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Sunday, 15 November 2020

CLASSY PEATED WHISKIES FOR SMOKY SCOTCH LOVERS

 ISLAY NO LONGER ONLY HOME OF PEATED WHISKY


You either like Peated whiskies or you don’t; there is no halfway stage. The earliest peated whiskies came from the rocky shores of Islay, off the southwest coast of Scotland—but there are plenty of producers in Speyside capitalising on the growing fan base. So much for Scotland-peated whiskies are made in good measure across the world, in India, Germany, Japan, Taiwan and more.

Aficionados love the strong smoky flavors and the briny notes of seaweed and iodine that are reminiscent of a smoldering campfire by the shore. Naysayers say that it’s like drinking an ashtray or that they smell like a tire store. But depending on where and how the whiskies are made, peated malts encompass a whole range of smoky flavors, along with everything from ripe pears to dried mushrooms.

Peat is an accumulation of decaying or partially decayed vegetation or organic matter, and can be found naturally occurring in peatlands, bogs, mires and moors. Peatlands, while one of the most effective ecosystems on the planet, are a great source for this peat, which is essentially a thick mud, and can be cut out in square bricks and dried as an alternative fuel source to coal. Given peat’s worldwide availability(mainly in the northern hemisphere), it made for a reliable and easily-procured source of fuel before coal and other options made their way to Islay from Glasgow hundreds of years ago.

Peat’s influence in smoky whisky is measured in PPM (parts per million), which looks at the prevalence of phenols, moisture, nitrogen content, and the predicted spirit yield of the final run. Malting the barley to a higher ppm can contribute to a much smokier whisky, but the ppm of the raw material is not a trusted measurement of the peat flavour which ultimately ends up in the bottle. What this means is that the universally accepted PPM scale is a good indicator of the presence of peat, while also having a wide range of scope for distillers.

During the malting process, barley is slightly germinated in order to draw sugars from the starch. This needs to be stopped half-way, however, which is done by applying heat. Where other heat sources are readily at hand in other parts of the world, Islay used peat to malt their barley from the start,  creating a unique product that set their small corner of the world apart from the distilleries of Scotland. The smoke from the burning peat imparts a distinct flavour upon the grains, which finds its way into the final liquid.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the fuel used for roasting was usually peat, which burns like coal and is abundant throughout Scotland. In the years after World War II, most Scottish distilleries switched over to other, cleaner fuel sources, but a few kept up the peaty tradition. And in recent decades, as single malt mania took hold and whisky-philes started searching out bolder and more distinctive whiskies, the smoky stuff—the more intense the better—gained a cult following that makes brands like Lagavulin and Ardbeg some of the most desirable of all Scotch.

TALISKER

On the shores of Loch Harport, the village of Carbost is home to Skye’s first of two distilleries producing wonderfully powerful and award-winning Island malts bottled at above average strength.

Talisker had long been available as single malt from independents such as Gordon & MacPhail, and also officially, predominantly as an eight-year-old. In 1998, it was given greater prominence as a founding member of the Classic Malts Selection when the age was upped to 10 years. An 18-year-old joined the range in 2004, but since 2008 the range has expanded dramatically with no-age-statement quartet: 57˚North, Storm, Dark Storm and Port Ruighe. It is now one of Diageo’s most important single malt brands.

Talisker Distillery from the Islands Region has an unusual configuration of their stills – two wash stills and three spirit. But it does not triple distill its spirits. Instead, the five still set-up produces a highly individual new make which mixes smoke, fruit, sulphur, salt and pepper. The malt is medium-peated, the worts clear, the fermentation long. It is in distillation that things seem slightly strange.

The wash stills are very tall with an exaggerated U-shaped bend in the lyne arm with a purifier pipe at its lowest point. This refluxes any heavy elements back into the body of the still to be redistilled. After rising up the ‘U’, the lyne arm coils itself inside cold worm tubs. While there is a lot of reflux taking place, there is little copper contact which provides the sulphury notes in the new make, and could give the signature pepperiness in the mature spirit. The purifier pipe adds oiliness, while the reflux helps to refine the fruity elements created during fermentation.

In contrast to most distilleries where the spirit stills are the workhorses, at Talisker the second distillation takes place in small plain stills, again with worm tubs. This adds mid-palate weight. Maturation is in refill and rejuvenated casks with ex-fortified wine casks being used for the Distiller’s Edition and Port Ruighe expressions and occasional special releases.

Talisker 10: Talisker 10 is one of those whiskies that often gets taken for granted because it’s been such a constant presence for so long. A massive success as the island representative in Diageo's 'Classic Malts' series, Talisker 10yo's profile keeps increasing as more fans discover its intense coastal spicy, peaty character. The 10-year age statement isn’t particularly sexy, it’s not bottled at a high proof (45.8%) and even the peat content is pretty low, making for a balanced and subtle tipple that doesn’t overpower the olfactory with lashings of smoke or iodine.  But it’s a perfectly constructed malt that belongs in every serious whiskyphile’s liquor cabinet.

Given its location-connoisseurs and scientists are both divided on whether a spirit can truly display terroir, but if you ever needed proof that it can, Talisker is it- the saline, maritime characteristics endemic to anything made by the sea is delivered in spades, buttressed by crisp bacon, celery salt and ripe red apple helping it evolve into sweet malt and gentle smoke, which lingers on in the long finish. A classic truly elemental malt.

ARDBEG 


THE UNTAMED SPIRIT OF ISLAY: Although it has long claimed to be Islay’s smokiest malt till overtaken by Bruichladdich, Ardbeg can also realistically lay claim to be one of the island’s sweetest. It is this combination of rich sooty/tarry smoke with a citric sweet core which gives it its balance. Along with Glenmorangie, Ardbeg is owned by LVMH, which means an automatic but unavoidable price jump.

Ardbeg has been called “as close to perfection as makes no difference,” by whisky connoisseurs. Proof then, that Ardbeg truly deserves its incredible reputation. It’s a whisky that’s worshipped around the world. In the past ten years, six different Ardbeg expressions have won prestigious titles including World Whisky of the Year, Scotch Whisky of the Year and World’s Best Single Malt.

Heavy peating at Port Ellen maltings gives the smoke, long fermentation helps to increase softness and a clean, acidic fruitiness, while it is the use of a purifier pipe in the lyne arm of the spirit still which adds an oily, textural quality to the final product but also helps to refine the spirit. A new, modern and very Glenmorangie wood policy has also helped to give more roundness to the final mature product.

Ardbeg has undergone many changes in ownership and shutdowns. Unusable in a blended Scotch, its fortunes in the whisky market were, at best, wavery. A rise in demand for peated whisky saw production increase in the 1960s and 1970s, with demand necessitating that the distillery bring in peated malt from Port Ellen from 1974. For aficionados, the end of Ardbeg’s self-sufficiency was the end of an era – and a style. Seven years later, Ardbeg’s kiln was again extinguished, to restart in 1989.

The stock profile meant that its first age statement release was a 17-year-old, while it would take until 2008 for its own Ardbeg 10-year-old to appear. From 2004, however, there had been incremental releases: ’Very Young’, ‘Still Young’ and ‘Almost There’ showed the work in progress. The portfolio still concentrates on no-age-statement releases, some exclusively from (now very rare) old stock, others from new, some from a mix. Different oaks have also been used as part of a general improvement in the quality of casks used. The range has been bolstered in recent years by the addition of core expressions Ardbeg An Oa (NAS) in 2017 and Ardbeg Traigh Bhan 19 Year Old two years later.

BOWMORE:

Winner of a host of awards, Islay's Bowmore has been named Distillery of the Year multiple times, and various expressions have also been recognised with Double Gold Awards at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

As a whole, Bowmore has won more awards than any other distillery. Islay, of course, has a long history of illicit distillation, which makes the question of which distillery is the oldest moot. Officially, Lagavulin, for example, dates back to 1816, but there were unlicensed distilleries operating on that site dating back to 1742. Established in 1779, Bowmore distillery is the amongst the oldest on Islay and some would argue that the individuals that work here produce the best Single Malt in the world. Why?

Bowmore uses traditional methods of production: methods that have been handed down through generations. They take great pride in what they do and are among the six that still take the time to floor malt their own barley - a painstaking process that requires a Maltman to toss the grain by hand with a traditional wooden malt shovel, every four hours. It is this kind of detail that sets Bowmore Distillery apart. It’s a process that’s been perfected over nearly 240 years. 

The soft fresh water from the nearby River Laggan, perfectly malted and peat-kilned barley, painstakingly cultivated yeast, and the magnificent character of Islay all come together to create Bowmore single malt Scotch whisky. The Laggan  River rises in ancient pre-Cambrian rocks that, at almost two billion years old, are among the oldest in Europe, and flows into Loch Indaal. The water flows over peat, picking up a brown colour and about two-ppm phenol; this is not enough, however, to have a discernable impact on the whisky’s taste, though its ex-Master Blender Rachel Barrie feels otherwise. And it’s in the legendary No. 1 Vaults, the old stone warehouse that sits on the edge of Loch Indaal, that the magical character of Islay and centuries of tradition patiently combine to create a whisky that stands out for its balance, complexity and beauty.

The distillery has four stills—two wash stills and two spirit stills—and has an annual capacity of two million litres of pure alcohol. The distillery is also one of the few distilleries that still use peat in its kilning operations, producing the distinctive peat reek that Islay whiskies are noted for. Neither the locally produced barley nor the floor malting are sufficient to meet the distillery’s annual requirements, so its malting operation is supplemented by already malted barley that is produced to its specifications and imported from the mainland.

Whisky making is a very complicated process and the best way to understand it is to tour a distillery. Once the "new-make" spirit is ready, it goes into American or Spanish oaks casks previously used to age sherry or bourbon, thus creating different expressions. Casks are placed in the famous no. 1 Vaults for maturing.  Located below sea level, this maturation room is as old as the distillery itself.

Some of the most luxurious vintages Bowmore has produced include the White ($6,000) and Black ($4,500), part of a trilogy of whiskies, all distilled on November 5, 1964. Completing the set, the Gold Bowmore ($6,250) was recently released. Less than 900 bottles of each of the trilogy were produced, making all of them exceptionally rare. Additionally, the year that they were distilled was also the year that Bowmore introduced steam-powered stills, which are able to produce a much smoother and consistent spirit. 

HAKUSHU

 

    

THE HISTORY OF SUNTORY: The history of Japanese whisky is the history of Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory.

In 1923, Shinjiro Torii envisioned a whisky filled with the essence of Japanese nature and hand-crafted by artisans through a patient process of enhancing the work of nature. He dreamt of creating subtle, refined, yet complex whisky that would suit the delicate palate of the Japanese and enhance their dining experience. Though initially inspired by traditional Scottish whisky, Torii envisioned a Japanese approach by choosing a terrain and climate completely different from those of Scotland. Torii chose the region of Yamazaki, on the outskirts of Kyoto as the birthplace of Japanese whisky. 

The Hakushu Distillery was founded in 1973, half a century after Yamazaki. Keizo Saji inherited his father’s vision in his quest for innovation and constructed this second Suntory distillery. Keizo Saji, the second Master Blender, inherited his father’s quest to push the boundaries of what a Japanese whisky could be. He had searched all over Japan for high quality water that will become the most delicately aromatic to produce whisky that people would love. After searching with tenacity to the headstreams of rivers and deep into rugged mountains, he found Hakushu. The Hakushu Distillery is without question one of the highest distilleries in the world, built amidst the deepest forests of Mt. Kaikomagatake in the Japanese Southern Alps.

Hakushu is the highest operational distillery in Japan, towering over its competitors at a height of more than 2000 feet above sea-level. It is a Suntory distillery and, while not quite as globally famous as Yamazaki, the quality of single malt whisky produced here is nothing short of outstanding. With four distinctive seasons, the clear air and cool, humid climate of Hakushu’s vast forests allow the distillery to produce high-quality whisky through a slow, unhurried process.

The majestic forest that surrounds the Hakushu Distillery shelters an abundance of plant varieties reflecting the many expressions of Japanese nature. The malt whiskies born here are simultaneously blessed with a very particular microclimate within verdant forests. Hakushu is known to use one of the most pristine water supplies in all of Japan, the reserves at the base of Mount Kai Komagatake. The water offers rare purity, only made possible by filtration of rain and snow through thousand-year-old granite rocks, but with a very low mineral content and is much softer than that found elsewhere in the country, and this helps the distillery to create a refreshing, crisp and well-balanced range of expressions.

The original Hakushu distillery was expanded with another distillery building called Hakushu Higashi (east) added in 1981. The original west wing was gradually mothballed.

Hakushu 12 Year Old: Its 12 YO lightly peated whisky is comprised of three types of single malts. The components are a non-peated whisky aged in American oak, a non-peated whisky aged in ex-sherry/ Spanish Oak, and a peated whisky aged in American oak. As such, the peat level goes down to a mild 7-9 ppm. In 2013 and 2014, it brought out 3,000 bottles of heavily peated NAS single malts (48% ABV) which, at $2000/- each, sold out in a day. 

Hakushu distillery uses different styles of oak barrel to age their single malt, but mainly hogshead, which, according to the distillery is, “suitable to the clear air and cool humid climate.” Green and fresh, cool and earthy, the 12-year old from Hakushu is lightly peated and very delicate in its flavour profile. In fact, moist peat and cool mint gently hold up the bouquet of flowers and cereal notes. The light and fruity style of the whisky is quite similar to the Yamazaki 12, but the smoke, which is more rich body than intense fire, really makes up for any lack of richness. The price has increased considerably over the last five years with the inventory of Japanese whisky getting tighter and tighter.

Hakushu 18 Year Old: This rare release from Hakushu illustrates why this is one of the most interesting malt distilleries in Japan. Hakushu means “white sand banks” named after the mineral depoists in the streams that feed the distillery. This deeply fragrant whisky has a refreshing aroma that calls to mind fruit and hay. The complexity on display is very impressive and at this subtly peated whisky is an underrated Japanese icon.

A massive step up in quality from the standard Hakushu 12 yrs, this 18yo is amazingly well-defined (as we've come to expect from Japanese whisky) with deliciously rounded fruit and cereal flavours, at times surprisingly reminiscent of the finest Irish potstill whisky. This is a whisky that is so smooth, well-balanced and complex that it comes incredibly close to perfection. Made up from a selection of carefully matured whisky, that has been under the eagle-eye of the master distiller for at least 18 years, this refreshing dram has it all.

Both sherry influences and bourbon influences can be detected through rich fruits, citrus, honey, apricots and sweet dark chocolate. These are all supported by that lightly peated character that also brings slight floral notes to the table. The peat opens up with more time spent in the glass and a little burst of lemon juice makes itself known too. All the while, very gentle cinnamon and cloves hide in the background, but are certainly detectable to a trained nose.

Its crisp and vibrant feel, unique in a single malt whisky, enlivens and liberates your senses. The extensive and delightful range of notes, combined with the unparalleled smoothness, have led the Hakushu 18 Year Old to pick up multiple awards throughout the years.

AMRUT

Radhakrishna R. Jagdale set up Amrut Laboratories in 1948 and soon changed it to Amrut Distilleries. 56 years on, his grandson launched Amrut Whisky, the first Indian single malt brand. He created Amrut Fusion in 2004 and, in 2008, was so entranced by it that he submitted it for assessment to global Whisky-guru Jim Murray in 2009. It was voted the 3rd best Whisky in the world by Murray. He did so, after tasting over 4000 whiskies from all over the world. This was the piece de resistance of the 64-year-old Bangalore-based Amrut Distilleries, but forging a new path appears to be a company policy.

Interestingly, young Jagdale started it all as an MBA student in Newcastle, UK, in response to his father’s challenge to market an Indian single malt in the very home of the spirit, in Scotland.

Conforming to the tough European Union packaging norms took a lot of time and effort. But it was all worth it. Entered later in a competition in Glasgow, the host at Glasgow’s famous Pot Still whisky pub served Amrut to a set of connoisseurs. Each person named a different region of Scotland as the likely place of origin, but they were unanimous in their appreciation.

What sets it apart from other Indian liquor brands is its target market. India has always been a huge whisky market, but at the lower end. Amrut wanted to move from quantity to quality, and the biggest challenge was to gain acceptance from the luxury whisky market in Europe.

That is why they set aside a portion of their blends for ageing, and hold brand-building activities all year long. This includes consumer tastings in the form of prominent whisky exhibitions and tutored tastings across the world.

Amrut Distilleries has numerous products in its single malts portfolio so far, starting with Amrut Single Malt, Amrut Peated Single Malt, Amrut Single Malt Cask Strength, Amrut Peated Indian Single Malt and Amrut Fusion Single Malt. After the UK, the brand made a foray into Western Europe and the Scandinavian countries two years later and finally hit North America in April 2010. The line-up is currently sold in 22 countries. Some 8,000 cases are sold in the UK alone every year. 

                

The success of Amrut in the Western markets is to a great extent because of endorsements from people who matter. Besides Murray, the Whisky Advocate magazine has awarded back-to-back World Whisky Awards to Amrut Fusion and Amrut Two Continents. There is a growth of brown spirits in the market, which has lead to consumers wanting to try new spirits. Japan lead the way and now there are single malts from Australia, Taiwan, Ireland, Canada, Sweden, France and also the US.

And no, you don’t have to take a flight out of the country to sample this magic. The Fusion and all other Amrut Single Malt brands have been introduced in Karnataka State, with others to follow. About 5,000 cases are made available annually. Of course, the late India-focus and the low visibility of the Amrut single malt brand in the country did not go down well with experts and market watchers here. Especially since its other whiskies like MaQintosh and Prestige, along with Old Port Rum account for annual sales of over four million cases.

Despite the global accolades, a brand that is not available on the shelves in a vibrant market like India will continue to remain a wannabe in the global marketplace. Perhaps that’s why the company is now eyeing the Delhi and Mumbai markets in an attempt to expand the Indian footprint.

Awards Galore 2019: Amrut Distillery scooped up two special category awards at the 2019 Bartenders Spirits Awards. India’s Amrut Distillery’s Amrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky bagged a gold medal and seized the “World Whisky of the Year” award at the 2019 Bartenders Spirits Awards that took place in San Francisco, on May 19. Amrut Distilleries also picked up “World Whisky Producer of the Year”.

Amrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky gets its name from the fact that it uses two barleys: Indian and Scottish – with the latter being peated. It comes from Amrut Distilleries, the Bangalore-based company which introduced the first single malt from India to the UK in 2004. Amrut’s Indian barley comes from the Punjab and the distillation takes place in the tropical garden city of Bangalore at 3000ft. The barley from Scotland is also distilled in Bangalore and both are matured there separately. After they have reached their peak,  the two whiskies are married in the bourbon casks in proportions which give both a subtle peat flavour and a rich fruity flavour from the Indian barley. This is bottled at 50% abv to reflect the depth and finish of the whisky.

This rare combination of Indian and Scottish elements means Fusion has a really excellent mouthfeel and palate, combining oak, a hint of vanilla, fruit and the sublime peat. The public obviously agreed with Murray when Fusion was launched in June 2009: the first consignment was sold out within few weeks of its release. The next batch was completely pre-ordered before it even reached the UK.

Crafted in Bengaluru, India, Amrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky has a very heavy, thickly oaked and a complex nose. You can also smell some curious barely-sugar notes in there shrouded in soft smoke. Though the delivery of this single malt whiskey is controlled at first, it is massive. The smoke on the nose turns into a warm, full-blown peat as vague sherry trifle notes with oaky vanilla are introduced. It also has barley-fruitiness to make for a bit of a free-for-all. For extra food measure, the flavours develop into a really intense chocolate fudge middle which resonates through the palate. There is a slight struggle at the finish as the mouthfeel gets a bit puffy with dry peat and oak. There is a molasses sweetness to see the malt through to a satisfying end, though. The spices, rather than lying down and accepting their fate, rise up and usher this extraordinary whisky to its exit.

All in all, the company is confident that its single malt segment to be a big revenue generator in the next few years, targeting a sales turnover of Rs 600 crore by 2020-21, up from the current Rs 384 crore. Amrut hopes to scale up to 40,000-50,000 cases internationally. They plan to take the Prestige blended whisky off market, enabling them to increase their supplies to the Single Malt direction.

KAVALAN

                 

Kavalan takes Yilan County's old name. A land of blessings, it was here that entrepreneur Mr. Tien-Tsai Lee dreamed of a new whisky homeland and a ‘century-old’ distillery to last generations. His ambition to create Taiwan’s first whisky took him across the old world to the sacred distilleries of Scotland and Japan. He knew to compete, Taiwan must be world-class, and this tested every sinew of his resolve. Kavalan brings together a highly skilled R&D team which takes on the legacy of renowned whisky specialists. It is backed by King Car Group and its more than 40 years of beverage experience and knowledge.

Kavalan Distillery has been pioneering the art of single malt whisky in Yilan County, Taiwan since 2005. Kavalan sources the mineral-rich meltwaters of Snow Mountain and is aged in a unique combination of intense heat and humidity together with sea and mountain breezes. All these facets combine to create the quality, smoothness, and fruity character for which Kavalan is known.

Kavalan is the distillery that put Taiwanese whisky on the map. Only operating since 2005 they have wowed the world with their young but full flavoured whisky, concentrating on their signature flavours of tropical fruit. Kavalan released its first bottling in 2008. Quickly winning awards for its single malts, Kavalan has been rising in popularity since its opening and has been enticing drinkers around the world since its first whisky launch. Known for its tropical-fruit style, it has won a host of prestigious awards in a very short time.

Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Single Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky: Fino, Spanish for 'Fine', is the driest and palest of all varieties of traditional sherry wine. Traditional Fino wine is usually dry and is best consumed shortly after the bottle is opened in order to avoid losing its flavour. Kavalan's Fino, matured in the finest Fino Sherry butts, however, provides mild sweetness that excites the palate.

Whisky has many flavour descriptions that vary from light to full-bodied. As long as you know how to balance the flavour, it will be very easy to do food pairings with whisky. Light-bodied, sweet and vanilla-flavoured whisky is very suitable to pair with seafood, fish, dried berries and dishes with parsley and basil. For example, Kavalan Solist Fino Sherry Single Cask Strength and Kavalan Bourbon oak Single Malt Whisky.

Kavalan Distillery Reserve Peaty Cask Single Cask Strength  

Matured in rare, special and hand-selected casks. Kavalan Distillery Reserve Single Malt Whisky was available exclusively at Kavalan Distillery and showrooms in limited quantity. The first release in the collection, Kavalan Single Malt Peaty Whisky is the very first peaty whisky from Kavalan. Retaining Kavalan's trademark subtropical fruity flavours and peerless texture, it will surprise and delight whisky connoisseurs. This single malt will definitely impress the collectors of rare whiskies and aficionados that are eager to discover new drams. A true collector's piece! 

It offers a prophecy of things to come, as well as an intermediary way-station, as Kavalan is currently aging whisky distilled from a peated mash bill. Cask strength at 52.4%. 

Future releases of the Kavalan Distillery Reserve series will likely be even more tantalising! 

Monday, 2 November 2020

No Age Statement Whiskies Make Their Mark

 GIVING AGE STATED BRANDS A RUN FOR THE MONEY

As a growing number of Scotch producers admit a scarcity of aged stocks, NAS (no-age-statement) expressions are becoming more prolific, with a number of exciting new bottles launched in the past 12 months. Controversy over the emerging trend of NAS Scotch whiskies has been bubbling for some time, with numerous producers and fans lamenting the supposed loss of quality caused by a lack of age declaration in Scotch.

By law, products labelled as Scotch whisky must have been aged for at least three years, but consumers across the globe often rate the quality of Scotch, and as such the amount they spend on it, by how old it is. However, some producers and connoisseurs have argued such prejudice could actually limit innovation in the industry, particularly in light of a demonstrable lack of very old liquid.

Despite widespread contention, one thing is clear, as old stocks shrink and experimentation is more generally accepted in the industry, NAS whiskies are carving a niche in the Scotch market. 

Most whisky drinkers look to the age of a given whisky as an indicator of its quality. Because of that tendency, many whisky buffs balk when they see a no-age-statement (NAS) variety of whisky at their local liquor store. Conventional wisdom suggests that, like fine wine, the more time whisky has to age, the better it tastes. Thus, these seasoned aficionados dismiss NAS whiskies as inferior, says Joel Hauer of Scotchwhisky.com 

There is more to the story than conventional wisdom may suggest. NAS whisky should not be confused with cheap, low-quality whisky; the opposite is more often the case. An exercise could be conducted to separate the facts about NAS whisky from the myths and garner how the increased presence of NAS whisky has opened up new avenues of flavour, aesthetics, and creativity for distillers, bartenders, and whisky drinkers in a holistic view.

Popularity of NAS Whisky: Whisky as a whole has seen a surge in popularity starting this millenium. Global population has increased; so have alcohol consumers. Demand is increasing in a non-conformal young culture that is looking for taste and satisfaction, not history. As a result, once-plentiful supplies of aged whiskies have dwindled. Because fewer aged whiskies can be found on the shelves, NAS whisky has become more common.  

The older generations might align with those accustomed to drinking aged whisky, but there’s no need to blame whisky neophytes for depleting supply. NAS whisky can be every bit as tasty and sophisticated as aged whisky, and it has open the floodgates for whisky distillers to experiment with new blends that can revolutionise the whisky-drinking experience!

Although NAS whisky has experienced a popularity boom in recent years, it’s actually been around for a long time. Almost all standard blends are NAS. The once-staid Johnnie Walker has more NAS whisky blends than age stated, and it has been around for a good while, with a proven reputation of being one of the world’s most popular whiskies. 

If one sees a bottle of NAS whisky, it possibly contains a blend of multiple different whiskies of different ages. Variety can inject the perfect amount of flavour into one’s glass. The increase in the popularity of NAS whiskies has given distillers and mixologists more liberty to innovate in creating different blends. Do remember, single malts are also blends. An NAS whisky may get diehard purists worked up, but it’s an opportunity for whisky fans to move beyond age as the sole indicator of quality. Why be constrained by a traditionalist mindset that doesn’t actually reflect the quality of your drink?

Advantages of NAS Whisky: Distillers have used NAS whiskies to their advantage. Blending whiskies of different ages enable them to focus on other aspects of a quality spirit. These special elements include things like colour, flavour, and technique. Increased attention to flavour never goes unnoticed by discerning drinkers, not forgetting the wider palate of colour and other new aesthetic avenues for distillers and bartenders. Perhaps NAS is just what single malt needs – an unfettered and creative space for distillers.     

Haig Club Single Grain: Haig Club is a new brand from Scotland’s oldest grain whisky producer, the House of Haig, which dates back to the 17th century, originally named John Haig & Co Ltd, whose family included Field Marshal Douglas Haig. David Beckham is being heavily featured in the promotion of the new Diageo whisky. Perhaps worth noting is the rather unique packaging of an electric blue square bottle, shaped to look like an expensive aftershave.

Grain whisky is a little different to malt whisky. Instead of barley being used as the source of sugary goodness, other grains are used – historically maize, but mostly wheat these days. It’s distilled in a column still, unlike the attractive copper stills seen on a distillery tour and postcard, and comes out at a much higher ABV. All in all, it’s cheaper to produce and grain whisky tends to be used in blends for the most part. But there’s been an eye-catching trend of late for single grain whiskies. The Clan Denny range from Douglas Laing, and Nikka whiskies are particularly good and worth checking out.

Glen Garioch: Highland single malt Scotch distillery Glen Garioch has made a bold move to release its first ever virgin oak-aged whisky. Aged in brand new American oak barrels, Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Single Malt Whisky will be a limited edition release with an “intense flavour” that’s “not for the faint hearted”.

It’s a malt for real aficionados and this exclusive small batch really makes its mark. Glen Garioch’s intense flavour means it holds up well in a new fill cask, allowing the liquid to be fully matured in virgin oak and not just finished in the barrel. Bottled at 46% ABV, the whisky is described as having notes of chocolate cake, treacle syrup and orange marmalade.

Their coopers used the inner heartwood of 100-year-old oak trees grown in the North American mountains.  Each oak barrel was heavily charred to activate the wood’s vanilla and oak spices in readiness for the maturing spirit, bringing its own unique woody tones to the malt. The final result is a fusion of vanilla, caramelised wood sugars and oak spices – a match made in heaven and a stand out for malt enthusiasts. Just 120 700ml bottle cases will be made available in the UK. 

Lagavulin Offerman 11 Yo Edition: Created in partnership with actor Nick Offerman, Lagavulin Offerman Edition 11-Year-Old Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky 46% ABV is a woody and peaty, fruity and spicy offering. The woody, peaty notes lead from the front, gently tingling the tongue in a cha-cha before fading to reveal a veritable waltz of sweet berry and orchard fruit notes. Aged in a mix of refilled and rejuvenated American Oak barrels, this whisky demands to be served neat in a traditional whisky glass, or with a little water for the faint hearted.

A very limited release Lagavulin, bottled for the U.S market only, this 11 year old Single malt has been matured in a mixture of refill and rejuvenated Bourbon casks. The whisky is said to carry the signature Lagavulin peatiness but with extra spices and notes of dried fruit to carry the smoke. The whisky offers a full-on tingle from the split second it hits your lips, with pronounced fresh berry character combined with spiciness. Elevated top-notes provide a more direct flavour journey than other Lagavulin expressions.

The Lagavulin distillery is said to be one of the oldest distilleries on Islay, founded in 1816. Miles and miles of peat bog in the west of the island provide the raw material which imbues the barley with their iconic smoky flavor, and the rich peaty water from the tranquil Lochan Sholum in the hills above the distillery makes the flavors so unique. It takes time, but patience is their finest virtue and rushing good whisky is just not how to take care of things in Islay. 

Oban Distiller’s Edition 2005/2019: The small seaside burg of Oban is home to one of Scotland’s oldest and coolest distilleries, also called Oban. It is the one Single Malt Scotch Whisky in which the rich, complex flavours of the Highlands meet and mingle with the peaty, maritime character of the Islands.

Balancing autumn fruits and sea air, Oban whisky owes its rich and rewarding Highland character to a very long fermentation process. The tiny lamp glass-shaped copper pot stills that make Oban’s Scotch are among the smallest in Scotland, and the liquor they distil is slowly condensed in wooden worm tubs outside among the rooftops, exposed to the salted sea air, bringing a distinct depth of flavour said to go very well with salted caramel.

Each year, the distillery releases a Distiller’s Edition that celebrates the fine work the distillers, coopers and blenders do every single year. This year’s single malt edition was distilled in 2005, matured in oak and then aged for six additional months in a Montilla fino cask (similar to sherry) for delicate yet rich fruit notes such as dried figs with honey and a hint of brine. Perhaps it’s the Spanish cask influence, but this Oban makes the classic vanilla cheesecake seem even more indulgent.

KILCHOMAN 2010 VINTAGE: Islay distillery Kilchoman released their first “age statement” expression this year, Kilchoman 10 Vintage. The single malt new make went into 42 ex-bourbon barrels and three oloroso sherry casks in 2010. After nine long years, the whisky was combined into a masterful blend of the good stuff.

Farm distilleries were by their very nature always self-sufficient and, while that is difficult these days with global demand for whisky on the rise, Kilchoman tried to stay true to that original model, rather than order maltings, but couldn’t cope.

It has two small malting floors and kilns which produce a medium-peated malt – the heavily peated with which it is mixed comes from Port Ellen. Inside the distillery, fermentation is long, helping to create fruitiness to balance the shoreline/shellfish-like phenolics, while an enlightened (and pricey) wood policy has seen a high percentage of first-fill ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks being used. The result is that Kilchoman has hit the start of its mature period at a remarkably young age.    

Talisker 15 Year Old : A terrific Talisker 15 year old, this expression was distilled on the Isle of Skye in 2002 and released to form part of the eagerly anticipated 2019 Diageo Special Releases. This bottling is the first-ever release of “The King o’ Drinks, been matured in heavily charred American oak Hogsheads, which enhances the sophisticated, peppery peat smoke that Talisker always possesses. It brings deep, smoky island flavours, with sea salt, cut grass and rich treacle being accompanied by gentle citrus fruits and warming spices.

The final result is a Talisker that offers up notes of sweet iodine and kelp, sugared malt, toasted nuts, cinnamon, caramel, nutmeg, gentle peat smoke, red cherries, slight chilli, woodsmoke, ash, peaches, vanilla, cream, and rich charred oak.

Bottled at a very generous (and rather spicy) cask strength of 57.3% ABV, and without chill filtration or colouration, this is Talisker as it should be: intense, complex and coastal. The maritime nature of the whisky is reflected by its label, which features images of the briny depths. This label is keeping with the general theme of the 2019 Special Release: “Rare by Nature”. As with all Special Release whiskies, this is of the highest quality while also limited in numbers.

Glenfiddich Cask Collection: Glenfiddich is to introduce a luxury range of whiskies in collaboration with Baccarat, as part of its Cask Collection series in duty free. The first edition to be unveiled is the new Glenfiddich Cask Collection Finest Solera, a luxury NAS 48% ABV Malt that will be available for around £1,950. The expression was created by marrying whiskies matured in American oak casks for at least two months using Glenfiddich’s solera-vatting process. A 2,000-litre tun was used to hold single malt from 20 casks, with only half of the liquid removed at any time, before being replenished with fresh casks. With new casks used for refilling the solera tun, every batch will differ.

Glenfiddich Cask Collection Finest Solera is presented in a hand numbered and signed 70cl crystal decanter – complete with a copper stopper and neck collar, plus red cartouche made with 24-carat gold – hand-blown by French glassware specialist Baccarat. The expression, of which only 600 decanters have been created, is available in exclusively travel retail outlets globally. Glenfiddich now has many  NAS expressions in the Cask Collection comprising the Select, Reserve and Vintage Casks, all bottled at 40% ABV, plus the Experimental Series: Project XX at 47% ABV, IPA Cask Finish at 43% ABV and Fire & Cane at 43% ABV. 

The Glenlivet 14YO Cognac Cask Finish: Glenlivet, the leading single malt in the US, produces a wide variety of Single Malt ageings and cask combinations, with the remaining spirit an indispensable component in some of the most famous blends. Glenlivet issues a few fourteen year-old special editions here and there. There are almost always very limited runs — special casks, limited joint ventures and pleasant Single Malt experiments. When you see the "14" you can bet there’s a story behind it.

The story behind The Glenlivet 14YO Cognac Cask Finish started as a limited edition in 2018 called "Captain’s Reserve" — aged fourteen years in ex-Bourbon and Sherry casks, before finishing in ex-Cognac casks made of Limousin oak. In the arms race that is the modern whisky industry, it was surprising that it took this long for someone to crack out a brandy finish. We’ve seen everything from Chenin Blanc finishes to Mezcal finishes, and yet it took this long for a major market participant to put whisky in a barrel that had previously matured cognac.

The flavour profile was exceptionally well-received, so it has been renewed with a few tweaks. The Glenlivet released a special bottle this year exclusively for the U.S. market, The Glenlivet 14 Year Cognac Cask Select. This expression starts off by aging for 14 years in both ex-bourbon and sherry casks before going into high-end Cognac casks for six months of fine finishing.

The 14 year-old single malt is bottled at 40% ABV and is a straightforward by-the-numbers dram with a successful brandy finish. It tastes exactly like you’d expect it to – Glenlivet with an extra couple of years of maturation and a glazing of grape-forward brandy. For $40, that’s a slam dunk.

GlenmorangieGlenmorangie’s single malts are acclaimed for their incredible smoothness, richness and intriguing complexity. Glenmorangie has the tallest stills in Scotland. Their long copper necks – the same height as an adult male giraffe – allow only the very finest vapours to rise to the top for a wonderfully pure and fragrant spirit, bursting with fruity, floral complexity. As this delicate spirit matures, the Distillery’s generations of expertise in wood is seen at the forefront. Their designer casks, created bespoke from hand-selected slow-growth American oak, have become a byword for excellence. They pioneered the art of extra-maturation – now widely used throughout the whisky industry – and have been experimenting with innovative wood finishes ever since. Even today, their Whisky Creation Team continues to challenge the bounds of possibility in single malt, as they seek to bring evermore wondrous whiskies to the world.

A very large proportion of their whiskies are NAS. They add to the famous core Glenmorangie range of The Original 10 YO, Quinta Ruban 12 YO, Nectar d'Or 12 YO, Lasanta 12 YO, Quinta Ruban 14 YO and the Malaga 12 YO. Add to these the exclusive to travel retail bottling of The Accord 12 YO, The Elementa 14 YO and the Tribute 16 YO and one has a range of superb whiskies that remain reasonably priced. The yearly release of an NAS whisky both supplements and compliments the core range.

Then come their award-winning whiskies in their Private Edition that consecrate the innovation for which the Glenmorangie Distillery is revered. Marrying skill with vision, pioneering whisky creators have designed a series of unique single malts that deserve to be shared with a select audience of Scotch whisky aficionados. As individual as they are rare, these experimental releases captivate the single malt collector. Sonalta (2010), Finealta (2011), Artein (2012), Ealanta (2013), Companta (2014), Tusail (2015), Milsean (2016), Bacallta(2017), Spios (2018) and Allta (2019) comprise this wide range of expressions.

The surroundings of the Glenmorangie Distillery are rich in heritage and legend. Their stories have inspired a collection of whiskies with innovative cask assemblages and intriguing extra-maturations, which bring the ancient provenance of superb single malts to life, for the travelling connoisseur.The three bottles that comprise the Legends Collection are the Tayne, The Duthac and The Cadboll.

                                               

Limited Editions: There are moments which deserve to be celebrated in single malt. Every so often, Glenmorangie’s whisky creators are inspired to bring such occasions to life, in memorable limited editions like the Astar 2009, A Tale Of Cake, A Mid-summer Night’s Dram 2015, Astar 2017 and A Mid-summer Night’s Dram 2017.

Glenmorangie Signet: This superb Glenmorangie was created with a marriage of whiskies produced from two unique types of malted barley: a single estate Cadboll variety and malted chocolate barley, better known as a basis for craft beers.

The Signet was distilled twice through Glenmorangie's copper-pot stills by a team of 16 distillers known as the 'Sixteen Men of Tain'. It was subsequently matured in bespoke American virgin oak casks before it was bottled at 46%, and received no chill-filtration. While it is NAS, it uses of some of the distillery's oldest and rarest stocks, 35 to 40 years old, in this Highland single malt. The Glenmorangie Signet is an outstanding whisky of unprecedented style and taste and won Whisky of the Year at the 2016 International Whisky Competition.

This edition takes it name from the ornate square design that adorns most Glenmorangie bottles. The signet itself originated from the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, a Pictish artefact that dates back to circa 800 AD.

The Famous Grouse: In 1980 The Famous Grouse became Scotland’s brand leader and still is, a remarkable four decades. It is also the leading blended Scotch brand in the UK. Sales rose steadily, and during the 1990s, The Famous Grouse grew by a staggering 25% – twice the rate of the premium Scotch sector.

Till date, The Famous Grouse has produced over 75 different whiskies, totalling in excess of 175 expressions, from 5 years old to 40. Only about 60 of these have age statements. The majority remain NAS expressions, which is normal for most standard blended whiskies. The brand also has sold a remarkably large number of blended malts, and a half-dozen odd single malts. Most of these have come after it was taken over by Highland Distillers which was then fully absorbed into the Edrington Group in November 1999.

                 

The Famous Grouse Smoky Black: In 2006, the premiumised peated Black Grouse was released, essentially created for the Swedish market based on their taste preferences. In 2009 the distillery started working with some heavily peated malt. The specifications were for the barley to be peated to between 80 and 120ppm phenols, and the resulting spirit is called Ruaidh Maor (a hunting lodge at Loch Turret) to differentiate it from the regular Glenturret. In July 2015, while still retaining the traditional Famous Grouse bottling, the company rebranded The Black Grouse as The Famous Grouse Smoky Black. Neatly designed, the noble black grouse, otherwise known as a blackcock, Tetrao tetrix retains its haughty look of disdain, with a feather added to its neck. The initial years had the sleek black bottle clad in a crocheted overlay, with the feather sticking out cheekily.

The Black Grouse Alpha Edition bottle has a red cork like the eyecomb on the grouse and celebrates the annual lek, where hordes of male blackcocks strut about in full splendour trying to outdo each other and win over the watching and waiting female. The Alpha uses mainly Glenturret and Tamdhu single malts, with only traces of Highland Park and The Macallan. The expensive Alpha has a cork whereas the others use screwtops. Its ppm level is assessed as between 7-9. 

The grain whiskies are not bitter or overly sweet.  They are counter-balanced by the peated malt of the Glenturret. Priced at circa £20, Smoky Black is at the lower end of the market for whisky, but for a blend a little more lavish, it has more character than most of the blends with the same price tag. Such blends remain a very popular option for those who enjoy whisky yet cannot splash out on single malts every week.

Ardbeg Supernova 2019: The Ardbeg distillery was founded in 1815 by John Macdougall on the island of Islay. As with many other distilleries there have been a number of owners over the years and a lot of ups and downs. One thing has remained consistent, the name and the unique letter A that’s been trademarked. 2019 brought to the retail market a limited release of Ardbeg Supernova. Said to be the peatiest whiskey in the Ardbeg line up, it has been described as a “peat bomb” or “peat explosion.” Its last version was seen on retail shelves back in 2015. This single malt whisky matured in ex-bourbon barrels is 100% malted barley sold as a limited release in October 2019.

Ardbeg feels a little different. It has a stronger more rugged brand and when one thinks of Islay, then Ardbeg springs to mind. The 10-year-old with a good batch is simply hard to beat when its on form, as is the Uigeadail.

The Committee Supernova from 2019 is bottled at 53.8% ABV; it is non chill-filtered. Once you’ve broken that seal, then you’re set for an enjoyable punt with its contents. This year’s limited edition bottling, Ardbeg Supernova 2019, will change your sensory perceptions of what whisky can be. It’s a full body peat that wafts into your nose. The smell is quite voluptuous, strong, yet pleasant. But its not a “knock your socks off” smoky peat smell nor is it acrid. For a Scotch, the smell seems very balanced between peat and sweetness which seems weird for the being the peatiest whisky brand. An Ardbeg of stellar proportions, this dram is an abduction of the senses. Enter the realms of sweet treacle toffee, navigate thick clouds of aniseed, menthol and soot, before finally re-emerging through a dense nebular of peat and smoke. Whisky will never be the same again.

The Macallan New Limited Edition Distill Your World Bottling:

 

The Macallan Distilll Your World, 03 Nov 2020: The Macallan's Whisky Maker Steven Bremner and globally renowned chefs the Roca brothers, owners of 3 Michelin star El Celler de Can Roca, embarked on a journey of discovery to find the very heart and soul of London, unearthing its vibrant community spirit and uncovering the unique flavours and scents that define London. Limited to 2,000 bottles, The Distill Your World London Single Cask is exclusive to specific bars within London and The Macallan Estate.

This edition (57.5% ABV) is a non-age-stated single malt Scotch whisky, which has been produced using a combination of six first fill European oak Oloroso sherry seasoned casks.

The Macallan Distill Your World series, is the next step in the brand’s long-standing partnership with the Roca brothers. They have previously worked together on a range of ventures, including The Macallan Edition No.2 which was inspired by the brothers’ distinctive and dynamic characters.

The London Edition comes housed in a presentation box featuring a triangular engraving design to represent the map of London and red detailing inspired by the city’s red bricks.