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Monday 24 February 2020



Aqua Vitae Is A Global Product

At least 92 nations/nation states around the world are trying their hand at making and selling whisky. This goes to show that there can be no claim on Aqua Vitae, the water of life, being limited to just Scotland, Ireland and the USA. There is room in the world of whisky for everyone to enjoy a peg or two made in their own country. 

Of these countries, all but four spell Aqua Vitae ‘Whisky’. The term ‘Whiskey’ is used in Ireland (since 1960), Mexico and Peru and for most-but not all- American brands. North Korea is a special case. Interestingly, it was the group of the 'Big Four' Irish distillers (John Jameson & Son, John Power & Son, George Roe & Co. and Willam Jameson & Co.) who argued before the Royal Commission of 1908-09 that the correct spelling of the spirit was 'Whisky', representing their better variety of the spirit, returning to 'Whiskey' once they saw Scotch Whisky overshoot them by miles for self-inflicted reasons, starting 1909. George Roe & Co. produced more than 2.0 million gallons of whisky per annum, whereas most Scotch distilleries stayed below the 100,000 gallons per year mark. The Irish were producing over 12 million gallons in 1900 AD.

Albania, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Aruba, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chile, China, Corsica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, England, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Israel, Ivory Coast, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tasmania, The Philippines, Uruguay, Vietnam, Wales, Zimbabwe, Zambia & possibly a couple more spell it Whisky.

Let’s look at some unlikely countries that are producing their own version of the spirit synonymous with Scotland. 


Latvia, officially known as the Republic of Latvia, is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. Since independence, Latvia has been referred to as one of the Baltic states. Part of the USSR, it was always associated with Vodka, but now has a whisky distillery called Latvijas balzams JSC, in its capital city Riga. This distillery produces as many as ten different brands, mainly eight year old blended whiskies and blended malts and also a 10 YO single malt and a 10 YO blended malt. By European standards, their prices are on the low side, approx €20 for the 10 YO single and blended malt and <€18 for their blends. At least two of the blended whiskies – LB Viskijs and Aleksandrs Viskijs – are made from Latvian rye. Amber Beverage Group owns Latvijas balzams JSC, the largest producer of alcoholic beverages in the Baltics. As of 2006, it had a market share of about 50% in Latvia. 

The Czech Republic

The father of Czech whisky is the little-known Vaclav Sitner of the Prádlo distillery, near Pilzen on the western edge of the Czech Republic. The distillery was founded in 1929 in the Austro-Hungarian empire, selling spirits to Central Europe and the Balkans.

A few imported brands were deemed sufficiently ‘Soviet’ and were allowed in, such as Cuban rum Havana Club because of its Castro connection, but most, including Scotch whisky, were either banned, or trickled in sporadically through the specialist shops that only served the party elite. Spotting a gap in the market, Vaclav and his team realised there was a demand among wealthier Czechs and some of the Russian officials for a good-quality whisky.

Armed with a pot still and a handful of whisky books, they set out to create Hammerhead, the country’s first single malt, made from Czech barley and aged in Czech oak, in 1984. The distillery managed to acquire and install a traditional, cast-iron hammer mill of the same style and make as those found in most traditional Scottish distilleries at the time.

After the cold war, Stock Spirits bought the business in 2007 and came upon thousands of barrels of ageing whisky. No-one had bottled it, it was just lying there – an undiscovered jewel, gathering dust. It was bottled as a 23 YO, to rave reviews. A 25 YO followed and a 30-year-old Hammerhead was released in 2019.

The other whisky in the country is the Gold Cock, a blended whisky distilled by J R Jelinek.


It is believed that whisky was first produced in Slovakia in the 18th Century. It’s said to be quite unique due to the properties of the local water, which has a mineral character. Their primary distillery is The Nestville.

Nestville Whisky: One of the greatest inducements for starting Nestville Whisky production was the superior, crystal clear water that was shown to have a mineral composition particularly suited for the production of whisky. Geological studies found that the water flows through the Quaternary sediments of Zuberec and Biely Potok formations. The water travels a long way from Belianské Tatras to Lubovnianska Basin, being enriched with a unique mineral composition and then filtered through rocks that date back to the Paleogene and Quaternary periods.

This water, with its unique composition rich in Ca, Mg, Fe, gives the whisky its unique taste and originality. The taste can be changed by the ageing process in oak barrels and by smoky malt, but only the water has a composition that gives the whisky a unique flavour and constancy that cannot be changed.

Over a dozen brands are produced, with blends ranging from 6-10 YO, single malts at 43% ABV, single barrel also at 43% ABV and a cask strength single malt at 63.9% ABV. There are also a few single barrel whiskies produced in the country. These are medium-bodied with a fair to good flavour and are clean and elegant with light grassy, herbal components. These are best used in simple cocktails.

Nestville Whisky Master Blender 2019 is first ever 10-year old Slovakian whisky. Like Master Blender 2017 and Master Blender 2018, this is also a special limited edition blended out of 4 barrels from archive stocks. By using 5 different types of casks during its maturation ( American white oak, European French oak, white oak, ex-bourbon, sherry and barrels in which their Starospišská slivovica – plum distillate – was matured ), it’s a complex and unique product). The effect of the plum barrel is obvious; its noticeably sweeter. Diluted to 43% to highlight its delicacy and perfect balance of sweetness, oak tannnins and fruity notes, it is non-chill filtered with no caramel added. What is of interest is that the Scotch Whisky Association has banned the use of casks that contained a fruit that had a nut at its core to mature whisky. That would mean that Plum Casks cannot be used to mature new make or whisky.


Eimverk Distillery is a family-run distillery founded in 2009, dedicated to making premium Icelandic spirits from 100% local ingredients. Their whisky is named Flóki after one of Icelands first explorers, Hrafna-Flóki (Flóki of the ravens). Eimverk produces three whiskies, one Young Malt, one unique sheep-dung smoked malt whisky and one 3-YO Single Malt Whisky using locally grown Icelandic barley. A picture of the Sheep Dung Smoked Reserve is placed left.

Flóki is handcrafted and took 4 years and 163 trial distillations as well as aging and maturation testes to perfect. Production started in 2013 with first sales in 2014. The Icelandic barley is a hardy strain selected to thrive during the short, intense Icelandic summer, while surviving the Arctic winter as it grew in volcanic rocky land. The starch content per grain is lower than elsewhere, leading to low sugar output and a more than 50% content of barley in the bottle.

Flóki’s sheep-dung-smoked reserve is the first of its kind in the world. The barley used in this malt has been smoked using the generations old tradition of smoking using sheep dung in Iceland. The result is truly one of a kind with a complex flavour profile and sweet smoky notes to compliment the intense flavour of the Icelandic barley. This two-year release is a limited reserve of a selection of single barrel bottling.

Their first 3 year old Single Malt Icelandic Whisky was released in a limited bottling of their very first 3 year old casks in November 2017. This single malt was matured in ex-Young Malt barrels which had been mellowed by the maturation of their Young Malt.


To meet the beer requirements of British army personnel in colonial India, the Murree Brewery was established in 1860 and incorporated a year later at Ghora Galli, located in the Pir Punjal range of the Western Himalayas at an elevation of 6,000 ft. above sea level, near the resort town of Murree, some 50 kilometers away from Rawalpindi. The founders were relatives of the British mountaineer Edward Whymper, who, five years later, became the first man to scale the Matterhorn.

Now owned by a Parsi, Minoo Bhandara, the brewery is also a distillery with numerous blended whiskies, all 5 YO and more as well as single malts. A “Saladin” Box malting was installed in 1971 and a decision taken to embark on an ambitious long-term program to mature Malt Whiskies. Two underground cellars now hold over half a million liters of Malt Whisky for varying periods of maturation up to 12 years under controlled temperature conditions.

Its crowning glory was its 8-year-old single malt whisky that received lavish praise from Jim Murray. In 2007, Murree launched its real jewel, a 20 YO  single malt, as part of a one-time limited edition offer. 2400 bottles were produced priced modestly at around $40 a bottle.

Unfortunately for the locals, Muslims may not drink alcohol. But Bhandara runs a thriving business, with non-Muslims and foreigners buying his products after obtaining a permit. But then, like in many other duplicitous nations, his real customers are affluent Pakistani Muslims and the Armed Forces.



The state-owned alcohol monopoly Alko (later Primalco, now Altia) is a leading Nordic alcoholic beverage brand company operating in the wine and spirits markets in the Nordic and Baltic countries. After years of research and trials, the first brand to enter Finnish liquor stores was simply called Alko Whisky. In 1983 Alko introduced Viski 88 (later called Double Eight 88) that became the best-selling whisky in Finland and remained in production until the year 2000. A 10-year-old whisky was sold from 1991, until the company discontinued all whisky production in 2000.

Panimoravintola Beer Hunter's is a brewery, distillery and a restaurant, founded in 1998 and located in the city of Pori. On 8 November 2001, self-taught Mika Heikkinen of Panimoravintola began distilling the first batch of malt whisky produced in Finland. The first batch's casks are to be opened in 2034 when Mika Heikkinen turns 60 years of age. 

Starting December 2004, 100 bottles of Finnish malt whisky, the Old Buck, a 3 YO, were auctioned. Production is limited to small batches only, with 100 bottles being auctioned every year. 

North Korea’s Samilpo distillery created its own brand of whisky and launched it mid-2019. The Samilpo whisky bottle is based on the characteristic square design of Scotland’s Johnnie Walker, a popular but expensive brand in NoKo. 
The distillery sells two different expressions of its whisky in a format similar to the international best-selling Scottish brand – a 40% ABV “Black Label” and a 42% ABV “Red Label”. There had to be some difference somewhere, I suppose. Its 45% ABV expression which was announced as part of the family is not yet available. The bottles present an unusual volume, 620 ml. Apart from this figure and the ABV, nothing is written in English. How its whisky is spelt would depend on the author.

Its USP is the unusual claim that its 15 types of amino acids, including eight essential amino acids, provide a health benefit that reduce harm to the liver and counter the negative side effects of alcohol abuse. Other vital details, including the age of the whisky, the stills, barrels or the types of grain used, have not yet been revealed.



Smögen: Heavy smoke from Sweden in handcrafted Swedish whisky

Smögen 8 YO 2011 (cask 48/2011) - Single Cask Edition No. 12 (50cl, 61%). A single cask bottling of Smögen's single malt Swedish whisky, distilled back in September 2011 using heavily peated barley. It was filled into a first-fill bourbon barrel, where it lay for 8 years, was cracked open in February 2020, and bottled up at cask strength - a hefty 61% ABV.

Nose: Heavy vanilla and oak, with a good whack of earthy, almost coastal peat swiftly following up the sweet and rich wood smoke that found on Smögen whisky. Here though, it seems to work - amazing! It is balanced and nice with warm and restrained spices.

Palate: Toasted almonds and hazelnuts, chocolaty malt and a touch of strong coffee. Sweet ashes and soot. Sugary fruitiness sticking its head up through the smoke and having a look around.

Finish: Lasting peppery spices and a touch of clove building on the finish, balanced by apricot and apple. Sweeter by the swallow. Smoky sugar cubes with a hint of mint.

Smögen’s 100 Proof 50cl 57.1% ABV

Smögen’s first on-going release comes ten years after the distillery produced its first spirit in the form of Smögen 100 Proof. The whisky is produced from heavily peated malt (optic) and is a vatting of 11 oloroso sherry quarter casks. Bottled bearing a 6 year old age statement, this first batch release consists of 2436 bottles.

This expression is not for beginners – nor those that don’t like a bit of eccentricity with their whisky. The flavour combinations are intricate (particularly for the relative age of the spirit) but at the same time, they’re densely bound before dilution – and even then present what might be viewed by some as complexity, but by others as a challenge. Nevertheless, everything is well balanced and in-step, and features left-field aromas and flavours (particularly of the peaty kind). All said, this latest offering from Smögen rather is compelling.

Nose: Savoury sweetness. Burnt toffee and freshly baked pastry cases join maple wood chips and morello cherries. Smoke is part burning logs, part pine needles and part iodine disinfectant. A backbone of malty distillery aromas (toasted and fermenting cereals) is supported by some outlying oddness from white board makers and marmite spread across toast. Dilution presents overt strips of bacon and amps up the prominence of the peat influence - kiln dried logs smouldering in a fire pit set against earthy leaf fires and moist bracken.

Palate: Rather interesting and unexpected – a textural delivery of uncooked lardons alongside plenty of red berries and a pronounced steely and salty mineral touch. Resinous tree sap and leafy greens are joined by impactful smoke that’s much more prominent than the nose alluded to, and significantly dirtier - coal dust and burnt electrical circuit boards. In the back palate a powered sweetness akin to smoked sherbet. The addition of water once again promotes earthiness – forest floors, damp soils, ferns and a trip to the stationer for some Pritt Stick.

Finish: Quite long with dry oakiness offset against leafy freshness whilst wood smoke persistent till the very end.


La Alazana: 80% ex-bourbon cask- 20% ex-sherry cask

Proud to be pioneers in the cultivation of exclusive barley varieties for whisky. The varieties sown in Patagonia, and malted in La Alazana distillery, give a distinctive character to the expression of 100% Patagonian whisky, together with the peat of the region, which is burned under the barley in the malting process to obtain the different smoky notes. Other expressions of La Alazana are processed with the best Scottish malts.

They are proud pioneers in growing barley varieties for whisky, and malting them at the distillery. These varieties contribute to the distinctive character of the 100% Patagonian expression, as does their local peat source for their peated malts. The other expressions use the best Scottish malts.

Water of unequalled purity, from springs coming down mountain slopes in the Andes.

Double distillation process is carried out in copper stills of their own design and construction. They give it a fine and elegant “spirit”, to be matured in special American and French oak barrels: ex bourbon, sherry, cognac, and wine. The microclimate of the Piltriqutrón hill valley ensures a long and smooth maturation, giving it the stamp of Patagonian Whisky.


Thursday 20 February 2020



The Secret Speyside Collection was launched by Chivas Brothers on 27/06/2019, featuring fifteen rare Single Malts from four highly sought-after distilleries. 

This is its biggest Single Malt collection release till date, with the launch of fifteen aged Single Malt Scotch whiskies from four seldom-seen, yet definitely sought-after Speyside, Scotland distilleries.

The Collection is a meticulously curated selection of 18-30 year old whiskies from four of Speyside’s most elusive distilleries. Each has its own rich and unique history for Single Malt fans to discover: the vanished distillery of Caperdonich, the pioneering Longmorn distillery, the landmark Glen Keith distillery, and the remote Braes of Glenlivet distillery.

The fifteen-bottle collection consists of three rare Single Malts each from Glen Keith, Longmorn and Braes of Glenlivet, along with with three peated and three unpeated expressions from Caperdonich, which distilled its final Single Malt in 2002, before closing its doors and being dismantled in 2011.

The Secret Speyside Collection is the first of its kind from Pernod Ricard-owned Chivas Brothers and will offer Single Malt connoisseurs the chance to uncover, sample and collect some of the hidden malts at the heart of the iconic Speyside region that have rarely been made available in the past.

“With centuries of rich whisky heritage, Speyside is the treasure chest of Scotch. In curating the Collection, the Chivas Brothers team have hand-selected its contents to shine a light on some seldom-seen distilleries, their rare malts, and unique histories. This new world-class selection demonstrates the breadth of flavour and character that Speyside distilleries can achieve.” 
Alan Winchester, Production Manager, Pernod Ricard
The Secret Speyside Collection came out in July as a Global Travel Retail exclusive for one year, to later roll out into selected markets globally from summer 2020. Priced between US$100 and US$990 per bottle, all 15 whiskies carry age statements of 18-30 years. All are at 48% ABV, except where cask strength, and Glen Keith which will proffer whiskies at 43% ABV.

The Distilleries of the Secret Speyside Collection

1. Caperdonich – A Vanished Distillery

Once gone, there will never be another. This collection contains the only available Single Malts from this distillery, which was taken down in 2011. The whiskies released from this ‘vanished distillery’ of Speyside offer a rare opportunity to discover and compare peated and unpeated expressions of the same age (21 and 25 YO) from the same distillery.
There will be six whiskies from Caperdonich, half peated and the other half unpeated. The peated selection includes an 18 YO, a 21 YO and a cask strength 25 YO whisky. The unpeated whiskies are a 21 YO, 25 YO and a cask strength 30 YO. The peated 25 YO  and non-peated 30 YO were released in October 2019.

2. Longmorn - The Pioneering Distillery

Blending unique insights in technology and craft, Longmorn was designed by founder John Duff in 1894 to create a whisky of outstanding quality. Duff even built a railway station next to the distillery to facilitate supplies getting to the distillery and speed up the finished product getting into the hands of whisky lovers. One of Scotland’s best kept secrets, Longmorn has long been considered world class by distillers, blenders and connoisseurs, often referred to as ‘every distiller’s favourite apart from their own.’


The three whiskies from Longmorn in this collection are an 18 YO, 23 YO and a cask strength 25 YO, with each bringing a more intense take on its rich flavour profile that is highly regarded by distillers and industry experts worldwide.

3. Glen Keith - The Landmark Distillery

Glen Keith was the first Speyside distillery built in the 20th century. The distillery rose from the ruins of an old mill on the banks of the River Isla, famed for its pure water and leaping wild salmon. This collection marks the first official age-statement release this century from the landmark distillery.

The three whiskies from Glen Keith in this collection are a 21 YO, 25 YO and a 28 YO (all 43% ABV). Each is exceptionally smooth as Glen Keith’s pot stills are taller than most, giving an extra ‘copper kiss’ to the single malt and resulting in a complex, intensely smooth example of the classic Speyside style. 

4. Braes of Glenlivet - The Remote Distillery

This is the first official bottling from one of the highest distilleries in Speyside. In years past, when the snow fell, it settled on the hills of Braes of Glenlivet first. The remote distillery was watched over by a lone keeper at night and was truly at the mercy of the uncompromising Scottish elements.


The three whiskies from Braes of Glenlivet in this collection are a 25 YO, 27 YO  and a cask strength 30 YO. Made using the purest water from the Preenie Well, 2 miles deep in the Braes hills, the resulting whisky is smooth, balanced and intensely flavourful.

The 15 Secret Speyside Collection single malts are as follows:

1.   Caperdonich 18 Year Old Peated: 48% ABV, matured in American oak barrels, RRP US$130
2.   Caperdonich 21 Year Old Peated: 48% ABV, American oak barrels, RRP US$290
3.   Caperdonich 25 Year Old Peated: cask strength/TBC on release, oak hogsheads, RRP US$550
4.   Caperdonich 21 Year Old Unpeated: 48% ABV, first-fill American oak barrels, RRP US$250
5.   Caperdonich 25 Year Old Unpeated: 48% ABV, first-fill American oak barrels, RRP US$480
6.   Caperdonich 30 Year Old Unpeated: cask strength/TBC on release, first-fill American oak barrels, RRP US$990
7.   Longmorn 18 Year Old: 48% ABV, American oak barrels/hogsheads, RRP US$100
8.   Longmorn 23 Year Old: 48% ABV, American oak barrels/hogsheads, RRP US$290
9.   Longmorn 25 Year Old: 52.2% ABV (cask strength), American oak barrels/hogsheads/butts, RRP US$450
10.  Glen Keith 21 Year Old: 43% ABV, ‘specially selected’ oak barrels and   butts, RRP US$180
11.  Glen Keith 25 Year Old: 43% ABV, first-fill American oak barrels, RRP US$380
12.  Glen Keith 28 Year Old: 43% ABV, first-fill American oak barrels, RRP US$500
13.  Braes of Glenlivet 25 Year Old: 48% ABV, first-fill American oak barrels,       RRP US$400
14.  Braes of Glenlivet 27 Year Old: 48% ABV, first-fill American oak barrels,   RRP US$450
15.  Braes of Glenlivet 30 Year Old: 50.3% ABV (cask strength), American oak barrels/hogsheads, RRP US$600