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Malt Maniacs #110

Malt Maniacs E-zine

MALT MANIACS #110

What's 'Modern' Whisky?
E-pistle #2008/20 by Serge Valentin, France

Those of you that have been drinking single malts for more than a few years may have noticed a gradual change in the profiles of many whiskies. That's because "they don't make 'em like they used to".

Thomas Dewar, A Biography
E-pistle #2008/21 by Robert Karlsson & Hasse Nilsson

Whisky legend Thomas Dewar gave his name to an important brand and a whisky empire that has survived (sort of) until this day. Robert Karlsson and Hasse Nilsson felt it was time for a biography on MM.

Interview with Duncan Taylor's Euan Shand
E-pistle #2008/22 by Bert Bruyneel, Belgium

Due to the lengthy preparations for MM#110 this interview isn't quite as newsworthy as a few months ago when Bert submitted it, but his inquisitive questions prove some insights in the workings at independent bottler Duncan Taylor. Just in case you've missed the news; they're building their own 'Huntley' distillery at the moment. 

One Man's Mascara is Another Man's Malt
E-pistle #2008/23 by Nabil Mailloux, Canada

Most sources claim that the art of distillation was developed by a Persian scholar around 900 AD, but our foreign correspondent Nabil Mailloux claims that the origins go back further - as far back as the ancient Egyptians! Well, sort of...

How To Speak Whisky
E-pistle #2008/24 by Peter Silver, USA

New York Jazzman Peter Silver provides some useful guidance for relative novices; how to taste a whisky and - just as important - how to communicate your experience to others.

Cutty Sark: a Scantily-clad Witch
E-pistle #2008/25 by Lex Kraaijeveld, UK

Most of you will know that 'Cutty Sark' is the name of both a brand of blended whisky and a sailboat. But no matter how much you think you know, Professor of Xenomaltology Lex Kraaijeveld knows more...

Bert's Summer Stunners Report
E-pistle #2008/26 by Bert Bruyneel, Belgium

Many maniacs have been saving themselves for the MM Awards, so this issue is slightly light on tasting notes. Fortunately Bert collected some tasting notes for affordable 'stunners' - many from Duncan Taylor.

Springbank Whisky School
E-pistle #2008/27 by Lawrence Graham, Canada

Little did Lawrence know that he was one of the last 'students' at the Springbank whisky school before the distillery would close down for a few years. So, this a rare 'fly on the wall' report on the way they ran things at this Campbeltown distillery before the temporary closure.

Next IssuePrevious Issue

Malt Maniacs #110 - October 15, 2008

Hurray! Malt Maniacs has already survived quite a few 'crises' over the past decade and it seems we've survived another one. Most maniacs have invested a substantial part of their capital in whisky over the years - and those assets are fairly easy to 'liquidise'. What's more, there are quite some calories in a bottle of whisky, so a bottle can be used for both sustenance and escapism...
Some maniacs could survive for years on a liquid diet!

Anyway, it was high time for another issue of our E-zine, so I decided not to wait for any more E-pistles and publish the eight I've received so far. That means this issue is relatively light on tasting notes - but you will be able to feast your eyes on our notes and scores for almost 200 new whiskies in six weeks time. We'll publish the results of the Malt Maniacs Awards 2008 on December 1, 2008. After many disappointed messages about the absence of tasting notes on the medal winners last year, they will be included again on the 'results' page in 2008.

Meanwhile, until December 1 we'll keep you updated on the MM Awards through Malt Madness and WhiskyFun - let's focus on this fresh issue of Malt Maniacs now. For a long time each issue of our magazine contained 10 E-pistles, but now that we have our very own Malt Maniacs & Friends group on Facebook we have another platform to share our opinions on and experiences with whisky.

So, from now on I'll publish a fresh issue of our E-zine when we've collected roughly half an hour's worth of interesting and/or entertaining reading material. Those of you fortunate enough to own a laptop computer or PDA could even do some multi-tasking and read an issue of Malt Maniacs during lunch or on the toilet...
Hmmmmm... Perhaps it's time for a 'print' version of MM after all ;-)

Sweet drams,

Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs

P110-20E-pistle 2008/20 - What's 'Modern' Whisky?

In the old days, a distiller would put his new spirit into just any old casks he would find,
and then leave it to 'the magic of ageing'. Then, after quite some years, he would try his
casks and hand select the ones that worked best, and vat/bottle them as single malt.
 
That's how most great malts were produced, they were more or less luck's work. And
almost always, the origin of the cask was simply unknown, especially when it had been
recoopered (hogsheads). 'European' or 'American' was often the only way of characterising
a cask, unless, of course, it had a specific shape such as butt or a puncheon (with the
notable exception of Macallan and their former 'everything sherry' option.) Sometimes,
we Malt Maniacs would then discover a '90+ point' malt within a distiller or a bottler's
range, which would not prevent any of its sister cask from scoring a meagre 75 points.
 
But things changed and are still changing it seems, as we find more and more 'modern'
whiskies on the shelves. 'Modern whisky' is a wording we sometimes use in our tasting
notes. Modern whisky is whisky that's been made using 'modern' methods (yeah we're
clever), that is to say that much more attention has been given to cask management.
 
Using new oak or first fill only, monitoring the 'toasting or charring' very closely, using
multiple types of custom-made casks within a batch (new oak, wine casks, heavy
charring for some etc.) so that the final product is much less dependent on 'random
ageing' (magic?) and also more flavourful and more consistent...
And, above all, much quicker to 'mature'.
 
Batches, whether very young or old yet somewhat immature, may
also often be re-racked, that is to say put into very active casks for a short while before
bottling. That often leads the distillers to drop any age statement, especially when the
younger whisky in the vatting is young, as the average consumer still thinks that whisky
has to be old to be good.

We may also wonder if parts of the blenders' prerogatives will not be shifted towards the 'cask engineers' in this new system, unless both are the very same persons. After all, Glenmorangie's excellent Dr Lumsden himself does not hesitate to talk about 'wood technology'! These modern whiskies are usually good, sweet, spicy, fruity and compact, quite straightforward but not too complex. They are very different from most finished whiskies (we sometimes call the latter patched whiskies – privately of course) but we observed that some distilleries or bottlers, after having wandered off quite a bit with their various trials with wine wood, finally managed to find combos that worked. Longrow's 'Gaja' 7yo springs to mind. Let's only hope that the Scots will stick with there best combos in the future and not restart the 'machine gun', that is to say use just any wine casks they can put their hands on and bottle dozens of 'trials' under the 'we just wanted to offer more variety' claim.

One may also consider that the exclusive use of first fill bourbon casks at some distilleries also imparts their outputs these 'modern' tastes, that is to say more vanilla and more sweetness, with touches of ginger, white pepper and nutmeg. All that may be good news for the general quality of the Scottish distilleries' output, but may also lead to more uniformity, with many distilleries producing more or less the same whiskies because 'heavy and quick' wood treatment would overwhelm the spirit's original profile and rarely let it shine through. The future will tell.

What's sure is that whilst in the old days it wasn't unusual for us to find casks that scored from 75 to, say 92 points within a distillery's production from the same vintage, the scale gets now much narrower, that is to say that our scores for 'modern whiskies' usually range between 82 and 87 points. In other words, good news at the lower end of the scale, but bad news at the higher end...

It seems that as far as Scotch whisky is concerned, you just can't computerise magic.

Serge Valentin, France
 

E-pistle 2008/21 - Thomas Dewar, A Biography

Thomas DewarThomas Dewar; the man who taught the world how to drink whisky

He was a debauchee, a bon vivant, a dandy. He was a blessed PR man who could
charm the socks off just about anyone. He was a precursor, an entrepreneur and
a trailblazer. He crossed continents and became close with kings and presidents.
He was Oscar Wilde's superior when it came to powerful punch lines. He built
distilleries and created one of the world's largest whisky brands. He was a simple
farmers' son from Perth.

This is the story of Tommy Dewar and his world of whisky.
  
We should not say "how's business", 
but we should say "where's business". 

 
On the business card of Sir Thomas Robert Dewar you could print almost as many
titles as you'd like. Multi-millionaire, art collector, politician, lord, explorer, author,
horse breeder, horse racer, big-game hunter, comedian, gambler, distillery director
and many more. However, the most striking pretence seems to be the fact that he
was appointed "Sheriff of the City of London" in the beginning of the twentieth
century. He himself would not agree. On one of his many business cards he wrote:
"I have given up lending money for some time. But I don't mind having a drink.
Make it a Dewar's please".

Thomas Dewar is undoubtedly the most charismatic of all personalities throughout the history of whisky.
A wide flora of rumours surround him and he is ascribed both statements and deeds that aren't always in close connection with the truth.
But as he himself writes in his travelling diaries Ramble round the Globe  in which he writes about a two-year round trip of the world: "If everybody spoke only the truth, this world would be a better world; but very quiet". But then again, many stories about him are likely to be true. He was one of the first in Europe to buy a car (third in Great Britain), he was the first to light up London with a gigantic sign advertising Dewar's Whisky. It caused chaos on the streets when the whole of central London stopped in their tracks to gawk at the illuminated wonder. His firm was also the first to bottle whisky in glass bottles with its own name on the label. 

Black bottleJust like all good stories, the tale of Dewar's world of whisky begins with a poor family whose youngest
son wandered off from his childhood hamlet into the great wide world, seeking fame and fortune. He
arrived in Perth where the Fates had brought him. There he found employment as an apprentice at his
uncle's wine and spirits store located in the High Street. The year was 1828. John Dewar proved to be an
energetic and skilled helper. Soon he became responsible for parts of the purchasing and when his uncle
died nine years later, he took over the store. He experimented with blending whisky and started bottling
whisky in glass bottles with his own company name, Dewar's Whisky, on the labels. The business progressed well and the store soon acquired a solid reputation for its first-class selection. When John Dewar passed away in 1880, his sons John Alexander and Thomas Robert took over the business. 
 

...............The brothers were extraordinarily different from one another.
...............Whilst John Alexander was introvert, unobtrusive, serious and brooding, his little brother Thomas
...............was quite the opposite. He was gregarious and a risk taker. He saw possibilities where others
...............saw problems. His glass never seemed half empty, but always half full, and if it was ever emptied
...............he glanced at it with a smile. He was an eminent businessman. He realised that the horizon had
...............to be broadened beyond High Street in Perth in order to achieve true success. Such a mind can for
...............obvious reasons not be detained behind a register in a small town in the Scottish countryside.
...............So Thomas left to start up a branch in London, whilst John remained in Perth, minding the shop
...............and the accounts. 
 

Thomas Dewar arrived in London in 1885. With his charm, his volubility, his refined manners and his social ability, it was a small problem selling his whisky to the finest restaurants and the hip pubs in the city. He was a PR man well beyond average, and with his battle cry "if you don't advertise you fossilise" he employed artists and drawers to produce astonishing advertising campaigns. He didn't hesitate to use more drastic measures either, which became evident when his stand was placed in a remote corner at a brewery fair in Birmingham. He then rented a Highlander who performed a complete concert with bag pipes, a manoeuvre that warranted hoards of people flocking around his stand. That Thomas Dewar himself believed that the inventor of the bag pipe had come up with the idea after stepping on a cat is a completely different story. Albeit, as a marketing stunt for Scottish whisky, it was brilliant. More concerts were to follow and the Highlander received the locus he still holds on the labels of Dewar's. 

Thomas Dewar soon acquired the reputation of being very skilled. With his winning manners he became the central figure in the aristocratic social life of the metropolis. He grew into a household name in the upper-class families where he frequently could be observed as a humorous entertainer and speaker at dinners. He also began a political career which eventually lead all the way to Parliament. He soon became "Whisky -Tom" to all of London. He proved to have a rare talent for forming aphorisms and punchy proverbs. These maxims were to be published in papers all over the world and were even denominated Dewarisms. With their great variety they are superior to most in that genre. Thomas Dewar soon befriended many influential people, for instance the future King Edward VII as well as the 'king' of tea and spices Thomas Lipton, who incidentally was to become Dewar's travel companion. Later on Dewar was granted audiences with kings and presidents. For instance, the Swedish tennis king Gustavus V granted him the honour of becoming an official purveyor to His Majesty the King. As his business grew, so did Thomas Dewar's ambitions to find new markets. His watchword was that business has to be reconnoitred, it will not appear by itself. In 1892 he departed on a two-year whisky tour of all the continents of the world. When he returned he had spent 14 000, established relations with 33 agents in 26 countries, and opened a branch in New York. It didn't take long before Dewar's White Label was the best-selling whisky in the USA. 

In the same year he returned from his trip around the world, he
published his travel diaries in the autobiographical novel A Ramble
Round the Globe. It is indeed peculiar reading for someone interested
in whisky, as it tells of a time when the whisky market in most
countries was virgin ground, and gives an account of what it was like
to travel without aeroplanes and modern communications. It tells of
how colonial values characterised a generation of British businessmen
whilst building a world market for their products, and of pioneering
spirit and optimism in an era where no one could believe that the
great wars would soon cast its dark shadows across faith in mankind,
business, and humanity itself.
 
Whilst Tommy Dewar was climbing the social ladder and building his
whisky brand with increasing skill, his brother John was taking care of
business at home in Perth. It grew to success and it was presently
possible to make serious investments. To assure a supply of malt, the
brothers decided to build a distillery in the outskirts of Aberfeldy by the
idyllic river of Tay, not far from their father's home village of Dull.
Aberfeldy Distillery was opened in 1898. In the years to follow no less
than seven distilleries were to be incorporated in the company:
Lochnagar, Glen Ord, Old Pulteney, Aultmore, Parkmore and Benrinnes.
 
The brothers also built bottling plants in Manchester and London.
Both John and Thomas Dewar were raised to nobility for their achievements. They both passed away childless one year apart in 1929 and 1930. A namesake, not relative, Peter Dewar, took control of the business for a few years before one of the founder's grandchildren, John Arthur, brought the company back into the family. 

Today John Dewar and Sons is owned by Bacardi, the whisky is number one in the USA, and the sixth most selling in the world.
If anyone is interested to learn more about the Dewar brothers' fascinating life stories, they are strongly recommended to visit Dewar's World of Whisky and Aberfeldy Distillery. Dewar's World of Whisky is an interactive modern visitor's centre that conveys the story of whisky, and is not to be missed. Not only for the sake of Dewar's whisky and Aberfeldy, but because it is located in such a breathtakingly beautiful location just off the A9 in central Scotland, where Scotland is more Scotland than anywhere else.

The fact that Thomas Dewar was an unparalleled PR man who succeeded in spreading his whisky all over the world, is evident from the following autobiographical squib of how it was to travel through an arid Canada during the prohibition:

"I was going through a prohibition State and tried to get some whisky from the conductor of the train, but without success. He eventually advised me to try at a store at the next stopping place, and this I did.

- Do you sell whisky?
- Are you sick mister, or got a medical certificate?
- No.
- Then I can't do it. See, this is a prohibition State, so I can't sell it; but I reckon our cholera mixture'll about fix you. Try a bottle of that.

I did, but to my great astonishment received a very familiar bottle which, although it was labelled on one side "Cholera mixture: a wine-glassful to be taken every two hours", had upon the other side the well-known label of a firm of Scotch Whisky distillers, whose name modesty requires me to supress!" 

Robert Karlsson & Hasse Nilsson, Sweden
 

E-pistle 2008/22 - An Interview with Duncan Taylor's Euan Shand

Euan ShandHello Euan...
First of all, I would like to thank you for letting us take this interview from you.
A first thing we wanted to know: How did you 'fall' into the whisky business ?

Euan: I was born into it!
My family have been around this business for a long time as Millers, Distillers etc.

So, does that mean your current job at Duncan Taylor isn't your first 'whisky job'?

Euan: I started off as a Cooper and warehouseman a long long time ago at Glendronach
Distillery and moved on through all departments, Mashing, Distilling, Cask Stock Room
even a Tour Guide over a 6 year period at Wm Teacher and Sons Ltd culminating in my
move to the Sales Dept at their headquarters in St Enoch Square in Glasgow.
Yes its long enough ago that I turned malt on the original floors at Glendronach.
As part of my training I spent 9 months at Ardmore Distillery.

What made you decide to take over Duncan Taylor?
This seems to have been quite an adventure...

Euan: The business was offered to me by the Executors of a Family estate in New York
and I was stunned by the diversity of whiskies on offer and the incredible quality.
I just had to buy the company!

The understanding of a fellow malt maniac is that Duncan Taylor bought all the stocks
of an American collector who had been collecting barrels for decades.  When he died
his heirs sold the lot to the DT people.  Was the collector's name Duncan Taylor, or
is this just a myth altogether?  Where did the name come from?"

Euan: The guys name was Abe Rosenberg not Duncan Taylor.
Abe was an entrepreneurial whisky man who built J & B Whisky in the US.
Duncan Taylor and Co Ltd was a company that he bought as an investment vehicle and also a "hobby" that he made money from.

Another fellow maniac wondered about how DT got to own so much stocks of old grain whiskies. A few years ago it seems you were the first ones to release some very old (and very good) single grains.

Euan: Duncan Taylor & Co Ltd has large stock of old grain and I bought it with the company.

Some people on Swedish whisky forums claim that DT has lots of casks of Port Ellen, while others claim they have none.
Any comments on this one?

Euan: It makes a nice blend with grain. Give me an old Bowmore, far superior whisky!

Another fellow maniac was curious about your 'Lonach' series. He told us it consists of vattings of under strength casks with stronger variants in order to get the 'vatting' above 40%, in order to be legally called whisky. Is that correct?

Euan: Originally it was released as a vatting of casks that had gone under-strength with casks that are over-strength. Now it is no longer that, as we have no casks under-strength anymore. It's a brand in its own right and is available in various markets.

Why, as an independent bottler, did you want your own distillery?

Euan: Because I was a Distiller before I became an Independent and I'm going back to my roots.

Why did you decide to build a new distillery? Why not for example buy an existing distillery with existing stocks?

Euan: Find me one and I'll buy it!! There are none for sale!! OK maybe one that I know of!

Aha! Which one would that be - which distillery was 'maybe' for sale?
And what was it that made you decide that building a new distillery would be the best thing for Duncan Taylor?

Euan: I believe everything is for sale at the right price, however, in this industry most of the multinationals would rather close a distillery down than sell. With an exception of course. Building a new distillery is the best thing for Duncan Taylor as its the only way forward. Whisky companies no longer sell new fill to us minions and if they do its teaspooned and worse any mature cask stock that comes on the market is pretty dire stuff these days. Thank goodness Duncan Taylor has sufficiently large stocks of casked whisky to give the company time to get the distillery built and producing as some day the company will no longer have enough stock to survive if the industry keeps behaving the way it does.
We've a good few years under our belts yet!

Is there already any idea of a name for the distillery to be built?

Euan: "The Huntly" Distillery.

We have heard it is going to be a 'green' distillery, can you please explain?

Euan: It will be entirely "Green", fired by Woodchip and utilising many environmentally friendly materials including complex effluent regeneration equipment.

Excuse our ignorance, but wouldn't solar power or wind power be 'greener' than burning wood chips?
Or electricity for that matter? We haven't seen governments promoting a switch from central heating to wood stoves yet ;-)

Euan: Solar power would be a great way of powering the distillery and thanks for the tip.
However, I havent seen the sun out of my window for 6 months. Wind would be great too, I can imagine a 60 metre high windmill in the middle of Huntly, errr whats the planning departments number.......................

Good point about the Scottish weather ;-)
And speaking about planning; are there already specifications about production volume, etc.?

Euan: On full production we will produce around 750,000 litres alc.

How many stills will be producing that whisky?

Euan: Two pot stills, Three column stills and one gin still. Total capacity of 750k in any configuration.

And have you already thought about 'wood management' at Huntley?

Euan: Wood management is very close to my heart and we have some innovative new ideas for controlling maturation.
Nothing that doesnt exist in some form or another already but with a new slant. We will be using Scottish Oak for part of our maturation plan.

What type of whisky would you like to make in this distillery?

Euan: A real Highland cause I'm fed up of all this hype about Port Ellen and Ardbeg and Islay. Give me a robust Highland any day!

What are the future plans for Duncan Taylor?

Euan: To become a Distiller!

Thanks very much for letting us have this interview,

Best regards,

Bert Bruyneel, Belgium
 

E-pistle 2008/23 - One Man's Mascara is another Man's Single Malt

Well, now that I have your attention, let me explain a little of the history of
distillation to make clear my point. When I first developed this text- book
obsession with all things whisky, my first foray was into the internet jungle of
whisky websites.  So many of them came up, I wasn't sure where I'd learned
this tid-bit or that.  Of course, it became clear that there were really only two
or three sites worth visiting regularly, including the Malt Maniacs, of course!

One common thread to all of these sites was a brief history of distillation,
usually mentioning Rhazes, a persian scholar living in Baghdad (850-925 AD),
who codified the art of distillation.  This and many other principles were laid
out in his tome Secret of secrets.  Terms such as al-ambiq were eventually
accepted as the working language of western science, eventually becoming
"alembic", meaning still apparatus. This of course struck a chord, since I'm half
arab, and a chemist to boot.  I immediately remembered reading about the
history of distillation in the Fontana History of Chemistry a decade ago. 

The earliest types of distillation were carried out mainly to extract the
essences from plant matter to be used in perfumes or medicines.  It is
thought that the earliest examples of this took place in Egypt ca. 3000 BC. 
The general principle was always to heat a liquid to the point where a
vapour was generated, then to condense it after coming into contact with
the plant matter.  The condensate was then collected for use.

Now here is where it gets interesting.  Of great interest in the ancient world was the "elixir of life" (sounds a lot like the water of life!), otherwise known as the "philosopher's stone", which contained potable gold.  The purification of gold used a process where a pot was used to heat the raw ore until it melted.  To the ore was added antimony sulfide and the mixture was roasted until a thick black cake began to float on the molten gold.  This thick black cake was then skimmed off and the process repeated until what remained was purified gold for use in jewelry or other finery.  Oddly, the Egyptians seem to have used this black powder in their trademark eye-shadow, perhaps attributing its relationship with gold as something sacred.  Their word for this black masquara was the same name used to refer to the black cake which was removed during the roasting of the gold, kohol. 

Time for some Chinese kudos!  They had developed a method for the concentration and purification of wines and beers that was first recorded in 200 AD.  They used a repeated cycle of freezing the liquid, then filtering off the water crystals.  Subsequently, as ancient distillation technology made it's way with trade to China from the orient, the use of al-ambiq to purify these mixtures was inevitable and was carried out in the fourth century AD. 

Following the crusades, much of the muslim empire's science and technology were brought back to Europe, whereupon religious scholars sought to use this new technique to isolate the essences found in God's creation.   Alembic distillation was used to purify and isolate the various substances in mixtures, often with the "fatty, oily" substances boiling and condensing at the top (just as the undesirable waste product of gold purification).  As Europe further emerged from the Dark Ages, the same knowledge that was preserved by academic monks was also put to use purifying beers and wines.  The "essences", or "heavenly vapours" that resulted were discovered to be the substance directly responsible for the "relaxing" properties of those beverages.  Using the old arab terminology, the heavenly essences which rose to the top as a result of heating was referred to as al-kohol, "the floating black cake".

I often find it interesting that an undesirable waste product, also used as eye-shadow made it's way into scientific nomenclature.  Equally interesting is how we in the West, doing what we do best, took this term and reinterpreted it to suit our own spiritual view of the world.  What distillation represented for one culture, the purging of undesirable qualities in gold, became for us the quest for essences, heavenly vapours, or so-called "spirits".  Al-kohol became alcohol, and the quest for the aqua-vitae, the water of life, or the philosopher's stone has been taken up by our master distillers the world over. 

Single malt scotch whisky for me represents that quest for perfection, purity, beauty, and balance.  It isn't about inebriation or conspicuous consumption, it's about a celebration of the senses and a search for the best that the universe can offer us. I often consider myself a cultural descendant of the Chinese, Arabs, Egyptians, and academic monks who pioneered this quest.  However I much prefer putting a nice dram of single malt al-kohol on my tongue rather than around my eyes!

Nabil Mailloux, Canada
 

E-pistle 2008/24 - Peter Silver - How To Speak Whisky

OR: WHAT DO YOU SAY WHEN YOU TASTE A WHISKY?

It's a wonderful evening and luckily, you are at a sizable whisky tasting! 
There are multiple tables with dozens of distilleries represented, with lots of malts you have never tried.  Just as you are heading over to try some, a friend spots you, grabs your arm and pulls you over to an unfamiliar whisky table.  He pours some into your glass and says "You must try this whisky.  It's amazing!"  You take a sip and a smile breaks out on your face and all you can think of to say to your pal is "This is so … smooth!"  You wish you could come up with more nuanced terms, but you just don't have the vocabulary.  Well, fear not.  This article is going to help you acquire this skill and learn to enjoy whisky on a more personal level.

Don't let them put words in your mouth …only whisky! Anytime you read an advertisement for whisky these days, there are likely to be wonderful tasting notes either in print, on the web, or on the bottle itself.  The marketing departments have spent a lot of time and money to come up with fantastic blurbs that can sound like each sip is a seven course tasting menu in the finest restaurant.  Some organizations, such as the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, have a tasting committee in Scotland which contributes tasting notes for single casks.  They typically include unique and memorable phrases such as "Tastes like a Laura Ashley frock" or "Like a jam tart dragged though a wine-bush" which do more to obfuscate the whisky than explain its characteristics.  While some of this stuff may be true, it's really up to you, the consumer, to determine what you experience and how much you like the whisky.  That way, you don't have to know who Laura Ashley is.

The easiest scent to detect is smokiness.  If a malt has it, it can overpower all the other flavors in it, and you may not find any other flavors.  This can be sensed as any kind of smoke, whether it manifests itself as smoked salmon or a fireplace: medicinal, iodine, peaty or phenolic (coal tar smell). Fruit is also very commonly found, appearing as apples, pears, bananas, oranges, cherries, etcetera.  They can be fresh fruit smells, taste like dried fruits, such as raisins, dried apricots or even stewed fruit like stewed apples, raspberry jam and marmalade. Vanilla appears in a great number of whiskies as well.  It can be sensed as vanilla bean, toffee, caramel and butterscotch.

Sherry is quite common note to experience due to sherry casking and finishes. 
It can be tasted as sherry, port, Madeira, brandy, burgundy or Chardonnay.  Chocolate is one of my favorite things to find in a malt – it can be milk, dark, bitter, cream – any kind you like! Nutty is another possibility, with almonds, coconut, hazelnuts, marzipan and praline among those you can find. Floral scents can be heather, lilac, rose, geraniums, fresh cut grass, hay, even a barn! Feinty characteristics can come from cuts of whisky that are not completely of the finest quality.  These include tobacco, shoe polish, leather and plastic. Sulphury scents are rubber, pencil eraser, exhaust fumes, cabbage water and spent fireworks.

And what about the technique?
First you need to be able to smell the whisky in order to taste it properly, for taste without smell is like having a bad cold – nothing tastes good.  Bring the glass to your nose while opening your mouth slightly to keep you from anesthetizing your senses.  If it burns your nose, add a few drops of bottled water (never tap water), swirl the whisky and try again.  Many malts really open up and release aromas and flavors with the addition of the smallest amounts of water.

If you can keep some of these ideas in mind the next time you taste a whisky, you will start to find these aromas and tastes on your own and will then be able to put a valid descriptor to them as well as come up with your own.  You will find your vocabulary and your confidence increase, the more you think about whisky in these terms.  Whatever your senses tell you, let your tongue speak for you.  If you find a malt with chocolate, vanilla and banana – please let me know, so I can try a banana split whisky!

By Peter J. Silver, USA
 

E-pistle 2008/25 - Cutty Sark: a scantily-clad witch

Cuty SarkThey know whodunit! It was the vacuum cleaner! In case you think I'm talking riddles, read on.
And otherwise, read on as well. Some of you may remember the fire which tore through the Cutty Sark in
London in May 2007. Fortunately, due to an extensive restoration program, more than 50% of the ship,
including all the masts and rigging, was in storage off-site, so the damage, severe though it was, was
limited to the decks and hull. Extensive forensic research has pointed the finger of blame on an industrial
vacuum cleaner, which was left on overnight and caught fire. The Cutty Sark Trust is very optimistic that
the ship will be put together again, but it will of course cost a lot more time and money than envisioned
before the fire. With a bit of luck, the ship will open to the public in 2010.

I felt this was a good opportunity to put the spotlights on this marvellous tea clipper and remind
ourselves how the ship forms the link between a well-known blended whisky and an almost naked
beautiful woman. It all started in 1790 with a guy called Robert Burns...

Tam O'Shanter, one of Rabbie's most famous poems, is based on an old Scottish legend.
Tam, a farmer, has had a few drinks too many and rides home on his horse one thundery night.
As he comes to the decaying Alloway church, it appears to be on fire. Drunk as he is, he isn't afraid:

Wi tipenny, we fear nae evil;
Wi usquabae, we'll face the Devil!

A group of witches dance around the flames. The devil himself plays the pipes and coffins stand around, with the dead holding candles. Astonished, Tam notices one young and beautiful witch among the dancers as they strip off their clothes until dressed only in a short shirt, a 'cutty sark':

Her cutty sark, o Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude tho sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie...
Ah! little kend thy reverend grannie,
That sark she coft for her wee Nannie,
Wi twa pund Scots ('twas a' her riches),
Wad ever grac'd a dance of witches!

Bewitched, Tam watches Nannie dancing until he can't contain himself any more:
And roars out, 'Weel done, Cutty-sark!'

Now aware of his presence, the witches pursue Tam who gets on his horse and flees for his life. As he comes to a river, he steers his horse towards the bridge, because witches can't cross running water. Nannie manages to grab Tam's horse by the tail with her left hand, but the tail comes off in her hand and Tam escapes. It has been suggested that the inspiration for Nannie was a friend of the bard, Katie Stein, who was related to the Stein family of whisky fame. Unfortunately, there is no evidence for such an interesting link between Burns' poem and whisky. The best guess among authorities on Burns is that he modelled Nannie on Katie Steven, a local fortune-teller and smuggler's accomplice. Maybe Katie worked an illicit still? Whatever the inspiration for Nannie, she and her cutty sark provided the name and figurehead for what was to become one of the most famous tea clippers: the Cutty Sark.

Built at the Scott & Linton shipyard on the Clyde at Dumbarton, for a contract price of 16,150, the Cutty Sark was to join in the annual race to bring tea from China to Britain. She was launched November 22, 1869, and set out to challenge the ship-to-beat in the tea races, the Thermopylae. Two on-board traditions kept the link between the ship and the character in Burns' poem very much alive. While in port, an emblem made of metal in the shape of a shirt was carried on the main mast to distinguish the ship from a distance. Also, crew members often made a 'horse tail' from some old pieces of rope which was placed in the figurehead's left hand.

Between 1870 and 1877, the Cutty Sark showed some excellent performances in the tea races. But, although fast, she never set a record or win a head-to-head with the Thermopylae. She carried her last cargo of tea in 1877 and for the next six years carried whatever cargo could make money. Then, in 1883, she began her second career in the Australian wool trade. Here she did beat her old rival, the Thermopylae, and earned herself the reputation as the fastest ship of her time.

In 1895, she was sold to the Portuguese and renamed Ferreira. However, in one way she kept her old name: the nickname given to her by her subsequent crews was pequina camisola, meaning 'little shirt'. She was again sold on in 1920 and renamed Maria do Amparo. In 1922, in a dilapidated state, she was bought from her Portuguese owners by Wilfred Dowman for the sum of 3,750. He reinstated her original name Cutty Sark. After rerigging she served as a training ship for the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College. In the 1950s she was donated to the Cutty Sark Society, with the aim of restoring her to her former glory as a tea clipper. A dry dock in Greenwich, London was to become her final mooring place and she is now open to the public as a museum ship.

The Cutty Sark may not be the only surviving tea clipper in the world for much longer: as I write this, plans are being drawn up for the restoration of the Cutty Sark's sister ship, the Carrick (built a few years earlier under the name City of Adelaide), whose remains are in an appalling state.

The return of the Cutty Sark under British flag coincided with plans by the London-based wine and spirit merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd to develop a blended whisky, light both in taste and colour, for the American market.

Many whisky books tell the story of how they chose the Cutty Sark as the name and emblem for their whisky, how the vivid orange-yellow colour of the label was due to a printer's error, how the whisky was smuggled into America, primarily via the Bahamas (don't forget, it was the 1920s: there was Prohibition there!), and how it became one of the world's leading blends. In a way, Cutty Sark has repaid its debt to the memory of her sailing namesake by sponsoring the annual Tall Ships' Races since 1972.

If it hadn't been for a separation in time, the Cutty Sark and whisky would have been almost neighbours: Dumbarton grain distillery is built on the site of a disused shipyard close to the site of the Scott & Linton shipyard. Whether Cutty Sark contains grain whisky from Dumbarton (or has done so in the past) is one of those questions in the whisky business that will not easily get a definite answer ... Similarly, whether the Cutty Sark ever contained whisky as part of her cargo we may never know. She sailed to bring back tea and wool, but of course was not empty on the voyage out. Capt. Waite, the present master of the Cutty Sark, told me that none of her cargo manifests or bills of lading are known to have survived and all that is known is that she carried 'manufactured goods' on her outward sailings.

From a cutty sark to a dram of Cutty Sark, with more than 200 years between them. I'm pretty sure Rabbie would have been amused to see the wanderings of Nannie's clothes. An intriguing question remains: did Francis Berry, Walter Berry, Hugh Rudd and James McBey know in 1923 that they were actually naming their whisky after the shirt of a beautiful, scantily-clad witch? The label of Cutty Sark Scots Whisky could have looked very different!!

Lex Kraaijeveld, England
 

E-pistle 2008/26 - Bert's Summer Stunners Report

Hello all,

Here after, you'll be able to read my third 'Stunner Report'... In the 'editorial' of my former Stunners Report, I had a few words about the crazy price politics that are recently being used in the whisky industry. I'm afraid this won't be getting better, on the contrary. Another fact I had to admit is the fact that I really have to taste a LOT of whisky to select a dozen of stunners. A good experience was a tasting I recently did for Cask Six (a club in Belgium). They asked me to select a great line-up with top whiskies. However, I decided to give a blind tasting. In this blind tasting, I had put 6 of the bottlings I formerly selected as 'stunners'. I think it's too easy scoring with toppers. The challenge is bigger to make the audience happy with < €50,- whiskies.

The great thing was that every one of the six whiskies was voted 'best of the evening' at least by one person in the tasting, another great thing was seeing it is still possible to get good whisky for less than 50,- Euros. It's also a good opportunity for discovering 'obscure' distilleries, and a new proof one has to taste as many different whiskies as possible.
Let's not spill to much time talking, and let's get to the tasting:

Bowmore 9yo 1998/2008 (46%, DT NC2)
Nose: a smoky and medicinal nose, typical Bowmore character, some floral notes, citrus.
Palate: smooth and dry, subtle peat, nice complexity. The finish is nice, full, complex and elegant.
Verdict: 88 points: so much more than just peat.

Bowmore 9yo 1998/2008 'Womb Ore' (46%, Daily Dram)
Nose: very smoky to be a Bowmore, oranges, very medicinal.
Palate: smooth and creamy, keeps on being very smoky to be a Bowmore, lots of oranges and medicine.
The finish is very smoky, but gives a nice complexity.
Verdict: 89 points, again so much more than just peat.

Glentauchers 16yo 1990/2007 (46%, DT NC2)
Nose: nice oak, red fruit, banana, very nice nose.
Palate: slightly spicy and dry, red fruit, oak, gets quite some depth. The finish is nicely warming, and the oaky tones come through, nice one.
Verdict: 87 points. This one has a great price/quality rating.

Caol Ila 15yo 1992/2007 (46%, DT NC2)
Nose: real Caol Ila, nice peat, floral, some lactic notes.
Palate: peat, true Caol Ila, some citrus, lots of medicine, and some floral notes. Maybe gets somewhat unilateral peat in the finish.
Verdict: 85 points, a very nice Caol Ila.

Scapa 12yo 1995/2008 (46%, DL Provenance, autumn/winter)
Nose: very fresh nose, floral, mint, slightmy mineral, subtle touches of peat.
Palate: spicy and creamy, nice evolution, remains very fresh, a fruit basket, very subtle smokiness. Keeps on having a great evolution and gets really creamy in the finish.
Verdict: 87 points , nice thing and for sure a stunner !!!

Cooley 11yo 1996/2008 'The Dark Angel' (46%, Daily Dram)
Nose: banana, some mineraal, malty sweet: 21
Palate: slightly spicy and creamy, banana, mineral, somewhat clean, lots of fruits. The banana aromas are dominant in the finish, a nice finish.
Verdict: 87 points, a true daily dram.

Imperial 11yo 1996/2008 'Lime Pair' (46%, Daily Dram)
Nose: clean, mineral, grassy.
Palate: mellow and creamy, slightly smoky touches, LOTS more complex than the nose made us suspect.
A quiet nice and rather complex finish.
Verdict: 87 points. Pity a bit for the nose, but I haven't ever seen one drink with the nose ...

Pittyvaich 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna, +/- 2005)
Nose: a forest, humus, glazed Brussels chicory, nutty, some mineral.
Palate: spicy and creamy, sherry tones, nutty, great mouth feel, nice sweetness. A full, warming and creamy finish.
Verdict: 87 points, a very tasty dram.

Laphroaig 8yo 1998/ 2007 (46%, DL Provenance, Autumn/Autumn)
Nose: a peat-bomb, lots of phenols and medicine, a hot racing tyre.
Palate: smooth and dry to get creamier, still a peat bomb with lots of medicine, some citrus on the second taste.
The finish is full and robust, with still a certain complexity.
Verdict: 87 points , a great young Laphroaig.

Auchentoshan 10yo 1996/2006 (46%, DL Provenance, Summer/Summer)
Nose: clean, mineral, herbal, some spices.
Palate: slightly spicy and creamy, clean, grassy, mineral. The finish is long and pleasant.
Verdict: 85 points, could perhaps have some more depth.

Benriach 12yo 'Arumaticus Fumosus' (46%, OB, Peated Jam. Dark Rum Finish, 1740 Bts.)
Nose: deep peat, very medicinal, fresh, citrus, barbecue, smoke from an oak fire.
Palate: smooth and dry to get spicier, nice peat, lots of orange, some medicine. The finish remains peaty and spicy, very pleasant.
Verdict: 86 points, for the true peat-heads !!!

Ben Nevis 10yo (46%, OB 2007)
Nose: a nice fruity nose, oak, vanilla, bourbonny touches.
Palate: dry and slightly peppery, apples, vanilla, bourbonny. The finish is nice and long, apples and vanilla dominate.
Verdict: 86 points.

So, again I wish you all a happy hunting after these bang-for-the-bucks. I'll be back for more Stunner Alerts as soon as I find one more dozen. After all, this 'quest for stunners' turns out to be not as easy as I initially expected, but again, taste as much as possible from as many distilleries as possible, and after all … only your personal taste counts !!!

Stay tuned for more …

Cheers,

Bert Bruyneel, Belgium
 

 
 

E-pistle 2008/27 - Springbank Whisky School 2008

Springbank Whisky School - June 9th to 13th, 2008
Public safety warning on antique equipment 
After enjoying Scotch whisky for a good part of my life the opportunity to attend
the Springbank Whisky School and too see the production side of distilling
unexpectedly presented it self when my friend Nigel Drever registered for the
June 2008 class. I seized the moment and registered post haste after Nigel
declared that he would be glad of my company (odd considering that we've
travelled to Scotland together on prior trips). Springbank is unique among
Scottish distilleries in that it performs all the functions from malting to bottling
on site; a unique opportunity to see all the sets of production first hand.
 
Nigel left for the UK a few weeks prior to my departure date to visit with friends
so I travelled solo to Glasgow from Victoria via Calgary and London. During my
Calgary lay over I took refuge in the Maple Leaf Lounge and experimented with
equal parts of Johnnie Walker Black and Glenlivet 12; a fine dram (and a double
as a bonus!). And being a Malt Maniac I scouted the liquor stores behind
security just to see if there was anything worth purchasing on my return trip.
I spotted a Longmorn 1973/2007 G&M, C#3649 from a first fill sherry butt and
bottled at 54.4%. I knew this bottling well and would be glad of another so I
double checked the shops hours and made sure that I could carry it on the
plane from Calgary to Victoria. The shop keeper said it was fine to take the
bottle on the air plane because we were on the other side of security; excellent.

After the usual long haul experience Air Canada 850 landed safely at Heathrow and I made my way through Immigration and past some new biometric scanning equipment which a sign indicated was part of a trial. At a further security station my hand luggage with laptop sailed through the X-ray but nobody was observing the screen; typical. What to do at Heathrow at 8am? Shop for whisky and have a full English breakfast. After a quick scan of the whiskies on offer I made my choice; Highland Park 21 OB exclusive to travel retail. Dr. Ian, who sat on my left from Calgary to London, popped up in the World of Whiskies declaring "I knew you'd be here!" and so off we went for breakfast. I enjoyed a dram of Famous Grouse with my breakfast. Very civilized.

BMI to Glasgow after a short delay and then I met up with Nigel who had already fought with the car rental agency and sorted out the details as per our reservation. As Jerry Seinfeld said to the lady behind the counter at the rental agency "You know how to take the reservation but you don't know how to keep the reservation….." A high speed 4 hour drive to Campbeltown with Nigel at the wheel; I was navigator (driving the Mull of Kintyre towards Campbeltown navigating is simple; keep the ocean to your right). After a wee unplanned tour of Campbeltown we found Feorlin B&B and met our charming hosts, Angela and Callum Cassidy. Dinner that night was an excellent soup of splint pea & ham, steak pie and veg. Since I was very tired I had a quick dram of Highland Park 21 with Nigel to christen our adventure and then 24 hours of travel caught up with me.
 

Monday

After a full Scottish breakfast we headed off to the famed
Springbank Distillery, I've toured Springbank a number of times
but this week would be very different. We were instructed to be at
the distillery at 8 a.m. which I thought was an ominous portent.
The commute by foot was only a few minutes and we presented
ourselves to the front office where we met the Distillery Manager
Stuart Robertson. Stuart's was formerly employed by Diageo and he
used to work with our fellow Victoria Single Malt Club member Mike
Nicolson who ran Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Royal Lochnager etcetera.
Shortly after introductions Frank McHardy gave a Health & Safety
tour of the distillery and pointed out all the hot and sharp bits of
equipment to be avoided.

Frank then turned us over to Callum who took us to the malting
floor to grub (aerate) the germinating malt with long handled multi
pronged forks that you dragged behind you agitating the malt and
all allowing in air. The floor was certainly more pristine when we
started that after we'd finished but Callum assured us we'd done
the job properly. Springbank use Optic barley sourced from the
east coast of Scotland and ensures that 100% of their barley is
from Scotland. The germination process takes 6 days and the
temperature should be in the 16 to 18 C range.
Tea break!

After tea we headed off to the cast iron mash tun...
It was being filled with the 4th water (water used for 2nd water of next batch) by Gordon who was very patient with our questions as all Springbank staff was.  The mash tun water temperatures are 1st water 160F, 2nd water 165F, 3rd water 170F and 4th water is 200F and each mash uses 3.64 tons of barley using water from Crosshill Loch in the hills above the distillery. Interestingly the rakes in the mash tun only make two rotations per water which is very little, just enough to mix up the mash. The last water is used to remove the draft to the tank above where it waits for collection by a local cattle farmer; this can be observed a couple of times a day dependant on the distilling schedule. We could frequently smell the cattle in Campbeltown!

We then assisted Gordon in adding water to mash tun to remove draft and move it in slurry form to slurry tank above.
The mash tun appears to be ancient with large revolving rakes Ancient original cast iron mash tun with rakes and brass main gear. After the mash tun was filled we went up top with Callum to inspect the tank that holds the draft and I inadvertently displaced the plug in the draft tank which resulted in a substantial leak which we observed with some horror later in the day! Gordon was wondering why he was short of water for a while and then Calum pointed out the leak from above.

I guiltily looked at Nigel who looked like he'd had a bad kipper at breakfast.
Relearned lesson of don't bloody well touch anything without permission! Shortly after the leaking tank incident we then visited the still man and learned about still operation and that the wash still runs on oil burner and steam (capacity of 21,000 L) and the two smaller spirit stills which are steam only with a capacity of 12274 each. We kept our hands firmly in our pockets!

Lunch, off to Eaglesomes for a sandwich, a bag of crisps and a bottle of water; Springbank include a lunch card valid at Eaglesomes valued at ₤10.00 a day. My purchases on the first day came to ₤2.95, I'm unsure how anybody could eat ₤10 worth of food but I have to presume it's better to be safe than sorry! Frank came looking for us; according to our school schedule we were late (happily) for the bottling hall! At the bottling hall we had a brief and perfunctory explanation of the bottling hall process by Catherine and a myriad of Ian's. I was lumbered with the front/main labeling and Nigel was abusing the capping machine at a pace that was unacceptable to Catherine. Later Nigel managed to put two back labels on the same bottle much to his pride. The offending back labels were for the Japanese market (so we were told, it could have been Korean for all we knew). Each label is hand stamped on the back to identify the lot number.

We then reviewed the process for 'sight the bottles' for flaws in glass and contaminates in whisky.
The a quick demonstration of corking process followed by my  inspecting the labels front and back and then giving the bottle one more inspection before inserting the bottle into the individual box prior to the lot being inserted into a larger 12 bottle box. The capacity of the bottling hall is 160 to 200 cases a day. Compared to other bottling halls in the industry it is quite labor intensive and the owner of Springbank, Hedley Wright likes it that way as it helps local employment.

Tea time; not a moment too soon.

After tea we went upstairs to the malt steeps to load in 5.5 tons of dry weight barley. (The actual final estimate was of in fact 6 tons). The malted barley was gravity fed into the steep and we smoothed it out under the watchful eye of Callum. The water was scheduled to be added at 6 am Tuesday morning to start the steeping/soaking process of 38 hours and the barley should have a 48% moisture content at the end of the steeping.  A 12 % moisture level after steeping is ideal. Then downstairs for a final grubbing of the floor. While Nigel was observing the end of the Hazelburn middle cut off the Spirit still  (distilling was stopped at 63.7% ABV at 25C) I wandered off to Cadenheads to buy a 1/2 bottle of Longrow NAS 60.5% "Tasting Room" sample for consumption at the B&B over the course of the week. The Spirit still temp was increased to boil off the feints.

And our first day was complete.
Dinner that night was: chicken pie, soup, leek & chicken and strawberries and cream. On the malt menu was Old Pulteney 12, Longrow NAS 60.5% and Highland Park 21 OB exclusive to travel retail and we watched the European Cup on a really small television.
 

Tuesday

After my intimate experience with the lack of portion control that seemed to rife in
Campbeltown I had a much lighter breakfast and then we were off to the distillery.
Our first task with Calum was to add water to the barley in the malt steep as this
had not been done at 6am which was good news because I wanted to be part of
this process and to see it first hand.  We added the water which turned brown
straight away which for some reason I caught me by surprise however it makes
sense once you give it some thought. The water and barley sit for 12 hours; long
enough for the barley to be thoroughly steeped. We spent a few minutes running
paddles and rakes through the water to sink the floating clumps of barley.
We never saw any dead mice in the barley despite the dire stories!

Following the steeps we headed down to the filling store and watched the set up
of mixing the tank prior to filling into casks the first Hazelburn of the season. The
set up involved reducing the spirit to 63.5% A.B.V. and this had to be done very
carefully because it would have been a real problem if the A.B.V went below 63.5%.
The first addition of water took it down to 65.7%. More water was added; another
135 L to bring it 63.5%. Then cask filling starting. We filled 70 casks made up of 24
fresh sherry barrels and 46 "C" barrels (3rd fill bourbon from Heaven Hill & Jim Beam).

Numerous sherry barrels had leaks that had to be either repaired by sealing cracks with hammers or transferring contents to a replacement sherry barrels. That morning we transferred the contents of three casks using a hand pump, funnels and buckets and a dozen were repaired. One bourbon barrel needed to be replaced. One critical task was to paint the contents in Litres on the barrel ends with white paint; this had to be the same amount as entered into the record book. We also rolled in the new casks in order to fill them and then rolled filled casks into the yard in precise numerical rows for later transfer to the racks in the warehouse. Natrually all cask rolling from the filling store to the neat rows of filled casks was uphill! Everybody from Stuart down pitched in with this labor intensive chore and it was amazing at how deftly the team maneuvered the casks into position with the bung up and stenciled end facing out, all in numerical order.

After what seemed like forever we broke for lunch; Nigel and I dashed off to Eaglesomes, there is no possible way to eat your way through the generous daily ₤10 allowance however I made a valiant attempt. I was quite hungry and purchased a Chicken Tikka sandwich, strawberry & cream bun and a bottle of water. Lunch was delicious.

After lunch Nigel was put on 'light' duties and was sent upstairs to grub the malt floor. (The entire malt floor, by himself and he seemed slightly over taxed on his return. I suspect he was angling for a dram of new make but no such luck!). Filling continued until the final few casks when hand filling commenced directly from the large holding tank and then each cask was weighed to determine the contents.  All contents (in litres) were carefully noted in the distillery record by Gavin. With the heavy casks the need & company policy for steel toed boots became quite evident! Springbank produces 200,000 L per annum; we casked 14865 L Hazelburn in one day or 1/10 of the annual production.

Later in the day we had a talk with Stuart Robertson about economics of refurbishing cask versus buying new ones.
Stuart indicated that it makes sense to refurbish port pipes and sherry butts however not with so bourbon barrels. Gavin joined us and we had a talk/lecture the subjects of malting, steeping, the malt floor, rootlets, stems etcetera and then kilning and storing which I found fascinating as with all the little bits and bobs of information that you pick up along the way. The malt mill at Springbank is 65 years old and the belts and pulleys that deliver the barley to the mill look their age but do the job; it's actually a joy to see equipment with heritage as opposed to sterile gleaming distilleries as I've seen many times.

Another day complete, off for dinner, a few drams and the European cup games.
 

Wednesday

Breakfast…. Angela managed to slip a few wee bits of bacon and sausage onto my plate. Myriad bits of toast, marmalade and……..cups of tea. However despite my best efforts it was too much; better communication with our hostess tomorrow!

According to our schedule we were to be in the bottling hall all morning however we managed to skive off to spread the 'student' load of green malt in the kiln (5.5 tons, the usual load is 10 or 12 tons). I've always heard that this is heavy work and it proved to be true but with four of us it didn't take very look. We started with two large piles of malt which had to be spread to even depth. The areas that were slightly compacted were loosed up to allow the smoke to penetrate evenly.

The week so far was proving to be fascinating and I now had a much more complete understanding what a hands on job making whisky in the traditional fashion is and how much physical strength it takes to make whisky. Our next task was to clean up the top floor of spilt barley; also the elevator on the malting floor was cleaned out of any loose barley grains. The damp barley in the loft was very heavy; it was like shoveling damp heavy snow. (Did I mention that the wet barley is heavy?) Tea. (Thank God). I needed a break.

After tea we made our way to the kiln to set the peat fire and started it with paper, kindling, a little petroleum accelerant and dry peat. The fans and blowers were turned on and vents were opened to allow a proper air flow. In the first stage of the fire burn the goal is to obtain a good bed of rosy red peats, following this very damp (almost soaked through) peat is placed on the burning fire to produce lots and lots of smoke. The malt upstairs in the kiln is a load destined for Longrow and the fire needs to be maintained for 30 hours for peating and 32 hours of drying time. Hazelburn has a zero peating level and 24 hours drying time while Springbank has 6 hours peating and a total drying time of 30 hours. A moisture level of 4% is ideal and a dramatically lower level than when the barley was laid out on the malting floor. The malted and kilned barley should be 'rested' in the malt storage bins for at least 30 days prior to use.

After that we spent the morning going over the process of mashing with Gordon; saw the grist and the water mixed, 75% of the conversion to sugar occurs in the instant the two mixes.

That day at lunch I discovered the awesome steak mince pies at Eaglesomes and had a strawberry cream cake for dessert; any more of this much food and I'd start to resemble the Springbank wash still.

 A lecture with Stuart Robertson followed lunch on the details of milling, mashing, and fermenting and the points where fermenting can wrong producing butyric in the finished spirit (and thus ruining the spirit). Stuart talked about the differences between Springbank at 2.5 x distillation (the distilling version of the pretzel when described verbally), Longrow at 2 x distillation and Hazelburn at 3 times distillation. He elaborated on the character of the spirit that is 'built' in the wash backs and that further character development occurs with the yeast and even after the yeast is consumed even further character emerges dues to the changes within the wash. Also since the wash back is made of wood it releases bacteria that add to the character of the wash and of the resulting distilled spirit. The mash tuns at Springbank are made of larch and can hold 22, ooo litres of liquid in each. The minimum fermentation time is 48 hours and Springbank uses 75 kilos of yeast to yield an average alcohol percentage of 4.5%

The distilling schedule of the distillery is Hazelburn, Springbank, Longrow and then Longrow, Springbank and finally Hazelburn to prevent high peating levels of Longrow from contaminating Hazelburn.

Stuart also talked about the process for making up a batch of Springbank (the 10 year old for example) a parcel of casks are selected,  married together and finally put back into the same casks for up to six months to further marry. This helps the batches to remain consistent over the years. The batches are limited in size due to the small size of the vatting tub which is located in the bottling hall.

In the afternoon Calum kindly drove us to Glengyle and showed us around the spanking new compact distillery. It was a wonderful opportunity to have a private tour of Glengyle and the disused maltings. It was especially nice to see the that recycling is alive and well in Campbeltown as the stills came from Ben Wyvis and other bits and bobs of equipment were from other distilleries however a lot was purpose built. Glengyle is an interesting little distillery and hopefully we'll see more of the whisky in the future. For now the only opportunity is to buy the malt from the living cask in the Tasting Room behind Cadenheads; I brought a bottle home with me.

After touring Glengyle distillery Calum drove us over to Glen Scotia Distillery and introduced us to Jim who was the still man and he happily showed us around. Glen Scotia is just slightly decrepit in appearance from the outside but inside every thing is as it should be. I was some what surprised to see cast iron wash backs; I've never seen this at any other distillery however you can't argue with the quality of the final product. But the heavy layer of rust inside the wash backs was some thing to behold! Glen Scotia produces some wonderful whisky, the most common being the OB Glen Scotia 12yo 40% and I purchased a bottle from the distillery manager after the tour in the smallest distillery shop I've ever seen. We sampled the malt later that night while watching the game between Portugal and the Czech Republic. Between jet lag, huge meals, our own ready supply of malt and the European Cup we have yet had a chance to go to the pub!

Dinner: chicken noodle soup, roast chicken, mashed potato, mashed turnip and potato croquettes. Warm chocolate warm pudding, field berries and ice cream for dessert.
 

Thursday

The first task on Thursday morning was to tend to the Kiln fire and then it was off to the malting floor upstairs to lay the barley on the malting floor fresh from the steep. The evening shift had already shoveled the malt from the steep onto the malting floor just beside the steep in great glistening piles of barley so we carried on with Calum & Iggy loading the barley into barrows and then dumping the barrow as needed on the floor. We then raked the barley into position and made sure all was neat and tidy. A well laid out malting floor is a beautiful thing.

After that we slowly made our way to the bottling hall where we observed the 'turning in' of the casks that were being bottled that day and also the process of reducing the whisky to 46% for bottling. The aim is to bottle at 46.1% to avoid any mistakes (i.e. less than 46%). Four casks had been married together six months prior and were now to be bottled as the Springbank 10yo; 1100 litres produce approximately 1200 bottles for the Japanese market.

The last task of the day before our tasting with Frank McHardy was to build a dunnage rack consisting of 33 casks of Hazelburn new spirit (some of which we had filled earlier in the day) laid out 3 high and 11 long. The Forklift driver was Iggy, the Mario Andretti of the fork lift driver world, who drove the casks one or two at a time to the warehouse. We made sure that all the bungs were in the 12 o'clock position to ensure that they didn't leak. At the end of the cask filling we also filled by hand, 18 bottles with Hazelburn new spirit for trade samples.

Near the end of the work day we had a prowl around the finished goods store and looked over the stocks of Springbank ready to be shipped to the UK and overseas markets, including Longrow 18 tucked away in a far corner. Despite our best efforts we couldn't distract Charles long enough to make off with a case under each arm.

The final task of the day was quick tasting with Frank McHardy in the tasting room.
Campbeltown Loch 15yo; Springbank 17yo Society bottling, 2008 new release 15yo Springbank, a 15yo Springbank sherry cask sample, the Longrow CV and Hazelburn 8yo. Frank took us through each whisky and explained the position they held in the portfolio and the some of the challenges in filling orders from such a relatively small annual out put.
 

Friday

The last day and the week had sped by. I had some spare time before we were due back at the distillery so I took the opportunity to check my email at the local library called the Aqualibrium (community pool & library building); membership is free and is a great resource for the visitor. After that I did some last minute shopping for some Springbank 15yo minis and a toured of the Campbeltown harbor. I met up with Nigel and saw wind turbine masts or pylons being loaded onto a large ship in the destined for parts unknown. In the tourist information center I picked up a small paper back copy of "Scotch Whisky" by Tom Bruce-Gardine, Id never seen or heard of this little book before so it was a nice addition to my collection.

I was admiring an older building on the harbor front that had two crossed rifles  in relief above the main door and stuck up a conversation with 'George' about the building that turned out to be the home Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Territorial Army before they we disbanded many years prior. We also chatted about the Royal Hotel next door which is under going refurbishment, this is a good omen because Campbeltown needs a good refurbishment in places but they mustn't loose the character of the place to drab modern architecture. George pointed out bomb damage to both buildings from World War II.

10:30 and off to the tasting room for the final exam; Nigel and I scored 100%, apparently the very first people to do so. After the exam and scoring by Frank we had lunch from Eaglesomes with Frank, Stuart & Gavin in the tasting room. My last chance at steak mince pies and cream cake, I picked up an extra pie for the drive to Glasgow. We were presented with our certificates and personalized bottles of Springbank 57%. Stuart said we had done well which was gratifying to say the least.

After lunch we said or good byes to Springbank and Feorlin B&B and started the drive to Glasgow in great weather. We stopped in Inverrary to visit with our friends at Loch Fyne Whiskies. I sampled Ardbeg Renaissance which was quite good although as I write this now I have absolutely no recollection of how it tasted; time to buy a bottle I suspect and refresh my memory! 

After turning in the rental car at Glasgow Airport had a dram to consol ourselves over the huge fuel bill. Shortly afterwards Nigel left to start a visit with his brother and the next day I flew home via Heathrow and Calgary but that night I had a few drams and watched both European Cup games. The next morning at Glasgow airport I paused on my way in to reflect on the new paint work and cladding at the spot where the terrorist had detonated his jeep.

The Springbank Whisky School is a very worth while experience for the whisky enthusiast and offers and outstanding value. I've made light of the amount of food we ate during our time in Campbeltown but it only reinforces the fact that Springbank are making sure that the week is good value for students.

I highly recommend it to whisky enthusiasts the world over for both the exposure to scotch malt whisky making in the traditional fashion but also for the contact with people at all levels of the distillery that care deeply about the quality product they produce.

Lawrence Graham, Canada
 
 
 
 

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Malt Maniacs Issue #110 - Whisky Writings for 2008

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