seagram's of Canada owns 9. Guinness owns and produces Johnnie Walker and Dewar's blended whiskies, Allied the Ballantine's blend, and Seagram, the Chivas Regal blend. Over two-thirds of Scotland's whisky is provided by these three companies..
Malt Scotch Processing
Barley, mostly 2-grain barley, preferably from Scotland, is steeped in whatever water the distillery uses. This water is very important and each distillery has a unique source. Except for Glenmorangie, which oddly, has hard water, the water is always soft. It also may be peated to some extent, depending on what it passes over and through. The springs and rivers often pick up significant peat.
The ideal barley will be low in nitrogen and have about 4-5% moisture. The distillers want the nitrogen to be as low as possible because this is an indication of the protein content. The more protein the grain has, the less starch it will contain. Since the starch is converted into sugar for fermentation, it is obvious that high protein barley has less alcohol production potential than does low protein barley. An interesting experiment was made by Macallan. The traditional barley of Scotland was a variety called Golden Promise but as the years passed and the demand grew, farmers tried other varieties which assured them of higher yields and distillers, as pointed out, were interested in varieties with more fermentable sugars. Macallan made a batch with Golden Promise and one with a higher-yield variety. There was a significant difference between the two; the high-yield variety produced an inferior whisky. It was thinner in body, "dusty" and almost metallic tasting.
After the grains are steeped or soaked in water, they are allowed to germinate. This process is called malting, and the person who does it is called a maltster. The germinated barley is called malted barley or, simply, malt. It must be turned regularly to prevent the build up of heat. Traditionally, it was spread on concrete floors (floor malting) and tossed into the air with wooden shovels in a malt barn attached to the kiln. Tossing or turning the malt was necessary to maintain consistent temperatures because germination generated heat. There was also the problem of rootlets becoming entangled and of non-uniform rootlet growth. This was a very labor intensive and inefficient process, and distilleries long ago began centralizing malting. There are a few distilleries who still do malting, even floor malting, but, even in those cases, they only supply part of their malt needs. Most malt is now made in large central maltings. The malting is of sufficient importance however, that the distilleries, even though they no longer do their own malting, have their own detailed specifications as to how it will be done. Purchased malt is available in a full range of styles and degrees of peatiness. There are only eight distilleries that still malt some or all of their own barley in the traditional fashion: the Balvenie, Benriach, Bowmore, Glendronach, Glenfiddich, Highland Park, Laphroaig, and Springbank.
During germination, the starches are converted from an insoluble form to a soluble one. There are also enzymes produced that will eventually change the grain starch to sugar. After 7-14 days the barley is said to be green malt and has to be dried. This is done in the kiln. Traditionally, the green malted barley was placed on screens and dried over peat fires. Peat, a natural fuel, is cut from the moors and was traditionally used to fire the kilns for the drying process. It is a product of organic material deposited in marshy conditions over the centuries. The "peat reek" from this fire imparts a distinctive aroma contributing to the character of the whisky.
Green malted barley has little rootlets called culm. The heat stops the germination process and the smoke from the peat added to the fire imparts flavor. After years of experience, the maltster can judge the quality of the malt by biting a grain to test its texture and sweetness. Today, kilning is done by indirect heat, as in an oven, although peat may still be used in the early drying stages. The amount of peat used during the drying is an important aspect of each distilleries malt specification. There are only three distilleries that use unpeated malt: Deanston, Glengoyne and Tobermory.
The barley steeping process takes from 2 to 4 days. Mechanical devices are used for the turning of the steeping, or germinating, or sprouting, grains. The malt kilns traditionally had the pagoda-styled roofs which made distilleries so instantly recognizable. Although nearly no distilleries do any malting today, they have retained the roofs. In many cases, the no-longer needed malting floors have been converted to visitor centers and gift shops. The pagoda shaped kiln roof has been adopted as the visual symbol of a distillery. It, for example, is on the signs along the Speyside Whisky Trail, and will usually be on the distillery sign.
The dried malt is ground into a coarse mixture called grist. It is composed of husk, flour and other materials. If the flour content is too high, they may have trouble during the mashing due to excessive stiffness of the mixture. This is similar to the development of gluten during breadmaking except in this case, that is about the last thing they want to happen.
The grist is mixed with hot water as it pours into the mash tun. The character of the pure Scottish water is a critical quality factor to the distillers. Many sources of water are used; always what is available locally. Wells, streams, springs and rivers are all used. Distillery location was often dependent on a specific water supply and the distillers feel much of the unique character of their whiskies is due to their water. Water will be added to the mash tun three or four times and the temperature gets hotter and hotter each time. The purpose of mashing is to solubilize the starches and convert them to sugar. The mash is stirred with paddles built into the mash tun. The floor of the mash tun is lined with flat wedge-shaped screens that will allow the sugary water to be removed from the bottom but will retain the solids. The water is removed and held; a second water is added (at a higher temperature) and the process is repeated. This water, not as sugary as the first, will also be removed and mixed with the first. The combination of the first two waters is called wort. Wort is a fermentable liquid because of its sugar content. Nearly all distilleries add a third water and, sometimes, even a fourth. Only the first two are sent to the fermentation tanks. The third (and fourth, if added) are drained off and mixed with fresh water in a new mashing. The spent grains are called draff and will be processed into cattle feed. Sometimes, the draff will simply be removed from the mash tun and sent out immediately for feed. In this form, it is perishable and has to be used quickly. Other times, it will be dried and processed into feed pellets.
The wort has to be cooled before adding yeast. Following cooling, it is pumped into large tanks called washbacks. Yeast is added and fermentation begins. Both cultured yeasts and brewers yeasts are used. Cultured yeasts are excellent for initiating fermentation but, since they have never been exposed to heat or alcohol, they have no staying power. Brewers yeast, skimmed off the top of a beer fermentation, can withstand the rigors of heat and alcohol and are superior for sustaining the fermentation.
The washbacks are traditionally made of Oregon pine or larch wood although some distilleries are replacing them with stainless steel fermenters which are easier to clean and sanitize. Many distillers, however, are adamant about the use of wood washbacks, considering them to be an important quality factor.
The fermenting mixture froths, sometimes rather violently, due to the production of carbon dioxide. Revolving switchers or blades, cut the head to prevent it from overflowing. After anywhere from 48 hours to 60 or more, the fermentation will be finished and is now called wash. The alcohol content of the wash is usually about 6 to 8.5 percent and it is sent to holding containers called wash chargers to await distillation.
Malt Scotch whisky receives two distillations (Auchentoshan and Benrinnes triple distill) and they are performed in separate stills, a wash still, and a spirit still. The two stills are not the same size, the wash still being the larger of the two. The size and shape of the stills vary from distillery to distillery and are responsible, particularly the shape, for the unique characteristics displayed by the many malts. The shape is of such importance that when stills have to be replaced, as they do from 15 to 30 years of age, they are exactly duplicated. This includes bumps, patches, and dents if any. In some mysterious way, the shape affects the character of the individual malt whisky. A still with a short neck will produce a whisky with heavier oils and an intense flavor; stills with long or high necks make lighter-bodied whiskies - less heavy oils and lighter flavors. Some distilleries now have their exact dimensions stored in computers to make it easier to duplicate them and some will replace the still part by part rather than the entire still.
Traditionally, the stills were heated from below with coke, gas or oil but most today have steam-heated coils inside the still. This provides the distiller with better control over the temperature and this is critical. Excessive temperatures cause the wash to boil up into the swans neck at the top and from there into the condenser, which is disastrous. The wash stills have port-hole windows on the swans neck through which the distiller can see how high the wash is rising. Vapors rise through the swans neck to the condenser or a worm - a large copper coil immersed in cold running water. Whether a condenser or a worm is used also influences the character of the whisky.
The wort is sent first to the wash still and the distillate is called low wine. The low wine will physically pass through an apparatus called the spirit safe. This is a brass (usually) framed glass enclosure through which the stillman can visually observe the distilled spirits and check their temperature and alcoholic level. The spirit safe is required to be kept locked when distillation is going on. This is a government tax regulation. Theoretically, if it were not locked, newly distilled whisky could be removed. There would be no other place in the process where it could be removed. From the wash still, the low wine runs off into a receptacle called a low wines charger where it will be held for a second distillation in the spirit still.
Low wine plus foreshots and feints (mostly feints) from a previous 2nd distillation are placed into the spirit still. The stillman will carefully watch the temperature and alcohol level and the early portion of easily volatilized components will be collected as foreshots and sent to the low wines charger. When the middle cut or alcoholic portion begins to come over, the stillman will turn a handle on top of the spirit safe, and the freshly distilled spirit will be diverted to the spirits receiver. Only the pure center cut, or heart of the run, is collected in the spirit receiver. The still-man would begin the collection of the middle cut at about 70 to 75 percent alcohol and direct the flow to the low wines charger at about 64 percent. These are general figures, the specifics are part of the art of the stillman along with the heat at which he operates the still, which in turn influences how long this all takes. The water, yeast and other waste matter from the wash still is called pot ale and is saved for use in animal feeds.
To summarize the distillation process:
Before being placed in cask, the alcoholic strength of the spirit is reduced to 63 percent with the same water with which it was made. This strength, 126 proof, is part of Scotch tradition. Distilleries have experimented with higher proofs, but without any success. It is interesting that the legal requirement for Bourbon whisky aging, not more than 125 proof, is nearly exactly the same.
The newly distilled, colorless fiery spirit, is filled into oak casks which will have been used before, either for American bourbon whisky, sherry wine, or Scotch malt or grain whisky. These latter are called whisky refill casks. The specific types of barrels used are:
Most malt whisky is matured in hogsheads or Bourbon barrels; only about 4 percent is in sherry butts. Macallan is the only distillery which uses sherry wood exclusively for all its whisky although there are some who do use it exclusively for their own brand single malt. They, however, would use Bourbon barrels for some or all of the remainder of their production (intended for blending). This usually amounts to from 90 to 95 percent for the majority of the distilleries. Macallan is also unusual here in that about 50 percent of their production goes into their own single malt. Some distilleries may do the basic aging in Bourbon wood, then "finish" it in sherry wood. Balvenie Double Wood Single Malt is an example. Glenmorangie does finish aging in both Sherry and Port barrels.
Sherry wood is the one first used in Scotland. It is a mountainous country with a lot of forests and woods but little oak. The English had a great taste for sherry and imported it in barrel which meant that there was a plentiful supply of Spanish sherry oak barrels available at attractive prices. What started from pragmatism soon led to preference because it quickly became apparent that the barrels and the whisky had an affinity for each other. They made the whisky richer and rounder. The barrel source eventually dried up due to a declining English interest in sherry and, more important, the decision in Spain to bottle the wines in the growing areas (an economic decision; it provided more jobs). That was when the move to Bourbon barrels came. Bourbon, of course, must always be matured in new wood, so America provided a useful source of casks. One difference between American oak (Bourbon barrels) and Spanish oak (sherry barrels) is that the American species has a tighter grain, is harder and consequently matures whisky more slowly. Spanish oak also contains more resin which affects the flavor.
Recent research by Dr. Jim Swan at the Pentlands Scotch Whisky Research Institute (owned by the industry) and at his own company indicates that "oxidation increases the complexity and intensity of pleasant flavors in whisky, especially fragrant, fruity, spicy, and minty notes. As in the production of all alcoholic drinks, the flavors emerge from a complex series of actions and reactions. Traces of copper from the stills are the catalyst. They convert oxygen to hydrogen peroxide , which attacks the wood, releasing vanillin. This promotes oxidation, and additionally pulls together the various flavors present. These processes vary according to the region of origin of the wood, and its growth patterns." (Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion, Dorling Kindersley, London, NY, Stuttgart, 3rd Edition, 1994)
This type of research has caused distillers to evaluate not only the differences between sherry and Bourbon wood (and the respective countries from which they come), but also the growth region within a country. In the US and in Spain, there can be significant differences according to where the trees were grown. For example: in the western part of the United States barrel oak regions (Ohio, Kentucky, Missouri, Illinois, and Arkansas), the conditions are demanding due to poor soil and a dry climate. This optimizes spring growth and the trees have the most open texture resulting in faster whisky maturation.
While maturing, the whisky becomes smoother and more flavorsome, and draws its golden color from the cask. A proportion of the higher alcohols turns into esters and other complex compounds, which subtly enhance each whisky's distinctive character. By law whisky must be matured in oak for at least three years (if less than 3 years, it is not whisky but spirits). Most single malts lie in wood for 8, 12, or even 15 years and there are some that go well beyond even that. About 2 percent of the whisky evaporates from the cask each year - the angel's share. Unlike wine, whisky does not mature further once bottled. The barrels, theoretically, can be used for up to 100 years (Cognac barrels often are), but after two or three fillings, much of what the wood can contribute is gone and single malt bottlings are usually made from first or second fill barrels. Older barrels are not necessarily discarded however, they are useful for maturing grain whiskies and for holding blends for "marrying.''
The warehouse where the whiskies are stored is also very important. Unlike Bourbon warehouses, where temperature variations are encouraged, Scotch warehouses emphasize temperature stability. They are low, one story as opposed to the 7 story ones used in Kentucky, have thick stone walls and dirt floors to increase humidity. The barrels are only stacked three high (contrasted to 21 high in a 7 story Bourbon warehouse). There are modern warehouses in Scotland similar to those described for Bourbon but most of the distilleries mature their own label single malt on site in traditional warehouses. In them, evaporation is fairly low because of the humidity, but alcohol evaporation is high and the strength falls. In the modern type of warehouse, the evaporation is higher, but the strength remains more consistent; again, similar to what happens with Bourbon. Whisky stored in coastal warehouses, with more consistent climates than inland locations, will usually age more steadily and consistently.
Water: Should it be Added or Not?
Tap water is not regarded as an ideal mixing component with malt whisky. Water safety is not an issue; tap water is safe to drink in most countries. Rather it is the quality of the water that is in question. The water may have a lot of mineral deposits or a high chalk content or have various additives (chlorine, fluoride and so forth) added for reasons of public health and sanitation.
Most of the distillers do recommend adding water; the amount being a matter of personal taste, but they feel that adding perhaps one-third water enhances the aroma and cuts the hotness and bite of the alcohol. The best water is, of course, the water that the whisky is made from. The whiskies are usually evaluated at 20 to 40 proof. The water seems to allow the esters and aldehydes to vaporize more easily and thereby be perceived and enjoyed. This dilution also minimizes the drying and anesthetizing effect of the alcohol on the tissues of the mouth, again enhancing the flavors. One distiller, in reply to the question of whether to add water or not said "of course, but we are talking about Scottish water, not London water!" Unless you are drinking the whisky at the distillery this is not a practical recommendation. In that case, they advise using a good bottled water, and to avoid sparkling and flavored waters.
Single Malt Scotch Whisky Distilleries
Aberfeldy (Central Highlands. Est. 1896)
This distillery produces malts primarily for use in Dewar's blended whisky. The 17-Year-Old, Cooper's Choice Bottling ( 43% Alc) has a very sweet, caramel/sherry nose that translates onto the palate with a thick, weighty mouth-feel and a fruity malt finish..
Founding Date: 1826
Pronounced: Aberlower. This Speyside distillery is located in the town of the same name.
The 10- Year-Old, Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a fruity bouquet of citrus, apple, toffee and clove. These same flavors are round and rich on the palate with the addition of a pleasant floral note that carries through to the elegant, sweet finish.
The sixth largest selling single malt in the world and the only single malt to win the International Wine & Spirit Competition's Gold Medal and Pot Still Trophy twice. An interesting fact is that St. Drostan's Well, a famous well, which had dried up, flowed once again. The water source is spring water from the nearby Ben Rinnes mountain.
The aroma is of almonds and wine (from the sherry casks). The flavor is meaty and complex with notes of malt and fruit. Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
The distillery was rebuilt following a fire in 1898 and much of the existing structure dates from that time although there were extensions made in 1945 (when purchased by Campbell Distillers) and modernization done (when they were acquired by Pernod-Ricard) in 1974. They use only Scottish barley. An unusual practice is the use of cork bungs in the barrels rather than wooden ones. They believe this allows the harsher vapors to evaporate more easily.
The base malt for the Clan Campbell blends, Aberlour has two sets (four stills) of stills and they date from 1973. The peat comes from Aberdeenshire and is only lightly used. Between 25-50% of the spirit is matured in sherry, the remainder in bourbon wood.
The well-known single malt tasting glass made by the Austrian glass designer, Georg Riedel, was based on a collaboration with Aberlour.
Ardmore. (Eastern Highlands, Est. 1898)
This Highland distillery produces malts primarily for use in the blending of Teacher's Highland Cream, little or none is bottled by the distillery itself. The 1977 Vintage, 12-Year-Old Single Cask, Glenhaven Bottling ( 59.3% Alc) has a rich, smoky nose and a palate of dry, malt and spice flavors -- it is bold, smoky and chewy.
Auchentoshan. (Lowlands, Est. 1800)
Pronounced: Ochentoshen. This distillery is one of just two remaining that triple-distill a lightly peated Single Malt. The 10-Year-Old Distillery bottling (40% Alc) has a sweet, caramel/malt nose with hints of apple, lime and flowers. It is light and fresh with similar flavors and a light, refreshing finish ($25). The 21- Year-Old, Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a very sherried bouquet of vanilla, oak, mint, anise and honey. The similar flavors are delicate, with medium weight, and a bright floral/ citrus finish.
Balmenach. (Speyside, Est. 1824)
Pronounced: BalMAY-nach. It has 4 stills and the water comes from the Cromdale Burn. The distillery was shut down in 1993. The 1981 Vintage, 12-Year-Old Single Cask! William Cadenhead Bottling (62.7% Alc) has a full-bodied bouquet and palate of smoky peat and floral notes -- intense and chewy but with a delicate touch of sweetness.
Balvenie (Speyside, Dufftown; owned by William Grant & Sons; Established 1892)
Balvenie Doublewood: Aged in two different casks: one traditional whiskey oak, one sherry oak producing a deep more complex flavor. Rich, mellow flavor with depth and complexity.
Balvenie Single Barrel: One of no more than 300 yielded by a single cask and matured for 15 years. Each bottle is hand numbered. Each cask has a slightly different flavor and only those with the most interesting and individual character are selected.
Benriach. (Speyside, Est. 1 898)
This distillery is part of the Seagram Co. and its Single Malt is widely distributed as part of their "Heritage Selection." The majority of the malts produced are primarily for use in the blending of Chivas Regal. The 10 Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a light floral nose tinged with sherry, apple and honey. The palate is sweet and peppery, with a medium-long chocolate/coffee finish.
Benromach. (Highlands, Est. 1898)
This distillery, purchased and renovated in 1992, will reopen at full production early in 1996. The 1966 Vintage, 27-Year-Old Single Cask! William Cadenhead Bottling (53.6% Alc) has a rich, caramel-edged bouquet of peat, smoke and spice. The palate is rich and bold with similar flavors and a touch of flowers.
Bowmore. (Islay, Est. 1779)
This distillery was awarded the prestigious "Distiller of the Year" at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in 1995. This award recognizes excellence in the art of distilling -- not just for Scotch Whisky, but for any and all distilled spirits, worldwide. Bowmore is the oldest surviving legal distillery on the island, and is now the world's largest selling Islay Single Malt. The Legend (no age statement) -- Distillery Bottling (40% Alc) has a nose of peat, sherry and a touch of geranium. The palate is a robust expression of smoky malt and peat flavors that gradually trail off in a gently smoky finish. The 12-Year-Old, Distillery Bottling (40% Alc) has a peaty nose with hints of sherry and lemon zest. The palate is smooth with malt, peat, smoke and iodine flavors that ebb nicely with a long chocolate finish. The 17-Year-Old Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a full bouquet of sherry, peat and citrus. The palate richly echoes the nose with the addition of chocolate, toffee and malt that fade on a suggestion of salt spray. The 21-Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a bold, pungent nose of dry sherry, smoke and iodine that translates well to the palate with the addition of brine, peat and apple. The finish is quite dry and complex, but with hints of sweetness and chocolate. The 25 Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a complex bouquet of smoky peat, sherried fruit and hints of vanilla and spice. The palate is dry and spicy, with subtle notes of malt, chocolate and wood that fade gradually over minutes. The 30Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a soft, rich bouquet of caramel, vanilla, roses and oak. The chewy, full-bodied palate is rich with nutty sherry and dry smoky tones. The finish adds a pleasant briny tang.
Braes of Glenlivet. (Speyside, Est. 1973)
This distillery has recently changed the name of its Single Malt to "Breval" to avoid confusion with its famous neighbor. The 1979 Vintage, 1 6-Year-Old Single Sherry Cask Whyte & Whyte Bottling (59.2% Alc ) has a bright, sherry nose tinged with dry, peaty notes. The palate reflects the nose with bold, smoky overtones and a rich, malty finish.
Brora. (Northern Highlands, Est. 1819)
This distillery was known as "Clynelish" until 1967 when the new "Clynelish" was built next door. From 1967 through 1983 (when the distillery closed) the casks were labeled 'Brora." The 1982 Vintage! 13-Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (59.2% Alc) has a very pungent nose of citrus, peat and brine. The tangy palate echoes the nose with an added note of apple that carries through on the finish.
The lightest of the Islay malts, but its body has a distinctive oiliness. Gold color, fresh 'sea air' aroma, light to medium yet firm body. Gentle, clean flavor with a nutty-malty sweetness. Full flavor finish. Scored 77 out of 100 by Michael Jackson.
Caol Ila. (Islay, Est. 1846)
Pronounced: Kaal-eela. This distillery produces malts primarily for blending with little or none bottled by the distillery itself. The 14-Year-Old. Cooper's Choice Bottling (43% Alc) has a robust, peat and iodine nose that extends to the rich, full-bodied palate. It is smooth, spicy, pungent and smoky -- a true Islay from briny nose though peaty finish.
Founding Date: 1824
Pronounced: Kar-doo, in Gaelic it means "black rock." This distillery produces malts primarily for use In both Johnnie Walker's Red and Black. Michael Jackson says that "the slightly syrupy, sweetish whisky of Cardhu has always been the soft heart of the Johnnie Walker blends (in which it is balanced by the feistily evident Talisker, among many others)."
The 12-Year-Old, Distillery Bottling (40% Alc) has a rich nose and full-bodied palate, both delicately balanced with sweet malt, peat and an herbal character.
John Cumming leased Cardhu farm in 1811 and, as a skilled distiller, produced spirit on a part-time basis. Since his was not a legal activity he was caught and convicted many times and some of the court judgments now hang framed on the wall of the distillery manager's office. The distillery was eventually licensed and he built a successful business.
He died in 1846 and left the farm to his son Lewis, who in turn died in 1872 leaving the farm and distillery to his wife Elizabeth. She ran the business for nearly 20 years and became known as "the queen of the whisky trade." Realizing that, due to the great demand for blending malts, the distillery had to be expanded and updated, she acquired a lease of four acres of land next to the farm and built a new distillery in 1886. By 1888, Cardhu was in demand by blenders and was being sold in London as a single malt called 'Cardow'. The success of the business attracted much takeover interest but she turned them down on the grounds that the distillery should be retained by the family.
Cardhu had been supplying whisky to the John Walker firm of Kilmarnock and the distillery was sold to them in 1893 (Walker was their major customer) shortly before the Johnnie Walker blended brands were launched. Part of the deal was that her son John would become a salaried director of Walker while remaining at Cardhu to manage the distillery.
John Cumming retired from the board in 1923 when John Walker became a public company and was succeeded on the board by his son Ronald - later Sir Ronald who eventually became chairman of Walker & Sons and then of its parent company, DCL. During WWII and the post-war period of barley shortage, all the production went into the Walker blends, but in the 1960's, Ronald Cumming reintroduced Cardhu as a single malt. It is now among the world's top ten sellers and is United Distiller's best-selling single malt.
The distillery underwent an extensive modernization in 1965. There are six stills.
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Clynelish. (Northern Highlands, Est. 1967)
Pronounced: Klynleesh. Prior to the establishment of this distillery in 1967, the adjacent Brora distillery sold their product as "Clynelish." The 1982 Vintage. 12-Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (64.2% Alc) has a nose lively with citrus and smoke, and pungent with honey and green apple. The palate reflects the nose with a touch of spice and a long, honeyed finish
Convalmore. (Speyside, Est. 1894)
A Speyside distillery -- closed in 1985 The 1962 Vintage- 30 Year-Old Single Cask, William Cadenhead Bottling (46.5%Alc) has a fabulous bouquet of smoky wood, spicy peat, and sweet malt. On the palate these same flavors are bold and assertive, and end with an elegant finish.
Founding Date: 1869
This distillery is part of the Guinness Group and its Single Malt is widely distributed as part of their "Classic Malts" Portfolio.
The 12-Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (40%Alc) has a light, malty bouquet accented with scents of flowers and honey. The palate is soft and peaty, blending in with the malty sweetness and lingering finish.
The 1982 Vintage. 12-Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (60.2% Alc) has an intense bouquet and flavors of malt, peat and citrus, with a long, dry finish.
Cragganmore: A Speyside malt aged 12 years. Golden color, firm body with medium smokiness. Very complex aroma. Delicate, clean flavor with large range of herbal flowery notes. Long finish. A malt for the serious devotee. Scored 90 out of 100 by Michael Jackson who says "One of the great Speyside malts . . . This is a whisky for the connoisseur."
The distillery was founded by John Smith, an extremely experienced whisky man. He had been manager of the Macallan, Glenlivet, and Wishaw distilleries and was lessee of Glenfarclas when, in 1869, he obtained the land to build a new distillery. The distillery was named "Cragganmore" which is the name of the hill behind the distillery, whose springs provide the water. This was the first distillery to be deliberately located with the idea of rail transport in mind and they build a private siding on the Speyside railway transport (it thus was the first distillery in Speyside not to be built in conjunction with a farm). John Smith was an enthusiast of railway travel but his weight (300 pounds +) caused him to have to travel in the guard's van. He was too wide to enter a railway passenger carriage. He died in 1886 and the business passed to his son Gordon. Under his direction, the distillery was largely rebuilt in 1901.
Gordon Smith's widow sold the distillery to a subsidiary of White Horse Distillers (Cragganmore) and when White Horse merged with DCL in 1965, Cragganmore became a wholly owned subsidiary.
Until United Distillers selected Cragganmore to be the Speyside representative in the Classic Malts Series in 1988-89. Prior to that, it was not well-known as a single, being used mostly as the base malt for the blends of the licensed distiller D&J McCallum (McCallum's Perfection and the Old Parr blends).
They now have four stills; having added two in 1964. The spirit stills have an unusual flat top and L-shaped pipes rather than the normal swan necks. These factors, along with its use of relatively hard water, probably account for the complexity of the malt whisky.
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Region: Central Highlands
Founding Date: 1897
The distillery was originally named Strathspey but was renamed Dalwhinnie when sold in 1898. This distillery is part of the Guinness Group and its Single Malt is widely distributed as part of their "Classic Malts" Portfolio.
The 15-Year-Old Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has the strong scents of honey, flowers, malt and faint smoke that translate to the palate with round richness and a long sweet, honeyed finish.
Gentle northern Highlands malt with a light taste and fruity sweet aroma. Hint of heather and honey. Gold color. Firm, slightly oily body. Aged 15 years. Very long finish. Scored 76 out of 100 by Michael Jackson.
Highest (elevation 1073 ft) distillery in Scotland. The whisky has long been an important component of the Buchanan blends. It was badly damaged by fire in 1934 and did not resume production again until 1938. The single malt had only a local reputation until 1988-89, when United Distillers chose it for their Classic Malts of Scotland series.
Notes From Distillery Visit:
The best selling single malt whiskey in the world. (The Glenlivet is the best selling in the USA.) Very pale color. Light, fresh, fruity aroma. Light, firm but smooth body. Dryish, pear-like flavor with hints of smokiness, fruit and malt. Restrained finish. Scored 75 out of 100 by Michael Jackson.
Glenfiddich Cask: Single malt scotch from the most widely known producer of single malts in the world. Produced in the Speyside area of the Highlands in Scotland. Aged for 15 years and cask strength (102 proof compared to 80 of regular Glenfiddich). Light amber/golden color. Creamy, biscuity, buttery aromas. Deep robust flavor with notes of sweetness, honey, toffee and nuts. The higher alcohol level is felt during the finish that has an edge. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a **** (highly recommended) rating
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Founding Date: 1836
In Gaelic, Glenfarclas means "the valley of the green grass." This distillery pioneered Cask Strength whiskies with their "105" bottling. The 105 refers to the proof on the distiller's Sikes scale, equating to approximately 63% abv. Glenfarclas is also one of the few distilleries using 100% sherrywood cooperage for their aging.
Established in 1836, the distillery was acquired by John Grant in 1865 and, except for from 1865-1870 when it was leased to John Smith of Cragganmore and Glenlivet fame, the family has operated it ever since - five generations worth. The family was particularly hard hit by the Whisky Crash of 1899 because Pattison's, whose failure caused the collapse, were the family's partners (John Grant's grandsons, John and George, took over the operation in 1895 and formed the Glenfarclas-Glenlivet Distillery Co., Ltd. In partnership with the Leith blenders Pattison, Elder & Co.). They eventually repaid their creditors and survive to this day as one of the very few family-operated distilleries in Scotland. John Grant retired following WWI, but George remained in sold control until 1947 when he formed J. & G. Grant Ltd.. He died in 1949 and the distillery went to his sons George Scott Grant and John P. Grant. Although the latter died in 1960, the family remains in control of the distillery.
They also produce Highland Cattle, a vatted malt, and a second label single malt called Eagle of Spey which is aged exclusively in new oak barrels rather than in sherry as is Glenfarclas.
It was expanded from two to four stills in 1960, and to six in 1976. The stills are the largest in Speyside. In 1973, Glenfarclas opened one of the first visitors centers in Speyside.
The malt whiskies are made available at a number of ages and they have an unusual (for Scotland distillery single malts) cask strength expression. This is bottled at 60% abv which, in the unusual English proof system, is 105 proof. The older the bottlings are, the more the sherry character emerges.
The 105 (no age statement) Distillery Bottling (60% Alc) has a concentrated nose of caramel, spice and spirit. The palate is slightly sharp with good malt and sherry flavors that finish quite dryly.
The 1977 Vintage, 17-Year-Old Single Cask Glenhaven Bottling (53.2% Alc) has a robust nose and palate of sweet, creamy, malt, nut and peat flavors that gradually fade in a long, powerfully rich finish -- an excellent whisky.
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Region: Northern Highlands
Founding Date: 1839
This distillery produces malts primarily for use in blending.
The 1971 Vintage, 23-Year-Old Single Cask Glenhaven Bottling (58.3% Alc) has a fruity nose of sherry, peat, malt and smoke. The palate is sweet, moderately peated and ends with a long, spicy finish.
The 24-Year-Old Cooper's Choice Bottling (43% Alc) has a fruity nose of sherry, peat and malt. The palate has these same elements with moderate weight and a long, dry, peated finish.
The distillery was founded by Alexander Matheson with wealth acquired in the tea and opium trade in Hong Kong. He bought Andross farm, north of Inverness, put in a still and hired a tenant to make whisky. The Mackenzie family, who worked on Matheson's estate, bought the distillery in 1886 and they mainly supplied the firm of Whyte and Mackay and they continue to supply one of the base malts for the Whyte and Mackay blends. Most of the output goes into blends. The distillery uses both Bourbon and sherry casks; about 85% is matured in Bourbon mostly first-fill with the remaining in oloroso and amontillado butts. During WWI, it was retooled for the production of naval mines. During that period a large part of the distillery burned down and whisky production did not resume until 1922.
They expanded from 4 to 8 stills in 1966. The wash stills have an unusually conical upper chamber and the spirit stills are cooled with water which is also unusual. Two of the stills dates back to 1874.
Deanston. (Highlands, Est. 1965)
This distillery is one of only three that use unpeated barley as their malt. The mild peatiness that does show in the whisky results from the local water source, the River Teith. The 1977 Vintage 17-Year-Old Single Cask, William Cadenhead Bottling ( 55.0% Alc) has a bright, heathery bouquet of sweet malt and smoke. The rich palate echoes the nose with good depth and a delicately sweet finish.
Dufftown. (Speyside, Dufftown, Est. 1887)
This distillery's malts were in great demand for blending. The 1982 Vintage, 11-Year-Old Single Cask Glenhaven Bottling (60.0% Alc) has the rich aroma of very sweet sherry, smoke and nuts. The palate is light and sweet with citrus and honey, followed by a long, clean finish.
Edradour. (Central Highlands, Est. 1825)
Pronounced: Edradower. This distillery is the smallest in Scotland and the last distilling by hand. Three people run the entire process and produce less than 500 casks of whisky per year. Most of the production is used as "top dressing" in blends with just a scant 2,000 cases bottled as their own Single Malt. The 10 Year-Old, Distillery Bottling (40% Alc) has a sweet sherry nose underlain with delicate fruity nuances. The palate is rich and smooth with malt, caramel and an elegant, citrus finish. The 1976 Vintage, 19-Year-Old Single Cask, William Cadenhead Bottling (53.5% Alc) has the scents and tastes of citrus, flowers and peat. It is rich and has a medium-long finish.
Glendronach. (East Highlands, Est. 1826)
This distillery produces the primary malt used in the blending of Teacher's Highland Cream. The 12-Year-Old Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a rich bouquet of malt, honey and faint smoky tones. The full-bodied palate is rich with sherry, malt, spice and peat flavors with a nutty finish.
Glendullan. (Speyside, Est. 1897)
The last of those distilleries built in Dufftown. Reportedly the favorite whisky of King Edward the VIII. The 17-Year-Old. Cooper's Choice Bottling (43% Alc) has a nutty nose of sherry, malt and spice with a subtle note of violets. The palate is sweet and clean, with good depth of malty fruit flavors and a dry, peppery finish.
Glen Elgin. ((Speyside, Est. 1898)
This distillery produces malts primarily for use in the White Horse blend, little or none is bottled by the distillery itself. The 1971 Vintage 22-YearOld Single Cask William Cadenhead Bottling (50.3% Alc) has an elegant bouquet of heather, spice, smoke and honey. These same components are rich on the palate, with good depth and a smooth, captivating finish.
This Highland distillery closed in the mid-1980s. While open, they produced malts primarily for use in the Vat 69 blended whisky, with very little being bottled as a Single Malt. The 1982 Vintage 13-Year-Old Single Cask, William Cadenhead Bottling (66.5% Alc) has the fresh aromas of green apple, citrus, malt and herbs. The palate is light and sweet with malt and apple flavors that end in a clean, lingering finish.
Glen Garioch. (East Highlands, Est. 1785)
Pronounced: Glen Gee-ree. This distillery, one of the oldest in Scotland, closed in 1995. The 8 Year-Old Distillery Bottling (43%Alc) has fresh, leafy scents that meld nicely with sherry honey and floral tones. The palate echoes the nose with fresh, clean flavors and a good peppery finish. The 21-Year-Old Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has an intense nose of honey, flowers, smoky malt and peat. The full-bodied palate has good depth of malt, spice and peat flavors that carry through to a long, spicy finish.
Glenglassaugh. (Eastern Highlands, Est. 1875)
Pronounced: Glen-glass-och. This distillery though established last century, has only been in serious production for the last decade -older stocks are therefore very rare. The 1977 Vintage, 15-Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (58.8% Alc) has a subtle bouquet of floral-edged peat and smoke. The palate is rich, medium-bodied, and has a smoky, woodsy finish.
Glen Keith. (Speyside, Strathisla, Est. 1957)
This distillery is part of the Guinness Group and its Single Malt is widely distributed as part of their "Heritage Selection." The majority of the malts produced are primarily for use in blends. The age statement reads "Distilled before 1983" Distillery Bottling (43% Alc). It has a lightly malty nose with notes of apple and peat. The palate is moderately rich with vanilla, peat and creamy malt flavors that end with a medium-sweet finish.
Founding Date: 1837
This distillery is operated by John Haig & Co., is owned by United Distillers and is widely distributed as part of their "Classic Malts" Portfolio. The majority of their malts are used in the Haig blends.
Glenkinchie -10 yr.: A Lowland malt. Light delicate nose. Light to medium body. Pale color. Smooth, slightly dry taste with a hint of smoke. Warm spicy finish. Scored 76 out of 100 by Michael Jackson.
Scotland was in the forefront of European agricultural research in the 19th century and the barley produced in the Lowlands near Edinburgh was of superior quality. Glenkinchie began as a part-time function to use the fine crops in the surrounding fields and the distillery was built in 1825 as Milton Distillery and has been operating under the name Glenkinchie since 1837. It became one of the more distinctive Lowland malts, and is noted for its untypical dryness. It is the principal component in Haig's Dimple blend. They have two stills. Owned by John Haig & Co. (United Distillers).
The entire output was used for blending until 1989 when the 10 year old distillery bottling was released as part of The Classic Malts series.
In the 1950's and 60's, the distillery manager bred prize-winning cattle; feeding them with the spent grains from the distillery.
The name is a corruption of de Quincy, the name of a family that once owned large amounts of land in this area.
Founding Date: 1824
This distillery is by far the most famous in the Glen and the only one recognized by that name alone. In fact, despite the rampant use of the term, there are few distilleries actually operating in the glen of the River Livet itself. One, Tomintoul, is in the adjoining Avon valley but is generally regarded as belonging to the Livet district. Tamnavulin, which is unconnected to The Glenlivet, and Braes of Glenlivet, which is owned by Seagram are both in the glen of the Livet. Michael Jackson says that "What Grande Champagne is to Cognac, the glen of the River Livet is to Speyside." Owned by the Seagram Co. this Single Malt is the best selling in the entire world -- in the US alone it accounted for over 43% of all Single Malt sales in 1994-95. The malt whiskies produced in and around the glen are all regarded as "delicate and elegant" by Michael Jackson and these characteristics are often taken as representative of the "glen" style. The glen provides the kind of water that produces especially delicate whiskies. It is the distilling district most deeply set into the mountains and its water rises from granite and frequently flows underground for many miles. The mountain setting also provides the climate favored by whisky producers. This is because, when distillation is proceeding, the condensers work most efficiently if cooled by very cold water and in a matching climate.
In 1823, an act was passed that encouraged the licensing of distilleries by cutting duty dramatically and permitting weaker washes (making for better distillates). Prior to this time, the Highlanders were permitted to distill only on a domestic scale; the English market was closed to them. The act was promoted by the Duke of Gordon and he encouraged one of his tenants, George Smith, to build a legal distillery on his farm. Prior to this time, the Glen of the Livet was a hotbed of illegal stills; it is estimated that there were some 200 illegal stills in the area in 1815. This was considered to be an act of resistance against hated British rule. The Scottish national poet Robert Burns put it as follows "Freedom and whisky go together." George Smith, like most of his neighbors, had been an illegal distiller and smuggler but saw what he considered to be an opportunity; he was aware however, of the dangers of forging ahead on his own. He wrote in his journal "The outlook was an ugly one. I was warned that they meant of burn the distillery to the ground and me in the heart of it. The laird of Aberlour presented me with a pair of hair-trigger pistols worth ten guineas, and they were never out of my belt for years. ." One of the reasons for his success, apart from his skill as a distiller and businessman, was that he had the support of the landed nobility eager to assert its authority over the stubborn Highlanders.
In 1858, George Smith and his son, James Gordon Smith, by now his partner, built a larger distillery to meet the growing demand for their product, mostly from Andrew Usher & Co. the blending pioneers. They sold their first bottle of The Glenlivet south of the Scottish/English border in 1863.
By the time John Smith succeeded his father (who died in 1871), the name Glenlivet had become so famous that is had been added by some 18 other distilleries to their names. Unfortunately, none of these were actually located in the famous glen itself. There was a saying that the Glen Livet was "the longest valley in Scotland." John Smith sought legal protection and, in 1880, was rewarded with a court ruling that there was only one Glenlivet. Since that time, the whisky has proudly called itself The Glenlivet. Other distilleries could only use the term as a suffix to their brand-names.
Following the death of John Grant, the distillery was operated by his nephew, Colonel George Smith Grant and, in 1921, his son, Captain Bill Smith Grant took control. Captain Grant promoted the American market, even before the end of Prohibition, and laid the foundation for what has become the distilleries primary market. He merged with Glen Grant Distillery in 1953 and in 1970 this company merged with Hill, Thomson & Co. to form The Glenlivet Distilleries, a company acquired by Seagram in 1978. With their marketing strength, The Glenlivet has come to dominate the market in America for single malt Scotches.
The Glenlivet has 8 stills, making it one of the larger malt distilleries.
The 12-Year-Old Distillery bottling (40% Alc) has a light nose of citrus, hay and malt. The palate is dry, moderately pealed, and has a good balance of sherry/honey flavors and a faintly peated finish.
The 1977 Vintage. 17Year-Old Single Cask Glenhaven Bottling (56.5% Alc) has an intense nose of citrus, sherry and malt and a rich, full-bodied palate with great balance and a long smoke and sherry finish.
The 1973 Vintage 22- Year-Old Single Cask William Cadenhead Bottling (53.1%Alc) has a sweet bouquet of geranium, malt, spice and lemon. The palate is full, yet bright and fresh with honey, malt and nutty sherry flavors and a lightly smoky finish.
The best selling single malt in the USA, from the Speyside district of the Highland region. Pale gold color. Flowery, clean nose. Light to medium body, firm and smooth. Flowery, peachy taste with notes of vanilla. A delicate balance between sweetness and malty dryness. Restrained but long finish. Scored 85 out of 100 by Michael Jackson.
Glenlivet 18 yr.: Single malt scotch from the Speyside region of the highlands. Glenlivet is the #1 selling single malt in the U.S. Deep gold color. Rich, sweet floral nose. Full, sweet flavors of nuts, dried apricots, vanilla and sherry with spicy overtones. Full, extended finish of toffee and nuts. Body is medium weight, soft and mellow. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a **** (highly recommended) rating.
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Region: Northern Highlands
Founding Date: 1936
Aged for 12 years in sherry casks. It has won the gold medal for best single malt under 15 years by the International Wine & Spirits competition for 1994 and 1995. Smooth with a slight sweetness. Scored 76 out of 100 by Michael Jackson.
They mix heather in with the peat used in kilning the malt and this is believed to impart a dry, rooty flavor. Operated by J. Dewar & Sons since 1924 (United Distillers). Most of the output is used in Dewar blends. Over the years it has been known as Glenordie and Ord. Michael Jackson feels this uncertainty regarding the name of the distillery is at least partly responsible for the lack of suitable recognition and respect for the whisky. The distillery itself is known as Ord or Muir of Ord. They expanded in 1966 and increased from 2 to 6 stills and also operate a malting house that produces malt for other distillers also. Until 1993, when the whisky was distributed widely as a single malt, it had only a local reputation.
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Region: Northern Highlands
Founding Date: 1843
Pronounced: Glen MORanjee. This Highland distillery is one of the smallest in Scotland and all of its production is bottled as their own Single Malt (i.e. almost none is made available for blending or Merchant Bottlers). Another unusual aspect of this distillery is the fact that the whisky has been available as a single malt since the 1920's.
The 10-Year Old Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a lovely bouquet of almond, apple, herbs and smoke. The palate is sweet and smooth with these rich, elegant flavors and has a long, peaty finish.
The 12 Year-Old Port Wood Finish Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a sherry/chocolate nose with hints of plum and herbs. The palate is weighty with soft, round fruit and smoke flavors and a long chocolate finish.
The 18-Year-Old Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has an elegant bouquet of orange peel, sweet spice, hay and apple. The palate is rich and complex with these same smooth flavors and a long, fruity/smoky finish.
The Limited Release Distilled in 1971, Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has an incredibly rich aroma of caramel, nuts, apple and smoke. On the palate these same flavors are rich, rounded and smooth and finish on a long, spicy note. A French perfume house once reported finding 26 distinctive fragrances in the whisky.
Second best-selling Scotch single malt in the world and the top seller in Scotland. The name comes from Gaelic for "valley of calm." Distillation can be traced back to the 1730's on the site and at one time also brewed beer and produced lemonade. Licensed whisky production began in 1843. They were the first to use steam coils in the stills; something that has now become common.
The majority of the whisky is matured exclusively in Bourbon barrels. They mature exclusively in Bourbon barrels for their basic 10 year old malt. Finishing maturation is often done in other types of wood as explained below. To insure continued availability and quality control, they acquired an oak forest in Missouri and ships its new barrels to Bourbon distillers for conditioning. They have such an arrangement with Maker's Mark. In fact, they also have a maturing experiment going with Maker's Mark. A barrel of their Bourbon is maturing in Scotland while a barrel of Glenmorangie malt whisky is maturing in Kentucky. Additional experiments resulted in finishing the whisky in Port and Madeira barrels.
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Glen Mohr. (Highlands, Est. 1892) Pronounced: Glen Voar. This distillery was closed in 1983. The 1982 Vintage, 12-Year-Old Single Cask Glenhaven Bottling (64.2% Alc) has a rich nose of sherry, smoke and citrus. The palate is sweet and fruity, has moderate weight and a pleasant, caramel-toned finish.
Founding Date: 1878
This distillery, producing malts mostly for use in the blending of Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark, is also remembered for a tremendous fire in 1922, in which 2,500 casks of whisky flowed, flaming into the countryside.
The 1979 Vintage 15-Year-Old, Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has an herb-tinged nose of sweet sherry, malt and citrus that are echoed on the palate with a lively pungent character and a long, fruity/herb finish.
From the Glen Rothes Web Site
The Glenrothes Vintage Single Malt Whisky takes its name from the Glenrothes Distillery, in the heart of Speyside, the Highland area of Scotland made famous by the quality and style of its single malt whiskies. The Glenrothes Distillery first began production in 1879 and is recognized by expert distillers as producing one of the finest and most accomplished malt whiskies.
The Glenrothes Vintage has been distilled during one particular year and the vintage and year of bottling are shown on each label. Only the best and most carefully selected casks of Glenrothes will be chosen for this special malt whisky which is released when it is at the peak of maturity. The result is a single malt whisky of great nobility and complexity with a smooth, long-lasting flavor.
The Glenrothes is one of the few naturally-colored whiskies. This natural color is gently drawn from the lengthy aging in oak casks.
The simple, yet distinctive, packaging for Glenrothes is based on the shape of the original bottles found in the Scotch whisky Sample Room. The label too comes from the Sample Room where the "checking slip" was used to record important facts about whisky samples and where the Glenrothes Vintage is given the signature of approval.
The following vintages have been released: 1972, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1985.
To appreciate this excellent vintage malt, use a good sized glass and add a little pure still water to release its aroma and lingering taste.
The Glenrothes Vintage is a naturally amber-colored malt with an aroma of finesse hinting delicately of peat. The years spent maturing in oak casks have resulted in a good balance of softness and quality to the palate with a smooth, long-lasting flavor.
Pronounced: Glen-tockers. A Speyside distillery. The 1976 Vintage. 18Year-Old Single Cask. Glenhaven Bottling (63.2% Alc) has a fresh, floral nose and a full-bodied palate of sweet, smoky flavors that trail off in a long, warm and smoky finish.
Founding Date: 1798
Highland Park and its neighbor, Scapa are the only two distilleries on the northern Orkney islands. Highland Park, in fact, is the most northerly whisky distillery in the world. Despite the remote location (still classified as part of the Highlands), their whiskies have always been sought after both as Single Malts and for top-dressing blends, where it is thought to function as a catalyst, bringing out the flavors of the other contributing malts. The whisky has been promoted as a single malt since the early 1970's. Michael Jackson refers to it as "the greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whisky."
The 1984 Vintage. 10-Year-Old Single Cask. Glenhaven Bottling (59.8% Alc) has a fruity/floral nose of green apple, malt and smoke. These same flavors are rich and creamy, and finish on a dry smoky note.
The 1978 Vintage. 14-Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (55.0% Alc) has an elegant bouquet of peat, smoke, honey and a delicate floral note. The flavors are rich, full and complex, with a long, elegant, smoke-etched finish.
Owned by James Grant & Co. a subsidiary of Highland Distilleries Co. James Grant, whose father was the distillery manager of Glenlivet, became managing partner and later owner, in 1888. Highland Distilleries bought it in 1937.
The distillery is located on the exact spot where the legendary smuggler and churchman Magnus Eunson operated an illegal still. He is reputed to have been the first to hide his illegal whisky in coffins to avoid tax collections. His pulpit is supposed to have been used for this purpose also. One story goes that "the church was to be searched for whisky by a party of exisemen, Eunson had the kegs removed to his house. They were placed in the middle of the room and covered with a clean white cloth. Under the cloth was a coffin lid, and as the Excise officers approached, Eunson knelt with his bible, and the others with their psalm books. As the door opened they set up a wail for the dead. Eunson indicated that there had been a death and one of the attendants whispered 'small-pox'. The Excise officers evaporated."
The distillery operates its own malting floors and peating operations and has 4 stills. The peat is cut more shallow than usual in order to impart a light, rooty character. The peat is mixed with heather, which is said to add a distinctive note to the whisky.
They have four stills (expanded from two in 1898).
Imperial. (Speyside, Est. 1897)
This distillery produces malts primarily for use in the blending of Johnnie Walker, none is bottled for itself. The 1980 Vintage, 14-Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (64.9% Alc) has a smoky, malty bouquet with hints of vanilla and spice. The similar flavors offer good richness, depth and elegance ($95). The 1979 Vintage, 15-Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (62.3% Alc) has a lively nose of fruit, malt, smoke and herbs. The palate is smooth and woody with spicy malt, sweet peated tones and an herbal finish
Jura. (Isle of Jura, Est. 1810)
This distillery is the sole manufacturing enterprise on the island of Jura (population 225). While the island is located just north of Islay, its whisky shares more with the Highlands in character. The 10 Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (40% Alc) has a nose of citrus, smoke and malt. The palate is dry and delicate and malty with flavors of sherry, spice and smoke that ebb gradually on the finish. The 1983, 10-Year-Old Single Cask. Cadenhead Bottling (63.9% Alc) has a bright, malty bouquet with smoke and iodine. These same high-toned flavors have a pleasant fruity finish. The 1984. 10-Year-Old Single Cask. Cadenhead Bottling (58.8%Alc) has a lightly peated nose of vanilla, lemon and faint notes of the sea. These same flavors are joined by rich, sweet caramel and chocolate tones.
Isle of Jura:
Golden color. Light, dry nose with a hint of sherry. Soft light body. Slightly sweet, salty flavor. Finish has a little malt and some saltiness. Considered a Highland malt. Scored 71 out of 100 by Michael Jackson.
Founding Date: 1889
Located overlooking the River Spey it draws its water from the Cardnach Spring which is described as an especially fine source and is used only for Knockando. The name comes from the Gaelic for "black hillock, or a little black hill."
The distillery was purchased in 1898 by Gilbey. This firm, with Justerini & Brooks, created the IDV (International Distillers & Vintners) in 1904. J&B is responsible for production and uses Knockando as an important base malt for its blends and Knockando is the best-known of IDV's malt whiskies. The distillery has four stills and ages its whisky for a time in sherry casks. It was first exported as a single malt in 1977-78.
Their practice is not to bottle at a specific age, but only when the casks are felt to be "at their peak" and the label states the dates of distillation and bottling. This practice is based on the recognition that whiskies do not develop evenly and that the desired degree of maturation is not always reached in equivalent periods of time. The objective is to produce whiskies that, while they may not be of the same age, have the same taste; a consistently mature whisky where one vintage does not differ dramatically from another.
Founding Date: 1816
This distillery has long produced malts for use in Johnnie Walker, and the White Horse blends and as part of the Guinness Group its Single Malt is widely distributed as part of their "Classic Malts" Portfolio. Over the last few decades, the Single Malt has developed a very loyal following among those seeking a rich expression of the powerful Islay style.
The 16Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a bold, pungent nose of smoke, peat and burnt herbs. On the palate these same flavors are dry, peaty and smooth, with a smoky finish.
Robust 16-year-old malt from the Islay region. Full amber color. Powerful sherry aroma. Full, smooth body. Smoky, peaty taste. Huge finish. Scored 95 out of 100 by Michael Jackson. He describes it as he classic Islay whisky, with the driest start of any single malt."
The distillery, like all those on Islay, was built on the shoreline to facilitate incoming merchandise and outgoing whisky. The name is Gaelic meaning the mill in the hollow (or the hollow where the mill is). It is recorded that on this location in the late 1700's, there were up to ten illegal stills. By the 1830's there were two distilleries remaining and they were merged to form Lagavulin Distillery in 1837. From 1908 until 1960, a second distillery within Lagavulin was operated. It was called Malt Mill and made whisky using ultra-old-fashioned methods and the whisky was different from Lagavulin. Lagavulin has four stills.
Founding Date: 1815
Pronounced: Lafroyg. This distillery makes a strongly peated whisky sought after for both blending and as a Single Malt. So unique is its pungent peatiness, that it has a reputation for being either loved or hated.
The 10-Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (40% Alc) has a sharp, peaty nose, with notes of brine and iodine, yet still hints of sweetness. The palate is bold and forward with heavy peat, iodine and smoke flavors that grip the palate and linger in the throat.
They still produce some of their own malt and cut their own peat. The producers believe that the high content of moss in the peat gives the whisky its unique flavor. Aging is done exclusively in Bourbon wood. They have 7 stills and maintain their own floor maltings at the distillery. It is owned by D. Johnston & Co., a subsidiary of Allied Distillers (Allied Domecq). Laphroaig provides one of the base malts in the blends Islay Mist and Long John.
An interesting historical note is that one of the founding brothers, Donald Johnston, drowned in a vat of fermenting wash in 1847.
From the Laphroaig Web Site
Laphroaig is Gaelic for "the beautiful hollow by the broad bay" - boasts, as its name demands, an idyllic setting for a Distillery, with its own sea loch and peninsula.
Established in 1815 by the brothers Donald and Alec Johnston, the Distillery passed through the family, with much in-fighting along the way, until being sold to Long John Distillers in the early 1960s. It had the distinction of being run by a lady distiller, Mrs. Bessie Campbell, from 1954 to 1972. Long John were taken over by Whitbread, the brewers, in 1975. However, D Johnston & Co still remains on the label as Distiller and Bottler.
The Distillery Today
Many of the original buildings remain, including the traditional malting floors where the malt is regularly turned by hand to maintain an even temperature throughout the 7-day germination period.
Laphroaig goes from strength to strength as part of Allied Distillers' portfolio and received the Queen's Award for Export Achievement in 1994.
Laphroaig's peat bogs on the Glenmachrie Peat Moss and its water source, the Kilbride Dam, combine in the distilling process to produce the characteristically peaty and full-colored whisky that features in the top five best-selling malts today.
Its unique taste saw it prosper in America during the Prohibition (1920-1933) where its import was permitted as a 'medicinal spirit' - aqua vitae indeed!
A hint of sherry quickly gives way to the Islay intensity and distinctively oily body with a big peaty-smoky flavor. A round, dry and warming finish renders Laphroaig the perfect night-cap, but not one for the weak-kneed . . . .
Age when bottled: 10 and 15 years old
Laphroaig: Islay, Argyll
Owners: Allied Distilleries, 2 Glasgow Road, Dumbarton
Production Status: Operational
Water Source: Kilbride dam
Location: South coast of Islay
Ledaig (see Tobermory).
Linkwood. (Speyside, Est. 1821).
A classic Speyside distillery producing a bold, smoky whisky in high demand for top-dressing blends. The1984 Vintage, 11-Year-Old Single Sherry Cask. Whyte & Whyte Bottling (43% Alc) has a sweet, caramel-apple nose with hints of smoke and wood. The palate is quite bright and spirity with sweet fruit and hints of peat on the finish. The 1978 Vintage. 17-Year-Old Single Cask, William Cadenhead Bottling (55.5% Alc) has a woodsy bouquet with dried fruit, spice and notes of caramel. The palate is rich and weighty with a full-bodied texture and long, spicy finish.
Founding Date: 1894
Located just 2.5 miles south of Elgin near the village of Longmorn. The distillery was established by John Duff in 1894 at the height of the whisky boom. It is one of the few distilleries in continuous production since that time. The site was attractive for distilling because it had an ample supply of local peat and abundant spring water from the Mannoch Hill. The distillery was acquired by James R. Grant in 1898 who was succeeded by his sons, P.J. Grant and R. L. Grant and they did business as the Longmorn Distillery Co. In 1970, the Grants of Longmorn and of Glen Grant were united when Hill Thompson & Co. Ltd., a noted blending and merchant firm in Edinburgh, merged with The Glenlivet and Glen Grant distilleries under the name of The Glenlivet Distilleries. This company was then purchased by Seagram Distillers in 1978.
It was expanded from four to six stills in 1972, and to eight in 1974, making it one of the larger malt distilleries. The whisky has long been overshadowed by other Chivas properties (The Glenlivet and Glen Grant) but began to be more aggressively marketed during the late 1990's. It won gold medals in the International Wine & Spirits Competition in 1993 and 1994.
This distillery produces a rich, malty whisky in high demand as a Single Malt and for top-dressing blends. Part of the Seagram Co., its Single Malt is widely distributed as part of their "Heritage Selection."
Michael Jackson describes Longmorn as "admired for its complexity, its combination of smoothness and fullness of character, and from its big bouquet to its long finish. It is noted for its cereal-grain maltiness and oily flavors, reminiscent of beeswax."
The 15-Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (45% Alc) has a rich, full, nose of creamy malt and fresh, appley fruit. These similar flavors are soft, smooth and creamy, with delicate notes of smoke and peat that linger sweetly on the finish -- an exceptional value in Speyside Single Malts.
The 1972 Vintage. 23-Year-Old Single Sherry Cask. Signatory Bottling (56.6% Alc) has a concentrated bouquet of sweet malt, citrus peel, and pleasant tones of smoke and peat. The palate is rich, full and weighty with creamy malt and nutty sherry flavors and a long malt and honey finish, with notes of smoke and peat.
Longmorn 15yr.: Full, gold color. Big, slightly oily nose with barley and flowery notes. From the Speyside district of the Highlands. Medium to big but smooth body. Clean, fresh flavor with cereal grain maltiness. Clean, malty, nutty finish. Scored 87 out of 100 by Michael Jackson.
Founding Date: 1824
This distillery, which started out in a farmhouse early last century, is now one of the largest in Scotland. They were one of the first to promote the use of sherry casks to mature their whisky and have continued with that tradition ever since. In 1983, when the Spanish government decreed that all Sherry must be bottled in Jerez and Sherry butts are now reusable by the Jerezanos, this led to competition for used Sherry casks, which are now a considerable cost to the whisky distiller. The difficulty in procuring quality Sherry casks proved so great to Macallan that they once bought and imported for resale, thousands of gallons of Oloroso Sherry every year - but they did get to keep the empty casks. since the Spanish government has since required all exports to be in bottles not casks they now purchase the casks in Spain and lend them to sherry producers for seasoning.
Their stills are small, probably the smallest in Speyside and they never use caramel for coloring. These factors, along with the exclusive use of sherry casks, account for the distinctive character of the malt whisky and its popularity not only as a malt, but for use in blending. Achieving a standard color by mingling whiskies from different casks is quite difficult and is among the secrets of Macallan.
The distillery was established in 1824 and built a great reputation. It is a certainty that illegal distilling was practiced in this location for many years since there is no other explanation for its reputation and popularity in the south immediately following legal licensing of the distillery. In 1892, Roderick Kemp, owner and manager of Talisker, sold his share and purchased Macallan. Allan Shiach, who is directly descended from Kemp, was chairman of the company until his retirement in 1996. Mr. Shiach also writes Hollywood screenplays as Allan Sharp one was Don't Look Now starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie.
In the 1970's, the distillery ran into financial difficulties. At that time Seagram was one of its main customers; Macallan had been an important component in the Chivas Regal blend. Seagram however, changed the formula and Macallan lost a major client. Up to that time Macallan had been mostly only locally appreciated as a single malt but this turn of circumstances forced them to concentrate on its marketing as a single and they have been very successful. Despite the success of the decision to concentrate on their branded single malt, it was considered a bold one at the time because of the high regard blenders had for the whisky. It was usually ranked in the top three for "top dressing" malts. The decision to mature their single exclusively in sherry wood came about at this time also.
The first batch was released in 1980 and it currently sells at the number three position in the UK malt whisky market and number five in the world.
The distillery has been expanded several times. They doubled from six to twelve stills in 1965, to eighteen in 1974 and to twenty-one in 1975. Michael Jackson said that they "build more (stills) rather than making them bigger." In 1990, they built what is now the largest single-roofed whisky warehouse in Europe.
The 12-Year-Old Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has bright floral aromas of spice, citrus, pear and honey. The similar flavors are rich and elegant with good depth and a pleasant, expansive finish.
The 1976 vintage. 18-Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a fabulous bouquet and palate of caramel, smoke, Puts, spice and citrus peel. It is smooth and well-focused, with exceptional depth and a long, fruity, peaty finish.
Macallan 12 year: Amber color. Sherry and honey nose. Full smooth body. Taste has hints of currant. Rounded finish. From the Speyside district. Scored 91 out of 100 by Michael Jackson.
Macallan 18 year: Full amber color. Perfumy nose. Full round body. Complex, full flavor with currant and calvados-like notes. Finish is slow at first then oaky and powerful. Scored 94 out of 100 by Michael Jackson
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Mannochmore. (Speyside, Est. 1971)
This modern distillery produces a malt whisky primarily for use in the blended whiskies of Haig. The 12-Year-Old. Cooper's Choice Bottling (43% Alc) has a smoky, peaty nose that balances well with the clean, fruity palate. It has a smooth, medium-bodied sweetness and a lingering smoky finish.
Region Western Highlands
Founding Date 1794
Known as "The Gateway to the Isles", this distillery is part of the Guinness Group and its Single Malt is widely distributed as part of their "Classic Malts" Portfolio. It has the reputation of being one of the more enigmatic of all Scotch Whiskies. The nose and palate are more akin to an Islay, but the finish and body have the sweet creaminess of the Highlands. The malt whisky has contributed to the various John Hopkins blends, including one that is called "Old Mull."
Acquired by Dewar in 1923. The distillery was silent from 1931 to 1937 and from 1969 to 1972, when a new stillhouse was built. They established their Visitor's Center in 1989 and were selected for promotion as a Classic Malt in 1990. They have two stills.
The 14 Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) melds the delicate, fruity aromas of citrus and pear with the muscular scents of peat and iodine. The palate reflects this blending of flavors with good depth and a long, smooth finish.
Oban - 14 yr.: Amber color. Peaty, smoky aroma. Rich, smooth body. Dry, smoky flavor with malty and fruity undertones. Aromatic, smooth finish. Scored 79 out of 100 by Michael Jackson.
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Port Ellen. (Islay, Est. 1825)
This distillery has been closed since 1983, but the facility still produces malt for all the Islay distilleries and Jura. The 1983 Vintage. 12-Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (57.8% Alc) has both scents and flavors heavy with peat and brine. The palate is rich and layered with notes of malt and caramel that follow through on the finish. The 1977 Vintage. 18-Year-Old Single Cask. Signatory Bottling (60.4% Alc) has a sharp nose of peat, iodine and smoke. The complex palate echoes the nose, and adds a note of malt and citrus flavors that carry through on the smoky finish.
Royal Lochnagar. (Highlands, Est. 1845)
This distillery acquired its Royal Warrant after a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert from the nearby Balmoral Castle. It is said that Queen Victoria enjoyed a daily dram in her tea. The 12-Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has the fresh, bright aromas of apple, smoke, citrus and leather. On the palate these same flavors are bright and distinct, a bit racy and conclude with a smooth, peaty finish.
Founding Date: 1885
The distillery is located on the north shore of Scapa Flow, where the German High Seas Fleet scuttled itself at the end of WWI. It was a famous Allied Naval base during both the World Wars.
The distillery ceased operation in 1993. It has been marketed as a single malt only since 1995; previously it was used only for blending although some bottlings were available from Independents. Scapa has been owned by Hiram Walker since 1954. Its current availability as a single malt is dependent on how long its supplies last.
Scapa had two stills. A note of distinction for this distillery is that the water it used was so peaty that they did not kiln the malted barley with peat. Aging was done exclusively in Bourbon barrels. A distinctive feature is the rare Lomond-type still used for the first distillation. It has a stubby top and yields heavier spirits than longer-necked stills would. This is a significant malt in Ballantine's and Ambassador Blended Scotches.
Founding Date: 1897
The distillery is located in a pretty wooded glen just outside the town of Rothes. Due to the tightness of the space available, the distillery has two and three story buildings which is unusual. Mostly, distilleries in Scotland feature ground-level construction around a central courtyard.
The distillery was built in 1897 and the owners were eager to release some whisky with that date since it was the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. They were successful barely. They began production the last week of the year and doors and windows still had not been fitted to the stillhouse. To add to the difficulty, a snowstorm was sweeping the district and the employees had to work in overcoats and mufflers. The result was that they were able to produce only one barrel with the coveted 1897 date.
It is now owned by Inver House Distillers who purchased it from United Distillers in 1992. Under United Distillers, the output was used nearly entirely for blending with single malts usually only available from Independent Bottlers. Inver House uses the malts in their blends and they do bottle a single malt under the distillery name.
Speyburn is a small distillery; operating just two stills. They were the first to install drum maltings although these were closed in 1968.
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Founding Date: 1828
Springbank is located on the Mull of Kintyre and was famed (infamous?) for illicit distillation from the earliest times. There are even some who maintain that the art of distilling was brought here from Ireland in the 6th century. This may be stretching it a bit since it cannot be proven that Ireland was actually distilling a grain spirit (as opposed to a fruit spirit brandy) at that time. At any rate, Campbeltown was one of the first centers of the commercial distilling industry in Scotland. There remain today only two distilleries (Springbank and Glen Scotia) but, between the 1880's and the 1920's, there were 34 working distilleries here. A third brand is produced (Longrow) but it is made at Springbank using different malt (peatier).
This distillery has been in continuous family ownership since its founding in 1828 As a family enterprise, the distillery's production techniques are steeped in tradition and slow to change. In fact, Springbank is the only remaining distillery to complete the entire production, from floor malting to bottling, on their own premises. There is only one other distillery in Scotland that even bottles its single malt on the premises - Glenfiddich. It is one of the last, along with Glenfarclas, family-owned distilleries in Scotland.
They have three stills which are used in a complicated sequence but it is double-distilled, not triple. What they do is distill the feints of the first distillation in the third still. They claim this produces a milder whisky. It is a medium-peated whisky but the distillery does produce a heavier malt (the already-mentioned Longrow) which is double distilled.
Maturation is done in a mix of Bourbon and Sherry casks and it is manually filtered rather than chill filtering. This latter is the usual process today in Scotland. The temperature of the spirit is lowered so that microscopic particles which might make the whisky cloudy when mixed with ice or water are suspended and removed.
Springbank is highly regarded by blenders. It has a reputation with some for being indispensable for combining together the many components of a complex bland.
The 12Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (46% Alc) is has a bright pear and citrus aromas on a base of malt and woody vanilla. The palate is brash and medium-bodied with the same flavors that linger on the finish.
The 21-Year-Old Single Cask. Distillery Bottling (46% Alc) has a rich bouquet of malt, smoke and salt air. The palate is rich and smooth with these same flavors and a smoky/peaty finish. The 25-Year-Old Single Cask, Distillery Bottling (46% Alc) has an attractive bouquet of citrus, spice, malt and herbs. The rich, full-bodied palate expresses the same flavors with good depth and a very long smoky finish.
The 30-Year Old Single Cask. Distillery Bottling (46% Alc) is has a fabulous bouquet of dry citrus, apple, spice and heather. These flavors are smooth and elegant on the palate and with an exceptionally long spice and wood-touched finish.
The 1979 Vintage Single Cask. Distillery Bottling (46% Alc) has a nose of spice, smoke and peat, with an underlying floral note. The palate is sweet with light, malt, citrus and peat flavors that trail off in a rich, smoky finish.
The 1972 Vintage. Single Cask. Distillery Bottling (46% Alc) has a bright, woodsy nose of dried fruit, malt and peat. The flavors are fresh, rich and expansive, with good depth and a spicy/woodsy finish.
The 1969 Vintage Single Cask. Distillery Bottling (46% Alc) has a spicy, floral bouquet with hints of wood and malt. The palate echoes these flavors with richness, complexity and a long smooth finish.
The 1965 Vintage. Single Cask. Distillery Bottling (46% Alc) has a malty bouquet of peat, spice and wood, with a distinct briny note. These same flavors are rich, with good depth and a long, smooth, faintly briny finish.
The 1962 Vintage. Single Cask. Distillery Bottling (46% Alc) has the sweet, malty scents of dried peach, butterscotch, wood and tar. The palate is intense with citrus, peat and creamy malt flavors that glide into a long, spicy finish terrific.
The 1958 Vintage. Single Cask. Distillery Bottling (46% Alc) has a refined bouquet of smoke, peat, wood and brine. The similar flavors have a rich caramel note and a bold, spicy finish. See Springbank article by John Hansell.
SPRINGBANK: The Campbeltown Classic
Article by John Hansell
John Hansell unlocks the spirit of an entire distilling region
When I landed in Glasgow that cold November morning, it was snowing. Several hours later, after driving northwest past Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps and then south along winding roads, the weather had finally changed for the worse! Pelting rain and high winds from the sea greeted me in this small town of Campbeltown, located at the tip of a peninsula that is exposed to everything nature has to offer.
Driving through Campbeltown, it was hard to imagine that this small town, isolated from the rest of Scotland, was once a powerful distilling region with more than 30 distilleries. Today, only two distilleries remain -- Springbank and Glen Scotia. Springbank is considered by many as the classic whisky for the region.
The History of Campbeltown Distilling:
Illicit distilling was commonplace in Campbeltown in the 18th century. When the Excise Act of 1823 cut the duty on distilling enough for distillers to become legitimate, Campbeltown distillers came out of the closet. According to Brian Townsend in his book Scotch Missed, nine distilleries "opened" between 1823 and 1825. Springbank joined the ranks in 1828. By 1837, there were 28.
Campbeltown distilling thrived in the 1800s. A local coal mine afforded the distilleries an inexpensive source of energy. There were also good sources of barley and peat. The boom in steam-driven shipping and the convenience of a harbor within the town gave Campbeltown a logistical advantage over land-locked distilleries in the Highlands. Life was good.
Campbeltown distilleries then succumbed to the same hardships that devastated the entire distilling industry in the early 1900s. Increased taxation to fund World War I and a strong temperance movement started the woes. Charles MacLean mentions in his Pocket Whisky Book the impact of Lloyd George, the teetotaling Chancellor of the Exchequer, who doubled the duty on spirits, citing that strong drink "was doing more damage in the war than all the German submarines put together." The Great Depression, Prohibition, and World War II also devastated the industry.
Campbeltown was hit hard. The local coal mine was exhausted, making a grim situation worse. Michael Jackson, in his World Guide to Whisky, explains that "Campbeltown distillers dealt themselves a death blow" during Prohibition by sacrificing quality for quantity, when bootleg whisky was in high demand.
Eighteen of the 21 operating Campbeltown distilleries closed in the 1920s. Another one, Reiclachan, closed in 1934, leaving only Springbank and Glen Scotia.
While in Campbeltown, I visited the Campbeltown Creamery and sampled their locally produced cheddar. It is the site of the old Burnside distillery which closed in 1924. The fate of the other distilleries has not always been so kind.
The Springbank Distillery
Michael Jackson in his Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch describes Springbank as "an elderly eccentric among distilleries." I couldn't agree more. The distillery sits in a humble setting, within Campbeltown, down a narrow lane next to a church. You'll find no tour guides dressed in kilts here. My visit to Springbank showed me this is a working distillery, owned by the same family since its inception, that has refused the trends and technologies of current distilling practices.
For example, most distilleries obtain their malted barley from central malting companies, which is more cost-effective. Floor maltings were reintroduced to Springbank less than three years ago, and they are one of the few distilleries that floor malt their own barley and dry it in their own kiln. Peat, now brought from nearby Islay, is used as part of the fuel for the kiln.
The distillery uses six larch-wood wash backs, where the yeast ferments the liquid sugars extracted from the malted barley in the mash tuns. There are three stills at Springbank. But the whisky is not triple distilled, nor is it double distilled. Rather, the whisky is said to be distilled "two and one-half times." After the first distillate (low wines) leave the first still (called a "wash still"), which is still heated by a live flame from an oil burner, it continues on to the first spirit still and then the second. However, a small portion of the low wines from the wash still is added directly to the second spirit still. Thus the two and one-half distillations.
Noticeably absent from the distilling process is the highly automated "control room-like" atmosphere found at more modern facilities.
The whisky sleeps in the distillery's earthen-floor warehouse and is aged in a variety of casks and ages before being bottled. Unlike most distilleries that transport their casks to an off-site location for bottling, Springbank bottles their whisky on-premise. During my visit, the bottling line was bustling with 15 yr. Springbank. My thirst was not too far behind.
The Whisky and the Bottlings
Springbank defines the essence of Campbeltown whisky. The whisky always expresses a briny sea-salt character in aroma and flavor that is wonderfully refreshing. No doubt the sea winds that lash the tiny peninsula town has its effects on the slumbering, breathing whisky barrels over the years. Many versions also express a gentle sweetness that pairs nicely with the saltiness.
These are the common threads that intertwine all Springbank whiskies. And there is an impressive, almost astonishing, array of bottlings at various ages, vintages, strengths and barrel types. There seems to have been more different bottlings of Springbank within the past decade than there are distilleries within Speyside.
Part of the reason for such a variety of bottlings is the distillery's independence and the resultant freedom from being part of a conglomerate distilling company concerned more about consistency than variety. Another reason is many of the Springbank bottlings are single cask, even if not identified as such on its label. This is not surprising, given that Springbank has financial ties with Cadenhead's, the independent bottling company that typically offers single cask bottlings at cask strength. I must also mention that Springbank bottlings are not chill filtered or artificially colored, leaving the whisky as natural and unadulterated as possible.
The standard bottlings include 15, 21, 25, and 30 year old whiskies. Within a given age, you will find variations from one bottling to the next. I find this to be part of the charm of Springbank whiskies, very much like comparing different vintages of Thomas Hardy's Ale or different pints of cask-conditioned Fuller's ESB.
Springbank has also bottled an array of vintages, spanning more than 30 years, and I could devote an entire issue of the Malt Advocate entirely to these fine whiskies. There are two specific whiskies I would like to highlight.
The first one, which actually was available in the United States in severely limited quantities, was the Springbank "West Highland 1966." A single cask, cask strength, 24 year old beauty that was heavily sherried, but in a delightful way. It would surely be the crowning finish to a special evening. However, the uniqueness of this particular bottling was that its make up (barley, water, peat, coal) was entirely produced within an 8 mile radius of the distillery, with the exception of the Spanish oak sherry casks. The local coal mine at Machrihanish from which the coal was procured has been closed for quite some time, ensuring that the whisky cannot be repeated.
The second bottling (actually two slightly different bottlings) never found its way to the United States. It was surely one for all the rum lovers. Touted as "Green Springbank," two different bottlings of 18 yr. old Springbank were aged in barrels that previously held rum. Gordon Wright, a Director of Springbank, offered me a sampling of both versions after my tour of the distillery. The lighter green version contained plenty of rum character, while still allowing the distillery character to shine. The other, a darker green, truly expressed a rich rum character that would be bottled heaven for any whisky lover who also covets the flavor of rum.
As if this weren't enough whiskies to choose from, the Springbank distillery produces a completely different whisky called Longrow, named after a distillery once located near Springbank. The Longrow distillery became silent in 1896. However, one of its bonded warehouses still exists and is used as a bottling plant by Springbank.
Longrow is essentially a more peated version of Springbank, and lovers of Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Talisker, or Ardbeg will find this whisky very compelling. Longrow was produced in 1974 using the distillery's own malt and different ages of the 1974 vintage have been released, the most recent being a very limited 19 year old. They, too, have varied slightly from one bottling to the next. I particularly enjoyed a 1974 vintage 16 yr. old that was well-rounded with just the right amount of sherry.
Since the 1974 distillations of Longrow, vintages produced (but not yet bottled) from malt brought into the distillery occurred in 1987, 1988, and 1989. Look for them around the turn of the century. When the distillery re-introduced its floor maltings in the early 1990s, Longrow was the first of the whiskies produced. Patience is a virtue, they say.
Looking back on my visit to Campbeltown, two things are certain. The first, I enjoyed my time spent in Campbeltown and look forward to a return visit. The second, despite the weather, I was never cold. No doubt the warmth of the whisky and the people had something to do with it. John Hansell collects (and drinks) single malts and regularly writes and lectures on the subject.
Copyright 1995, Malt Advocate.
Founding Date: 1786
Pronounced: Stratheye-la. This distillery is part of the Seagram Co. and its Single Malt is widely distributed as part of their "Heritage Selection". The majority of the malts produced are primarily for use in blending. The Single Malt is the heart of their Chivas Regal, Royal Salute and 100 Pipers blends.
The distillery was acquired by Chivas Brothers (a subsidiary of Seagram) at an auction in 1950. The distillery was auctioned off due to the jailing of the former owner for non-payment of taxes and black marketeering and the subsequent dissolution of his firm. What happened was that, shortly after the outbreak of WWII, a London financier, Jay Pomeroy, bought the distillery and began sending the entire production direct to London. The Customs and Excise people became suspicious when it was discovered that the buyers were fictitious. An inquiry followed and Pomeroy was found to be selling the whiskies under different names through the black market. In addition to losing his firm he was jailed and fined a substantial amount for that time £111,038. The distillery was in the hands of receivers throughout the war and, as mentioned, auctioned off in 1950.
Prior to Seagram's ownership the distillery was still known as Milton (originally, Milltown) but Chivas changed it back to Strathisla. Seagram undertook extensive modernization following the acquisition and in 1965 expanded it from two to six stills.
The distillery is one of, if not the most, attractive in Scotland with its unusual twin pagoda chimneys and waterwheel. The water comes from a spring called Broomhill and it has been highly regarded since the 13th century when Dominican monks used it for their beer brewing.
The 12 Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (43% Alc) has a robust nose of peat, oak and caramel. The full-bodied palate is rich with nutty sherry and herb flavors that carry through on the finish ($39).
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Founding Date: 1830
This producer is the sole distillery on the island of Skye. As part of the Guinness Group, its Single Malt is widely distributed as part of their "Classic Malts" Portfolio.
This 10-Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (45.8% Alc) has the intense aroma of smoke, peat and iodine, balanced by hints of citrus, apple and cinnamon. The palate is bold and forward with smoke, peat and citrus flavors delivered in a full-throttle style.
The 1979 Vintage. 14-Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (64.3% Alc) has a bright smoke and malt bouquet with hints of wood and spice. These same flavors are weighty on the palate with good depth and long, complex finish of wood, smoke and citrus.
Talisker - 10 Yr.: From the only distillery from the Isle of Skye. Amber-red color. Pungent, slightly smoky aroma. Full body. Smoky with distinctive peppery character. The taste explodes on the palate and has a huge, long finish. Scored 90 out of 100 by Michael Jackson. He says that "What the bigger examples of Zinfandel are to wine, Talisker is to single malts. It has a distinctively peppery character."
The distillery at one time belonged to the Kemp family, which now operates Macallan (they bought it in 1892). The distillery is highly regarded both for their single malt and for blending. Most of the whisky is used in the Johnnie Walker blends. Talisker operates 5 stills and, up to 1928, triple-distilled its whisky. The water comes from Cnoc nan Speireag, a hill whose high peat content gives the water a rusty tint. The distillery was partly rebuilt in 1960, following a stillhouse fire.
The unusual lyne arms going from the stills to the traditional worm tubs outside the still-house have a unique kink in them, like an inverted "U", and as a result, only a small amount of vapor passes over to be condensed. The remainder (perhaps 80%) returns to be re-distilled. This is a critical aspect of the character of the whisky. See the note below on the distillery managers comments regarding this "crazy pipework."
Notes From Distillery Visit:
Tamdhu. (Speyside, Est. 1897)
Pronounced: TamDOO. This distillery produces a Single Malt that is very popular in the UK Much of their production is used in the Famous Grouse blended whisky. The 1963 Vintage. 30Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (48.2% Alc) has an elegant bouquet of malt, peat, caramel and rich nutty notes. The similar flavors have a distinct citrus tone that adds to the complexity. It is smooth and full-bodied, with rich flavors and a captivating finish.
Tamnavulin. (Speyside, Est. 1966)
Pronounced: Tamna-VOO-lin. This distillery, the only one actually on the River Livet, was sadly moth-balled early in 1995. The 10-Year-Old. Distillery Bottling (40% Alc) has a light, elegant bouquet of sweet malt, sherry and flowers. The palate is also light and sweet but with the added notes of spice, peat and oak that carry through on the finish.
Tamnavulin is produced in the village of Glenlivet in the Highlands (not to be confused with the Glenlivet distillery). Very pale 'white wine' color. Nose has hints of peat and barley, oily. light, smooth body. Grassy, currant flavor with hint of lemon. Aromatic finish. Scored 76 out of 100 by renowned scotch critic Michael Jackson in his 'Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch'.
Tobermory. (Highlands, Est. 1798)
This distillery is one of only three that use unpeated barley as their primary malt. However, a small quantity of Single Malt made with peated barley is produced each year and bottled under the name Ledaig. Ledaig. Pronounced: Led-chig. The 1972 Vintage. 22Year-Old Single Cask. William Cadenhead Bottling (54.0% Alc) has a woodsy, herbal nose with notes of malt and spice. The palate shares these same flavors and adds a good dose of peat and smoke on the finish.
Tomintoul. (Speyside, Est. 1964).
Pronounced: Tomintowel. This distillery, located just upriver from the famous Glenlivet, is the only other distillery actually operating in the glen itself. The 1969 Vintage. 2s-year-old Single Cask Glenhaven Bottling (56.6% Alc) has a bold bouquet of rich, nutty sherry, peat and oak. The full-bodied palate is rich with these same forward flavors that linger with a soft, warm glow.
(Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion, Dorling Kindersley, London, NY, Stuttgart, 3rd Edition, 1994)
The scores are based on a maximum of 100 points. One in the 50's indicates a malt lacking in balance or character, and which was probably not intended to be bottled as a single malt; rather as a blending malt. The 60's indicate an enjoyable but unexceptional malt; the 70's, particularly 75 or over, are well worth tasting. The 80's are distinctive and exceptional and the 90's are the great malts.
90 or Above
Ardbeg (Islay); 18 year old Master of Malt (90); 18 year old Cadenhead's (91)
Bowmore (Islay); 21 year old (90); Black Bowmore 1964 (90)
Cragganmore (Speyside); 12 year old (90)
Glenturret (Midlands); 1972 (90); 1966 (91)
Highland Park (Orkney); 12 year old (90); 24 year old (93)
Lagavulin (Islay); 16 year old (95)
The Macallan (Speyside); 12 year old (91), 1975, bottled 1994 (94); 25 year old (95)
Springbank ((Campbeltown); 30 year old (92); 1966 (93); 1974 (90)
Talisker (Skye); 10 year old (90)
80 or Above
Aberlour (Speyside); 10 year old (83); Antique - no age statement (84); 1970 (85)
Ardbeg (Islay); 10 year old (85); 1974 Connoisseurs Choice (88)
Auchentoshan (Western Lowlands); 10 year old (85); 21 year old (86)
The Balvenie (Speyside); Founder's Reserve 10 yr. (85); Dbl. Wd (87); Single Barrel (86)
Bladnoch (Lowlands); 8 year old (85) Now out of business (as of 1993)
Bowmore (Islay); 10 year (82); 12 year (87); Bicentenary (87); 25 year (89); 29 year (80); 30 year (88); Legend (80)
Caol Ila (Islay); 15 year old (80)
Clynelish (N. Highlands); 14 year old (81), 25 year 1965 (82)
Dallas Dhu (Speyside); 10 year old (80)
Dalmore (N. Highlands); 50 year old cask strength (80)
Edradour (Midlands); 10 year old (81); 1968 Signatory (80)
Glenfarclas (Speyside); 105 (88); 10 year (86); 12 year (87); 15 year (88); 17 year (88); 21 year (89); 25 year (88); 30 year 1988 (88)
Glenfiddich (Speyside); 21 year old (81); 30 year old (86)
Glen Garioch (E. Highlands); 21 year old (80)
Glen Grant (Speyside); All Gordon & MacPhail; 15 year (80); 21 year (81); 1965 (82); 1960 (81)
The Glenlivet (Speyside); 12 year old (85); 18 year old (87); 21 year old (88)
Glenmorangie (N. Highlands); 10 year (80); 18 year (80); 21 year (85); 1972 single barrel (85); Port Wood Finish (87)
Glen Rothes (Speyside); 8 year old (80)
Glen Scotia (Campbeltown); 14 year old (87)
Glenturret (Midlands); 15 year old 40% (81); 15 year old 50% (82); 1967 (86)
Highland Park (Orkney); 8 year old (85)
Lagavulin (Islay); 12 year old (89)
Laphroaig (Islay); 10 year (86); 15 year (89); 1974 Signatory (87)
Linkwood (Speyside); 12 year old (83)
Littlemill (W. Lowlands); 8 year old (83)
Lochnagar (E. Highlands); 12 year old (80); Selected Reserve, no age statement (83)
Longmorn (Speyside); 12 year old (85); 15 year old (87)
The Macallan (Speyside); 7 year old (81); 10 year old 40% (87); 10 year old 57% (89)
Mortlach (Speyside); 16 year old (81); 15 year old (81)
Springbank (Campbeltown); 12 year (84); 15 year (88); 21 year (87); 25 year (88)
Talisker (Skye); 8 year old (89)
All 80's & 90's Scores
Auchentoshan (Western Lowlands)
Caol Ila (Islay)
Clynelish (N. Highlands)
Dallas Dhu (Speyside)
Dalmore (N. Highlands)
Glen Garioch (E. Highlands)
Glen Grant (Speyside); All Gordon & MacPhail
Glen Rothes (Speyside)
Glen Scotia (Campbeltown)
Glenmorangie (N. Highlands)
Highland Park (Orkney)
Littlemill (W. Lowlands)
Lochnagar (E. Highlands)
The Balvenie (Speyside)
The Glenlivet (Speyside)
The Macallan (Speyside)
Blended Scotch Whisky
Grain Whisky Processing
The chemical processes which take place during the manufacture of grain spirit are broadly similar to those which occur when malt whisky is made. Both the raw materials and the equipment are different, however. The mash from which grain whisky is made uses unmalted cereals - usually wheat or maize, it doesn't matter which, so distilleries can buy at the best price - together with a small amount of 'green' malt (barley which has germinated but not been kilned). Usually about 16% of malt is added: it has to be there to convert the starches in the other cereals into sugar, so it can be turned into alcohol by the yeast. This is very similar to Bourbon production.
The cereals are finely milled then cooked at high temperatures in a pressure cooker. The pressure is provided by the direct injection of steam, and the purpose of the cooking is to soften the husks of the grain and dissolve the starch into solution. The slurry thus created is cooled and transferred to the mash tun, where a measured amount of green malted barley is waiting, and the whole lot is mashed (i.e., converted into a sugar solution), as for malt whisky. The wort, and any solids it contains, is drained off after an hour or so, cooled and pumped to a fermentation vessel, where yeast is added. Fermentation continues for forty-eight hours, during which time the sugar is converted into alcohol (at between 6% and 7%) and carbon dioxide. The wash for grain whisky does not bubble quite so vigorously, because of the oils in the maize. It is also lower in alcohol.
The wash must be distilled at less than 94.8% (189.6 proof) alcohol. Any higher and it would be grain neutral spirits. In the US, grain sprits distilled at less than 190 proof are legally whisky (but could not qualify as a Bourbon whisky, regardless of where it was made).
Distillation is a continuous process using patent stills. It is possible to produce up to 40 million liters of spirit a year with a patent still; a pot still has a yearly potential of about 2.5 million liters (typical production for a malt distillery). Some of the grain spirits produced are meant for vodka and gin; not all goes into blended Scotch whiskies. Pot stills have to be cleaned after each round of distilling; patent stills need only be cleaned once a week after running continuously during that time.
Grain whisky is less expensive to produce not only because the process is vastly more efficient and less labor intensive, but because the principle grains used, corn (maize in Scotland) and wheat are far less costly than barley. For example, in 1995, malted barley cost a distiller about $500.00 a metric ton (2,112 pounds). This would produce malt spirits costing some $2.75 a liter (at a yield of about 180 liters of malt spirit from a metric ton of barley). Corn would cost the grain distiller about half as much, $250.00 a metric ton, while wheat would cost about $200.00. The cost of the spirit would be about $1.10 for both (more wheat is required so, even though it is less expensive to purchase, the production cost is about the same).
Chilfiltering The modern process of making blended whisky always involves chilfiltering, to avoid the risk of the whisky becoming cloudy when cold. Chilfiltering, however, removes the 'solids' such as proteins, yeast and vitamins. But though the whisky retains visual clarity, these solids form its true heart. The concept of chilfiltering is a familiar one for malt whisky; there is only one unchilfiltered blend actively promoted on the market - Te Bheag.
Scotland has, for many years, concentrated on the marketing of blends; fearing that the individuality and flavor of the single malts would intimidate the consumer. It is a fact that Scotch whisky did not attain international popularity until blending was developed.
The first stage of traditional blending is to mix several single malts in a vat. These may even be marketed as vatted malts. They are not single malts since they contain different whiskies but they are all malts. The traditional Blended Scotch depends on the use of grain whiskies which are lighter-bodied and more neutral-tasting. Grain whiskies do not exhibit the range of flavors and odors found with the malts, but they do have their differences. There are eight grain distilleries, mostly located in the lowlands.
One grain whisky, from Cameronbridge and called Old Cameron Brig, is regularly bottled as a single although independent merchants do sell others. Cameronbridge was the first distillery in the world to make grain whisky.
The blender can use:
A selection will be made from these diverse regions of many different whiskies. The ones from the islands, due to their greater pungency, will only be used in small proportions. Campbeltown is not always used today because it is down to two distilleries but those whiskies do have their own particular character. Lowlands whiskies soften and smoothen the blend and provide a base due to their reduced assertiveness. The Highlands provide the majority of the malts because that region offers the greatest variety of complex, elegant whiskies.
Blending also pays a great deal of attention to different ages of the malts and of the woods used. New barrels contribute greater character, and do so faster. Some distillers use sherry barrels and these offer their own unique character. Young whiskies offer boldness and vigor while older ones are more mellow and have greater bouquet.
Age Regulations: Grain whiskies are matured in oak casks at 68.5% alcohol for at least 3 years, otherwise, it is not legally Scotch whisky. They mature more rapidly than does malt whisky and the aging time varies, according to the type of blends it will be used for. With the deluxe blends, the aging period could be as long as for the malt whiskies used for blending. It can also, although this is not common, be bottled as a single grain whisky. Any age statements on the blend must indicate the youngest element of the blend, regardless of whether it is the malt or grain whiskies. Generally, there will be some malts in the blend that are older than the label statement. If no age is on the label, the youngest elements of the blend are no more than three years old. Blended Scotch whisky accounts for about 92% of the Scotch whisky market. This has dropped from 99% in 1980, showing the great increase in interest in the single malts.
The first true blend of grain and malt whiskies was created by Andrew Usher in the early 1860's. (true in the sense that it was produced with goals of repeatability and consistency in flavor). There was certainly blending and vatting of malt whiskies earlier than that, but they were done mainly by grocers and wine shops and little science was reflected in the process.
Blended Scotch whiskies are quite complex and contain many component whiskies. Typically, the malts may number as few as 15 and up to 40 or more while there will usually be 2 or 3 grain whiskies. The use of only one grain was long ago found to be unsuccessful. The malt proportion can range from about 20 to 40%, depending on the quality classification of the blend. The deluxe blends will contain higher proportions of malt whisky, greater numbers of malt whiskies, and older malt whiskies.
Function of Malts in the Blends
There are three categories of malts used:
The Base Malts are the heart of the blend around which the blend is constructed. They are usually produced at the distilleries owned by the blending company.
Top Dressings are malts that have exceptional flavoring qualities. Some malts have had long standing reputations for their use here. They would not comprise a large part of the blend, but have sufficient character to influence the final product.
The Packers are used to fill the blend. They are not inferior whiskies, but do not have distinctive aroma qualities and do not influence the flavor of the blend one way or another.
The amount of malts in the blends today seldom exceeds 35% and that much would be considered a high-quality blend. Teacher's has a brand called "60" which indicates the percentage of malt whiskies in the blend.
Blends that have relatively high proportions of malts can use a high ratio of Lowland whiskies to produce a lighter palate but this is most often done with grain whiskies. Classic examples of this style are Chivas Passport, J&B Rare, and Cutty Sark.
The objective in blending is to create a mixture that balances the characteristics of the components. Nothing should stand out, as, for example, would be the case with a single malt, all of which have their own distinctive aroma and flavor characteristics. One writer refers to a "flavor complex" that is greater than the sum of its parts.
The blender does not have a fixed "recipe" to be used at all times. Malts can change over time and barrels age unpredictably. The task of the blender is, with his nose, to assemble the various constituents of the blend. He will be guided by his experience, by samples, by the usual recipe or formula and so forth. When the assemblage is decided upon, the various casks will be brought to the blending site. There, they will all, malts and grains, be "nosed" to assure they are exactly what was expected. The nosing characteristics can be compared to a library of samples and to the vast experience of the blender who has memorized the attributes of scores of whiskies. When the components are finally approved, the casks will be dumped and mixed in large blending vats. It is the usual practice to allow the blends to marry for up to six months before bottling.
Vatted Malts These are blends of malt whiskies. The objective is to merge the characteristics of particular Single Malts together without the light sweetness of a grain whisky. For example, the softness of a Lowland with the rustic nature of an Orkney Highland. Vatted Malts may not contain grain whiskies, or they are then designated as blends. Neither can they be labeled as a "single malt" whisky. Chivas introduced a brand in the 1990's called Chivas Century of Malts; a blend of malt whiskies from 100 distilleries.
Merchant Bottlers These are independent bottlers who are not affiliated with any distilleries. They purchase aged and unaged malt whisky and age, blend, bottle and market their own brands. They are noted more for their own bottlings of single malts than for their blends. The best known firms today are: Gordon & MacPhail, Signatory, Whyte & Whyte, Glenhaven and William Cadenhead. Al1 of these companies bottle rare Single Malts from many of the better known distilleries. Some even offer very old whiskies from distilleries long since closed.
The Merchant Bottlers generally only bottle a cask or two at a time, which leads to observable variations between bottlings of each Single Malt, a fact that concerns the distilleries to this day. Each distillery is proud of their whiskies and their unique characteristics, and they go to great effort to ensure their consistency. They know that each cask has its own individual personality which is why they blend together several carefully selected casks to create a uniform product. The Single Cask bottlings cannot possibly have the same consistency of style and taste as the distillery's own malts. The feeling of the distilleries is that the Merchant bottlers market whiskies that do not represent the classic characteristics of each specific malt. Two additional factors should also be considered. One is the possibility that the distillers would not sell their best casks to the Merchant Bottlers and the other is that, if the barrel ages somewhere other than where it was distilled; is it the same whisky?
Scotland's Regions And Their Whiskies
Lowland: Lowland malts are made south of an imaginary line drawn from Dundee in the east to Greenock in the west. Glasgow and Edinburgh are the most populated and industrialized areas in the country and both are located in the Lowlands. Seven of the country's eight grain distilleries are located within a 50 mile radius of Glasgow, however, only four Single Malts are produced here.
Lowland malts are pale in color and light-bodied. They are said to have a nose which is hay-like or grassy, often with malty or cereal notes; the flavor tends towards dryness, or finishes dry. These whiskies are often drunk as digestifs, and have been compared to fino sherries. These are light whiskies which generally have fewer individual differences than the whiskies from other regions.
Islay: The strongest smelling and tasting whiskies. They tend to be medium-bodied, dry and full of peat, smoke, and iodine. Much of the Isle of Islay is peat and this influences the water. Some distilleries draw their water from springs to avoid this and produce a lighter-flavored whisky; some use heavily peated malt to reinforce it. These are the weightiest, most pungent and most heavily peated and are therefore generally the easiest to identify. The peat and the coastal location gives them what is often described as a seaweedy, medicinal taste and a distinct peaty flavor.
Campbeltown: Although there are today only two distilleries in Campbeltown (Glen Scotia and Springbank), there were once 32, and the category is still recognized. Campbeltown whiskies are medium-bodied, and have a slightly smoky or misty taste, with a trace of salt on the palate. Based on its history and geographic locale it may be classified as sharing partial characteristics with the Highlands and the Lowlands, along with the smokiness of the Islays. Today, the character is determined by the two remaining distilleries.
Speyside: Geographically, this is part of the Highlands but, because of the great number of distilleries located there (46), as well as its classic style, the region has its own classification. The whiskies are noted for their complexity and diversity.
Blended Scotch Whisky Descriptions
Licensee: George Ballantine & Son
Owner; Allied Distillers (Allied Domecq)
Blended Scotch whiskey blended and bottled in Scotland. Forty-two single malt whiskies are blended together to produce a Scotch with a smoky bouquet like the Highland malts, the peaty body of the Island malts, and the sweetness of the Lowland malts. This is a particularly sweet Scotch. They are regarded as relatively light-bodied and intended for the mass market; with the obvious exception of the older brands.
The founder of George Ballantine & Son Ltd., came from a farming family in the Scottish Borders. He went to Edinburgh in 1827 and established a grocers shop in the Cowgate, eventually extending his business interests to wines and spirits. By 1867 the company had moved into prestigious offices on the more fashionable Princes Street.
The founders son, also named George, set up in Argyll Street, Glasgow, in 1872 as a whisky, wine and cigar merchant, with many export interests, especially the promotion of their Old Glenlivet and Talisker Fine Malt brands.
In 1903 the family business was granted a Royal Warrant and was recorded as "transacting an immense trade in supplying wines and spirits to families of distinction all over Scotland and in many parts of England and Ireland." In the 1920s the Ballantine family sold the firm to the junior partners, James Barclay and PA. McKinlay who formed a limited company under the Ballantine's name and went on to concentrate on marketing the brand abroad, particularly in the USA. Throughout Prohibition (1920-33) James Barclay's efforts to obtain distribution in the United States were tireless, and not without danger, but by the mid- 1930's he had the best distribution network of any brand on the East Coast.
Increasingly large resources were required to compete in the growing world market, and these were provided by Hiram Walker & Sons, which acquired Ballantine's in 1937.The new company's first task was to secure fillings, to which end Miltonduff and Glenburgie Distilleries were purchased, and a massive new grain distillery - the largest in Europe - built at Dumbarton in 1938.
The Ballantine house style is based on malts from the Miltonduff, Balblair, Glenburgie, and Old Pulteney distilleries.
During the 1960s the company turned to Europe - at that time an unexplored market for Scotch - and by 1965 had secured such a strong foothold there that it resolved to gear the home trade to supporting the overseas business. Ballantine's Finest is the number one brand in Europe (78% of the market) and third largest selling Scotch whisky in the world. They sell (all brands) 60 million bottles each year one every two seconds worldwide. The company's deluxe blends, including a 30 year old, have established a strong following in the Far East. Allied Domecq sales summary in December, 1999 showed that "The brand is performing extremely well, with solid volume gains of 4% across the whole of Europe, 6% in Western Europe, the brands core region and 10% in its most important market, Spain." Ballantine is regarded as Allied Domecq's most important brand asset.
Licensee: George Ballantine & Son
Owner; Allied Distillers (Allied Domecq)
In 1825, Thomas Sandeman (of the famous port family) established a small shop in Perth, trading as a whisky merchant. He was joined by Arthur Bell, who, by the late 1840s, had become sole partner. Bell was a cautious, modest, highly moral man - a member of a religious sect whose motto was 'work to the best of your light and play fair'.
He was one of the first to recognize the potential of blending malt and grain whisky. "Several fine whiskies blended together please the palates of a greater number of people than one whisky unmixed", he wrote. His confidence led him to appoint a London agent for his brands as early as 1863 - the first whisky firm to do so and he brought in his sons, Arthur Kinmond and Robert, to look after the domestic and overseas markets respectively. By the I880s the firm's focus was blended whisky. A number of blends were offered, but Arthur Bell's modesty prevented them registering a brand under the family name until 1896 - "I have long adopted the practice and allowed the qualities of my goods to speak for themselves", he said. Arthur Bell died in 1900. Robert went to Australia and New Zealand and also established agencies in India, Ceylon, Italy and France. A.K. Bell ran the business in Perth, and made a lengthy trip to North America in 1908. But Bell's remained a small brand compared to the Big Three.
The last whisky baron
Under the chairmanship of William Govan Farquharson - described as 'the last whisky baron'- Bell's joined the big league. Farquharson had joined the company in 1942, the year that both the Bell brothers died. He began to promote Bell's Extra Special more vigorously, advertising under the slogan 'Afore Ye Go' in the USA and at home. By 1970 it was the leading brand in Scotland, and a decade later the leading brand in the U.K., a position it still holds. In 1985 Bell's was acquired by the Guinness Group, which two years later took over DCL to become United Distillers.
Black Bottle: Black Bottle Ten Year Old Deluxe owes more than a little of its character to the place that gives it its heart - Islay, a beautiful wind-swept island off the west coast of Scotland. Steeped in history and abounding with natural wonders, Islay is known the world over for its unique, distinctive and flavorsome Single Malt Scotch Whiskies. It is these which form the backbone of Black Bottle 10 Year Old and give it its unique taste of Islay.
Black Bottle Ten Year Old Deluxe challenges the rules of deluxe Scotch whiskies its heart is made entirely of Islay malts from each of the island's seven distilleries, blended with the finest grain whiskies. Distinguished from their mainland counterparts by a deep intensity and powerful smokiness, Islay whiskies reach their prime at 10 years old. Which is why Black Bottle Ten Year Old Deluxe completely embodies the most fulsome and satisfying taste of Islay. It will stimulate the palate, warm the heart and fire the imagination.
Appearance: Rich gold with a sparkle of light Bouquet: Peaty, smoky and warming - classic Islay Palate: A full, rich flavor surrounding a distinct smoky center Finish: Long, dry and powerful
Michael Jackson's tasting notes:
Appearance: Rich gold.
Aroma: Light seaweedy, grassy, hint of fresh oak, touch of sherry.
Body: Full, soft and very smooth.
Palate: Full of satisfying flavors and flavor development. Very nutty. Lightly salty and seaweedy.
Finish: Very fragrant. Salt, seaweed and peat smoke.
Charles Maclean, Whisky Connoisseur:
"A good mouthfeel with a sweetish start and dryish finish; there is pleasant acidity and even some salt - all in delicate balance. The Islay character comes through loud and clear in a smoky flavor which lightly covers all the primary tastes. A delicious, complex satisfying whisky; very easy to drink."
John Hansell, editor of the Malt Advocate magazine in the US:
"The blend consists of malt whiskies exclusively from Islay and select grain whiskies. I must admit that I expected a rather tame whisky, with perhaps a hint of Islay peat smoke. Boy was I surprised. This is the most gutsy of any blended whisky I have ever tasted. Sure the grain whisky lightens the body. But there's so much peat smoke intensity and sweetness to the whisky that the grain whisky actually seems to compliment the blend rather than take away from it."
"The essence of Islay. Deep gold. A whisky with only Islay malts in the blend, and a whisky more for the single malt drinker than the blend drinker. The nose is definitely Islay - reminiscent of a peat-smoke fire and seaweed balanced with a gentle sweetness. This is certainly the boldest and most exciting blend I have ever tasted. The dry peat smoke marries perfectly with the malty sweetness, with notes of damp earth, seaweed and brine adding spice to the whisky."
In its green glass bottle, this variant of Black Bottle is only available in the UK, where it has been a leading brand in its native Scottish market for many years. Distribution is now extending south of the border into England and Wales.
Amongst mainstream blends, Black Bottle is truly different. Its taste has always been heavily influenced by the Islay malt whisky which it has traditionally contained, an influence which remains clearly evident in Black Bottle today.
Black Bottle contains malt whisky from each of the seven distilleries on the Isle of Islay, famous for some of the most powerful tasting Scotch Whiskies, so it should come as no surprise that Black Bottle's satisfying and distinctive taste should have strong Islay undertones.
Appearance: Rich and golden
Bouquet: Fresh and fruity, with hints of peat.
Palate: Full, with slight sweetness followed by a delightful smoky flavor
Finish: Long and warming, with an interesting, Islay character.
Black & White Scotch: The #6 selling Scotch brand in the world. Bottled in Scotland since 1884.
Licensee: James Buchanan & Co.
Owner; United Distillers
Buchanan uses Dalwhinnie as its key malt. Because it is a blend of up to 30 scotch whiskies, Buchanan's has a smooth and refined taste. Aged at least 12 years in American white oak and European oak. With a sweet and heathery flavor from Dalwhinnie and light yet smoky Speyside malts adding to the flavor.
They also market a Buchanan's Special Reserve comprised of only 9 single malts all aged a minimum of 18 years. The result is a rich, full flavored uniquely blended scotch whisky.
James Buchanan, creator and founder of Buchanan's Scotch Whisky, believed and lived with an attitude of success. Nothing could get in the way of his dreams and he proved it by creating one of the world's finest spirits.
Buchanan's inspiration began with a single, strong belief. Born in 1849, in Canada of Scottish parents, he began his career as a clerk in a shipping office in Glasgow. Frustrated by a lack of opportunity, he moved to London in 1879 to work for as an agent for the whisky brokers, Charles Mackinlay & Co. at the age of 30. During this period, he formed an unshakable belief in his ability to create his own unique brand of Scotch Whisky.
Within five years, Buchanan decided he knew all he had to know to set up his own business, even though he was much older than other famous whisky makers at that time. This, however, was not a deterrent; in fact, it fueled his intense desire to succeed all the more.
And succeed he did, with an ongoing crusade for obtaining introductions and getting to know people wherever he could. One such introduction lead him to the Glasgow blending house of William Lowrie, who staked him in his first independent year of business. Before long, the company was making up a variety of blends to James Buchanan's exacting specifications.
He first sold whisky by the barrel to wine merchants, and then set about creating a blend which would be acceptable to the English palate and which could be sold by the bottle. The Buchanan blend was created in 1880 and was so successful that William Lowrie was repaid within just one year, resulting in a friendship and a business relationship between the two men that would endure for years.
Included in his market was the Members' Bar of the House of Commons and the majority of London music halls. For the House of Commons, he renamed the blend House of Commons, then Buchanan's Special, then Black & White. The latter name came about because everyone referred to the brand as Black and White because of its dark bottle and white label. The name was registered in 1904. As with Buchanan's, the base malt is Dalwhinnie.
Buchanan was appointed sole supplier of scotch whisky to the House of Commons and went on to receive private orders from members of the royal family, culminating in royal warrants of appointment, granted in 1899, to supply Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales.
He was an innovative publicist and was among the first to advertise in the newspapers. His famous symbol of black Scottish and white West Highland terriers is an example of his advertising acumen.
By the time James Buchanan passed away in 1935 at the age of 85, he'd achieved worldwide notoriety in the Scotch Whisky industry, rising from a modest Scottish background to a peer in The British realm with the title of Lord Woolavington. He died possessing a Kingdom with estates in England, Scotland, Argentina and Canada.
By 1900, Buchanan was among the top three blending firms (with Walker and Dewars). In 1915, Buchanan, with Dewar, formed Scotch Whisky Brands, changing the name four years later to Buchanan-Dewar. In 1923 they, along with Walker joined DCL (now United Distillers). Buchanan today operates the Dalwhinnie and Glentauchers distilleries for UD.
Today, Buchanan's DeLuxe is the 29th best selling blended Scotch whisky in the world, selling primarily in Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Aruba, and Curaçao. In fact, 93% of the production is sold in Central and South America.
Black & White is one of the most popular brands in the world, ranking around #12. It's main markets are South Africa, Canada and Italy. It is known as an old-fashioned well balanced, but rather strong blend that has trouble competing against its lighter competitors although it is still very popular.
Licensee: Chivas Brothers
The number one selling deluxe blended Scotch in the U.S. and the fifth best-selling brand in the world as well as the top-selling premium Scotch. A blend of 12 year old Scotch whiskies, each distilled twice in copper pot stills. Produced at Strathisla, Scotland's oldest continuously operated distillery, located in the Speyside region of the Highlands. Gold/amber color. Aromas of apricots, pears and heather. Smoky, peaty flavors. Finishes with flavors of vanilla and butterscotch that linger. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a **** (highly recommended) rating.
Chivas Regal is a very popular blend owned by the Seagram Co. of Canada. This 12 year old 80-proof blend is a combination of over thirty whiskies from every region in Scotland, but the heart of their blend is the Strathisla Single Malt. It combines the light, sweet character of the grain and Lowland whiskies with a moderate dose of smoke and peat from the Islay and Highland malts. The core malt is, as mentioned, Strathisla, but Glenlivet, Glen Grant, and Longmorn are also important.
In 1801, William Edward established himself as a wine merchant in Aberdeen. His success resulted in taking on James Chivas, who joined the firm in 1837. In 1841, William Edward died and Chivas formed a new partnership with another wine merchant but it was unsuccessful and the relationship was dissolved in 1857. The business went fine however, largely because Queen Victoria regularly had provisions sent down from Chivas' shop to her summer home in Balmoral. Building on this, the firm was soon sending provisions, including whisky, all over Britain and abroad.
The first blend was called Glen-Dee (early 1870's) and James Chivas later produced Royal Strathythan with which he became purveyor of Scotch to the Hapsburg court in Vienna.
In 1858, James took his brother John as a partner and the firm was renamed Chivas Brothers. John died only five years later but James continued to build the reputation of the firm. By the time James died in 1886, whisky had become a key element of the firms business.
He was succeeded by his son, Alexander, but he died in 1893, followed by his wife three days later and control of the firm passed to his assistant, Alexander Smith. He managed the firm on behalf of the Chivas' trustees and brought Charles Steward Howard into the business.
Howard was an experienced whisky business man, having worked for J&P Stewart & Co. in Edinburgh. By this time, the retail side of the firms business had become secondary to the whisky trade. They had a good supply of well-matured malt whiskies and, under Howard's guidance, created new blends and exported them all over the world. The Chivas Regal blend first appeared in 1891 and was introduced to Canada and the United States in 1909.
Smith and Howard both died in 1935 and Chivas Brothers became a limited liability company. By the time Seagram acquired the company in 1949, Chivas Regal had become one of the most successful brands in the world.
In 1950, Seagram bought the Strathisla distillery, and turned over the operation of it to Chivas Brothers.
Royal Salute was introduced in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. Its name and age refer to the 21-gun salute fired from the ships of the royal fleet. It won a gold medal at the 1996 International Wine & Spirits Competition awards. In the beginning it was only available in the American market but today the brand is available over 100 countries and it is the best-selling super-premium Scotch in the world. The base malts are Strathisla, The Glenlivet, Longmorn, and Glen Grant.
Chivas Century of Malts is a vatted malt consisting of the whiskies of 100 malt distilleries. It was released in 1996, at that time especially for the duty-free market but is now widely available in the United States.
Cutty Sark Scotch:
Licensee: Chivas Brothers
Blended Scotch made with 100% Scotch whiskies and aged for 12 years. Distilled and bottled in Scotland. First created in 1923. Green/gold color. Dry nose that blossoms as it aerates. Aromas of oak and cereal. Flavors of butter and raisins. Woody finish. A firm, well-structured blend. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it *** (recommended) rating.
The following is from the Cutty Sark Web Site
Cutty Sark Scots Whisky History
On 23rd March 1923 at a luncheon in the pine-paneled parlor of their early 18th century premises at 3 St. James's Street London, the partners of Wine and Spirit Merchants Berry Bros. were discussing the launch of a new Scots Whisky. A family-run business and Royal Warrant holders, Berry's had been established at No. 3 since the 1690's. Francis Berry, the senior partner, had a strong preference for whiskies which were naturally light in color. He insisted that only the very finest of Scotland's classic malt whiskies should be selected for the new blend and that the whisky should be naturally light in color. The partners' lunch guest that day was James McBey, a well-known Scottish artist. All the new Scots whisky lacked was a name and a symbol.
At the time the famous clipper ship "Cutty Sark" was much in the news as she had just returned to England after many years' sailing under the Portuguese flag. McBey, who was a keen sailor, suggested that this would be an admirable name for the new whisky.
The name "Cutty Sark" was an inspired choice for a Scots Whisky. It was the name of the most famous and fastest of all the Scottish-built clipper ships. Appropriate too, for nothing could seem more Scottish, the name being taken from Robbie Burns' poem "Tam O'Shanter". (Cutty Sark means short shirt in the old Scots language.) McBey also volunteered to design the label which remains today almost exactly as he originally drew it, even to the hand-drawn lettering and the use of the correct descriptive word "Scots" rather than the more common "Scotch". Only the color of the label is different. McBey had suggested a creamy shade to imply age. The printers, by accident, used a bright yellow so striking in its effect that the partners decided to keep it.
The Story Behind The Name "Cutty Sark"
The origins of the name "Cutty Sark" lie deep in Scottish folklore. The epic "Tam O'Shanter" by Robert Burns, Scotland's famous eighteenth century poet tells the story in verse. A farmer named Tam (or Thomas) was riding mare home late one stormy night after a hard evening's drinking with friends. As he was nearing Alloway churchyard he heard the wailing of bagpipes so reined his horse for a closer look.
To his astonishment he saw a group of ugly, old witches dancing frenziedly. He was just about to move on when a young beautiful witch emerged from the shadows of the tombs, scantily dressed in a "Cutty Sark" or short shirt. As her dancing became wilder and more abandoned he involuntarily cried out "Weel done, Cutty-Sark!"
There was a flash of lightning followed by pitch darkness. Terrified, Tam spurred his stubborn mare and fled for his life, hotly pursued by the beautiful young witch. Miraculously he remembered that witches cannot cross running water, so made straight for the nearby bridge. Just as he reached it, the young witch reached out and grabbed the tail of the mare, which came clean off in her hand.
That is why, years later in 1869, when the sleek clipper ship was launched in Scotland, her owners named her "Cutty Sark" after Burns' fleet-footed witch and placed a figurehead of the witch with outstretched arm on the clipper's bow. In her racing days, after a fast passage, the apprentices would sometimes make a mare's tail from old rope, teased out and rubbed with gray paint to put in the figurehead's hand.
The Clipper Ship "Cutty Sark"
Of the hundreds of majestic clipper ships which used to cross the oceans of the world during the golden age of sail in the nineteenth century, only the "Cutty Sark" remains. "Cutty Sark" was built in Dumbarton, Scotland in 1869.
Built for speed, "Cutty Sark" began her career in the China Tea trade when the first clipper reaching London with each season's new crop received the highest prices for her cargo. She also raced against her great rivals to bring the season's first wool home from Australia, braving the mountainous seas of the "roaring forties". The fastest clipper ship of her time, "Cutty Sark" was to make many memorable voyages and to this day she still holds the record for the run from Australia to England of 69 days in 1887. During her career she also made several voyages to the U.S.A. bringing wool from Australia to New York in 1880, and jute from the Philippines in 1881.
"Cutty Sark" at Greenwich
In 1922, at the end of an illustrious career, she was purchased by a retired English sea captain who devoted much time and money to re-rigging and lovingly restoring her. During the late 1930's and 1940's she became a Merchant Navy training vessel. Later funds were raised and a trust established for "Cutty Sark" to be preserved in dry dock in Greenwich, London. In 1957 she was opened to the public by Her Majesty The Queen and has now become one of London's major tourist attractions visited by half a million people each year.
Cutty Sark, "The Real McCoy"
In January 1920, the United States Government banned the making, importation, sales and consumption of all alcoholic drinks. This "Prohibition" quickly led to rum running, speakeasies and gangsterism on a grand scale. The Bahamas Islands, only a few hundred miles off the U.S. East Coast were to prove the ideal base for liquor smuggling to New York, the Carolinas and New Jersey. Among the smugglers operating out of Nassau in the Bahamas was Captain William McCoy. An American, he was one of the first entrepreneurs to buy whisky and to sail it into the east coast of the U.S.A. McCoy's most remarkable asset was his integrity. At a time when many bootleggers were selling spirits of highly dubious quality he built up a reputation for absolute honesty, personally guaranteeing the quality of the product he was selling it was always the "Real McCoy".
Sensing good business, Francis Berry had in 1921 already made his first visit to the firm's old-established agents in the Bahamas, which made a handy base for the North American mainland. The view taken by the firm and many others, too, was that while it would be unwise to meddle in the USA's internal affairs by attempting any whisky-running themselves, it would be only sensible, without asking questions, to sell to various "agents" in Nassau. Thus, despite Prohibition, Cutty Sark soon began to establish a reputation in the United States. So much so that in the late 1920's the legendary Prohibition gangster Jack "Legs" Diamond personally called at Berry's shop at 3 St. James's Street, London, to place an order and to remove the consignment in a fleet of taxis.
From this unusual beginning during Prohibition, Cutty Sark was to go on to become one of the brand leaders in the U.S.A., a position it holds to this day.
Cutty Sark Brands
Cutty Sark Blended Scotch Whisky
Cutty Sark Scots Whisky, one of the world's most successful and widely distributed scotch whiskies, is owned by the independent family-owned wine and spirit merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd which have traded from 3, St. James's Street, London since 1698.
Cutty Sark Scots Whisky is shipped to over 120 countries around the world and more than 23,000,000 bottles of Cutty Sark are sold each year. Cutty Sark is one of the most popular whiskies in the USA, Greece, Spain, Korea, Puerto Rico, Portugal, France and Japan.
Cutty Sark Scots Whisky stands out from other whiskies due to its natural color and distinctive taste. To blend this special whisky, the Cutty Sark Master Blender chooses up to 30 malt whiskies from the principal whisky producing areas of Scotland: Highland, Speyside and Islay. These whiskies have all been aged in oak casks for a minimum of four years. The Glenrothes Vintage malt whisky is also part of the Cutty Sark family as it is one of the principal whiskies in the Cutty Sark blend.
The selected malt whiskies are then blended together with grain whisky and returned to cask to 'marry' for up to six months before bottling. Marrying allows the malt and grain whiskies to harmonize and develop a smoother more balanced taste. After this time the whisky is awarded the famous yellow label, distinctive against the green bottle.
Cutty Sark Scots Whisky's name and label originate from a lunch held at Berry Bros. in 1923. James McBey, a famous Scottish artist, had been invited by the partners to discuss potential names for their 'new' scotch whisky. James McBey suggested the name 'Cutty Sark', after one of the most famous and fastest of all Scottish-built clipper ships. The 'Cutty Sark' was headline news at that time as she had just returned to England.
Cutty Sark Emerald
The 'Cutty Sark' clipper was famous for being one of the fastest clipper ships in history. To celebrate her achievements during the latter part of the nineteenth century, when she sailed on the Tea Route from China and the Wool Route from Australia, Cutty Sark Scots Whisky developed the deluxe 12 Years Old whisky - Cutty Sark Emerald.
Cutty Sark Emerald has a character all of its own - one of uncompromised quality and elegance - embodying the nineteenth century traditions of quality and craftsmanship associated with the famous clipper ship.
The maturation of the whiskies for many years in hand-crafted oak casks allows them to mellow, take on the characteristics of the wood, become elegant and rounded. To create a twelve year old blend of the highest standard, the Cutty Sark Master Blender selects whiskies which have reached the peak of perfection, many of which are considerably older than twelve years.
The whiskies in the Cutty Sark Emerald blend are returned to cask for a further nine months to allow the whiskies to 'marry' together. The blend is nosed to ensure quality and consistency up to six times before it is bottled. Cutty Sark Emerald is then awarded the Cutty Sark yellow shield as a guarantee of the whisky's quality.
The distinctive packaging of Cutty Sark Emerald reflects the brand's nautical heritage. Both the bottle and gift box are decorated with original paintings of the 'Cutty Sark' clipper in ports of call around the world. The unique ten-sided bottle, inspired by the rarity and beauty of emeralds, adds a timeless elegance to this mature scotch whisky.
Cutty Sark Emerald is a naturally golden scotch whisky with a soft honeyed fruit aroma, a hint of sweetness on the palate and an elegant rounded lengthy finish.
Cutty Sark Golden Jubilee
Cutty Sark Golden Jubilee is a blend of mature rare whiskies which have been selected from the owners, Berry Bros. & Rudd's, private reserves in Scotland by the Master Blender.
Having carefully chosen the whiskies he blends them together to create Cutty Sark Golden Jubilee which is then returned to oak casks to allow the whiskies to age further and 'marry' together for up to ten years.
Once the Cutty Sark Golden Jubilee blend has reached perfection it is bottled in a dark green glass bottle; a replica of a traditional hand-blown nineteenth century port wine bottle. It is then packaged in a luxurious gift box featuring illustrations of famous people and events which took place during Queen Victoria's reign.
Cutty Sark Golden Jubilee is golden colored with a rich, fruity nose that has a mellow smooth taste resulting from many years of aging in oak casks.
Cutty Sark Discovery
Cutty Sark Discovery is a blend rich in fine aged malt whiskies from the Highland and Speyside regions of Scotland.
To create this special blend the Cutty Sark Master Blender carefully selects whiskies that have spent a minimum of eighteen years maturing in oak casks.
Once the individual whiskies have been selected they are returned to cask for up to nine months of 'marrying' which allows the blend to harmonize and create a whisky with smooth balanced flavor and a deep amber color.
Cutty Sark Discovery's nautical heritage is symbolized by the 'Cutty Sark' clipper etched on the ten-sided bottle. The distinctive gift box is reminiscent of an old leather travel flask used by explorers on voyages of discovery. Cutty Sark Discovery captures the spirit of an age of discovery when sailing ships offered a freedom few could enjoy and appeals to people searching for quality and the essence of adventure.
Cutty Sark Discovery has a lightly, smoked peat aroma with a rich full flavor on the palate and hints of oak on the finish.
Copyright © Cutty Sark Scots Whisky 1997
Licensee: John Dewar & Sons
Owner; United Distillers
Blended Scotch Whisky distilled and bottled in Scotland. A blend of over 40 single malt and aged grain whiskies. Golden color. Full, lightly smoky flavor with a warm finish. The most popular Scotch in the US and among the top five best-selling brands in the world. Has won many international awards for product excellence which are shown on the bottle.
In 1823, John Dewar, aged 23, went to Perth to be employed in a relative's wine and spirits shop. He became a partner nine years later, but, in 1846 he opened a shop of his own, selling, among other provisions, his own blended whiskies. By the late 1860's he was selling his blends in branded bottles (instead of the usual practice of selling in kegs or plain stone jars) and was probably the first to do so. John Dewar died in 1880 and was succeeded by his son, John Alexander who, in turn, brought in as a partner his younger brother, Thomas Robert, in 1885 when he turned 21.
The Dewar brothers were outstanding businessmen and greatly expanded the firm. Tommy went to London in 1885 to establish the firms brands, and it has been said that he was probably more responsible than anyone else for the success of Scotch whisky in London. The famous Dewar's bagpipers (seen on the label) date to the Brewers Show in London in 1896 when Tommy employed pipers to draw attention to his wares and drown out any opposition. Tommy Dewar also attained fame as the third man in Great Britain to own an automobile; the first being Thomas Lipton and the second, the Prince of Wales.
By 1890, Dewar's whiskies were in the bars of most of London's fashionable hotels, and the firm was granted a royal warrant in 1893. Between 1892 and 1894, Tommy Dewar visited 26 countries and appointed 32 agents.
They opened an office in New York in 1895, and bottling plants were built in London and Manchester in 1897 and 1898. Earlier, in 1896, they began the construction of Aberfeldy Distillery to secure supplies of malt whisky. By 1923, the firm also owner Lochnagar, Ord, Pulteney, Aultmore, Parkmore, and Benrinnes distilleries. A large portion of the base malts in White Label comes from Aberfeldy.
In 1915, the firm entered into a association with James Buchanan & Co. setting up Scotch Whisky Brands to pool profits and stocks (these included the largest holding of mature whisky in Scotland). Ten years later, both companies joined DCL.
The brothers died in 1929 and 1930 and Peter Dewar (no relation despite the name) became chairman but, after 1946, the family again assumed leadership. John Arthur Dewar became chairman and was succeeded by his cousin, Evelyn Dewar whose son is still a director.
The end of Prohibition in the US was a boon to the company and they had dramatic growth throughout the 50's, 60's, and 70's winning six Queen's Awards for Export Achievement between 1966 and 1979. Dewar's sells in 140 countries; its main markets being the United States, Greece, Venezuela, Spain, Aruba, Curaçao and the Lebanon.
The Famous Grouse:
Licensee: Matthew Gloag & Son
Owner; Highland Distilleries Co.
The best selling scotch in Scotland, second best in the UK and ninth in the world. A blended scotch bottled in Scotland. Smooth, medium peated, well-rounded with a touch of dryness. Amber/tawny color. Soft, round nose of peat, fruit and grain whisky. Smooth, fruity flavors. Long, sweet, caramel finish.
Like so many early whisky companies, Matthew Gloag & Son Ltd., has its origins in the early 19th century, when the founder, a butler in Perth, married the daughter of a grocer and wine merchant in 1797. By 1920, Matthew had taken over the running of the business. He bought malt whiskies from distilleries around Scotland and built up a reputation for his cellars. When Queen Victoria visited the town in 1842, Gloag was invited to supply the wines for the royal banquet.
In 1860 his son William took over the company and began to add blended whiskies to the range of drinks offered by the firm, then in 1896 William's nephew (the founders grandson), another Matthew, who had worked in the wine trade in Bordeaux, took over the running of the business. He turned the direction of the firm into whisky specialization and created his first brand, Bridge of Perth, in 1896. In 1897 he created a blend which was first called The Grouse Brand. It was so named in order to attract the many sportsmen who came through Perth during the shooting season. This became so well known around Perth that the name was justifiably changed to the Famous Grouse.
In the 1920s small overseas markets were established, and in 1936 the company built a bottling plant and bonded warehouse in Perth, but the Famous Grouse's following remained mainly local until the 1960s, when it began to win a following in Glasgow and the Central Belt of Scotland. They did have a following in the United States because, during Prohibition, they exported to the Caribbean from where it was smuggled into the US. Thus, their foot was in the door following Repeal.
The company was still entirely owned by the Gloag family, but in 1970 both Matthew Frederick Gloag (the Chairman) and his wife died, and the family was hit by punitive death duties. A friendly buyer was sought to secure the future of the company, and the obvious choice was Highland Distilleries, from whom the Gloags had long bought the key malts for the Famous Grouse.
Highland had the resources to promote The Famous Grouse, and conditions favored them. Under the able leadership of John Macphail, and aiming for the top end of the market in Scotland, the brand doubled its sales within the home market during the decade (to about one million cases), and achieved the same performance overseas during the I980s. It has been the best-selling blended whisky brand in Scotland since 1980, and by 1997, it was the only major blended whisky that was increasing its market share in Scotland.
Every Scotch Whisky reaches the peak of its quality at a different age - some are younger and some are much, much older. Because The Famous Grouse carefully selects only the Finest Scotch Whiskies from the widest choice of ages available, only those at their peak are blended together to create a balanced and well-rounded whisky of the highest quality.
Any master blender will tell you that the wood in which the whisky is matured can be far more important than the time over which it is laid down. Great care is taken to ensure that the Scotch Whiskies which are blended together to create The Famous Grouse Finest Scotch Whisky mature in specially commissioned hand crafted oak wood sherry casks of the highest quality. These impart a distinctive mellow flavor.
The Famous Grouse is unsurpassed in laying down the highest proportion of whisky being matured in 'first fill' casks. These are sherry casks filled for the very first time with Scotch Whisky and they impart a full and rich flavor which cannot be matched by whiskies laid down over long periods of time in casks which have been repeatedly filled and drained of their flavor giving properties.
Experience has shown us that the best quality blends are a direct result of a careful and lengthy marriage process. Only the finest malt and grain whiskies, superb in their own right, are selected for The Famous Grouse. After selection there follows a unique marriage process when the matured whiskies are left to blend together, bringing out the best in each other and creating an unrivalled consistency as well as the final harmony and distinctive smoothness that is The Famous Grouse. Key malts today are: Highland Park, Tamdhu, Bunnahabham and Macallan. Tamdhu, whose malt's rich sweetness makes a significant contribution to the blend is considered of particular importance. It has a reputation for using mature whiskies in its standard blend which is positioned somewhere between standard and deluxe brands. A second label is "Gold Reserve, " which is aged in oak casks for 12 years.
Licensee: John Haig & Co.
Owner; United Distillers
The Haig family has been described as "the oldest name in Scotch whisky." Connections with whisky distilling go back to at least 1655, when Robert Haig, a farmer, was summoned before the Kirk Session for distilling on the Sabbath. He is supposed to have been distilling even before that, making whisky for himself since 1627.
In 1751, Robert's great-great-grandson, John, married Margaret Stein, whose family had established successful distilleries at Kilbagie and Kennetpans (one of the later Steins, Robert, invented the Patent Still in 1826 after carrying out experimental work at Port Ellen distillery on Islay). John died in 1773, leaving five sons, all of whom where trained in the family distilleries and who eventually established their own distilleries in Edinburgh, Leith, Kincardine, Seggie, and Dublin. One of the two daughters married John Jameson of Irish whisky fame.
The operations were quite successful (Kilbagie was the biggest distillery in Scotland in the 1770's) and, by 1784, the Haig and Stein families were exporting, mainly to London, 400,000 gallons of whisky annually. The British thought so highly of the whisky that they rectified much of it into gin!! Due to poor harvests in Scotland during the early 1780'', much of the grain for the whisky had to be imported from Europe.
John Haig's grandson, also named John, established a grain distillery at Cameronbridge in 1824. Production of grain whiskies was very large and eventually they merged with other grain distillers to form DCL in 1877. John and one of his sons became directors of the new company.
The company had been heavily involved in blending since the 1860's and by the time John Haig passed away in 1878, the firm was making over a million gallons each year. In 1894, John Haig's youngest son, Captain Douglas Haig (later Field Marshal and commander of British Forces in France in 1916), joined the Haig & Co. board. Following WWI, Douglas was made an Earl and became chairman of the family business. He died in 1928 and was buried in Dryburgh Abbey a privilege enjoyed by the Haig family since the 13th century. His tomb is next to that of Sir Walter Scott.
Although John Haig & Co. were one of the instrumental forces in forming DCL, they did not actually merge with the larger company until 1919. Haig sales are now 13th in the UK and 20th worldwide. In 1986, Whyte & Mackay purchased the rights to UK distribution; the remainder of the world still being controlled by United Distillers. John Haig & Co. are now responsible for the operation of the distilleries Cameronbridge, Glenkinchie, Glenlossie, and Mannochmore.
The House of Haig was the first purveyor of Scotch Whisky to the House of Lords and King Edward Vll. Their famous Dimple Pinch is an 86 proof, 15-year-old blend said to contain a large proportion of both Mannochmore and Glenkinchie Single Malts in its blend of over 30 whiskies. Full-bodied, it has a character of soft sweetness balanced with subtle peat and smoky notes.
William Grant's Scotch:
Licensee: Justerini & Brooks
Scotch whisky made and bottled in Scotland. Amber color. The nose is plump, oily and semi-sweet with notes of honey, oatmeal, and biscuit batter. The influences of Balvenie and Glenfiddich (which are also produced by William Grant and Sons) are evident. Flavors of almonds, toffee, chocolate and vanilla. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Justerini & Brooks
Licensee: Justerini & Brooks
Justerini & Brooks produce the famous J&B blend of Scotch Whiskies. Their standard 80 proof blend of 42 whiskies (80% of the malts are from Speyside), J&B Rare, is delicate, smooth and balanced with a touch of smoky sweetness.
Their premium 12-year-old, JET., is a new 86 proof blend of some 40, predominately Speyside, whiskies. Lighter and sweeter than J&R Rare, it offers soft, mellow flavors with a light, smooth body. It was developed specifically for the Asian Pacific and duty-free markets.
The firm is based on a wine merchanting partnership of the Italian Giacomo Justerini and the Londoner George Johnson. Justerini was from Bologna, Italy, and arrived in London in 1749, having followed an opera singer with whom he was in love. In order to earn a living he began mixing his father's liqueur recipe. George Johnson was the nephew of an opera producer and they began business together that same year. The business thrived and Justerini returned to Italy, a wealthy man, in 1760. George Johnson was killed by a runaway horse in 1785 and was succeeded by his son, Augustus. The Johnsons ran the business until 1831, when Alfred Brooks, a wealthy Londoner, bought then out and the modern title of the firm was formed.
In the 1880;s, they began buying mature whiskies from Scotland and created their own blend, called Club. The timing was right, since the phylloxera scourge had all but removed Cognac from the market. They then took advantage of the Repeal of Prohibition in the United States to create the J&B Rare blend, a style developed for the American's perceived taste for lighter Scotch. This brand reached a million cases by 1962 and today is the world's second best-selling Scotch.
In the 1950's, J&B merged with another concern to form United Wine Traders Ltd., and 10 years later that company merged with Gilbey to form IDV. Both mergers were formed with international marketing concerns in mind.
The base malts of all the J&B brands come from the distilleries Knockando, Auchroisk, Glen Spey, and Strathmill. It also has a restrained smokiness which indicates some light Islay malt. The final blending is done at the warehouses at Auchroisk.
The Ultima blend was released in 1994 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first mention of whisky. It is a unique blend of every available Scotch whisky, both malt and grain whiskies. There are 128 whiskies in the blend; 116 malts and 12 grain whiskies. At the time of the release, there were only 98 operating distilleries; the remaining 30 being either mothballed or dismantled. Thus, some of the fillings are extremely rare.
Johnnie Walker: Taken from an article by Giles MacDonogh
Some of Scotland's heroic blenders have become household names, while others have been unfairly forgotten: William Edward of Aberdeen, the founder of the grocery business that became Chivas Brothers; George Ballantine of Edinburgh; Francis and Walter Berry of London, the grocers who formed Cutty Sark; John Dewar and Matthew Gloag of Perth; Robert McNish and William Teacher in Glasgow. The most famous of all, however, "born 1820--still going strong," was John Walker. He was born in 1805 on Todrigg's Farm near Kilmarnock in Ayrshire, in the Western Lowlands of Scotland. (Johnnie Walker whiskies are still bottled within sight of Walker's old dairy farm.) Walker was every inch a grocer, trading in anything and everything. Tea was his specialty; at a time when the British were planting China tea bushes in India, tea had had become a patriotic drink. He also sold raisins, vinegar and, of course, Scotch. By 1850, he was offering customers Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky, which soon attracted a small but loyal following. Its reputation grew as merchants and travelers on the new London to Glasgow railway line (which went through Kilmarnock) spread the word.
Although he gave his name to the whisky, John Walker was a far less important figure to the brand than his son, Alexander. A disastrous flood in Kilmarnock in 1852 had destroyed all of Walker's stock, and when Alexander joined the business in 1856, he persuaded his father to abandon the narrow realm of the grocery trade and to go into wholesale trading.
At the beginning, the firm offered a range of spirits: Campbeltown whisky from the Kintyre Peninsula; whisky from the Inner Hebridean Island of Islay, with its pungent smoky flavor; patent still, or grain, whisky; and "Glenlivat" (sic), Speyside whisky. Even so, whisky sales under John Walker represented just 8 percent of the firm's income; by the time Alexander was ready to pass on the company to his own sons, that figure had increased to between 90 and 95 percent.
Scottish-based United Distillers, the present-day owners of the brand, possess the complete series of Alexander's stock-taking books from 1857 to 1886. The books show the transformation of a small grocery business to an international firm; they also give insights into Alexander Walker.
Alexander Walker was an astute businessman. In 1867, he registered his label, a design almost identical to the present Black Label, with the Stationers' Hall in the City of London. As soon as "trade marks" became available in 1876, Walker was quick to avail himself of that added protection. By that time, Walker's whisky was already in its characteristic square bottle with its distinctive (and easily seen) slanting label. There were no advertisements at the time, and it was important that the whisky's growing following could identify it at a distance. The shape of the bottle, incidentally, had nothing to do with marketing; it allowed the maximum number of bottles to be packed into the freight car of a railway train.
The blend of whisky that Alexander Walker created in the late 1860s, which later became Black Label, was a spirit for the serious whiskey drinker who wanted nothing more than a drop of water to enhance the taste of his favorite drink. He had timed it right. The 1870s in Britain was a period of great prosperity. The British Empire was in full swing, and it was thirsty work running a realm on which the sun never set. As Britain's paladins sweltered in the midday heat, they made sure they had a tumbler of soda and whiskey, Scotch or Irish, at their elbows. It was, after all, cheaper than brandy, and it was British.
There were few flights of fancy about Alexander Walker as a person. In public, he was a dour Calvinist Scot who worked hard. Yet in private, he loved getting together with friends, enjoyed the company of children and horses, and built himself a house in Troon where he could indulge in a little golf. In those days, Australia was his biggest export market. Once, his agents there reported that they were losing market share to a cheaper brand. Alexander thundered back: "Other brands may come into the market for a while, but as far as we're concerned, we will make John Walker and Sons of such a quality that no other whisky shall come before it."
He passed on the business to his three sons: John, George Paterson and Alexander, the eldest son of his second wife. Jack looked after the business in Australia, where his administration was not a success. George was sent to clean up after him, and that was all to be said of Jack. According to Nicholas Morgan, the archivist at United Distillers, "There was considerable sibling rivalry between the three brothers." George chiefly restricted his activities to marketing, while Alexander mostly confined his interests to blending the whisky.
Unlike other whiskey barons of the day, who graduated from humble grocers and wine merchants to peers of the realm and who lived for the turf and fritted away their money on slow horses and fast women, the Walkers had few such ambitions. The elder Alexander Walker was offered a title but turned it down. His son George married the daughter of the manager of the small Clydesdale Bank in Kilmarnock, showing good sense more than ambition.
From the 1880s onward, the younger Alexander was based in Scotland, while George preferred London. In 1893, Alexander purchased the Cardhu distillery on Speyside from the Cumming family. The Cardhu's output became the heart of Black and Red Label.
The first advertisements for John Walker's whisky appeared in the 1880s. Archivist Morgan notes one of the earliest: a disconsolate Scotsman with a broken bottle of whisky, its contents in a pool on the ground. The real breakthrough occurred in 1909, when the company was looking for a logo. George Walker and another company director, James Stevenson (a friend of Winston Churchill's), commissioned the well-known illustrator Tom Browne to create one; the resulting design was alleged to be a likeness of John Walker. Browne's rendering, with knee breeches, frock coat, eyeglass, hat and cane, has over the years worked its way, with occasional modifications, into the popular imagination. (This past year, the logo underwent a major revision to a more stylized version of "The Striding Man.") The illustration inspired either Walker or Stevenson (the records are not clear) to provide the accompanying legend: "Born 1820--still going strong."
It was now up to Alexander to a make a suitable whisky to match the advertising. He was an indefatigable experimenter. Starting in 1906, Walker offered three blends of "Old Highlands Whisky": the basic blend with a white label, "Special Old Highland" with a red label and "Extra Special Old Highland," 12 years old, with a black label. It had already become common practice to ask for the whisky by the color of the label. In 1909, the brands were rechristened to take this into account: Johnnie Walker White, Red and Black.
But the early 1900s was a harrowing time for whisky. In the unlikely setting of the Islington Court in London, a case was launched in 1905 to find out precisely what whisky was. Samples procured in various pubs revealed that in the main, it was simply grain whisky of the cheapest sort. Three years later came the Royal Commission, and the Walkers, along with all other blenders, had to defend the integrity of their product before Parliament. According to Morgan, Alexander's statements, in which he stressed the Walkers' insistence on the highest quality blends, make interesting reading. His testimony was the most detached of all, fitting in with his severe portrait (with his "intense regard") in the family photograph album and the no-nonsense language that frequently came booming out of his office in Kilmarnock.
By the end of the First World War, Alexander's name had been embellished by a knighthood for his service to the nation in the Ministry of Munitions during the war. White Label had diedthe Walkers were trying to target more affluent drinkers--and the company was facing the challenge of "going global." Morgan argues that it achieved this before even Coca-Cola, which he contends in the 1920s had a puny tally of international markets compared to the Walkers.
Curiously, Prohibition was a godsend for the Walkers. Before Prohibition, of the Scotch whisky distillers only Dewar's had secured large markets in the United States, with Americans preferring American or Irish whiskey to the Scotch imports. While the Irish civil war during the early 1920s effectively curbed Irish exports, American whiskey was knocked out by the Eighteenth Amendment.
The quality of Scotch was infinitely more reliable than bootleg local hooch. The Calvinist Sir Alexander was not at all put out by the idea that he was helping Americans to break the law. He referred to shipments in board meetings as "the special trade." (There was talk of Johnnie Walker bottles being concealed in square loaves of bread.) Vast shipments of Johnnie Walker were made to desolate islands off the Canadian coast for easy shipment into the United States. By the time the Volstead Act was repealed in 1933, Americans were truly hooked.
Other markets were being developed after the First World War, and the Walkers' reputation continued to spread. In Hedda Adlon's history of the Adlon Hotel in Berlin, the author recounts the amazement of a hotel guest coming away from another room in a stupefied state: "The fellow's got a whisky, something that I haven't drunk these five years." "How was it then?" came the response. "Excellent," he replied. "Johnnie Walker."
That was in 1919, when Joachim von Ribbentrop, the future Nazi foreign minister, was running a German wine and spirits distributorship owned by his father-in-law. Ribbentrop became Alexander's agent and a friend (they even kept the same dogs). When he was ambassador to Britain during the late 1930s, Ribbentrop flew up to Troon to visit the Walkers, landing his airplane on their lawn. The Walkers were impressed. Adolf Hitler named Ribbentrop his foreign minister in 1938, a post he held until the Nazis' defeat seven years later. After Ribbentrop was hanged for war crimes in 1946, the Walkers commiserated with his widow on a visit to Germany.
By that time, John Walker and Sons had merged with the Distillers Co. Ltd., a holding company for a number of large blending firms; each business operated independently. The arrangement, begun in 1925, lasted until the late 1980s, when the holding company, which changed its name to United Distillers, merged with Guinness.
Alexander Walker's retirement in 1939 signaled the family's exit from the whisky trade, but the Cummings, who had worked with Walker since 1893, stayed in the business. Sir Ronald Cumming served as chairman and managing director of the company until the late 1960s and his son was active in the export operations until the mid '80s.
During the Second World War, most of the whiskey available in the United Kingdom was shipped to America. When the United States entered the war in 1941, the GIs assured themselves of a warm welcome in Britain by bringing nylons and bottles of Johnnie Walker.
By war's end, Johnnie Walker had become a fashionable accessory. Duke Ellington ate haggis and drank Red Label on his first visit to the United Kingdom. Ernest Hemingway and Spencer Tracy were photographed in Cuba clutching their respective bottles. Red Label was the No. 1 brand of Scotch whisky. Sales jumped from a million cases in 1945 to five million in 1958.
Red Label was the younger Alexander's greatest legacy. His father had made Black, but Red was to be the drink for another age, for the middle-of-the-road, whiskey-and-soda drinker. In United Distillers' archives there are four pocket notebooks with jottings by Alexander, giving the rough specifications for Red and Black Label, as well as Swing whisky (the bottle rocked back and forth), which was created in 1932 and is still made today.
But Alexander's bequest was not to end there: Gold Label was created in 1995 from some of his notes, as well as from a few experimental square bottles found lying around in Kilmarnock. It has a touch of sweetness to it, an alternative to the light-mixing Red Label or the solid, masculine Black.
Blue Label, created in 1992, was a more ambitious project altogether. It was an attempt to recreate John Walker's original blend, using 15 whiskies of all ages from the distilleries Walker himself most likely bought from, particularly old Islay malts.
With four whiskies marketed in the United States, Johnnie Walker is a status drink for many Americans. As Jorge Hevia, a vice president at Schieffelin & Somerset Co., a subsidiary of United Distillers, puts it, an American can "work his or her way up the Walker ladder." The first step is Red ($18), which despite its comparatively modest price, is seen as a premium whiskey. Its comparative lightness lends itself to mixed drinks, but it is most popular simply with soda water.
At $25 a bottle, "Black is a status symbol for young consumers," says Hevia. "Black is seen as high quality in the range of contemporary blends." The next in the range, Gold, is a big leap up. It sells for about $65 a bottle, but that in no way deters American consumers; Hevia says the company is hard-pressed to keep up with demand. Gold has "a more honeyed, creamy flavor," he says, with some of the character of the malt from Clynelish, the distillery at Brora on the northern Scotland coast. It has only recently come onto the market, and so far there has been no advertising, yet its fame is growing.
Then there is Blue, which at $160 to $180 a bottle makes it an inspirational drink. Hevia calls Blue Label the "Nirvana of Scotches...an indescribable experience." But there is, of course, another factor: it appeals to those who want to show that they can afford the luxury of the most expensive Scotch on the list.
Both Blue and Gold compete with malt whiskeys on the American market. Hevia sees the two Walker whiskies as having a more "layered flavor" and a "wider variety of taste experience."
Johnnie Walker has earned his place in history. Winston Churchill was so obsessed with Black Label during the dark days of the Second World War that he painted still lives of the bottles. Graham Greene has an inept spy mix it with White Horse, another whisky, in his novel, The Human Factor, and christens his blend a "White Walker." He dies as a result. In recent times, Superman drank Johnnie Walker in the movies and Harrison Ford showed off some futuristic packaging for it in the film Blade Runner. A humble grocer had shown us the way to make Highland hooch into one of the indispensable props of our civilization.
Giles MacDonogh writes about food and drink for the Financial Times of London.
Copyright © 1998 Cigar Aficionado. All Rights reserved.
From the Walker Web Site
Johnnie Walker Red Label
The Best Selling Scotch Whisky In The World
Johnnie Walker has more than a 175 years experience - a unique achievement. Red Label expresses the traditional taste of Scotch Whisky because it has :
We are especially proud of Johnnie Walker's distinctive character, it's robust and full-bodied taste and the authenticity of the brand. Since the 19th century we have used only the finest ingredients to produce Johnnie Walker Red Label :
Then Johnnie Walker Red Label is filled into its square-shaped bottle with its characteristic slanted label, which not only distinguishes the brand from it's competitors, but is well recognized as the classical symbol of quality and style in Scotch Whisky.
Johnnie Walker Black Label
In 1909 George Paterson and Alexander II took the Walkers blend "Extra Special Old Highland" and relaunched it under the name "Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 years old".
Johnnie Walker Black Label has a greater complexity and depth of flavor than any other DeLuxe Scotch Whisky.
There are qualities that can rarely be combined in a blend :
- the full-bodied and rich taste
- the extraordinary smoothness
Johnnie Walker Black Label is the World's leading DeLuxe Brand of Scotch Whisky and has won international acclaim.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label
John Walker, in the early 19th century used to occasionally blend exclusive whiskies in his local shop in Kilmarnock specially for the specific tastes of a few highly valued customers.
In 1987 the master blender at John Walker & Sons was given access to some exceptional stocks of very rare and mature whiskies from the warehouse. He decided to recreate the character of the whiskies of the 19th century, using as reference, recipes from the original records of Alexander Walker. Using the prized rare stocks he was able to create a unique smoothness and maturity of taste reminiscent of John Walkers earliest whiskies.
Finally, this master blend comes in a original Walker bottle, blue-green flint glass made in a unique tapering "square sided" style. Blue Label's unique origin and rarity means that supplies are limited in availability, each bottle is individually numbered, and comes in a satin-linked presentation box.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label
The newest member of the Johnnie Walker Whisky family introduced to the South African market late last year, Johnnie Walker Gold Label, is unique in that it is literally touched with gold.
Clynelish, the rare malt whisky which is at the heart of the Johnnie Walker Gold Label blend of 15 distinguished malts, derives its water from the Clynemilton Burn in which prospectors panned for gold in the 1880's and into which traces of gold still wash. Other important malt whiskies in the blend are Cardhu, which has a silky smoothness, Talisker, which contributes intensity and depth and Royal Lochnagar, which imparts fragrance and richness.
Johnnie Walker Gold Label is also distinctive in that it has its origins in the blending notes compiled 75 years ago by Sir Alexander Walker, grandson of the founder of the company. His aim at that time to create a blend of exceptionally mature malts for Johnnie Walker's centenary were thwarted by a shortage of these rare products following World War I.
In 1950 when the master blender who inherited Sir Alexander's notebooks wished to blend a tribute to him, he in his turn was hampered by problems of supply resulting from the disruption of World War II. The production of Extra Special Old Reserve which ensued was of necessity very limited and reserved for the exclusive use of the company's blenders and directors.
Now with small stocks of some of the rarest and most mature whiskies required for Sir Alexander's blend to hand, his secrets have at last been revealed in Johnnie Walker Gold Label. Blended in limited quantities for Johnnie Walker's 175th anniversary last year, it is now available at selected outlets in South Africa - a connoisseur's delight. The elegant packaging features a square-shaped bottle with a slanted silver and gold label.
One of the oldest blenders of Scotch Whisky is the House of Walker. Their series of Johnnie Walker Labels are some of the world's best selling blends.
Walker was Winston Churchill's favorite whisky and he wrote a famous memo at the end of WWII warning against depriving the Scotch whisky industry of its supplies of barley.
Johnnie Walker Red Label emerged from WWII as the world's leading whisky brand and sales increased five times by 1955. In 1977, Red Label had to be withdrawn from the UK market due to EC rules, but is available today. The withdrawal was prompted by the banning by an EC Commission Directive in December, 1977 of the common practice of charging more in the UK market for certain brands to compensate their sales agents in the EC. Haig & Haig Dimple was also withdrawn at this time. To compensate for the lost sales, DCL introduced John Barr and The Buchanan Blend.
Johnnie Walker Black Label is an 80 proof, 12-year-old blend of over 40 whiskies. A medium bodied, moderately sweet whisky with a touch of smoke and peat -- the Cardu Single Malt is said to be a major constituent.
Gold Label is their new 80 proof, 18-year-old blend of 15 malts, and grain whiskies. This full-bodied blend has a marked creaminess and greater complexity than the Black Label. The malty character is said to come from extensive use of the Clynelish Single Malt.
Blue Label is the firm's top product. Although no age statement is given on the bottle, this 80 proof blend is said to contain whiskies of up to 60 years old. It is extremely rich and complex, with balanced sweetness and smoky, nutty tones.
Swing was created in 1932 by Sir Alexander Walker who is considered to be one of the great blenders of all time. This was a rich-flavored blend originally designed to appeal to transatlantic-travelers and the North American market. The unusual bottle shape was designed with a convex base, so that it could 'swing' as the ocean liner rocked back and forth. During the 90's, the marketing has been directed towards the far Eastern markets and the original has been joined by even more deluxe expressions (Superior and Premier). The brand is very prestigious in Taiwan, Japan and the Far East.
John Barr Finest Scotch:
John Barr was created after a 1977 decision to withdraw Johnnie Walker from sale in the United Kingdom. It has a radiant gold color with intense rich nose. Refined aftertaste.
Speyside 21 yr Scotch :
Blended whisky imported from Scotland. Aged for 21 years. Amber color. Aromas of fresh mown hay in the somewhat astringent nose. Intense, deep flavors of oak, sherry and almonds. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a **** (highly recommended) rating.
Licensee: Joseph E. Seagram & Sons.
100 Pipers has been on the market since 1965 and is particularly successful in Spain, Latin America, and the Far East. Its market positioning was as a price-competitive, popular brand. The base malts are The Glenlivet, Glen Grant, and Longmorn. Unlike most of the other Seagram blends, the licensee for 100 Pipers is Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, not Chivas Brothers.
The Seagrams were originally farmers and innkeepers from Wiltshire who emigrated to Canada in the early 19th century. The next generation was invol ed in grain-milling and distilling. In 1857, Joseph Seagram established the family distilling business in Waterloo, Ontario. His company soon became the largest distiller of Canadian rye whisky. Following his death, control of the company was divided among his family, and in 1928, his own shares were acquired by The Distillers Corporation of Canada. This company was headed by Sam Bronfman.
During WWI, Canadian distilleries were closed down and the only whisky obtainable was from Scotland. Desiring to retain this market following the War, Bronfman invited DCL of Scotland to purchase shares in The Distillers Corporation. Thus, he acquired not only supplies of Scotch, but also the rights to several brands of Scotch.
By 1928, when he purchased Seagram, Bronfman was sure theat Prohibition would end soon in the United States and began increasing production of whiskies, built warehouses and began assembling large stocks of mature whiskies.
At this time, DCL decided to concentrate on Scottish distilling and sold its shares back to Bronfman. A few years earlier, Bronfman had gone to Scotland and bought the Robert Brown Company and began to lay down stocks of Scotch.
The purchase of Chivas Brothers and Strathisla Distillery took place in 1949 along with land at Keith, Paisley and Dalmuir where he built warehouses and bottling plants. Paisley is now The Distilleries Corporation, Seagram's headquarters in Scotland, and maintains one of the largest stocks of Scotch whisky in the world.
In 1957, Seagram built Glen Keith Distillery; Braes of Glenlivet in 1973 and Alt a'Bhainne in 1975. In 1978, they acquired the prestigious distillery The Glenlivet.
White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky:
Scotch whisky made and bottled in Scotland. Founded in 1742 on the island of Islay and named after the historic White Horse Inn in Edinburgh. A blend of 35 malts and five grain whiskies. Honey-gold color. Sweet, fruity nose with pronounced aromas of smoky peat. A meaty, full bodied, semi-sweet whisky. Ripe fruit, oak and mildly peaty aftertaste. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a **** (highly recommended) rating.
Clan Macgregor Scotch:
Domestically bottled scotch whiskey. The fifth largest selling Scotch in the U.S. Light bodied with mellow character. Received 'Impact' magazine's 'Hot Brand' award in 1993.
Cluny Scotch: Blended
scotch whiskey made in the USA. Has a high malt content, as it is a blend of over 30 malt whiskeys in addition to the grain whiskeys.
Old Smuggler Scotch:
Blended Scotch whisky bottled in the U.S. A blend of over 40 different malt whiskies. Gold/amber color. Floral, grainy nose. Flavors of charcoal, English toffee, and caramel. Flavorful finish. 'Kindred Spirits' gives it a *** (recommended) rating.
Scotch whisky bottled in Paisley, Scotland and bottled in the U.S. Pale straw color. Aromas of popcorn, black pepper, peat and corn. Dry with some sweet corn flavors. Finish is sweet and fat.
S. S. Pierce Scotch: Blended
The history of the S.S. Pierce company dates back to 1831.
Licensee: Long John International
Owner; Allied Distillers
Scoresby Very Rare Scotch: America's #1 selling U.S.-bottled Scotch (#4 overall) is bottled by Barton Distilling in Bardstown, Kentucky. This is a blended scotch with a higher malt content for a richer flavor. According to Kindred Spirits, it has a tawny/honey color, aromas of sweet corn and cream, medium weight, is well-balanced and has a silky texture.
Beauty and the Blend
An article by Jack Kenny
What shall we enjoy this evening? We've been building this collection of single malt whiskies for some time now, and it's looking grand, isn't it? Something delicate and airy from the Lowlands? Something fey from Spey? Perhaps a sledgehammer from Islay? Don't you wish, sometimes, that we could taste them all, all at once?
When an American begins a career as a Scotch whisky drinker, the liquor most always is a blend. The drink is sometimes raped by cola or lemon. After a while a few become devotees, learning to drink it just with water, or with ice alone. Many are called but few are chosen to try malt whiskies, and even fewer are elected to appreciate them.
And most often that's it. The lofty world of the single malts becomes the final resting place of palate. The blended whisky becomes part of the drinker's past, looked back upon -- down upon, often -- as something less. Not quite as noble. Common, even.
It isn't that way in Scotland. The developed whisky nose knows that the blends possess magic, heritage and tastes of their own. The developed whisky nose, which strives for objectivity, is pleased when the subtleties of a special blend start a ceilidh in the olfactory. Blending does not signify cheapened whisky. A vatted malt is a blend, and single malts are actually blends themselves from the same estate. Rare is the single barrel whisky in Scotland.
"I've heard the malt whiskies described in the States as the treasures of Scotland. I really do believe, quite honestly, that the treasures of Scotland are Johnnie Walker, Dewar's, J&B Rare, The Famous Grouse, Ballantine's, Cutty Sark, and so on."
This is Jim Milne, master blender of the whiskies produced by Justerini & Brooks, better known as J&B. He is, after all, a blender, but listen: "Here's why I say that. A distiller produces a bottle of malt whisky, a fine product, but it's just one. A blend, however, is crafted by blenders to produce a specific product. All of the blends I've mentioned I suspect have 40 to 50 different distilleries, different volumes, different ages. All the combinations of these combine to form a unique product. There is a single malt for everyone: heavy, lighter, fruity. I appreciate that. But what we're talking about is two different categories.
"It is a fallacy that Scotland retains its treasures and sends out these blends. That's nonsense. The finest whiskies in Scotland are the Dewar's, the Chivas Regals, the J&B Rares."
What is it about a blend that makes it less in the eyes of the single malt commando? Because it's Uncle Louie's favorite drink? Because it's mass produced, available globally and on phone booth ads? Because it contains the dreaded grain whisky? Heaven forfend.
Blended whiskies were invented more than a century ago to appeal to a broad audience, an appeal that manifested itself both in taste and price. Malt whiskies were loved and drunk throughout Scotland, but in the southern part of the island the English were a bit shy of that dark and smoky liquor. Indeed, the blends were created in part to round out some of the edges of the powerful malt whiskies. Since Andrew Usher first blended a few grains and malts in the 1860s, the art and science of blending has come a great distance. (Producers of malt whiskies and blends have not always had a smooth relationship. See "Scotch: A Wee Dram," Malt Advocate, Volume 3, No. 3.)
By law, all of the component whiskies in a blend are distilled in Scotland and matured in Scotland for a minimum of three years. If the bottle says eight years old, that's the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle. The rules are the same for blends, malts and grains.
A good blended whisky contains between 40 and 50 different whiskies. All but a few of those are single malts. The ratio of grain whisky to malt whisky ranges today from 60:40 to 65:35. Special or limited quantity blends usually have a higher percentage of malt whisky.
Example: J&B Rare, a well known blend in this country and abroad, contains a minimum of 42 whiskies. Of those, 36 are single malts, and six are grain whiskies.
"It's not just the quality of the malts that determine the quality of the finished product," says Milne. "There are reasons for the grain whiskies having the greater percentage. The grains contribute freshness and liveliness to the product that otherwise might not be there."
So what is grain whisky? Grain whisky has been with us since the mid-1800s, not long after the development of the continuous still (as opposed to the pot still, from which the malts are produced). The continuous still, also known as the patent still or Coffey still, was perfected in the 1830s by Aeneas Coffey, a Dubliner who learned all about whisky from his years as Ireland's top revenue man. Grain whisky contains a bit of barley, both malted and unmalted, but the rest is wheat, corn or other grain. Today's grain distillates are said to be more than 80 percent wheat.
There is no romance at a grain distillery. They are gigantic factories that produce a spirit that is 94 percent alcohol. The grain is not dried over peat fires. Yet it is put in oak hogsheads and butts just like the malt whisky and aged for similar periods, and it comes out with a nose that says Made in Scotland. Today there are seven grain distilleries in operation, each with its distinctive whisky.
Richard Paterson is the master blender for Whyte & Mackay, a century-old company that owns several malt distilleries (Dalmore and Fettercairn among them) and bottles many blends. Like Milne and other master blenders, Paterson has a finely developed sense of smell, but he has something that they don't have: He began the training of his nose at the age of eight at the knee of his father, the master blender for Whyte & Mackay, who learned his craft at the knee of his father, the master blender for Whyte & Mackay.
"In my grandfather's day, the ratio was 50:50," says Paterson. "During my father's time it was 60:40 grain to malt. Today it's up to 65 percent grain. It's not the quantity, though, that makes the whisky. It's the quality of the malts."
Paterson suggests that we approach blending as we would if we were the host of a dinner party. "When you make the seating arrangements, you decide who will get on with whom, and you seat them accordingly. You don't want guests to start fighting each other. You want total unification."
To make that party perfect, he says, you invite malt whiskies from the four main producing areas of Scotland: Lowlands, Highlands, Campbeltown, and Islay.
"The Lowland whiskies are known for their lightness, their fragrance, their charm and elegance, but more important for their femininity," Paterson says. "For that reason they are known as 'The Lowland Ladies'. If you put all of the Lowland malts into one blend, you will have a light and fragrant blend.
"Now, the malt whiskies of Scotland change with the countryside. The Highland malts are all guts and glamour, meat and muscle. If the Lowland malts are the Burgundies, then the Speyside and Highland malts can be the Bordeaux. It depends on the age, where the cask is lying, which distillery it comes from, everything else. All the characteristics change as you move throughout the Highlands. In the Scapa malt, from the Orkneys, for example, there is a characteristic of salt."
Only two whiskies remain in the Campbeltown region, that long finger in the southwestern part of Scotland. "But these two -- Springbank and Glen Scotia -- are very complex," says Paterson. "They are highly individualistic, and have to be used very subtlety in a blend."
And finally, the dinner guests we've all been waiting for, the fellows from Islay. "You have to be careful of them," warns Paterson. "They're the vandals. They gatecrash the dinner party. Again, they're not all the same. Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich are softer and easier to blend, while Lagavulin and Laphroaig are smoky and peaty."
In a similar fashion, grain whiskies from North British, Cameron Bridge, Dumbarton, and the others are seated around the dinner table. "They all play their own part; they all have a contribution to make."
One of the jobs of a blender, when he is not blending, is to make sure that the stocks of whiskies are kept up to date, and to acquire those that he thinks will make important contributions in years to come. Why do blenders employ so many whiskies in a blend? The best answer is insurance.
"In many respects it is much easier to achieve a consistency if you're dealing with many distilleries," says Jim Milne of J&B. "If you were dealing with only one malt and one grain, it would be almost impossible to achieve a consistent product."
Though the recipe for a blend no doubt is written down and placed in a vault somewhere, in large part it remains in the mind of the master blender. "The recipe is not sacrosanct," Milne adds. "The recipe changes daily. The objective of the blender is to reproduce daily the same product. On Monday the blend might contain 50 whiskies, 49 on Tuesday, and 51 on Wednesday. Perhaps we don't have a particular whisky that is the right age. Perhaps another whisky is not mature to the exact level. Therefore it must wait and we will use something else. With 50 whiskies, you can imagine the permutations: If you're missing one, it might require two to make up the difference.
"It's a dynamic thing," Milne declares. "It's not as if there was a recipe that you could reproduce. If you paid a million dollars for the recipe, you'd have to pay a million dollars for the blender himself."
Milne has been busy on new blends recently. Justerini & Brooks launched a new one last year that they call J.E.T., a high-end blend with a concept that aims "to get away from the traditional styles of Scotch whisky, and more appropriate for today's market," says Milne. He describes it as "very fresh, very lively. I use the word fruity -- apple and pear fruitiness, as opposed to berries or that type of fruit." In this case, the marketing department has a strong hand in the development of the blend. "When I reduced the blend, I already knew what the marketing concept was, which is unusual for a blender. I produced a blend that would fall into place in their marketing concept.
"And yet, I had to try to make it still be a product that was recognizable as coming from the house of Justerini & Brooks, and also to make it different from the products that were around. The way I approached it was this: If you say to a blender, 'We want you to produce a deluxe whisky', you don't say you want it to be 12 years old or 15 years old. I said we would make the grains 12 years old, which is ideal to retain the fresh and lively aroma. Then the Highland and Lowland malts would be 13 to 15 years old, but all the high-class Speyside malts would be over 15 years old. So the concept is different: The youngest are 12, and the oldest are 16 and 17.
"In itself it is a different concept," Milne observes. "To some extent the Scotch whisky industry gets locked into age."
J.E.T. took Milne between five and six months of work, either in his laboratory "or thinking about it." The whisky marries in wood for a minimum of six months, "in larger casks so we get a lower whisky contact to wood, and get a very slow maturation. We're hoping for very little, just enough so that the whiskies settle down and get enhanced with a little softness in the marriage period. That marriage period is the difference between a quality whisky and a really great whisky."
One can only imagine the exhaustive records that the blenders keep as they go along, pouring this and nosing that. "Over the years I've developed a system wherein I know what contribution each individual distillery in Scotland should make to the finished product, and if one is not available, I know which other one, two or three should come close to that product."
So with 50 whiskies in a blend, we're tasting quite a range of what Scotland has to offer. But we want to taste all the whiskies, don't we? Jim Milne had the same thought about eight years ago, and began working in earnest to develop a new blend about two years ago. It is called Ultima. You can buy it in the United Kingdom for the equivalent of about $75, and it will be available here toward the end of 1995.
"Ultima has 128 distilleries in it," says Milne. "It has all the distilleries that are currently operating, and some that are no longer there -- those that have been knocked down and are now restaurants or car parks or whatever. But the whiskies are still here. This blend has in it all the whiskies that are available to me: 116 malts and 12 grains. The oldest is 1965, and the youngest is 1984. It's a wide range of ages. I wasn't after an aged blend, as such. I was after perfecting a blend."
Jim Milne is a modest man, and beyond saying "It was my idea" he won't blow his own horn about the taste of Ultima. "I suppose the blender has to rely on others to say if they're pleased. They seem to be."
Jack Kenny lives in Norwalk, Connecticut and writes about the beer and whisky business.
Copyright 1995, Malt Advocate. No material herein may be reprinted without permission of the Malt Advocate. Distributed On the W3 For personal, non-commercial enjoyment and use only. Cheers!
An increasing amount of Scotch (and Canadian) whisky is being imported in barrel for tax and marketing purposes. Since the United States tax is on 100o proof spirits, the tax on bottled whisky is higher than on barreled spirits. This is because Scotch is bottled at less than 100o proof and barrels are shipped at the finished aging proof which is in excess of 100o. The importer also pays less in shipping costs since the reduction to bottling proof is done in the United States. The result is lower prices to the consumer. This is not an option with the premium blends.
Whisky from Japan
From the SUNTORY Web Site
Suntory is Japan's leading producer of whisky, with a greater than 60 percent market share. The company produces and markets whisky, including Hibiki, Yamazaki, Royal, Reserve, Old, and Kakubin, under the Suntory name. Though the liquor market environment is severe due to the delay of economic recovery, sales for high-quality, premium brands, such as Hibiki and Yamazaki, have been steady.
New Old, marketed since 1994, contributes to expanding demands for the home, together with Kakubin and Old.
In addition to whisky, Suntory also produces and markets its own wide range of premium spirits, including brandy, vodka, gin, and various liqueurs as well as bottled and canned cocktails.
Another significant part of Suntory's business lies in the import of popular foreign spirits, including Scotch, Irish and North American whiskeys, brandy, gin, vodka and liqueurs, for the Japanese market. The company's 1970 tie-up with Brown Forman of the U.S. and its 1988 agreement with Allied Domecq PLC of the U.K. have strengthened Suntory's lineup of foreign brands. It currently imports approximately 100 brands from 40 manufacturers including such well-known names as Jack Daniel's, Early Times, Ballantine's, Canadian Club, Courvoisier, Kahlua and Campari.
Suntory started producing whisky, which was not yet a popular drink in Japan, in 1923. Since then, the company has successfully pursued a relentless and comprehensive marketing strategy aimed at forming, and then expanding, markets for its products.
Distilleries and Other Facilities
Suntory's malt whisky is produced at its three distilleries in Japan, at Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hakushu Higashi. It also produces barley malt at its own facilities.
There are four aging, or maturation, cellars -- one each at Yamazaki, Hakushu, Ohmi and Yatsugatake -- with a combined total of over 1.6 million casks currently aging. The cellars are all located in surroundings with an ideal maturation environment -- a stable atmosphere with cool temperatures and high humidity. Grain whisky is distilled by Suntory at Usuki in Oita prefecture and by Sungrain Ltd., a subsidiary, at Chita in Aichi prefecture. Suntory whisky is blended and bottled at eight plants around the country.
Built in 1923, the distillery covers a 180,000-square-meter site and has an annual output capacity of 7,000 KlA (kiloliters-alcohol) from 12 pot stills.
The Yamazaki Valley, on the outskirts of Kyoto, has long been known for its high-quality water, which contains a balance of minerals ideal for whisky-making. The distillery was Japan's first and produces a medium-body malt whisky, with a distinctively rich aroma and deep flavor, regarded as the traditional Yamazaki type. The distillery was refurbished in 1989 and now also produces a variety of other malt whisky types.
Suntory's second distillery, built in 1973 on a 825,000-square-meter site. Annual output capacity is 26,000 KlA from 24 pot stills.
Hakushu (in Yamanashi prefecture, at the foot of the Japan Alps) is known for its clean water flowing from Kaikomagatake mountain. The distillery produces a light malt whisky with rich flowery or fruity aroma (a "light and estery" type).
Hakushu Higashi Distillery
Built on the same site as the older Hakushu Distillery in 1981, this distillery has an annual output capacity of 6,000 KlA from 12 pot stills.
Hakushu Higashi produces a full-body malt with a rich and soft, fruity aroma, using a direct-fire distillation method. The malt is fermented in a wooden tub, with a top-fermentation yeast.