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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Port Ellen

We put your Port Ellen distillery questions to Ewan Gunn!

Join us as we put your questions about the new Port Ellen distillery to Ewan Gunn, Diageo’s global Scotch whisky master, during Fèis Ìle 2019! What a week (and a…

Join us as we put your questions about the new Port Ellen distillery to Ewan Gunn, Diageo’s global Scotch whisky master, during Fèis Ìle 2019!

What a week (and a bit!) Fèis Ìle 2019 was! Not only did we check out every distillery day, get the lowdown on the festival bottlings AND have a thoroughly lovely time, we also asked the great and the good of the Islay whisky scene YOUR questions, as gathered via Twitter and Instagram!

We’ll be putting out the footage every day, up until Friday 28 June. So follow the Fèis Ìle tag on the blog, Twitter, Instagram Stories and Facebook Stories, and see if we asked your question!

First up: we quizzed Diageo’s Ewan Gunn about the revival of Port Ellen. Enjoy!

Feis Ile

It’s Port Ellen!

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Fèis Ìle 2019: Day Zero

Team MoM is safely installed on Islay! And what a first day it’s been. We’ve been all over the island checking out Bruichladdich, the Port Ellen Maltings and the Scotch…

Team MoM is safely installed on Islay! And what a first day it’s been. We’ve been all over the island checking out Bruichladdich, the Port Ellen Maltings and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society at Islay House!

First things first: it feels mighty strange calling this blog Day 0 when actually it was mega action-packed and full of fun. But traditionally the first day of the Fèis has been Lagavulin so… maybe the whole shebang needs a bit of shaking up? But that’s a debate for another time. Preferably over a dram…

Right. So, Team MoM is on Islay! Our main home for the first part of the week is ever-so-fancy. Yes, yesterday we checked into The Machrie, and no joke – it is stunning. Gorgeous rooms, great service, lots of whisky. But! We did manage to lure ourselves away first thing in the morning because the lure of Bruichladdich was strong.

Filming up at Bruichladdich

Those of you with half an eye on the Islay calendar will well know today is NOT Bruichladdich day. But Christy McFarlane, malts communications manager, enticed us over early with promise of barley news. And it was cool. We had a good chinwag as we wandered up to the new croft, taking in the views across Loch Indaal and back towards Bowmore as we climbed. The views were spectacular and the barley trials exciting indeed. Watch this space – a video with all the deets is coming soon!

No real time for a stop though as we traversed back across the island to the Port Ellen Maltings (via the all-important Co-op in Bowmore for a vital sandwich stop). This was Mega Exciting (capital letters very much intended) for both me and Jake – we’d never visited the site before, and it is integral to the island’s whisky industry. The Diageo-owned facility malts barley for seven of the nine distilleries – not just its own, Caol Ila and Lagavulin. The team had put on their own almost-distillery day, complete with music, gazebos and all manner of malting facts. And, of course, there were tours.

Feis Ile

It’s Port Ellen!

Before we had a nose about, we went down to Port Ellen beach with the maltings’ site operations manager Sam Hale and Ewan Gunn, Diageo’s global scotch whisky master. In front of the old Port Ellen distillery we put your questions to them both, covering production at the maltings and the revival of the distillery itself. Videos to follow! (If you’ve got questions for any of the Islay distillery teams, send them to us on social or pop them in the comments below!).

Feis Ile

Dogs of the day!

Then Hale showed us round the maltings and the scale was something else. Super impressive, indeed! From the eight 25-tonne steeps to the enormous drums, and the gigantic kilns, which take in 6 tons of peat per batch, it’s clear that the operation is something special. We popped into the control room (like a spaceship) and even out onto the roof overlooking the old Port Ellen distillery. It was like glorious, peat-scented magic.

Feis Ile

SMWS ‘s Highland Games at Islay House

Time for a quick ice-cream break, then it was up towards the other end of the island for another village fete-type set up: the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s Islay House takeover! There was bunting, drams galore, and a whisky-themed Highland Games, complete with axe-throwing and archery. We did not partake, but we did spot a trio of excellent dogs! We also caught up with the SMWS team, including the intrepid Richard who is taking on the recently-established Tour of Islay tomorrow. If you see a bunch of folks in SMWS cycling kits pedalling along, give them a wave or hoot – they’re aiming to cover all nine distilleries and 65-ish miles in one day!

That’s all too much energy for us. We’re off for tea. And a dram or three. Roll on Lagavulin Day tomorrow!

 

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Port Ellen rebirth moves one step closer

Diageo has reached a new milestone in its bid to bring back Port Ellen, the iconic Islay distillery that has been silent since 1983. Hurrah! We don’t know about you,…

Diageo has reached a new milestone in its bid to bring back Port Ellen, the iconic Islay distillery that has been silent since 1983. Hurrah!

We don’t know about you, but any news about the return of famous ‘silent distilleries’ reopening gets us pretty excited. So it’s fair to say that ever since Diageo announced a £35 million investment programme to bring back Port Ellen and Brora distillery* back in October 2017, we’ve been all ears at MoM Towers waiting for updates. And we’ve got one, just as Fèis Ìle 2019 approaches. They do know how to spoil us on Islay, don’t they?

Diageo has revealed this week that Argyll & Bute Council has received detailed planning application following community engagement and pre-application consultation with key stakeholders, setting out proposals that will see Port Ellen reopened more than 35 years after its sad closure.

 

So, what can we expect from the revived Islay legend? Well, Diageo’s plan is for Port Ellen to utilise both traditional and innovative approaches to distilling under one roof, with two pairs of copper pot stills and two separate distillation regimes.

Primary distillation will take place in two stills that exactly replicate the Port Ellen originals, with the aim to recreate the original spirit character of the distillery that has made its single malt Scotch whisky among the most sought-after in the world.

The distillers at Port Ellen will also have the freedom to experiment with new whisky styles, however, thanks to the second, smaller pair of stills which will produce alternative spirit characters. It’s a best of both worlds situation, and we’re very much in favour of it. Port Ellen experimental bottlings? C’mon, people!

The second pair of stills will also pay homage to the former owner of the distillery, John Ramsay, who led Port Ellen in its formative years. Ramsay is credited with establishing its reputation as an innovative distillery in the 19th century, pioneering techniques and equipment that would become mainstays of the industry.

Port Ellen Distillery

A sketch image of what Port Ellen could look like

Distillation will take place in a combination of modern and heritage buildings, although following its most recent closure in 1983, very few of the original structures remain. What will be present is the original kiln building, with its classic pagoda roofs, and the traditional sea-front warehouses. Both will be restored as integral parts of the revived distillery, while a beautiful new stillhouse will be created to house distillation.

Georgie Crawford, the master distiller leading the Port Ellen project, commented on the news: ‘This is another hugely significant milestone on our journey to bring Port Ellen Distillery back to life. This is no ordinary distillery project, we are bringing a true whisky legend back to life and we believe our plans do justice to the iconic status of Port Ellen and will capture the imagination of whisky fans from all over the world.”

Let’s all hope the plans are approved, we want more Port Ellen!

*Both of which closed in 1983, which is also when M*A*S*H ended. Tough year.

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Ardnahoe: A closer look at Islay’s newest distillery

A new Scotch whisky distillery is always an exciting development, but there’s something extra-special about a new one on Islay. So, when Hunter Laing invited us to visit Ardnahoe, how…

A new Scotch whisky distillery is always an exciting development, but there’s something extra-special about a new one on Islay. So, when Hunter Laing invited us to visit Ardnahoe, how could we refuse?

Just getting onto Islay proved tricky for many invited to the opening of Ardnahoe Distillery. Gusts of 70 mph meant that all the ferries were cancelled. Luckily, the plucky folk at Logan Air weren’t deterred, and the tiny propeller aircraft I was aboard touched down safely on the island. During the journey from the airport to the distillery, the driver pointed out the scorched smoking landscape. Dry weather, high winds and perhaps someone’s carelessness with a cigarette had set off wild fires the night before. The air smelt like an Islay whisky.

Hunter Laing

We are family: from left, Scott, Stewart and Andrew Laing

Ardnahoe is located in the north of the island, facing Jura and near Port Askaig. “We think it’s the most perfect location from a scenic point of view for a whisky,” Andrew Laing from Hunter Laing told me. It’s a family business run by Stewart Laing and his two sons, Andrew and Scott. The company, which bottles whisky and rum, has been going in its present form since 2013, though the Laing family has been in the whisky business much longer. Stewart Laing is clearly very proud of his sons: “They are the real driving force developing the profitability of the company,” he said.

A distillery of their own was the inevitable next step. “We looked at a couple of options to buy distilleries, but it became apparent that for reasons of cost and for reasons of finding the right project, that we really needed to build one rather than to buy one,” Andrew explained. “ If you’re building a distillery, from our point of view, the only place to build one was Islay.” The Laing family has history on the island. “On my grandmother’s side, on my dad’s side, we have a family connection to Islay going back to the 1700s. More recently my father studied whisky making at Bruichladdich in 1966,” he continued.

Work began on the distillery (the first new one on Islay since Kilchoman opened in 2005) in 2016 and was completed last year. It hasn’t been all plain sailing, though. Stewart Laing mentioned some neighbours who had been less than supportive when they were seeking planning permission. Andrew was more diplomatic: “there was some opposition at the planning stage, which is fair enough.”

Worm tub condensers at Ardnahoe distillery

Look at those worm tubs!

The Ardnahoe set-up is sure to get whisky fans hot under the collar. It has Oregon pine fermenters, two lantern shaped pot stills (a 13,000 litre wash still and an 11,000 litre spirit still), the longest lyne arm in Scotland (or so they tell me), and worm tub condensers. “That slower condensing that we get from the worm tubs and the fact that we’ve got more copper contact in vapour form gives us a wee bit more character, texture and complexity,” Andrew explained. We thought even if it makes one percent difference to the whisky, it’s worth the extra expenditure.”

The distillery manager, Fraser Hughes, gave me some new make to try. It’s a complex dram, smoky as you’d expect (it’s made from malt peated to between 40 and 45 PPM from Port Ellen Maltings) but with tropical fruit and earthy cereal notes. Hughes described it as “dynamic but not dirty or in your face” and went on to say “it will be better in a few weeks when you have more foreshots and feints in the system.” According to Andrew Laing, that fruitiness comes partly from a long slow fermentation, around 72 hours.

Jim McEwan, who consulted on the project, joked that finding the cut point in the spirit was a difficult as giving birth. The Laings are clearly delighted to have worked with McEwan and vice versa. “To be honest, he didn’t take very much persuasion to come out of retirement for this project,” Andrew Laing said.”He was very excited and who can blame him! To build a new distillery on Islay!”

The official opening was in April, but the distillery has been filling casks since 2018. “Last year we did an inaugural first year production offer of just over 400 casks, and it was oversubscribed. We sold them all,” Andrew said. These first casks are sitting in the distillery warehouse (though most of the production will be matured on the mainland). He told me these will be split between “about 70% first-fill bourbon barrels; then about 20 or 25% first fill ex-oloroso hogsheads and some butts. And we’ve got some other wines casks, such as Port, Madeira, Muscat, Rioja, and some rum.” As a rum bottler, there’s a decent supply of used rum casks.

Ardnahoe Distillery Still Room

Still room with its beautiful view

It’s a great-looking distillery, modern but fits beautifully into its natural setting. “We made sure first of all that from the experience point of view, it’s a welcoming place and an enjoyable place to visit,” Andrew Laing explained. “It’s very bright, very airy, a comfortable place to spend some time.” He added that whisky tourism is growing “in a big way”. The team is gearing up for Fèis Ìle (24 May – 1 June) with a screening of a new whisky documentary, The Water of Life, featuring Jim McEwan.There will also be some premium Kinship whiskies bottled for the festival and available only from the distillery. “It brings a fair penny in,” joked Stewart Laing.

One of the advantages that Ardnahoe has over other new distilleries is that its owner, Hunter Laing, is a spirits bottler.  Even without its own mature whisky, there are lots of exclusive things to try. Not just whiskies from all over Scotland (including a special local blend called Islay Journey, which you can bottle from the cask yourself), but rum from around the Caribbean under the Kill Devil label. After expressing an interest, Andrew was soon opening bottles from Hampden in Jamaica and Diamond in Guyana, and enthusing about a blended rum that is in the pipeline. We were having so much fun that part of me hoped that the weather would get worse and my flight would be cancelled. Stranded at a distillery on Islay, isn’t that every whisky lover’s dream?

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Is investment money bad for whisky’s soul?

In the last few years prices for the world’s top whiskies have gone through the roof. Whisky is now an asset like fine wine, art and classic cars. Ian Buxton…

In the last few years prices for the world’s top whiskies have gone through the roof. Whisky is now an asset like fine wine, art and classic cars. Ian Buxton does not approve. In fact, he’s downright furious.

I’ve been banging on about the ‘investment in whisky’ trend for quite a while – and for some while I’ve got it wrong, as least as far as the prices of certain whiskies go. The sky, it would seem, is the limit and my doom-laden prognostications of a crash in prices have yet to be fulfilled.

So that’s that, then.  Fill yer boots and make money while you can would seem to be the moral.

Never mind whisky’s soul.

Lovely box, but will it ever be drunk?

However, if you care about whisky, really sincerely care, then you will readily appreciate that ‘investment grade’ whisky such as limited edition Macallans, virtually all Port Ellens these days and anything in a ‘collectable’ box is not simply a specious concept but a damaging one. Whisky that is never going to be drunk, whisky whose future is to be traded like an ingot of bullion, whisky forever condemned to be the slave of the spreadsheet is whisky that will never fully live. It’s whisky devoid of meaning, whisky without a soul, reduced to a barren commodity. There may as well be cold tea in the bottle, no matter the lavish packaging.  Remember the fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes and you may look on the most elegant of bottles and see a rotting corpse beneath the silk.

Whisky attains its highest state when it is consumed; its apotheosis poignantly coinciding with the moment of its destruction. Only then is its destiny fulfilled. Whisky is disputation, conviviality, a metaphor for a nation’s identity and sense of self-belief. Whisky is romantic, metaphysical and phantasmagorical. As Burns relates, whisky is “the poor man’s wine”.

‘Investment grade’ bottles are the vampire squid wrapped around whisky’s face, relentlessly jamming their blood funnels into anything that smells like money careless of the consequences and conscious only of the sterile arithmetic of the profit and loss account.  Leave these trophies, the fevered creation of huckstering spinmeisters and their band of useful idiots, to the Gollum-like investor, poring over soulless spreadsheets and taking joy only in the bloodless contemplation of a paper return on investment. “My precious,” indeed.

Here we see the triumph of packaging over content. All too often these whiskies are lavishly draped in the most luxurious wrapping that the ingenuity of the design world can conceive – hand-blown bottles, silver stoppers, exquisitely-crafted oak cabinets and leather-bound volumes filled with ever more baroque and far-flown tasting notes. All of which costs money, lots of it, which leads me to suggest that this market is driven as much by presentation as product.

whisky crash

Ian Buxton about to drink some whisky

If you doubt my word, consider the following intriguing tale.  Back in June 2013, The Macallan released a pack of two 35cl bottles to commemorate HM Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th anniversary.  There were a mere 1,953 packs produced (to mark the 1953 Coronation – geddit?). What you got was two half bottles in a handsome box with a colour leaflet, released at £350.  While the strength of the whisky was indicated, there was no age statement – but as this was designed to sit in a vault, why would anyone care?

Naturally, they were all snapped up as fast as you could sing the national anthem and, equally quickly, they appeared on auction sites where they changed hands for up to £2,300 (before commission). But, interestingly, in the November 2018 on-line auction of a well-known Glasgow site an orphan bottle appeared all on its own, only to be knocked down for £400. Given this was a 35cl bottle, that suggests the market valued the whisky content of a standard bottle at £800. In the same sale a complete pack reached £1,900.  Or, to put it another way, someone paid £1,100 for an admittedly lovely box and a brochure. It’s an interesting set of priorities.

By all means collect whisky and enjoy it as you will but do not succumb to the siren calls of self-serving false prophets.  If you want an investment, buy Diageo shares (up around 27% in the past 12 months and 65% over the last five years; easily traded and paying a dividend). Remember, as Shakespeare tells us “All that glisters is not gold” or, as they say in Edinburgh, “all fur coat and nae knickers!”

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

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Tears before bedtime: are we heading for a whisky crash?

Today we are honoured to introduce Ian Buxton who is going to be writing a series of columns for us. In this his first article he looks back at whisky’s…

Today we are honoured to introduce Ian Buxton who is going to be writing a series of columns for us. In this his first article he looks back at whisky’s turbulent past and asks when the next bust is coming. 

According to Mark Twain, “too much good whiskey is barely enough.”  Well, uncomfortably soon, we might find out if that’s true. Whisky – be that Scotch, American or Irish – has, with monotonous regularity, a very bad habit of shooting off its own foot.  Bear with me: short and grossly simplified history lesson coming up.

whisky crash

Ian Buxton at Glenfiddich

At the end of the 19th century, the Irish whiskey industry, which was heavily invested both financially and emotionally in its large pot stills and regarded grain spirit as ‘sham whisky’ and blending as adulteration, turned its back on the future.  While other factors then came into play, it’s taken the industry more than a century to recover. Our American friends, having just got over the self-inflicted wound of Prohibition, decided that rye was finished and bourbon belonged on the bottom shelf.  That’s taken a while to sort out.

And the Scots, contrary to their national reputation for caution and parsimony, are overly fond of some boom and bust, be it the Pattison crisis of the late 1890s or the closures of the 1920s, which – lesson not learned – were neatly repeated in the mid-1980s when the industry finally confronted the consequences of over-production. Not to be outdone, shortly afterwards, the Japanese industry thought seppuku a smart move. Reacting to economic recession and dropping sales, a series of cutbacks and closures explain why Japanese whisky of any age is so very expensive today.

So, that’s one thing the world of whisky has in common.  Here’s another: we may be on the brink of repeating the same mistake because, wherever you look, distilleries are being expanded and new ones built as if the current good times will never end. The thing is, top-line numbers don’t tell the whole story. While there may be literally thousands of boutique distilleries being built anywhere you can cast a quaich, they don’t actually matter all that much.  Sure, they do if you’re an investor. Furthermore, they add to the gaiety of life and people like me get to write articles about them, but in terms of the volume they add to total production they’re insignificant.

whisky crash

Macallan’s spanking new distillery

If you doubt that, here’s a sum: it would take 125 (that’s one hundred and twenty-five, count ‘em) tiddlers of 100,000 litres annual capacity to equal the output of one Roseisle.  By the way, 100,000 litres is a perfectly decent little distillery: more, for example, than the projected individual outputs of Daftmill, Abhainn Dearg, Strathearn, Eden Mill or Dornoch .  And, while a lot of new boutique distilleries are being built in Scotland, the total doesn’t approach 125.

So, I’m not that worried about the small fry, fascinating though they are.  The problem (if there is one) comes with the less heralded fact that the big are getting very much bigger: Inchdairnie (up to 4 million litres); Ailsa Bay (12.5m); Roseisle (12.5m); Dalmunach (10m); Macallan (15m) and Borders (2m). That’s without considering expansion at Glenfiddich (to 20m), The Glenlivet, Glen Moray (now a 5m-litre plant), Glen Ord, Glenmorangie and the re-opening of Glen Keith.  I could go on.

In fact, I shall.  Exactly the same thing is happening in Kentucky and elsewhere in the USA.  That’s without mentioning the States’ reputed 1,500 plus craft distillers which, however small any one of them may be, does eventually add up to an awful lot of liquor. Expansion in Ireland, chiefly at Tullamore and Midleton, but not forgetting Waterford and Bushmills, has also seen a headlong rush into micro-distilling – which is interesting, given how Jameson continues to dominate the category.  Does the world need twenty or more tiny Irish distilleries? In Japan, following years of under-production and a sudden dramatic rise in demand (and hence those prices), they’re scrambling to catch up.

whisky crash

Artist impression of the new Port Ellen distillery

Now, while you can, of course, keep whisky in cask almost indefinitely, that requires barrels and warehouses, scarce and expensive resources that tax the patience of the most saintly accountant. Because a lot of this expansion has happened within a short period of time, a tsunami of newly-mature spirit can be expected on the market within the next five years.  

In fact, the world has never seen so much whisky. Where will it all go? Who is going to drink it all?

I would like to conclude with the thought that the last time whisky grew this fast it all ended badly. Which is true, but I can’t because whisky has never grown this fast. The size of some of these giant distilleries is unheard of for single malt, and, for the industry as a whole, the scale of expansion is unprecedented. That’s worth thinking about, because it means an unprecedented level of risk of a very messy end to our current golden age.

Though he has neither a beard nor any visible tattoos or piercings, Ian Buxton is well-placed to write about drinks.  A former Marketing Director of one of Scotland’s favourite single malts, his is a bitter-sweet love affair with Scotland’s national drink – not to mention gin and rum, or whatever the nearest PR is pouring. Once, apparently without noticing, he bought a derelict distillery. Follow his passionate, authentic hand-crafted artisanal journey on the Master of Malt blog.  Or just buy his books.  It’s what he really wants.

 

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The Nightcap: 1 March

Pinch, punch, the first of the month, March is here! Happy St. David’s Day if you’re celebrating, and happy weekend, too! But before you crack on with the festivities, we’ve…

Pinch, punch, the first of the month, March is here! Happy St. David’s Day if you’re celebrating, and happy weekend, too! But before you crack on with the festivities, we’ve got all the booze news stories you need from the week that was.

Spring has sprung! Birds are singing, the daffodils are out… and this week MoM HQ has been sweltering in temperatures most usually seen in July. We’ve cracked out the Highballs, the floral gins, the light mark rums, and we’ve had a lovely time (global warming concerns aside). But it’s not all been high-jinks – there have been news and features aplenty, too!

First up, our Annie met Jim Meehan, co-founder of Banks Rums, and she also checked out Muyu, a new Amazon-inspired liqueur for liquid luminaries Monica Berg, Alex Kratena and Simone Caporale. Then Henry shared an Ardbeg tasting sesh – he put his palate through its paces with Brendan McCarron, who looks after the maturing whisky stocks at both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. But that wasn’t enough for Henry – he then limbered up his nose with The Balvenie’s Alwynne Gwilt. What a week!

But we’re not done yet. Adam travelled to London to get the lowdown on Glen Grant from superfan Jim Murray (yes, the Mr Murray), and Our Cocktail of the Week was the Elderflower Collins. Oh, and we investigated the most delicious gins on the globe following the announcement of the World Gin Awards 2019. And we revealed what this month’s Dram Club members will be discovering in their boxes! We are good to you.

But what else has happened in the world of booze? LOADS, that’s what. Don’t believe us? Just read on, my friend.

We can’t wait to see the transformed Bunnahabhain distillery

Bunnahabhain gets £10.5 million distillery revamp

Islay fans: we have big distillery news. Bunnahabhain, tucked away on the island’s north coast, is in the throes of a significant expansion project! The £10.5 million transformation, funded by parent company Distell International, will see the creation of a ‘brand home’ and visitor centre complete with a shop and café overlooking the stunning Sound of Islay. Also new will be a shiny filling store, while the production building and cottages will be restored, creating on-site holiday accommodation. A number of original distillery buildings will be also be revived, while others, notably old warehouses, will be removed to make room for the new buildings, and improve operational flow. Work is already underway, with an impressive 99% of materials removed already repurposed for use on-site. “The plans aim to make the navigation of the site much easier for the visitor and to, in simple terms, declutter it,” said Derek Scott, Distell’s brand director for malts. He continued: “As the most remote and northerly distillery on the island, our transformation will give those who have made the journey time to pause, forget about the rest of the world and enjoy the serene surroundings.” The visitor centre should be ready in time for the 2020 season – we can’t wait.

Hopefully things will begin to look up for the Gautier Cognac parent

La Martiniquaise owner to take over most of Marie Brizard

French drinks group Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits looks likely to be taken over by main shareholder COFEPP, hopefully concluding a troubled couple of years for the Gautier Cognac and Sobieski vodka parent. In a statement, the company said the French authorities had approved the COFEPP bid, as long as certain conditions are met. These include selling off Porto Pitters and Ticaz Tequila to meet competition concerns. It’s an interesting move for COFEPP, which already owns both La Martiniquaise and Bardinet (think: Glen Moray single malt Scotch, Label 5 blended Scotch, Saint James rum and Poliakov vodka). Could France be about to see a new super-power drinks group take shape?

One of Port Ellen’s oldest, and most exciting, releases.

Port Ellen releases a 39 year old single malt

In a move that will get Scotch whisky lovers salivating, Diageo has announced that it will release a 39 year old single malt from Port Ellen in April. This is one of the oldest ever releases from the distillery that closed in 1983 (but is scheduled to start distilling again in 2021). The new release is grandly called Port Ellen: Untold Stories The Spirit Safe, and is the first in a new series of releases called the Untold Stories Series. It has been matured in both American oak ex-bourbon and European oak ex-sherry refill casks. “This release has been selected from a small number of casks, it is very different to other Port Ellen releases,” said Tom Jones, global prestige brand ambassador. It’s being released at 50.9% ABV and only 1,500 bottles have been filled. As you’d expect from perhaps the most in-demand ghost distillery in the world, it’s expensive, weighing in at £4,500 (although something of a bargain compared with some recent Macallan bottlings…).

Too much paperwork means less time to spend on wine

Spare a thought for wine inspectors set to ‘drown in paperwork’

Yep, more Brexit news, folks. The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has issued yet more warnings as part of its #NoToNoDeal campaign. The association is claiming that wine inspectors will be left ‘drowning in paperwork’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit, with red tape expected to result in 600,000 additional forms. The cost of all this extra admin? £70 million, according to WSTA stats. Why? Importers will need oodles more boxes to be ticked, from laboratory tests to potential tariffs. V1 forms – currently required for wines coming in from outside the EU – cost £20 per form, and must be filled in by hand. Best stock up on ink cartridges, as 55% of wine consumed in the UK comes from the EU. “The additional form filling and laboratory tests required for a no deal scenario will come as a real blow to exporters and importers alike,” said Miles Beale, WSTA chief exec. “Wine inspectors will find themselves drowning in paperwork and – unless they can double their workforce – wine consignments are going to be held up by unnecessary additional red tape. The reality is that if we leave the EU without a deal, wine businesses, big and small, will be facing a catalogue of extra costs which will ultimately be passed onto the British consumer.” But there’s no need to panic – by all accounts, importers are already stocking up. The wine should keep flowing.

Say hello to the wonderful Method and Madness Gin!

First release of Method and Madness Gin

Irish Distillers has unveiled Method and Madness Gin, the micro-distillery’s inaugural gin release! The bottling pays homage to the historic links to gin in Cork, while also pushing the modern boundaries of (g)innovation. The spirit was predominantly based around Irish Distillers’ pot still Cork Crimson Gin in 2005, which also took inspiration from traditional recipes dating back to 1798, found in a notebook kept in the distillery. It is distilled in ‘Mickey’s Belly’, Ireland’s oldest gin still, first commissioned at the site in 1958. The equipment is named after Michael Hurley, who was a distiller at Midleton for 45 years. Both he and the still came from Cork to Midleton, and so it was christened. The earthy citrus gin marries 16 botanicals, and Henry Donnelly, apprentice distiller, commented that to “combine the knowledge and tools of the past with the skills of the present to create a gin for the future has been a real honour”. The range is a fine use of Shakespeare’s iconic line, we’d say. Method and Madness gin is available in Ireland and global travel retail from March, and will be released globally from July.

Campbell Brown, who shouldn’t have any trouble finding a dram to toast this success

Double-win for Brown-Forman at the 2019 Icons of Whisky America Awards

What’s better than one award? Two awards, of course! The Brown-Forman Corporation will know all about that after Whisky Magazine has named the company Distiller of the Year and Juan Merizalde Carrillo of Old Forester Distilling Co. as Distillery Manager of the Year at the 2019 Icons of Whisky America Awards! Brown-Forman will now hope they can repeat the trick at Global Icons of Whisky presented in London this spring, where competition will come from contemporaries in Whisky Magazine’s other regions; Australia, India, Ireland, Rest of World and Scotland. “We are honoured to receive this award in recognition of our almost 150-year history as distillers and for our contributions and commitments to the spirits industry,” said Lawson Whiting, Brown-Forman CEO. “We continue to craft American whiskeys the best way we know how – with care, patience, and pride.” Campbell Brown, president of Old Forester added. “We are proud to celebrate Juan who is a great contributor to the success of Old Forester. Juan’s balance of technical expertise and passion for crafting great bourbon ensures that the Old Forester promise is as it has always been – to produce bourbon of the finest quality and utmost consistency.” Congratulations guys! I think a celebratory dram is in order…

 

Penderyn celebrates Welsh whisky ancestors on St David’s Day

Patriotic Penderyn has made a habit of honouring the patron saint of Wales with great whisky, and that’s not about to stop this year. The first distillery in Wales for 100 years has created a new Penderyn ‘Icons of Wales‘ single malt expression, the sixth edition in the series. Named Penderyn Royal Welsh Whisky as a nod to its distilling predecessors, the previous Welsh Whisky Company, it’s a peated whisky with a port wood finish that was bottled at 43% ABV. It was modelled on an original 19th century bottle that became the Royal Welsh Whisky after it received a royal warrant on 26 July 1895 (Queen Vic was obviously impressed on her 1891 visit). However, the company was wound up in 1903 after period of difficulty and little is now known about the original whisky. Adverts state that it was a five-year-old peated malt and, rather fancifully, was “the most wonderful whisky that ever drove the skeleton from the feast, or painted landscapes in the brain of man”. Little wonder bottles of Royal Welsh Whisky now sell for several thousand pounds! Stephen Davies, managing director of Penderyn, commented: “This is a great chance to celebrate Wales’ whisky heritage and the original Welsh Whisky company at Frongoch. Creating a global brand is a massive challenge, and we are proud to create award-winning whiskies which travel from Wales to the world, and this bottle pays homage to those early Welsh whisky pioneers.” Penderyn Royal Welsh Whisky is priced at £45 and sounds royally delicious – Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus, everyone!

Diageo just can’t get enough of this stuff!

Diageo gets taste for baijiu, wants more of Shui Jing Fang

Last year we reported that Diageo wanted in on the baijiu action, upping its stake in producer Shui Jing Fang from 39.7% to 60%. This week, the company confirmed it is after more, and has made an offer to increase its shareholding to 70%. And given baijiu’s popularity, it’s an interesting move. The Chinese white spirit is the most widely-consumed liquor in the world – and is the most valuable (yes, even beating whisky!). According to the 2018 Brand Finance Spirits 50 report, baijiu brand Moutai alone is worth a whopping US$21.2 billion. By comparison, Johnnie Walker, the world’s most valuable Scotch brand, is worth US$4.3bn. The time for baijiu has come!

Books and booze are a brilliant combination

The Bloomsbury Club Bar unveils literary cocktails for World Book Day

A good book plus a delicious dram? We’ve fallen in love all over again with that simple joy recently. So when news reached us that London’s The Bloomsbury Club Bar has created a literary-themed cocktail menu for World Book Day on 7 March, we were all ears. To honour the Bloomsbury Set of writers, philosophers and artists, the bar is encouraging guests to bring in a paperback book which they can trade for a complimentary cocktail. The books will then be donated to a local charitable bookshop! The four cocktails on the special menu include the mysteriously smoking JK Rowling, make with Chivas Regal 12 Year Old, ginger, honey, lemon, and Lapsang tea aroma; and the Roald Dahl, crafted with Havana Club Seleccion de Maestros, peach liqueur, dry vermouth, and grenadine, and comes complete with a giant chocolate ear. Other authors in the line-up include TS Eliot and Charles Dickens. The whole thing was developed by newly-appointed head bartender Scott Gavin in partnership with drinks group Pernod Ricard. Can’t bear to give up a beloved book? You can still enjoy a serve, you’ll just have to part with £12 instead.

BrewDog takes to the skies

And finally… BrewDog Airlines takes off

Not content with making beer, running pubs and launching a hotel, self-effacing Scottish brewer BrewDog has now taken to the skies. This week, the inaugural flight of BrewDog Airlines took off from London Stansted to Columbus, Ohio. On board, a group of paying customers along with a smattering of journalists were treated to a selection of brews, including an IPA especially designed to taste good at altitude. One of the lucky few was award-winning beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones who told us it was a very jolly experience: “everyone was very well behaved. I’ve seen more pissed people on a flight to Tenerife.” The only slight problem was that the lavatory tanks on the Boeing 767 weren’t designed to cope with all the, ahem, liquid produced by 200 British beer lovers. Tierney-Jones tweeted on landing: “Loos had to close two hours before landing such was the volume of micturition…” Apparently there were some serious queues for the toilets when they landed. We can picture the debrief at BrewDog HQ: “We’re going to need a bigger plane.”

Have a marvellous weekend, folks!

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The Nightcap: 26 October

It’s (probably) the spookiest weekend of the year, but before you cover yourself in fake blood and wander around with a plastic hatchet “lodged” in your head, fill that noggin…

It’s (probably) the spookiest weekend of the year, but before you cover yourself in fake blood and wander around with a plastic hatchet “lodged” in your head, fill that noggin with news from The Nightcap.

Halloween is awkwardly on a Wednesday this year, meaning if you’re not getting spooky on the actual day, you have to make a choice whether to celebrate it this weekend or next weekend. However, since there would be a clash with Bonfire Night (and no one wants to mix pretend spookiness with actual explosions), we expect many of you will be donning your costumes this weekend. Before you do so, we’ve got the low-down on this week’s booze news all here in The Nightcap.

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New release from Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare range on the way

Johnnie Walker ain’t afraid of no ghost – the second bottling in the Blue Label Ghost & Rare series has been announced, featuring whisky from Islay’s legendary Port Ellen distillery…

Johnnie Walker ain’t afraid of no ghost – the second bottling in the Blue Label Ghost & Rare series has been announced, featuring whisky from Islay’s legendary Port Ellen distillery at the heart of the blend.

This week Diageo announced the launch of the (deep breath) Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost & Rare Port Ellen, or JWBLG&RPE for short. It may sound like two whiskies, but is actually a new blend created by Johnnie Walker master blender Jim Beveridge and his team. It gets its spooky name because it’s based around whisky from legendary ghost (ie. closed) Islay distillery Port Ellen, as well as two lost grain distilleries – Carsebridge (which closed in 1983) and Caledonian (which closed in 1988). These priceless whiskies are then blended with some very rare malts from non-ghostly distilleries – Mortlach, Dailuaine, Cragganmore, Blair Athol and Oban.

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The Nightcap: 27 July

As a bevy of drinks companies post their full-year results, let’s get down to business with this week’s The Nightcap. Greetings from another Friday! You’ve made it through a week,…

As a bevy of drinks companies post their full-year results, let’s get down to business with this week’s The Nightcap.

Greetings from another Friday! You’ve made it through a week, which is always an achievement of note and worthy of commemoration. As you settle into the weekend, do so with a brain full of booze news – get ready for another edition of The Nightcap!

Firstly, let’s look at the week that was here at MoM Towers. Our Annie chatted to whisky industry legend Charles MacLean, and then got us ready for London Mezcal Week by interviewing festival co-founders Thea Cumming and Melanie Symonds. Kristy introduced yet another whisky-based excursion to add to our ever-expanding bucket list with the Hebridean Whisky Trail. Sam said goodbye to Rum Month with a run-down of ace dark rums. Henry showed us why we shouldn’t fear the sommelier, and gave us a look at the new range of Mortlach whiskies due to hit shelves later this year. And finally Sam drilled down into Diageo’s results. On that note, on with The Nightcap booze news and those all-important numbers!

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