Monthly Archives: January 2013

Whisky at the movies

Late last year I attended the première of Angel’s Share, hosted by Bunnahabhain in association with WHISKYdotcoza.  A whisky movie is a rare beast so for whisky lovers Angel’s Share is worth watching on that basis alone.  The only other whisky-themed movie of which I’m aware, courtesy of Mark from the Whisky Tasting Fellowship, is 1949’s Whisky Galore.  Angel’s Share also happened to win the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival – so ostensibly it has more merit than just whisky.

It made for pleasant if not exhilarating viewing, although I should qualify that I’d been sailing on the Bunna ship for a fair while before kick-off.  Anyhow, I won’t give much away but let me say that my most and least favourite moments were the demonstration of “flogging the bung” (new knowledge for me) and the heart-stopping Irn-Bru incident respectively.

It was also interesting to note that the Deanston distillery, the brand home of the locally prominent Scottish Leader, featured as the venue for some of the whisky scenes.  I need to get word to them that they’ll increase their visits tenfold if they hire the tour guide from the movie.  Whisky legend Charles MacLean, less comely but dispatching his duties with aplomb nonetheless, also featured in the significant role of “Whisky Master”.

May the dram (Malt Mill please) be with you!

BTW – Malt Mill was a real distillery.  Check this out (spoiler alert).

Pierre Meintjes with Dave and Lorna Hughes.

With the Allardie, David and Saul

Marsh Middleton with Bunnahabhain Brand Manager Johann Botha

Yes please!

Lin Murray and Alvin Visser

 

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Pendock Uncorked…and Sulphurous

It seems that in my capacity as a writer I may need thicker skin.

I came across the post below whilst I was doing some web research for an upcoming piece.

Whisky Bloggers: an underutilized resource

Posted: October 24th, 2012 | By Neil Pendock

Apart from the obvious pleasures of eating Garth Schnier’s amazing food and sipping a wee dram of 50 year old Balvenie, the highlight of yesterday’s Sandton Sun tasting was meeting a brace of bloggers: Marc from Whisky Brother and Mark from Whisky Tasting Fellowship.  While it is well known that most people in wine are called Thys, seems that Marc/k is the whisky world equivalent.  Which reminds me of how a single malt column for late, lamented Wine magazine had me enthusing about a fabulous single malt from Mark Alan (Macallan, geddit?)

Well SA whisky writing really needs a whole barrel full or Marc/k’s if the double page spread on what to drink at Whisky Live in the BA in-flight magazine High Life, is any indication.

Five whiskies are recommended:

Johnnie Red (I kid you not);

Jameson (served in poverty class on BA, so that one’s a no-brainer);

Michel Couvreur (imported by “whisky whiz” Patrick Leclezio who wrote the story, so that one’s a no-brainer too, although a disclosure would have been nice, if not essential);

Ardbeg, claimed to be the most peaty malt at “an eye-watering 55 ppm” of phenol even though the Ardbeg site claims only 50 ppm;

60 year old Macallan in Lalique crystal decanter.  The third edition is recommended and the second went for R139K.  A decade older than the Balvenie and half the price, it sounds like a deal to me.

This is worse than that old fraud Mr. Min alliterating all over the place in Sawubona.  Come on, BA, pull up y’re socks!  I bumped into an old friend on the 7:45pm BA flight to Cape Town who told me that if you export SA brandy to France and keep it there for six months, it miraculously becomes French brandy.  As the Chinese word for luxury is “French”, this sounds like a plan for Distell.  How about it, Dr. Caroline Snyman, queen of brandy?

I was the author of that High Life spread (as the post explicitly points out) so I feel that I have no choice but to respond.

A selection of this kind is of course subjective by its very nature – any number of whiskies could have been justifiably chosen.  Given the parameters of the brief (each whisky had to be most something), and the publication and its audience, I stand by my particular selection; the mix ranged from the accessible and popular for the novice, and the voyeuristic and iconic for the initiated, to the obscure for the aficionado.

Neil Pendock’s scathing denunciation – of something that at the time seemed like an innocuous exercise – takes exception with each and every whisky in the selection.   So, point-by-point then:

–        A good measure of his disdain is reserved for the presence of Johnnie Walker Red Label.  One would think that someone who professes “healthy disregard for the anoraks, bowties and Emperors of drink and their new clothes” would champion the novice, but it seems not.  Too dumbed-down?  I don’t agree.  Johnnie Red is a definitive Scotch.  I maintain that if you’re starting out in whisky you should try it as a priority.  Its variety of flavours – smoke, salt, spice, and sweetness (oops, is that too alliterative?) – are beautifully representative of the broader character of Scotch whisky.

–        The implication that Jameson was selected because it’s served on BA is ludicrous.  It’s not only blatantly untrue, but also mildly paranoid.  There’s no low-level, high altitude conspiracy at play here.  The selection was left entirely to me.   Jameson is on my list because it’s the whiskey that I most recommend to people who are unsure about or hesitant to try whisky.  Its flavours are interesting but understated, and it doesn’t have the overpowering whisky taste that can sometimes put off the unaccustomed.

–        I am indeed one of the importers of Michel Couvreur whisky.  This information is readily available to anybody to whom it’s of interest.  I’m sure that Neil was able to learn of it with ease by either doing a Google search or by speaking to anyone within the whisky fraternity who knows me.  It’s worth noting that I retail each of the whiskies in the selection – and that it was clearly disclosed that I’m the owner of an online whisky shop.  I suppose one could make the case that I should have further disclosed that I don’t just sell but also import the Michel Couvreur.  It just didn’t occur to me at the time.   It certainly hasn’t been my intention to conceal the information, either in High Life or anywhere else.  My sincere apologies then to those who felt conned or misled by the inadequate extent of my disclosure.  Regardless though I think the merit of this whisky within the (important) context in which it was selected is difficult to dispute.  I would challenge anyone to identify a whisky easily available in this country that’s clearly more unusual than those from Michel Couvreur.

–        The issue of whether or not Michel Couvreur can be legitimately referred to as a French whisky is tenuous, but I don’t think that I’m stepping out of reasonable bounds by doing so.  It certainly can’t be called a Scotch whisky, and it’s only fair to give it some sort of an identity.  I’m sure that many products that are assembled in a particular country and claim to be made in that country don’t necessarily source all their components from the self-same country.  But that’s just an observation – this isn’t my fight.

–        I’m not sure to which Ardbeg site Neil is referring.  The official site doesn’t seem to reference a specific ppm value under its product information for the 10YO: http://www.ardbeg.com/ardbeg/whisky/ten-years-old, although I can’t discount that this may be shown elsewhere on the site.  I sourced my information directly from the local representatives of Ardbeg, and I then had it confirmed by Marsh Middleton, one of this country’s leading whisky presenters.  There are also a multitude of web references to 55 ppm.  I understand (and I entirely endorse) that factual accuracy is important, but if there’s an error here, which I highly doubt, it’s one that was made in good faith, and not through any lack of application.

–        Admittedly not too many people will get to try the Macallan but it inspires me as I’m sure it does others to know that it’s out there.  The appreciation of whisky is a journey, and aspirational destinations are part of what makes it so special.

Some might dispute my selection, absolutely, as it’s clear that Neil does.  It may not be optimal, depending on your point of view, but I ask myself: does it warrant public denigration?  And not just of the selection itself but of someone’s entire worth as a whisky writer…  The pointed reference to whisky whiz in inverted commas seems unnecessarily harsh; to label me worse than a fraud even more so.  Neil has never met me and has never had anything to do with me, and he’d presumably only read one of my articles (he doesn’t mention anything else).   It seems astounding then (at least to me) that he’s taken it upon himself, on the basis of dubious justification, to publicly humiliate me and cast aspersions on my abilities, without even the courtesy of courting a response.

I put the cool in caustic!

I put the cool in caustic!

I’m a big believer in camaraderie.  The local drinks community is small, the drinks writing community even smaller.  Neil, let’s have a dram together and clear the air.  Perhaps I can convince you that I’m not quite as useless as you’re telling everyone.

Whisky diplomats charm South Africa

The world of whisky is so gracious and so evolved that it even has its own emissaries.  I recently had the privilege of meeting with and interviewing the Global Brand Ambassadors of two of Scotland’s leading single malts: Karen Fullerton from Glenmorangie and Ian Millar from Glenfiddich.

Big thanks to the local Glenmorangie and Glenfiddich teams, and to Manny and Phillip Myburgh, the inimitable owners of Café Della Salute on Sandton Square, for setting up and hosting the interviews.

Ian with the Myburgh brothers

Ian with the Myburgh brothers

Karen with local sidekick Niel Hendriksz

Note: The interviews were conducted separately, but the questions were the same so I’ve consolidated them below.

WOW: You’re the Global Brand Ambassador for Glenmorangie/Glenfiddich.  Tell us a little bit about yourself, your work and your time away from work.

KF: I was born on the west coast of Scotland, and then I moved to England as a young lass.  I started my career in wine, but I’d inherited a love of Scotch whisky from my father and my grandfather.  In 2002 I joined Glenmorangie in a sales capacity, and shortly thereafter I had the opportunity to work as the brand’s Ambassador in the United States for some five years.  I left the company at the time of the Moet Hennessy acquisition, to work on Dewar’s at Bacardi.  It was a fulfilling experience, and it gave me the opportunity to work with blended whisky, but I always dreamt of returning to Glenmorangie, which I was then lucky enough to do when I was offered this role.  In my leisure time I enjoy the outdoors – spending time in the mountains, running, and playing golf and hockey.

IM: I’ve spent 40 years of my life working in the whisky industry.  In fact I’m about to turn 60 and I’ll be celebrating the occasion with two very special bottles: 1952 vintages of Glenfarclas and Linkwood.  I worked in production until 2006, managing distilleries for first Diageo and then William Grant’s, before moving into my current role.  My responsibilities are varied: aside from my ambassadorial duties I work on whisky innovation, I manage a team of 18 ambassadors, and I act as a guardian of the Glenfiddich brand.

WOW: What do you most like and dislike about your job?

KF: My likes: travelling to interesting places, meeting amazing, likeminded people, the variety inherent in the role (every day is different), the access to special insights, and, I won’t lie, the perks: I get to stay in the best hotels, eat in the best restaurants and taste the best samples from the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distilleries.

My dislike: the industry isn’t as progressive as I’d ideally want it to be, and this occasionally impacts on my ability to do my job.

IM: My likes: experiencing different cultures and meeting different people.

My dislikes: travel problems – I’ve just had a nightmare journey to get to South Africa.

WOW: I would imagine that you meet a tremendous number of whisky drinkers, and that you must have close insight into the latest developments in the market.  In your opinion what are the latest whisky consumer trends?

KF: We’re seeing the introduction of more and more multi-vintage, no age statement whiskies (for malt as well as blended whisky).  There’s a lot of mixing of whisky taking place in developing markets, particularly for blends; malt whisky to a large extent is still being drunk traditionally.  Most encouraging for those of us in this sector is the continued strong growth of malt whisky.

IM: Let me respond rather on both whisky development and consumer trends, which are somewhat interlinked. Malt whisky only makes up 9% of the Scotch whisky market but it’s driving innovation in my opinion.  There are large numbers of interesting new expressions being released onto the market and attracting people to malt whisky, an example at Glenfiddich being Snow Phoenix.  Whisky tourism is growing, people are experimenting increasingly, and we’re seeing a proliferation of no age statement whisky as whisky stocks (not ours, I should add) come under increasing pressure.  Glenfiddich will be introducing only a small percentage of no age statement whisky, but with transparency about the contents.

WOW: Glenfiddich cracked the million case mark last year – the first single malt to do so.  Whilst this signals the increasing prominence of malt whisky, the market remains very much dominated by blends.  What’s your view of the future of the whisky market?

KF: I think that the market will always remain dominated by blends, but continuing education about whisky, and the introduction of younger malt whiskies intended to bring down the price gap will continue to makes malt whisky increasingly prominent in the future.

IM: As long as the price difference remains blends will continue to dominate – although having said that the weighting will continue to shift.  I would predict that malts will make up 15% of the market in 10 years’ time.  Higher disposable incomes, increasing longevity, younger malt whisky drinkers and the opening of new markets are all contributing to a bright future for malt whisky.

WOW: You’ve been to South Africa before.  You’re pretty much obligated to tell me that you enjoy visiting so I’m not going to ask you that question.  Rather what is it about the country firstly and about the Whisky Live Festival secondly that you most enjoy?  What sets them apart in your experience from other countries and other Festivals?

KF: I really enjoy interacting with South Africans who I find to be energetic, warm and progressive. And of all the whisky festivals in the world I most enjoy SA and Stockholm.  SA’s Whisky Live is a lifestyle event; it’s social and there’s a great balance between seriousness and fun.  It’s broken down barriers to engaging with whisky.  I always find it refreshing to see the large proportions of women and younger people attending the festival.

IM: I find it a joy to visit this country.  It has a rich history and culture, and the people are happy.  It’s a great environment in which to work.  I particularly enjoy the SA social scene.  The festival is the biggest in the world and it gives us the opportunity to engage directly with the consumer which is an important area of focus for Glenfiddich.

WOW: South Africa regularly ranks within the top 10 markets for Scotch whisky exports.  Whisky Live South Africa has become the most well attended Whisky Live Festival in the world.  Why do you think whisky is so popular in this country?

KF: For many of the reasons that it has succeeded elsewhere: whisky tastes great, it offers complexity, there’s a depth, a story behind Scotch whisky, and it’s a well regulated product.  The local education programs are also generally excellent.

IM: African spirits consumers are looking for something with credibility, and in this regard whisky stands on its own.  It makes a statement, and people are proud to be seen to be ordering whisky.

WOW: Wood is generally acknowledged as the principal influence on the flavour of a whisky.  Peat smoke is probably the most obvious.  What are the other influences that might be perceptible to the casual drinker?

KF: That’s not an easy one to answer.  In fact our Signet logo is made up of 32 interconnected icons, signifying that no single element dominates.  Having said that I’d suggest location and water source for Glenmorangie.  Our hard mineral water, which filters through stone for 100 years before we use it, has a significant influence on the fermentation process, producing particularly fruity esters.  Our tall stills, the tallest in Scotland (they’re about the height of an adult giraffe), also contribute to a distinctly lighter and finer spirit.

IM: Fermentation time.  This is crucial in building spirit character.  It brings out the fruity, floral and nutty flavours which we enjoy in so many whiskies.

WOW: What makes Glenmorangie / Glenfiddich such a special whisky?

KF: The tall stills that I’ve just mentioned.  Our expertise in wood management, which is highly scientific: we use a carefully calibrated mix of early and late growth white oak from the Ozarks.  Glenmorangie was also one of the first whiskies to use ex-Bourbon wood for maturation, and it was one of the pioneers of extra maturation (what others call “finishing”).  Our first extra matured whisky, a 1963 Glenmorangie, was released on the market as far back as 1987.

IM: Its long term credibility and trustworthiness.  You can be guaranteed that any Glenfiddich whisky will be enjoyed.  There’s also comfort in the fact that the brand is long established and is still owned by the same Scottish family.

WOW: What do you drink when you’re not drinking Glenmorangie / Glenfiddich?

KF: Wine, G ‘n’ T, and hoppy beers.  I also enjoy certain island style whiskies – salty, spicy whiskies with a rich sherry influence.

IM: I drink from my top 10, which is as follows: Glenfiddich 15YO, Glenfiddich 30YO, Glen Elgin 12YO, Scapa 14YO, Glenfarclas 14YO, Mortlach 16YO, Springbank 15YO, Edradour 10YO, Balvenie 21YO, and Bowmore 12YO.

WOW: Are you a purist?  How do you respond if someone asks you to mix a dram of Signet / 15YO with Coke?

KF: Don’t do that!

IM: I would certainly discourage it.

WOW: Lastly, how do you prefer to drink your whisky when you’re just having a casual dram with friends?

KF: It depends on the mood and time of day.  When it’s warm I’ll drink Glenmorangie Original on the rocks with orange zest, although I’m not generally a fan of whisky cocktails.  In the late evenings I’ll tend to favour older whiskies drunk neat.  For the most part though I’ll drink whisky with a splash of water.

IM: It depends on the whisky.  I take my drams of Glenfiddich 12YO with two drops of water, and I find that water is not needed with the 15YO.

Thanks again to Karen and Ian for sharing time with me.

Let’s go 2013!

Compliments of the season whisky lovers.  I’m looking forward to sharing whisky thoughts, whisky adventures,  general whisky musings, and maybe even a little bit of whisky itself (more on this later) with you in the coming year.

Please note that Words on Whisky can henceforth be found at www.wordsonwhisky.com.  New year, new resolve, new address.

May the dram be with you in 2013.

Let’s make it a good one!